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A report on winter break plays.

A report on winter break plays. I wrote this as an ongoing document over the past couple of months. If there are any weird inconsistencies, it's because some of this was written piecemeal with additions and edits maybe not always actually helping.

Board Game: Chess
Board Game: Hearts
Board Game: Magic: The Gathering
Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates
Board Game: Ambiente Abissal
Board Game: Haggis
Board Game: High Society
Board Game: Mittlere Jass
Board Game: Adder: Realtime Chase System
Board Game: Checkers
Board Game: Hnefatafl
Board Game: Nine Men's Morris
Board Game: Terra Nova
Board Game: Fliptricks
Board Game: Heul doch! Mau Mau
Board Game: Maskmen
Board Game: My City
Board Game: Bosk
Board Game: Carcassonne Junior
Board Game: Fano330-R-Morris
Board Game: Here to Slay
Board Game: Miniversity
Board Game: Ninja Camp
Board Game: Oh Hell!
Board Game: Qwinto
Board Game: Qwixx
Board Game: Reign of Witches
Board Game: Tammany Hall
Board Game: Texas Showdown
Board Game: The King is Dead: Second Edition
Board Game: Unpublished Prototype
Board Game: Zero Down
Board Game: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Board Game: Just One
Board Game: Letter Jam
Board Game: Mountain Goats
Board Game: Quarantine Haircuts
Board Game: Slide Quest
Board Game: UGO!

 10   Chess x6 (58 all-time)
 10   Hearts x2 (5 all-time)
 10   Magic: The Gathering x7 (283 all-time)
 10   Tigris & Euphrates (20 all-time)
 9   Ambiente Abissal x9 NEW!
 9   Haggis x3 (4 all-time)
 9   High Society (11 all-time)
 9   Mittlere Jass NEW!
 8   Adder: Realtime Chase System x2 (20 all-time)
 8   Checkers x4 (7 all-time)
 8   Hnefatafl x6 (11 all-time)
 8   Nine Men's Morris x2 NEW!
 8   Terra Nova (12 all-time)
 7   Fliptricks x5 (35 all-time)
 7   Heul doch! Mau Mau x3 (8 all-time)
 7   Maskmen (2 all-time)
 7   My City x9 (25 all-time)
 6   Bosk NEW!
 6   Carcassonne Junior x2 (10 all-time)
 6   Fano330-R-Morris x2 NEW!
 6   Here to Slay NEW!
 6   Miniversity x3 NEW!
 6   Ninja Camp NEW!
 6   Oh Hell! (3 all-time)
 6   Qwinto x2 NEW!
 6   Qwixx x3 (5 all-time)
 6   Reign of Witches NEW!
 6   Tammany Hall NEW!
 6   Texas Showdown NEW!
 6   The King is Dead: Second Edition NEW!
 6   Unpublished Prototype x5 (11 all-time)
 6   Zero Down x2 (3 all-time)
 5   Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde NEW!
 5   Just One NEW!
 5   Letter Jam NEW!
 5   Mountain Goats NEW!
 5   Quarantine Haircuts NEW!
 5   Slide Quest NEW!
 5   UGO! NEW!

New-to-me games

Two Instant 9s

Ambiente Abissal
In Mid-December, seandavidross added this to his Top 50. bankofdracula commented either there or elsewhere that he wanted to inject the game into his veins. As an addict always looking for the next fix, I knew that I’d have to check this one out. Fortunately for me, the rules were available on the ‘geek and it was playable with a Rage deck, which I had recently acquired prior to December. This could also be played with a Schotten Totten deck if you have one of those and not a Rage deck. The game needs 36 cards, 1-6 in six colored suits. And could be played with a Tarot deck. Anything withs six suits. It’s the simplest climbing game I’ve ever played (which admittedly is not a long list). The lead player will play any single card or one of two kinds of pairs, either a number pair or a color pair. The next two players need to follow that lead, playing a higher single card following a single card, a higher numbered pair, or a “higher” colored pair. That’s right, not only is there numerical rank here; the suits are ranked. This really only takes half a play to get a handle on, and is helped greatly if you set out a reminder (I kept out the 0s in each of the suits off to the side in rank order for this purpose). First to empty their hand wins the round, gaining 2 points. Second out gets 1 point. Third place gets zero. First to 6 points wins the game, which is over so quick that you’ll just want to play it again. I was surprised by how much I loved this game. I know that others were dissatisfied with the 2 player experience. Sure, it’s not quite as good as the 3p game, but I still liked it a lot. I’d be happy to play this 2p or 3p anytime. It has become a permanent part of my collection. I even paid to import the official version (for the story of how stupid I am, see my spending geeklist), mostly as a token gesture to support a great game and great designer, but also because the official art is pretty great.

Plus-Minus Jass
I’ve come to terms with the fact that player tastes can be very different even when players share similar sensibilities and are looking for many of the same things in a game. This is true with my gaming friends locally, my childhood gaming friends, and my BGG friends. And I know that my own peculiar mix of gaming affections will not map onto any other single player. I know from painful experience that no one loves Bladder as much as I do, except for my friend Mike, who is the same guy who crapped on Bus the whole time we played together, so who knows who will like what games for what reasons. I sure don't. It’s still mostly a mystery to me. That’s a long rambling way of getting to saying that I tried Jass because hanibalicious has relentlessly championed the game, a game that has something like anti-buzz on BGG while millions of Swiss families happily unaware of BGG continue to blissfully play their favorite Jass games unconcerned with any goings-on here.
I was going to play Mittlere, but started with Plus-Minus at Hanibal’s recommendation, which turned out to be a great one. I think that I could be happy to just play Plus-Minus for a long time before moving on to any other Jass games. Honestly, I’m not sure if the rest of the Jass family, with its melds/marriages, interests me that much more. Maybe I’ll want added complexity some day. Right now, I’m happy with simplicity. And Plus-Minus is surprisingly simple. It’s played with standard ranked suits with Ace-Ten points (A-11, 10-10, K-4, Q-3, J-2, number cards are 0), but it’s simpler for newbies because the 10 keeps its “normal” rank between the 9 and the J instead of getting moved in between the A and K. Then, to confuse things, the J and 9 of the trump suit become the strongest ranked cards and are worth 20 and 14 points respectively (so trump suit is J9AKQ10876). It’s not too hard to remember if you have marked-up cards to remind you of the point change (thus reminding you of the rank change).
The two things that I love about Plus-Minus are how trump is determined and how VPs (called sticks in the game) are awarded. Whenever a player cannot follow the lead suit and breaks suit for the first time in a round, the suit of whatever card they play becomes the trump suit. It’s marvelous, but mostly because of how it works in combination with the VP scoring. At the end of the round, the person who won the most points (without going over 100 points) wins a stick and the person who won the least points wins a stick. The person in the middle wins nothing. So, when evaluating your hand, it’s good to plan whether you’ll try to force a certain trump suit if you can, either to benefit yourself for a high score or to force trump in a suit that you have no more cards in so that you can lose all future hands, settling in to lowest score while the other two win with their trumps. There’s enough planning to satisfy and enough chaos from interaction to ensure that those plans will get frustrated and you’ll often have to decide whether to stick to plan or pivot to doing the opposite of what you’ve been trying to do.
It’s a delicious game. It’s an hanibalicious game, and I love it.
I’ve read the rules to full Mittlere and it looks very good, in some ways better in little things like that it’s good to have the lowest score, but only if you win at least one trick, a requirement not present in Plus-Minus, making it a little more friendly. I’d like to try Mittlere someday and I probably will, but I’m happy to continue with just Plus-Minus for a while longer.
Finally, I’ll admit that we played the game clockwise instead of counter-clockwise. I’m not going to change the direction I go in every single other game unless I have a very good reason. I don’t find the “it’s always been done this way” argument very compelling, but that's only because of my circumstances. If I found a community of counter-clockwisers, I'd join in their opposite-world antics.

Somewhere between a 7 and an 8, rounded up to an 8 because I found it charming.

Nine Men’s Morris
How had I never played this before? This is the game that I should have been playing every time that I played tic-tac-toe with my sister when we were kids. If only someone had been there to teach me Morris! I’ve known about the game for at least a couple of decades. Being a chess snob in my youth, I looked at Morris variants in books and read descriptions and thought, hey, that’s cool, but then immediately dismissed these games as not chess, so having deserved their fate in being forgotten by history, not passed on by any living tradition. But I was mistaken. Nine Men’s Morris is still remembered and is still played by some. I’m happy to now be part of that community of players.

I’ve begun compiling my own “Great Games” book for family use. Right now, it’s just a digital text file full of rules which will eventually be printed and make its way to a 3-ring binder. I have past experience using print-on-demand services (which are quite good now), so maybe someday this will become a real book that I can pass on to my children. The rules included are for card games using a standard deck or a Rage deck, board games that can be played on a Chess or Go board or on a board that can be hand-drawn in less than 5 minutes (which is also pretty much true of a chess or go board), using common pieces such as stones or blocks (or yes, checkers and chess pieces), pen/paper games, and party games that can be be played using any of the above items, scraps of paper, or nothing at all, and once dice game (Liar’s Dice; I’m open to suggestions for other quality dice games).

I’ll eventually make a separate post about this rules tome, which may or may not ever actually exist. That entire previous paragraph was a ramble away from Nine Men’s Morris, but the point was/is that Nine Men’s Morris has a place in my heart and in this book. I like it that much. Yes, of course it’s still second or third tier under the likes of chess/shogi and go, but what isn’t? For its simplicity and purity (how is that for a loaded term?), I prefer it over most of the commercially published abstracts that I've played.

Hanibal sent me rules to a fun little card game that I think is even better than he possibly realized. It's feels like a mash-up of Knizia's Black Sheep or even Schotten Totten (in the sense that you are playing cards to win material for an endgame condition) and a Poker version of Officer's Skat (in the sense that it is a great 2 player game that teaches poker ranking while being fun, involving some skill but also a heaping portion of luck) and something else I'm not quite pegging, maybe even Movable Type, but others as well. I'm thinking of the fact that the "resources" you are fighting over (cards) are used to shape your hand for a final showdown. I only played it 2-player (and think that's how I prefer it, not really wanting to even try 3-4). This rating might even go up. I had a blast playing it with one of my daughters. It's light, quick fun, perfect for playing with kids. (And I've also now played it with an adult friend and taught it to his girlfriend and watched them play a match. It's light and it's quick. I think it holds up as a form of "Officer's Poker"). If Hanibal approves, I'll post the rules.

Some 6s

The only reason that I played Nine Men’s Morris is because bootleby sent me a hand drawn fano330-r-morris board, which was one of the best Christmas gifts I received this year, even if I was a bit disappointed by the game itself. I liked it, but didn’t quite love it. Instead of trying to win, you are trying not to lose, which of course means that you are actively trying to maneuver your opponent into positions in which they are forced into a losing move. It’s superficial, I know, but I probably would have liked it at least a little bit better if I had played it with the Nestor pieces. Each side gets four pieces, two each of two different shapes. It’s important to see the color and shape of pieces while they are stacked. First, I tried using dice, two flipped to 1, two flipped to 6, but I discovered pretty quickly that it’s hard to quickly distinguish what’s what. The next game, I used Quarto pieces, which seemed appropriate because the games share the similar “don’t lose” vibe. The Quarto pieces were theoretically great, but in practice they were hard to keep stacked and they’d fall over. So it goes. Sorry, Fano, maybe some other day, but at least you led me to Morris games. Thanks, bootleby.

Reign of Witches
This was also a gift from bootleby. I played it on Christmas day and had a lot of fun with it. Unfortunately, after that one play, it never got played again, a victim of the busyness of the end of the year, I guess. Now, a few months later, I’d be happy to play it again, but I also don’t feel like I need to or especially want to. I’m going to keep it around, though, because it really does pack a nice bit of historical flavor into a very tight little package.

I did have one rules question after reading the rules, but it was only a few days into my BGG absence. I figured that it wasn’t terrible to go to BGG for something very specific like this. I went straight to the forums for Reign of Witches. My problem was not addressed anywhere at all. What could I do? I almost right there and then logged back into BGG. Then I caught myself and thought, no, there is a way to do this without BGG. So I headed over to consimworld. :-) But that was no help either. That’s when I did the sensible thing and sent Tom an email. Sent Tom an email! It just suddenly clicked that I knew that Tom and/or Mary had responded to every email I had ever sent them. Those were only a couple of emails about orders, but I figured that rules questions were probably welcome as well. I sent the email. Within 15 minutes, Tom had sent me a very pleasant response which answered my question. Amazing! Hollandspiele is one of the best companies in the business. Thank you, Tom and Mary.

I've surprisingly caught the roll n write bug. Context definitely matters. These would feel like a waste of time at a BATS game night (I'd never want to play these for any kind of main event game and I'd probably rather just sit around chatting even if we did have 15 minutes or so to play this at the end of an evening or in between games). At home, with any of the kids, though, both Qwixx and Qwinto have been big hits. These games are a pleasant way to get in some quick gaming.

I don't know about Bosk. The theme is charming. The gameplay is fine, but I found it rather dry and procedural. I planned out my last 5 turns, then executed them as planned pretty much on auto-pilot. This is strange in a game that seems to have so much interaction. I don't know. I think I found the actual interaction to be too gentle, but then again, maybe that's fitting for the theme.

Here to Slay
I was surprised by how much I liked this. It's a very simple 'take that' style game, but it has charming art and it does not overstay its welcome at all.

Hanibal sent me this little game. I had a good time playing it. 'Nuff said.

Ninja Camp
This is basically Hey! That's My Fish! with a grid layout and special powers. I liked it.

Tammany Hall
I'm glad I finally got to play this. It was a good time and I'd happily play it again. It's wild and swingy, but the player interaction and the shared narrative development makes it a treat.

Texas Showdown
I'm still cautiously optimistic about Texas Showdown, but my first play was not as great as I wanted it to be. I can see some fun here, but can I grasp it?

The King is Dead 2e
This rating may go up. I'm not sure. I had a great time playing this, but need to think about it some more.

5s or 4s or I don’t know, whatevers.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
These are two trick-taking games that I respect more than I like. I feel like UGO! played me more than I played it. I somehow still found it pleasant and fun, but not compelling enough to ever return to. This is one in which I definitely disagree with hanabilicious. Jekyll & Hyde was too clever by far. There’s a lot of skill involving tracking and deduction, but I just didn’t like the way that the game was often about making other people do things instead of doing things yourself. It almost felt like a combative cooperative game, if that makes any sense. Again, I respect it a lot, but didn't really like it, disagreeing with bankofdracula. See what I mean? I started this post mentioning the games that I enjoyed that these guys enjoyed. Now I'm crapping on other games that they also enjoy. Tastes that are so close yet so far away. I love Plus-Minus, but am lukewarm on UGO! I love Ambiente Abissal, but don't like Jekyll & Hyde. So it goes. There's still enough crossover that we're all gonna have a blast at DeepCatCon, if I even have time to play any card games or want to live at all or do anything but cry after playing a day long session of Xas Irkalla with mplsmatt. I can dream, I can dream.

Slide Quest
Letter Jam
Just One
These were all games that I gave to the entire family for Christmas. The kids have since gone on to play Slide Quest several times without me, but I don’t think anyone has touched Letter Jam or Just One since we first played them. I know that I don’t care to revisit them. They’re not at all bad games. I’d just rather be playing something else.

Mountain Goats
This is fine, but it's just rolling dice and hoping for the best.

Quarantine Haircuts
This is a fun enough way to spend a handful of minutes, but nothing really to sustain repeated plays, which is fine, because I think it was designed to make a person smile, not to survive as an example of a great game.

Not new, but notable

My City
I’m grateful for the experience that My City gave me. 25 plays with Abigail, with her usually being the one asking to play. That’s a great success right there, but… I don’t care if I never play it again. I ended up winning the last six games as the system became more baroque, with mines and trains, oh my. Instead of there being multiple good options, I felt like there was often a best option than multiple red herring distractions. It felt less like the great puzzle game that it had been and more like an efficiency Euro. The “eternal” game on the reverse board probably represents the game at its peak, which must be why it was chosen as the version to keep, the version that is the most fun to play repeatedly. In the end, I think that the legacy aspect grew past what the game should have been, and I write this as someone who grokked the ending and ended up winning by a significant margin after a mostly otherwise close game. Abigail just wasn’t having as much fun the last few games and that meant that I didn’t care at all about the game anymore.
Do I recommend it as a couples game? Yeah, I do. Do I care to ever play the legacy game again or ever play the eternal game? Nope, I don’t.
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