Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tsuro, Settlers, and Time Travellers

(c) Calliope Games.
Used by permission
One of my posts last Thursday described my initial impression of Tsuro of the Seas, a recent variation on the Calliope Games gem Tsuro (designer Tom McMurchie; artists Shane Small, Cathy Brigg, and Sarah Phelps; publisher Calliope Games).  Playing TotS made me want to revisit the original Tsuro, which my good friend Grant Greffey had given us for Christmas a couple of years ago.  As it happened, we had in turn recently given a copy to our friend Jeff, so on the occasion of having a number of friends over for dinner and games, he was happy to break it out and give it a spin.

Now, I'd only ever played proper Tsuro as a two-player game with Kathy.  There were five of us there for dinner that night, so we got to experience the full multi-player orderly chaos that is Tsuro at its best.  At one point, I specifically remember playing a tile that would allow my piece to be at the mercy of whatever tile Kathy played when her turn came.  But my examination of the board on my turn had indicated that there was nothing she could do to drive me off the board, no matter what tile she placed.  Well, I failed to take into account that other players would be placing tiles between my turn and hers.  Jeff in fact placed a tile that, when Kathy subsequently played her own, would indeed connect my piece with the edge of the board and summarily remove me from the game as the first player to depart in ignominy.  Curses!

Jeff and Sheila eventually followed me to the sidelines.  The game came down to the last five or six tiles before Rebecca was finally eliminated to leave Kathy as the winner.

I really like Tsuro for its elegance.  It is an easy game to teach, and an easy game to play, with subtle strategy and just a little tile luck to keep things edgy.  Unlike Carcassone, which requires players to play the tile they draw and in which tiles are only playable in certain places and orientations, Tsuro allows for a choice of three tiles from a player's hand, and the tile can be played in any of four orientations.  The only constraint is that the tile must be placed in front of a player's own piece.  More subtle is the fact that some tiles are symmetrical with respect to a line (meaning that they only have two distinct orientations) or with respect to a point (meaning that they have the same effect regardless of orientation), which further limit the available options.

There is a strategic element to observing the regions of the boards not yet covered by tiles and the fragmented paths that connect uncovered regions.  Players need to think in terms of not just outlasting opponents but also driving opponents off the board.  I am still only just beginning to appreciate the depth of this game, and I look forward to exploring it further.

Settlers of Catan
(c) Mayfair Games
Used by permission
We also played the five-player expansion to the neo-classic Settlers of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber, publisher Mayfair).  All of us had played before, although several of us needed a review of the rules.  The expansion adds 11 tiles to enlarge the island, greater numbers of resource and development cards, and an opportunity between player turns for everybody to build without trading.  We were all in a fairly tight race for most of the game.  Rebecca had two road networks that were close enough to take a commanding hold of the Longest Road card if she connected them.  I had a fortunate dice roll, however, that gave me enough bricks along with the lumber that I had in hand to build three roads in a single turn and connect my own road networks.  Snatching up Longest Road wasn't enough for victory, though; instead, Kathy managed to play a third knight to gain Largest Army, which - in combination with her University, city, and five settlements - gained her ten points for the win.

I always enjoy game night with friends, and Saturday was no exception.  It really is about the laughter and good company; the gameplay is just the fun catalyst.

(c) Looney Labs
Used by permission
After work today, my wife Kathy and I broke out another favorite, Chrononauts (designer Andrew Looney, artist Alison Frane, publisher Looney Labs).  This session was a crazy game in which I had seven artifacts at one point and still couldn't complete my mission (to solve the Great Mysteries with the Videotape of the Creation of the Universe, the Rongo-Rongo Tablets, and the Lost Ark of the Covenant).  In our time traveling ventures, we saved the Titanic, the Archduke Ferdinand, the Hindenburg, and President Kennedy but saw to the successful assassination of Adolf Hitler and subsequent repeal of the Nuremberg Race Laws.  I was only a few steps away from getting history lined up the way I wanted it until Kathy arranged it so that my parents never met, which meant that I had to change my identity.  Kathy had coordinated the 1948 Berlin World's Fair and just needed to patch the 1929 paradox with the explosion of the Titanic (17 years after averting the disaster with the iceberg), but it was the completion of her scientific mission to acquire a live dinosaur, the Cure for Cancer, and the Crown of Thorns (which she took from me by Getting There First) that won the game for her.
Kathy ("Renee") is one 1929 patch away from achieving her timeline but wins instead by completing The
Scientists' Wish List with The Crown of Thorns, the Cure for Cancer, and not one but two live dinosaurs.

So yes, dear reader, my lovely wife won all three games we played in the last three days.  *sigh*

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