Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Board Games IIe

Listening to:

Fontessa by the Modern Jazz Quartet, from their CD of the same name. V. cool.

Two More Board Games

A couple of games that I haven’t got to play very much.

Ex Libris

This is a “performance” game, meaning that it requires participants to repeatedly perform a certain class of task, and to then be judged on that task. The classic Charades is probably the best known performance game. More recently, Dixit, another game in similar vein, won prizes and fame. In Dixit players compete to best play a card which sums up the phrasing of the round’s current player. Then, everyone compares the selected cards (including that of the player), and tries to figure out which was the original. Of course, if someone mistakenly votes for yours (when you are not the current player), you get points for having managed such a good “impersonation”.

Ex Libris is similar in basic feel, but puts more performance pressure on the players. Everyone is given a description of a moderately famous book (a synopsis like: Set in the 1860s, this is the powerful story of two orphaned sisters growing up on a Boer farm in the South African veld. Em is round, sweet and contented. Lyndall is clever, beautiful and unhappy. She separates Em from her lover, has a child by a man whom she refuses to marry and soon afterwards dies.), and is then told to write either a first or final sentence for that book. The person in the know writes out the real one (provided on the card), collects everyone else’s, and then reads them all out. Everyone has to vote on which they think is the genuine article. I’ve had great fun with it on a couple of occasions, and it has also fallen terribly flat once too, because the group just wasn’t feeling terribly creative.

Mr. Jack.

This is an extremely cool deduction game for two players. One is the villain (Mr. Jack) trying to escape detection for the eight turns of the game, possibly by escaping the map entirely. The board has eight characters on it, each with a unique identity giving that character special moves and abilities. For example, the lamp-lighter character can toggle the state of one of the lamps on the board (who is or is not “in the light” makes an important difference). Each pair of turns, the players get to choose which of the characters they will play. For example, on the first turn, four of the characters are nominated as movable. (On the second turn, the remaining four will be.) The detective players chooses one to move and does so, the Mr. Jack character chooses and moves two of the remaining three, and then the detective gets to move the fourth. On the even-numbered turns, the picking order flips.

The key thing is that one of the eight characters is secretly Mr. Jack, and this character is the one that the Mr. Jack player has to manoeuvre so that he escapes or, at least, avoids arrest. (A false accusation loses the game for the detective.) The beauty of the mechanic in the previous paragraph is that the Mr. Jack player may not get to actually move the character who is secretly the bad guy when he’d most like to.. Indeed, it’s conceivable that he may never get to do so. But this doesn’t really matter. This is a fantastic game: very deep, with lots of theme and quick to play. Unfortunately, I don’t play it so often because it’s for two only, and my regular group usually features more people.


I've played a fair bit of Ex Libris. I really enjoyed it when the group of people were fairly serious and used the books from the cards. I stopped playing when the group I played with changed to include some people who were rather more silly. The introduction of books that people had prepared earlier also made it worse for me, largely because they tended to be genre fiction/not very good/unfamiliar.

Not that, for example, I've read 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it's something that one can take a decent guess at the style of. Or perhaps that's just me, since one of the reasons for introducing the non-card books was, I think, to better fit the tastes of the (other) players.

Posted by: Jamie at May 24, 2012 08:26 AM