We have an interesting list this week, with everything from light pattern recognition to super-hard cooperative to big heavy euro! Let’s get started!
Number 60 – Geistesblitz/Ghost Blitz
This game, known among my friends as “the game of broken fingers” is a pattern-recognition and mental agility game. In it, players race to be the first to grab one of five objects (a white ghost, a green bottle, a red chair, a blue book, and a grey mouse). The correct object is determined by a card, and two simple rules govern which one is correct: if an object is shown exactly, you grab that object. If no object is shown exactly, you grab the object that is not represented in either form or color.
The game is one of speed, and it is definitely one where a practiced player has a definite advantage. I, personally, have played the game so many times that I am a bit too skilled and not so much fun to compete against. However, I do love introducing the game to new players and watching the wheels in their heads turn.
For added fun, the game has an other two versions, one of which contains 9 objects instead of the 5 in the original. Variant rules also exist which change the way in which the correct answer is given, but I prefer just the base game of rapid grabbing and mental gymnastics.
Number 59 – Medieval Academy
Next up is a delightful card drafting game. In Medieval Academy, players draft hands of cards, then play them to advance on different tracks. Some tracks score small amounts of points each round, while others score more points, but less often. Others still penalize the person in last place on the track rather than rewarding the person in first place. The game is quick and cleanly designed, and it has fantastic artwork (by renowned game artist Piero).
What I love about Medieval Academy is how easy it is to teach and play. Some drafting games have lots of text on the cards, which really can slow down the drafting process, particularly with new players. Not so with Medieval Academy: the cards are clean and easy to understand. This makes the game instantly engaging and enables it to work with almost any crowd. And while the theme of the game may not be particularly strong, the gameplay and artwork more than compensate.
Number 58 – Primordial Soup
Another older game that still has a lot of life in it. Primordial Soup sees players representing families of amoebae trying to evolve to stand the best chance of survival. Each turn, players float with the current in the ooze and attempt to gain genetic enhancements that will allow them to control their movement, find food more easily, and attack other players. Each amoeba must also eat to survive and, as a natural consequence of this feast, poop out excrement (which other players’ amoebae can themselves eat).
While this sounds a bit gross, as a gameplay mechanism it forces interaction and makes the game shine (as well as making it memorable). In the end, the amoeba family who best adapts will be the winner.
One of the best points of this game is that it is such a unique theme which meshes so very well with the gameplay. It is relatively fast moving, yet it sometimes requires agonizing gameplay decisions. Unlike some other older games, Primordial Soup does not show its age in any way. Even nearly 20 years later, the game feels fresh and fun and deserves more attention than it needs. Although the game will be agony if you play with AP prone people, Primordial Soup will provide an interesting, innovative gameplay, and it proves that, in game design, the fittest in fact survive!
Number 57 – Dragon’s Gold
Some games seem designed to make people angry. Dragon’s Gold is just such a game. In it, players assist each other in slaying a dragon, but when it comes time to divide up the loot, players are forced to negotiate among themselves (on a 1-minute timer) to come to an acceptable distribution method. The rules of the negotiation are simple: only the division of the treasure can be taken into account, and everyone must agree. If a group can’t reach an agreement, the entire treasure is forfeited.
The fun of Dragon’s Gold comes in as you see how different players will react, and how those reactions evolve during the game. At first, division of treasure is usually relatively even, but because different treasure pieces are worth different amounts, eventually you will see those same players who prided themselves 0n fairness in the beginning now insisting for a decidedly lopsided division. The rules of the game are very straightforward, and the magic comes from the interactions that result. Recently reprinted, Dragon’s Gold is a treasure!
Number 56 – Dice Town
Another game with art by Piero, Dice town is a great western-themed game. In it, players use poker dice, rolling them and making the best hands they can. Then, the person with the most of each die face gets to take an action. Some actions result in direct points (such as taking gold nuggets), while others make future actions more efficient or interfere with other players.
The rules are simple, and the game has enough flexibility to allow players to take any path to victory they want. There is even a potent consolation prize in case players failed to get any rewards during a round. The game even features paper money of sufficient quality that I don’t have to complain about it. All in all, the cowboy-western theme is strong, and the experience works with experienced and casual gamers alike. Dice Town may be a lousy place to live, but it’s a great place to visit on the game table.
Number 55 – Archipelago
This one is a hard game to describe. Archipelago is a very complicated game with lots of rules that is really hard to teach to new players. The game involves settling a colony and forcing its population to work. Each round players perform a variety of actions, including exploring, building, and making babies. There is a nice dose of worker placement, exploration, and resource management, as well as a tiny bit of cooperation as players must collectively stave off a native rebellion (which results in a collective loss).
What sets Archipelago apart from other similar games is that each player has a secret end-game trigger. Players know a collective game end trigger, plus one of their own, but there are others they will not know. This means the game can end at any time. Unfortunately, this is what makes the game frustrating for new players, and since the cards are full of symbols, it is sometimes confusing for those unfamiliar with this type of game. But once you do break through that learning curve, it is a fabulous experience, full of story and theme, and something I wish I had more chances to explore.
Number 54 – Hare & Tortoise
Another old game pokes its head out of the carrot patch. Hare & Tortoise, which has gone through several different editions (and names, like the German “Hase & Igel”) is a delightfully simple race game where players are forced to balance speed and efficiency. Each turn, a player may move as far as he wants, provided he has sufficient carrots to spend. The cost of each additional space increases the farther you decide to move at once, so there are times it’s slow & steady and times to push ahead at hare-raising speed.
The game has been around forever, and it has the honor of being the first-ever Spiel des Jahres winner, all the way back in 1979. Yet, even after all that time, the game is a quick, fast moving race game with interesting decisions around every corner.
Number 53 – Mr. Jack (family)
My number 53 is actually a series of games. Currently, there are four games in the series, Mr. Jack, Mr. Jack in New York, Mr. Jack Pocket, and Le Fantome de l’Opera.
In the game, one player takes on the role of the villain, while the other is a detective trying to unmask the villain. Players take turn moving the characters around, with the detective trying to isolate and eliminate suspects, while the villain attempts to elude detection or escape. Each character has special abilities that can cause it to become easier or more difficult to isolate.
The rules are simple, and turns are quick. The game allows clever use of deduction and manipulation, and features excellent artwork (again by Piero).
If pressed to the wall, I would probably say that the New York version is my favorite, but really the games are similar enough that it’s appropriate that they share a spot.
Number 52 – Ghost Stories
And for the fourth time we find a game with artwork by Piero. I did not sort my games by that; it’s mere happenstance that so many Piero games showed up in the same post!
Ghost Stories sounds like another mediocre story-telling game, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. What Ghost Stories really is is a viciously difficult cooperative game, where players take on the role of a group of monks trying to fend off the advance of the ghostly armies of Wu Feng.
Each turn players are forced to make agonizing choices between collecting vital resources, moving into position to combat ghosts, and trying their luck at fending off those same ghosts. But each turn more ghosts come out, sometimes deactivating key action tiles, sometimes doing damage to the players, but always causing some sort of horrible problem. And then sometime the terror is from a pun:
The game is one of the more difficult cooperative games out there (especially on the “Hell” difficulty level), and it is an excellent solo adventure as well. Sometimes it feels like you are facing impossible odds which never seem to be in your favor. The iOS version is also enjoyable, although it shows its age a bit. If you don’t mind the horror of losing quickly, Ghost Stories is an excellent cooperative experience!
Number 51 – Rattus
Rattus is a simple area control game in which players vie for control of various regions of Europe. In a game there are six special roles, each of which grants its holder a special advantage. On his turn, a player may take on any role he likes, typically stealing a role from another player. However, if no one takes your role, you have the opportunity to stockpile multiple roles, and thus multiple special powers.
This is balanced, however, by the outbreak of the plague. Throughout the game, you will spread your influence cubes throughout the various regions of Europe. At the end of the turn, however, rat tokens will be revealed in a designated region. Each token will indicate a number of roles, each of which will lose one or more of its influence cubes. The more roles you have, the more likely you are to have your population decimated by the plague.
The game shines for its simplicity. It features a nice balance of risk and reward, as well as simple area control mechanisms. There are also a number of expansions, each with multiple combinations of special powers that can be in play. This ensures variety in each game and forces players to adapt to different strategies.
Rattus is a game I can easily teach to new players and that I love to bring out on almost any occasion. It has great artwork. It is a great way to round out the first half of my list!
And that wraps up this batch of ten games, and it takes us half-way through this journey! The games just keep getting better from here!. Join me next time for Numbers 50-41.