Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Let's start this entry with a question. What exactly is Best in Show? Well you see when dogs or cats compete... Allow me to start over... Best in Show is a new, hopefully weekly *fingers crossed,* segment in which I will discuss the games I played throughout the week and pick one that stood out as a highlight for my group.
This week I only had one gaming session but luckily we made a full day of it. I hosted the game day on what is infamously known by mathematicians as Pi Day (March 14th). Pi (3.14...) of course referring to the ratio of a circle's circumference to the diameter (but I'm sure we all knew that!). I just so happen to love pi! Oh sorry, I love pie! Before our guests arrived, we made a blueberry-orange pie. The aesthetics and component quality were merely acceptable, but the taste was highly enjoyable and very replayable! Overall 8/10: Would eat again.
The games we played during our celebration of circles were:
Pandemic Legacy Season 1
Pandemic Legacy Season 1
Players: 2–4 Time: 60 Minutes Designer: Rob Daviau, Matt Leacock Artist: Chris Quilliams Publisher: Z-Man Games, Inc. + 10 more
Note: I did my best to make this section spoiler free. Any specifics I mention are easily known from the back of the box or before the first game.
Pandemic is without a doubt the most popular and well known cooperative game ever made. It has so many spin-offs and expansions, that I honestly couldn't name them all off the top of my head, and I essentially live and breathe board games.
However, one flavor of Pandemic stands out above the rest, the pie equivalent of Apple (no offense to the aforementioned blueberry-orange pie), and that is Pandemic Legacy Season 1. I've actually already played this legacy game about 5 years ago and I have adamantly and without falter, dubbed it my favorite gaming experience of all time. However, I have forgotten mostly everything about the game and I really wanted to give it another go with a new group. While it's hard to meet those initial standards I set, we are having a heck of a time with this game.
If you are unfamiliar, legacy games are ones that have a constant sense of change as you write stuff on and rip up components, open boxes, paste stickers into the rulebook, on the cards, and on the board, the game is a whirlwind of uncertainty and uncomfortable progression. That is what makes legacy games so unique and such an interesting experience. If you have never played one, Pandemic Legacy Season 1 is the perfect place to start.
My group and I played 3 games during our previous session, winning the months of January, February, and March (the game is played over the course of 12 months) without much trouble. We started Pi day by winning the April game in a little over half-an-hour and then one of my group members had the gall to say "we are too good at this game." No Paul, I don't care how much pie you've had, you will eat those words.
So the first game of May ended up being catastrophic, we lose miserably and Paul (who at this point, we swear is convinced we are playing a semi-cooperative game with a traitor mechanic) is happy we lost because it was "too easy." Not that I condone his behavior, but I have to agree, there was not much challenge for us in the first few games, but that luck had to change at some point.
After the loss, we regrouped and played our second game of May, to perfection I might add. By the midway point of the game, we had completely eradicated 2 diseases (that's a huge feat) and we could have even eradicated a 3rd with just a couple actions (if we cared to do so). However, there was one major problem. We still needed to do one final and relatively simple thing to walk away victorious. But...
The cards, oh those pesky cards. They were distributed in the deck in worse ways than we could have imagined. We got hit with the perfect storm of bad draws to forcing literally the only way (at least by my calculations) we could possibly lose.
First, drawing an epidemic card from the player deck. Ok ok. This one was expected; we are near the end of the player deck (only 3 cards left) and we still have one epidemic that hasn't been played. We accept our fate here.
Secondly, drawing the Essen card from the bottom of the infection deck. There is a 1 in 48 chance of this happening, maybe closer to a 1 in 24 chance since about half the deck is in the infection discard pile (Essen not being one of them). I like those odds. But odds be damned, we drew the Essen card. "It's ok, we got this," we repeatedly say to each other while all 4 sets of eyes are full of what can only be described as the manifestation of confidence deflation.
Thirdly, drawing the Essen card from the top of the infection deck. By my eyeball estimation, we have around a 1 in 8 chance of pulling that Essen card again since it just entered the discard piled, got shuffled and placed back on top AND we have to draw 3 cards. And low and behold, what did we draw?
Karachi, Taipei, and Santiago: The victorious glee erupts from the players like a dormant volcano spewing lava as if to say "you dare call me dormant?!"
No, that is only what I wish had happened. What actually happened was we drew that damn Essen card again! We could not believe that we had just lost arguably the most perfect game of Pandemic we have ever played (at least as a group).
That is sort of just how the Pandemic series is though, there is a good bit of strategy, but the randomization that is baked into the game can swing the balance out of your favor with a rough patch of unfortunate draws. It is because of that, it still manages to achieve greatness and keep you feeling challenged despite it's relatively solvable puzzle.
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10
Players: 4 Time: 15 Minutes Designer: Dominique Bodin Artist: Edgar P. Jacobs Publisher: Asmodee, Ystari Games
Witness is a game I've had in my collection for nearly 2 years now and I still hadn't played it. In fact, when I had moved to Japan, I forgot I even had it thanks to my terrible storage solution of stuffing it inside the Tragedy Looper box. Part of the reason I had forgotten is because it requires exactly 4 players and that everyone speaks and understands the same language at a near native level.
This game is so interesting. It is like nothing I have ever played before, oh except that it is exactly like a game I played during my childhood called "whisper down the lane." The twist here is that every person knows a small bit of a case that together you are trying to solve.
Each case starts with one player reading the case introduction (which btw, MAY also have some relevance going forward) and then each player silently reads and memorizes clues from their own manual. Then you have 4 rounds in which you are whispering these clues to each other. There are 2 main complications that make the game, well, a game.
The first thing that makes this game both challenging and hysterical is that players don't get to whisper their clues to everyone else, instead they whisper specifically to one person who then whispers to somebody else, who then whispers to somebody else, etc.
The second thing is that nobody can take any notes until after all 4 rounds of whispering are finished. At which point, every player frantically writes down notes to try to make sure they can recall as much as possible.
Each round more information is relayed between the players because you are not only sharing what you memorized, but what someone else told you that they memorized, and even what they told you that so-and-so memorized. Eventually there are so many opportunities for someone to drop the ball and forget an important detail, that it is virtually inevitable.
After the 4 whispering rounds, a questions book will provide players a set of questions about the case and each player will independently answer the questions. Then players will tally the points (1 point per correct answer) and see how well they did as a group. Even this part, is a complicated bit that more times then not will make you question what in the heck were your mates talking about. The questions could range from absurdly broad to extremely specific and you never know which you will get. It makes the whispering phase so much more tense, because players need to decide what details are important and which are not. Otherwise, you will get some questions wrong.
We played 3 cases in total, 2 beginner cases, and 1 intermediate case. The 1st beginner case was interesting and had us dying to play again. We did well but lost a couple points and therefore were imperfect in our solution. The 2nd beginner case was simple and boring and we perfected it without much trouble at all. It left us a little concerned about the games difficulty, so we decided to move on to an intermediate case, and my goodness...
We got a whopping 2 out of 12 points and that was only because a clever answer by 2 players, otherwise it could have been a goose-egg; a donut; a big fat zero. Here's the kicker though, we whispered everything to near perfection, every minor detail, enough so that we could all accurately recreate the scene from memory. The problem was that we all focused on the details when in this case it was the whole picture that mattered and this was completely lost on all of us.
This is one of those rare games that is more of an experience than a game and for that it has potential for tons of good memories and laughter. However, after first play, I do have concerns about the difficulty of the cases failing to find the middle ground and since you can really only play each case once, it leaves a fairly sour taste in your mouth when it doesn't hit that sweet spot.
Enjoyment Rating: 7.5/10
Players: 2-4 Time: 30 Minutes Designer: Bernhard Lach, Uwe Rapp Artist: N/A Publisher: KOSMOS + 2 more
I first discovered Drop It during the 2017 Pax Unplugged Convention. A couple friends and I were wandering around the game library trying to find something to play and nearly everything we wanted to try was already checked out (in spite of the libraries massive collection). We eventually just decided to check this on out to kill some time until something more appealing became available.
You hear the expression frequently, but it is always good advice, "don't judge a book by it's cover.: We ended up playing Drop It 4 times in a row and we didn't even bother checking out something else.
The game is extremely simple, each player gets a colored set of geometric pieces including rhombuses, triangles, circles, and squares. Players will then take turns dropping any piece of their color into this this clear plastic slot which reminds me a lot of Plinko (from The Price is Right). The pieces dropped immediately get scored based on the highest region it is in and if the piece touches any bonus spots labelled on the clear plastic.
That is basically the entire game, once everyone has played all their pieces, the person with the most points wins. But there has to be more than this right? Ok, you got me.
The piece you drop ONLY gets scored if it is NOT touching another piece of the same color OR of the same shape. These simple restriction creates a wail of a time with players shockingly doubting the laws of physics as we know them. So what makes this game so fun?
You see, scoring a piece is about where the piece ends up, so while you may think you have the perfect circle "shot" lined up, it may not end up where you plan. What happens when that circle bounces off a rhombus, hits a triangle which flips over allowing the circle to perfectly roll down to touch another circle? What happens when all of the above happens, and somehow your circle stays propped up so it has a mere millimeter of space between itself and another circle? Riotous laughter and shock and cursing (lot's of cursing) will probably happen.
This game is super accessible and is a game you could play with kids and have a good time. The turns are super fast and the games overall take about 15 minutes (one of the few games I think have over-estimated the time on the box). It is highly addictive and replayable thanks to a number of variants including bottom and wall restrictions, team mode, etc.
The game is sort of bonkers but not as bonkers as how much fun I've had with this ultra-light dexterity game. It gets one of my highest recommendations.
Enjoyment Rating: 8.5/10
Players: 1-5 Time: 30 Minutes Designer: Vlaada Chvátil Artist: Radim Pech, Milan Vavroň Publisher: Czech Games Edition + 12 more
Space Alert is a game that has so many things I typically like. Programming game ✔, cooperative game ✔, interesting theme ✔, real-time ✔, etc. But I will come right out and spoil my opinion on this one, somehow this game always falls flat for me.
This game has 2 major phases. The first is the real-time phase in which players frantically program their actions while a computer system counts down your time and warns you of incoming enemies, communication system availability, etc. This phase takes typically only 10 minutes depending on the mission you have selected. This phase can be fun because it is frenetic and challenging. I want to love this phase, I really do, but there are so many fiddly little rules that I just can't seem to truly wrap my head around the phase enough to really enjoy it.
The second phase of the game is essentially playing out everything that happened in real-time, action by action to determine what actually happened. This part can be quite funny when you realize that some hooligan spent 3 turns in a row staring out the window while your entire ship is being attacked from multiple angles. It can also be funny when players are out of sync, players are firing lasers that aren't charged until the next turn, players are charging things that are already fully charged, etc. This phase can also be pretty satisfying when you realize that you did a lot of things right and with perfect timing. In general though, this phase is a slog. It is the part of the game, where I'm curious to know what happened, but I'd much rather just be playing the other part of the game again.
Another major downer for me here is the rulebook. It is easily one of my least favorite rulebooks ever written. It tries so hard to be thematically humorous that it crosses the threshold all the way into annoying and unhelpful. I like when rulebooks throw a bit of humor into it, but I don't want to have a pun, play on words, or sarcastic remark every two lines. It's just too much.
Overall the experience wasn't bad per se and I know I am in the minority within my group, but this game just misses the mark for me. Perhaps some more time with it and a better understanding will have me feeling more comfortable and give me the opportunity to enjoy it more, but only time will tell.
Enjoyment Rating: 5/10
Best in Show:
This week, there was lot of good gaming. Despite, it's very low enjoymentl rating, Space Alert went over quite well with my group and I could see it making many more appearances in the future. I am just really hoping my opinion of it starts to shift as my familiarity does.
Drop It, is a game that provided a consistent sense of engagement, laughter, and joy. Every drop of a piece, folks put all their attention into watching the foolish mistakes that other player's were about to make. When the mistakes weren't made, there wasn't any jealousy or harsh feelings, we actually just congratulated each other (as if they had any control over how that circle was going to bounce).
Witness provided some really interesting questions about what makes a game and also brought some silly moments that we couldn't help he but uproariously laugh at our own failure. Overall I'd have to say this game had higher highs than any other game we played, but ultimately it was held back by some boring lows.
As always, Pandemic Legacy Season 1, was great and we are really enjoying the experience, but the repeat plays of this heady and puzzly game can feel a bit exhausting. It makes it a little more of a chore than it should buy maybe that is caused by the excess speed in which we are playing the campaign (3 games at a time).
In the end I can only choose one game for best in show this week. I am not basing this on my personal rankings. This is more about what game really stood out with our play group.
And the winner is... Drop It!
It was a very close challenge for first and falling just short was Witness, which just barely edged out Pandemic Legacy Season 1 for 2nd place. Sadly Space Alert was a bit off the pace, but I am looking forward to getting all of these back to the table and seeing if these games can make some noise in another Best in Show!
Tune in next week for another round of games!