Bring Out Yer Dead, or Keeping the Inheritance in the Family

As a fan of all things morbid yet funny, I’ve been hunting around for the Bring Out Yer Dead game ever since I saw it demonstrated on a vblog. Produced by Aaron Watts and Ginger Ale Games, this board game involves making sure your relatives get the best graveyard sites so that you inherit the most money. The gameplay features a simple bidding system using numbered “death certificates”. Folks improve their odds by switching graves or pulling their “lost” relatives out of the river, which is the destination of the lowest bids. Players can also line their pockets by graverobbing a little treasure, which doesn’t help with game play but adds bonuses when adding up final points

Bring Out Yer Dead

Bring Out Yer Dead

The game works with two to five players, limited by the little bags of coffins and family shields. The board game is colorful with the card artistry attractive being slightly comic without wandering into the gross or too morbid. The style is late 1880s but I would never go so far as to call this steampunk.

Bring Out Yer Dead works well for two players but, like most games, it is more fun with higher numbers. The designers were smart in creating a different board side for larger numbers of players; the main difference being a larger amount of grave spaces. Playing time is about an hour, ending when the first person runs out of dead relatives.

I enjoyed the game enough to buy it after trying it once and have now played it multiple times. It provides a nice combination of competitiveness in terms of victory points and ruthlessness in kicking people out of the high point grave sites. I also think that the game ends too quickly in two-player mode because it provides too few coffin pieces. As play progresses, some of the coffins should wind up in the river, most in the high point graves and a few in the low point mass grave. The game ends so quickly that really no one winds up in the mass graves.

The downer side is that, despite multiple readings (and arguments about meanings) of the rules, I’m not sure I’ve played it correctly yet. The instructions are unclear on the use of the fate and treasure cards. Having a section where the designers gave examples of the game play would have been extremely helpful.

bring dead fate

Fate Cards that help with grave positioning

For instance, it took a while to figure out the Vampire card. It allows you to place a coffin in a graveyard but not in a grave. Since points are based on getting the high-end graves, this card appears to do nothing helpful, so why have it? Turns out that its only useful value is as a counter to the Ghoul card that allows you to force another to take one of your coffins into his own stash, thereby slowing his ability to win. When that opposite player puts the coffin into a grave, it doesn’t benefit their score, only yours. They can still throw it into the river but another card allows you to save your river-drenched kin.  By using the Vampire card, the opponent player can then place your family coffin in the grass area of the graveyard, giving you no points and no way to move it. It took us two attempts at playing to figure that out.

The game is a lot of fun even with the high price tag. However, clearer rules would have raised this review from a B+ to a golden A in playability. As it is, I can see folks getting frustrated on exactly how to use the fate and fortune cards in the bidding. So, if you don’t mind a little morbidity and interpretation, Bring Out Yer Dead is a great quick strategy game for a dark evening’s worth of fun.

Kodama, Better than WaterWorks

As parents, we read to our children to teach them language and a love of great stories. If you want to teach them math and strategic thinking, then play a game, almost any game, with them. That is a big reason why active gamers, whether RPGers, or board game aficionados tend to be better thinkers.

waterworks-picOne game I grew up with was WaterWorks, the card game on building and fixing leaky pipes. It’s fun, competitive and great on a dining room table. It needed that much space for the cards to spread out. Recently, however, I found a nicer game that has a similar play style and prettier pictures.

I discovered Kodama, The Tree Spirits after visiting Games Inn, a local store/gaming café in Hobart, Indiana, one Sunday afternoon. Created by ActionPhase Games, this product combines lovely artwork by Kwanchai Moriya with a fun instructions for a game that is more challenging than I first thought.

The action looks a lot like the old Waterworks game where participants build a pipeline from faucet to spigot while breaking their opponents’ pipes. It is an easy card game for kids and still popularly sold in many toy stores.

kodama-picIn comparison, Kodama is also simple. Gamers build a tree instead of plumbing. However, the stump has only a few branches and angles, limiting the directional options. In addition, each tree card displays its own special features: caterpillars, mushrooms, flowers, clouds, and starlight. The winner is that person whose tree garners the most points by selectively including specifics features found on the branches. However, it is not just about building only trees with caterpillars. The player also receives points for including the occasional flower branch with caterpillars and clouds. In short, the most successful players build an ecosystem in their tree.

The random factor comes in two different ways. First, the participants are limited in choosing between four growth cards with each round. If the best cards are not available, oh well, tough luck. Secondly, the season cards dictate what extra conditions can affect the players’ points. Unfortunately, no one knows what these seasonal conditions are before tree building starts. The seasons also mark each round of game play. Since the game only has three seasons, the game is fairly short.

The box features cards, symbol dots for each player, a fold-up board for keeping score and an instruction book. The art seems pretty simple but is actually quite complex and soothing. The beauty of the product is a large part of what attracted me to the game.

Like Waterworks, Kodama, The Tree Spirits is small and easily transportable. It requires a large table top and some strategic thinking. After playing it twice and losing. I figured I had better start paying more attention to what I was doing wrong. In the pipe game, game masters have to decide whether to rip up the opponent’s pipe or build on their own on each turn.

Although Kodama is also strategic, it differs from the old classic in that it is not viciously competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great cutthroat game, like Munchkin or Risk, as much as most. However, sometimes it’s nicer to play something more oriented to how good your skill set is and less focused on how big of a bastard you can be. In this game, the people work on the strength of their trees. No one breaks, sickens or otherwise impedes the other players. The strategy is simply to grow a better ecosystem than theirs.

The game is short enough (ten minutes) to not become tedious and can be played by two to five players ages 14 or older.