Who is more similar to Abraham Lincoln: Julius Caesar or Mary Shelley?
Probably Caesar, right? Makes sense…they’re two historic leaders infamously assassinated.
Okay, what if it was Sitting Bull and Catherine the Great I was asking you to compare to Lincoln? Is it Sitting Bull, because he lived in the same general time period and was a part of American history? Or is it Catherine the Great, another leader known for being a central figure in a civil war?
STILL think you got it figured out?? All right, hot shot. What if I asked you this…who is more similar to Abraham Lincoln: Pinocchio or Captain Hook?
Such are the questions and conundrums that tickle the brain in Similo, a new-ish cooperative game from design team Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi and Martino Chiacchiera and publisher Horrible Guild. I often describe it as a mix between Mysterium and Guess Who and, while I know that the mention of a mass market game like Guess Who would cause many ‘gamers’ to shriek like a vampire seeing a fresh order of garlic knots, trust me. This game is good.
In this game a clue giver will be given a secret character card that they must get their teammates to pick out from a grid of 11 others. They’ll try to achieve this over the course of five rounds by giving very simple clues. Each round, they’ll play one character card from a hand they’ve been dealt.
When they play this character, they’ll put them either vertical or horizontal; if the character is vertical, it means that character is SIMILAR to their secret character and if it’s horizontal, it means they are DIFFERENT. So, going back to the Abraham Lincoln example I kicked off with, I might play King Tut vertically because I’m trying to link the fact that they were both leaders or they were both dudes or both. Conversely, I may play Pinocchio horizontally because Lincoln is not a wooden puppet.
After the clue is given, the other players must eliminate a set number of characters who they don’t think is the secret character from the grid. In the first round, it’s easy. You only need to remove one character. BUT in round two, it’s two and then three in round three, four in round four, until in round five the guessers need to choose between the two remaining. If at any point the guessers eliminate the clue giver’s secret character, it’s game over and everyone loses.
This system of escalating elimination creates a brilliant game arc. Each round is more suspenseful than the last, the tension rising and swelling like a bag of microwave popcorn. It also creates an interesting sense of balance, where your information increases as your choices and margin of error shrink. With each successive round, the debate between the guessers gets fiercer and more personal, as each player seems to latch onto a character that they are POSITIVE is the secret character. It’s both hilarious and mortifying as the clue giver to see your teammates second guessing each other like they’re the cast of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The characters being used depends on the themed deck of cards you are using. You can’t go out and buy a game simply called “Similo”; Similo is more of a game system, supported by different themed packs of cards. The examples I’ve mostly used are from the Similo History pack which is, funnily enough, historical figures (though it does have a notable absence of Black figures which is unfortunate and glaring). In addition to Similo History, there is also Similo Fables wherein in the characters are all from fairy tales (which is where I got the Pinocchio and Captain Hook examples from).
Those are the two I own, but a Similo Myths has just been released and of course I’ve already ordered it, don’t be silly, I’m a board gamer and buying things without question is what we do. According to some forum posts on BGG, there’s also a Similo Animals on the horizon which will be…animals? Is that right? Hold on, lemme check.
Yep, it’s animals! Just literal animals. Cool, I’ll take three copies please.
Awesomely, you can combine these different versions of Similo. When I heard this, I assumed you just shuffled all the cards together to form a gigantic deck but, as ANOTHER painful example of why I’m not a clever game designer, that isn’t how it works. How it DOES work is you make the grid and assign the secret character from one of the decks and then you use the other deck to form your hand of clue cards, which, again, is where I got the Lincoln and Pinocchio comparisons from. So, you’ll have hysterical situations where you need to get your team to guess Napoleon with a hand of cards that’s half made up of the cast of Alice in Wonderland. It makes the game immensely replayable since you can continually jump from using packs just by themselves to mixing and matching the different packs as you see fit.
Because of this, the future is bright for this Similo system. Imagine a world in which they can wrangle in some IPs. I would LOVE a Similo Marvel or Similo Harry Potter or Similo Lord of the Rings. Seeing all these beloved and popular characters in the charming art style that adorns Similio’s character cards would be a treat, in addition to making sure the game is constantly fresh. It would be like how there are a dozen different editions of Codenames, except in this case people would actually want to buy them.
In the board game industry, cooperative board games with limited communication are becoming a dime a dozen. Games like The Crew, The Mind and Just One have implanted themselves in the minds of gamers like stubborn radio jingles and are some of the hobby’s most popular games in the past few years. I myself LOVE these types of games and I find it hard to go back to the old-fashioned Pandemic style co-ops where it’s perfect information and discussion can be hijacked by ‘alpha gamers’.
BUT despite the creeping saturation of this subgenre, Similio still manages to stand out as fresh and fun. Sure, it uses things we’ve seen before, but it does so in such a distilled, pure and simple form that it can’t help but excite me every time it hits the table. It scales well (though I probably wouldn’t want to play this with a group bigger than, say, 5 or so) and it’s so quick that you can pass the deck between players so that everyone gets a chance to be clue giver.
It’s been my latest cooperative obsession and considering the competition it faces in the hobby, that is high praise indeed. I give it five frowning Saladins out of five.