Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Faves #3 - Favorite board games

I'm a lifelong board game player and not surprisingly at an early age I found myself straying from the mass-marketed fare (Candy Land, Sorry, Monopoly, etc.) and moving into the more complex games. At age 8 I bought Avalon Hill's War at Sea at a garage sale for a quarter and played the heck out of that which exposed me to wargames. At age 9, I got into role playing games (Dungeons and Dragons, of course, was the first there).

I also was into sports games at an early age, too. My first sports board game was Charlie Brown's All-Star Baseball. Tim Wiles, the Director of Research at the Hall of Fame, had a copy in his office and that was a blast getting to see it again when I was at the Hall (my copy vanished long ago). From there I went to Cadaco's All-Star Baseball, then Avalon Hill's Statis-Pro Baseball. Statis-Pro held me through high school when my girlfriend at college got me Strat-o-Matic (SOM) for Christmas which led to me becoming a delinquent and having to transfer to a college in North Carolina. That, in turn, led me to my first job out of college as Technical Manager of Pursue the Pennant (PTP). Despite not getting SOM baseball until college, I did have football, basketball and hockey during my grade school years. Go figure.

Board games were a huge part of my friendships. Myself and four friends in particular would often game on the weekends through high school. Once I transferred colleges, I stopped playing until I worked for PTP and then I only played PTP. When I had kids of my own, I started getting new games (I had pretty much sold off or given all my old games to my friend Eric, who is obsessed with games as I am baseball). My sons both enjoy playing a lot and we try and make a weekly thing out of it.

Keith Law put up a post of his top thirty games this week so I thought I'd keep with the theme for this week's Friday Faves. All of them are current faves. I'll address old-timey faves in the honorable mentions.

#1 - Settlers of Catan. This game is my favorite because it has just the right blend of luck and strategy. The board changes every game which keeps it interesting and there are multiple ways to go about winning. It is rare that a game of this isn't fun.

#2 - Dominion. Keith Law kept Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue separate but I'm lumping Dominion and all it's expansions together. We have the original game, Intrigue, Seaside, Prosperity, Alchemy and some promo cards and our method of playing is to randomly generate ten sets of Kingdom Cards from the combined sets for each game. This is the most played game in our household and it also holds a lot of appeal because every game is different (and we usually play three games at a time when we break it out) and there are multiple ways of winning. I also like both this and Settlers in that everyone usually has a shot of winning, even if you're playing someone with decades of gaming experience (important as a Dad if you want to keep your sons playing).

#3 Strat-o-matic baseball. I got rid of my set once I went to work for PTP but then reacquired the game once I moved on with my career and when SOM put out their 1911 cardset. I can't get anyone to play with me so I play solitaire when I play and it saddens me sometimes to think of the pages of notebooks and scoresheets I have filled over the years in a J. Henry Waugh-esque compulsion for playing these games. Is the time and energy devoted to playing "worth" it? Could I or should I have been doing something more "productive"? Of course, I'm mulling this piece of existentialism as I "productively" blog (and as you productively read after taking time off from Angry Birds). All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

#4 Um Reifenbreite. Another game that no one will play with me. I didn't think it possible but this is actually a pretty accurate recreation of a professional bicycle race. The game is in German and so I had to translate it all. It's a lot of fun. Each person has four riders. Each rider has different riding ability but each team is comprised of the same four rider sets of riding ability. The majority of the game involves determining when to breakaway and when to draft and figuring when to best expend a rider's energy. I love the strategy and I think no one will play because as a former bicyclist and fan of cycling, I knows me my bicycling strategy and so I make this game no fun for novices. It's still a very cool game.

#5 Puerto Rico. It takes forever to setup but I think this is the closest thing to an old school strategy game that we play. We don't play it enough that any of us have figured out the best way to approach the game which is part of the charm. From things I've read, frequent playing reveals optimal strategies. Plus, this game has a real minimal amount of luck so once those strategies are identified, I expect this game will cease being enjoyable.

Honorable mentions:
Talisman - Of all the games I played as a youngster, this is the one I miss the most. Eric had all the expansions and it seemed as if each game took hours but was never boring. The characters you could be were really interesting (I loved being either the Chainsaw Warrior or the Swashbuckler) and somehow every game seemed competitive.

Formula DE - I never played this much thanks to an intervention by Eric. He had it with most of, if not all, the expansions. It's a very detailed auto racing game and each expansion contains two different tracks. When I played it, I could see myself drawing up detailed schedules and keeping all sorts of stats and playing entire auto racing seasons (speaking of which, congratulations Tony Stewart on championship #3!!!). Thankfully, this never came to fruition as Eric would not let me borrow it.

Bossman Baseball - this was a game that PTP tried to sell on the side that someone else had created. The game has nine innings and you go around and acquire Hall of Famers and try and build a team. The trick is that you have to pay each player on your team their salary every inning. So if you acquire Babe Ruth for $2 million in inning 1, you're shelling out $18 million over the course of the game which is a lot of money to be paying for one player. Despite the baseball theme, it's actually a money game and I never win which makes it really fun for people who think "How could YOU possibly lose a game involving baseball?". The answer being that I have favorite players and will pay 27.3 million for Christy Mathewson and then be stuck paying $100,000 for Rick Ferrell, Rabbit Maranville and not having enough for outfielders or any other starting pitchers. I'm smart like that.

Elixir - This was once fun but my youngest son abuses the rules as to make the game unfun. The game is played with two decks of cards, a spell deck and an items deck. Everyone starts the game with so many points worth of spells, usually around 9-11 depending on the number of players. Each spell is 1-4 points and takes 1-4 ingredients to cast it. Level 3 and 4 spells change the game. Level 1 and 2 are more goofy. My youngest likes to stock up on Level 1 spells which tend to have things like "Your opponent must say "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle" before they speak for the rest of the game. We had to limit the number of level 1 spells you can cast because it was tough remembering what everyone was supposed to be saying. It really turned the game into a farce and who wants that?

Grass - a card game about dealing marijuana. Wholesome? No doubt. Competitive? The game had a card labeled "Screw Your Neighbor". We played this a lot in high school. A lot of different people had the game. Once I was married I picked up a copy and there was no better way to anger my wife. The last game of it we played ended when she threw her hand of cards in my face. The game wasn't over. She just had had enough of playing it. I ended up giving my copy away. One of, if not the most, cutthroat games I ever played.

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