What a busy week! The week around Thanksgiving is always a little crazy. First we drove down to my parents' house to spend a couple of days with them and the extended family. Then that was immediately followed by the busiest week of the year. We're selling a lot of games this year and that's a good thing. Unfortunately, we're selling them for crazy low prices so our margins are razor thin. Bad for us but good for you so take advantage of it!
I played a lot of games over the last week and a half. On turkey day we played several games with the family. There was the obligatory game of Hearts of course (it's my extended family's traditional game) but I also managed to sneak in a couple of better games too.
One of the better successes of the weekend was Circus Flohcati
, a super-light card game by Reiner Knizia. This one's been around for a while but it was new to my family. It's a very simple push-your-luck game of collecting cards. On your turn you may turn over as many new cards as you wish so long as one of the cards you turn over doesn't match the color of any of the other cards already showing. If you stop before turning over that matching card then you may pick any one of the visible cards and add it to your hand; but if you turn over a matching card then you lose your turn. It's a simple game that can be played by kids of all ages. My parents loved it, mostly because it's so simple and it plays so quickly (easily under 15 minutes) that you can play several games in a row, giving more people a chance to win.
Another simple Knizia game we played over the weekend is Penguin
. This is another kid's game with Knizia's trademark simplicity. Each player has a number of colored plastic penguins and on your turn you need to place a penguin on a pyramid. The rule is very simple, if you put a penguin on the pyramid, it must either be on the ground level or its color has to be the same as one of the two penguins beneath it. Naturally, there can be only so many penguins on the ground level so sooner or later you're going to need to place on a higher level. The object is to place as many penguins as you can. I was impressed with the simplicity of the game and the younger kids liked it a lot but I must say that I was a little disappointed with the penguins themselves. It looks like Fantasy Flight tried to be a little too clever with the piece design. The plastic penguins have little slots above their wings, into which the next row of penguins fit. Unfortunately, the slots are a little too snug and it can be physically difficult to attach the next higher row of penguins. I imagine that the game would work much better if the penguins were simply painted on colored wooden blocks. There's even mention in the rules of a penalty for knocking over the pyramid but given how snugly the penguins fit together I can't imagine that ever happening; now if they were wooden blocks then the rule would make sense.
At game night on Tuesday we had a bit of a light turnout but we did play several games. Some of the group played Penguin
(because it was still in my game box from Thanksgiving) while others played To Court the King
. We've talked about those games enough though so I won't say anything more about them now.
While the others were playing those games, Chris and I played a relatively new two player game: Cold War: CIA vs. KGB
. I like this game despite the fact that I seem to get crushed every time I play it. This game plays a lot like Black Jack but the cards also have special abilities, each of which can be used one time to affect the play. Some cards let you peek at the next card on the stack, some cards let you discard cards in play (potentially bringing you back under the target amount), others let you pass cards between you and your opponent. The theme is well done and it's simple enough to learn in just a few minutes. I like it.
Eventually we all got around to playing a meatier game and we chose a game that we hadn't played in a very long time: Fury of Dracula
. This is one of those games that I originally thought I wouldn't care for. The theme didn't really appeal to me all that much and it's a relatively long game. But after having played it a few times I must say that I really like it. The theme is very well done and it does an excellent job of conveying the feel of the second half of the Dracula novel (when Van Helsing and the others are hunting the count). It plays an awful lot like Scotland Yard
with combat and events. One player takes the roll of Dracula and he secretly moves from city to city across Europe trying to escape from the other players who play the hunters. Along the way he leaves encounters and meddles with the hunters in any way he can. If the hunters stumble across his trail they may be able to deduce where he has gone and head him off, but they may also have to deal with whatever nasty thing he might have left behind. If the hunters are fortunate enough to catch up with him then they will need to do battle with the count before they can claim victory.
We did something unusual for us: we played this game twice in a row. The first time we played, we had forgotten about a very important rule which allowed Dracula to win in only a few short turns. We were all scratching our heads wondering how the game could be so incredibly unbalanced for a minute or two before someone who had more experience with the game said "aha!" and remembered that whenever one of Dracula's vampires matures his trail is cleared, which helps to hide Dracula's trail but also has the necessary side effect of removing any encounters from his trail, which in turn makes it impossible for Dracula to mature more than one vampire every seven turns or so. We had forgotten that rule and a lucky event tile draw had allowed Dracula to mature several vampires in a row, quickly ending the game. Realizing how dramatic that mistake was, we decided to play again and this time the game was much more balanced. After a rather lengthy game the hunters were eventually able to catch and defeat the count, but not without some rather difficult moments along the way. Now I'm eager to play the game again.
The other game that I've been playing a lot of these days is Mü
. I've written at length about this game before but let me just repeat that this is easily the best trick taking game I have ever played. Now before you Bridge fanatics get your panties all tied in knots, let me just say that I think Bridge is a great game but, for my money, the difficulty of learning complicated bidding conventions coupled with the moderately difficult and arcane scoring rules make it a game that I'm just not all that interested in playing. Mü on the other hand, combines incredibly engaging play, shifting partnerships and an ever-changing trump suit with a nearly perfect bidding system. It's fantastic.
These days, this is our lunch game of choice. And this week I had some very interesting experiences with the game. A couple of days ago I managed to score a hand with enough 7s to call 7s trump over any other trump suit and nearly run the table. Yesterday I found myself sitting with a hand that was almost all blue and green. My friend Steve, sitting to my right, began with an opening bid of green which I followed by bidding blue. As the bidding evolved, it very quickly became apparent that I was his ideal partner, meaning that if I bid too high and let him take chief, leaving me with vice, he would not be able to call me and he would almost surely fail to make his bid. Since I had opened with a 9, 8 blue, (to which I later added another blue) it was pretty clear that there was almost no way that I could position myself in such a way as to be his partner so later in the bidding I decided to see if I could push up his bid and took chief from him by playing a fourth card: a green 0, showing that I might have some strength in green and forcing him to step over me if he still wanted to win the bid himself. Then the unimaginable happened, Mike, the player to my left played another card, positioning himself as vice instead of Steve. But that wasn't all, Jason, the player across from me next surprised everyone by tying Mike's bid, removing vice from the play entirely. "Great!" I thought. "Now if Steve will just pass, I will almost certainly win chief with no vice. I can call no trump and Steve as my partner and between us we will own blue and green and nearly run the table." But Steve somehow didn't see the possibilities and he stepped up to take chief from me and leave me vice. Shaking my head in disbelief, I was forced to pass, knowing that this time I would have to settle for spoiling his bid. I still won the hand but if he'd only noticed what was developing it would have been glorious. What a great game!