We have 40 minutes of every Thursday evening blocked out in our Google calendar for the foreseeable future. We have friends who own a board game store nearby and a semi-standing game-date for Friday night. We are the Pinaults, and this is our TableTop Season Three adventure.
TableTop Season Three kicked off this past Thursday night with some challenges to face. Not only is the season highly anticipated due to its record breaking, white-knuckle ride of a crowdfunding experience, but after two great seasons, viewers just expect a good time. The difference in production value between the first two seasons also placed higher expectations on Season Three. And, as the popularity grows, we are looking for bigger and badder gamers to play with. Episode one and Takaido saw that challenge and journeyed to the next location with it.
Playing with Wil this week were a virtual cornucopia of characters. Batting for the gamers was Chris Kluwe, known to the sports world as a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings and to the gaming world as a tournament Magic player and high level World of Warcraft player. For the celebrity team, we have J. August Richards from television’s Angel (be still my beating heart) and, more recently, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the discerning geek, we have Jason Wishnov, a voiceover actor who is also the lead designer at Iridium Studios. As Wil and Jason touted, they are currently working on pushing out There Came an Echo, a voice-controlled squad-based strategy game, which is scheduled for release on Steam before the end of the year.
Wil is back on form straight away in Season Three. The eyebrows are at work, the sarcasm is flowing, and everyone is out to get him! One of the unexpected joys of TableTop has been watching Wil get harpooned from every side, and these first guests took to that task with aplomb. Wil’s opener for Tokaido was suitably predictive, “The most zen-like cutthroat game you’ll ever play.” His take-away from the game matching with the TableTop experience in general: “I didn’t know this was a collaborative game against me!” While it’s fun to watch the “team” work Wil from every angle, the interactions between these players also just worked. J. August, the self-professed amateur geek, was a good stand-in for the TableTop initiate, whilst Jason played his part of evil mastermind with great dexterity. As to Wil, I would not be surprised if there was some college drinking game out there, taking bets on when the puppy dog eyes come out in each episode.
Minute 1.47: Wil bangs his head on the table.
Minute 15.04: Wil gets puppy dog eyes.
Minute 24.36: Wil calls for alcohol.
It was easy to follow the game play and fun to watch as the players explained their strategy. There was a good degree of profanity beeped out and a good degree of profanity left in. I personally don’t think it adds anything to the humor, but if you were thinking of watching with your kids, be warned that Wil likes to drop the F-bomb and some other choice phrasing in this episode.
The basic format remains the same; why change a winning formula? The set is better, the graphics are amazing, and everybody gets a trophy this year. I am curious to see if they all get a replica of the same trophy or if it is a different kind of statuette each week.
Having read up on Tokaido beforehand, I was not inspired at all. Travelers journey across Japan along the East sea road, and earn points based on how they participate in the journey. You can meet interesting people, try strange food, worship at the temple, or take in a hot spring. The episode of TableTop changed my perception of the game and got me interested. Ultimately, I found Tokaido to be much more interesting and playable than it first sounded.
The structure, a simple road, with off-shoots to visit, is extremely accessible to non-gaming types. We played with my dad, who raised me on Sorry, Monopoly, The Game of Life, and other such classics, but has only ever played beyond the basic roll-and-move game when staying with us. The actions are simple and the artwork is simple and beautiful, but therein lies your first challenge to learning the game. Nothing is labeled except by illustrations and at first, this can be confusing. You play the game by referring to pictures and symbols for your instructions. I found this irritating at first, but was surprised by how quickly we picked up on the game play. Not following word-by-word instructions enabled us to pick up the mechanics faster and once we were used to the illustrations, added to the zen-like experience of the game. Fewer words, less stress.
Playing with three people made for a more truncated version of the game than our TableTop training had shown us. For example, each landing point can only have one occupant when playing with three players, while more players left some spots with the option for multiple players. Boardgamegeek.com recommends five players for the optimal game, but there are also rules for a two-player version, which we will be trying out next. With the children in our house being kindergarten age and under, two-player versions are always welcome! As always, the episode of TableTop was a great way to introduce ourselves to the mechanics of the game, but Tokaido is easy to learn as you play should you not wish for the shenanigans of Wil and the gang. My dad, who did not especially enjoy Mr. Wheaton, did however seem to enjoy the game more for having first seen it on TableTop. He said of the episode that “even when you don’t completely follow it, you learn more by osmosis than you think you are.”
As to an age range, the game makers recommend eight and up, which is third grade. I think that might be pushing it, unless your child is already heavily invested in gaming. Certainly interested middle-schoolers could handle it, and it would hold their attention. My son at five is an avid fan of Robot Turtles and Castle Panic, but I do not think the assets of Tokaido would interest him as much—not even in three years. It is accessible enough that adults who don’t usually play games could be persuaded to join in also.
Now, a couple of tips and tricks to maximize game play from our first outing. Your choice of original character card really helps. I played as the street performer, which earned me an extra point and extra coin every time I met a new friend. My dad played as the artist, who was able to paint every time he ate a meal; this was the character played by Wil. My husband played as the sightseer and was given a coin every time he saw a landscape (the painting spots). Playing to these strengths in the game really helps. Wil and my dad weren’t to be beaten on painting, I was not to be beaten on friends. Earning an extra coin didn’t seem to help much, unless you are strategic and get the chance to employ it well. Getting to leave the hotel first, at the first two stops was crucial to my plan of action, and paid off with a final victory. Always block someone from getting to the bank if they need to, and if you can afford the expensive food, buy the expensive food.
If you want a more involved TableTop experience, Thursday also saw the launch of http://www.tabletopday.com, where you can gather, host, and find local events all year long.
All in all, a great kick-off and I look forward to the next episode.
Thanks to Julie and Ryan York of Weekend Anime, for letting us test out their demo copy of the game.