Go is an ancient board game that is very heavily dependent on strategy, despite having simple rules. Two players are involved- one plays the black stones, and the other, white. In that respect, it’s just like chess. The game board is a grid, usually 19 by 19 squares. Players alternate placing their stones in an attempt to surround the other player’s pieces. The goal of the game is to control a larger amount of the board than your opponent, either by surrounding your opponent’s pieces or by creating ‘bodies’ (what groups of stones are called) that cannot be surrounded.
At the end of the game, points are counted up based on how much of the board you control, as well as how many of the opponent’s pieces you have captured.
Go uses some strange terminology. A collection of stones on the board make up a body, and the body is considered alive as long as there are two open points.

The white group of stones in the middle has 3 open points left

Go is a really fun game, and fairly easy to learn how to play. The real challenge here is strategic. Concentrating on the board for a game’s length of time (probably over an hour) can get tiring and draining on the mind. The first time I played this game, I was in Pleasant Blends with my boyfriend. The shop around melted away as I focused on the board. The only thing I didn’t forget about was my coffee.
Although it’s a little intense, and the rules can be confusing when you get into the upper levels, Go is a great game-and portable too.


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Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is a super-fun game that involves elements of both strategy and luck. Catan requires a minimum of three people to play, which can be inconvenient when you only have two people. Two-player rule variations do exist, and there is also a two-player Settlers of Catan card game. Because of the three-player minimum, I’ve only played this game a couple of times- and one of those times was in German.
In the full version of the game, players compete to settle the island of Catan by building roads, towns and cities. By placing cities or towns, you gain access to resources. Which resources are produced during that turn is determined by the roll of the dice.

Partially this game is a game of strategy, because you want to use your resources to place cities in the most advantageous spots. However the element of luck is still very important because the resources that are distributed depend on which number is rolled. Additionally, a roll of seven will bring the Thief token into play. The Thief blocks a player from gaining resources, and also steals resources if a player has more than 10 in their hand.

When the first player to reach ten victory points wins the game. Victory points are gained by building cities, settlements and roads, as well as by having the largest army. Players can trade resources in Settlers of Catan, adding an element of bargaining as well. Players can also own harbors, which allow different trades for resources, although you can usually get better deals from your opponents- this varies depending on who you’re playing with though.

The game board for Settlers of Catan, made up of hexagonal pieces

Catan is made fresh by the addition of several expansion packs, all of which look very interesting. The expansion that looks the most interesting to me is the Cities and Knights expansion, which adds knights to the military and gives new city bonuses to players, adding a new strategical dimension.

Settlers of Catan is an easy game to learn, making it fun to play with a group of people even if they don’t have much gaming experience. The elements of strategy and luck are combined well, resulting in a fun game that can be played numerous times.

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The Argument

There’s just something about playing games that can make them get heated, fast. Maybe the differing interpretations of rules have to do with the tiffs, or maybe just the sheer competitive spirit. But whatever the reason, fighting over games is something that happens- a lot.
Some of my fellow students were gracious enough to let me interview them and get an inside look at their argument over a game of Monopoly. Many thanks to David and Becca for letting me use them in my post!
Here’s a quick rundown of their argument:

I’d like to mention that David and Becca are both wonderful people who just happened to get into an argument- something that happens to all of us at some time or another.
Cheating can be a big problem when it comes to board games- no one wants to feel wronged, but everybody wants to win. Here are a few tips for dealing with board game cheating.

  • Be a good sport. No one likes losing, and that’s one of the main reasons people will feel tempted to cheat. If you win, don’t tease the losers- this will help cut down on cheating and improve relationships too.
  • Come up with rules. Before starting, go through the game rules and figure out what would be cheating. Decide on a forfeit that anyone caught cheating will have to perform- anything from guzzling a whole can of soda to standing on their head. Just don’t make it too demeaning.
  • Decide if it’s worth it. In the end, you’re just playing a game. Are the accusations of cheating and the problems they may bring worth the reward?

According to a study commissioned by MyVoucherCodes.co.uk, board games are the number one cause of arguments during the holidays. Part of those arguments stem from deciding which game to play, but the majority come from accusations of cheating.
The holidays are over, but board games are year-round. Let’s keep them fun!


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Le Game

Today’s post is about the ‘sequel’ of sorts to Agricola: LeHavre. Both games, along with At the Gates of Loyang, make up Uwe Rosenburg’s Harvest Trilogy.
The playing style of LeHavre is similar to Agricola, but the game has enough differences to make it unique. This game is special to me because it was the first real strategy-type game that I played. It was confusing at first- it took us about four hours to play it the first time.

The game board, stocked with resources

The game is very setup-intense-I counted once, and there are approximately 1 billion game pieces. Resources exist in the form of fish, coal, wood, iron, clay, grain, cows, hides and francs. All resources can be upgraded. For example, fish (worth 1 food) can be turned into smoked fish (worth 2 food), wood can be turned into charcoal for additional energy, and iron can be turned into steel. These upgrades are performed through buildings. To get smoked fish, you go to the smokehouse, for steel you visit the steelworks.

Each turn consists of two phases. After moving your game piece (a little wooden ship), you stock resources. Then you choose an action by placing your worker piece. You can either take a resource offer, like fish or wood, or you can perform an action, such as building or upgrading a resource. There are 7 turns in each round. At the end of the round comes the harvest phase. In this stage you pay the food requirements for the round.

The requirements go up quickly, and having enough food will be a problem. Building ships (made of wood, iron or steel) is crucial. A ship is worth a certain amount of food, which makes your quota at the end of the round drop. Additionally, ships can be used with the Shipping Line action to sell resources for extra gold. The number of rounds varies depending on the number of players. A two-person game has 16 rounds. At the end, the player with the most gold wins.

This is an intense game. I quickly discovered that it is possible to wreck entire game strategies just by taking a resource pile at the wrong time. On the other hand, it definitely lowered my boyfriend’s overall score, meaning that our end game points were closer than normal. The piles of resources are extremely easy to knock over, sending cows and clay careening into the harbor, polluting the water supply and causing famine and pestilence across the land. Or so I like to imagine.

We could not keep the wood resources organized

Despite the long setup and take-down time, this game is well worth it. It’s difficult to learn, but not so bad once you get the hang of it. Strategies change each time, and are very dependent on what your opponents choose to do. It’s a little expensive initially, but a great game investment.

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In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

I got this game for my boyfriend’s Christmas present (along with some sweet samurai sword chopsticks!). Race for the Galaxy is a card-based game in which players compete to conquer the galaxy through building improvements, settling planets and gaining victory points. Setup is minimal and there are cards for up to 4 players (with more added in expansions).

The game is over when one player has 12 cards in their tableau, or when all the victory points are gone. Victory points are received for selling resources during the game. After the game is over, victory points on the cards are added up and the player with the most points overall wins.
Each player has 6 actions available to them in the form of 6 cards. At the beginning of the round, each player chooses an action card and places it face-down on the table. When everyone has chosen the cards are revealed simultaneously. Everyone performs the actions chosen if they so choose. I’ve found that the best strategy is to decide on one main class to focus on (like military or developments) and fill the majority of your tableau with those cards for maximum victory points.

The six action cards, with the cheat sheet in the background

The game is rated for ages 12 and up, according to boardgamegeek. It is fairly text-heavy, but the main difficulty comes from the card symbols. It’s akin to learning a pictorial language. Luckily, cheat sheets are provided for each player. Still, plan on the first couple times playing through to take more time, since you’ll constantly be looking up the symbols on your cheat sheet.

My tableau in the foreground, with discard pile, victory chips, and opponent's tableau in the background

There are three expansion packs which provide new cards and scenarios. The most interesting one looks to be the Rebel vs Imperium expansion, which allows player to conquer military worlds in their opponent’s tableaus.
Race for the Galaxy is a strategy-heavy game, but that strategy is somewhat dictated by which cards you draw. So far, I have yet to actually win a game, but my scores are steadily climbing higher. One day I will conquer the galaxy.

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How could I resist a German game? My boyfriend recently bought Powergrid, a resource-oriented game in which players build cities and provide power to them through different means. Each player can have four power plants at one time, and each power plant requires a certain amount of resources to power cities. More advanced power plants can power more cities on fewer resources; these come as the game progresses.

Our two main regions with cities

The resources are coal, oil, garbage and uranium. You have to have these to provide power to your cities via your power plants. The resources are stocked at different rates, which means that the costs for resources fluctuate as the game progresses. An interesting dynamic is created as resources become more scarce, leading to the need for a new power plant that uses a different type of fuel.
You can choose to play either on a map of Germany or a map of America. Each player chooses a region (they must be adjacent) and one additional adjacent region is also added. This gives you 21 cities to power in all for a 2-player game. The game is over when one player has built and can power 17 cities.

A closeup of the board and a city. The board art is very detailed, which I appreciate.

Powergrid is originally German and the translated rules can be hard to follow. It took us about 45 minutes to read through the rules, and it still wasn’t entirely clear. Each turn in the game has 5 phases and there are 3 overall stages to the game. It sounds confusing, but don’t worry: it is. Take the time to go through the rules.

One note: this game requires a lot of addition during the course of the game. So, if you’re like me and not that good at math, keep either a calculator or (preferably) a boyfriend with a math minor on hand. Some games are made much more enjoyable with the addition of alcohol; Powergrid is not one of them. Once you understand it, it’s easy enough to play and more simple to explain to others. It’s fun, and well worth the puzzling rules.

My power plants, with resources. The black pieces are oil and the brown are coal- which is very confusing to me- coal should be black.


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Smallworld, Part II

I know my last post was about Smallworld, but there’s more to say about this game.

One of the best parts about the game is the strong community involvement . In addition to being a super-fun, well designed game, Smallworld actively encourages player modifications and expansions. Included in the original game is a blank race token so players can come up with their own, complete with special powers.

My boyfriend and I created the dragons- a powerful yet solitary race that receives a +1 gold bonus for occupying territories that aren’t adjacent to one another. Dragons need their privacy, after all.

Smallworld also has several expansion packs which feature contest-winning entries from players.

The “Grand Dames” expansion features more female races (which were lacking in the original) as well as two new special powers. The Priestess race lets you group all your remaining tokens in one territory for full victory points once they go into decline. This would be a massive advantage; however it’s balanced out by the relatively low number of units you receive. The Historian special power also looks neat: you’ll get bonus gold for territories once your race goes into decline.

The priestess race with the historian special power

We also have the Necromancer Island expansion ; however we haven’t played it yet because it requires at least three people to play. After teaching the game to my roommate though, I hold high hopes for being able to try this one out soon!

The cover for the Necromancer Island expansion (courtesy of boardgamegeek.com)

Expansions I want to Try:
The “Cursed” expansion pack looks very interesting, adding the Kobold and Goblin races as well as 5 new special powers. The most exciting is the “Were-“power badge, which lets you conquer territories with 2 less tokens than normal at night (even-numbered turns). I’m thinking this expansion is the next one to try.

One expansion changes the storyline during each turn. Tales and Legends provides event cards which confer advantages and penalties. The “White Queen” event makes your in-decline race invulnerable to conquest for one full turn, which can be very useful…

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