Saturday, May 20, 2006

Games Played May 20, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

Another fun family game day.

I convinced everyone to try Cartagena, for the first time. Well, Joel and I had played several 2-player games of this, and Dan and I had played a couple of times online, so only Sue, Katrina, and Mason were new to the game. It seemed to me that this could be a 6-player game, so I included some black dice as pirates for the sixth player. Of course, it took only a minute to explain the rules, and we were off to the races. I suggested that we play with only 4 pirates, each, since there were 6 players, and that worked out okay. It might even be better with 3, each, but we’ll see about that another time. With six players and 4 pirates, each, there were 24 markers on the board at the same time, at least for a short time. It was relatively easy for several or all players to get the first pirates to the boat, because of all the occupied spaces. As pirates made it to the boat, it became more difficult for the remaining markers, of course. I had some good cards and quickly got three of my four pirates to the boat, but I had trouble getting the right cards for the fourth pirate, and Mason just edged out the win. We decided it was best to continue playing until all but one pirate was in the boat, to determine the remaining places. However, we made that decision only after all of us had discarded our cards, so we just drew new cards in the same amount as we had been holding. Only Dan was hurt by this, as he drew worse cards than at least some of the ones he had been holding, which did not work well for him. Results: Mason first; me second; Joel third; Sue fourth; Katrina fifth, Dan last.

Since the game played so quickly, we decided to play another, before putting it away. Results: Mason first (I think he has a good grasp of this game, in only his first two times playing it); Katrina second; Joel third (again); Sue fourth (again); me fifth; Dan last (again). No one said too much about the game, either positive or negative. I’m sure we’ll play it again, especially when we need something quick to finish a day of gaming.

Naturally, we had to play Settlers of Catan, which seems to be a requirement of every game day. Surprisingly, Joel opted out, saying he was getting a little bored with this game. It was a very slow start for me, although I began on the numbers 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 11. You would think that was a good spread, but 2’s, 9’s, and 12’s came up fairly often, early in the game. After a couple of rounds, I was the only player who had not managed to build a single road. Most of the rest of the group had several roads, at least one additional settlement, and I think at least one city was on the board, before I built a road. How depressing! Eventually, I got rolling, collecting a VP card and even the Largest Army. On my last turn, I grabbed the Largest Army points and placed another settlement, which left me in third place, as Katrina won the game. Results: Katrina first; Mason second; me third; Dan fourth; Sue last.

Next, I pulled out Around the World in 80 Days. I really enjoy playing this game. It is an excellent game for 6 players. I started a little slowly, but accumulated some good cards. Eventually, I got rolling well, and was using fewer days than the rest of the group. However, people kept drawing the Delay and Storm cards, which moved us all along the “days” track more quickly than in any previous game we’ve played. I made it to San Francisco in reasonably good condition, and had nice matching train cards to get to New York, but things fell apart after that. I could not manage to get a second ship card with a small number that I needed, to finish under 80 days. Sue beat us all to London, followed by everyone else, except Dan and me. Neither of us could get ship cards, and kept losing days while cooling our heels in New York. I finally managed to move to London, but everyone went over 80 days, so Sue won the game. Results: Sue first (her first time to win this game); Mason second (notice a pattern here? first or second all day long); Katrina third; Joel fourth; me fifth; Dan last.

We finished with a 7-player game of Bohnanza. Once again, our son was at the top of the heap – unbelievable. Results: Mason first; Joel second; Katrina third; Dan fourth; Sue and me (tied) fifth; Natalia last (her luck has not been good, the last two times we’ve played this).

We have only one game remaining in our collection that we have never played – Australia. Unfortunately, it will be four weeks before we can get together again, and we probably won’t try that game until at least the end of June. By then, I will have a new game order in mind – wouldn’t want to run out of new challenges.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Monday, May 15, 2006

Games Played May 14, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

Our normal routine was modified this past weekend. Katrina and Dan are both school band directors, and both of their bands were performing at the Six Flags Amusement Park in Denver on Saturday, so we moved our usual family day to Sunday (Mother’s Day). Natalia and Joel spent Saturday with us. We took them out for a pizza/pasta lunch and a round of miniature golf (won by Sue, although we give the kids a 1-stroke handicap on each hole). Later, Joel, Sue and I played a game of Boomtown, which Sue won.

On Mother’s Day, I grilled steaks, baked potatoes, made a special salad that is a favorite of the family, and created a new dessert by combining two separate recipes that we had not tried (cream cheese dessert wedges with a warm strawberry fondue sauce). The meal was a great hit. After Sue and Katrina opened their gifts, we adjourned outside for some bocce (won by Joel). Everyone had to leave earlier than usual, so we had time for only three table games.

We first played Ticket to Ride. It was an odd game, for us. We all drew north/south tickets, all in the east and central part of the map. Sue had a southern east/west route, but the entire northwest was vacant. It got very crowded very quickly in the east, with everyone jockeying for alternate routes, to finish tickets. In later ticket draws, only Mason got one along the west coast. Near the end of the game, I found myself in a very good position. I had one short ticket to complete, which required only two segments of track, each needing only two cards. On my last card selection, I had the exact four cards needed to finish the route, and I was sitting pretty, planning to use all my trains in my final two turns. Déjà vu, all over again ----- Mason played just after me, finished a long route and got down to two trains. That meant I could only finish one of my two required segments before the end of the game. I can’t believe I was so close to winning a game, again! {Well, I probably would not have won, anyway, because Mason finished way ahead of the rest of us.} Results: Mason first (very close to my record high score in this game); me second; Dan third, Sue fourth, and Katrina last. Not a good start for the females on Mother’s Day.

Next, all seven of us played For Sale. We removed two cards from both the properties deck and the check deck, without revealing which ones they were. With 7 players and 28 cards, there were only 4 rounds of bidding for properties and four rounds of selling properties for checks – a fast game. Results: Joel first, Mason second, Katrina third, Natalia and Sue (tied) fourth, me sixth, and Dan last.

There was just enough time for a 7-player game of Bohnanza, before the family had to leave. We play with all the cards, and the game still goes quickly, with seven people. Results: Katrina first, Joel second, Mason and Sue (tied) third, me fifth, Dan sixth, and Natalia last (very unusual for her in this game).

I took some time last week to prepare Through the Desert for 6 players. Because the game comes with extra caravan leaders in each of the five colors, and we don’t need them to identify who is playing which color, I took one of each color and used a permanent marker to make a black set of leaders. We will have to decide whether to play with four or three leaders, each, in a 6-player game. I’m leaning toward trying four, but reducing the number of camels of each color, since the board will fill up quickly (sodaklady suggested this, also). I’m looking forward to our first try with six.

I also scanned and printed two more marker cards for Coloretto, and we will try it with 6 and/or 7 players. We will have to adjust the number of cards below the end-of-game card in the draw deck, which probably will shorten the game length considerably, and will most likely require an adjustment in our usual strategies. It should be an interesting experiment.

Now, I just need to come up with a sixth set of trains for Ticket to Ride…………

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Monday, May 08, 2006

Games Played May 6, 2006

One key to happiness – GAMES

Okay, I’ve resigned myself to never winning another game for the rest of my life. ---------

I’ll just enjoy playing and serving as cannon fodder for the rest of the family. At least, I still like playing.

Alhambra is one of our current favorite games, although this was only our third time to play it. Obviously, Dan likes it; he’s won two of the three games. Results: Dan first; Sue second; Mason third; Joel and Katrina (tied) fourth; me last (wayyyyy back). Maybe someday I’ll learn how to play this game.

Another round of 7-player Bohnanza, and fun, as usual. Results: Dan first; Natalia second; Joel and Katrina (tied) third; Mason and me (tied) fifth; Sue last.

Nertz is the other game Natalia particularly enjoys, so we play it with 7 people and it’s a blast. Results: Joel first (with a score three times that of second place!); Dan second; Natalia third (only two points behind Dan, who used to always be last); Mason fourth; Katrina fifth; me sixth; Sue last. The last three of us ended with negative scores. Tough competition.

We all played Royal Turf, too. That’s three games with all 7 of us – very unusual. I really enjoy this game. Results: Sue first; me second; Natalia third; Joel fourth; Dan, Katrina, Mason (tied) last.

Final game of the day was (wait for it……………) Settlers of Catan [surprise!]. I think Mason believes it is not a game day, unless we play Settlers. It was a close finish, with three of us at 9 points for the last round – Dan, Katrina, and me. Dan just couldn’t get the cards he needed on his turn. Katrina played just before me. She rolled a five, which gave me the wheat I needed to convert a settlement to a city, which would win the game. Unfortunately for me, it also gave Katrina the wheat she needed to win the game. Déjà vu! She won Settlers in virtually the same way a couple of weeks ago, one dice roll ahead of my turn in which I would have won. It was so close, I could taste it, but close doesn’t count in Settlers. Results: Katrina first; Dan and me (tied) second; Mason and Sue (tied) last.

Except for Royal Turf, Dan had a great day – 2 firsts and 2 seconds out of five games. Nice going! Katrina kept pointing out that we were celebrating her birthday, but she wasn’t winning games – a third, a fourth, and two fifths, until she won Settlers. At least she won one!

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

Friday, May 05, 2006

Family Games for Six or Seven Players

One key to happiness – GAMES

Our family gaming group consists of seven people, in three generations. Finding good quality, challenging, and fun games for this group is a challenge in itself.

Before we discovered the current crop of Euro-games, we played Hearts, Nertz, Oh Hell, Mexican Train Dominoes, Yahtzee, Five Thousand, Fill or Bust, Sequence, Inklings, Anybody’s Guess, and Scattergories. We had fun, but did not know what we were missing. Then, we found Trumpet and began a journey into the modern age of games.

I’ve listed in a previous blog entry our favorite family games as of last month. Quite a different list from the above paragraph, isn’t it? A good number of those favorites are designed for a maximum of 5 players. We have 5 adults in our group, so that has been one of my criteria for game purchases until now. Our grandchildren are now ages 8 (Joel) and 10 (Natalia). Natalia enjoys only a few of our “group favorites,” and she plays them very well. Joel wants to play virtually all the games the adults play, and he plays them very well. As of today, I will only purchase games that can be played by 6 or 7 people, or games designed for 5 that I might be able to modify for play by 6 or 7.

Number of players is probably the most important criterion I use when considering new game purchases, but it is certainly not the only important one. There are many other factors that enter into my considerations.

Game Types We Are Not Interested In Purchasing

• Wargames
• Abstract Strategy
• Action/Dexterity
• Primarily for Ages Under 10
• Collectible Components
• Miniatures
• Science Fiction, Horror, or Fantasy Themes
• Themes with Fighting or Other Violence
• Memory Games
• Party Games
• Music Games (although the entire family is musical)
• Trivia, General Knowledge, or Primarily Educational
• Sports Themes, Including Auto Race Games
• Religious Themes
• Modern Political Themes
• Word Games (although some of these are acceptable)
• Games That Eliminate Players Before the End of the Game

Game Mechanics We Are Not Interested In Playing

• Acting, Singing, Role-Playing, or Other Performances
• Cooperative Play (we enjoy competition)
• Partnerships (we prefer individual competition)
• Voting
• Roll-and-Move

Things We Enjoy About Games

• Game Length: 60 – 90 Minutes, Maximum
• Negotiation/Trading
• Some Randomness, But Not Too Much
• Territory Management
• Connection Mechanics
• Set Collection (But Not Simple Rummy-Type Play)
• Tile-Laying
• Race Games, IF They Include Options or Complications (not just roll-and-move)
• Bidding/Auction
• Equal Competition for Adults and Intelligent Children
• Trick-Taking Card Games

Although an enormous number of available commercial games are eliminated by the criteria we don’t want to see in a game, a significant number of excellent games exist that meet the factors we enjoy (see our list of favorite games, listed in the previously-mentioned blog entry).

5-Player Games That Work Fine for 6 or 7

Some games designed primarily for 5 or 6 players can be played successfully by more players. Here are some examples.
• Bohnanza is a great game for 6 or 7.
• Boomtown works fine for 6.
• Trumpet is just as good for 7 as for 6.
• Zirkus Flohcati works fine for 6 or 7.
• David & Goliath plays as well with 7 as with 6.

Bohnanza --- The rules published with Bohnanza (from Rio Grande Games) include three modifications for 6 or 7 players: (1) remove the Cocoa and Garden Beans; (2) deal different numbers of cards, originally, to different players, based on seating; and (3) draw a different number of cards at the end of a player’s turn. NO, NO, NO! Forget those modifications. Play with all the cards and use the same rules as for 4 or 5 players. The modifications are completely unnecessary, except - exhaust the draw deck only two times. This is a great game for 6-7 players and is currently our family favorite.

Other Game Modifications

• Borrow a set of gray meeples from Carcassonne to play Hunters and Gatherers with 6 players. Use the builder and pig meeples (from the Carcassonne Traders and Builders expansion), or other different markers, for the two river huts. It works great.
• We have not tried this, but believe it would work: Remove, randomly, 2 property cards and 2 check cards from For Sale (leaving 28 of each) for a 7-player game.
• I am seriously considering purchasing/making a sixth set of “train” pieces (in a different color), allowing us to play Ticket to Ride with 6 players. We might have to experiment with ending the game when a player is down to 5 or less trains, because the available track routes will fill up quicker. I think playing with 6 would also modify game strategy, making shorter routes more valuable.
Royal Turf could be easily expanded to 7 players, with the addition of a new color of four betting chits.
• I need to come up with a way to add 34 camels of a sixth color to Through the Desert! Probably will need to modify the game-end conditions, too, but, I’m working on it…
• I intend to print two additional “row cards” for Coloretto, so we can play with 6 or 7 players.
• I could print an additional player board for Princes of Florence, but I think it will take a lot of study and experimenting to learn whether the game is actually playable by 6 players. It may be too-tightly designed to allow modification for 6 players. Besides, I suspect it might make the game too long for us.
• I see no way to modify Hacienda, which is a shame, as I believe we would enjoy playing with 6 players.

Now, if I could just influence game designers and publishers to create more great family games for 6 and 7 players, that would be nice. At least, I wish they would include, or make available, expansions to their 4-player or 5-player games for 6 or 7 players (as they did for Settlers of Catan, with the 5-6 player expansion). In the case of Settlers, it required more tiles, more game pieces, and a modification of the rules, and it works beautifully.

So, I find myself reading about new games coming out, and the first thing I look for is the maximum number of players. If a game is designed for no more than 4 or 5 players, I’ll ignore it, at least until a 6- or 7-player expansion is issued, unless the game design appears to allow for house modification. I expect to miss out on a large number of excellent games because of this restriction, but we have too much fun playing games with the whole family to buy games we can’t all play together (designers and publishers, take note, please).

I am interested in any recommendations for games that meet our criteria and that we do not already own, as well as suggestions for modifying games to meet our needs.

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming

New Game: Bison -- Is It For 4 or 5 Players?

One key to happiness – GAMES

A new game being released soon (in English) grabbed my attention quickly. Bison sounds like it has a theme and gameplay I would very much enjoy, but I may not be purchasing it.

I only want games that can be played by at least 6 players, or games for 5 players that I can extend to 6 players. Early information about Bison on two websites indicates that it is for 2-5 players, but the latest information on a third website says it is for 2-4 players. The first two sites are: BGG and Gamepack. The third is BoardGameNews. So, which is correct?
** Well, this is interesting. Within 5 hours after posting this blog, the article I read on BoardGameNews has disappeared. What's that about? **

To further complicate it, the database on BGG includes this list of box contents: “Contents: 21 game tiles, 32 Indians, 12 markers, 24 tents, 24 canoes, 4 displays, 16 energy stones, 1 start player piece, 1 rules booklet.” The items which would appear to be used by individual players are all divisible by 4, but not by 5, which indicates to me that the game is NOT designed for 5 players.

Anyone know the real scoop on this game?

--- Gerald … near Denver, Colorado; April 2006
aka gamesgrandpa -- A grandpa who is a mile high on gaming