We started with 4 tonight, and unsure when anyone else would arrive, we went with some filler – For Sale in fact, the king of auction game filler. I hadn’t the heart to tell everyone that we’ve actually been playing this game incorrectly all these years, in that instead of having to top the previous bid to stay in, you have only to match it poker-style. I like our incorrect play method better, it gets to the point faster. Nobody does the lighter stuff better than Steffan Dorra, although I rarely have much desire to play the games twice in a row, even For Sale of which I think quite highly.
When we still had four after For Sale, we went with another light game, Sticheln. This game seems as if it was designed simply to be the opposite of standard trick-taking games, so you never have to follow suit, and everything is trump except the led suit, etc. Kind of a neat game, although it degrades in my opinion with more than 4 players, since it is such an immense advantage to play close to last. With 6 players, only players 5 and 6 can realistically attempt to actually take the trick, other players are just asking to be slaughtered with high-point cards. This is a game I liked a lot for a few plays, but as I’ve played more and worked out the patterns of the game I’ve become noncommittal. I find the game to be decent with 4, but less appealing with more, and in the end it’s a long game if you play it out and I’d rather spend the time on something more substantial. Interestingly, I find it similar in feel to Flaschenteufel/The Bottle Imp, even though they are not that similar in mechanism – but I find Flaschenteufel to be much more interesting. Anyway, when 2 more people showed up, we played one hand with 6 players and then moved on.
With yet two more new arrivals, we then split up into two games – the obligatory Tichu game and Attika. I played Attika. I won this time, for the first time since my very first game, but it was, I admit, somewhat unsatisfying – at least two other players could have and should have blocked me, but just didn’t realize I had a winning play (I had been hemmed in pretty badly from early on and had fewer buildings on the board than anyone else – but I was able to make a 4-hex run with 4 streets and an amphora). Given I have been somewhat critical of the game in the past, you may be surprised to see me still playing it, but I’m still willing to give it a go when others who haven’t played it want to play. But the end is near … soon, I think, I’ll be well and truly done.
Lastly was the all-time great El Grande. I don’t play it as much as I used to, partly because it’s old and there is always a bias towards the new stuff, and partly because most of my eurogaming buddies seem to have a preference for lighter games these days. But wow, this is an amazing game. You know, there have been plenty of this “compete for areas” style games made – from Europe 1945-2015 (or whatever) to Mammoth Hunters to Liberte to San Marco, and quite frankly I don’t think any of them hold a candle to El Grande. As a game, it is remarkable for being so interesting, so hugely variable, and yet so well-balanced and so straightforward, really no more complex than Settlers. It is a game that gets huge mileage out of just a few bits, and this is why it tops my list of great games. After all these years, the basic game is so good I have rarely used the expansions – even though they are excellent in and of themselves.