High spirits (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

There are many things that affect our mental health in some way. It could be a life-changing or otherwise significant event. It could be certain habits we have or things we do – or don’t do. Our physical health can also affect it, as well as the health of someone close to us. Our relationships also have an influence on our mental health. These are all very broad stroke headlines and there are many things that fit into each of those categories. Of course, different events affect each of us differently – in different ways and at different times. Ultimately, it’s about how we deal with these events that decide how they affect our mental health.

Let me start by saying that I have no medical training whatsoever, so I can’t give you any medical advice. All I can say is that you should look for help if you are worried for yourself or a loved one. There are many places that can offer advice and answer your questions and help you with mental health issues.

With that out of the way, I want to look at how distraction can help to some degree with mental health, in particular anxiety and depression – at least in a small way and even if it’s only for a short while. So to be clear, I’m not saying that distractions will solve your mental health problems, and I do understand that it’s not a simple matter of smiling or keeping positive to make your anxiety and depression go away. Yet, being able to spend some time thinking about something else is useful and may help you for a while.
Of course, I want to look specifically at how tabletop games, of whatever ilk, are able to create that distraction. I certainly find that for myself and I think most of us feel similarly, whether we’re dealing with mental health issues or not.

Tabletop games have become a form of escapism, just like books, films or music are. Many games allow you to escape into another world and take on a different persona. I’m not even just thinking about role-playing games, or RPGs. A lot of games have a really rich theme that allows your mind to wander and go off into another world, which is a million miles away from your worries and day-to-day thoughts. Games with asymmetric player powers also force you to immerse yourself in whatever faction or character you take on. It allows you to pretend to be someone else for a while.

In fact, if you have the capacity to focus on something else and want to occupy your brain, then heavier games that require a clever strategy, good tactics or some other sort of planning and thinking many turns ahead, will be for you. Again, there is a wide range of games that will make your brain work hard, forcing you to stop thinking about the things that are going on in your life.

However, that’s not always possible of course. Depending on your mental state, you may be too tired or your brain is just too exhausted to expend much energy. That’s when lighter games are worth looking at. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the game is mostly rolling a few dice, placing tiles or some other similar mechanism, as long as there isn’t any need to plan ahead or think too much. It can still create enough of a distraction to help you improve your mental health for a little while.

The social aspect of games can also help with your mental health, if loneliness is a factor. Spending time with other people can be good for you. You can choose between co-operative and competitive games, depending on whether you want to experience everyone pulling together to achieve a common goal or prefer to pit your wits against the other players. In fact, there are varying levels of co-operative and competitive that you should be able to find something suitable for your current situation and mood.

Of course, at the moment the only people who you could play a game with face-to-face, are those who live in your household. People who suffer from loneliness are probably already living alone. However, there are ways to play with others online. Have a look at the “Useful Links” page on my blog, which lists some of those online sites that are free to join and offer a wide range of games to play. You can then use software such as SkypeDiscord or others, many of which are also free, to be able to speak to the people you play with. It’s not the same as face-to-face contact, but it is a really good option at the moment.

Yet, there are times when you might prefer not to be around other people, but still distract yourself with a game. Luckily, many games can be played solo these days. These games aren’t solo variants, but give you the full experience of the game, just as if you were playing with other people. So you do have a large number of games to choose from that you can play by yourself, but also with others, depending on how you feel at the time.

I do think it’s amazing how much variety tabletop games offer and how they can help us with our mental health – at least to some degree. If you have had great experiences with tabletop games and how they helped with your mental health, then please post them in the comments below. Maybe you have some favourite games that you can recommend others who struggle with mental health. I’d love to hear from you.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)
Music: Uluru by Purple Planet Music (https://www.purple-planet.com/dreamy)


Emotional high (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

When you play board games, you usually don’t think about the wide variety of emotions that they can create. Playing, board games or otherwise, is mostly associated with fun. Yet, board games aren’t always fun, as we all know. They’re sometimes frustrating or disappointing. They can be calming. They can create anticipation and excitement. There can be tension, love, hate, surprise and much more. In this article, I want to look at some of the emotions that board games evoke for me.

If you know me, you’ll probably also know that there is one game that I have a real love-hate relationship with. That game is Scythe by Stonemaier Games. I feel a lot of love for the game, as well as anticipation, even before we start playing. I really look forward to it and can’t wait to start playing it. I’m excited about choosing a faction, setting everything up and finally being able to take my first few actions. However, as the game progresses, I start to get frustrated. What seemed like a great plan turns out to be a disaster in the end. I lose horribly and hate the game. Yes, I hate “the game” not the other players. It’s nothing personal – it’s all aimed at the game. However, after I’ve slept on it, my hate very quickly turns into love and anticipation again.

Already here are a number of emotions, one following right after the other. It’s a real rollercoaster and that’s probably why Scythe is a game that means so much to me. It’s one of probably only a handful of games that evokes so many emotions in such as relatively short timespan.

Other games evoke more temperate feelings in me. Mystic Vale by AEG is a game that makes me feel quite calm. I’ve played it such a lot now that it reminds me of the feeling I used to get from playing trick-taking games such as Skat or Doppelkopf. When you play a game enough, a lot of what you do is almost automatic. You don’t really have to think about it a lot. Maybe it’s similar to the feeling a good chess player has when following one of the many well-documented and highly analyzed openings. There isn’t much thinking going on. It’s muscle memory. Maybe it doesn’t give you a zen-like experience, but it’s pretty calming in my view.

For a chess player, that feeling changes of course as soon as they go off an opening and get into the meat of the game, so that’s where the comparison stops.

Next, I want to look at tension and excitement. I think most games create those moments when things are close. Maybe in a competitive game, the players’ scores are only a few points apart right at the end or in a cooperative game there are only two cards left in the deck that decides when the game ends and you’re so close to winning together. Everyone is on tenterhooks, because nobody can call it yet – but it won’t be long until the outcome will be revealed. It creates tension and excitement, which will eventually resolve into happiness or disappointment and possibly laughter and joy.

There are also moments during a game, especially a competitive game, when you secretly hope that the other players can’t work out what you have planned for your next turn and all you can do is watch and pray that nobody uses the worker placement space you so desperately need or that nobody cuts off the railway route that is your only option to complete your routes. It’s a very personal moment, but usually a very memorable moment, especially if your hope becomes reality and you can do what you had so desperately wanted to do.

Times of high tension will evoke the strongest emotions. It can be especially disappointing when something doesn’t work out or you can feel really elated when you got away with something and everything turns out just as you had planned.

Some games can also evoke feelings of unease or maybe even disgust. I always mention The Cost by Spielworxx and Stasi – Over and Out by DDR Museum when talking about games that raise moral questions and ask players to make decisions that will leave a bitter aftertaste. I completely understand that feelings of unease or disgust aren’t what we expect when we sit down to play a game, but I do think those types of games have a place in our hobby and are something I am seeking out at the moment.

Games can also create emotions indirectly. I think we all know the feeling when we introduce others to a game that we are really excited about, but we’re not sure how it will be received. We hope that at least some people will like it. We also hope that we can teach it well enough for people to get into it quickly and enjoy it. So when everyone really gets into the game and clearly enjoys it or even asks to play it again, you’re going to feel amazing.

Mind you, even thinking about what game you might want to play next or even buy next, working on a different strategy for a game you played the previous day, marvelling at the artwork of a game or the clever mechanisms or, in my case, writing about games, all evoke emotions – mostly of joy and excitement.

I think that’s one of the reasons why the board game hobby is so amazing. It’s not just the community, but it’s the games themselves, buying or swapping them, looking at them, playing them and everything else that is a great feeling.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland (Saturday Review)

Release Date: 2021Players: 3-5
Designer: Peer SylvesterLength: 60-90 minutes
Artist: Deirdre de BarraAge: 12+
Publisher: Osprey GamesComplexity: 2.0 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: <1% (by weight)Air to Components: 45% (by volume)

It is the 11th century AD and the Vikings regularly invade our lands, while my domestic rivals try to forcefully take territory from me, without much luck. My military prowess is well known and I prove myself again and again, while also forging political alliances by strategically arranging marriages between my family members and other important houses. I even have time to rebuild the many monasteries in my realm, bringing the Church and its wealth onto my side. My name is Brian Boru: High King of Ireland by Peer Sylvester from Osprey Games.

Here is a game that’s based on an important figure from Irish history who was accomplished in many things: repelling Viking invasions, winning battles with his fellow countrymen, creating political alliances through marriage and forging ties with the Church. The game clearly tries to emulate its namesake by attempting to excel in as many different skills as Brian himself did, combining trick-taking, area control, winning the majority in as many as three different categories and heaps of player interaction into one massive game with a playing time of an hour to an hour and a half. If that doesn’t sound impressive, then I don’t know.

Peer Sylvester is famous for many games and is a designer that I have come to love recently. I especially took a shine to The King is Dead (2nd Edition), which is such a clever little game – but you can check out my review for that yourself. So when I heard about Brian Boru and heard it was by Peer, I was getting rather excited. As I read more about the game, I was reminded of The King is Dead. My expectations went up even further.

Of course, the two are very different games. There are elements that feel similar, but that’s really only superficial and is possibly down to the fact that both games are about gaining control in regions, without necessarily having direct influence over them. Mind you, even that isn’t really true.

What really made me want to play Brian Boru was that it has a trick-taking element to it, without requiring players to know anything about what trump means, suits are, let alone what following suit actually means. That really got my attention, because it has now been a long-standing goal of mine to teach my games group trick-taking. I grew up with these games and it would be wonderful to get my friends into playing these with me.

I had previously hoped The Crew would be the game that is the way into trick-taking for my games group and even though I still think it’s one of the best games to achieve this, it eventually failed me when my friends just didn’t get on with it. Don’t worry, The Crew redeemed itself. My wife and I still enjoy playing it and I got to play it with my parents as well. So it’s still close to my heart.

Anyway, I digress.

My point is that I had set the bar for Brian Boru very high – even higher than the game set for itself by comparing itself to a historic figure who was successful in so many ways. The question is now, whether the game has met my expectations or if it fell terribly short and let not only me down, but also let itself down.

A look at the map of Brian Boru: High King of Ireland

I think it’s really well implemented and really allows everyone to learn about trick-taking as they play the game. Someone in my games group was telling me after we had finished a game of Brian Boru how in one round they had had cards of mostly one colour in their hand, which allowed them to control the tricks. In another round, they had had high cards of all different colours, which also allowed them to win most of the tricks. These are all things that seasoned trick-taking players will know about. So it proves to me that this game will make trick-takers out of my games group yet.

A look at some of the cards in Brian Boru: High King of Ireland

Once a round of trick-taking is over, the next phase of the game gets rather complicated and feels a little cumbersome. We had to refer back to the rulebook several times throughout every game, even though there is iconography on the board that tries to help players get through this process more quickly. A lot of it is about having the most tokens of a certain type or being the highest on a track, but sometimes ties are broken in a certain way, while other times ties lead to nobody getting a benefit. It’s not easy to remember, but after a few rounds, you slowly get there and tend to remember what to do.

It’s this second phase that is crucial though, because winning tricks and claiming towns on the board isn’t the only way to victory. If you were able to gain enough Viking tokens, you can ransack other players’ towns and really cause havoc on the board. For the most influence with the Church, you can place monasteries in one of your towns, effectively doubling its influence. If you’re highest on the marriage track, you gain points and are able to claim control of a town in a specific region.

All of these things are really important, so you can’t just focus on one thing, but need to try and have your hands in several things at the same time: a bit of protection from Vikings, some influence in the Church, maybe get married from time to time and also get enough towns out onto the map.

It’s a really tricky balancing act, because you can’t do it all, but you need to do enough of everything and definitely avoid specializing in only one thing. It’s the trick-taking phase that makes all of this possible, so every time you play a card you have to check the situation on the board and make decisions accordingly, winning or losing tricks as appropriate.

It sounds like there is a lot to do in Brian Boru, and there is, but the game is over more quickly than you think. Games will last between an hour and an hour and half, unless you’re really taking your time. Yet, in that relatively short time, a lot of things happen and the map changes dramatically. Scores are also always tight, so it’s important to grab every single point you can get – it might give you the victory at the end.

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland is a really wonderful game that has not only done what it set out to do and met its own ambitious goals, but it also smashed through the bar that I had set for it. It’s the sort of game that I will keep in my collection for a long time to come.

One last thing, which I probably should have mentioned earlier, are the components. Apart from a few baggies, everything is either wood, cardboard, card or paper. There are wooden discs, cardboard tokens, as well as cardboard money, so I suggest using poker chips instead, some reference cards and a few decks of cards and the main game board. It all feels very high quality and even though none of it is spectacular, it’s perfectly appropriate for the game.

So, don’t be put off by trick-taking, but embrace the spirit of Brian Boru and excel in everything.

Rules Teach and Playthrough Video

Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.

  • I was sent a free review copy of this game by the publisher.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)