Playing with Two – Mid-June 2012

Railways of the World: The Card Game plays similarly to its bigger board game cousin in that you lay track (cards) to build new cities and you have to ship cubes from one city to another that’s capable of accepting the cube. It uses a much simplified form of scoring and there are no auctions. It plays okay with two but I’d much rather play it with more.

We pulled out Louis XIV again and the rules read through went much quicker this time. We both enjoy the game quite a bit with the exception of the chit grab near the end of the game. It seems a bit random but we do like the are majority mechanism during the game.

I pulled out Magna Grecia and we played for the first time for both of us. We found the rules a bit hard to follow and tremendously vague in different situations (city merges?) but it felt a bit bland for two. I’d willingly play it again with three or four to get a more accurate feel for the game. It feels like there’s something there worth exploring.

We managed to get my son to play a game of Qwirkle with us. The game is a bit like scrabble with colors and shapes and you’re pretty much at the mercy of your tile draw. It’s more of an activity and a puzzle but still worthy of something to do with family.

It had been years since I’d had the lid off Mesopotamia but every time I’ve ever played it’s come down to a sprint ending with everybody poised to deliver their last token to the center. Timing and turn order is everything!

We pulled out Luna again and really had a good time. We’ve really been turned on by Feld designs and Luna is no exception. It took us a very long time to get through the rules the first time we played but we were up and running this time in short order. The game is not nearly as complex as it initially feels like it is but there are still many paths to victory and lots more to explore.

I cracked open the box on Samarkand: Routes to Riches that I received in trade and we both really liked it. It’s a simplified form of a railroad game with families substituting for the train companies. When you marry into the family you put money in the families coffers (buying stock) and when you place camels on the board (build track) you have to use the money in the family’s account (common train game mechanic). Your goal is extend family caravans into goods regions in which you hold cards to score points. Simple and easy to teach. It feels a bit mechanical but I’m sure it would be much different with more people marrying into the families.

I received a copy of Walnut Grove for Father’s Day and we’ve played it twice. I like it but I would have liked it more if there were more opportunities to score points that could help you differentiate yourself from your opponents. It feels like most games are going to be one by a point or two so every move counts…or, it’s just hard to score any points at all! In our games the win has come down to who has been the most lucky pulling coins from the bag which feels off. However, I still like it and look forward to games with more players.

Analog Game Night – June 2012

I brought my copy of Lancaster for a visit to my Analog Game Group. It was the first time the game had been played by any of us so we worked through the rules, set up the game, and gave it a go. I like the game but I have to apologize for being a hard-ass early in the game. I have this behavioral trait, that I continually need to work on, that I don’t like playing other people’s turn as a group. So if someone does something that looks like a questionable move, I don’t really like others to point out why that’s a bad move and then allow the player to back up and replay their turn. My logic is rooted in how group-play on everyone’s turn slows everything down and it becomes less of a game and more of a game-by-committee. One of the players made a move early in the game with a #2 night (they only had a #1 in their court) and sent that night to a losing 2nd attempt at battling the French. I didn’t realize he didn’t have enough to ransom the night. At the end of his turn, as we moved to the next player I pointed out that he’d most likely have to ransom that night as it looked like the British would lose again. With the new information, he wanted to back up and rethink his turn. He asked the group and I voiced my opinion without thinking and said I thought he should probably just stick to taking the lumps. Nobody else chimed in that they thought it was okay to back up and I backpedaled and said that I was only one voice. I need to lighten up. I’m working on it.

I liked the game but it’s a bit opaque. There are a lot of things to do and on your first play it’s difficult to see what a good move is. The game plays very quickly so it’s an odd feeling to not be able to clearly see the impact of a move in the long term when long, in this game, is only about 60 minutes. I’m sure more plays will make it clearer but I suspect getting it to the table will be a bit difficult due to my hard-assness. Sorry about that guys. One player stated they liked it…kind of…but they were unsure that it was worth playing again to find out for sure. I’d play it again if that means anything.

Next up was Rattus Africanus, the expansion that increases the supported players to 5/6. With the northern Africa board, the available territories are expanded and the addition of the Islamic “class cards” gives more options. The expansion introduces region cards which in every game allows a player to throw up blocks to some of the rats (one time use) by protecting cubes from the effects of a specific class card “hit”. The “All” and “Majority” hits by the rats always take effect. Depending on the class cards in play, players have the option of choosing more cards from the region deck in hopes of protecting themselves in more regions throughout the game. The expansion also introduces a class card that adds a camel that is allowed to move through the regions dropping cubes in regions it leaves. Which cubes it leaves behind is dependent on who has majority and in some cases, it may drop cubes of many colors. I refer to the camel as the rainbow pooper.

I think the expansion is a great addition to Rattus. The Africa board is not used for less than 5 players but the class cards and region cards can be used with smaller numbers. They continue to do a nice job integrating new class cards into the existing base game cards and the 1st expansion, The Pied Piper. Some of the effects when used in conjunction with other class cards can get a bit ambiguous but the rules do a nice job of making those corner cases clear. You need all new rat tokens for Africanus as the tokens must include the right mix of class card symbols.

Morels – Review

Before Lisa and I attended Origins, I organized my short list of games I wanted to learn more about. We’ve been playing so many games lately that I really wanted a demo of Morels, a two-player, set collection card game designed by Brent Povis. A game about collecting various types of mushrooms from the forest is odd, I’ll grant you that, however, I have fond and vivid memories of camping with my father in the back of an F-100 pickup truck in the woods of Michigan and spending our days walking around the woods looking for mushrooms. My father always told me that banging on the trunks of trees with a stick as you walked by, your foraging stick, was what would help you find more; it would make them pop up. I knew he was full of, ahmem, it and was just giving a young kid something to do to keep him busy (and heard if we got separated), but I played the role, scoping out the best stick, and giving each tree I passed a good whack.

When we entered the Origins exhibit hall, I found it hard not to walk directly to the booth; it took deliberate effort to walk slowly down the aisles until I “stumbled” upon it. Happily, I didn’t have to wait long. There, at a couple of cloth covered tables, behind a wooden crate filled with copies of Morels, and some backpacking paraphenalia tucked against the wall was Kaleen, Brent’s wife, finishing up teaching the game to some attendees. Brent was off to the side talking to another interested customer.

Kaleen hooked us in and sat us down for a demo run. Before we knew it, her practiced and professional style had us up and running in no time. Lisa was immediately into her calculated mode, playing every turn like it was her last. That’s usually a good sign that she likes a game so I was encouraged.

The artwork is simply beautiful, capturing a sense of whimsy but at the same time a sense of old-worldness, a style from the past, a style that aligns well with my “old” memories of foraging for morels with my father. Even the summary card is well done. Brent went out of his way for this first release and included little plastic frying pans and hand carved “foraging sticks” made from wooden golf tees if you bought the game at the con. He’s offering them for an additional cost if you buy direct from them.

Morels is, at its heart, a simple set collection game. There are two decks, day (84 cards) and night (8 cards). The day deck consists of cards representing various types of fungi (10 Honey Fungus, 8 Tree Ear, 6 Lawyer’s Wig, 5 Shiitake, 5 Hen of the Woods, 4 Fairy Ring, 4 Porcini, 4 Chanterelle, and 3 Morels) as well as 11 frying pans, 8 moons, 5 baskets, 3 butter, 3 apple cider, and the terrifying 5 Destroying Angels. The night deck consists of 1 each of a “night version” of Honey Fungus, Tree Ear, Lawyer’s Wig, Shiitake, Hen of the Woods, Fairy Ring, Porcini, and Chanterelle.

The day deck is shuffled and 3 cards are given to each player along with the plastic frying pan. The day and night decks are set to the side forming draw piles and the sticks are set to the side to form a supply. The top 8 cards from the day deck are drawn and placed in a line extending away from the day deck, and represent the forest. During play, opponents “stand” at the far end of the line and forage for mushrooms at their feet (farthest from the deck) but can look up and peer deeper into the forest to see mushrooms that lurk in the distance but will get closer as players “walk” through the forest. In reality (as if we could really discuss reality when describing figurative mushroom hunting in the deep forest while sitting at the table in your kitchen or game room), the forest of cards actually move towards the players in an ever-flowing sidewalk conveyor 🙂

A turn comprises a player doing one of several available actions and once complete, the card closest to the player’s feet is placed in a “decay” area. The decay can contain, at most, 4 cards, so the 5th card would cause the current 4 to be discarded (out of the game) and a new decay seeded with a single card. The game ends when ALL cards have been removed from the forest and the player with the most points determines the winner.

So, what actions can a player perform to earn points?

  • Pick a card from the forest
  • Sell a meld of 2 (or more) mushrooms
  • Cook a meld of 3 (or more) mushrooms
  • Pick up all the cards in the decay
  • Lay down a pan

There’s more to picking up a card than simply bending down and picking up the one “at your feet”. You’ve got two feet right?! So the first two cards are “at your feet” and you can bend to pick up either one of those without any additional effort. However, if neither of those cards are to your liking you can choose to reach farther into the forest and take one of those. However, you must expend foraging sticks in the necessary numbers to reach past those first two cards (one stick per card past the first two). After you choose your card, the normal decay occurs and the card closest to your feet goes into the decay.

So how do you obtain foraging sticks? As an alternative to picking up cards, you can sell a meld of two or more identical mushrooms to obtain foraging sticks for subsequent turns. At this point, I’ll need to mention that each card has, in the upper left hand corner, two values. Next to the pan, is a value that indicates how much each muchroom of this type is worth if you’ve cooked it by game end. The value next to the stick, represents how many sticks you’ll recieve if you sell two or more mushrooms of a given type.

On your turn, a player is also allowed to play a meld of 3 or more identical mushrooms, along with a pan or onto a single pan placed in a previous turn. Cooking a meld of mushrooms locks in the number of points indicated on the card. You cannot add to this pan on subsequent turns.

You can also pick up all of the cards in the decay (there will only ever be a maximum of 4 cards there). However, each player is never allowed to pick up cards in numbers that would violate an 8 card hand limit. So no matter how badly you may want the cards in the decay or that last Morel sitting there at your feet staring up at you, you may not violate that hand limit.

However, the basket card bumps your hand limit by 2 cards. Baskets, when taken, are placed in front of you (never in hand) and take effect immediately. So if there is a basket in the decay, it may allow you to take it when you might not otherwise be able to. The more baskets you collect, the bigger your hand can get.

On your turn you’re also allowed to place a single pan card in front of you for cooking on subsequent turns. Doing so, still caused a card from the forest to decay but the forest edge only moves by one card which can make all the difference in the world to your opponent who may not have enough sticks to reach that one card they want that they would have been able to had you picked up a card from the forest floor.

The butter and apple cider cards are played in conjunction with a meld of mushrooms when you cook. They augment the point value of the meld at the game end by making the cooked product taste better.

The Destroying Angel card is poisonous. In general you don’t want them but you may choose to endure the pain they cause to get a set of cards you do want from the decay. At a high level, the Destroying Angel reduces your hand limit to only 4 cards for a variable number of rounds (based on how much you’ve cooked) until the toxins wear off. Baskets can help you keep some of your cards safe but you still only have 4 operational cards until you get better.

So, the final card is the Moon card. This one is special in that when you choose it or recieve it from the decay, you don’t put it in your hand. You instead discard the card and draw the top card from the night deck. This deck of cards are special in that they represent 2 cards of a given mushroom type. This can come in really handy if you have a pair of cards that you can’t cook (you need a minimum of 3) or when you only have 1 card that you can’t sell (you need a minimum of two). Since each night card counts as two day cards, this can turn a dismal hand into something tolerable at least for a few turns. Even a single night card is useful for selling to get sticks since it counts as 2 cards it’s immediately available for being sold.

Lisa and I really enjoy this game and have been having a ball with it. We’ve played a dozen times in the past week and she’s won most of the games so either I’m really bad at it or she’s just that good at it. I’ll let you choose which is the more correct (and both options are viable 🙂

Morels has just enough luck (the blind draws of the night deck coupled with the order the cards come out in the forest) to remain fun and light but doesn’t give up much for being a gamier game if you play it that way. Timing having sticks can be critical, paying attention to what you need and what your opponent has been collecting, as well as controlling hand limit, and the pacing of the depletion of the forest cards all contribute to smart play.

All in all, I have zero regrets buying the game and I would recommend it for any family that likes to play cards games. For those gamier families, it’s in the realm of Balloon Cup, Jambo, Jaipur, and Lost Cities but better. There’s less chaos and more interesting choices to make. You can buy the game directly from the self-publisher at the Two Lanterns Games website. You won’t regret it.

Origins 2012

I shifted my work schedule a bit and left the office a couple of hours early so that Lisa and I could walk the Origins’ exhibit hall for a few hours. I try to go every year and meet up with some of my gaming buddies, but since Lisa has been playing a lot of games with me over the last few months we decided to go together this year.

It was Lisa’s first time to experience the strange world of board gaming exhibit halls. She got her fill of steam punk accoutrements, rubber swords, cheap Japanese katanas, booth babes, and large, hugely breasted woman in very tight fish nets and leather. But, mixed in with all of the LARPers and other levels or role-players are the collectible card gamers and the euro-gamers. We’re a strange lot; I’ll grant you that.

We walked up and down the aisles talking to vendors, looking at new and old games, and fell in love with Morels. Brent and his wife are great and they had us up and running in no time. Lisa and I have played half a dozen times in the last day and a half and I have yet to win 🙂 The game is really a great two-player set collection game. Look it up on Board Game Geek and get yourself a copy.

Mayfair, as usual, had a large area set up for playing many of their titles as well as well stocked shelves of their games.

Queen Games had a booth that was well stocked with Kingdom Builders and it’s expansion Nomads. I would have liked to play Nomads but I didn’t feel pressed enough to buy it on the spot. I’m sure it will be available at all online vendors soon enough and I’m willing to wait to throw it in with a future order.

We did watch a bit of the demo of the new game Edo. The artwork looks awesome the bits look top-notch. I didn’t get to see any of the game play but with the number of bits, it might only find the table in my gamier group. It features simultaneous selection which I am a fan of so it’s at least on my radar for subsequent orders.

On the way out, we stopped at Eric Vogel’s table and took a look at his giant Hibernia board. I’ve got an early version of the game that I received for review and it’s good to see the game moving forward for development.

Lisa had a good time at her first Origins and we continued to talk about it while we snacked at the Barrio Tapas bar in downtown Columbus. When we got home that evening, she headed off to the Soldiery to grab some sleeves for Morels and after sleeving them up we played 2 or 3 games before calling it a night. I think Morels is definitely a hit in our house.

Playing with Two – May 2012

Lisa and I continued to play a game almost every night in May pulling out long forgotten titles as well as ones we’ve recently played and could get up and running in no time.

We both like Castles of Burgundy for two. The game morphs very well for all numbers of players.

Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory. We both like this expansion best since it’s more forgiving when you don’t have a good card to play.

Lisa does pretty well at Egizia and seems to like it. The sphynx cards are key.

Blew the dust of Hansa too. I remember Lisa liking it and being pretty good. Seemed okay but I think it would be better with one more player

Lisa thinks she’s had her fill of Arkadia for a while. She said she felt like no matter what she did, I’d capitalize on it. She always felt on the defensive.

There were several days where we pulled out Drive for a few quick games when we only had a few minutes.

It’s been a very long time since we pulled out Torres. Lisa was confused about the tower movement and thought we needed to play again so that we (i.e. she) could play it correctly next time.

We played Balloon Cup 3 or 4 times when it got late and we wanted to make sure we’d played at least something on some nights.

Caylus Magna Carta, the odd step-child of the box game. I’ve only ever played with two and would probably enjoy it more with more players. It’s okay but after 2 or 3 plays in May, I’m not overly keen on getting it out again any time soon.

A thrown in image of a small chunk of my game cabinet after messing with a new camera.

We were both tired and struggled through the rules to Fresco. It’s really not hard at all but we needed a second play to get the movement of the bishop right. Probably better with more players. A dummy third player always feels contrived.

We had a few quick plays of Cities. No big brain burner here but not bad to pass the time. Very puzzly.

Lisa always kills me in Saint Petersburg and, like usual, she destroyed me this time.

Aquadukt is another, activity-style game. We played 2 or 3 times when we only had 20 minutes or so.

Taluva turned out to be rougher than I expected for Lisa. She didn’t like it for the same reason she didn’t like Arkadia. The spatial aspects were tough for her to work out and she always felt on the defensive.

Pulled Carcassonne: The City and gave it a go. We used to play Carcassonne all the time and The City adds a bit more depth given the more complex wall scoring. We both felt it was a bit bland with two.

I’ve never been fond of Jambo. I don’t like two-player auctions and I always feel at the total mercy of the card draws. Lisa is usually quite good at it so I’ll play it now and again.

Lisa had played Notre Dame a few times in the past but we went through all the rules from scratch. Lisa liked it. The layout feels a bit odd for 2 with the additional two lobes of the city being in play only for the carriages but given the game is mostly a solitaire affair, it plays about the same with 2 as it does with more, excepting the gifts to Notre Dame.

Blew the dust off this Big City and slogged through the rules. It’s really straight-forward but it always feels like there’s a lot to remember about the building relationships. Lisa didn’t particularly like it. It’s much better with more players though.

We played Masons twice, the first time we didn’t end the game when we were supposed to and in the second, we only scored one time in the entire game because both of us were dealt cards dealing with towers and walls NOT assigned to cities. Its ended up very boring.

When I got out Dos Rios to take my tri-year image with my daughter, we decided to give the game a go. Meh, it’s pretty cut through at times and you feel less that you’ve won and more that you’ve simply survived more than your opponent.

For my birthday, Lisa got me Stone Age: Style is the Goal and we played that a couple of times. Lisa is very good at Stone Age and gave me a walloping in the first and beat me soundly in the second. I just felt compelled to go for those new “teeth”!

We played London twice and although Lisa didn’t have a double Omnibus, she managed to churn out money late in the game and crushed me when I ran out and could find no way to generate any. In the second, I drew Hospitals and Undergrounds like crazy and ran away with it. We’ll try the Ben-ZenLuca variant next and see how it goes.

Lisa and I took a trip to Origin (more on that in another post) and we also spent some time with the designer or Morels. His wife taught us the game and helped us through our first play. We liked the game so much we picked up a copy and have already played three times. I’ll have more on that in another post. Check it out if you get a chance; it’s a fun two-player game!