Thursday, January 19, 2017

Game Time

The question was meant as a compliment, even though I wasn't quite sure at first.

"Where do you FIND these games?" my friend asked midway through our second game of the night.

She'd been enjoying them, but for a second I thought maybe I'd been visiting some deep, dark corner of the internet (which is the short answer to where I found those games) that I wasn't supposed to be frequenting. I certainly won't claim to have an extensive collection of board games, but over the past four years I've gotten more and more into the "German-style" board games. For those unfamiliar, these games typically don't have dice and you're not moving around a board in some kind of journey like in Monopoly or Life, or as one game reviewer wrote, "roll the dice, move the mice."

Instead, the games require a little more thinking and planning, and frankly, they're a lot more fun than the board games from my childhood. (Sorry mom, I know you did the best you could.)

Oddly, my newfound fascination with board games didn't start sitting around a table being introduced to a game by friends. Instead, it came about do to two things that 10-year old me couldn't conceive of - twitter and apps.

The short story (and I'll keep it short since I do want to give brief reviews of some of the games I enjoy) is that one of the baseball writers I follow on Twitter is really big in to board games. Big in that he has a ranking of his top 100 board games. It also helps that his daughter is one year older than my son, so I have a pretty good idea about my son's ability to play the game if she can play it. Anyway, he tweeted about 4 years ago about a game called "Ticket to Ride" and the app for that game being given away for free. Well, I figured, if it's free, why not give it a try?

So I downloaded it and stated playing and it became addictive. If I had a spare 10 minutes, I'd play a quick game. Soon my son, who was four at the time, would curl up in my lap to watch me play. I didn't know how much of the game he got, but after a few months, he asked if he could play. So he'd sit in my lap and I'd watch him play and while he may not have had the strategy completely down, he had the concept down.

So we got the game for Christmas and after teaching my wife, she loved it. And from there, we've started using that baseball writer's board game list as our guide to which games to get. After Christmas (when we got a few more games) we wrote the names down on slips of paper and every night after dinner, our son draws out the name of the game we're playing that night.

Below is not a ranking of the games we have and they're in no particular order, but in case you were wondering what games we play at the house, here's a brief synopsis of our favorites.

Ticket to Ride: The game that started it all for us. The basic concept is that you are a railroad baron claiming train routes from city to city in the United States and Canada. You draw destination cards in which you get points for connecting the two cities on the card, but lose those points if you fail to connect them. Each route is different and requires a certain number of matching colored cards (I believe there are six colors) to connect the cities. It's really a wonderful game in its simplicity. The only drawback to this game (and it's been corrected in later versions) is that it's possible to get fortunate in drawing some really long destinations (17 points or more) while your opponent may keep drawing seven, eight or nine point destination cards. But that's just a minor quibble.

For 2-5 players. 45 minutes to an hour to play.

Ticket to Ride: Europe (and India and Asia and Switzerland as well as expansions for the United States and Europe maps): Same basic concept as the original, only with different maps and slight rules variations that make a familiar game feel different enough that you're not playing the same game. Ticket to Ride Europe is a standalone game, but if you get any of the other editions you will need to have either Europe or the original to be able to play (as those two come with the plastic trains you need to play the game as well as the deck of colored cards.) Of these, I enjoy Europe the most just for it's geography and different strategies that seem equally likely to result in a win. The two expansions are just more destination cards to add variety, but they add to the complexity and fun of the game.

For 2-5 players (Switzerland is 2-3 players) 45 minutes to an hour to play.

Splendor: A game with a simple concept but multiple ways to try to win, the basic premise is you are a jewel merchant in 14th century Russia, and you use your wealth to buy mines, and then craftsmen and finally take your jewels to the cities all while earning prestige points. The premise of the game actually has very little to do with the game play, but it's fun nonetheless. You have to balance buying the lower (or sometimes no) value cards versus going for the big point cards. There's several strategies and there is an element of luck as to which cards are available to buy when your turn comes around. It's easy enough to learn. We played it at work the week before Thanksgiving and halfway through her first game, a coworker pulled out her phone to order it for her husband for Christmas.

For 2-4 players, 20-30 minutes to play once you know what you're doing.

Dominion: Like most games, the object here is to get the most points. Only in Dominion, a deck-building game in which you constantly reshuffle your cards, you make the decision as to when to buy the limited number of point cards or to acquire other cards that may give you more money to buy higher point cards. You start with seven coins and three victory cards and then can buy cards each turn that do things from allow you play additional cards, have more money to spend that turn and so forth. the game comes with 25 different sets of cards, but you only play with 10 at a time, meaning there's a multitude of combinations for a seemingly endless array of options. There are also roughly 2,392,271 expansions available. I've yet to play any (we actually got the first version because that's the one my son played and liked, but we're hoping to get others as the year goes on).

For 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes to play.

Carcassonne: My favorite game, even though I lose to my wife regularly. I love the concept of the game, which is that you draw tiles and then play on tiles that have already been played to create the board as you go. Carcassonne, for those who don't know, (and really, I feel dumb even typing this like you don't know) is a fortified French town linking trade routes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It's been inhabited since the Neolithic Period and was a key location for the Romans and later the Visigoths. For our purposes, you are trying to strategically place your tiles to either complete roads, cities or Cloister and playing your people-shaped tokens, called Meeples, as you play in the roles of Knight, Thief, Monk or Farmer. The random draw of the tiles makes every game different and, like Dominion, there are a multitude of expansions available. The version we own (and that I've seen for sale in places like Books-A-Million) comes with the River expansion, which is helpful for getting people comfortable with playing the tiles.

For 2-5 players, 30ish minutes to play. 

Forbidden Island: A cooperative game in which all players either win or lose as you try to capture sacred relics left behind by an ancient civilization. The only problem is the island was designed to sink into the ocean if anyone ever landed on it. (It's right there in the title of the game, the island is forbidden.) You and your team have to collect treasure cards, shore up the sinking island and locate the treasures. Then you all have to get off the island before it sinks. Each character has different special abilities that help you (though some are more useful than others) and the island is arranged differently every time, so much like the other games I've mentioned, no two games are alike, which adds to their re-playability. In case you're thinking this one is a little complicated, my eight-year old played and taught it to his friends with no help from his parents.

For 2-4 players, 30 minutes to win, less time if the Island wins. 

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