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 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.