The Island Awaits: Board Game Haiku Volume 3

Our third collection of board game haiku explores some stone cold classics as well as some recent smash hits, all in seventeen syllables!

Board games are amazing things. They take us on journeys, challenge our mental prowess, amuse, confound, entertain, bring us together with friends, family and strangers, and only very occasionally cause us to flip the table and storm off in a big sulky huff. They make us care about bits of cardboard, pieces of wood and plastic figures, about rules and outcomes that are only fleetingly meaningful. They inspire us to write and publish reviews, articles, jokes, interviews, and personal stories. Meeple Mountain wouldn’t exist if Andy Matthews and the rest of the team didn’t invest their hearts and souls into a hobby that they love so much they just want to share.

Of course, some mediums of sharing are more common than others.

Recently I’ve turned to poetry, specifically the Japanese micro-poem format of haiku – miniature poems only 17 syllables long. This is my third article of board game haiku. If you’d like more of a background to haiku as a form of poetry then check out the introduction to the first collection Board Game Haiku: Tabletop Games in Seventeen Syllables.

As before, some of these haiku follow traditional haiku ‘rules’ (including a seasonal reference and juxtaposition), others don’t (hey, even Basho himself didn’t always stick to the rules) but I’ve kept to the most famous haiku format – they’re all seventeen syllables.

So here are another 12 board game haiku, starting with one of my favourite two player only games…

Patchwork

I’ve got this sewn up,

my Tetris days weren’t wasted.

Buttons breed buttons.

In the years since 2014 there have been a slew of polyomino board games, including several from Patchwork’s designer Uwe Rosenberg. For my money, however, none of them come close to the game that started the craze. Patchwork’s combination of simple rules and intuitive premise draw the player in, but it’s the twin currencies of time and buttons that pins Patchwork to your heart. You’ll have to spend both to win but want to spend neither given they determine turn order and end game points respectively. Only Patchwork’s limit of 2 players kept it from a place on David’s Polyomino Step Ladder.

Wingspan

Pretty birds in rows

building up chain reactions.

Can I eat the eggs?

The runaway success of 2019, Wingspan had gamers clamouring to get a copy, with print run after print run selling out. Justifiably praised for its unusual theme (birds), all women design and art team, and its gorgeous components you could be forgiven for wondering if the excitement overshadowed the actual game. Happily, Wingspan’s engine-building card play easily lives up to the hype and Wingspan was a shoo in for the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres award. Read our review of Wingspan and Tiffany’s Interview with Wingspan’s designer Elizabeth Hargrave.

Village

Spring marriage, summer

harvests, autumnal markets.

What’s this graveyard for?

Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that this is the second haiku about Inka and Markus Brand’s bucolic board game Village (the first can be found here). Look, I really like this game and how it explores its theme through the mechanics, so in a bit of self-indulgence (as if these collections of board game haiku aren’t self-indulgent enough) I’ve allowed myself a second attempt. I’ve a soft spot for this version because it breaks traditional haiku rules in a different way (three seasons!) and hints at the seasons of life, from spring’s beginnings to winter’s end. Check out our review of Village.

Istanbul

Market bustle race

Where are those apprentices?

Can’t stop, need rubies!

It’s impressive how much of the bustle of a real life market comes across in Istanbul. But with only 16 spaces on the board and a possible 37 characters jostling about, including merchants, assistants, jail-breaking cousins, a governor and a smuggler, is it any wonder that the theme can be felt so strongly. Whilst you may spend much of your time transporting fruit and fixing the hole in your wheelbarrow, the focus is those lovely rubies and the race to claim them creates a lively and engaging puzzle. Intrigued? Check out our reviews of Istanbul and Istanbul: Digital Edition.

Scrabble

Scrabble’s haiku, written out on its board, reads “Oh my blood clab_ers/ Word quality is worthles_/ Ju_t add s to it”.

Whilst plenty of word games have been published since Scrabble’s release in 1948, none have the same ponderous majesty of this board game behemoth. It’s a game that feels less like it was created and more like it was a design waiting to be uncovered. Over 150 million sets of Scrabble have been sold around the world, with half of British homes and a third of American homes said to own a set. Not bad for a 15 by 15 grid and some letter tiles. If you enjoy Scrabble but are looking for something new, check out David’s Scrabble Step Ladder for inspiration of games to try next.

To the Scrabble aficionado: Yes, I know that English editions only include 2 blank tiles. I‘ve had to flip a tile to create an extra blank as Scrabble sets only include 2 Bs and 4 Ss. If it makes you feel better, you can pretend that the tiles are from Super Scrabble, which does include 4 blank tiles. Although, of course, if the tiles were from Super Scrabble then all the blanks would be unnecessary as there would be more than enough Bs and Ss to go around.

Colt Express

Schemin’ and stealin’

Throw punch, miss, thought she’d be there.

Marshal enters – Bang!

Comedic action-programming game Colt Express won the Spiel des Jahres in 2015 with its potent combination of smarts, silliness and charm. Players are train bandits trying to get rich, hinder their opponents and avoid the trigger-happy marshal. Watching someone get punched into the next door carriage, encounter the marshal, and get shot up onto the roof is funny; watching their next card turn over and it be a ‘Change Floors’ never ceases to amuse (they’ll end up back on the roof with a bullet from the marshal for their troubles). Plus it features a 3D train – what more could you want?

Catan

The island awaits.

We build along hex borders,

within lurk bandits

What’s not been said about Catan? One of the fundamental experiences of modern tabletop gaming, Catan has players trying to settle the nominal island by collecting various resources and building roads, settlements and cities. Just watch out for the pesky robber who can not only steal your resources but also prevent you from getting them in the first place. How rude! Find out why Tom loves Catan or check out David’s five separate Catan Step Ladders covering other games that share similar characteristics with Catan.

Scotland Yard

The streets hide my trail.

Bobby’s peelers are clueless.

LOOK, HERE I AM! Damn.

The original hidden movement game. One player is the criminal on the run in London, the others are all coppers in hot pursuit using nothing but ticket stubs and brain power to work out where their quarry might be. Winner of the 1983 Spiel des Jahres, Scotland Yard remains one of the best games in the genre it created.

In the UK the police are sometimes known as ‘bobbies’ or ‘peelers’ after Sir Robert Peel who in 1829 founded the Metropolitan Police Service, based at Scotland Yard in London. For many other terms for the police in the UK, check out our review of Scotland Yard.

Vikings Gone Wild

This board game haiku is a ‘found poem’ using card titles found in Vikings Gone Wild. I’m particularly fond of the idea that Thor is Odin’s beer specialist. The poem reads “Loki’s hero trap/ Thor Odin’s beer specialist/ Undead Valkyrie”.

Based on the online real-time strategy game of the same name, Vikings Gone Wild is a surprisingly successful digital-to-analogue conversion from Lucky Duck Games. Throwing in a whole bunch of ideas from other games in the deck-building genre, Vikings Gone Wild is fizzy, fun and perhaps a little over-full. That being said, who doesn’t want to send a Pigator charging at another player’s Brewery only to see it repulsed by a well-timed Sheep Cannon? Check out our review of Vikings Gone Wild.

The Isle of Cats

Isle of (I love) cats

Feline evacuation

Place contorting kin

Card drafting and polyominoes combine in The Isle of Cats, one of 2019’s Kickstarter smash hits. Players attempt to rescue as many cats as possible from the titular island before the evil Lord Vesh arrives and destroys them all (presumably because he’s misunderstood the term catgut and has lots of violins that need restringing). To do this you’ll need to entice the cats aboard and arrange their polyomino-forms most effectively on your boats, grouping like-coloured cats (families) together. Check out our review of The Isle of Cats.

If you’re struggling with the first line of this haiku, try saying it out loud. I assume it was always an intentional pun from designer Frank West.

Elder Sign

Enter random room

Vast unknowable horrors

They’ll fear my dice skills

Increasingly an elder statesman of Fantasy Flight’s Cthulhu Mythos line of games, Elder Sign hails from as far back in the distant past as 2011. Created by the same designers as Arkham Horror, Elder Sign is all about the dice, requiring players to roll and match symbols on museum room cards in order to seal inter-dimensional portals and stop the world from being destroyed by one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones.

This poem is part of a sequence using very similar language to explore the Cthulhu theme in modern board games, following on from haiku about the games AuZtralia and Arkham Horror. I’m interested in the small, mundane ways that characters within Cthulhu games defeat their inter-dimensional adversaries, and I like that in Elder Sign, as with many things in life, luck can play a huge part.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

Waves of disease rage

What can go wrong in a year?

Turns out everything

What’s left to be said about Pandemic Legacy: Season 1? Pandemic was already a very strong cooperative game and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 just knocked it out of the park on its release in 2015. A campaign of 12-24 games set over a year where players repeatedly race to save the world from deadly viruses, only to have the events of one game carry over and affect subsequent games. Components were torn up, stuff was written on and stickers were stuck with wanton abandon. Whilst there have been plenty of legacy games released subsequently, none have come close to the universal acclaim of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. Check out Jesse’s thoughts on Pandemic Legacy and the future of tabletop gaming.

If you’ve enjoyed these board game haiku then check out the earlier collections ‘Board Game Haiku: Tabletop Games in Seventeen Syllables’ and ‘A Hat Hits the Ground: More Board Game Haiku’.

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About the author

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Andrew Holmes

Andrew Holmes is a husband, father, scientist, poet and, of course, gamer who lives in Wales, works in England and owns a Scottish rugby shirt. He has never passed up a challenge to play Carcassonne.

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