Monday, July 30, 2012

Game Night 2012

It's no secret that I loves me some board games. They've slowly overtaken the majority of my game time over the past few years, and with good reason. They're fun, highly competitive, and just an overall great way to justify spending time together when not eating, drinking, or watching something (or what I've dubbed "inferior hangout activities').

For the past few years I've posted about a handful of notable board and/or party games that I think stand out among all the others I've played recently. I also have been deliberately focusing my attention on at least one game that is more of a casual/social game, and at least one game that is for the more advanced, hardcore crowd. This year is no different, and I've also included what is known as the best gateway game to bridge the gap between the two. Have I whet your appetite yet? Then let's get started, shall we?

# of Players: 3-6 (or up to 12 with expansions)
Average Length of Game: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Price: $35 (often less on Amazon) plus two expansion sets available for similar prices

I just discovered this game a week ago with my friends. Dixit is a 'storytelling' game where the
players all receive a handful of cards containing whimsical, bizarre images (see below). Each turn one player will be designated the 'storyteller,' and this player will choose one of his six cards to use as the basis for his story - which is really just a short, single phrase that describes the card accurately but not too specifically (you'll see why in a minute).

The storyteller chooses his phrase based one of his cards, places the card in front of him, then all the other players must choose among their six cards to draw out the card they have that is most closely described by the storyteller's phrase and place it face down alongside the storyteller's card. The storyteller then shuffles all the cards and puts them all face up in front of the other players for them to vote on. They're attempting to select the storyteller's card from all the other player's choices.

Some of the wonderful, often trippy story cards in Dixit
I realized describing how the game plays can be confusing, but it's much less complicated than it sounds. Let's take a sample round using the top row of the cards shown above. Pretend the storyteller decided he wanted to use the picture on the far right, with the anchor. If the storyteller's phrase is voted on by everyone at the table, he receives zero points, so choosing "Anchor's Away!" would likely be a bad choice. Conversely, saying something like "Where am I?" would be so vague that there's a good chance no one would pick that card, which also nets the storyteller zero points. The sweet spot would be something along the lines of "Don't Stop Now..." which relates to the card without being too overt. The key is for there to be a debate among all the players, with your card being at least being a reasonable contender. Now, if you had the bottom set of cards and had to choose something for "Don't Stop Now..." what would you pick? The card on the left with kid facing the dragon, or the mad scientist concocting away on the right? Or perhaps the cat in the middle, painting away?

Once everyone has placed their vote on the cards laid out in front of them, the storyteller reveals his card. Every player that had choosen the storyteller's card gets points, as does the storyteller if at least one but not all the players chose his card. The scoring system seems arbitrary, but it's just to ensure the game remains interesting, and doesn't have many rounds of obvious decisions by the players. Finally, any player who tricked other players into selecting his card receives bonus points as well. Once the points have been tallied, players then receive a new card from the deck, and a new round starts with the next player in line playing as storyteller. This goes on until the cards run out, or a player receives 30 points.

Once people get the basic concept, the game is quite simple. It's great in a party setting if people are interested in playing something fairly quick and light - and thanks to some expansion sets the game can actually be played by up to 12 people, which is rare for a board/card game. If you've ever played Apples To Apples, I'm told this game is very similar, and I have since been told that this game is actually even more fun.

Settlers of Catan
# of Players: 2-4 (or up to 6 with expansions)
Average Length of Game: 1 hour - 90 minutes
Price: $42 (often less on Amazon) plus many expansion sets available for similar prices

Settlers of Catan is the aforementioned "gateway game" that draws in many people who don't normally see themselves getting excited for an evening of sitting around a table throwing dice around. The game revolves around 'settling' along 18 pieces of land, each of which provide their own resources, which help in the building of settlements, roads, cities and development cards. Every player starts the game placing initial settlements, which will net you various resources every time a certain die roll is rolled.

Where the game gets interesting is that no matter what your initial set up, you will need to do some trading in order to get all the resources necessary to build your settlements. This will require trading - sometimes with the bank, or on ports you own, but often times with other players as well. These negotiations and all out bidding wars remind me of the best parts of Monopoly, which is when you try to do everything in your power to trade that crappy Baltic Ave property you have for that sweet sweet Pacific Avenue, thus finally completing your green set that you know everyone is just about to land on.

There's lots of ways to attempt to earn victory points in the game, ten of which declares a winner. Building lots of roads and block off other players and net you a special reward, as can playing lots of Soldier cards, which moves the robber (a special figure that allows you to steal from other players and prevents them from collecting resources while he is on a plot of land) around. And of course, once a particular player takes the lead, you will naturally want to shun them from all trading while the rest of you catch up.

Once all the players understand the rules, most games of Settlers are pretty close. And because the layout of the land changes every time you play, there's a ton of replay value. The one complaint I've heard from friends is that there is a lot riding on dice rolls in the game (similar once again to Monopoly), so all the strategy in the world could be for nothing if your "9" and "3" land tiles simply never get rolled. Though in my experience, the games usually wind up fairly balanced so long as you're able to weather some occasional painful dry spells with die rolls.

I highly recommend this game to anyone who used to love classic board games as a child and is looking to try something new and see what's changed over the past 15-20 years or so.

# of Players: 2-4 
Average Length of Game: 90 minutes - 2 hours
Price: $50 (often less on Amazon

Ok, now we're getting to the big leagues. Ninjato is what is traditionally known as a "worker management" game, and in case that term sounds at all boring to you, understand that your workers in this game are deadly, badass ninjas with a penchant for stealing awesome shit. Still with me? Good.

Players spend their turns using cards they've drawn to break into various houses in their ninja-neighborhood. The mechanic is actually really fun - every card in your hand will be a number between one and five, and depending on what you've got at the time, you can opt to go in sneaking (where lower numbers win against the guards inside) or attacking (where higher numbers win). Every time you successfully get past a guard, you have the option of shouting "Bonzai!" (this is actually in the instructions) and continuing your assault on the house, bringing out a new, unknown guard, an eventually nasty elite guards. Drain the house of treasure entirely, and you leave with all the treasure, and you totally shame the house you've robbed in the process. And if you aren't familiar at all with Japanese culture, shame is a pretty big deal (people totally killed themselves over it!), and its where the other part of the game mechanic comes into play.

Every house belongs to a certain clan, and those clans have envoys (a word I literally have to look up every time I play this game...or write about it) that can spend time wooing with the treasure you've stolen. Sneaky ninja tactics! Allying yourself with the envoys belonging to least-shamed house of the moment nets you big victory points during specific scoring rounds over the course of the game.

Like any good board game, there are multiple ways to succeed at Ninjato. You can ignore the envoys entirely and use your treasures to instead purchase rumor cards that affect your victory point multiplier(s) at the end of the game. There's also a training area where you can collect special powers that greatly improve your chances at combat, which can make all the difference on an given assault. And of course, you can control the board by securing the first player token and setting yourself up/blocking other players from doing what they want to do. The reality is every player only has so many moves to make over the course of the game, so you've got to be smart about where you place your workers each turn.

Tons of strategy, tons of fun, and it all revolves around ninjas. What more could you ask for?


Well that's all for now, though I've got plenty more games to talk about down the line, especially on the more hardcore side. I may have to put a second one of these together before the year is through. Check the above games out, and let me know which ones you like and have added to your game nights and/or parties!


1 comment:

Brian said...

Good breakdown, but this list will forever be incomplete without LNOE!