It was a fairly subdued Second Saturday at Sci-Fi City. The first real fall-like day of the year had a lot of our regulars outside indulging in things like fresh air and sunshine. Unnatural. But those of us who did show up didn’t let the small numbers stand in our way. In fact, it was a little easier to choose games to play, since we only had to accommodate four or five people rather than trying to managed a dozen or so.
But at the beginning, it was just me and my friend Troy. So we broke out A Game of Thrones: The Card Game for a one-on-one joust. Which turned out to be more of a solo joust for Troy, because he just trounced me. I’m not 100% familiar with the particular strengths of each faction and the ins and outs of deckbuilding, and it showed. I had no Intrigue going on, I wasn’t getting characters into play, it was a mess. An enjoyable mess, which speaks to how well the game works, but it’s clear I have some learning to do before I’m any kind of threat to those filthy Lannisters.
More people had shown up by this point, and we moved on to Isle of Skye. This is an interesting twist on the auction mechanic wherein each player draws three tiles, then secretly chooses one they will discard and two they will place bids on. You then reveal your choices. Now other players have the chance to match your bid and buy a tile away from you. You get to keep all the money, which will come in handy next turn, but you might lose out on a tile you really wanted. You then place your tiles into a tableau that’s basically a Highland countryside, with lakes, mountains, farms, and other buildings and icons for which you earn points. But what you get points for not only changes from turn to turn, it’s randomized each game, so a strategy that works one time won’t necessarily be possibly the next time. It might be tempting to drop all your money on the tiles you really want to keep, but that leaves you with nothing to spend yourself. And someone with enough coins could still outbid you. So tons of good chunky decision-making and lots of replayability. That’s a winner. And so was I; I ended up winning, which gets any game a thumbs up from me. I can be had.
Then came another go-round of Mission: Red Planet, and this game is a definite hit with our group. We had three players who had played it before and two who hadn’t, and the two newcomers walked away just impressed as we veterans were on our first play. It moves so smoothly, and is so engaging, I could see it appealing to people who don’t normally play these kinds of games. And I still can’t get over how good this game looks. Honestly, if this wasn’t a reprint of an older game, this would be an easy candidate for Game of the Year.
Next up was a bit of new hotness, Between Two Cities. This is a drafting game a la 7 Wonders, but instead of competing with your neighbors. you’re cooperating with them. You’re each trying to build a city using different types of buildings. Some give you points if you have the most of them. Some give points for having multiples in a row, or for having sets, or for being in certain positions. The twist here is that you end up using the lowest scoring city as your final score. So you can’t just throw one neighbor under the bus and concentrate on building an awesome city with the other one. There’s a lot going on — many of the tiles work off each other, and since the layout of the city changes every turn, the points are constantly shifting — but it’s a very clever concept that, if it has one drawback, can lead to some very intense conversations as to where to make your plays. But with the right group, that’s half the fun.
We wrapped things up with a classic, Ticket to Ride. This is essentially a trick taking game; you’re trying to collect sets of train cards of different colors in order to build on matching train routes. You get points based on the length of your route, as well as for completing longer routes connecting specific cities. Not completing one of these routes penalizes you the points, so you have to be careful not to take on too big a challenge, because it’s not like your opponents are going to let you build wherever you want. Since most cities only have one route between them, it can get very tense as you try to collect the cards you need to build in a spot before someone else does. It’s not particularly dense, but its simplicity is what makes it one of the more popular gateway games out there.
We never had more than five people playing at a time, but it was still an enjoyable game day. I’m sure those who were outside around people are reading this right now and wishing they’d spent time indoors under fluorescent lights instead.