Looking over the included games, I must admit I was initially suspect. The usual shipment of review games I've been getting have boxes emblazoned with hand painted images of warriors engaged in battle, townspeople working to build cities, scientists and rescue workers attempting to stop global pandemics. The 3 boxes in the package reminded me something as a child I would see adults playing on a Friday night. Playing along side mixed beverages while smoke from various brands of cigarettes billowed to the ceiling, bowls of chips and pretzels being knocked around as they worked into a frenzy attempting to come up with answers as quickly as possible. In other words, party games. Not the usual fair I've been getting that requires furrowed brows, strategy, and something around 2000 wooden block pieces and cards that give players choices that will affect the game 20 minutes from the time that they're played. Off the beaten path of most review games I've been sent. Afraid they might be a smidge too common and banal, I took a dive into them with a group of board game geeks equally apprehensive. By the end of the night, we were reminded of something our parents tried to beat into us as children. Never judge a book by its cover. Let's jump in and see what we've got.
The first game we took a crack at was Chronology (The Game of All Time). Clever subtitle, but perhaps a bit boastful, we went through the easy instructions and started a game. As described on the back of the box, "This fun trivia game doesn't require you to know exact dates. Just put the events in the right chronological order. The first one to build a timeline of 10 event cards wins!" I initially shrugged it off as a simple trivia game that I would find too common, being the game elitist I can sometimes be. Again, don't judge a book by its cover. Chronology spans over 2000 years of events. Requiring 2 or more players, the set up is easy as pie stolen from a window sill. (I really want to do that sometime; it just seems like a good bit of mischief.) Each player draws 1 card from a double-sided deck of 429 cards (double-sided to include more events) and reads the event aloud to the group and the year it occurred. Each player now has 1 card in front of them to start their timeline. Starting with the eldest, they draw a card and read out the event without revealing the year. Clockwise, players must guess if that event happened before of after the date on their first card. The first round or two tend to be fairly easy, having to answer things like, "Did the first video game console emerge before or after the signing of the treaty of Versailles?" Simple enough. If the player to the left doesn't answer correctly, the next player gets a shot to answer when that event happens to fall on their timeline, and play continues until someone answers correctly. If no one gets it once it returns to the reader, it gets placed back in the box and play move to the next reader. A fairly simple concept, but one that does challenge the mind. The players start to work into a frothing mass, kicking themselves for not getting what they thought was an easy answer correctly. Wide gaps are difficult enough, but having to guess an event that probably happened within a 4-year gap on your timeline can really cause some hair pulling and biting of the lip. Chronology can get brutal, especially when you have an answer ready in your head and you're praying the person before you fails miserably.
The next game was Celebrity Throwdown!, another game I was already putting in the "really?" category of my mind. But again, I'm reminded to try it before I judge. A simple concept, each player is dealt four "Celebrity Cards" face down. Like many card games, the player can look at their own cards, but should keep them to themselves. The deck of "Situation Cards" is then shuffled and placed face down, and a player grabs one, then reads it aloud for the group. Then, each player (including the dealer) chooses one card from their hand that they feel would BEST fit that situation and places it in a pile that will be shuffled and read to the players. They are then turned over and the options are announced. Starting with the player that started the round, they remove the card that they feel would be the WORST for that situation and say why they chose that one. The player that had that card then removes it while play continues until one card remains and the player with the last card adds the situation to their pile. Everyone drawing a new celeb to bring their hands back to four, play continues until someone (depending on how many players it changes) reaches the goal of "Situation Cards" and wins. Another really fun and simple game, Celebrity Throwdown! reminded me of a few other games that have players submit choices from their hand and places them in a pile to be chosen from. Additionally to the provided celebrities, a few blank cards are included to add more recent or obscure celebrities. The game, besides having an option to play straight forward, also allows players to "read" their opponents and pick answers they think will appeal to their current opponents. If I was playing someone stoic and rigid, I would pick one answer, if they were one who enjoyed a Saturday morning cartoon marathon, I would probably pick another answer to placate their whims.
Finally, we come to Buffalo Games' best seller, Last Word. Having sold over 1 million copies, Last Word felt to me like a combination of Musical Chairs and I'm Going on a Picnic. Easily the simplest of concepts I received from Buffalo Games, Last Word has players flip over a letter from an aptly named "Letter Card" pile, revealing what letter the players have to work with that round. Each player has a card from the "Subject Card" pile in their hands, and they have to think of a word that starts with the drawn letter and fits the subject in hand. The first person to set down their "Subject Card" stating it out loud and saying a word that fits that subject and begins with the current letter, hits the included buzzer that goes off at random times, ending each round. The last person to get in a complete answer before the buzzer goes off wins the round and is awarded one space forward on the score board. There are also a couple of "Hot Potato Cards" in the subject deck. The card flipping at the beginning of the round starts as usual, but once that first card is played, things take an interesting turn. Starting with the player on the left of the beginning person, each player in clockwise fashion has to name an appropriate word that fits the subject with the proper letter, rather than a free for all. Ending the round when the buzzer goes off, whomever's turn it was must move back one space on the board. Players can challenge throughout the game the words the round winner submitted. For example, if the subject was "places sports are played" and someone says "the moon," well, it's up to the group to say if that works or not.
My final say on the games I was sent by Buffalo Games is this. Pick one up and try it. The simplicity of each of these is refreshing. Not having to have a potential opponent read through a telephone book-thick instruction manual is so nice sometimes. Like some other games out there, these are easy enough to bring to a friend's house or a local coffee shop for a game night and have people playing within minutes. Besides the ease of play, the quick competition and amusement that comes from playing a game that doesn't require 20-sided dice or an expansion pack is a welcome change. Like playing a game or 30 of Pac-Man after busting out a 40-hour RPG, these games are delicious palette cleansers. A small, but satisfying, cup of sorbet that clears one from the endurance it takes to get through a 4-course meal. I look forward to trying out other titles by Buffalo Games as I really enjoyed the fun and simplicity of the titles mentioned above. I strongly suggest trying one out and see how you feel about it after a few games. The contents prove that covers can sometimes be misleading.
You can thank me later.