A weekend of gaming

DieLast weekend was a long one, followed by a bank holiday, so we had friends over. The sun was hellishly gloriously hot, so we did what any right-thinking people would do. Play board games with a general Cthulhu theme. In the spirit of sharing, here are some thoughts…

Arkham Horror

Arkham HorrorWith three veteran gamers, plus me, getting to grips with a game’s rules is generally pretty simple. Play for a little while and it all comes together. Not so Arkham Horror. The next day we flicked through the rules and were still finding things we’d missed. That said… Arkham Horror is great fun. With not one but two timers ticking away towards insanity and the end of all things the pressure never relents, only worsens. The mood is very much one of impending doom, with the players frantically but ineffectually trying to hold back the darkness.

Players choose from a number of characters, each bringing a slightly different style of play and contribution to the game. the goal is simple. Gates to other worlds are opening and monsters are coming out. Kill the monsters, close the gates. Close them all, you win. Fail to close them all, and the end game is either being overrun, or a fight against an Elder god. Yeah. Teamwork and an overall strategy are essential. Sure, you can all run off and do your thing individually, but you won’t last. The terror and doom counters start to add up and everything falls apart. Instead you have to play to your strengths. A character with an income can do supply runs, outfitting the team. A skilled fighter can mop up the monsters before they get overwhelming, and still others can focus on closing gates.

I’ve played this game before, but only with two players. The box says this is possible, but it’s really not fun. With four, it transforms completely. Even though we’ve yet to master the rules, never mind the strategy, a cooperative boardgame is a rare treat. It’s expensive, but a work of art. Recommended.

Cthulhu Fluxx

Cthulhu FluxxAs if to clear our palette we followed up the next day with several rounds of Cthulhu Fluxx. If you’ve played any of the Fluxx games, this won’t need any introduction. It’s Fluxx. With Cthulhu. If you haven’t… How to explain Fluxx? The rules change as you play. You start by drawing one card from the deck, and playing one card. that play might be a new rule. Suddenly you’re drawing three and playing one. Then someone plays a goal card and the target goal changes. Suddenly half a dozen rules are in play and you have to do maths before you do your turn. It’s remarkably tactical for such a chaotic game.

Cthulhu Fluxx adds some new mechanics to the mix – doom, investigators, nightmares, undoom, ungoals, and so on. The artwork on the cards is delightful, and it has penguins.

I didn’t win a single round, but heartily recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of Fluxx or Cthulhu. If you’re a fan of neither, maybe you should give it a try anyway, for the penguins’ sakes.

The Stars Are Right

The Stars Are RightContinuing the Cthulhu theme, we sat out in the sun gently roasting and played The Stars are Right. Perhaps it was the deadly solar radiation searing my northern flesh, or perhaps it was the toddler insistent on eating the cards, but I never really engaged with this one. It may be possible to approach it with a long-term strategy, but if so it’s well beyond my feeble capabilities. Everything that happened seemed indistinguishable from chance, and when someone won it seemed to come out of the blue to mild surprise. There was no sense of having been beaten so much as out-lucked.

Yes, the sun was oppressively hot, and yes there was a child demanding my attention every few minutes, and yes there was a post blocking my view of some of the board, and yes I think I missed a few turns, but in the end I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have preferred to have played literally anything else from the games cupboard. Can’t recommend.


InfiltrationAs proof that we aren’t all obsessed with Elder Gods and the triumphal return of the Great Cthulhu, long may he- *ahem* Infiltration is a game set in the Android universe (not to be confused with the Android OS), a cyberpunk setting that I find thoroughly wonderful, equal parts Ghost in the Shell and Neuromancer. The concept of Infiltration is simple – the players are all part of a gang doing a raid on a research facility to get data and – if possible – a prototype. You’re running against the clock, since at every turn a counter increases by a random amount. When it hits 99 that’s it – anyone not out of the building is captured, given a stern talking to and told to sit in the corner and think about what they’ve done. Or possibly killed by merc security.

The trick is, while you’re all nominally part of the same team on the heist it’s not a co-op game. Once inside it’s every man, woman and robot for themselves. The greatest rewards lie on the second floor, but furthest from the exit and safety. On top of that, there are things you can do to screw your fellow robbers over – increase the alarm, increase the rate of increase of alarm, drop bombs, push them back, shunt them forward, and so on.

Each turn you all make your decision for this round simultaneously, placing your chosen action or item face down. These are then revealed in turn, meaning you not only have to think about optimal tactics for yourself but try to predict what the other players are doing. You might rely on someone hacking a terminal and exposing some juicy data, so you play a download card. But no, they decide to advance to the next room, making you waste your turn.

In the end, more out of necessity than cunning and guile, I lingered near the back mopping up the loose ends of data, amassing a tidy pile of rewards but never threatening the others who had piled on ahead. Then when it was time for me to leave in real life, I gave the alarm a kick, dropped a trap and fled. Suddenly everyone else was left standing with a big pile of data and an exit that was suddenly a lot further away than it had been a second before. None of them made it out, though the entire game came down to a nail-biting 50-50 finish. If my friend rolled a one, two or three, he’d have the turn he needed to take that last step out and win, but he rolled a four, the alarm went off and he died staring out of the from door, freedom and riches right there. Of course the three of them went right back in to fund their revenge on me…

I cannot recommend this highly enough. A perfect blend of chance and tactics, and the inexorable rise of the alarm makes the game wonderfully tense. It has enough optional and advanced rules to give it a lot of replay value and lends itself very nicely to experimentation and house rules. The raw mechanics are enough to sell the game. The setting and art style are just cyber-icing on the cyber-cake.

Buy it.

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