138 Games: From Telestrations to Love Letter

All good things must come to an end and so it is with the 138 Games series.  This is the final regular entry in the series with five more games that we recommend for everyone to try out.  With this entry we bring you up into 2012, having started with Go back in January.  This week we bring you a few surprising picks from recent years.  But this is not quite the end.  The astute among you will have noticed that we have only covered 115 games so far.  That’s right, along the way we skipped a few games here and there to keep the series moving.  Next week we’ll return with one final entry in the series that will briefly cover the 23 previously skipped games.

– Telestrations –

Greg Schloesser:  Few party games have excited me as much as Telestrations.  I witnessed the game being played at Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends and knew I had to give it a try.  Not only did I play it several times during the convention, I immediately ordered a copy … and have since purchased a second copy since my first one is darned near worn out!  Families, friends, church groups … all have thoroughly enjoyed the game and many have purchased their own copies. That is the sign of a good and popular game.

Along with Time’s Up, Telestrations is one of my favorite party games.

Rick Thornquist:  For me, when it comes to party games, I want laughs.  Lots of laughs.  And the game that has generated the most laughs for me is Telestrations.  Every game I’ve played has been a laugh-riot and some of the games I’ve laughed to the point of crying.  The slight downside is that you really need eight people (maybe seven) for the game to work best, but if you have that number, it doesn’t get much better than this.

– Catacombs –

Nathan Beeler:  Catacombs is a game that takes the standard dungeon crawl critter and replaces its tired old dice chucking bones with an adamantium enforced dexterity structure.  Players take on the roles of adventuring heroes, represented by little wooden discs, who wander through the dank depths of the underworld fighting off heinous creatures, which are themselves wooden discs.  To make a melee attack, a player flicks his disc at the enemy’s, hoping to strike it with bad intentions.  This is genius stuff, and the sensation somewhat blurs the lines between game and sport.   No longer are you at the mercy of the fates when it comes to attempting a crazy trick shot; you get to attempt the shot yourself by sending your lightning bolt spell caroming off one of a level’s solid obstacles and into a ghoul’s partly decaying face.  For people that dice hate, like me, this is a very good thing.

The game’s heroic party consists of four adventurers with various abilities and strengths going up against one evil being who is charged with controlling the various villains to be found in the dungeon: a semi co-op, therefore.  The job of the adventurers is to make it through a number of randomized levels to get to the big-bad and rip its heart out before it can return the favor.  The game truly does require cooperation, too, because while you’ve put yourself in harm’s way attacking one giant spider, you’re counting on your fellow traveler to knock out the minotaur waiting off to the side that’s ready to trample you.  A lot of the game lends itself to team strategizing about who should attack where and what spells to use when and what the fall-back plans are when things inevitably don’t work out exactly right.

With a talented overlord, the game can be a real challenge to win.  In my experience it is the rare play of Catacombs where all the heroes survive.  The selfless act of giving up your character’s life for the greater good can be extremely satisfying, even though player elimination otherwise sucks.  I unabashedly love this game, so I am willing to overlook its flaws: a somewhat fiddly set-up, a few unclear rules.  I think a lot of gamers will love it too, if given the opportunity to take a shot.

Matt Carlson:  I didn’t nominate this game, as I had not yet played it when we set up the initial list.  I’ve since spent many games of this playing with the kids at school.  I thought it was just a fun, middle-weight dexterity game but was surprised to find it also went over extremely well with a more heavyweight gaming crowd.  As a mix of RPG exploration and a carom flicking game (with lots of special powers) this can make for an extremely fun evening.

– Rivals for Catan –

Jonathan Franklin:  Catan the Card Game was one of the earlier Euros I played.  I liked it more than classic Settlers, as it felt less determined by the initial setup.  In addition, it was one of relatively few meaty 2 player non-abstract games around.  We still play Catan the Card Game, as some in our family prefer it to its successor, Rivals of Catan.  Rivals deserves a place on this list because it streamlined its predecessor, offering new avenues to explore by rebalancing some cards and changing a few rules.

Rivals removes the nastier cards from the deck for basic play, making it a faster game with a smoother first game.  In addition, it adds some expansions in the box (and six more for purchase in two packs of three) that can change the game to suit the players.  If you have already played Catan the Card Game, no real need to try this to expand your horizons, but if you don’t like the board game and stayed away from Rivals because of that, I suggest you dive right in.

– Mage Knight –

Jonathan Franklin:  I am at the starting end of the curve with only 2 or 3 games of Mage Knight under my belt, but if I could take only one game to a desert island for a month, it would be Mage Knight – there is so much to explore, so many clever plays, and so many rules questions that I feel I would need to dedicate serious time to becoming moderately proficient, but it says something for the game that I could actually see myself doing so some day.

– Love Letter –

Jeff Allers:  It’s Japanese minimalism at its best, a 16-card filler that provides a lot of fun in a small, inexpensive package.  For those of us who like to always have a game ready, no matter where we are, this is a no-brainer, the perfect pub game with opportunities for bluffing.  For game designers, it is a shining example that sometimes less is more, and that limits can foster creativity more than complete freedom.

To be concluded…

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2 Responses to 138 Games: From Telestrations to Love Letter

  1. Rivals is even better than Jonathan hints at… I think this is an excellent example of a game designer taking advantage of the first edition to publish a MUCH better second edition.

  2. Dan Blum says:

    I agree Telestrations is a lot of fun, even though it’s more of an activity than a game. (Or do other people bother with scoring? I can’t even remember the scoring rules.)

    It’s also half of a good example of how to package public-domain games. You can play Telestrations perfectly well with just pencil and paper, and people did so before it was ever published. But Telestrations is a well-designed package which improves the experience to some extent: using the flip books is easier than folding paper and gives everyone the same area to draw in (with no worries about using up a sheet prematurely), using the cards to provide topics is fast and easy, and you don’t have to scramble to find pencils for a bunch of people.

    The other half of this example – the bad half – is Scribblish (a Cranium-branded game). This is the same game, except they managed to make it much worse than the public-domain version. Instead of the nice flip books you get long strips of paper you have to insert into plastic rollers; it’s much easier to just fold the paper. Many of the topics on the cards are bizarre things no one will ever guess, which misses the point (for maximum amusement value you want things that CAN be guessed but will at some point be wildly misconstrued). Worst of all, you use a die to decide what to do each round, so you might pass one to the left, two to the left, or put everything in the center of the table and grab a sheet at random. Of course you might get the one you just had, proving that no one ever playtested this or even thought about it for more than five seconds.

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