Saturday, March 19, 2011

Friday Afternoon Game Day

A few days ago, my friend Wil texted me and asked if I was available to come over on Friday afternoon to play some games with him, his son Ryan, and Ryan's friend and girlfriend.  Wil works from home like me, so we tend to make our own schedules, sometimes taking an afternoon off and then just catching up on work later at night.  That's the beauty of not working for "the man." 

"I'd totally love to come over.  I'll warn you, though, that I suck at strategy games.  I like them, but I suck at them.  You have been warned."

"It's okay, we'll just be playing casual games."

Although this promise of playing "casual games" was inviting, I was still a little afraid because the thing is, Wil (and his son Ryan) are really into playing strategy board games, and they both have this ability that most of the other smart people in our game group have, which is to figure out the ultimate strategy is behind how a game works (after only about 2.3 seconds of having the rules explained to them) and then very slyly use that strategy to completely crush the other players.  Or really I should say, to completely crush me since most of the other players are also good at figuring out the strategy, whereas I am usually the guy who is checking to see if there's another piece of pepperoni pizza left. 

So I headed over to Wil's today for some "casual games", which started with Give Me the Brain, a card game I've never played before.  Wil started out by explaining to Ryan's friends, who are not used to these kinds of games, how it worked.

"This is a nerd game.  The difference between a nerd game versus the board games that you're used to playing is that a nerd game has a theme, which in this case is about zombies working at a fast food restaurant.  Usually the theme doesn't have anything to do with the actual mechanics of the game play."

With that, we learned that we were all playing, yes, zombies who worked at a fast food restaurant and our goal was to finish work and go home.  To finish work, we had to complete tasks, represented by playing cards from our hands.  Some cards could just be played automatically, where other cards required possession of the "brain" (represented by a 6-sided die).  Because brains are slippery, there was a very good chance that you might drop the brain on your turn, at which point the brain goes into the center of the table and each player takes turns bidding on it.  The goal of the game is to get rid of all of your cards.  You start with seven cards, but during the course of the game you'll eventually be forced to pick up more, for various reasons.

We played the game twice, and Ryan won both times.  The second time he won (after having gotten rid of all seven of his cards), I went to put my hand into the discard pile and discovered that I still had five cards left.

Ryan had gotten rid of all seven of his cards and won the game, whereas I had only gotten rid of two.  This is what I mean when I say I suck at strategy games.  No, Give Me the Brain is not a hard-core strategy game like Puerto Rico, but it involves significantly more strategy than something like Settlers Of Catan which relies a much more on the luck of the dice. 

Then Ryan said, "I've been wanting to teach my friends how to play Talisman."

I hadn't played Talisman in probably at least 20 years.  I remember it had tons of expansions, and we used them all: Talisman Space, Talisman Dungeon, Talisman... Marketplace?  Parking Garage?  Discotheque?  It got a little ridiculous.  I remember it had 9,431 different character types, and each new expansion had new ones that totally broke the game but nobody seemed to care.  And, I remember the most important thing of all: it takes forever to play. 

"Forever" as in "Mom, PLEASE!  Can't we eat on TV trays for the next week?  We have our Talisman game set up on the table and I'm just about to be able to cross into the middle region because I found a Talisman and got a water bottle and I have six followers and the axe so I can build a raft and that way I can avoid the Sentinel but Brian already got into the middle region and he's totally going to kick my butt so I need to catch up and we can't remember where everything is so can't we just leave it on the table for just like a week or maybe a week and a half please PLEASE PLEASE!" 

It's kind of like Risk but without the satisfying feeling of world domination at the end.

So, we played Talisman.  Wil got the Priest (so he always defeated spirits in combat), Ryan's friend got the Sorceress (so he always had a least one spell), his girlfriend got the Assassin (so she could attack and kill things easily since they usually don't get to add any dice to their Strength of Craft scores), Ryan got the troll (Strength SIX) and I got... the Dwarf.  Easily one of the lamest characters in the game.  "Ooh, I'm always safe in the Crags.  Unlike you guys who... well, I guess since you get to pick which direction your character goes, you can totally AVOID the Crags anyway." 

Lame.  The dwarf sucks. 

Later, two hours into the game, Ryan's girlfriend's Assassin (who at this point had the most "stuff") had the misfortune of having all of her items and gold taken from her and teleported to the middle region, while we were all still on the outer region.  My dwarf was, of course, sucking.  Wil and Ryan's friend were holding their own, amassing followers and gathering objects and beating up on the other characters, like you do.  Ryan was complaining that his troll sucked and he wanted to have the troll commit suicide so he could get a better character. 

At this point, I unfortunately had to leave, so I discarded my dwarf and put his measly treasure into the discard pile and bid my farewells, having had a nice reminded as to why I had avoided playing Talisman for 20 years. 

But, even with all that, I still had fun because, ultimately, game day for me is about hanging out with friends.  And I'm lucky enough to have been in a position to take my Friday afternoon off to do that.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Two hours after I left (so, four hours after we'd started playing), I got a text from Wil.

"Ryan won Talisman."



  1. "Give the brain - my area is moist."

    LOL! Haven't played it in over a decade, but man, I love that game. Just a mention of the name brings a smile to my face. So, thank you for the smile. :D

    As for Talisman, I'd never played it until the recent edition. I agree that it's a bit (okay, a lot) random, but each time my family and friends have played, it's been a ton of fun. Oddly, we haven't encountered any of the issues I see so many people on teh interwebs bemoaning. Maybe we've just been lucky? Or, maybe we've just been having too much fun hanging out and playing basically mindless games to really notice. :P

  2. *sigh* Gaming on ANY afternoon sounds great! Thanks, now I am spiraling down into the nostalgia vortex! ;-) My gaming is firmly in the evenings for the time being...

  3. This sounds a lot like my evenings when I return home to visit my mum and brothers and spend the entire evening getting beaten at any game!! Better luck next time

  4. I've been trying to schedule a "family game night" where we all sit down and play some of the games we've amassed, like the Land Before Time boardgame (my son is almost 7 years old) and *gasp!* Talisman!

    I like Talisman. It's sort of a crazy man's D&D. Although games like my custom Dark Dungeon (a card game I made and printed) and a couple other print n' play fantasy card games are making me think twice about playing it. (when you can take 30 mins and win Dark Dungeon, it's hard to give 6+ hours to Talisman).

  5. The thing is, I like Talisman, too. Or, I guess I should say, I like the idea of Talisman. It seems like it should be fun, but it just takes FOREVER to play.

    As Wil and I were playing, we both had the same reaction, which was that if we had 4+ hours of uninterrupted game time to play just one game, then we'd rather be playing an RPG.

    Oddly, if we took that same four hours and spread it across 3-4 different board/card games, that would be fine.


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