Some friends and I were complaining that we never had time to play games. I commonly say that one has to "make time for games," so I decided to organize a weekend where we would just block the time off and play as many games as want. Since there's already a big boardgame convention in the fall, I thought booking one in the spring would be best. Since my birthday is in May, that was the month we chose. Not everyone could make it, but we got some playtime in regardless. We played Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening. Here's what we played, in alphabetical order.
7 Wonders Duel
The base 7 Wonders game is a card drafting game where you're passed a hand of cards, pick one, and then pass the remaining cards on. The cards are then played in various ways to score points.
7 Wonders Duel is designed specifically for two players. The cards are laid out in various formations on the table and the players take turn drawing them, instead of passing hands back and forth. Numerous other adjustments are made, but the core of the game is the same. This is a great two-player game that is relatively simple to learn but still has some interesting tactical decisions. Highly recommended.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
This is the "good" Azul. The basic Azul is too simple for my taste. Sintra adds enough complexity to make the game interesting while still keeping it simple enough to teach and accessible to gamers of all experience levels.
In this game, players are completing panes of stained glass by selecting pieces of certain colours from a shared central area. Different colours award bonus points over the game, and there are some interesting mechanics that create interesting tension (e.g., the motivation to complete as many panes to maximize cumulative scores balanced with the motivation to surround your ornaments).
We played with four players, and it may be my preferred player count. It still plays really fast. The full game only took an hour, including teaching and accidentally playing a seventh round. It fills a similar spot to Splendor in that it's a game you can play with many different ages, the options available to you on your turn are relatively constrained, but there's room for skilled play. In my mind, Sintra replaces Splendor, but your mileage may vary. I think this is a great family game to have in the collection.
Champions of Midgard
I bought this game specifically for this weekend. I normally don't buy games I've never played, but this just kept coming up in blogs and podcasts as a top worker-placement game. So I bought it and the Valhalla expansion, which I was told was a "must have." I completely agree. We could only play with two players, but it actually worked quite well, I thought.
The leader of your village has died, so the players are competing to gather the most glory and be named the new leader. This is primarily a worker-placement game, where each player has so many "workers" to place on various stations around the board each round to gather certain resources or perform certain tasks. A fundamental strategic mechanic of these games is that once a player has taken a given spot, nobody else may.
What this game does differently is add a combat element. One of the resources you gather are viking heroes, represented by dice of different colours with different face configurations. You use those dice to defeat various creatures. Killing monsters gets you glory and other resources.
The Valhalla expansion adds a game system that should have existed from the beginning. In the base game, when heroes are killed in battle, they're simply discarded. But the expansion adds tokens for each of the dice type and a new set of reward cards you can buy with these tokens. Whenever your heroes are defeated, you get a matching token. So now you're incentivized to take on risky missions and let heroes die so you can earn greater rewards.
We really enjoyed this one. I'm very glad I own it. I will definitely be breaking this out with more players to see how it plays.
This is a relatively simple area control game. There are twelve different races with very different special powers. Each race has cards in the colours of the six continents on the shared board. On your turn you either draw a card from the table or play a set of cards of the same race or same colour. If certain conditions are met, you can place a control marker on the continent. At the end of each age, whoever has the most markers in a continent gets that continent's points. Whoever has the most points at the end of three ages wins. The mechanic that makes this game really work, I think, is that after playing a set, you have to discard all your other cards to the table for others to choose from. It keeps players from hoarding cards, as often happens in Ticket to Ride.
We played this with four players. Not everybody loved it, but I think this is a superb family game. Like with Sintra, your options each turn are relatively constrained, and the mechanics are easily taught, but I think there's still room for strategic thinking. There's definitely some randomness, but I don't think it's enough to completely overcome player skill. What I love is how different the races are and how completely they change how each game feels. There are twelve races, but you only play with a random six each game. There are lots of interesting interactions.
I for one am very happy to have this in my collection, and it's one I expect to get many plays out of with the kids and softcore gamers.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game
There are a series of Legendary games (the main one being Marvel Legendary). This one mirrors the structure but uses the Alien movies as the scenarios.
The players are working together to accomplish the various objectives of the scenario. (We played the scenario that matches the first movie. Apparently there are scenarios for the four main movies.) Like any deck builder, players start with a base weak deck and use those cards to purchase more powerful ones over time. Every player turn, new baddies make their way through various rooms, making their way to the combat area. Some of those baddies are event or hazard cards that trigger various events based on the scenario. A few are actually allies that can help you. But most are mean, vicious xenomorphs. You want to try to kill them before they reach the main combat area. Once they get there, they harm you, and they cause a lot of hurt.
I love the theme. We played with four players and only had time for one game. We were slaughtered. Since the baddies enter play after every player turn, four players makes for a tough game. We got a bad draw of initial market cards, so we couldn't do much before we were overwhelmed.
My issues with this game are the same for all the Legendary games:
- The card quality is quite low. I know they need to keep the costs down to hit a mass-market price point, but it shows. I really don't like the way they feel and handle.
- The Legendary games don't have many mechanisms for culling your deck. Without that, you have to be very circumspect with what cards you buy.
- While all deck builders have relatively high setup and teardown times, the Legendary games go the extra mile. There are a lot of different card types, but THEY ALL HAVE THE SAME CARD BACKS!! This is unforgiveable to me. I should be able to quickly separate out the Hive cards from the Barracks cards from the Strike cards, at the very least.
I still had a good time, though. We didn't play with the secret objectives and "becoming an alien" rules. I can see that if you play this often with a regular group, you could really explore the theme.
Mission Red Planet
This is a role-selection and area-control game. All the players have the exact same nine cards, each with a specific power. Each round, players simultaneously select the role they want execute that round. Then in number order, players do what the card says, which always involves placing astronauts on spaceships headed to various zones on Mars. Most also have some other secondary effect like killing other players' astronauts, redirecting ships, and blowing ships up.
Three times during the game, resources are discovered on Mars, and the player who has the most astronauts in a given zone gets those resources. After ten rounds of play and three scoring rounds, whoever has the most points wins.
I really, really enjoy this game, and it seemed to go over well with the six players we had. I think the game plays great at six players. There's lots of jockeying for position and difficult decisions. This is definitely a more tactical game. You have to be able to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. You have a plan all worked out, but then the person to your right chooses the same role and changes everything. Or a rogue pilot redirects a ship to an area you thought was safe and you have to scramble to figure out how you're going to protect your majority. Playing with a good group also helps. We had lots of good trash talk and backstabbing. Tons of fun!
There are a bunch of Pixel Tactics decks. I have Deluxe and decks 1 through 5. This is a two-player card combat game where you just fight to be the last man standing.
Each player has the exact same deck of cards. All the cards have a leader side (with a single, game-altering special power) and a hero side (with four different but thematically related powers). Each player has a 3x3 grid in front of them.
At the beginning of the game, you draw five cards and pick the leader side of one of them to be your leader for that game. This will set your overall strategy. By this I mean that the leader's special power is usually so intrusive that it will guide how you approach the rest of the game. This card goes in the middle of your grid.
Then you take turns placing heroes in the various rows and raining down death and destruction on your opponent. The row the hero is in will dictate which of the powers on the card you have access to. The goal is to simply kill the opposing leader.
This is a tremendous two-player game. The art is in the style of of 8-bit video games. The powers are interesting and can interact in surprising and awesome ways. I love the different card themes and how they tie together the various powers. There's a certain amount of randomness in the cards you draw, but I rarely find this to be a game-breaking problem. With some thought, I can usually find an interaction that will keep me moving forward. It's particularly nice to know that we both have the same deck. So I can know what sorts of things I might expect to have thrown at me. If you often have opportunities to play two-player games, then you really should go out and at least pick up one of the five main decks. It's super cheap, and you can see if you like it. I'm willing to bet you'll be picking up the rest soon enough.
This is a simple two-player deck builder. It has a mobile app for iPhone and Android, but I like playing in person.
As with most deck builders, you start with a base weak deck. You then use them to obtain ever stronger cards from the market in an attempt to beat your opponent into submission. There are four different civilizations, each with particular specialties. You can buy cards of any civilization, but collecting cards of the same civilization can lead to extra-powerful interactions.
As far as deck builders go, this is relatively light. Turns go super fast. You have to pay attention to what your opponent is buying and do what you can to block them. Once your opponent has a good combo set up, you'll find yourself hurting pretty fast. One of the things I like about this game is how easy it is to cull your deck. It really gives you the power to craft something truly awesome.
While the base game is on the light side, there are lots of interesting expansions that add things like one-time special powers, asymmetric player powers, and powerful mercenary ships. I don't play it often, but I'm very happy to have it in my collection, and always have it around for two-player session.