26 January 2015

The 12 best ways of deciding who goes first in a board game

One of the worst rules ever to be put into a board game is "youngest player goes first".

"Let's encourage fair play", they think. "They're less experienced so they deserve a leg up."

No. Younger players are devious, conniving, conceited and would sooner see the game burn to ash than concede defeat (anyone who's ever played Monopoly with a younger sibling knows this to be true).

So how else do you figure out who takes the first turn that's more interesting than rolling a die? Take a leaf out of these rulebooks.

Whoever pooped last

Cards Against Humanity

One of the most inappropriate games ever made, so naturally it's one of the most popular.

Cards Against Humanity stays true to form with this rule that awards first go to the player with the most recent bowel movement.

Players can be quite tactical with this. "Who fancies a game of Cards Against Humanity?" you'll say.

When they agree, follow up with "Great! You guys set up. I just need to take care of some business."

Two flushes later, you walk in with the first turn.

Play rock, paper, scissors. Loser goes first

Oddball Aeronauts

This one is perfect for people who seem to have a continuous stream of bad luck (read: people like me).

If you've a track record for defeat, then at least Oddball Aeronauts gives you the opportunity to get once small advantage over your opponent.

The drawback is that the only thing more difficult than winning rock, paper, scissors is losing rock, paper, scissors.

Good luck with that one.

Guess the time. Closest goes first


What better in a game about time travel to have a theme-appropriate rule like this?

This rule immediately separates the Time Lords from the Time Lames. If you can't even figure out the approximate hour of day, you've no business messing with the space time continuum.

Without looking at a clock or your digital wrist watch (I'm sure someone still wears one of these?!), each player guesses the current time. Whoever guesses closest to the actual time gets to go first.

A word of advice though - when comparing results, use an atomic clock.

Otherwise you'll cause fights because one persons' clock is 30 seconds ahead of yours but is so much more accurate.

Gives players the option

Once Upon A Time

Being a storytelling game, Once Upon a Time is all about being flexible, adaptable and creative.

This extends as far as the "goes first" rule, because the game gives players a few options to pick who goes first:

  • Youngest/oldest (yawwwwwn)
  • The player with the longest beard (very nice, though given a lot of the gamers I know this could end in fisticuffs)
  • Each player draws a card. Whoever's card starts with a letter that is closer to the start of the alphabet goes first.

The "longest beard" rule, isn't entirely fair, though, as Lianne from Cardiff BRAWL puts it:
"Congratulations to Once Upon A Time for making a game in which the only women who are ever likely to go first are from the passing carnival and for making a fairytale game that disadvantages children"
         ` ----- Lianne Wilson, Cardiff BRAWL

Character with the nearest birthday

Betrayal at House on the Hill

A clever one, this.

Each character you play has their own birthday written on the player board. Whichever birthday is closest to the current date gets to go first.

Since the first half of Betrayal is purely co-operative, this doesn't matter as much, but it's a nice way of settling disputes.

And since you tend to go for characters for their stats or how cool the model is, it's a rule that doesn't get manipulated often.

Whoever most recently ...

This is quite a common trope of board games, but it means that you can easily wrap your theme around the mechanic without it looking weird. So we have whoever most recently ...

Was ill - Pandemic

Had a bad day - Gloom

Smuggled something - Cornish Smuggler

Went on a date - Love Letter

The player with...

Another oft-used trope that loosens players up a little bit because it often has them doing something before they even start the game.

This means that your stuffy "I'm here because my friend made me come" player has a greater chance of actually participating. These games give first play to the player with ...

The pointiest ears - Small World

The most epic face - Epic Death!

The best monster impression - Terror at Meeple City (Rampage)

Did I miss any out? What's your favourite way of choosing who has the first turn?

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on at @mithrilwisdom for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.

21 January 2015

Those Above - Daniel Polansky [book review]

By Daniel Polansky
Published by Hodderscape
ARC - 416 pages
Published 26th February 215
Review copy from publisher

In A Nutshell

In Those Above, humanity has been conquered by a race of people who came from the skies, and it shows the aftermath of a failed rebellion from the perspectives of those who are attempting to undermine their regime as well as those who completely accept their subjugation.

Another war is slowly brewing, and the internecine quarrels between the ruling class are child's play compared to the powder keg that's about to be lit from beneath their feet.

What Worked

Long-time readers will know that I adore Polansky's writing voice, and this translates very well from Low Town, his earlier noir-fantasy series, into the more epic fantasy of Those Above.

Polansky doesn't sugarcoat a damn thing. The world is a cruel, unforgiving place to live, and it's kill or be killed for most of its citizens. Polansky's world-weary eloquence triumphs in his characters, who strive for no more than to be the last one standing when everything goes to hell.

I really enjoyed between the contrast between his depictions of life at the bottom and top of the social ladder.

At the bottom, it's dog-eat-dog, and the pace of the story clips along as the likes of Thistle and Bas eke out a living against the powers that be. When we move to the likes of Calla and Eudokia, Polansky takes a more leisurely pace to give them room to breathe and, in the case of Eudokia, to spin her webs of intrigue.

What Didn't Work

I would have loved a longer book, to be honest. With four viewpoint characters, there was a lot of ground to cover in a short space, so there wasn't a whole lot of room for the characters to develop as much as they could have.

In Summary

Those Above is an excellent new series from an author that has gone from strength to strength. Dark, epic and a eloquent, Those Above is a delight to read.

Would I recommend it?

If you liked Polansky's Low Town series, then definitely give this a go. If you're a fan of Polansky's contemporaries like Joe Abercrombie or Mark Lawrence, then Those Above will be right up your street!

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on at @mithrilwisdom for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.

15 January 2015

Top geek podcasts for 2015

Top podcasts for 2015 banner

Open up your ear holes, nerds! Here are five podcasts you need to listen to this year.

Pop quiz, hot shot - you've a long commute ahead of you.

You forgot to bring your favourite book.

The person sat next to you is clearly insane and any hint at a conversation will make you lose the will to live.

You don't want to spend the journey with your own thoughts (who knows what trouble lies down that path?)

What do you do?

You could check out some of my favourite geeky podcasts, which will delight, inform and entertain you all the way.

Talking Tinkerbots

A podcast for board game geeks 

Talking Tinkerbots is a board game podcast in its infancy, but already has a struck a winning balance of info and banter that even some veteran 'casts can't boast.

Board game geeks Gino, Bevan and Tony give some insight into the board game industry and the ins and outs about creating a board game as they experience them.

They also give us their favourite and recent plays as well as sharing some of their favourite "board game magic moments".

A great podcast for board gamers of all skill levels that will give you plenty of recommendations about what to play next.

The Pharos Project

A podcast for Doctor Who and sci-fi geeks

You may have guessed it, but I'm a bit of a Doctor Who geek. I need to be constantly switched on to the latest goings on with the series and get a few laughs in while I'm at it.

Enter the Pharos Project.

The brainchild of Messrs Paul, Pete and Chris, the Pharos Project is a Doctor Who podcast that offers news and rumours about the show, a quick rundown of the latest Doctor Who merchandise (aptly titled "tat news") and a review of the latest episode.

During the off-season a.k.a. that agonising 9-month period between the Christmas Special and the beginning of a new season, the gang re-watch older episodes and also shine a light on classic sci-fi movies.

The Pharos Project gang has excellent chemistry, and they know their stuff too. What more could you ask for?

Listen to the Pharos Project podcast

Hammered Horror

A podcast for horror geeks

Back in 2013 I listed Nights at the Round Table as one of my favourite podcasts.

Hammered Horror is the brainchild of Ash from the NatRT podcast, and Mr. Paul from the Pharos Project.

A better union born of mutually assured geekery I have yet to see.

Each episode, Hammered Horror takes a look at a different classic horror movie and puts it through its paces - giving it an in-depth review and adding in interesting facts along the way.

My favourite set of episodes is their 4-part series on the video nasty era of British home video, which I'm too young to remember but am fascinated by.

They also do things like sneak as many Kevin Bacon references into a podcast as possible, and then give you a let you choose the next movie they watch as a reward (as they did with yours truly!)

Listen to the Hammered Horror podcast


A podcast for video game geeks

Be warned - this is the kind of podcast that will make whatever you're drinking shoot out your nose if you're not careful. On more than one occasion I've had people on the bus giving me really strange looks as I collapse into a giggle fit in my seat.

The StickTwiddlers - Alan, Sarah, Jamie and Ben - discuss the latest gaming news and rant about their their most and least favourite games.

There are tangents upon tangents, insults hurled and shots fired. And it's the funniest damn thing I've listened to on a podcast.

They also do their own RPG episodes called "Stickmares", which are immense fun to listen to.

StickTwiddlers is a fantastic podcast to check out, even if you're not a gamer.

Listen to the StickTwiddlers podcast

You decide

A podcast chosen by you!

This space will be defined by you! I need more podcast recommendations to help me through those cold, dark, lonely journeys on the bus.

You've heard enough about what I listen to - now I want to hear what you listen to.

Either comment on this post, email me (mithrilwisdom@gmail.com) or send me a tweet (@mithrilwisdom) and let me know what your favourite geeky podcast is.

I'll give all recommendations a listen, and the one I like best will fill this final slot.

There might even be a prize for whoever's recommendation appears here!*

*Prizes might include whatever I find around my desk or something a bit more awesome. Depends on how I'm feeling, really.

What's your favourite geeky podcast?

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on at @mithrilwisdom for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.