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Subject: Light, low-screwage game that rewards proactive and intuitive play? rss

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Kevin B. Smith
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Over the last year, my wife and I have been learning what each of us likes (and doesn't like) in a board game. We really like cooperative games, but haven't found many competitive games that work for us.

I have researched hundreds of games here on BGG, and have played quite a few at local groups. But I can't think of anything that meets the following criteria:

- Must be great with 2-players. Doesn't matter if it works with more or not.
- Light-ish (BGG weight under about 2.3)
- Short-ish (Under an hour)
- Not abstract (just about any theme, including a thin one, is ok)
- Minimal screwage (multi-player solitaire is fine)
- Not entirely random
- Rewards proactive play (see below)
- Rewards intuitive play (see below)
- Ideally not a pure card game

The screwage requirement eliminates a lot of "filler" type games. Neither one of us like attacking other players (or being attacked). The weight requirement eliminates meaty games like Caylus Magna Carta and Saint Petersburg.

We have discovered that many otherwise nice games reward patience and delaying tactics. Examples include Lost Cities and (to a lesser degree) Jaipur. From what I have heard, also Dragonheart. So I'm thinking there should be some games that reward proactive play, rather than patient play. And since we don't want a game to be primarily random, nor one that is primarily one of intellectual planning (like Chess, for example), I'm thinking maybe there are games that rely more on intuition. Jaipur seemed that way at first, and my wife won most of our early games.

Comments on a few other games:
Bombay - Not bad, but rewards careful planning, not intuition
Archaeology: The Card Game - Quite random; pure card game
Ra: The Dice Game - We like it, but it's a bit random
Thebes - Can run long; chit draws are a bit too random
San Juan - Not bad, but a bit heavy; have only played 3 times
Balloon Cup - Not bad, but favors patience, and consists of direct head-to-head battles; have played it quite a bit
Campaign Manager 2008 - Not bad, but slightly heavy, and consists of direct head-to-head battles; have only played once
Stone Age - Longer and heavier than we would want right now
Dream Factory - Ok, but we didn't like the auctions that much
California - Have played twice; so far, so good
Jambo - Too much conflict, although I might try without the animal cards; just didn't seem fun the one time I tried it
Ticket to Ride - Longer than I would like; might need to try again, on a board with minimal blocking
Trans Europa - Didn't like leveraging other player's work to win
Carcassonne - "Dull", and problems with "stealing" farms
Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper - Too random, and pure card game
Mr. Jack - Too heavy; we didn't enjoy the bluffing

Here are a few games I'm thinking about:
Biblios - Card game; has bluffing aspect; might reward patience
Around the World in 80 Days - Supposedly not great with 2
Zooloretto Junior - Don't know much about it; will try Zooloretto at some point
TSCHAK! - From the Jaipur people; not out yet; need more info
The City - Looks promising, as a lighter San Juan; will have to wait for an English release

Thanks in advance for any suggestions or ideas.
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Charles Bone
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Finca, Thurn and Taxis, Through the Desert. All can be played intuitively and without spite. If you will try more card games, Parade, Jaipur, and Cribbage. All hits with my wife and I.
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Kevin B. Smith
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Thanks. As I mentioned, we have played Jaipur. It has been our favorite competitive game for quite a while, although it is not as fun now. I'm learning better tactics, which are starting to overcome my wife's more intuitive style.

We have played Cribbage, but at this point we really want themed games, not abstracts.

Through the Desert reminds some people of Go (a game I strongly dislike), and the consensus seems to be that it is very cutthroat with 2 players. Parade is also supposed to be very cutthroat with 2.

I played Thurn and Taxis online once, and probably liked it a bit less than my in-person games of Ticket to Ride. I don't think I can elaborate why right now. Might be worth another look.

When I researched Finca a while ago, I concluded that the rondel could lead to intentional or accidental screwage. Shared objects in general tend to have that problem for us (see my notes on TransEuropa and Carcassonne).
 
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Elizabeth
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My husband and I have a lot of similar criteria to yours, and some of our favorites include Alhambra (with a dummy third player, which actually works quite well and is explained in the rules), and Dominion. We also like Ticket to Ride with the USA 1910 expansion. With two players, there usually isn't too much conflict with that expansion.

We also like Carcassonne, but we usually play without farmers in two-player games because my husband doesn't like it to be that cutthroat. Our Carcassonne games are often with Traders & Builders expansion (which gives the excitement and fun of the builder and the goods in cities) but no farmers. I like playing Carcassonne in the cutthroat way too, but more in groups than in two-player.

Strangely, we also really like Survive: Escape from Atlantis, which is about as cutthroat as you can get, but for some reason it works well for us, even in two-player. I think it's because that whole game is a silly bloodbath and we go in with our expectations set appropriately.

Stone Age is another of our favorites, although it seems a bit heavier than the others. It's a little longer, but it goes by quickly and is exciting enough that we don't get bored or tired of it at all. There is some competition for resources, but there are enough good opportunities each turn that we both get some good stuff.

We tried Through the Desert because I thought the camels were super cute, but we are not into abstracts, I think, and didn't love it. I could see that one being fairly cutthroat with two players. We also tried San Juan, but I think my husband found it a little boring, and I found it pretty slow myself too. My husband prefers games to have boards rather than just cards. In spite of that, Dominion is one of his very favorite games.

I played Zooloretto with my sister in a two-player game, and I suspect that is one of those games that is much better with more players. When I played Coloretto with four players, it seemed more exciting than when we played Zooloretto two-player.
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Except for the non-card-game requirement, I'd say Utopian Rummy. There's only one card where you can directly take away the other person's card, but that's only if you build it, and you can use it to help yourself instead. The next time ArtsCow has a sale, take a look at getting a copy.
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Kevin B. Smith
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Thanks for your comments and suggestions, Elizabeth.

I'm wary of Alhambra for a few reasons, including comments about how you can/must play "mean" using Dirk to hurt your opponent, and because our Carc experience has cast a shadow over all tile-laying games. However, my wife likes California so far, which I have seen referred to as "Alhambra light". So I'll keep Alhambra in mind. However, I'm actually concerned that California may have too many opportunities for screwage. We have only played it twice so far. Time will tell.

I have played Dominion a few times, and went from not expecting to like it, to liking it somewhat, to not really liking it. With a bad selection of cards available, the game can be truly horrible. The answer is not to go with a purely random set of cards, but it's hard to know what would be good and what would be bad until you have played it. The shuffling might be an issue. We would have to play without some or all of the attack cards. A substantial part of the game seems to be discovering and memorizing combos, which wouldn't fit the "intuitive" requirement.

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Kevin B. Smith
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indigopotter wrote:
Except for the non-card-game requirement, I'd say Utopian Rummy. There's only one card where you can directly take away the other person's card, but that's only if you build it, and you can use it to help yourself instead. The next time ArtsCow has a sale, take a look at getting a copy.

Thanks for the pointer to Utopian Rummy. I had seen the name, but had never looked into it. It does look promising, although so far every rummy-like game that we have tried, except for Jaipur, has had too much randomness. I like that launching an attack also allows your opponent(s) to counter-attack pretty easily. So I think it could be played "nice".

The main reason we don't like "card" games is that so many of them are just numbers, even if there is a thin theme (Lost Cities, Drive). Or they are CCG-style with complicated special abilities on the cards (Jambo, RftG). I like that this one feels more like San Juan, but with fewer/simpler abilities.
 
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Race for the Galaxy

Multi-player solitaire.
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Kevin B. Smith
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GirlRPh wrote:
Race for the Galaxy
Multi-player solitaire.

Thanks, but we tried it. It was too complicated. Not (just) the icons, but the consume/trade phase, and all the special abilities of the cards. San Juan (BGG weight 2.3) is at the upper limit of what we want for this niche. For my wife, (most) heavier games feel like work, not fun. I say most, because her favorite game is Vanished Planet, a 2.5-weight co-op, and she also enjoys Lord of the Rings, with its 2.6 weight. She'll tolerate a lot more complexity in a co-op than she will in a competitive game.

Back to RftG: My rating after my first game (not with my wife) was a 7. After playing 300 games against the AI plus a few more in person, my rating fell to 6 (it never went above 7), and after another in-person game last week, I lowered it to 4. If Race were fun (for me), the complexity would be ok, but since it's not that much fun, the complexity-to-fun ratio is just way too high. I much prefer San Juan.
 
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Maybe too abstract??? but we like Metropolys as a lighter game for the two of us. There is next to no screwage. There is a thin theme as opposed to a truly abstract game. It's my current favorite short game with low screwage.
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Yspahan might fit the bill nicely. Light, short, low-screwage, no benefit to hanging around doing nothing.

Also, I would second the recommendations of Survive! and Dominion. Survive has direct screwage... but for some reason, it is fun. Trust me on that, I play with people who don't like screwage and they still like survive. Dominion has cards, but is a stellar 2-player game. Fits all your requirements.

I know you didn't like Mr. Jack, but the Mr. Jack in NY is so much better... but, you didn't like the bluffing part. Nah, not going to recommend that. Yspahan is my #1 recommendation.
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Eugene
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peakhope wrote:
Over the last year, my wife and I have been learning what each of us likes (and doesn't like) in a board game. We really like cooperative games, but haven't found many competitive games that work for us.

Have you entertained the idea that you two just don't really like games that much? Honestly, finding something to play shouldn't give such torment. And neither should competitiveness in the spirit of play.
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Geoff Hall
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It could be worth looking at Fairy Tale. Some of the black cards are fairly 'screw you!' but you're not required to draft them and, if you do, you're also not required to play them (you play 3 out of 5 cards in each of the 4 rounds). It's a pure card game but it's very good.

I think you should follow your instinct and check out Biblios.

I personally think Two by Two will be a good fit. You can play it with a screw you mentality, drowning animals, etc. but you aren't forced to, especially if you play with the basic rather than the advanced scoring.

Blue Moon City might be a touch heavier than you're looking for but otherwise I think it may be a good fit.
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On the constructive side, have you looked at the 10 Days in... games? Virtually no opportunity for player interaction.

Also, Factory Fun. You build you own little factory out of your own little machines on your very own board. Add up points at the end to see who did it best. You can do nothing to interfere with the other players while you're having fun in your factory. The only time players ever come into contact with each other is during the grab for buildings at the beginning of the round. But even that potential for inadvertent offense can be removed by players being dealt a hand of two or three tiles, one of which may be kept.
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"My wife is the type of person who likes games where you do your best against the game and everyone else does the same without trying to hinder anyone else and whoever does the best overall wins."
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I was going to suggest 7 Wonders and Dominion but I see you've already rejected them. I'd recommend Dominion setups without attack cards, and forgetting about "memorising combos" - with a bajillion possible setups you don't get anywhere by memorising a couple of card interactions.

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age is short, light, themed, doesn't involve lots of calculation, planning, or stalling. The screwage is pretty low (you happen to roll a particular number of catastrophes) and abstract (opponents get a couple of negative points).

Fairy Tale is a simpler, cleaner 7 Wonders and ticks most of the above boxes. There are a couple of confrontational cards - I didn't find them a big deal but you could play without them.

An off-the-wall suggestion is Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League, a very light 2p pickup-and-deliver game that's more or less a race. The players go from planet to planet, grabbing goods and delivering them for cash, and purchasing ship upgrades with the proceeds. There are some "screwage" cards (eg swap positions, swap cargo) but you could safely leave those out.

I believe 2p Alhambra employs a dummy player, but would otherwise be a good candidate.
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At the Gates of Loyang?
Glen More?
Empire Builder?
Take it Easy!?
Fresco?
Samarkand: Routes to Riches?
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Sorry about missing Jaipur in scanning your post.

TtD isn't, or at least doesn't have to be, cutthroat at all. You are wise to look further into T&T. In Parade, you're trying to do the best thing for your goals with the cards you have, but yes, you may occasionally set up your opponent, assuming you play to win. Finca feels as far from screwage as I can imagine, though I suppose any game can be played with screwage if you try hard enough.

I can also second Carc without farms and Glen More as pretty non-confrontational.

Now, allow me to say that it sounds like maybe you should primarily focus on cooperative games: Pandemic, etc. My wife and I aren't competitive or confrontational in our gaming, but if you wish to avoid the potential nastiness of shorting your wife an orange because you wanted two almonds, I can't imagine there are many games presenting an acceptable level of competition.

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Tough criteria! We also tend toward low interaction games but are quite happy playing heavier games which eliminates most of them for you.

Pergamon is a set collection game about digging for artifacts with a bidding/gambling mechanism thrown in. Each turn an unknown amount of funding will be available to all players. You know the possible sizes of the funding pool (e.g. at least 5, at most 12) and you take turns placing bids for a portion of that money. Bidding low means you're more likely to get your money but bidding highest means you get all the leftover if the amount available was greater than the total bids. You spend your money to go dig up fragments to combine into museum displays. Older and larger displays get more points but they decay over time so one big display won't win the game.

It's very low interaction and the theme is very well integrated, making it easy to understand and teach. With two people you will have a dummy player but it takes no more than a couple of seconds to run each turn. It's possibly the best dummy player I've seen in a game like this. Our 2 player games normally run at 30-40 minutes and the longest anyone has taken to learn it is until the first scoring round.


The only other games I can think of are card games I'm afraid. If you buy the latest version of Citadels you get the expansion and can build a character set that almost completely eliminates screwing with the other player (no assassin, no thief).

Parade plays with what is basically a non standard deck of playing cards. It has a theme but it's so irrelevant to the play of the game that it doesn't amount to much more than a few nice Alice in Wonderland pictures. It's a set collection game where you never interact with the other person. The goal is to collect as few cards as possible, but if you do collect cards you want more of that suit than your opponent does. A very simple game to teach and understand, a surprising amount of thought for such a simple game and probably my favourite of our short (20-30 min) two player games. It might stray a little too close to traditional card games for you but I'd highly recommend it regardless.

Ascension: Deckbuilding Game has almost zero interaction and the nature of its centre row means that short term planning and risk management is much more important than Dominion style combo building. It might be a little too random for you but it's certainly a game played on intuition rather than grand strategies. I'd definitely recommend playing first based on your criteria.
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peakhope wrote:
indigopotter wrote:
Except for the non-card-game requirement, I'd say Utopian Rummy. There's only one card where you can directly take away the other person's card, but that's only if you build it, and you can use it to help yourself instead. The next time ArtsCow has a sale, take a look at getting a copy.

Thanks for the pointer to Utopian Rummy. I had seen the name, but had never looked into it. It does look promising, although so far every rummy-like game that we have tried, except for Jaipur, has had too much randomness. I like that launching an attack also allows your opponent(s) to counter-attack pretty easily. So I think it could be played "nice".

The main reason we don't like "card" games is that so many of them are just numbers, even if there is a thin theme (Lost Cities, Drive). Or they are CCG-style with complicated special abilities on the cards (Jambo, RftG). I like that this one feels more like San Juan, but with fewer/simpler abilities.


Utopian Rummy starts with hands of 10 cards, so you have a pretty good choice right from the start, and you draw 2 and keep one (if you build certain cards, you can draw 3 and/or keep 2, for more choices). You can also choose to take a face up card, so you know what you're getting. There are wild cards as well. The card that really makes a difference is the card called Ancestral Knowledge, which lets you do an extra draw-and-keep move, OR dig through the face up piles and take a card.

Timing is also stressed more in Utopian Rummy than in similar Rummy games. You can only initiate one card type per turn (put down a set of cards not already on the table) so you have to decide what powers you need first, versus the points, versus what your opponent might do. As a general rule, I find the lower point cards to have more powerful powers, and the higher point cards to have less powerful powers.

One kind of card lets you draw a card when you lay it down, up to 2 per turn. If you have 4 of them, do you lay them all down at once, or lay down 3, and then save one for the next turn? The card that lets you get rid of one card on the table can only be used the first time you lay it down, so if you need to build with a wild card, you might save those cards for after, to get rid of the wild card (-3 points).

I think the San Juan comparison is a good one - fewer and simpler abilities, and roughly equal amounts of theme.
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garygarison wrote:
Have you entertained the idea that you two just don't really like games that much? Honestly, finding something to play shouldn't give such torment. And neither should competitiveness in the spirit of play.

We enjoy playing cooperative games together, and will continue to do so. We want to enjoy competitive games as well, but it is possible that our tastes just don't align with available competitive games.

As was discussed in an earlier thread, we have very strange tastes. Almost any shared object can be a problem, such as joint ownership in Acquire or selecting from the same dice pool in Yspahan. We don't need to psychoanalyze this here, as that was already done in the other thread.

Unfortunately, this thread has focused more on this "no screwage" aspect. I was really hoping to focus on the "proactive/intuitive" angle, since that seems like a less-discussed and perhaps less controversial topic. Perhaps I should have asked only about that, and left all the other criteria out, and then I could have (quietly offline) filtered out the 99% of suggestions which would have been too long, too heavy, too cutthroat, or not good with 2.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. I may or may not end up replying to each one, but rest assured I will be looking (or in some cases re-looking) at each mentioned game.
 
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peakhope wrote:
Unfortunately, this thread has focused more on this "no screwage" aspect. I was really hoping to focus on the "proactive/intuitive" angle, since that seems like a less-discussed and perhaps less controversial topic. Perhaps I should have asked only about that, and left all the other criteria out, and then I could have (quietly offline) filtered out the 99% of suggestions which would have been too long, too heavy, too cutthroat, or not good with 2.


Proactive is quite easy to filter on and I think Lost Cities is a perfect example. The hardest part of the criteria is that it plays with intuition instead of an intellectual exercise while not allowing luck to play a significant role. From what you posted it sounds like intuition in this case means planning a couple of actions ahead while the game stops you from going any further. That requires some luck based system since you can't know what's coming up, either by rolling or drawing random cards. When does some luck become too much?

Out of curiousity, what are your favourite non cooperative games for 2? The list in the first post seems to imply none of them have gone over too well, though some are acceptable.
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Goateh wrote:
Proactive is quite easy to filter on and I think Lost Cities is a perfect example.

I assume you mean that Lost Cities is a perfect example of a game that punishes proactive play.

After evaluating games specifically on this axis for the last few days, I'm now wondering if anti-proactive games are more rare than I thought when I wrote the post. Perhaps there are only a handful of anti-proactive games, but they just happen to be clustered in the area of light games with indirect interaction, so I'm seeing them a lot.

Quote:
The hardest part of the criteria is that it plays with intuition instead of an intellectual exercise while not allowing luck to play a significant role. From what you posted it sounds like intuition in this case means planning a couple of actions ahead while the game stops you from going any further. That requires some luck based system since you can't know what's coming up, either by rolling or drawing random cards. When does some luck become too much?

Out of curiousity, what are your favourite non cooperative games for 2? The list in the first post seems to imply none of them have gone over too well, though some are acceptable.

Jaipur has been our favorite for quite a while. It offers both a reward and a penalty for holding onto your goods rather than selling them, so is "proactive neutral". I don't know if it is truly intuitive or not, but my wife usually beat me in our early games, while I was trying to use logic. She wasn't using pure logic, nor luck (her winning was too consistent), so I attributed it to the vague "intuition".

Another good one for us has been Ra Dice. The randomness is an issue, but again here I tended to lose our early games while trying to apply intellect to the problem.

As we have gotten more familiar with both of these games, I have learned little strategies and tactics, and have started to win more consistently. Hence the desire to find some new games.

We recently got San Juan, Campaign Manager, and Bombay. All of them are OK so far, as they don't seem to have any attributes that we hate. However, based on a few plays of each, my wife doesn't love any of them either. And I have talked about California.

I should also say more about theme. While a thin theme is fine, and there are few if any themes that would prevent us from enjoying a game, there are definitely themes that we like more, and others that we like less. Medieval town-building is fine with me, but my wife finds it quite dull. Space (especially aliens) is a big plus, while war is a big minus. So while I'm interested in hearing about games in all themes, we might end up passing on some otherwise viable candidates just based on theme.
 
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I forgot to mention that we have enjoyed 10 Days in Europe for quite a while. We're getting tired of it now, so will probably retire it. We might try one of the other 10 Days games (Asia, Americas), but would expect to tire of them more quickly since they only add minor variations to the game.

This is a case of the theme (travel) being good enough that it helped us enjoy the game more than we would have if it had had a theme we didn't like. Balloon Cup is another one. Hot air balloons have special meaning to us, and without that theme, the game would be far too confrontational for us to enjoy as much as we have.
 
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peakhope wrote:
Unfortunately, this thread has focused more on this "no screwage" aspect. I was really hoping to focus on the "proactive/intuitive" angle, since that seems like a less-discussed and perhaps less controversial topic.

But when games like Carcassonne and TransAmerica are rejected as mean, cut-throat, and subject to bad feelings, one questions whether the issue is really what to call such games.
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