Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Something Old; Something New

Last night was game night and so here I am again to talk about what we played.

Turnout was good. There were a few people who we hadn't seen for a while and there were a few who have just started coming. We could always use more though so feel free to drop by if you're in the neighborhood next Tuesday.

When I arrived, a furious game of Bluff was just wrapping up. At least I assume it was furious. Perhaps it was just mildly annoyed. Either way, it was Bluff and it was ending.

Once that game ended the players extricated themselves from the wreckage and dispersed to form other congregations of gamers.

My personal band of four gamers gathered together for a game that was brand new to us: Arkadia, by Rüdiger Dorn. This game takes as its (rather unimaginative) theme the building of a castle. Supposedly players are placing outbuildings which contribute to the construction of a castle. (Now where have I heard that before?) In reality, the theme has almost no relationship to the game. It's completely pasted on to what is actually a very abstract game. Players place Tetris-like building tiles, and worker pawns on a grid. Whenever a building is surrounded, either by other buildings or by workers, it is scored and the player who triggered the scoring, along with all other players who own immediately adjacent pawns, receive a number of colored seals. At several points in the game, which can be determined by the players, these seals may be exchanged for victory points. The exchange rate is determined by the current configuration of the castle pieces (which incidentally, are exactly the same pieces used in Torres), over which players also have some control. It's very abstract and almost completely divorced from the theme but the pieces are lovely and the game works quite well. It's a very fast game (45 minutes) and I enjoyed it although I was quite soundly thrashed.

Meanwhile, another large congregation of gamers gathered for the new Fantasy Flight monster game: Star Craft. (Soon to be available at HFoG but as of this moment we haven't any in stock.) This group played this game for nigh on to five hours. Too long for my tastes but by all accounts it's a terrific game and well worth the time investment. I can say one thing unequivocally: the bits are to die for. The dozens of plastic miniatures that players spend all those hours pushing around the board are absolutely fantastic. Well worth the price of admission.

Next up for yours truly was a two player game of Tikal. Now compared to most of the other games our group plays, this is a pretty old game (1999). It's one of the famous Kiesling/Kramer "Mask Trilogy" of games which also includes Java and Mexica. I've played both Java and Mexica before. I had not played Tikal. I liked it. We had intended to play with three players but one of our number was called away for a minor emergency. I'm happy to report that the game works very well with two. In fact, I suspect that I might actually prefer to play it that way. This is middle-weight strategy game where players use a limited number of action points to maneuver a limited number of pieces around on a hex-grid board in an attempt to score points via majority control. There is just a little bit of luck provided by the draw of hex tiles which gradually form the board as each turn progresses. But mostly this game is all about carefully planning how best to use the limited resources that are available to you on each turn. It's quite tactical with a fairly strong element of strategy as well. I highly enjoyed it. It didn't hurt that I finished well ahead of my opponent.

Meanwhile, there was a game of Shadow of the Emperor underway on another table. This is a game that I haven't played in a while. It's a fairly standard majority control game but with one really cool twist: the pieces age. After each turn, the pieces (which represent barons) are rotated a quarter turn, representing an increase in age of five years. Eventually, the barons die off and are removed from the board. This game is listed as a 90 minute game but this group of four players took a full three hours to play this one. Part of the problem was that the game had to be explained to a couple of players, but I think a big part of the problem was that certain players seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to calculate the best move. In fact, this game took SO long that I was able to get in another game while I waited for it to finish...

While we waited for the Analysis Paralysis Players to finish their game, we two Tikal players began and finished a game of To Court the King. This is a super-cool dice game that many (including myself) have described as Yahtzee for gamers. Reminiscent of that other dice game, players roll dice in an effort to achieve certain combinations (full houses, three of a kind, and so on). But in this game, your dice combinations earn you courtiers. Each courtier has a special ability which helps you out in subsequent turns, such as bringing in additional dice or allowing you to change the numbers on the dice you rolled. The goal of all of this is to build up to the point where you can roll seven of a kind and claim the king. Once that occurs, the end game is triggered where each player competes in a roll-off where they try to achieve the largest number and highest ranked set of matching dice. Whoever achieves this wins the game. Naturally, whoever claims the king has an advantage in this final roll-off. It's luck heavy, as most dice games are, but there is also a surprising amount of room for strategic and tactical play. The special abilities of each of the courtiers heavily compensate for the whims of the dice. This is a great little game.

With that game over, we had to wait just a bit longer for Shadow of the Emperor to break up. Once it finally did, four of us ended our night with a lovely game of Tichu. I'd love to report that I soundly won this game but that would be a lie. In fact, I martyred myself on the gaming table by partnering with one of our newest gamers who had never played the game before. After a brief introduction to the rules and one quick practice hand, we dove right in to the game. Let's just say that things didn't go well for our newbie and me. There was a little confusion about the rules and a lot of confusion about the strategy. All of this and a couple of close (but failed) Tichu calls conspired to put us soundly in the cellar while our two experienced opponents charged over the finish line. It was a dismal showing but, despite the carnage, our newbie has decided that he likes the game (as well he should) and is eager to come back for more. Hopefully by then he'll have given some more thought to the strategy of the game but either way I have to say that being thrashed in Tichu is much more enjoyable than not playing Tichu at all.

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Wish: Have a Wormy Game Night

I did play games last Tuesday night. There were people there with me. I remember vaguely such games as Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix, Notre Dame, and I know there were others. I should have found the time to write about them right away but life got busy. You know how that goes.

One game I do remember very well: If Wishes Were Fishes. I remember it for a couple of reasons. For one, it was the first time any of us had ever played it. But more than any other reason, I remember it for the worms. That's right. Worms. You see, the most interesting components that you'll find in this game are 30 bright purple squishy plastic worms. Oh, sure, there's also a nice big deck of cards, and a pretty tri-fold board, and some brightly colored wooden fish meeples; but the things that really grab your attention are the worms.

I'll probably try to do a real review of this game soon (one play does not a review make) but for now you'll have to be satisfied with my quick impressions. I liked it. It's not great but it's pretty fun. And I really liked the worms. I didn't do well and I kind of felt like my options were pretty limited by my circumstances but I suspect that with repeated plays I'll see more opportunities to employ strategy as opposed to just hanging on wherever the game takes me. But even if I don't, I still think it was a pretty fun ride and I really like the whimsical theme and the lovely bits.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tuesday's Gaming

I'm late with this post but I have a good excuse. First of all, I've been working overtime (which can be a good thing). Second of all, we have a house guest this week (definitely a good thing 'cause he's a nice guy and he likes games). And finally, my sister-in-law passed away this week after a long fight with a brain tumor (not such a good thing but at least her ordeal is now over). That last one has proved a bit of a distraction as we deal with the fallout and get ready for the funeral this weekend.

Our house guest Greg is staying with us while he gets settled in his new job and finds a place for his family to live. We were happy to have him join us for game night this Tuesday. Hopefully that will become a regular thing.

Lots of games were played but the big long one was Britannia. Four of our group started this up almost immediately and didn't finish until game night was over. It's a long game. I like it but it's too long for my tastes. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Our kids are going to be studying British history this year and we'll likely pull out this game after that unit since the whole game is played over a historically accurate time line.

Meanwhile, those of us who wanted to actually play more than one game kept busy with other games. First up for me was Pillars of the Earth. I just recently started reading the novel upon which this game is based and this was the first time I'd played the game since I started reading the novel. It's even more interesting now that I recognize who the characters mentioned in the game actually are. You don't need to have ever heard of the novel to appreciate the game but it does add just a teensy bit of flavor which is kind of fun.

Next I played a game of Tichu with Adam, and two of my sons. This was a little bit frustrating for Adam and I since we've played so many games and my sons are just learning. But they're getting better and I'll have them whipped into shape in no time. Everybody's got to start somewhere. I'm glad they're learning young.

The final game of the evening for me was Thebes. And (as is often the case) I discovered that we had missed one teensy little rule the last time we played it which made quite a bit of difference. This time we got it right and I must say that the game was better for it. Somehow we missed that wiping cards in Warsaw costs one week in addition to travel time. (We did not miss the rule about costing additional weeks for subsequent wipes.) Without that rule, it's way too easy to wipe the cards and then pick up the best of whatever comes up before someone else gets a turn, which leads to players getting too many good cards, which leads to too much success at the digs, which leads to later digs being worthless. This time the digs were still somewhat valuable right up to the end. I still think the game is pretty luck heavy but I really don't mind the luck so much since it fits the theme so well.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Last Night's Gaming

We had a great turnout last night. It was good to see Christopher and his new son pop by for the first half of the evening. Since the little nipper's sprung to life a few weeks back, Christopher's been notably absent from our little gatherings.

I thought it would be fun to bring an older classic for our opener so I brought Ricochet Robots which is one of my all-time favorite games. This is one of those games that people either love or hate. I love it. Five robots are scattered about a grid-like factory floor. Robots can move in a straight line either horizontally or vertically but they can't stop on the slippery floor unless they bump into something like a wall or another robot. Each round someone turns over a goal disk and players have to find a way to move one of the robots to the matching goal space (marked on the floor) in as few moves as possible. Once one player finds a solution he calls out the number of moves and turns the timer. Now everyone has until the timer runs out to find a shorter path. Whoever finds the shortest path keeps the goal disk as a point.

One of the reasons I really love this game is because any number of people can play it and it's very easy for people to join or leave the game in the middle. Because each goal is like solving its own puzzle, I never really pay any attention to the score. The fun is in solving the puzzles quickly. It's the perfect opener.

Christopher had been dying to play Notre Dame so he and four others sat down to play a game of that. I've written enough about this game recently and I wasn't a part of this group so I'll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, four of us sat down for a game of Thebes (also known as Jenseits von Theben). In this game, players are archaeologists who try to gather knowledge about various ancient cultures which they then hope to transfer into success at the digs. This game was a Spiel des Jahres nominee and I had heard good things about it. My initial reaction is favorable but with some reservations. First of all, the components are excellent. The game comes with dozens of artifact discs which go in five colored cloth bags that represent each of the five dig sites. Digging is simulated by drawing a disk from the appropriate bag. Each player also has a really cool wheel which is really just a glorified chart but it's a heck of a lot more fun that a boring chart would have been. My only complaint with the game is that it is VERY luck heavy. I think that the luck can be somewhat moderated but even with really good play there is still an awful lot of luck that is simply beyond the player's control. Still, I enjoyed playing and I'm sure I'll play it again.

As a filler, we played a few hands of while we waited for one of the other games to break up so we could mix up the players a bit.

When everyone was free again we mixed up the players and one group went off to play The Thief of Baghdad. I played this a couple of weeks ago and while I enjoyed it, it's probably not going to become one of my favorites. I felt it was a little on the dry side. I'll have to play it again though and see if my initial impression stands up.

The rest of us played a game of Aladdin's Dragons. This is a classic blind bidding game by Richard Breese, who happens to be one of my favorite game designers. In this game, players collect treasures from dragons' lairs beneath the city which they then bring up to the caliph's palace to exchange for magic artifacts. We played with the advanced rules which allow players to use the magic artifacts they collect as well as spell cards to influence the game. I enjoy playing that way but it does add a certain level of both complexity and chaos to the game. The game is much more predictable if you play with the basic rules. I think both ways have their merits.

When that game broke up, some of our group headed home and four of our number started up a game of Tichu. That left just three of us and so we decided to play a game of Colosseum, the latest game from Days of Wonder. As usual, I got my butt whooped. I enjoyed the game though. This time we played with the auction variant that allows players to bid in more auctions than the basic rules allow. The result of this is that money becomes a little more valuable. One of our complaints about the basic rules is that money becomes almost worthless at the end of the game. This variant seems to fix that problem. I enjoyed the game but I still think that it's missing something to push it up into the realm of greatness. I don't know exactly what it is. Perhaps it's just sour grapes from having lost the game so many times now. *grin*

By the way, here's the variant rule we used. When auctioning off market tiles, every time the auctioneer wins an auction, the markets are replenished as normal but now all players may bid in the next auction even if they've won an auction already this round. So say we have three players: A, B and C. A starts the first auction. B wins. B is now out and may not bid on subsequent auctions. A starts another auction and this time C wins. Now C is out. A starts another auction which he wins for the minimum bid because he has no competition. Now all markets are replenished, B is the next auctioneer and all players may bid again. The process repeats until C is the auctioneer and either wins or passes on an auction.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Happiness is...

...the vice calling 9s when you hold four 7s and three 8s, one of which is over five or six yellows.

Net result: taking all but one trick on a five bid of 7s over 9s for 115 points.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Review: Notre Dame

One of the games that has recently made a big impression is Notre Dame by Stefan Feld. Notre Dame is for 3-5 players and games last about an hour. It's also the latest in the prestigious line of Alea big-box games. This line includes such classics as Puerto Rico, Ra and Taj Mahal so it's not surprising that there would be high expectations for this game.

In Notre Dame, players assume the role of influential Parisian families who each control one of the boroughs near the cathedral of Notre Dame in the 14th century. Each player attempts to use his family's influence to increase his power and prestige in the borough. It's an interesting theme that is well supported with the components and artwork but it's almost completely unsupported by the mechanics. The mechanics of the game really have almost nothing to do with the theme and, like many European games, the game is actually rather abstract and could just as well have been assigned almost any other theme. Of course if the game is a good one then that's not really all that important. Is it?


As is to be expected with an Alea game, the game components are first rate. Inside the box you will find dozens of brightly colored wooden cubes, pawns and markers; several sheets of sturdy cardboard tokens, coins, and influence (victory point) counters; a pack of beautifully illustrated cards; three Notre Dame tiles; and five game board sections.

The game board sections are very clever. There is one for each player in the game. Together they form the game board. In the center of the table is placed one of the Notre Dame tiles. For a three player game, the triangular Notre Dame tile is used. For four players it's a square and for five it's a pentagon. The game board sections, which represent the various boroughs are placed around the Notre Dame tile. The borough tiles are all shaped in such a way that they will always fit together perfectly no matter how many players are participating. It's a clever mechanism that adds a nice finished touch to the game.

Game Play

Notre Dame is a progressive influence game with a card-driven action mechanic. Players play a card, and take the appropriate action. Each action typically results in an influence cube being placed in one of the seven sections of a player's borough. Each section offers a different escalating reward. The more cubes that are present in a section when a new cube is placed there, the better the reward. This game rewards committing to improve a few sections a lot rather than trying to improve each of them a little.

The game is played over three periods, each of which has three rounds. Each player has their own deck of nine action cards. At the beginning of each round, each player draws three cards from their action deck. One of those cards is chosen to remain in the player's hand and the other two are passed to the player's left. Then one card is chosen from the two cards received from the player to the right and the remaining card is again passed to the left. This drafting mechanism results in each player holding three cards at the start of each round, one of his own, one from the player to the right, and one from the player sitting two seats to the right.

After the hands are drafted, there is a round of actions during which each player will play two of their three action cards and discard the third. These actions are played in turn order (twice around the table).

7 of the 9 action cards show one of the sections in a player's borough: the cloister, the bank, the residence, the carriage house, the park, the hospital, and the hotel. When a player plays one of these cards he takes an influence cube from his supply, places it in the appropriate section and takes the associated action. The sections give escalating rewards based on the number of cubes already in them. They include things such as getting more coins (used to buy the services of influential persons and contribute to the church), getting more influence cubes (if you ever run out you have to start pulling them from other sections), getting victory points, pest control (more on that later), and so on.

One card shows a trusted friend and allows the player to move his trusted friend marker (a pawn) into any of his seven sections and take the associated action as if he had just placed a cube; it behaves more or less like a wild card.

One of the action cards shows Notre Dame. When a player plays that card he places an influence cube on the Notre Dame tile and he must pay a donation to the church. Depending on how much he donates, he is rewarded with a number of influence points. Furthermore, at the end of each three round period, there are a number of influence points which will be divided among the cubes placed on the tile. If you're cube is the only cube in Notre Dame at the end of the period you stand to score big but if everyone has decided to contribute to Notre Dame during that period then you aren't going to score very many points.

Also on the table are three randomly selected person cards. After the action rounds, players may each buy the services of one of the three persons shown. Each one offers some special ability such as the ability to score based on the configuration of cubes on the board or perhaps the ability to take some bonus action in addition to the normal two.

The final thing that players must deal with at the end of each round is the plague. Each player has a small track in their borough with a black cube on it that represents the threat from the plague. At the end of each round, this cube will be advanced a number of spaces equal to the number of rats shown at the bottom of the three person cards, subtracted by the number of cubes the player has in his hospital section. If the plague marker ever goes past the ninth space the player is penalized two influence points and he also must remove an influence cube from his section with the most cubes. This is a pretty nasty penalty and players who neglect to pay attention to pest control may find that they are paying it repeatedly.


While the rules are fairly simple, Notre Dame is a relatively complex game with many different ways to score points, many potential avenues to victory. One of the hallmarks of a good game is that players are faced with many desirable options between which they are forced to choose. When I play Notre Dame, I always wish that I had more actions than I do and I always find myself wondering if perhaps I should have made a different choice than the one I just made. There is no question in my mind that this is a relatively deep game that holds up well over repeated playings.

This is also a very balanced game. There does not appear to be any one strategy that is obviously superior to another. They all have merits and in certain circumstances I could see any of them being successful. This seems to be supported by the fact that over several playings, all of our scores have tended to be relatively even and no single superior strategy has emerged.

If there is one aspect of the game that I could complain of it's the drafting mechanism. This is clearly designed to provide some much welcome player interaction and it mostly works very well. My only problem with it is that since cards are always passed to the left, players spend the entire game at the mercy of the player to their right. If the player to your immediate right notices that you are pursuing a particular strategy, she can refuse to pass you the cards you need in order to execute your strategy. And if she happens to be pursuing the exact same strategy, then you had better change strategies quickly because you can bet that she'll have far more success at it than you will. Nevertheless, this is a relatively minor problem and if players are flexible enough in their strategies they should be able to overcome it.

All in all, I think that this one shortcoming and the thin theme are more than outweighed by the wonderful, rich game play. This is a beautiful and elegant game that is well worthy of joining the other games in the prestigious Alea line. I definitely recommend it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Glossary of Basic Card Game Terms

I'm surprised by how often I sit down to play a card game with someone only to find that they have little or no experience playing card games and therefore have little or no knowledge of some of the most basic terms and tactics. Furthermore, as my young sons are growing up they are learning to play cards with me. For both of these reasons, I figured that it probably wouldn't hurt to compile a simple glossary. Hopefully you'll find this helpful.

This glossary focuses mainly on terms which I have used or heard used in trick taking games such as Bridge, Hearts, Pinochle, etc. I don't pretend that it's a comprehensive list. I start with the most basic terms and work up from there so if it seems really basic then don't worry, just keep reading. I also touch briefly on etiquette in some places.

A flat rectangular object (typically made of sturdy paper and/or plastic) which has a face and a back. The backs are generally all the same making it impossible to tell one card from another by looking at the backs. The face (or front) is typically marked with a Rank and Suit.

Pack or Deck
A collection of cards. A standard Bridge deck has 52 cards. Decks also often contain two additional cards called Jokers which are used in some games.

The number of a card which typically indicates its value or strength. A standard Bridge deck of playing cards is ranked (in descending order) A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. In some games As are 1s and rank low. In some games 10 ranks above K (A 10 K Q J 9 …). A stands for Ace, K for King, Q for Queen, J for Jack. 2 is often pronounced Deuce. The King, Queen and Jack are often called "face cards" because they historically represented ranks of royalty and often bear an appropriate image. Aces are sometimes also considered face cards.

The symbol (and/or color) on a card. A standard Western Bridge deck is divided equally into four suits: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs with one card of each rank making up the thirteen cards in each suit. Hearts and Diamonds are typically red; Spades and Clubs are black.

The act of randomizing the order of cards in a deck. The most common is a riffle shuffle where the deck is divided into two halves which are then interleaved back together by allowing cards to fall from both halves at the same time into a single pile.

The act of choosing a new top card by randomly dividing a deck in half and placing the lower half on top of the upper half. It is generally considered good form for the dealer to allow the player to his right to cut the deck after it is shuffled but before it is dealt. Typically the player to the dealer's right pulls off the top half of the deck and the dealer places the bottom half on the top to complete the cut. The player to the dealer's right may opt to simply tap the deck, indicating that he doesn't wish to cut. Cutting ensures that the dealer can't cheat by forcing a card to remain on the top or the bottom of the deck during the shuffle. It also ensures that if the bottom card has been spotted during the shuffle, no one will know whose hand receives that card.

The act of dividing the deck into hands for each of the players. Usually done by giving the top card from the deck to each player in turn until all cards have been dealt or until each player has a proscribed number of cards (depending upon the game being played). Dealing is typically done clockwise. The player to the left of the dealer traditionally receives the first card. It is generally considered bad form to pick up your hand until it is completely dealt.

A set of cards delt to a player forms that player's hand. A standard Bridge hand is made up of 13 randomly chosen cards. The term can also refer to a complete set of tricks. In many trick taking games, scoring takes place after the entire hand (or set of tricks) has been played.

A trick is the basic unit of play in trick taking games. Each player in turn plays a single card, face up to the center of the table. The player who played the highest ranking card then "wins the trick" and all cards that were played are captured and usually placed face down in front of the victor. In most games, the number of tricks taken (and often the rank of the cards won) is used to determine the player's score. In many games, (such as Bridge) players play as teams or partnerships, with the captured tricks collected by only one partner.

The first card played to start a trick. Usually the player who won the previous trick earns the right to lead for the next trick.

Follow Suit
Playing a card belonging to the same suit as the card that was lead. Most trick taking games require that each player follow suit whenever possible.

Trump (n)
In most trick taking games, one suit is declared as trump. This suit is more powerful than the other suits.

Fail Suit/Outside Suit
A suit that has not been named trump.

Ruff/Trump (v)
Playing a trump card that does not follow suit. This typically wins the trick unless a subsequent player can "overruff" or, in other words, play a higher ranking trump card.

Throw Off
Playing a card that does not follow suit but isn't trump.

Voluntarily playing a card that is ranked lower than the card which is currently winning the trick. Usually done in an effort to save a higher card for subsequent tricks.

No Trump
In some games, "no trump" may be declared for the hand in which case there is no trump suit. In a no trump hand it is impossible to ruff since there is no trump suit.

A player is said to be "void in a suit" if he has no cards in that particular suit. If a player holds trump cards then he will often wish to be void in one or more fail suits.

A suit is "long" if a player has more than the average cards in a given suit.

A suit is "short" if a player has fewer than the average cards in a given suit.

A player has a singleton if he has only a single card in a suit.

A card that is guaranteed to win a trick in its suit (unless someone can trump).

The contract indicates the goal that a player (or partnership) must achieve in order to win the hand. It's typically measured by either points or cards taken in play. If the player makes his contract then he is usually awarded some bonus. If he fails, he is usually penalized.

Bid (or Auction)
In many games, before the first trick in a hand is played there is a bidding round. Bidding serves two purposes: (1) to reveal something of each player's hand; and (2) to set a contract (or goal) for the hand. In most bidding games, one player will open with a bid and each player in turn will be given the opportunity to pass or make a counter bid (which often must be higher than the previous bid). The winner of the bid typically gets to name a trump suit and often will have won the right to make the first lead. Bidding is very important because it serves to counteract much of the luck inherent in a card game. Strong hands will tend to result in higher bids and therefore more risk for the bidder. Bidding and contracts take what otherwise would be a game of immense luck and turn it into a game of skill. For this reason, most serious card players prefer to play games such as Bridge, and which have intense bidding rounds over games like Hearts and Whist which do not.

Lead Back
A lead back is a signal (or tell) between two partners. The partner will deliberately lead (or sometimes throw off) a losing fail card as a signal to his partner that he is now void in that suit and wishes that suit to be lead again so he may ruff. It's important to know if the other players are familiar with this tactic and to watch for it.

Running Trump
When a player deliberately leads trump in order to draw trump cards from the other hands. In games where players must follow suit, leading trump forces all other players to also play trump. If a player has been keeping track of how many trump cards have already been played (which he should) he may be able to drain all the trump cards from the hand, thus making his high fail suit cards good.

A technique that allows a player to win a trick with a card that isn't the highest ranking card left in a suit. A finesse takes advantage of the position of the cards. For instance, if I know that my partner holds the Ace and the Queen, and the player to my left holds the King then I will lead a card in that suit. If the player to my left plays his King then my partner plays the Ace, making his Queen good. Otherwise he plays the Queen. Either way we take two tricks. Obviously this requires some knowledge of where the cards are. Generally the location of some cards will be revealed during bidding and the location of others can be deduced during play.

Card Counting
The act of remembering which cards have been played and who has played them. Optimal play requires that players deduce who might hold which cards. It is particularly important to note when a player throws off or ruffs because it indicates that he's void in that suit. It's equally important to keep track of the highest ranked cards remaining in each suit so that you know when the cards you hold may become good. Keeping track of the number of trump cards left in play is also very important.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Night of Games

Another Tuesday, another Game Night. My oldest son accompanied me this Tuesday night and we were joined by a little fewer than our normal compliment of gamers. Summer being in full swing, it's clear that many of our regulars are out enjoying themselves in various other places. Still, there were more than enough of us to get some good gaming in.

The first big game of the night for me was Notre Dame. After several playings I still think this is a very good, well-balanced game with deep strategies. I like it. However, there is one thing that really bugs me about it and that is that your options are so strongly governed by the player sitting to your right. If he has the same strategy as you, or if he just feels like it, he can very easily prevent you from getting the cards you need to execute your strategy, which is exactly what happened to me. I'll be writing a review soon. No really, I swear.

Meanwhile, others played a game of Atlantic Star. This is a very nice card game where players try to collect sets of cards which represent ocean liner routes. I've played it numerous times but I'm starting to tire of it a little and so I didn't really mind not being part of this one.

After our Notre Dame game broke up I got involved in a three-player game of Shear Panic! I recently reviewed this game so scroll down a bit if you're curious. The short of it is that it's a great game with even better bits. It's not perfect (it's quite chaotic) but I love it. I won this one but I could very easily have lost both of my sheep in the last field if I hadn't lucked into rolling a Ewe Turn just before shearing time which really saved my mutton.

Next up for some of our group (not me) was Pillars of the Earth. I've written about this game several times recently. I like it. Just enough luck to make it family friendly coupled with just enough strategy to make it suitable for the more serious gamers in your group. It's a delicious blend that goes down nice and easy. Tasty.

Four of our more die hard card players struck up a game of Pinochle. This classic trick taker with it's slightly strange deck formed of duplicated standard cards ranked A 10 K Q J (and sometimes 9) is a staple in the American Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, etc.) but you don't see it played much around this neck of the woods. Most of us (myself included) have never played. I'd like to learn but this wasn't the night for it. I was needed elsewhere.

The last game of the evening for me was . My son, who's still just learning to play trick taking games well was in on this one and he did pretty well for a novice. This can be a pretty tough game if you're just learning the subtleties of card play but it's worth the effort and he did just fine.

At some point during the evening a Tichu game was played but I wasn't part of it.