So long 2017! You were mostly terrible but there were a few redeeming qualities, not least of which the advent of GeekOut Shrewsbury. On Thursday we rounded out the year in true geeky style, a mountain of board games, Callum’s Nintendo Switch (thanks man), and our first super secret santa.
The Little Dessert Shop Pre-Meet
This was my first trip to the recently opened Little Dessert Shop, and I am not disappointed by what’s on offer, I thought I’d grown sick of sweet foods over Christmas, enough to skip the waffles, but not enough to resist a brownie and custard. The table size was a little small for some serious gaming, but there’s always space for a quick game of Love Letter between coffees. Thanks to the lads behind the counter, you were nothing if not entertaining.
A Very Busy Montgomery’s Tower
To say that Monty’s was busy is an understatement, in fact we had a while to wait before we could claim our seats, and no other table was available for us apart from the little ones we use to rack up the games. But we’re nerds, and never short of something to do. Callum and Murray settled into a Pokemon battle, while I played some pinball and chatted with Ben until we managed to occupy some furniture and bust into a game of Magic.
I also broke out some of my new Christmas presents, including new favourite Rhino Hero courtesy of our very own Timlah (cheers Tim, expect your presents soonish) which will need to be expanded upon at some point; and the DC Deck Builder Heroes Unite, featuring the D-list of DC heroes, but some of the better mechanics from any iteration of the game I’ve played thus far. I did not get to try the Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle deck building game brought in by Harley, who ran an RPG later in the evening.
Around 21:30 the music began, because it’s the bizarre half-formed space between Christmas and New Years where time is irrelevant and no one has to work unless they’re retail, service or emergency services. I neglected to consider this possibility, and may have to restructure next December’s GeekOut Shrewsbury to account for it. Still, it didn’t stop the progress of the Christmassy roleplay taking place in the corner, which I hear involved a murderous reindeer, and Mad Max elves. No doubt I’ll hear the rest of the story another time.
Thanks to everyone who put in to the Super Secret Santa, especially whoever brought the Trumpisms book, which shall take pride of place next to my volumes of George W. Bushisms. I can also say that whoever put in the Ferrero Roche, your present was equally well received. We wound down early as the music only got more intrusive, squeezed in a quick game of Surakarta on a custom board made by John, which cracked spontaneously in the middle of the game surreptitiously moving my pieces allowing me to gain the brief advantage I needed to turn the horrible losing streak I’d started on.
There’s something weirdly therapeutic about shuffling a deck of cards, and for enthusiasts of all stripes there’s an ever increasing number of games to choose from across a wide variety of genres, so many in fact that I for one do not remember the last time I played a game with the classic four-suite deck. The combination of a randomised deck, the resource-management elements of a hand, and the sheer volume of options afforded by the printed space on cards make them a versatile utility for any game designer.
But with such an array of choices, how do you know what’s right for you?
The structure of decks, and how those structures are reached can vary wildly:
Pre-built decks are the most common by far, and most frequently multiple decks control different elements of the game. For example, in Munchkin the Door deck describes your encounters, and the Treasure deck rewards you for your efforts. In Bucket of Doom (a recent acquisition of mine) players are required to formulate escape plans drawn from the Situation deck using one of their Item cards as the most essential component. Or to take it one step further, in Boss Monster, you have a Dungeon deck with which to built your evil lair, a Spell deck that grants you special powers, and all players are at the mercy of the Hero deck.
Deck building games most commonly feature a single deck around which the entire game focusses, which is slowly divided amongst the players. The DC Deck Building Game is a favourite of mine, in which players begin with only a handful of powers, and must gather more powers, as well as allies, equipment, and even a few enemies in order to strengthen their chances of securing better cards as the game progresses, and work their way through the super-villains. Smash-Up takes a different course, where the deck is built right at the beginning by combining any two of the large choice of factions together, using complimentary tactics to compete for control of the bases.
CCGs (collectible card games) offer players a library of cards from which they can collect and horde, and building a deck from what cards they amass from booster packs and boxes. Whoever can build the best deck wins. This type of game lends itself to victory through study, knowledge, and yes, more than a little cash spent on cards that can assure victory, and this can create a rather elitist type of gamer, or just a bunch of people who really enjoy testing their strategic thinking.
The real beauty of the deck structure is that it is easy to expand upon. As a perfect example, Cards Against Humanity having such a simple structure allows the creators to bring out new decks based on what’s funny to a geographical area (or hand us some lazy British stereotypes, cheers lads) or simply add more material to keep the game fresh. Smash Up gains more factions to mix and mash, and CCG’s expand upon the ever growing market, changing with the time so as to prevent older players gaining too strong an advantage over new players. It never quite works out like that though…
Your only resource is the cards in your hand. Games may differ, changing the way cards are played depending on other elements of the game, but ultimately you can only control what you do with what you have. Card quality can vary, and you can end up with some hands offering you next to no choices, while others grant you significant bonuses in any situation. You’re frequently limited as to how many cards you can hold, and almost always limited on how many you replenish, so managing this precious resource is a tough balancing act of weighing pros and cons of each play, calculating the best order, but leaving yourself prepared for what may come.
It’s little wonder it can take some people an hour to make up their minds.
The random nature of a well-shuffled deck can be a blessing and a curse. Some players may find that the cards they draw just aren’t good enough, or are stuck with the agony of choosing which of their incredible choices would be best used in the moment, only to find another, better situation arise soon after. Magic the Gathering players will be familiar with the terms Mana-Screwed or -Flooded referring to having too little or too much of the essential resource card. Fans of Cards Against Humanity or Dixit will know the sting of picking up “The Perfect Card” the moment they made an inadequate play.
This level of chaos can put some people off playing, but sometimes it’s best just to make the best of what you have and hope for a change of fortunes. And if it never happens you can always blame the cards.