Review: Tides of Time

When it comes to two player games, I’ve found that it’s tough to find consistency. There are great games for two which won’t make it to the table often because of play time, and absolute snoozefests that can be played in 30 minutes…but leave you feeling like you’ve wasted a half hour of your life. And sometimes you’ll find that middle ground, but it’s not a game that will stand up to repeated plays. So when I saw Tides of Time get released, I was a bit skeptical. Which side would this one fall on??

Tides of Time is played over three rounds, with scoring taking place at the end of each round. Each player is dealt five cards to start and they select one to play in front of them, keeping it facedown for now. Once both players have selected a card, they are revealed at the same time. Then the remaining cards are passed to the other player. This is repeated until the cards are gone. Oh, and those cards? Gorgeous.

IMG_3899Once scoring is completed at the end of the first round, the players have some choices to make. Of the five cards now in front of them they get to keep one for the rest of the game, placing a relic token on top of it, and then get to remove a card completely from the game. Then they draw two more cards, bringing their hands back up to five, and start over by playing and passing again. Lather, rinse, and repeat for the third round.

So, by the time the game ends, you’ll have seven cards in front of you, two of which are relics from previous rounds. Which is all well and good, but I should talk about the cards themselves so you’ll know how to decide what to keep and what to pass.

The 18 cards in Tides of Time consist of 15 suited cards (three each of five different suits) and three cards with no suit. Each card will have a scoring condition or an action on the top. So, for instance, you may have a card which says “Score three points for each Garden suit” and you would count your Gardens and multiply by three during scoring.

During the drafting portion of the round you will watch the suits and conditions, trying to maximize your points. Of course, as it IS a drafting game, you’ll also know exactly what you’re getting from the other player each turn after the first…so you can start to plan ahead.

The premise and gameplay are quite simple, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there isn’t a lot of game here.

After my first few plays, I started thinking about other two player games that I’ve played and how this compares to them. Oddly, the first one to come to mind was cribbage. No one is ever going to accuse cribbage of being a complex game, but learning how to play the game well can take a while. You’re playing the other player more than you’re playing the game.

IMG_3902The same is true here. While you’re looking at the tableau in front of you and trying to work out what cards will allow you to score a ton of points, you need to keep your eye on the other person. If you aren’t careful you’ll wind up tossing them cards they need to absolutely bury you once scoring rolls around. There was one game where I wound up with 57 points because my opponent handed me the worst possible card that she could have.

Once the round ends, evaluating what to keep and what to toss are just as important. You’ve now seen all the cards. What path do you want to take? Looking for a majority? Trying for 13 points with one of each suit? Hoping for certain combos of suits? It’s a balancing act to keep what you’re needing and tossing the thing that could hurt you the most. And sometimes it’s hard to tell those apart.

Tides of Time, as it turns out, is a game that hits the sweet spot. With a play time of 20 minutes and only 18 cards to think about, you’re able to play this game multiple times in one evening. And each one of those plays will shake out a little differently. You’ll find yourself playing cards just to keep them from your opponent, pondering which card to slap a relic token on, and sometimes completely missing the calculation on majority and winding up with six points for the round.

So if you’re looking for a two player game which will stand the test of time (har har), look no further!

Games for Two – Quick and Easy

Finding games that you are able to play with only two players can be relatively easy. Finding games that are worth playing with two is another story entirely. It’s not rare to find a game that says 2-4 on the box, is a decent game, but falls flat as a two-player game.

So, to help avoid those pitfalls, I’ve decided to start a new series of articles focused on games you can play with two. Thankfully, I’ve done a lot of two-player gaming over the years. So to kick things off we’ll look at a few games that are easy to pick up and play, which can be finished in about 30 minutes or less.

Steam ParkSteam Park

A game based around speed and a little bit of chaos, Steam Park is an excellent choice for two. In this game you are the owner of an amusement park which is made for robots, trying to make the most money off guests that never leave. The art is by Marie Cardouat, the artistic genius behind Dixit, so you know it’s going to be surreal and entertaining.

The core of the game is based around simultaneous dice rolls – you’re racing to be the first one to finish rolling your dice so you can get the biggest bonus. This can get a bit nutty when there’s four people playing, but with two it’s a fun little exercise that will have you laughing at each other. It’s light and enjoyable, and will play quickly after the first game. You can read more about Steam Park in our review.

Machi Koro
Machi Koro

Machi Koro

If you’re looking to do a little town building using cards and dice, Machi Koro is the game for you. Known for good player interaction, this game does change a bit with two…but not in a bad way.

In a game with four players will find you in the wrong seat at the wrong time at least once in the game, especially if the three people in front of you all roll numbers that allow them to pilfer your coffers. You don’t really encounter that in the two-player game, and it turns into more of a race. But while the essential feel of the game changes a bit, it certainly doesn’t harm the fun. You’ll be able to bang out a game of Machi Koro in 20 minutes, so this certainly fits the bill. Check out our review of Machi Koro for a more in depth look.

Red7Red7

Carl Chudyk created a nifty little card game which gets more and more layered the more times you play. Red7 is a deck of 49 cards numbered 1-7 in seven different colored suits. Each color suit has a rank, which is based on their chromatic position (there’s a chart in the game…you don’t need to be a designer or artist to play).

The premise of the game is simple – each player is dealt 7 cards which form their hand and one card which is their palette. The goal of the game? At the end of your turn, you have to be winning. Each colored card has a “goal” written on it. For instance, the starting goal is a red card which means the person with highest card in their palette is winning. On your turn you can play a card to your palette, one to the canvas in the middle where the goals live, or one to both. But at the end of your turn, you have to be winning. If you aren’t? You fold and you’re out of the game.

I was initially worried about how this would play with two, but it’s quick and extremely enjoyable. A round will last about five minutes, and once you’re used to how the colors and cards interact with one another you’ll see how the game is all about trying to set your opponent up to play the cards you want them to play…almost leading them on.

So there you have it – a few games that are quick, easy to learn, and will play just as well with two people as they do with four!

Review: Patchwork

When the bulk of your gaming takes place with one other person, you tend to look for games that will accommodate having only two people while still offering some good gameplay. If that person is your significant other, you also tend to look for games that they will find interesting as well. Needless to say, when I saw a two-player game about quilting I knew I had to get it for my quilt-making fiancé.

Today we’ll be talking about Patchwork, a little two-player game published by Mayfair Games and designed by Uwe Rosenberg. Each player is a quilter that will purchase various patches of fabric (using buttons as a form of currency) to add to their ever-growing quilt. The patches of fabric have both a cost in buttons and an hourglass representing the amount of time it will take to sew the patch onto your quilt. Some of them even have buttons printed on them, which help build your income.

PatchworkTo set the game up, lay the patches out in a circle around the table with the time tracker in the center. Find the smallest patch and place the wooden marker to the right…er…left…um…place it after the piece, clockwise. The three clockwise pieces past this marker are the ones that are available for purchase on a player’s turn. Give each player five buttons and a quilt board.

On your turn you may take one of two options. Either spend buttons to purchase a patch and place it onto your quilt board, or move your time marker forward until you are one space above the other player. When taking the second action, you will collect buttons based on how many spaces you have advanced. The time tracker also has buttons and single space patches on it…and if you pass one you either take the patch or collect “button income” based on the buttons present on your quilt.

Play proceeds in an interesting fashion here. The person who is last on the time track is the one that will take their turn. If, after their turn, they are still further back than the other player, they continue to take turns until the pass them. The game continues until both players have reached the end of the time track, and the person with the most buttons wins.

Patchwork combines a tile placement game with…well, Tetris. You’re going to get to a point where you’ll spin each piece two or three different times looking for a way to fit it onto your board before making your decision. The game plays quickly and making the quilt will be enjoyable, and maybe a little relaxing. Of course, you lose points for empty spaces at the end so you’ll really want to fill as many spots as you can.

This obviously isn’t a deep game…there’s not a lot of strategy involved on your turn, and the player interaction is almost nonexistent. But that’s okay – it’s a two-player game which is supposed to play in 15 minutes. It’s meant to be a quick appetizer or a tasty dessert around an evening of gaming. Or maybe just a quick shot when you don’t have time for something more.

PatchworkMy only quibbles with the game are minor. Taking the second action, which will move you up on the time track and give you buttons, almost never feels like a good idea. True, it gives you income, but you’re also eating up time. And there’s not really a way to catch up. If you happen to miss out on patches that have buttons on them repeatedly, and they go to the other player? You’re sunk. In our last game I was netting 17 buttons when I passed the last couple of income points. It’s hard to overcome.

Is Patchwork the right game for you? Well, the game plays in 15 minutes. It’s easy to pick up and learn, and is going to be a little different every time. Sure, there are a couple issues…but you won’t notice them all that much. So if you’ve got a person in your life that you play games with who might enjoy a bit of quilting and a bit of gaming? Go ahead and sew this one into your collection.

Game Day – The New and The New Old

[dropcap background=”yes” bgcolor=”#176D13″]W[/dropcap]inters in Vermont (especially this one) can be bitter cold with miserable weather. This makes you want to do nothing but curl up inside and play some games…which is what we’ve been doing! Let’s catch up on some of the titles to hit my table recently. Some were new, some were old favorites, and some were old games that were new to me.

 

The New

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Patchwork

PatchworkAh, Uwe Rosenberg. He’s on this little list more than once. Patchwork is a wonderful little two-player game where players use various cuts of fabric to make a quilt. The catch is that all the fabric tiles are different shapes and sizes, each costing you a certain amount of time to place on your quilt. This is quite thematic, as it is much easier to sew a square into an actual quilt than a Tetris shaped piece. Buttons are the currency here, and some of the quilt patches have buttons on them to help you build an economy to keep things moving along.

This game really threads the needle when it come to two-player games. The gameplay is simple, but the fabrics you choose can pin you down later on if you aren’t careful – you lose points for empty squares at the end. Any gamer will appreciate this game, and if you know a gamer that quilts, even better.

 

Steam Park

Steam ParkMy brother and his wife recommended this one to us, and I can see why. Steam Park is a light, fun romp where players build an amusement park…….for robots. Marie Cardouat, best known for her work on Dixit, was the illustrator for this game. The surreal style of art makes the game even more thematic – of COURSE a robot would ride a metal octopus ride!

The gameplay features real time dice rolling, a race of sorts, which is actually reminiscent of the building round in Galaxy Trucker. It adds a fun little press your luck element to the game as you try to keep rolling to get the results you want while hoping your opponents don’t finish first. It’s a light, fun game that acts as a wonderful opener to a gaming evening.

 

The New Old

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Airlines Europe

Airlines EuropeWhen looking at Alan Moon’s catalog of work, it’s hard to see past the behemoth that is Ticket to Ride. That game is so successful and has produced so many expansions that Moon can be mistaken for a one-hit wonder. Airlines Europe is an excellent reminder that this designer has more than one trick up his sleeve.

In what is essentially a stock game, players will purchase routes for one of several airlines, place a marker on this route, and adjust the price of that company’s stock. The game is so easy to grasp, at least from a rules standpoint. But at about turn three, when you see what is really going on, you suddenly stare at the board in wonder. Manipulating the market, knowing when it’s time to cut and run, jumping on underdeveloped airlines…it’s a lot to pack into a deceptively simple ruleset. But Moon pulls it off and this is a great game to help bridge the gap between a gateway game and the heavier games one will encounter.

 

Ora & Labora

Ora & LaboraUwe, Uwe, Uwe. You magnificent bastard. I’ve always enjoyed Rosenberg’s games, from Agricola right down to Bohnanza. But this one eluded me for years. It was only in print for a short time, and my gaming was at a different phase back then. Finally I was able to trade for this rare gem, and I’m glad that I did.

In Ora & Labora each player is attempting to grow their plot of land into a thriving society based on work and prayer. I’d get into the gameplay, but there’s no concise way to do it and this would wind up turning into a full blown review. Suffice it to say that we fell in love with this game about halfway through our first play. It combines elements of city building, tile placement, set collecting, and worker placement (among other mechanics) to make a wonderful stew which each player will partake of using their ONE action per round. It’s really a masterpiece.

 

So there you have it…some of the notables from the past couple weeks of gaming. If you have the chance, I highly recommend checking any one of these out!

Valentine’s Day Gaming

Today is Valentine’s Day here in the States, and for some people that will mean a day full of spending time with the special someone in your life. Some dinner, maybe some chocolates, a little candlelight, and if you’re REALLY lucky…some quality gaming time with the one you love. So in honor of two-player gaming, no matter the reason, I’d like to give a very brief overview of a few games that will accommodate more players, but really shine when played head-to-head.

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Glass Road

Glass RoadSet in the Bavarian Forest in the Early Modern Age, players will shape the land and build buildings in an attempt to gather resources and produce glass. To help you with this, each player has a starting set of resources and fifteen workers that will perform various tasks. The game will play over four “building periods” and can be easily completed in 45 minutes.

Uwe Rosenberg has packed so much goodness into this game:

Role Selection – The heart of this game is a role selection mechanic. Each player has the same fifteen cards representing the available workers. Each worker will have two actions on their card, and a player will be able to perform at least one (but hopefully both) of them on their turn. Five of these fifteen cards will be used in a building period, and matching cards with the other player is the only way you’ll be able to maximize your actions.

Resource Wheels – To track their resources, each player is provided with two resource wheels. The wheels are set up so there are two sections to each: a larger section in which clay, sand, water, food, and the more common resources are tracked, and a small section that tracks either brick or glass. As resources are earned the markers for each is moved clockwise around the wheel. As they are spent? Shift them back counterclockwise. Of course the kicker is that once you’ve produced enough basic resources they auto-spend themselves to make the bricks and glass you’ll need. So you have to plan that out carefully.

Variable Buildings – There are three types of buildings in Glass Road: anytime use buildings which typically convert resources, one-time use buildings that offer a bonus when built, and end-game scoring buildings which will increase your point total at the end of the game. As buildings are purchased they are replaced once the next round starts. The wonderful thing? There are 93 buildings in the game. You’re seeing new things every time you play.

The building periods will play out with each player revealing their selected workers and then performing that worker’s action. You need to figure out what you need to get done…as well as what you think your opponent needs. Because if you don’t match up at least one of the roles they reveal? You’re going to be short on actions. And if you aren’t VERY careful with your resources? You’ll gain three water and then wind up losing one of each of your resources as you auto-produce glass.

For a game that can be played in a short time it is absolutely amazing, especially with two players. Read through the rules carefully though. There’s a minor change to how the building period plays out with two players that should be noted prior to starting.

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Seasons

SeasonsIn Seasons, you play the part of a great wizard that is taking part in a tournament to select the archmage. To win this tournament you will need to summon the most amazing creatures, call forth great artifacts, and harness the powers of the very seasons themselves!!! Or, you know, play the cards with the most victory points. I mean, whichever works for you.

The game starts with a card draft, each player selecting nine cards that will be played out through three years. Then the game itself starts with three dice (well, the number of players plus one dice…but this is about the two player game) being laid out for each season. On your turn you roll the dice for that season, the start player selects one, the other player takes a second, and the third set how quickly the seasons advance. You play the action on your dice, play a card if able, and then move to the next turn. It’s that simple.

You’re setting up the flow of your game before the first die is even rolled, so you don’t wind up altering your strategy too much during each year. But it works. The dice can be unforgiving and your opponent might wind up leaching all of your crystals away. But that works too…and adds an element of anxiety that makes each round entertaining.

But they key to the success of this game with two players? It’s quick, and you can keep track of everything without it feeling like a luck-fest. Hell, you can even start with some pre-generated card sets to eliminate the draft and speed that part up. And once you’re into the game things move right along…and you only have one person to keep track of. Those cards can get nasty, which isn’t bad, but with more than two people it feels more like a spreadsheet nightmare than a fun game. “Right, well, I’m taking three crystals for you because of this, and I lose one for that and then I get two wind because it’s past tea time…”

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The Castles of Burgundy

The Castles of BurgundyAnd last, but certainly not least? Stefan Feld brings us to the Burgundy region of France where we are aristocrats trying to grow our tract of land into a bustling princedom. To do so, each player can choose from an available pool of building, animal, and knowledge tiles, purchasing them with the dice they have rolled.

The flow of the game is quite simple. You get two actions on your turn, and the option to pay for a third special action. Each player will use their dice to take tiles from the main board, place tiles on their personal board, sell goods, or acquire workers. The tiles are the meat of the game, not only because they build your princedom, but also because they will each give you a benefit of one sort or another…but it all depends on the dice.

Unlike some dice games where a rough roll can really put your back to a wall, The Castles of Burgundy offers you a way to combat that: your workers. Say you’ve rolled a 4, but the tile you want to buy is on the 5 spot. Well, you’re not totally out of luck. If you’ve got a worker, you can modify your die roll up or down by one digit, thereby allowing you to acquire that tile and carry on.

Eventually you will create combos with your various buildings that will allow you to take free tiles, more money, place tiles on your board…any number of things. But this isn’t just multiplayer solitaire – all the while you’re trying to keep an eye on the other person. Are they moving towards the same tiles you are? Do you need to maneuver into the start position to go first? By the end of the game you’ll be lamenting that one tile you let go on turn three just to grab the start player away from your opponent. It’s brilliant.

Feld has gotten a reputation for his “point salad” games, and there are certainly a variety of ways to score points in this one. But unlike some games, it never feel overwhelming. Your board will help guide the construction of your princedom, so all you need to do is fill in the tiles. Simple in premise, but if the dice are fickle you better be prepared to work for it.

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So there you have it. Three games that deserve to be looked at when you’ve only got one other person to play with. Each one of them offers something different, but will provide a solid depth of play in a relatively short span of time.

Now go grab one of them and start playing!