Games We Play: New Year’s Day Edition

The Empress of Whisky rose at a decent hour on New Year’s Day to go hiking with a friend.

Afterward there were two things on her mind: brunch and vengeance.

The brunch part I probably don’t have to explain. She picked me up, and I joined her and her friend for a lovely brunch at a nice vegan restaurant nearby.  (No, I had not expected my first meal of the year to be vegan. The place has surprisingly good pancakes, though.)

As for vengeance, it was due to my having won all three games we played the night before.

A sweep like that is a rare feat for either of us,  as we’re pretty evenly matched.

At any rate, with a holiday at hand and nothing better to do while we waited for the traditional New Year’s Day meal to cook, we pulled a few games and set about continuing The Project.

 

Travel Blokus

Details: Designed by Bernard Tavitian for Educational Insights, 2005.* 2 players. Quick.

*(The game is now titled Blokus Duo and sold by Mattel.)

Source: I bought it for The Empress nearly 12 years ago, because we’re  big fans of the original Blokus, a four-player game. A two-player version was too good to pass up.

Overview: The game is played on a 14 x 14 grid. Each player has a set of shapes, ranging from one to five squares, that they will take turns placing upon this grid. When placing a new piece, it may not be orthogonally adjacent to any of your already placed pieces, but it must be diagonally adjacent to at least one corner of a previously placed piece. A piece may be (and will sometimes need to be) orthogonally adjacent to any of your opponent’s pieces.

If that sounds complex, well, it isn’t. It takes a couple of minutes to get the hang of, but the concept is pretty easy to play. The execution, though — there’s the game.

Thoughts: Make sure you like the person you’re playing against because this game inevitably gets a little in-your-face. As the name implies, much of the game play involves blocking your opponent. Many times you will need to be mean to succeed. (However, sometimes leaving your opponent with an opening can lead to you having a greater opening … it’s a balancing act.)

Result: On New Year’s Day, The Empress beat me, 11-15. (Lower scores are better.)

Verdict: Keep. No question.

 

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Details: Designed by Ted Alspach for Bézier Games, 2014. 2-4 players. Medium.

Source: I played it with My Friend the Pharmacist and immediately thought The Empress would enjoy it, so I bought her a copy.

Overview: You have a foyer. That’s not enough. It needs hallways, stairs, living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and more! But not necessarily all of those. Maybe you just really like outdoor spaces, and so you go nuts with the gardens. It’s okay. No one minds when you’re a mad castle architect.

Castles is a resource management game, in this case the resources being money, opportunity, and time. The games plays quickly enough, once you’re familiar with the rules, and the key to victory depends on how each player manages the varying options that come up in any particular game. A deck of cards deals a steady flow of room options each turn, and players use their money carefully to choose which ones to buy and how the ones they buy will fit — physically and thematically — into what they have already built.

Thoughts: I thought The Empress would enjoy this one, and boy was I right. Something about this type of game —  a game of careful resource management, with a high degree of importance on selecting from a variety of options with varying values based on how they interact with other already chosen options — just sits right in her headspace.

I also thoroughly enjoy this one. I like games where you build the board, especially when the board is actually the thing you are building — in this case, each game piece is a room, and you physically have to fit the rooms together to make a castle. Fun!

Result: On New Year’s Day, The Empress beat me in a squeaker, 74-73.

Verdict: Keep. Honestly, we could probably get rid of almost every other game we own, and a certain Castles addict would still be happy.

 

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries

Details: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2007. 2-3 players. Medium.

Source: A family member gave it to The Empress for Christmas several years back, shortly after it was published, I think.

Overview: I can’t write about this without writing about the parent game. Ticket to Ride, in its original (and still available to purchase) incarnation, is a train game with a map of the United States. It came out in 2004, won the Spiel des Jahres, and launched an empire. There are currently more than a dozen variants of the game, most consisting simply of applying the base rules to other maps.

Those base rules? You collect cards representing different colors of train cars. You use those to place your trains on the map and connect cities. While doing so, you are attempting to complete greater routes between certain cities (as determined by card draw). You are also trying to avoid your opponent, who will often be placing cars exactly where you need to place your own, forcing you to instead use costly and time-consuming alternate routes.

However … Moon has a quirk about not duplicating the rules exactly between versions. At least, I assume it’s a quirk because if not, then he gives two otherwise identical games tiny rules variations just to confuse me.

The Nordic Countries version diverges more than most, though, because it’s a 2-3 player game with a somewhat small map, whereas most Ticket to Ride games are for 2-5 players on a robust map.

Otherwise, Nordic Countries plays like the base game, with a few additions. If you’re familiar with Ticket to Ride, it’s that plus tunnels and ferries. Also, you can pick up a locomotive and another train car in the same action.

Thoughts: We love the Ticket to Ride family of games. We own several versions, and I imagine we’ll be getting to all of them before this project is over. We do not, however, own the original version. Several friends and family do, though, so we end up playing it a fair amount, anyway.

They’re fun games, easy to learn, with lots of replayability.

Grab Nordic Countries if you regularly expect to play with just two or three. (The bigger games work fine for just two or three, but you can tell Nordic Countries, with its smaller map, is designed to put more pressure on a pair or trio.)

Result: No sweep on New Year’s Day. I beat The Empress in impressive fashion, 87-37.

Verdict: Keep.

 

(The following is a new section, which I am including for the inevitable replays that will occur throughout the year. While these results are not, strictly speaking, part of Games We Play, which is about playing everything once, it may be enlightening to see which games we go back to throughout the year.)

Games on Repeat

Repeated Game: Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries

Result: The Empress won, 97-65. Ouch.

Games We Play: An Introduction

The Empress of Whisky and I play a lot of games: board games, card games, role-playing games.

We’re pretty competitive about the board and card games, and we are most definitely not that couple you hate because they’re always helping each other out when you play a game with them.

Hell, no.

In fact, we have a saying: “I love you … outside the game.”

(In a sign of how seriously we take this, the line made its way into our wedding vows.)

Inside the game, we fight like strangers at best, but more often like neighbors with a long-simmering dispute over that one tree on the property line that no one wants to prune or rake up after.

It’s awesome.

We love playing games with friends, and we’re always thinking it’s been too long since we went to or hosted a game night. (It always is!)

But we also play a lot of two-player games, just us, head-to-head.

That’s how we spent New Year’s Eve, ushering in 2020 at the dining room table over a series of games.

Then we got up and played several more on New Year’s Day, after brunch and while the black-eyed peas were still simmering.

As we were doing this, I decided it would be a great thing to write about, since it’s a subject I haven’t hit on before — at least, not regularly — and I’d been looking for something in the semi-regular feature category that wasn’t just more whisky.

So, here we are then.

First proper post will show up shortly after this one, detailing those games we played on New Year’s Day, then others will follow throughout the year as we play through our collection.

Oh, right. The collection.

We have a lot of games. Like, a lot, a lot. So many that storage is becoming an issue. Thus we’ve decided, with reluctance, to prune out a few.

The only fair way to do that? Play ’em all, of course.

May the best games win.

Superstitions for the New Year

Do you have any New Year’s Day superstitions?

Boy, do I.

Well, I don’t have them, per se, as I am not a superstitious person, but I am subject to them as a native Southerner.

Here are the big ones I learned growing up:

No washing clothes on New Year’s Day.

Mom always handled this one by having a massive wash-in on New Year’s Eve, and growing up I remember at least once seeing her standing anxiously near the washer waiting for a load to finish as the clock approached midnight. Also? Drying doesn’t count. At least, that’s what Mom says. Don’t argue with Mom.

My Younger Sister has taken this approach as well, and I heard from her yesterday about how her day was going, and she was excited to say the laundry had all been slain ahead of schedule.

I take a more literal approach. The superstition says don’t wash on New Year’s Day. I can handle that without washing everything in the house the day before. This is basic procrastination, and I am its master.

I did some towels yesterday, but there are some left. And I didn’t have a full load of clothes ready to wash. I won’t bother with any of this today, because what’s another day?

(Caveat: This is not superstition related, just how I generally approach laundry. Is there enough to wear today? We are good, then. The rest can wait. See also: Procrastination.)

No sweeping on New Year’s Day.

Be still, my heart. The odds of me picking up a broom on any day, let alone a holiday, are sliiiiiim. I am a modern man with a vacuum cleaner, thank you. Actually, I am an ultra-modern man with a robot vacuum. To be on the safe side, I will run neither today. (The theme so far in these superstitions is avoiding house work, and I am here for that action.)

There was one year, however, when Mom corralled my sister and I into raking all the leaves in the front yard. We expressed the opinion that raking was close enough to sweeping as to be courting disaster. Mom (whom I suspect just wanted us out of the house for a bit at this late point in our extended holiday breaks at home) overruled us, so rake we did. For hours. Ugh. Anyway, as a result of that incident I added my own superstition.

No raking on New Year’s Day

Don’t give me lip about creating my own superstition. It has to be as valid as any of the rest of them, I figure. It’s even on-theme, what with being an avoidance of chores.

Anyway, these days I have a real easy way to get by on this one, which is called living in a condo. (Note: This works for most forms of yard work, be they rooted in superstition or not.)

Eat black-eyed peas for luck.

The way I see it, any food-based superstition can really just be re-framed as a holiday food tradition. No one says it’s “bad luck” to not eat turkey on Thanksgiving, right? We eat that bird because of tradition. And because of yum.

Anyway, black-eyed peas. I love them.

For me, New Year’s Day is just a great excuse to do black-eyed peas right. Most years the last thing I do before bed after watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve is to put a full pot of peas in salted water so they can get a good overnight soak. This way, when I wake up, they are ready to start their slow (two hours or so) simmering cook on the stove the next morning and be ready in time for the holiday lunch.

I absolutely do not go in for crock pots or insta-pots, or any other new-fangled way of cooking them. I’m generally pretty science-positive and new-technique-friendly in my kitchen, but doing black-eyed peas the old way is a tradition with which I do not mess.

Eat greens for luck. 

I’ve also heard this one as eat greens for prosperity (ca$h money, yo) in the new year.

I guess I’m doomed to be poor, given my relationship with green vegetables (and most other vegetables), which is, basically: “Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you uneaten.”

Most years, just for sport, I’ll choke down a few green beans, as they’re the closest thing to “greens” I can tolerate. You can keep your damned collards, though.

Getting back to the “foods as tradition, not superstition” thought: If black-eyed peas are the Thanksgiving turkey of New Year’s Day, I guess that makes greens the cranberry sauce for me. (Yeah, I don’t like cranberry sauce. Sue me. Or, better, just appreciate this means you get to eat more of it yourself.)

Something I’ve forgotten

There’s (surely) another Southern New Year’s Day superstition/tradition I am forgetting as I write this.

There are (certainly) New Year’s Day superstitions/traditions from other communities / parts of the country / parts of the world that I do not follow because they aren’t mine or I am ignorant of their existence.

If you know of some good ones, feel free to share in the comments.

Updated Thoughts on Dry January

They’re still basically the same as they were when last I brought the subject up.

I will add, this time, that these are my thoughts, the ones that work for me.

If you, your liver, or your family need a break from alcohol — for a month, for a year, forever — do it.

I make a bit of light sometimes of my drinking, but if I may be serious for a minute — hush, it’s possible — I acknowledge not everyone has it so easy. I know and appreciate my good fortune in these matters.

Cheers.