REVIEW: Arkham Ritual casts a light spell of Cthulhu

REVIEW: Arkham Ritual casts a light spell of Cthulhu

Arkham Ritual is a solid deduction game from NinjaStar Games that has the feel of many recent microgames, but with some new concepts as well. Designer Hiroki Kasawa looks to the time-honored Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft for the setting of this quick-playing title but the star is really the twisty game play.

This Ninja Star game is for 3 – 7 players, but you really want at least 5 to see the game at its best (even the publisher agrees with this assessment). Thematically, players are part of a mysterious ritual, perhaps trying to sort it out or maybe just deciding to give this being evil thing a go (seems like more . The ritual involves a lot of magic artifacts of varying alignments and some special cards that you will play or switch out. This process may change your intentions as you try to survive the ritual without going insane. This is harder because you do not know what you are holding at any one time.

Calling back to the concept of Blind Man’s Bluff poker or even the euro-style version, Powwow, players hold one card at a time and make it visible to everyone else, but it is not known to them. With the knowledge of other players’ cards, the idea of the game is to sort out if you need to discard your own to avoid losing sanity in the current turn.

Arkham Ritual

The deck of cards is just a bit larger than the Love Letter deck that has become a standard number for microgames. At 22 cards, it is manageable to deduce what is in play and what might be hidden in your own hand. The card mix included events and artifacts of both blue and red colors (good and bad, respectively), and cards featuring Lovecraftian Great Old Ones (yes, those are bad). Each turn, players decide to either keep an unseen card and discard their current one or take a peek at it and pass it to another player. The discard goes to the tableau in the center of the table, which helps everyone figure out what remains and what they might holding. If you pass it, it might go around the table until no one else can pass it, when it becomes that last player’s hand card.

Are You Cursed?

When the round ends from a specific card play or running through the deck, Red cursed cards will cost you sanity if you have one in-hand. Additionally, each artifact has a duplicate in the non-cursed (blue) world, so if you have that one when the other is in play, you also lose some sanity. Sanity is tracked in brain tokens, of which there are plenty.

Arkham Ritual
Keep your brains on-hand.

There are some special cards, too, including a Cultist that will switch which color cards are cursed, gates that bring in special problems with the Old Ones and the Elder Sign that ends the round earlier. The Cthulhu card is an automatic win if someone else has one of the Gate cards, too, so if you see this combo, it is best to get them out of those players’ hands. In this way, players need to get a bit used to the cards to do well. With that short play time, it’s easy to play again immediately.

Arkham Ritual is an enjoyable game with a large group and it is perfect for the Halloween season with its dark theme. Yet, the theme is implemented pretty lightly. While deeply thematic games like Arkham Horror or A Study in Emerald give you the true feel of Lovecraftian horror, this is a party game so you can’t get into the lore too much. That’s probably best for some players who might be less enthusiastic about Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth.

How’s That Theme?

In a recent podcast episode, I spoke with the fellows who run the On Boardgames show about Lovecraft-themed games. Lovecraft is one of the authors that dominated my young life after my Uncle Bill (recently departed and deeply missed) gave me some of his books. The nightmarish world of cosmic horror that Lovecraft embodied was fascinating to me, someone who is more likely to enjoy the Twilight Zone than gory slasher films. So, I was glad to talk about my favorites. Even though I’d received (full disclosure) a copy of Arkham Ritual ahead of time, I forgot to mention it because the theme is present, but it isn’t the part of the game that makes it most compelling. While I would not drop it into the category of pointless Cthulhu-themed games like Reiner Knizia’s Cthulhu Rising or Unspeakable Words, I’d certainly say Arkham Ritual is more fun because of the deduction elements than any cosmic horror theming.

Arkham Ritual is available now from Amazon or directly from Ninja Star Games.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Arkham Ritual

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Ninja Star Games provided a copy for independent review.

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

Paperback, the smash-hit game from designer Tim Fowers (of Burgle Brothers and Wok Star fame), has come to mobile devices and I couldn’t be more delighted. Thematically, Paperback has players trying to finish a pulpy paperback novel by constructing words throughout the game, which is pleasantly brought to life with the amusing artwork and quick game play.

Paperback the original board game is typically described as the baby of Scrabble and Dominion, which is apt. Players get to make words from a hand of letter cards drawn each turn in deck-builder style. Each letter has a value and whatever you construct for the turn gives you money to buy new (often better, higher value) letters, some of which have special powers. You can also buy victory point cards if you have enough money. Despite being the key to winning, they clog up your deck with wild cards that have no buying power. There are also special powers on certain letter cards that do cool things like double word scores, draw extra cards and other nice things. There’s a way to get points for longer words, too. It’s a load of fun for wordsmiths and casual players alike.

You want a detailed description of play? This guy wrote it out (although he added an ‘l’ to Tim’s surname, which I expect isn’t uncommon). You can also watch this video. You didn’t think I was going to explain it rule-by-rule did you? Come on. Where are you?

What I Love About The Paperback App

I need to disclose something. I’m a recovering iOS deckbuilding addict. I’ve played SO many games of Ascension and Dominion on my iPhone that even my careful documentation of plays ceased to have Paperbackmeaning. The quick play of these games against a single AI player is almost too compelling. Playing them swallowed all my little bits of time on my device and I finally had to stop so I could read books and get back to completing mini-workflows in those odd moments. But Paperback has me back off the wagon and loving it.

Normal Paperback as a board game has the same challenge that word nerds face when trying to find opponents for Scrabble. Simply put, if you have an excellent vocabulary, you just have a natural advantage. Like being tall in basketball, it isn’t everything but it sure helps.

While modern players have Qwirkle as a good alternative that levels the playing field with color/shape combos instead, those of us who just love words still yearn for the opportunity to build them from a jumble of letters. With the Paperback app, I can indulge this passion with the AI player when no one else is available. Furthermore, the game has helpful setting options to allow players to adjust the length of their games. I’ve often opined that some mobile app games are simply too long because I have other things to do (the opposite of how I feel when I’m at a table with excellent people). I welcome Paperback giving the player control over the length of their experience.

Furthermore, Paperback rides on the Loom Game Engine and it works really well. Animation and game speed are all excellent. Fowers isn’t just a brilliant board game designer – he has a background in technology so I’d expect nothing different from his apps.

What I Didn’t Like

A prompt update eliminated one of my pet peeves – confirmation windows – ugh! Just because that was considered good coding in CS classes, it’s a nightmare by modern UX standards…okay, rant over. However, Paperback still makes me listen to its theme music instead of letting me bring in my own playlist. As a passionate music-lover who carefully curates what goes into my ears, this is a problem. The theme music is pleasant and appropriate but it isn’t going to make me not want Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star to serenade me while I play my word nerd games. That sultry voice just gets the little gray cells going. Full rules are now available, too – not just a video link. Some of us still read, including those who want a Paperback app! I feel sure Tim is addressing those issues in future releases.

The Final Word on Paperback for iOS

Paperback is a well-implemented version of a game that is ideally suited for the mobile device play. I love it and certainly recommend you give is a download. I’m sure it is available for Android somewhere, wherever those things happen.

GET PAPERBACK ON IOS NOW

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Paperback for iOS

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: An app code was provided for review by the publisher.

Session Review: Sushi Go Party! by Phil Walker-Harding and Gamewright Games

Session Review: Sushi Go Party! by Phil Walker-Harding and Gamewright Games

Don’t you hate it when a new edition of your favorite game comes out and the old one might as well go in the trash bin? Sushi Go Party will not do that to you. Fans will love the expanded version and they can easily recycle their previous copy by handing it to a friend as a great introduction to modern board games. That is, until the friend loves it so much that they upgrade to Sushi Go Party and pass the basic game on, too. The new version is that welcome and good.

Sushi Go For Beginners (skip this section, experts)

If you don’t know the original Sushi Go, where have you been? This inexpensive crowd-pleaser has enjoyably light Sushi Go Partygame play (plays in 20-30 minutes) and charming artwork sure to dazzle young and new-to-modern-game players. The game works incredibly well for that set, while serious gamers often like it as a filler.

Play is simple but interesting: players get a hand of cards, selecting and revealing one at a time, and then passing the hand to the left (a ‘pick and pass’ mechanism, as it is sometimes called). This is done until all cards are gone, which triggers scoring for the round. Points are awarded for sets that are collected and scored in unique ways for different cards (e.g., majority, multipliers, pairs, etc.) The game plays over three rounds, with building scores and a final bonus for dessert cards collected over the course of the game. The original game is enormous fun and so worth the cost of this small tin chock full of fun. But the new edition is even better.

Sushi Go Party Expands The Menu

Yes, it’s still Sushi Go but bringing the party means two key changes: more players and more variety. The new expanded version offers both in spades. Sushi Go Party plays up to eight – a very welcome feature – and combines the original game with the Dominion concept. Designer Phil Walker-Harding (whose SDJ-nominated Imhotep is all the rage right now) gives buyers of the big new tin a host of new cards in sets that you can mix and match for varied play.

In an inspired thematic choice, Walker-Harding has added ‘menus’ of card sets to play. Card types are now categorized as Rolls, Appetizers, Specials, and Desserts. Your custom bento box of card selection options (you can use a pre-made ones or build your own) are clearly shown with cardboard markers that sit in the center of the new score track. Hurray to that addition as well. No more score-keeping elsewhere on paper or scoring apps round to round.

Card and menu selections from each type can adjust the feel of the game for more interaction or to appeal to larger player counts. For example, there’s now a Spoon card that allows players to request a card from other player hands. There are also risky propositions with Eel and Tofu cards, which require players to have specific numbers of cards or earn a penalty. Additional desserts have been added and a distribution tweak that has more of these end-of-the-game cards rolling in each round makes these post-meal bonuses work better.

Sushi Go Party

The Final Word on Sushi Go Party

Like Sushi Go, Sushi Go Party plays quickly and it doesn’t take any longer to play with eight than it does with the original five player limit. In fact, the new edition even has improved rules to play the game well with only two players. My wife and I tried the new two-player version and it worked quite well. While it isn’t a game that I’d expect to transition so well (even the wondrous 7 Wonders is MUCH better as 7 Wonders: Duel than in in the two-player variant of the original), Walker-Harding has come up with a good way to handle things when you want Sushi For Two.

Sushi Go Party is an ideal upgrade to the original and an instant buy for fans of the game. Everyone who plays it with us says they want to buy it. The game is now on our must-include board game list for travel and big game parties. The US edition is out from Gamewright and you can see previews of many of the new cards on the designer’s Twitter feed.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Sushi Go Party

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (Play It Now) TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Copy provided by the publisher for independent review.