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5 Games That Are Cute But Cutthroat

Root Riverfolk Featured

Have you ever seen a picture of a slow loris? Those big eyes and harmless looking demeanour make them look adorable. Did you know that they are the only venomous primate? One bite can send a human into shock.

Not so cute now, eh?

Some of Zatu’s bloggers and I have compiled a list of the slow loris of the board game world. Games that look sweet, but can leave you in a world of pain. Well… not pain, but just very, very cross.

Hannah Blacknell Has Fort Long and Hard About This…

Fort is a game about making friends in the school playground. You have a pair of best friends who always got your back. Then you also build a deck of other fairweather friends. If you upset these guys, they are going to run off and hang out with someone else. In typical Leder Games style, it has some AMAZING artwork. Kyle Ferrin is in my humble opinion a powerhouse when it comes to illustration. His art style coupled with the unique theming gives Fort the silent assassin ability, looks cute but is actually a cutthroat rage fest. And wow is it good.

During this game, you are trying to collect pizza and toys and turn these in to increase the level of your fort. The game is a race to either 25 victory points or a level 5 fort. The quality of the components is high, although that is what we have come to expect from this publisher. Visually Fort offers a lot, and for a small box, cheap game, it packs a serious game punch with everyone I have played with.

Fort is a twist on the typical deckbuilder, in that your opponents can pilfer unused cards from your carefully crafted deck. The absolute cheek of it! Unlike your typical deck builder, you don’t get to play your whole hand of cards on your turn, instead, you may only play cards from a single suit on your turn, but you can use other cards to follow the action of other players on their turn. Pesky thing is, any cards that are unused at the end of your turn go out into your yard, where they are fair game for opponents until the beginning of your next turn! This influences my decision making A LOT.

Thom Newton Thinks Cute Woodland Creatures Are the Root of All Evil

When the idea for this list was brought up, I actually asked Craig if he recently played Root to get the inspiration. To me, this is the absolute poster child board game for cute but cutthroat.

I mean look at it. Sweet, bright-colored little animal pieces are placed all over a beautifully illustrated board. Oh yeah, and it’s a war game where each faction is desperately trying to better the others to take control of the forest.

Root is one of the most asymmetrical games I own. Each group of animal critters plays completely differently. This means each faction has its own mechanical strengths and weaknesses.

A good Root player will always play to their faction’s strength. A great player will look to exploit their opponent’s weakness. Cutting off a supply chain for the cats can leave their factories cut of and primed for raiding. Or making a massive push to take a critical clearing away from the birds so their decree fails, and their government goes into decline.

Spotting these little points to exploit is what makes Root such an enjoyable game to me. It is an incredibly competitive game where any advantage you can eek out over your opponent may be the victory point that wins you the game.

And yet it looks like a children’s book. It’s an incredibly disarming façade that hides what a clever and cutthroat game it is. Add to that the number of extra factions available and all of the different combinations that can be formed now, and you’ve got a very repayable cutesy game that will surprise you over and over with how much it wants to stab you in the back.

John Hunt Looks at Cutthroat Through a Looking Glass

What could be cuter than lavish illustrations of Cheshire Cats and Dodos? Alice in Wonderland is classic children’s fiction – what could be more innocent and inoffensive than that? Never mind the trippy episodes of the caterpillar or the macabre calls of the Queen of Hearts for mass execution. Alice in Wonderland is cute, right?

Well, it may or may not be, but one thing’s for sure, Parade certainly pulls no punches – is a knife fight in a rabbit hole and all the better for it.

The rules of Parade are child’s play – you have a hand of 5 cards and on your go you are going to lay one at the end of the central Parade. Next, check if you have to pick any cards from the Parade to add to your personal array. Then, draw a card. Repeat until one poor unfortunate soul has cards displayed from all six suits, which triggers the endgame. The person with the fewest points wins.

So where is the bite? Well the check for pick-up take a bit of headspace, but what you lay and when can cause havoc with your opponents and leave them picking up choice horrors. The end game scoring means the person with a majority in any suit flips it and scores 1 point per card, while everyone else scores face value. So again, there is some nasty meanness to be had there. This is further compounded by rules for the final, end game turn. You’re left with four cards in your hand – two to discard and two to keep face down. The latter are revealed simultaneously, and then added to your array. This can play havoc total with the majorities and leave someone who hoped to score only 5 instead scoring 32.

It’s quick, cute and vicious – Parade is definitely one to brutalise your friends with.

Favouritefoe Isn’t Sheepish About Her Choice

Cute and cuddly? Dark and devious more like!

Sheepy Time from AEG is one of those games that look like one thing but play completely differently.. And, although I generally don’t like surprises, this was a good one!

A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Sheepy Time is a cutesy looking push-your-luck racing game where you are vying to be the dreamiest sheep of all. You want to keep your human in the land of nod for as long as possible. But there are nightmares lurking. Three in fact are just as keen to wake your sleepy head, ruining your chances of being the woolly winner!

Played over two phases, your first job will be to try and get your sheep around the track and over the fence as many times as you can in order to score wink points. You can choose between the two sheepy cards in your hand, but if you draw any nightmare cards, they must be played on the next round. And they cause the nightmare meeple to move or jump around the track.

You’ll need to decide whether you push yourself further around (knowing that the wakey-shakey nightmare isn’t far behind!), or play it safe. Staying put sounds like a no-brainer, but you risk being overtaken by more steely-nerved sheepies. Push too far, however, and the nightmare will steal your winks for that round!

After all players have been woken up or called it a night, the game moves into the resting phase. Here, zzz tokens you have collected as you raced around can be spent on bonus dream tiles. These tiles can trigger actions if you land on them on the next racing round. Choosing between laying a juicy tile from the market and placing a zzz token on an existing tile (to enable later activation) can be a tricky one. Think ahead, however, and you can place tiles in such a way that causes cascading combo actions, transform your turns from helpful to holy moly!

Sheepy Time is definitely a game that has more sharpness and strategy than the cuddly artwork suggests. With three nightmares increasing in difficulty, as well as a solo mode, this is one game that could keep you up at night! I should mention that the scoring mechanism is very cunning with each player effectively setting their own target to win. Now, I don’t want to scare you too much, but if you think Sheepy Time is just a quick, cute kids’ game, you will be in for a sheepy shock!

Does This Card Game Machi the Brief?

I’ve decided to go back to when I first started playing board games for my choice. One of the first games I played to get me into the hobby: Machi Koro.

The artwork of Machi Koro resembles something you might see in a primary school book. The box has a city and mountain range against a bright blue skyline. You start the game with a modest amount of money, a wheat field, and a bakery. Slowly but surely, you will start to earn more coins, buy more properties, and open many opportunities. As you earn more money, you can start to build landmarks. Build all four landmarks and you are the winner. Blue cards allow you to collect money on anyone’s turn. Green cards allow you to collect money on your turn. The cutthroatness (is that a word?) comes in the red and purple cards.

Red cards allow you to take coins away from the active player (the person who has rolled the dice) and the purple cards allow you to take coins away from everyone, or a person of your choice. You do not want to be winning a game of Machi Koro, because it will just leave you with a big target on your back. I’d say that of all the games I own, Machi Koro has ended with the most sulks, tantrums, and rants as one player is ganged upon to prevent them from winning. Don’t be fooled by the cuteness of the box, there is one seriously cutthroat game in there.

Playing Machi Koro