deadmansdraw_large Dead Man’s Draw is a push-your-luck card game with a pirate theme to it. Kat got the limited edition via the Kickstarter, based on her enjoyment of the video game on iOS.  I believe it’s also on Steam and a few other places, based on my reading of their website.

You need a decent area to play this game in, as every player will be keeping up to 10 stacks of cards in front of you, as well as a draw and discard pile, and another card which gives a special ability. Every t urn you must draw a card and play it, and then you may play another card.  Each card has an effect (drawing both a key and a chest lets you take cards into your stacks without having to play them).  You can stop at any time and take the cards you have, or you can draw more.  Once you’ve drawn a suit twice, you bust and the cards go into the discard instead of into your stacks (of course, there’s a suit that breaks this rule).

The cards have numbers printed on them from 2-7 and the goal is to have the highest possible value of each suit. At the end of the game, the highest cards of each suit that you have are added together to form your score.  Highest is the winner.  The randomized characters give each player a different ability which adjusts how they play — in the first game I had a card which got me all the opponents cards when they went bust, so Kat went super-careful and rarely busted.  She wound up winning both the games we played that day, although I hope for revenge someday soon.

Like Love Letter this is an easy to learn and quick to play game that I suspect we’ll play again. I’d like to see how it plays with more players, although that might really unbalance the powers some.

Love_Letter_Card_Princess We originally went to Toys’R’Us to by a a LEGO set, but they had nothing we wanted. What they did have was the cute little Love Letter pouches on a kiosk.  We’d seen the Table Top Day play of the game on YouTube, and had been considering getting it. We wound up playing it several times, first with just two players, and later with the daughter.  It supports up to four players, but we’ve not tried that yet.

The story of the game is that you are trying to get your love letter to the Princess, and the cards all represent people of varying distance to the Princess, with the rank of the card representing how close, from the Guard with a 1 to the Princess herself at 8.  Every round you  have to draw and play a card, and cards have powers that are triggered when you play.

A good part of the game is counting cards to figure out what is in your opponents hands — and as there is a hidden, unknown card, it’s rare when you can actually say what card is where with 100% certainty. You win rounds by having the highest card available when the draw deck is empty, or by being the only one left.  The latter happens very often with the two player hands as there are several cards which force a confrontation that knocks out one of two players.  You play rounds until someone has a majority of the tokens, and they are the winner.

The game is pretty fast, the two player game is exceptionally fast, some of the rounds are over one one play. Three player games have a bit of strategy to them, and I suspect the four player game is really the sweet spot, as it’s more likely to end with a showdown of cards instead of last-man-standing.

One thing that really intrigued us about the game is that it sits in a narrative sequence with several other games by the same publisher.  We’re hoping to look at CABS for the others, or give them a chance.  A quick glance on their website tells me that Love Letter is one of the simpler ones, which is also good — we like a bit of crunch and thought. Love Letter is light and quick to pick up, and good for just about anyone to play, experienced or not.  There’s enough strategy/puzzling to keep you alert, and enough quick, random rounds to feel like anyone has a shot.

134533 The Secrets of Cats is a pay-what-you-want setting book for FATE Core.  I backed the FATE Core Kickstarter, and even got a nice, perfect bound hardback copy. One thing about the design of the FATE stuff is that it’s designed to be read page-by-page on an electronic device.  To that end, it’s single-column, the pages look good a 7″ (this is the size of my hardback book as well).  This was the first time I’d run the system, or FATE at all since I rand Dresden Files online some time ago (and that didn’t get very far.)

Secrets of Cats delves into a world that feels like T.S. Eliot meets So You Want To Be A Wizard.  Cats are powerful sentient wizards, protecting their human burdens from the evils of the mystical world.  Cats have four magical powers that explain the odd things that cats do.  True Names are an important part of that, and some cats can control or protect those whose true names they know, and others can discover the true names of others.  Cats can also use their own true name to alter themselves or do odd feats (like leaping in the air, or shaping their bodies in odd ways).

If you love cats and magic this is a fun expansion to try out.

Our group isn’t entirely comfortable with more  narrative games, so I was excited when Secrets of Cats came out as it limited both the skills and types of characters you can make. It still took us a while to find good aspects and to get started. Our daughter actually enjoyed it a lot (and I had to find a way to get other people some spotlight time, and to keep her from taking total control of the narrative — or to be okay if she did). I did incorporate some of her ideas to the narrative, and generally ad-libbed a very basic story.

We had lost one of our cats the same weekend that we played this, so there was some emotional stuff. One of my wives played our lost cat, the other played a character based on Tommy from Breaking Cat News, which gave both of them really nice round concepts.  Overall, I had a fun but exhausting time, although I think our next game will need to be a more traditional murder-hobo type game.  There’s some tension in our group between the OSR, D&D 3.x, and narrative games.  Our  most successful narrative game was Dungeon World, for what that’s worth.

The daughter is ready to play this again, although because of the above reasons about narrative games, I doubt we will soon.  I feel like I still need practice running FATE, and getting the hang of compels and spending FATE points. It also hurts that it takes so long for us to make characters that it cuts into our time and energy for playing.  That, I’m sure gets easier with practice, but I’m not sure when we’ll get the practice.

Dragon RampageIn Dragon Rampage (Board Game Geek), each player plays as the member of a party who, while exploring a dungeon, you accidently woke up the dragon when you were trying to get it’s treasure.  Players roll dice to determine which of several things they do on a turn — move towards the exit, attack the dragon, steal loot from each other, or try to slay the dragon.

This is a bit of a worker-placement style play (though not exactly) where say, only two people can get treasure, and only those who rolled the most treasure on the seven dice actually get to do that, so you can be bumped and not get to do that at all.  The game ends when someone slays the dragon, escapes the dungeon or dies. Players get points for damage done to the dragon, distance along the track, and treasures and gold they retrieved, with the number of points awarded dependent on how the game ends.

We played a four-person round of this on New Year’s Day, and got the game as a check out from CABS.

It wasn’t hard to play, and the dice kept things light and fun, despite this not being a really co-operative game.  My biggest complaint was that it was over so very quickly, with the death of the dragon.  We had no one come close to dying or the exit (we might have made it 1/4 around the very short track).  We even played the “long” game which gave the Dragon more health.  Looking at it’s BGG page this is a common complaint, and there are adjustments to the dragons which make the game more difficult or strategic.

The dragon needs to be hard to kill, or the other two outcomes (losing a party member/escaping) don’t become viable, and it all becomes about who can do the most damage to the dragon, which is how our game played out.  I may have won this game (I don’t remember), but I remember that it was a fairly unbalanced ending as well.

We liked it — the process of playing it was fun and pretty smooth. There weren’t a lot of detailed rules, until you got the scoring, which might have affected the outcome if we’d  understood it.  That’s not a particular problem if you play a game a few times.  We returned the game to CABS, but will probably play it again there. It’d be good between a couple of more complex games as a palette cleanser, as long as you had a tougher dragon to go against.

I doubt it’d stand up to many repeated plays, and won’t become part of our personal library.  That’s pretty typical of us, and why we have a CABS membership in the first place.