Stroll through the woods and into the cabin, where a spooky gas attendant will regale you with tales about Next of Ken. This week, some quick spoiler-free talk about Cabin in the Woods, I'll cover the bank-robbing boardgame Banditos, and the first of my "looking back" segments where I'll go back and talk about games featured previously in my columns. Join us, won't you?
I am a Witness To Your Demise, I am the One Who Saw Through Your Lies
My wife and I caught Cabin in the Woods and I gotta tell you, it's a supreme mindfuck of epic proportions.
Sadly, it's also a movie you can't really discuss without giving anything away, and part of the fun is trying to figure out what the hell is going on. (The two office drones making small talk, suddenly cutting to a dramatic ominous beat as the movie's title blurts onto the screen, is only the beginning of the weirdness to follow.)
I admired this genre-bender, even though it's hard not to feel distant from the material due to the nature of how it's presented. Like I said, it's impossible to discuss in too much detail without giving away important parts of the movie. I
I've read the term "genius" being bandied about, but I'm not so sure if I'd go that far. It's fun, but it's also totally and completely fucked up. Everyone should watch it, at least once. (And hey, it's got Thor in it!) And the payoff...man alive, the payoff.
Your Alias Says You're Jean-Luc Picard
Spent some time with Banditos, where players try to rob a series of Mexican banks and make off with a ton of loot. Each player is a different character, each with their own special abilities. During your turn, you draw cards, looking for money, a weapon, and a vehicle. Once you have these, it's time to drive across the border and pull off some heists! As you rob banks, the heat level increases there, making each bank harder and harder to successfully rob. If you get caught, it's off to the hoosegow where you'll lose your "hard-earned" cash and have to wait until you find an opportunity to escape.
Players continue doing this until someone hits the magic number of Nuevos Pesos. The rulebook says 10 million but that's a typo...you play to 100,000 (unless you're looking for a 10-hour game of this.)
There's some fun to be had, but in a very old-fashioned, sometimes quite clumsy and creaky kind of way. All the goods you need are piled into one large deck, including the money you need to buy said goodies, so you'll hit strings where there's nothing to do put pull cards from the top of the deck.
The heat mechanic is pretty cool though and gives the game some push-your-luck flair. As you commit crimes, you and your vehicle will accumulate heat tokens. As these pile up it gets more and more difficult to do anything without getting caught, so often you'll need to spend turns laying low to get rid of some of that unwanted attention.
It's very Grand Theft Auto-ish in that sense as you'll "steal" from the discard pile, buy a fast ride and the weapon you need, pull of a string of crimes, and then find a nice place to hide until your wanted meter winds down.
The rules aren't always crysal-clear on a few things, like the timing of placing heat markers (it's right before an illegal activity, so those new markers do count against you immediately. At least, I think so, as otherwise it's way too easy.) There are several holes in the rules like this that will leave you scratching your head. The stop and start gameplay as players hope to hit the cards they need makes the pacing of the game seem off, and becomes worse as you hit rules snags as you go.
The cards themselves are of nice quality and you get a lot of them. Some of the cards themselves definitely made me smile, such as the one with the flavor text "Ebony and Ivory comes on the radio and ironically starts a riot." The game has a sense of humor and wears it on its sleeve. It is by far the game's strongest suit. You'll find plenty of humorous illustrations, famous quotes, and pop culture jokes aplenty.
I had fun with it, but mostly due to the theme and the funny bits in the game. When you boil the gameplay down though it's about waiting until one player hits the spending money from the main deck, spends it, then other players take turns robbing the discard pile. One or two players end up setting up small bank loops where they can easily stash their money every few turns. Rinse, and repeat. Players who fall behind start digging in the deck and taking more risks until they get busted and are essentially out of the game for good.
If you're a big fan of this type of theme you should give it a look, just don't expect a perfectly polished product. It's messy and riddled with problems, but it's capable of giving you your bank robbing fix along with a few chuckles to boot. I wish the rules could be cleaned up and the deck/money/loot situation improved, and the pacing of the game fixed. It's most likely going to come down to if the humor and theme can carry it for you.
Looking Back, On the Memory Of
With all of the discussion as of late in regards to 'snap reviews' versus 'test of time' viewpoints, I decided it might be fun to periodically revisit some of my old columns and give fresher perspectives on the games I've talked about or reviewed. So, here are updated thoughts on the trio of games I talked about in the first edition of this column (before it even had a name! Check out the original here--http://fortressat.com/articles-trash-culture/2481-ken-bs-not-yet-titled-weekly-column-volume-1-the-cape-famiglia-dungeonquest-3rd-edition-and-more)
Steam -- My flirtation with a "serious" pick up 'n deliver train game pretty much started and stopped here. Though I admired the design, it's not one I'm pulling off the shelf often; in fact, this hasn't been played in many, many months. I'm definitely more often reaching for the lighter Days of Steam (with expansion, please) than this one.
I still like it, and you'd better be damned sure I'd play the more forgiving version of this over Age of Steam. I'm all for wrestling with a game system, but not for being punished by it repeatedly until you vaguely get the hang of what you're supposed to be doing.
My original opinion was that this was a nice place for those who wanted to check out train games to dabble, and I'll stand by that claim. I'm also pretty sure that if you're looking for a one-stop shop that will give you enough of the flavor of these types of games, Steam will be more than sufficient, for a lot of people.
Dungeonquest 3rd Edition -- Fantasy Flight took a lot of flak both then and now for their implementaion of the combat system in their version of Dungeonquest, and while it was overstated it was also deserved. It's silly to spend four or five minutes on a combat, tensely trying to second-guess your opponent or pile up cards to land a savage deathblow, only to fall into a bottomless pit on a single die roll in the very next room.
Wisely FFG published a combat system that was more in line with the "classic" style, and that was enough of a fix for me. It's still death incarnate--you will die, and often. The only question is, how?
I think it's a little worrisome that no expansions have been announced, so it's likely that this didn't sell as much as they'd hoped. For me, I still enjoy the thrill ride of getting ground up by the dungeon's deathtraps, so until a cheap version of the original falls into my lap, I'm holding on to this one. It's a game you pretty much have to be in the mood for, but when you are, it can be pretty awesome.
Famiglia -- Friedemann Friese's tableau-building gangster game had the living shit played out of it by us for several weeks when we first got it. The artwork is humorous and there are plenty of in-jokes to try and catch. We did manage to wear it out, though. Since you have to build on these gangster families, there are realistically only so many paths you can pursue to victory. It's one that you can definitely get burned out on, as we did after awhile.
However, for the cheap price and as many plays as we had of it, I guess I'd have to say it's worth it. I think these days I'd reach for other 2-player card games. Famiglia is fun, but only has so much staying power. The best part by far is learning how to "combo" the card powers...play these two, claim this guy, pull these back to my hand, use this one as a wild, claim this guy....that's the fun of the game.
It can also be sadistically and humorously unforgiving--it is possible, through fairly inept play, to be locked out of the game completely. As in, nothing you can do but watch your opponent go on a massive gangster recruiting spree while you look at the one card in your hand and mutter..."I coulda been a contender."
The puzzle aspect will turn some folks off, fans of card games will enjoy comboing the cards, but with only four 'clans', the number of powers is limited and begins to feel a little reptitive. We haven't played it in many months but we sure wore the hell out of the cards in one of our sets. Take that for what you will.
Another column in the books as I try to get re-adjusted to the weekly format again. Columns will probably be shorter on a weekly basis as there's no longer this massive information dump every two weeks. I think it will be a plus but bear with me as I get back in the groove.
Remember folks, keep your friends close, and your pesos closer. Unil then, I'll see ya in seven.