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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chattering for Two, Part Two

This week, I wanted to continue talking about the two-player games Jodie and I like to play. This week's installment will look at games we don't play as frequently for a variety of reasons - time, complexity, (it's frequently hard to pull out Goa or E&T at 8pm after a long day of work and putting an 18-month-old to bed) or interest. Some of these games are placed in obvious groups. I'm not going to add in links for the individual games this time - I'd merely be sending you to the geek, in any case.

The Mike Fitzgerald Rummy variants. (Wyatt Earp, Mystery Rummy 1-4, and History's Mysteries.) Wyatt Earp and Jack the Ripper are our favorites out of this group, and we'll be getting Bonnie and Clyde when it comes out. History's Mysteries just fell flat for us, and Al Capone wasn't so hot, either.

Attika. We haven't played this in a few months, but we played it a lot before that. I've got 20 plays of it registered, and I'd guess 15 of them are two-player. I think that's its best configuration. Our games tend to be played defensively, but occasionally we'll have a contest where we're going out of our way to block the other. Definitely the exception, though.

Cribbage. By far our favorite game with a standard 52-card deck. We don't play anywhere near as much as we used to, but before Megan was born, our standard evening after getting home from work (on non-softball nights) was sitting on the couch playing cribbage and watching the Mariners on TV.

The Empire Builder series. Yes, they can be long. Yes, they're sort of like multi-player solitaire. But we enjoy the optimization and racing aspects. Our favorite is probably India Rails, for two reasons - it's relatively short (we can get a game complete in around 90 minutes) and it's the first one we got. Others in the series we own are Australia (tube), Russia, Lunar, Nippon and an older version of Empire Builder that doesn't have Mexico on the map. We've played with the communal delivery card variant a couple times and it hasn't caught on for us. Probably because our plays of these games are so sporadic now.

Guillotine. Light fun, love the artwork. It's a game the family will play.

Cartagena. This plays well for two. We haven't ventured into the Tortuga variant yet. Maybe someday. Requires a mode of thought we haven't been able to muster for a while.

Amazing Labyrinth. Again, nice light fun.

Oltremare. This is an intriguing little game. A spicy bohnanza in a way, though the core game actually works for two players - you don't have to resort to a duel version as in Bohnanza.

Puerto Rico. We definitely like the two player variant, but I don't think we've played it since we got San Juan. Similar ideas (when played as two-player) but the setup time for Puerto Rico is long for how long the game lasts. It's a purely practical matter.

The Kosmos two-player series. We own something like 12-14 of these games. Out of those, our favorites are Jambo, Settlers Cardgame, Lost Cities, Odin's Ravens (Jodie's favorite out of these, btw) Balloon Cup, and Starship Catan. Druidenwalzer is still on my unplayed games list.

There are a number of other games that we've played occasionally and for one reason or another, just haven't put on the table much. Some of these deserve better.

  • Samurai - this simply needs more play.

  • Candamir - just got it recently, and it's got some potential. Need to give it another couple shots, but it's a longish game. Will have to contact Mayfair about updated tiles, too.

  • Canal Grande - I haven't played San Marco, so the "divide and choose" mechanism was new to us. This one's good for quite a few more plays, I believe.

  • Duell - its a bit mechanical, but we've only given it one shot - I'd like to try it again some time.

  • Magna Grecia - played this for the first time a couple months ago at Mike's place - I think it would work well for two. We just haven't tried it yet.

  • Formula De - it does work for two (you just need to run three or four cars each) but the real fun in this game is playing an entire season over different tracks.

After looking over this list and last week's, you might be asking "where are the abstracts?" Well, that's a very good question. Many moons ago, I was a tournament chess player. Now that I think about it, its getting close to 15 years since my last tournament. I was never really that good (my final rating was somewhere around 1260, if I remember properly), but I just got tired of the scene. Theory and practice of openings just isn't my bag.

As a result, I've got a conditioned aversion to abstracts. My brain just doesn't want to go there. All you have to do is just paste a theme on top (hi, Reiner!) and I'm fine with it. But I look at games like the Gipf project or Blokus or Ingenious and I am just not interested.

Jodie and I have played chess and backgammon a few times, but it just didn't work for us. She's afraid that since I used to play in tournaments I'd beat her badly, and I'm afraid to turn the "mental engagement" switch on, so I don't really pay attention to the game when we're playing - makes for a severe lack of fun. Backgammon went over okay, but it's got those funny, cube shaped things with dots on them, so it's not really an abstract, right?


  • At 8:08 AM, Blogger Dug said…

    I used to feel the same way you do about abstracts, but I gave a few a try recently and I've changed my mind about them. A theme gives you something to "hang your hat on" and is very useful for games longer than 30 minutes or so, but under that time I think that abstracts have a lot going for them.

    When you think about it, Cribbage is an abstract...

  • At 1:46 PM, Blogger Eric said…

    When you think about it, Cribbage is an abstract...

    I'll be honest. In all my years of gaming, the phrase "abstract card game" has never entered my mind.


    Probably for good reason.

    I've played YINSH. It was a good game. But I most definitely caught myself in that flailing-the-arms-and-spinning-while-yelling-danger response where I could _not_ deeply analyze the game.

    This is a definite mental block. But I'm not sure it's one I want to correct. I've got more than enough games to play without going down that road.

    Eventually, I'll be teaching Megan how to play chess if she's interested - it's one of those things everyone should know. So I'll wait until then to venture into that cobweb-filled corner of my brain.


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