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Following my wife’s example, I decided to use Christmas as camouflage – I bought three board games I was interested in and pretended they were presents for everyone else.

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19 thoughts on “Discussion: Tabletop Christmas

  1. If you’re enjoying Pandemic, I highly recommend looking into Pandemic Legacy at some point, it’s quickly become one of my favorite board games. It takes the original Pandemic’s mechanics puts them into an overarching campaign, with new scenarios and twists in each game, and your actions in each game have permanent consequences for later ones (for example, an outbreak in a city requires you to put a sticker there that can impede your movement through that city, and any characters in that city gain “scars” that add a debuff and put you one step closer to killing off that character for good). There’s all kinds of secret boxes and compartments with new pieces and rule changes that add a fun sense of mystery, and occasionally you’ll be told to destroy unneeded cards, which is weirdly satisfying and I imagine your kids would especially get a kick out of that.

  2. The best part of the roguelite twitter thread (besides the initial snark) was drawing out the difference between the game-changing progression in FTL vs. the necessary-to-win (unless you’re a speed runner) grinding progression in Rogue Legacy and many roguelites. I’m not arithmephobic with games like you tend to be, but it is nice when games respect your time and learning instead of catering to the big numbers part of the lizard brain. Then again, it’s easy to underrate accessibility when FTL never seemed thaaaat hard.

    Board games: Azul is a great one! I got it for my mother-in-law, and am regretting that I didn’t get it for someone who lives closer to me. For subsequent selfish gifts, Splendor, 7 Wonders, Clank, and Dixit will be excellent Christmas/birthday fodder over the next couple years given your kids’ ages. I’d be happy to unpack the reasons why if you’re not familiar with them.

    Misc: Sorry these last few threads have come at a tough time. Even w/o the sad side of things, I get panicky just imagining being solo-dad for a week. The threads have been super good though! The last one even inspired me to finish The Flames last night. Then I was going to try to find which one I got stuck on the last time, but now I’m back to being stuck on the second level again. Did I learn something in the later levels that I need to unlearn again to beat the second level? Hm.

    Re. Subnautica: Thanks Epic game store! Wow! Now that I’ve played it some I went back and read your two articles on it so far. I did the same thing you did with the jelly mushroom cave and the pump & pipes, except w/o the habitat builder, so it ended up being a rather silly expedition, especially since I didn’t get back there much till after I had a seamoth. Funny how much that changes things. I’m still kinda scared to go deeper, though.

  3. Happy New Year all!

    Hi Luke

    When I was researching what “version” of Pandemic I should get, I spotted Pandemic Legacy and realised how little I knew about board games. Specifically, the emergence of the “legacy” moniker to indicate multi-session campaigns. So I was definitely interested in that and I hear Pandemic Legacy is well-regarded but it was already a gamble for Pandemic in the first place. Once my daughter returns to the fold, I might consider Legacy for a future year ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hello Dan

    Yes, I liked a lot of the discussion that popped up in that thread and Sean Barrett pointed out that Cinco Paus, that Raigan talks of as if his favourite game of all time, supports upgrades via streaks which is an interesting hybrid. I should try FTL.

    This reminds me that I’d not really played collectible card games until trying out Triplicity and it’s not really that great (the puzzle element and the CCG element do not blend together at all). But I can see the appeal of digital CCG and makes me want to try something else. I should at least try the best of breed, right? So play FTL, Joel…

    Okay, so you just sent me down a rabbit hole with all your board game recommendations and I spent some time reading through this page which discusses some of your suggestions which prizes “interactivity between the players” highly. I just want to buy, buy, buy – it’s like a Steam sale but without any discounts ๐Ÿ™‚ Azul is great apart from one minor aspect – the tiny score cube is unstable on a player’s board which are slightly bowed.

    In a way, solo dad was a good experience (well, if I *had* to work that week, it would have been a nightmare) but it did mean I had to chuck anything non-essential into discard pile. After five days I realised I had to take a break though; literally hadn’t stopped since my wife had flown and I was feeling it.

    Subnautica-wise, you’ll never quite get over the feeling of being scared, even if you know what’s down there. The seamoth definitely changes things a lot and I loved my seamoth. Gregg tells me the seaglide is actually faster for gettng around though! (Putting aside the oxygen problem…)

  4. Pandemic is an excellent game. Thanks for reminding me of that: it’s a few years since C and I played it!

    The X-COM board game might be worth considering. It might be a bit much for the kids. It’s quite complex to get to grips with initially but, as with One Night Ultimate Werewolf, there’s an app which drives play, and there’s a tutorial to teach you the basics. Anyway, it supports 1-4 players and divides co-operative play into distinct roles with different mechanics and responsibilities, plus there is a time limit in its initial reactive phase, which I think addresses the alpha player/consensus problem you describe to some extent.

    C gave me a game called Boss Monster for my birthday; it’s a fairly quick card game where you build up dungeons of traps and monster rooms and compete to attract and defeat heroes. Luck is a major component of the game, sadly, as if you start with a poor hand or are unlucky in subsequent draws it can be difficult. But in our games so far I have managed to go from lagging far behind to almost taking victory, so it can turn about. The art style is a charming faux 16 bit too.

    I’ve been playing a little Subnautica too! Thanks, Epic. I really like many aspects of it, and it’s fun experiencing it after vicariously enjoying it through your articles and video. I haven’t played in a few games, though, as I hit a point where I wasn’t really sure what to pursue next. I kind of want to noodle around and build a base, but I think to do that I need to wait until a few more radio signals have popped, and I’ve been directed to areas with new tech to scan. I have tried building pipe networks and just going deeper, which is pretty cool. It’s a very pretty game indeed.

    Very sorry to hear about your family loss. I hope everyone is processing the bereavement. x

  5. Hi Shaun!

    I think X-COM might be a bit of a leap – the recommended age is 14+ . I don’t religiously follow the age recommendation but I think the eldest being 4 years off target means it’s another one to sleep on for now.

    I remember my son pawing at Boss Monster in Waterstones a year ago but dissuaded him from becoming attached; I had casually judged it to be a cheap cash-in on pixel game nostalgia. I guess that’s not exactly true? There’s a decent game underneath it?

    Nice to hear from another new Subnautica fan! At some point soon it will stop nagging you to do things and then you’ll have no idea what to do. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Things are fine here now, thank Shaun. I’m not sure how much proper downtime we’ve had this year. Eh. *Shrugs*

  6. Argh, I’m going to be the absolute worst type of commenter, where I haven’t read the newsletter at all but want to be part of the conversation ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    To keep it loose.. it’s funny you’re talking about boardgames, because I read a piece on here the other day (the suggested links at the top seem to grab me a lot) about ‘survivorship bias’ which I felt completely described my interactions with the boardgame industry. Wherein, around 2010 or so my friends and I were reading a lot of articles and After Action Reports by talented writers such as Rab Florence, Quintin Smith and Paul Dean. This inspired a lot of wishing and wanting and camo-gifting on birthdays and such.

    The problem was, when we sat down to play them, we tended to have a nice enough time, but these games never quite came alive on the table like some shimmering pocket dimension as per the writeups. I felt a little sore about it for a long while – as though I had fallen into the trap of the classic soda advert which promised a spontaneous party for pulling back the tab.

    Over time, and with the help of your article, I’ve come to appreciate that those writers weren’t selling me a fantasy on the sly – those epic sessions of Cosmic Encounter and Space Alert really can, did and do happen. It’s just articles by popular boardgames writers select for a kind survivorship bias of good play sessions, and elide all the mediocre ones where there’s a long argument about the interpretation of a rule, or somebody rage quits, or you started too late and it’s 2am and everyone wants to just go to bed and pretend this never happened.

    Can someone link me to that twitter thread? I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about these roguelites and their metaprogression systems for a while now. It feels so good every time, but after every single one I look back and feel a certain portion of my enjoyment was a trick, and a certain portion of my time was, well, wasted? I realise it’s kind of ridiculous to distinguish which parts of my time spent gaming were spent ”’productively”’ but man, I don’t know.

    I’m being told I’m constantly progressing but it’s an artificial kind of progression; I feel like I’m gaining mastery but it’s a compromised kind of mastery. The game at minute one and minute one thousand are very different things, but they don’t want you to think that – they muddy the two things together – and from run to run with the little plus ones my brain is singing that, ba ba ba ba ba, I’m loving it – but when I step back and look at all the discarded burger wrappers I feel a sudden sense of disgust.

    I’m not an intrinsic reward fundamentalist but I do want to feel like I’m earning my fun, and like to think I don’t need or want constant micro-bribes just to keep going. I’m sure you could argue that all gaming is this, just differently arranged, but it’s this arrangement I’m taking issue with. Fairly or unfairly!

  7. OMG CA you are totes the worst kind of commenter. I’d send you a copy of the newsletter but I’m pretty sure that’s not your real email address entered into the site, as I get reject alerts every time the site tries to send you a comment response ๐Ÿ™‚ Here is the Twitter thread.

    Oh I forgot that I used to write really good essays. Man, that Survivorship Bias article is good. Interestingly I’ve paid little attention to board game reports “in the field”. I’ve never watched Shut Up and Sit Down as I’ve only really had the chance to develop my board game habit in the last couple of years. All my recent purchases have been based on random review searches looking for the most dull, relaxed reviews possible!

    I think I’ve written a lot of things that relate to the artificiality of progress in games but I can’t think of a decent example right now; both A Field of Flowers and Penetrate the Night convey my concern over number-crunching. I did write a couple of articles about numbers in RPGs (the first caused a minor stir) and there are some references to grind in there. But it’s a fine line to tread and half the time I’m unsure whether upgrades and buffs are a critical part of the game or if it’s just playing with my dopamine centres.

  8. Condolences for your loss.

    Azul is on my radar too, so I’m happy to hear you are enjoying it. I agree with Dan that you should look at 7 Wonders and Dixit, they are very good designs which I’ve enjoyed a lot (even after 30 plays). 7 Wonders may be a little complex now (recommended age 10+), but it won’t go out of print anytime soon.
    Dixit is very unique and I hope it will inspire designers to create something like it; Mysterium is good, but in my experience suffers a bit from repeated play with the same group.

    At higher player counts Carcassonne becomes more luck dependant, but with 2-3 players skill is very important (provided you let players check the tile overview listing what tiles are in the game, as it allows to consider how likely it is to find specific pieces, which has a lot of weight on the choices players make). Not all versions/expansions are created equal from this point of view, among the few I played Hunters and Gatherers (without sacred shrine) seems the one where skill shines most.

    I wasn’t able to like Splendor.
    When I had the chance to play Splendor (with strangers), the game would start with people staring at the tiles for minutes to make calculations and the same would happen with the appearance of every new card. It’s also very dry. Perhaps it was the wrong group? Maybe I should rent it to see if it plays better with friends.

  9. Ah, my apologies! I’ll try to remember to uncheck the box requesting notifications to my clearly not an email email address. I’m so used to lying to websites about my personal information it now happens reflexively (whoever’s on the end of 07010 101010, I’m so sorry).

    The twitter thread is pretty much what I was imagining, only much politer. Here’s an article I read recently which is tangentially related, and interesting:

    I liked your essay about RPGs. In a bizarre coincidence that’s the second time I encountered the name Yuzo Kohiro today!

    “Thereโ€™s an absurdist story to be found here, of developers burning the midnight oil and high-fiving one another for constructing the most intricate, complex system that resembles, as close as possible, a flat line of difficulty.”

    I am absolutely sure I played a game that took that metaphor and made it literal, having you grind along a gently sinewaving path where the ground ticked up or down in difficulty depending on how recently you last levelled up. Your progression was narrated with a nonsensical story, all portent and proper nouns and a clear parody of the JRPG. I thought it was called Progression Quest but looking that up yields a different browser game that parodies a different RPG sub-genre. You can’t swing a glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaive on the ‘net without hitting one of those it would seem.

    As to the general point, well. We simply can’t stop and think about why games have you constantly levelling up and improving your numbers only to ever kill an enemy in the same number of hits, because that way lies madness. What’s more, for as long as we *don’t* think about it, watching the numbers go up is a lot of fun. But many roguelites offer a different kind of progression. They make a game that is nigh impossible to begin with and slowly shift the needle towards possible over the course of however many unsuccessful runs. You often double your HP or more by the time your unlock tree is fully rounded out. I guess some might call that Actual Progression, I call it delaying the start of the Actual Game. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Or rather, I would if it were that simple. Because you’re also learning about the game as you go in the old roguelike way. And that sort of learning is extremely satisfying. So the two get mixed up and the lizard brain has a devil of a time working out what’s making it happy. And as you say, players are dishonest. I’m dishonest. I do want a reward every now and then.

    When you talk about Dark Souls and how “the XP of the player and the XP of the character are one and the same”, that lines up very neatly with Raigan Burns’s reference to oldschool roguelikes and their requirement of “gaining actual experience and levelling up your actual brain.” It also makes me think of Dota 2 and how, unbelievably punishing and mood-ruining as it can be, after 3,000 hours I’m still driven to queue into matchmaking for no incentive greater than what experience the next game might bring and how it might make me a better player. So why is it that the progression systems that seem most honest also seem the most brutal, the most punishing and the least fun?

    Wait.. what’s that rumbling sound? Oh god. Oh no. About five sentences ago I flirted with the two most volatile questions in gamer discourse in reckless proximity, and accidentally spawned a Thinkpiece Singularity about whether Dark Souls is a roguelike! Everybody out! This thread is about to go critical!

  10. CA–sounds like The Linear RPG by Sophie Houlden.

    I owe you a wall of texts about roguelikes but I was also going to talk about boardgames for the kiddoes, namely that my older really likes the funny RPG skinning so we’ve got him Munchkin and Dragonwood, the latter of which is basically rummy with RPG mechanics. They’re both good. I think the randomness is pretty helpful. Younger can play Dragonwood with help, Munchkin seems a bit rule-heavy for that.

    As for the volatile topics, bah, I thought you’d done “what is a game?” and were going to get slapped with a duck penis. Joel will explain that inside joke to you. Of course Dark Souls isn’t a roguelike, that’s daft.

  11. Nothing is daft if you can get somebody to pay you ยฃ500 to write about it! I was also veering into the neighbourhood of Do Game Mechanics Perpetuate Evil Capitalism? if that helps keep the duck penises at bay.

    And yes! It was The Linear RPG! I experienced a brief thrill of oneness with humanity at the notion that there were important games that deserved to get played, and this one had earned its spot in our shared cultural memory, but then on further investigation I see the author has made 47 other games that of course I have never heard of, although many I’m sure were no less deserving, and is probably in like the 96th percentile just for having made one game that random internet people are aware of, and also one of the games is called Important Games You Should Play and that’s probably sarcastic. So now I don’t know what to think.

  12. I’m glad to see tabletop games in discussion, unfortunately the only game I was playing this last months is chess, but online. There is some time that I don’t play some “Tabletop RPG” or “paper and pen RPG”, but is something that I always will like. When I’m thinking about game design I always think about tabletop games, it gives you a great sense of critical thought when you compare with “video games”. Talking about that I recommend the book “Homo Ludens” of Johan Huizinga (1872-1945), for now the only book I can think that tries to “grasp” a proper “theory” for the problem of game.

    I am planning to play some games, don’t know yet which and when. I’m reading, studying, watching tv shows or staring sky, listing musics, writing, but for some reason I’m not comfortable to just play anything. I just finish a Patrick Le Roux’s book, a introduction for Roman Empire, reading others too, but I’m focusing in improving some knowledge I have in fault. If I have time I will study some mathematics’s fundamentals and principally logic (classic, modal or first-order logic), since I have great deficiency in this area, doing this I will improve too my knowledge on philosophy as whole, that will helps me in some in other areas, but is more a casual objective, because in the end I have to gain time and study a ton of of other books, principally about law. I promise until the end of the year my english will be impeccable, but for now I have to improve my ow idiom and learn others, like latin, I know a thing of two of latin and ancient greek, but this lack disturbs me when I’m reading certain authors, is like in the Cultist Simulator you need to be smart or you go crazy trying.

    I love JRPGs, some time ago I read a short article about a kind of JRPG that seems like a parody about JRPG that Joel write, I disagree with him (or you if who’s reading is @Joel), but to explain my arguments I start to searching and digging and conceptualizing and when I see was one of the works of Hercules, impossible to do in short time and would be a short book, not a comment. The problem that many people see in JRPG have a answer, but is a longer one, because we need to go to past and see the evolution of video games and then realize that this JRPG thing is just a label. “The Witcher” would not be “The Witcher” without JRPGs, it’s elements is the same of old JRPG, in contrast of what we now see in JRPG, that is: ton of texts and tons of statistics. And I will express my opinion agreeing with @matt w, that Dark Souls is not a roguelike game. But I like this game, if any wonder.

    Good to see that people are so inspired, it inspire me to write a great wall of text bigger than China, but in some point I will just disappear and return in months or years, and just read the articles and comments in silence.

    I recommend these two: (it’s a great database of games, principally japanese games, the difference is that the articles are not just sinopses, it is a review and a history background of production, port versions, reception, etc, the site has books too about history of video games, principally japanese industry)

    (now is more like a “blog”, but it has great analyses about horror games and it’s design, it’s from the developer of Dead Secret, a game that I still have to play, is not updated frequently, but I highly recommend, since it has many interesting discussion on horror, puzzle and history of horror and survival games, that is a genre that I super enjoy)

    For tabletop games specifically, I like them too, the diversity is huge and we cold talk for a long time in our armchairs, and I shall in some moment in the future, but that is it for now. And oh, accessibility, is great topic of discussion, I like the field, principally in “Design” (as whole), and I have some thoughts on that, that I maybe will express too in some (unknown) future.

  13. “At some point soon it will stop nagging you to do things and then youโ€™ll have no idea what to do. ;)”

    Quoted for truth! Big ocean is big.

    “Micro-bribes” I like this!

    That rougelite thread was brilliant and I nearly contributed to it myself but I’ve been a little strapped for time recently and on Twitter I spend too long trying to distill until there’s nothing left. My big issue with leveling systems or meta progression is when it’s more about the time played than the quality of the play itself. When it becomes number attrition over learning and skill then I start to grumble and pull faces. As much as I enjoyed 10000000, that had a similar thing going on where it was unlikely, if not impossible, to do the game in one good run. Skill was certainly a bonus that moved you along faster but your progress was still capped or severely limited by your stats which you slowly built up over repeat play. In the Souls games you have to feel your way around the world for difficulty gaps to slip through.

    Kind of related, or at least this always pops up in my mind when thinking about the numbers game vs. the actual game: Vermintide vs. L4D. They’re essentially the same game but they differ in one fundamental way: one has leveling and loot, the other does not, respectively. I find the way you play both fascinating because with L4D you choose your campaign, choose your difficulty and play. That’s it. If you fail, try try try that section again; you weren’t good enough. There’s no gear or stats to smooth over your performance. With Vermintide there’s a tendency for players to choose maps they’re familiar with so they can grind them to get better gear for the higher difficulties. I’ll die happy if I never have to play The Horn of Magnus again (and it’s a great opening level!). There’s a temptation too for most players to sit on the easy side of the difficulty and power curve rather than the tough side because to fail is to not get any XP or loot. For me, this makes the game a lot less interesting, and less interesting co-operatively. When rewards are on the line, players tend to be more conservative and take the path of least resistance which is often the more boring one! I mean, if L4D had loot and leveling I think No Mercy (the first campaign) would suffer the same fate as The Horn of Magnus.

    Anyway, boardgames! So it’s only in recent years that I’ve played other boardgames outside the Big Names too. We’ve a very enthusiastic but scattered circle of friends across the country so we don’t get to play as much as we’d like.

    Pandemic is great but I’m not sure whether I’ve burnt out on it or what because I don’t have much desire to return to it! We bought the normal game for the same reasons as you, despite Legacy being praised from the rooftops.

    Ticket to Ride is something I’ve played online with Armand and his girlfriend and I enjoyed that a lot.

    Then there’s Azul which, as I mentioned on Twitter, we only played on Boxing Day with them in Los Angeles. I think that’s one I’ll be picking up! Yes, you really have to keep an eye on your scoring block because it only takes a little knock and you’ve got 20 extra points! From our few games, that centre pile can get scary when your rows are filled, and if you’re playing with proper bastards then they can weaponise it to land on your floor.

    We generally gravitate towards games that aren’t too dense, just so we can ensnare more newcomers but also because you need to be able to frequently play to properly internalise more complex rulesets. Even Pandemic we have to brush up on every time we sit down to play it. And that’s not to say we’re wanting shallow experiences either! Games like Dixit, Codenames Pictures and The Resistance are group favourites because there’s a lot of interesting and social interactions, and they’re quick to set up, easy to explain and play. Colt Express and Citadels are two other group favourites because they’re also accessible but have more moving parts and are ripe for dramatic scheming and backfiring.

    I’m excited about all the boardgaming adventures your family will be having! Old school Side by Side! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I’d like to share some of my experience before reading any comments but I did notice a few titles mentioned while scrolling slowly.
    I play a lot of board games. Actually, _we_ play _tens_ of board games. Now me and my friends together host a public board game event nearly monthly and a lot of people come and attend it. To make everyone engaged, we introduce people to games and cater to just about any taste. We regularly play both casual and hardcore and have been exposed to a variety of games and obviously have our own tastes.
    The thing that keeps me terribly confused: a lot of people love Pandemic and everyone likes it except me. It might be a Monopoly kind of effect – it is simply a more well known game and so people talk about it more but Monopoly gets a bad word or two yet Pandemic never does (except from me). I don’t get it. In Pandemic, you cooperatively solve a problem where everyone has the same opportunities and everyone shares what they are thinking. “I think we should do X.” “Agreed.” “Seems good.” “No, we should do Y instead because then we get Z.” “Mathematically, we have better odds if we do W.” “Let’s go.” and so you pass the test or don’t. That’s fine but the thing that grind my gears: the strategy feels like playing turn-based tetris, moreover, this has no spirit of a true cooperation game and, most importantly, many other games offer conversations that are much more interesting than my example. Now, let me back this up…
    “Turn-based tetris” mostly speaks for itself but I will elaborate it. The strategies in Pandemic and Tetris usually involve very obvious moves and making correct decisions is often very easy: just go and treat the problematic part; just do that thing where everything aligns. The more important decisions are when it isn’t pushing you – when you know there’s no one thing that will make you fail this turn, you might accidentally make a move that will punish you later, for a smaller or bigger effect. But both games have these important decisions very rarely, most turns just flow by. And it probably should in a game of Tetris because you have very little time; but in Pandemic, if it isn’t your first or second game, a lot of these turns are just time wasting. I hate wasting time. Maybe others like wasting time and this is why Pandemic is appealing.
    Next: what I want from a cooperative game. I actually love when a game needs true cooperation and collaboration but the thing is: Pandemic doesn’t _need_ anything of you, it’s actually very fine with you slacking off. In a good cooperative game, you have to trust your friends and rely on them, they change the way you think about risks that might hurt your companions, just like cooperation in real life! I will admit, there aren’t many “good cooperative games” as I define it, especially in board games, but there are notable efforts. Games like Hanabi, Grizzled and, to some extent, Mysterium ban open communication and leave imperfect information for the players. This way, everyone has a different perspective and have to really engage with the other players by trying to figure out what the others think. They’re a bit like other communication games Codenames and Taboo/Alias where you have to convey ideas but these are competitive games about verbal action (as opposed to logic). I must mention video games because they have some edge on this – cooperative communication games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and Spaceteam are exceptional. Action games like Overcooked or even Magicka always make the players interfere and hinder each other all the time (which is also incredibly funny most of the time) and so, making sure to quickly decide on what’s the best action that will help your teammates makes it very satisfying, personally.
    Now, onto the active discussions on important decisions – Pandemic rarely encourages any fight nor disagreement. Actually, I never ever argued in Pandemic because each new proposed solution is usually better so I was surprised to hear Joel have some of that. I will take a hit there, it just might be that I played with the wrong people or I am just a too reasonable person or something. But in any case, many games introduce things that are more interesting to converse about. Somewhat similar to Pandemic, Scotland yard (NY Chase) makes a few agents chase a player Mr. X, who is usually invisible and only appears on the map a few times. Agents must surround the agent and zone in onto them but Mr. X can decide to risk instantly losing the game but potentially go through a gap in agents’ line of defense or retreat conservatively but into a worse position. From experience, the agents constantly argue whether Mr. X had the balls to go into that one tile or not and there is never a perfect move for the agents. This is perhaps the perfect contender to replace Pandemic as it takes about as long, the same player range (3-6 players), similar complexity (except you never have to read any card effects as there are none) but offers decisions that are much more interesting, in my opinion. Then there are the lot of secret role games where a village/kingdom/spaceship of players tries to figure out which players are werewolves/mafia/cylons and are ruining their peaceful ways. When set up well, these games involve a lot of bluffing, accusations, arguments, verbal attacks and the constant pursuit of trust. Examples: Mafia/Werewolves, Secret Hitler, The Resistance: Avalon, One Night Ultimate Werewolf. However, all of these require 5 or more people (9 or 10 is perfect) who can reason, can bluff and know the line between game and reality and so children don’t fit well.
    Anyways, sorry for the rant, I will probably read the comments and recommend a bunch of unrelated board games tomorrow because I know a lot of good games ๐Ÿ™‚
    In the meant time, replies are welcome.

  15. ALL the board games Dan and Gregg mentioned are absolutely great! Personally, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride get boring than most other games but they’re also very simple and children-compatible.

    Video games!

    Roguelikes/lites were always very hit-or-miss for me, I either get gripped or quickly send the game to the archives folder (which is essentially the trashbin). I played a lot of FTL, Necrodancer, Dead Cells and Into the Breach. Yet, I nearly always prefer crafted levels to procgen. Procgen+permadeath is a sinister brew that almost always comes down to my absolutely hated repetition of content. If I feel like I beat this zone, stop rubbing it into my face, please! Yes, I can run through this zone without taking any damage again but could you please not streak the zones? It always makes for a dull marathon of “do that again as good as last time but follow up with this new thing and perform well yet again” and it doesn’t matter where you did the mistake, it might cost you the whole run. And I think this is why I like the games I’ve mentioned:
    FTL: actually… it didn’t do anything special on that end, it was my first roguelite so it just… got a pass, I guess? Necrodancer: if you beat a zone, you can just always start from the next one, yay! Items are not ridiculous, yay! Accessible progression with upgrades, yay! Dead Cells: you are fast, you deal lots of damage, you get speed buffs for killing enemies, you can get to the first boss in 4 minutes, yay! Acessible progression, yay! Into the Breach: I don’t know… it’s just really good?.. But wait! The team you choose actually matters in this game, you get special goals that are interesting to seek for. The zones and weapons have enough variety instead of boring damage boosts and crit chances. The procgen… wait a minute, I saw this map already, these were all maps curated by real people that actually decided these maps are good, no wonder they are all great! And so, Into the Breach is so far the most exceptional roguelite I’ve played.

    Also playing Subnautica but haven’t read the article yet. The game punched me in the gut hard by… just being programmed poorly, I guess? My computer crashed while saving the game and apparently save corruption is still a thing these days because some programmers didn’t get the memo of “automatically save copies”. Now I manually save copies. Anyways, I am enjoying the game and am surprised it’s a lot more than I expected ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Fede

    Thanks, Fede.

    I should say, on Azul, that we have played several games but that’s never enough to know whether a game has “longevity” or whether you can find strategies that kill the game. With Azul right now, we’re mainly focused on our own tiles but there’s definitely tactical play available to block the moves of other players; that’s part of the game we haven’t properly engaged. There is a variant, as well, which plays much more rapidly to begin with but it’s so easy to make a mistake which is good – you block yourself later – but also bad as sometimes your cross-checking fails and we actually had to wind back moves after realising too late.

    We still haven’t fully engaged all the rules of Carcassonne, we’ve yet to do farmers and we still have the Abbot expansion to try out. It became clear during the last game that knowing which tiles were still left was important and my wife was building up a large city – yet against all odds she completed it and wiped us all out with a 30-point bonus in the last few turns. I find the rules about how you get points at the game end quite forgiving (there’s no “loss” for example if you don’t complete a road and it’s really about tying down a meeple for the length of the game).


    I haven’t read that piece on Below which is Above me in the comments yet… but the title feels right. I get excited thinking about returning to Below but when I sit down at the PC, I realise 20 minutes isn’t going to be long enough to get through the necessary grind, especially as I already burned through my checkpoints.

    On levelling up systems: I am personally down on them, simply because I feel games of challenge are about the player figuring out ways to progress rather than doing rote tasks to produce progress. I see them as padding and it takes some persuading to see around them. A game of numbers can be interesting, and figuring out matches between monster levels and your character’s attributes or level can be a fascinating project but many cheap systems are simply grindy. (Grind can be good, too, in the right hands, to support a narrative of the hard work to climb the mountain of progress. Cart Life is a masterclass of grind as meaning.)

    Fortunately, you haven’t stepped into a “what is gaem” doodoo which is reviled around these parts. The correct answer to the question is duck penis which was accidentally discovered during a forum thread – when Electron Dance had a forum called the Appendix for a little while – on the Fear of Twine anthology which yours truly was a part of.

    I liked having a separate forum but it had two problems which I foresaw: (a) without enough participants you risk the ghost town problem, which eventually happened and (b) it was another place I needed to monitor on top of the comments and social media.

    I’d second (wait, no, I guess it’s third) Matt that Dark Souls can’t really be read as rogue-ish. It perhaps shares that desperation to make progress but I think that’s as far as that story goes.

    Earlier in Ouroboros, I did cover Sophie Houlden’s Rose and Time as one of those recording puzzles/time travel puzzles I have Issues With. Houlden is not the world’s Most Famous Indie developer but she does command a significant following (17,000 on Twitter).

    I don’t think I’m going to talk about tabletop that much, simply because I’ll probably only get a few every year, but it seemed pertinent to bring it up now after our first dedicated Christmas of Board Games.

    Article on what seems like a parody of a JRPG… was that my short article about Hylics?

    I do wish I could read books on theory more – I’ve got a few in the queue, but they’ve been in the queue for ages. One of the reasons that progress on the book slowed down is too many Clever Knowledgeable Books To Read when all I want to do is chill out and watch a horror movie.


    Always interesting commentary from the online multiplayer side of the fence, Gregg We’re always roughly on the same page when it comes to loot/upgrade stuff.

    I already feel the tug away from Pandemic, because we “completed” it. I have this with videogames, that when you’ve defeated the challenge, it’s time to move on to something else. The Pandemic challenge has little variation, in a way, it’s all about the geography and how random it turns out; my early feeling is that the roles are the most important determinant of shape of the game. Still, we need to up the Pandemic difficulty and test our mettle against a more serious challenge.

    Oh, in Azul, there was this horrible merry-go-round on one game where we could see a monster blue drop in the centre and someone, SOMEONE, was going to have to eat a 15 point floor drop. Yikes. I think I managed to push that onto my wife. We’re still talking.

    I think when it comes to our children involved, it has to stay fairly simplistic, otherwise we lose our daughter like with Pandemic. Further, I think cunning, evil play probably doesn’t suit them too much at this stage. This will come with time, but I pushed the boat out this year with a series of experiments, half-expecting Qwirkle all over again (having to wait a few years before Team Goodwin had grown up enough).

    And no Gregg, there’s going to be no Board Side by Board Side. Bad Gregg.

    That Scar

    Oh, I think your criticisms of Pandemic are valid. I already noticed it’s only cooperative in the sense that we’re all talking about what we’re doing as a team and it does not require us to commit our actions separately. We’re a hive mind. There is a rule about keeping your cards hidden, but it seems such a poor attempt at patching genuine co-op, it makes me laugh. Further, I suspect we’re getting up to speed with Pandemic very fast and that it might not hold as much fascination after we beat it on the tough difficulty (this is your “Tetris” point).

    At present, it’s all new though, and we’re still working through discovery, figuring out how we should approach it, especially when an epidemic strikes. The arguments we had were over deciding what was best for us to do as a team and this was back in the first few games where we were getting fried each time. In our successful games, whenever a better move was proposed it usually was the better move. I know precisely what you mean about the turns where “your next move isn’t obvious” and those feel real anxious, real random dice throws into the unknown.

    I get where you’re going here – it seems hidden information and controlling communication might generate a better sense of “individuals” co-operating and having to make their own move rather than a team mulling things over. You’re not represented on the board individually; you’re a team directing a team. I’ve tried a little of We Were Here which is co-operation a la At A Distance, which puts it in that Keep Talking camp. You can’t see what each of you is looking at and are desperate for help.

    At the end of the day, Pandemic is our first step and we’re getting a lot of out of it. I don’t know whether it will be easy for our daughter to rejoin though – trying to be part of Pandemic with three experienced people sounds like a nightmare.

    Regarding your roguelikelite feelings is – it doesn’t sound like roguelikes are your thing? They are supposed to be about repetition and skilling up your brain to handle whatever randomness it throws at you and being able to prove it. That heady mix doesn’t always click. But I absolutely loved Zaga-33 and it was just magic making gradual progress through the game and treating every single move like the most important thing. But hey, I haven’t played that much in the roguelikelite department for a while. I think the last thing was Rogue Islands and I never made much progress in that.

    Sorry to hear of your early terrible Subnautica experience!

  17. “It doesnโ€™t sound like roguelikes are your thing?”
    I think I’ve picked the wrong words but what I wanted to say was: roguelites always seem to fall on the extremes and I either love them or hate them without any middle ground. And I do love a bunch of them. Actually, just last week, I was shown Rogue Fable and it’s kind of the closest to the middle (but closer to the “great” side so far)

  18. Actually, just last week, I was shown Rogue Fable and itโ€™s kind of the closest to the middle (but closer to the โ€œgreatโ€ side so far).

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