#6 I’d Like to Ship… Firefly and Tales of the Arabian Nights
I love Firefly as a television series. Everything about it is amazing. And I wanted to love the game. I don’t really, but despite it being a mediocre experience, it has survived many culls of my collection because it’s so goram well produced. I’d just like something more than a workaday pickup and delivery game to take advantage of this world and these components. Something that captured some of the excitement and drama of the show. Something that made me feel like a proper space cowboy.
So why not marry up the limited joys of the Firefly game to Tales of the Arabian Nights? Why not have the various scenarios you encounter in Firefly actually take place in an exciting world of adventure, excitement and thrilling narrative?
I mean, it’s obvious why. That’s too much content for one game. It would be impossible. Nobody could really make this game. Nobody is that good.
How’s this reverse psychology working?
But just imagine it. You pick up a passenger, and that passenger directs you to a section in the book where you get to choose the way you respond to the event that occurs when they are on board. Success is based on your ship configuration, resources, character traits and so on. It’d have all the same rollicking rewards and chance to misbehave, it would just be joined up to a real explorable story where you could really inhabit your character.
I rarely play Tales of the Arabian Nights because, while I like it a lot, it’s also just… a bit empty. It’s just impossible to map success to action, and the mechanics are pretty minimalist. It’s all about the story. Firefly the game is all mechanics, little real story. Marrying these two games together might make for something with a Twilight Imperium scale playtime, but I bet it would still be a regular fixture on my game table.
#5 I’d Like to Ship… Galaxy Trucker and Welcome to the Dungeon
Galaxy Trucker is half of a great game mashed on to an overly long scoring round. You start off, in real-time, trying to construct a space-ship compatible enough with the risks of stellar travel that it might make it to the end of the journey intact. You’re all battling over the same set of components, to a time limit set by the fastest player at the table, and so what inevitably happens is that you panic and end up building a ship with seven engines but no power for it. Or fifteen lasers but no cargo bays. Or three sets of shield emitters, all of which point in the same direction. It’s just really funny, but the process of evaluating the success of your design is… a bit dull.
Welcome to the Dungeon is a game where you gradually strip an adventurer bare before sending him or her into a violent hellhole of monsters. The more equipment that the adventurer has, the less of a challenge the dungeon presents. Every fully clad hero will almost certainly survive any fully populated dungeon. It’s a game of escalation where you want to go into the dungeon yourself, driving the hero, but you never get to do it when you choose. It’s nice!
I think the two together could be spectacular though.
Imagine instead of getting a fully configured here, you were all building your own, in real-time, using the same pool of pieces. Much like in Galaxy Trucker you’d be adding weapons, armour, other equipment to meet an unknown challenge, but the hero you get at the end of it isn’t one you’d want to send anywhere because of the mistakes you made along the way.
And then you all have to bid to not go into the dungeon. Add a monster to the dungeon each round, or strip a bit of equipment from your hero. The last person to pass goes in and reaps the rewards, or not.
Doesn’t that sound like fun? Doesn’t that sound like a game I should go out and paper prototype right this very moment? It does to me, and maybe I will once this nonsense special feature is finished.
Admit it – you want to play this game.
#4 I’d Like to Ship… Scrabble and Rock Paper Wizard
This next one isn’t a case of making two mediocre games better, or even adding something that’s missing to both. Scrabble is already a nigh-on perfect game. This is something more akin to eugenics – breeding weakness out of a game.
Hrm. Is the eugenics angle better than the weird sexualisation of cardboard boxes? There’s a Wavelength round I’d like to see.
Anyway. I didn’t much care for Rock Paper Wizard when I reviewed it, but I think the idea is great. I just think that there’s scope for a game about spelling to… yeah, you guessed it.
Basically here what I’d like to see is a kind of cardboard version of ‘Bookworm Adventures’ where the strength of your attacks and counterattacks is determined by the quality of a word that you build. Galaxy Trucker style, this one would have a central pool of letters. You’d all go through the Rock Paper Wizard process of selecting a spell and covertly casting it, then you’d scrabble (teehee) to make a word that determined its strength. Shorter words would have initiative, higher scoring words would have power. So a word like ‘vex’ (13 points) would act earlier than ‘hazing’ (19 points), but would be less effective. For extra fun, give everyone a character template that gives them their own unique grid of score multipliers and have them mark them off when used. A spell and write.
If Lords of Kings Landing should make Chinatown a little wary about its place at the top of my Top Ten, Word Wizards could give Scrabble serious cause for concern.
#3 I’d Like to Ship… Decrypto and Dixit
I don’t even have the slightest idea as to how this one would work, but don’t tell me your brain didn’t just light up at the idea. I like to imagine it as a weird exploration of the subconscious that is half party game and half psychoanalytical therapy tool. Someone locks four whimsical images into your console. You get a card that indicates some complex abstract combination of concepts, and then you need to guide someone with word clues to the cards that most closely match the idea.
But image having these four cards…
…locked into a console that you and your team can see. And you alone have a card that says ‘a doleful mouse on a drizzly autumn day’. And you need to somehow guide your team to selecting the cards, in order, that most effectively express that.
How do you score that? Well, you score it by the other team. If they can guess the combination of cards from the concept you give them, then everyone wins!
Would that be fun? I don’t know. I bet it would be a fascinating way to spend a few hours though until you decided that it didn’t actually really work.
#3 I’d Like to Ship… Biblios and Seasons
Biblios and Seasons are two great games that I don’t really think about much. Biblios is a clever auction game that involves you squirrelling away treasures into a central pile while manipulating the value of ancient musty tomes so as to increase the prestige you get for the ones you own. It’s a lovely, clever game that deserves more love. However, I don’t give it much of my own so I can hardly complain that others likewise neglect it.
Seasons is a game of momentous magic, conducted over the slow course of a year, to no end other than spectacle. You ferret away magical incantations into a spellbook and you gradually add them to your repertoire as you go on. Simple magics at first before you cloak yourself in world-shattering dweomers at the end.
Wouldn’t it be cool if a game like that also had at its core a kind of scavenger hunt for ancient magics? No so much deck-building as deck-antiquing. Wouldn’t it be great if tf the spells you added to your spellbook were actually adaptable to the circumstance? A game where your own forecasting doesn’t carry within it the seed of your own doom? And then wouldn’t it be cool if some of those spells had the ability to change the laws of magic in your favour? And then… if lots of other people had the same ability to do the same?
I think that would be cool. I think that would be very cool. I think Seasons of Biblios would be a very rich space for someone to explore.
#2 I’d like to Ship… Potion Explosion and Viticulture
Potion Explosion is an enjoyably tactile game of picking marbles and brewing them into potions. Viticulture is a properly thinky game about growing vines and harvesting grapes to make wine. I think there would be a great fusion here where you had a potion explosion style system for harvesting grapes that you could then brew into ever greater quantities of every more particular wines. Not so much of a sedate process of ageing of single vintages, but picking the right grape at the right time that might give you exactly the unique blend that earns you fame and prestige.
The problem with Viticulture, as I expressed in my review, is that it doesn’t really feel like the wine is important. Here, it could be. And more, it could offer verisimilitude. Imagine just reaching for a succulent purple marble and popping it into your waiting mouth. I mean, your waiting wine cellar.
Potion Explosion would provide the excitement, Viticulture would add a clever system of bottling, ageing and curating of wines to match orders. The combination would be delicious. Smoky with a hint of fire in its belly.
#1 I’d Like to Ship… Skull and The Resistance
Both of these games are great by themselves and they don’t really need anything more. But…
The thing about Skull is that there’s no arching story around it. There’s a framing, but no narrative. The thing about the Resistance is that the entirety of the game is in the conversation and once the voting has taken place the course of action is set and irreversible.
And none of this is a problem. I just think that maybe the Resistance would be more interesting if there was a bit more meat to the success and failure of a mission than just flipping over a single card from each player . Imagine instead that missions were passed or failed based on a bid that had to be met. For the first mission, you need to flip over four cards without a fail. For the second, six. The next eight. And so on.
And those cards were, Skull style, selected from a set of options played by everyone on the mission. The party leader always needs to add their own cards, but every other card is actively selected from what’s on offer. You as mission leader pick the cards from those arrayed in front of everyone . All the selected cards get gathered up as usual and flipped over. There’s just a pre-reveal process that gives a little more agency to everyone involved.
The upside is… there’s a lot of room to hide in a system like this and it nicely mimics the uncertainty of circumstance that defines espionage in the real world. You’re a spy on the mission. Another spy put you there. Why on earth would they do that? In a normal game of the Resistance you have one card and thus one symbol of your piety. Here, you can have layers of loyalty. Place Tto succeeds and a fail in your stack. The leader takes your top two cards, which shows a lot of faith in you. No longer is this a binary case of someone being a spy or not. Now there’s a texture to it. You need to choose your cards not just on the basis of what you want to happen, but how much you believe people trust you.
You could get lost in a game like this. I’d love to see it on my shelf some day.