Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hive at work, and the Top Ten Lunch Break Games

Today my friend Glenn Weeks and I got together during our lunch break at work, and we took advantage of the opportunity to play a game of Hive (designer and artist John Yianni, publisher Gen42).  This turned out to be the perfect lunch break game for two.  It occupies very little table real estate, takes less than five minutes to teach, and has a playing time of about 15 or 20 minutes.

I'd been enamored of Hive ever since I first learned of it.  The physical quality of the tiles is terrific; they are quite substantial, and the etched art is beautiful.  As a perfect-information zero-luck abstract, it comes off as a pretty brainy game, despite the simple rules - and that is in fact the genius of the game.  I picked it up in August of 2010, but since Kathy didn't seem to particularly like it, Hive stayed among our backroom game shelves, largely unplayed for the last two and a half years.

Glenn picked up the rules quickly, and we were playing in no time.  We'd each take a bite of salad while the other pondered his next move.  Glenn actually had me up against the ropes pretty early in the game, and I found that I had to use my ants mostly to pin down his pieces to keep them from surrounding my queen bee.  But he got a little too clever at one point, and left my queen an opening that allowed her to move into a less vulnerable position.  By the time he got his attack back in order, I was able to finish my own surrounding action and bring in my beetle to finish the job.  So it was a close, fun game, and a great break in the middle of a workday.

I've often considered the prospect of playing games during lunch at work, and it's an interesting exercise to consider what candidates will fit the bill.  The key elements to a lunch-time game are obviously short play time, small play space, and quick set-up and take-down.  Other candidates that Glenn and I thought of for future lunch-time games include:

  • Ingenious: Challenges, three Reiner Knizia games in one video-cassette-sized box
  • Lost Cities, the neo-classic card game for two
  • Quarto, a brilliant abstract with 16 pieces on a small square board
After giving the parameters some more thought this evening, I came up with my Top Ten Lunch Break Boardgames for Two Players:

(c) Z-man Games.  Used by permission
  1. Traders of Carthage
  2. 1955: The War of Espionage
  3. Empyrean, Inc.
  4. Hive
  5. Jaipur
  6. Fairy Tale
  7. Down in Flames III: Zero!
  8. Fluxx
  9. For the Win
  10. Quarto
(I didn't include Lost Cities just because I've only played it once or twice and don't feel qualified to rate it in comparison to the others.)  

Interestingly, I realize that these games are very much in line with the kinds of games that Kathy and I like to take to restaurants to kill time while we're waiting for food, and for the same reasons.  It turns out that I'm by no means the first person to consider this gaming environment.  Boardgame geek Michael Eskue created a geeklist with criteria for restaurant games and solicited ideas from other geeks.  His criteria:
Durability: Can be easily cleaned and holds up to wear and tear
Portability: Can fit in a pocket or purse
Real Estate: Doesn't take up too much room on the table, even after the food is served.
Time: Can be played in less than 15 minutes
Disturbance: Doesn't attract too much attention from the other customers (e.g. No Ca$h N Gun$ at Chili's)
Fun factor: Is this game actually fun?
So Michael's criteria are a bit more stringent than mine, but he's compiled a great geeklist of games that are worth investigating for those seeking to enhance a lunch break or a dinner out with some boardgame entertainment.

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