138 Games: From No Thanks! to Nacht der Magier

We’re going to start off today’s 138 Games article with two Z-Man card games from 2004.  The first is a classic filler and the second is a great partnership game.  We’ll end today with an award-winning children’s game.  And in the middle we’ll touch on the game of Essen 2005.  We’re getting close now, with only 25 games left to go chronologically after today (including a few that may really surprise you), plus a handful of older games that we skipped and will go back to at the end.

– No Thanks! –

Matt Carlson:  An extremely simple little card game that packs in an elegant reverse auction, I nominated this game as it is an excellent example of what the world of games has to offer.  This is my go-to game for teaching new people a “board game.”  It is small enough for portability, rewards skill but has elements of luck, and is even cheap enough so that new fans can easily obtain a copy.  There have been many occasions where I foist this game off on new gamers to have them remark “I have never seen a game like this before!”  I then respond explaining there is an entire world of other games out there that they have not yet seen.  One of the best aspects of No Thanks! is its quick learning curve.  After a single round of play, most players have a firm grasp of how to play.  After a few more, players are again revising their strategies and increasing their skill.  Thus, within the scope of about a half an hour, not only have players learned a new game but they’re starting to develop new strategies and implement them effectively.  If that isn’t going to turn someone into a long-term gamer, they’re probably not going to turn.

Rick Thornquist:  I remember when I first played Geschenkt, the original German version of the game, when it debuted at Essen.  There were quite a few gamer games that I liked at the show but it was this little card game that blew me away.  A beautiful design with simple rules that’s ridiculously fun to play.  It’s a perfect filler and, like Matt, I use it to introduce people to gaming.  It always does the job.

– Fairy Tale –

Jonathan Franklin:  This would be a desert island filler for me.  It has everything I like in a filler and in a way is the predecessor of the hot titles of today, such as Love Letter.  It is a minimalist card drafting game where you draft five cards per round for four rounds.  Unlike 7 Wonders, you get all five, then you get to play three of those five, discarding the other two.  I love the interactions between the cards.  One type of card is worth as many points as you have cards of that type, the standard Palace Guard or Kangaroo.  Another card is worth very little, but if paired with a rare card, offers tons of points.  Some cards are end-game goals while others might cause your opponents to have to flip one of their cards face-down, preventing it from scoring, but there are also unflip cards that permit them to score again.  You learn which directions your opponents are headed by seeing what they drafted as well as what goal cards they have already played in previous rounds.  There are not many games I have played over 100 times, but Fairy Tale is one of them.

– Caylus –

Matt Carlson:  I still remember Caylus-mania.  The game had just come out and people were all the rage over its interesting use of the worker placement mechanism – arguing over whether it would or should overtake Puerto Rico on the BGG rankings.  I am fond of so many elements of the game, but perhaps its most outstanding achievement is in its multiple paths to victory.  No one way to victory is guaranteed and group-think can determine likely victorious paths as much as a single person’s strategy.  Shall I go hard on the favor track?  Try for a gold building or two?  Or maximize my building on the castle?  I also appreciate how the game board is created as the game moves along.  This allows players to decide which way they want the game to go.  In my most recent game, one player pulled off a win by consistently foiling the rest of the players from managing to get the blue gold-using buildings into play (by denying the correct buildings from being produced).  Finally, the entire idea of the Bailiff and the Provost for managing the timing of the game is great.  It adds some much needed player interaction (not always found in games of this type) without creating a “pick on the leader” situation.  When combined, these attributes come together to make an exceptional game that should be tried at least once.

Rick Thornquist:  Ah, Caylus.  I remember very well getting a prototype of the game before it was released at Essen.  I played it and was blown away.  I thought it was great – a superbly designed heavy gamer game which brought us a new and awesome mechanism, worker placement.  I’ve played it endlessly since then and it’s still one of my most admired games.

– Handy –

W. Eric Martin:  The one-line description of Handy is “Twister – but played only with your hands.”  Each player is on two teams, one with his left-hand neighbor and one with his right; each team has a set of colored balls, and those represent your points.  Lose your balls, and the game ends, with the team who has the most balls winning.  (Yes, I realize this all sounds terribly masculine and like a long set-up for a Seth Rogen movie, but females can also play Handy as long as they have two hands with which to play.)  Each player also has an individual set of digit cards, one for each of the five digits.

On a turn, the two members of the starting team each reveal the top digit card from their deck – let’s say, thumb and ring finger. They must then hold one of their team balls between the thumb of the player who flipped the thumb card and the ring finger of the other player. Easy peasy, right? Then the next team in clockwise order goes, but that team includes someone who is already supporting one ball in mid-air, so now that player flips another digit card and his teammate on his left does the same and they must add a ball to the hand structure being built in real-time over the table. This continues until a team drops a ball; that ball is removed from play, and the team to the left starts a new round, with play continuing until one (or more) teams win the game.

The majesty of Handy is both the ridiculousness of the game – with players twisting and turning in order to keep their balls in the air – and the team dynamics that develop during play, as you’re torn between left and right, wanting to be a good partner in both cases but not always being able to do justice to both. You lean one way to keep a tight grip on one ball, but in the process you need to drag your partner along to keep your other ball steady – and he then pulls on his other partner, and so on.  Despite the easy comparison to Twister, Handy feels fresh and unique, leaving you with a gameplay experience like no other.  Oh, and hand cramps.

– Nacht der Magier –

Nathan Beeler:  The lights go off and the room becomes pitch black.  You wait a moment for your eyes to adjust, and slowly a ring of wooden cauldrons with simple glowing shapes seem to float above the table before you.  Evenly spaced around the ring are circles, stars, crescent moons, and lightning bolts.  In the middle of that circle is a softly glowing flame.  On the table are faintly illuminated conically shaped witch’s hats, each surrounded by one of these four symbols.  Nothing else in the world is visible.  You grab your wooden hat piece, the one with the stars, and feel for the elevated edge of the game board.  Slowly, ever so slowly, you slide your hat onto the board, sensing its base push past the dark discs of various shapes that you cannot see.  This is going well, you think, as you make good progress toward one of the cauldrons with a star on it.  Then suddenly, you hear a knock and you freeze: one of the discs has fallen off the board onto the table.  Your turn is over and you leave your witch hat where it stands.  It is your neighbor’s turn to push her witch hat piece onto the board.  Only now the dark discs have been displaced and the board’s a bit more precarious.  She doesn’t make it as close to the center as you did.  In time, over the course of several turns, you manage to push your cauldron into the glowing ring that was hidden under the flame, and you win the round.  Someone turns the lights on and you all smile at the state of the board, most of which was invisible in the dark and which would have been trivial to navigate with the lights on.  What an amazing, fun, and different gaming experience Nacht der Magier is, you think, and you’re very glad you’ve played it.

To be continued…

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2 Responses to 138 Games: From No Thanks! to Nacht der Magier

  1. David Brain says:

    Have I missed the last parts of this series?

  2. Tom Rosen says:

    Nope. We just took a month off from working on the series, but are now writing up the concluding parts. They’re all collected here so far: http://opinionatedgamers.com/category/138-games/ and the next entry should be out sometime in August. Thanks!

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