It’s a good thing we had a game day on Saturday so we could play all the games we bought on Black Friday. Our local game store has an annual buy one get one free sale, and we usually go to town on it. Some of us use it to pick up multiple expansions for particular games, or to splurge on two really expensive games for the price of one. And sometimes we’ll buy one and use the free on to take a chance on something we might not have normally bought. Whatever the case, we had a lot of new games on the shelves, so having eleven hours to play the next day was a godsend.
It was slow early Saturday morning, so we broke out 7 Wonders: Duel. Now I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love 7 Wonders, but the one thing it doesn’t do well is scale down to two players. You have to set up a virtual player and there are all kinds of alternate rules and it just changes the game too much. So the designers came up with this version and it’s fantastic. Most of the basics are the same — you’re selecting cards that do different things to try to build wonders and advance your civilization — but with enough neat two-player twists to make it its own thing. Instead of drafting and passing, you’re choosing from a pyramid-like array of cards, some face up, some face down. And instead of earning military tokens, there’s a war tracker that moves back and forth. If it gets all the way to your side, you lose. This plays smooth, it plays quick, and it’s got the same elegance of design that its older brother has. I think we have a new go-to two-player game.
Next up was one of my Black Friday purchases, Dice City. Now some gamers have an instinctive negative reaction to dice. They hate randomness, and they especially hate roll and move games, a feeling born of too many bad Monopoly evenings. So show them a game with fistfuls of dice and the hackles rise and the sideways glances begin. Which means any dice game needs to work extra hard to overcome those prejudices. And I think Dice City does a nice job of this. You start with a player board containing five rows of six buildings, each represented by a die. You activate a building in each row depending on what you rolled on its die. But you can also use a die to move another die over one space. Or you can pass and collect a token, pairs of which can be traded to do other things. Your buildings generate resources that you use to buy other buildings or, in the case of military buildings, wage war against bandits or other players. A big part of the strategy here is not only selecting what buildings to purchase, but where on your board to place them, since they’ll cover up an existing building. And since you’ll be depending on a die roll to get it. It took us a little bit to wrap our heads around some of the iconography, but things picked up nicely as we went along, and I’m anxious to give this another try.
Then it was time for an old favorite, Power Grid. We played on the Korea map, which features two different commodity markets with different prices and replenishment schedules. You can buy from either one, but you have to do all your buying that turn from the one you pick, so there’s a little more strategy to resource buying than on the base maps. It’s also a very small map, with cities at a premium, which proved my undoing. I got stuck in the middle and couldn’t find routes out to the edges, which really limited how many cities I could build in. I managed to stay in it, but too many blocked routes ultimately did me in. Still, it’s hard to have a bad game of Power Grid, and I really need to buy some more expansion maps soon.
My last game of the day was another new purchase, and another dice game, Favor of the Pharaoh. Like Dice City, you’re rolling dice in order to claim things. But in this case, you’re trying to roll Yahtzee-like combos like two pairs or four of a kind to claim tiles. These tiles do things like adding more dice for you to roll or letting you set them to specific numbers. The ultimate goal is to get seven of a kind and claim the Queen tile, which triggers the end of the game. Anyone who hasn’t yet had a turn has a chance to either get seven of a higher number or eight of a kind to steal the win. Now I liked Dice City a lot, but I think this is the better game. There’s much more mitigation of the randomness of the dice, and it’s a much simpler, smoother-flowing game. And since you randomly choose not only the tiles that will be available but their prices, there’s tons of replayability here. A great end to the day.
But not to my gaming weekend, because on Sunday, we stared into the abyss and dared it to stare back. Six of us sat down for a game of Twilight Imperium, a game as revered as it is infamous. Plays of this game routinely take upwards of six hours or more; ours clocked in at just under eight. It’s a sprawling space empire game where each player is a different race vying for supremacy. Each turn the players select roles that determine actions they can take, as well as slightly less powerful actions other players can take when a given role is activated. You might choose the Trading action to gain trade goods, or the Diplomacy action to make nice with your neighbors, or the Warfare action to make not so nice. The trick is that these actions are activated by tokens that are also used to determine the maximum size of your fleets (basically how many ships can be in one space at the same time) and to trigger use of a role’s secondary action. And you only get two of those tokens back every turn, so if you go nuts and spend them all on the first turn, you’re at a serious disadvantage on the next one. As the game goes on, you’re vying to complete objectives to gain points, most public and able to be shared, but one that’s known only to you. There’s also a role that grants you two points when you use it, and which is one of the most contested roles in the game; not being careful who gets it is a good way to lose the game. On top of all this, there are political votes that change the rules of the game, trade alliances that can be formed, epic space combat, and enough treachery and betrayal for three seasons of Game of Thrones. And even at nearly eight hours, it was absolutely awesome. We were never bored; we knew time was passing, but it never felt like the game was dragging. Some games think longer is better without really having enough gameplay to justify their length, but Twilight Imperium is absolutely packed with gameplay. I don’t know if I’m ready to do another full game right away, but I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next time we do.
And now that this post has rambled on for nearly as along as a game of Twilight Imperium, I think it’s time to say game over.