Filling up the Corners: Christmas Edition

It’s that time of year, my favorite time of year to be exact. Although Christmas is barreling towards us as I type this, I wanted to just share a few tabletop games that have hit some strong notes for me and various people in my life. Read on to find out what has made the list in this Christmas Edition of Filling Up the Corners! (Part 1)

The list you are about to read is rather informal/casual. As I was coming up with the article, I thought about the different types of gamers (and non-gamers) that I regularly hang out with. Some have come to game nights, others have requested I bring games, others have (probably)reluctantly played a game or two with me and come out the other side with an enjoyable experience. The point is, there’s a lot of different people in my circle of friends and so I figured a list highlighting what games have resonated with those people would be insightful for those still looking to get a last minute gift or two.

 

Games with Mom:

This section had to come first for me. As a quick note, my mother is the entire reason I entered into this hobby. Aside from Magic: The Gathering, I had pretty much abandoned most things nerd, only dedicating myself to the aforementioned card game, a few video games, and the occasional RPG session. A few years ago my mom said, “we should start a game night so my brain doesn’t get old.” I took note of what she said and after a trip to Barnes and Noble she and I began compiling a list of games to get. After Christmas Day that year, we had played many games of Blokus, Lords of Waterdeep, and many others. So yeah, it’s all her fault. Okay. Cheezy stuff out of the way. Let’s get to it!

Lords of Waterdeep

Seeing as I just name dropped this game it made sense to introduce it first. Most of you have probably heard of it. It’s a worker placement game set in a D&D Universe where players are the (as the title suggests) Lords of the town of Waterdeep. Players will send their workers throughout the city, gathering up cubes of different colors (orange for warriors, purple for wizards, etc.) to fulfill various quests from exterminating some sewer rats to overthrowing a nearby warlord. It’s basically a set collection game with worker placement mechanics. The quest cards (you complete by collecting the right combination of cubes) do provide some interesting rewards that can combo off of each other, as can the “intrigue” cards that may be played for unique effects that usually affect other players. The last major component is that your “Lord” is made secret to the other player. Are you the Lord who specializes in Skullduggery quests? Or are you the Lord who wants to own the most buildings? It adds just the right amount of guessing that thematically fits the game and makes things all the more interesting.

What I like about it is that the theme resonated with me, the fantasy elements hooked me in, and the gameplay was just in-depth enough to get my brain working. On my mom’s side (and that of my girlfriend and a few other friends), the theme was less engrossing but the gameplay was easy enough to pick up and be just as enjoyable. For my friends who were able to pick up the mechanics a little easier, they found finding the combos and other strategies just as much enetraining as I did. This game often comes up as one of the better “gateway” games into our hobby and I couldn’t agree more.

Hive

When I still lived at home, my mom, my girlfriend, and myself were usually the ones playing games. It’s been some years since then and so when I visit sometimes it’s just me and my mother. That means we get more 2-player games to the table than 3+ player games. She had picked up Hive early on into our Board Game journey and we soon found it a pleasant and engaging 2-player game.

Each player has a “Queen Bee” tile. Quick note – the tiles are of an amazing quality. They’re big, chunky, and plastic/ceramic(?) -I’m not entirely sure- which means they can hold up in many, many environments. Okay, back to the game. Both players have a selection of tiles in their color representing various insects from beetles to spiders and so on. Placing tiles adjacent to each other (starting with the “Queen Bee”), players will make their way towards the opponents Queen Bee with the goal of eventually trapping it. Each insect has their own way of moving, much in the guise of chess, but instead of just worrying about directional changes, some pieces can climb up and across the board off the backs of bugs while others can wrap around huge numbers of tiles, making an aggressive move for the Queen Bee. Hive is a simple game to learn but can be fun (if not difficult) to master. It’s a fun game to play with loved ones, but be wary, just like Chess, it can be a bit cutthroat, especially if one player is rather competitive. Other than that, it’s affordable, easy to take with you, and the travel version is even better for on-the-go gaming.

Sushi Go!

I love drafting. Once I experienced my first draft in Magic: The Gathering, I knew it was something I would always want to do. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there were entire games that took advantage of the mechanic. It didn’t take long for me to grab Sushi Go! I love Sushi (as does my mother) and the art was adorable (which would also resonate with my girlfriend). It had drafting, which was a major plus for me, but the basic set collection goal of the game was easy to pick up for my mother. Though she enjoyed games like 7 Wonders she would often times find one or two of the mechanics too confusing. Sushi Go! proved to be a great little filler game that would scratch my drafting itch while providing a great gaming experience for me and my mother.

Games with Significant Others:

A lot of these games could just as easily be found in the “Games with Mom” section. Usually my girlfriend was around for the games mentioned above, and she enjoyed many of those games as well. Still, when you’re trying to game with someone you already spend a great deal of time around, the games you play might be difficult to choose, especially if that person isn’t a gamer.

Blokus

My girlfriend loves spatial element games, tile laying games, or anything that has a true “puzzle” aspect to it. Blokus was a game she had picked out that she, my mother, and I would play quite a bit. It was their game of choice after they played a string of my games. It wasn’t my favorite game, as it’s not my style, but it was still pretty enjoyable. If you want to get competitive about it, there’s also plenty of fun to be had here as well.

There are 4 colors, red, green, blue, and yellow. In a 4-player game these are designated to each player. In a 2-player game, each individual picks a pair of colors and places them on the corners closest to where they are seated. Resembling Tetris pieces, each set of tiles contains various patterns, all composed of little squares. Each player, in turn order, will place one of their tiles adjacent to a previous tile of their own. The caveat is that tiles of the same color can only touch on the corners, never sharing a whole side. Play continues until each player slowly runs out of space. At the end of the game, when no tiles can be played, the player with the most points wins (with points being subtracted based on what tiles you have left in your reserves). What’s neat about the tiles is that not only can like colors not share a side, but different colors don’t have to worry about the rule. And so you find tiles winding around each other and squeezing through tiny gaps, trying to get the most out of the tight real estate. Like Hive, it’s a neat, fun little game with a nice colorful theme that can feel very brutal when players choose to go all-in on winning.

Paperback

Where Sushi Go! was my way of sneaking drafting into gaming with my mom, Paperback was the exact same thing for deckbuilders. I had heard about the game several months after getting into the hobby and limited availability kept me from getting it until about a year ago. I remember telling my girlfriend and mother about it, knowing they would enjoy the word-building aspect of the game. Instead of deckbuilding for the sake of building a civilization or destroying an opponent, players in Paperback are deckbuilding in order to create more intricate words by stringing together a number of letter cards.

Every turn a player will make a word using the cards in their hand and a few other variables in the play area. Depending on the word (typically the length of the word), an amount of currency will be earned that can be used to purchase more letters from a central marketplace. Not only does the simple act of buying newer letters open up more spelling possibilities, but many of the purchased cards offer powerful effects after using them as the first letter in a word or making sure your word has a certain number of letters all in order. They may get you more money, earn more points, or draw more cards in later turns. The game continues like this until one of the two game clocks runs out. On one side of the board is an arrangement of vowel cards layered on top of each other. Whatever the top letter is may be used in all spellings. So if an “O” is showing, then any player can incorporate that “O” when spelling a word. Every time a player spells a word with a certain number of letters, they earn that card and a new vowel is revealed, and the requirement to earn the next card gets more difficult. The other game clock involves piles of wild cards that can represent any letter. The downside to these is that they offer no currency for purchasing cards, though they do provide victory points towards your end game scoring. If two of the piles of wilds are ever depleted, the game ends.

Paperback is a fun game and the theme is great for drawing in a more casual crowd. Gamers who either enjoy the scrabble-like theme, or who can look past it, will find a surprisingly difficult, but still satisfying, game with mechanics that you can sink your teeth into. The game can also be played competitively or cooperatively. Though I’ve never tried the game with its co-op rules, there is a variant that rewards players for assisting their opponents in spelling a word during a competitive match. This encourages a healthy type of competition and is, honestly, a great way to boost one’s vocabulary. Also worth nothing is that there are some cards in the game that seem rather nasty (that steal cards from other players or remove them from their deck). You can simply remove these cards from the game to make a more friendly experience. I’ve never used those cards and have never felt the need to bring them back in. The game is difficult enough as it is to have someone steal a crucial letter from you.

Paperback great and while it may be in the section of games to be played with Significant Others, it has worked exceptionally well with everyone who has sat down to play. It also has a very cute and unique box design (it’s designed to look like a book on a shelf) and takes up very little space. Oh, and it’s quite affordable as well. Go get it.

Patchwork

This was a game that I heard about briefly on the Blue Peg, Pink Peg Podcast and it immediately appealed to me as a strictly 2-player game my girlfriend and I could enjoy. The theme is pretty irrelevant, but to quickly summarize it you are trying to build a quilt using patches around a central board, and the pieces are very similar in shape to those in Blokus. Most of the pieces have one or two costs associated with them. The easiest to understand are the “buttons.” If you go to take a piece that has 3 buttons on it, you have to pay 3 buttons to grab it and place it on your own board. The other is an hourglass symbol and represents the game’s clock, or rather your own personal clock. If the piece you want to purchase has a 2 next to the hourglass symbol then you must move your own pawn (on the central board) 2 spaces towards the end. Both players continue doing this until their respective pawns have reached the end.

Throughout the game players will be managing how much “time” they have left, while also leapfrogging off each others’ pawns (another mechanic you can take advantage of, especially when there’s no piece nearby that you want to take). Much like Blokus, points are deducted based on how many spaces you have left unfilled on your personal board. Unlike Blokus, however, Patchwork rewards you for the amount of buttons you collect with the chance for extra points by being the first person to achieve a 7×7 grid. Though you may not think it, the game goes far beyond “how can I make this piece fit?” and is, much to my surprise at least, more revolved around the time/button choices you make when purchasing a piece. Do I take this piece and accelerate towards the end? Or do I take this piece that ultimately does little for my board but leaves my opponent with worse options? There’s a wealth of fun, albeit sometimes difficult, choices in this game that makes it very worth the relatively low price point. I haven’t played any other Uwe Rosenburg games, but I’m extremely happy to have picked this up.

Games with one Friend:

This usually happens when we are waiting for the whole group arrive. In my life, what we’re waiting for is a night out to dinner or a movie, or maybe (sometimes) a more involved board game. Many of my friends play Magic: The Gathering, and in respect to their interests (and considering I was very much into the game a few years ago) I will play a game or two. Every now and then another game will come out, and these are some of the highlights.

BattleCon

I have talked about BattleCon before. It is still one of my favorite 2-player games out there. Lvl99 Games designs games that are fun in concept, theme, design, etc. BattleCon is not exactly the name of the game but rather the fighting system that is designed to emulate arcade fighting games like Street Fighter or Tekken. All of the games released thus far are set in the Indines universe and have similar titles (Trials of Indines, Devastation of Indines, War of Indines, etc). Though this game will sing for fans of fighting games, I am pleased to say it will shine for anyone who enjoys a good 2-player battle of wits, because that’s exactly what this game is.

Like any fighting game, BattleCon starts out with each player choosing a character. That character comes with basic fighting moves that are shared across the board with the other characters. Each character can punch, swing, dash, jump, etc. These are called “bases” and have names like grab, throw, dash, and shot. Every character is, of course unique, and how they deliver these attacks is different from one fighter to the next. These are represented in cards called “styles” and each fighter comes with a number of these along with their bases. While the base cards have no left border, the styles have no right border, and so together they make a full attack. One character might create an attack called Petrifying Shot, while another character, who is also using a shot, has a different attack called Stalwart Shot. Once a pair is chosen, players reveal their moves simultaneously. Priorities are decided and characters will begin to duck, dodge, and swing their way to victory. Attacks will miss, traps will be triggered, epic moves will be thwarted with a sneaky retreat, and more. It’s perhaps one of the most elegant and involved game of Rock, Paper, Scissors you could ever play, though I admit calling it anything close to that game would be extremely understating it.

BattleLore

This is definitely not a game you play while waiting for others to arrive, unless your soon-to-be opponent has arrived an hour or two ahead of the rest of the pack. If you have the time to set up the board, pick an army, and arrange your forces, BattleLore 2nd Edition is an engrossing game using the Commands and Colors system that makes you feel like the commander of a fantasy army.

You start the game with an army (the game comes with two different factions). Once you pick your army the board is laid out and players pick a scenario, which is represented in a deck of cards (one for each army). The scenario portrays one half of the board (your half) and shows where some terrain is to be placed, where the rivers go, and so on. They usually provide effects or game winning objectives as well. While you are making this decision your opponent is doing the same. After the scenarios are picked they are revealed simultaneously and the board is set up, with each of your halves being unique and unknown to your opponent prior to the reveal. This means that every game will be different, from objectives, to terrain effects, to the very layout of the map. Even if you choose the same scenario over the course of multiple games you can’t guarantee your opponent will do the same. Then the players will secretly choose where their forces will be deployed, using small-sized cards. Using a point system to make sure armies are evenly matched, players will “buy” units and place their cards face-down on the spaces on their side of the board until they hit the spending limit (usually 50 points worth of units). Mixed among these cards are dummy cards so just because you are putting down a card doesn’t mean that there will be an army there. It’s a good way to keep your opponent guessing. The armies are then revealed, mini’s are placed out onto the board, and the battle begins.

That may sound like a set up but, to be fair, that’s part of the gameplay. While it may not be as exciting as directing an army of demons towards an unsuspecting group of archers, it is no less important to how your battle will be fought. Once the game begins, however, players will alternate turns issuing command cards. Typically the command cards will single out a section of the board (one of the thirds of the board) and a direction. The player may then pick a unit on the selected section and move it in that direction. So if a card says to move a unit on the left side, you may do so. That is essentially the gist of the game, though it gets much more in-depth than that. Some of the command cards offer special effects, allow you to activate multiple units, and more. Each unit has their own special ability and approach to how they fight. During combat, a special set of dice are rolled that have a pretty easy to understand hit/miss system. In addition to trying to land hits, however, die results may provide “BattleLore,” currency used to pay for special cards also in player’s possessions. These cards can recruit new units, sway the tide of a battle, repeat a turn, decimate a foe, etc. It’s a game that’s simple to learn but with a lot of meat to it. If you can get it, I would do so quickly. I have seen it on a variety of sales (it was sold out on Coolstuff Inc) including the FFG holiday sale and I fear that may be an indicator of the line being discontinued. Worry not, however, because the Commands and Colors system is represented in many games and there is already plenty of content inside the core box of BattleLore. If you wish to expand your game a bit, then there are enough extra army packs available that you can pick up just a couple (even if the game is discontinued) and have a good amount of fun.

100 Swords

This is a game that I wish I kickstarted at a higher level. As it stands I backed/received a PnP copy when the game was still funding and my opinion of the game is based on that copy alone. 100 Swords is a deckbuilder and the objective, like most games in the genre, is to get the most points. Instead of buying cards from an abstract market in the center of the table, players will be moving through a literal dungeon, represented by a row of cards where the market would be. The cards begin face-down so players never know what they are going to run into. As players flip over cards they will fight monsters, unlock doors, cast spells, and “dungeon crawl” their way to victory.

Like most deckbuilders, you are working off of a currency, though there is some uniqueness in this game in that there are a couple different currencies at work. First there is movement, which is usually represented in “boot” symbols found on the cards. These allow you to move a certain number of spaces down the row of cards, hopefully getting to a card you want or simply trying to race to the end boss. Then there is “strength” which is used to defeat monsters. All player cards can also be turned sideways to become “energy” which is used to pick up loot or in some cases overcome certain monsters/obstacles. Other than that the game continues like a deckbuilder, with players cycling through their deck and becoming stronger and stronger as the game progresses. Instead of just watching the market fluctuate, however, players will begin to master the dungeon a bit, being able to peek at cards, flip them over before moving (so they know where the good/bad stuff is), and so on. As you defeat monsters, by the way, they are put into your “trophy pile.” This is different than your standard discard pile (you have one of those too) and is an out-of-game zone that will hold your vanquished foes and will be used to determine your end game points. Once the dungeon is emptied or the boss at the end is slayed then the game ends. Players tally up the points in their deck (indicated by the gold number on the upper-right corner) and in their trophy pile and the player with the most points win.

I like this game a lot because it is just different enough than the other deckbuilders and plays incredibly fast. I have a friend that was willing to try this game out with me (as I had printed the PnP version) and we played it on numerous occasions between games of Magic or while waiting for friends to arrive. If you can find a copy of the game you will find it quite inexpensive. There are various versions of the game that provide different challenges, monsters, loot and so forth. Even cooler than that, however, is that you can even create your own dungeon by mixing together cards from different dungeons or taking advantage of the game’s “Dungeon Builder Sets” that are available to purchase.

Games with a few Friends:

This section will be fairly similar to the upcoming section, aptly named “Games with a bunch of friends.” Ideally this list is for that close-knit group of friends. I have tried to come up with games that I have yet to writes about on this blog, yet you will find some of those here regardless. While those games are not on this list, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention games like Chinatown or Specter Ops as great contenders.

Arcadia Quest

This is a great game for the small group of friends that can meet up semi-consistently. Arcadia Quest is a CMON game that can best be described as a mash-up of PVP/PVE gameplay. If your friends don’t understand what this means, then it’s possible they may not enjoy the style. Otherwise, you should be good to go.

Quite simply you represent a guild of Arcadia. Your guild is made up of 3 heroes (drafted by you in the beginning) and your three heroes have an arsenal of weapons and armor at your disposal. You and your fellow* guilds will head out into the city of Arcadia, recently taken over by a Vampire Lord, to fulfill various quests. One scenario might involve cleaning out a district, while another might be to rescue some eagles, and another scenario might involve cutting off reinforcements. While the guilds will all be trying to complete the same objectives, they aren’t exactly in it for the greater good. The guilds understand that at the end of all of this a guild must come out on top. So they will be backstabbing each other to the finish line, stepping over each other, taking the slaying of the monster for themselves, and maybe take out their anger on the guild that got in their way in a previous scenario.

What’s great about Arcadia Quest is that each guild will feel very unique. All of the Heroes have pretty fun abilities (though some of them will feel unbalanced). The inventory is sweet, which reminds me… At the end of every scenario, players will draft a newer, brighter, better, selection of equipment cards using the money they earned that game. These items will carry over into the next game and s0-on until the Vampire Lord is defeated. Each player will feel like they can do something no one else at the table can. And even though I mentioned the balance issue, I think it’s perfectly fine to state that if a player is unbalanced (especially if they’re overpowered) that it’s up to the other players to gang up and level the playing field. The combat in the game is also very simple with a hits vs. shields system as well as an exploding dice mechanic (which make for some very epic turns). Lastly, the monsters are handled very easily and only “react” to player’s attacks and movements, as opposed to having their own turn. Not only does this keep the game from being overly complicated but it is pretty satisfying for opposing players to control the monster that lands a killing blow against another player.

Like many CMON games there is a large amount of product out there and, unfortunately, it’s not the cheapest game. Thankfully, there is a lot of game in the core box. I would recommend trying it out and if you like it, slowly pick up an extra hero or two. You can also keep an eye out for future expansions and kickstarter products, where you can get the typical CMON avalanche of exclusives that are very worth the price of entry.

Coup

Coup is great game for the close-knit group because of its backstabbing nature. You, the players, represent political figures in a dystopian society. At your disposal (or rather under your influence) are members of the political court. These could be ambassadors, captains, dukes, etc. Each member provides their own special ability and by asserting your influence you can use these people to achieve victory. Victory in Coup is simple. Be the last man standing.

The various roles are portrayed via cards. At the center of the table is a deck containing three copies of each role. The deck is shuffled and two roles are given, face-down, to each player. The players know their own roles, but not those of their opponents. Players will be trying to gain enough money to either “coup” another player (basically ousting them from society… or killing them, I’m not sure). While each player starts with 2 credits (money) it costs 7 to perform a coup. The other roles will allow you to gain more wealth, by taking it from the reserve or stealing it from another player. Other roles will prevent stealing, or allow you to get a new role from the deck, and so on.

What’s neat about Coup is that any action is actually at your disposal. Say you have two “Dukes” in front of you. The “Duke” allows you to take 3 credits from the supply. While this is a very lucrative role to have, having double means your options are fairly limited… sort of. Say another player has the “Captain” (or at least claims to) and steals 2 gold from you every turn. You can block the steal by claiming you have the “Ambassador”, a card that performs another function but also prevents your credits from being stolen. You don’t actually have the “Ambassador”, but the stealing player doesn’t know this. At any point after an action is declared a player may call out the lie. If the accused player is proven guilty, one of their cards is flipped face up and they lose 1 influence (basically 1 HP). They are now left with one card, and far fewer options. If a player ever has 0 influence they are out of the game. If the accused player was proven to be innocent they reveal their card (if you are called out on having “Ambassador” you have to prove you have it) into the central deck and draw a new one. The accuser will instead lose an influence.

The game is very simple to learn and play though it will live and die by the group you play it with. Fans of bluffing will enjoy this game so if you’re trying to rope in some non-gamer friends who play poker, for instance, this is a great option. Be careful with other non-gamers, however, as the prospect of being able to take any action, even if you don’t necessarily have the card, has proven to be difficult to grasp in my experiences. This game is also relatively enjoyable at a slightly larger player count. I brought this game to a bachelor party last year and a group of 4-5 of us played this game for a couple hours straight. I hear that one of the newbies (in that he hadn’t really played many board games) is now getting into the hobby. Score one for us!

Skull

I almost didn’t put this on the list because it fills a similar niche to Coup. Skull is a game about pushing your luck, about reading your opponents, and weighing the odds. It’s basically a twist on Liar’s Dice but with beer coasters, sort of (but seriously, the components are basically coasters which make it great for bars)!

Every player has four discs at their disposal and a central square coaster. The coaster is mostly meant for show but can be flipped to the other side (with a different design) to indicate you have a point. First to 2 points wins. At the start of the round each player chooses one of their discs to be placed in front of them face down. The disc can be a rose (which is likely considering there are 3 roses out of the 4 discs) or it can be the 1 skull. Once all the first discs are down one player will open the circle by doing one of two things: placing down an additional disc, or calling out a number. If they put down a disc, play continues to the next person who has the exact same choice. Once someone calls out a number, they have started the bet.

Let’s say everyone (and we’ll also say this is a 4 player game) has put down their starting disc, and the first two players have added a 2nd disc. The 3rd player sees that there are now six discs face down around him; his single disc, the single disc of the next player, and the two discs from the two previous players. They look at these six discs and feel pretty confident there are a few roses out there. So they call out “three,” indicating that they believe they can flip three discs over without showing a skull. The next player can either up the ante, or fold. If any player ever bets the full amount of discs present then all betting stops and they flip everything.

What is especially neat about Skull is whether or not you are the one flipping the discs, you still feel engaged. Watching someone flip discs can be very exciting, especially if you know there is a skull in your pile. Disc flipping always starts with the player’s own pile. So if you have bet “three” and you have placed down two of your own discs, you have to flip over your two before focusing on other players’ discs. At a higher bet count, 5+, things get especially exciting. You’ll watch players pick and choose, they’ll flip over one disc from a player but not the next one in their particular pile, fearing they will show a skull.

This is a great game for non-gamers because you can simply tell them “it’s the bluffing part of poker.” Which it truly is. A huge portion of the game is reading your opponents and knowing when to ante up or fold, except in this game you get to control the cards (or rather, discs) that are in front of you. This alone has gotten many non-gamer friends of mine to give it a shot. If you are unsure, or if you don’t want to spend the money yet, you can play this game for absolutely free*. All you need is a deck of cards. Instead of discs, you can deal players 4 cards from a standard deck of playing cards and in the place of the 3 roses/1 skull composition you can use 3 red suits/ 1 black suits. My first play of this game was a “try-before-you-buy” scenario and I used lands from Magic: The Gathering and instead dealt each player 3 forests and 1 swamp.

If you can get the game, or mock up your own copy, I highly recommend giving it a try. In fact, it’s probably the most popular game among my circle of friends in this entire list. It can be potentially fun at any upcoming Christmas/ Holiday parties where you want to spice things up!

Games with a bunch of Friends:

Dead Last

Dead Last is one of the more recently released game on this list and is a game about social collusion. Playing 6-12 players, Dead Last puts the players in the role of Resevoir Dog-Esque characters, Pink, Blue, Orange, etc. Each player gets a deck of cards with the colors of the opposing players. To represent their own card is a card that says “Ambush.” At the start of each round players will decide who they are going to kill. You’re basically voting people off the island, “Survivor” style, but with guns.

The discussion to choose a target can be done in any way imaginable. You can text someone, flash the card of your intended victim to someone nearby, or simply shout out “let’s all target blue.” Once everyone feels like they know who they’re going to pick they put their cards face down and reveal them at the same time. The player whose color appears on the most cards is the “target.” Players who are tied as the target are both considered the target. The target is killed in addition to anyone else who didn’t go along with the majority. If you feel like you know you’re going to be outted you can play your “ambush” card (in lieu of voting for someone else) which turns the table against your would-be killers. You can instead pick one of them to take the bullet. Play continues like this until 2 players are left at which point they enter a prisoner’s dilemma.

You see, at the start of the game 4 gold bars (drawn from a deck face-down), are placed at the center of the table. The value of the gold bars range from 1-5 and their values are secret to all players. The 2 remaining players, assuming there even are 2 players left and they haven’t all killed each other, have to pick between stealing, sharing, or “grab one & go.” Sharing means that the players will each take 2 cards. Stealing means you will, well, steal all the cards for yourself. And grab one & go is basically the play it safe card and will get you at 1 card and nothing else. If you haven’t heard of the prisoner’s dilemma before, this is basically it. It’s rather interesting, and all gaming aside, I recommend doing some research on it. Essentially the players are trying to work together to reach a result that is beneficial to everyone, or that’s how it seems. If both players share, (and like the voting, this is done by revealing your decision at the same time), then both players get 2 cards. If one player chooses to steal then the sharing player loses everything and the thief walks away with all the cards. If both players steal, then neither of them get anything and all the other players get one card.

It’s a great game to bring at parties, especially if there is a decent table or counter top where a number of people are gathering. I brought this out at a beach trip earlier this summer and the game was a blast. What was really funny about this game is that you cannot, for any absolute reason, leave the game. Not even to turn around to the fridge to get a beer, because once you take your eyes off the game, everyone will conspire against you.

It may seem like the game will take forever, but it won’t. The first to 25 points is the winner, and it’s easy for a player to get to the prisoner’s dilemma stage. Someone will be killed off every round, which is speedily enough as it is. The fact that those who don’t vote with the majority are eliminated as well means the game moves quite quickly, with just a couple rounds of voting before players are debating over the share of the loot.

Codenames

Codenames is another fun party game, but is probably best used when you just have a bunch of friends around. If you have the right crowd at a party, go ahead, but Codenames will do perfectly with a group of 6+ friends.

Players are split into two teams, with one player from each team being the spymaster. The other players will sit across from the two spymasters, with a grid of cards between the two sides. Each card has a random word printed on it (fish, temple, bear, United States, etc.). Both the players and their spymasters can see these words. What the players don’t see is what the spymasters can see. In front of the spymasters is a small card, we’ll call that the “map”, that shows a mini portrayal of the grid, but with some of the cards highlighted blue or red (the two teams). What the spymasters are trying to do is get their team to pick the right cards. The first team to get all of their cards is the winner.

This is achieved by the spymaster speaking two words, or rather, one word and a number. The word hints at one of the cards and the number you associate with it indicates how many cards relate to the word. So let’s say that I am trying to get my team to pick the cards “Tire” and “Road.” I look at my team and say, “Car – 2.” That tells my team that two of the cards on the grid relate to cars. Using that information, with absolutely no other hints from the spymaster (we’re talking pure poker-face), the players will pick a card. Guess it right and they can guess again. They can continue to do so until they guess the given number +1. So in the above scenario they can, at most, pick 3 cards. Pick a wrong card and your turn ends immediately and the other spymaster gets a turn. Pick a card from another team and they get that point, furthering their goal. What’s worse is that one card on the spymasters’ map is highlighted black, meaning it is the “assassin.” Any team that accidentally picks the assassin, whether they are in a commanding lead or dead last, will automatically lose the game.

Codenames is a couple of things. First of all, it’s very fun. Second, it’s a great brain game for all involved. The spymaster is trying to come up with clever words that can cover a range of cards while the players are wracking their heads trying to decipher the vague clues given to them. Third, it’s a potentially hilarious time for you and your friends. Since the spymaster must remain stone-faced, what ends up happening is the two spymasters attempt to keep the rage or joy inside them, struggling more often than not, as they watch their team make right or wrong choices. Once the decision is made the room typically erupts in laughter or frustration, then quiets down as players get right back to business. It’s also a great game for non-gamers, so while I mentioned it’s a great game for 6+ friends it’s also a great game to bring out at family parties (like Christmas Parties! -hint-hint-).

Anyway, that’s it for now. I didn’t intend for this article to be so long so I have split it up into 2 parts. Look out tomorrow for the 2nd part with “Games for Yourself,” “Games with a Beverage,” and more.

As always, thanks for reading!

-The Secondhand Took

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3 thoughts on “Filling up the Corners: Christmas Edition

  1. Thanks – this was a great read Took. I recently picked up a copy of Codenames as a result of your review and we’ve really enjoyed playing it over the festive season. I think you identified the essence of what makes the game so fun – the bottled rage/joy of a spymaster is hard to explain until you’ve experienced it firsthand!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it is quite difficult to put into words. It takes awhile for the spymaster to learn to stay stonefaced. I had a couple people, in the beginning, who would say “okay, this should be easy if you remember last game, CLUE – #” and I’d have to tell them just to say “Clue – #”

      Glad you got a copy! I heard the pictures version is pretty fun and great for kids/ others who may not have a robust vocabulary

      Like

  2. Pingback: A New Age Begins: 2017 (and looking back) – The Secondhand Took

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