Monday, April 21, 2014

Bark: Tabletop tales

As the final evening of my Easter holiday winds down, I'm glad to have had a very relaxing and restful holiday (yes, internets, I'm still not dead, just forsaking your shiny charms for other pursuits), but one of the highlights of the holiday was hosting some friends for the Easter weekend, and finally getting to break in one of my burgeoning collection of tabletop board games with a group of close friends, in a way that might hopefully persuade my partner that playing board games other than Scrabble isn't actually grounds for excommunication from general society.

I, of course, entirely blame Wil Wheaton for this. Well, that's not quite true. I also blame my best friend Paul for this, as he also co-created and runs a tabletop gaming show, the quirky and delightful (and very British) Shut Up And Sit Down, for causing me to spent hundreds of pounds on board games over the last year or so. But mainly I blame Wheaton, for making board gaming something approaching socially acceptable. (This is "blame" in a good way, incidentally, because I don't regret spending a single penny.)

Anyway, so after dinner (tacos and my special secret recipe chilli con carne - and no, you still can't have the recipe... what part of "secret" don't you understand?), I dig under the sofa to find an easily playable game for six people, that shouldn't be too hard to pick up, even if five of us have never seen a board game more complicated that Trivial Pursuit before. I opt for Munchkin Deluxe, because it's a simple enough card game, with ample opportunity for us to be jerks to one another, a game mechanic that I feel will especially appeal to Flo and Alex's kids, Phil and Julian.

We opt mainly to learn the rules by playing, and I (admittedly unintentionally) slim down the rules, to make the game a bit easier to play ("house rules, people... house rules"), and set out to explain things as I go, taking on the Wil Wheaton role from Tabletop (i.e. the host that's destined to lose). Munchkin is a game that normally should take 60-90 minutes, even with 6 players, but because we're all pretty much learning as we go, it turns into a three hour epic. But, most importantly, we all had fun and a lot of laughs, even when I (as the Thief) started backstabbing to demonstrate the essence of being a Munchkin (I am competitive, after all). It did help that Flo, Phil, Julian and myself had a basic grounding in the tropes of D&D thanks to either having played D&D as a kid (i.e. me) or having sunk hours and hours into Baldur's Gate (all four of us), as Munchkin has a real sense of humour, grounded in D&D parody.

What was best about the game was that as the night wore on, and everybody got more used to how the game played, all six of us stayed in contention for the win, right until the final turn, where, almost out of nowhere, Phil, after having been totally hosed by the deck for the whole of the game, and being two levels behind everyone, right up until his final play, managed with his keen gamer brain to take advantage of the game mechanics to jump up three levels to level 9 through a canny use of a level up card and his halfling ability to sell his first item for double gold. His final door card was a reasonably compliant monster, and even though everyone tried to backstab or nerf him with potions and modifier cards, Phil (thanks to some generous acts of charity earlier in the game to boost his combat level with gifted cards useless some of the other players), managed to still get over the finishing line. And all before midnight.

Next time, though, we'll play a bit of The Resistance... because it has even more awesome potential.
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