So. The most recent tabletop game we tried out at our local library is Running with the Bulls.
Digression: I think I’ll try to stick with my strategy for linking book titles and find the publisher’s page for the thing, if I can. That seems like the best way to indicate who gets credit, and I suspect most game publishers, like most book publishers, will either sell you the thing directly or link to a favored distributor. But I don’t actually have particular objection to linking to the BoardGameGeek site, if Gentle Readers would prefer it. Unlike with books—I certainly will not link to Amazon if I can help it, and will only link to GoodReads if I cannot find a publisher. Wasn’t I going to start linking to WorldCat at one point? Anyway, let me know if you care at all. End Digression.
So, I’ll start by saying a few things about the game itself: it’s clearly designed for family play, with fairly easy rules and fairly limited strategic decision-making. Your game pieces are dice (I’ve seen a fair number of games recently with that mechanic, which I don’t remember ever seeing in the seventies) and every player has a bunch of tiny dice that they have to move from place to place without accidentally knocking them onto a different face. I wasn’t very good at that. Also, for some reason I several times mistook an odd for an even number (the core mechanic involves dice that show odd numbers traveling along a different path from even numbers) and at least once failed to spot that two dice were showing the same number. My advice, then, is to not make those mistakes. Other than that, the strategy, such as it is, involves picking your destination and trying to get there along those branching and combining paths, while other players may re-roll your dice or alter the pathways. Also, you are trying to avoid showing the same number and being in the same spot as a bunch of big red dice that represent the bulls. The paths are short, with four rounds of movement to get to the destinations, and three iterations (“days”) of getting to the destinations and scoring.
The thing that struck me about the game, before even getting to the rules, was its design—the board is ridiculously ongepotchket, with dozens of tiny jokey images that serve no game purpose. It’s fairly difficult to look at it and determine what parts of the board are part of the game and what is just decoration. The decoration is largely on the theme of a town largely inhabited and run by bulls, although there are also a lot of cupcakes for some reason. Still, amusing enough, and there was a dalek, so that’s all right. But it was distracting, right at the beginning, and to me, drew attention to the arbitrariness of the theme. I think if the same game mechanic and rules had been made in the eighties, it would have been a computer theme and the board would have been much simpler, probably with imitation printed circuitry, or possibly that dark blue ones-and-zeroes pattern. And, I think, the dice would have been specially made with symbols rather than the ordinary pips. When was that a thing? I didn’t really play a lot of board games between 1985 and 1995 or so, but I have the impression that was a thing.
After we were done and packed up, we talked for a good half-hour about various ways that the play of the game could be improved. Mostly, we felt that not enough “runners” were trampled by the “bulls”. Not because we are bloodthirsty, although sometimes in the more purely abstract games we do aim for cardboard carnage, but because the game would have been more interesting with a more difficult balance of risks and rewards. We thought that this was aimed at smaller children, for whom the MFQ would be substantially decreased by having an opponent (particularly a parent) knock their pieces out of the game. We were able to quite quickly come up with two or three House Rules that would improve the gameplay—simply increase the number of bulls from 6 to 10, or re-roll the faces on the bulls every round. We also think that the deck of Action cards wasn’t ideally balanced for a variety of reasons, which would be trickier to fix, although it could be done. But the tenor of the discussion was how to improve an entertaining game, rather than how to rescue a bad one or why the game is irredeemable, as sometimes happens. The discussion afterward is part of the MFQ, for us. Speaking of which…
MFQ: The ideal group for this game, I think, would be a mixed-age group of four, aimed at a social game. In other words, the group I was actually playing with. There is some play-to-hose, not particularly vicious, and a good deal of luck. Tactics would require thinking no more than three moves ahead, or rather, working back from the preferred destination no more than three steps. It’s turn-based, but we didn’t find that there was too much waiting for people to exhaust every possible outcome in their minds before making a move. Probably low replayability, although plausibly not as low as other possible games that eight-year-olds might like. It’s a light-hearted but not actively silly game. Reasonable set-up to playing time ratio, although my advice would be to use a tally pad rather than the tiny cardboard victory-point discs (mini-Digression: I don’t know why some games have victory-point tokens and others have score tracks when score pads would do just fine. Tokens seem valuable to me when they can be taken away or traded or wagered, rather than just added up, but I don’t know if I’m an outlier on that front. End mini-Digression) since getting those back in to the baggie (and picking them up off the floor where I had inadvertently scattered them) was the most time-consuming part of the clean-up. On the whole, I would play it again but probably won’t.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,