Games We Play: Most of January

I’m not chronicling, in detail, role-playing games in this experiment, but I did play a lot of Torg throughout January. Like a madman, I am GMing the full set of Torg Eternity’s Day One Adventures. There are seven of those, and I am running each with 5-7 different characters, played by a pool of about 15 players. It’s like my own little Torg repertory company, and I am loving it.

The fun started with two games during the month’s first full weekend; we played Aysle on Saturday, January 4, and Cyberpapacy on Sunday, January  5. I enjoyed the hell of both games, and the players seemed to have a good time, as well.

Following the conclusion of the Sunday game, a friend — let’s call him My Friend Who Likes To Punch People For Recreation — was still up for games when Torg ended, so he, The Empress of Whisky, and I played a game of Downfall of Pompeii.

Oh, wait, I already discussed Downfall of Pompeii.

Well, then.


Games on Repeat

Repeated Game: Downfall of Pompeii

Result: The Empress and My Friend Who Likes To Punch People For Recreation tied at 6, while I managed 11. Hooray for the fast runners! Pour one out for those claimed by lava.


A week later, on Saturday, The Empress and I sat down together to try a couple of specifically two-player games we had not played recently.


Details: Designed by Sébastien Pauchon, Game Works, 2009.* 2 players. Relatively quick.

*(Our version. These days Asmodee has the license.)

Source: I think The Empress found this one on a “good games for two” list or somesuch, added it to her wish list, and received it for Christmas. Or a birthday. Several years ago. Probably.

Overview: This market-themed game is set in the bustling Indian city of Jaipur. The players represent traders who are each trying to go home with the most profit. It’s a card game with a lot of tokens. The cards and tokens represent various goods: rugs, jewels, precious metals, etc. Each player has a hand of cards. Five community cards sit between the players. Each turn a player may take one card from the table and replace it from the deck; alternately, the player may trade any number of cards from their hand for an equal number of cards on the table. As a third option, the player may take (without compensation!) all of the camels.

Did I forget to mention the camels? There are camels.

Upon reaching a set (3-5 cards), the player may (instead of acquiring new cards) exchange the set for a token. Tokens are worth victory points. Bonus points for larger sets. Bonus point for most camels. Game ends when a majority of goods are exhausted or the cards run out.

Thoughts: It’s one of those sneakily challenging games. Knowing the right time to trade, knowing how many cards (3-5) to go for in a set, working against the hand limit, trying to get rid of excess camels … it makes for a fun mental puzzle. The game plays fast, like 10-15 minutes a round, and it’s traditional to play best out of three rounds.

Result: On January 11, I beat The Empress, 2-1, by the narrowest of margins in each win.

Verdict: Keep. We don’t play it often, but we do enjoy it every time.

Lost Cities

Details: Designed by Reiner Knizia for Kosmos,* 1999. 2 players. Relatively quick.

*(Distributed by Rio Grande Games in the States.)

Source: The Empress got it? From somebody? A long while ago?

Overview: The theme of the game is archaeological exploration, but the game play is less Indiana Jones and more Marcus Brody.

Five suits of cards, representing five digs sites, each contain values from 1-10, along with three “investment” cards. Each player holds a hand of eight cards. Each turn each player must either “advance their claim” by playing a card on one of the dig sites, or pass by discarding a card next to a dig site they are not pursuing. The player then draws a replacement from the deck or any discard pile. The game ends when the last card is drawn.

Cards must be played on a dig site in ascending numerical order, no backsies. Prior to playing a number card, a player may raise the stakes by playing one or more investment cards.

The trick is, starting to play on any dig site puts you immediately in “debt” by 20 points. You must therefore be confident you will be able to place at least 20 points worth of cards down in order to clear positive points. But you can’t be confident, at least not at first, because most of the cards are still in the deck … maddening. Investment cards double, triple, or quadruple gains or losses.

Over three rounds, a cumulative score is kept to determine the winner.

Thoughts: This game can be irritating. So much depends on the order the cards turn up, and betting big on the wrong dig site can totally wreck your day. Being good at calculating probabilities helps, but it can still feel quite a bit random. Mind you, that sentence could describe many traditional cards games, couldn’t it?

Result: On January 11, I beat The Empress, 84-22. That looks like a lot, but one of the things about this game is the winner of each round tends to score bunches of points whilst the loser scores few or none, so big victory margins are common.

Verdict: Keep. We like it, now and then.


The next day, Sunday, we played Torg again, this time in the Living Land. Let’s just say dinosaurs rampaging New York can ruin anyone’s day.

A week later, The Empress and I again pulled out some games, this time games not meant specifically for two players.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival

Details: Designed by Christopher Chung for Foxtrot Games / Renegade Games Studio, 2015. 2-4 players. Relatively quick.

Source: The Empress received as a Secret Santa gift at work. (Some Secret Santa did her homework.)

Overview: It’s a tile-laying game. Each tile features four colors. After any player places a tile, all players receive a matching color card corresponding to the color facing that player. The player placing the tile can also receive bonus cards for matching colors on the placed tile to tiles already in play. Cards are then used to purchase victory points, by collecting sets of four-of-a-kind, three pairs, or one-of-every-seven-of-the-colors.

Thoughts: This is fun, for a few reasons. First, you always have a hand of three tiles, which means you have options for your placement. This gives a lot more strategic options than your typical draw-and-place tile-laying game. Also? The theme is nice. You slowly create a board of beautiful floating lanterns.

It plays well with two players — usually with very tight competition — but we have yet to try it with three or four.

Result: On January 18, I beat The Empress, 46-39.

Verdict: Keep.


Details: Designed by Ed Marriott for Tasty Minstrel Games, 2014. 2-6 players. Long.

Source: I picked this one up during its original Kickstarter campaign. It was my first purchase from Tasty Minstrel Games, and I’ve since become pretty fond of the company’s offerings. I appreciate their tendency to go in for high-quality, fun components.

Overview: It’s a pepper festival! And you’d better know your color wheel! Players slowly build a field of peppers by planting — adorable, wooden — pepper pieces. As peppers are planted, players then move their farmer tokens around the field, cross-breeding different colors to create new peppers. (Yellow and blue make green, etc.)

Throughout the two days — each broken into morning and afternoon — players compete to be the first to cross-breed certain peppers, farm enough peppers to fulfill customer orders and recipes, and sell their excess at market.

Thoughts: This game is fun, but it sits right on that balance of going on too long for the amount of fun involved. It really isn’t great for two players because it’s pretty easy to predict and directly interact with each other. We’ve played with four, and that’s much more interesting, what with the extra variables extra players bring.

Side-note: I really want to play this with My Sister The Artist.

Result: On January 18, The Empress beat me, 69-65.

Verdict: Keep. It’s worth it just for the tactile sensation of playing with the wooden pepper tokens.


New day, more games.

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

Details: Designed by Reiner Knizia for Fantasy Flight Games, 2005. 2 players. Short.

Source: The Empress, for reasons she can’t recall, put this one her wish list about a decade ago, and it was more or less immediately gifted to her. It then sat, glowering at us, on the game shelf until January 19.

Overview: Have you ever played Stratego? This will be very familiar then. Each player takes either the side of the Fellowship of the Ring or the followers of Sauron. The Fellowship’s goal is to get Frodo to Mt. Doom. Sauron’s baddies can win by either killing Frodo or getting four of their pieces into the Shire. Each piece has special rules regarding how it moves and how (or sometimes whether) it can attack. Each player also has a limited deck of spell cards that can be used to throw a wrench into how the pieces work.

Thoughts: This was fun enough, but it comes off heavily as a re-skinning of Stratego with more complex rules. Thematically it’s cool, I guess, but it’s a bit more “fans will buy this because it’s pretty” than “gamers will enjoy this because it’s fun.”

Result: On January 19, we played two games and The Empress won both, proving she is equally versatile as a member of the Fellowship or a follower of Sauron.

Verdict: Out. It was fun, but we just don’t see ourselves coming back to this one. However, we will probably hang on to it until the next time we see a particular friend, My Friend Who Really Loves Stratego, just to see what he thinks. If he digs it, he’ll go home with it.

Whisky Wind-down, 4: Take a Chance

A hand holds a half-pint bottle of Crown Towers whisky, holding the loose cap so as to show the price: 1,778 colones (about three U.S. dollars). In the background, the beautiful Costa Rica countryside stretches forth.

Today’s dram: Crown Towers, Malt Based Spirit Distilled Admixture, Fine Spirit

Today’s tasting notes: Burn. Just burn. Like when a cartoon character drinks from a jug marked XX.

Today’s thoughts: I generally like to know what I’m buying, but in this trip I’m living in a bit of grey area with the language barrier. Costa Rica is pretty English-friendly, with many menus and labels appearing in both Spanish and English. Most establishments seem to have at least one fluent English speaker on staff, and many others speak some basic phrases. All of which is great, as my limited Spanish language education is two decades old and wasn’t that thorough to begin with.

A trip to a local grocery today was interesting. Lots of U.S. brands, with prices only slightly elevated for their importation. We mostly purchased locally made beer and snack foods, but I did, of course, peruse the whisky offerings. There weren’t many, and those were mostly familiar brands I could get back home.

But this little jewel was also there.

If I’ve translated the label correctly — no guarantees — it’s made in France from a mixture of malt whisky and neutral grain spirits.

Note to self: In future, avoid whisky made by the French for the Central American market.

Today’s toast: To adventure! En el supermercado!

2016 Whisky Wind-down, 29: You Might Like It

A whisky tumbler with a double measure of The Glenlivet 12-Year-Old sits on a desk before a half-size bottle of same and a stuffed Yoda keeps watch. Background: Bookcases.

Today’s dram: The Glenlivet, 12-Year-Old

Today’s tasting notes: Do not fear to drink this. Perhaps maybe try this if you’ve never had Scotch whisky before. It is the definition of approachable — an easy-to-enjoy whisky exemplifying the basics of a style, in this case a single malt from the Scottish Highlands.* Smell it, and it will take you to a warm happy place. Sip it, and feel that warmth flow into you. Hold it in your mouth briefly, savor the heat and subtle sweetness. Swallow, and feel smoothness with just enough of an edge to let you know it is actually Scotch whisky.

Today’s thoughts: Growing up I was a picky eater. That is a true statement, but it also rather understates both the past and present. When I was a kid, I hated eating almost everything. Ever heard a parent lament that their kid will only eat chicken nuggets and ketchup? Yeah, I hated those, too. Especially the ketchup. Bleh. And I still hate it. I hate nearly all condiments, in fact. And yes, hate is the right word. It’s not a word I ever really go for, but I will allow myself to be an absolutist and use that word in regard to those things. Ketchup? Hate. Mustard? Hate. Mayonnaise? Hatehatehate!

Send me food with any of that on it and tell me to just scrape it off? Fuck you. Scrape your face off.

My younger sister told me at Thanksgiving that her two-year-old son can’t stand mayonnaise, and she thinks he might be allergic because he throws up when he encounters it. When she said that, I wanted to run to him and hug him and tell him, “You are not alone! Uncle Jon also knows this pain!”

But he’s two years old, so I didn’t.

I will as soon as he gets a handle on this language thing, though.

What I will try not to say to him are things like “Try it, you might like it” and “Your tastes will change.”

How I loathed those phrases, which were thrown at me so often in my youth.

And yet … I now grudgingly admit they hold glimmers of truth.

I mean, I did finally learn to like pizza, a burger in a bun rather than separate, potatoes, pecan pie …

Oh, and whisky.

Contrary to appearances, I was never against trying things. I just wanted people to listen after I tried a thing and said, “No, this isn’t for me.” Usually, the gag reflex got the point across, but people are surprisingly persistent when you tell them you can’t stand a thing they love.

Here is where I nominate my mother for sainthood, because wow did I ever make her life difficult, what with the not eating most of what she ever put in front of me, which necessitated an awful lot of cooking something extra just for me, and so much special ordering at restaurants, and entirely too many patient conversations explaining my eating habits to other people, and … god, how is she not completely mad?

She is made of steel, that is why.

But under her steel beats the softest heart in the world, and she never let me go hungry or forced me to be miserable just because I was picky.

I am going to go call her as soon as I post this.

Today’s note on meeting the expectations of others: Fuck ’em. Yeah, me included, for telling you to try Scotch whisky. Don’t want to? Don’t. Grinning and bearing is overrated. Graciously decline where possible, threaten to stab as needed, repeat as necessary. And always, always, to thine own taste buds be true.

Today’s toast: To picky eaters everywhere: May the person who takes your order always listen carefully and get it right!


* — Speyside. I know. But if you know enough about Scotch whisky to know Glenlivet’s sub-region, then that paragraph really isn’t for you, now is it?