In the 138 Games series today we bring you several heavy hitters, including a landmark auction game, a pervasive card game, and the game that started it all. But here at The Opinionated Gamers we’re not just about the obvious games, so mixed in with the ones you’ve surely heard of, we have a couple game recommendations that are not so well known. And these come at opposite ends of the spectrum. There’s a silly party game and an epic historical simulation, so we’ve got all your bases covered.
– Inspeaquence –
Larry: I love clever party games and this is one of the best. Having to piece together a clear, accurate, and grammatically correct question one word at a time that will lead your teammate to the right answer is a terrific challenge and great fun. I love coming up with the key word that guides the rest of the team in the right direction as quickly as possible, as well as willing your teammates to continue the proper thread (staring at them intently always works, right?). Best of all is when a fellow questioner throws you a curve ball (and sometimes it’s a great one) and you need to adjust to the sudden switch in a hurry. It’s too bad that this game is so hard to find, but we’ve been able to play it with word lists from other party games. If you have the chance to pick this up, grab it–you’ll find that saying one word at a time was never so hilarious!
– Medici –
Rick Thornquist: Medici is classic Reiner Knizia – a simple yet strategic game that has exactly the number of mechanisms it needs and not one more. It’s basically a set collecting game with two twists: first, you have to bid victory points to get victory points, and second, the sets score two different ways. These twists make for a game with agonizing decisions, lots of player interaction, and much moaning and groaning when things don’t go your way. The only knock against the game has been the inexplicable inability of any of the numerous publishers to come up with a graphic design that actually works (though that may have been solved in more recent editions). Medici is one of the greats, and shows Knizia at his best.
Matt Carlson: I can see there being poor graphic design issues with the game, but as I consider it an extremely abstract auction/bidding style game it does not bother me very much. What I find intriguing in this game is how different groups will value pieces differently. As with all auctions, finding items that are “discounted” off their true value is the way to win, but since many of the available points are received as a result of player competition (for majority of goods) the “true” value of particular goods can change from game to game. As Rick mentions, there are some great player interaction moments, some of the best I find not when luck plays a role but when one player manages to “force” another player into what is clearly a less attractive decision (it is the “best” decision at the time, but no rules against making sure such a player pays through the nose for the goods they want/need!).
Larry: One of the best “pure” auction games ever created. There is just enough complexity to make valuations challenging (and differently valued for each player), but the scoring rules remain straightforward. There’s enough luck to keep things dynamic, but good play still usually rules the day. And like so many of the older games on this list, it plays great with 6 (a player number that modern designers have practically given up on). If you have any interest in auction games, this is one you absolutely need to try.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: More than 15 years after its release, this is actually the best “pure” auction game ever. A perfect design and a great game that scales well and also works great with 6 players.
– Settlers of Catan –
Greg Schloesser: When I formed the Westbank Gamers group back in 1995, we initially played Avalon Hill and GameMaster titles. I would visit a local hobby shop on a weekly basis to check out the latest titles. One day I spotted two games I had never seen before: Settlers of Catan and Die Hanse. The former was in a plain brown box (old Mayfair version), while the latter had a gorgeous, full color cover. Die Hanse seemed so appealing and exciting, so I purchased it. On the way home I eagerly opened the box, only to discover that everything was in German. I called the store’s proprietor and he generously agreed to let me return the game. I exchanged it for Settlers of Catan and it changed my gaming life forever. Imagine if my first European gaming experience had been Die Hanse, which proved to be an eminently forgettable design. Oh, how my life would have been different!
Settlers of Catan is the one game that has brought more people into the world of European-style gaming than any other. It truly is the breakthrough game. Strategy, tactics, trading, negotiation, resource collection and a dash of luck are all combined brilliantly to create a game that has almost universal appeal. It is truly legendary.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: The game I always indicate as the one making the beginning of the Euro era. A great design, one of the few games (after Civilization) able to have a real working commerce system. I think it is still one of the best game to introduce players to our hobby.
Brian Leet: My Settlers story is similar to Greg’s in a way. I was fortunate enough to have been taught the game at a convention from the German version, and then needed to wait months for Mayfair to finally deliver on the English reprint. An incredible game that should be played with a quick pace and fully accepting that luck, as well as strategy and negotiation, is an important component to this game. For a variety of reasons it has fallen out of my collection, but this is an old classic I may just be adding back in.
– American Megafauna –
Brian Leet: Okay, this is a bit of a red herring perhaps as I suspect a vast majority of our readers (that makes 7) who have not played this game never will. It is a bit different than the re-conceived Bios: Megafauna which replaces it, making it not only obscure and dense, but also out of print. At the same time, this game provides a learning and play experience that is unlike anything else. It embraces evolutionary challenge at a deeper scientific level than other games would even consider. Half the rulebook is a glossary!
Players take on the role of proto-archetypes for various species and then move, bid genetic advantage and evolve in an attempt to survive both each other and the eminently random destructive force that is geology and mother nature. A true “experience” game, the outcome can often be determined by an unlucky event, but I still always have fun playing it. Plus, there are many terms and concepts – Milankovich cycle anyone? – that I learned from this game’s extensive background and depth.
It may not be your cup of tea, but if you get a chance, at least check out the title and read the rules glossary.
– Bohnanza –
Greg Schloesser: When I first read brief descriptions of Bohnanza when it was introduced at several of the gaming conventions, I laughed it off. I mean, really … a card game about bean farming? Sounds like it would compete with the likes of Old Maid or Go Fish, games which I happily left behind a long, long time ago. And since I usually have a mental block when it comes to card games, I quickly decided to pass.
Well, the raves for this game kept pouring in. One could not read any gaming reports or tap into games newsgroups without hearing someone say how neat this little game was. Further discussions with gamers from around the world whose opinions I value convinced me (along with the very low price tag for this item … around $7) that I should at least give it a try.
My first opportunity to play was on a two week vacation to Italy with my wife and then ten year old daughter. Well, to put it mildly, I was pleasantly surprised. During the course of the vacation, we played Bohnanza seven times. Even my wife, who at the time had a notorious reputation for not enjoying games, was quickly won over. Further, the game is so well balanced, that in our seven playings, even my young daughter won two matches!
I’ve now played Bohnanza well over 50 times and still, to this day, thoroughly enjoy the experience. In my book, the game is truly a gem that has raised the bar as far as card games are concerned. Who would have ever thought that bean farming could be so much fun?
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: The first Uwe game I played and a great card game. Easy and tense, with some really good ideas.
To be continued…