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So you want to build a game collection….

October 22, 2015 1 comment

You’re just getting interested in modern board games and you want to buy some games but don’t know where to start?  This guide will give you some pointers.  You can also check out boardgamegeek, and I’d specifically recommend taking a look at their list of the most popular family games.  But sometimes, a curated list (like this one) is the way to go.

What games you’ll want to buy obviously depends on your situation and the types of games you’re wanting to play.  For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to assume that, since you’re just getting started, you’re looking for games that more casual gamers can enjoy.  I’m going to assume that you’re wanting to play games that don’t take forever, aren’t too hard to learn, don’t cost too much, and are easy to find.  I’ll give you a range of options so you can hopefully find something that suits your needs.

Ready?  Let’s go.  :-)

First, there are what I would call the big three:  Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Catan.  These are some of the most accessible games out there, the’ve been around for over 10 years (20 in the case of Catan), and they’ve proved their staying power.  They’re modern classics, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

  • Ticket to Ride: 2-5 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, $40 on Amazon.
    For me, it’s a toss up whether to start with Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne.  Ticket to Ride is my favorite game to teach (most people can learn it in under 5 minutes), whereas Carcassonne is the game that really got me into the hobby.  But I think I’ll start with Ticket to Ride because it’s relatively straightforward, it offers interesting choices, and it creates this amazing sense of tension.  Basically, you’ve got a map of America, a bunch of cards, and a bunch of little plastic trains.  The gist is that you start with some destination cards that each have two cities listed on them — Seattle to New York, for example, or Dallas to Atlanta — and you’re trying to connect them up with trains of your own color.  While the basic version of Ticket to Ride is best for 4-5 players, there’s a variant called Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries that works better for 2-3 ($36 on Amazon).
  • Carcassonne: 2-5 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, $26 on Amazon.
    Carcassonne is a magical game.  Basically, you’re building this landscape with castles, roads, rivers, cloisters, and farms, and then you’re inhabiting this world with little figures called “meeples.”  More than any other modern board game, Carcassonne feels playful, and it reminds me of playing with little cars and legos as a kid.  You can claim features with your meeples, and then when those features are completed, you get your meeples back (and score some points).  The fun part is trying to figure out how to horn in on features that have already been claimed by other players….  If you like the game, there are plenty of expansions you can buy for it.
  • Catan: 3-4 players, 90 minutes, ages 10 and up, $39 on Amazon.
    The grandaddy of them all — when talking to non-gamers, Catan (or “Settlers of Catan” as it used to be known), is the one modern board game they may have heard of.  And with good reason — it’s tense, it’s fun, and it’s paced well, too.  The idea is that you’re building up a collection of villages and cities, all connected by roads.  But in order to build anything, you need resources.  And the only way you get resources is to have a village or a city adjacent to that resource when its number is rolled.  Yes, Catan uses dice, but that’s one of the things that makes it appealing to your average non-gamer:  everyone is familiar with dice, and most people are comfortable with them, too.

Start with those, and then you can start to branch out a bit.  If you’re looking for a few more “general-purpose” games, I’d take a look at Coloretto, San Juan, and Splendor.

  • Coloretto: 2-5 players, 30 minutes, ages 8 and up, $12 on Amazon.
    Coloretto is one of those games that just stuns you with its brilliance:  such a simple concept, and yet it has such interesting gameplay.  It’s essentially the same game as Zooloretto or Aquaretto, but honestly, those just add a bunch of bells and whistles that aren’t really necessary.  Players have a choice: either add another card to one of the available columns or claim a column and take it for themselves.  At the end of the game, players get points for the cards they have in their top three colors, and they lose points for the cards they have in the rest of their colors.  It’s a simple card game with lots of interesting choices, it gives you plenty to think about without hurting your brain, and it’s very colorful, too.
  • San Juan: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, $25 on Amazon.
    Better in my opinion than both Race for the Galaxy and Puerto Rico, San Juan doesn’t get the love it deserves.  Sure there’s a lot of luck, but that doesn’t bother me.  It’s fun, it’s relatively easy to teach, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.  One downside is that it takes a game or two to get used to the cards, but that’s true of a lot of games.
  • Splendor: 2-4 players, 30 minutes, ages 10 and up, $27 on Amazon.
    A relatively recent discovery for me, Splendor is a tight game with interesting choices.  In the beginning, players are taking gems to buy cards and build up their engine; at the end, players are running those engines to buy cards and get points as fast as they can.  I’ve seen people win by switching early, and I’ve seen people win by switching late.  Not terribly heavy, it’s an easy game to teach to newbies and has really nice components.

The rest of these games are recommended depending on your specific taste or specific situation.  I.e., you’re looking for a card game, a 2-player game, an abstract strategy game, a dexterity game, a cooperative game, or a game that plays up to 8.

If you want a lightweight filler that takes less than 30 minutes, I’d take a look at For Sale and Incan Gold.

  • For Sale: 3-6 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, $26 on Amazon.
    A game of For Sale takes place over two rounds. In the first round, players bid cash for various properties (numbered from 1 to 30); in the second round, players auction their properties for cash (valued from $0 to $15,000). An outhouse you got for free in the first round can earn you lots of money in the second round if you play your cards right. Lots of fun, and just enough to think about to keep it interesting.
  • Incan Gold: 3-8 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, $23 on Amazon.
    A push-your-luck party game with a temple-exploration theme. Players choose each turn whether they want to continue exploring (thus putting their treasures in jeopardy) or cut and run (thus keeping their treasures safe).

If you want an engaging abstract that won’t give you a headache, I’d check out Blokus, Blockers, Ingenious, and Hey That’s My Fish.

  • Blokus: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, $16 on Amazon.
    An abstract strategy game with pieces that remind most people of Tetris. It’s a fun, lightweight introduction to abstracts, and it’s very colorful, too. Here’s a strategy tip: forget trying to block people out of your areas, and instead focus on flowing as smoothly as possible through their areas.
  • Blockers: 2-5 players, 40 minutes, ages 8 and up, $18 on Amazon.
    Blockers is a kind of cross between Sudoku and … some game where you try to keep all your pieces linked together.  It’s very clever — players are given 28 tiles (1 for each of 9 columns, 1 for each of 9 rows, and 1 for each of 9 3×3 areas, plus 1 wild card), and they have to play 1 tile each turn.  The tile, unsurprisingly, has to go in that column, that row, or that 3×3 area.  Just make sure you play with this recommended wild tile variant.
  • Ingenious: 1-4 players, 45 minutes, ages 10 and up, $28 on Amazon.
    Ingenious is an abstract tile-laying game where you try to score as many points as possible in each of the six colors by placing your tiles next to similarly-colored tiles on the board.  In typical Knizia fashion, your final score is equal to your score in your weakest color.  Simple rules, simple gameplay, and some fairly interesting tactical decisions make this one a definite keeper.
  • Hey, That’s My Fish! 2-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, $12 on Amazon.
    Very abstract, but lots of fun.  A quick game of positioning and area control.  Reminds me a bit of Amazons, but it’s lighter and more playful.

Looking for a two-player game?  Take a look at Lost Cities, Jaipur, Patchwork, Battle Line, and Morels.

  • Lost Cities: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 10 and up, $16 on Amazon.
    A card game for two where players are trying to lead the most successful expeditions. Players invest in more expeditions in order to give themselves more options, but if they invest in too many, then they can’t support them all.
  • Jaipur: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12 and up, $19 on Amazon.
    A fun trading game for two. On your turn, you can either take a good from the market, trade some goods and camels with the market, or sell goods for points.  When everything is going well, there’s a definite rhythm to the game — if you can keep in sync with that, you’ll likely win.
  • Patchwork: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 8 and up, $28 on Amazon.
    Patchwork is our latest acquisition, and it promises to be a favorite for years to come.  I like the puzzling aspect of the game, and the economy is interesting, too.  Basically, you’re buying pieces to put in your quilt, and you want them all to fit well together.  It sounds easier than it is.
  • Battle Line: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12 and up, $18 on Amazon.
    A tactical card game where players try to win either 5 of the 9 flags or 3 flags in a row. S and I play without the optional Tactics cards, but some people swear by them.
  • Morels: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 10 and up, $25 on Amazon.
    Not as well known as the other games in this group, it’s still an excellent game for two.

Looking for a cooperative game?  I’d start with Hanabi and Pandemic.

  • Hanabi: 2-5 players, 25 minutes, ages 8 and up, $10 on Amazon.
    A very clever and compelling cooperative game where players are trying to put on the best fireworks display they can.  The trick is that you can see everyone’s cards but your own….
  • Pandemic: 2-4 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, $24 on Amazon.
    Players are working together to try to save the world from contagious diseases.  It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve introduced it to, and it’s a great couples game, too.  Not an easy game to win, but very satisfying when you can pull it off.  If you want something by the same designer that’s a little lighter and more suitable for kids, I’d go with Forbidden Desert. It accommodates 5 players and sells for $21 on Amazon.

If you’re looking for a word game that plays more like a party game, I’d try Word on the Street.

  • Word on the Street: 2-8 players, 20 minutes, ages 12 and up, $20 on Amazon.
    Two teams take turns playing tug-of-war for the letters in the middle of the board.  When the clue is read, the team whose turn it is tries to come up with a word that uses a lot of the letters still remaining.  One of the players then spells the chosen word, moving each of its letters one step closer to their side of the board.  Capture 8 letters and your team wins.  Both challenging and fun, it really helps to (a) have a good vocabulary, (b) think flexibly and quickly (there’s a timer), and (c) spell well.

If you’re looking for a family strategy game that’ll accommodate up to 7 players, try 7 Wonders.

  • 7 Wonders: 2-7 players, 30 minutes, ages 10 and up, $32 on Amazon.
    A fun game that can be played with up to 7 players (always a plus), 7 Wonders gives players multiple ways to win and provides a nice introduction to card drafting.  As a bonus, there’s very little downtime, as all players are taking their actions simultaneously.

Looking for a quick game while waiting for the rest of your guests to arrive?  Check out Zombie Dice and Nada.

  • Zombie Dice: 2-8 players, 10 minutes, ages 10 and up, $10 on Amazon.
    A fun push-your-luck filler where you try to eat as many brains as you can before getting hit with three shotgun blasts.  Some kids don’t like the artwork, but others are fine with it.
  • Nada: 2-4 players, 10 minutes, ages 7 and up, $10 on Amazon.
    A quick dice game requiring very fast thinking.  Simple and elegant, it’s a nice filler if you have somewhat manic friends.

Looking for a dexterity game?  Try Fastrack.

  • Fastrack: 2 players, 10 minutes, ages 5 and up, $15 on Amazon.
    An excellent, fast-paced, and highly-addictive dexterity game.  Basically, you’re trying to get all the little pucks through the hole and onto your opponent’s side of the board.  Unfortunately, they’re trying to do the same thing….

And finally, if you don’t mind tracking down some very good, but nonetheless out-of-print games, I’d recommend Lascaux, Santiago, and On the Underground.

  • Lascaux: 3-5 players, 25 minutes, ages 8 and up.
    No, this isn’t designed by Schacht, but the core bidding mechanic is his (from Mogul).  It’s brilliant.  My only complaint is that the cards can be hard to tell apart when they’re all the way across the table.  It’s been reimplemented as Boomerang, but sadly that’s out of print, too.
  • Santiago: 3-5 players, 75 minutes, ages 10 and up.
    A brilliant auction game with some very clever mechanics.  I definitely wish I had designed this one.
  • On the Underground: 2-5 players, 60 minutes, ages 7 and up.
    A great connection game with a lazy passenger.  The only problem is that some players have a hard time figuring out how the passenger will move.  A little fussy, in other words, but good.  One of my favorites.

That’s it!  I hope you find some good games, here.  Happy Gaming.  :-)

gaming gift guide 2011

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

So, there’s a gamer or potential gamer you want to buy a gift for, and you have no idea what to get her? This guide will certainly help get you started.

What I’ve done, here, is taken the gift guide I did for 2010 and updated it.  Some of the games are the same, and some are new.  I’m only going to recommend games that I own or have played repeatedly, because I couldn’t in good conscience do anything else.  What that means, though, is that some very good games may not be on the list.  Feel free to suggest them in the comments — I’m always looking for new games to try.  :-)

The games below are sorted by weight.  What’s weight?  Roughly, it’s a measure of how hard the game is, how much mental effort it takes to play.  Tic-tac-toe is light, while Chess is heavy.  Lighter games are at the top of the list; heavier games are at the bottom.

The real classics are listed in bold.  These are the games that belong in every gamer’s collection.  If the person you’re buying for is a serious gamer, though, they likely already have them….

Light games

Zombie Dice: 2-8 players, 10 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2010, weight of 1.1.
A fun push-your-luck filler where you try to eat as many brains as you can before getting hit with three shotgun blasts.  Some kids don’t like the artwork, but others are fine with it.

Incan Gold: 3-8 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2006, weight of 1.1.
A push-your-luck party game with a temple-exploration theme. Players choose each turn whether they want to continue exploring (thus putting their treasures in jeopardy) or cut and run (thus keeping their treasures safe). You can also read my first impressions of the game.

Coloretto: 2-5 players, 30 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 1.3.
Players have a choice: either add another card to one of the available rows or claim a row and take it for themselves. Players then score points based on how many cards they have of a given color. A simple card game with lots of interesting choices, it gives you plenty to think about without hurting your brain. It’s very colorful, too.

For Sale: 3-6 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 1997, weight of 1.3.
A game of For Sale takes place over two rounds. In the first round, players bid cash for various properties (numbered from 1 to 30); in the second round, players auction their properties for cash (valued from $0 to $15,000). An outhouse you got for free in the first round can earn you lots of money in the second round if you play your cards right. Lots of fun, and just enough to think about to keep it interesting.

Hey, That’s My Fish: 2-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2003, weight of 1.5.
Move your penguins to try to get as many fish for yourself as you can — move to hex tiles with lots of fish, and try to block other players’ access to parts of the board.  Careful, though, or someone else will sneak into an area you thought you had locked down.  Good fun, and short, too.

Bananagrams: 1-8 players, 15 minutes, ages 7 and up, 2006, weight of 1.5.
Just imagine Scrabble where everyone is playing on their own tableau as fast as they can, and you have a rough idea what this game is all about.  Every player starts with a number of tiles and tries to fit them into a valid crossword pattern — when they succeed, they yell “peel” and everyone, including themselves, has to draw another tile.  A very fast-paced word game that comes in a cute banana-shaped pouch.

Light – Medium games

Lascaux: 3-5 players, 25 minutes, ages 6 and up, 2007, weight of 1.6.
A set-collecting game where players bid for cards with animals on them.  The thing is, you’re never quite sure what cards the other players are going for, so you never quite know how much to bid.  It’s been a big hit with all our gaming groups.  You can also read my review of the game.

Jaipur: 2 players, 30 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2009, weight of 1.6.
A fun trading game for two. On your turn, you can either take a good from the market, trade some goods and camels with the market, or sell goods for points.  When everything is going well, there’s a definite rhythm to the game — if you control the tempo, you’ll likely win.  You can also read my review of the game.

Blokus: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2000, weight of 1.8.
An abstract strategy game with pieces that remind most people of Tetris. It’s a fun, lightweight introduction to abstracts, and it’s very colorful, too. Here’s a strategy tip: forget trying to block people out of your areas, and instead focus on flowing as smoothly as possible through their areas.

Ticket to Ride: 2-5 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2004 weight of 1.9.
My favorite game to teach to newbies, this one is always a hit. It’s easy to teach and easy to learn, and with a playing time of under an hour, you really can’t go wrong. You can also read my overview of the game.

Carcassonne: 2-5 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2000, weight of 1.9.
A personal favorite, this game is extremely creative. You build a landscape by placing tiles, then inhabit that landscape by deploying your meeples. You can also read my overview of the game.

Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals: 2-6 players, 60 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2002, weight of 1.9.
One of the best expansions for Carcassonne. It doesn’t change the game much, but it gives you more tiles and allows you to play the game with up to 6 players (the base game only goes to 5). We never play without it.

Blokus Trigon: 1-4 players, 20 minutes, ages 5 and up, 2006, weight of 2.0.
Somehow a little less intuitive than the original Blokus (in part, I suspect, because the familiar Tetris-shaped pieces are absent), it’s still a lot of fun.  Start with Blokus, then get this if you really like the original.  One benefit is that this version plays much better with 3 players.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries: 2-3 players, 45 minutes, ages 8 and up, 2007, weight of 2.0.
A tighter and more cutthroat game than the original Ticket to Ride, TtR: Nordic is the perfect TtR for two players.  It works with three, too, but boy is that board tight.  Don’t get too ambitious when choosing which destination cards to keep, or you might just end up with a negative score!  You can also read a bit about the game and where it fits in the TtR universe.

Medium – Heavy games

Pandemic: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.3.
An excellent game where players play against the game itself to try to eradicate diseases.  It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve introduced it to, and it’s a great couples game, too.  Not an easy game to win, but very satisfying when you can pull it off.

Settlers of Catan: 3-4 players, 90 minutes, ages 10 and up, 1995, weight of 2.4.
The importance of Settlers to the modern gaming scene cannot be overstated: it single-handedly reinvented the industry. And with good reason — it’s tense, it’s fun, and it’s paced well, too.

Hive: 2 players, 20 minutes, ages 9 and up, 2001, weight of 2.4.
A very interesting abstract for just two players, themed around bugs.  It wasn’t a big hit with my wife, but I play with a friend of mine regularly.  Each player starts with 11 hexagonal insects (ants, grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, and a bee), and the goal is to completely surround your opponent’s bee.  The best part?  The tiles are made of a bakelite-like substance and are absolutely clacktastic!

Santiago: 3-5 players, 75 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2003, weight of 2.5.
A fun but fairly cutthroat game where players first bid for plantation tiles and then have to bid for the water to irrigate them.  A game where it’s possible to win every battle and still lose the war, it’s also an excellent example of coopetition.  You can also read my review of the game.

Stone Age: 2-4 players, 60 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 2.6.
While it hasn’t been around as long as some of the classics, it’s the up-and-comer of the family gaming world. Currently ranked #3 on BoardGameGeek’s list of family games, it’s also a great introduction to the whole “worker-placement” genre. What I like about it is how it’s various parts work so well together.

Heavy games

Power Grid: 2-6 players, 120 minutes, ages 12 and up, 2004, weight of 3.3.
Power Grid is a brutal economic game where you buy power plants at auction, buy resources to power your plants, pay to expand your network of cities, and then get paid for supplying power to those cities. It’s the game Monopoly always wanted to be, with a twist: the player with the largest network goes last in most phases of the game, putting them at a distinct disadvantage. You can also read my review of the game.

Steam: 3-5 players, 120 minutes, ages 10 and up, 2008, weight of 3.5.
Players build track, connect resources to cities, and then make deliveries.  A tight and fun game, the logistics involved can be a real challenge to master.  Recommended for more serious and / or experienced gamers.


Conclusion

That’s it. Of course no game is a guaranteed hit, but each of the games above are solid and dependable, appealing to a range of ages and abilities. Most have enough luck so that you can blame your losses on fate, but enough strategy that you can take credit for your victories.

If you want to take a look at some other lists of good games, I’d recommend either BGG’s gift guide or Funagain Games’ shopper’s guide. Wikipedia also has a list of all the Spiel des Jahres winners (a German award given to the best family game of the year).

If you want to know more about these games (and hundreds of others like them), don’t hesitate to delve into the wealth of information available at BoardGameGeek. You don’t have to be a member to search the forums, read game reviews and session reports, or see a listing of the most popular or highest-ranked games. Check it out!

If you’re wondering where to buy all these wonderful games, I’d suggest heading down to your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). There are lots of good online retailers, but I’ve had especially good luck with both Boards and Bits and CoolStuffInc. And finally, of course, there’s Amazon and Barnes and Noble, too. =^..^=

new page: guide to modern gaming

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I just posted a guide to modern gaming – it’s geared toward people who are just beginning to get oriented in the modern gaming scene. Check it out, and let me know if you think there are any other games I need to include. =^..^=

game night: ScatterLand, Pandemic, and Coloretto

December 22, 2010 2 comments

Last Saturday we had our 12th or 13th game night. A bit smaller than usual (only a total of four), it was lots of fun nonetheless.

We started off with two games of ScatterLand, basic version. In the first game, everyone was focused on finding islands and increasing the size of their own chains, meaning that I had a fairly free run over about a third of the board. I won handily, being the only player with a chain of 5 at the end of the game.

The second game, however, was a different story: everyone was paying much more attention to what other players were doing, and they were much more interested in playing defense, too. I lost the meta-game badly, got hemmed in and cut in half, and ended up with a third-place finish. Our two guests came in #1 and #2. :-)

Then we moved on to Pandemic. I have to say that I’ve never been a big fan of teaching Pandemic to new players, as I always feel I have a choice: let folks figure it out for themselves and lose, or walk people through it and at least have a chance of winning. The problem with the latter is that it always feels a bit like playing solitaire while other people watch.

This time, however, was different: I don’t know if I’ve gotten better at teaching the game, or if the people we were teaching it to are particularly sharp, or what, but it was actually quite a lot of fun. Everyone was participating actively, and we only occasionally tried to steer things a bit. We were playing with four epidemics and had the Medic, the Researcher, the Dispatcher, and the Scientist.

We cured Black early, cured Red, and then sunset Black. As these two were far and away the most dangerous diseases, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Neither Yellow nor Blue had come up much, so we figured the rest of the game would go pretty easily.

The thing about Pandemic, though, is that the end of the game tends to come along a lot quicker than you expect it to.

With five turns to go and just two cures, we realized we had a problem. We sat and discussed our options for about thirty minutes, but most things we could think of doing involved being just one or two actions short. In the end, however, one of our newbies hit upon the ideal solution: the Dispatcher could move the Researcher to the same city as both the Dispatcher and the Scientist, and then the Researcher could share all of his relevant knowledge. We ended up winning on the last turn of the game.

Choosing to rest on our laurels (otherwise known as quitting while you’re ahead), we moved on to Coloretto.

Coloretto, by contrast, is one of my favorite games to teach to new players: it’s fairly straightforward, it’s quick, and there’s a nice push-your-luck element that appeals to just about everyone. People figure out the basic strategies right off, but the decisions that follow are anything but obvious: do you want to mess up a pile for someone else, or try to keep your own piles pure? Is it better to try to sweeten one of the piles for future use, or take a useful pile before someone else grabs it? Is it better to run with your early colors or try to switch mid-stream to ones that no one else is collecting?

If there’s one thing that isn’t intuitive for new players, it’s the scoring: there isn’t nearly as big a penalty as people think there is for taking cards in a fourth, fifth, or even sixth color. I never mind taking a few negatives, so long as my biggest three colors are strong.

All in all, it was a nice game night. A bit quieter than most, but quiet is good, too.

last-minute games to stuff in a stocking

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

So you’ve put your holiday shopping off to the last minute, just like everyone else, and now you’re scrambling to find good games for stockings? No problem, you’ve come to the right place. All the games below are small enough to fit into a stocking and cost less than $15.

I’d suggest starting at the top of the list.

 

Ones I can recommend because I’ve played them and they’re lots of fun:

1. Coloretto. 2-5 players. A simple card game with lots of interesting choices. Gives you plenty to think about without hurting your brain, plays in 30 minutes or less, and is very colorful, too.

2. Fluxx. 2-6 players. If chaos is your thing, then Fluxx will be right up your alley. The game game where any player can win on (almost) any turn, the rules and the goals change with every card played. Plays relatively quickly with 2, but can take a while with more players. We often play this game as people are arriving for game night, as it’s very easy for someone to jump in after the game has started.

3. Slide 5. 2-10 players. Our version of the game is called Ta 6!, but gameplay is essentially the same. Players play cards in such a way as to try to avoid causing an avalanche (thus taking an entire row of five cards). All cards count against you.

 

I don’t own it, but it’s on my wish-list:

4. No Thanks! 3-5 players. An interesting game where you bid to not take cards. When a card gets flipped up, you either put a chip in to avoid taking it or take it and all the chips that have been put in the pot. A fast and fun card game with a great push-your-luck element.

 

Honestly, if it were me and I didn’t have any of these games, I’d go first for Coloretto, then for No Thanks!, and then it would depend on how much I liked chaos. Both Fluxx and Slide 5 can be fairly chaotic, but Fluxx is the chaos king – it’s definitely not for everyone.

Remember, though, good things come in small packages. :-)

Phase 10

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

S and I just played Phase 10 for the first time. I bought it a year or two ago at a garage sale and hadn’t gotten around to actually trying it.

Granted, it’s not on a par with, say, Coloretto, but it isn’t trying to be, either. It’s a humble game, but a reasonable one, and I was pleasantly surprised. I won’t go quite so far as to say I was impressed, but it was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.

What it is, with two players at least, is a kind of thinking man’s gin rummy. Now gin rummy itself is no slouch, as there’s actually quite a bit to it when you take it more seriously (try playing for a dollar a point if you don’t believe me), but this adds a couple new elements to an old formula.

First, there’s a nice tension between holding cards in your hand (so your opponent can’t play on them, thus making you more likely to go out) and getting them down on the table (so you don’t get caught with them at the end of the hand). Second, the melds in each of the ten phases of the game get progressively more difficult, so there’s a built-in mechanism to help players come from behind. And finally, there’s the costs and benefits associated with wild cards: they’re extremely handy, but they also count 25 points against you if you get caught with them.

It feels a little weightier than gin, in other words, but not by that much. One thing it lacks, relative to gin, is the tension created by not knowing whether your opponent will be able to undercut you if you go down — I’m always debating, in that game, whether to go down with a low count or hold out for gin, and unfortunately I often reckon wrong.

There are a few niggles: skip cards do relatively little, at least in the two player game, as you tend to play them as soon as you get them. Also, the scoring could probably stand to be tweaked a bit, though it is admirably simple. And although I understand why, with a cool name like Phase 10, you’d want players (or at least one player) to actually play all ten phases, I can’t help but think that the game would be improved if you played to a fixed number of points instead.

It’s not the kind of game I’ll be itching to play, but it does fit in nicely with the likes of Yahtzee, Rack-O, and Rummikub. I’ll be interested to try it with more players to see how differently it plays with four or six.