Best Week 2017: The Humorous!
Everyone wants to laugh. Everyone. Even ancient cat ladies. Even the guy bagging your groceries. Even you, when you’re bagging groceries while contemplating adding another cat to your menagerie.
Which is why today we’re celebrating the year’s funniest, silliest, most whimsical, and most delightful games.
#8. Flip Ships
It’s hard to imagine a list of the year’s silliest titles without a flicking game somewhere in there. Flip Ships isn’t your usual dexterity game — rather than flicking wooden discs across the table, it’s about literally flipping pog-sized ships from the table’s edge onto rows of space invaders — but it’s every bit as funny as some of the best dexterity games of years past. In general, this means it’s at its best when you’re at your absolute worst, sending ships rolling off the table or pinging off the gigantic mothership box. Those without the ability to laugh at their own failures need not apply.
Fortunately, Flip Ships is more than just flipping ships. It’s flipping ships with special attacks, against invaders with shields or armor or fast engines, and then not having those abilities matter because you missed your shot anyway. As in, good clean fun, right until you deploy the f-cannons because you can’t land a shot.
#7. Tomb Trader
Don’t let its bland appearance, small profile, and punny title fool you. For a game about pilfering ancient tombs and selling off their contents, Tomb Trader may not be the most adventurous game out there, but it gets one thing completely right:
Each round, players divide themselves between two “chambers” of treasure. Then you flip a timer and you’ve got one minute — one — to figure out how to divide the contents of your chosen room. If you can’t somehow persuade your ex-friends that it’s in their best interests to let you take home that crown and stone mask, then everyone in that chamber goes home empty-handed.
The benefits of Tomb Trader’s speed-divorce seminars are immediate. Everyone comes in full of bluster, only to slink away with a cursed jar and a snake bite, while somehow that one person makes off with more loot than they deserved. It’s fast, it’s silly, and it’s been totally overlooked.
#6. Zoo Ball
It’s hard to imagine a list of the year’s silliest titles without a second flicking game somewhere in there. In Zoo Ball’s case, there are no special powers, unique teams, or tricky rules. It doesn’t need them. It’s just you, your squad of one scorer and three blockers, and an opponent or three.
It might not seem like much at first glance. You’re only trying to get your scorer into the shaded zone at the opposite end of the mat? That’s it? Then you start a game with four people — it’s best with four — and it clicks. Scorers take long-shots at distant goals while blockers clutter the pitch and blast scorers who have edged a little too close to comfort. The people playing it devolve from holding perfectly lucid discussions to hooting and cawing like they were born in the jungle. There you have it. This is Zoo Ball.
Beautifully, that’s pretty much all I need to say about it. It’s the sort of game I can put on a card table at a BBQ and just let people roll through, one match flowing into the next, much like a foosball table but without the repetitive strain injuries.
Crossfire is simple. So simple that it isn’t going to appeal to the diehard social deduction crowd. It doesn’t sport a dozen interlocking roles, and its logic puzzle is fairly straightforward. Put one way, the information that’s available to you is only present because you looked at your starting card, shuffled it with those of your neighbors, and then looked at whatever new card you were dealt. If you were the blue team’s agent once, you now have a fairly good idea who might be the blue team’s agent now.
But that’s also what makes Crossfire such an easy game to introduce to groups of up to ten people. The red team wants to shoot the VIP, while the blue team wants to prevent it. Maybe in the middle is a bystander who would very much rather not be shot by anyone, thanks. Between that and the game’s three-minute time limit, it’s almost impossible to glean every detail you require in order to make the right decision about who to shoot, distract, or claim to be. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a lot of hollering, instinctual guesswork, and that last-second wavering over who to aim your finger at.
#4. Escape from 100 Million B.C.
Also my personal second-place winner of “Ameritrashiest Game of 2017,” Kevin Wilson’s Escape from 100 Million B.C. isn’t exactly fine art. Instead, it’s the only game where Teddy Roosevelt can uppercut a Tyrannosaurus Rex right in its prehistoric gonads, Amelia Earhart can show up only to go missing again, and your band of displaced time travelers can be chased in circles by Old One-Eye, the menace of the Cretaceous.
Rather than shooting for broad appeal, one of this game’s greatest strengths is that it knows how to stick a landing. It’s about searching for time machine components while meeting wacky historical figures, beating up dinosaurs, and trying to avoid the creation of a timeline overrun by snakes. Instead of bothering with an entire space time continuum’s worth of scenarios, it’s one highly realized setting, cast of characters, and possible situations. Within that framework, it absolutely shines.
#3. World Championship Russian Roulette
The fact that World Championship Russian Roulette’s setting struck some people as distasteful only adds to how fully I relish it. Each round will ask its players to point their finger-guns right at their craniums, on the verge of sending their cardboard brains squishing against the wall. If you’re worried that life imitates art so comprehensively that this will push you over the edge, then, yeah, give it a miss.
But if you don’t mind indulging in our very natural human obsession with self-annihilation, World Championship Russian Roulette immediately sets itself apart as an excellent press-your-luck game. Your revolver’s cylinder is represented by a deck of six cards with a theoretical bullet shuffled in. Unless you cheat, that is, and aren’t caught doing so and punished with a summary execution. With that out of the way, everyone makes the aforementioned finger-guns and starts squeezing cards off their decks. Whoever pulls the trigger the most wins.
Lots of clicks and the occasional bang make up the climax of each round, but the thrill often comes in the guesswork earlier on. Who’s cheating? Who’s overbidding? Who’s holding a card that will let them shoot their neighbor? Who’s just being foolhardy with their life? In World Championship Russian Roulette, these are the darkly humorous questions you’ll be asking yourself every couple minutes.
#2. The Chameleon
If I were forced at finger-gunpoint to explain The Chameleon by way of comparison, I would call it “Spyfall but fairer.” If you’re playing games in 2017, you’ve probably engaged in this sort of behavior before. Everyone at the table is presented with a word, but one poor jerk has no idea what it is. Everybody tosses out a clue, points at the person they think is the ignoramus, and maybe the ignoramus has used everybody else’s clues to suss out the word. There you go.
The Chameleon takes this format and democratizes it. Rather than favoring those who know the game’s locations, as was the case in Spyfall, every round is conducted from a grid of sixteen options. Better yet, your topic shifts every round, or is perhaps invented by the group — which is, it must be said, often even sillier than the actual game. It’s every bit as funny, immediate, and flustering as its thematic predecessors, but manages to wrap a whole lot of fair gameplay into a very slender package.
#1. Rhino Hero: Super Battle
“Rhino Hero Super Battle, Rhino Hero Super Battle, RHINO HERO SUPER BATTLE! Hero with a half-horn.” So goes the refrain, to the tune of the theme song for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
There are two ways to play Rhino Hero: Super Battle. One is the nice way. You focus on placing your walls and floors in ways that can be expanded. You place spider monkeys in logical spots. You pass the dice courteously from one player to the next.
Then there’s the real way. You build rival heroes into inescapable dungeons, hang spider monkeys across sliver-thin openings, teeter entire structures on uncertain foundations, and set the dice between two pillars. Take ’em if you want ’em.
Played properly, it goes without saying that this is one of the finest stacking games of all time. Sure, it’s deeply unfair, as anyone who’s been unable to move their ill-fated hero up a floor in five turns can attest. And it’s possible for the game to reach a point where the tower is a tad too stable, like some sort of reverse Jenga. But the journey — and the non-Euclidean messes that your towers will adopt — make the whole thing prone to belly-laughs. I certainly haven’t seen a single match go by without causing at least a few.
Call it a kid game if it reaffirms your tenuous adulthood. Then play Rhino Hero: Super Battle anyway and revel in its glow.
There you have it. As always, dear readers, what were your favorite funny games of 2017? Be aware, if you answer something really serious, like a wargame about the Civil War, then the rest of us will be tolerating your presence rather than enjoying it.
Tomorrow, eight more games!