It’s cold. COVID19 is still real.

Gathering is difficult.

But, still, games have been played. Here’s a roundup of some recent plays.

25 Words of Less (The Op).

Frankly, I resisted this one because of Meredith Vieira on the cover. Nothing against Meredith Vieria, it’s just that somewhere between Art Linkletter endorsing The Game of Life and now I’ve developed an aversion to celebs on the cover of tabletop games.

Yes, I know. It sounds snobbish. And it probably is. After all, I grew up with mass-market games, many of which were based on TV game shows. The home games of Jeopardy, Password, and Concentration were staples on summer nights. So why should today be any different?

Box cover aside, those, this is one’s a winner, simplifying the rules of the popular TV game into a stack of cards, a small board, and a timer.

Teams compete first by bidding a la Name That Tune. Only here, they are bidding to see how few words it will take them to get their teammates to guess the five words or phrases on a card. In addition to the restriction on the number of words, there’s also a one-minute timer to make things more difficult. The back and forth (“I can do it in 22 words.” “I can do it in 19 words”) continues until one team bails. The timer conveniently also functions as a tracker for the number of clues being given. Then the cautiously frantic clue-giving begins.

If the team guesses all five answers, they get the point. If they miss, the opposing team scores. And then you do it again.

Simple, but fun. And the TV show isn’t bad either.

Dead Men Tell No Tales (Renegade Game Studios).

When I think of pirate games, I don’t think of co-ops. Maybe that’s because I’ve spent too much time seeking treasure in one of my favorite games, the cutthroat Libertalia (Marabunta Games).

In this one, though, all players work together to raid a boat — which happens to be on fire — to secure as much booty as possible. Obstacles include a literal skeleton crew, deckhands (represented by neat little skull markers), and a high risk of explosions. Plus fatigue. Raiding can be tiring.

As the ship is explored, tiles are laid out, most of which will be topped by a die, representing intensity of the fire in that room. Players use their limited actions to move, dispense with deckhands, reduce fire, and attempt to overpower the treasure guards will trying avoid being trapped in a room or worn out before they can escape with their ill-gotten gains.

I wish there was a clearer distinction between the guard tokens and the skeleton crew tokens. And the tiles aren’t as clear as they could be when showing doorways. While the dice rolls both for core strength and for degree of fire leads to a fair amount of randomness, as does the treasure token bag draws and bad stuff card draws after every turn, that’s part of the fun of these sorts of what’s-behind-the-next-door games. Risk can mean reward or it can means death to your character — although with seven in the box, you’re back on the board by the next turn with a new persona but without the weapons and treasure you collected.

So far, I’ve been unsuccessful at even the basic game so there’s still more to explorer. I look forward to climbing back on board.

Mountains Out of Molehills (The Op).

The biggest problem I experienced with this light newcomer is the lighting in the room where I usually play games. We have a cool fixture overhead with adjustable brightness and have never had a problem seeing what’s below. But Mountains Out of Molehills is a two-level game with the top perched a few inches directly above the lower.

Result: Clarity above, unreadable board below.

Not a major problem — some side lighting quickly mitigated the issue. But something you should be aware of when you set this one up.

Here’s how it works:

You draft a hand from a grid of cards, most featuring a direction and a number. When cards are in hand, you program them in a desired order. The moves are then played out by mole standees in the underground region, sometimes thrown off by collisions with rocks and other players. The square where your mole lands at the end of a move triggers to growth of a molehill on the surface above. If someone else already has a marker there, yours pushes it up and takes up the lowest position. Push a molehill too high and it topples pieces onto neighboring squares. Once all cards are played for that round, you score points for the molehills and feature your color at their bases. Each round, the maximum height grows, leading to the need for strategic toppling.

With most information public knowledge, a two-player game allows for greater control. Like most programming games, though, more players means greater chance of having your plans thwarted.

Thus, a thoughtful — if whimsically designed — strategy contest transforms, via higher player count, into a chaotic, molehill-toppling, running-into-walls game.

Either way works, as long as the lighting is right.

Can’t Stop Express (Eagle-Gryphon Games)

Can’t Stop is a classic in the push-your-luck category. Can’t Stop Express is it’s lesser-known cousin, a 1989 release that only recently came to my attention thanks to a friend challenging me on www,Boardgamearena.com. If you ever want to play there, by the way, search for WildwoodLou. That’s me.

It’s actually a reskin of an even older game, but I like the connection to Can’t Stop.

Anyway, Can’t Stop Express is a sort of Yahtzee-fication of Can’t Stop. It’s a score pad and dice and involves making choices. Unlike Can’t stop, though, all players make decision based on the same five-dice roll, so there’s no thumb-twirling while you wait for other players to finish their turn.

Once rolled, the dice are separated into two-dice combos with one extra. Roll a 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 and you can score a 9 (5 + 4) and a 5 (3+2) with the 1 as an extra. Or score two 7s (4+3) and (5+2) with the 1 extra, etc. Each number you mark off for your combo dice score negative points until you have enough to pass a threshold where they become positive while the extra die ends up limiting your options and, when enough of the same are logged, triggers the end game.

There’s not even a hint of them here but there is a nice amount of tension built in as you see the end game coming and work to turns those negative points into positives.