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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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 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.


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?

Hanabi – The Quieter, Safer Fireworks

Anyone with a young child or nervous dog knows that they don’t handle fireworks well.  For the past week, our poor pooch has been sleeping under our bed due to the celebrations in our neighborhood.  My friends with babies talk of how much fun it is to try and soothe their little ones once the fireworks begin.

Well, now Cam and I can enjoy fireworks thematically with the cute little card game, Hanabi. At around $10-11 bucks, it’s cheaper than buying actual fireworks and provides hours more entertainment than watching your hard earned money explode within seconds in the sky.

Hanabi is a card game for 2-5 players.  Preferably 2-5 players with good memories.  It is a cooperative game, with everyone working together to build a fireworks show.  Each player has a hand of card.  Be careful not to look at your hand.  Each player’s hand faces outward towards the other players.  Half the time I picked up my hand, I absentmindedly looked down at them, forcing us to shuffle and redeal.  So cards should be fanned out so that each person doesn’t look at their own hand, but can see all the other players hands.

There are five colors of cards.  Within each color, cards range from 1-5.  The goal is to build the fireworks with each color and playing cards in sequential order.  For example, a red 2 can only be played after a red 1.  If a green 3 is played, but a green 2 hasn’t been played yet, then it’s essentially a miss.  There are special fuse token.  Once a mistake is made, a fuse token is taken away until the last one is reached, which is the explosion.  There are only 4 fuse tokens, so within a game, only 3 mistakes can be made until an explosion and the game is over.

So, how do you play if you don’t know what cards are in your hand?  That’s where the good memory comes into play.  During a player’s turn, he/she may play a card, give a hint, or discard a card in their hand to gain another hint.  There are 8 hint tokens.  In the beginning of the game, it’s more common for players to spend the hint tokens and give one player a hint, so players can start playing cards for their fireworks show.The hints must be specific and you must point to the cards.  Two types of information can be given, a hint about which cards are a specific color, or which cards are a specific number.  A player must also give complete information.  If a player happens to have three 1’s, but you only point to 2 of them, this is incomplete information.  The player receiving the hints must remember and keep track of what he has been told about his hand.  I suck at that.  Sometimes, I play a card, thinking I was told it was a blue 1, and it turns out it was a red 5.  If a card is played out of sequence, it is discarded.

If the hint tokens are all used or getting low, a player may choose to discard a card to gain a hint toke for the group to use.  This is useful if a player thinks or has received a int that tells them that they have a card in their hand that has already been played for the fireworks show.  For example, there are three 1’s for each color in the deck.  The fireworks show only needs one.  If a player thinks they have a extra one in their hand, they can discard it to gain a hint.  Sometimes, this backfires though, when a player can’t remember what they have, or if the hints are played poorly and some players are playing blind.

The best part of the game for me is when I forget what I have in my hand.  Trying to break or bend the rules, I look at Cam and point at my cards, saying “This is a red 5, and this is a blue 3.”  He refuses to answer, saying “I already told you several turns ago.”  His laugh can sometimes give it away though.  It’s even funnier when he does the same thing and I watch him point at one of his cards, saying “It’s a white 4,” as he points to a green 2.

Overall, it’s a fun little cooperative card game.  It’s very simple and was pretty cheap from Barnes and Noble.  If you don’t feel like spending a ton of money on your next new game, I recommend this one.  It’s great for kids, or old fogies like me to need to improve their short term memory.

Magic Monday on Tuesday

If anyone else is still dragging and lethargic because of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, you’ll understand why I was a bit too out of sorts to post my thoughts on my first Magic the Gathering lesson with Cam. 

My first lesson went … well, not bad.  Cam grabbed a couple of free starter packs at a local hobby store, white and black.  He explained there are white, black, green, red, and blue cards.  These cards are divided between lands, creatures, artifacts, enchantments, and oh, I’m sure I’m missing something.  Some cards are more rare than others.  Each color has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, which can be combined with other colors for an optimal deck.

As Cam explained it, players are plainswalkers, battling against eachother.  He did a walk through of a short game, breaking down each action in the turns. First action is untap, which is basically resetting any lands tapped during the previous turn.  Then, upkeep, where it seems abilities or cards can be activiated.  Next is draw a card to add to your hand.   Then, you begin playing cards.  I realize I’m simplifying this greatly, as there seem to be substeps in each phase.  It also seems to me that the more lands you have down, the better.   The creatures, abilities, and instant cards are played and used in combat by tapping the lands cards.

You begin wtih 20 points at the beginning of the game.  The object is to knock your opponent(s) to zero.  At this point, combat and the scoring was a bit confusing for me, because, you know, I can’t math.  I’m sure I’ll catch on with a few more games under my belt.

I was particularly worried about rules constantly changing in the game.  I was warned that this happens by someone else who failed to learn the game years before.  I didn’t find that to happen at all, but the game was a simple one of white vs black cards.  I didn’t dare ask him to play the green deck that he continues to painstakingly build and change.

I am still interested in continuing these lessons, as long as he continues to play Zelda with me.  I probably won’t go as far as watching the Magic tournaments with him.  He still quickly turns those off when I get home.


Magic Mondays – The Beginning

Cam is thrilled to announce Magic Mondays.  What is so special about Magic Mondays?  Well, he’s going to teach me how to play Magic the Gathering.  After much resistance, I finally gave in.  Every week, I’ll have a lesson, which I will share on here.  I’ll apologize ahead of time.  I really know nothing about it.  There was a compromise.  I get to teach him about something I love to do.  The only problem is I haven’t come up with anything yet.

He’s already dreaming up a “deck” for me.  I have no idea what that means.  I have no idea what I’m getting into.  I wonder if he has been planning this since we met.  I’ll forewarn you.  The lessons will start out very basic.  After all, the only things I know about it are that it is a card game, Cam has boxes and boxes of cards, and the cards can get expensive.

I tried to do some research online ahead of time, but I always get so distracted by other things, like looking at houses.  While Cam browses cards, I browse for houses.  We officially started house shopping.  I love looking at homes.  Having been through the process before, I am a bit more reserved in my excitement than Cam.  It’s a new experience for him.  He looks at houses the same way I look at pets at the Humane Society.  “I really really want this one!”

House hunting is fun, but can be quite stressful sometimes.  I thought this would be a good distraction once we delve into all the paperwork that comes with house buying.  I’ve been through it before.  Cam has not.  I remember the disappointment of losing a beautiful house to another buyer, or waiting for what felt like an eternity for the appraisal to come through.  So, while I’ll try to guide him through that process, he’ll teach me a thing or two about another world entirely.

At some point, we’ll also do more board game reviews on this blog.  There is an April A-Z Challenge I would like to try, but I fear I wouldn’t be able to commit to 26 entries in April, even if I started now.  In participating in my own way, I’ll post board game reviews A-Z, although more slowly than those officially participating in the challenge.  If all goes well, we’ll be deep into the house buying process–perhaps moving into a new one.

See I got distracted again.  So, back to Magic….anyone have any advice for a newbie?