January 29, 2010

Leisure Academy: Board Game Round-Up Part 2

Holding the title Leisure King, it is a necessity that I love games. Video games, sports games, word games, mind games, card games, travel games, party games, and particularly board games. Games are an extremely popular leisure activity. In the last few years I have taken a special interest in strategy board games, or "gamer" games, German-made games that you won't find at Target. To read up on the characteristics of these award-winning German-style games check out my previous post. But today I would like to continue my discussion and promotion of strategy games with a look at some new ones I have tried out over the last few months.

Agricola, Latin for farmer, is a complex game in which you must grow and maintain a balanced farm, harvesting different crops, raising a diverse collection of animals, expanding and improving your house, and growing and providing for your family. Released in 2008, it won top awards at Germany's Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis, kind of like the Oscars and Golden Globes for boardgames (minus politics, corporate backing, obscenely expensive clothing, and bullshit). Most impressively, Agricola took the crown for highest-rated board game on BoardGameGeek.com away from Puerto Rico*, which unwaveringly held that spot for the previous 5 years. This is actually quite understandable considering that it is extremely similar to Puerto Rico in goals and game play, but perhaps even more complex (who knew that was even possible?), with more game elements/variables, a more aesthetically pleasing design, and with new strategies to explore. The game is restricted to 14 turns only, which adds a dimension of anxiety, but also makes you focus and stops the game from going on too long. After the few times I have played it I must say that it is quite fun and challenging, but definitely not for the beginner strategy board game enthusiast. It took my friend and I a good 6 hours to read through the rules and understand the game, and we're pretty smart guys. I think the burden of having to explain the game to new players has prevented us from gaining new competition, but I am really looking forward to playing it with more than one opponent. Highly recommended, highly complex.

Shadows Over Camelot:
Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala's Shadows Over Camelot is a very unique game in which all the players are on the same team playing against the game itself, unless one of the players happens to have been secretly assigned the role of traitor and is allied with the game. Players take on the role of one of King Arthur's famed knights of the round table and each turn must introduce a new evil element into the game as well as attempting to combat it (unless, of course, you are the traitor, in which case your are being evil all the time, secretly). A cool aspect of the game is that there are a lot of things going on at once and you must use teamwork to beat the board, at any given point you might be questing for the Holy Grail, while another teammate is vanquishing invading monsters, while another player is fighting a dragon, and someone else is searching for Excalibur. That said, the game can get repetitive and putting everyone on the same team takes a slight bit of competitive fun out of it. I think the game is designed to be best played with a larger group of 6-7 players, and I have only played with at most 4, so that might also be contributing to my opinion. ...but try convincing 6 of your friends to commit a few hours to something so geekily titled as Shadows Over Camelot, not an easy task. It is definitely a unique, interesting, and new gaming experience, and for that I must recommend it.

Ticket to Ride Europe:
This is the same game as Alan R. Moon's original Ticket to Ride*, but with a new board and a few new game elements. On first play through, the Europe board seems much less balanced than the original America board, there are only two 6-train connector routes and one 8-train route that will earn you a whopping 21 points if you secure it. I then realized that the new element of the Station, which allows players to use opponents' connections, adds an entirely new dimension and strategy to the game allowing you to reach many more destinations than typically possible in the original game. I really enjoy this new element and will definitely be testing its limits in the future. The other new elements (tunnels and water routes) do not really change the game. I recommend this for veteran Ticket to Riders interested in new ways to play, but might suggest playing the American version first for the n00bs.

Chez Geek:

Unlike the other games featured, Chez Geek, is a simple, fast-paced, American made, card game, but has just as much "gamer" cred. It was created by Jon Darbro and Alain H. Dawson with help from gaming powerhouse Steve Jackson (famous for creating the game series Munchkin). Bursting with humor, the award-winning Chez Geek is a race to attain "slack" (aka leisure time) by doing various activities such as watching TV, playing RPGs, and getting nookie while your roommates (aka the other players) try to thwart you to reach their own "slack goal" first. You can also gain slack by calling fun people to come to your "room", getting a Live in S.O. (significant other), or purchasing booze, weed, and shrooms, but watch out for unwanted house guests. With cards delightfully illustrated by John Kovalic, it is quite fun and on-the-nose relevant to this blog and the post-grad slacker lifestyle (which I am currently enjoying). Highly recommended for people who like having fun, could possibly be a great drinking game, but not for younger audiences...I suppose it would probably have a PG-13 rating for drug references and sexual references.

Alright, I hope this gets you interested in checking out some fun and challenging alternatives to your Monopolys and Apples to Apples.

Leisure on! Play Games!

*Read my thoughts on Puerto Rico and Ticket to Ride here.

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