At The Table – Lunchtime Quickies

Okay, let’s get back to this blogging lark properly.

My D&D game is still on hiatus, but due to pick up in a few weeks so that our Sixguns & Sinners game (along with my session reports) can resume. In the meantime, we’ve all been taking advantage of the break from RP’ing to get some “normal” board games played. Emma and I usually play a game or two at the weekend, but even I have to admit that after the two-hundredth game of Cryptozoic’s DC Heroes deckbuilder, a breath of fresh air is needed.

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Filling the M:tG-shaped hole in my soul since 2014.

One thing I love doing is introducing people to board games. We’re lucky enough to be going through a board game Renaissance at the moment, and it’s a perfect time to show people that there’s more to board games than outdated traditional games like Monopoly and Cluedo. There’s two great ways to get new players feeling the itch for more; one way is a few quick games during a lunch break at work, and the other is the full party evening. I’ve done both, and I’m happy to say that I’ve successfully converted several people at work, and nothing makes me happier than when we take over a big table in the breakroom at Friday lunchtime and draw confused, jealous stares from the Normals, or when we crack open some drinks and snacks and have a great, cheap evening in.

I have a preferred list of games that I use to gently usher newbies into the world of tabletop games; some of them are quick lunchtime games, and others are better for the evening party. In this post, I’ll mention a few of my favourite Lunchtime Quickies!

What does a game need for me to consider it a Lunchtime Quickie? It should…

  • Be quick to play (duh) and easy for new players to pick up, with simple rules and a clear goal;
  • Have only a few components for easy set-up and put-away;
  • Be small and easy to transport;
  • Allow for more than two players.

LOVE LETTER

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In Love Letter, players take the role of suitors trying to seduce a prince/ss. How do they do this? By making sure that their love letters manage to get to their royal crush by passing it among the various members of the castle! Players draw from a shared deck, and the game follows a simple “draw one, play one” structure. Each card played represents a member of the castle; it may be a Soldier or Knight trying to stop another player’s messenger, or a Priestess who protects your own messenger. Of course, you may be in the precarious position of holding onto the treacherous Minister or the Princess herself! All cards remain face-up on the table after being played so that players can see what’s been used so far, which helps your choices when playing a Soldier or Knight. At the end of a round, the last player whose messenger hasn’t been eliminated (or the player with the highest rank card in their hand if there are two or more players left and the deck has run out) gets a single token of affection; get four of those and you win!

Rounds of Love Letter can pass by at lightning speed; it’s possible that they’ll be a winner for the round before all players even get a turn! Thankfully it plays so fast that it’s not an issue. There’s also tons of variants; the rules are the same, but the card names and art are different. I have the super-sexy Kanai Factory edition, but there’s versions for Batman, the Hobbit and Adventure Time, and there’s loads of fan-made sets all over the Internet for franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Walking Dead.

COUP

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Normally I’m not one for bluffing games; I suck at One-Night Ultimate Werewolf and Spyfall and Sheriff of Nottingham, all of which require the ability to lie your tits off. But Coup? I like Coup.

In Coup, each player is some bigwig in what is probably a very intricate sci-fi setting. You have two cards dealt to you from the deck; each card represents someone that you have influence with. Lose your influence, and you’re out. The cards are kept face down in front of you, and on your turn you claim you have a particular character and perform an action; Assassins kill someone for you, Dukes give you cash (to eliminate an opponent’s influence by way of bribes and blackmail), Captains steal said cash, and Ambassadors let you change your influence cards. Contessas do nothing on their own, but can thwart assassinations. Of course, the important thing is that you’re not limited by the cards you have. Want to kill off someone but don’t have an Assassin? Claim you have one! It’s then up to other players to decide whether you’re lying or not. If they call you on it, then you lose influence. But if you’re telling the truth and they challenge you? Then they lose influence! The potential for bluffing and mind games is incredible, but this means that it may not be a game for everyone; some people just aren’t great at lying. It’s like poker in some regards; an old pro who knows all the sorts of tricks and feints can totally toy with a new player. Of course, it’s still perfectly feasible to win by being totally honest about the cards you have. And, like Love Letter, it’s a very quick game, so if a player is knocked out early then they won’t be waiting long for a new round.

HANABI

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So, after all that lying and backstabbing, what better game to repair those damaged friendships than a lovely game about organising a fireworks display?

In Hanabi, players cooperate and take turns to put down coloured fireworks cards in ascending number order. Sounds easy! What’s the catch? You can’t see your own cards. You hold your cards so that they’re facing away from you, so you can see everyone else’s but your own. What follows is a game of communication and memory-testing. On your turn, you can give a clue to another player what they have in their hand; however you’re only allowed to give a clue relating to a number or a colour, like “these two cards are 2s,” or “that card on the end is yellow”. Hopefully the information you’ll give them – provided they remember what you told them – will be enough for them to make an informed decision, because your number of clues is limited, and the event organiser won’t tolerate too many mistakes…

It may still not sound difficult, but you won’t think that way after playing it. The aim of the game is simply to get as high a score as possible as a group, and you should be happy with anything over 20.

The one downside of the game is that it is colour-reliant, so it may not be super-friendly for colourblind players, though this is mitigated somewhat by each colour of firework having a noticeably different design, so it’s not completely unworkable; one game we had with a colourblind player left us with a score of 23 out of 25!

GLOOM

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I always like to describe Gloom to new players as “Tim Burton’s Happy Families“. In Gloom, you control a macabre family of freaks, miscreants, and deviants… and you’re trying to kill them off!

Gloom always gets a few interested looks when I pull it out, as the cards are clear plastic. The reason for this is that many of the cards have numbers down the left side, which may be positive or negative. These modifier cards are placed over character cards, and if the numbers add up to a negative amount, that character is eligible to be the victim of an Untimely Death card! Of course, other players may put modifier cards on your character, and the numbers on their cards may overlap the ones you placed, reducing or even negating the score! The game ends when one player’s entire family is deceased, and the winner is the player with the highest negative score on dead family members only.

It’s a really great game if you have a love for dark comedy; who wouldn’t get a morbid chuckle out of terrorising Darius Dark the sinister ringmaster with a horde of carnivorous poodles before he’s haunted by poltergeists and breaks his neck by falling down the stairs? The one downside I’ve found is that the cards, by dint of being clear plastic, can be a bit slippery and go flying across the table without much effort. There’s also a small issue of the box being woefully inadequate; I keep my copy in a normal Deckmaster box which works great.

GUILLOTINE 

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I don’t actually own this one yet, but after a few games it’s definitely on the shopping list!

In Guillotine, each player is an executioner during the French Revolution, trying to grab the most distinguished heads. This could be the head of a military official, or a judge or a bishop, or even the King or Marie Antoinette herself!

The setup is pretty cool; the game comes with a little cardboard stand-up guillotine, and twelve Noble cards are set out in a line. During a player’s turn, they can play a card from their hand, which will usually alter the order of the line, and then take the noble at the front of the line. Obviously, the cards played should be ones that will push a higher-rank noble to the front of the line for collection, or push them back so that an opponent won’t get them on their turn! There are also “innocent” nobles that reduce your score, so you need to watch out for them. It’s a very simple and fun mechanic with a lot of strategy in it. There’s also cards that reward you for collecting more nobles of certain colours (civil servants are green, royalty is purple, etc), and the dreaded Scarlet Pimpernel, who rescues the nobles and ends the round early! The game is played for three “days” (i.e. three lines of nobles) and the player with the highest score at the end wins. Easy! As with all the games I’ve mentioned, this one has a downside, and it’s that it takes up a bit more room that the others; setting out a line of twelve (or more, depending if more are added due to certain cards being played) plus allowing space for each player’s score area can make things a bit cramped.

So there we go, five fun little games for lunchtimes. Next time I’ll talk about some party games!

Gareth

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