Every now and then Laura and I will step back, look at our games, and it hits us: WHOA. There’s a lot of gaming goodness on that shelf. Of course, one of the evils of reviewing games is that you tend to want to get the newer stuff to the table because…well, it’s what people want to hear about. And while it’s nice to see the new designs and play through a new game, there are some classics on those shelves that just aren’t getting the time they deserve.
So, to combat that, Laura and I are coming up with a new way to get some of our old favorites played. This isn’t going to be a replacement for our normal methods (we either have one planned for the evening or use the bag), mind you, but it will be used more frequently.
We’re going to have specialized weeks based on…well, whatever we want. Designer. Publisher. Theme. Mechanics. Play time. Two player only games. Whatever the delimiter, we’re going to use that to pick our games for that week.
With that in my mind, we decided that our first week would be a designer week. And who better to kick that off than Uwe Rosenberg? We had a couple of Rosenberg games that Laura had yet to play, and a couple that neither of us had…so it was going to be a fun week!
To kick off Uwe Week, we chose his recent two player game Patchwork. We’ve reviewed Patchwork in the past and it’s no secret that it’s one of our favorites, but our friend Sean had yet to play. After the release of the Patchwork app, he was quite interested in playing to make sure the app was something he would enjoy. Laura was more than happy to oblige!
Sean caught on quickly, and found himself drawn to the cuteness of the game. He also mentioned that the idea of using buttons as a form of payment was a great way to integrate the theme into the game. Laura trounced him pretty bad in the first game, but he was able to turn the tables and give her a resounding thumping in the second. Of course, this leaves them tied…so stay tuned for news of the tiebreaker!
Tuesday: Fields of Arle
Monday was D&D night, so our next Rosenberg was played on Tuesday with another two player offering: Fields of Arle. Neither Laura nor myself had played this one, so we took some time to go over the rules before playing.
This one is a fairly standard worker placement game, with a metric crap-ton of things that you can work towards. I’ll come right out and say it – those with analysis paralysis are going to struggle here. There’s just so. Much. You. Can. Do.
That being said, Arle finds you creating mini-engines with which to convert good to points in a very captivating way. There’s a fairly decent theme here as the “tools” you need to improve your goods output all relate directly to the resources. Perhaps the most interesting way that you can obtain points is through taking a trip…but only once you’ve got a wagon (or other mode of transportation)!
For a table swallowing behemoth of a game, Fields of Arle was easy to grasp and provided thoughtful gameplay without feeling too overwhelming. If you spend any amount of time playing two player games, this is one you should check out.
After Tuesday’s worker placement extravaganza in Fields of Arle, Caverna felt like a natural transition. The gameplay is a lot more focused here, and you’re going to wind up getting in the way of other players quite a bit.
Sean joined us for this one, and it was his first experience heading into the caves. After a brief primer we jumped in and started delving. Sean and I were both able to get some caverns furnished and fields plowed in the first couple of rounds, but Laura found herself floundering a bit. Either Sean or I were always in the spaces she seemed to want, or she had to worry more about food than building.
Caverna is often called Agricola-lite, and it’s easy to see why. There are quite a few parallels between the two games, and you find that you never seem to have enough turns. Unlike the choice-fest of Arle, you can find yourself taking actions which aren’t going to benefit you in the long run. A couple of bad rounds can really sink you.
Do we recommend Caverna? Sure. It’s a great game. But the similarities between this and Agricola might cause you to feel like owning both is too much overlap in your collection.
Thursday: At the Gates of Loyang
It had been a few years since my last play of At the Gates of Loyang, and I was anxious to introduce Laura to this one. While it will play up to four, Loyang is a game that, in my opinion, should not be played with more than two.
As we started playing, I remembered the tattered history of this game. Following closely on the heels of Agricola and Le Havre, this was the third game in the so called “Harvest Trilogy”. The prior two games were smash hits and very well received, so hopes were high for Loyang. Which meant that many people were really disappointed with this game.
Before I go further, I want to stress that Loyang is a really good game. There’s a lot of fantastic gameplay here and you’re going to find yourself swearing at your “stupid shitting regular customer with her goddamn cabbage” at least once in this game. There are interesting decisions to make on every turn, and you find something new every time you play.
But it’s not Agricola. It’s not Le Havre. When it comes down to it, Loyang was an unfortunate victim of timing. Hell, for that matter so was Merkator. Rosenberg released some games that were just plain overlooked because gamers were expecting more of the same from Uwe. It reminds me of Pearl Jam. Those first two albums were so good and then they just………well, you’re not here to read my thoughts on music.
Anyway, this one had some bumps. I planted in fields I shouldn’t have, Laura took a little more time to latch on to some of the mechanics than other games…it was a bit rough. But it’s a game which is worth playing again. It’s not his best work, for sure…but it’s still a good one.
Ah, Bohnanza. This is easily one of my favorite games of all time. The art of the deal is strong with this one, and I’ve sworn more in one game of Bohnanza than in the entire previous week. But what’s always struck me as neat about this game is that there’s a seldom explored two player variant that is pretty damn good in its own right. That version of the game goes like this:
- Discard or plant leftover beans (see below)
- Plant one or two beans from your hand
- Discard one bean from your hand (optional)
- Draw three beans, placing them face up
- Plant what you want, leave the rest for the other player
- Draw two cards to the back of your hand
Now the real kicker is with step 4 – the drawing of beans for display. Because you’re not just drawing three beans and leaving it at that. With each bean you draw, you look at the discard pile. If the top bean matches one you’ve drawn, add it to the offering. If the one below that does? Add that one too! So you can wind up with a cascading bean explosion and wind up getting a couple coins by doing nothing more than drawing cards.
I’m not going to wax (har har) on too much about this one….because it deserves a review all to itself. But suffice it to say that Laura and I played two games of this. And she pounded me. Twice.
Saturday: Le Havre
Well, we certainly saved the best for last. Embarrassingly, this game has on my shelf for five years (almost to the day) before seeing the light of day. I am now kicking myself that I wasn’t more adamant about getting this to the table. But now that we have, we’re going to make up for lost time.
One of the first things that I noticed about Le Havre was that the game helps the players ease into things. In the first round? Well, there’s only a few buildings that you can use. So you grab resources. Which will allow you to build in the next round…which opens up more possibilities. Eventually you’re pondering every move for that one combination which will allow you to build what you’ve been waiting for……..and then you realize you’ve forgotten about food!!
Laura was immediately drawn to this game. When I look across the table and see that look in her eyes where she’s just planning and plotting her next 2, 5, 10 moves? She’s been hooked. And I got it…I was right there with her. Even though she decimated me in the first game, I was still loving every minute.
I’m not going to do the game justice in the short confines of this article, but if you haven’t played Le Havre you really need to check it out.
So that wraps up Uwe Week. Le Havre was the obvious highlight for both of us, but we agreed that it was great to revisit some of these games. This won’t be our last Uwe Week, that’s for sure – Ora & Labora, Merkator, Agricola….there’s still a lot to choose from!