It’s Friday once again, and that means we’re back to talk about the board games, RPGs and other tabletop highlights of our week!
Each Friday we round up everything we’ve been playing lately. Sometimes that’s things we’ve already spoken about on the site and YouTube channel, sometimes it’s games we haven’t had a chance to cover elsewhere yet.
It’s also your chance to tell us what you’ve been enjoying (or, at least, playing) lately, whether it’s the latest Kickstarter to arrive through your door or a hidden gem you picked up in your friendly local game store. Maybe you’ve rediscovered a forgotten classic, or finally caught up with one of the big releases of recent years. Whatever it is that’s been hitting your table, we’d like to hear about it!
This week, we’ve been solving puzzles in the world of Arkham Horror, returning to Magic: The Gathering, donning our superhero gear in Masks and painting the roses in Wonderland. Read on to find out what we thought!
Let us know in the comments what you’ve been playing recently!
What We’ve Been Playing - February 24th 2023
Masks: A New Generation
I had my first session of Masks last week and am really looking forward to my next game tonight. I’ve played other superhero RPGs and loved the feeling of having a superpower, of trying to get creative with using my specific abilities and the balance of superbeing and mundane life. Masks has the joy of that teamed with the added complication of coming of age which has forced me to get even deeper into the idea of what being superpowered means for the person that wields it amongst normal teen drama.
My hero uses The Scion playbook - I had a supervillain parent who I’ve come to reject which forces my character to try even harder to be good and constantly worry about whether her actions have a hint of evil bubbling under the surface. Plus I am basically Sailor Dark Side of the Moon which is everything I could want.
Masks is a Powered by the Apocalypse system and I’ve found the moves really easy to use compared to other games with the same system, plus it has a lot of prompting questions during character creation that mean we have a team of loving but dysfunctional teens dealing with each other’s baggage - which so far has meant letting go on a roller rink.
Paint the Roses
Solving logic puzzles has never been my favourite pastime, but board game Paint the Roses offers a unique take on the activity. A co-op game set in the world of Alice in Wonderland, Paint the Roses has players working together to solve a series of puzzles involving card suits and colours.
As members of the Red Queen’s court, players must run through the winding mazes of the royal garden in order to escape the furious monarch’s wrath and keep their heads - quite literally. Running away from the queen requires players to correctly guess the shapes and colours shown on three decks of cards, each one presenting a different level of difficulty. Whilst the easy cards present a much simpler puzzle, the medium and harder cards enable players to move much further along the track and away from the queen.
To solve the game’s puzzles, players take turns to either take a fresh card - if they don’t have one - and place a tile on the board. Players will want to place their chosen tile in a location that will give their fellow players clues to what’s on their card. Whenever a tile is placed, cubes are then put on-top to indicate how many adjacent tiles match either the colour, shape or both, shown on the player’s card. Sometimes, a tile will match multiple players’ cards in some way, with the colour of each cube indicating how many matches are with which player’s card.
Players can then either choose their own card to be guessed, or select another player’s, with the hope that they or their fellow teammates will have enough clues to correctly guess. Correct guesses will move the players along the point track - with the number of spaces depending on the difficulty of the card - whilst incorrect answers will move the queen closer to the players. Players can make multiple guesses per round, which is often a good idea as the queen will automatically move a certain number of spaces after players have guessed. As players move further along the track, the number of spaces the queen moves increases - thereby ramping up the tension and increasing the risk of making guesses you’re not 100% sure about.
The gameplay of Paint the Roses is certainly difficult to get your head around to begin with: it took one game of making mistakes on the Board Game Arena version for us to get our heads around how it worked. However, by the second game we were tackling some of the harder cards with confidence. Paint the Roses isn’t the kind of game I’d likely come back to but it’s definitely a unique offering in the category of co-op board games.
Magic: The Gathering Arena
I recently broke out of cardboard rehab and have reignited my MTG Arena obsession just in time for what is potentially the sickest part of Magic lore: Phyrexia.
The new set has a lot of fun bits to mess around with, my favourite of which being Proliferation: an ability that adds one more of each counter to any number of locations on the board.
You can use it to add more poison to an opponent, add more loyalty to your planeswalkers, or you can do what I like to do: add absurd amounts of +1/+1 to all your creatures and turn your piddly little starter units into behemoths. Great stuff.
Arkham Horror Files: The Road to Innsmouth
I’d somehow missed the opening of an official Arkham Horror Files escape room set in the universe of Mansions of Madness and Arkham/Eldritch Horror a few years ago. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that not only had my favourite shared universe of board games been adapted into a real walkabout escape room, but that it had also been turned into a virtual puzzlefest for those of us who don’t live near Seattle.
The Road to Innsmouth can be played fully online, or you - like me - can pick up a ‘deluxe edition’ boxed set that includes access to the virtual room along with a collection of physical objects. As well as being fun props for Arkham Horror fans (along with postcards, bookmarks and membership cards, there’s a metal coin, hotel key and Cthulhu statuette), the objects work in tandem with the browser-based experience to let you solve puzzles using their physical clues.
At around £30, it’s a fairly pricey set for the components alone, but you can invite friends to play with you over the internet for a couple of hours or share the box once you’re done, making the combination of escape room access and artefacts feel like solid value. (The virtual escape room alone is $30, so it’s a no-brainer to grab the box set.)
The escape room itself plays out in a Google Maps-like virtual environment. Players can click and drag to look around locations in Innsmouth and move between scenes, solving puzzles both digital and physical. (For those who don’t have the box or are playing with friends over the internet, the app lets you view digital versions of the props.) It’s an engaging way to bring the town alive, and allow for some clever combinations of on-screen and in-hand.
The puzzles are what you’d expect from an escape room - there’s a bit of code-solving, some visual observation, a light bit of maths and deduction - and, at least as far as we’ve played, offer enough of a challenge without feeling unfair or too easy. The app’s dated animation, creaky narration and looping atmospheric audio start to show the edges of its budget limitations fairly quickly, but Arkham Horror fans will find the chance to walk down spooky streets and flee Deep Ones a satisfying time.
The Road to Innsmouth is likely best reserved for those who are keen to delve deeper into the Arkham Horror Files universe - this isn’t the best entry point into the series (that's Arkham Horror: The Card Game) and doesn’t hold a candle to more inventive boxed escape rooms (Exit: The Game being the gold standard). As a meeting of both, though, it’s a perfectly satisfying way to spend two hours with friends and walk away with some eldritch gubbins for your shelf.