Let’s get right to it. Here are some thoughts on what’s been hitting the table.
Oh, and remember: Tabletop games back easy for easy-to-wrap gifts.
Mystic Paths (R&R Games)
Sometimes, theming adds fun and marketability to a tabletop game.
Sometimes, theming can make you go “huh”?
The latter is the case with Mystic Paths, a fun co-op word deduction game that, oddly, has been named, packaged, and designed with a wizards-and-magic motif. I’m guessing fantasy gamers will be disappointed since no magical elements are actually built into the game mechanics while those who like party deduction games won’t even notice its existence.
That’s a shame, because this one has a firm, fun foundation. A round board has 19 slots that for each game are filled randomly from the 60 two-sided portal tokens, each with a word or phrase or name on it. Up to six players are each given a secret map that shows the path they must take from one portal to another. They are also each dealt cards, each with arrows and descriptive words. Without communication with the others, each player selects three cards that they hope will guide the rest along their secret path.
Let’s say the words on your first three steps are kayak, Quasimodo and Spam. You might select from your hands cards pointing in the right direction that say Metallic, Passionate, and Nasty (Okay, so you didn’t have great choices on your cards). The other players collectively have to decide, one at a time, which direction you are trying to lead them. If they get the first one right, they can try the second and so on.
Keeping track of which spaces have already been guessed can get a little tricky with six players — I recommend four or five as ideal. And I’ll happily bring it back to the table…once I explain to skeptical potential players that, no, you won’t be casting spells or killing orcs.
Disney Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Funko Games)
I like the idea of accessible game created from Disney theme park rides. And some, like Jungle Cruise, turn out to be better than the movie spin-offs of the same rides.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has the makings of a winner. The rules are easy to learn and there’s a notch of strategy involved as you steer your mine cars around the board. And you need to coordinate your movements based on the cards you have in hand to maximize the goal you’re able to plunder. So there are choices to be made.
All of that would be standard issue if it wasn’t for the game’s big gimmick: The titular mountain. It may not be big — its molded plastic form only rises a bit off the base — but it allows for colored marbles enter the mountainside chutes and land adjacent to different spaces.
At least, it should allow that to happens. At my table, enthusiasm for the game was doused a bit by the number of times balls got stuck in the cave opening. This wouldn’t matter so much if the game didn’t require three spins of the mountain at each player’s turn.
As with most Prospero Hall-designed games, the price point is reasonable and the design solid. The card iconography is clear and the multiple paths to victory add some variety. I just wish we didn’t have to make the extra effort for it to do what it’s clever designers need it to do.
A Little Wordy (Exploding Kittens)
Any good Scrabble player knows that it’s not just the long words that can score big points. Sometimes, there’s strength in the small. That’s the same for this clever new two-player game.
Each player secretly creates a word from a set of letter tiles. The tiles are then scrambled and passed, with each player having to figure out what the other one spelled.
Need clues? That cuts down on your points.
It can go by pretty quickly, so expect to play multiple games at one sitting. Good thing there’s a dry erase marker to keep track of wins/losses.
It’s a box of questions, three to a card.
Yes, there are rules, which come down to Draw a card then read the questions that pertain to you. One person guesses and gets a point if they answer all three correctly. First player with five points wins.
The questions are sometimes very reductive but fairly innocent (“Am I a patient person?,” “Am I flakey?” ). Other times, though, they are awkwardly specific (“Have I ever shoplifted?,” “Do I won a gun?,” “Am I on Tinder?” “Do I take any mood-altering medications?), undermining the idea stated on the box that “this game was built to enhance your party.”
Even if you somehow found a posse of people up for such an activity, the reality is that there’s really very little game here.
Which doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into something. I did manage to modify the rules significantly for an office activity, carefully choosing from the more innocuous-but-specific questions (“Do I still dress up on Halloween?,” “Have I ever bowled over 180?”) and asking five questions about each staffer, with the rest discussing a voting on an answer. The “goal” was to see which co-worker we knew best.
Life lesson: Sometimes, you have to make up your own rules. Because do you ever really want to ask anyone if they ever had Botox or a crush on their boss?
The Warriors; Come Out to Play (Funko Games)
While other companies can be hit and miss with making their games feel like the movies that inspired them, the design group Prospero Hall consistently nails the theme. And The Warriors: Come Out to Play is no exception.
If you remember the 1979 flick, you’ll recall that the Warriors are a New York City gang unjustly accused of killing a gang kingpin who was attempting to broker peace. The film covers their efforts to cross town and avoid getting pummeled by a variety of gangs out to get them.
The game works the same way. Two to four players each pick a character, each of whom has a designated weapon and their own deck of cards. While working their way from borough to borough on their way to the final showdown on Coney Island, spaces indicate whether they add action cards to their deck or weapons to their arsenals, increase their personal threat level, or face off in a fight against one of the colorful groups of gangs.
One of the most memorable elements of the movie is the unlikely but memorable personalities of each of the gangs. That’s offered visually here but doesn’t really affect the game play, which is fast and fun. There are decisions to be made at every step, with the rhythm of the game smartly shifting during movement and fighting phases.
My primary complaint, which surprised me in a game based on against-the-odds gang warfare, is that it’s too easy. That’s not just at the introductory level but even when stepping up the challenge as per the instructions. We sailed through multiple times with barely a scratch. Next time, I’ll try it at the highest level and see what happens.
Movie Mind (Hachette Board Games)
Here’s a game that isn’t just about one movie: It’s about 800 movies.
The rules of Movie Mind are simple. On a team’s turn, they have 90 seconds to answer five questions pertaining to the mishmash of movie moments and items on one of 80 illustrated oversized cards. The clue giver might say: “A movie starring Jack Nicholson”; while you may know dozens of Jack’s flicks, your team only has one chance to name the one that can be found somewhere on the card. After the five are answered or time is up, a bonus question is open to players on either team. Three rounds of this for each team and the game is over.
The questions demonstrate a fair range of films and, with three sets of questions for each image, you are unlikely to run out of game play any time soon.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window Game (Funko Games)
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window Game might be a fully cooperative game. Then again, it might not. That depends on whether one of those people that players spy in the windows across the street has committed a murder.
The only person who has that information is the director, one of the players who sees the randomized characters and characteristics who will populate the grid of four apartments and about which the rest of the players have to make deductions (and sometimes guesses).
If the director sees there is a murderer, the director’s goal is to have the rest of the players figure out the people and their traits in most of the rooms … but not that one. If too few are guessed at all, both sides lose. If, on the other hand, there is not a murderer, the director aims for a shared victory where the rest are able to deduce the occupants of all of the apartments.
Either way, it’s played over four rounds, with the director drawing eight cards and deciding in which windows to put them. Some cards are more straightforward than others (e.g., that guy is clearly a police officer). Others send mixed messages; hmm, could what I’m seeing mean that she’s an artist or an athlete? After guesses are made, the director indicates how many elements have been correctly identified … but not which ones. No other information can be shared besides what’s on the table.
It’s difficult for both sides, and successful game play requires commitment to analysis and a healthy amount of memory — even if the director is trying to help. There’s a fair amount of setup given the number of tokens, but the result is a handsomely original game likely to appeal to patient, observant game players.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game (Funko Games)
Thematically sound and more challenging than you might expect, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Light Years From Home Game bypasses the early action in the movie and skips right to the climax.
Here, you and your buddies each control a rider-on-bicycle token carrying the likeness of one of the four cinematic kids. (Don’t worry if you only remember three. You aren’t alone.). The goal: Find the pieces necessary to bid your alien pal’s communication device and deliver them — and E.T. — to the proper locations.
Impeding your progress are an agent honing in on each of you and a trio of police cars closing in on the final destination. Every time you have a close encounter (sorry, wrong movie) with the authorities, E.T.’s heartlight fades. And the more pieces you put together, the more dice you can roll to hasten the arrival of the mothership.
Like I said, thematically very solid. While the agents and cops need to stick to the roads, the bicycling gang can take shortcuts and use ramps. E.T. can either hop a ride in a bike basket or move on his own using candy tokens. There’s palpable tension as the police cruisers and the mothership close in on their mutual destination. And there’s risk to be assessed since carrying E.T. or linking up bicycles both speeds things along and increases your likelihood of being caught.
The game wisely is labeled for the 10+ crowd, but given its cooperative nature and the risk of alpha-gaming (one bossy player dictating actions), it’s best played by nostalgia-minded adults.
Happy gaming to all. More in 2023.