138 Games: From Flowerpower to Canal Grande

The five games recommended in today’s 138 Games article cover releases for 2001 through 2002.  These include two heavy hitters that actually both won the International Gamers Award for best multi-player game.  These also include one of the most loved (and least available) games in the Kosmos two-player series, a challenging dexterity game, and one of Adlung-Spiele’s pocket-sized games.

– Flowerpower –

Mark Jackson:  The decidedly cheesy cover to this Kosmos 2-player game makes you go “ewwww”… but underneath this bizarre exterior is a nifty tile-laying game that offers some interesting choices & fast-paced gameplay. This is a tremendous two-player game of building gardens that can be played “friendly” or “cutthroat”… and enjoyed both ways.

Tiles are drawn from a common bag – each tile has two flowers (out of ten types) side-by-side in domino fashion. You “plant” the tiles on your side of the board, attempting to build connected beds of 3+ flowers in order to score points when the tiles run out. Three times per game you can “plant” a tile on your opponent’s side of the board as a weed by flipping it over to the non-flower side… giving you some ability to slow or stop your opponent from completing flower beds.

There is also a “community garden” area between your two gardens, which both players can use – but you only score a flower bed if you have at least one flower of that bed in your personal garden.  Using the community space wisely is one of the keys to winning the game.

– Spinball –

Brian Leet:  Spinball is a clever dexterity game premised on that delightful movement you get when you propel a ping-pong ball away from you with massive amounts of backspin. It skitters away across the table, and then turns backwards. With practice you can create consistent returns, arcs, even rebounds.  The opposing player gets to set blockers so that the game doesn’t devolve into simply repeating the same shot.  Popular with groups I played in about six or seven years ago, I haven’t seen this game in some time.  But, if you are ever at an event or house where it is available, give it a try!

– Age of Steam –

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue:  Talking about Age of Steam is talking about my first meeting with Martin’s great design skill.  It was love at first sight.  Age of Steam is one of the best, according to my opinion, track building games ever.  What makes it so great is the perfect mechanism, the challenge of the game: important decisions every turn, knowing that missing in the start can put you out of the game (something most designers now try to avoid).

I like how every game plays differently according to the goods locations or where the urbanization actions will put the cities.  Every action in the game has to be weighed carefully.

A game I think every gamer has to play at least 4-5 times in his life.

Of course the huge amount of maps released have increased the lifespan of this title, but I think the base version is still challenging to play after almost 10 years.

– Puerto Rico –

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue:  The title that was on top of the BGG rankings for many years (and is still in the top 5 after more than 10 years) and the ancestor of the roles mechanism used by many other titles in the following years.  A great game that suffers only if someone on the table is really worse than the others.  What I really like in Puerto Rico is how you always have to adapt to what other players are doing.  Not a real direct interaction but one of the games you have to take care most of what opponents are doing and argue where they are driving.

No dominant strategy, the possibility to build different production engines, the possibility to try and invent many different combos, the possibility to fight for the victory until the end are some of the great feature of this evergreen.  It is not accidental that many young designers give to Andreas Seyfarth the status of Master.

Rick Thornquist:  There are lots of games that I like, but very few I admire.  At the top of my short admiration list is Puerto Rico.  The game is simply a beautiful design, with everything you want in a game done to perfection.  All the mechanisms work wonderfully together, there is practically zero downtime, there’s tons of player interaction with little, if any of it, being direct, with tons of strategy and very little luck.  Other games may have taken over the top spot at BGG but for my money, Puerto Rico is still the best.

Ben McJunkin: This may not surprise you, given my penchant for more complex Eurogames, but I consider Puerto Rico to be the first real “gateway” game I played, marking the start of my experience with the hobby.  I grew up playing games of various sorts, including traditional card games like Hearts and Spades, abstracts like Othello, and epic games like Risk with (inebriated) college friends.  None of these resonated with me, but I considered them innocuous pastimes.  I was even introduced to Settlers of Catan years before I got around to playing Puerto Rico, but I honestly did not view it as any different than Risk or Monopoly – it was just something to do with your hands while you socialized with friends.

Puerto Rico changed my view of games.  It seamlessly blended challenging decisions and nearly zero randomness with a coherent and approachable theme in a reasonable time frame.  It was the sort of game that you could play competitively while remaining sociable, because the game’s design itself presented a venue for cleverness and interaction without confrontation.  From that first game, I quickly graduated to increasingly complex and immersive titles, but in many respects Puerto Rico remains a paradigm of Eurogame design.  It is unquestionably the touchstone for my understanding of the gaming hobby more broadly.

– Canal Grande –

Jeffrey Allers:  The pie division problem, otherwise known as “I cut, you choose,” seems an obvious basis for a board game, yet very few designers have tackled it.  One of the challenges of this mechanism is to make the division interesting enough without creating too many options that induce analysis paralysis.  In the better-known board game, San Marco, Moon and Weissblum solve this issue by keeping the division between two players at a time. In a 3-player game (and when only 3 players are left in a round), however, the game can drag as the divider contemplates every possible combination for the three offerings.

Canal Grande is what San Marco wants to be.  Although devoid of the beautiful map of Venice and cool plastic bridges, the heart of that game is still here, and this time, it’s strictly 2-player.  As with San Marco, this is a majorities battle, and the action cards offer interesting options for manipulating these in your favor. And, as in San Marco, the Limit Cards are the real innovation.  Once a player has a certain amount of them, she is out of the round. This gives the divider more options, making asymmetric divisions possible (more cards in one pile can include more limit cards).  It’s an extra level of tension that makes this one of my favorite two-player games, and the mechanism–though more than a decade old–is still fresh.

Larry:  While I disagree with Jeff that Canal Grande is better than San Marco, I wholeheartedly agree that the two-player version is obscenely underrated.  Moon and Weissblum did a great job in translating the essence of San Marco to a 2-player card game format.  It’s one of my favorite games for two, yet hardly ever seems to get played.  One reason may be the design of the cards in Canal Grande.  They are not only spectacularly ugly, but their functionality is poor as well.  A lose-lose proposition if ever there was one!  Despite this, this is a game that I’ll always jump at the chance to play–it’s that good.

To be continued…

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2 Responses to 138 Games: From Flowerpower to Canal Grande

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    It’s a great misfortune that no one has ever re-printed Flowerpower. It’s a fine game, and it’s very different. I have enjoyed almost every game I’ve played.

  2. ianthecool says:

    Wow, that box cover art is something else…

    Anyways, glad to see Puerto Rico here. Amazing game.

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