Dice & Mystics Fringe 2019 Booked Full

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Hey everybody – I have news concerning the Dice & Mystics Fringe:

We are booked full.

We could not believe our eyes, but it’s true, and it’s only July…!

To everybody who successfully used our new booking system: We hope it was as convenient and easy for you as we intended it to be, and we thank you so much for joining our 2019 event.

For anybody who would still like to come but did not catch a ticket:

With the online booking system there is no waiting list. However, as soon as anybody has to cancel, we will manually remove their reservation and booking will re-open for those places, so keep your eyes peeled for any free spot that may pop up again. If there are any problems, you can reach out to us at: contact(at)diceandmystics.de

To anybody who has a ticket but cannot come:

Please do send an e-mail with your cancellation to contact(at)diceandmystics.de ! Please include your booking number.

There will be other people who would gladly like to take your spot, and for them to be able to do so we have to manually cancel the ticket so that there will be a free spot indicated in the booking system. For that, we must of course first know that there is a vacancy! Thank you very much in advance.

All that remains to say is: We are very much looking forward to meet you all in person in just over three months. Till then, have a wonderful time, lots of fun gaming, and a safe journey to Spiel Essen and our Dice & Mystics Fringe event in Bochum.

Good play – better day!

VALHAL – Joy and Sorrow in a Viking’s Life

Have you ever come around the next morning after a rollicking party with a headache, scrambling for orientation and finding your befuddled brain completely and totally blank? If you ever experienced such an extreme yourself, you might be able to feel with the stricken heroes in this historical civilisation builder board game. Everybody else will just have to employ their imagination.  The name of the game is a clue in itself: VALHAL is all about Vikings. Real ones. The theme of VALHAL is the life and day of the historic Vikings, and their religious beliefs play an important part. But Ragnarök can wait. For now, the most important thing is being a true Viking who, after a glorious death, will then proudly stride into Asgard, with his sword in hand, and claim his place amidst the mead drinking ranks of the heroes of Valhal. This is the sole and most noble purpose of every Viking’s very existence! It is just that a combination of too much mead, and a too deeply felt anticipation of the glorious afterlife, can lead to certain unforeseen complications…

On one fateful morning, the Vikings of Fjörnheim, a fictitious island in the North, wake up with a legendary headache. Still struggling with the aftereffect of mead still coursing through their veins and some major memory gaps concerning the finer details of the previous night, they are facing Rattatöskr, messenger of the gods, who brings it to their notice that in their drunken state they “accidentally” chopped up a holy tree to feed their little camp fire. The proprietors of the tree in question, the Gods of Asgard, are not amused. At all. Without further ado they withdraw the post-mortem access authorization to Asgard and Valhal from the hung-over Norsemen. Things cannot possibly get any worse for a Viking-!

The theme of the game:

This civilization builder board game takes place in the early Viking era, which is depicted with great historical accuracy down to the very details.  You assume the responsibility of one of the Fjörnheim Jarls under whose leadership the Norsemen strive to manage, improve and further their settlements and, most importantly, perform great deeds – i.e. go a-viking and bring home loot. This is done in order to gain Glory and win back the favour of the Gods and eventually be welcomed at the doors of Asgard and admitted into Valhal after their heroic demise.

Some basic data:

  • Published by  Tetrahedron-Games 2018 (Copyright 2017)
  • Designed by  Martin Otzmann and Mario Arthur
  • Artwork by  Nele Diel
  • Plays  2 – 4 players
  • Age  10+
  • Duration of Gameplay  90 – 120 minutes
  • Setup-Time  about 12 minutes
  • Box Size  square box (23,5 x 23,5 x 6,5 cm)

Lots of fun stuff in a box:

  • 1 Season Marker, which is the central game board in the middle of which the seasons get indicated (there is even a surplus of 3 additional Season Markers in the box that can be used as replacements)
  • 4 Favour of the Gods  displays (1 per player)
  • 4 Ravenhead Tokens in the player colours, used to record the progress on the Favour of the Gods display (1 per player)
  • 7 Achievenment Tokens (grant bonus points for being first to achieve certain objectives)
  • 8 Memory Aid Tokens (with the sides ”Spring & Disabled“ und “Summer & Winter“)
  • 16 Food Tokens
  • 16 Building Tokens:  8 Wood Tokens
      8 Iron Tokens
  • 80 Coins
  • 5 game boards:  4 Viking Settlements (the Viking settlement of the player where
    they can build, train their warriors and manage their ressources)
    The Mainland (one central game boardwhere the villages and towns to be raided are laid out)
  • 72 unit cards: 28 units Nordic Warriors
      20 units Nordic Veterans (elite warriors) and
      24 Longboats (the famous Viking dragon boats)
  • 16 Buildings Cards:  4 Warehouses (improve building of ships)   
      4 Blacksmith’s (help warriors to become “veterans”)
      4 Granaries (improve the food situation in winter)
       4 Sacrificial Altars (grant ”Benevolence of the gods” cards)
  • 24 Town Cards  (from small undefended villages to strong fortified towns plus relief troops) .
  • 24 Town Cards  (from small undefended villages to strong fortified towns plus relief troops)
  • 149 Playing Cards : 50 Event Cards
      30 Benevolence of (the) Gods Cards
      30 Wrath of the Gods Cards
      15 Lesser Loot Cards
      10 Large Loot Cards
      10 Greater Loot Cards
  • 4 Battletableaus
  • 20 Markers (little wooden cubes in 3 different colours)
  • 4 red D6 Dice
  • 20 white Custom Dice (faces showing 1 to 3, with each number appearing twice)

Sounds like a huge amount of content? It certainly is. It really baffles the mind how is it possible to put out such a lot of gaming fun for such a reasonable price. It is not the sheer number of single game parts alone that is impressive: The artwork is really excellent and the production quality of the components is good. Everything is straightforward, easy to handle, and well-made.  For such a modest price (or even higher prices) we have – on other occasions – seen flimsy products with just a fraction of components such as these. So it is truly amazing and also very gratifying to see how much of a game you are getting in a box of VALHAL by comparison.

The creators themselves, however, told us they are not entirely happy with the quality of the components, especially with some of the cards, although we and our fellow gamers had been satisfied with the present production and its components. So anyone who is planning to get themselves a copy of their own: You can look forward to the upcoming re-issue of the game (soon on  kickstarter) with components made by different production companies where everything is going to be even better than it is now!

What impressed us the most about this game is the care and thoroughness that went into the way the theme has been translated into the design and the game mechanics. There is not a single aspect that has not been researched and implemented correctly in terms of cultural history: There are no anachronisms anywhere, n horned helmets or any other such popular nonsense in evidence! The creators did not simply paste a popular theme onto a game mechanism, the mechanism organically grows from the very depths and realities of the theme itself. They do take the Nordic culture of that particular era very seriously indeed. This even applies to such detail as the colour scheme of the game and its components which moves within the scope of exclusively such pigments that would actually have been available at the time of the Vikigs. Wow! That’s what we call dedication! If you are expecting extravagant fantasy Vikings sprung from a comic strip, you won’t find any of those here. But you are not giong to miss them either. VALHAL is a novel and crisp gaming experience with a sound mixture of rules, strategies and luck – just like real life. If, however, you are genuinely into the historic Viking people, you will in fact experience some of their real life while enjoying a game of VALHAL If you have none such expectations and simply want to play an interesting board game, VALHAL is for you, too.

The settlements:

There are four identical settlements. This settlement is the actual playing board for each player, where the destiny of the villagers decides; the victory points generated here are counted on the Favour of the Gods display. In the centre of each settlement there is the Jarl’s longhouse; this is where you place your resources. You collect your (unspent) coins, food tokens and building tokens (wood, iron). The number of food tokens in limited to four: Prior to the invention of canned food and freezers, you just could not store an unlimited food supply to last you all year. So in real Viking life, resources did actually run scarce at times…

In your settlement you have a shipbuilder; in that spot you are able to construct your dragon boats. You have a training ground where you may train farmers to become brave seafarers and man your ships, and a rune stone where you may sacrifice gold or glory (victory points) to be granted a favour of the gods. But be warned – gods are not bound to any profane rules. The favours they will grant are not always beneficial to mortals…

Also, each settlement has building sites for additional buildings – a warehouse, a granary and a blacksmith – as well as an (already existing) armoury for the use of which, however, you need a blacksmith, because it requires a blacksmith to adequately equip simple sailors with the necessary means to become seasoned veteran warriors. That makes a lot of sense.

Your objective is to finish your building as soon as possible. In order to do this, you must first place a coin on the building site and provide food for the settlement. (Workers need to eat.) Using resources can enable you to start or speed up the building process even without any food tokens. When finished, buildings allow you to build ships faster and with fewer resources, to train up and equip warriors or also to have more food during the long winter (better storage conditions).

How to play:

Each game consists of several rounds which take place during the three (!) seasons (summer, winter and spring). At the start of the first round, each player owns one longboat, one unit Nordic warriors manning it, one unit food, two units iron (represented by the two tokens) and three coins.

It starts with a “Vikingfahrt“:

You can only go on a Vikingfahrt (Viking sea raid) in summer. Therefore, the game starts in summer, and you begin by placing some (unfortified) villages on the mainland; their number is determined following the number of players present. And off you go!

The villages you aim for are easy prey – or not: There are small unprotected hamlets, but also big, heavily fortified cities that put up some fierce resistance with the help of relief troops in a second wave of defense. You are facing the dilemma that the easy targets guarantee some booty and a safe return of ship and men, but the booty you bring home may be rather unimpressive. Those rich fortified cities, on the other hand, contain a heap of real riches to be gleaned, and often some noble offspring into the bargain that can earn you a handsome ransom, but all this comes at great risk.

One thing is for certain: If you opt for a risk-free life bullying some conveniently harmless farmers into giving up the little they have,  you and your settlement will yourself end up having little, no heroic ballads are sung in your praise and the gates of Valhal will forever stay shut. So when you are planning ahead where to risk a sea raid, you should think and re-think before you take action.

You pick out one of the places laid out on the mainland that you want to raid and pillage and chose the longboat and unit of warriors you want to employ for the task. The next step is the actual fight. A successfully pillaged village or city is removed from the mainland and you bag all the loot that is stated on its card: gold, resources like food, wood or iron, ransom for hostages…

That having been done, the next player starts the next raid on the respective target. This continues until all the places on the mainland have been raided. 

How you fight:

If a ship has more than one unit of warriors on board, you have to first determine which of them is going to attack first.  The attack bonuses do add up, but not the life points. All attack bonuses are used in battle, but only the unit in front takes the damage. If the attacking unit in front loses all life points and die, the remaining unit will be next to attack, but of course there are no more bonuses to add up. This gives you the impression you are dealing with real human beings who are acting together in small groups, though you do not experience them as different individuals. However, you do perceive them in a totally different way than you would if you played “unit“ as a mere abstract.

Cities have their life points, too, and they can either put up a weak or a very strong defence.  An attempted raid cannot only fail, it can actually end in disaster!  This is a somewhat sobering view of the raiding seafarers.  What they do is depicted with all the dangers and uncertainties, the risk of paying for some lousy loot with the death of crew members, or even never returning home but sleeping with the fishes forever.

The good news: If your unit of warriors „die“, i.e. lose all their life points, they are not dead yet, but wounded to such an extent that their number of life points will be considerably lower in the next fight. The bad news: The wounded warriors are, of course, also weaker now. If the unit lose all their life points a second time, they are then considered dead and are removed from game. If the ship is no longer manned because your first and also second unit of warriors are truly dead, it is removed from the game. (It is lost to you.) This system also adds a lot to the realism of the gameplay.

The clear and well-structured combat system is easy to grasp and plays smoothly. How successful you are is determined by your attacking strength and choosing your targets wisely, but the dice add a random element of luck. The result of this combination convincingly simulates the actual hazards of a “Vikingfahrt”: However well you prepare, in reality you simply cannot achieve a total control on events and circumstances! To influence the probabilities in your own favour and prevent the worst from happening, all you can do is to plan ahead as well as you can and think your decisions through.  The element of luck adds a lot of suspense to the gameplay, but it also helps you maintain the hope that next time fortune will smile at you again, even while you are failing.

And there is more good news: If at any point a Jarl finds himself without any ship or men, his settlement will immediately provide a new ship and unit of warriors! It rarely ever happens that your settlement has to throw you that lifeline, but it makes certain that all players can always continue to have fun together and game on. When all is said, this is what it’s all about, even in a most definitely non-cooperative game. We really like this simple solution because it excludes nobody and there is no interrution in the flow of the game.

This happens during winter and spring:

After your “Vikingfahrt“ you will – hopefully – have all the resources necessary to prepare for the coming summer and to further develop your settlement.

You place food tokens on the seasons on your settlement. Food tokens can be replaced by coins; you “buy” food you do not have. Next you need to hire more men, train up your already existing units to become veterans, and of course you have to build things. This is important because the buildings give you certain advantages once they are finished. It is essential to have a larger number of reliable ships, too, and also more warriors manning them, because all those villages that are easy prey will soon be gone (due to certain activities of certain seafarers from way up north). The cities you will be trying to raid next will not be overcome by a handful of men in a glorified rowing boat.  In fact, this is a very busy and fast-paced phase in VALHAL .

The zeal you invest in your own village is not unlke the joyous ecxitement you would feel when packing your bags for a world trip. Your setttlement must survive the long winter; the journeys of the summer ust be well prepared for so that the men and boats will return safely and laden with treasures – what could be more important? Nothing, absolutely nothing of what happens here will be without consequence. In fact, this is a very busy and fast-paced phase in VALHAL

How to win – or lose:

You win by collecting the most victory points and thus being the first to reach the open gates of Asgard on the Favor of the Gods display.

The gaming experience viewed from the inside:

We tested VALHAL several times at our Dice & Mystics game nights: People who come to us expect to spend a nice, relaxing and entertaining time with good board games. Such guests only sit down at the table when the new game looks attractive and promises a great, varied gaming experience.

VALHAL immediately passes the visual test: As soon as the box is opened, there is a lot of interest. The artwork is appealing to all, and especially to some outspoken fans of the Viking culture, who admire the great care taken in the game design. They visibly enjoy the fact that the bold seafarers of the North, who so fascinate them, are not just props and decoration. During the following game rounds we constantly hear comments and observations about the life of the real Norsemen, their characteristics and their daily lives; the game arouses interest and furthers understanding. 

There is no shortage of players. Setup takes a little time. Good things will take a while. Patiently and full of anticipation we endeavor to learn the rules for the impressive amout of components. What appeared a little complicated at first soon turns out to be quite easy to grasp. In the first round, the rules are still in the foreground, but everything works smoothly and effortlessly: We sit down, start playing, and have fun.

The first “Vikingfahrt“ is quite easily accomplished, although success is by no means guaranteed.  In our very first trial round, all men and ships return successfully. The Jarls are happy. The first building projects commence in winter, in spring one of the settlements is proud to have their own blacksmith.  When the second much more difficult  “Vikingfahrt“ is in progress,  the rules  are crystal clear and the combat system does not need to be explained anymore.

The following summer it gets obvious that the first raid with the small easy-to-pillage villages had actually been some kind of tutorial. This is neat. It feels more natural to go through the steep learning curve within the actual gameplay rather than having to complete a separate practise session before. (In later game rounds, for a new gamer to be able to join in, a quic briefing about the bare essentials proves sufficient, everything else can be learned “on the fly”. Learning by Doing actually worked just fine!)

As the game proceeds, it turns out that it is not so easy to complete your buildings quickly enough and take advantage of them, if you had previously chosen to follow the less profitable but safer path. Two things become very evident. First, VALHAL rewards taking risks, not choosing the safest way. Second, the smallest mistake in your planning is going to mercilessly lead to serious consequences. That does make sense: The living conditions in the Viking age allowed no mistakes. So you have to be pretty alert and quick-witted. If you miscalculate your sea raids or fail to provide for he long winter or bring home too much of the wrong loot, you will have serious problems at hand – and there go your chances to become the most successful and most renowned settlement in all Fjörnheim. Winners as well as losers – all our gamers are enjoying themselves and want to play again as soon as possible.

At the following game nights and with the same paricpants, the gameplay is even more balanced. Everybody knows how it goes (or rather how Rattatöskr scuttles). Nonody is careless enough to naively attack the most harmless hamlet; all building activities, resource management and storage projects are planned more carefully and with better foresight; more ships and crews go a-viking, the game becomes more eventful, faster and more fluent, and whoever is going to win this time ramains open until he game is finished.

In the end, everybody applauds the winner, but although there is no envy among the players, you can read it in their faces – resolutions are being made to do everything differently and better the next time, all in order to win the favor of the gods. That’s the way it is meant to be!

Final thoughts:

If it was not for this little horned guy,  we might have taken a little longer to catch our attention, but a glance round the corner and there he was, his little keen eyes blinking up at us from his place on the corner of the table – and we stood spellbound! We were captivated on the spot!

This little fellow is the messenger of the Gods (the Asen), who came scuttling down the trunk of the world ash Yggdrasil all the way down to our hung-over Vikings to deliver the dire message of the angry management. This unusually attractive figurine is not needed for the game itself, but renouncing him? No Viking way!

The messenger of the gods, a finely sculpted resin figure, and the attractive leather coasters with their beautiful ornaments are the extras that come with the special edition.  But even without them the game VALHAL is a visual treat.

VALHAL is more than playable eye candy, it also has substance. It combines original, “organic” game mechanics with a historically correct and realistic representation of a popular theme. You can see very clearly what a huge amount of true passion and great care has been invested in the creation of this game. There is so much to do and experience, and although it is played taking turns, there is no downtime that deserves the name. 

The Viking theme so convincingly portrayed by Nele Diehl is not an illustration, it becomes tangible and alive. That is what makes VALHAL so special. Even the steep learning curve at the beginning can be explained by the logical and convincing derivation of the rules from the topic itself.

The playing time given by the publisher is a realistic estimate, as demonstrated on several game nights. This makes VALHAL an interesting game not only for plays at home but also for a game club. Several games one after the other, even with partial change of players, are easily possible.

VALHAL appeals to different types of gamers, is entertaining, plays differently each time and offers excellent value for money for a good and unusual game with good production quality. Its moderate length makes it suitable for adults, but it is easy enough to learn to be accessible to older children.

To sum up:

VALHAL has convinced us:  It’s great funthroughout! What more can you possibly want? We are glad that we discovered this game which now enriches our collection. „You should bring it to the table more often“, we’re being told, und there are questions concerning the upcoming kickstarter…

(The Dice & Mystics thank the publisher Tetrahedon Games for the free copy of their game.)

By: Martina Frohme; Dice & Mystics

Unexpected encounters of the board game kind… (Part 2)

Apparently, this time and day board games are the hotness. They seem to be so big „a thing“, they can now easily be used to promote huge international brands and keep them rolling nicely. Sometimes quite literally.

I needed a new set of summer tyres for my car. While I made myself comfortable on a Ferrari red sofa with a nice cup of coffee for the wait, I casually glanced across to the “kid’s corner“. I had expected to see toy cars and wooden building bricks, picture books and the like. They were all there, of course, and even that inescapable dexterity “game“ where the child entertainee has to navigate some (theft-and-nonsense-proof) ring or other device along twisting wires and all kinds of challenges towards some goal within the construction. I find these contraptions ever so enticing and am very temped to give it a go, but when all is said I always end up not to because squatting down on one of those miniature chairs with my ears next to my knees would be too embarrassing…

But the dexterity game was clearly outshone this time buy a total of three boxes with different games all produced for promotional purposes. There was a “family game for up to 7 players“ titled “I love my Doblo“ designed after “Snakes and Ladders” meets “Game of Life“, having event spaces like “Mom is sick. Move back 5 spaces.“, “First soccer training. TraTransporting half the team. Advance 7 spaces.“ und “Puberty. 3 spackes backwards. Have an argument.“ (NOT joking here.)

The winner is whoever gets on the new Fiat Doblo in the centre of the board first. If you can also ”beat“ the other player’s pieces and send them back to “start“ like in other games was not explicit in the rules. I have an idea that if you would like that, a little “house ruling“ would be in order. Sadly, playing pieces and dice were missing.  (Which proves the point regarding the self-defending precautions with any mobile components of the dexterity game.)

It is not just theme as such which is promoting the brand here, there are also promotional statements inserted in the details. You are informed there is a navigation system on board, or you stop on an event like “Summer vacation. Taking the surf board along. Plenty of room. Advance 1 space“, pointing out the advantages of the particular vehicle that is meant to be made desirable to you . To be fair, there are actually just 5 (or maybe 6 if you want to be a little more nit-picky) in a total of 19 event spaces that have any reference to a car and its uses, and not every one of them is positive Positives; there is one that tells you the car boot is too large and loading up therefore takes forever, so you have to skip a  turn. (That is, of course, a fairly see-through tactics, but I would still say it is “pretty clever“ – if that was not also some form of promoting a saleable item.) The other events cover a wide range of landmarks in a young person’s life like taking your very first steps, chickenpox, good marks at school, the very first kiss and love sickness. You are, however, left with the impression that as soon as you reach adulthood – and according to the editors of the game –  purchasing a nice large famlily cars should be high on your list of priorities. This adds a whole new dimension to the “family friendly“ attribute of a board game.

The card based game “Qubino“, a game  “For young unconventional and lateral thinkers“. Basically following the rules of  “Domino“ while playing, the future customers are training themselves to acknowledge all those reasons for buying the product that are being suggested to them from the sales catalogue, at the same time bonding to the company’s logo.

Some form of unconventional thinking may be happening to transfer the rules of “Domino“ onto “Qubino“, but there is no way the game  teaches any independent lateral thinking to the young gamers. On the contrary, this happens the less the more the game actually achieves to be fun.

The two copies of a memory game were also next to complete. I simply had to get down to sorting the cards into their boxes! One of the games appeared complete by all standards, the other one was lacking two cards, but this would not have impaired the playability in a significant way if all you wanted was to pass some time while u wait. All it would take was to remove those cards that were lacking a double from the game. I am not going to lie to you: That design was ever so cool! So cool, I was seriously tempted to buy a copy if at all possible.  (I even asked but was told the game was not available for purchse. Why was that, I wondered. Such a pity.)

The slightly abstracted images in black white and red colours all shared the same theme; in a wider sense they all depicted automobiles, racing and lots of things related (will not start contemplating the broken hearts and  lipstick prints, though).  There were only two motifs showing the photographic images of the company logo and actual car models. It definitely had something there…

Good play – better day!

Unexpected encounter of the board game kind… (Part 1)

I am pretty much sure that most of you people who read this have their own game collection with boxes neatly tucked away in you black or white Kallax, and you buy your games online, from the retailer you trust, a large department store, at your friendly local game shop or at conventions and fairs like Spiel Essen. You play at your own gaming table – or any large table in your house that doubles as such – and at your game club and other such obvious places. But have you ever bought a game at the supermarket and eaten it up even before you brought it to the table?

Alright, the latter concept sounds a bit extreme, but it is not entirely impossible. There are, in fact, edible games! Between boiled sweets, popcorn and chocolate bars, you can actually take a bite out of Rummikub, Trivial Pursuit and Twister, as this find in the sweets department of a large German supermarket chain gives proof of. The best time to look for such specialities is before Christmas, but you can come across them all year round.

You find all kids of old classics here: A candy version of Twister, Uno made of chocolates, Ludo (Mensch ärgere dich nicht!) and the “original” Monopoly. The latter might have been introduced to make the infamous sentence “I hate Monopoly!” practically unutterable, at least among chocolate lovers. Most of them have chocolate components with wrappers camouflaging them as playing pieces of some sort and printed edible “paper”.  

They are very playable, and if you have a good portion of self-restraint some are perhaps even re-playable, but it would be safest to avoid any AP, or the piece you want to place might melt in your hand. So much is certain: These games are not recommended for temperatures of 30° Centigrade or over, and they come with an expiry date.

They are very playable, and if you have a good portion of self-restraint some are perhaps even re-playable, but it would be safest to avoid any AP, or the piece you want to place might melt in your hand. So much is certain: These games are not recommended for temperatures of 30° Centigrade or over, and they come with an expiry date.

The idea to have a sweet review of the most positive moments like in this edible game could be a nice addition to your New Year’s Eve celebration. It is clearly reminiscent of „Trivial Pursuit“. A pity that the box with its dial of trivia questions has outlived its purpose when empty. Maybe it can be refilled for some re-playability.

In a few cases the game is not a high calorie re-make of an existing game, but has itself and what you are doing with the content of the box as a “theme”.

In this example, gummy drops in different colours and flavours – nice and not so nice – come with a custom die. You roll and have to face the “challenge” according to your result, namely eat the next gummy drop the die has assigned to you. That is the game, all of it, and it comes with a warning to stop playing well before you get sick.

Gosh and golly, when do you “play” such a thing? And with whom? Was it inspired by Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Harry Potter? In that case I would wish for a nicer box. I also did not buy it, so I cannot vouchsafe if there was or was not any ear wax candy in it.

I can imagine torturing children who come a-trick-and-treating on Halloween with this! Joke aside, it could work as a little Halloween prank for the occasion, adding some extra “spice” to all the gruesome special effects our home has been known for when it functions as the most popular Halloween House for the children in the neighbourhood. That would make some sense. Problem was, this beauty of a game only appeared on the clearing sale shelf in January, but then it might have been around on time for the start of November, who can say? I think I will actually keep my eyes peeled for this in October.

Would I twister myself around sweets and buy the chocolate Munchopoly or any of the others? Certainly not. An edible game may pass as a novelty gift from a gamer to a non-gamer and be considered original and funny, but I am tempted to add “in a warped kind of way”.  For somebody who does not normally enjoy board games, the special “theme” would not really add a lot to the enjoyment of the content. Maybe this would be different with an outright board game hater who would gleefully destroy the whole box (and no real live game hurt in the process…).

But what a cruel gift to give to any true board game lover, or worse, to any serious board game collector!

On the bright side, they are ideal for those of us who constantly face serious storage problems with every new game they acquire…

My suggestion: If you want to appease your sweet tooth with a game related treat, bake a cake with a board game theme! There are great examples of such cakes known to mankind, but however nice they are to behold, they do not camouflage as playable, durable games but are first and for all a cake to enjoy with a nice cuppa on the side – and then you can get out a real board game and play together with your friends!

Good play – better day!

The Dice & Mystics Fringe 2019

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Coming to Essen and want to play games?

October 26th (from 4 p.m. until midnight)

It is actually the fourth time running that we are looking forward to play together will all you wonderful people from all over this planet at our “TinyCon”.

You would like to finish your day at the SPIEL Essen with a nice and comfortable game night? Then come to play with us on Saturday October 26th at our game location in Bochum, 15 Minutes by car from the SPIEL. You are very welcome at our Dice & Mystics Fringe

As usual, it is free of any charge and entirely non-commercial. We simply like to give our fellow board gamers a place to enjoy their new games, meet people, exchange their experiences of the fair and have fun. 

There is space and time to play on Saturday from 4.00 p.m. to midnight. However, the places are limited, so we do kindly ask you to make a reservation in advance. To make your booking faster and easier and save you from having to queue at the entrance, this year we are for the first time use an online booking service (see below); again free of any costs.

There are hotels and restaurants in the vicinity which may be about the same driving distance to the SPIEL as some in Essen.

There will again be the opportunity to order food and drinks on the premises; a delivery service will bring everything to the tables. And of course teas, coffees and biscuits are free, as always!

You would like to come? Make your reservation here.


You are going to receive an automatic confirmation as soon as you are booked, together with a detailed description on how to reach us (just 3 turns from the autobahn; also by public transport) and some important information.

Registration ends on: Saturday, 12.10.2019

No entry without e-ticket (on mobile device or print version).    

For any important questions you may contact us on contact@diceandmystics.de.

To keep updated check on this website, on BoardGameGeek (announcement in the Essen Forum) or on Facebook.

The Dice & Mystics Fringe 2018 – Little Big TinyCon

It’s been quite some time now, but the memories are so bright, colourful and vivid, they have not dimmed or faded in the slightest. How could they? You people are – amazing! Do you know how “long” it had taken until the first guest registered for our 3rd Dice & Mystics Fringe after the announcement was put up on BoardGameGeek? Just 3 – in words: THREE! – seconds. We were booked full well before deadline. And the most awesomest thing of all, you all actually came along to play!

In its third year, our “Dice & Mystics Fringe “ had grown by a few places. But we are still the “TinyCon”, and will always be. Quite a number of hopefuls from our waiting list finally made it, some as late as on the day itself. So thanks to everybody who were so kind to tell us and gave others the chance. Our aim was to give all our guests a good time. Most had visited before. We do recognize many faces from past events; they are becoming like a large family to us.

We’re happy when we can welcome somebody we know or somebody new and we miss those we had been looking out for, like e.g. that wonderful nice couple who had been among our very first visitors ever and had told us they were certain to attend again in 2018, but did not. We do hope that only positive things have kept them away.

The coffee was just ready when – even before we officially opened – the first guests started arriving. Everyone was presented with a nice selection of special treats: The complete set of promo cards for Too Many Bones by Chip Theory Games, a complete set of promo cards for Folklore by Greenbriar Games – exclusive to Spiel Essen and the Dice & Mystics Fringe event – and a promo card for MireMarsh by Room 17 Games.

Gamers came, settled down, started gaming without further ado. Almost instantly the game rounds were in full swing. It did not take long until all spaces in the house were filled.

Most of our guests had brought games along right away, but some who were staying at hotels close by this year first scouted the situation before deciding what they wanted to put on the table, popping out and back again to bring their stuff.

A few little changes to last year were noticeable: People liked that we had been able to open up two more rooms with more tables and seating upstairs, thus creating more wiggle room around the same number of tables on the ground floor. As time flew by – as it does when you are having fun – it got “wiggly” all the same. Every single table in the house was well occupied with games and gamers, but since we put in more seats, although we were still limited to a set number of tables and guests, there was even a rare free chair that got used as a coffee tray, and people could move about more comfortably.

The buffet with the drinks and biscuits was located in the lobby, which made things so much more convenient (also for the lady who, unseen by most, magically made the coffee fill up and dirty dishes disappear). And you people made yourselves comfortable, as we could see by the coffees, teas and biscuits consumed this time: nearly twice as many! Having more freedom of movement and putting the buffet in the centre of the building obviously helped you to enjoy yourselves.

The generosity of so many people, institutions and companies was overwhelming.  There is, of course the Parish of St. Engelbert, who once again let us use the building free of any charge, Kaffeestore24.de (who, once again, gave us all the coffee), Taxi Bednarz  with their special taxi rates for the “Fringe”, and a number of unnamed Dice & Mystics who donated numerous this and thats.

At the time of the raffle at 10 p.m. the Fringe had been in full swing for some time, but the busy gaming community present was instantly silenced by what was later murmured to have been a spell made available by a certain wizard authority from abroad. (You need to have been there.) Next the many prizes attracted the attention of everybody.

Our sponsors who so generously donated for the raffle (in alphabetical order) found that their kindness was very, very much appreciated:

  • Chip Theory Games  who attended for the first time, donated the last available copy of their brand new “TMB Undertow”.
  • Again there were many, many vouchers from Fantasywelt.de, the large German online game retailer, with a total value of € 50.
  • Our old and new friends from Greenbrier Games gave us a copy of “BarBEARians: Battlegrounds”, “Ninja Dice” and a copy of their brand new game “Helios Expanse”.
  • It was our special pleasure to once again welcome King Racoon Games with “Tsukuyumi Full Moon Down” which they had first presented at the 2017 Fringe (now getting issued in a copy with playable miniatures, brought to Kickstarter March 2019 by Grey Fox Games: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingracoongames/tsukuyumi-full-moon-down-a-strategic-board-game/posts/2393332) who could now enjoy it with the many fans of the game, who in turn were happy to meet the makers again. This time they brought two signed copies of the luxury hard cover art book for their game to raffle off.
  • Mythic Games were graciously contributing a whole full pledge of their  grandiose  “Time of Legends: Joan of Arc” (which will be shipped to the lucky winner on release) including game mat, Dragon plus an incredible extra: a unique mounted canvas art print of the dragon attacking which had been made especially for the Dice & Mystics Fringe :

  WHOA!!!

(Thank you for letting us use the picture.)

  • There was Restoration Games, with Justin Jacobsen spontaneously throwing in a copy of “Fireball Island” (to be shipped to the lucky winner on release) into the raffle because he had so much fun with everybody.
  • There were the good people from Room 17 Games who contributed not only their “Museum Rush” and also not one, but two full pledges of their great game “Miremarsh”, on kickstarter at that time and now well-funded and in its production phase, and as if this was not enough also two “freshly caught” Miremarsh goblins (minis professionally painted for the occasion by one of the Dice & Mystics: our great thanks to Andreas Mertin).

They were demoing a pre-production copy of the game and also their coming Kickstarter, “Tenfold Dungeon”, during the event. (This project is live on KS right now: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/room17games/tenfold-dungeon-modular-dungeon-crawling-terrain).

  • Second Gate Games presented us with their big success “Monsterlands” for the raffle.
  • There were some fun little and larger games by Spieleparadies Wagner, the local toy and games shop. There were, of course – spinners! Wouldn’t be a Fringe without them now, would it…? We raffled off a box full of creative activities/projects with play dough which went to a bearded gentleman who is going to, we are sure,  either build up a steep and spectacular art career on it or find a child who will be glad of the present.

And last but by no means least we once again welcomed

  • The Dice Tower, who were bringing along not only themselves – which was already an absolute treat for us – but also an attractive selection of their brand new acrylic dice towers featuring the unique “dice characters” of themselves and their popular contributors.

The strangest thing about this raffle was that so many people won such prizes as if they had been previously singled out for them. One example: One winner had on arrival told us we needn’t even put his ticket in the box for the raffle: “I’ve never won anything in my whole life.”  And – got a game he had just put at the top of his current wish list. Well – never say never, right? Another very surprised winner went home with the one specific game he had wanted to get at the fair and had found to his chagrin that it had been sold out already. There must have been a lingering Dumbledore effect in the air…

The last game of a long eventful day was a high raging epic Ragnarök battle: Ever played Blood Rage with the Viking Cat Clan and meowing players? It got a teensy weensy bit weird at that late an hour, admittedly, but totally in style with some deeply engaged vikings heroes raging on towards Wallhall and glory.

And as if not enough goodness had been showered down on us that night, you had brought us presents: We happily nibbled and drank up the gifts you had brought us, still bewildered that you had somehow promoted us into the illustrious league of stroop waffle recipients:

There was even some lavender you could dab into hot water to calm down your nerves.
(You have to know in order to get that one…)

Did you ever taste handmade red banana candy?

Going…
… going…
…gone!

Simply delicious! Thank you all so much again for all your kindness! It has been much appreciated.

October is long past and we are already in 2019 now, but fond memories linger. At a late hour, somebody told me we had “lit a beacon for world peace”. Whoa! I would like to express our deep-felt and most sincerest thanks for such a huge compliment. The truth, I guess, is more like this:

But in the dark even a little candle can make a difference. And again it was always you, our guests, who lit the candle, we just handed you the matches. So we hope you all had fun, felt welcome and took home some extra happy and bright memories from your visit.

Again, you wonderful people from everywhere on this planet filled the rooms of the community center that was so generously opened up for our event by the parish of St. Engelbert in Bochum! They let us have the entire house for our Fringe every year, out of hospitality and kindness, and because (I quote) “gamers are such wonderful people who look well after things, so our house is in good hands”. We tidy up, collect our posters and paraphernalia, dismantle those extra tables, empty bins; but what we do not need are cleaning cloths or brooms. Not the tiniest scrap of paper or shrink wrap on the floor. Our Fringe is the largest event taking place in the center by far – and the only one that leaves no traces except good memories.

We are not an organisation or even a “club”. We neither have nor accept any money (with the single exception of the donations which go directly and to 100 % to the parish for charity and the upkeep of the house, for which we thank you very much). Everything else is, quite literally, a gift.

The unconditional kindness people show to each other is what enables us to have our weekly game nights and also the “Dice & Mystics Fringe”. All raffle prizes are gifts. The coffee is a gift, teas, sugar, milk, biscuits, time and work power are gifts from a number of people who come to our game nights. They come to the Spiel and to our Fringe for the same reason as everybody else: They love and want to play board games. And yet – they volunteer to help, go shopping, translate, organise, wrestle with food orders, they repeatedly use their private cars as taxis for those good people from friendly publishers and reviewers who do not have a car at their disposal.

There is the kitchen lady who does not get to play or for the most time not even see a game the whole night. There is the guest from our “Frankfurt branch” who drove hundreds of kilometres to go to the Spiel and to play games and fills in for another “driver” who had called in sick: “How often do you need me? I’ll go.”

Good play – better day!

It is for you all that we are hosting this event, and we are richly rewarded for it by getting to meet people like you!

See you all in October 2019!


Brussels Games Festival 2018

 

Summer, sunshine, scouting for board games!

Our Belgian Dice & Mystics member had invited us to come along to the Brussels Games Festival 2018. We had never been to the Brussels Games Festival before, nor – to tell you the truth – had we ever even heard of it. We had no inkling of an idea what we had been missing out on! On arrival early in the morning, our anticipation reached a climax when we saw how large an event we were looking forward to.  No entrance fees. Does that mean…? Yay! You can keep all your money for the games. And: Location is not everything –  but a setting  like that certainly takes some beating!     

Located in the “Parc du Cinquantenaire” (Park of the Fiftieth Anniversary) on 40,000 square metres there were rows and rows of mostly white tents, booths of so many publishers with games of all colours and for all tastes, speciality shops, clubs and associations… The park is the site of a former military parade ground. In the course of the 50th anniversary of Belgium’s independence in 1880 it was used to stage a World Exhibition. So, the annual games fair takes place in a very prominent and also beautiful part of Brussels.

During the last weekend of August, the Brussels Game Festival had a bit – or rather a lot – of everything: three days of board games, party games, miniature games, educational games, wooden games for inside and outside, role play and LARP, international games, casual and hard core games, children’s games, game prototypes, tournaments and a game night, and also the people who design, make, and sell the games for our wonderful hobby.

Right at the foot of the imposing Triumphal Arch at the entrance to the grounds- 50 metres high and illustrating the history of the city – there was a huge sales area for second hand games with a sizeable queue forming. (The sky abuve was dramatic.Early in the morning the air was still a bit nippy, but soon it was turning into a lovely day altogether, with just a few clouds every now and then.)

If you expect to find some musty worn around the edges thrift store quality when you hear the term ”second hand“, you will have to re-think your ideas.

For any French speaking gamer the second hand area must be like a big toy shop at Christmas to a little child because, not surprisingly, about 80 % of the offers are in French. (Don’t sue us if we don’t get the percentage right but that is how it felt.)

Quite a large number of games were language independent or copies in many other languages and it would have been easy to come out the other end of the second hand area with a pile of excellent games in excellent next to new condition, and in German, too. There were choice titles from recent years, from all the old and new classics to the multitude of Star Wars and other IP games and a whole kaleidoscope of enticing games we had never seen or heard about before. We very nearly bought “Yggdrasil”, even though it had a French rule book, but it looked all new and shiny and the price was hugely tempting; I personally felt my resolution to just look around and not buy anything at our firs visit slowly but constantly dwindling…

Just behind this wonderland of budget  board games there was another most attractive feature of the Brussels Games Fair: the Protozone. No – not “protozoon” like one of the early organisms that preceded the later more developed species; the prototypes of still unpublished games proudly presented by their designers and artists were all of them well advanced, looked good on the table and, judging by the fun everybody appeared to be having, will eventually find a publisher and an eager international audience that will buy these many creative products.

Everything is fresh, and the sheer variety of game ideas and mechanisms just swoops you off your feet and makes you sit down and play, play, play…The empty space is deceptive; the tent was huge, and there were dozens of rows where games could be sampled. On entering you could collect a list of the games present, and when you played a round of a game, you received a stamp on the space of the game you participated in. On leaving, you could circle up to three games that you liked best and put your vote in a box as a feedback.

I got a chance to play Canyon Cup, a fun and exciting racing game with a tongue- in- cheek twist, by the brothers Pirson, again. It was a surprise visit. I remembered an early version of Canyon Cup from when it had just been finished and was presented and tried out on “real, live gamers” for the very first time at the Dice & Mystics Fringe 2016.

The refined and polished game with its modular board proved to be really popular with the visitors who were already queueing up behind me and our Belgian friend while we were racing our cars along the parcours through the desert canyon, outmanoeuvring and shooting at each other, exploding barrels and collecting popularity with our fictitious audience of the ranks. There are any numbers of racing games about, but apart from all the good things that can be said about Canyon Cup there are the original winning conditions and different ways of fulfilling them by which Canyon Cup elegantly avoids a problem that is frequent in other games: You do not have any runaway victors, the race remains fairly open and unpredictable to its very end. There are people I know who cannot wait to lay their hands on Canyon Cup when it finally comes out, me being one of them. (If it comes to choosing the driver – I play crazy eyes Walter! So hands off him!)

Have you ever navigated a Zeppelin in an air fight? Ever been engaged in a deadly ball game? Here are “Zeppelin Crasher” (left) and “Mortal Basket” (right).

      

The Protozone was easily the most fun part of any games fair we had ever been to. It was like an excellent “game night” with friends old and new. The languages used at the table were French and just as frequently English as a lingua franca to communicate with numerous visitors from abroad. The time spent at the Protozone was surely one of the best gaming experiences you can have, take our word for it.

There were Games of The World.

There was an outdoor game going on that reminded me of Kubb. People in the park were playing Cricket. And there were strange things…

Talking about meeting friends and acquaintances – we had last seen video reviewer Barry Doublet at Spiel Essen. It was his first time at the Brussels Games Festival, too, he admitted, and he was just doing his first round along all the booths.  He was a good sport with getting Eric-Lang’ed (ever had your picture taken together with Mr. Lang? Then you will know) and told us he would also be at the Spiel Essen fair in in Germany, October 2018. We will make sure to drop by at the Bombyx booth where he will be demoing Imaginarium, Abyss and Catch The Moon and say hello.

There were so many activities and animations going on, we simply could not take our time to really appreciate them at our first visit. We decided to leave that for the next time and concentrated on board games and their makers only. In the vast expanses of the park, we counted 74 publishers. One look at the poster shows you how long a list it is and how spacious an event, too.

Outside in the different parts of the park you could find all kinds of publishers great and small.

 

We were expecting to see Mythic with their upcoming “Solomon Cane”, and there they were.

 

 

 

 

We expected to see ”Perdition’s Mouth”  by Dragon Dawn Productions from Finland again, and there they were.

 

 

 

Matagot – yep! Just to think how hard it often is for us to get one of their fascinating games in Germany.

 

 

 

 

Iello? Why, sure!

Some Quidditch? Apparently yes. (Although we did not see anyone flying around on a broomstick.)

And someone somewhere would surely be playing “Azul”, and – yes, found them at it!

“A” as in “A-smodee”? Have a guess. Nearly an entire row, tent after tent, red and white and mostly larger than those of other publishers, sported the Asmodee flag.

After several rounds and discovering something new at every twist and turn, we needed some rest. Time for a break. The drink of the day – unless you preferred soft drinks altogether which is fine – was “Cave Troll”.

You have a choice of a variety of food trucks: Belgian fries, roast and fried cheeses, sweets… Have a pick.

When we had just grabbed our lunches a sudden but brief shower (and the only one the entire day) drove us to seek shelter under one of those large chestnut trees and we ate, well protected from the rain, until with the last bite the sun came out again. Excellent timing!

The afternoon was a time of new discoveries. We totally fell in love with “Bourpif”, which we understood (or misunderstood) means as much as “getting one on the nose” (in all friendship, of course) or maybe “Nasenstüber” in German, and …

… were also enamoured on first sight with some very special trolls that looked fun and came with a set of luxury  limited art prints (in the game the lovely young lady does wear a brassiere!). Of course, “Trôl” had to come along!

There went the last shred of our original resolution not to – oh, bother!

So much for “not buying any games”… The best was yet to come. We ran into graphic artist Naiade/Xavier Gueniffey Durin who was on his way to the Lui-même  booth where he and the game designer of “Snow Time” were to meet for signing copies, because this was the very first day the game was sold to the public. He was surprised because normally people recognize his name, but not necessarily his face, especially not people from abroad.  It so happened that we were the first to buy and got a brand new copy, stamped and marked as as # 1 and signed by Frank Meyer  and “doodled” by Naiade, if “doodle” is appropriate a term for an original full drawing by the artist while we waited.

On the whole we were impressed by the colours and beautiful designs of all the French language games and often enquired whether there were also rules in English or German available. Sometimes there were, sometimes there were not, and sometimes there was no imminent answer to the question and both the people at the booth and we needed to check together on the internet. A whole new gaming universe was spreading out before us, if only we knew the magic words to unlock its secrets…!

What was best about the Festival? The games you could buy, old and new, of course. Playing games and having such fun, of course. Spending time with our friend. The people we met. The location. The fact that, unlike at other – meaning indoor –  fairs, you also enjoy the sun and fresh air and lots of space and nice views and all the things you see around the Brussels Games Festival. The fact that you get to see games and prototypes you do not that likely to see anywhere else. The fact that it is for free. What was best? Why, everything was!

And then there is Brussels itself, with its sights, parks, beautiful architecture, and that lovely Pâtisserie just round the corner. So then was it worth it, visiting the Brussels Games Festival 2018? Well, we have been thinking back on it every day and enthusiastically telling everybody who did not make it up a tree fast enough about it, and we are firmly set on going again and again and again!

So: YES. We strongly recommend the Brussels Games Festival. Definitely.

If you can, do go!

 

 

The Dice & Mystics Double Feature – June 16th /17th 2018

We’re going on an adventure!

Always wanted to play Twilight Imperium, but didn’t know with whom, when, and especially where? Often wondered what it’s like to survive through a large scale Zombicide Black Plague campaign? Always wanted more time to actually finish your T.I.M.E Stories?            You have a game you are aching to play – but it does not fit on your dining table at home?

Make it happen!

We have large rooms with large tables, so why not come along.  We are going to play June 16th (from 4 p.m. until midnight) / June 17th (from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.). English and German spoken.  All teas and Italian coffees are complimentary; we would like this to be a fun and easy gaming weekend for each and everyone.

Entry is free.

The Dice & Mystics are preparing to host the following games/campaigns:

  • Twilight Imperium 3
  • Zombicide Black Plague – Thematic campaign play (in English)
  • Arkham Horror (in German; with “Der Fluch des schwarzen Pharaoh” / “Curse of the Dark Pharaoh” expansion)

And maybe the best news of all:

  • If you have a large space- and time-consuming game of your own, just bring along your friends, and get started. You have the game, we have the space!

You can leave your game on the table overnight to continue next morning; the room will be locked. You will, of course, be responsible for your own game and components.

If you would like to join and secure a place, contact us to be put on the player list. If you want to bring your own game, tell us your needs and we will reserve adequate table space for you.

There will be an opportunity to order a large variety of food at reasonable prices from a delivery  service, brought directly to your table (Saturday orders 19.00 p.m., Sunday orders 12.00 a.m.). For your additional needs: There are a takeaway, and also a shop to stock up on soft drinks, sweets etc. (open Sat. till 20 p.m.) just the other side of the road.

We are sorry we are not able to provide any accommodation for the night; there are hotels nearby.

Want to join in?

Just contact us. Registration ends on May 30th at 4 p.m.

The Dice & Mystics Fringe “TinyCon“ 2017

“OMG”, she exclaimed, “ – and I had expected a handful of elderly people passing some time playing Monopoly!” Instead, the large room was bustling with life. A colourful crew of about 140 people from not only most European countries but also from 5 different continents were busy pushing cubes, meeples and a llama, making trees grow, colonizing planets and conquering galaxies, cultivating wine, solving crimes, hunting down monsters, cheering the Canyon Cup racing pilots, building cardboard roller coasters or commanding knights, orcs or samurai while the moon crashed down on America to release a white dragon god who threatened to forever change the future of the planet.

All the while I was smiling and keeping my cool, while inwardly I could not stop myself from picturing Rita Skeeter and her magically animated quill busily scribbling notes, thinking: OMG – what is she going to do next with my babble when I’m done?  The nice inquisitive lady from WAZ, the largest regional newspaper, who was interviewing me, had some difficulty grasping the idea of our Dice & Mystics Fringe. No, we’re not a club, neither I nor any other “member” of the Dice & Mystics is a “president” or “chairperson”. Rita Skeeter was baffled. There are no functions, and also no funds. No entrance fees, nothing for sale. Just tea, coffee and biscuits for free. Everything was done, provided for, donated or paid for by private persons who got nothing out of it – just a huge lot of fun. “And you do this – why?” Our love of board games, of course, and because we really like our fellow gamers and the people who work at making games for us to enjoy, and sharing our fun of gaming. There is no nicer place on earth than a room full of happy people playing games.

The photographer she had brought was scouting the rooms, spoilt for motives, while I lectured about Spiel Essen, the steadily growing board game phenomenon and the countless numbers of new releases coming out every year, the different games being demoed at our Fringe Event, our guests like The Dice Tower and other reviewers, designers and small publishers and the wonderful international board gaming community. She nodded vigorously. “And nearly everybody is talking English here! I really did not expect such a large and international event.

All those ideas and designs! I had no idea board gaming was such a big and universal thing and that there were so very many games. This is a whole new world!” I need not have worried about the scribbling of the quill; when I saw the article later (in print and online), all was hunky dory. The article was, as I should have expected, highly professional and informative, and it shone of her excitement and wonder, too.

Shortly after that, when the Spiel Essen had just closed, the remaining group of our eagerly expected guests from the Atlantic Congress Hotel arrived, looking forward to a hopefully nice relaxing and re-creational game night after all the bustle of the fair. They, like all the other “Meeples”, were greeted individually on entering, given directions towards what to find where and released into the crowd where they dispersed and sat down to play almost immediately.

  

“Why are you calling us ‘meeples’?” our two “Big Bad Wolves” at the entrance were sometimes asked. Why, because we do like to play with you, of course! We aimed at giving everybody a nice game night to remember, for free. If we are to believe them and so many of our other guests, we managed to provide that, no more, but no less. Games were played everywhere; the air was buzzing and humming with voices in a way that was creating a pleasant and beautiful background noise.

          

No way could we have pulled this off without the enthusiasm of our Dice & Mystics, our “Meeple Shepherds” who were the only ones who did not get to play much or even not at all. Thank you for your time and commitment.

So, how was all of this possible? Through the kindness of many.

The coffee, tea, biscuits, the prizes at our raffle (which had miraculously appeared from all different directions just two weeks and in one case only half a day before our event and convinced us we did, in fact, have a raffle on…) were gifts to our guests – so it is high time to say a really big THANK YOU to all our sponsors, and here is a list in alphabetical order:

Boardcubator                                                                                                                    Board&Dice                                                                                                                      FantasyWelt.de                                                                                                                         Felix Mertikat – King Racoon Games                                                                                     Greenbrier Games                                                                                                        Kaffeestore24.de                                                                                                              Luish Moraes Coelho                                                                                                                Mythic Games                                                                                                                Roland MacDonald – THE ILLUSTRATOR                                                                            Second Gate Games                                                                                                        Spielzeug-Paradies Wagner

We had been showered with € 5 vouchers for online purchases, got shiny new boxes in all sizes of classic and new games (from the publishers or designers present as well as from some who would have liked to come, too, but could not make it), even plus the brand new expansion as large as the original box, and a set of four minis from the kickstarter “Joan of Arc”, an amazing set of original art, and the Bochum toy shop additionally also bestowed upon us things like fidget spinners, a cute “jewellery” set for toddlers, a teeny weeny plastic bear, a posable (and somewhat overfed looking) toy dog, a pair of yellow wooden dice, Star Wars sticker albums and quite a number of other whimsical items. They have a small but really excellent board game section ranging from Ludo, The Game of Life Rockstar Edition to Zombicide Black Plague or The Others, but they seemed a little uncertain about the nature of our event and apparently thought that where there are games, there must by law of nature also be some children.

Thus we had not only prizes, but prizes with a surplus fun factor: The Star Wars album went to a tall black-clad guy, grinning and pointing two fingers at his T-Shirt that had “Star Wars” written right across his chest. Laughs and chuckles. The fat dog was adopted. Applause. Sam Healey won a prize and donated it again, so another ticket was drawn and the prize went to – Zee Garcia, who also donated it again and, twice risen in value, found a third winner under the eyes of cheering masses. Our “Meeple Shepherd” who was herding used dishes back to be cleaned all night had been enticed out of the kitchen by all that laughter, and promptly won the other Star Wars album. Incidentally, she likes Star Wars and loves sticker albums. Some games got signed by their makers on the spot.

Many, many of our guests got some form of a token to take back home from our event. I am also quite sure that – after having been the cause of fun and merriment – by now most of the kids’ prizes will have found their way to a child eventually and the tiny bear has a homely place in a toy chest. And you can check on Youtube where the spinners went… People in the direct neighbourhood who had not heard a sound up to the raffle told us they ran to their windows shortly after 11 o’clock at night to find out where that gigantic laughter came from.

Last but not least we say thank you to the parish of St Engelbert in Bochum-Oberdahlhausen who provided the maybe most important ingredient for our game night: They allowed us to use their entire building of their “parish centre” and all facilities free of charge. Many guests explicitly told us they were impressed by such openness and hospitality. “This is fantastic”, commented Dave Luza; “any town quarter needs a place like this.” Later Sam Healey taught me another more fitting word for “parish centre”: “We call it ‘friendship hall’.” I like that. This is exactly what it was, a place where friendship was given and received.

When I checked on my feet – which I had not really been feeling for a while – I suddenly understood why it is called “running” an event. But my, was it worth it! People had fun, and one of our guests even treated himself to a live – if very brief  – “dungeon crawl”, or so we heard… (You need to have been there to understand this one.) At midnight we could have started to put people on the 2018 guest list on the spot; there was actually a little queue forming of guests ready to leave who wanted to say a few words and shake hands before parting – and make a reservation right away: “We felt at home and among good friends here”.  If half of the Meeples who said they will come turn up in 2018, we’re half booked already.

Well, we do need some time, so no reservations now – but it can’t do any harm to check on this website or on Boardgamegeek when the next Spiel Essen is approaching.

Until then: Have fun gaming!

Loving The Others

Some people dig horror themes, others don’t. Tastes differ, and that is a good thing.

I for my part quite like “horror” games. Next to fantasy and sci-fi, the horror theme is one of my favourites. However, I can understand that some gamers find no joy in this genre or maybe are o.k. with a mild horror theme but think that some of the games currently available go a step too far. They find themselves unable and unwilling to play because they find the aspect of gruesome minis, gory standees and blood splattered boards unpleasant. After all, gaming is meant to be fun, and not experiencing any fun looking at death, decay and degeneration is a very healthy reaction. Attempting to force people into it, blackmailing them with the prospect of continued ridicule for being wimpy, is inacceptable.

So, is having fun with horror games an unhealthy thing? It’s… complicated.

I enjoy games with a supernatural and fantasy theme where you get to encounter ghosts, mythological characters and fabulous beasts or figures based e. g. on the art of H. P. Lovecraft. I would wear a Cthulhu T-shirt if it was given to me. I would not necessarily buy one. “Flavour” is, well, not everything, but it contributes a great deal to the way you experience your gameplay. There are story driven games as well as games with good back stories, often provided in the rule book as an intro, which do not unfold in the actual gameplay but serve to generate a certain mood and attitude that influences you in a significant way.

I enjoy games that draw their fascination from e. g. a gas-lit 19th century setting that depicts a past where science was looked at askance and the line between empirical facts, folklore and imagination was still thin. Those games add a historical touch to the experience when you learn about ideas that distinguish our 21st century mind-sets from those of our forebears.

And, yes, there are horror games I would not touch because they concentrate too much on the theme for the theme’s sake, without a good enough story to back up what is happening on the board. They remind me of movies where a weak plot is a mere excuse for adding one special effect on top of the other.

Games like e.g. The Others, they are a very different matter. In The Others you take a stand against the Deadly Sins, presented to you in the form of truly abhorrent and disgusting artwork of the highest artistic standard. No squinting sideways here: A single glance – and you are going to have the picture imprinted in your memory forever. And there are sickening mutants, too, corrupted by the influence of sheer evil.  The point is, you are meant to not like them. You are actually meant to find them as off-putting and hateful as possible.

And this is something I truly like about The Others: Evil is in no way romanticized. You can fall for the attraction of a vampire, you can feel a morbid sympathy for werewolves and even identify with your Joe Average turned zombie, but in my opinion it is humanly impossible to feel anything but disgust and opposition towards those incorporations of evil that are depicted in The Others. And this is how it should be.  Evil is put in its place. Its true nature is exposed where it lifts its ugly head. The evil that enters or emanates from a tainted human being is shown as something that takes away or at least significantly diminishes his or her humanity.

As an aside and between the lines: For any artist it hast to be an enormous challenge to create a piece of work that people both instinctively abhor for its looks and its meaning and at the same time enjoy and admire for its  artistic quality. This alone is enough to make The Others unique in my eyes. But there is more.

Some hero characters would easily qualify as abominations in any other game. There are e.g. the huge horned pale hulk called Thorley and his genetic half- sister Rose who are not pretty by any conventional standards, or by any standard, really. Rose’s tentacles that grow from her elbows are enough for me to get squeamish at, and even more so when they develop heads and a life and will of their own. It is the “Other” part of her genes, but Rose may use their deadliness as her signature weapon. Other characters add a distorted psyche to their physical abnormality.

Wanting to play these characters and identifying with them is not so easy. People reject the game because they are opposed to playing “monsters” and feel the line between good and evil is too blurry. They would rather fight them than play and therefore to some extent identify with them. And that much is true: You shudder at the thought of having them next to you, but this has to be seen in relation and contrast to the urge to shut your eyes and hide in the presence of a Sin. The point is that, however you feel about them, they are just about human enough to accept them standing next to you and fighting side by side with humanity.

At this point, things get philosophical.

Those “monsters” you can play as heroes in the games are precious creations. It is easy to overlook their true quality when you put the game on the table, go through the mechanics and skim the data on the character cards.

It is sad that most people cannot enjoy the wonderful back stories that have been written to illustrate the game: The kickstarter edition comes with an art book that gives you a detailed impression of the whole concept of the game The Others and its creatures, containing narratives that better acquaint you with your playable characters, especially the not quite human ones. I confess I had my issues with them, too, at first. But they are creative inventions way, way beyond plastic and life points.

The first thing you learn is: Their DNA is part human, part the DNA of the Others. They are physically corrupted to a point where players feel a strong reservation towards taking them up. They are no heroes like Superman, even if they have super-human powers like Thorley’s super strength or Rose’s ability to slow down time while moving. They were genetically engineered by the agents of evil to open the gates for the Others, but they fled because they instinctively shrank back from evil when they first saw it. They helped each other escape and are extremely protective towards each other and towards anyone who is kind to them, to a point of self-sacrifice. They came to life physically mature, but otherwise they are basically still children just entering adolescence, grappling with new unfelt emotions, trying to make sense of the world of adults and discovering their own powers and abilities. They are, literally, suffering from their respective conditions much in the way the Incredible Hulk does. They have human weaknesses too: Thorley needs reading glasses. For reading.

They identify with their human heritage and feel disgust at the Others just like the next guy. They like soap opera, enjoy fish and chunky chips, play board games  – Thorley hast a passion for chess! – and love to go to the pub because it is a place where they can have some social contact.  (You did not think they do it for the beer and the booze, did you? Remember, they are practically children.) They have a deep yearning for a normal life of which they have but a sketchy idea derived from TV shows they picked up on the run. They suffer from being different and try to hide their physical otherness under hoods or long sleeves to blend in and also not to cause discomfort to or frighten any humans.

Having witnessed the devastation the Others wreaked on the small town Haven, Thorley and Rose cannot help but feel a deep compassion towards those “poor humans” and feel compelled to join up with any human resistance they might be able to find. They have a common enemy, and they feel as drawn to the weaker humans as they are repelled by the Others. It is a rational, “enlightened” reaction to their experience of corruption, violence and destruction that expresses nothing different than philosopher Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. To them, stopping the Others and protecting humanity becomes an end in itself.

I quote Wikipedia: “According to Kant, human beings occupy a special place in creation, and morality can be summed up in an imperative, or ultimate commandment of reason, from which all duties and obligations derive. He defined an imperative as any proposition declaring a certain action (or inaction) to be necessary.” You could say this makes Thorley and his sister all human by choice, if not by nature: For them, siding with the Others is not even an option, because to them evil and destruction does not make any sense. They act according to Kant’s often quoted first maxim: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” The fact that they are ready to risk their own existence in the process shows the abstractness and purity of their motive which is surprising in a “universe” that is nothing more than a board game. This does not turn them into model images of saints: They simply dislike being used and discarded like mere tools, and they want to be treated as individuals with a will and a conscience of their own. Still, the moral judgement holds: They are, by most definitions, the good (as humans go) guys.

Did the creators think of Kant? Did they want to teach us philosophy and hide a lesson in a board game? Of course not! (Although I would not put it entirely past them.) But they exist in a cultural context where, long after Kant and his contemporaries, the philosophy of enlightenment is still present and active.  Apart from any other considerations, this is rather reassuring.

It is time to re-phrase an earlier statement: Wanting to play these characters and identifying with them is not easy but an exercise in tolerance. You learn to tolerate the characters, disregarding their ancestry and their appearance and accept them, limits and imperfections and all, for their thoughts and actions. We become more human by being more humane.

Now, wait a moment, you say, what is this all about? They are not real persons. They are just playable characters in a board game. But then, why did you have inhibitions when it came to playing them? Because you do identify with your playable character.

You do not want to be a monster in a game where monstrosity is taken so seriously. You want to be truly human, and this, intentionally or not, is the concept behind those “monstrous” half human characters. You are aware of the potential of evil and corruption your character is tainted with. In real life you also are dealing with something inside yourself that e.g. in the terminology of Christian religion is called “original sin”, or in German “Erbsünde” (which translates as “hereditary sin”), something that is part of your very nature which you have to face and to overcome, in order to become whatever your belief or philosophy says you truly ought to be.

The game The Others also shows you how hard it is to prevail, how tempting it is to give in to hopelessness or to choose an easier path and submit to corruption. It shows you that decisions that matter are not so simple and that, if you were expected to always be perfect and pure to be redeemed, and there was no tolerance of weakness and no forgiveness – to stay within Christian terminology – you would not stand a chance.

However – being a Sin player in The Others is actually a rather taxing experience and not everybody’s cup of tea because you cannot, and do not want to identify with one of the Sins. It is certainly not a game for any game group. As a Sin player you have to strictly follow the rule book and cannot allow yourself to simply lean back and enjoy, and you have to keep a healthy distance to your Sin character. There is a thin line that is hard not to cross.  Being a Sin player is a step that I, personally, would not be willing to take, but somebody in your game group will have to, and this is the main issue why I can still very well understand why somebody would not want to play The Others and finds no joy in taking part at all.