A Visit to Thirsty Meeples

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For my *cough* 21st *cough* birthday this year, I took a trip to Thirsty Meeples, a boardgame cafe in Gloucester Green, Oxford.

The idea is simple. For £5 per person (£6 if you don’t buy any food or drink) you book one of their well worn tables for 3 hours. During that time, you can play as many of their 2,500 boardgames as you want. Their massive, well-organised library takes up half of the wall space.

Squeezed in among it all is a cafe serving a wide range of teas and coffees, and a small selection of light snacks, sandwiches and sweets. A couple of sandwiches and a slice of spinach pie went down well, and the hot chocolate was excellent. Best of all, though, was the Super Sugar Rush bowl of mixed Haribo, M&Ms and marshmallows to keep the energy up!

I got some game recommendations in advance from their active Twitter feed, and the knowledgeable staff made more recommendations on the day. They were also on hand to give us a decent breakdown of the rules to maximise playing time. During our visit, we managed to fit in a game of New York Slice, two games of Beyond Baker Street and just about squeezed in a run of Betrayal At House on The Hill before the end of the 3 hours.

For a mid-week afternoon I was surprised at how busy the place was, so booking in advance is definitely recommended.

If you want to try out some games before buying them or are looking for something different to do with some like-minded friends, give Thirsty Meeples a go!

New York Slice

What about the games themselves? We all enjoyed the three games we tried, which none of us had played before. But for all three of them, I’m not sure about long-term replayability or whether I would buy them for myself. This was one advantage of being able to try them out at Thirsty Meeples.

First up was New York Slice. I’d never heard of the game before and chose it for no other reason than liking pizza and the amusement factor of playing a food related game in a cafe. It was either this or Sushi Go.

The rules are simple to learn, but the game has the potential for a lot of careful strategy. Each turn, one player is the “slicer” and randomly lays down 11 slices to make a full circular pizza. Without changing the order, the slicer divides the pizza into chunks according to the number of players. Each player then decides which chunk they want, with the slicer getting the final choice.

Having fun with the nephew at Thirsty Meeples

Everyone decides which slices of their chunk they’re going to eat and which they’re going to save. Eating slices gives you immediate gratification and points based on the number of pieces of pepperoni consumed. Saving the pizza gives you the chance of getting bonus points at the end if you have more slices of a particular type of pizza than anyone else.

Scoring and gameplay are complicated by the addition of “special orders”, which add or subtract points or give you special one-off skills. There are also the dreaded, inedible anchovies which lose you points.

The game was a lot of fun, with nicely made, chunky pieces and a flip-top pizza-box box. The scoring at the end was much easier than expected and the winner quickly found. I’d come back for seconds if I got the chance!

Beyond Baker Street

Next we tried Beyond Baker Street, another game none of us had heard of before, and a much more cerebral affair.

Together, the players must solve a crime by finding the suspect, motive and method before Sherlock Holmes. Every player has a hand of evidence cards, but only the other players can see your cards. They must give you clues about the colour or value of the cards in your hand, and vice versa. Every clue given allows Holmes to advance one step closer to solving the crime himself.

The three threads of the crime are represented by more cards having a colour and value. To solve each thread, several evidence cards of the same colour adding up the required value must be played to the board.

The Sherlock Holmes theme is justified with the addition of an “Impossible” pile. Here, players must discard unwanted pieces of evidence, hopefully leaving you with only the truth, however improbable that may be. The value of cards on the Impossible pile must add up to exactly 20 or the game is lost. Eliminating the Impossible also allows Holmes to advance in his own investigation.

This is an intriguing game and was quite fun as the tension rose over whether the correct evidence cards would be found and played. One significant downside for what is supposed to be a co-operative game is the inability to discuss tactics with your team mates. As soon as you try to do so, you unavoidably end up giving away clues about what everyone has in their hand, effectively cheating.

We played only a beginner’s version of the game. For experts, there is the option of character cards and other features to make your investigation more complicated and increase the challenge. Even with the promise of more, I’m not sure I’d try it again when there are so many other games that could be afoot instead.

betrayal at house on the hill

Betrayal at House on the Hill

The last game on our list was Betrayal at House on The Hill. This was a game a couple of our group had heard of and were really interested in playing. Did it live up to the hype?

From a single, rushed playthrough, it’s difficult to say much about what the game was like. The point is that every game can be very different: random events drastically alter the game and the way it ends.

The idea is that you are an explorer in a haunted mansion. Every player goes off exploring rooms in search of useful items and omens in an effort to make their character stronger. At a random moment in the game, one of the players is revealed to be a traitor and that traitor must be defeated if all the other players are to get out of the house alive.

In the game we played, for example, the finale was an homage to the Saw films: all the players had a device around their necks which would decapitate them if they didn’t get a key to remove it by completing difficult challenges. The traitor also had a device round their neck, but theirs was a fake. The idea was to try to fool the other players into helping you while trying to ensure their deaths. Other endings featured ghosts, monsters and different horror movie tropes and themes.

The exploration phase was pretty straightforward. Each character moved round the house, finding random rooms and being presented with ghostly events which could sap their sanity, injure them, or provide them with weapons to defend themselves. The cards had amusing references to different horror films, so fans should enjoy recognising the references.

When the traitor is revealed, it is necessary to pore over a separate rulebook to find out what everyone’s goal is. Then everyone goes about their new tasks and tries to survive the game. There’s the possibility that these will be interesting and suspenseful battles against the forces of darkness, though that wasn’t our experience.

I have criminally bad luck. The two events I experienced in the game both did me serious injury and I gained no bonuses. By chance, I was selected as the traitor, but was so weak that I could not compete in any of the challenges to get the keys. My fake trap also went off after just two rounds of play, so everyone immediately knew I was the traitor, ruining any chance of bluffing or roleplay. In summary, a series of chance events meant that, after a suspenseful build-up, the ending was a limp and rushed affair.

It’s a quick game to play and was a bit of silly fun, so I would definitely try it again to see if things work out better next time. But I doubt I would have much patience with it in the long term because the game feels shallow. My initial impression is that it’s a great idea spoilt by patchy implementation.

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