Posts Tagged ‘Advent Reviews’

Advent Reviews: Werewolves (of Miller’s Hollow)

Werewolves is the quintessential party game. I love playing it – unfortunately, it is difficult to gather enough people to play it.

What kind of game is this?

Werewolves is a funny kind of a game. It exists in many versions, and was played for a while without any commercially released edition. It was originally known as Mafia, and can also be found ind the guise of “Do you worship Cthulhu?” All that said, the version of the game that really made it famous was “The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow”.

In any version, one player is the moderator. All other players receive a character card, showing whether they are a common villager, a werewolf hiding in the village, or one of a number of special characters, most of which are on the side of the villagers.

The game is played in a number of day/night cycles. Each night, the moderator tells everyone to close their eyes. When everybody has closed their eyes, the moderator tells the wolves to open their eyes and vote for whoever they want to eat that night. After the werewolves are done, a number of other characters can open their eyes, one at a time, in order to use their special powers – like the Seer, who will point to someone to find out whether they are a werewolf or not.

After the night phase, everybody opens their eyes, and the moderator tells them the results of the night: Who died, and what else happened? Then the players debate who they suspect of being a werewolf, and vote to lynch someone. The game ends when all the werewolves are dead, or when the werewolves overpower the villagers.

How many people should you play this with?

The more the merrier! I think a minimum for playing this is eight players and a moderator. But the game really shines when you have 10-15 players. This will make the game a fair bit longer, and the first player to die will be out for a fair while. This is unfortunate, but you can help it either by involving the dead players in the game, or by having them start a second game at some point.

What do I think of this game?

This game is so much fun! It hits a sweet spot between roleplaying and board gaming, and causes some really fun situations when everybody is slinging accusations back and forth. The rules are very light, and not very strict, but that is perfect for what the game is – not least because it makes it easy to bring new people into the game very quickly.

A few interesting things to note

How important artwork is. The difference in the feel between this version of the game and the one called “Ultimate Werewolf” is more or less just the artwork, and yet I much prefer Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow.

How fun it is to have a game you can customize so much. Each time, the moderator chooses a set of cards, which means none of the players can be entirely sure what’s in the pile. That keeps you on your toes.


Advent reviews: Dominion

Today, I’m reviewing a household favorite: Dominion. It’s no accident that we have all but one expansion for this game (nor is it an accident which one we haven’t bought). My SO in particular is fond of it, and used to play it extensively on the free on-line service, Isotropic. That service has sadly closed, and has been replaced by an inferior commercial version, leaving us to play only the physical game.

What kind of game is this?

When biologists talk about a certain species or type of animal, they may refer to a “type specimen”, by which they mean the one used to define the type or kind of organism, and the yardstick by which you determine which other specimens belong to the same kind. Well, Dominion is the type specimen for the kind of game called a “deck-building game”.

In Dominion, each player starts with his own small deck of ten very basic cards. Throughout the game the game, players will add cards to their deck from a selection of cards, called “the supply”. In the supply is three types of money cards (gold, silver and copper), three types of victory cards (estates, duchies and provinces), one type of bad card (curses) and ten so-called “Kingdom cards”. The Kingdom cards vary from game to game, and includes some very different cards. Most of the cards are action cards that allow you to do things on your turn, like draw, play or buy more cards, but there are also special kinds of money and victory cards that change the way you buy cards or score at the end of the game.

The list of things you do on your turn is deceptively simple. On your turn, you:

  1. may play an action card from your hand.
  2. may play as many treasures as you want from your hand,
  3. may buy one card from the supply, depending on the money you have received from the action- and treasure cards you have played. Bought cards go to your discard pile
  4. put all played cards on the table, as well as any unplayed cards in your hand, in your discard pile, and draw five new cards.

…but of course it’s not that simple. Many action cards allow you to play more cards in your action phase, or they allow you to buy more cards in your buy phase, and so, you will often be playing five or ten action cards in your turn, before you play any treasures. Some cards allow you to do things to other players, while others allow you to react to things happening to you, even on other players’ turns. Many cards will tell you to “trash” (remove) cards from your deck, something that is an important element in many strategies.

The game ends when the most valuable victory card has sold out, or when three of the other piles of cards have sold out. Then you count all the victory points in your deck – the person with the most points is the winner.

How many people should you play this with?

According to the box, the game plays with 2-4 players – and I’d gladly play it with 2, 3, or 4 players. Playing with two players is in many ways a more strategic game than playing with three or four, but I would say it plays equally well with two, three and four players. You can also play it with 5 or 6, but I think I might recommend splitting up into two groups instead.

What do I think of this game?

If somebody asked me to point to a beautifully designed game, I might point to Dominion. The rules are simple, yet the depth of the game is immense. Despite the more than 200 different kingdom cards, all the cards interlock in neat and easily understandable ways. The designer of the game, Donald X. Vaccarino, has apparently stated that there is only one combination of cards that he would have prevented had he known of it. That is a testament to the thorough design of the game.

Playing Dominion can be very much a cerebral challenge. Even if you own all expansions and all 200+ different cards, each game will start with a set of ten different kingdom that you can use to construct your deck. As such, the main challenge in any game of Dominion is looking at the available cards, spotting synergies between different cards, and developing a strategy that will allow you to gain more victory points than your opponent.

An important part of advanced Dominion strategy is what is called “deck control” – controlling which cards are present in your deck. Adding a card to your deck means that card is more likely to appear in your hand, replacing other cards – so you must make sure each card is replacing less useful cards, instead of more useful cards. As such, trimming cards that are no longer useful can be a very strong move, as this improves the odds of drawing useful cards. 

All in all, for a 20-30 minute game, Dominion is a very deep game that has entertained us for many, many hours. The basic game is pretty simple to learn, but particularly once you start adding some of the more advanced expansions – like Dark Ages and Cornucopia – there is a lot of options to explore and experience with. But despite the multitude of different cards, the setup of the game limits the number of different cards you have to deal with at a time. While this game is definitely not for everyone, for those who like it, it contains hours and hours of gameplay.

A few interesting things to note

  • The game was one of five Mensa MindGames in 2009.
  • There are a few recurring themes throughout the expansion. Each expansion has at least one type of card that serves a similar function to the “Village” card of the original Dominon-box. Most of them have “village” in the title, like “Mining Village” or “Fishing Village”, while others are called “Hamlet”, “City” etc.
  • A number of expansions change the basic setup of the game. Prosperity adds another tier of money and victory cards (“Platinum” and “Colonies”) while Dark Ages changes the cards you start the game with, and some of the cards require particular cards be added to the setup that can’t be bought, but only gained in ways specified on the cards (“Spoils”, “Ruins”, “Mercenary” and “Madman”).

Advent reviews: Dixit

Dixit is one of my favorite games. Quick, engaging and beautiful, easy yet challenging, and full of creative juice.

What kind of game is this?

In Dixit, you have a deck of big cards, each with a different and very evocative piece of art on them. Each round, one player will select a card from their hand, give it a title (titles can be anything; I recently gave a “title” which was whistling a song), and put it face down on the table. Each other player will then select a card from their hand they think could carry that title, and put it with the first card. The selected cards are then shuffled, and put face up on the table. All players except for the first player will then look at the card, and try to guess which card was the first player’s. The first player will get points if at least one, but not all, of the other players guessed his card, while the other players will get points for guessing the first player’s card, and for each player who guessed their card.

This means that the first player wants to give a hint that is vague enough that not everyone will be able to guess it, but not so vague that nobody can guess it. The other players want to put out a card that everybody will think is the first card, and they want to find out which card the first player put out.

How many people should you play this with?

The box for Dixit Oddysey (which has better components and more rules variants than the original) says 3-12, though 8-12 is mostly for a team game (which I haven’t tried). Three is ok, but far from optimal. I think it shines at 5-6 players – you have a good amount of cards you have to decide between, but it will be your turn relatively often. 4, 7, and 8 are all fine as well – 4 means not so many options, 7-8 means almost too many options, and you won’t be giving a title very often (which is just fine by some; I kinda like doing it).

What do I think of this game?

This game is great. It is one of not very many games my mother will enjoy. It’s a lot of fun to try to guess which picture would inspire someone to a certain title, and trying to come up with a title really tickles your brain. Not to mention that the artwork is beautiful! It’s very evocative, and most of it is chock full of little details and ambiguous meanings.

It’s also not a very competitive game. I usually don’t care too much where I end up on the score track. The interesting thing is trying to pair titles and images, and hearing the other players explain why they picked each card. This also makes it a very good game to play with writing groups or improv theatre groups – or as warm up for a roleplaying game – as it really gets the creative juices flowing. And the cards can be used as writing prompts.

This is a game I’ve played with children of eight and people over sixty. Both have enjoyed it. Frame of reference is important, because that will help you understand the hints better, so being an outsider in a crowd of friends can make it more difficult to get a lot of points, but it is still an enjoyable game.

In other words, a good game for when you don’t want heavy strategy or fierce rivalry. Also a game that can work well with gamers and non-gamers alike, and one which I wouldn’t hesitate recommending as a game for non-gamers and families.

A few interesting things to note

  • Many games use the logic, maths and spatial skills of the brain. This uses another function of the brain: the so-called “theory of mind”. Theory of mind is the mind’s ability to deduce what other people are thinking. This is one of the things that autistic people usually lack.
  • If I recall, the rule-book gives the scores as 3 points for the first player if he gets it right, and 3 points for everyone who guessed his card. I usually change it, so that the people who guess his card gets two points. Otherwise, it’s actually a mechanical disadvantage to be the first player, as he can never get more than the initial three points, while another player can guess the right card AND have loads of people guess the card he put down. It’s no big deal, just something to consider.