Thursday, April 19, 2007

New intro to new gaming

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to game with a new guy. I'll call him Ed, for that was his name.

A guy in one of my gaming groups wanted to intro a bunch of games to his buddy, who had previously only been exposed to a very few of this new style of board games. Admittedly, they were good "gateway" games: Blokus (BGG, BUY ME!), Carcassonne (BGG, BUY ME!), Chess (BGG, WP), Liar's Dice (BGG, BUY ME!), Poker (BGG, WP), and Settlers of Catan (BGG, BUY ME!). There's nothing wrong with these games, even though I prefer nickel-dime-quarter poker to Texas Hold 'em (geography not withstanding), and I've played enough Settlers in the past that I generally don't need to play it in the present, and I've always been a little lukewarm with Carcassonne, and I've lately played more Four-Handed Chess- that's partnership chess with four sets of chessmen on one board, not Bughouse.

Arguably, a gateway game only serves its purpose for a limited amount of time; eventually, one must put such games behind oneself and move on to play other games.

When selecting the menu for the day, I had to pick games that could handle six players, and that I knew well enough to teach on the fly- moreover, I didn't know our host at all, so I needed to pick games with a high "fun" factor, with enough of a dash of deeper potential if need be. Once arriving, I laid out every game I brought and gave a quick one minute elevator pitch of each, then all six of us took turns picking a game to play.

I chose the first game to hit the table: No Thanks (BGG, BUY ME!), which has been pretty popular on Mondays after a relatively recent introduction. It's deviously simple, with barely two or three rules and can be played in about ten minutes. You can make your own, but I fully support buying the game. It's ten bucks retail, folks. I also attest to the greater likelihood of seeing a game plays if it looks more professional or otherwise legit- particularly with No Thanks, which is so deceptively simple.

The object of the game is to not take points. You've got a deck of cards numbered three to thirty-five, but nine have been removed randomly. Cards are points; points are bad. But if you collect a sequence, only the lowest card counts. So a 4 and a 5 only counts for four points; likewise a 23 and a 25 (48 total for the kids at home), can be reduced to only 23 points if the 24 is in the deck. On your turn, flip the top card of the deck and you have one decision: do you want the card? If so, take it. Otherwise, put one of your eleven chips on it and your turn is over. Whoever takes the card gets the points- as well as all the chips on it. If you have no chips, you must take the card. At the end of the game, chips are good, subtracting from your total points. Lowest score (negatives are possible) wins. Overall, a good filler to kick things off.

The next game selected was Die Mauer (BGG, BUY ME!), a longtime favorite mind-reading wall-building game. (Susie was always scary good at this game.) If you have a decent enough collection of Lego, you can make your own set- but the wood is so much nicer.

The object of the game is to get rid of your pieces by building the wall- everyone has the same set of game components, five wall sections of different lengths plus a gate and a tower. Walls go next to anything, but the towers and gates must have a wall on each side; you can't build 'em next to each other. Each turn, someone gets to be the Master Builder and everyone else must try and guess what section the Baumeister wants to add to the wall. Guess right, and you can build outside of your turn. Guess wrong, and only the Master Builder gets to build. There's also the bid of "empty fist," a sort of wild card for the Master Builder. If nobody else guesses it, then the M.B. builds anything. If exactly one other person guesses empty fist, they donate a piece of their choice to the Master Builder. I also just discovered that we've missed a rule after all these years- the donation is done in secret.

Every time I play my copy, I think of Judson's Katrina-destroyed copy and the set I bought him to replace it.

Speaking of blasts from the past, Kill Doctor Lucky (BGG, BUY ME!) also got some game. There's not better intro to this than the Cheapass tagline: "Why do all mystery games start just after all the fun is over?" Everyone wants to kill the good doctor for their own reasons- it's part of the fun to determine why you want to off the dottering old codger. About half of the card deck is movement cards for either yourself of J. Robert Lucky, the other half are various weapons and failure cards. The trick is that the failure cards, once played, are out of the game- so eventually someone will be successful. The biggest, baddest death is the Monkey's Paw in the Foyer for a whopping 8 points of damage, but I prefer the absurdity of the Tight Hat or the Civil War Cannon, or even the Loud Noise. It's also fun to say "with the Pinking Shears in the Lancaster room!"

We played with (a possibly incorrect learning of the) Spite rules now present in the super-deluxe edition, and the game dragged a bit. I'm pretty sure that it just needed a tweak or two, perhaps even the actual rules for play.

At this point, someone needed to break out the Jungle Speed (BGG, BUY ME!), which remains awesome, even catching the eye of our host's wife's friend. It's fun, I promise! I forgot to ask about colorblindedness, so after one or two rounds we broke out Jungle Speed Flower Power (BGG, IMPORT FROM FRANCE) which has no color match. That edition is full of weird shapes that nobody has yet to really master.

As for J-Speed in general- I'm getting slow in my old age. Just means I need more practice.

Speaking of killer fun — Ca$h'n Gun$ (BGG, BUY ME!), baby. Cash and Guns. Mexican Standoff, the board game- complete with foam pistols and an all-but-required smacktalk phase- it's everything you think it is, except one of the advanced games has super powers and the other has an undercover cop. Looks like the forthcoming English edition has bright orange pistols- it's hard to say for sure until it goes cardboard.

I only played one game of this, then sat out so that Ed's wife could play- which was hysterically awesome when her cut of one pot was $50,000- no small sum- in the same game where Chad died in the first round.

Hats off to Chris of Seaborn Games for introducing this to me.

I cracked the seal on my new Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!) deck this day, too. My original dirty and beat-up copy now lies in the hands of Andre, who will likely take it to Iowa in a few months and proceed to school the other law students there. If you've ever played Pit (BGG, BUY ME!), then you know the basis for this real-time stock-trading game of madness and shouting. Wheedle adds a bit of strategy and more choices to be made, plus a tad better graphic design, and the scoring actually makes sense. This is a great crowd-pleaser, very well suited for non-gamers (Read: Buy this for the next time you go home for the holidays or a family reunion or office party).

I'm generally very good at this game, but sometimes the plebeians I play with are all in confederacy against me by the last hand and refuse to trade. Schmucks. But they still ask for this game... perhaps they even do a bit of wheedling in order to see it played.

This is yet another Judson game, for those keeping score.

Category Five (BGG, BUY ME!) also hit the table, and was relatively well-received. I love the tension in the game, which makes me come back to it again and again.

Once again, points are bad in a deck of cards numbered from one to 104. Each card has a certain number of points on it, either 1, 2, 3 or 5 or the single card with 7 points. Everyone simultaneously selects one card out of an initial hand of ten, then all are revealed and played out into one of four rows according to four rules: The cards must always increase. If you play a card lower than the last card in all rows, you take a row of your choice and your card is the new leader. If your card could go into more than one row, it must go into the largest row. Finally, if our card would be the sixth card in a row, you take the five cards and your card is the new leader. Pretty simple, but there are some truly difficult choices to be made each game. Admittedly, I like this game so much partly because of this effect- it's not one I can readily duplicate.

Unless everyone wants to play again, I usually only suggest playing one hand, instead of several hands to a set number of points. Nobody has yet to score more points than my record-breaking 47 in one round several months back, though.

I've got to try some of the included variants at some point.

As a change of pace, New Guy Nick taught us all Sheepshead (BGG, WP), a bizarre little German partnership trick-taking game that's popular in Wisconsin. I had heard of it a week ago and read the article on Wikipedia, but the game didn't click until we played it. It's a little reminiscent of the Italian game Briscola (BGG, WP) in terms of card values, but the similarities end there. Sheepshead has 14 trumps out of a deck of 32. The zero-sum scoring makes much more sense to me when I picture drunk German immigrants putting coins into the pot to determine who buys the next round.

Nick taught us five-handed Sheepshead, though variants exist for different numbers of players. For six, one person sits out and deals. Interestingly, partners are secret and not balanced: two to three.

I liked this quite a bit, though I lost most after the final scores were tallied. This is definitely going to see more play over time.

I can't remember who chose For Sale (BGG, BUY ME!) , but we played it next. Normally, folks compliment my skill at teaching and explaining games and look forward to hearing my patter for a particular game. As much as I enjoy this auction game, I have yet to be able to pitch it well. Folks warm up to it in the middle of the first game, and sometimes ask for a second once they grok what's going on. Maybe I just need to deal a sample hand or two.

For Sale consists of two thirty-card decks of cards and a stack of money. One deck is properties, from 1 (the cardboard box in an alley) to 30 (the SPACE STATION!). The other deck is checks, two each of 2-15 plus a VOID check that's worth nothing. In the first phase of the game, players bid on property cards, which they then use in the second phase of the game to bid on checks. The most money wins.

It's not an easy game to pitch for me. Trust me though, it's a good filler that plays in 20-30 minutes, works with 3-6 players, and has a high replay value if you like bidding games.

The last boardgame we played was Heimlich & Co (BGG, BUY ME!), which I remember enjoying very much in the past. It didn't fly very well with the crowd, and I think it's my fault for not playing with the advanced rules for guessing other player's secret identities. I think it would be better with 5 players. I haven't played the new edition with its addition of special cards.

After that, I learned to play Ping-Pong (seriously) and lost horribly at pinball.

Overall, this was a smashing success. Here's hoping this list of games will help someone else introduce new players into the hobby and kick the Yahtzee/Bunco/Monopoly/Farkle habit! Friends don't let friends play bad games.


Phil said...

Hey, if you're going to greathall tonight, bring that builder one, it seems interesting.

majcher said...

You should totally make this post a permanent addition to your sidebar. Good stuff.

John Gravitt said...

It's not just the games, Misha. You bring a lot of enthusiasm and that's infectious and useful to introduce gamers as well.