Some nights I struggle with feeding the machine. Some nights I look at the calendar and spend a whole 10 minutes worrying what I’m going to write about for Monday. Some nights I spend too much time listening to Fun and you get paragraphs like this.
Of course I’ve been playing and writing, playing and writing. I wrote about Western Legends and Shifting Realms just a few days ago. But I’m not quite ready for my next article here, as games need many plays and much time to adequately decipher.
So this is something different. Here we’ll take a curve and chat about some games that have been rattling around in my skull. These aren’t full measured reviews, but a mix of weathered reflection and initial impressions. This isn’t scientific and I’m not a scientific person. I’m just a guy, playing games and hoping Pizzolatto can recapture the majesty of True Detective.
It was Gen Con two years ago, which simultaneously feels like a Schrodinger-esque state of 1994 and yesterday. I think that’s what happens when you start getting old – everything feels incredibly distant yet your mind refuses to believe it.
But it was two years ago. Efka and Elaine of No Pun Included tell me of this game. It’s a game about stacking meeples in odd positions Efka says. Cool. Not really, because I don’t care about circuses. They’re bright odorful places of animals and children patrolled by broken souls who gave up on life and became a clown. And there’s that whole animal abuse problem. Take my money, and my dignity.
I suppose they are fun in the abstract sense. I wouldn’t have admitted this before playing Meeple Circus. But here I am.
This is a dexterity game that takes the most mundane aspect of this genre – stacking something atop another – and actually makes it fun and exciting. This occurs because there is a pressure element. The app plays this hilarious yet awful circus tent music and you go to work. You place an acrobat atop a horse, balancing a barrel on its head. The idea is to mimic these goal cards off to the side. Give the crowd what it wants and they’ll praise you. It’s Maximus Decimus Meridius without the blood and subsequent fatherless children.
Yes, it’s wonderful.
Of particular beauty is the final act. You now have a card which requires you do something stupid. Maybe you need to loudly proclaim: “Now presenting…” before you place each piece. Perhaps you need to stop what you’re doing mid-show to eat an imaginary sandwich. These are real things. This game is stupid. It’s also fantastic.
Oh, and that final act – you’re doing the whole thing while the rest of your group watches. They’re verbally spitting in your eye and laughing as your wobbly tower of meeple limbs comes crashing down.
Here’s a bit of surprise. I don’t much enjoy taking tricks. Don’t get me wrong, Hearts is fine and all, but I’ve never felt like pulling out a trick taking game when I have dozens of glorious boxes full of narrative and drama.
And along came Spy Tricks.
Wizkids slipped this into a package that arrived a few weeks ago. I tossed it aside because Seal Team Flix was the cure for all my aches.
Well, I recently got Spy Tricks to the table and it thoroughly surprised. This is a trick taking game, but it’s equally focused on deduction.
There’s this simple theme of spies vying for information, which is pretty much irrelevant, but it has us placing a randomized card from the deck out of sight. No one knows what value or which of the three proprietary suits this selection belongs to.
We then deal out the deck and proceed to take those tricks. There are several twists to reckon with.
The goal is to successfully predict which card was hidden. We do this by placing our color coded pawns on a very creased paper mat. There are slots for each of the cards and you can bet on which specific card it is, or simply on which suit or number. Payouts scale based on the difficulty as you’d expect.
What’s interesting is that the winner and loser of each trick place a pawn. This means you can angle for the lowest value card as well as the highest. That simple inclusion is pretty damn fascinating.
Also, as more cards are played they’re placed on that mat. A big picture starts to emerge and predictions formed later in the round have more information to go on.
This is a surprisingly deep game that plays in 30 minutes. You can feint certain numbers, hedge your bets, and manipulate public information by delaying the play of specific cards.
Imagine a hand where you’re dealt the 7 in all three suits. Since you’re a cunning individual, you hold those cards back as long as possible. If you can manage to do so until the final couple of tricks, people may start going all in on some of those values. Suckers, all of ’em.
Spy Tricks is excellent. It feels meaty while still being a joy to play. It’s not as entangling or annoying as Diamonds, and it adds a touch of depth without sacrificing core simplicity.
The components are the weakest element as the cards are tiny and made for small plastic doll hands. At least it’s dirt cheap.
Time’s Up: Title Recall
This is the best party game of all time.
Of all time.
I actually ended this article right there on my first pass. But you want more.
This is one of those all-too-common “get your partner to guess the word” games. So you have a card that says “Hips Don’t Lie” – which is a song by Shakira in case you don’t know.
So you draw this card and must get your teammate to guess it. You can say things like “it’s a song by Shakira” or “it involves your literal sides not telling the truth.” You can do better than this but you get the point.
As soon as your partner guesses correctly you draw a new card and repeat the process. You have 30 seconds to get as many cards as possible.
The magic happens beginning the next round. All of the 40 cards used by the table are shuffled back together. Now we re-do the whole thing but you can only give one word clues. Wait, it gets better.
In the final round all you can do is pantomime. Oh yeah, baby.
What happens is a magical combination. The game continually makes you feel clever for remembering previous clues. It engenders a communal state of improv where people start making physical motions prior to the final round, and then you reincorporate their actions (thus stealing them) later if possible.
This game is great for humiliating people. In a recent play my aunt mimicked child-birth by making some odd motion out of her rear. Despite the fact that’s not anatomically correct, I re-used this pantomime in a later round which resulted in a waterfall of hysterics. More importantly, my team member answered correctly.
Look, I’m a shy dude and don’t like to feel uncomfortable or look stupid. Pull out Time’s Up and I’ll cut a rug or hang from a chandelier. Games are serious business.