5 Games That Melted Our Brains
Brain-melting. Adjective. Overwhelming in a way that prevents coherent thought.
(Source: Your Dictionary)
It is rare on this blog that we will talk about uber complex, difficult, or mind-melty games. This is for a couple of reason. Firstly, and most notably, is the fact that they usually take a really long time to try and explain. Nobody has time to read the rules to Mage Knight, for instance, as you try to explain them in the haze of a mangled and misty memory. I won’t be able to explain them well in a blog post and you won’t enjoy reading the meandering mutterings I put down.
Secondly, sometimes I have no idea where to start. We spend an entire day playing a game, and it just blows our minds in so many different ways you can’t tell left from right, right from wrong, and wrong from up. Well, today, dear reader of this blog, we are going to rip the band-aid right off. Let’s talk about games that just melted our brains.
For this, we are going to limit the list to five games. This is, of course, a completely subjective list, so feel free to disagree as you see fit. The games we will be looking at are –
- Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
- Mage Knight
- Magic the Gathering
- TIME Stories: The Marcy Case
- Tales of the Arabian Nights
For each one of these, we will explore what makes them mind melters in my humble opinion (of which I fully accept I may be wrong), and take it from there.
#1. Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
In board game circles, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a relatively unknown gem. It is a social deduction game with a bit of a difference, as players are split into two teams. One-half play as the humans, and one-half play as the aliens. It is up to the aliens to hunt down the humans, and for the humans to escape via the escape pods. Sounds simple, right?
Well, no. Not at all. You see, not only is EftAiOS a hidden role game, so you don’t know who is on what team, but it is also a hidden location game. You track your own movement, only telling people if you make noise in a noisy sector by drawing a card. This may dictate that you are quiet, have made noise in your sector, or have made noise in another sector of your choice – throwing people off.
If that isn’t complex enough, you can then use items as the humans, and each role has its own special ability on each side of the fence. Luckily you have a map that is printed on a whiteboard to try and keep track of everything.
So, to summarise – you need to keep track of:
- Who your allies are
- Who your enemies are
- Where your allies are
- Where your enemies are
- Where the exits are
- What everyone is doing
You end up with a map that looks a little bit like the below –
What makes Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space a brain melter? You have to keep track of everyone, all at once, whilst also keeping track of yourself and trying to figure out who is on your side.
#2. Mage Knight
You’d struggle to find a regular board gamer who wouldn’t put Vlaada Chvátil’s epic board game Mage Knight on a list of one of the most complicated games of all time. On Board Game Geek it ranks 4.23/5 for complexity, which is extremely high judging most popular games rank 1-3 in difficulty. In fact, being ranked #16 in the BGG top board games list of all time, Mage Knight is the second most complicated high ranking game, after Through the Ages, which scores 4.36/5 in complexity, and #3 in the all-time rankings.
Now, Mage Knight is a very good game, and there is absolutely no doubt that Vlaada Chvátil is a world-class game designer (one of the best); however, there is also no doubting that Mage Knight is an incredibly complicated game. In fact, a friend and I took a day off work last year to play it (we booked it off – I feel the need to clarify that – we didn’t just not turn up). It took the whole day and we ended up working our final battle out like the image below to understand what weakness was where and who was doing what.
That happened when I first kicked this blog off, and since then I haven’t written about the game. I mean, I wrote around six articles, but never published them, because they just didn’t encapsulate the game well enough. There are so many rules and so many slight nuances that it can easily melt your brain.
What makes Mage Knight a brain melter? There are a lot of rules to learn, and then there is the potential for a lot of maths near the end of the game. Complex calculations are difficult enough, yet alone after six hours of gameplay.
#3. Magic the Gathering
There are two different ways people can respond to Magic the Gathering being on this list. The first is to question why Magic the Gathering has been mentioned. I mean it’s so popular, and you’ve been playing it for years, right? The second is people like me.
Over the past eight months, I have been writing articles trying to get into Magic the Gathering. I am not new to CCGs or LCGs, and I am what many would consider a fairly hardcore gamer. I even wrote about the backstory of some of the cards, and the newer Unstable release at the end of last year. To show how much effort I put into learning the game – I even listened to four books about Magic the Gathering on Audible. The mythology is amazing. That being said, there is one thing that stands in the way of Magic the Gathering now.
The barrier to entry for Magic the Gathering is just too high. If you don’t know anyone who is into it – if you have to learn from the rules sheets alone – then you don’t stand a chance of learning the game by yourself (or so I found). It already has a fairly high complexity rating, without the problem of the fact the rules are fairly hard to understand. They seem to miss out core concepts and leave you wondering what your hand can do.
On a personal note, the number of times I have since tried talking to people about Magic only for the first words to be “well, if you want to play competitively…” – I don’t, Magic the Gathering, I just want to play you. Why do you make it so difficult?
What’s interesting is that Zee Garcia mentioned Magic the Gathering as his #4 game in the Top 10 Games Not To Play With Noobs Dice Tower video. That says something.
What makes Magic the Gathering a brain melter? So, that devolved into a bit of a rant at the end, but the point is still sound. Magic becomes a brain melter because the barrier to entry is high and the rules are fairly difficult to interpret.
#4. T.I.M.E Stories: The Marcy Case
T.I.M.E Stories is one of those games that started off so well. The very first T.I.M.E Stories story, The Asylum, was unique and interesting. It was beautifully crafted and put together. Yes, you needed to play it more than once to complete it, as I understand is the case with the majority of the T.I.M.E Stories cases; however, playing it two or three times worked well. There were just enough mechanics, just enough complexity, to get most people to buy the expansion when it came out.
The difficulty with T.I.M.E Stories is that the next expansion, The Marcy Case, added in a few additional mechanics. Where the game was beautifully balanced before, and could be completed after a few hours of gameplay using memory alone, The Marcy Case (without wanting to give too much away) became a difficult run, that took up several pages in a notepad. More was left up to luck than design, and additional mechanics meant the game kept having to be replayed.
Eventually, the need to keep notes, memorise things and the reliance on luck can make the game a slog if you are not fully committed. That is ultimately the thing that makes the game more difficult than it needed to be.
What makes T.I.M.E Stories: The Marcy Case a brain melter? It requires a lot of attention, a lot of note-taking, and a lot of backtracking. We can’t speak for the other expansions, as we haven’t played them, but The Marcy Case requires a lot of brainpower.
#5. Tales of the Arabian Nights
When we played Tales of the Arabian Nights we absolutely loved it for around two hours. After that, we began to struggle.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is actually a game that we’ve never mentioned before on this blog because it was such a large game that I didn’t feel I could cover it at the time. Realistically, it is a very good game; however, it really isn’t designed for six players like we played it with.
You see, in Tales of the Arabian Nights the players create their own stories, with one person telling their tale and two others looking up references. One player gives the core player (on their turn) an option, and that option correlates with an entry in an absolutely huge book – this usually has another option or refers to a card, and gives the player (whose turn it is) two or three actions before it moves on. As I said, two other players help each player (assuming there are enough players) with their turn. Each turn thus takes around 5 minutes of decision making and a further 5 minutes of looking things up.
With six players, the looking things up becomes intensive. Where I am sure, with more playthroughs, it would become more intuitive, with six players it can become slow. It becomes difficult. The brain power needed to constantly look things up, and listen to others looking things up, can be strenuous after a while.
That being said, it is worth it. You will need to keep track of your own story, as well as help other people with theirs. It is a difficult balance to maintain. You will enjoy spinning your own tale, just understand that it will not be without its price if you play with a lot of people.
Still, it is an ace game. You won’t regret it if you play it with around three to four people (BGG recommends three).
What makes Tales of the Arabian Nights a brain melter? This game is brilliant, but it can be a bit like using a library reference book to tell a story at times. With more people, the game doesn’t seem to work as well as with fewer.
So, blogosphere, what do you think of our list? Do you agree or disagree (or want to argue about Magic the Gathering?)? What are the games that melt your brain? Let me know in the comments below.