Thursday, 15 May 2014

Temple Run: Speed Sprint Card Game

Temple Run: Speed Sprint


Temple Run: Speed Sprint Card Game
Published by Spin Master
Designed by Brady Lang
For 2 to 4 players, aged 8 to adult

Temple Run: Speed Sprint box
Jump! Left! Right! ARGH!


So, I have this dream...

In the dream, I'm running away from a monster.

Wait, wait. Hold on. This sounds familiar.

Oh, that's right. Recently I reviewed Temple Run: Danger Chase, a surprisingly good little dice game based on the popular smartphone app, in which you frantically roll dice in order to escape a demonic monkey.

Well, Temple Run: Speed Sprint is from one of the same designers as Danger Chase, and tries to recreate that same nightmarish situation with a simple deck of cards and an electronic randomiser.

Should be fun, right?

I saw Speed Sprint  in a discount stores, priced at £1.99. Seemed reasonable for a card game, so I picked it up without having particularly high expectations. The box is really flimsy (one of those horrible folding flap boxes that even most card games avoid these days), and inside is a ridiculously small number of components. Honestly, the box is pretty large, obviously to draw attention to the game on the shelf, but about 90 percent of that box is just air. Here's a picture, so you can see what I mean:

Temple Run: Speed Sprint game contents
Big air.


Not since The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Game has there been a board game with such a high air-to-game ratio.

The game actually comprises a single deck of 60 cards (including four character cards) and a pretty cool electronic idol, which doubles as a timer and a randomiser.

The cards in the deck are colour-coded, and each one represents a different move or special power: Jump, Right, Left, Slide, and Invisibility.

Temple Run: Speed Sprint cards
Left! Right! Jump! Cha Cha Slide!


Players are allocated a character card (so they know what player number they are), and a hand of cards. Then someone whacks the timer, and the game begins.

The idol calls out a player number, and then an action. If the player called has the named card (or an Invisibility card, which is wild), he or she has three seconds to discard the card and press the idol, at which point another player is called. Failure to discard a card in time pauses the game, and forces the player to draw a new card. First player to discard all of his or her cards is the winner.

Done.

Nothing more to see here.

It is just a simple, speed-based game. With the exception of being asked to "pass," which involves selecting one of your cards and giving it to another player, there are no decision points in the game. You just grab the right card, chuck it on the table, slam the idol, and carry on. Pretty mindless, and not particularly great.

It is fun enough for a few minutes, but the biggest problem is that the idol seems to give you just a bit too much time to find the card you need. Even playing with one hand behind your back at all times, it is still incredibly easy to play the right card before the timer runs out. That being the case, the game just doesn't seem to be as frantic as it should be.

Additionally, the cards are low quality, and considering they are being manipulated at speed, I can see them getting creased and scuffed very quickly.

Temple Run: Speed Sprint idol
Oh look. It's smiling at us.


Overall, for £1.99, I think it was a worthwhile purchase; but it really is nothing special. It is certainly not a game I would recommend to anyone. For fans of the Temple Run app, the Danger Chase board game is a much better option.

Anyway, while I've got your attention, I want to tell you about this other dream I have.

I'm in class, and I'm wearing a tinfoil hat; and the teacher is asking me how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism...

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Unspeakable Words

Unspeakable Words


Unspeakable Words
Published by Playroom Entertainment
Designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker
For 2-6 players, aged 10 to adult

Being a writer has its downside. Sure, you get to spend all day crafting worlds, inventing characters, and generally doing what you love.

But...

First of all, people have a tendency to buy you pens. Usually pens with your name on them.

I know my name, thanks. And, apart from writing shopping lists, I haven't used a pen since about 2005.

And when it comes to games, people always seem to think a writer is going to like word games. Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords...

No.

No, no, no.

Words are tools. I don't play with tools.

Except my friend, James.

As a writer, I want board games that create stories. Games where I get to rearrange letters into words couldn't interest me less.

So, I tend to have quite a few word games in my collection, but there is only one that I actually bought myself. That one game is Unspeakable Words.

I picked it up years ago, when I saw it going cheap. I knew it was just a word game, but there was a little twist that appealed to me: A Cthulhu theme. Of course, this was back in the days when the Cthulhu theme was not quite so prevalent. Nowadays, Cthulhu is overused almost as much as ellipses in blog posts.

But anyway...

I was intrigued by the comical art, the fun spin on a theme I enjoy, and (of course) the promise of 30 cute Cthulhu pawns.

Frankly, those pawns are worth the price of admission alone.

Unspeakable Words Cthulhu pawns
We could be in trouble.


In fact, the presentation for the entire game is lovely. You get 96 cards depicting letters of the alphabet, the 30 pawns, and a 20-sided dice, which I am sure is a little nod to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

What is so nice about the cards is the way the theme is incorporated. For example, on cards depicting "C", you get the legend "C is for Cthulhu" and a nice picture of Cthulhu taking a nap with his teddy bear. If you don't know why that is funny, you clearly aren't a H.P. Lovecraft fan.

Additionally, each card incorporates a piece of art that is more typically associated with the letter in question. Seeing Azathoth eating an apple is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Unspeakable Words cards
That penguin looks mighty nervous.


So the presentation is great. What about the game?

Sadly, the game is not really much to write home about (with a personalised pen, no doubt). The concept is that players are researching arcane lore, revealing words that no person was ever meant to spell out. Each player starts the game with five pawns, representing sanity (this is a Cthulhu game, after all), and seven cards.

Taking it in turns, players create words from the cards they have. The cards used to spell the word are placed on the table for everyone to see. The word is then scored based on the number of angles in the letters, which is another nice nod to the weird fiction that inspired the game. For example, the letter "Z" scores two points, while the letter "C" scores none.

At first, this might seem unusual. After all, the commonly used letter "A" scores five points, but the letter "Z" only scores two points. However, this is a surprisingly clever system when you realise that, after scoring your points, you have to roll a sanity check. To do this, you roll the 20-sided dice, and you must get equal to or greater than the total value of the word you just scored. If you don't, you lose a sanity point.

This means people who score high-value words are at greater risk of going insane. Thematically, this makes sense, and it also levels the playing field. Those players who are experts at creating high-scoring words run the risk of going insane, giving those people who have been scoring low-value words a chance to make a comeback.

The winner is the first player to score 100 points, or the last player with any sanity.

Unspeakable Words rules
Cthulhu's taking a nap. He does that.


So, yeah. it's just a word game. However, it has just enough going on to make it a little more interesting for me. The theme, the comedy elements in the art, the cute pawns, the push-your-luck element associated with creating high-value words, and the fact that people who are not great at word games still have a fighting chance, all adds up to make something that is just a little bit more than the sum of its parts. There are even some optional rules to spice things up a bit more, by giving people a chance to recover sanity, or to make up gibberish words if they are close to going insane.

This game may not be a Deep One, but if I have to play a word game I want to play one where I am not completely bored by the time Mi-Go comes around, and that means the only choice Hastur be Unspeakable Words.

...

...

I'll get my coat.

Go Piggy Go

Go Piggy Go!


Go Piggy Go!
Published by Mattel Games
Designed by top secret government agents
For 2-4 players, aged 5 to adult

Surprises are nice.

Okay, not all surprises are nice. Being surprised by an axe-wielding lunatic on your way home from the pub isn't nice.

But lots of surprises are nice.

For example, last year, when I asked my daughter what she wanted for her birthday, she said "Go Piggy Go!"


Go Piggy Go! box
Aww, look!


I had no idea what she was talking about until I looked it up on the Internet. Turns out it is a family board game that she had seen advertised on the television. I had been playing board games with my daughter for a little while (Parcheesi, Dominoes, Memory Games, Snakes and Ladders), but it still came as quite a surprise that she was asking for games for her birthday, especially games I had not even heard of.

But the biggest surprise of all is that Go Piggy Go! is actually good.

This is not something that is immediately apparent. It isn't like opening the fridge and finding an elephant. It is more like opening the fridge and finding elephant-shaped paw prints in the butter.

You see, when you set up the game, it looks like every other roll and move game ever.

The aim of the game is simple: Each player has three cute plastic pigs that need to be moved from a starting space at one end of the board, to a food trough at the other. So, on a player's turn, he or she rolls the dice, and moves one pig that number of spaces. The path is very linear, and there really is no decision making at this point. Just move as much as possible.

Sounds awful, right?

Right.

But there is a cool little twist. In the middle of the board there is a plastic wolf riding a tractor. When you press the wolf, plastic hay bales shoot out of the front of the tractor. If a player rolls the side of the dice that has a number and a wolf symbol, he or she gets to choose what to do: move a pig, or fire the tractor.

Of course, children always want to fire the tractor.


Go Piggy Go! board
Aww, look!


The purpose of firing the tractor is to hit the pigs. Any pig hit is sent back to the start (or one of two pre-set checkpoints).

This is not a major element of the game. Sometimes the wolf only gets fired once or twice, and often there is not much point in doing so; but it does add a nice little dexterity sub-game, and usually raises a few laughs when "Daddy's pig" gets sent back to the start. Again. And again.

And again.

Yeah. Big laughs.

However, what really raises this game above some of its peers, and makes it something that is actually a bit interesting to play, is the way in which the pigs interact.

When a pig moves, it can enter a space with another pig. It can do this to "jump" the pig and then carry on; however, it is also possible to enter the space with another pig and then stop there. When this happens, you stand your pig on top of the pig that was already there. From that point on, if the pig on the bottom moves, the big on the top moves with it.

Genius.

You can hop your pigs onto other pigs, and then get a free ride from one end of the board to the other. And of course, if the pig on the top ever wants to move, he can do so without moving the big on the bottom.

And the final wrinkle in the rules is that no more than two pigs can occupy a space. That means it is possible to block routes across the board.


Go Piggy Go! pigs
Aww, look!


In practice, you see a lot of pigs hopping on other pigs, creating roadblocks the other players cannot circumvent. Of course, those road blocks then become the prime target for the hay-firing wolf.

It all becomes surprisingly tactical.

Okay, it's not Chess, but there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. More than enough for adults to actually enjoy the game rather than merely tolerating it for the sake of the children.

I also rather enjoyed the little in-jokes and puns: The pigs take piggyback rides on each other, each player controls three little pigs, and rather than blowing down houses made of straw, the wolf uses hay bales to knock down pigs.

So, surprisingly, I would recommend this game to anyone with young children. It is fun, fast, colourful, and just tactical enough to keep older players interested. It won't win any awards, but it is better than it really has any right to be.

And the pigs are cute.