Random Quickies (Now With Less Anger!)

Not much less, though. This is me we’re talking about.

At any rate, last weekend, I went to Manga Next in New Jersey with some friends of mine. I spent a lot of time in their tabletop gaming room on Saturday, and wound up playing some stuff I hadn’t before… Including a ton of Steve Jackson Games products.

Zombie Dice: Amusing, if absolutely devoid of strategy: Blind draw three dice from the cup, roll them and try to get as many brains as you can without getting the shotgun blast (“I got a SHOTGUN!”) three times. There are three colors of dice: Green, Yellow and Red, and this determines how many brains and shotguns are on each die, with green having more brains and red having more shotguns. It’s the kind of game I’d play if I had a board games group, really. I also own Cthulhu Dice but haven’t gotten to play it. It’s also seemingly devoid of strategy but looks like it could be fun.

The Stars Are Right!: This is another one I’d play if I had such a group, though I wouldn’t play it as often. It’s extremely confusing. See, you play as cultists, trying to summon the Great Old Ones, and you do this by making sure the stars are “right.” You do this by literally moving the stars in the sky, represented by tiles placed at the start of the game. Moreover, the tiles are double-sided… Yeah, it gets confusing REALLY fast, but it is amusing in its own right. Steve Jackson Games really goes one way or the other: Games with no strategy that are nevertheless fun, or games that are very strategic, and are fun… If you can make any sense of them at all.

Arkham Horror: Son of a bitch. This is NOT one I’d play with my group, as it’s a damn mess. I played a full game of it, over two hours (average length) and I hated just about every minute of it. This game, as you may have guessed, is based on the Cthulhu Mythos, as written and inspired by HP Lovecraft. The setup is fairly simple: You play as one of a number of characters (we had the scientist, the archaeologist (complete with bullwhip) and the bum. Why I was the bum I’ll never know…) wandering about Arkham and apparently trying to prevent the awakening of one of the Great Old Ones. One of the biggest problems I have with the game is, there’s no subtlety whatsoever: Portals to the other worlds start opening on the first turn, spewing monsters onto the field. Monsters are drawn randomly, and while it’s likely you’ll get a Cultist or a Maniac (who are dead easy), or a Zombie or a Ghoul (not much harder than a Cultist, requires a Sanity check, though…), it’s just as likely you’ll be faced with a Formless Spawn, which has physical immunity and requires magical weapons. Which themselves are drawn randomly, but let me say that again.

You need magical weapons. In a game based on the works of Lovecraft.

But it gets worse. See, I mentioned portals, right? Yeah, if you don’t want the Old Ones waking up, you need to close them, because one of the things that will cause them to awaken is six portals being open at any given time. I forgot to mention that we had the misfortune of facing Azatoth, who does not have any powers while stirring in his slumber, as, should he awaken, he destroys the entire world, resulting in instant death.

So in order to close them, you need to go on merry jaunts through other dimensions. Let me say that again.

You go on strolls through other dimensions. In a game based on the works of Lovecraft.

Though to be fair, we DID win, and my bum never got a single magical weapon (hell, he barely got any items at all), and mostly just snuck past the monsters who, by the end, were swarming in the town. The dude playing the Indiana Jones knockoff, though, he was swinging about two enchanted swords by the end. Let me say that again.

He was dual-wielding enchanted swords. In a game based on the works of Lovecraft.

The two I was playing with repeatedly insisted that the game was faithful to the Mythos, largely because the players stood a very good chance of losing. I argue they are wrong, because fuck you. Also they made a big deal out of the fact that I like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, pantomiming going into seizures when I brought it up. I almost walked out right there, but decided to stick it out at least until my bum got devoured. We wound up winning instead. Whee.

Also to their credit, when the one playing the scientist insisted that she was the best character, as being a scientist made them less vulnerable to Mythos horrors, I quipped “Wait, wouldn’t being a man of science make you more vulnerable to Mythos horrors?” to which the two guys fell silent and slowly admitted that, yeah, I was right. Apparently even they realize their game is somewhat flawed, and they have my respect for that much.

I know this game is popular in a niche audience, and on some level, I can see why: It’s strategic (despite the randomness, yes…), it encourages teamwork, and it’s one where the board poses a genuine threat to the players, which I am informed is something of a rarity in games of this stripe. But being spoiled by things like Red Dragon Inn and Dominion, which are fairly fast plays, and are often hilarious ones as well, I find Arkham Horror too long and too dreary to be of any enjoyment. Again, if you feel I’m wrong, tell me why!

Just don’t insist that it’s a great game because you stand a good chance of being eaten by Cthulhu, or, God help you, tentacle raped by Yog-Soggoth. In this, you are wrong again, because fuck you. The theme of defeatism in the Mythos is one particular meme I’ve never liked. I know it has some supporting evidence, but fans take it way too far. To this point, it does not make for good stories, or, indeed, good games. If you want to prove me wrong, use a different weapon.

Preferably, not an enchanted one, oy…

Best not to end this one on a negative note, though.

Are You A Werewolf?: There’s a pretty good chance you know about either this, or its parent game in Mafia. If you don’t, then fall in the pothole, but the game is simple: It’s a social game wherein a number of people are randomly given roles as either villagers, or wolves, and every night, the wolves eat someone. Every day, the villagers lynch someone. The game ends when either all the wolves are dead, or the wolves outnumber the villagers.

Now, see, I’d never heard of this or Mafia before. (There’s also a Cthulhu version, which I’m considering getting, heh.) So when I heard about it, I had to play it. Indeed, they took over one of the meeting rooms on Saturday night and we were eventually playing with about twenty people (which meant four or five wolves. Terrifying…) and later got so many that our “narrator” wound up using one of her fellow narrators to create an overflow room somewhere else nearby.

I wound up playing for over two hours, and it was a blast. I wound up being a wolf only once, but managed to waste the Hangman’s ability  (prevent one lynching, and you get to see the target’s card). The look on his face was priceless. Other highlights included the time I was the Martyr and actually got off my ability to sacrifice myself in place of whoever was being lynched. Even protected an innocent that way. The crowd was stunned (You had to be there: Apparently, the Martyr either got eaten before he could use his ability, or just as often, got lynched. The confusion when I managed to get it off was tangible…). And then there was the Prince (If lynched, he instead lynches the person who accused him), who was accused by a wolf every time he was revealed. Hilarious.

Also amusing is, whenever a wolf was killed (or the Martyr got lynchyed) the narrator would encourage a cheer of “Uppah!” (or however you spell it, it’s apparently an Italian thing?), but me, being the pundit I am, instead shouted “Oppai!” Yes, that’s Japanese for “boobs,” and yes, I am juvenile at times. I thought you knew that already?

Now, this version of the game had a bunch of cards I didn’t really like, such as the Mysygonist (must accuse women, if possible- A woman was almost always a wolf in our group, so it wasn’t much of a handicap…), the Parson (if you accuse someone, you have to keep accusing and voting for them until they’re lynched), and the Village Idiot (if lynched, does not die but can no longer vote), but overall, we had a great storyteller and a fun group. I’m glad I did this, and I hope to do so again sometime.

So there you have it: I went somewhere, and I played games. I need to figure out how to do that more often…

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