Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Game Night With Matt Shafeek

As I left my apartment to prepare for the ultimately underwhelming hurricane approaching New York City yesterday, I grabbed a few important items - necessities that were key to my survival. My three bags included clothes, toiletries, water, snacks, my laptop, a writing pad, and a ton of board and card games. Were I caught midway through my journey dangling precariously from a cliff with each of the aforementioned items about to fall from my grasp, after saving my laptop (which frankly, is mostly due to its financial value and host of valuable, earth-shattering secrets I could never allow to be uncovered), I'd risk my neck to save any and all games next. What I'm basically saying is: with any sort of limitations or Sophie's choice-type situation on my supplies, I'd be arriving to my shelter will little to no sustenance, attire or means of personal hygiene, but filled to the brim with time-killing entertainment for all to enjoy*.

I love games of all kind, but lately I'm especially into board and party games. Essentially, if I spend my gaming time socially with other human beings in the room, I never feel like I should have been doing something more productive with my time, which is both a convenient justification and a legitimate excuse. Spending time doing something fun with people I like is ultimately what I live for, and I'm always looking for more chances to do it.

But enough about me. As I've done a few times before, I'm going to write about some more great social board and party games today for you, my loyal readers, to use with your own time with families, friends, or strangers you've insisted are your best option instead. The three games I'm going to talk about today run the gamut from  the more casual, to the more party-oriented to the more hardcore/serious time investment. The latter category of course is for people who can still look at a box of Monopoly at this point with fond memories.

Enjoy these three new games, and let me know if you ever wind up trying them out, or need an extra player!

Hurricane Game Night With Matt Shafeek
For Use In Any Natural Disaster, Work-Related Social Event Or Family Gathering In Which There Are Many Hours To Kill
[Note: Some preparation may be required, so be sure to read well in advance of your next natural disaster!]

"I know this seems weird, but trust me. We're playing a game."
Mind Meld
Category: Party/Social (Casual) 
# of Players: 2 or more
Prerequisites: None (beyond reading these instructions)

The 'official' name for this game is lost on me - I've heard of a few others (they call it 'What Am I Thinking?' on The Comedy Bang Bang Podcast, and I think it was introduced to me as 'Mind Reader,' but nothing tops the title I've given it, straight out of Star Trek, which gives me extra nerd cred.

Basically two people are going to think of a word (or two) and they're going to say them to each other at the same time. The word(s) chosen can be anything, person, place or thing. They'll count down from '3' together, then each say their word over the other. Once the two words are spoken, the point of the game is try to find, together, the connecting word between the two. After a quick beat to think of a new word (applying time pressure makes this game a lot more interesting) both players again count down from 3 and try to say the connecting word at the same time, repeating as necessary (the next round is the common word between the two new words that were just said, and so on) until the two of you say the same word at the same time.

As an example, if one player's word is 'Mike Meyers,' and the other is 'Pork Chops,' obviously the word in between these two is 'Canadian Bacon.' That was an obvious one, I know, but I wanted to make sure you got the idea.

You don't lose this game unless you neglect to guess after the countdown. Technically words are not supposed to be repeated, but this rule usually gets tossed aside once the two of you have been dancing around 'The Sea Captain From The Simpsons' for seven minutes. Just establish which way you're playing in advance, it's totally fine either way.

This game could easily be played with a group of people, even at a party. Just have everyone go around in a circle, moving around the circle clockwise or counter clockwise (your choice readers - I'm tossing this rule out to you!) after each round. The way my improv team plays it, people can jump in at anytime, tagging one of the other players out (presumably the dumber one) if they think know what the common word is.

"Wait, stop flirting for a second, I'm trying to explain the rules here."
Quick anecdote: I was on a date recently where during a brief lull in the conversation (also known as "gamertunities" to me)(oh, and side note - this date was not going especially well) I suggested we play a game of this. After a few back and forths we arrived at the words 'Nightmare' and 'Blackout' which led to us saying "Date Rape!" at the same time on the next turn. We both had a terribly uncomfortable laugh. Needless to say I haven't suggested this game on another date since.

Hopefully that story doesn't ruin the game for you - it's definitely fun - but maybe play it with friends as opposed to recent acquaintances just to be safe.

You Don't Know Jack
Category: Party/Trivia (Casual) 
# of Players: 2-4
Prerequisites: A video games system (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii) and multiple controllers

Let me start by saying I'm really not a big trivia guy. Jeopardy!, Trivial Pursuit, you name it, I'm finding excuses not to play/watch them. I generally prefer games that don't run the risk of revealing how embarrassingly little I know about the non-video game & television world at large. Having said this, I've always been a huge You Don't Know Jack fan. This trivia game series, while at times tricky, is so entertaining and fast paced along the way, that even if you seem to be getting all the answers wrong, still makes you feel like you're part of the action, and more importantly, that you're having fun.

Every round of YDKJ works basically the same. There are 10 questions, and during every question the sooner you buzz in (if you choose to, there's no penalty for not guessing) the more money you stand to win or lose. Throw in some bonus mini games like Dis Or Dat, screws, which force the other player to answer a question, and the game-ending Jack Attack, and you've a nice amount of variety to keep things moving for the fifteen minutes or so that each game lasts. The writing is excellent and the host is funny without being a distraction. You really do feel like you're on a game show with the people in the room with you.

The game runs for about $30.00 new and on the Xbox 360 at least, you can download the entire game on the system's online service. There are 73 'episodes' in the full version with at least 4 downloadable packs available for $5 each that bring the total number of episodes to well over 100. My sole complaint about the game is that the prize structure allows for wild swings in the final round, where each question (more like a fast-buzzing matching game) is worth significantly more than all the questions that proceeded it. It's an active choice on the developer's part to make players feel like they always have a shot, even when they're behind everyone else, but it can sometimes feel like the previous 9/10ths of the game was irrelevant, which can be frustrating for front runners who've been playing smart.

The game is more fun with the maximum of four players, but even a hyper-competitive two player is fantastic. Check out Gamespot's video review below for some more information as well as a good idea of what gameplay looks like (they spoil maybe one or two puzzle answers, but don't reveal the answers so don't watch if you mind this at all).

And here's another great review from Joystiq:

Category: Card Game (Hardcore)
# of Players: 2-4 
Prerequisites: The Board Game (plus any expansions you want) or else, one laptop per player

You'll notice I've labeled this game as hardcore. I realize this might scare a few of you away. So before I say anything else, I'm going to let this kid introduce the game to you. Watch as much of this as you can stand:

What we have here, as Hayden would no doubt adorably attest to, is a dangerously addictive game. To anyone who's ever found themselves sinking hours upon hours into any kind of game before, Dominion will no doubt tap into the same part of your brain, slowly releasing a steady stream of dopamine game after game while you slowly learn to master it. If that thought kind of scares you, back away slowly now. If you're intrigued, keep reading.

At its heart, Dominion is a card game in which you're trying to gain a specific set of cards known as Victory Cards. Every round you draw five cards from you deck to play with. All players start with a basic deck of 10 cards, but will eventually grow to have a wide variety of Victory, Treasure and Action cards. Action cards do a variety of useful things, like increasing the cards you have in your hand, trashing cards you don't want, as well as forcing your opponents to draw worthless cards and making them discard cards in their hands. Treasure cards are used to buy new cards for your deck at the end of every round.

While at first it might seem like you should buy up every Victory card you can as soon as possible, you'll soon realize that all Victory cards do early on is take up space in your hands, and you want to first build up the ability to make larger purchases before you start buying them. So you build your deck slowly over time, making bigger purchases that allow more cards in your hand or better treasure cards to make better purchases. Every turn has a player playing his action cards, making a purchase, then discarding all used cards. After all of your cards have been played, you shuffle everything back in and start using the deck again. This repeats until three stacks of available cards have been depleted or the highest level Victory cards (Provinces) have all been claimed. The player with the highest number of Victory points wins.

Games can last anywhere from about 10 to 25 minutes depending on the layout and the experience of the players. The game can be played by up to four players but unlike YDKJ, it really seems to be the most fun with just two.

Every game will have a different combination of cards available for players to purchase and use. This variety leads to a high level of variety and strategizing that can be incredibly satisfying once you get the hang of the game. I've seen no less than five people become incredibly addicted to Dominion this year alone, not including myself, who totally has his investment of time in the game under control..

Originally, Dominion was a card game with many expansions released over the years, and if you're interested in making the game as social as possible, this is the way to go. However, there is also an online game available at that reduces all need to shuffle cards or look up rules, as well as paying for the game, since it's free. This is my mode my friends and I have all taken, though it tends to make for some quiet parties.

Once you get the game, there's plenty of way to learn to be a better player. Playing against strangers online works for me, but if you want to bone up before getting your butt kicked (I love the game but am a low-ranked player with a terrible win/loss record), check out this page.


That's all for today kids. I realize today's games are mostly for smaller groups, so if you're looking for games that accommodate more people, definitely refer to either of my previous games posts, where I discuss some of my other favorite group/party games:

Games Post #1: Celebrity and Werewolf
Games Post #2: Telestrations and Munchkin

At some point before the end of the year, I'll do a review of my favorite straight-up board games of the year for those of you looking to abandon all pretenses of leaving the house or even standing up on any given night.

Game on,

*and naturally, the ability to check and post on Twitter.

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