We took our visitors up to Oxford today, for several reasons — to have a look at some genuinely Old Stuff, to play a couple of Zero Escape-style “room escape” games, and to visit Oxford’s answer to Toronto’s board game cafe Snakes and Lattes, Thirsty Meeples.
It was a great day out, though the amount of walking reminded me that I don’t do nearly enough just walking around these days.
The early part of the day consisted of the aforementioned “room escape” games courtesy of Ex(c)iting Game, a modest operation that offers two different interactive experiences in which you’re given an hour to solve a particular task. In the first room, we were challenged to break into a computer to recover a piece of information about someone who was going to be assassinated; in the second, we were tasked with locating a USB stick containing sensitive information before it was auctioned off.
In both cases, the games were fairly low-rent, consisting of straightforward and simple props with a few fun gadgets. The two games were markedly distinct from one another, too; the Stop the Assassin game was much more gadget-heavy, seeing us cracking a safe, using a blacklight and eventually cracking the code that led us to the computer password; conversely, second game The Auction was much more focused on deducing the answers to various riddles in order to solve combination locks and get them open.
Both games also featured a number of red herrings that had little to do with the games themselves, and both were reasonably challenging, taking our group of four a decent amount of time to crack in both cases. We completed the first game with just six minutes to spare; the second game we solved a little more quickly, with around twenty minutes left on the clock.
The setup, although simple, was effective. The staffer — whom I felt rather sorry for, since she clearly spent an awful lot of time twiddling her thumbs between appointments — observed our efforts to solve each room via webcam, and subsequently offered real-time hints through the monitor that otherwise displayed our time limit. Rather than these hints being predefined, she was able to highlight particular things in the room or type messages to us to ensure we could normally be nudged back onto the right track. In the case of both games, we would have probably found the answers ourselves eventually, but the hints were timed nicely so it didn’t feel like our intelligence was being insulted.
All in all, the game experience was fun. It would be neat to see the idea implemented with a somewhat bigger budget — perhaps some more special effects, more high-quality props and a little more effort to make the games more strongly thematic — but for today, it made an enjoyable and memorable day out.
We then took a bus into the city centre of Oxford, where we had a wander around a couple of the colleges, which was a fairly humbling experience when I think back on the places I stayed and studied when I was at university in Southampton. The dining hall in one of the colleges in particular was a real Hogwarts-style affair that impressed me and Andie almost as much as it did our visitors.
Following some wandering around — and a break for a drink in an incredibly old pub — we made it to Thirsty Meeples, where we had coffee, snacks and some gaming. We played the cooperative game Robinson Crusoe, which I’ve been curious to try for a while, and Boss Monster, which I’ve likewise heard of previously and have been keen to give a shot.
Robinson Crusoe is a very cool and strongly thematic cooperative game, though for those who enjoy the more Euro end of the spectrum, there’s plenty of worker placement and resource management involving shifting little wooden discs and cubes around the place. There’s also a number of different scenarios that I can see would likely change the way you play significantly — it’d be a game you could get a decent amount of replay value out of, due to the randomised elements. It was initially a little difficult to grasp, but after a turn or two all becomes clear and highly enjoyable — likely a game I’ll try and score a copy of for myself in the near future.
Boss Monster, meanwhile, is a short and simple card game in which you play a 16-bit era video game boss and have to build a dungeon to fend off the never-ending hordes of incoming heroes. It’s a simple, easy-to-understand game that I think will be a lot of fun with various groups — I ended up picking up a copy of it along with Avalon before we left.
We also gave Concept a go, which is, along the lines of Dixit, more of a fun group activity than a “game” per se. Like Dixit, it involves a certain amount of creativity — meaning Andie wasn’t a huge fan of it, but she soldiered on regardless — but handles things very differently. Rather than attempting to describe pictures on cards, Concept challenges you to get, well, concepts across by placing markers on various icons. It’s kind of Charades-ish, only you don’t do any actions — you place markers to describe the main concept of the word, phrase, title, whatever it is, and its “subconcepts”. You can then use smaller markers to elaborate on these a bit, but the only thing you can say during this whole process — which is surprisingly frustrating if your tablemates just won’t grasp something that seems obvious to you — is “yes” if they get something along the right lines.
So all in all, then, we had a great day. I’m pretty tired now, though, so I have a feeling I’ll sleep rather well this evening!