Sunday, May 29, 2011

A game I love and a game I...own.

When people ask me what I collect, I used to say "collections." I had an antique camera collection. A Star Wars action figure collection. A rather sizeable comic book collection. A hat collection. Sword collection, antique video game system collection, penny collection, rock collection, baseball card collection, baseball player autograph collection, tabletop RPG named it, I probably had some at some point. Scary thing is, I still have a lot of those collections, just boxed up.

And yes. I am a nerd.

But one collection surpasses all the others: I own a lot of games.

No, seriously, I own a lot of games. New and classic video games. Word puzzle games. Wooden antique games. I even own a competitive Sudoku game AND a Sudoku Rubik's cube.

And then there's the board games and card games. They can have any number of players from one to...well, one just says "four or more players." I've gotten up to 10 people to play at once, someday I'll break that record. Games that are set up, played, and done with in fifteen minutes, and games that can take weeks to complete. There are games that can be played with children and games that specifically state the players should be adults (no sex-themed games, though. With the people I see regularly, I really don't want to show up with anything that involves the words "lick" or "touch." The closest I have to that is a card game named "Wench" that...well, keep reading.)

Those still sit on their own shelves. Those are the things that get brought out now and again for fun with some friends. They're the things that, even if they completely stunk, usually had something about that I seized on and found interesting. I've introduced friends and family to games that they've enjoyed so much that they went out and bought their own copy. I've introduced friends to games that were so awkward to play that they'll likely never be brought out again unless there's copious amounts of alcohol present.

Of course, words don't really put the collection to justice. Now, it's not going to place me in a Guinness book or anything, but unless you have a lot of kids and they all get bored really easily, I'm going to assume most people reading this do not own this many games.

Without further ado, I present...the shelves.

No, that's not a complete set. In fact, about to post this, I just found another board game under my desk.

I fully plan on reviewing a few of these games, but for now a synopsis of a couple that will only fill a couple of paragraphs will work.

First up, I may as well start with the game I already mentioned, "Wench."

Advertised as a "thinking drinking game," Wench is one of the strangest games I've ever seen. Keep in mind I own a board game based on Iron Chef Japan and a card game based on beating up every other player to take their lunch money. It's fast, it's frantic, and with the right crowd, it's probably a lot of fun. I got it for free, but I never let price determine the fun factor. The object of the game is simple: get rid of the cards in your hand. This is done primarily by playing a card in front of you and by giving cards to other players. There are two types of cards: table cards and turn action cards.

Now, before I go further into the rules, let's discuss the most glaring detail of this game:

That's right. It doubles as a deck of regular playing cards, in case you're in the children's section of the library and suddenly feel like a game of solitai- what? Oh, the pictures? Well, fine then. We'll discuss that.

Wench is eye candy. It's meant to be about as classy as you'd expect to find in a game advertised for frat houses. It makes no apologies, in fact it doesn't just hang out in the gutter, it's determined to show you just how pretty the gutter can be. The artwork is by Monte Moore, whose artwork is extremely detailed and well-crafted, but does tend to contain a lot of cheesecake. But look at the detail work on the Iron Man piece below:

The man has serious talent, nobody can deny that. But if you're going to be buying a game called "Wench!" you shouldn't expect Pollock or Rembrandt to adorn the cards.

Anyway, the other key part of the cards is all that text. Each card comes with a "rule" printed on it. When rules are broken, you follow the instructions on the cards. The table cards only affect the game when they're in play. The turn action cards (with a blue border instead of a gold border) can affect the game at any time. For instance, the "Crab" card indicates that when someone picks up something with only one hand, you may immediately give them a card. Only one card can be given per player per "round" so it's important to remember who's doing what and what cards they might have.

The game also encourages secondary penalties, such as taking a drink or losing some pennies (wherever gambling isn't illegal, of course, the game is quick to specify this). I can only imagine games of this devolving into someone slipping up a few times and then getting drunk enough to keep screwing up. Maybe the purpose of the game is to show that sober people tend to win things. Clever.

Now, you might be saying, "Erik, that's all well and good. But maybe I have a bit of class, or I don't drink, or either I am or I know women who find this to be disgusting and crude. And from reading this it's obvious you wouldn't pull this game out for any random mixed group of people. What game can I play with others that is still fun but isn't for people who are either doing their best to get drunk or want to win at all costs?"

In that case, I'd recommend Once Upon A Time.

In one of the more original ideas for a game I've ever seen, this is a "storytelling card game." There are two different types of cards in the game, "Once Upon A Time" cards and "Happily Ever After" cards.

"Once Upon A Time" cards contain characters, items, places, adjectives, or events that might happen in a story being told. This could be anything from "A King," "Axe," "Very Wise," or "A Garden." Players keep a set of these in their hand. "Happily Ever After" cards give a goal to reach with your story, such as "and he learned to never gamble again" or "and once he was dead, the people were free." A player's goal is to weave a story using the cards in their hand, using and playing each one as they read what's on them in order to empty their hand.

For instance, in the example given above, you might start with "Once upon a time, there was a king. He was a very wise king, and all of his people loved him. He also had a beautiful daughter, who all the young men were in love with. One day, while in the garden..." This lets you get rid of three cards while still building an actual story. This is where the types of people you know comes into play. If you know someone who wants to win at all costs, he might just say "once upon a time a very wise king was gambling in his garden. He lost his favorite axe, and he learned to never gamble again." Technically, yes, you won, but congratulations, you're also a jerk going against the spirit of the game.

Now, the challenge is fleshing out your story well enough so that the other players don't accuse you of being said jerk but also being aware of what other people might have in your hand. Suppose an opponent had the card "hunt," and you were in the middle of telling how the hero of the story was attempting to track down a dragon. If you mentioned "hunting" or "hunt" or anything close to that (the times I've played, if someone makes a strong case for it being a close enough synonym, we allow it), that player is allowed to play the card, poach your story, and continue it in whatever direction they so desire. Suddenly, your dashing prince is a pirate lord, and your faithful dog companion becomes a robot from the future with a dire warning.

Really, the only limits on this game are the people playing it. You can rule that a card can only be played once every two sentences, that a story has to be at least 10 sentences long, that a sentence has to be more than three words, and so on. It might feel like it becomes complex at first, but again, once people get into the spirit of spinning a story for their friends that they don't want to be told sucks, the play flows naturally and becomes entertaining when someone is just about to finish explaining why "he never went in the woods alone again" and someone grabs the story and takes it in a whole new direction.

But that's two of the games for now. They're for two very different audiences, of course, and are just a sampling of the types of not just games I own, but games that are out there to be discovered. I have games about racing starships, surviving a zombie apocalypse, working with other players to cure diseases across the globe, or tracking a criminal across London. Each one will get their time in the spotlight, but for now, why not just pull out a chair, sit down, and have some fun?

"Once upon a time, there was a writer who wanted to have a really kickass blog..."

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