Board Game Summaries: Season 2, Part 4

I can’t believe it’s taken this long to do these two pivotal games!


catanCatan
– Also known as Settlers of Catan, this wildly popular game will see the players compete to colonise the isle of Catan, trading and arguing with each other to set up their burgeoning settlements.

 

 

pandemicPandemic – A co-operative game where the players will need to carefully plan their actions if they are to have any chance of conquering the diseases that are ravaging the planet!

 

 

European Games versus American Games

In boardgaming communities, you’ll often see people throwing about the terms ‘European’ and ‘American’ to describe a game’s style, and this site is no exception. However, these terms aren’t really useful unless you understand what to expect, so in this article I hope to elucidate some of the finer points of these two styles.

European (usually shortened to ‘Euro’) and American (sometimes disparagingly called ‘Ameritrash’) style games differ in three main ways – their approach to random chance, how conflict is handled and how big a role a game’s theme plays in its design. Frequently, a game will lend itself to being all one way or the other, but there’s nothing stopping a game from taking elements from both schools of thought – in fact, many of the best games out there do exactly this!

Chance

Chance often plays a part in both European and American games, but in different ways. Chance is an important part of games, as it ensures that unexpected situations can arise, generating new experiences with each play.

European games will typically use chance in setup and in round-to-round events, such as determining what resources are available and what actions may be taken. This allows players to plan their turns but ensures that each game will be different. Plans will require subtle changes as new situations unfold. An example of this is Scoville, where the recipe and sale cards are determined at the start of the game, and all players are able to take advantage of the same Auction cards.

American games often use chance to determine the outcome of a player’s actions. In this way, players will constantly adapt their plans, and turns of fortune will bring about unexpected and exciting situations! Eldritch Horror is an example of this, where the outcome of almost all events is decided by rolling dice.

Chance definitely has its place in gaming, as it can ensure that games stay unique and fresh. The European style tends to make any truly unexpected event impossible, which can be uninteresting to some. On the other hand, the American style makes it difficult to plan out your turns, and in some cases games will be won or lost on the back of a die roll.

Conflict

Conflict is a vital part of any game; without conflict, you may as well be playing by yourself. European and American games differ greatly on how conflict should be dealt with, and is one of the key aspects that differentiate the two styles of game.

A European-style game will usually have indirect conflict – players jostling over the same resources, racing to complete contracts or controlling areas without directly fighting each other. Ticket to Ride is a typical example of European-style conflict, where only one player can complete any given route and players will need to keep their opponents’ capabilities in mind.

In American-style games, conflict is more confrontational. Players will attack other players directly, causing their pieces to be removed from the board. In this way, players will be able to directly affect their opponents’ capabilities, and if one player is too strong, others will be able to gang up on them. Risk Legacy is a typical example of American-style conflict, with armies moving across the board and eliminating their opponents.

Sometimes, European games’ aversion to direct conflict can make them feel too solitary an experience, and in extreme cases the games can feel like there is no interaction between players whatsoever. On the flip side, the American approach can lend itself to player elimination, whereby players are removed from the game entirely. Unless the game itself is short and sharp, this is frustrating and dull for the eliminated players!

Theme

A game’s theme is what attracts people to playing it before they know anything about it. People will decide to play a game based on what it’s about and how it looks – a game in a plain box with painted cubes for pieces won’t get played nearly as much as a mechanically-identical game that claims to simulate an intergalactic conflict. European and American games both make use of this, but use that theme to inform how the game actually plays out in very different ways.

European-style games are designed around the gameplay mechanisms, and the theme takes a back seat to making sure the game plays well. It’s more about the intellectual exercise of performing as well as possible within the constraints of the game. As such, many European-style games are about relatively uninteresting topics such as farming or trading. Splendor is a prime example of this; you will need to plan your turns carefully if you want to win, and the game would mechanically identical whether you were trading gems or rallying armies.

American-style games try to evoke specific emotions when playing the game, and conveying a particular theme is the biggest selling-point of many American-style games! The important thing isn’t that you have an intricately-designed set of interlocking parts, it’s that you feel like you’re trying to survive in a Zombie apocalypse, fighting off an ancient world-devouring horror, or crushing Orc skulls while saving beleaguered peasants. Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example of American-style theme, where players are embroiled in the politics and paranoia of the hit TV show, not sure who they can trust.

Few people aspire to establishing a Renaissance-era postal service, but many love the idea of jumping into the shoes of their favourite characters and engaging in heroic deeds. However, American-style games often overcommit to providing theme, needing players to understand a range of fiddly rules that prevent games from being as elegant as their European counterparts, and in extreme cases the game’s balance can be adversely affected by the inclusion of one or more ‘thematic’ rules.

As you try different kinds of games, you’ll start to get a feeling for what you enjoy, and knowing the difference between these two styles will help you articulate what you like and don’t like in particular games – and with this, you’ll be better able to find the games you like, and people who like to play them with you!

Happy gaming!

Board Game Summaries: Season 2, Part 2

More board game summaries!  I finally have an internet connection at my new house so expect more frequent updates now!

Guess the Mess – A frantic party game where you’ll be scrambling to find pictures to match your clues.

Keyflower – A deceptively cutthroat game of building up a new settlement with coloured meeples who don’t play well with others.

Scoville – A light and colourful strategy game of pepper farming where you’ll be competing with other players to complete recipes and make trades.

Aaand we’re back!

I’ve recently moved back to my home town of Perth, Western Australia, and haven’t stopped playing boardgames since my last post back in May.  Since then, I’ve been trying new games, thinking about what to write about and how to improve the site, and so with that I announce Season 2 of Tea and Board Games!

In Season 2, I’ll be writing new summaries on around 50 games as well as articles on such important things as the statistics of shuffling, how to set the pace of your game day and other yet-to-be-determined topics (maybe an article that actually has something to do with tea??).  On top of that, I’ll improve the existing summaries by adding cross-links, topic pages and generally turning Tea and Board Games into a more useful resource for boardgaming.

So, watch this space!  Things are afoot.

Hiatus

I created Tea and Board Games three months ago with a very specific goal in mind – write 100 board game summaries over the space of three months, to supplement the board game flowchart I created back in January.

Now, that has been accomplished, and all things said I’m pretty happy with the end result!

However, continuing to create content for the blog is cutting into my professional and personal life a little too much for my tastes, so it’s with heavy heart that I am going to stop updating on a regular schedule.

The site will of course stay up, and I believe it is a valuable resource for anyone looking to get into board games.  In the future I may start it up again on a more regular basis, but for now I’m going to leave it be.  I will still update this as I find new things to write about and put together new board game summaries, but it won’t be at the pace I’ve maintained.

If you’ve stumbled across this site, I hope you find something here to enjoy.  Browse the flowchart and board game summaries, and discover the hobby of boardgaming; it’s well worth the journey!

Games for Groups: Part 2

Continuing on from last post (and again in increasing complexity, sort of), here are some more games that work well with 6 or more players!

Ca$h ‘n Guns

cash-guns

In Ca$h ‘n Guns (and yes, you do need to spell it with the dollar sign), you’ll take on the role of gangsters splitting the pot after a successful heist.  However, adrenaline, greed and firearms do not make the best bedfellows, and before you know it you’ll be threatening each other with bullet sandwiches – provided you actually loaded your weapon!

Ca$h ‘n Guns is easy to teach and there’s nothing quite like counting to three and seeing an arsenal of weaponry appear over the table, Mexican Standoff-style.  It can easily accommodate up to 8 players, and so makes a great choice for when you need something for more players.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

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One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a super-quick game that compresses the tension of a game of Werewolf into a single round, fraught with heated debate over the identities of the various players.  A single round will last only around 5 minutes, after which it’s easy to play another one.  There are a wide range of roles, and for everyone’s first game it’s probably best to only play the simpler roles – after that, throw them all in and see what happens!

Due to the short rounds and ability to cope with up to 10 players, One Night Ultimate Werewolf makes a great game to play when waiting for more serious games to start at a board game meetup.  The quick rounds guarantee that people won’t be left awkwardly waiting around for too long and it’s easy to include others after a quick demonstration.

The Resistance: Avalon

pic1398895_md

The Resistance: Avalon is a social deduction and traitor game that works well with 6 to 10 players, and is a great ice-breaker at board game meetups.  You’ll need to try to identify the traitors among your team – or, if you’re a traitor yourself, throw others off your scent!

The Resistance: Avalon includes a lot of variety in the box, with special roles to bring out once everyone knows the base game, and games typically take about half an hour.  If you like the idea of bluffing your way to victory, and need something that will play well with up to 10, this fits the bill.  Just make sure to remind everyone to get involved – there’s much more to the game when everyone’s hotly debating who they think the traitors are!

Space Cadets: Dice Duel

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Easily the heaviest game of this post, Space Cadets: Dice Duel is a tense dice-off between two teams of starship pilots.  It works best with 6 or 8 players – unfortunately, odd numbers don’t work terribly well, unless you don’t mind unbalanced teams.  You’ll be taking turns as quickly as you can roll the dice, and you’ll need to co-ordinate closely with your colleagues if you want to come out victorious!

Learning Space Cadets: Dice Duel can be difficult, and it helps to have an experienced player on hand to supervise for others’ first game. Playing without the Sensor station can also ease the difficulty curve.  However, if you’re willing to take the plunge, you’ll be surprised how intuitive the game is after you’ve taken the first few moves, and you’ll be frantically strategising with your colleagues before you know it.

Games for Groups: Part 1

For most games out there, the optimal number of players is somewhere between 3 and 5.  It’s why on the Board Game Flowchart, a good two thirds of games are in the ‘3 to 5 players’ category.  However, it’s not always the case that you can get that number of players – what frequently happens is that you invite a bunch of your friends to play board games, some of them won’t make it, some will, and you end up with a number of people and only one or two games that can actually accommodate them all.  Nobody is really willing to split off into smaller groups to play separate games because, hey, you’re all friends and you want to hang out!

Likewise, if you’re at a public gaming group, you want games where a lot of people can join in.  However, there’s a somewhat different set of problems here – it’s highly unlikely that more than a few people will know the rules of any game you choose to play.  Also, as soon as you start making a motion to start a game, a new person will probably walk in that needs to be incorporated into the group, making it necessary to put that game away and select another that works with the new number of players. So, it helps to have a good stable of games that work well no matter how many players you need to accommodate.

Games need a different set of qualities when you will be playing them with large numbers.  It’s difficult to teach complex rules to bigger groups, so they need to be relatively straightforward.  Games have a tendency to really stretch out when you have more players, so ideally they will have some form of simultaneous play mechanism, or for turns to be short enough that you don’t have to wait all that long until it’s your turn again.

So without further ado, here’s a handful of games that work excellently with 6 or more players, in increasing degrees of complexity.  This is by no means a definitive list, but it can provide some inspiration for those needing a game that works well with larger numbers, and I plan to have a few segments covering these sorts of games.  I won’t be including games that theoretically take 6 or more players, but nobody would ever play them with that many because it would take literally forever and drive all the players insane (I’m looking at you, Caverna).

Dobble/Spot It

Dobble

Dobble (or Spot It in the US) is an amazing reflex game that can be set up and taught in seconds – just take two cards, ask players to identify the common symbol, and they know everything they need to know!  It works great with any number and can easily accommodate more at the drop of a hat, allowing new players to just join in as they arrive.  It makes an excellent game for board game meetups, as there’s now no reason that everyone needs to sit around waiting for others to arrive – you can just join in!  According to the tin it goes up to 8, but there’s nothing really stopping you from going higher, apart from practicality.

Shadow Hunters

pic1215982_mdI haven’t written a summary on this one yet, but I will soon!  Shadow Hunters is a hidden role game where some players are Shadows (that is, monsters), some are Hunters, and others are neutral characters.  The Shadows are trying to kill the Hunters, the Hunters are trying to kill the Shadows, and each of the damn dirty Neutrals have their own unique agendas.

Shadow Hunters plays up to 8, and although it features sequential play, each player’s turn is usually lightning-quick – move somewhere, draw a card and play it, and attack a character if you want.  It encourages social interaction and has some light deduction, making it good for groups with fun reveals when you find out that the person you were attacking all game was actually your ally.  It’s light and contains lots of player conflict but nobody’s going to really take it too personally.  Its main drawback is that some of the anime art features improbably-breasted women, but that’s only on a handful of the cards and easily ignored.

7 Wonders

Contains Seven (7) Wonders! Well, until you get one of the expansions.

A staple of board game meetups, 7 Wonders fits the bill of an easily-taught game that has a deep enough strategy to interest players who have already played it before.  While it plays best with three, it can certainly be played with larger numbers – up to 7, of course – and its simultaneous play mechanism means that a game with 7 people is not likely to take all that much longer than a game with 3 or 4.  The more players you get in the game, the more random the game itself can feel, but there is still good scope for strategy and building up your empire.

It’s difficult to have a game with any real depth when you have 6 or more players, but 7 Wonders is a fine choice for these situations where something with a bit more substance is wanted.  Its main drawback is perhaps that it’s been too popular – many boardgamers have overplayed the base game and would rather play with expansions, and it’s difficult to teach all the extra expansion rules to those picking it up for the first time.

Evolution

pic2357588_mdIf 7 Wonders is played out in your group, Evolution makes a great substitute.  In Evolution, players take control of a number of prehistoric species, and can give them a range of adaptations by playing Trait cards on them, making them carnivorous, giving them the ability to evade enemies by climbing, giving them foraging skills and so on.  Players will collectively choose how much food is available in a general supply, then try to adapt their species in such a way that they can best survive, or at the very least, prevent other species from surviving!  The player who ends the game with the most points (calculated by how much food they eat, final species population and some other factors) is the winner!

What makes Evolution a great game for groups is that the rules are relatively easily explained, and the gameplay emerges as players start to understand how the cards interact.  A player may think herself safe with her climbing creature, until her opponent’s carnivorous creature develops the ability to climb and snacks on her species with impunity! Evolution works excellently with 6 as the game length is determined by how quickly the deck of Trait cards is depleted, and with more players, more of these will be drawn.  Furthermore, the rules allow players to perform their creature upgrades simultaneously, and after all players understand the options (which usually takes a round or two), they’ll be growing their species however they see fit.