So, a week ago my girlfriend Nicole and I went to one of our usual board game hubs, Snakes and Lattes, which is near Bloor and Bathurst in Toronto (definitely worth a visit if any of you readers happen to visit our fair city). It was a fairly quiet night for a weekday, so we managed to find a table rather easily. We were in the mood that night to try something new, but since the cafe’s recent additions didn’t look particularly appetizing, we instead found ourselves scrounging around the older shelves to find something we had overlooked in past board game nights.
The first game we tried for the night was The Lost Expedition.
The game revolved around a team of adventurers in what appears to be the 1920s journeying into the Amazon rainforest in search of the lost city of El Dorado, all the while having to fend off the local wildlife, disease, starvation, getting lost, and unfriendly natives. It was a simple-seeming affair, with the two of us taking turns controlling a party of three randomly drawn adventurers, and a “path” deck that we created from both of our hands. There were also a large number of resource tiles, representing food, sleep, bullets, health, navigation, and survivalism.
Our brave expedition consisted of three brave adventurers: Ynes, Candido, and Clearly-Not-Teddy-Roosevelt.
The game itself was split into three parts, each split between a “day” and a “night” cycle, during which both of which we would have to cross down the path of cards we had created. Traversing down this path turned out to not be an easy prospect, as, while some of them would grant us resource counters, others still would require certain resources for us to pass onwards. If we were didn’t have any of the corresponding resource counters, then we would have to instead take them directly off of any explorers with the corresponding icon in the form of health (each explorer had 5 health counters). And thus, the journey could slowly but surely take a toll on our brave explorers if we weren’t careful. (Spoiler: we weren’t).
We managed to get through the first day without too much difficult, but had to expend a lot of resources on the second. By the time we got to the third, almost all of our explorers were dangerously low on health.
Our first casualty, sadly, came when we came upon an “Eels” card. We were low on resources at this point and could not spend the requisite amount to get past this card– this meant that someone in our party had to snuff it. Alas, poor Teddy was promtply eaten by the eels. Ironically, the party then got food from the encounter, eating the eels that had just eaten poor Teddy. So…our adventurers had just, indirectly, eaten Theodore Roosevelt.
Even then, the third day proved more and more perilous. Candido was the next to die after a fateful encounter with a jaguar. We almost didn’t think we would win this game…but at the end, Ines, battered and only on a single point of health remaining, stumbled off the path into El Dorado.
Overall, my girlfriend and I quite enjoyed this game. It was difficult enough to be challenging without being impossible –it forced us to be careful with the use of our resources, and had us fighting a constant battle against attrition. You actually are forced to think ahead in terms of what cards you set down for the path, and about gaining the right kinds of resources, otherwise you find your characters getting dangerously low on health. Beyond that, I liked simplistic art style of the game, which reminded me a lot of comic books from the 1950s and 60s. Ultimately, I would definitely give this game a chance if you happen to see it.
For the next game, we decided on something a little more off the wall, and picked up Dragonball Z: Perfect Cell.
Like a lot of people in my generation, I got sucked into the hype of Dragonball Z when I was a kid, what with its almost ludicrous hypermasculinity, its flashy, destructive fight scenes, and its episode-long charge-up times. As such, when we picked this game, I was expecting something that would hopefully live up to the destructive, and sometimes silly, fun of Dragonball Z.
It…well…sort of did, and sort of didn’t.
The game revolves around you and your fellow players battling Cell. The object of the game is to choose a character for each player, each of whom has their own abilities. Players gain randomly-rolled resources each turn, which they can use to buy special attacks, aid other players, use regular or special attacks, to heal damage or to block or disable Cell’s persistent attacks. In true DBZ fashion, you can also acquire the Dragon Balls to resurrect any players who get killed by Cell in the process. Each round, meanwhile, Cell will acquire two abilities, which will do damage or negate certain abilities of your own: unless you roll the right abilities/resources cancel out these effects, Cell’s attacks/abilities will simply persist and accumulate each turn, making winning the game much more difficult.
Speaking of winning: to win, you need to kill Cell by filling all of his 75 or 85 damage boxes, which isn’t too hard, given that some of the special attacks you can acquire can do ridiculous amounts of damage. This is complicated though, by the fact that some of Cell’s cards will heal damage, and, if not negated by the players, will heal persistently throughout the game. Also, you lose if (a) Cell kills all of the players, or (b) Cell ends up using all of his attack cards.
In the game itself, I wound up with Goku (who gets to give some of his resources to fellow players as a free action), and my girlfriend got Vegeta, who starts with the Kamehameha special attack (which is strange, as I always thought the Kamehameha was specifically Goku’s thing). Nicole also had fun imitating him throughout the game. (“That’s a good plan, Kakorrot, but I am the Prince of Saiyans, so screw your plan, I want to punch him!”) The game itself, however, became very predictable, as we quickly settled into a routine of Goku blocking Cell’s abilities and diverting resources to Vegeta, who in turn collected as many special attacks as possible and blasted the ever living hell out of Cell. We still came very close to being decked out, as Cell had only one or two cards left in his deck in the end, but it didn’t matter, as Vegeta still ultimately obliterated Cell, laughing arrogantly all the while.
The problem I have with this game is it did not give me the same feeling of tension as Lost Expedition did. Every round, Nicole and I were able to easily repel Cell’s abilities and inflict increasing amounts of damage upon him, and never once did we feel challenged or even threatened by him. The game manual did post recommendations for ways to make the game more challenging, which is something I’ve seen in several other board games that I’ve encountered. However, whenever I see challenging game modes like this, I always seen them as an interesting, alternative way to play the game that already has a solid “main” play style. In Perfect Cell’s case, these expanded difficulty options felt more like an apology, as though the game makers were somehow aware of how un-challenging our experience with the main game was.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I do not recommend Perfect Cell. It may serve as a fun experience if you and your fellow players have had a few beers and enjoyed DBZ as kids, at which point you will no doubt have endless fun shouting out the names of the attacks you unleash on Cell, or voicing the dialogue of the characters you play as. But sadly, I found it bland and unexciting, which is the worst thing you could say about a Dragonball Z game.
Finally, to cap off the night, we played a bit of Chuck Klosterman’s Hypertheticals. We had actually encountered Hypertheticals on a previous game night, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. Hypertheticals is not a game per se, so much as it a conversation starter. Participants take turns drawing cards and reading the questions aloud, and everyone involved takes turns answering the questions and giving the rationale behind their answers.
The thing is, this questions always revolve around bizarre, off the wall and quite frankly insane scenarios, and almost always foist a philosphical, moral or ethical dilemma on the participants. Some (abbreviated) examples include:
-You can either have every piece of music you listen to for the rest of your life be Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box,” or your significant other’s collarbone will be broken every three years. Which do you choose?
-Would you rather be twice as intelligent as you are now, or be immune to sickness?
-You wake up in Bruce Springsteen’s body. What do you do?
-How would you fistfight someone while wearing a spacesuit on the moon?
What I love about Hypertheticals isn’t just the conversations it starts, but what it reveals about people when they give their reasoning behind certain situations. You can learn, for instance, what a person’s attitude is towards sacrificing something for someone they love, or what their values are, or how they would proceed in an unusual or difficult situation. And sometimes it sparks interesting debates– Nicole and I spent several minutes, for instance, arguing over whether someone who commits crimes in jail should be tried for said crimes, even if he was originally wrongfully imprisoned. I highly recommend Hypertheticals, whether as a quick two-player conversation starter or as a party game, if only because I’m a weirdo who likes seeing people adjust to unusual scenarios.
Of course, next time we go to Snakes and Lattes, way may try some of the more noteworthy titles out there. From what I understand, they may actuall have a copy of Blood Rage…