Wallets of Turbo Party Pilgrims
Posted by The Innocent
You may have heard of Button Shy. Their latest “thing” has been the hosting microgame design contests — a mere 12 to 18 cards apiece — and publishing the winners under their wallet games line. It’s a potentially big deal for small-time designers, which is why I’m diving into the seedy underbelly of the last batch of three victors. Buckle up, Pope.
I’ll be square with you: I don’t like racing games. As a kid, a buddy of mine had a racing sim on the television box, complete with blocky polygons and steering wheels. He tricked me into recreating the entire Indy 500. Three hours of hell. One of the worst things that’s ever happened to me.
That said, Rob Cramer’s Turbo Drift is grand for a pair of reasons.
As you might expect from a game entitled “Turbo Drift,” this is a race to the finish line, albeit one that isn’t exactly a straight shot. Rather than driving in a direct line as fast and hard as your engine can handle, it’s all about doing curly-q’s and sharp turns to hopefully avoid the obstacles that litter your path. It’s the sort of racing game that includes “backing your ass up” as a legitimate maneuver, because it’s entirely possible to wedge yourself between a roadside barrier and a concrete planter.
It’s also one of those real-space games where the spatial position of everything on the table is the actual game. Your car is a card; barriers are red lines on a card; overlapping the one with the other means you’ve just crashed. Think Master Plan or String
Railway Doomworms and you’ll have the idea.
What might not be immediately obvious is that this is what makes Turbo Drift such a hoot. Ramming into barriers, accidentally nudging the cards a millimeter out of place, driving off the edge of the table, simply going around all the obstacles and still somehow coming in last place — like many other real-space games, the entirely of the drama comes down to how well you eyeballed the situation. Or, more often, how poorly.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because we need to talk about the driving.
Laid out in front of you is a grid of cards, two by three. Each offers a different path, some variation of turns or straight shots, and it’s up to you whether you nab one, two, or three cards. The twist is that while a single card allows a precise (but slow) maneuver, taking two or three means you’ll be picking up that entire row or column rather than selecting only the best routes. Even spicier, if you grab a full row of three, you’ve got to shuffle them before laying them out, meaning you might wind up going somewhere you hadn’t originally intended.
It’s a clever system, allowing a precise mix of player manipulation and unpredictability. Big risks can pay off with a leap in your position, or leave you in the lurch. Or maybe you’ll play the tortoise, hedging your bets and inching between barriers.
There are a few other little touches that let Turbo Drift amount to more than it first appears. Like how taking a single card gives you the first player marker, meaning you might get a jump on your competition in the coming round. Or the way all the path cards are double-sided and flip over when used, preventing a single row or column from ever producing a breezy Sunday drive. Oh, and once per game you can even pick up all six paths, activating your car’s nitro to really blitz — with the caveat that you’ll have to shuffle all six cards. Which is why it isn’t uncommon for someone to hit the nitro and wind up somewhere entirely new, and maybe even pointing away from the finish line.
All in all, it’s a delightful little thing, light enough to try multiple times but injected with just the right blend of player control and chaos. Good stuff.
Final Verdict: Approximately As Fun As Actual Turbo Drifting
Find Your Seats
If handling the seating arrangements for a wedding dinner is your notion of fun, Find Your Seats is going to slay you. If you’re like the rest of us, and the only reason you would ever come within a mile of a seating chart is because (a) you might hook up with Jennifer Lopez, (b) you might hook up with Matthew McConaughey, or (c), there is no other reason, then… well, maybe you like drafting.
There’s nothing technically wrong with Find Your Seats. Its cast of characters are amusing enough, ranging from an Old Timer who can only hear out of his left ear to sillier fare like an Assassin who kills somebody of your choice right there in front of everyone, leaving an improved empty seat where once sat a stereotypical smartphone-addled Millennial. The goal is to align everyone by matching up details like their ages, abilities, and conversational interests (most common topic: the weather), hopefully netting you a heap of points when everyone gets along swimmingly. Like a table where the Geek and the Nerd have been situated adjacently, it’s competently assembled.
Unfortunately, Find Your Seats lacks any real spark of inspiration. Characters are drawn by draft — that workhorse draft, giving you a smidgen of information and some vague control over your hand — and playing them is just done one at a time until everyone has laid out their options and scoring begins. One card will always be discarded. Multiple rounds will determine the ultimate winner. And so it goes.
It’s fine. It’s fine. Really. There’s nothing wrong with anything on display here. It’s even somewhat replayable, courtesy of that decently broad selection of guests. If anything, it’s the sort of idea that might have benefited from an expanded treatment. More cards, more guests, more interesting ways for them to interact. But as it stands, its current incarnation feels like a microgame without much reason to return over and over, especially with so many other good microgames out there.
Final Verdict: Exactly As Fun As Charting Seating Arrangements
Just the title is enough to fire me up. By focusing on rival popes hoping to staff their side of the 14th-century schism with all the best local talent, Avignon: Pilgrimage makes me want to don the tallest mitre. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect to see as a complex simulation-style thing from Sierra Madre Games.
While the result isn’t precisely the Pax Avignon I may have hoped for, it’s a decent little game in its own right. The entire affair is positioned as a sort of extended tug of war. There’s a map of the feuding papal cities that amounts to five spaces, a deck of characters — Scribes and Vicars, Courtesans and Canonists — and your goal is to finagle or force as many as possible onto your side of the conflict.
Your papal problem is that your rival is also trying to seduce everyone into joining his heretical sect. While he can’t simply reverse everything you do — it’s Pilgrimage’s gamiest rule that you can’t just go back-and-forth by mirroring each other’s moves, which is simultaneously necessary and a little frustrating that such a rule warranted inclusion — he can use the same abilities as you, whether beseeching or chastising (a pull or push, essentially), excommunicating unwanted characters (by replacing them with someone new from the deck), or petitioning their individual abilities.
In practice, the game often moves at a snail’s pace. My pope might petition a Nuncio, pushing him away but drawing everyone in his new city closer to me, then excommunicate him to prevent the other pope from using his ability. Then the next pope draws someone closer, then maybe has a Scribe bring other characters closer. Back and forth we go, only ever making gains in inches.
Not that this is always a bad thing. It’s the sort of game that demands deliberation. While many turns can come down to an unfortunate exchange of tit for tat, every so often it’s possible to wring clever moves from the characters you’re wooing, pulling them ever closer to your seat of power while limiting your opponent’s options.
But note that forlorn every so often, because most of the time it does drag. Sadly, I wish there had been more to Pilgrimage’s turn-to-turn process, perhaps a way of tiring out the characters so that the best abilities aren’t simply used over and over. If anything, this is another title that feels like it warrants a deeper treatment. In fact, it’s already been treated twice, in a way, as this is the sequel to John du Bois’s earlier Avignon: A Clash of Popes. It’s even possible to mix the two sets.
Taking Pilgrimage on its own, however, feels like an amazing idea trapped in too diminutive a frame. Hopefully we’ll see this one on a grander scale, and perhaps with a better way to resolve its tendency to shuffle in place with something more elegant than a “don’t repeat your opponent’s moves” rule. For the time being, this is good, but not great.
Final Verdict: As Fun As Being the Pope Who Didn’t Lure Any Courtesans to His Palace