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Jurassic Dice

 

Dino dice logo

A while ago, I wrote a review of Steve Jackson’s highly entertaining Zombie Dice game. There was a very silly expansion involving Santa and cheerleaders (and I mean that in a good way), which has now been followed up with a new stand alone game using the same background mechanic: Dino Hunt Dice.

Unlike the previous game, where the premise was to eat as many yummy human brains as possible, this time you’re trying to capture dinosaurs for your zoo – I like to think of it as people too lazy to make their own Jurassic Park from scratch indulging in a bit of suicidal industrial espionage. As with Zombie dice, you get a cardboard dice cup with the game, although this one is a little dinkier than its elder sibling’s. You also receive ten dice and a mercifully brief sheet of rules.

There are three types of dice, although the brains have been replaced with dinosaurs, and the shotguns with leaves. The footsteps remain, but their roles have been switched – instead of being a good thing, now they are a very bad thing indeed, and mean that instead of escaping, you’ve been “stomped” by an unhappy dino who didn’t appreciate your efforts to bag him. There are five green dice (apatosaurus), three yellow ones (triceratops) and two red ones (tyrannosaurus), with progressively more footprints and fewer monsters.

Players take turns in selecting three dice from the cup, chosen at random and without peeking. They then roll those dice, and see what they get: dinosaurs are put to one side, as are stompy footprints. Provided all three dice didn’t roll stomps, then the player chooses enough dice to make their hand back up to three and rolls again, if they want to; leaf dice are rerolled. All dice are returned to the pot when players change over, with the running total of dinosaurs captured marked by tokens (which aren’t supplied). The first person to twenty dinos wins.

It’s a deceptively simple mechanic, requiring each player to make a judgement on how much they want to push their luck in any given turn; after all, if you acquire three stomps in one roll sequence, you lose any dinos you’ve captured in that sequence. Sometimes nerves of steel pay off – in one game, my husband kept rolling and managed a streak of eight dinos and only two feet! It also meant he beat me…

This is a fast, easily portable game and a great deal of fun. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an accompanying app for this incarnation of the game. The lack of tokens is understandable as it will keep the costs down, but given the propensity of Steve Jackson Games to produce tie-in tat for Munchkin, I am a little surprised they haven’t done the same for these games – there is room in the cup for storage.

PS: In looking to see if SJG did have associated tie-in tat, I discovered that they also have a version of these games for deer hunting called Trophy Buck. Ick…


One Simply Does Not…

lego-lord-of-the-rings

…Walk into a Lego game.

Oh, alright – yes, one does. After all, Lego has something of a reputation now for picking up licences and turning them into cool (if increasingly expensive) toys and highly enjoyable computer games. And to be honest, there’s not a lot new here that we haven’t already seen before.

There is, however, something we’ve not heard before: actual film dialogue spoken by the mini-figs during cut scenes. I must admit, I was incredibly sceptical that this was going to add anything to the gaming experience, and was quite frankly concerned it would lead to a degree of programming laziness if the designers no longer had to rely on visual gags and some clever lateral thinking to get the point across.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried: there are still some warped moments of silent comedy joy (Boromir’s death scene being one of the highlights, along with Peter Jackson’s cameo appearance), and the overlaid dialogue is kept to a minimum. They’ve also done remarkably well in getting people who can grunt and argh in convincing impersonations of the original movie cast.

There are, as ever, two methods of play: story and free, along with an incredible open world that you can smash to buggery. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and there’s plenty to break in your quest for cash and glory (trust me, there’s something deeply satisfying about wrecking Tom Bombadil’s domicile and beating the bejeebers out of Rivendell). Fortunately, everything’s quite close together, so you won’t have to walk too far to satisfy your thirst for wanton destruction.

There’s also a rather fascinating split-screen technique in two-player mode that enables you to handle the action when things begin to fall apart. And I don’t mean split-screen in the way it’s worked in previous games (although that’s still there, too): no, in this version, the story literally splits, with Player One on the left hand side controlling a character running through a completely different (though often parallel) storyline to Player Two’s on the right hand side. The only downside to this is that you inevitably end up missing part of the plot because you have too much to concentrate on on your side of the screen, but you can always swap over during freeplay and see what you were missing.

Lego has a tried and tested formula which they really haven’t altered for this latest release; after all, they dealt with the worst glitch in the Star Wars games fairly early on (the one where one player could drag the other player off the screen to their death if you got too far apart). Sadly, this means that the hit-and-miss jumping issues still remain, and until you buy the Fall Rescue red brick, you’re at the mercy of dodgy camera angles and falling off things because you weren’t pixel perfect in your aim. And it’s probably best if you’re really nice and calm before going through the Dead Marshes in the open world, because there are some truly evil bits of jumping that will have you cursing lily pads for the rest of your days, otherwise.

As well as completing the story, quite a major part of the game is questing for mithril bricks and blacksmith’s plans, from which the baldy dwarf in Bree will make you allsorts of insane weapons and toys, including a carrot bow, a squeak sword and a disco light phial that makes anyone near you dance to what is a truly terrifying theme tune dialogue rap mash-up. Many of these items are required to get access to the red bricks which give you extra powers, all the way from the very useful (Fall Rescue and Invincibility) to the downright silly (8-bit music and animals pooing studs when you ride them).

All in all, this is another fun game from Lego and Traveller’s Tales. It’s so much fun, in fact, that for the first time ever we kept on coming back to it until we’d won all of the in-game and X-box achievements (including the almost obligatory Boromir meme one). There is DLC available: 2 character packs (one includes a miniature Balrog, which I really hope is as cute as mini-Sauron) and a weapons and magic pack, with possibly another character pack on the way. I’m not sure I entirely approve of Lego DLC, but I suppose you can’t blame them for trying to rake as much cash as possible from our tiny, battered hands…


Knights of a Thousand Stars: Camelot Cosmos

Camelot Cosmos is the first in a series of tabletop roleplaying sourcebooks by author Daniel Jupp, published by Postmortem Studios. It describes the realms of Camelot, a system of planets whose identity and history have predominantly been drawn from the misremembered pages of Arthurian legend (think original Star Trek episodes “A Piece of the Action” and “Bread and Circuses”), where two great royal houses battle eternally for total control. In charge of one of these tempestuous houses is Gawain XXIII, King of Camelot and the chivalric realms of Pendragon. His rival is the cruel but beautiful Queen Morgan, an unnaturally long-lived combination of mortal and Ascended god. Their minions wage war across the cosmos, both covertly and not so covertly, with both sides locked in a seemingly unbreakable stalemate, watched over by a pantheon of deities that occasionally step in to lend a hand. Artefacts of great power from the lost First Empire still remain, and many seek these (and the legendary sleeping warriors from this period) to aid in their struggle.

This particular book is the players’ guide (although that’s not immediately obvious from the cover), and details the rules, character creation, basic setting and personalities of the Camelot Cosmos, with constant hints of what’s to come in the Gamesmaster’s (GM’s) Guide. The rules are based on a stripped down version of the FATE system from Evil Hat Productions, which makes them pretty straight forward and quick to grasp. A character’s abilities are governed by Aspects, which each give the characters a portfolio of skills. To achieve goals, characters roll 2 six-sided dice (2d6), one “positive” and one “negative”, subtract the negative die from the positive die, add the relevant skill bonus and see if they have beaten a difficulty number set by the GM and based on the FATE Ladder. Degrees of success or failure are determined by “shifts” (i.e. the difference between the target difficulty number and the total from the skill roll) and can be altered by spending Fate points, if required. Fate points can also be spent to remove stresses and consequences (damage) and to improve skills.

Character creation is also stripped down and speedy. A player rolls or chooses three Aspects: a Physical or Psychological one, a Racial or Regional one and a Professional one. They then write a quick sentence to describe how they came by these Aspects and assign skill points within them. What is missing are the quirky, evocative names for the Aspects that are normally found in FATE games; I quite understand the author’s argument as to why he chose not to use them, but personally I think it’s a bit of a shame, particularly given the rich setting. Still, within a few minutes you can have a fully functional character: mine (rolled up just to prove how quick and easy it was) turned out to be an Ugly, Lower Tintagen Spy, born to a slave in the court of King Mark, who had risen to a position of court entertainer despite the disfiguring birthmark he possessed, before being recruited as a spy by one of King Gawain’s minions. There are one or two niggles with the character creation section: there are lots of Aspect lists that aren’t immediately relevant to starting game play, meaning you have to hunt out the lists that are, and some of the Aspect definitions are a little hinky (just because you’re Charming doesn’t automatically mean you’re devious, and being Humble shouldn’t automatically make you poor, either). These are pretty minor, though, and the associated skills lists and descriptions are comprehensive yet mercifully brief.

The setting is certainly interesting, blending Arthurian icons with recognisable genre settings (such as the American Wild West, Ancient Rome and Aboriginal Australia with what sounded very much like dinosaurs) and there is quite a bit of information present. There are details on the Four Courts of power (King Gawain, Queen Morgan, King Tristram and King Mark) and the associated realms associated with each (effectively splitting the Cosmos into Kingsland and Queensland), and character bios on major players in each Court. The three churches are covered briefly (Seraphic, Nephilic and Druidic) along with fleeting glimpses of the First Empire. I’m not sure all of it quite gelled for me (particularly the appearance of the Pinkerton Detective Agency), but there’s certainly plenty of scope for a wide variety of adventuring within the Cosmos.

The book’s layout is uncluttered and straightforward and the use of printed circuit diagrams overlaid with stylised flower motifs is simple but striking. Not all of the artwork succeeds in conveying the feeling of the game, mimicking as it does Aubrey Beardsley which, despite its Art Nouveau swirls and sensibilities, feels more Shakespearean to me than Arthurian (despite Beardsley’s work for Le Morte D’Arthur). I was also a little distracted by the watermark, which for some reason stands out far more on an iPad than on a computer screen (but that really is an incredibly minor point).

The biggest niggle with this book is the fact that it doesn’t contain the GM’s Guide. Although a skilled GM will definitely be able to run an entertaining and varied game with what is provided, there are so many hints and references to the GM’s Guide that its absence is a bit of a slap in the face. One of the main things missing from this book, apart from a passing mention of nanites, is just how “magic” works in the Cosmos, and what’s going on with the whole First Empire plotline; there’s also no introductory scenario. I know all of this is in the GM’s Guide, but I do like everything in one place. Again, I understand and sympathise with the reason for separate volumes, but it does make it harder to give a fair and balanced review of the game as a whole when half of it is located elsewhere.

All in all, this is an interesting concept, a straightforward system and a potentially very rich world to play in. Other sourcebooks, detailing different parts of the Cosmos separate from Camelot, are also promised, as is an ability to trot between them. But, as mentioned above, this book is also a terrible tease – promising you a glimpse behind the veil, but never fully revealing itself. And whilst it’s always good to have a little breathing space so you can let your own imagination run riot to fill in the gaps, it could also serve to put off less confident players and GMs, which would be a real shame.

Still, I look forward to seeing what else Mr Jupp has to offer…

~FuschiaBegonia


Let Me Tell You A Story

Like most gamers (or at least, most of the ones I know), I have a bit of a thing for dice. I have a gigantic collection of them, far more than I will ever need or even use. Well, unless I end up running into a dragon again in Shadowrun (you know something is overpowered when a room full of gamers doesn’t have enough dice between them to manage the attack roll…)

Rory's Story Cubes

So when I found Rory’s Story Cubes in the mighty Leisure Games last year, I had to have them. Presented in a lovely little slipcase (the inner box has a magnetic flap to keep everything safe during transit), you get nine six-sided dice. But instead of dots, you have little cartoon pictures, ranging from straightforward items like an arrow and a pyramid, to slightly more abstract ones, like the comedy & tragedy masks and a demonic shadow.

The idea of the game is storytelling: roll all nine dice then try to make a story using the images on them. It’s quite an entertaining little exercise to try this on your own, but taking turns with friends is where this game shines. Due to the random element of dice rolling, you never quite know what’s going to come up, allowing you to create some weird and wonderful modern fables, either co-operatively or competitively.

And that’s basically it: the rules booklet is tiny and the instructions take up just over two and a bit inches square. The dice are sturdy and well printed, big enough for the recommended ages to handle easily but not too bulky for transporting here, there and everywhere (although apparently there are plans for giant ones, primarily for special needs children and group work). There is also an expansion set (“Actions“), which I have, and another one (“Voyages“), which I don’t (but intend to get hold of as soon as possible). Oh yes, and there’s the inevitable app for everyone’s favourite i-device – but heck, as fun as that might be, that’s not even real dice, so doesn’t actually count.

Because the game is fast and portable, it’s perfect for travelling and impromptu game sessions (say, down the pub or when not enough people turn up for your regular table-top game). Part of me also dearly wants to carry out an experiment to see if I can generate a coherent table-top scenario using nothing but these dice, just for fun. And that’s what this game is all about: pure and simple fun. As someone else’s advertising campaign used to say: “the only limit is your imagination.”

~FuschiaBegonia


Here Be Dragons

I’m not very good at most computer games (now there’s an admission and a half from someone writing on a gaming blog), usually because I panic and press all the wrong buttons when things get a bit tricky. But I am good at solving puzzles and spotting things, so here at Chez Pixie most of our console gaming is co-operative: he hits things and I tell him where to go and what to do. And that includes the racing games…

I have a massive soft spot for computer RPGs, despite my rather unfortunate first encounter with them via The Hobbit back in the dim and distant 1980s (but that’s another story). I also have a long and rich history with their table-top cousins; the first game I ever ran at University was using the original red box D&D rules and despite the fact that I only used them briefly (because all of the players had been raised on red box and as a result, I felt I couldn’t surprise them with it), I still have very fond memories of that set, crappy dice and all.

So when we were playing Dragon Age: Origins (by the mighty Bioware), I got a serious attack of the warm fuzzies – you know, that glowing nostalgia for an old-fashioned but much-loved game you thought you’d never see the like of again. I’m not a huge one for game mechanics (funnily enough), but the fact that you could see characters marching steadfastly through the basic D&D rules on screen made me chuckle. The dialogue, though corny in places, was perfectly in-keeping with its origins and I loved it to bits. Dragon Age 2 was also great fun, although I missed the freedom of choosing your starting character’s race. And if Dragon Age 3 isn’t centred on Varric, it’ll be a crying shame (Best Adventuring Companion Ever).

It was, therefore, with a sense of dread that I heard Green Ronin had announced that they were actually going to produce a “proper” Dragon Age RPG (and by proper, I mean table-top); after all, there have been some truly awful conversions of big name intellectual properties to other types of format in the past, RPGs included. But when I saw the box set nestled on the shelf of our Friendly Local Game/Comic Shop over Christmas, I had to have a look, just to see if it really was a train wreck in progress.

My first impression was one of amusement: the cover of the box is very tat fantasy, with an elf, a dwarf and a mage kicking the bejeebers out of some nasty Darkspawn greeblies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully executed and the elf-babe is actually fully dressed – in fact, its perfect for what it’s attempting to emulate (apart from the over-abundance of clothing). The back of the box blurb is straight to the point, too: this is old-school roleplaying and a portal into table-top for those not familiar with the form. Oh yeah, and it has free dice in it as well. Free dice. What’s not to love?

Apart from the dice (three of them; two white six-siders and a red one), you get a Player’s Guide, a Game Master’s Guide and a map of Ferelden. This particular set is for characters of Levels 1-5 (thus continuing the whole original red box theme). At this point I decided it must be mine, whether it was any good or not. Now, having read it, I can tell you that it is good; yes, there are flaws, but on the whole this is a smashing little system that does everything the new and improved current red box D&D tries, but fails, to do (which just goes to show that new and improved is not always better than old and allegedly inferior).

The Player’s Guide sets the scene for the players, with the obligatory “What Is A Roleplaying Game?” section and some notes on group dynamics and game concepts. You then get a far too brief section on the history of Ferelden. This is one of the major points for which the game loses marks for me: okay, if you’ve not played the video version of the game, I’m not quite sure why you’d pick this version up, but some of us don’t have perfect recall anymore and some of the background intricacies have kind of got mixed up with other properties (<cough> Skyrim <cough>), so it really could have done with a bit more oomph.

After the world set-up comes character generation. Nice and simple this bit: roll your 3d6 to generate eight ability scores, pick your background concept (pretty much whether you’re a human, dwarf or elf), tweak it and then choose your class (of which there are three: warrior, mage and rogue) and then tweak some more. The background concept is a little more involved than that, seeing as you have seven actual templates to choose between, but the system is streamlined enough to get a character up and running pretty quickly.

The next chapter goes into more detail about your character’s skills, known in this game as focuses (shouldn’t that be foci?) and talents. A focus is an ability specialisation and a talent is a more specific skill (like weapons training, for example), all of which help to differentiate the characters despite the limited starting choices. Next up is the weapons chapter, which comes with the most adorable set of armour paintings that made me long for a paper doll version of Alistair I could dress up in each one. As with character creation, everything is kept simple and there are no encumbrance rules (The One Ring, take note). Chapter Five deals with magic, another mercifully short and to the point section that gives you what you need to play, rather than endless lists of fireworks that usually bore me to tears and make me give up reading a game all together. The final chapter is an overview of the game rules, such as action resolution and health. There’s even a glossary and an index (and a photocopiable character sheet on the back!). For those of you not sufficiently Luddite, there’s also a link somewhere to a downloadable pdf version.

The artwork on the cover of the GM’s Guide is much more like it, with the good lady mage basically dressed like Morrigan-inna-hoodie. It starts with advice for the GM on setting up a game, creating a story (again, a bit brief, but solid nevertheless) and the different types of GM and player styles. I’m not sure I agree with all of their definitions, some of which may be down to proof-reading failures, which seem to be much more prevalent in this book than the Player’s Guide. Chapter Two looks at the rules in more detail, and even then, they’re nice and bijou.

At its most basic, each dice roll (or test) involves rolling your 3d6 and adding a couple of relevant modifiers. If you roll doubles on the dice, you generate stunt points which allow you to add particular special effects. The red die is known as the Dragon Die, and can alter the outcome of the roll (in terms of degree of success or failure), as well as telling you how many stunt points you get when you do roll doubles. In most cases you’ll be trying to equal or beat a target number, but you might be making opposed rolls (against someone or something else) or an advanced test, which aims to simulate events that take time and uses a threshold mechanism rather than a straight success/fail one. And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell – it really is introductory in every way, shape and form.

There’s a nice chapter on the type of creatures you’re likely to find in Ferelden, including Mabari war dogs (a must-have as far as I’m concerned), and a final one on rewarding your players (oh yes, XP!) before you get to the sample scenario. Now these things are a often a nightmare to write, because you have no idea what players are going to come up with character-wise, so it must be all things to all people. This particular one, “The Dalish Curse”, does suffer from being a bit rumpty-tumpty (and I can see some players running riot with it as written, or wandering off in totally the wrong direction), but it does its best under trying circumstances.

There’s nothing about the Grey Wardens in this set: they’re inBox2(Levels 6-10, or the old dark blue D&D box for those of you who remember these things). Its best to think of this first set as being the section of the video game at the beginning, when you blunder about working through your character’s initial background material (for us, it was all the political manoeuvring surrounding the new Dwarven King). And I enjoyed reading this so much, and making little “awww!” noises at it, that I’ve gone and bought the second box as well (much to the delight of the lovely lass in Travelling Man Newcastle, who was tired of only selling the starter box to people).

So if you want to indulge in a bit of misty-eyed wallowing that harks back to the alleged Golden Age of gaming, or are looking for a way into table-top through a familiar background, this is actually a pretty good place to start. Nicely produced, a good price and a fun, fast read. Go on, give it a go – you know you want to…

~FuschiaBegonia


Madder Than A Mountain Full of Madness

Every now and again as you wander through your Friendly Local Games Store, you see something that makes you go “Eh?” quickly followed by “Noooo, they can’t have done” and “How in the blue blazes is that going to work?” (Or, you know, something along those lines). I had that very experience last weekend, when a tootle round Grainger Games revealed this intriguing oddity:

Yes, that is H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness. And yes, that is a jewel puzzle game. My one previous attempt at a jewel puzzle game ended badly, but this was something I just had to see…

At its heart, Mountains of Madness (well, this version anyway) is a hidden object and match-3 puzzle, with a bit of “figure out how to get the jewels out of ice/hideous statues of Elder Gods” action thrown in for good measure. It must be said, carrying out a hidden object search through the frozen corpses of hideously murdered Antarctic explorers isn’t something you’d want to do every day, but its certainly a new twist on the format (particularly when, if you click on said corpses, there are some pithy statements made about the poor person involved). One particular comment about a person trapped under an overturned sled looking a bit distressed made me laugh somewhat inappropriately (and he, at least, was still alive).

Some of the match-3 games are tricky, but not in a “throw your DS across the room in a fit of pique” way. Plus you earn tools that, once you figure out how to use them, can be tremendously useful in beating some of the harder puzzles. Although be warned: one of the tools lets you switch the colour of every stone on the board, which can actually put you in a worse position than the one you started in. You also earn trophies as you progress through the game, although it’s a bit idiosyncratic as to when it hands them out. I received the one for playing for three hours before I got the one for playing for two and I’m still waiting for the one you get for achieving 12 other trophies.

The story, as you would imagine, has been massively abridged and monkeyed with to make it fit the game format. Some of the translation leaves a lot to be desired, both in what some of the objects in the puzzles are called (I’m sorry, but a glass beer stein is not the same thing as a jar) and also in terms of the passages of narrative text, particularly at the end of the game where it all gets very confusing.

One of the main ways the game shines, though, is in the artwork. The backdrops for the puzzles are beautifully painted and very atmospheric. You’ll again get comedy comments if you click on certain items (“I wouldn’t want to meet the thing that posed for that statue!” etc) which shows that although their translation skills may be a bit duff, the designers have a very good eye and a sense of humour.

It’s a truly oddball thing, this game. I suspect hard-core devotees of Lovecraft will hate it because of what it’s done to the story, but it actually gives a little more interest to the proceedings. After all, if I hadn’t been bamboozled by the concept in the first place, I never would have bought it. And that would have been a real shame; it neither drove me mad nor reached new peaks of gaming experience, but it was fun and compelling and that’s pretty much all of what I ask for in a game.

~FuschiaBegonia


See You In Salem

Still on the search for a cracking puzzle game to tide me over until the next Professor Layton dramafest, I picked up a pre-owned copy of “Hidden Mysteries: Salem Secrets – Witch Trials of 1692” by GSP. It had good reviews elsewhere (when will I ever learn?) and it looked sufficiently different plot-wise to pique my interest.

You arrive in Salem to investigate the disappearances of four girls, only to find that the entire town has shut itself up and there’s no-one to help you. And this is where the major problem with the game arises: in any other puzzler like this, you’d go and talk to people to try and get an idea of where you have to go next and what you need to do. Not here; there are no clues, which tends to leave you blundering about rather a lot. The little booklet that comes with the game doesn’t explain much either, to such an extent that towards the end of the game I discovered a hints option hidden on a menu screen that isn’t even mentioned in the guide. It might have made things easier earlier on, but long before then I’d resorted to a walkthrough (something I usually avoid using at all costs because it always feels like cheating).

In terms of the puzzles, you have reasonably standard hidden object games, some logic puzzles and some that I have absolutely no idea how you’re meant to solve without the walkthrough (unless you’ve psychically discovered the hints menu right at the beginning and even then, I’m not so sure). Puzzle games are great if you know what the rules of the puzzle are, but far too often in this game you’re left dangling as none of them are explained. I’m still not sure how, as a character with no knowledge of witchcraft, I was supposed to figure out what to do to release the second girl from her ensorcellment, or know what the components of a spell recipe are. But then, I’m not sure how I should know which way the town’s apothecary likes their shelves arranging, either. Part of this isn’t helped by the tiny graphics on the DS’ upper screen, but this isn’t true in all cases. If you do get utterly fed up, there is a skip button which allows you to bypass the puzzles, which on one occasion I did actually use because even with the walkthrough and the hints menu, I still had no idea what I was supposed to do.

Other platforms’ version of this game apparently have a map, which would have been really useful, given that until I caved in and found the walkthrough, I was convinced there were only two streets in the town. There are no arrows to show you possible directions for investigation, leaving you randomly tapping bits of the screen just to see if there’s a hidden footpath somewhere. On top of that, the game does a stunning Michael Crichton and just stops all of a sudden, even though the on-screen dialogue suggests there should be something more.

All in all, it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, this game. The atmosphere is spooky and the storyline not that bad, but a few suspicious townsfolk to guide you on your way would have given it a huge boost in terms of both tone and playability. Maybe if I’d found the hint menu earlier, I wouldn’t have felt so flummoxed. But because of that frustration, I’m not willing to go back and give it another go just to see.

And so, the hunt for the perfect puzzle game continues…

~fuschiabegonia


Mayan Mayan Mayan

You don’t get a great deal for trade-in games for the DS at the moment; I suppose that’s because its old-hat now, what with all this shiny 3D malarkey. Still, the shops don’t do too badly out of the deal and it must be said that if I’m not sure about a game, I’ll pick it up second hand rather than fork out for the brand-spanking new version. Sorry, should really say “pre-owned”, shouldn’t I? I wonder why they do that?

Having had a bit of a bad day (long story, involves handbags and shoes), the Prof (also one with an eye for a bargain) arrived home with a pressie for me in the shape of “Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins”, a puzzle game from Ubisoft set on a South American archaeological dig. Its your task to rootle around in the jungle in search of a missing Mayan Temple, all the while thwarting your arch-nemesis, a rather pudgy, beardy and rather naughty Indiana Jones type. Actually, if you think Indy versus Belloq, you won’t go far wrong. Except the special effects aren’t as good. There’s no giant rolling boulders, for a start. Or Nazis. But other than that…

Predominantly a hidden object game (there’s a lot of ‘em about), you do get to play mahjong, spot the difference and do jigsaw puzzles for a bit of light relief. It’s also a surprisingly long game. You have to find 17 specific items to unlock the various mini-games and I assumed that after you’d found those, the game would end; but no, on you go for another ten chapters. And you can win trophies too, which is all very nice.

The plot is wafer-thin with a fairly predictable twist, but the music is jolly and there’s a lot of play in it. It does get a bit wearing
as you go back to the same locations over and over again (just how many times do you need to search an aircraft to prove there isn’t an ancient religious site hidden somewhere in the onboard loo?) but at least you can see the objects clearly and unlike some other games I could mention, you’ve really got to be going some to trigger the random tap penalty.

There are other games available in the Amazing Adventures series, but they all appear to be for the PC, which is actually a bit of a shame. Despite the repetition, I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about our hero’s adventures. Fingers crossed they get their act together and bring out a new one soon, or at the very least, translate the existing ones to hand-held.

~FuschiaBegonia


Tearing Up

Never believe everything you read in a review. That’s probably not how you would expect another review to start, now is it? But it’s true. Hunting round for a puzzle game to tide me over until the next drama-fest that is Professor Layton, I looked up a few reviews on Amazon to see what was lurking out there in the shadows. And I do mean shadows; the good Professor casts quite a long one, making it very difficult for a lot of games to gain any purchase in a market that has been well and truly spoilt rotten with lovely animation and devilish conundrums. Most of the reviews I read said that GSP’s “Jewel Quest: Curse of the Emerald Tear” was a goody, so I picked up a pre-owned copy, just in case. Which was just as well, as it turned out.

It doesn’t start off promisingly; a very shady character bwahahas his way through the briefest of introductions and it soon becomes horribly apparent that this game is one of a series. A series that the writers have no intention of bringing you up to speed with, should you not have had the misfortune to play any of the earlier ones. Okay, you could overlook that; I mean, it’s not desperately complicated. Basically, two bright young things travel all over the world looking for prophetic jewel boards and other exotic treasures by way of hidden object puzzles and the most piggingly awful and frustrating Connect-4 type game (helpfully called “Match 3”) I’ve ever played.

I didn’t finish this game. I don’t care if I never see it again; it makes the frustrations of “Flower, Sun and Rain” pale into insignificance. And the reason is this: each chapter has a series of quests leading up to a final puzzle on the jewel board, where you must turn all of the squares gold within a set time limit by matching 3 jewels in either a vertical or horizontal row. Should you fail, not only will you have to do that particular puzzle again, you’ll have to repeat the entire sodding chapter from scratch. Even if you quit out part way through that chapter, saving your progress as you do so (or so you thought, sucker).

The rules for how the end-game works are never really made clear, changing every now and again as they do with the introduction of some new random factor to the equation. After several hours of being bunted right back to the beginning of a chapter, my mind started to blank every time the jewel screen came on and it became, in the end, a truly vicious circle of panic and shouting. Maybe my mind just isn’t programmed that way and maybe this really is a good game for those who’ve followed it from its first incarnation, but nothing will make me go back to find out what happens in the end. “Curse of the Emerald Tear” has just joined “The Hobbit” as one of the most traumatic gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

~FuschiaBegonia


Go West!

On my last visit to our FLGS, I picked up two DS puzzle games: James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club and Cate West: The Vanishing Files. After our not exactly positive experience with a certain DS game a few weeks ago, my good husband (the Prof) had kindly checked out other reviews for Cate West before I bought it. Basically, they recommended getting it either on the PC or the Wii but we couldn’t find those versions, so plumped for the DS one instead.

The game format is hidden object, where you must find X number of named objects across Y different locations. To spice things up a bit, you also have spot the difference puzzles, whodunits and, quite bizarrely, putting things back where you found them puzzles as well. Our heroine is Cate, erstwhile author and budding psychic, whose father was murdered many years ago. Suddenly she finds herself embroiled in a spate of weird and wonderful cases revolving around religious iconography, all linked to the church where her father was killed. She is accompanied by two rather dishy policemen who help her solve the crimes and present the evidence in court.

Having played the game, I can see now why the other formats are recommended over this one; the density of objects and relatively low level quality of the graphics do make it difficult in some locations to spot the hidden objects in amongst the background fuzz. There’s also a random screen tapping penalty, which is fair enough in some cases, but it does get annoying when you get penalised for tapping something that really looks like the thing you thought it was, only to find it isn’t. With fifteen chapters, the game also starts to get really repetitive, particularly as after a certain stage there are few new locations added. This is definitely a game to play one mystery at a time with a good break in between; played over two days it has a tendency to turn your brain to mush.

Despite that, the game does pull you in; the story is madder than several sacks of ferrets but is sufficiently intriguing to keep you fighting your way through the far too numerous junkyards of Arcadia. Mind you, the police here are a bit thick; if they really wanted to cut the crime rate, it would have been far more expedient to just leave a detachment at each of the locations, seeing how often the bad guys return to the same place. Still, that might have made the game a bit short. There’s also some great comedy mileage in the links Cate comes up with between the hidden objects and crucial pieces of evidence (that for some reason someone has cut up into bits and scattered here, there and everywhere). I still can’t quite work out how you get from a chilli and a map of Portugal to a set of false teeth and some roller skates, but there you go…

It’s fairly obvious who the bad guy is from very early on, using the standard mystery solving technique of the least yet therefore most obvious person has to be guilty, but that’s really all by-the-by; its why he’s doing it that’s important in the end. If you like your puzzle games a bit left of centre, then The Vanishing Files is worth the effort but unless you have Action Man’s eagle-eyes, get it on the Wii or PC, or you’ll probably go blind.

~FuschiaBegonia


Ladies Who (Murder) Lunch

Having had my appetite for murder mysteries whetted (and most definitely not satisfied) by “Flower, Sun & Rain”, I wandered into our FLGS to see what else might be available. The first game I picked up was “James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: Games of Passion” from THQ. Of course I’d heard of Patterson, even if I was only really familiar with his work through his guest appearances on Castle with Captain Tightpants, Nathan Fillion. Other than that, this was going to be a bit of a leap of faith.

Interestingly, the game runs not in the standard DS orientation but in a more traditional book format; I actually found this far more comfortable to hold, particularly during extended play sessions. The music is suitably US cop show, the female protagonists suitably glam, the men suitably slobby and/or gruff. The language is also right out of your average glossy crime drama, which may make it a bit rumpty-tumpty but also strangely endearing. This is safe, comfortable gaming; you know exactly what you’re going to get, with no nasty surprises.

Our feisty, gorgeous female detective and her feisty, gorgeous friends (a lawyer, a reporter and a police coroner) meet up at the end of each day to discuss the current case over the best food San Francisco has to offer. Equally gorgeous young women (and a fat bloke) are being dumped in the Bay (amongst other places) and it’s your job to solve the crimes and discover the link between them. The game is predominantly a hidden object mystery, where you must identify key clues scattered about various locations in order to answer prompt questions on the left-hand screen. But there’s also an LA Noire style bit during the over dinner case summary where you must remember what bits of evidence support your case (even if in some cases working out what these are is sheer guesswork because of the somewhat obscure wording of the prompts).

Patterson cheats in the same way that many crime authors cheat, by not giving you enough information to really solve the crime until he wants you to (although it is actually quite obvious who the criminal mastermind is very early on). In fact, I still have no real idea why the fat bloke gets it or how our feisty, gorgeous and really smart female protagonist doesn’t spot the bad guy right off, but it remains a perfect example of its genre: mildly diverting, gently entertaining and ultimately, utterly disposable. It’s a very short game, so if you have an evening where mildly diverting is about all you can cope with, then you could do worse than organise a dinner date with Mr Patterson and friends.

~FuschiaBegonia


Flower, Sun and What the…?

I do enjoy a good puzzle game; sadly, “Flower, Sun and Rain” (Nintendo DS, 2008) is not one of them. I should have realised something was a bit off when Game were flogging it for a fiver second hand and the previous owner hadn’t bothered to save any progress. But no, I thought, it’s by Rising Star Games (who include in their back catalogue Harvest Moon, possibly one of the most effective time vampires going) and Suda51 (who I’m reliably informed is an “innovative game designer”). Must be okay, right?

Wrong. It starts off well enough; slick investigator Sumio Mondo arrives on the leisure island of Lospass, where he’s been employed by the local hotel proprietor to solve a mystery. The introductory film is very existential and pretty, but it goes downhill from there on in. Your first game encounter is very confusing, seeing as neither the characters on the screen nor the handbook see fit to really explain what’s going on and the translation from Japanese into English is distinctly iffy. Part of the game involves you looking for “hidden” mysteries, but I didn’t manage to figure out how to do that until after leaving the first area, only to discover that I couldn’t get back again. Some early hidden mysteries require items found later in the game, but for the life of me I can’t work out how you get back to solve them.

And that is a major problem with this game; you think you’re in an open world that you can explore at will, but it soon becomes apparent that you are going to be railroaded in a single, predetermined direction. Deviate from the designer’s chosen path in any way and the game grinds to a painful halt, leaving you running backwards and forwards trying to work out what to do next. And if the designer doesn’t want you to go somewhere, he’s not above sticking giant purple crocodiles in the way. Seriously, I kid you not. Giant. Purple. Crocodiles.

On top of this, nearly all of the characters are desperately unsympathetic, making it very difficult for you to actually care what happens to them. Awful as it sounds, when the main character starts beating up a kid, I actually found myself cheering him on because the little toad was so vile. There’re even attempts to knowingly break the fourth wall which are supposed to be humorous, but come off as deeply pretentious (particularly as some of them are delivered by said brat).

There are several other major irritations: the memo pad, the graphics and the off-screen explanations, to name but a few. The memo pad allows you to make notes on how to solve the hidden and story mysteries. Only problem, you can’t actually access the memo pad when you’re solving the mysteries as they both use the bottom screen. In fact, most of the time the bottom screen is wasted, showing a less than useful map of the island. The game has been adapted from a much earlier Play Station 2 version and has pretty much failed to make good use of the change of platform, with almost all of the action taking place on the top screen in a very pixellated manner. And when the plot gets too impenetrable for the writer, the screen fades out on the protagonists explaining it to each other and fades back in on a “so you see, it makes much more sense now you know” type comment. And yes, the game sees fit to make jokes about how crap the animation is and how weak the plot is, which just smacks of laziness all round.

In the end, this game became a war of attrition. I was determined to finish it, not because I was particularly enjoying it or gave a stuff about what was going on, but because I didn’t want to be beaten by it. I have no clue what was actually going on in the end, other than it seemed to involve talking pink crocodiles, clones, hyenas and exploding planes; it’s utter tosh from start to finish. Oh, and don’t fall for all the “Groundhog Day” comparisons, its not even close. I only paid £2.50 for it thanks to the credit on my husband’s Game card and I still feel like I’ve been ripped off. Best avoid unless you enjoy inflicting mental anguish on yourself in the name of gaming.

~FuschiaBegonia


Yo Ho Ho Lego

I love (most of) the Lego games; let’s face it, the Traveller’s Tales’ version of the Star Wars prequels is far superior to the <expletives deleted> movies delivered by Uncle George. Quite a lot of other people obviously thought so too, meaning that before too long the original Star Wars movies were also given the same loving treatment. And then it was the turn of the first three Indy films to be masterfully translated into mini-fig form (personally my favourite of the franchise so far). But it hasn’t all been plain sailing; I didn’t get on well with the Batman game for a variety of reasons and J. K. Rowling really doesn’t need any of my money, so it’s been a while since I’ve played. That didn’t stop me from getting a bit over-excited when I saw that there was going to be a Lego Pirates of theCaribbean game, though.

So I was very pleased when my lovely husband brought home the X-box 360 version of the game for my delectation and delight. I’ve not done much on the X-box; having small hands, I have some issues with the sheer size of the joypad and therefore comfort during extended play. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but on the whole it’s not too bad (even if I do still call all the buttons by their PS names).

All four films are included and they’ve been translated well, particularly given how unnecessarily complex Dead Man’s Chest and World’s End were. The Black Pearl chapter is a fun introduction to the game before you’re plunged into wondering what the heck you’re supposed to be doing in quite a bit of chapters 2 and 3. This is partly due to the difficulty of getting tortuous plot points across via the medium of mini-fig mime and because some of the sets are a little dark and viewed from a weird angle. Still, we only had to resort to a walkthrough twice in the entire game (albeit after much scratching of heads and “So, what do you think we’re supposed to do now?” moments). This may be because I’ve only seen the middle two films once each and I didn’t really like them all that much so the details haven’t stuck, but it was a bit frustrating at times. At least the game version of World’s End makes better use of Chow Yun Fat that the movie did; yes, you do get to play Chow Yun Fat, and it is good. The current film (Stranger Tides) is nicely abridged; thankfully the Bloom/Knightley cipher characters are mostly side-lined (although what they’ve done with the preacher is hilarious) and the plot is back to being much more easy to follow.

One of the major problems in previous games was with the multi-player option; you know, the lethally dragging your partner off the screen when you wander off somewhere, forcing them to drop-out of the game if you want to save your precious pennies. This has now been fixed with a split-screen mechanic. Not that it’s entirely perfect, but it’s a massive improvement over what went before. The only other real niggle with the game play is that in the multi-player story mode far too many levels rely on one player going off and solving quite a large proportion of the puzzles while the other player has to stand around and wait for them to finish. Thankfully, though, the vehicle levels are much more straight-forward than in previous incarnations (no trying to catch and then lob giant snowballs down wampa holes, for instance).

The quality of the animation is superb, as you would expect, not only in the game itself but also in the loading screens, which are incredibly cute cut-out puppets frolicking aboard a variety of pirate ships. The animators have captured Captain Jack’s bizarre mincing walk perfectly and provided proof that Orlando Bloom is, in reality, an escaped giant mini-fig. In many cases, the quality of the acting on display has gone right up when compared to the original portrayals; I mean, it’s not as if you could ever accuse the mini-figs of giving a wooden performance. Seeing as, well, you know, they’re made of plastic (or in this case, pixels; I’ll get my coat). There’s the usual slap-stick humour, including an obsession with pigs, and the standard story and free-play modes where you run round trying to become a true pirate and collecting ships in bottles. And thankfully there’s still the same high level of gratuitous, utterly wanton destruction which helps to make these games so much fun in the first place.

The designers at Traveller’s Tales have a winning formula and an obvious love and respect for their subject material. There are hours of obsessive game-play if you’re determined to collect everything, but it’s just as easy to dip in and out as the mood takes you. If you’ve never played a Lego film adaptation game before, this is a pretty good introduction; I mean, its pirates AND Lego – where can you possibly go wrong?

~fuschiabegonia


It’s About Time

For fifty minutes one cold November day, I was Sally Sparrow.

Perhaps an explanation is in order: this was 2009 and Cubicle 7 were in the process of releasing their Dr Who tabletop roleplaying game1. It wasn’t actually available for sale at that time due to shipping issues, but they were still running demos at Dragonmeet. It was so much fun that we put in a pre-order and eagerly awaited the day when it would drop through the letterbox and into our clammy little paws. We also won a Dalek standee the same day, but that’s another story…

There have been three Dr Who roleplaying games so far. The first was published by FASA2 in 1985 and has Tom Baker and Leela on the front cover, even though neither of them was still in the show by that point. The second was “Timelord” by Virgin3; unusually for the time, it was printed as a standard paperback and marketed as such to fit in with their line of novels. It includes the following classic piece of advice for novice roleplayers: “Role-playing is like acting: some people are good at it and others are appalling. There are some splendid examples of bad acting in the television series, so a player who cannot throw himself into a role is hardly setting a precedent – in fact he is making an accurate contribution to the adventure!” Er, right.

So why am I writing a review for a game that’s almost two years old now? Because it’s a good game and many people probably don’t know that it’s out there. Also, the new series of Doctor Who has just broadcast one of its best episodes ever. But also because at some point this year, Cubicle 7 will be releasing an updated version with all new artwork and some new monster material to bring it into the Eleventh Doctor’s reign. You can still get hold of the Tenth Doctor edition, which is what I’ll be reviewing here, an eye-poppingly gorgeous boxed set and well worth a look if you can’t wait patiently for the new stuff.

And, yes, I said boxed set. Many of the early RPGs came as multiple booklets in a box with a few dice. They then graduated onto A4-ish hard or soft-backs. Others, like Timelord, have been published in a smaller, more recognised format. Like its FASA predecessor, Cubicle 7’s game has gone for the traditional boxed set, but not for the same reasons. Licensing intellectual property is a very complex area these days; someone else already has the licence to produce Dr Who books, so the designers have been forced to be creative and return to gaming’s roots all at the same time. And yes, it has dice in it. They have TARDIS blue dots on them.

It also has a lot of other stuff in it: a Player’s guide, a Gamemaster’s guide, an adventures book, character sheets, pop-out gadget cards, story point counters and a four sided rules summary, all very similar to James Wallis’ favourite game of all time, the hugely influential Ghostbusters4. And that’s one of the game’s strengths: it has learnt from the best of the past and given the players a fast, simple way into the game that doesn’t necessarily require several days’ reading first. You can pick up the quick start guide (helpfully labelled “Read This First!”) and the pre-generated character sheets (Tennant’s Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Martha, Donna, the decent, non-Torchwood version of Captain Jack, Sarah Jane and the tin dog) and just get on with it. There’re not many games that you can say that about.

Obviously there are rules for creating your own characters; basically, you start with a set number of points that you assign to particular areas. In this game, that’s Attributes, Skills and Traits. There are six Attributes, which give your character a rough idea of their overall capabilities. Then there are your Skills, which make it all a bit more specific. I freely admit that this is the point at which I often give up on RPGs; the background might be amazing, but endless lists of abilities usually kill my enthusiasm stone dead. Fortunately this time, I survived.

Possibly the most interesting of these three areas are the Traits, which show a genuine knowledge and affection for the setting. The best examples of this are “Resourceful Pockets” (a Doctor staple) and “Screamer!” which made me laugh a great deal (even more so now after River’s comment to the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut”). There are also bad Traits, which gain you extra points to spend elsewhere, a fairly common idea in gaming but again containing a nice nod to the show’s history, particularly in the form of “Unadventurous”. This Trait can be used to “retire” a character from the story by giving the companion a reason to leave when they are fed up of being cold and wet, hypnotised left, right and centre, shot at, savaged by bug eyed monsters or not knowing whether they’re coming or going or been. There are also some fairly special Traits for aliens and Timelords, should you wish to play such high-powered characters.

What about the mechanics? Well, they’re fast, fun and very organic. It involves a little bit of maths (rolling two dice, adding them together then adding two more numbers to that, comparing it to a difficulty and seeing if you’d beaten it and by how much), but nothing too strenuous. That’s as far as it has to go, but there is a very nice touch in what could basically be described as the Vicki Pollard mechanic (“Yeah, but, no, but”). This allows you to have degrees of success and failure based on how far above/below the target number you were set and its great for getting some extra dramatics into the game if you don’t already do that sort of thing. You’ll also find quite a few tables and loads of examples to support game play, some from familiar episodes and some new.

A rather cool feature is the order in which events will happen during any given encounter: those who wish to talk go first (so they can do the whole tenth Doctor Shouty Man thing if they want), then those who wish to run, run (again, all very in-keeping with the show’s formula). Those who wish to do something (like build a gadget) go next and finally those wishing to resort to violence have to wait until the end. The anti-gun message is perhaps a little strident given the Doctor’s previous history regarding fire-arms (and UNIT), but it does fit with Tennant’s holier-than-thou attitude on the matter. I’d be very interested to see if this changes with the new edition, seeing as the Doctor has admitted finding River’s gunplay really rather enticing. There’s a whole load of stuff on damage and how to use the system’s story points to avoid getting moshed (and how to get more of them if you’re running a bit low), and an entire chapter of hints and tips for the new player. Needless to say, they’re rather more useful than the one from Timelord. And all this is just in the Player’s Guide!

The Gamemaster’s Guide is as sumptuously produced as its companion; my only real niggle with it (putting my lecturer’s hat on) is that there are some really odd grammatical choices in parts of the editing that felt really jarring (and that I’d mark my students down for). But then, I am incredibly old-fashioned that way, although I haven’t quite taken to wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Yet. And then there’s that odd box on the top of page 53 about introducing characters in a game, slap bang in the middle of a section on healing and damage…

The rest of the GM’s book is good; straightforward to read, littered with examples from the series, only one of which I couldn’t place for the life of me (the SS Nakamura, anyone?) and some lovely humour harking back to the original series. Indeed, the Brig gets his infamous quote about aliens being resistant to bullets included in the description of potential alien immunities that will tickle long-standing fans without confusing new ones (à la the whole “Who the hell is Rassilon?” debacle at the end of the specials). Essentially for this type of book, it covers exactly what you’d need it to: story-telling advice, monster details and a more in-depth discussion of the rules. They’ve even duplicated some of the critical information from the Player’s Guide as well, so the GM doesn’t have to go borrowing the players’ book from them at a crucial moment.

All in all, this is a lovely shiny game with fun accessories, a well balanced rule system that can be pruned to suit your group’s playing style and sufficient support to get you going in the right direction. Cubicle 7 did say that they’d release the equivalent of a patch for people who already own the original version of the game when the new edition comes out, which suggests the changes will be mostly cosmetic. There is one other boxed set available (Monsters and Aliens) and a whole raft of others lined up for release in the summer. But then, they were also going to get released last year, which was somewhat scuppered by Tennant’s leaving and the whole re-branding issue. Never mind, I’m sure they’ll appear in time…

1 – Dr Who: Adventures in Time and Space, the Role Playing Game (2009) David F. Chapman et al; Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd

2 – The Dr Who Role Playing Game: Adventures Through Time and Space (1985) FASA

3 – Timelord: Adventures Through Time and Space (1991) Ian Marsh & Peter Darvill-Evans; Virgin

4 – Ghostbusters, a Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game (1986) Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis & Greg Stafford;West EndGames


Not So Much Walking as Rolling Dead…

As a roleplayer, I have a genetic predisposition towards buying dice of all sizes, shapes, colours and functions. It’s not that I need all of them; heaven’s above, no. But I can’t resist anything that has shiny, shiny dice in it (even if the dice aren’t actually all that shiny in and of themselves).


So it was I found myself attracted to Zombie Dice, by Steve Jackson Games. I’m an utter wuss when it comes to horror movies, zombie ones included, although I did enjoy “Sean of the Dead” and “Pontypool”. But it’s a dice game, so how could I not buy it? And it’s from SJG, sainted doyen of the gaming industry, who brought us GURPS, Car Wars and Munchkin, to name but an illustrious few.

What you get for your dosh is a cardboard dice cup with a lid, a set of incredibly short but perfectly clear rules and 13 dice (3 red, 4 yellow and 6 green). Each die represents a human victim that you, as the zombie, are shambling after. Shake the full cup of dice, take three out without peeking, roll them and see whether or not you’ve got juicy, juicy brains for tea (a brain), a mouthful of dust (running feet) or a shotgun in the face (BOOM!). The winner is the person who manages to get 13 brains in total.

But it’s not quite that straightforward; despite the apparent simplicity of the mechanic, there’s a great deal of tactical play to be had (AKA pushing your luck). Each of the different coloured dice has a different ratio of brains to feet to shotguns, with red being the toughest, having only 1 brain and 3 shotguns (the exact opposite of the green dice). If you’ve rolled brains or shotguns on your turn, those dice are taken out of play and you must decide whether or not you dare try for more dice. If you get three shotguns in total, you’re dead and your score for that round is nothing. It’s trickier than you think and sometimes having nerves of steel is rewarded with an amazing streak of brains. But not always.

You will need some sort of counters to keep track of how many brains you’ve scoffed throughout the different rounds; jelly babies would be quite good fun, because at least at the end of the game you could bite their heads off with a triumphant cry of “Braaaaiiiinssss!”. You might feel a bit sick if you tried that with all 13, though.

If you’re more technologically minded, or just want a taster of what’s in store for you, then SJG have kindly done both a superb free app for the iPod Touch and iPhone, and a 59p upgrade with a few more features such as multi-player gaming. The app zombies have awfully punny names and do try to encourage you to get shot, the mechanic isn’t quite so transparent and the music will drive you mental if you leave it on (perhaps that’s the point) but may I remind you, it’s free! 

All in all, it’s a fast game that is highly portable (in either format), great fun and incredibly silly. So do shuffle along to your friendly local game/app store and get your fix of yummy, scrummy brains…