Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Games Games Games!

At the very end of December, we decided that in order to try to wean ourselves off our isolationist leisure activities (computer games for me, voracious reading of internet blogs/news for Harmony), we would get some board games, inspired by my brother-in-law-in-law (or brother-out-law). By board games, we meant German-style board games, which, according to Wikipedia, "emphasise strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends. German-style games are sometimes contrasted with American-style games, which generally involve more luck, conflict, and drama." They sort of fill the gap between party games (like Pictionary and the like, which I do not doubt that they can be fun) and abstract strategy games like Go (also which I don't doubt that it can be fun, but I'm not really smart enough to understand how to play Go well).

So in the span of a little more than a month, we have acquired five such games, the last one whose delivery was thankfully only delayed one day by winter weather. Here I present them in order of acquisition.

A tile laying game set in medieval times. Each tile has up to four features on it: a farm field, portion of a city, a monastery, or a road. You score points by placing your figures on a feature. Each tile must be laid touching the side of at least one other tile, and the features on each touching side must match (think dominoes). You can focus on helping yourself or hindering your opponents. Preferably you should do both at the same time. An easy game to pick up...sometimes it's referred to as a "gateway" game, one that non-gamers can easily pick up and that can potentially lead them more into the world of geek gaming. Strangely enough, this game is the most direct-conflict-heavy game that we have, as you can play tiles in a way that makes opponents' features very difficult to complete.

Medieval themed card game, although when you buy the game, you get all the cards, so there's no collectible element like in Magic: The Gathering (so less money spent overall). Instead of playing with preconstructed decks like in Magic, building your deck is part of the game. Players can buy cards from a common pool of cards, which includes money cards, action cards, or victory cards. Money cards are self-explanatory, use them to buy other cards. Each action card lets you bend the rules in some way or another; some will let you buy more cards than you normally can in one turn, some let you "attack" opponents in round-about, indirect, Euro-game-style ways, some let you draw more cards, etc. Victory cards are how you win the game; whoever has the most victory points at game end wins, but most victory cards have no other function other than points at the end. There is much strategy on what cards to buy when. Buy too many victory cards early on and your deck is clogged with useless cards. Buy too many action cards and when you get around to buying victory cards, you realize that your opponent has mounted a great lead while you were busying buying actions. Buy too much money and your options become very limited compared to opponents.

Race For The Galaxy
Taken from elsewhere:

In Race for the Galaxy, players build galactic civilizations by game cards that represent worlds or technical and social developments.

Each turn each player chooses one action, but the others will share in the actions chosen, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses one of seven different action cards and then reveals it. Only the selected phases occur. For these phases, every player performs the phase’s action, while the selecting player(s) also get a bonus for that phase.

One of my favorites. Sci-fi themed card game, but still German-style so there's not much direct conflict, but it still lots of fun. This game usually takes Harmony and me about 40 minutes to play. Definitely not a gateway game, as the efficient but initially cryptic iconography takes a couple of games to learn. Lots of strategy involved, as you can only pick two actions per turn (only one action if you have more than 2 players), but you don't want to pick actions that will help your opponents. The way you pay for cards to put in play is by discarding other cards equal to the target cards price. There's been LOTS of time spent around here mulling over what cards X, Y, and Z I can afford to toss in order to put down this here card A.

Tropical treasure hunting theme. Very pretty game, light and fun. Each game you assemble the board from three double sided pieces, then place the three different kinds of landmarks on the island (statues/monoliths, palm trees, and huts). The way you score points is by digging up treasures, of which there are four. Treasure locations are not predetermined, but rather, players themselves determine where the treasure is by playing clue cards. Clue cards have icons on them to indicate clues such as "In the largest jungle," "Not within two space of a field, or "Directly next to a hut." Any player can contribute clue cards to any treasure map, and when the treasure is unearthed, each contributing player will get a share of the treasure equal to how many clues they contributed towards it. Treasure distribution also has some tactical thinking to it, but I won't go into it here.

Stone Age
Description from elsewhere:
Players struggle to survive the Stone Age by working as hunters, collectors, farmers, and tool makers. As you gather resources, and raise animals, you work to build the tools needed to build your civilization.

Players use up to 10 tribe members each in 3 phases. The first phase players place their men in regions of the board that they think will benefit them, including the hunt, the trading center, or the quarry. In the second phase, the starting player activates each of his staffed areas in whatever sequence he chooses, followed in turn by the other players. In the third phase, players must have enough food available to feed their populations, or face losing resources or points.

We just got this game yesterday evening and played it twice. Initially somewhat intimidating, but we had a pretty good feel for it by the end of the first game. You have a limited number of workers, who you can assign to get food, get resources, make tools, or reproduce. Reproducing obviously gains you a worker, but you must have enough food to support the workers. Resources are used to buy buildings or civilization cards, both of which will add to your victory point score. Nice amount of strategy/tactics in who to assign to do what, and when.

I recently sold some stuff on Craigslist and the money has been earmarked for more games :D (with consultation/blessing from Harmony, of course). Next up, Citadels and/or In the Year of the Dragon. I have been limited to one new game per month though, which is fine with me. Now that we have Stone Age (I'd been eyeing for a while now), I think my hunger might be abated for the time being.

Judging by the demographic who reads this blog, it doesn't seem likely that there will be much interest or questions (aside from maybe SIL), but feel free to leave a comment if you're so inclined.

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6 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Sherry

    We enjoyed Carcasonne(sp)and Tobago. We look forward to another time of games with you all.

  • Brett

    Is Stoneage a board game version of Warcraft (w/o the Orcs v. Human part?)

  • JunkMale

    No, Stone Age doesn't have any fighting in it. You do have opportunities to gather gold and wood, although there is also stone and clay as well. Now that I think about it, the tools (that you can invest in to help you gather resources better) do resemble the throwing axes that the trolls use.

    If we're going to make comparisons to computer games, it's much less like Warcraft and much more like the Civilization-type games (I think, I've never actually played any Civ games).

  • Brett

    I do enjoy the Sid Meier's games, but they also have fighting in them. I think I would like to try the Stone Age game.

    Resource management games can be very enjoyable if done well. In other news...How is the Magic going?

  • Brett


  • JunkMale

    Stone Age is very fun, and I would say that it's a resource management game done right. We just played a game tonight with Harmony's parents, who had never played before. Neither of them are gamer types but they'd gotten the hang of it by the middle of the game. It took two hours, but that could've been because we were teaching her parents how to play. When Harmony and I play, it takes maybe 45-60 minutes.

    We also got In the Year of the Dragon yesterday and although the mechanics are easy to learn, the strategy is probably the most difficult out of all the games we have.

    As for Magic, we have not played much of that recently. I toyed around with the idea of ordering commons/uncommons of one of the latest sets, but I had to remind myself that I promised my wife I wouldn't start buying Magic cards.

    We'll have to plan another game night one of these nights. Stone Age will be fun if you want to try that. Carcassonne is the easiest game to learn and I hear it's pretty enjoyable for non-gamers (like your wife...?).