This weekend was a bit of an anomaly for us in central North Carolina, because we had a whopping 6 inches* of snow that completely paralyzed travel and cancelled all mass gatherings of people (such as church) over the weekend (as well as school for a good part of the coming week, I suppose). Anyway, considering that our main TV decided that it wanted to catch on fire or something like that last weekend, we were left with only one, pittifully small TV to watch, and since it’s almost 15 years old, its picture is about to go out as well. What does that mean? Well, of course, more chances to play boardgames over the weekend!!!
Gwen and I spent a good deal of our time on Saturday up in the game room, both with Samantha and just by ourselves (after the little one had finally gone to sleep). Speaking of Samantha, she and I actually spent some time “playing with” games a number of times. We moved around pieces from an old backgammon board, filled up the grid from Connect 4 several times, tried to bite (and succeeded a couple of times) the tiles from Toss Your Cookies, watched Daddy assemble the board for Don’t Break the Ice only to beat it apart in approximately 5.5 seconds, and of course, our all-time favorite, played with lots and lots and lots of Daddy’s dice.
Apart from just “playing with” games, Gwen and I got in some pretty significant “game playing” as well. During Saturday afternoon, we managed to get in a game each of FITS and Tobago while Samantha occupied herself. I managed to edge Gwen out as she self-destructed in the last two rounds of FITS, but she completely destroyed me in Tobago (more than doubling my score). But it’s pretty distracting to make sure that Samantha neither kills herself doing something that we don’t notice nor makes an alpha strike on the game we’re playing: pulling cards, bits, and maybe even the whole board down to where she can see it.
We left Tobago set up, though, and got back to it later on. This time, I managed to win two more games by very close margins to claim the Tobago championship for Snowed-In-Con 2010. I continue to be impressed with this game, though, both for its incredible fun-factor as well as its unique and interesting gameplay. And while it’s certainly very light, I continue to feel like the person who wins is the one that actually played the best game. But at the same time, I don’t think that I’ve seen one best way to play emerge that seems to superior to any other strategy. Sometimes, the winner gathers up lots of amulets and uses them creatively to win. Other times, the winner didn’t pick up any amulets but instead concentrated on getting clues into every treasure map that was found. In still other cases (like my second win on Saturday), a player is able to win based on putting together a good map that no one else has participated in. But I’ve also seen that backfire when other players ended the game before that player could capitalize on all their investment.
But anyway, we also pulled out two new (to Gwen) fillers as well: Hula Hippos and Escalation! (both of which she won). For quick, light fun, they’re both very solid.
The other “real” game we played, however, was The Pillars of the Earth, which I haven’t played in way too long. Since we were both rusty, we didn’t use the extra board from the expansion, but we did mix in the extra resource, craftsman, event, and priviledge cards fthat it provides. Anyway, I used my “usual” strategy of going with stone, while she went with wood as her main focus. Gwen jumped out to an early lead, but with the 1:2 VP generation of my sculptors, I was closing the gap. But then I made two huge mistakes back-to-back that severely hurt my position. First, on turn 5, I didn’t pay attention to the number of resource cubes I would have at the end of the turn, so instead of choosing to go to the market (where I could have sold them), I discarded 3 stone for no gain. And then on the next turn, I took the Gardner (an expansion craftsman which requires 1 stone, 1 wood, and 1 sand to earn 5 VP) and placed a worker on the market to buy the one wood I needed. Unfortunately, I had given up my Woodworker earlier in the game to make room for other craftsmen, which has the unfortunate penalty of preventing me from buying wood at the market! And worse than that, there was actually an unclaimed priviledge card that round that would have given me a stone and a wood!!! Add all that together with solid play from Gwen, and it equals a one-VP win for my lovely wife.
I really don’t know what Pillars doesn’t hit the table more often. In a solid 60-minute game, you get a ton of well-balanced mechanisms that challenge players to make tough choices and be flexible with their strategy. It looks great, and is fun even while working through the learning curve of figuring out how to get things done. Maybe I need to bring it to game night more often and try to get it some more play there as well.
While I always want to play even more games, I was very happy with my weekend. Who knows, maybe it will come another veritable blizzard next weekend and I’ll get to do it all over again!
*Yes, I know that 6 inches is not actually a lot of snow for many of you, but it is approximately 12 times as much as we have for any one particular, yet still quite rare, snow event. And, of course, people down here are some no-drivin’ fools when it comes to snow and ice!