I got together with Andrew and Dave last Thursday night to play some games. It was fun. I haven’t played games (aside from occasional Settlers of Catan) in ages. I miss it. (Note: though I’m not a huge fan of Settlers, I would love to have this 3-D deluxe set. I’ve seen it in a store. It’s gorgeous. Also, here are some rules for Armed Settlers of Catan!)
I picked up a couple of new games last week while I was out Christmas shopping. After doing some thorough research (paying special attention to Defective Yeti‘s good games guide), and after listening to the recommendations of the people at Rainy Day Games, I picked up Ticket to Ride and Shadows Over Camelot.
Ticket to Ride is ostensibly a railroad game. Some of you may be surprised to learn that in the games market there’s an entire sub-genre of train games. Bizarre but true. Ticket to Ride owes much to a previous game called Transamerica in which players take turns placing little wooden rail lines across a map of the United States. Transamerica, however, was so simplistic as to be tedious. (I still feel as if I must have missed some important rule someplace — the gameplay is mindless.)
Ticket to Ride maintains the “lay rail lines across a map of the United States” aspect of Transamerica and adds the “load cards” concept of the Empire Builder games. Players have “ride tickets”, each of which lists a route between two cities. If you complete this route during the course of the game, you receive bonus points. If you do not complete a ride ticket you receive negative points. (This is very important and adds an interesting wrinkle to things.) To complete the gameplay, players accumulate train cards of different colors. If the board shows that the rail line between Houston and New Orleans is two orange tracks long, for example, a player can complete this section of track by collecting and playing two orange train cards.
The three of us agreed that Ticket to Ride feels somewhat like Rummy in concept. It was fun, though it’s probably more fun with four or five players. (As few as two players can play, which makes this game unusual.)
We also played Shadows Over Camelot, which is a co-operative game with a twist. Co-operative games are part of a newish genre that hasn’t garnered many fans. Some people (including myself) like the idea of working together, but co-op games often just are not fun to play. There was a Lord of the Rings co-op game released a few years ago that received much acclaim. I own it and have played it several times with various groups. One or two groups have even beat the game (which is difficult). Despite the game’s good reviews, I’ve never enjoyed it. Much of the gameplay seems forced, as if the players have no choice in their actions. It’s not fun. When I mentioned my concern to the woman at Rainy Day Games, she was quick to assure me that Shadows Over Camelot wasn’t anything like that. “It’s co-operative,” she said, “but each player has a wide range of choices. Plus there’s always the possibility that somebody might be the traitor.”
The premise of Shadows Over Camelot is that each player is a Knight of the Round Table. Each knight has a special ability. During the game, the knights undertake various quests, attempting to acquire special relics and white swords which represent fame and valor. Failure to complete quests earns the group black swords. Earn more white swords than black and the crusade is successful; any other result is failure. The game would be fun if that was all there was to it (and when I played with Andrew and Dave, that was all there was to it), but there’s an added twist.
The game includes eight “loyalty cards”. Seven cards are labeled “loyal”, but the eighth is labeled “traitor”. Before play begins, each player draws a loyalty card at random. The greater the number of players, the more likely it is that somebody has drawn the traitor card. The traitor subtly works to sabotage the efforts of the rest of the knights. By the game’s midway point, knights may begin accusing each other of being the traitor. If a traitor is discovered, he stops being a knight and simply acts as an ever-present malignant force. Gameplay is cleverly designed to encourage suspicion of others: sometimes a knight must make an action the looks malicious but which is in actuality the best choice at a particular moment.
The game was fun with three players and no traitor card involved. We were salivating at the idea of how fun it must be with seven players and a likely traitor in the midst. (The only drawback to that many players would be the wait between each person’s turn. Turns go quickly, but waiting for six players to go is always going to seem tedious.)
(For more on Shadows Over Camelot, check out Defective Yeti’s review.)
I’d forgotten how much I enjoy playing a good game. At one time, we played board games with Mac and Pam several times a month. (Our other get-togethers were all about bridge, bridge, bridge.) For about a year, Kris and I even hosted a monthly game night. Lately, though, gaming has been a rare thing in our lives. I miss it. I’m toying with the idea of hosting an irregular game night. “I’d probably have to lift the ‘no kids’ rule,” I mentioned on Thursday. (Our rules before were: no kids, no alcohol, bring your own food.) “No way,” said Andrew. “People can find babysitters if they want to play games.”
So, there you have it: you game-playing folk in the Portland area, I may re-institute an irregular game night some time in the near future.
On Friday night, I attended my second poker night at Sabino’s. Last month, I finished fourth out of twelve, just one person out of the money. This month I finished fifth out of fourteen, just one person out of the money. sigh Last month, there were several times when I played like I oughtn’t: bluffing, etc. This month, I did well until we got down to just six players. Then the cards just weren’t coming and the blinds bled me dry. I paid to see a few flops (with AQo, for example, or 89s), but nothing ever panned out. I’ll be that happens quite a bit. My tally now in three poker games: I’ve spent $65 to buy-in, and have won $49, so I am $16 in the hole. I’ve placed 4/12, t1/6, 5/14. Okay for a raw beginner, I think. (Caution: I’ve made “poker” and “holdem” prohibited words in the comments.)