Gaming 521

Published on August 18th, 2009 | by Greg


Obscure Board Games: Rio Grande’s Witches, Priests, Horses, and Lumberjacks

We’ve played quite a few board games here at Truly Obscure, and were happy to note that board game sales have actually improved recently, especially compared to other games. Of course, most of those sales are going to old family favorites, but more and more people know about and play games like Settlers of Cataan. Recently, we got our hands on some even lesser known games from Rio Grande, the US distributor of many great titles.

We’ll start with the somewhat weak, but still interesting Three Commandments. A nice flexible number of players (3-7) and a reasonable playing time (45 or so minutes) seem to set the stage for a decent game for teens and adults. The religious theme may be blasphemy to some, but makes for an interesting and relatively unmarked territory, with each player serving as a priest of priestess of their own religion. Cards decide what is taboo and what behaviors are rewarded, and we liked that even things outside of the board (like another player’s mannerisms) can count. Players attempt to guess the rules, and you are scored based on how well you conform to the rules- and the priest or priestess also receives the same score, encouraging reasonable (and more fun) “rules”. At least that’s the idea- but novice players who don’t know the cards will be left aside, and knowledgeable players simply run through the possibilities. Sure, you can create your own rules, and that seems like it would help, but it’s definitely a concern. At first, though, it’s fun- and among a certain crowd, a boisterous group/party game. $35.

Next up, Fast Flowing Forest Fellers didn’t have a particularly attractive name or box (at least for adults). Kids 8 and up may like it more, and especially in a family setting. This game is mostly about the boards, and the gameplay is actually quite fun. 2-5 players race their lumberjack down the river towards the finish line, and a combination of cards and different boards keep things shaken up and new even from game to game. It’s reasonably quick too, about 20 minutes with a small group who knows the rules. Setup is a pinch, it’s light and kind of funny, and there is a good balance of strategy (blocking opponents) and board mechanics (currents) that keep things interesting. It’s hard to lose badly, as every player has the same set of movement cards and the trick is playing them in the right way… but it’s hard to truly win well either. That said, it fits a neat niche, and is a good way to bring those perhaps less skilled at strategy games into the competition. $40, a bit pricey, but the pieces and boards are quite nice.

Witch’s Brew is a very different game from the others, this one a card game mainly about bluffing and poker-like risk balancing. It’s not difficult to learn, but isn’t particularly interesting either. At least, with the three folks we played with, it was lackluster- choosing a role is a key part of each round and wasn’t tense or interesting with the smaller crowd. Groups of four or five might have a better time, especially those who are willing to accept more chance than skill. Basically, based on your role you can either get ingredients, transmute that stuff into other stuff, or use some to make potions. You can make a big play (and likely stick your neck out too far) or sit back and be more careful. The cards and theme are attractive and the quality is quite high, and those with a group of four or five who want a fairly light, pretty quick (45 minutes or so) game should be well served. Just avoid this brew with smaller groups, and consider the group carefully (and seating order as well)! $40, and likely the shakiest purchase on the list- a high risk, but potentially high reward game.

Fittingly in last position, Change Horses is a queer duck. It’s a horse racing game for two to five players, open to pretty much all ages, where the goal is to be the rider of the horse in last place. Each player will likely change horses during the course of the game (or be “riding” two in a 2-player game), thus you aren’t stuck with one steed for the entire race. Horses move via an interesting card mechanic- a complex odd/even behavior that can be hard to wrap your head around. Each movement card affects two different horses, ensuring that you can’t simply focus on your own horse… and since the riders aren’t public, you never know which horse or horses your opponents are hoping to nudge towards victory. In practice, though, you’ll probably be able to tell fairly easily. And the “bonus” mechanic feels a bit tacked on, offering players some interesting choices that too often don’t come into play until too late. In some ways, this was one of the most disappointing- the board and miniatures look great and the idea holds appeal. But the core gameplay can end up taking longer than it should, with too many types of cards and games being fairly predictable. Consistent last-second game-changers make some previous strategies moot too. And at $50, it’s the most expensive on the list. In this case, last isn’t quite first.

About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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