Game Night

First up this week was Apples to Apples. This was a game I really enjoyed for about the first 6-8 hours I played it (maybe 10 games). The first time we played, I remember we got so absorbed in it that we must have played for 2-3 hours. It’s not a deep game of course, but it’s a lot of fun, and produces funny and amusing situations. And you can play it with anyone.

Somewhere along the line, though, Apples to Apples lost it. The basic set has only a limited selection of words, and once you’ve played a lot the repetition cuts into the fun. The expansions, unfortunately, do not seem to show the same quality as the base set. It seems the sets become more and more specific, to the point that nobody will have anything good to play on a given adjective far too often, and so there is no game. The elusive magnet of the basic set is then gone.

It’s also likely that the Apples to Apples design simply has a hard ceiling for replability, even if it had infinitely-varied and perfectly-balanced expansions – one that I crossed a while ago. It’s hard to judge for sure in such a squishy game, but I strongly suspect that inconsistancy in the quality of the expansions is a major factor.

I’m hard-pressed to explain why I bought Terra. Bruno Faidutti games are definitely not my speed (somthing that oddly has led me not to purchase Mystery at the Abby, a game it seems I might quite like). I’ve been searching for a good cooperative-competitive game since Republic of Rome, though, and Terra was cheap and the theme appealed, so I thought it was worth a try.

And what do you know, the game doesn’t suck. It doesn’t suck at all. Just on how well it’s executed, it could almost be mistaken for a Knizia. The basic idea is that the world is beset by problems, which the players must play cards to solve. Unfortunately, only some players get points for solving problems (the ones who help the most, and the ones who contribute the help that puts the solution “over the top”). Or, you can keep cards for personal gain. Critically, the personal gain cards are played secretly, which means who exactly is winning is never entirely clear – otherwise, there would obviously be no game (an occasional critical flaw in Faidutti designs, such as the fairly poor Democrazy, is open or calculable scores). There is a good fun factor here – with the nicely-done bits you can get into the “save the world” theme, and rib your fellow-players when they bank their cards instead of helping to solve the world’s problems. It’s clearly best played good-naturedly and in the spirit of a pretty light game, but I found it rather fun within those parameters – and the game design should be robust enough to hold up to more cut-throat players, although the world will end in chaos a lot more frequently in that case. Anyway, the game is simple, it’s fast, it works, and the theme is nicely-done. Whether or not it’s worth the asking price will depend on how many future games it holds up to. I think it’ll probably make it.

Last for the night was the classic Through the Desert. Great game. I really thought I would win, but Kim edged me out by about 4 points. She seems much better than me at these “manage the other players”-type Knizia games like this or Modern Art, while I do better at the more analytical games like Samurai, Amun-Re or Taj Mahal; Ra seems like a game that’s right on the edge. Through the Desert is a great game, although another Knizia game that can be mentally exhausting so it comes out less frequently.

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