Tigris & Euphrates – 2 player variant

I finally got a chance to teach Lisa how to play Tigris & Euphrates last night. T&E was one of the first games I bought when I was just getting into the hobby. I can remember struggling and struggling through the rules; how difficult it seemed to the uninitiated. Now…it’s not bad at all. In fact, I play it rarely but still can teach it without much difficulty. It’s one of my favorite games but due to it’s heaviness (on par with Reef Encounter another one of my favorites) I don’t get to play it that often. I have several in my group that like it as well but during a normal game night we usually pick something lighter so that those that don’t like the heavy lifting can enjoy the evening too.

This was the first true use of the Nile Variant Board I made back in August. It’s sad to think it took that long to play a game on the board but I’m still happy I made it. I learned a lot in the process. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure Lisa enjoyed the game all that much. I think she was a bit tired and was struggling a bit. It does take a few games to begin having a clue what are the ramifications of any particular move. The gaming engine is very clean but keeping straight conflict types, how cubes are awarded, what tiles you battle with, monument construction, treasure gathering rules, etc. can be relatively taxing those first few times. For that matter…it’s taxing just about any time you play but if you’re like me, that’s where the fun is. There are some great interviews with Reiner Knizia on the game that I highly recommend if you get a chance.

I like the layout of the two-player board. With two less treasures (8 instead of 10) the game is a bit shorter and with the smaller board, conflict is about on par with 3 or 4 players playing on the standard board. There are more opportunities for river tile placement and 3 locations where blue tiles can trigger monuments although a pair of them overlap meaning only two are capable of being built in any particular game. All in all, I like it and hope that Lisa will be up for playing a few more games to get her over the “hump” and/or I can find another opponent.

Couples Game Night – February 2009

I finally got off my butt and organized a couples-game night at our house. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for months and I think it turned out pretty well considering. I chose a small number of couples that I thought would be able to schedule the time, would enjoy learning some new games, and were somewhat outside my normal gaming group. I’ve organized numerous small gaming events at the house but always just for my group of guys; a rather informal affair. However, since it was a couples night, Lisa really cranked up her desire for involvement and so we ended up being way more organized.

Most of the attendees were not gamers by any stretch of the word but were interested in giving it a shot. I chose a couple of men from my gaming group so that there would be multiple people that could teach games and then I chose a fairly small set (12-15) of “gateway” games in preparation. I normally have high expectations in how many games we will be able to play given the time we have but for this group I purposefully kept my expectations low. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable socializing in an environment where we’d eventually play a game or two. My goal was fun and low stress for people who might be nervous about this whole gaming thing that we do.

After sharing in the potluck-style menu, we organized the games and picked three and split into three groups. The far end of the table played Dominion, my end of the table played Manila, and the group at the kitchen table played Pandemic.

All in all it was a fun night. We only got one game in as several couple have small children and/or had tight schedules the following day. I was very happy with the turn out and had a good time. I hope everyone else did and would love to make it a monthly or at a least a regular event. We have room for at least one more couple so I may invite another one or two for next time since not everyone will be able to come every time.

Lisa and I ended up with some free time on our hands the following day so we broke out Saint Petersburg and went through the rules. We’re still learning what’s up in that game and the jury is still out. It’s a strange little card collection game coupled with an extremely tight economic system underneath. We’ll know more with a few more plays.

Bison: Thunder on the Prairie

Lisa and I dusted off another game from the past and played Bison: Thunder on the Prairie. The game could just as easily have been called Turkey: Eat Me for Thanksgiving or Fish: It’s What’s for Dinner but it seems they went with the hairy cow.

I haven’t played Bison since February of 2007 so I spent about 15-20 minutes going through the rules and I think we got pretty close. It definitely plays differently with 2 than it does with 4. If I remember correctly, with 4 I spent an inordinate amount of time playing like a paranoid freak protecting all my stuff and lost big because I was ill-prepared to battle on so many fronts and with so few actions. With 2 the chaos is more manageable; the game is good but maybe too manageable. I’d definitely play again with two but I’m thinking three may be the sweet spot.

The game is relatively simple to play. Three special tiles start the game and then players grab a tile and then each take an action until everyone has taken four actions. One of the four actions must be to place the tile on the board. During this placement you get to place workers with your tile but the cost increases with the number. Each tile contains three areas (mountain, prairie, and river) and potentially animals in each region (turkey, bison, fish respectively). Other actions let you move your workers around and convert workers into tepees or canoes. Conversion brings the men back into your hand for subsequent placement on future tiles. Canoes and tepees have three values indicated by diamonds and although you start the game with some men and some low valued items, you must buy more if you want to succeed.

Each action can only be taken once in the round so you must choose wisely which actions to use and how many workers to associate with that action. The number of workers you assign to the action determines the cost of the action. All costs (action costs and buying additional items) are paid for with animals you’ve earned in previous rounds. At the end of each round (after everyone has laid one and only one tile) there is a scoring round where you evaluate the relatively influence your tepees, canoes, and workers have on each connected region and you’re granted the number of animals depicted one all of the tiles that make up the region. You mark the animals you’ve earned on the rectangular score board in front of you as well as the actions you taken in the round.

At the end, you push all of your animals down to 0 and score the final position on the board. The player with the largest sum of animals wins.

Fun little game in a relatively small box. It plays slowly with 2 as it is a rather “thinky” game. That in and of itself is okay but you may not expect such a simple little game to be that “heavy” at first. Slower players may find themselves trying to maximize every single action which can really bog things down. I’m still glad I own a copy though and would enjoy playing again in less time than 2 years from now.

Dusting Off Some Older Titles

Lisa and I have been on a big gaming kick the last few days dusting off Lost Cities, Hacienda, Mesopotamia (above), and Carcassonne The City (below and my personal favorite of the Carc-series).

An external door latch seized up on me this evening so I’m going to hold off writing much on our recent gaming adventure. I’ve got to focus on being able to get back in the house. The way the latch is working now, you can go outside but you can’t come back in. The joys of home ownership.


Okay…I’ve had a few minutes of free time to ponder the games we’ve played in the last few days. Firstly, I’m having a great time playing a lot of games. Playing a game every night is a new experience for me and having Lisa be the initiator has been refreshing.

The last time I played Mesopotamia was in April, 2006. We played with four, got a couple of rules wrong, but had a good time. When playing with two, you remove 6 “plains” tiles in an attempt to trigger a level of interaction similar to games with more players. The plains tiles are needed to build huts and to build holy places, an absolute requirement to “birth” new tribesmen onto the board, to move your four offering tokens onto the board and into play, and to increase the rate at which you collect “mana”.

When we played with four, the board was relatively chaotic with a relatively high degree of player interaction. With two however, I broke one direction around the temple and Lisa broke the other and about the only interaction we had was some minor squabbling over a stone field out our mutual border on the far side of the temple. Lisa was drowning in plains tiles and had many of the resource tiles but by the end of the game we’d each eventually gotten what we needed and although I won, Lisa could have delivered her final offering token on the turn immediately following my last.

The game has an amazing visual appeal but has some odd rule quirks and mildly annoying fiddliness (e.g. did I score my mana points this round?). I like the game but I felt with two it lacked the level of interaction that keeps it interesting. It’s still a good game but without player interaction, the game is reduced to a logic puzzle of efficiency and luck (i.e. land tile and card draws). I would play it again with two but I would recommend more players and suspect it plays best with four.

It has been years since I’ve played Carcassonne – The City. We used to play Carc Inns and Cathedrals often but grew bored of the repetitive play and relatively singular strategy. I’ve always felt that The City was the most tactically interesting member of the Carc series but still it didn’t see the table. So what does The City have over regular Carc? You divide the tiles into three stacks (30 tiles, 25 tiles, 20 tiles) and play the game over three rounds.

The first round you play with basically the same rules as plain-jane Carc with the exception that when you lay a tile, only the roads have to align. Although seemingly simple, it is rather visually jarring to have green areas “chopped off” by brown. Scoring is somewhat different with roads scoring one per tile unless the road gets longer than three and then each tiles scored two. The green areas (somewhat like cities in the standard Carc) are markets and there are three different colors of flags on the market tiles. When a market is closed off, the majority stake holder receives points relative to the number of tiles in the market multiplied by one, two, or three (depending on how many colors where present in the market). The brown areas (played like farms) award players two points per adjacent market at the end of the game.

When the first stack of tiles is exhausted you begin to place tiles from the second stack but during this phase, any time a placed tile triggers somewhat to be awarded points a wall-building (and tower-building) phase is triggered. During the building phase, players are given wall segments and place them (one at a time) around the perimeter of the board. Building begins from an initial gate piece and slowly surrounds the city from the left and right of the gate. As expected, walls limit city grown. As an added benefit, a wall builder can place a meeple on the wall which grants points at the end of the game for how many special features (gray colored buildings) the meeple can see as he overlooks the tiles in the column or row in which he’s placed. The third round is played much like the second with the exception that more wall segments are built each time scoring is triggered.

Some differences from standard Carc are readily apparent. It is a lot more difficult to “horn in” on a feature someone is building due to the relaxed constraints when placing a tile. On the flip side you can easily truncate another players market or farm with most any tile you draw. During the second and third rounds, tension builds because you may want to score a feature or stop another player from scoring more points but doing so can trigger wall building at a time that may not be advantageous to you. Allowing others to build walls and place meeples overlooking profitable rows or columns can be disastrous.

I enjoyed the game but with two, the level of interaction is predictable. With four the game may bog down since there is relatively little you can do but watch when it’s not your turn. I haven’t played many Carc variants but of the ones I have played, this is my favorite. The tension of when to trigger wall building and the timing of a good supply of meeples once it starts is fun.

Some Collection Cleanup

I spent some time this morning updating my library of games that I list on Marquand.net. As it turns out I was missing a dozen or so games from the list that I’ve acquired in the last few months so I’ve straightened that out. In writing this I just remembered that I have a new game on the dining room table that I forgot about.

Unfortunately, the blog software that I use doesn’t like big “static” pages and I blew out the limit they impose forcing me to reformat my entire collection. As a side effect I’ve had to remove all of the textual items I’d placed next to each game leaving a highly compressed placeholder. It’s unfortunate but not a great loss given the bulk of the text was just a very simplistic view of what the game entails (a sentence or two) gleaned from BGG or other sources. I felt that it didn’t add much to the entry so I just left each entry as an image and the title linked to BGG. C’est la vie.

Feel free to send me email or if you know me, talk to me in person about any of these games or just gaming in general. I’m always willing to talk.

AGN Feb 2009

We had a full house for the Feb, 2009 installment of Analog Game Night. Before everyone showed up I opened up the dining room table so that we could accommodate a 3 player game and a 4 player game simultaneously. We didn’t buy our dining room table for gaming but it has repeatedly proven to be the the most awesome gaming table I’ve seen. In a minute or two you can double/half the size of the table without leaves. The top is double thickness and the entire top pivots towards one end of the legs and then you flip over one thickness of the top and set it down on the legs. It’s very nice because you only end up with one seam across the width of the table when open and when closed it’s a solid top.

The far end of the table worked through the 3 player sample game (8 rounds) of Galaxy Trucker while my end played a 4 player game of Dominion using the “beginner” action decks. It was my first playing of Dominion with 4 and even at that number it’s still one of my favorite games. I chose the “beginner” collection of kingdom/action cards leaving the other 15 types in the box since it’s relatively low interaction making the game a little less cut-throat. I was initially turned off by the sheer number of text-riddled cards (500) but you don’t play with all of the cards in every game and during the game, you’re faced with only a few cards at any one time limiting your possibilities keeping the game very easy to learn and to play. From the 25 kingdom card types, you pick 10 for each game giving every game a chance to be a little different.

After we finished up, Tim had to leave and Paul decided to sit out and watch the next game since he thought he’d leave a bit early. So, we closed up the table and pulled out Caylus for 5. In short, I sincerely love this game. Time simply flies when I’m playing and although the game lasted several hours, I didn’t realize it was almost 1am when we finished. For some reason, the rules to the game stick with me and I find it relatively easy to teach. I hate being ill-prepared to teach a game but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest to pull this out even if I haven’t played in months.

I thought this game night was particularly fun. I really enjoy lots of friends playing games and I hope people are having fun. Caylus was really fun, especially since a new player managed to beat me by only a couple of points on the last play of the game resolving some king’s favors from the last castle scoring. Good job Jared. I had my eyes on Jason trying to keep him from building that huge 25 building and took my eye off you! Good stuff.

Thanks for coming guys and hope to see you next month.