New-to-us games at the gaming cafe

We made a visit to our local board game cafe – The Board and Brew – recently with another couple. For the most part, we try to play games that we don’t have at home, so the trip was filled with new-to-us games!

We started with Spirit Island – a cooperative game where each player is a spirit of an island getting overrun by colonizing invaders. We all work together to protect the native peoples and push the invaders off the island. The game is played through a series of rounds where the spirits gain energy, optionally extend their presence across the island, and plan on the cards they wish to play. The cards include a variety of powers from moving around the island, protecting the natives, and causing fear and/or destroying the invaders. The “fast” powers on spirit cards trigger next, then the invaders explore, build, and attack the island, and finally the “slow” spirit cards trigger.

We definitely got a few of the rules wrong, but the game play was interesting, and I’d love to give it another try. There was a balance between playing “fast” cards and “slow” – do you do something quickly to get invaders off the board before they can explore further, or wait until after with the generally more-powerful slow cards to do more damage?  It was a fun puzzle.

After such a complex, brain-burner game, we cleansed our palettes with Ice Cool – a silly dexterity game. In this game we are all penguins in school either trying to catch delinquent students or ditching class to collect fish. On each player’s turn, they flick their penguin around the board. The hall monitor is trying to run into the other penguins to collect their student IDs; the others are tying to get through selected  doorways to collect their fish. The round ends when either the hall monitor has gotten all the IDs or someone has collected all of their fish.

This was exactly what we needed – a game to get up and move around the table, but not something I expect to pull out terribly often.

We also tried out a simple cup-stacking game called Cappuccino. Each player has several of a color of cup, which are laid out at random on the table. Then each turn you move your cup, or stack of cups that your cup is at the top of, onto an adjacent cup, or stack, as long as the stack you are moving has the same number or more than the one you’re moving them to. It’s quick playing and tactile, but not terribly interesting.

Then we took out Junk Art, another dexterity game. In this game, we are each artists trying to gain fans in various cities by building beautiful sculptures from pieces of junk – which are really just wooden pieces that don’t stack as neatly as you might hope. The specific rules of how you chose pieces depend on which cities you are visiting. In one round, we played the numbered cards corresponding to the pieces in a trick-taking round. The person who won the trick collected the cards and distributed them to everyone as the piece they are required to play that turn. In another round, we were all building on the same sculpture.

I really liked this one! It’s one thing to build stacks of pieces, but I love the changing rules of each round. Sometimes you are choosing your own fate, while other times your opponents are.

Finally we played Magic Maze, a cooperative game where you are trying to get heroes through a mall to shoplift their weapon of choice and then out the exit before time runs out. However, in this game, players do not control a specific character – they control them all, but they can only in specific ways. It might be that I can only move characters north, while another player can move them west, another east, and another south. In addition, the person moving them south can also get them up and down escalators. The person moving them east can open up new parts of the mall if the right color hero is in the right spot. And the person moving them west can move them through warps.* These roles change a bit with more or fewer players.

Oh, and did I mention that you can’t talk during the game? And there’s a timer? You can talk for a bit before you start the timer, and then can only talk when you move a character onto a timer space, which flips the timer and allows players to strategize, but only until you touch a pawn and start again.

The game is also designed with a number of scenarios – you start with the easiest where each hero has to get to weapon they need, and then they all go to the same exit. The second scenario adds individual exits for each hero. The third scenario requires players to change the action they can take each time the timer is turned. That’s as far as we got, but I think there are also security cameras in later scenarios…and shortcuts for one of the heroes…and I don’t know what else.This game is addicting! It’s very tense during play, but then you want to try again when you finish. I would love to get this one out again.

We wrapped up with Magic Maze…five games of it. And that was our day – nine hours of gaming! A tiring but fun day with friends.

* I don’t remember the specific combination of movements for the various players in the 4-player game – this is just a guess, but represents the spirit of the game

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