138 Games: From Samurai to Battle Cry

The 138 Games series closes out the 1990s today after spending 6 weeks presenting the 30 games from the decade that you absolutely must try.  But we’re not done yet.  We’ve still got 56 games to cover from the 2000s, with a few surprising twists and turns in there that you very likely will not expect.

– Samurai –

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue:  Probably my favorite Knizia game along with Medici.  Samurai is a simple game of claiming territory.  In a hex-gridded Japan, players are placing tiles (distinguished by their strength) to gain control of three different resources: rice paddies, Buddhas, and high hats.  A resource is taken when the land spaces around it are all occupied and the player with the highest strength gets the resource.

All the players have the same set of tiles but not at the same times and no one knows what other players actually have in hand.  There are also a few special tiles, plus ships that can be played on sea spaces.  A simple mechanism but a great game.  I have played Samurai countless times, with two, three, and four players.  I prefer it with two or three, since there is less control with four.

I still play Samurai since it is one of the real evergreens and I consider it one of the best expressions of Knizia’s design skill.

– Autoscooter –

Joe Huber:  Most games from Europe tend towards themed abstracts.  Some add more thematic aspects.  But very few are simulations – for that matter, outside of wargames, simulation is rarely the goal in game design.

I’m not convinced Cornett intended Autoscooter to be a simulation – but it works remarkably well as one.  There’s a downside to this – if you’ve ever ridden bumper cars, you know that as enjoyable as it is, there’s not a whole lot of point to the exercise.  In Autoscooter, there’s a scoring system added – very logically, rewarding the hits which would be the most rattling on the ride.  But – in the end, it’s an experience game; one to be played for the fun of it, not with a focus purely on victory.

Normally, I try to avoid recommending experience games, because what makes for a good experience for one person might be a lousy experience for someone else, because of differences in appreciation of the subject.  But the game behind this experience is excellent; the game may or may not be to your taste, but it’s a valuable – and enjoyable – exploration even if the game doesn’t end up being up your alley.  If possible, I’d recommend playing on the original wood board.

– Time’s Up –

Mary Prasad:  Time’s Up is my favorite party game.  And I’m not alone… the base version is ranked number five on Board Game Geek for party games.  The Title Recall version is ranked number one!  It’s the same game but with titles of TV shows, movies, books, art, and songs instead of names of people.  Title Recall is actually my favorite version.  Time’s Up is based on the public domain game Celebrities.

Time’s Up plays with 4 to 18 players in teams of at least 2, although it is best with teams of 2 and from 6 to 8 players. There are three rounds to the game (although there is an optional 4th round of posing that may be played if three rounds isn’t enough for you).  A deck is made of 40 cards, a subset of the hundreds of cards that come with the game (a little setup is done at the beginning of the game to select the cards).  The cards are double sided; players decide which side to use before starting the game.  The same set of cards is used for all three rounds.  One player on a team will try to get her teammate(s) to guess as many of the names on the cards as possible in the time allotted.  For the first round, any words or gestures may be used with the following exceptions: words on the cards, spelling, or direct rhymes.  There is no passing in the first round.  Play continues moving from team to team until all cards have been guessed.

In the second round, players are only allowed one word clues.  For round three players may not speak at all, only gesture/pantomime or hum/make noises.  Players may pass on cards in rounds two and three.  Points are tallied (one point per correct guess/card) after each round. The team with the most points after three rounds is the winning team.

Creativity is definitely a plus in this game.  If you don’t know a name, you can always try to get your teammate to sound it out.  For example, if a player was trying to get his partner to say “Mary Shelley” but did not know who she was, he could say “The first name is a famous biblical name, the mother of Jesus; the first part of the last name is like a thing commonly found on a beach” (i.e., shell).  In the next round, he might just say “beach.”

Every time friends and I play Time’s Up (or other versions) we end up laughing hysterically.  It’s a great game to play after a long day of Euro board gaming!

– Ricochet Robots –

Joe Huber:  Yet another game I didn’t vote for – but since I was writing so few pieces for this series of articles, and I enthusiastically support the choice of Ricochet Robot (the original English title), here we are…

There are many “puzzle” games” out there where the objective is to be the first to solve the puzzle; whoever is fastest most often wins the game.   And generally I find them perfectly acceptable, but not compelling.  Often they’re too easy; sometimes they’re almost too difficult (Ubongo 3D comes to mind here).  But they tend to fall into two camps – either everyone is solving the same puzzle, and once one person does the round is effectively over, or everyone is working on their own puzzle, and the game feels strongly like multiplayer solitaire.  But Ricochet Robot largely (if not completely) avoids this, by having everyone solve the same puzzle – but once one player has a solution, a limited amount of time is available for everyone to find more efficient solutions.

I wasn’t immediately taken by Ricochet Robot.  Oh, I saw it drawing crowds, and I appreciated that the game could easily add or subtract players as it went along – a handy feature which more games should explore.  But in the end what made the game stick out for me is the consistent range of the puzzles.  Every game it seems that there are about 4 more difficult puzzles, 4 trivial puzzles, and the remainder are right in the middle.  This makes the game very accessible; while it’s the type of game that some folks will _not_ enjoy, it also draw in non-gamers better than most other games.

And that, in turn, is why I’d recommend that everyone try the game.  It might be to your taste; it might not.  But it _is_ one of those games you owe it to yourself to play to find out.

Matt Carlson:  Saying my wife isn’t much of a gamer is an understatement.  However, she has an analytical mind and she enjoys games like Ubongo and RoboRally (perhaps her favorite).  She had forgotten she liked Ricochet Robots, so when I brought it out on a date night a few weeks back, she wouldn’t let us quit playing until we had gone through multiple complete games!

As Joe mentions, it is a game quickly accessible to new players, does reward (somewhat) those players with experience, and can even accommodate players hopping in and out of the game.  Due to the “catch-up” mechanism of players who are behind only needing to tie the leaders, it even has a built-in catch up mechanism.  Ricochet Robots is the kind of game that people love or hate.  You owe it to yourself to find out in which camp you fall.

– Battle Cry –

Greg Schloesser:  I remember the old Milton Bradley American Heritage Battle Cry game.  I played it often as a child, and while I enjoyed it, it pales in comparison to modern releases.  I was initially confused when Avalon Hill / Hasbro released a new game using the same name.  Why were they releasing a game whose best days were decades in the past?  Of course, my confusion was dispelled when I discovered that the new release was a fabulous new design from Richard Borg.

Battle Cry was groundbreaking, bringing the world of miniatures gaming to a much wider audience.  Cards were used to direct troops on the battlefield and movement was from hex-to-hex.  Gone were the always annoying distance rules that required constant measuring and facing.  Battle Cry gives us a fast-paced, tense game wherein players recreate famous battles from the American Civil War.  While there is a considerable dose of luck, games never fail to be tense and exciting.  A truly wonderful game!

To be continued…

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3 Responses to 138 Games: From Samurai to Battle Cry

  1. ianthecool says:

    I’m a little surprised no Apples to Apples. But maybe you are foregoing the party games?

    What about Lost Cities?

  2. huzonfirst says:

    Neither game made the list, as it turned out. And there was no restriction against party games. After all, this is OG, where the only rule is, there are no rules!

    In case it isn’t obvious by now, the list of 138 games is in no way intended to be complete. It was just compiled from a group of highly personal selections. I’m sure some very good games were omitted and obviously some very peculiar games were included. In fact, that was kind of the point. So apologies in advance if any favorites are left out, but hopefully the provided descriptions of the more off-beat games make up for it!

    • Joe Huber says:

      FWIW, I only included peculiar games in my picks. I think it’s a far more interesting list if oddities are recommended, rather than common games, even if I’d argue that you should try both. So neither Apples to Apples or Lost Cities were even on my consideration list – though I’d certainly agree that Apples to Apples should be tried, and more mildly would agree with Lost Cities (even if I personally enjoy the game more).

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