After arriving on The Island for the annual gaming trip (see Part 1), our intrepid gaggle of geeks awakens on Day 2, ready to tackle more gaming and the contents of the tavern once again…
Did I mention that one of our number is a chef? Thus is was that dawn brought the smell of frying bacon, sausages and eggs, bubbling beans and steaming coffee. Essential stomach liners for another inevitable day of more beer, bourbon and board games.
We decided to try and maintain a semblance of fitness with a quick jaunt down the side of the island to the disused granite quarry, and from there to the lighthouse at the highest point of The Island.
The lighthouse sits cheerily next to the graveyard and was built when Napoleon’s armies were stomping Europe. Sadly they failed to take into account the regular fog this high on the island and the thing was bloody useless. So they had to build two more at each end of the island.
We climbed the 137 steps, or however many the lying sign at the bottom always claims. Every one that counts the stairs gets a different amount. It’s just one of those things that you accept on The Island, like the angles on the eldritch architecture not being quite right, and the unsettling “Innsmouth Look” of the locals.
Useless or not the lantern room at the top did provide a stunning panorama of the island, and an equally splendid view of the approaching rain clouds. Incidentally, do you know what the little walkway around top of a lighthouse is called? A Widow’s Walk. Cheery souls these maritime folk. Anyway, some enlightened individual (probably me) called into question the sanity of anyone suggesting further physical exertion beyond a brisk walk back to the tavern.
There were no objections — it was, after all, past noon.
Once there I extracted an old favourite from my pocket to accompany the ale and some light lunch: Zombie Dice. Like you do.
One thing that separates Zombie Dice from most of the zombie games on the market is the fact that the players themselves are the zombies, with each die representing some juicy human morsel.
Roll dice. Eat brains. Don’t get shotgunned. It’s that simple. It’s push-your-luck gaming at it’s most basic, even with the addition of the big yellow D12 of the School Bus expansion. As such it’s never going to win any design awards, but either as a gateway game to entice new players with something fun and simple… or in our case entertain old players who are fun and simple, it’s easy to carry around in a coat pocket and get on the table.
However, such simple fare was never going to last more than a couple of games with us, and as one pint flowed into another it was time to indulge in a different style of push-your-luck, with Skull.
If you’ve ever played Liar Dice/Perudo then you’ll feel at home with Skull, as the game is about making a call at the right time, either to attempt victory in the round, or to force others into making a call they can’t back up.
There’s also the same trepidation with the reveal, although I find it more exciting with Skull, as choices are made on the fly, one at a time, as opposed to a mass reveal of hands by all.
Of course it also has fantastic artwork, and feels like a suitable game to be playing down the pub (particularly as the components look exactly like posh beer mats), even though the new version doesn’t have quite the same “biker gang” flavour that the original tried almost too hard to present.
My only real issue is that the components are a bit too much like beer mats, and so run the risk of being used as such as one beer blurs into the next. As such a state approached, we decided to switch to a more dice-rolling affair with Roll For It!
I usually avoid any product with an exclamation mark in its title, as I presume I’m required to bellow its name whenever I utter it, which I flatly refuse to do. However, in this case it’s too good of a pub game to pass up on.
Roll your six coloured dice, assign them to any of three face up cards, and hope you can match the dice depicted in fewer turns than any opponent who has their own designs on your chosen card. The covetous gits.
There’s obviously little in the way of strategy, tactics and skill here. It’s just a case of hedging your bets against various probabilities. But as with any game that features dice as its principle mechanic, there’s still plenty of fun to be had as you shout jinxes at your opponents or roar with jubilation or outrage at a particularly lucky roll. Lashings of beer hardly hurt proceedings either.
So perhaps it does deserve the exclamation mark after all?
By now afternoon was on the wane and it was high time we stumbled back down into the valley to discover what games folk had planned at the mansion that evening, and what our resident chef had planned for dinner. So we bid the tavern staff a reluctant farewell and weaved our way homeward.
There’s usually a couple of roleplaying games run during evenings on The Island each year, and previous visits have seen appearances by Traveller, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Conan, Dark Heresy and Dungeons & Dragons (of course) to name but a few, along with an Island favourite that inevitably makes an appearance every year: Call of Cthulhu
However, it was the post apocalyptic mutant-strewn dystopia of an old TSR classic, Gamma World, that was first on the RPG bill, and eight of our number took themselves off to wallow in radiation and fumble for weaponry with their multiple limbs.
I’d love to be able to recount to you the ensuing entertainment and hilarity, but this year I’d sworn off a lengthy RPG session, if only to get through as many of the games I’d brought with me as possible, if only to prove that I wasn’t completely mad in bringing so many.
However, I did prod one of the players after the game (which in fact didn’t finish until a second session the following evening) and received this quick, capsule review:
“Really enjoyed the abandoned space-port under the desert… character races are a lot of fun, but it does end up being a bit of a monster-bash style RPG.” — Peter
So there you go.
Back in the kitchen and there was still an hour or so until dinner, so we cleared the table and gathered the exiles from the RPG session around for a game of Ancient Terrible Things.
Imagine a competitive version of Elder Sign, without the custom dice, that’s less Lovecraft and a more… Scooby Doo, and you’re fairly close to the vibe here.
Each turn you’re visiting a spooky location and trying to overcome the horror lurking there through a combination of lucky dice rolls mitigated by a canny use of tokens and cards.
So a lot like Elder Sign.
However, despite its similarities to the popular Arkham Horror Files title, Ancient Terrible Things is its own many-tentacled beast, and trundles along at a brisker pace and with a predictably more light-hearted feel to it. Compared to the mind-bending horror of Cthulhu and his cronies, I guess that should be taken as read.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that with the Lost Charter expansion you not only gain components enough for an extra fifth player along with new challenges and artefacts, but more importantly for my transport issues on this trip, a very funky travel box and location cards that replaces the large board of the core game. The half size box even converts into a rather handy dice tray.
It’s one of the best small box (thanks to Lost Charter) dice rolling/assigning games out there and I thoroughly recommend it, especially if your group enjoy Elder Sign but are a bunch of competitive bastards at heart.
We called a break to both tabletop fare and RPGs for a renewed bout of gorging and drinking courtesy of Rob the Resident Chef, and then packed the Gamma World mutants back off to the living room, cleared the kitchen table and decided to indulge in a theme that should have come to the table far sooner, considering out location: Pirates.
I hadn’t the room (or patience) to pack Merchants & Marauders. Black Fleet was too big. As was even the whimsical Jamaica. But there was a pirate game I’d recently acquired that only required a deck of cards, some cardboard doubloons and a few small character boards, the majority of which were easily unboxed and incorporated into my Box of Holding.
Thus we took to our sky galleons to ply our trade as pirates of the air in Sea of Clouds. Yarrrrrr!
Strangely enough this game is less about broadsides and swashbuckling and more about dividing the loot and drinking rum. Lots and lots of rum. In fact the first player is even decided by who drank rum most recently, so in our case had to be decided by drawing lots.
Sea of Clouds is some of the best fun you’ll have drafting cards. It’s colourful, funny and features splendid artwork on every one of its components. If you haven’t played it yet then I suggest you do so, remembering first to leave your Serious Hat at the door. You won’t be needing it. Wear your flamboyantly silly pirate hat instead. And remember to drink rum and yarrrr a lot.
By now the electricity had been off for some time (I can thoroughly recommend playing games by candlelight by the way — very atmospheric), and although the inhabitants of Gamma World didn’t sound like they’d be finishing any time soon (I had no idea that post-apocalyptic worlds were so amusing), the rest of us decided to call it a night and preserve our strength for a final packed day of gaming hedonism.
To Be Continued…
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