Something I haven’t actually taken advantage of in previous PAX Aus years has been the board game area, partially because it’s always been so expansive I never knew where to start. However, this year thanks to VR Distribution, I was able to sit down and spend time with a couple of the creators of the new board games being shown off on the showfloor, including Phil Walker-Harding and his game Spellbook and Matthew Dunstan and his game Perspectives.
Perspectives is a narrative game with several ‘cases’ which unfurl in several stages as you proceed deeper into their investigations. In the short preview session we played with Matthew, the first stage of one of these cases involved trying to solve a murder which had occurred – a rock star who has been poisoned. Players are tasked with figuring out who poisoned him, when, and working out the exact timeline of events that led to his untimely demise.
From the case file, pictures are distributed to each player. These can be ‘photos’ (artwork) around the time of the event in question, or documents relating to the case, such as a schedule or autopsy report. Players can’t show each other their pictures, and can only communicate verbally what’s on them, with this communication being vital to figuring out the solution. The artwork is also more intricately designed with hints than you might expect – Matthew Dunstan is a fan of games like Riven, which rely on environmental storytelling – and there are some really cute and clever ways sewn into the artwork and clues that make it possible for players to effectively communicate and establish a timeline of events. To give anything more away would spoil the game itself, but Perspectives looks to be a smart take on a narrative game, that even comes with a puzzle to solve on the box the game comes in.
Spellbook casts players as wizards, although not necessarily doing battle as one might think they would. Instead, each wizard has a series of seven spell cards, representing their spellbook which they need to complete, as well as a magical familiar. Collecting all seven spells, or powering up their familiar to full power, ends the game. Spellbook centres around collecting rune tokens, choosing either to take one from a known amount on an altar in the centre of the table, or grabbing two random ones from a magical pouch, which come with various symbols and in various colours. Same-colour combinations can be used to unlock spells of the same affinity – for instance, collecting three red runes allows you to unlock a red spell. Once you’ve unlocked a spell, you’re free to use it on your turn, although the number and combination of spells you can use is determined by what ‘type’ they are – morning, midday or night. During each turn, players have the option of placing a token on their familiar as well, powering it up.
It all sounds a little complex at the start, but once you’ve played a few rounds it all starts to make complete sense, with strategies to win, spells to prioritise and surreptitious ways to take an advantage slowly becoming clear. The tokens themselves are both a nice visual indicator of progress as well as adding a bit of randomised fun, like reaching into a bag of lotto numbers. It’s very easy to get sucked into a game and while away an hour, which we did in our session with Phil, so much so that we didn’t actually end up completing the game (although I suspect he was about to demolish us at any second), but it was enough to see Spellbook as a varied and fun board game, that while outwardly looks a little complex, makes learning its gameplay both enjoyable and easy, making for an addictive experience.