New Game Weekend: Tsuro

My Saturday evening of gaming with Metropolitan Wargamers was a busy one. First, I faced off in a 20mm World War II scenario on one of the club’s sand tables, and then I played in a three-player game of Lords of Waterdeep. It was standard fun stuff on a rainy quiet night in Brooklyn.

The surprise of the evening was when one of the guys pulled a box off the shelf and asked if I wanted to play a ten-minute game. Now, most the games I’m used to playing easily take a minimum of 60-90 minutes to play, so I was more than curious as to what this mystery game might be.

The game is Tsuro, and it’s one of those magical games that is both easy and complex all at once.

Tsuro has been around for about 10 years but the game has a feel and design making it seem a part of some ancient Far Eastern culture. It’s subtitled “the game of paths,” and that’s it in a nutshell. Each of the 2 to 8 players take turns placing square tiles on the board’s grid and moving their pieces along the linking paths. When newly-laid tiles touch other player’s pieces, those players also slide their pieces on the ever-changing linked, criss-crossing and overlapping paths. The object is to keep your piece from getting routed off the edge of the board. The last player on the board wins.

I played a couple three-player games of Tsuro in rapid succession. The turns go fast, and I can see how a game played with even more people could turn into a dizzyingly-quick game as pieces slide every which-way on the board’s paths. The game has nothing to read, nothing to count and incredibly simple rules, so I could see this as a fun game for families after dinner or with a few friends on the coffee table on a Friday night.

For another look, check out Wil Weaton’s Table Top for an episode with his friends playing Tsuro and some other quick dice games. Tsuro proves that a game doesn’t have to take all day or have a zillion pieces or complicated rules to be a blast.

New Game Weekend: Village

Lately I’ve been introduced to a number of board games known collectively as “worker management” games. The main mechanic of these games involves each player’s management of their main game pieces representing workers, family members, tribespeople, etc. With varying combinations of placement and removal of these pieces from the game board, the player gains resources, acquires skills, builds structures or otherwise advances in the varying points systems set up for that particular game. The games usually employ the ability to gain additional workers or lose workers over time. Gaining workers usually involves expending more resources to maintain them but also allows a player the advantage of being able to perform more actions within the game.

Lords of Waterdeep and Tzolk’in are worker managment games within fantasy swords-and-sorcery and ancient Mayan contexts, respectively. To a lesser extent, Small World is also a worker management game, where players manage successive rising and declining races of varying expertise and strength in a quest to control the board. The latest game I’ve tried within this genre is Village which plays out in a Medieval rural village with each player managing four generations of workers through their lifecycle of birth and eventual passing.

Each player begins with their first generation of family members born into the game in their “farmyard” and then deployed to the board. Players can choose to play their pieces in various areas of the board — Crafts, Market, Travel, Church and Council. There are also is also a Harvest area and Family space where new generations fo your family are “born” into the game. Placement in each area can allow a player to gain goods, trade goods for points or otherwise earn points over time. Cubes of four colors as well as pieces representing grain, gold, oxen, horses, plows, wagons and scrolls all serve as tradeable commodities within the game. These are all used in a number of combinations to either acquire different resources or score points.

The key to Village is managing the lifespan of your family members, as placement in each area of the board winds up costing passage of life costs marked in a track of hourglasses. Once a certain amount of lifetime passes, a family member dies off and is placed either in the prominent “village chronicle” book or in a generic grave. Timing exactly when your villagers die determines your shorter term acquistion of more goods or resources and long term point score at the game’s end. Each round of the game involves a re-set of the village and an interesting “mass” at the church where players have the opportunity to move up in prestige (and score points) through their prominence of placement within the church hierarchy.

Like most other worker management games I’ve played, Village is primarily competitive with little to no opportunity for collaboration between players. There’s variety to be had as players can choose to focus on one area of the board over others to rack up points. Players also exercise a certain amount of control of the game’s pace. They can agressively move their generations through their lifecycles and rush the game to quicker finish or they can take their time and focus more on points throughout the game.

While I’ve only played two-player versions of the game thus far, I can’t wait to try a three-or-four-person game where compettion for space and prestige on the board will obviously be more competitive. The game moves fast, and in just about 60-90 minutes players can easily cycle through the rise and fall of four generations in this wonderfully imaginative Village.

New Game Weekend: Tzolk’in

This past week’s introduction to a new game came some 3000 miles away from where I typically do my gaming in Brooklyn. I was travelling in Los Angeles for work, and, like any dedicated gamer, I sought out a local gaming group with which to connect. After some online searching, I came across the Westside Gamers who bounce around each Thursday night to a different restaurant or coffee shop in the west LA area. The group typically has about a couple dozen players show up to their weekly boardgaming events, but this week’s gaming night at a Denny’s restaurant in Santa Monica had maybe 30-40 gamers in attendance, many travelling in from out of town for the weekend’s Stragicon convention on West Century Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Each week, the Westside Gamers pick a theme game, and this week it was the late-1960s bookshelf game Mr. President, chosen in honor of the upcoming President’s Day weekend. While a few players hunkered down into this four-player game where two teams of two players  each face off in a Presidential election as running mates on competing party tickets, there was plenty of other boardgaming going on around the tables and booths in the restaurant. Members of the group bring loads of games from their personal collections to their meet-ups, so there was an array of new and vintage card and boardgames to choose from in the piles scattered throughout the diner.

I teamed up with three friends — two from Alaska and one from Arizona — for an introduction to Tzolk’in, a wildly-popular Euro-style game based on the Mayan calendar. The game was introduced in 2012 and has become a gamer favorite for its interesting design and play mechanics based around a series of interlocking plastic wheels which mimic the passage of time on the Mayan calendar. The typical collection of wooden and cardboard chips, markers, cards and tiles make for a dizzying array of pieces to manage, but everything ties back neatly to the rotation of the wheels.

Like a few other Euro-style games I’ve played, such as Lords of Waterdeep and Settlers of Catan, Tzolk’in is a worker management game. Each player represents a Mayan tribe with a group of tribespeople workers to manage. In each turn, players either place or pick up one or more of their workers. Placing workers costs corn markers which are used as the primary currency in the game to pay for the health and upkeep of your tribe. Picking up a worker allows you an action such as harvesting corn or wood, gaining resources like stone or gold, building a temple, earning new technologies, paying homage to the gods or earning points through the play of a special crystal skull piece.

But about those wheels. Workers are placed on the wheels, and as each turn progresses, your workers rotate to more beneficial positions and actions. The game involves a lot of planning ahead as you balance resources gained by a worker on one wheel perhaps to be spent constructing a building or advancing a technology on another. Specific strategies seem like easy ways to win, like focusing on placing crystal skulls or earning praise of the gods in the temples. That said, the game isn’t as straight forward as just focusing on a single strategy, as the interplay among players can shift the strategy throughout the game.

Two of the guys I played with had a couple games of Tzolk’in under their belts, and their quick focus on building up stockpiles of resources and their presence in the temples allowed them to easily come out on top as we tallied points at the end of the game. About halfway through the game everything started to click for me, and I realized where I could’ve capitalized a bit more on my early game crystal skull focus rather than diversifying my gameplay. In all, Tzolk’in has quick play of about 90-minutes for four players, and I look forward to hopefully getting in a few games of this back in Brooklyn.

New Games Weekend: Small World & Lords of Waterdeep

The first weekend of the New Year brought me an intro to two new games – Small World and Lords of Waterdeep. Both games are based in a fantasy realm with the mechanics of a Euro boardgame, and each offer a different take on some fast-paced group play of control and development of an imaginery world.

Small World

You can pick up a copy of Small World at specialty game shops and in book stores like Barnes & Noble. The game has been around for about three years, but my brother just tipped me off to it being a great game to play with a mix of kids and adults in about an hour-and-half’s time.

Small World comes with four maps on two game boards comprised of different regions of hills, fields, forests, mountains and water areas. Players take on the role of some 14 races including Elves, Humans, Giants, Dwarves, Amazons, Sorcerers and Ghouls. Each race comes combined with one of twenty random special powers such as Commando, Diplomat, Alchemist or Flying. Using a combined special power and race, each player spreads out across the board occupying regions, fighting other races and scoring coins toward victory. Once a race becomes over-extended, a player marks that race in “decline” and selects a new race.

The nearly endless permutations of races and special powers creates immense replay value in the game. One turn, you may have Diplomat Dwarves battling Flying Ratmen. A few turns later, Hill Giants and Mounted Haflings may be vying for control of the board. The art and combinations of races and special powers make Small World funny, fierce and a great entree for players new to strategy boardgames.

Lords of Waterdeep

I spent Saturday afternoon at the Metropolitan Wargamers club in Brooklyn, and the guys turned me on to my first game of Lords of Waterdeep. Longtime D&D players know Waterdeep to be one of the main cities within the storied Forgotten Realms campaign. The Lords of Waterdeep, released just last year, takes the history of Waterdeep as a jumping-off point for a strategy boardgame that can be played by 2-5 players in about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

You begin the game as a Lord with two agents in your employ. Using these agents, you recruit parties of thieves, warriors, priests and wizards to complete Quests selected from a pile a cards. Along the way you also gain and play Intrigue cards which can be used to block or reward other players as loyalties shift. As you complete quests, construct buildings and reap gold, the play quickly switches-up throughout the game as your opportunity to change the turn order and grow your pool of agents and influence.

My first go-around with the game was with a group of experienced players, yet I quickly picked up on the raucous tone of the game as competition grew more heated yet good-natured. Five players seemed a bit cumbersome, and the other guys said a 3-4 person game is ideal. I’d recommend Lords of Waterdeep for veteran strategy gamers looking to bang out a quick, fun game or for a group of players who are looking to graduate from a game like Small World.