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Sean Ross

gamer level 2
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Go to the Tichu page
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8
Go to the Ticket to Ride page

Ticket to Ride

40 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

As a newcomer to the hobby, surrounded primarily by non-gamers, I began to grow a collection with the aim of progressing toward the somewhat heavier games that seemed to appeal to me. To that end, I charted a course that started off with lighter weight games. The intention being that I would get other people to play these games with me, then perhaps have them come along for the ride into the more complex games.

For me, Ticket to Ride has already worked remarkably well as a gateway. I opened it on Christmas Eve and played a game with my brother and his wife – neither of whom particularly enjoy games. It went down very well. Three days later, with two additional players, we played Bohnanza followed by TtR. The new players asked where they could get both games. The next day, with 4 different players, I introduced TtR again, with the same result – everyone enjoyed it, and each couple asked where they could get a copy. The day after that my brother (who didn’t care for games) asked to borrow TtR to play with some guests. He’s also asked where he can get his own copy. I’d call that a good start.

Ticket to Ride is a good game. I don’t mind playing, and I have no problem suggesting it (in fact, I wish it supported more players). And – while I don’t find it particularly stimulating – I was surprised by the amount of tension it produced in the other players. For some reason, they all seemed to get deeply invested into the game. I wish I could say the same, but it still felt good seeing how much they liked it.

9
Go to the Race for the Galaxy page
40 out of 42 gamers thought this was helpful

San Juan and Race for the Galaxy are very similar games, mechanically. Each round, each player selects one role (producer, trader, etc.) and then all players perform the actions associated with that role; the player who chose the role receives an extra benefit. In Race for the Galaxy, the role selection is done simultaneously while in San Juan it is done in turn order. In both games, cards have multiple uses: they are played to a tableau to build plantations or settlements or developments; they are used to pay for the buildings being built; they are used to produce goods on plantations/settlements which are later traded in to get still more cards back into your hand. The object of both games is to build out 12 cards in your tableau and have the highest combined score resulting from those 12 cards. Both games involve hand management, choosing which cards to hold onto for building later and which cards to spend for building now.

Essentially, they are the same game with different themes. San Juan, however, is much easier – it has a lower barrier to entry (the cards have explanatory text in English, whereas Race has a system of icons/hieroglyphics), but less variety, less depth/fewer strategies. San Juan is not a gateway game, it’s got too many rules to be that, but it is a good gateway into Race. Race is the “step up” from San Juan. But, if you’re not likely to play often, or with the same people, I would advise going for San Juan over Race – the barrier to entry for the latter can be enough that you may never get to play.

I actually find I connect more with San Juan, Race can be a bit overwhelming. I find, right or wrong, that I tend to enjoy a game a bit more if I have a good enough understanding to compete well and win frequently. I can do that in San Juan – I’ve never won a game of Race. The trouble with San Juan is that the strategies, once learned, become rote. It’s still enjoyable to manage your hand and make the decisions on which cards to keep and which to spend, but at a certain level, these really aren’t “decisions” any more – if you’re playing a certain strategy then certain “decisions” become dictated/automatic. There’s more going on in Race, more ways to win, so this sense of putting the game into “cruise control” doesn’t happen as it does in San Juan. But, then, I’ve played San Juan over 100 times, using the AI, and I’ve only played Race a few times. Perhaps, once I’ve crossed the century mark with Race, I’ll have the same feeling of “cruising” through the game….

9
Go to the Pandemic page

Pandemic

45 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

This can be a very enjoyable game. It scales well from 1-5, though you need to increase the difficulty for fewer players. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach, and doesn’t take long to play. It’s an excellent game to play with non-gamers. When you are in the middle of the game and things are getting out of control, it can be a wonderfully intense and immersive game to play. Unfortunately, those aspects peter out as you approach the end since you can usually see whether or not you will be able to win 3-5 turns too soon. At that point, you’re just going through the motions to bring the game to it’s inevitable conclusion. Win or lose, it’s very anti-climactic. The only truly exciting ending is getting too many outbreaks, as that is an ending whose certainty cannot be calculated beforehand. As a house-rule, I think it would be more enjoyable to remove the losing conditions for running out of cubes (the more cubes you have, the more likely you are to get outbreaks) and for exhausting the player deck (just reset the deck, re-seeded with Epidemic cards, and continue playing). I’m not sure how to make winning more enjoyable… maybe if the person who goes to the research station and plays the cards to cure a disease, and only that person, had to take an action to roll a die (I know, I know…) and get a 5 or 6 to succeed in producing the cure. Yeah, it adds luck to the game, but at least the ending would be exciting…. Honestly, if the anti-climatic end game could be remedied, this game would easily be a 10. As it is, I’m not sure how long it will hold out at a 9 rating….

Oh, and while the game does look good, the board tends to warp and the player pawns, research stations, and disease cubes are all far too large.

10
Go to the Arkham Horror page

Arkham Horror

44 out of 74 gamers thought this was helpful

There just isn’t any substitute for Arkham. The game is highly thematic, varied, tense, immersive, and enjoyable. You can play it with a wide range of player numbers, but I think the most important thing for me is that you can play it alone. Arkham is a wonderful solitaire experience. It isn’t the shortest game to play, nor is it the easiest to learn, but I think its worth both the time and energy to do so. I couldn’t imagine not having it in my collection.

10
Go to the Tichu page

Tichu

37 out of 38 gamers thought this was helpful

Tichu is a climbing card game (in the same family as “President” or “Asshole”) descended from Zheng Fen with a few less combinations and different “bombs” but with partnerships, card passing, four special cards, and extra scoring. And, while the card play and scoring of the parent game are sufficiently and tactically interesting in their own right, each of these additions, in their way, serve to increase the number of decision points and, consequently, the feelings of tension you will have throughout the game. Amongst these, however, partnerships are the linch-pin; each of the others ties back to this in some way.

Partnership play, by its nature, increases poignancy as you and your partner’s fate become inextricably bound and you worry from beginning to end whether it will be your decisions that cost you both the hand; or, worse, the game. Almost all of your decisions are tempered by this consideration; not only how this choice will affect yourself, but of how it will affect your partner. And it begins even before all the cards are dealt, when you are offered the opportunity to gamble, on behalf of you and your partner no less, on whether you will be the first player to void their hand (i.e. call “Tichu”). It continues into the decision over which card should be passed to which player and what signal you wish to convey to your partner about the strength or weakness of your hand. Are you positive you want to pass them the Dog and help yourself but also risk destroying what might otherwise have been an overwhelmingly strong Tichu hand for your partner? Perhaps you should keep the Dog and pass that Dragon of yours over to your partner instead? This constant pressure, however, also serves to magnify the burst of relief or joy you will feel at the end of an especially well played hand. The scoring, in particular, is excellently engineered to sustain tension and drive players to shed cards throughout the hand. It is also tied into, and re-enforcing of, the partnership aspect of the game.

Regardless of whether or not Tichu has been called, having one member of your team go out first will always be paramount. The benefits for this include the obvious potential for making (or stopping) a Tichu bid and scoring any point cards collected in the tricks of the player who went out last, but, perhaps most importantly, it also sets your team up for the possibility of going out first and second (or, “getting a Slam”). Because of this threat, after one player has gone out the pressure to shed cards remains wonderfully undiminished as you must now concentrate on going out second to either make or stop a Slam as this can result in a huge two to four (if Grand Tichu was bid) hundred point swing in fortunes for one team or the other. And, finally, while the pressure does ease off when you get down to the last two players, the scoring incentives available for not losing the point cards you’ve collected in tricks still continue the drive to shed cards until the bitter end. All of these objectives combine to help make even a poor hand feel somehow worthwhile as you can gear your efforts to supporting the team, be it ever so humble or cruel a contribution as to hold the Phoenix in your hand as you deliberately go out last!

And, so, to end this rather lengthy comment, I will say that after over 3 years of collecting and researching games, and after several thousand dollars invested so far, I am surprised yet delighted to find that the game I like most – far more than any other game – is one that can be played with a barely modified standard deck of cards! Heck, I’d be happy if this was the only game I owned – I like it that much. If I had gained nothing else from my time exploring the world of board games, it would have been worth it just to be aware of this game’s existence.

May 30, 2009: Got the mythical 14 card straight!

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