Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Worst Part of a Good Vacation

The worst part of a good vacation is that it eventually comes to an end.

This last week we took the family skiing at our favorite ski resort: Big White, near Kelowna, British Colombia. This place has got to be the undiscovered gem of North American ski resorts. I've skied all up and down the west coast. I've skied Utah, Tahoe, and of course Washington. Far and away the best snow I've ever skied, I skied this week at Big White. We had inches of fresh powder every single day. When I'd head into the glades I'd be up to my thighs in light fluffy dry powder that was simply a dream come true. Most of their accommodations (including the apartment we stayed at) are ski-in, ski-out. Their kids program is fantastic. Their prices are very affordable. And the mountain (while not quite as big as giants like Whistler) is huge and offers something for everyone.

But that's not why you read this blog. You come here for the games. And oh yes, there were games. We planned this vacation so we'd be up there at the same time as our good friends the Carpenters. Curt is also a game nut. In fact, he's even more of a game geek than I am. So between the two of us we (and our kids) had plenty of games to choose from when the slopes closed.

Here are just some of the games we managed to get to the table.

One of my favorite games is Reiner Knizia's masterpiece: Tigris & Euphrates. The card game version: Euphrates & Tigris: contest of kings has just made it to the United States and we were able to give it a go. My son Kray and I played a two player game and then Curt and my other son Mike joined Kray and I for a four player game. My reaction? It's good, but it's not quite as good as the original game. Perhaps I'm biased by my fondness for the original but I felt that the card game version didn't have quite as much going for it. That's not too surprising given that it's intended to be a scaled down, more portable version of the original game. On the whole, the game plays nearly the same but the two-dimensional grid is abandoned in favor of a linear representation of regions and kingdoms using cards laid out on the table and that really changed the game for me. Still, it's quite good and I'll be playing it again.

For the younger kids, we brought up Geisterwäldchen (Ghost Grove in English). This is the sequel to Geistertreppe (Spooky Stairs) and it's a fantastic game for younger kids although it's certainly too simple to keep most adults interested for very long. Jessica, our five year old, just loves it.

Curt brought up a few imports that aren't yet readily available in the US. One of those, Diamant, was a big hit, particularly with our young kids in the 8 to 12 range. Diamant is a push-your-luck game where players explore a mine looking for gems. The deeper in the mine you go, the more gems you acquire, but the more risk you incur. Delve too long and one of the disasters is sure to strike the mine, taking you and your gems with it. The key is to choose the right time to take the money and run.

Another of Curt's imports was the much hyped Antike. This game is being billed as a civilization game that's playable in under two hours. It's not quite that. The civilizations in the game are all totally identical and there is really little interaction between the civs (other than direct conflict which is so expensive as to be rather limited). Instead, it's a race to earn victory points with a civilization theme. The clever mechanism in this game is the rondel, which is a round action wheel upon which players place their pawns. On each turn, you move your pawn a number of spaces around the rondel. The number of spaces is your choice but any number above three comes at a cost. The space you choose determines what action you can perform. It's an interesting mechanism that gives players the freedom to determine their strategy while at the same time, dictating the pace at which they can proceed. The game plays quickly but it took us a while to get it started and we had to cut it short to go to dinner. We'll have to come back to it and play it all the way through soon. From my brief taste, I can say that this has the potential to be a favorite.

Another game we played for the first time is the new Z-Man Games release: Il Principe. This is a card driven auction game with a minor area control element. Players auction off sets of "building cards" which they then use to build cities. Cities earn victory points and they also earn players the right to place counters in areas of the map. Building cards also are used to control various roles in the game which bestow abilities and also earn victory points for the players who control them. It's an interesting game that I'm looking forward to playing again.

Also new to me was Ys, from Ystari Games and Rio Grande Games. This is a blind auction game where players send their brokers into the various districts of Ys in order to acquire gems and influence the market. Brokers are represented by numbered cylinders. On each round, players place two brokers, one face up and one face down. After eight cylinders are placed this way, the various areas are scored and the turn is over. After four turns, the game ends and victory points are awarded based on the distribution of gems and their relative value (which changes throughout the game). There is a lot more going on in this game than I can describe in one simple paragraph. This is definitely one of the better games I played over the week. I'm looking forward to not getting my butt kicked the next time I play it.

Also hitting the table were Hacienda, and Beowulf, both games I've written about recently. Hacienda is an excellent new Wolfgang Kramer game. Beowulf is Reiner Knizia's push-your luck game based on the Old English epic poem which has some similarities to one of his other games: Lord of the Rings. Both are fine games but I've written about them recently and I'm due to write a review of Hacienda soon so I'll not say much about them here.


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