Some of the most famous last words ever uttered by gamers are, “Let’s play a quick game of …” Because inevitably, whatever game is chosen ends up not being quick at all. It will expand beyond the expected time. Which causes a cascade, because other players will start their own “quick” game while this first game finishes, and that game will go longer than expected, so when the first game finishes, its players will move on to another, and so the two groups never meet. Of course, the alternative is to sit around waiting until every possible player has arrived, but who knows how long that will take? Besides, we’re there to game, not stare at each other. So it’s probably best just to never refer to a game as “quick” anymore. It’s just a game. However long it takes.
Cosmic Encounter ($46.18 on Amazon) — This is an update of a classic board game from way back in 1977. Long considered a staple of the hobby, the game was revived by Fantasy Flight in 2008. While ostensibly the game is about encountering and conquering other alien civilizations, it’s really about ruining friendships. See, each time a player attacks another player, both sides have the option of inviting allies. Of course, who you’d want to help could change at any given time, so the person whose defense you leapt to a few turns ago could now be someone you want to stab in the back. Each player also has access to the special power of the alien race they’re playing, offering plenty more opportunities to screw with everyone else. Shared victories are possible, so you have to weigh your desire to win alone against the real possibility everyone will gang up to destroy you in order to prevent it. The game we played featured multiple near-wins, several betrayals, numerous hands thrown in the air in disbelief, and a whole lot of fun. Even if I did want to murder someone at least three times during the course of the game.
Terra Mystica ($61.99 on Amazon) — This is probably the current favorite of my gaming group. Like Cosmic Encounter, each player has a different race with different abilities with which they attempt to build towns on a shared map. This requires the careful management of multiple resources, such as workers, money, priests, and magical power. There are numerous ways to score points in this game, be it specific racial abilities, instant bonuses, end game bonuses, and manipulation of various cults. There are a hell of a lot of moving pieces here, so much so that I was hopelessly lost in my first game. But all those pieces work together really well, so that once you have some experience, the game is a marvel of design. Except for me this evening, when I was sure I’d completely botched it. I was down on myself after misreading my race’s ability, resulting in a first-turn strategy that didn’t score me anything. But I kept plugging away and ended up in third place, only five points behind the eventual winner. This is one of those games that invites multiple replays because of the sheer variety of combinations; you can play dozens of games and never get the same mix of races. Which is probably why we’re so obsessed with it. We want to try all the races, find the one we “get” the best, and see what we can do with it.
It’s not a quick game either, so sorry if you have to wait while we finish.