Games We Play: New Year’s Eve Edition

Some years we go out, many we stay in.

This was a staying in year, at least after a nice dinner out with friends.

Afterward, it was just the two of us (and Best Cat) at home, relaxing away the last hours of 2019, may it rest in pieces.

Somewhere along the line we decided to play some games, which led to us standing in the den, where (most of) the games are, and that’s where the following conversation occurred:

THE EMPRESS OF WHISKY: We have too many games.

ME: I don’t know you anymore.

THE EMPRESS: No, look — there are games stacked in that chair, a few on the floor, some on that end table …

ME: I have been saying we should buy another bookcase.

THE EMPRESS: We don’t need another bookcase!

ME: <gestures at the games stacked in that chair, a few on the floor, some on that end table>

THE EMPRESS: Look, we don’t even play some of these! We should get rid of the ones we don’t play.

ME: So, everything but Castles, then?

THE EMPRESS: <gives look>

ME: Okay, maybe we don’t just play Castles, but we have been playing a lot of Castles, lately.

THE EMPRESS: True. But there are lots of games here we haven’t played in years. Or, ever. <points> Those are still in shrink-wrap!

ME: <stares at shoes, hoping to avoid another conversation about game spending>

THE EMPRESS: <sighs the sigh of the long-suffering spouse of a game addict>

ME: <idea bulb over head>

THE EMPRESS: <worried look>

ME: Let’s play them, then! All of them! A new year starts in just a few hours. We can make this our 2020 project.

THE EMPRESS: <slightly excited> And any we don’t play get rid of?

ME: Well, I wouldn’t go that far … we might not get to all of them.

THE EMPRESS: Uh, that’s kinda my point!

ME: Let’s say we’ll get rid of any we don’t enjoy playing. But we have to play them first.


ME: No repeats!

THE EMPRESS: Wait a minute …

ME: Decide now when in 2020 you want that one game of Castles to be.

THE EMPRESS: Maybe we start each time with a game of Castles as a warm-up!

ME: <sighs the sigh of the long-suffering spouse of a Castles addict>


And so began The Project.*

*(The results of which will be chronicled here as Games We Play.)

Look, I don’t know how many games we have.

It’s not that I can’t count that high or that they’re so unorganized that I can’t find them all to count them. I just … don’t want to math that much, okay?

Suffice to say there are a lot. Like a lot, a lot. So many that we will not realistically get through all of them in a year, even if we really pick up our playing rate.

But we’re going to give this a go, anyway.

And so as to give us a head start, I am going to count the games we played on the last day of 2019 because, at least in spirit, they are part of this. Don’t hold their year against them.


Deadly Doodles

Details: Designed by Samuel Mitschke and Randy Scheunemann for Steve Jackson Games, 2019. 1-4 players. Quick.

Source: I bought it for The Empress at Christmas 2019.

Overview: It’s fun. We played it with my younger sister and her husband on Christmas Day at their house. (We also “played” it with our five-year-old nephew. He drew lines. It was cute.)

The game comes with four dry erase map boards, markers, and a set of cards. Draw four cards each turn to tell you what segments you have available to draw that turn. Attempt to connect segments to collect treasure and weapons while fighting monsters and avoiding traps.

Thoughts: This is not a deeply strategic game, but it does require some careful thinking and planning to win. Spot of luck in the card order doesn’t hurt, either. You don’t see what other players are doing while it’s going on, so it’s sort of a play-against-the-game sort of game, but there are some interactive actions (traps!) and it’s fun at the end when everyone shows off their mad (or mad!) orienteering skilz.

Result: On New Year’s Eve, I beat The Empress 28-24.

Record: Jon 1, The Empress 0

Verdict: Keep



Details: Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede for Hans im Glück, 2000.* 2-5 players. Short-to-medium.

*(The German original. My version was distributed by Rio Grande Games in the United States. The U.S. license has since been purchased by Z-Man Games.)

Source: I bought it, jeez, shortly after college? When it was still newish, anyway. It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2001, and my copy does not have that on the box, so it’s an early edition.

Overview: Each turn you draw a tile, then place it adjacent to matching tiles already in play, thus slowly creating a sprawling countryside full of castles, roads, fields, and monasteries. When you place a tile, you have the option to add one of your meeples to it, thus setting yourself up to score points on the growing castle, road, field, or monastery.

Thoughts: It’s a classic for a reason, and it popularized the tile-laying game style. Carcassonne itself has about a dozen expansions adding tiles and rules. Our copy includes extra tiles from at least four of those, but we prefer to play under the original rules. There are several other Carcassonne games with different themes (and varying rules) out there, and we own a few. Maybe we’ll even get to some of them before 2020’s out.

No two games are the same, and it’s fun to build things while blocking, stealing, and generally aggravating your opponent(s). There is some luck in the tile drawing, but tile and meeple placement weighs much more heavily in the outcome.

It works fine as a two-player game, but — as is the case with many multi-player games played by just two — it can get pretty intense with the direct, head-to-head nature of play. It’s really fun with three or four players. Five (or six, with an expansion) players can make it seem to drag.

Result: On New Year’s Eve, I beat The Empress, 189-188.

Record: Jon 2, The Empress 0

Verdict: Keep.


The Downfall of Pompeii

Details: Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede for AMIGO, 2004.* 2-4 players. Short.

*(Distribued by Mayfield Games in the States, at least my copy was.)

Source: We bought this one after playing it at Steve Jackson’s Ogre Launch Party in Austin back in October 2013. (Another couple had a copy, and they were very excited to have it, as it had just come back into print after a long time out.)

Overview: It’s another acclaimed tile game by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede! This time, the tiles aren’t that big of a deal until the end, though. It’s more a card and meeple placement game until then. First, you populate the city, before rapidly de-populating it once the volcano blows.

Thoughts: This games is always a hoot. Nothing says “fun” like tossing your opponent’s meeple into a volcano! (The game includes a really spiffy 3-D volcano.) The card draws can make it play pretty random and swing-y at times, but it’s ultimately a game of strategic meeple placement, followed by a quick, mean game of tile placement and meeple burning. See also: “fun.”

This plays very mean with just two people, and it’s really better with three or four. It’s actually one of my favorite three-player games. (Good, balanced three-player games are hard to find.) It also plays reliably short, with built-in timing based on fixed numbers of card and tile draws.

Result: On New Year’s Eve, I beat The Empress by several escaping meeples, but I forgot to get an exact count.

Record: Jon 3, The Empress 0

Verdict: Keep

Special Appearance: Best Cat tried to stay up to watch us play, but she ultimately decided to sleep through the transition from one year to the next.