Six Picks 1: Great games to play with the family at Christmas

These choices are not the games to turn your non-gaming family into avid gamers (that may be a future list), but they are the games that I have had the most success and fun in introducing to the family over recent years.

Diamant is a fantastic push your luck game that plays in 20-30 minutes. Searching tunnels for treasure, do you turn back early to preserve your loot or do you risk venturing into the next cavern. Lots of oohs and ahhs as the adventurers uncover diamonds, snakes or poison gas. Great fun.

Apples To Apples never fails to get people laughing as people try to match the subjects on their cards to the category for the round. Sometimes picking the most ludicrous answer can turn you into a winner if you think the person making the choice might think that way.

Igloo Pop is a frantic game of trying to work out the number of beads in the igloos simply by picking them up and shaking them. Guess correctly and you win cards for points, guess incorrectly and you lose playing chips.

Transamerica is a competitive and collaborative connection game where you try to link all your cities to the rail network before your opponents do. Games are always tight with a fair amount of tactical opportunities for such a simple game.

Wits & Wagers is a trivia game where you don’t need to know the facts to win. Good estimation is helpful but canny betting on which of the possible answers is closest to being right is usually the way to win. Played twice this year.

Tsuro is a simple game: Place your tile on the board to build paths that keep your piece in play while forcing others off the edge or into one another. Takes up to 8 players and a game can be played in about 15 minutes – so you can play several.

SR: 4th January 2008 – Race for the Galaxy, Giganten der Lufte

Race for the GalaxyThe first session of 2008 and three of us got to try out Race For The Galaxy, at last. This was designed by Tom Lehmann and published by Rio Grande and can be succinctly described as San Juan in space.

Each player simultaneously chooses a role for the round and then those roles picked are carried out by everyone, with the player(s) who picked the role getting a bonus privilege. The roles range from Explore (gain cards), build Worlds / Developments, each of which gives both VPs and usually advantages in later rounds when certain roles are carried out, Produce a good on your built Worlds, and finally Consume goods for VPs or additional cards. The game ends when someone has built 12 Worlds / Developments or when a predetermined number of VP chips have been taken. Bonus VPs are awarded to players who have built certain 6-cost Developments and then most VPs wins.

This game has a much steeper learning curve than San Juan because there is a much greater variety of cards with lots more interactions between combinations of cards and also because the iconography used on the cards is not immediately obvious in many cases. Knowledge of which cards work well together is a big advantage and this only comes with familiarity of the game play and the cards. I don’t think you will get anywhere approaching optimum scores until you’ve played a number of times. That said, it does play very well and, after 3 or 4 rounds, we all had a good idea of what we were trying to achieve.

My initial world suggested I go down a military strategy which worked well for a while but ran out of steam towards the end. Nige went hell for leather down an alien technology route which towards the end saw him get lots of VPs through his Consume x 2 role. This made it critical that we end the game quickly and we did so that he only got to benefit twice. Mark K on the other hand managed to build two 6-cost developments and these worked well for him at the end giving him 18 bonus VPs and just enough to beat Nige by a single point. I knew I was lagging behind but wasn’t as far adrift as I thought when the final scores were revealed. We all rated the game highly and these ratings could improve as we try out different strategies. An excellent first game for 2008.

Giganten der LufteAfter outer space, we decided to help build the Hindenburg in Giganten der Lufte (Airships), designed by Andreas Seyfarth and published by Queen Games.

This is a similar game to To Court the King in that it involves rolling combinations of dice to gain cards that add or modify dice to your subsequent turns. Also, you can roll combinations to build an airship and later in the game part of the Hindenburg. These airships and the Hindenburg give the player the critical VPs needed to win the game. There is a balance, therefore, in concentrating on cards to improve your prospects in future turns while also grabbing airships for VPs. The game ends either when there are only a certain number of airships left to be built or when the four parts of the Hindenburg have been completed. The player with the most VPs wins.

If you like To Court The King, this is more of the same and you are likely to enjoy this as well. However, you are at the mercy of the dice and this can make or break your chances. Unfortunately, in our game, both Nige and I started out with two or three turns where we failed to achieve fairly modest die roll combinations whereas Mark K couldn’t fail for the first half of the game. This meant he always had better dice to roll than Nige and me and could get at the more lucrative cards / airships without challenge from either of us. I didn’t help my chances by accidentally upgrading one coloured card with 3 VPs attached to it to something else without VPs. Although it probably helped me in later turns a bit, I hadn’t intended to sacrifice the VPs (much to the amusement of Mark K and Nige).

It was obvious very early on that Mark was going to win and so we were glad eventually to see the game end with Mark completing the final part of the Hindenburg (his third section – I built the other one). The final scores were embarrassing and Nige’s rating clearly reflected how much he disliked this playing. Mark K and I thought it just ok and were surprised that the game came from a designer who had previously had an excellent record with us. I doubt we will be playing this again.

(Note: I added my score up incorrectly on Friday night – I’d omitted my points from the Hindenburg so I actually got 14 rather than just 8 points. No matter how hard I tried, though, I still couldn’t find more than 2 points for Nige!)

Kingsburg review

KingsburgSteve Perkins has written a short review of Kingsburg on Boargamegeek. This was on the cards for being played last Friday at the club if we had had five turn up. As it was, there were only three of us so Kingsburg will wait to be played in the next couple of weeks. Steve rated the game an 8 so I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it (even though it does involve dice, Nige).

Steve’s obviously starting the year with the Hall of Fame in mind by continuing to play the newest games before we get them to the table. :-)