Sinking into Sludge and Sailing out of Sand

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August 18, 2015 by Jake

Come close, and listen my plucky friends. There were a few plays last week with my brother, dad, and wife and as summer wanes we were gifted with an unusually cool week amidst the humidity of August. My brother has been truly smitten with King of New York, he found it to contain just the right amount of luck and dynamic strategy, and the flamboyant gorilla in power gauntlets doesn’t hurt either.

Didn’t Tony Stark patent those gauntlets, Mister Kong?

Saturday I got pops to dust off his Lord of the Rings cards as we took on the Dead Marshes Scenario together. In this quest, the heroes have cornered Gollum at the edge of the Dead Marshes, the quest itself can be very short, but it forces the players to not only circumnavigate the perilous bog, but also divide half of their travel assets to keep the sneaky Smeagol from vanishing into the encounter deck. We were able to pursue the abomination without losing him into the obscurity of the swamp for five rounds, unfortunately my decision to bring a Rohan cavalry deck into the dreadful mire proved our downfall. Even as Legolas and Gimli cut down wargs and worms alike, Eowyn was clearly overmatched in keeping the party morale rising, and after numerous escape attempts the nasty wretch Gollum drifted beyond our sight. I know we’re not supposed to follow the lights Smeagol, but you kind of kept kiting us through them … ass! Even though we lost by a narrow margin, playing the game again after so long had the same hooking effect on my father that it did on me. The endless combinations of cards and stories, combined with the strategic diversions each quest offers has a bewitching effect, like the lure of a certain Ring of Power. Dad texted me the next day and asked if we could set up a dedicated day of the week to play the game, to which I was all too eager to conspire.

I know, I know! Jeesh …

Megan wasn’t feeling very well last night, but after I prepared her a light supper of chicken and rice she decided she was well enough for a quick game. She really is such an amazing sport. We broke out Forbidden Desert and after selecting our roles (myself the orthogonal rebellious Explorer and she the not so bossy Navigator) Megan asked me if we had ever played the game on any difficulty setting other than Normal. I explained to her that when introducing new players, I always like to play the game on the lowest difficulty of Novice. When Megan and I play alone or with second-timers, I always set the difficulty to Normal, since it creates a little more urgency. Above Normal are Expert and Legendary, so Megan suggest we give Expert a try. Hoo boy. Meg and I have never lost this game, we have had close calls with dehydration, but never has the notion of running out of sand tiles and being buried under the dunes been closer than in this round. In the last two turns of the game we were revealing five cards a turn and were looking at only seven sand tiles left. Each card has the potential of removing zero to three tiles from the stack, and if players ever run out when required to add a tile, the game is lost. My last turn bristled with tension as I slowly revealed each card. We literally used all seven of the tiles and were left with a reserve of nothing, but my turn was over and the game not yet lost. Had Megan and I not each saved a Jet Pack in our inventory (after cautiously using every other item in the deck), then we would never have been able to grab the final ship part and evacuate to safety. If that narrow turn had not ended in victory the game could not have ended in any other result but failure. We breathed a sigh of relief at how close of a call we had and decided that Legendary difficulty was not in our immediate future, had fate flipped the cards in even a slight deviation we wouldn’t have stood a chance.

These are the reasons my favorite games have a narrative aspect. Its easy to break the game down into statistics, ratios, and data, but recounting a tale like that would be like reading the highlights from an algebra test. True cooperative spirit mixed with multiple crossroads and trusting your instincts – that is what puts more meat on my sandwich! Can you recount times while playing a cooperative game where the yarn spun itself? What brilliant moments of luck and team coordination have stuck with you in your mind? If you are interested in adding a lighter, but still savory cooperative game to your collection, I might also recommend Desert’s older brother Forbidden Island, Pandemic: The Cure, or Elder Sign. This week is going to be lush with gaming festivity as the stars have somehow aligned to bring three gaming days in close proximity. Keep your chins up and machetes sharp (why bring a machete to a desert you ask? Trade secret) explorers.

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