Game Night: Silicon Valley Boardgamers

For Sale was a quick round of filler as 5 of us had shown up, and we were sure more were coming, and For Sale has about the best bang for time investment of any short game I’ve played. And I won, proving that you can win just about anything if you’ve been playing off and on for 5 years and your opponents have never seen the game before (auction games are usually not my forte).

Speaking of which … Amun-Re is a game that I like a lot. This time must be about my 10th play, and it’s still going strong, still revealing new depth, and still playing in different ways each time due to the vagaries of the order in which the provinces come out who is playing. I did horribly this game because, for some reason, I was finding it hard to concentrate. I don’t know why. But like Taj Mahal and Tigris & Euphrates, this is not a game you can play on autopilot and expect to do remotely well, so I came in last. I find the early game very difficult, and usually get reamed somehow by committing to some element of a strategy (usually farmer-light vs. farmer-heavy) only to find things going the other way and everybody else zooming past me. I know it’s heresy, but Amun-Re might actually be better than Tigris & Euphrates and on par with Taj Mahal (*).

Last of the night was Urland with the new expansion. I think Urland is really a very nice game, better than its predecessor (Ursuppe) actually, rather underrated, and I think the new gene cards are much better than the new genes that came with the Ursuppe 5-6 player expansion. Mutation came out in our game, which is an interesting gene, as did Photogenic and Nocturnal (the latter too late to have much impact as it turned out). We played with the guidelines in the rulebook, which adds only a few of the new genes in a game; next time I think I’ll just mix up all the expansion genes in with the originals.

(*) Endnote: Although I like my Best of the Knizia Boardgames list on BoardGameGeek, I must admit it contains something of a white lie – I don’t actually think quite that highly of Tigris & Euphrates, and succumbed to it’s popular acclaim in ranking it #3. While you’d hardly go wrong with it, in my heart of hearts, I think Taj Mahal (#7) and Tigris & Euphrates should probably be reversed. If you think swapping #3 and #7 doesn’t make any sense, well, I didn’t want the top of the list to be dominated by all “big” games (T&E, Taj, Amun-Re). I might be coming to the conclusion that Amun-Re is better than Tigris & Euphrates, actually. But, I’ll be cautious on that for the moment.

2014 Footnote: I’ve been reposting these articles verbatim until now, but I feel like I have to add here that 2004 me was pretty wrong about this. Amun Re and Taj Mahal are both great games, and would likely be the crown jewels of any designer other than Reiner Knizia. Taj Mahal is even an almost-classic which still gets occasional play. But Tigris & Euphrates is the clear masterpiece which I’ve come to appreciate more over time. It also doesn’t help that Taj Mahal has been sort of supplanted by Beowulf, while Tigris & Euphrates has never been emulated.

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Game Night

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.

Game Night

I guess I picked a good time to start the blog … it’s been an insane amount of gaming these last two weeks. Not that I’m complaining; and since Kim is out of town, I’ll be doing yet more wargaming this weekend …

Liar’s Dice is a regular at our group, and I seem to be going through an extended “out of the zone” phase for it. I used to regularly be one of the last ones in, and now recently I’m regularly the first one out! Ouch. Hard to imagine that the first few times I played this game, I thought it sucked.

The big game tonight was Wildlife, a recent Kramer release that I’ve been interested in for some time, but not so interested that I was going to go out on a limb and purchase it. But when Roger showed up with a copy last week, I was anxious to give it a try. This is nominally an evolution game, but in truth is fairly abstract. There are the traditional regions of the board, which you can score points for first/second/third in. The interesting bit is that each region has a terrain type, and player has differing abilities to compete in each area. Cards control everything, from expanding and improving your species to various special action cards that do random things (plagues, etc.). Each turn you have to auction off one card, and can play one or two more. There is a mechanism for acquiring traits (intelligence, aggressiveness, etc.) that I think everyone agreed added a lot of time to the game and didn’t quite work. Anyway, bottom line for me on this one, it is an very interesting compete-for-areas type game, with a lot of options and a lot of variables to manipulate. That’s good. It’s also slow, and with 6 players just took too long. That’s bad. I’d definitely play it again with 4, and it might be a better game all round if the traits were eliminated. It’s even close to a “buy” for me, as a bigger, meatier euro game, but I think I’ll need one more play.

Coloretto was so-so, not a bad game but not clear there is much control (I realized afterwards it was a Michael Schacht game, if I had known before hand I probably wouldn’t have bothered); randomness is OK, but Coloretto is dry and processional, so not great. Not one I would necessarily veto if asked to play again, but not one I have any really enthusiasm for. This sort of lighter cardgame filler is a category in which tons and tons of games get published, yet such a huge percentage of them are so marginal (at best).

Speaking of which, For Sale is a great, classic game that I still like a lot after all these years, and I think You’re Bluffing (Kuhlhandel) is an good, underrated bidding/bluffing game, one of the best of the shorter “serious filler” games. Both of these guys are some of the best in this category.