November 16, 2011

Dominion from Rio Grande Games

All you need to know to play this game is A B C. Simple as that. Dominion from Rio Grande Games is a simple card game that has the potential to get extremely complicated. There are 5 different types of cards: Treasure, Action, Victory, Attack and Curse. Using these cards, you create your own "dominion" (otherwise known as your deck). The object of the game is to utilize the resources allocated in your dominion to gain the most victory cards.

The game is laid out with 10 different sets of Kingdom cards, as well as Treasure cards (Copper, Silver, and Gold), Victory cards (Estate, Duchy, and Province) and Curse cards. Your Kingdom cards are those selected from your collection of cards to put into play. Kingdom cards can be purchased and played during your turn. Each game you play can be different depending on what cards you choose to lay out. One of the reasons this game is so great is that you never play the same game twice! Changing one Kingdom card can completely change the strategy and outcome of the game. Kingdom cards can be chosen at random or strategically.

So how do your ABC's come into play?  Each player starts off with 7 Coppers (worth 1 monies) and three Estates (worth 1 victory point). At each turn, each player must move through three phases: Action, Buy, and Clean. Each card has a different action and effect on your turn.

A: Action Phase. Play an action card. (Action cards are purchased from the selection of Kingdom cards.) Your turn will go according to what your action card specifies; your action card can give you more actions, give you more money, allow you to draw more cards etc. In some instances action cards can also be attack cards. Attack cards are used if you are feeling especially nasty and would like to take your opponents treasure cards, give them curse cards, remove cards from their hand etc (essentially "attacking" the other players). Because you do not have any action cards on your first move, your first play will start off at the buy stage.

B: Buy Phase. Using the collective treasure you have (some treasure will come from your deck and some may come from action cards), each player is given one buy, meaning he can purchase one thing from the Kingdom card selection or he can buy more money. If your action card gives you additional buys you may purchase more than one thing. No matter how much treasure you have, you can only purchase one card unless you action card says otherwise. (Each player always has one buy, if your action card says +2 Buys, you now have three buys).

C: Clean Phase. When you have completed your buy, all of your cards used on that turn go into your discard pile. This includes the cards you just purchased, the cards played, and the remaining cards in your hand. The discard pile can only be used when the pile you draw from is depleted. Discarding your cards completes your turn and you draw five more cards (essentially starting off with a brand new hand).

Easy right? Yes, however, when someone plays an action card that gives them more action, things can get complicated. +Actions are great when you have a plan. Action card after action card can be played if permitted. There is no limit to how many action cards you can play as long as you have cards to permit additional actions. One person can play all the action cards in their deck and accumulate 30 treasures - but their turn would have lasted half a century. However, if you can do this and have more action cards to play - DO IT, use everything on the table to your advantage.

Although the point of the game is to gain the most victory points, victory points are useless at the start of the game because they cannot be used. You do not want to fill your hand with cards you can't use. One mistake many people make is to buy as many victory cards as they can as soon as possible. However, with every draw you only get five cards, you are handicapped if you have a hand of 3 victory cards and 2 treasure or action cards in your hand. The trick is to accumulate enough treasure to buy the larger victory cards such as the Province, this ONE card is worth SIX victory points. So instead of having six Estate (worth 1 victory point) cards in your deck you simply have one Province card. Needless to say the Province card is highly coveted (and very expensive). Having few cards with high value is much preferred to having lots of cards of little value. Curse cards are negative points, they count against you at the end of the game. 1 curse card = -1 victory card.

The game ends when all of the Province cards are gone or when three sets of Kingdom cards are gone. When you notice the Kingdom cards are going fast or the Province cards are almost gone - now is the time to stock up on victory cards because the game is about to end. At this point, you want to buy any victory cards you can afford (however, at any point in the game, if you can afford to buy a Province - DO IT!). When the game ends, organize your deck, total your victory cards, subtract your curse cards, and declare a winner!

Expansion packs are also available. Expansion packs are great for re-vamping your pool of Kingdom cards or raising the stakes. The Prosperity expansion pack includes treasures that are worth up to 5 monies, called a Platinum card. Prosperity also includes the ever so coveted Colony card. This card is worth 10, yes, 10 victory points!

Grab your friends, change up the game, and rule your Dominion!


July 21, 2010

Agricola by Z-Man Games

I have to say that there is nothing quite like spending a warm summer evening sipping iced tea, eating watermelon, and playing a strategic agriculture-based Eurogame with family and friends. Being a city girl through and through I was a bit slow on the uptake of the concepts of farming, building, and harvesting in Agricola, but once I got into the groove of the game it was fun and engaging.

Basically in Agricola you and your spouse have settled in a little wooden house on a piece of land, and your goal is to cultivate the land, raise animals, have kids, and make some home improvements. Each of these elements is worth victory points; moreover, you receive a penalties if you don't have some of everything. The game works in phases, each one allowing you opportunities to take new actions (plant a field, acquire livestock, build a fence etc.) and each phase ends in a harvest when you will be expected to reap the fruits of your labor and have enough food to feed your family. The game ends at the end of the final harvest phase, and the player with the most victory points wins.

It was highly entertaining to watch the strategies my friends and family tried to use. For example, my younger brother decided that it would be beneficial for him to expand his house and have more kids so that they could help "work" the farm (the number of actions you can take on your turn directly corresponds to how many family members you have) but he was always in a wild panic come harvest time because he would not have enough food to feed his giant family. His stress increased as harvest came sooner and sooner with each phase of the game, but he was always able to barely scrape by. I hope that this is not a reflection of how he will provide for his real family in the future.

Overall, we all enjoyed the game. It was the first time playing for most of us, so from explanation of the rules to declaration of the winner it took a little over 3 hours to complete the game. Hopefully the next time we play we'll be able to take faster turns and the game will move along more quickly. As the manufacturer recommends, this game would be best for ages 12+ due to it's pace and the amount of reading involved.

Below is the picture of our actual game. Please excuse the random food and napkins :)




June 09, 2010

Great Games for Travelling

Summer is almost here and so is the peak travel season. One of my favorite vacations is driving to the Oregon coast and renting a beach house that we share with friends. We usually bring several games to play that add to the conversation and enjoyment of our relaxing weekend. Our friends also bring games so we have the chance to play something new.

Games can be a fun way to help you pass the time while travelling on a plane or train. Once you arrive at your destination they can be played on a picnic table by the lake, on a blanket by the campfire, or if it happens to rain, inside your tent or hotel room. Here are a few suggestions for games you might like to play this summer.

Carcassonne Travel Edition by Rio Grande Games is a down-sized, easy to carry version of the original game Carcassonne. The scoring track is cleverly printed on a cloth sack which is also used to carry all of the game pieces. This award winning game is not to difficult to learn and is enjoyed by a wide variety of personalities.

Cards are a classic travel game due to their size and the ability to play them in small places. For a fun, new twist on cards Fluxx by Looney Labs is a fast moving game with ever-changing rules. Fluxx games are usually short, lasting anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Fluxx comes in 3 variations – Family Fluxx, Eco Fluxx and the original Fluxx.

Another popular card game that we once observed being played on a train is Bohnanza from Rio Grande Games. This game is all about planting, trading, and selling beans to earn as much gold as possible to win the game. Your bartering skills will be put to the test!

For something a little more three-dimensional but still compact, Treehouse  by Looney Labs is a game of abstract strategy with a simple objective that can become challenging very quickly. This game with its colorful pyramids has over 200 variations of how to play so far, and new ways to play can be created on your own.

What games will you be playing on your summer vacation?

October 14, 2009

The Gardens of the Alhambra

I found that The Gardens of The Alhambra by Queen Games is the perfect game to play at the end of the day when I want to unwind and relax. It is not too intense or competitive and you can engage in pleasant conversation during the game without feeling like you are distracting yourself or the other players. The rules are not too complicated and can be learned in about 10 minutes. This is a good, simple game to play with family and friends and you can enjoy it even if you are not a "board game geek".

During the game players put down tiles on a board to create a visually soothing and beautiful garden complete with winding paths and four different colors of trees. Since lime green happens to be my favorite color, I particularly liked the overall light bright green color of The Gardens of the Alhambra game pieces.

The idea of the game is to lay down tiles to maximize your points and minimize the points of your fellow players. Each player is represented by one of four different kinds of trees - orange, lemon, lavender or palm. If you can plant more of your own trees than other players trees around the highest point markers this is of great advantage, but you don't want too many of your own trees since tree variety also multiplies the number of points found on the markers. The player with the most points when the garden is finished wins the game.

Good for 2-4 players, 10 years old and up (this game would also be suitable for younger players if they know basic multiplication and math skills or are playing with someone else who does). Playing time is about 45 minutes to one hour. If you like games that involve tile placement you might also enjoy playing Carcassonne by Rio Grande Games or Metro by Queen Games.

September 23, 2009

Shear Panic!

When I first saw Shear Panic! by Mayfair Games with its cute Wallace-and-Gromit-esque game pieces, I thought it must be a game for children. Shortly after beginning to play, however, I discovered that this strategy game is designed with both adults and young adults in mind and is a good choice for a game night with family and friends.

A flock of sheep including two for each player and one independent black sheep, push, jostle, slide and turn to get to the highest scoring positions in the flock. The highest scoring position changes during each of the four phases of the game. During the first phase the goal is to flock your own sheep together and scoring occurs during each player's turn. During the second phase all of the sheep turn their attention to the handsome, red rose carrying Roger the Ram. When the marker that tracks the progress of the game reaches specific points, the sheep closest to Roger score the most points. The third phase is similar to the first phase, only now the goal is to be next to the black sheep in the flock. In the final phase, sheep are mercilessly pulled out of play to be sheared. The longer you can avoid the shearer, the more points you will gain.

Each player is limited to 12 different moves, so you may want to save your most powerful moves for higher scoring phases two and four of the game. My favorite moves are the "lamb slam" where one of your sheep gets to move in any direction pushing all of the sheep that get in its way, as well as the "ewe turn" that rotates all of the flock 90 degrees to the left or the right. This can either really mess things up or provide instant benefits during phases two and four, since Roger and the Shearer also get moved to their proper position in front or back of the flock.

I played this game with a group of four and found that even with the most careful thought as to your strategy, with each player's move unexpected events would occur and sometimes even huge reversals as to who had the best positions in the flock. This helped to keep the game fun, interesting and balanced and prevented any one player from dominating the game. I would imagine that a two player game would be somewhat different and would even allow a bit more control over your strategies. This game is suitable for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up. I'm definitely looking forward to playing Shear Panic! again at our next game night!

September 01, 2009

The Settlers of Catan


One night be phone rang and when I picked up my cousin said, "Hey. Come over and play this nerdy board game with us!" and looking for an excuse to nurture my inner nerd I agreed to go. When I arrived I saw what looked like a really complicated game being set up. My cousin was in the corner with the instructions, brows furrowed and shouting random things about the game to us as we inspected all the various parts and pieces. Needless to say that we were not experts at strategic Eurogames, but I had heard that The Settlers of Catan was a good place to start so we set up, sat down, and started to play.

Catan is a game based on strategic placement of settlements, roads, and cities with the goal of acquiring resources to build more settlements, roads, and cities. A specific number of victory points are attached to each item (1 for settlement, 2 for city) and points can also come from other places (like having the Longest Road or the Largest Army) and the first person to 10 victory points wins. Gathering resources proved to be a game of chance and strategy as the roll of the dice determines what resources are to be collected, but the placement of your buildings determines whether or not you get to cash in on the roll. My first two settlements were both placed adjacent to Wheat fields both under the number "8" disks. So everytime an "8" was rolled I would get two wheat cards, and when I replaced one of those settlements with a city I would get three (having a settlement gets you one card, having a city gets you two). Inadvertently I had monopolized the Wheat market which proved to be quite useful when bartering.

The true character of your friends and family really comes out during trading. Those who are demanding and stingy usually make enemies pretty quickly, but their ruthlessness can end in victory. Those who are too generous usually get walked all over, but they worry less about getting stabbed in the back. I was careful not to make enemies too quickly, but I did do one pretty vicious play that gave me quite a rush.

In the game there is a robber who not only steals half of your cards but also camps out on your resources and prevents you from collecting. When a player rolls a 7 everyone with 8 or more cards loses half their cards, and the player gets to move the robber wherever they wish. In addition there are knight cards that allow you to move the robber and to steal a card from the adjacent settlement or city. Towards the end of the game my brother and I rolled a 7 (we played on teams since there were so many of us) and negotiated that we wouldn't move a robber to a certain place if that team (who was winning) would give us some absurd amount of ore, then we immediately used the knight to move the robber to that spot and took another card from them. Mean, huh? Well, they won anyways so don't feel too bad for them.

Overall we throughoughly enjoyed the game, and even though the rules are more complicated than your typical "roll and move" board game it is easy to catch on once the game gets going. We've "settled Catan" a couple of times since then, and even though I may not know much about Eurogames, I have to say I have joined the masses that adore playing The Settlers of Catan.


June 02, 2009

Carcassonne Board Game

Carcassonne Board Game

The popular board game Carcassonne by Rio Grande Games is an excellent way to introduce yourself to Eurogames. The object of the game is to build roads, cities, fields and cloisters by drawing tiles, to control what you build with your game pieces or "meeples", and then to build as large as you can to gain the most points. Your success in the game is partly based on strategy and partly based on what random tiles you happen to draw. During one recent game, I was able to build a huge city worth a lot of points, but could not draw the one tile I needed to complete it - argh!

Part of the appeal of Eurogames are their well-designed and appealing game pieces. The well-illustrated tiles included with Carcassonne are based what you would see if you visited the medieval southern French city of Carcassonne. This ancient walled city lies on the banks of the River Aude and its 52 towers and 2 rings of town walls makes it a popular destination for travelers. Carcassonne has no game board - as players draw and place tiles during play they create their own unique game board with medieval cities and surrounding countryside.

The game takes about one hour to play, and is suitable for players ages 8 and up. The standard edition of the game is good for 2 to 5 players, but if you like more strategy and less randomness, then you will likely prefer this game with 2 players. With the addition of the Inns and Cathedrals expansion the game can accommodate up to 6 players.

The most difficult part of the game is learning how to keep score. Score is counted for cities, roads and cloisters that are completed during the play of the game. Once these are completed, a player's game piece or "meeple" is returned to its owner. All fields are scored at the game's end. 

If you like Carcassonne, there are several expansions available that add new rules, tiles and figures to the game. Many of these are compatible with each other and can be played together. 

This is an excellent game for friends and family that is simple to learn and moves along fairly quickly during play. You don't have to think too hard to play it, so even your friends that are not game-geeks will like it. Carcassonne won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) award in 2001 and is on its way to becoming a classic.

November 04, 2008

Family Fluxx by Looney Labs

Family Fluxx

If you are like me, you don't have much patience for reading through pages of rules to learn how to play a game, instead you prefer to jump right into it and learn the ropes as you go. So when I first opened the box of Family Fluxx and found that this game only has one rule I was intrigued: draw 1 card and then play 1 card. I think I can handle that, but is it any fun??

The first time I played, the game lasted only about 3 minutes, with my opponent drawing the one card from my hand that would make me win the game. I wondered why the box said that the game lasts from 2-30 minutes, so I guess I got my answer. The second time I played, the game went on for about 1/2 hour. This time frame, plus the compact size of the game itself and the fact that as few as 2 players can play, makes this a very fun way to spend a lunch break!

The only thing that remains the same about Fluxx is that it is always changing! New Rule Cards are constantly played that can void the old rules and in an instant turn the game in your favor or maybe even your opponent's favor. Action Cards affect what happens on one player's turn, and Keeper Cards can help you win. The goal of the game changes each time a new Goal Card is played and there are 17 different ways to win. I found this game to be a great diversion and an upbeat way to spend a modest amount of time.