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.