Games We Play: The Rest of January

Had I realized I was breaking up a three-day weekend, I might have kept going on that last post. As it turned out, the post was getting long, and I was getting tired, so here we are, still on January 19, with games still to go. Can we get through the rest of January? Let’s find out.

Ticket to Ride: Märklin Edition

Details: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2006.  2-5 players. Medium.

Source: I bought it for The Empress of Whisky at Christmas, way back in 2006.

Overview: Märklin, if you’re not aware, is a German toy company, in business since the mid-1800s, that is best known for its model trains. This edition of Ticket to Ride, aside from having a German map, features a photo of a different Märklin model train car on each card. It’s quite impressive.

As for game play, this edition of Ticket to Ride has some rules variations that set it apart from other editions. (This is common in Ticket to Ride games; I have yet to see two that share exactly the same ruleset.)

This time around, the major rule variation is Passengers. Each player starts the game with three passenger tokens, which can be placed at any city during a move in which a rail segment is connected to that city. On a later turn, the player may move the passenger along their entire rail network, collecting points tokens from cities as the passenger moves through them.

Naturally, this mechanic throws the game in a whole new direction. Quickly building a short network connecting nearby cities can prove really profitable, once you have passengers running around grabbing those point tokens.

Aside from passengers, which are unique to this edition, this edition features both Short and Long Route Cards. Each player chooses what mix of these to pursue. The game also features +4 Locomotives, which are only usable on routes 4 train cars long or longer. These wild cards, unlike regular Locomotives, do not count as 2 when drawing.

Thoughts: This is a great version of Ticket to Ride. We love it for game play and sentimental reasons.

Result: On January 19, I squeaked out a win, 161-139. 

Verdict: Keep. Mind you, if we ever get really hard up, this out-of-print edition goes for high prices on the secondary market.


Monday rolled around, and here’s how we spent MLK Day.

Bohnanza: The Duel

Details: Designed by Uwe Rosenberg for AMIGO Games,* 2016. 2 Players. Short.

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

Source: I found this one in a discount bin at a game store in downtown Madison, Wisconsin and saved it until Christmas to stuff in the stocking of The Empress of Whisky.

(Yes, I buy games on trips. No, you are not surprised. Yes, I am excellent at Luggage Tetris. No, I am not as organized about anything as I am about planning out The Empress’ stocking gifts way in advance.)

Overview: It’s a spin-off of the popular game Bohnanza, which is for 2-7 players and is loads of fun. It’s also, I just realized, the first game published by Uwe Rosenberg, way back in 1997, so that’s cool.

The Duel plays somewhat like the original, but this isn’t just a cheap re-boxing for two players. The rules here take some major diversions from the original.

First, let’s get through the basics. You have a hand of cards humorously illustrated with varieties of beans. The beans have value based on their scarcity in the the game; rare red beans are worth more than super-common blue beans.

Your goal is to plant them in one of three “fields” — rows of cards kept in front of you — and then harvest them for profit. Easy. (Speaking of easy, the card backs are coins, meaning to keep score you just turn over cards as you harvest them. Nice, efficient piece of game design, that.)

The wrench of the game is that you may not change the order of cards in your hand. This forces you to deal with having the wrong type of bean up at any given time. (Say you’re collecting soy beans and your next card is a green bean. Trouble, that.)

So far we’re on par with the original. Here’s where the major change comes.

In the original, you manipulate your hand by trading cards with other players around the table, trying to ensure that the next bean up is something you want to plant.

In The Duel, there is only a limited form of trading each turn. Otherwise, you are stuck with the beans that come up in your hand. However, to mitigate this you may — unlike in the original game — plant a less valuable bean on top of any more valuable bean. Thus, your overall stack value may decrease, but at least you’re not forced to harvest your hard work too soon.

The game also includes a set of bonus cards. Each player has three of these at any time, and each offers a payment for achieving a certain sequence of beans in a field — for example: two of a kind, plus one, plus three of a kind (in that order exactly).

Thoughts: This is great fun, thematically true to the original, but different enough to clearly be its own game. We rather enjoy it.

Result: On January 20, The Empress sold $42.40 worth of beans to my measly $35.60.

Verdict: Keep. I can’t believe I found it in a discount bin.


Games on Repeat (Sort of)

Repeated Game: Carcassonne, with The River Expansion

What’s Different: The River is one of a bazillion expansions available for Carcassonne, but it has the distinction of being the first. When I bought my copy way back at the dawn of the millennium, The River was included as a freebie.

Instead of using the starting tile, you can use The River. It consists of 13 tiles. After placing the spring, players alternate placing pieces of the river, each of which must connect and cannot form a loop. The pieces have the usual segments of road, castle, and field, and players may place meeples on them as normal. Once The River is all placed, play proceeds as usual.

The main playing difference is how widely spaced the game is once it gets going.

Result: The Empress started having a day here, beating me in successive games, 141-110 and 195-170.



Details: It’s a really old card game. Ask your grandparents.

Source: I bought this particular lovely cribbage board from Drueke, the grand and, sadly, now defunct U.S. maker of classic wooden board game sets: cribbage, chess, checkers, backgammon, and so forth. It was a Christmas gift to The Empress.

Overview: I will not attempt to describe cribbage in detail because there are surely a googol of such descriptions already available online.

Suffice to say it’s a mathy card game traditionally for two players. There are rules for 3 or 4 players, which this lovely board will accommodate, and I’ve seen rules for more, though finding those boards must be tricky.

Basically, you count points each hand, trying to win a race around the board.

Thoughts: I came to cribbage late in life, which is maybe why it still feels vaguely unnatural to me. The counting rules alone — 15-2, 15-4, a run of 8, etc. — just seem weird. Then again, I majored in English.

Result: On January 20, as usual, The Empress beat me at cribbage. This time she skunked me, 121-78. (If you don’t know what “skunked” means in this context, ask an old person.)

Verdict: Keep. I don’t even know how many cribbage boards we have, and if I somehow got them all out of the house, The Empress would still talk me into playing and just keep score on paper.


The following weekend, we hosted friends — oh, how I miss hosting friends — for another Torg: Day One adventure, this time in Tharkhold. It was great, especially as My Second Oldest Friend, with whom I used to play Torg back in the ’90s, was able to join. Good times.

The next day, The Empress and I were back to the game table, starting with an old favorite.

Games on Repeat

Repeated Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Result: Somehow, to the surprise of both of us, I beat The Empress 95-55. Unwilling to let it go at that, we played a second game, and I was again victorious, though by a lesser margin, 96-71.

Time for something else.


Ticket to Ride: Europe (w/ Europa 1912 Expansion)

Details: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2005. 2-5 players. Medium.

Expansion: Designed by Alan R. Moon for Days of Wonder, 2009. This does not add significant time to the game, but it can add some significant complications, if you use all the options.

Source: Someone gave us the Europe version, I think. Back when it was newish. The expansion I bought as a stocking stuffer — yes, her stocking is mostly small games — when it came out in 2009.

Overview: The game itself is mostly classic Ticket to Ride, with which by now you must be familiar. (If you are somehow not, or you need a refresher, you can find the other Ticket to Ride entries in the Games We Play index.)

It’s the basic rules, but it adds Tunnels and Ferries. Ferries simply require a Locomotive (or two) to complete, while Tunnels are something of a gamble. When placing one, to represent the uncertainty of building a railroad line through a mountain, the player must flip the top three cards of the train deck. If any of these match the color of the route, the player must add a card of that color for each match flipped. If the player can’t afford this, the entire turn is forfeit.

The expansion adds a lot. First, it has an entirely new set of Route Cards to play with, including sub-sets of Big Cities of Europe and Mega Europe. Variants on variants, buddy.

The set also includes an entirely new rules add-on: Depots and Warehouses. The Depots can be placed on any city, and they link to the Warehouses, which slowly accumulate extra cards over the course of the game. When a player connects to a city with a Depot, that player receives all cards in the associated Warehouse. It’s a bit much, honestly. These rules can be played with any other Ticket to Ride set.

Thoughts: I like the Europe version, with or without the expansion. The board is broad, but it’s still deceptively easy to get locked out of cities and end up forced to take the long way round.

Result: On January 25, The Empress beat me like a dusty rug, 198 to *cough*70*cough*.

Verdict: Keep. Europe is nice to visit.

Race for the Galaxy

Details: Designed by Thomas Lehmann for Rio Grande Games, 2007. 2-4 players. Short.

Source: I think this was another item fulfilled from The Empress’ wish list, many years ago.

Overview: This is an engine-building game with only tangential player interaction. Each player is attempting to hit a victory point total, by drawing cards and building a set of colonies across multiple worlds, sometimes with point-enhancing additions like troops, science stations, robotics, and so forth.

Thoughts: This one had been sitting on the shelf for a long time, and we did not think we’d played it before, but as we got into we realized we had. It is a game that takes some learning, but once you get over that hump, it’s relatively easy.

Result: On January 20, we played twice, to make sure we had a grasp on it. I won both, but narrowly each time.

Verdict: Keep? It’s not a bad game, but it is probably going to be sitting on the shelf for another long spell before we come back to it.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

Details: Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede for Hans im Glück, 2002.* 2-5 players. Short.

*(The German original. This version was distributed by Rio Grande Games in the United States. The U.S. license has since been purchased by Z-Man Games with, I might add, an uglier cover.)

Source: I received it as gift one Christmas. I’m pretty sure it was on my wish list because I’d read a nice review somewhere.

Overview: The money’s in the sequels, right? Carcassonne has had a few, along with the aforementioned bazillion expansions. This is no simple re-skin, however; Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers manages to take the same mechanics and come out with a game that’s strategically different that the original.

The essential rules — draw a tile, place a meeple — remain, but the terrain features you’re after are totally different. Fields are still a thing, but instead of trying to connect them to castles, you want them to contain tasty critters — deer and such — while avoiding tigers. Tigers are fun because they allow a bit of devious placement between players.

Rivers are sort of like roads in the original game, except you worry about not just the number of segments in the river but also the number of fish in the lakes at each end. You also have one additional meeple type (fishing huts), with each player able to place up to two of these. For huts, only the number of fish count, but you can count all the fish in an entire river system.

Finally, you can complete forests, which are a bit like castles in the original, at least as far as scoring goes. One twist, however: forests may contain gold nuggets, and a player (owner or not) who completes a forest containing a gold nugget gets to draw from a special 12-tile bonus deck, which includes some nifty unique tiles.

Thoughts: I rather enjoy this version. It’s a nice refresher from time to time over the original.

Result: On January 27, I beat The Empress 181-169.

Verdict: Keep. We’re not going Paleo any time soon, but it’s still nice to hunt and gather now and then.

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.

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: 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.

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.