jack Kickstartered Tak, the implementation of the game described in Patrick Rothfuss' giant fantasy trilogy. And his game arrived this weekend, so we had a go at it. I was really quite impressed; inventing an abstract game that actually plays well takes a lot of skill, and Tak is maybe not mindblowingly innovative but it's a lot more than just a retread of existing traditional games. I could almost believe in it as the fantasy world equivalent of chess or go, something you could spend your whole life playing and that rewards serious strategic skill. After a few plays it does seem to have that elusive quality of emergent strategic gameplay based on a very small ruleset. What makes it stand out from, say, gomoku, is the way you can move stacks long distances, so the board can change quite dramatically in a single move.
I got to revive two childhood games with OSOs and Judith. Labyrinth was a game of Ghoti's; I have a distant memory of playing once but we didn't own a copy. It strikes me as a very good game for a mixed age (or mixed experience) group: it's fairly easy to play without being uninteresting. There's not a lot of long-term planning possible, because the board is always changing and there's a certain amount of randomness anyway, but it is a lovely little pure tactics game. It was cool how the board tends to converge to quite long paths since it's in everybody's interest to join up routes.
And Ghoti's children bought her Survive: Escape from Atlantis as a mother's day present. I don't think they realized it was a reworking of the 80s game Atlantis, but it happens that it is a childhood favourite of mine, just better. The new game is mostly made of wood and cardboard rather than plastic, so it feels a bit nicer. Mainly, the rules have been tweaked to get rid of the very unbalanced elements: for example, sea monsters, which can destroy both ships and passengers, can now only move one hex, whereas dolphins can move swimmers at most three spaces, rather than anywhere on the board, and don't protect from monsters when they're not moving. In addition, they've clarified the rules explanations so that nothing appears ambiguous to the sort of gamer who searches out any tiny loophole. The change I don't like is the scoring mechanism: it used to be that you only scored the island where you had the most meeples, but now the meeples (which have been switched in the opposite direction: wood to plastic) have numbers on the bases which you are not allowed to look at after the game starts. And I'm not sure about the sudden death mechanic apparently borrowed from Trias, though it's true that the original game could drag a bit. I've heard that lots of people who are only now rediscovering board gaming often remember this one fondly from childhood, whereas nearly everybody hated Monopoly and Risk. Even with the better balancing, I'd still classify it is as more of a children's game than a truly strategically challenging one, but it's fun.
Most excitingly, though, the timing worked out for me to join my OSOs for the December games of Pandemic Legacy. They got it as a Christmas present, and it's been so exciting that they've played it at every possible chance and got through the whole season by March. Which meant that I was only able to join in twice, once in April (just in time for what is perhaps the biggest plot twist), and then this weekend right at the end. Although it's kind of pricey for a game that has a built-in limit to the number of plays, I feel more than satisfied; it's just an amazing experience. The rules and conditions shift from month to month, so that you get a dozen differently balanced games, but they're all balanced and all just as much fun as the original Pandemic. And the plot! It feels like such a novel thing, to have a board game with an actual plot, one that is intrinsically bound up in the actual gameplay, not just tacked on. Pandemic Legacy's plot is really good; I'm having to craft this review carefully because it genuinely seems worth avoiding spoilers.
jack and I have been eager to hear about the game unfolding even when we weren't around to play. Ghoti has written up their playthrough, if you are curious and don't mind spoilers. Anyway it's a really clever mix between having a set linear plot, and having something that actively depends on what decisions players make. Being around for the ending was great; it was narratively satisfying, and really felt like the culmination of a game we'd actually played, rather than a fixed story.
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