You are currently browsing the archive for the Games category.

… that I’ve played since Christmas, anyway. Prompted by the fact that a) I’ve suddenly played a lot of board games in the last couple of months, and b) it’s the first time I’ve played ‘German-style’ games.

TL;DR : old board games can be good fun, but there’s a reason all the cool folks are playing Eurogames these days …

But first some old classics that got broken out again recently:

Cluedo (Clue in the States, I think?)

It’s kind of fun, this, but being reintroduced to it after decades away makes me think of it kind of as a card-based game that couldn’t quite figure out how to dispense with the board element. All the little murder weapon tokens and the moving round the board is kind of beside the point really; I mean, the way it’s designed they’re technically necessary, but the crux of the game is all in the cards. Just feels like a board game with a slightly cleaner card game hidden somewhere inside it.

Have to admit, it’s possible my slightly ‘meh’ reaction to it may be connected to the fact that I’m no good at Cluedo. And that’s putting mildly. I suck at this game. Epically. My chances of winning are slim to none, even playing against children (and trying!). So there you are.


My theory about Monopoly is that around half the games you play, you can predict the winner from pretty early on. You know how it goes: someone nails down one of the key sets (somewhere in the orange to green zone), and has at least enough money on hand to match anyone else’s housebuilding pace. From that point on, it takes some bad luck, bad trades or general bad judgement, to come out on the wrong end. Everyone else is spiralling the plughole, whether they know it or not (and usually they do).

The other half of the games, though – and even some of the ones that look like foregone conclusions – can turn into long drawn out slugging matches that can be kind of fun, if a little wearing. I like the fact that even though it’s a game that can be analysed mathematically to produce optimal strategies (e.g. like this or like this), there’s enough of the human factor and the chance factor to make it at least a bit unpredictable.

Although I definitely like it rather than love it, it was never really bettered amongst the seriously old school board games. Which is why it’s still around, I guess.


I like Risk. Honestly, though – even more than Monopoly perhaps – it’s one of those games where you can often see the plughole coming from quite a long way off. There’s a lot of toing and froing, ups and downs, but it seems like maybe 6 or 7 times out of ten, the first third or half of the game is pretty competitive then the rest is playing out a conclusion that’s more or less obvious to everyone. Sooner or later the player who’s been in the strongest position for a while gets to put down a gigantic pile of armies, and that’s it. More often than I’d really like, feels like there’s way less strategy involved than there really should be. Game over, man.

So, as far as those old boardgames are concerned, I’m having fun but probably ready to try something a little bit more … Eurogame-y. Which is exactly what’s happened, the last month or two:


It’s a bit of a one-off, Pandemic. For starters, it’s a co-operative game: all the players are playing together, on one team, against the game itself. You’re trying to save the world from hideous diseases that pop up all over the place. I’ve never played a co-operative game like this before, and I really like both that idea and the premise. Don’t like the execution, in this case, quite so much, although it’s still fun and I’ll certainly be coming back to it.

My main issue with it is that it inverts something which I think of as a Eurogame signature: superficially pretty simple rules that lead to surprisingly subtle or complex play outcomes. In the case of Pandemic, the rules are (comparatively) complicated – or not complicated, maybe, but ever so slightly convoluted; but the play, which initially appears quite complex and multi-faceted, I’m starting to suspect isn’t. How you win (i.e. beat the game) is the same every time, and I’ve got a sneaking feeling the way you get there is too – it’s certainly turned out that way each time I’ve played so far.

Interesting idea; less interesting but not terrible execution, imho.


Yes, I had never played Catan until these last couple of months. Yes, I am pathetically behind the times. And yes, it’s a good game. Really good. Pretty simple rules lead to pretty fluid and unpredictable gameplay that offers different approaches to winning. You couldn’t ask for much more. I get why it was pretty much the launch code for the Eurogame rocket back in the day. It’s just a completely different gaming experience compared to what boardgames had offered up until then.

Still, I have nitpicks of course. There are too many turns where you can’t do anything (unless another player is willing to trade with you). The dice rolls exert too much of an influence on the course of the game: a bad run of rolls can spoil you day fast, especially since it’s a game that can be over quite quickly if someone’s having a good day.

It’s great, but not perfect.

Ticket to Ride: Europe

Which brings me to Ticket to Ride: Europe. Wow. What a cool, cleverly designed game. Now I’ve got to admit, I’ve only played it once so far, so these are only first impressions, but … A lovely board and cards and pieces (and box – seriously, this is the first boardgame box that makes me feel warm inside). Simple(ish) rules and play mechanics that lead to actual play that’s way less straightforward and obvious than you might expect (although I didn’t win, so possible I was over-thinking!).

Bottom line is it’s easily my favourite of all the games name-checked here. Every single turn you have to make some kind of decision(s), and almost every turn you’re doing something that feels like progress, and trying to plan ahead. There’s certainly an element of luck, but it’s somewhat mitigated by the way the play mechanics force the player to make conscious decisions about various things all the time.

Playing it was great, but the truth is my brain – my nerdy brain – was spending a decent chunk of the time just being amazed at how subtle and clever the design of the game was. Maybe next time I’ll be past that stage and might actually have a chance of winning …

Tags: , , , , ,

Bigger house or less stuff. The choice comes to most of us sooner or later, and with some regularity. Just now, the answer is less stuff so the search is on for things I can live without; candidates for re-homing, or binning. Which include:

Cue nostalgia.  I put in my fair share of Dungeoning and Dragoning in my youth, and looking back I’m inclined to think those long sessions of hacking and slaying and spellcasting were some of the better spent parts of it.  The paraphenalia of those days has been in long, more or less forgotten, hibernation, cluttering up drawer space I could probably use more constructively now.  It’s been many, many years since I rolled a 20-sided die in anger and I see no realistic prospect of doing so in the the foreseeable future.  Life, for me and my former gaming companions, no longer includes the luxury of otherwise unallocated hours that could easily be sunk into D&D (or any of the other games that consumed so much of our time back then, which we won’t get into here).

If I had the time, would I actually want to break open the rule books (or the new versions of them, I suppose it would be) again?  I’m not sure.  The idea appeals, in a way: the remembered companionship of it all, the vast realms of exploration and character advancement that always seemed to lurk just beyond the horizon of whatever current adventure was absorbing our attention.  It was good stuff at the time, but I have a feeling it would not be quite so easy now, in my middle age, to buy into it all and take it with at least the modicum of seriousness that is required.

There’s a pretty high proportion of fantasy writers who’ve got D&D lodged somewhere in their personal backstory, and my entirely-unsupported-by-evidence guess would be that quite a few of them were at least as much DM as player.  That was certainly true for me.  It’s that native instinct for world creation, story-shaping.  Except that, of course, one of the beauties of D&D – and it’s many less famous RPG colleagues – is that the players shape the story as much as the DM.  We were never heavily into the role-playing bit of the process, really: very little business was conducted ‘in character’, and things like alignment never weighed too heavily upon anyone’s considerations.  What we were after, I think in hindsight, was just the construction of shared narratives and the joint creation of spectacular or dramatic set-pieces.

Do the legions of World of Warcrafters now populating the internet get the same things out of their gaming as we did back then, clustered around some big table, half-buried beneath paper and dice and books?  I don’t know, but I’m an old-fashioned sort of soul, and I have a nostalgic affection for those shared narratives and moments of high drama that existed only in our minds, created there purely by what we said to each other.  They were not acted out before us on screens; they were only thoughts, midwifed into our heads and rendered mutually consistent  by sets of rules and concepts.  I like that.  D&D might have been a minority interest back then, and now, but for those immersed in its make-believe worlds it was – and no doubt still is – an absorbing, liberating, companionable affair.  I’d never begrudge it any of the time it claimed from me back then.

But it’s not an experience I’ll be reliving any time soon, so that drawer space needs to be freed up, for slabs of tax return documents, or chequebooks, or office supplies.  Boring stuff.  Except the office supplies, which I confess I find quite pleasing in a wholly inexplicable way.  I like boxes of staples, paperclips, labels and all that kind of stuff.  Not much scope for slaying dragons with it, though.

(Note for D&D afficionados and completists: I did, of course, have a Monster Manual, but it’s not shown in the photo above because it was a paperback, and I believe it disintegrated quite some time ago.)

(Further note: in what I remember as a very deliberate act of subversive rebelliousness, I persistently played a female character.  No one else in our group – all blokes – ever did, so far as I remember.  What does this tell us about me?  No idea.)