Zogen, from the oft-hilarious Oink Games, is a reflex game. Not your usual reflex game, which is about slapping hands with your high school crush on the back bench of the band bus, then spending the rest of the trip icing your bruised fingers. But rather, the sort of reflex game that hurts your brain. Like, hurts it. And it’s only about reading four little symbols.
There aren’t many publishers that beat Oink Games for cramming so much utter delightfulness into a box the size of a tuna tin. Even a couple years after their first appearance, both Deep Sea Adventure and A Fake Artist Goes to New York make the occasional appearance at our table. These waters may not run fast, or even all that deep, but they certainly are steady. Like the Nile, perhaps.
Speaking of the Nile, The Pyramid’s Deadline sees designer Jun Sasaki back in fine form. Here, up to six players are the harried architects of an ailing pharaoh, desperate to finish their man-god’s tomb before his last phlegmatic gasp. Like an edifice of sandstone, it’s a sturdy sort of game. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels about as polished as sandstone too.
I’ve never thought of a “Troll Hole” as anything other than the seedy dance bar on the north side of the city. Now, thanks to Oink Games — the same company that gave us the tiny-but-sublime Deep Sea Adventure and A Fake Artist Goes to New York — the phrase has taken on a far gentler meaning. As in, a humid, stinky, and pitch-black earthen hole where a troll stashes its jewels. And it’s my task to steal as many as I can before the troll figures out what’s afoot and beats me silly with my own leg.
Not too long ago, I wrote about a superb little ditty by the name of Spyfall, a game about asking questions in a vague yet informative manner so that one of the players — the SPY — would slip up and reveal themselves, while also ensuring that the other players wouldn’t jump to the conclusion you were the spy because your information was too wishy-washy. It was a tightrope social deduction game, simple enough that your curmudgeonly aunt could get along with it, but smart enough that the most jaded gamer would find something to love.
And now thanks to A Fake Artist Goes to New York, it’s back. In art form.
Very few people know this about me, but in addition to being a real-life cowboy, I’m also a licensed search and rescue operator in self-contained underwater breathing apparatus — that’s SCUBA to you “landies,” as we undersea folk call you behind your backs. It’s a tough skill to learn, and sadly I don’t find much use for it in the mountains of Utah.
One of the things you learn in search and rescue is how to recover a submerged object. Usually garbage or a corpse, but hopefully one day a barrel of treasure. You bring down an inflatable container that looks a bit like a hot air balloon, attach it to whatever you’d like to surface, and then fill it with air. Air brought from your own precious, limited supply. Meanwhile, the unfortunates connected to the same oxygen tank watch your gauge’s needle spin, wondering whether they’ll have enough air to reach the surface…
Dungeon diving doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, Welcome to the Dungeon pitches the act of spelunking ancient tombs as almost whimsical, heroes marching into the murky depths at the slightest fit of pique, their lives spent with hardly a care other than for your amusement.
And somehow, it works. Hoo boy, does it ever.