Sunday, October 29, 2006

Games at work

I of course mean card and board games, not power games. Well, card games only at this point.

I work in a now-small office. There's less than a dozen people actually physically at the office at any given moment, and all of them are part of different groups than I. Between conflicting meetings and folks eating lunch from home at their desks, scheduling is a bit tricky. So is enticing people to play games- these guys are the quiet sort of engineers. I know that other people's offices (Dan, I'm talking to you), the folks take regular lunch at the same time, so working in a lunchtime game is relatively easy.

Since my last abortive attempt at bringing games to the office, I toned down my offerings to a single game- Category 5 (BGG, BUY ME!). Why this one? Well, it's a card game that fits in a standard two-deck tuckbox, so it's not intimidating with a board or foreign languages or wooden bits that could go up one's nose. Because it's a points game, you can play either one round or to a predetermined number of points, like Spades or Hearts. It can play well with two up to ten players. It's quick and has a definite end to the game, with a good emphasis on tension and choice with just a dash of screw-thy-neighbor. It also retails for ten bucks or less, so it would make for a good inexpensive gift.

This fine game had been very well received at game days and has served quite well for light coffeeshop fare. It's my current go-to filler and gateway game. As a matter of fact, after two days of teatime (yes, teatime- one of my office mates is a limey) Category 5, the game was asked for on day three. Having a non-gamer ask to play a game- Chalk up a success for the home team!

Day one's success even prompted one of my other office mates to bring Cheater (BGG), a game I had heard about through one of the 'Geek Math Trades. Its premise sounds interesting enough: players are trying to collect a set of cards, but one player is the "Cheater" and can break the rules of the game. When described like that, it sounds like the great Cosmic Encounter. I had high hopes.

I happened to come into the office a bit late and ran into four of the office crew already playing a game, so I was only able to observe. In a few minutes, I sussed out that it was not the game for me and I took it off my BGG want list. It's basically a rummy game, and we know how much I love rummy games- that is to say, not at all. When playing a rummy game, I find myself left with needing a single card to win and having nothing to do but wait for that card. Should someone else turn it up on their turn, you have few options left to you. With so few options on your turn, rummy generally is not my idea of fun.

Here's what makes Cheater interesting. Normally, a player draws the top card off the draw pile and plays a card from their hand, either a special action card or a simple discard of a non-needed card. The Cheater can: draw two discard two, draw one from the discard pile discard one, or draw one from another player's revealed hand. Truly a good amount of stab-thy-neighbor here. Now to the ultimate question- how to become Cheater?

You roll for it.

Yep, that's it. First thing you do is roll two six-sided dice; doubles makes you the Cheater. Only one player can have the Cheater card, and if the Cheater rolls doubles, they lose Cheater power. Never mind that (as I understand it) the chances of rolling doubles on 2d6 is 1 in 6, the same as a single die rolling a single number. It's an added level of randomness that seems so American in design - and don't I feel snobbish?

After watching the game complete, my coworkers asked me my opinion. I gave it to them: I'm not a big fan of rummy games, but it looks like the game could use some improvement to make it more fun. No, I wasn't the only one to criticize the game. The owner agreed with me that the game could run a little long. I threw out a few ideas on possible things to change.

Before lunch, the owner stopped by my cube with a notepad, and asked me what I thought about "Cheater TNG," then started his own ideas for changing and improving the game. Chalk up two for the home team!

What gateway games are good for lunchtime play?


Dan said...

Currently, my lunch time included playing Hey, That's My Fish with four players. Tip of the day: you can make that game just using poker chips and spare pawns.

That "American" math also appears in games like Darkness Falls on Sevinpold which I saw at Gen Con this year. At the beginning of that game the entire deck is placed a card at a time around the board. A location card is then added to the top of each one. When you character reaches a location on the main game board, you search for the that face down card and draw it. What the designer failed to realize is that has the same luck as just drawing from a deck of cards.

Marc Majcher said...

What gateway games are good for lunchtime play?


Especially if you're eating Chinese.