Thursday, November 24, 2005

Five Games I'm Thankful For: '05

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Americans. Since I have the misfortune to post on Thanksgiving Day proper, I figure there's only a few dozen of you reading, max (and that only thanks to the International nature of the Internet), and so I've decided to go with a pretty light & fluffy topic this week: five games I'm thankful for.

They're not necessarily the best games I've played, nor even the games that I've played most, but in various ways they've made me happy over the years. When I've reviewed the game in question, I also included a link to my review over at RPGnet. Go check that out for some more thoughts on the game in question.

#1: The Settlers of Catan

The Settlers of Catan gets a lot of respect as a gateway game, and guess what, it was my gateway into the Euro-gaming field. I'd known about Settlers for years. Heck, I even had a copy of the original Mayfair edition, but it didn't get played nearly as much as Wiz-War, Titan: The Arena (another fine American release as far as I knew), or Mystic War. It was an odd and quaint amusement. I'm not even sure when or why I bought it!

Then 2002 came around, and I started making plans at work to design a new online strategy game using an underlying code base that we'd already developed for a game called Galactic Emperor: Hegemony. It was to be a real-time science-fiction game of trade & commodities.

"You should play some trade games", my boss said, and he suggested The Settlers of Catan as an obvious first step. What followed was several months of fighting with our poorly run local game store (a topic for next week), trying to get them to stock the various Settlers supplements. Most I got piece-by-piece, but the historical supplements I had to purchase from Mayfair direct, at GenCon. My group and I played through Settlers, then Seafarers, then Cities & Knights. We even tried out Canaan and of course the official historical supplements. Afterward I moved into other trade games like Res Publica and Bohnanza and by that point I was fully invested in the German scene.

I've been recording my games played at BGG since October, 2003. In that time I've played almost a thousand games, and only about half-a-dozen of them were Settlers. Nonetheless I remain thankful for it getting me into the hobby which has given me many hours of enjoyment over the last few years.

#2: Scrabble

On March 12, 1999, my not-yet-wife and I went out on first date. We'd been working out together for a few weeks due to a friend-in-common, but this time our friend-inc-commo had been busy, but we decided to work out anyway. Afterward we figured, hey, why not hang out some more. We wandered to a very distant Thai restaurant, and afterward went to the Albatross, a cute little bar that's renowned for the fact that it has board games that you can borrow while drinking.

So we got a couple of ciders and a game of Scrabble. We played hard and in the end I beat her by a single point. That was clearly kismet, and a sure sign of our compatible interests and intelligences.

In the weeks and months that followed, Scrabble was a serious part of our courtship, played quite regularly. By the time we moved in together, at the end of the summer, we had three copies of the game, one regular copy that had been at my house, one that had been at hers, and a deluxe copy that we'd bought at some time, with larger pieces and a lazy susan. All three copies are still about the house that we now live in.

Scrabble is another game that has fallen off over the years. When we want to play a word game, we usually play her favorite, which is Boggle, because if we end up playing one of my favorites instead ... well that isn't Scrabble anymore (nolstalgia aside).

#3: Mystery Rummy

By the end of 2003, Kimberly and I did still play games of various types. Scrabble, Boggle, The Ungame, Loaded Questions, Scattergories, and A to Z were the ones that got pulled out with the most frequency. However in late 2003 I was also delving even further into These Games of Ours. In October I received an order from funagain (having by now given up on that poorly run local game store) and it contained Mystery Rummy #1: Jack the Ripper.

It was the first of several packages that I received over the next several months which contained games that I thought Kimberly would like, and it was also the first success. We played the bejeezus out of Jack the Ripper and later the other games in that series. This is yet another game that we don't play much any more, though I bet we do again when #5 comes out.

It was also yet another gateway game, but this one opened up my wife to share in at least some fraction of the deeper, more strategic games that I'd discovered.

#4: Memoir '44

Though my wife enjoys playing games, and though she's grown quite fond of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Mystery Rummy, Alhambra, and a few others, she's often quite resistant to learning new games. I, meanwhile, have a constant desire for newness.

Enter Memoir '44. It's a two-player war-game, and I never would have bought it on my own, because I couldn't have imagined Kimberly enjoying it. But I got it as a review copy from Days of Wonder, and Kimberly was even kind enough to agree to play it, because she knew I needed to write a review. Much to my surprise, she liked it quite a bit.

To date we've played 32 games over the last year and a half. It satisfies Kimberly's desire to keep playing the same old thing and it satisfies my desire to keep playing something new (as I wrote about in a previous article).

We've played Ticket to Ride more, ditto Carcassonne if you count up all the variants, but it's this one that continues to be the most fun.

#5: El Grande

We offer talk about "gateway" games, which help players get into the hobby, but we don't pay nearly as much attention to another category of games, those which help open up the hobby for us, to show us the depths of possibility, the real tactics and real strategy that can be found here. These are transformative games, which change the way we play.

"Stairway" games, "mineshaft" games, I'm not really sure what to call them. For many people, I suspect this game is Puerto Rico. For me it was El Grande. It offered up much more intricate, rich, and strategic gameplay than I'd seen before in games like Settlers (which is light) and Res Publica (which is short), and thus it became one of my models for what I wanted to see in new games.

I've only played it face-to-face a half-dozen times. It's too long & too big to get dragged down to my local game store very often. If I looked now I could see some cracks in the game's facade, like how easy it is for an early leader to get absolutely pummelled. But it still remains one of my must-plays, a game that I won't turn down unless time constraints disallow its play.

Your Turn

What's your Settlers? What's your El Grande?

What games are you thankful for?


Unknown said...

My "Settlers" is Settlers (Cities & Knights, actually, didn't play the base game until later) and my stairway game is Princes of Florence.

Nice article.

ekted said...

The first Euro game that I bought and played was Puerto Rico. But I consider my first real "Settlers" to be Carcassonne. My first "El Grande" is Taj Mahal.

Coldfoot said...

My Settlers was Settlers. My El Grande was Puerto Rico.

Star Wars: Queen's Gambit was one of the early ones, as was an obscure game called "Lords of the Sierra Madre".

After that all hell broke loose.

Pawnstar said...

My Settlers were in fact three games, because I came across them in a shop and bought all three, kickstarting me through the "gateway". They were Big City, El Grande and Web of Power. It took another year before I had heard of Settlers, after I had first heard there was a whole new branch of the hobby going on via an internet search for one of the games I had bought and played.

My El Grande was probably PR too, I think. I seem to remember struggling with E&T not long before PR came out.

AdamC said...

Not sure what category it fits in, but I do love that crazy Advanced Civilization. I haven't played it for many years, but its the one I board game I know I will always truly love. Now to find 5+ other people with 8+ hours to spend...

Melissa said...

My first Settlers was probably Cosmic Encounter - at least, that was my introduction to the world of "grown up" board games. We played the heck out of CE, Junta and a cardgame called Red Empire when I was at university in the late 80s.

Then my Settlers was Settlers - but Carcassonne and La Citta were what got me hooked into accumulating more & more games (LC was, perhaps, my El Grande).

Anonymous said...

My "Settlers" is Settlers. I had been an AH wargamer for years & loved Civilization, but got introduced to Euro Gaming by seeing guys play Settlers at the WBC in 1997. My "stairway" to heavier Euro games was Euphrat & Tigres - still my favorite game since 1998.