Wednesday, June 30

Night Photography

Discovering the fun of long (10–30s) exposures at night. Misplaced my Gorillapod, so these are from railings and tops of cars, straight from the camera.

Tuesday, June 15

Not for 2 Players: Nuns on the Run

Third in my little series of games that say they play with two but really don’t is Nuns on the Run. It’s a chase game, somewhat akin to Scotland Yard, but in reverse: most of the players are moving secretly about the board, racing to pick up objects and return to their cell, while one player, controlling the Abbess and Prioress pawns, tries to catch enough of them to win.

Given that we’re fans of Scotland Yard, the mechanics of this game are very appealing to us. They could even be said to improve on Scotland Yard as they allow several players the thrill of trying to evade capture at the same time. Unfortunately, what would likely be a lot of fun when several novices are running about in the abbey is fairly lifeless when there’s just one.

Since the novices are typically hidden (players mark their location on secret notepads), the Abbess/Prioress player’s only hope is getting one of his characters near enough to a novice to overhear her or, even better (but less likely), see her. While there’s some strategy to getting the Abbess and Prioress into likely positions, there’s a lot of luck, too, especially since they have to follow paths visible to the novice player.

At higher numbers of players, the novices’ advantages are balanced out by there being more of them to stumble upon. A single novice is very much a needle in a haystack. While in our games she ended up being spotted once or twice, in the end it was too easy for her to slip away without getting caught.

I’m very eager to try this with enough players, since the core of the game is pretty solid and enjoyable. We likely won’t give it a go with two again, though, at least not with one of the proposed variants that gives the Prioress some freedom of movement. Otherwise, it’s far too unbalanced.

Monday, June 14

Not for 2 Players: Slide 5

Slide 5 (a.k.a. 6 Nimmt!) is another recent game acquisition that somewhat falsely claims to be playable with two players. While Bohnanza mostly failed to live up to its promise, Slide 5 is just plain bad with only two.

I picked up Slide 5 because of its reputation as a good filler. It’s quick, it scales to as many as ten people, and its rules can be explained in about three minutes. I’m expecting that it may go over well during an upcoming family vacation (five or six players), but in the meantime it will sit on the shelf.

For a full rules description, watch Tom Vasel’s fairly positive review. For our purposes, it’s enough to say that players simultaneously reveal cards from their hand, which get played to the four stacks of cards on the table. If a player causes one of those stacks to exceed five cards, he must take it, which gives him points (which are bad).

From what I can tell, the joy of this game comes from the unpredictability of where cards will be played, and therefore which stacks will “avalanche” at six cards. With enough players, that could be any one at any time, but with only two cards coming out a turn it’s a rare, predictable, and annoyingly-unavoidable occurrence.

In his review, Tom Vasel mentioned that some players even claim that Slide 5 actually has no strategy, but they enjoy playing and tossing out random cards anyway. Cait at least felt that after five rounds she had no more idea of how she should be playing than when we started.

In a social setting, I can understand how the chaos and the laughter and the oh-no-I-just-got-screwed gameplay could be a lot of fun. With the right crowd at the right time, I’d definitely like to try it out. While I think that there are some plays that are better than others, the decisions are light enough and the deal of the cards is influential enough that two players are probably better off playing War. It at least won’t discourage them with the pretense of choice.

Sunday, June 13

Not for 2 Players: Bohnanza

The entertainment of choice around here has swung back to the tabletop, sparked by our recent hot-tub-and-board-games vacation to Newburyport, a weekend session of Battlestar Galactica, and some Amazon gift certificates. Cait and I have gotten a small handful of new games, some of which are listed as playing with two but, on closer inspection, really aren’t.

The first of these, and probably the best with two, is Bohnanza. I learned about this from the quite interesting Hobby Games: The 100 Best book, where it was described thusly by essayist Mike Selinker:
Bohnanza is the best card game ever written. And it just happens to be about bean farming.
Bohnanza is a set-collection game where your cards represent beans of various amusingly-illustrated types, which you plant and then harvest for money. (The money is tracked by coins on the backs of the cards, a dual-use mechanic that guarantees one or two points in Cait’s book.)

While the official two-player rules maintain some of the game’s distinctiveness, such as the requirement that you keep your hand in the same order you drew it, it eliminates trading between players that seems to be a core part of the game’s charm. Again, from Mike Selinker:
Bohnanza sets you up to be underwhelmed — “I’m sorry, the game’s about what now?” — and then overwhelms you with its simplicity, elegance, and lightning-fast interactivity. It’s everything that the classic Pit wanted to be when it grew up. If you liked saying “I’ve got two! Two!” as a kid, you’ll like saying “Who wants my kidney bean?” just as much as an adult.
The lack of trading is understandable for two-player rules: any trade will benefit one player more than the other (and enough information is public that it’s pretty obvious in each case), so the player getting the worse deal just won’t agree. Two-player Bohnanza tries to fill the whole with a draft to simulate getting cards you want, and an optional discard to get rid of cards you don’t, but it feels like a poor substitute.

With two players, Bohnanza offers some enjoyment, but enough is lost that it’s appeal for us stems largely from its novelty. Nevertheless, I look forward to trying it with three or more. Played as it’s meant to be played, with the wheeling and dealing that makes games like The Settlers of Catan so appealing, I think it will be a lot of fun.