Another holiday, another game day. Not that we actually need the excuse. We could probably say, “Hey, it’s gonna be hot this Saturday, let’s have a game day!” and people would show up. But we like being festive and playing games, so the two often go together. Although, despite the huge number of horror games out there, hardly anything appropriate to Halloween got played. Too many games, too little time.
Dead Man’s Draw is an evil game that must be destroyed. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it sure didn’t like me this day. Everyone takes turns drawing cards of various suits from a deck. You keep drawing either until you decide to stop — in which case you collect the cards you’ve revealed — or you draw the same suit twice, in which case you bust and the cards are discarded. The suits have different abilities; the Oracle lets you peek ahead to the next card, the Anchor protects the cards before it in case you bust, the Sword lets you steal a card from another player, etc. The cards all have varying values, and at the end of the game, you score the highest card of each suit you have. Or at least, you’re supposed to. Me, I managed to bust out every single time I went, and ended the game with an absolute goose egg. So yeah, evil and must be destroyed.
The Castles of Mad King Ludwig has become a group favorite, and an expansion for it has just been released, so of course we had to give it a go. The Secrets expansion adds moats you can build around your castle, secret passages you can use to connect rooms you normally can’t, and rooms with special tokens you can collect for either money or points. We liked what the tokens brought to the game, but the we weren’t entirely clear on the rules for the moats and the passages, and couldn’t find much clarity at the usual online resources, so I don’t think we used them to their full potential. It was still a fun game, but I want another whirl with this expansion before I make up my mind on it.
From a new expansion we went to a new game. Mission: Red Planet was originally released ten years ago, but Fantasy Flight Games has brought it back in a fancy new edition with their usual outstanding production. As the title suggests, you’re sending astronauts to Mars. Each turn, everyone plays one of nine role cards, each numbered from 1 to 9 and each doing different things with your astronauts, usually placing one or more astronauts on spaceships waiting to launch to Mars. These roles can also change a ship’s destination, launch it prematurely, or blow it up on the pad. The trick is that you count down from 9 to 1, resolving each player’s card in numerical order. So while the lower numbered cards tend to be more powerful, they can also leave you with fewer options because you’re acting after everyone else. Each ship launches for its destination when a set number of astronauts is placed on it, and upon landing on the planet, the resource in that particular region is revealed. These resources are worth 1, 2, or 3 points, and in each of the three scoring phase, you get 1, 2 or 3 tokens per resource for each region in which you have the majority, so finding the valuable resources and gaining majority there is key. You can also play discovery cards that can affect the final scoring, both positively and negatively; I lost a substantial number of points when a discovery card removed the lone astronaut I had in a region, keeping me from completing an optional mission. A lot of really pretty games turn out to be pretty mediocre, but this game is far from mediocre. There was a buzz about it when we finished, people talking about what they would do differently next time, about how much they liked it, so I think it’s safe to say this is going to hit the table plenty more.
Next up was RARRR!! This one has a fun premise: you select your monster and two other cards that grant you various powers — fire, lightning, nuclear, etc. — but which also have Japanese letters on them that spell out your monster’s name. You then select from another set of cards of various values and powers in order to fight over different cities worth points. You can only play as many power cards as you have icons of that power on your name cards, and you’re trying to play the most power on a given city in order to claim it. But once you use those cards, they’re gone, so you have to budget, bluff, and know when to go big in order to win. This goes on for three rounds, and the most points wins. It’s charming and incredibly light, the very definition of filler, but it was a fun way to get a good-sized group to the table while we waited for some other games to finish.
The day — now night — wrapped up with the second edition of Fantasy Flight’s A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. I’d played the first edition a few years ago, and liked it just fine, but being a living card game, it was already well into its life cycle and there were just too many cards out for me to try to catch up. But FFG has started it from scratch with this new edition, so I decided to jump on board. You build a deck based around one of the houses from the books, either pulling solely from that house or mixing in allied characters. This deck contains characters, locations, events, and attachments familiar to anyone who’s read the books or seen the show (although this game is based on the books). Characters have strength in three categories — Military, Intrigue, and Power — and challenging other players in these areas is the main form of conflict in the game. Military challenges remove character cards from play, Intrigue challenges make you discard cards, Power challenges earn you Power tokens, which is how you win the game; the first player to 15 wins. There’s also a separate deck of plot cards that set the conditions for each turn: how much gold you have, initiative for who goes first, your hand size at the end of the turn, and just how many cards or tokens are at stake in challenges. On top of that, most have some other effects, either for the entire turn or at the time they are revealed. You can do a standard one-on-one game, called a joust, or a multi-player like we did, which is a melee. Our game had the Baratheons, the Lannisters and the Greyjoys going at it, and we spent a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours conniving and backstabbing each other before the Lannisters eventually claimed the Iron Throne. So thanks, FFG; you’ve created yet another game you’re going to make me keep spending money on.
And then it was time for the store to close, and I wanted some actual Halloween in my Halloween, so I called it a night and went home and watched Frankenstein. Thus making sure that my day was all treats, no tricks.