No Roles II – More Board and Card Games

Way back here, I said I was going to talk about some other board and card games I enjoyed in my next post.

Well, obviously that didn’t happen.

It’s been more than six months since that post, and I’m finally getting back around to it. Here are some brief discussions of other games I like.

Beowulf the Legend

From the good folks at Fantasy Flight (as usual), this is another very beautiful, high-quality game, with a wonderful set of rules. It’s a lot of fun to play. The concept is that the players (and it works with 2-5, though really you need 3 for it to be really fun) are members of Beowulf’s warband, and travel with him, helping him out in his adventures. The one who earns the most glory for himself by the time Beowulf dies at the end (Ooops! Spoiler!) becomes king of the Geats, and gets to preside over this tribe of folk as they wither and vanish from the earth.

You don’t have to play out that part, though.

It’s a bidding game, essentially. Everyone has a hand of cards with various suits for Fighting, Courage, Wit, Traveling, and Friendship, and you play these in various episodes throughout Beowulf’s story to help him achieve his goals. The person who helps the most gets first pick of the prizes, the next gets second pick, and so on. Some of the prizes aren’t such prizes, if you follow me; they’re things like wounds or misfortune. Other prizes are much better, being glory, treasure, alliances (which can be either glory or treasure), and special cards that help in play.

The thing that really makes this game shine, though, is the risk mechanic. It turns a fairly tame bidding card game with an interesting background into a full-on Viking game of boasting, challenging, and gambling. See, you may not have the suit of card you need to bid in the current round. In that case, you can risk, and draw two cards from the deck. If you draw a card of an appropriate suit, you bid it and hopefully stay in the game. Cards of the wrong suit are discarded. If you don’t get a single card of an appropriate suit, you take a scratch (three scratches make a wound, which can negatively impact your final score).

Strategy-wise, the game is all about risk management. You want to make sure you have the cards you need for the coming challenges, so you need to look ahead and plan accordingly. You want to take risks either for really good prizes or to avoid really bad prizes. You need to be able to judge whether or not taking a given risk is worth it to you at the time. And you need to be able to shrug off all the other Vikings in the game calling you a coward if you don’t take the risk.

It’s a lot of fun.

Now, I have been informed by a female friend of mine that this is very much a “Guy Game.” I don’t know how true that is, but I’m a guy, and I love it. I say give it a try, even if you happen to be a woman.


This is a card game from Atlas Games, created by Keith Baker, the mastermind behind Eberron.

In general, I’m a big fan of the folks at Atlas, not least because the inestimable Dr. Michelle Nephew was very good to me while I was writing for them. And they published one of my favourite RPGs in the whole, wide world: Unknown Armies.

This game has nothing to do with any of that, but I felt it needed to be said, anyway.

In Gloom, you take control of a family of unfortunate people, and try and make them even more unfortunate. The art is very reminiscent of Edward Gorey, and the themes are very Lemony Snicket, as you play misfortune cards (“Pursued by Poodles,” for example; there’s a lot of alliteration in this game) on your family. These cards drop the score of each of the people in your family down into negative numbers. Then you kill them, freezing the score. In the meantime, you try and play fortunate cards on your opponents, raising the scores of their families. Once an entire family has been wiped out, you total all the scores, and low score wins.

The cards use a clear substance (mylar, maybe?), allowing you to stack fortune and misfortune cards on top of your character cards without obscuring the portrait and name. There’s a clever mechanic with the positive and negative scores appearing in different positions on the card, so that sometimes a new card with cover an old score, and sometimes it won’t. Only visible scores are counted, which leads to some strategizing about who gets what card, and the different deaths can also affect scores.

It’s not a complex game, and the strategy isn’t very deep, but it’s quick to learn and quick to play.

The really fun part about the game, though, is the rule that you have to tell a little story about the cards your playing, building on the cards already in play. You can’t just lay down the card “Mocked by Midgets.” You have to explain why they were mocking, and why it had such a negative effect. The absurd downward spiral of the characters really makes the game.

There are also three expansions for this, but I haven’t played with them. They look interesting, though.

Three Dragon Ante

I never expected to like this game, it being a kind of fantasy poker released by Wizards of the Coast a few years back. But you know, it’s a good game. Like poker, the game is fairly simple in principle and rules, but gets increasingly interesting as you learn it and begin to unpack the strategy in it. Play is generally fast, and fairly exciting, with pots shifting and changing fairly quickly. It does a good job of keeping the players in the hands, as opposed to the way poker encourages folding early.

It’s not a terribly deep game, and I could wish for cards that were a little less cartoony and a little more medieval in flavour, but it’s a good game to sit down with a bunch of friends for an hour or so of pretend gambling.

And now that I have my Campaign Coins, it’s probably time to give it a try again.

That’s it for now, though. Give some of the above a try.