Call My Bluff

When you starting playing board games regularly, you’ll eventually develop the skills needed to succeed.  Strategy, planning, cooperation are all things you’ll need to hone when you start your board game hobby.  Bluffing and deceit are also key skills in certain games.  Cooperative games are becoming quite popular, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up your poker face.  Bluffing games will still remain as top favorites.

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Go Play! Wrap Up

Cam and I jumped in an ongoing Challenge called Go Play! hosted by Nerd in the Brain. I found this challenge through Diana at Part Time Monster who hosted the October portion of the challenge.

Now that it has all wrapped up for the year, Cam and I looked back at all the things we did to participate.  Some of the things, like playing board games or taking the pups on hikes are things we do regardless, but it encouraged us to do them more often.  Other things, like take a picture with a statue, were things I would never care to act silly enough to do, but it was fun.  I wish we had the chance do to more of the whimsical things on the list, but we entered the challenge a bit late and ran out of time.

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Which Gamer Are You?

Who are the friends that show up to your game night?  We’ve noticed among different gaming groups we play with that there are certain archetypes that show up at game night.  Here’s a few of them.

The one that has all the games – Also, usually known as the host.  You gather at his place to play because he doesn’t want to lug around hundreds of pounds of games.  He’s probably the most broke from spending all his money on table top games, so you’ll pitch in extra for pizza.  He can also tell you which games he’s currently backing on Kickstarter, so you’ll have an idea of what you’ll play in a few months

The social one – He spends most of your turn telling raunchy jokes.  He likes playing games, but he’s really just there for the atmosphere.  He doesn’t mind if he’s losing and is surprised when he wins.  Either way, he’s having a great time.

The one that is always on his phone – He can’t remember when his turn comes around because he’s too busy on social media.  When it is his turn, you got to get him up to speed on what’s happened since his last turn.  When his phone battery dies, he’s a bit more social, but everyone is already annoyed with him.

The one that doesn’t understand the rules of the game – He likes playing games, but needs to play several times through to really understand the rules.  He always has lots of questions, the same questions, on his turn.  When he breaks a rule or forgets to do something, you just let it go.  He’ll catch on soon.  He’s probably the newest to your game night, so you don’t want to scare him off.

The one that takes forever to take their turn – Sometimes there are just way too many decisions and too many variables.  No matter the play made, he’s kicking himself later for a move he should have made instead.

The one that is a stickler for the rules – He reads and prepares.  If it’s a new game, he’s teaching it to everyone.  When a rule is disputable, he can quickly find clarification in the rule book because he’s memorized all of it.  For further clarification, he’s the first to check the message boards online.  In his presence, everything must be done in the correct.  No house-ruling.

The one that prefers to be the traitor – This is your friend that always volunteers to play the bio-terrorist in Pandemic.  Even if he’s not the traitor in Dead of Winter, he still acts like he is.  He’s often the most competitive.  Quite frankly, he’s the asshole of your group of friends.  Even if he isn’t the traitor, he’ll sabotage the whole game because if he can’t win alone, no one can.  Thankfully, he doesn’t come very often.

The critic – He likes evaluating the mechanics of the game.  He looks at the pros and cons and puts the game on a rating scale.  He likes playing the same game over and over so he can gain different perspectives and see how each game plays out in different scenarios.   You know, for his blog or something

The one that doesn’t like any of the games you pick – He complains about the games.  Why did you even invite him anyway?

So, which one are you?  Am I missing any?

Tabletop for Two

While hosting a game night once or twice a week is ideally the best way to share your enthusiasm for tabletop games, sometimes we just end up having a little game night with just the two of us.  Sometimes that’s by choice, and sometimes our friends’ equally busy schedules conflict, so occasionally a regular game night will get put on a hiatus.  After we started having more and more game nights alone, we decided to build up our collection of two-player games.  There are many games that we own that we have fun just playing as a two-player game, like Eldritch Horror or Pandemic, but we like having a collection of games that are perfectly balanced for two players.  Here are some of the two-player only games we recommend for those nights you’d rather not play an eight-player TI3.

Rivals for Catan

Yep, just like it sounds, this the Catan experience distilled for only two players. While it doesn’t completely capture the essence of hating your friends for not trading with you, mechanically it still comes very close. Two players attempt to build linear colonies of roads, settlements, and cities amounting to 10 points. It differs in that you can add improvements to your settlements and cities to increase the amount of resources you get from the die roll, or increase your military might or trading prowess for the bonus points they afford. When you don’t have the 4 (or 6) players required for a game of Catan, this is a wonderful substitute worthy of the Catan name.

Hive

Hive is another perfect example of a game that is relatively simple to learn, but increasingly complex tactically. Two players have duplicate, hexagonal tiles of differing colors, each with unique abilities based on the insect embossed upon it. The object of Hive is to encircle the opposing player’s Queen Bee piece, with the chief limitation being that the integrity of Hive is always maintained. And by that, I mean that each piece must be in contact with at least one other piece. Moreover, each player must play their Queen Bee to the board by at least their third action.Chess would be the most apt comparison, although there isn’t a board for Hive – the pieces make up an everchanging, fluid play area.

Twilight Struggle

We’ve mentioned Twilight Struggle in multiple posts at this point as a game we highly recommend you play, and we’re going to mention it again because, frankly, it’s just that good. Twilight Struggle is a card-driven, area control game replicating the heavy tension between the American and Soviet forces (and their allies) during the Cold War. Players vie over political influence for control of countries to increase their score – a score on a linear track that ebbs and flows from one player to the other and back again. All the while the DEFCON lowers to a game-ending 1 if players get too greedy militarily. You wouldn’t expect playing cards and moving pieces on a board could be so stressful.

Memoir ’44

Memoir ’44 is a card-driven, area control, combat game with some dice-infused luck. It utilizes scenario setups to replicate historical battles from the varying fronts WWII, from Pegasus Bridge to the Normandy landings. Gameplay progresses by playing a card and activating any units of yours on the field that meet that card’s criteria. Generally, cards will activate a set amount of units either of a particular type or a set number of units residing in a particular region (the board is divided into the left and right flanks and the center). Units can, unless otherwise specified, either move twice, move and fight, or just fight. Fighting involves rolling a number of dice based on how far away the opposing, targeted unit is. Overall, Memoir ’44 is simple and not terribly deep, but by no means not fun. If the game has a detractor, it would be the set up time required to create the scenarios you play.

Pixel Tactics

Pixel Tactics is an 8-bit themed, card-driven strategy combat game, that feels a little like the tower defense genre of computer games. Both players utilize duplicate decks of double-sided cards, one side featuring a unique Leader and the other featuring a supporter. The players each select a Leader to place in the center of their 3×3 grid of a playing area. After-which, players alternate playing supporting characters around their Leader to empower their field and/or attack the opposing field. Last Leader alive wins. Gameplay is straight-forward, and replayability is immense as every card is unique, you’ll likely never see the same Leader twice. Admittedly, I’ve only played Pixel Tactics once, but it seems perfectly acceptable and enjoyable for the $10 price tag.

Netrunner

While still eclipsed by Magic: the Gathering, this Richard Garfield gem is swiftly rising in popularity. Netrunner is very unique in the strategy card game realm for offering strong asymmetric play. Set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future, one player represents the self-serving Corporation and the other plays as the rebellious hacker called a Runner. The Corp player’s goals are to accrue 7 agenda points or to outlast the Runner’s card pool while the Runner needs to hack the Corp and steal those same agendas for points. The cards represent servers and and firewalls for the Corp player, and malicious programs for the Runner. After playing Magic, Netrunner has been a breath of fresh air thematically, mechanically, and for the wallet – Fantasy Flight Games’ LCG model is far more affordable than the collectible, randomized packs Wizards of the Coast offers with Magic.

So, we’ve touched on several games for two players that we own and/or have played a few times. As the gift-giving season swiftly approaches, it seems only fitting to mention a few games for two that we have our eyes on. Jaipur, an economic card game of trading and set collection with an Indian theme (and by that I mean the country India as opposed to the indigenous peoples of North America). It sits atop a few lists of good two player games we’ve come across, and so it sits atop our list of games to acquire at some soon but as of yet undetermined time.

Asante and Jambo both piqued my interest as a returned Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. These two games feature trading, set collection, and economics not unlike Jaipur. What sets them apart for me, if you haven’t put the pieces together yet, is the African marketplace theme they share. I squealed with delight after finding out they existed and stated rather matter-of-factually that we were going to get one or both of them. Our combined kitchen/living room already has several tokens of memorabilia from my second home in Africa, why not our game collection too?

Cam was a little surprised to hear that I recommend we give Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small a try after my vociferous reaction to regular Agricola. But considering A:ACBaS focuses mainly on the animal husbandry aspects of farming for points and removed the bits about sowing and harvesting grain and carrots which seemed to irritate me so, I suppose it’s no surprise.

I’m sure we’ll be receiving some of the two-player games we have on our wishlist during the upcoming holiday season.  I look forward to giving them a try and writing reviews of them.  If you’ve played them, let us know what you think.  Are there any other two-player only games that you’ve tried and highly recommend?

Adventures in Cardboard Spelunking – A Review of The Cave

A lot of little pieces
A lot of little pieces

What could be more fun than embarking on an adventure into the unknown and exploring environments never touched by other humans?  Squeezing in tight spaces, descending into new depths, or mapping new caverns sounds like a remarkable adventure.  What about making sure you brought enough food, getting lost, or being caved in?  In the real world, these are the things that a claustrophobe like me would worry about.  I’ll stay above ground, thank you very much.

The Cave doesn’t exactly replace real-life adventures with its little cardboard tiles, but if you’re a homebody, it’s still an entertaining board game.  Each player takes on the role of a group of speleologists exploring a new cave system.  This isn’t a horror game; there are no monsters lurking inside.  You are discovering new areas of the cave and collecting tokens for completing certain actions, such as descending to a new depth or taking a photo of a cave formation.   While there is some tension in managing your resources, such as food, we found that it’s a fairly easy-going game.  This is unlike K-2, another game by Adam Kaluza that we enjoy.  K-2 is more intense, as player compete for spots on the mountain as they risk the elements and potentially die from exposure.  Inside the cave, you must manage your food.  If you happen to run out of food, you just have to crawl back to base camp.  No meeples will be left to die in the cave.

One of the things we enjoyed about The Cave is the randomness.  After all, players are exploring an unknown cave system.  The game board consists of tiles, grouped into levels I – IV.  As each player takes their turn, if they choose to explore a new section of the cave, they take a tile from the top of the pile, beginning with level I, and place it adjacent to the tile they are currently in.  Sometimes the tile will not match up along the borders.  If that happens, a boulder choke tile is placed.   There are also expansion tiles that we later bought to make it a bit more difficult.

At the beginning of the game, the player start at the center tile—base camp.  Here there are seemingly infinite resources.  Each player must fill their packs with items they are going to need while in the cave.  Food tokens are most important.  A player may also choose to take items needed to gather tokens for points at the end of the game.  For example, if a player moves into a newly discovered tile where they may get a token for diving, but they didn’t pack an oxygen tank, they can’t take that token.  That is a down side to this game.  There are a lot of little pieces and a lot to remember as you lay tiles.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget to put a token down on a tile that you could later pick up for completing that action.

Exploring the cave
Exploring the cave

As each player takes their turn, they can take up to 5 action points (APs).  Different actions can require multiple action points to complete.  Before taking any APs, a player must use a food token, unless they are back at base camp.  If the player is has no food, they only action they may take is to move one tile towards base camp.  Each player has a reference card that will tell them how many APs an action is worth.  Laying a new tile is one AP.  Moving into that tile is another AP.  A tile with a tight squeeze III is 4 AP’s.   As you complete certain actions on tiles, you collect the token.  Sometimes, the board can become a bit confusing when it comes to the depth tokens.  The instructions were a bit unclear, and we ultimately just made house rules that seemed intuitive to us as we reached new depths.

We did ultimately house rule a few things that seemed unrealistic or to aid with the game’s playability and flow.  The instructions were a bit confusing for us, and as I am writing this I realize we were playing the boulder choke tiles wrong.  However, the game is easily adaptable and our house rules don’t interfere with the overall game.  Again, it’s a rather relaxing way to spend an evening.  Players aren’t directly competing with each other, but off exploring different areas.  The game ends once the last tile is played from level IV and the players have 3 turns to return to base camp.  If the player doesn’t return within 3 turns, they forfeit all their points, and I suppose, the meeple is lost or dies in the cave.  We house-ruled that the player would simply lose points for additional turns needed.  It would be frustrating to spend the whole game gathering points, only to lose everything at the very end.

photo 3(1)Overall, it’s not a bad game to play.  It comes with a link to download theme music to set the mood while spelunking.  It’s not too intense.  Given a choice, I prefer K-2 from Adam Kaluza.  I’m competitive, and I find some morbid joy in watching my opponent race to the top of the mountain, only to run out of steam and die at the top.  While our friends didn’t seem to enjoy it, The Cave is something that Cam and I can play together, without directly competing with each other on the board, but when we’re not in the mood for a co-op game.  So, while we may play K-2 first, we’ll finish off our game night with a chill game of The Cave.

Board Games for History Buffs

historical games

One of the great things about board games is that they can be educational. Basic strategy is often the foremost of skills you increase your knowledge of – learning to anticipate your opponents moves, setting yourself up for later moves, and the generalities of board control. However, board games can take you far beyond this, helping you learn vocabulary or math with the mass market Scrabble or lesser known Paperback. While a lot of games benefit from imagination and creativity, a few like Dixit or the more abstracted Rory’s Story Cubes feature these in the forefront. The majority of games utilize competition, but many focus on teamwork and cooperation such as Pandemic or Flashpoint. Cam and I enjoy a wide variety of games, but I must say that we most enjoy board games that focus on a particular historical event or period.  I consider myself an eternal student of history, so I love diving into a board game that is also going to teach me a history lesson.  Geography is also one of my favorite subjects, and most history board games focus on a regional or world map from that era.

We’ve already reviewed a couple of our favorites, including Twilight Struggle and Memoir ’44.  Twilight Struggle is, hands down, my favorite game.  It is a two-player strategy game based on the events of the Cold War.  One player is the USA and the other is the USSR.  It’s a brilliant card-driven game that has consistently been the #1 ranked game at Board Game Geek.  Not only does it accurately portray the events of the Cold War, it also does a pretty good job of mimicking the tension between two political ideologies.  While players are competing against each other for influence all over the world, a bit of realistic cooperation must be obtained while watching the DEF-CON status.  When each player makes an aggressive move, such as a coup or realignment in a country, the DEF-CON status moves down.  If it were to reach zero, nuclear war ensues, the game is over and both players lose.  One of my favorite things about it is how it is somewhat realistically unbalanced.  In the early war cards, USSR definitely has an advantage, and in the late war cards, the advantage tilts towards the USA.  Overall, I think it’s a great teaching tool for the era and a must-have for history buffs and gamers alike.

Memoir ’44 is also a two player game, Allies vs. Axis during World War II.  It is a war game designed to emulate specific battles during 1944.  Like Twilight Struggle, it attempts to be realistic and some of the missions seem a bit unbalanced to portray each battle as it happened in history. Setting up a game can take a while (laying terrain, villages, soldiers) as each mission is set up to depict a battle from history you choose out of the scenario book.  Game play isn’t very long, so it is possible to play the mission multiple times.  It’s a fairly simple game for someone wanting to get started playing war games.  It involves a mix of strategy and luck based on cards drawn and played.  The mechanics are fairly simple and you don’t have to constantly keep track of multiple war theaters or variables like you do when playing Twilight Struggle.  I would definitely suggest it as a first wargame.

1775: Rebellion
1775: Rebellion

Another great game is 1775: Rebellion.  Players of the American Continental Army and Patriots against the British Army and the Loyalists.  The game can be played with between 2-4 players in teams, and the game ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.  1775: Rebellion was published by Academy Games, a publisher that focuses on historical board games.  Their games generally blend your typical wargame with political influence games.  Like most historical games, you don’t have to know a lot about the American Revolution to enjoy it, but it does give detailed write-ups so you can understand the social and political context.

If you don’t feel like competing with your friends, you can also try a different Academy Games’ offering, Freedom: The Underground Railroad.  This is a cooperative game about slavery in the American South during the early to mid 19th century.  Players take on the roles of Abolitionists attempting to free slaves through the Underground Railroad and into Canada.  Again, it comes with excellent write-ups and a teacher’s guide so you can learn/teach about a controversial time in America’s history.  Instead of battling through a war game with your friends, you can work together.  It’s still tense as you attempt to avoid slave catchers.

If you’re not in the mood for a lengthy game, but more in the mood for some easy trivial knowledge, Timeline might be more up your alley.  Timeline is a simple card that can include up to 8 players.  Each player is given two cards with a picture of an invention on each.  One card is randomly drawn from the deck and placed in the middle of the table as the first card in the timeline.  During each player’s turn, he/she must decide where in the timeline does the invention go?  When was it invented?  In the beginning, it’s fairly simple to determine that fire was invented before the light bulb.  Once a player’s card is placed on the timeline, it is flipped over to reveal the year of the invention.  Once several cards are played, it becomes a bit more difficult to estimate whether the fax machine was invented before or after the photocopier.  There are several versions of the game, from Timeline: Inventions to Diversity, Discoveries, Music and Cinema.  We’ve only played Inventions, but I dream of a day where I can really test my historical knowledge and play several decks at once.

There are historical board games designed for all major world events, from ancient to modern.  They are designed for all levels and ages as well.  While I realize this list only scratches the surface of historical board games, I wanted to highlight a sample across different historical eras and types of games.  These are the ones we are most familiar with, but hopefully our shelf will be filled with more historical games as our collection grows.  Are there any other historical games you’ve played that you recommend we add to our collection?