zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Showing posts with label awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label awards. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2013

3 Great, Easy-to-Find Boardgames to Play on Your Patio this Summer

Last weekend I was camping with our Boy Scout Troop, enjoying some great weather and managing to play a few games.  (I was actually undefeated in three games of chess, three games of backgammon and three games of Hive - a very rare thing indeed!)  Playing outdoors is a lot of fun, but not every game can handle it. I wrote about this after the same campout two years ago, but with a focus on games good for camping.  This time, I want to talk about three excellent family games that could be played on a lazy Sunday afternoon right on your patio; games that would be easy to find.

The difference between a game good for camping, and a game that you would play on your patio, is the weather. When you're camping, you have to be prepared for any kind of weather that might come along. That limits your selection of games to those that could get wet. However, on a patio, you can wait until the weather is dry before you go out. That opens up some additional possibilities, like having an actual board in your boardgame. Another possibility would be having some tiles. Either boards or tiles will soak up some water if the surface is wet. You can avoid that on your patio. Additionally, a lot of picnic tables at campsites are not flat, but most peoples patio tables are fine. In fact, the only real environmental issue on a patio is the wind. So now that we understand why games good for camping are not necessarily good for the patio, let's move on to the actual games:
  • ScrabbleHere's our first case in point. Scrabble is a great game: a timeless classic. It does not work well as a camping game because it has a board which would soak up water if anything dropped on it, or was it laying on the table. However, on a patio, that's not an issue. Furthermore, this game's wooden tiles won't blow away in the wind. The best part about this game is that you probably have a copy laying around. Almost everyone knows how to play, or is at least somewhat familiar with its ideas. I know some people don't like Scrabble, because they don't feel their vocabulary keeps them very competitive . However, I wrote a whole article on approaching Scrabble as a strategic game, rather than a word game, and that will make anyone a winner..

  • Qwirkle.  Qwirkle can be thought of as Scrabble with colors and shapes. It has the opposite problem than Scrabble does though; it has no board.  It is therefore susceptible to unevenness in the playing surface. Picnic tables don't work well for this game. However with chunky blocks as the playing pieces, this game isn't going anywhere. Qwirkle was the Spiel des Jahres winner a couple of years ago, and that means it's a great game. This German award is given to the best new family game each year. My full review which can be found here.
  • Blokus.  The last game is Blokus. Blokus has a plastic board, so it cant get wet. Since its plastic, it's also rigid, and therefore doesn't care what service its all. It might think that this would make it a good game for camping, but some of the pieces a rather small and could be easily lost in the grass. This will be a great games to play with the little ones, it's fairly easy to understand and very colorful. I wrote about the entire family of Blokus games several years ago. 
These are three great games for the family that will make a great afternoon or evening outdoors in the fresh air.  All of them are readily available at stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Barnes & Nobles.  None of them are terribly expensive, and the latter two are certainly playable by the under 10 crowd (probably down to about age five or six).  I've seen these games at all of those stores, as well as bigger grocery stores.  Barnes & Nobles stores are carrying more and more good games all the time.

Bonus.  This brings me to my last point.  Speaking of B&N, I can't help but mention one other game that plays really well outside: Carcassonne.  This is another game without a board; you actually build the board by laying down tiles.  This game plays very well with anywhere from two to five players, and I just can't say enough about how good this game is.  This is one of the very few games I rate a 10/10 on BoardGameGeek, and I have played more than a few games.  At one point, we actually owned three copies, so we would have one for my wife and I each at work, as well as the one we keep at home.  I don't play games at work anymore, so that copy now belongs to a neighbor who loves it.

Pick a warm night under the stars with a lantern and play.  Take an afternoon in the shade and have a blast.  In any case, everyone in the family will be a winner.

It's Your Move,

 



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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gift Buying Guide 2012


Even though I haven't been writing this post for a while, many of you have still been reading.  I really wanted to give my perspective on gift buying before Black Friday.  This way, those family gifts and tough-to-buy-for situations have some good options.  The games on last year's guide are still available, so use that guide for additional ideas.

Just like last year, I am writing this with a focus for those who are casually interested in the boardgaming hobby.  These games will be available through local game stores or online, and man of them should also be available through some larger, mass-market outlet.  Target and Barnes and Nobles are now devoting more shelf space to the types of games that I have written about.

Links to my reviews of these games are embedded in the text.  Now back to the show!

Type 1: “I loved playing games as a kid!”
This person has fond memories of playing Risk and Monopoly as a kid, and probably played these games at least some as a teenager.  Last year, I recommended the revised version of Risk as a good game, and this is still a great choice.  This year I will recommend Risk Legacy.  This game has a truly revolutionary game concept in it.  As the game is played, there are actions that can be taken that permanently change the rules of the game or the game board.  Some of these changes remove cards from the game permanently.  By permanently, I mean tear the card in two and throw it in the trash.  In other words, each game will be played under slightly different conditions.  My first reaction to this was, "What!  Why would I deliberately damage my game?!"  I have come to think of this as an experiential thing, and I would love to play! Furthermore, playing through all of the actions will take 15 game sessions, so there is a lot of experience to be had along the way.   A copy of Risk Legacy will probably need to be purchased online or at a local game store.

Type 2: “We love/loved Scrabble.”
I am going to repeat my recommendations from last year.  Buy Qwirkle or Bananagrams.  These are two great games, and still some of the more economical choices, too.  If you bought someone on of these games last year, buy them the other this year.  All of the mass-market outlets will have Bananagrams, and many will have Qwirkle (Target has carried it for several years now).

Type 3: “My family plays/played cards when at family functions.”
I am going to go out on a limb here and say Bohnanza.  I haven't actually played this, and it probably will need a local Barnes and Nobles or a trip online.  However, it has a great reputation within the gaming community and with friends of ours.  As a bonus, it plays well with 3-7 players, so it works well for gatherings.  Don't let the age range on the box scare you at 13+, I know younger kids love "the bean game".  The game sounds silly, but that's part of the charm.


Type 4:  The family/casual boardgamer
This starts to get tricky, because there is the chance that you will give a gift they already have.  However, Deadwood is a pretty safe bet, since it was published just last year.  This is one of the less expensive choices on the list.  It's American West theme will appeal to many.  Deadwood is published by Fantasy Flight Games, who puts a lot of care into a games presentation.  Deadwood has recently become available at Target.

Type 5: The Dedicated Chess Player
Handkerchiefs.  See last year.

Type 6: The Geek
By far and away the best game to geek-out on this year is the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.  This is a dogfight game pitting X-wings and TIE fighters.  And Y-wings.  And Interceptors.   And the Millennium Falcon.  Not all of this comes in the box; some are coming out in expansions.  The box includes three fighters and everything else you need to play the game.  I have played the games predecessor, Wings of Glory, which is set in WWI.  As a geek, this game has me juiced, and my son is thinking he needs to own it.  Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is available at Target.


Type 7: Kids
Sorting through the drivel is the biggest problem.  I will go with the LEGO Ninjago Board Game.  It may not be the very best game, but hey, it's LEGO.  How far wrong can you go?  LEGO Ninjago Board Game has become generally available in the mass-market stores.






Type 8:  Families with no gaming experience
Last year I had Qwirkle and Forbidden Island here on the list.  These are still great choices. This year I will add King of Tokyo.  In this game, you play Big Monsters (think Godzilla) attacking the city of Tokyo, and each other.  Games are short and can be filled with lots of campy humor, since the monsters have such silly names as Cyberbunny and MechaDragon.  Sound effects are part of the fun.  Kids can easily play this, though the energy level might ramp up as they get into the them!  King of Tokyo is definitely going to be the toughest game to find on this list.  It might be between print runs as the holidays arive.  However, since the two choices from last year are solid options, I don't feel too badly about this one.


Type 9:  Party Gamers 
The Spiel des Jahres winner for 2010 was Dixit.  Think Apples to Apples with pictures.  One player makes up a sentence which tells a very brief story from a picture, and everyone else picks a picture from their hand to match the story.  The storyteller chooses the best match, and points are scored.  Sound a little similar.  What makes this a great choice is not only the proven style of gameplay, but also the excellent artwork.  Dixit can be found at many mass market outlets. 

Type 10: Couples / Everybody Else
Many of the games here work well for two.  For this, I am going to go with my recommendation for last year:  HiveThis game is an abstract strategy game the is incredibly popular in our Scout troop, and it is easy to learn.  There is now a smaller edition called Pocket Hive.  So, you can even recycle this idea if it was a big hit last year.  I have found Hive at Barnes in Noble.

I hoped this helped!  If you would like more personal suggestions, email me at
I will be glad to answer any questions!

It’s Your Move!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tasteless Fun: Dominion -- Great Game, Little Flavor



I have to confess that Dominion is completely out of style with the games I normally like.  In fact, I probably would never have played it except for my brother's family.  The year it was published, it was quite the rage.  Yet, its reputation as a themeless game put me off.  So did the constant card shuffling I heard about.  Then why, in the end, did I end up giving it a rating of 9 out of 10?  After all, I like games that drip with theme, telling a story as they are played.  I was just as surprised as you.

Incredible fun in 30 minutes!
That year, when my brother and his wife came back from visiting one of their kids, they raved about Dominion.  For my brother to do this, it must be a huge success as a family game.  His motto is, “If it starts to feel like work, I’d rather work.”  This game he was anxious play with us.  For Christmas they gave my son a copy.  I still wasn’t convinced.  Not until we sat down to play it a few months later was I completely won over.  We got home late the night of our first play, but still took the time to break the seal on my son’s copy and get it ready to play.  A few days later I bought a copy of Dominion: Intrigue, which is the first expansion, but is also playable as a standalone version.  This way, when Big D (he has grown taller than me since I started this blog!) goes off to college, I am sure to have a copy.

Dominion is a card game which is supposedly building up a kingdom, a dominion, by adding various places, people and features to it as the game goes on.  However, the game doesn’t really feel like you are doing any of that.  Typically, this is where I take a pass.   The game play in Dominion is so good, however, that it makes up for any lack of flavor. 

Players have a deck of cards that sits at their left hand, and are holding five cards.  At your right hand is your personal discard pile.  More cards of various types are on the table for purchase, including cards which represent money and cards that are victory points.  On your turn, you can play one card from your hand for an action and/or buy a card from the table, and then you “clean up” by discarding everything you bought, played and your hand.  Five cards are drawn from your deck for the next turn.  An action allows you to draw more cards, make more than one purchase, play more actions, attack or defend or some combination thereof.  When your deck runs out, you shuffle the discard pile and make it the deck and keep going.  When the game ends, the person who has the most victory points wins.

Some of the cards from Dominion (Image by Gary James)
 That’s not a thorough description without going into the cards, but it does go about that fast: 30 minutes for a complete game.   It’s not terribly complicated.  (Little ones will have trouble with shuffling and reading text on the cards though.)  Your deck grows as you buy cards and they eventually cycle around.  The fun is in the interaction of the cards.  I love trying to buy cards that will work in combination to allow multiple actions or buys, or more valuable buys.

The game components consist exclusively of the cards and the rules.  While available at Target and Barnes & Noble, don’t look for it on the same rack as Rook, or Monopoly Deal.  This game comes in a full size box.  That’s because it doesn’t have the usual 50 – 100 cards; there are 500 cards in the box!  The artwork is adequate, though not awe in inspiring.  As I said, the excellence of this game is in the game play.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider that Dominion was the 2009 Spiel des Jahres winner.  Since its publication, the game mechanism of buying the cards you will play with later in the game has appeared in a lot of games.  I haven’t played any of them, since I love this game so much.  It’s hard for me to justify another game that largely plays the same way.

I gave this game a 9 / 10.  That's pretty high praise from me; it's a rating for games I don't imagine giving up. 

It's Your Move!

 Dominion: ages 8 and up, 30 minutes, 2-4 players.
 
Good Casual Gaming! Kid Friendly!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving for Games! (Plus a Review of 7 Wonders)


But not so much for actually playing them.  At least not this year.

Normally games hit the table more at Thanksgiving.  We did spend Sunday with my brother and his wife, playing two games of 7 Wonders.  My son and I also managed to get in our first game of Star Trek: Fleet Captains.  The jury is still out on Fleet Captains, since it took about four times as long to play as advertised.  The game does have a lot of moving parts, but most of that was “first play delay” issues.  I have since made a player aid that will help, and we will go at it again and hopefully soon.

Promotional Image
This post I will talk about 7 Wonders.  Not only did we play it this past weekend, but it’s also in my Top 10 lists, so I thought a review was in order.  The game was published last year and was immediately a hot seller; my copy was back ordered for four months.  This is due to a combination of rare attributes that came together in this game:  a civilization building game that plays in under an hour and the wide range of players supported.

In 7 Wonders, each player is attempting to build the most advanced civilization, choosing from among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as the centerpiece:  the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Players lay down cards from their hand to represent building they construct, or alternatively construct a stage of their Wonder.  The structures built provide either victory points or more capability for construction later.  Players then pass their hand to their neighbor, and do it again.  There are three ages to build in, and six turns to build in during each age.  Each successive age has more advanced structures which are worth correspondingly more victory points.  The person with the most victory points is the winner.

A civilization on the rise (Photo by Igor Mustac)
 Games with this theme have a reputation of being long games; over four hours in play time is not unheard of.   As boardgaming becomes a more popular hobby, the demand to better fit games into a busy lifestyle has grown.  Games in general have shortened in playing time, and seem to be targeting that 60-90 minute playing time range, which seems to be a sweet spot.  This is also true of civilization games; only a handful of truly good games managed to get this down to that time frame.  7 Wonders is one of two or three civilization games that actually reduced it further: 30 minutes.  This always gets gamers skeptical attention.

The second promise7 Wonders made was to cover anywhere from two to seven players.  Really?  Many games of this type cover three or four, and occasionally five.  Two is particularly complicated for a civilization game, since there is normally some type of game mechanism, like negotiation, that needs three people to work well.  More players normally means more time, particularly in a civilization game, since the interaction amongst many players is so much higher.  To play seven players and keep the playing time at under an hour seemed like an impossible combination.

Since 7 Wonders is in my Top 10, it’s pretty easy to guess that it delivers.  There are three things that contribute to this.  The first is that it is a card game, which tends to shorten games to begin with.  Secondly, all actions are resolved simultaneously.  The third characteristic is truly innovative.  Regardless of the number of players, each player only interacts with their immediate neighbors to the left and right.  Limiting interaction and simultaneous resolution means that the play time of each round is completely independent of the number of players.  7 Wonders does work incredibly well from three to seven players.  Due to the lack of full interaction with two players, there are special rules for this situation, which I haven’t played.  (Honestly, there are so many great two player games that I probably never will play this game with only two.) 

A game that plays in 30 minutes can’t be too involved.  Playing time and complexity tend to go hand-in-hand.  However, civilization games are notoriously complicated as players work out the societal, commercial, martial and technological growth of their empire.  Packing all of those factors into a short game seems too good to be true.  7 Wonders does this by having different colors of cards, suits if you will, which correspond to different aspects of the society.  Brown cards are raw resources, gray cards are manufactured goods, yellow cards correspond to commerce, blue are cultural items, red represents military structures, green are scientific achievements and purple cards are guilds.  Seven suits of cards, coupled with the plethora of icons on the cards, are where this game does get somewhat complicated.  One or two plays, however will sort things out, since the colors aren’t as important as the icons, and there is a system to the icons that quickly becomes apparent.

A couple of the cards used in 7 Wonders (Images by Julien Kirsch)

Since my son is now 14 and an experienced gamer, he isn’t a good gauge on how kid-friendly this game is.  My wife, who as an educator really understands children, hasn’t played it.  It certainly wouldn’t be for every child.  I can’t give it a kid-friendly vote due to the above complexity.

For older kids and adults, 7 Wonders is a great game that has multiple paths to victory.  Part of the fun is that “look what I built – how cool is that!” feeling you get at the end of the game.  This is definitely a great family or casual game that can be pulled out nearly anytime.  While it would be best to have the game taught by an experienced player, a little time with the rules and patience in playing the first couple of games will quickly make this a family favorite.  At seven players, it almost covers those party game situations for those who (like me) aren’t the biggest fans of party games.  It’s not quite a must-buy, but is pretty close.





It's Your Move!




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Monday, November 21, 2011

Game Buying Guide 2011


We have hit that time of the year when everyone is wondering what to gift to give.  I thought I would give you my two cents on what game to give as holiday gifts.  I have done this in the past in spoken word, and have already helped a few people this year, but now that I am blogging I figured I would write it down – before you spend all your gift money on Black Friday. 

First, let’s talk about where these games can be purchased.  There are a lot of websites, blogs and podcasts that will give you game gift ideas.  My approach will be a bit unusual; I expect that you, the reader, are not a “gamer”.  I am writing this as I do the rest of the articles here, with a focus for those who are casually interested in the boardgaming hobby.  Therefore, while these games will be available through local game stores or online, they should also be available through some larger, mass-market outlet.  These games are not only easier to learn and play but also easier to find.  Hey, that’s why I’m here!

Links to my reviews of these games are embedded in the text.  Now back to the show!


Type 1: “I loved playing games as a kid!”
This person has fond memories of playing Risk and Monopoly as a kid, and probably played these games at least some as a teenager.  He or she might well play them now, if they could find the time and opponents who don’t mind a four hour game.  This gift recipient will love the revised edition of Risk (or the deluxe version, Risk: Onyx Edition).  The game plays in roughly 90 minutes according to the box, and experience shows that to be accurate.  This game has all of the familiar game play and fun of the original, with different end game conditions to close out the game earlier.  A copy of the revised version of Risk can be found at nearly any mass media outlet.

Type 2: “I loved playing Clue!”
It would be natural to assume that this would be a subcategory of those above, but it’s likely this person did not like Monopoly or Risk.  There are many people, like my sister, who do not like direct confrontation in a game, and prefer the skullduggery of Clue.  Honestly, one of the best games for this person is to get them a new copy of Clue.  Of all of the mass-market games of old, this is actually one of the decent ones in the mystery genre.  However, I would first look for a copy of Scotland Yard.  I have not played this game, but it was published in the early ‘80’s and is still in print.  Furthermore, it won the Spiel des Jahres in 1983.  I am completely comfortable recommending this game.  Scotland Yard is currently being sold at Barnes and Noble.

Type 3: “We love/loved Scrabble.”
Interestingly, this is one game adults continue to play, and Scrabble has never had the reputation as something “only kids play”.  This group is at once the easiest and the hardest to buy for, since they are open to playing games but laser focused on one.  A more focused approach is called for:
Subtype 1: Families with small children.  Buy Qwirkle.  Not only is this the latest Spiel des Jahres winner, but it has been around in the United States for several years.  Qwirkle can be found many places, including stores for educators.  Target has been carrying it almost since first publication.
Subtype 2: Families older children or no children.  Find a copy of Bananagrams.  This is definitely a game for wordies, but it plays in 20 minutes.  Furthermore, it plays five and could probably play as many as six if you wanted to push it (not that I am recommending it!).  I originally blew it off, but after playing it found that I really enjoy it.  This is one of the more economical choices, too.  Furthermore, it’s actually hard to find a store that doesn’t carry Bananagrams; it’s the easiest game to find.  All of the mass-market outlets will have Bananagrams.

Type 4: “My family plays/played cards when at family functions.”
This is another tough group.  There are some great card games out there, and I will recommend something that is going to make hardcore gamers roll their eyes: Mille Bornes.  This is not a highly regarded game in the boardgaming community, but my wife and I have had a lot of fun with it and have introduced it to friends successfully.  The only warning I have is that there is a lot of “take that” in the game, so with little ones it can result in wailing and gnashing of teeth.  This game comes in a deluxe edition that is reasonably priced, and the basic version is found everywhere in the card game section of the store.  The basic version is very inexpensive, so it works as a stocking stuffer or in a $10 gift exchange as well.

Type 5:  The family/casual boardgamer
This starts to get tricky, because there is the chance that you will give a gift they already have.  However, if they have a few hobby games that they play casually, there is a decent chance they don’t have Dominion.  I realize in writing this post that I have been remiss; I have not reviewed this game.  I will correct that very soon.  In the meantime, trust me here.  This is an excellent game.  It’s a small step up in complexity from Ticket to Ride or any of the other games mentioned here, but anyone with a little experience will be able to read the rules and play.  This game works pretty well for those who used to play Magic: The Gathering, Pok√©mon or other collectible card games.  Dominion has recently become available at Target and Barnes and Noble.

Type 6: The Dedicated Chess Player
Handkerchiefs.   Seriously, this person is not hard to buy a game for; they are impossible.  The dedicated chess player has already ruled out any other games from their life.  Furthermore, they probably play a particular opening, prefer certain styles of pieces, and even have a favorite chess author.  No kidding.  I don’t consider myself “dedicated”, yet I have all of those things.  You are more likely to buy them something they don’t want.  If you live in New York City, there are brick and mortar stores specializing in chess items, so you could get a gift certificate.  My guess would be that’s true in London and Moscow (I’m talking Europe here) also.  If you live anywhere else in the world, buy handkerchiefs.  If you are worried about that taking all of the challenge out of gift buying, get 100% cotton handkerchiefs.  At least where I live, they are nearly impossible to find.  And then buy yourself a game, since clearly gift buying is a game you play already!

Type 7: The Gamer
Here’s another tough one, since you are more likely to get it wrong than get it right.  You have a few other options, though, that makes this person easier to buy for than the Dedicated Chess Player.  If they are looking for a specific game, you can find a local store or order online.  If you don’t know of a particular game, get a gift certificate.  If you prefer to do business locally, and game stores aren’t convenient, buy a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble that can be redeemed online.  Both B&N and Amazon carry games now.

Type 8: Kids
This is actually tougher than one might think, since there is so much out there that is just garbage.  I will suggest Blokus, which is not specifically a children’s game, but is kid-friendly and is colorfully eye-catching.  This game should be easy to find.  It was bought from the original publisher by Hasbro a while back, and since then Blokus has become available in the mass-market stores.

Type 9:  Families with no gaming experience
Subtype 1: Competition encouraged.  For this group, either Blokus or Qwirkle is a good choice.  Qwirkle is a little more flexible when it comes to number of players (we’ve pushed it to six players and it worked), but Blokus is a little less expensive.  Your pick.
Subtype 2:  Cooperation encouraged.  I will go with the game I was widely recommendung last year: Forbidden Island.  All players work together trying to take treasures off a mysterious island.  In the meantime, the island is sinking, threatening to take the treasures and players down to the depths below.  This is a great game!   Since everyone is working together, little players can be freely helped, making this a fantastic family adventure.  This game is also a great value, yet comes with very nice components packaged in a tin.  Barnes and Noble has carried Forbidden Island ever since it came out last year.

Type 10: Couples / Everybody Else
Seriously, you can buy anything discussed in this post and it will be a great choice!  However, I will make one more suggestion, and that is HiveThis game is an abstract strategy game the is incredibly popular in our Scout troop, and it is easy to learn.  Furthermore, it comes with a travel bag, so it is easy to pack and nearly indestructible.  I recently found Hive at Barnes in Noble.
It’s worth noting that every one of these games is available at Barnes and Noble.  (Just to be clear, I have no affiliation with B&N.  It’s not even my favorite bookstore.)

I hoped this helped!  If you would like more personal suggestions, email me at
I will be glad to answer any questions!

It’s Your Move!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Carcassonne


Earlier this week I discussed Rio Grande Games.  At the end, I mentioned Carcassonne, which is a “must have” game for everyone.  Realizing I have never reviewed it, I thought I would correct that problem today.

(Image by Big Woo)
My wife would tell you that Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride are the two games that everyone joining my gaming group should play before playing any deeper games.  They show new players who are generally used to Monopoly, Risk and probably their kids’ roll-and-move games something entirely different; games that have a lot more going on and are incredibly fun.  I am not so exclusive.  However, Carcassonne scratches the strategic itch in a way that many games do not.  There are a lot of reasons why you should by this game.

(Just to clarify – I am not one of those that believes a game must be strategic to be a good game.  Many games, like Bananagrams for example, are primarily tactical, and are very fun.  However, there are times when I want to play something more strategic.  Hmm, maybe I need to talk a little bit about strategy vs. tactics in an upcoming blog.)

The first gotcha for new players is the fact that there is no board, just a blank table and a bag of tiles.  The board is built during the course of the game!  On their turn, each player lays a square tile with several possible terrain features on it: city, monastery, road or field.  Tiles must be place so that they touch a tile already  on the table, and each side must match the features of adjacent tiles.  The player may then place a token (meeple) on the tile just placed to claim it.  Once enough tiles have been place to build a complete road, monastery or city, they score points.  Farms are scored at the end of the game.  As you might guess, with a somewhat abstract theme and both ongoing and end game scoring, this game classifies as a “Euro”, a European style game.

 
Carcassonne in play  (Image by Aaron Tubb)
 First of all, Carcassonne plays 2-5 people, and six with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion.  Many games claim to do this, but few actually are a good game with the full range of players listed on the box.  I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t dwell on it.  Suffice it to say that Carcassonne works really well for 2-4 players, and is still a good game with 5 or 6.  Regardless of whether it’s two people alone after the kids are in bed, two couples getting together, or a fairly large family, this game will work for any number.

For the amount of strategy in this game, it is accessible to new players.  This game is easy to teach, and is one of those uncommon games that can be taught in stages.   Cover the basics of tile placement in a few minutes, then after a turn or two explain in more detail how scoring is done.  As the game rolls along, the game explainer can show how players interact in the game.  At the same time, there are many experienced hobby gamers that are completely willing to play this – including me!  Once again, it covers the range of players.

Lastly, this game accomplishes all of this in an hour.  With some experience, the games will move quickly.  A few years ago and another job ago, I played at lunch with a couple of others.  Once everyone knew the game, it was not uncommon to get in two games within our hour lunch.  The three of us even managed to play three games in an hour one day!  The game length is just about perfect for any evening.

This is the one expansion to get! (Image: Surya Van Lierde)
Carcassonne has a lot of expansions.  A lot.  Some are very good, and some are downright silly.  Personally, I think there is only one worth getting:  Inns and Cathedrals.  This expansion adds one more player (the sixth player) and several more tiles.  Two tiles have cathedrals on them, and several have inns on them.  Cathedrals make cities high risk, high reward propositions; inns do the same for roads.  They can be played for yourself to increase your score, or played late in the game to foul up your opponents big plan.  Of course, it may not work out as planned!  I would leave the other expansions alone.  While Carcassonne can be bought in a “Big Box” version that includes several expansions, I would save my money (and my shelf space) and just by the base game and Inns and Cathedrals.

I guess the biggest endorsement of this game is that we own 3 copies.  Yes, I said three.  Three copies of Inns and Cathedrals, too.  One set is at home (and it has a few more expansions which largely just sit in the box).  One set is at my wife’s place of work, and one is at her mother’s house out of town.  This is a game that we all enjoy, which can be a trick in our household!  It hasn’t made it to the discount stores yet, but I have seen it at Barnes and Noble as well as game stores. 

It’s Your Move!










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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Zooloretto Mini-Expansions

I purchased min-expansions shortly after I received the game as a gift.  Since I finally played the base game this weekend, I thought I would punch out those expansions.  Some of them look interesting and shouldn't really add much in the way of rules.  This is a good thing for a lighter game used to introduce games to new people (a "gateway" game).  It keeps the game fresh for those who have played it a lot without complicating the game for new folks.

I also discovered we missed a rule in Zooloretto this weekend that would have put more money in the gameplay.  We will have to play again.

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Game for the Whole Herd - Zooloretto

This weekend our gaming group met, and we featured the Spiel des Jahres winning games I own.  I have owned Zooloretto for several years, but had never managed to get it to the table.  Our group has recently (and suddenly!) grown to over ten players, some of whom are not familiar with hobby games.  I had heard Zooloretto worked well as an introductory game, so it was time to give it a try.  The game is thematically fun, has good components and has simple and elegant gameplay.

Image by tiggerix
In Zooloretto, each player is attempting to build the most complete zoo; the zoo that would attract the most visitors.  (No visitors were harmed in the playing of this game.)  Players are rewarded for filling their animal pens, building vending stalls, and expanding their zoo for more.  However, having too many animals and vending stalls is costly; they are stored in the barn and reduce your chance at winning. 

This game has solid, quality components.  Coins are wooden disks painted gray.  The animals, stalls and random coins are represented by tiles.  Coins on tiles are worth the same as the disks.  Each player has their own board to play on, which represents their zoo.  These are not the full thickness of a normal game board, but they are certainly sufficient.  There are wooden tile racks, referred to as “delivery trucks”, which are also included.  Each rack holds three tiles.  There is no real “awesomeness factor”, but the art is certainly of good quality.  If there was one drawback, it was that some of the players had trouble telling which animals were which on opposing zoo boards.  While the instructions discuss setting out three draw piles for the tiles, a draw bag is included so that is handled.

The game is played over a series of rounds.  The end is determined by how long the tiles last, which is impacted by how many players are in the game, and how full the trucks are upon delivery.  On their turn, each player chooses to perform one (not all) of three actions:
·         Draws a tile from the bag, reveals it to be an animal, coin or vending stall, and places it on a delivery truck;
·         Picks up a delivery truck, which may or may not be full.
·         Performs one of several money actions, which are primarily about expanding your zoo and moving animals around.
The catch is that once you have taken a truck, you get no more turns this round!  That’s where the biggest decision point is:  do I wait to receive a full truck, or do I take a truck with tiles I want early to make sure I get those tiles.  (Hmmm, or do I take the truck early to make sure you don’t get the tiles you want!)

Image by Chris Norwood
After everyone has taken a truck, everyone simultaneously places their tiles: animals in their pens, vending stalls on vending sites, and coins in with the money they already have.  If you have a male and a female, they immediately produce a baby – a free animal!  If you don’t have space for any animals or stalls they go in the barn.  Of course, you can only have one animal type in each pen, which is what drives the truck decision I mentioned above.  Now the next round begins.

After the game is over, points are scored.  Points are given for how well you have filled your pens and built vending stalls.  Points are taken away for animals and vending stalls stuck in your barn. 

As you can see from the theme and the overview of the rules, this is a game well suited for children and those who dislike direct confrontation.  As a result, it makes a good casual game, but it makes a superb family game.  I completely understand why this game won the Spiel des Jahres.  It is definitely a game that I will be pulling out for certain friends of ours for whom building a zoo would make a fun game. 

There are expansions, quite a few of which I own but haven’t played.  When I get a chance I will review them.

Vital Statistics:

Zooloretto
                Ages:                     8 and up (little ones will want in; they may need Mom or Dad)
                Time:                     45 minutes
                Players:                 3-5

It’s Your Move!