Light(ish) 2-player game roundup

In the process of picking out games to sell at the ConQuest flea market, Kim and I made an attempt to play through some of our 2-player games that have been sitting on the shelves, to see if they merited keeping or if they should go. We didn’t make it very far before ConQuest.

Lord of the Rings Tradable Miniatures Game: A day late and a dollar short, you say; well, you get what you pay for. I picked up several of these about a year ago, on fondness for the LotR theme and because I like Games Workshop’s LotR miniatures line, on which this game is based. We played a handful of times, and I have to say I liked it a lot more than the usual “clickie” games. It’s a game with very simple rules, but it gives you enough real tactical choices to keep you engaged. Every character has an allocation of Action Points, which you can use for many purposes (improving combat results is the usual use case, but they also can be used for movement and many characters also have special powers), and while you have enough to have options, you never have as many as you’d like, and there seems to be a very nice tension there. On the other hand, the costs of the figures can add up, and I’m not sure it’s that good a game. Somehow while I quite liked the tactical boardgame, it hasn’t quite drawn me in to do the effort to do army building yet. One problem may be that the variety in the figures (outside of the Rares and Ultra-rares) isn’t huge. There have really only been two games that have sucked me in enough to enjoy spending real time doing “deckbuilding” – Magic and Middle-Earth: The Wizards. I can’t really put my finger on what these two games have that others don’t.

At the end of the day, given that I have some figures for this game, I’ll keep them – and they are good-looking. But I might not buy them again, given that players aren’t exactly coming out of the woodwork.

Speaking of customizable decks, we also played some Settlers of Catan Card Game and Blue Moon. I like both a lot, but neither game has inspired any deckbuilding either. It seems like Settlers should be a great deck-building game since it has a lot of the properties of Magic – diverse and powerful buildings, plus multiple roads to victory – but, like Blue Moon, it may just be too well-balanced out of the box to merit the effort. We haven’t gotten to the point with either that they are demanding more variety of play.

On the other hand, we have been enjoying building dice mixes for Dicemaster. I think in the end that it’s just not that complicated – you can throw together a plausible dice mix in 10 minutes or less – so it doesn’t seem like the investment of serious deckbuilding. And your options are somewhat constrained – you need enough magic and monsters, you need safe movement, you need rings, you need a few improvised weapon dice – so it ends up being mostly a balancing act. Still, getting your dice mix well-tuned makes a significant difference, so I like the game. It’s definitely a bit longer than I’d ideally like – we’ve had trouble bringing it down below the 2-hour mark – but it’s got tensions and challenge to make up for it. And it’s unique – there is nothing else good in this category of heavy-strategy dice games.

Balloon Cup is a classic “eh” game. This was exactly on the line between keeping and selling. It’s random, there is little strategy, and it has an unfortunate tendency to railroad you by reducing your options to almost zero if the game gets into a bad state. The few games we played seem to indicate the game is unstable; when it plays cleanly it’s fun enough, but when the game flirts with lock-up it can be annoying. It’s also a bit longer than the content would seem to indicate. On the other hand, it’s simple and not that long. Ultimately, we kept it. Largely because it’s small.

This was actually the first time I had played Odin’s Ravens with the correct Magic Way rules. Is it great? No. But we found it a significant step up from Balloon Cup, and a keeper. It’s solidly in the middle tier of the Kosmos 2-player games – interesting, not terribly deep (which can be an asset, as long as there is enough there to be minimally engaging), but short.

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