I've been trying to collect my thoughts on three games for a few months now. I knew I wanted to write about them, but to what capacity I wasn’t sure. These games don't follow any one type of theme, or structure, but they are bonded by their intent and different use of theme. Each game today tries to teach us something, something positive, something unique. Each game is meant to make you think, like a true piece of art should. Today’s games challenge you like you've never been challenged before. And with that...
From the moment you look at the box, this game poses a question to you. Can friendship be stronger than war? The Grizzled is a war game like no other, as its a game set during the horrors of the First World War but instead of tactics and battlefield strategies the game is about moral and psychological trauma. The players play as lifelong friends who have been drafted into the war and are fighting in the trenches on the western front. Your mission is to love each other and support each other long enough, so that no one succumbs to mental breakdown or worse. The game is played fully cooperatively, as players are attempting to survive the trials of the day to day slog of war. Each round players are playing cards from their hands in attempt to deplete the draw deck before everyone dies or there is nothing there left of your friend psychologically. Each card played represents another day in the trenches and it's toils, be it gas attacks at night, barrages in the snow, heavy shelling in the rain, and so on. The deck is also littered with "Hard Knocks" Cards that represent conditions that your character now has - be it claustrophobia, paranoia, or other conditions that will each have their own effect on you and the rest of the game.
A college of mine claims that this is the only game that he has had dreams about afterwords. Reading the rulebook you learn that the game's characters are the real life forefathers of the designers and artists. As an unfortunate side note the game's artist, Tignous, was killed in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015. Unique and stark this game transcends its own simplistic mechanics to offer a chilling experience I've not felt in any other game before or since, and one I think is essential for anyone beyond the casual level in the gaming hobby
For those of you who already have de base game: we just received an expansion, At Your Orders, with three new elements: rules for solitaire play; rules for playing with two players; mission cards that present players with new challenges that scale in difficulty based on their experience.
Full disclosure: Markus Takanen is a personal friend of mine. He did not ask me to ever give his game a favorable review, in fact he doesn’t even know this entire newsletter is being written.
Mental illness is something that has an odd history with gaming. Since the 80's and starting with the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game mental illness has been treated as something mystical or statistic. It represents another form of health points in Arkham Horror, or a power in The Others, or simply a plot twist in any number of roleplaying games. The designer of Treatment, Markus Takanen, wants to help combat the real world stigma and misconstructions of mental illness and treatment. Markus is a psychiatrist, a gamer, and his hope is to combine those two loves and perhaps get people talking. The game is played though a number of "cases", representing real world mental disorders. Players offer real world treatment cards in the hopes of managing these "cases". Players can chose to treat their patients "quickly" by playing what's left in their hands if they have certain symbols for the required treatment, or build a better hand for a more effective treatment. Symptoms arise that affect both the current case as well as cases already undergoing treatment.
Treatment is a light card game with big ambitions. Playing the game is very easy and very accessible to most people, but like all great things, the devil is in the details. The art, while calm and simple is very evocative, and the game will have people asking questions out loud to one another about psychiatry that they may have never thought to ask. Half conversation piece, half game, Treatment is a brave little game that needs to be experienced, if only once (with everyone you know).
And then we held hands is so unique in its theme I don't really know where to begin. Players play as a couple who are going through a rough time. As the company puts it "..and then we held hands. is a co-operative game about finding balance." Players take turns trying to fulfill the current objectice cards, "emotions", by moving around the board using cards with colors and symbols layed out before them. Players can use their cards or the cards of their partner, and as many as they see fit on a turn. Each time they move they swing their emotions from positive to negative. Players will play until they can reach the center of the board, together, and with their emotions in balance with one another. Seems easy right? Well, there is a big catch: Players must do all of this without any kind of verbal communication, empathizing and always considering each others situation when making a move as it may leave their partner stuck and end the game instantly for being an inconsiderate douche. You didn’t think of that did you? No, you only think of yourself.
... and then we held hands is so unique and so delightful. Part tough abstract game, part couples therapy it offers one of the more challenging games to be mentioned today. Something I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention is that the game contains fully painted art by the outstanding Marie Cardouat know for her previous works with Dixit and Mysterium she offers more lush and emotionally symbolic pieces you'd come to expect from her.
I would like to conclude this by saying that I hope I encouraged you, dear reader, to try something new and different. To hopefully look at the possibilities and opportunities games have to tackle tough topics and explore new vistas of theme and purpose. Finally, I hope that the industry provides us with more games that push boundaries, get us feeling, get us talking, get us experiencing like never before.