Inspired somewhat by my recent appearance on GeekSpeak, I’ve been going back to some classics of late.
Tigris & Euphrates is a game I’ve always thought well of, but perhaps not as highly as others. I liked Joe Gola’s perspective on the game here (and for completeness, here is the Siggins review). After a long break from the game, and coming back to it with a fresh perspective, and playing with experienced players, it impressed me more than my memory of it. I’ve always thought of Tigris & Euphrates as pretty much a short-term optimization game, but today I really felt in the zone – I was visualizing what I needed to do this turn, and the next, and next, and how to set myself up for points, and how to manage the strategic board position. It helped then that I won. For me, the criticism of Tigris & Euphrates is that I have found it a somewhat chaotic game for its weight class. So it’s possible that either this particular instance of the game everything was just falling into place for me. It’s also possible that I after all this time, it just took a break from playing it for a while for me to have the clarity to really understand the game. Either way, I’m looking forward to playing it some more.
In another blast from the past, we broke out the Settlers of Catan – plain vanilla basic Settlers – which hadn’t seen play in quite a while. Actually, I had never played on this copy, which is the new German version featuring plastic pieces, and which is possibly the nicest of all the incarnations of the game (although still in German – why couldn’t they use iconography on the Discovery/Entwicklung cards?). Unlike Tigris & Euphrates, Settlers is a game for me whose brilliance is fairly obvious. It’s amazing how experienced you can be and still make mistakes and generally play poorly if you take the game too lightly, or don’t stay alert and flexible, as was my fate in this game. I made a rather basic error in my initial placement, then went on to not trade very well. But what the heck, it’s a 45 minute game. Once again, this just whetted my appetite for another game, always the mark of the true classics – and I must have played Settlers well in excess of a hundred times, even if not recently.
Lord of the Rings is more recent than either Settlers or Tigris & Euphrates, so it is still in circulation to some degree – this was my third or fourth playing this year. This is, for me, a game that is just a lot of fun. We started Sauron on 10, and then got absolutely hammered in Moria with both Frodo and Fatty moving up to corruption 8 almost right away. But we hung in there, scraping by each board and constantly fighting off disaster. Frodo and Fatty both bought it in Shelob’s Lair after hanging on by their fingernails for a surprisingly long time. Sam got whacked early in Mordor, but Pippin and Merry held out right to the end, with Pippin fatally absorbing the final die roll so that Merry could coast to the Cracks of Doom and fairly comfortably pass the final corruption check.
Because of all the randomness in the system, Lord of the Rings certainly is a game that sometimes works out and sometimes doesn’t, like Settlers at some level. Sometimes you get completely toasted by the system, and sometimes you waltz to Mount Doom quite easily, even starting Sauron at level 10 (being toasted can be entertaining; the cake-walk usually isn’t, which is why I so strongly recommend starting Sauron on 10 after you’ve won once or twice on each of the previous levels). Much more often, though, the game produces a tough, tense game with lots of wrenching choices, which is a lot of fun for a change of pace from the usual euro fare. I enjoyed this game, and while it didn’t leave me craving another play the way Tigris & Euphrates did (admittedly I’ve played Lord of the Rings more recently), it did leave me with a desire to break out the expansions, Sauron and Friends and Foes, which I never got to play as much as I would have liked.