Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Word Thief. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Word Thief. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Games that even the in-laws can play

Okay, to be fair, my mother-in-law may not be a convention-going serious Euro-gamer, but she likes to learn a new game or two, and she has really come to enjoy Settlers of Catan and Guillotine.  Even my father-in-law will jump in for a session of Word Thief.  So when they came to visit over the last several days, while the oppressive heat kept us indoors most of the time, the board game closet got visited quite often.  I had the opportunity to introduce them to a few games that they really seemed to enjoy.

First of all, I gave my in-laws a copy of Trains Planes and Automobiles and took the opportunity to show it off in true family-game fashion.  Although billed as a game for two to six players, I included an optional rule for seven or eight players.  So with both in-laws, three sons, my wife, and myself, we launched into a seven-player session - the only shortcoming being that I had to provide a spare game piece from another game to accommodate the seventh player.  I must say that as the game designer, I do very badly at my own game.  I kept chasing stories in locations accessible only by automobile - Vicksburg, Ciudad Juarez, and Phoenix* - while others jetted around from airport to airport, racking up assignments.  My oldest son Patrick overcame a late start and beat everybody to the final assignment to win the game.  I have to say, we all had a great time, and I'm really hoping to be able to demonstrate this game in the Junior Events room at World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania starting tomorrow.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Our game sessions over the last several days were frequent and fun.  My 15-year-old, usually so impulsive in push-your-luck games, turned out to have perfect timing in Incan Gold and won that game hands-down.  My father-in-law and other two sons pushed a lot of poker chips around the table playing Blackjack, in which my ten-year-old ended up winning his grandfather's house and car (or would have, if the titles were on the table). We had a great session of Apples to Apples that included Patrick's girlfriend.  My wife demonstrated her unstoppable command of word games in Word Thief.  We had several really fun games of Guillotine, which is always good for a laugh.  I was very pleased to engage my mother-in-law in Reiner Knizia's Ingenious, which is both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying - so much so that she insisted on a second game immediately.  And, finally, we introduced the in-laws to the notion of a co-op game with Pandemic, which we lost when the Player Deck ran out before we were anywhere near curing the black disease.  Our family has now managed to lose Pandemic in all three possible ways.

So the in-laws' visit became a smorgasbord of boardgaming fun.  The summer heat was never really a factor as we found great entertainment right in our own home and in the good company of family.  And that's what vacations are really all about.

* Now, I should note that I'm perfectly aware that you can fly to any of these places today, and might even have been able to do so fifty years ago.  But for purposes of making TPA interesting, I only put airports in about a third of all cities on the map, and provided rail service only to another third.  So there are many cities on the map that, in the game, can only be reached by car.  That's what makes it a challenge.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A weekend of gaming

On the occasion of our son's birthday, his good friend and his friend's mother Sue Cochran came to stay for the weekend.  The boys played computer and video games in the basement; we played boardgames in the dining room.

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
We started with Cities and Knights of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber, publisher Mayfair), a favorite variant on Settlers of Catan.  Although Catan usually remains close a contest throughout the game, this time my wife Kathy pretty much ran away with it by exploiting a very profitable wheat port.  She left Sue and me in the dust and won handily.

Sue had played Agricola only twice before and wanted to try it again, so we played the family version (without occupations or minor improvements).  Sue outscored both of us on major improvements with the well, the pottery, and a cooking hearth, and Kathy got her farm running strong on grain and vegetable fields, but I was the only one to renovate to a stone house, which proved to be the difference in my very close win.

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
Sue next introduced us to Iron Dragon (designers Darwin P. Bromley and Tom Wham, another Mayfair title), which turned out to be the big game event of the weekend.  I read up on some of the reviews ahead of time, and a few comments were less than enthusiastic.  In the interest of simplifying the game somewhat and perhaps shortening the playing time, I convinced Sue to allow us to play without the event cards, which at least one reviewer described as randomly bad and not in general an improvement to overall gameplay.  She also agreed to make the "Rainbow Bridge" connection between Bluefeld and Octomare a permanent portal, which greatly simplified access between the new and old worlds in the north.  I can see that some fans of the game might think that we deprived the game of some of its challenge and flavor, but I think as an introductory session (in the context of wanting to play other games as well), the adjustments proved reasonable.

One reviewer expressed frustration at having to discard route cards frequently in order to find profitable assignments, but we didn't find that true in our session at all.  Admittedly, there were a number of times early in the game where it was necessary to spend more money building rail lines than would be collected in the final shipment, but I considered those costs to be an investment in infrastructure.  Many of the rail lines built early in the game turned out to be useful for multiple subsequent shipments, as well as the basis for a more extensive network later in the game.  Seldom did any of us discard route cards (if at all) in our session. 

In the end, I got to the point where I had enough surplus cash to extend my network to satisfy the victory condition of being connected to seven of the eight major cities.  After that, it was just necessary to complete several major shipments to reach a cash balance of 250 gold pieces to win the game.  All in all, I would say that it is a fun game, despite being a bit idiosyncratic in its design and execution.
Image courtesy of
Outset Media

We wrapped up with a game of Word Thief (publisher Outset Media), which my wife usually trounces me in.  I had a ridiculously good string of luck and managed to use all seven cards in three consecutive turns - a total of 60 bonus points.  I did win the game, but only by 27 points, which means that I needed two of those awesome turns just to keep my wife from crushing me.