One of the continuing entertainments of our house is the gaming shelf, which continues to provide entertainment for the long, wet afternoons of the winter, and consequently keeps providing more opportunities to spend money on board games. Hooray! Not helping is the recent discovery of a local games club, too, which seems full of freindly gamers of all ages at a convient time, even if we're not managing to get there every week. But still, more games, which is a win for us. Our main criteria is currently games that all of us can play (Robert with help, obviously) with a decent replayability factor, and I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that two of the three games I'm about to talk about are co-operative, even if the other really, really, isn't. So, here we go.
First, to the Desert, which is Forbidden. Here you play a collection of adventurers who have crashed in the Desert, and must dig up parts for a flying machine from the city buried underneath the shifting sands. Each turn you can take actions like moving or digging, and each character has special abilities (better digging, moving other people, etc). Once you've acted, the storm moves the games tiles around, depositing sand all over the place and generally being a pain in the butt. To win, everyone needs to be on the fully constructed flying machine, and if even one of you dies, its all over.
What is neat about Forbidden Desert is how the difficulty works. Storm cards are drawn from a deck with a number per turn based on the severity of the storm, which gradually increases through the game - one of the card types is "The Storm Picks Up". On easy, you start on 2 cards per turn, but normally you'd start on at least 3, and even that extra notch makes a huge difference to the pressure you are under. Water is also a key resource, and possibly the biggest killer when we've played, which does make the "Water Carrier" special ability maybe too heavily weighted.
Forbidden Desert is a lot of fun, then, and works well as a team puzzle-solving game in the face of steadily ratcheting up peril. It's also pretty quick, so failing has often meant us just setting up and trying again, and the dialable difficulty adds an element of "can we beat it on..." which I rather like.
Thunderbirds Co-opearative Board Game
Who didn't love Thunderbirds as a kid? I certainly did, and there is something about it seems to manage to generate new fans even as it hits it's fiftieth birthday. And no, I am not old enough to have watched it first time out. Hush. Funded through Kickstarter (with a load of Expansions they've not shipped yet), The Thunderbirds Co-Op Game lets you play International Rescue as they battle around the globe against various disasters and the nefarious schemes of The Hood. Designed by Matt Leacock, it owes a debt to his own Pandemic, where each player controls a Tracey Brother with their own skills, darting around the world to solve problems as they come up.
My big take away from the first time we played Thunderbirds is that it was a lot harder than it looked. Physically this is a friendly looking game, with bright colours and cool little models of the various vehicles. And then you start to play, and the disaster track starts ticking up really, really fast, and you're suddenly trying to plot three, four, actions ahead. There are a lot of moving parts, and little tricks and abilities you can combine to get everything moving, as you need to get certain crew members and vehicles to the right places to get the bonuses against disasters, whilst The Hood's tracker slowly creeps upwards.
If there is a downside to Thunderbirds it is that I think Robert got cut out of the game quite quickly compared to other co-op games we've got. The planning can get quite complicated and there isn't a lot of dice-rolling to do, and whist he loves the little models he's not too involved otherwise. Ewan, on the other hand, seems to really like the planning side of it, as did Z and I. It is a great experience, but does tilt older than I expected.
Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards II: Rumble at Castle Tentakill
Finally, Epic Spell Wars 2. No, I'm not typing that title every time. This is a quick-fire, and pretty daft card game where you play Battle Wizards in a fight to the death, by throwing crazily named spells at each other until only one Wizard remains. Spells are made up of three components (although you can use less) each of which triggers either an effect or does damage to one of your opponents. If you die, you sit out the rest of the round, but as a balancing factor aquire "dead wizard" cards, which can boost you at the start of the next round.
I'm not sure there is a huge amount of skill at work in Epic Spell Wars. There is a lot of moving parts, and a lot of factors, but they all hard to control or predict, and so really you're just playing amusing looking combinations and yelling out the spells in silly voices. The artwork sets the tone - splotchy and over-the-top, heavy on the puns and scatological humour. The best advice for the game really is just roll with it and have fun.