Wednesday, October 26, 2005
What Was Your Name Again?
I’m one of those people who has a very difficult time remembering people’s names no matter how hard I try to imprint it on my memory when I’m introduced. I’ve tried repeating their name immediately as in, “Hello, Betty, nice to meet you”. I’ve tried using word association as in “Betty—Betty Rubble from the Flintstones”. I’ve tried using humor or rhymes such as “Betty Spaghetti”. All to no avail because at the end of the meeting I’m thinking, “Was it Betsy…Beatrice…Bernice…I know there was a ‘B’”.
How is it, then, that I have stored in my memory hundreds of game names ready for almost-instant retrieval? I read or hear a game’s name and I get an instant impression of the board (Tigris & Euphrates) or a unique piece (who can forget the Castillo in El Grande?) or a mechanic (Modern Art), even the number of players (Lost Cities, Puerto Rico). I know instantly if it’s a card game, a dice game, a heavy game, a light/fun game or an abstract. If someone is looking for a game with certain requirements—middle to heavy strategy, plays well with 2 but can handle more—I immediately think of Torres, Hansa, Carolus Magnus, Samurai—but don’t ask me who wanted to know. Many of the games’ names are in a language that I don’t even know and yet I have no trouble remembering them. Why the hell can’t I remember the name of that guy my husband introduced me to the other day?!
Bridges of Shangri-La
The other day an online friend asked me about Bridges of Shangi-La. In my comments I had qualified it as being after just one play, so do I still like it.
I was embarrassed to have to tell him that I hadn’t played it again but I didn’t want him to think it was because it was a bad game. I wandered around the house for the next hour trying to determine why this game doesn’t jump out and demand to be played again. It’s a very good game and I’m glad to have it in my collection but…
The final analysis, with much soul-searching, is this: it’s very much like a mutli-player DVONN.
The wide-open, random board set-up facing you offers dozens of movement options at the beginning of the game so it feels very random and chaotic for the first game or even two. Then you begin to see the subtle strategies you could employ to try to manipulate your position or your opponents’ movement.
The play area shrinks in size as the game progresses so that your options become less and you are faced with the reality that each move now is critical; you may even realize that some of your earlier moves were not a good idea.
You can play this game in a quick, lets-see-what-happens manner, but this is a deep game where careful planning and plotting can make a difference. You can study the board trying to find the perfect move but eventually someone will mention that they have to go to work on Monday.
I think Bridges is a game that has to be played several times in a short span of time to become comfortable with and begin to appreciate its subtle depth. That is why it waits patiently on the shelf for a day when we can explore it thoroughly.
Qualifier: this is after only one play.
This week I got to play Taj Mahal for the first time. This was an online version which can be found at http://hilinski.net/games/online/tajmahal/ but it isn’t a play by email game so that makes it a little harder as you have to arrange a meeting time which is convenient for all the players.
You can play alone against AI opponents, which is what I did before the big game. This let me get used to the interface, which isn’t bad considering all that has to be displayed. One screen shows the players’ area: your card hand and what you’ve won, the cards your opponents play, the draw cards and the special cards. Another screen shows the board and another screen shows a summary of what each player has won and their scores. A separate screen has the chat area, which can be annoying but you get used to it.
Two of us were new to the game but there was little need for teaching since we’d done our homework, which is a good thing since flipping between screens/chat would make it very difficult for teaching to a total newbie.
The game flowed along very nicely and took about an hour with 4 players. There was one memorable elephant fight which I was glad I was not a part of, having elected to drop out before drawing a card but it was good fun to watch! I thought I did pretty well for a first play even leading for awhile during mid-game but in the end the scores were 40-42-42-46 with myself in last place.
This is a brilliant game with several ways to score points, different paths to take strategically, hand-management with tough decisions and a sort of bluff/push-your-luck feel, and yet does not bog down with analysis paralysis. I highly recommend it and am in the process of acquiring my very own copy to inflict on my family.
Until next time, remember what Thomas Edison said: I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.