I was lucky enough to have another gaming glut over the holidays. I just don’t get enough gaming time! As much as I love concentrated playing periods like this, I would much rather have regular play sessions throughout the year. I can’t complain, though! It was great to spend time with the nieces and nephews. Over the two weeks we played 15 different games 40 total times. Not too shabby. As with the other gaming glut posts, I’ll discuss each game individually in order of number of plays.
Of the ones discussed in this post, the following are the games I think most gaming families should have in their collections:
- Splendor- This is a game you can play with the kids that they can legitimately win. It may not have the staying power of classics like Ticket to Ride, but it’s fun and worth the price.
- Jaipur- This one’s only for 2 players, but if you want a game for one-on-one time with a child (or a spouse), this one works great.
- Tiny Epic Kingdoms- I may be going out on a limb here, but if you want to introduce your kids to 4x gaming, this is a great entry level. It has lots of variability, is easy to teach and grasp, rewards repeated play, but doesn’t outstay its welcome. It works well with shorter attention spans.
- Lords of Waterdeep- Worker placement is a popular game mechanic that works well with younger minds. Each turn you have a finite number of concrete choices, and you always get something out of the deal. If the kid likes the fantasy theme, even better. As far as entry-level worker placement games go, this is certainly a winner.
This is an engine-building game. What this means is that as you play you become more and more powerful and open up more and more options. The winner is the person who (a) builds the most efficient engine and (b) knows best when to move from building the engine to generating victory points. You start with nothing. A randomized tableau of development cards (representing mines, traders, and stores) is laid out and a supply of chips (representing different types of gems) is made available. In turn you choose between collecting various numbers of different chips, “building” development cards, and reserving development cards for later purchase. Purchased cards make it cheaper to buy later cards, and most have victory points attached to them. The first person to 15 victory points wins the game.
Splendor is one of those games that varies quite a bit based on who you’re playing with. You could play in relative isolation, ignoring what your opponents are doing and just focusing on your engine. You can also go for messing with your opponents’ plans at every turn. Ideally you want to be somewhere in the middle. You need to be aware of what your opponents are doing so you can be sure to get what you need or recognize when to abandon your current plan, but you can’t waste turns simply messing with your opponents for the fun of it. The winner will be the person who is able to be flexible with their planning, is able to cut off their opponents when it matters most, and is able to transition from engine building to VP generating more efficiently than the others.
This is a new game (2014) and has received much love this year. I don’t think the game has the staying power of classics like Ticket to Ride, but it’s a lot of fun, will get lots of plays for the price, and is a game the whole family can enjoy and compete at. The 14-year-old won a number of times and was always competitive. I think any gaming family would do well to add this game to their collection.
Sentinels of the Multiverse
After the success of SotM over the summer, I went out and bought all the available expansions. Though we didn’t get to play as much as I would have liked, we did manage to play all the new heroes and environments and managed to make a dent in the villain roster. I still absolutely love this game. If you want a card game where you feel like an actual superhero, this is the one. It rewards teamwork and strategic planning while giving lots of nail-biting, “oh no, we’re all going to die” moments. The only problem we ran in to this time ’round was game length. If all your players are not on the ball and ready to play, the game can really drag on longer than is pleasant. We had one epic game that went on for 4 hours! It was a great game in that we managed to eke out a victory after some painful sacrifices, but the game length soured the kids (who were the main cause of the problem, of course). The game requires lots of reading, and it can be a little fiddly to manage all the stats and effects, but with older kids and grownups, this is an incredibly fun game. If you’re in to superheroes, there’s no other game quite like Sentinels.
Jaipur is an older (2009) two-player card game that was hard to get a hold of. It’s primarily a set-collection card game in which you trade in sets of cards for chips. The size of the sets also grants bonuses. The person at the end of the hand with the most gold wins. Best out of three hands wins the game. It’s very straightforward, but it rewards thoughtful play. There’s definitely some “you jerk!” moments 🙂 The trick is being aware of what your opponent is collecting and knowing when to cash in, even if it means sacrificing a bonus. I played this both with the 14-year-old and with Adele. We all really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.
Each player runs two teams (called “factions”) of disavowed secret agents. The problem is, because they’re all freelance, the don’t just report to you. Each player shares a faction with the player on their left and right. The cards used to represent the agents are “double edged” meaning you can place them facing you or your opponent. Depending on how you place them, one of you gets points (used to recruit new agents, initiate new missions, and ultimately to win the game), and the other gets to use the special power of that agent. The first person to 40 points wins.
I’m so glad I was able to break this out again, this time with 3+ players. This is a game with lots of painful choices and more than a few competitive moments. It plays quickly and everyone enjoyed it. It takes a few rounds to get the hang of it all, but it’s quite straightforward once you get going. I’ll be hanging on to this one.
This is another game I had only played once before, and it was not a good experience, so I was glad to break this out again. Essentially, this is Street Fighter with cards. You have a small, one-dimensional playing field in which your characters go back and forth. There are dozens of characters to choose from, each with their own special powers and play styles. The cards available are divided between styles (tied thematically to the character you chose) and actual moves (e.g., strikes, kicks, throws, etc.). At each turn, the players simultaneously select a style and a move (forming combos like “Lightning Fist” and “Whip Kick”). Based on the stats and special powers described on the combined cards, the round is resolved (damage dealt, opponents stunned, etc.). You play until one of you has been eliminated or a fixed number of rounds has passed, at which point the person with the most health wins.
This is a complex game that rewards multiple plays and familiarity with the various characters. There are lots of stages to resolve in a given round, so it will take a few games to feel comfortable with it. The game succeeds absolutely in conveying the theme. I love video fighting games, and this game does a great job of making you feel the same way. It’s hard, though. At first it seems random, but quickly you see the depth the game can offer. The 14-year-old absolutely schooled me when we played. If this is a theme that interests you, and you’re willing to give it some time, jump in and give it a try.
Tiny Epic Kingdoms
TEK was a Kickstarter game I had received just before the holidays. It’s a 4x game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) that plays in under 30 minutes and could technically fit in your pocket. Each player takes a card representing a different race (there’s a couple dozen different ones). Each race has its own special powers. You also take a card representing your homeland with sectors of various terrain types on it. Throughout the game you take turns selecting various actions that allow you to add more meeples to the board, move them to new cards, gain resources, or battle opp0sing meeples. There are various end-of-game triggers. Once finished, the player with the most victory points wins.
We really enjoyed this one. It gives you the feel of a larger 4x game (like Civilization) but in a much shorter, more comfortable time frame. There is lots of player interaction and “you jerk!” moments, but the game is fast enough that losing isn’t as painful. I highly recommend this game to gamers that want a varied and competitive 4x experience that can fit in a kid’s attention span.
Among the Stars
This is essentially 7 Wonders in space. If you’ve never played 7 Wonders, (a) you should and (b) here’s what I mean. Among the Stars is a card drafting game in which you build a space station. What “card drafting” means is that you all receive a hand of cards, and in a given turn you simultaneously choose one for yourself and hand the rest to the next player. You can either build the card you chose or turn it in for resources. On the next turn, you do the same thing with the new cards you received. You therefore have to balance choosing the best card for yourself while also considering which cards might conceivably make it back to you and which ones your opponents might want. Sometimes a really good card comes up that you know your opponent wants. Even if you can’t afford to build it yourself, you might select the card and turn it in for resources just to keep it out of the hands of your opponents. What makes this game different from 7 Wonders is the spatial aspect. You are actually building a space station. Each card must be adjacent to the others, and sometimes you need to worry about distance from power stations and other types of cards.
We only ever got to play the basic game. There are also player-specific powers and objective cards to mix things up. There are also two expansions, which I own but we didn’t play. It’s hard to make a definitive judgement based on such limited plays. We really enjoyed the game, and I’m pretty sure that any concerns we had would be resolved with playing the full rules. The game is simpler than 7 Wonders to learn and simpler to score, but 7 Wonders has quite a bit to offer as well. I’ll be keeping both on my shelf.
Finally! I love this game and never get enough chances to play it. It’s an old game (1977) but the modern reprint by Fantasy Flight is fantastic. I have all the expansions. It’s the simplest of games. The goal is to establish 5 colonies on foreign planets. You do this by committing ships to an attack, getting allies to do the same, then playing a card. The side with the highest number wins. What makes this game amazing is the player-specific powers. You start each game by selecting a unique alien. There are over 100 of them. Each has a number of crazy rule-breaking powers. Some are minor perks, others are almost game breaking. (The Fantasy Flight edition separates the aliens into green, yellow, and red difficulty. Green aliens are more manageable. Red ones fundamentally alter the game.) The number of different combinations is insane. The meat of the game is in dealing with these powers. My personal favourite “green” alien is the Trickster, who is able to resolve combat by hiding a token in one fist and letting the opponent choose the fist. If they find the token, they win. Otherwise you do. I’ve been pretty lucky with that one! Far more than 50/50 🙂
The game was a hit, but for it to work, you need a good group of players. You have to be willing to form alliances and then break them when it’s advantageous to you. You can win jointly or by yourself. There’s lots of wheeling and dealing that goes on. Your group can’t be afraid of confrontation. You also can’t get too frustrated. Some powers can be particularly annoying if you’re on the wrong side. Playing with couples or child-parent pairs can be problematic, too, if they’re not willing to fight. Often natural alliances will form that that kills the spirit of the game. But if you have the right group, I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
Defenders of the Realm
This is a fantasy-themed cooperative game. This one is tons of fun. Each player takes a character card that gives them various unique powers. They start in Monarch City, which is being besieged by 4 generals and their armies: a dragon, an orc, a lich, and a demon. You win by defeating all 4 generals. As each turn progresses, new armies appear on the board and the generals move towards the city. If too many minions appear in a single space, it becomes tainted. Taint too many spaces and you lose. If any general makes it all the way to the city, you lose. If too many minions breach the city wall, you lose. You get the picture. One way to win, a dozen ways to lose.
The game takes a little while to play (90 minutes), but I much prefer this to Pandemic (another cooperative game that shares many core mechanics). The theme is more engaging, the special powers are more thematic, and the combat against the generals is more exciting. The game is out of print, so it may be hard to find. The core game is somewhat available, but I haven’t been able to find the expansions for a long time. If you like cooperative games like Pandemic, but you prefer fantasy themes, this one is for you.
I really get a kick out of this game. It’s a basic social deduction game (like Mafia or Werewolf) but one that doesn’t require a moderator or include player elimination. You play a band of rebels trying to take down an evil corporation. The problem is that your group has been infiltrated. You need to establish teams to go on missions. Each member of the team then secretly contributes a “Succeed” or “Fail” card. Any “Fail” cards kill the mission. If the rebels successfully complete 3 missions, they win. If the spies scuttle 3 missions, they win. With the right group, these mechanics lead to spirited discussions and surprising revelations. If you have players who take things too personally or just can’t lie at all, then the game won’t work as well. The best part of this game is that it works with up to 10 players. It’s hard to find larger party games like that. If you like social games and have groups of 5–10 players, check this one out.
The original version that I have has been largely supplanted by the more recent Resistance: Avalon. This edition is easier to find and plays pretty much the exact same. All it does is alter the theme (Camelot, of course) and specify special powers on the character cards. You can retrofit original Resistance character cards if they’re sleeved by adding a label or something. Each illustration is also unique, so you could do it that way, too.
This is another Kickstarter game. It’s a real-time cooperative game for up to 4 players in which you’re running a Chinese restaurant. The goal is to build up your restaurant over the first three days so you can make the most money possible at the grand opening (the fourth day). Each player has a special power and takes cards representing the various ingredients. You then roll dice you will use and trade to build up your store of ingredients so that you can fulfil customer orders. There’s a timer you can set to 45, 30, or 15 seconds, which is how much time you have to complete each order.
It’s meant to be a frantic experience, but we seemed to play it “wrong.” There’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t sit and deliberate before you start the game (open the restaurant doors). So we spent the bulk of our time examining our dice and determining their optimal use. There are special event cards that can throw a wrench in your plans, but you can do much better if you think things through before you start. Then we start the day and go through the orders. We play at the 15 second level because of our pre-deliberations. Despite playing it “wrong,” we found it enjoyable and challenging. (We never did win.)
Cave Troll has been around since 2002. It’s an area control game in which you try to take control of the most valuable rooms in a dungeon and plunder more gold than your opponents. The board is an underground system of caverns with each room being worth a different amount of gold. Each player has the exact same forces (which also include 3 monsters) and a deck of cards representing these forces. Each player either uses cards to deploy new forces or moves their forces around the board. At various points during the game, the board is scored. You get gold for each room you control. Each player has a number of boring adventurers, but they also have unique heroes with specific powers (one can essentially teleport from one room to any other, one doubles the value of a room, etc.). The problem is that you only have one, and if an opposing monster kills one, it’s out of the game forever.
This game requires some thinking, but it’s not too hard that kids can’t play starting at around 12 years old. There’s confrontation and some “you jerk” moments, but the game plays quickly. I’ve had this game for a long time and I still enjoy bringing it out from time to time. It’s not as thematically meaty as say Defenders of the Realm or Stronghold, but I still enjoy it.
Lords of Waterdeep
Sadly we were only able to bring this one out once. Everybody enjoyed it, though, and if we’d had the time, we’d have played more.
Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game. What this means is that each player has a number of workers that they take turns placing on various locations that then let them do something. Typically, once one player has gone somewhere, later players cannot. That’s one of the strategies of the game, determining what you need, doing what you have to to get that before your opponents do, and also being aware of what your opponents need so that you can shut them out when necessary. It’s a D&D licence, but the theme is very “pasted on.” You have various adventurers completing quests to get points, but you don’t ever feel like you’re questing. Defenders of the Realm is much better at that. The default game comes with coloured cubes to represent the various types of adventurers. I splurged and bought the appropriately shaped DnDeeples for flavour. To me it makes a difference.
This is what I’d call a “gateway” game, meaning it’s simple enough to learn that nongamers can get started, deep enough to keep them engaged and formulating strategies, but not so deep and time intensive that they feel overwhelmed. It’s a great way to introduce worker placement games to people before you work up to behemoths like Caylus. I’ve had great success with this game and recommend it to families that want to get in to this type of game and like the D&D theme.
This was one of the 2-player-only games I brought along just in case. I really love this game, but it is huge and heavy and can be a little offputting at first sight. The rule book is long and detailed, but the fundamental mechanics don’t take that long to learn. But you’ll need to refer to the book for some of the keywords and combat edge cases for quite a few games.
This is essentially Magic the Gathering on a board. You have a huge board with twelve large sectors on it. You also start with a card representing your mage on the board. (Each mage is very different from the others and have certain innate powers.) You also have a spellbook that contains all the spells available to you in the game. Each turn you select two spells you may wish to cast that turn, and then each entity on the board has an opportunity to act. The last mage standing wins.
There is a huge customization aspect to the game. There are detailed rules for how to build your own books. But the rules also come with base decks, which are all I’ve every played with. Unlike CCGs like Magic, all your cards are available to you from the start of the game. It’s all about how you use them.
I really, really love this game. It is huge spell slinging fun. I takes some time (60–120 minutes), but I find it very rewarding and entertaining. It is so replayable, and numerous expansions have been added to give even more variety. If you and a friend like the theme of mage-on-mage deathmatch, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It’s not cheap, but the base game is enough to get you started. If you decide you like it, then you can buy the expansions and go crazy.
This is another 2-player-only game that I absolutely love and never get to play often enough. It’s one of the most thematically engaging games I’ve ever played. I assume you’ve read/seen The Lord of the Rings. Remember the battle at Helm’s Deep, with thousands upon thousands of orcs assaulting the human’s keep? That’s essentially this game.
One player is defending the keep. They have walls and forces at each parapet. They also have various buildings that let them build things like cauldrons, traps, and other paraphernalia. The other side plays the invader. They have access to a massive army of trolls, orcs, and goblins. They also have access to various other tools depending on how they set up the game. They can build catapults and ballistas, or siege towers and battering rams for the front gate, or sacrifice lowly goblins to cast powerful spells.
The game starts with a fixed number of turns (until reinforcements arrive). The invader can end the game early by breaching one of the parapets. Once the game ends, whoever has the most glory points wins (usually the defender). The core mechanic is the hourglass. The invader’s turn is divided up into various stages (in one you rally new forces, in another you build siege engines, in another you cast spells, in another you move your forces, etc.). In each stage the invader generates hourglass tokens to accomplish certain things. At the end of the stage, those hourglasses are given to the defender, who then spends them to accomplish their various tasks. This gives the invader a great deal of control over the pacing. Will you go with a lean, focused assault that generates a minimum number of hourglasses? Or will you go for the longer, drawn-out, “shock and awe” type assault? Various types of actions on either side garners glory points. The invader starts with an initial pool but has to give one to the defender at the beginning of every turn. The most points at the end of the game wins.
The invader certainly has the hardest job, but they also have a great deal of flexibility and variability from game to game. The defender has essentially the same options from game to game. There are rules for 3 and 4 players as well, but it’s the same core game. You just divide up responsibilities among you.
If the theme interests you and you have a like-minded gaming partner, go find this game. I love, love, love it and am never letting it out of my collection.