Notre Dame Review

Notre Dame game in play

A great little game that I bought by fluke last year is Notre Dame.

In Notre Dame, each player controls a section of the city, and they are attempting to help build the cathedral of Notre Dame - while avoiding being overrun by rats!  The game consists of thee rounds, with each round having three turns.  Each turn, a player will draw three of his nine cards and select one - passing the others to the player on his left.  Then, from what is passed to him, he selects another one and passes.  Finally, he accepts a third card.  These cards represent actions that a player can perform, but he will only perform two of the three.  These actions can allow you to remove rats, gain victory points, earn money, move your carriage, unlock more of your influence markers, and build Notre Dame.  At the end of each turn, each player has the opportunity to hire a special helper, who can assist in moving your influence markers, gaining victory points, and dealing with rats.  After this, rats frantically charge at the players, avoiding clubs, boots and gunfire on the way to bite your ankles, and anyone that is overrun with rats loses two victory points and an influence (perhaps I made that sound a bit more exciting than it really is).  Finally, if the round is over (not just the turn), then players score victory points based on who assisted in Notre Dame and get their starting action cards back.  At the end of the third round, the game is over!

The first thing that I enjoy about Notre Dame is the action card drafting.  I have played a few games with a drafting mechanic in them, but I believe that Notre Dame does it at least as well as any other game I've played (including 7 Wonders).  I really enjoy the fact that what actions you are able to perform are based on both what you draw and what other players pass to you.  This forces you to adjust your strategy based on other players.  For example, if you are passed a lot of carriage cards (I generally pass these), then it might be a good idea to go ahead and start implementing a carriage strategy.  At the same time, you can look and see what the opponents on your left are doing, and you can decide to keep cards simply to prevent them from having them.  (Though, this strategy obviously does not focus on earning your own victory points, and so it is less than ideal.)

Notre Dame draft cards
The available action cards - and the Hunchback
But, do you know why it might be important to adjust your strategy based on what you draw?  Well, it's because of this part of the game that I didn't tell you about before - as you continue performing the same action, you become better at it.  Which I also think is brilliant.  If you perform the action to gain victory points, then you gain a point.  That's less than impressive.  However, if you do it again, then you gain two points.  If you do it again you gain three points (assuming that you have left your previous influence markers on it).  In fact, each of the action spaces gives you a reward that is related to the number of influence that you have on that space.  And so, the game rewards you for having a strategy and sticking with it.  I'm ok with games rewarding you for performing a single action repeatedly - but I think that it works amazingly well in Notre Dame because you really have no control over whether you will be able to perform an action repeatedly.  It all depends on what cards are passed to you.  And so, if you get to perform the victory point action nine times (throughout the game), you can point and laugh at your opponents who passed you those cards!

And, though your actions improve by doing them repeatedly, Notre Dame also forces you to do multiple different actions.  How?  Well, there are nine cards in each round, none of which repeat.  And, you will be performing six actions each round.  Even if you draft every copy of a given action, you will only be able to perform it three times - and so, you have to do something else, too.  (Which is good, because I really don't think that you would have a chance at winning if you did any of the actions 18 times.  Except for maybe the victory point action; but you would run out of influence that you could place on it!)

board setup for Notre Dame
The board configuration changes based on number of players
My final pro for Notre Dame is that I like the rat mechanic.  You gain no points from killing rats.  None.  Instead, you don't lose points.  Two of the actions deal specifically with killing rats - but as a bonus, one lets you kill rats as you earn them, and the other lets you gain extra victory points.  The space that lets you kill rats as you earn them can be incredibly useful at preventing rats from overrunning your board - but if you focus on this, then you're not earning points.  And, you've been stacking all of your influence on a place that won't help you earn points in the future, either.  But, being overrun by rats is bad.  Not bad enough that it will cost you the game, but bad enough to make you try to avoid it.  I think that Notre Dame has found the magic balance between having rats be important enough to force you to pay attention, yet trivial enough that you don't have to spend the whole game obsessing about them.

If I had to name a con for Notre Dame, it would be that there are not many special helpers (the cards that you hire at the end of the round).  Each game, you will see all of them, and you will see six of them repeatedly in the same game.  More of these would allow the game to have more variety from one play to the next.  Yet, with that said, I think that the special helpers are well balanced, and the game gets a different feel based on who you play with and how they choose to draft cards each time, so this con is really very minor.  (Also, the Notre Dame mini-expansion provides you with more of these.)

Overall, I give Notre Dame a 9.5/10.  I love this game.  It is easily one of my surprise favorite games, and has quickly jumped up to be one of my favorite "euro-style" games, on the same level as games like Puerto Rico.

If you like Notre Dame, you may also be interested in Biblios, Pillars of the Earth, and Le Havre.

Sorry Sliders Review

playing Sorry! Sliders

Sorry! Sliders was described to me as a "poor man's PitchCar" (since it's about $20 instead of $80).  This made me immediately start looking for a copy of it.

In Sorry Sliders, the goal is to move all of your pawns up to the "Home" scoring region.  To do this, you take four "slider" pawns, and you roll them up the ramp onto the scoring board.  After each player has slid all of his pawns, you score points based on where the pieces landed.  Each "slider" can move one scoring piece, and to move a piece onto "Home", you must get the exact score that you need.  Also, in true Sorry! fashion, if you have a slider land in one of the corners, or go off the board, then your top scoring pawn (that hasn't reached "Home" yet) goes back to the starting position.  Keep playing rounds like this until one person has moved all of their pawns to "Home."

Sorry! Sliders in action
One of the alternate setups
The first thing that I like about Sorry Sliders (aside from the price) is that it is quite customizable.  There are several different setups that you can play.  There are four different "ramps" (for lack of a better term), and you can set these up on each side of the scoring board, or you can stack two in a row opposite the scoring board.  You can also set them up so that you form a right angle with the tracks, or even stack three or four ramps in a row.  Finally, there are different scoring boards to make the game easier or harder - the easier one includes an "automatic Home" spot in the center; the hard one contains "danger" zones that remove any sliders that land on them.

The second pro for Sorry Sliders is that it is very kid friendly (and, for that matter, targeted at kids).  It's ages 6+, but could probably be played with 3-4 year olds.  I'm not really sure that it is more kid friendly than other dexterity games (what kid doesn't like flicking things around?) except that the pieces might be a bit heftier, and so they might be able to handle a bit more abuse.  Plus, if your kids completely destroy it, you're out $20 instead of $50+ (depending on what else you play with them).

However, though I liked those two things about the game, there were a few things I was disappointed by.  Our first game we played four player, and so we used the basic four player setup - a scoring pad surrounded by a ramp on each side.  This, essentially, doesn't work with adults.  If you're playing with really young children, this might work out, but for adults, this just means that all of the sliders clump up into the middle.  And, once a few of them are there, it forms a giant blob of pieces that aren't easily moved.  So, instead of having skill or strategy, you're just ramming your pieces into all the ones that are already there.  We wrote off this configuration and started playing others. 

Sorry! Sliders game
The triple decker
These new configurations lead to my next con - I don't feel like you have as much control over your sliders as you do in other dexterity games.  We switched to the configuration with three ramps in a row leading to a scoring pad.  This made the game much better, but we found ourselves just clumping on the back of the track.  In order to get enough power to get onto the scoring pad, you almost always will give it a bit too much power.  When putting several ramps together, each ramp is at an incline, and so you have to put some extra power in order to slide uphill - and so several of these in a row will remove most of your precision.  Plus, frankly, I don't think that the plastic/ball-bearing combo slides very well on the cardboard playing surface.  It just isn't very smooth - and this added friction forces you to focus more on shooting with enough power instead of aiming your shots. 

Overall, I give Sorry Sliders a 7.0/10.  I was disappointed in it, but that doesn't make it a horrible game.  It's something that I would play more if other people wanted to, and that I think that you can enjoy with the right group of friends.  Also, I think that kids will enjoy it.

If you're looking for some other good choices for dexterity games, you might also look at Caveman Curling, Elk Fest, and AttrAction.

Clash of Cultures Review

This review is brought to you by the letter "C" - guest reviewer Chris C.
Clash of Cultures game in play

Clash of Cultures is a civilization building game for 2-4 players.  It plays in about an hour per player. Designed by Christian Marcussen (also the creator of Merchants and Marauders), this game follows in a long tradition of historically-themed “4X” games, spanning back at least to the 1980 Avalon Hill classic, simply called Civilization.  That board game was the inspiration for Sid Meier’s classic Civilization computer game, and this thread has bounced back and forth several times, resulting most recently in Fantasy Flight Games’ popular 2010 release, Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game.  I'm happy to report that Clash of Cultures stands up very nicely against these giants.

Clash of Cultures is played over six rounds of three turns each.  Each turn, players take three actions.  Actions include moving units, researching technologies, harvesting resources and improving cities.  As in most civilization games, players begin with one city and a settler unit and the board is configured with randomized face-down land tiles waiting to be explored.  Each round is followed by a status phase where players have an opportunity to score objectives and then receive an action card, an objective card and a free technology advance.  Action cards provide special abilities, while objective cards provide ways to score points.  At the end of the game, players also receive points for each of their cities, their technology advances and constructed Wonders.  The player with the most points wins.

beautiful pieces from Clash of Culture game
Beautifully sculpted pieces.
Cities form the heart of each player’s civilization, and the game features a number of novel related mechanics.  A city may be activated as an action to harvest resources, build units or increase its size with one of the four building types - temples, academies, ports and fortresses.  As a city grows larger, it can harvest more resources and build more units.  However, the size of individual cities is limited by the size of a player’s civilization, providing incentive to explore and found additional cities.  If a city is activated twice in the same turn, its citizens become unhappy and will be less effective.  Morale can be improved using mood tokens earned by researching new technologies.

The technology tree features a number of interesting options and combinations that I have not seen in previous 4X games.  One example is the Trade Routes technology, which will earn players resources each turn for putting units in potentially vulnerable positions near enemy cities.  Research technologies may also trigger events, where a player draws and resolves the top card from the event deck.  These can be good or bad - the player might be attacked by barbarians or simply have a good harvest.  Events introduce a substantial element of luck to the game, but also add much-needed variety and replayability.

The novel mechanics are supported by the excellent components.  Cities are round plastic miniatures, and the buildings are on curved bases so that each fits beautifully around the city taking up a quarter of the circle. Each player receives plastic warriors, settlers and ships in their color and as they march across the landscape the game takes on an epic feel quickly.  The individual player boards list the entire tech tree.  They are made of thick cardboard with square holes next to each technology - when a player researches a new tech, they simply place a cube in the appropriate hole.  This basic idea is a major improvement on previous 4X games, where players must often search through a deck of technology cards and refer to the manual if they wish to see all of the dependencies.  Each player also gets a reference card clearly listing the game’s phases, the ways to earn points, and the cost of each unit and building.

tech tree for Clash of Cultures by ZMan games
The highly intuitive player board
Though this game is excellent, it is not without flaws.  I wish more had been done to encourage combat earlier in the game.  In the groups I have played with, it is quite rare for players to attack each other before the last round of the game (and then only to attempt to capture cities containing valuable Wonders).  It is relatively inexpensive to found new cities, and additional cities after the first few do not benefit a player during the game, so there is little reason to attack other players earlier.  As a result, the game doesn’t have as much direct interaction as one might expect from a Civilization game.  This problem was solved elegantly, for example, in Empires of the Void, where mid-game scoring rounds provide an incentive to take planets from other players earlier.

The game does try to encourage combat with the objective card deck.  Each card lists two ways for the player to score points, one having to do with building up a civilization, and the other having to do with warfare.  However, players may only complete one of the two possibilities and both are worth the same number of points.  Since the civilization-building objectives are easier and combat will usually weaken the two players involved to the advantage of the other players, the groups I have played with have rarely attempted the combat objectives.  Additionally, the civilization-building objectives aren’t as varied as I’d like.  More than half fall into a few basic categories like building up a certain number of resources or completing a certain branch of the tech tree.  And, unlike in Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, players do not have races with unique powers, so the game doesn’t feel as varied over repeat plays as I’d like.

These complaints are fairly minor, considering the overall quality of the game.  Any fan of Civilization-style games should pick this one up immediately.  It’s also a great choice for gamers new to the genre - it has an excellent rule book and is easier to learn and play than the Sid Meier’s Civilization board game, even if it lacks a little of that game’s variety.  It also works very well with 2 or 3 players, which is a bit rare for this style of game.  And while it might seem like a small thing, the game’s innovative components relating to cities and tech trees really make it a joy to play.

If Clash of Cultures sounds interesting, you should also check out Empires of the Void, Civilization (by Fantasy Flight Games), and Civilization (by Eagle Games).

I would like to thank Z-Man Games for providing Board Game Reviews by Josh with a review copy of Clash of Cultures.

Bisikle (and Roadzters) Review

Since I'm a sucker for basically all dexterity games, I was very excited when I got to try out Bisikle (which is the same game as Roadzters, except that one uses bikes, and one uses cars - and the cars have ramps on the back of them).

In Bisikle, each player is attempting to go around the track a set number of times.  On your turn, you take the Z-Ball, and set it directly in front of your bicycle (place holder), and then (move the bike and) flick the Z-Ball.  If it knocks down other bicycles and stays on the track, then you set your bicycle up immediately behind the knocked over one.  If the Z-Ball stays on the track, then you setup your bicycle wherever it stops, and if it goes flying off, then your bike goes back to where it was before the shot.  The first person to go around the determined number of times wins!  (Sound like PitchCar? Yeah, the rules are essentially the exact same except that everyone flicks the Z-Ball instead of a disk.)

Set the Z-Ball in front of your bike and let it rip!
When it comes to pros for Bisikle, there is one aspect of the game that is far better than anything else - the track.  The track is amazing.  It is made of plastic, and each section interlocks with the others.  The game comes with risers, so you can decide to make certain sections be different levels.  It also comes with a jump and an obstacle, each of which can allow you to customize your track however you would like.  It also comes with fences that you can put around the edge of some of the track pieces - and the track is setup so that you can put the fence on either side of it (or both).  Overall, it is highly customizable.  And, what's more - there are no uneven spots!  I assume that this is because it is made out of plastic instead of wood, but whereas PitchCar's uneven spots are enough to make me want to flip the table occasionally (I "normally" just pantomime it instead), Bisikle's track doesn't have any of these!

The next things about Bisikle aren't really pros or cons - just more things to discuss about the game.  The first of these relates to the fences.  The fences are a bit bouncy, and I don't feel like they give you enough of them.  I haven't decided if I like the fact that the fence bounces you back (like bumpers in bumper bowling or something).  It at least helps set the experience of playing Bisikle a bit apart from other games.  However, either way, I don't feel like enough fence pieces are included in the game.  There are not enough included to put a single fence around each section of track - and, with the bounciness of them, there are some sections where you will want to put a fence around both sides.  Yes, I realize that this lack of fences just means that the game is more challenging, but I would still prefer the option of placing more.  (And, on a side note, you actually can buy more - it appears that you can buy additional parts for Bisikle.  You can buy more curved track, straight track, risers, fences, obstacles, or jumps to customize your track - and you can buy more Z-Balls and bicycles to replace any missing ones.  This is another nice aspect of the game.)

The track definitely works with PitchCar disks
The next interesting thing about Bisikle is the Z-Ball.  This is really what makes the game different.  The ball has ball-bearings in it that make it keep spinning (and wobble a decent amount) during and after your shot.  I haven't played the game a lot, but so far, I'm not really in love with the Z-Ball.  Probably the biggest annoyance while playing this game is when I make a really neat shot and then watch the ball continue to wobble for the next 10 seconds and eventually find its way off the track.  Very annoying.  However, if you set up a lot of fences, the Z-Ball does a very good job of flying around the track.  Either way, I'm still "on the fence" about the Z-Ball (but in love with puns).  Maybe I should set up a house rule where you set up your bicycle based on where the Z-Ball went off the track, instead of going back to where it started.  Speaking of house rules and customization...

The track works with PitchCar disks.  The disks even fit through the obstacles (though just barely).  I also tried it with Crokinole disks (to see if you could essentially play PitchCar for significantly cheaper), but they don't quite fit through the obstacles.  Really, I think the best disks if you wanted to actually use the obstacles would be PitchCar Mini disks.  None of them will work well with the jump - your disk will catch the lip of it and flip.  The plastic, of course, plays a bit differently than the hard wood surface of PitchCar, and the fences are much bouncier, but you can definitely play it this way.  I haven't decided if I prefer it, but I definitely like the fact that it doesn't have uneven spots.  And that it is a lot cheaper to buy and customize your track.

Overall, I give Bisikle an 8.0/10.  It is a fun game on it's own, though it probably won't replace PitchCar for me - yet the track is good enough that it might replace my PitchCar tracks; I haven't really decided on that part yet.

If you like dexterity games, you might also check out Crokinole, Catacombs, and Caveman Curling.

Hanabi Review

One of the most unique co-operative games that I've played recently is Hanabi.  (Sorry, no Amazon link. Also, my copy is actually of "Hanabi & Ikebana", but I'm yet to actually try Ikebana.  There are two sets available that I know of, the set that I own, and a set that only includes Hanabi and is in a nice tin box.)

In Hanabi, the players are working together to try to create the most amazing fireworks display that the world has ever seen.  To do this, obviously, the fireworks have to be shot off in order - this builds up to a nice crescendo.  Each player has a number of cards in their hand.  These cards face all of the other players, and the person holding them cannot see them.  On each turn, you have the option of doing one of three things: playing a card in your hand (each color must be played in order from 1-5; if the play is invalid, then you use one of your three strikes and lose your card), discard a card to gain a clue, or use a clue to tell one of the other players all of the information possible about either a number or color in your hand (such as "these *pointing to cards* are all of your red cards").  Once all three strikes are used, then the game is over, and the players count how many cards they successfully played.  Conversely, if the draw deck is exhausted, then each player gets one more turn, and then the game is over.  Scores run from 0-25, or 0-30, depending on if you are using the special "multicolored" fireworks (these are in my set, but not in the tin set, I believe).  If you get a perfect score - well, then you're much better at this game than I am, and you are free to leave a comment to gloat about your awesome Hanabi skills.

Whenever I talk to people about co-operative games, the response I inevitably get is, "yeah, but I could also just play that game by myself."  Either that, or they have played with that one jerk that is constantly telling everyone else what to do.  (Every group has one of these; it has been implied that I have even filled the role a few times.)  However, Hanabi addresses both of these issues.  Are you being bossy and telling everyone what to do?  Then you're probably cheating - because to tell someone what they should say (or play), you have to at least indicate something about someone else's card.  Plus, you have no idea what is in your hand!  You may have a hand full of critical cards, and if you'd just stop ordering people around for a minute, they'd tell you about what you have!  Also, you obviously can't play it by yourself.  That would just consist of not looking at any cards and blindly hoping you could play them in order.  That's not really much more fun than just counting how long you can keep your eyes shut without falling asleep.

Get used to staring at this.
The next pro that I have for Hanabi is that I like the social interactions that it invokes.  The game's strategy is as much about reading why people give you a certain clue as what the clue itself is.  If someone tells me that I have a single black card, what does that mean?  That's not especially helpful - after all, I don't know if it's legal to play or not.  I also don't know when it will be legal to play.  There's a good chance that they could have told me more than that.  However, if someone is pointing out a single card to me, that may be their way of saying, "this card can be legally played."  This gets tricky sometimes, though, especially when people communicate differently.  In the game, there is only one copy of each "5" card.  So, there could be a couple of different reasons someone might tell you that - it could be, "hey, you should play your 5," or "whatever you do, don't get rid of your 5!"  Do you see the important difference there?  Trying to work together to give clues that go beyond the clue itself is really what makes this game special and enjoyable.  (Of course, this is all dependent on who you play with.  There will be mis-communications.  More than other games, I think it's important to play to enjoy the game instead of to being hyper-competitive so that when these mis-communications occur, you are still able to enjoy spending time with each other.  Though, yes, I think that you should always be playing games to have fun.)

Now, though I think that Hanabi is a fabulous game (though I only listed two pros), there are a couple of cons.  First off, I feel like I'm always cheating in this game.  If you want to play by the strict rules of the game, then you really shouldn't be saying anything about what people might have except for what the clue allows.  You shouldn't be discussing with another player what to tell a third person, as you might let something slip.  You also have to be careful not to do things like "this card is a "3"... and so are these two."  (Which would be obviously telling them which one was the "3" that they were looking for.)  With this said - games are about having fun, so if you're willing to be a bit loose with some of these rules, then go for it.  It may make the game a bit too easy for you, though.

Putting on an amazing fireworks display!
The next con that I have for Hanabi is that the order in which you draw the cards is much more important than I would like.  Specifically, if everyone draws really high cards early in the game, then a perfect game may be impossible.  I have played at least one game where everyone had a bunch of 3's and 4's in their hand to start the game, with only a couple of 1's being drawn.  This forces everyone to discard cards in order to draw (hopefully) playable ones.  This really puts the game in a very perilous state, as it makes any single mistake much more costly.  (There are two copies of most cards in the deck.  But, if you've discarded one copy already, then discarding the second copy or attempting to play it unsuccessfully will prevent you from ever playing that card or any higher card in the same color.)

A third con, that I feel is somewhat minor, is that often during the game each player will settle into a role of clue giver, discarder, or player.  What I mean by this is that often the same people will be performing the same action repeatedly.  If I am never told anything about my hand, then I probably won't be playing anything.  I'll probably be giving clues.  Or, if I'm told nothing about my hand for long enough, then I may be just blindly discarding cards and assuming they're junk.  This can get somewhat boring and even a bit frustrating.  It's not an "oh my goodness, I hate this game" kind of frustration, but sometimes there will at least be a hint of "I sure wish I could play something."

Overall, I give Hanabi an 8.5/10.  It is an incredibly different take on the co-operative and social interaction genres that I think meshes together beautifully.  However, as I've played it more, I've realized how much the order that cards are drawn can affect the outcome of the game, and so it has knocked it slightly down from a more elite score.  It's still worth checking out, and I'd encourage all of the co-operative game naysayers to try it out!

If you are looking for interesting cooperative games you might also check out Space Alert, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and Mousquetaires du Roy (which is actually semi-cooperative).

Top Ten Lunch Games - Winter 2013

What makes a good lunch game?  Well, obviously it needs to be something that you can play over lunch - so, it should be less than an hour.  It also needs to be easy to teach, and ideally it can support a wide range of players.  And, since not everyone has a desk they can dedicate to gaming, it would be useful if you could set it up and tear it down quickly, and it doesn't take up too much space.

So, which games do I currently think are great to play over lunch?  Let's get to....

My Top Ten Lunch Games!!

10. Crokinole

Crokinole is fabulous. Absolutely amazing, and one of my absolute favorite games. So, why is it so low on the list? Well, it can only support 2 or 4 players, is fairly expensive, and takes up a lot of space. With all that said, a lunch spent playing Crokinole leads to a good day!

9. Summoner Wars

Summoner Wars is only two players, which knocks it down so low on the list. But, it's pretty easy to teach, incredibly simple to set up, and has immense replayability due to the number of factions available. If you don't have many co-workers interested in gaming, this might be the best choice.

8. Glory to Rome

I can't really explain it, but when I think of lunch games, this one jumps to mind. It's probably the most difficult game on the list in order to teach, but can also give one of the most satisfying game play experiences. If you want to pack a deeply strategic game into your lunch hour, this may be your best bet.

King ot Tokyo - a great lunch game
King of Tokyo is great - but mine is even better!

7. King of Tokyo

So, this game is obviously best if you have my sweet pimped out version. But, this is a fun, light game that you can easily teach to both your gaming and non-gaming co-workers. And, they'll all love it! But, the person that wins will probably love it the most. "Unfortunately", in the office you might have to reign in your inner monster voice. (MEKA DRAGON INTIMIDATES QUIETLY...)

6. Dixit

Want a game that you can teach to non-gamers (aside from King of Tokyo)? And, want it to be one that they might absolutely love? Dixit is a great choice. It's pretty flexible in how long you play, incredibly simple to teach and set up, and some of your co-workers might fall madly in love with the game (I know some of my friends have). Playing it repeatedly will also force you to be more creative, in order to keep coming up with new clues for the cards that you play.

5. Ra

I had to reign in my list of auction games so that this list didn't turn into the "top ten relatively short auction games." However, I have to include at least some auction games - after all, it's one of my favorite mechanics! Ra combines auction, planning, and press your luck elements into a brilliant game that should only last around 45 minutes.

4. Forbidden Island

Finally, a cooperative game shows up on the list! Whereas I had a fairly sizable list of co-ops that I considered, Forbidden Island really makes the most sense for lunch. Teaching, setup, and playing should all easily fit within an hour. And, what's more, the tension in the game is almost as strong as any of the longer cooperative games that I could have included.

3. Dominion

Do you know how I know that Dominion plays well over lunch? Because my co-workers fell madly in love with it. And so have dozens of other people that I know. And, my co-workers managed to do this after I transferred offices. So, it's a game that you can easily learn and teach, regardless of if you have any "gamers" in your group. The biggest issue will be avoiding starting a new game when lunch is over.

2. For Sale

You should have known that another auction game would be on this list. And For Sale is amazing. Amazing! Though it's often classified as a "filler", For Sale rivals any game in my collection. You should be able to fit in several games of For Sale over lunch, and the game is also flexible in the number of players that it can handle.

1. The Resistance

This was an easy choice. I lost count of how many lunches I've spent playing The Resistance. I think the mark of the best lunch games are that you will find yourself talking about them through most of the afternoon, and no game has left me discussing it hours later like The Resistance.
The Resistance - my top lunch game
The Resistance - my obvious choice for #1

Honorable Mention:

This list started with a ton of good options that didn't quite make the list. If the ten I mentioned don't work for your group, you might also check out PitchCar, Castle Panic, Smash Up, Biblios, and Race for the Galaxy.

Well, I hope that I've given you some good ideas for games that you might be able to try out over lunch. And, if you just love reading top ten lists, you might also check out my Top Ten Abstract Strategy Games, Top Ten Cooperative or Solo Games and, of course, my Top Ten Most Played Games of All Time!!.

For Sale Review

For Sale card game in play

Sometimes, a "filler" game steals the show.  Recently, this happened to me with For Sale. (In case you're not familiar with the term, a "filler" game refers to a quick game that you play, generally, while waiting on other games to end or more friends to arrive.)

For Sale is the game of the double auction.  Every player starts with a pile of money.  You use this money to buy properties.  To do this, you flip over one property per player and start an auction.  Going around in a circle, each player must increase the bid or pass.  If they pass, they get the lowest valued property and get half of their previous bid back.  This continues until one player is left - they buy the highest valued property at their full bid price.  Once the entire deck of property is auctioned, you sell what you've bought.  Again, you will flip up one card per player, but this time it is from the deck of "checks."  All of the players will select one of their properties and sell it by revealing it at the same time (a silent auction).  The players then get a check corresponding to the relative value of their property - the highest valued property gets the highest check, etc.  Once all of the checks are gone (all the properties you bought will be too), whoever has the most money in checks (and starting money that they didn't spend) is the winner!

I love For Sale.  It is simple, engaging, strategic, easy to teach, and can be enjoyed by everyone.  Is that enough pros for you?  Really, all of those adjectives are precisely what I look for in a "filler" game - especially the easy to teach (and I also look for quick to play).  Yet, I have found For Sale to be engaging enough that I often want to play it more than I want to play the longer game that I actually meet up with people to play.  So, I guess the first official pro for For Sale is that it is fun.  Yes, this is a highly subjective pro - but to me, I really enjoy playing the game.
card from For Sale game
I even like the artwork!

My second pro for For Sale is that I love that you get half of your bid back when you pass.  Normal auctions aren't like that - you normally buy something or you don't.  However, in For Sale, you're going to get a property every time, and so it makes sense that you should have to pay something every time (except if you pass before ever bidding, then you get a (crappy) property for free - that may not make sense thematically, but it's ok).  Often you find yourself in a situation where you are actively trying to not win an auction; but you don't want to lose it either.  You often bid simply to not be last - and sometimes you bid a bit higher to try to force other people to pass!  You can really see that people have no intentions of winning the auction when they start jumping to the next round number.  (For example, if the bid is at $2k and they bid $4k.)  When you get half of your bid back, it rounds against you - so, if you pass later, bidding $3k or $4k costs you the same.  However, if you actually win the bid they cost a different amount.  So, people will bid like this in the hopes that they can pass later and get a better property than is currently the lowest.

My third pro for For Sale is that I love the double auction.  It forces you to balance how much value you place on any given property.  You have to ask yourself whether it's worth an extra $5k to get a property 2 points higher.  Will that new property actually earn you more than $5 over the other property in the next round?  It can if used at the perfect time, and it can cost your opponent a lot of money when he bids his highest property only to lose to yours!  My general strategy in valuing items (both property and checks) in this brilliant little game is to bid higher when there is a large discrepancy.  For example, if the properties available are worth 1, 4, 25, and 30, I will try to stay in the auction - I don't want the 1 or 4!  But I'll pass as soon as the 25 is the lowest.  Likewise, with checks, if the $2k, $4k, $13k and $15k are available, you really want to be in the larger group, so it's worth throwing one of your top properties.  Unless you know that you'll lose, in which case you throw a cruddy property and hope for the best on the next set of checks!

different decks from For Sale game
The property deck is on the left!  Weird, huh?
I can't really think of too many cons with For Sale.  The only one that comes to mind is that I think you might feel "played out" of For Sale fairly quickly.  It plays fast enough that you can play several games of it in an hour, which can quickly rack up the total number of times you have played it.  There's really not that much to the game, so I think you could probably grow tired of it.  I'm not there yet, I still really enjoy playing - so this is just speculation on my part.

Ok, I do have another con that is incredibly nit-picky.  The back of the cards (on my edition) for the properties looks like money - it is green with a fancy money-esque image.  The back of the cards that are checks have a picture of property on it!  What??  I always grab the opposite deck of which one I need.  Always.

Overall, I give For Sale a 9.0/10.  I try not to give 9 or higher unless I can see myself getting a group together just to play a game, and I can see this with For Sale.  I might have to play other games when I have this group together (life's hard, right?), but I enjoy For Sale enough that I would go meet people just to play it 5 times in a row!

For more thoughts on this game, you can check out Games With Two's For Sale Review, or I Slay the Dragon's review of For Sale. And, if you like quick, simple games, you might also want to check out Flash Duel, Poo: The Card Game, and Cookie Fu.

AttrAction Mini Review

A neat looking little dexterity game that I've wanted to try for a few months is AttrAction (sorry, no Amazon link).

In AttrAction, the players are shooting magnets in order to cause them to cluster.  Each turn, the current player takes one of his previously collected magnets (or a magnet from the table if he doesn't have any), and uses it as a "shooter" and flicks it towards the magnets on the table.  If he successfully causes a cluster (or several clusters), then he is allowed to take the largest cluster that he formed.  Otherwise, his shooter remains on the table.  If any magnets are knocked off of the table, then the player to the current player's left gets to collect them.  Play continues like this until there are no magnets remaining on the table - at which time the person with the most magnets wins.

AttrAction game in play
Forming a small cluster
Obviously, the unique thing about AttrAction is that it is based on magnets.  Simply put, this game wouldn't exist without the magnets.  If you did the same thing with little wooden discs, it would be impossible to make them attract each other - so, all you could do is shoot them off the table (thus giving them to another player).  And, frankly, it's really fun to shoot your magnet into a giant pile of magnets and see how many of them you can attract, or to see what kind of chain reactions you can cause if your magnet is repelled by some of the magnets that you shoot at.  (In case you missed it, "it's really fun to shoot magnets into a giant pile of other magnets" is the first pro.)

However, there are two sides to playing with magnets.  (That was a pun - did you get it?)  When you flick your shooter into another magnet, if the wrong sides are facing each other, then they will repel.  And, this can be fun to watch, but can also be frustrating when playing the game.  Early in the game, when there are still a lot of magnets on the table, this doesn't matter especially much - if you are repelled by one magnet, you will most likely be pushed into another magnet, and there will be a chain reaction that causes a cluster to be formed.  But, late in the game, the magnets repelling each other can become more frustrating, and sometimes causes the game to slow down considerably.  When there are only a few magnets left on the table, and they are not anywhere near each other, then each shot is basically an attempt to secure a single magnet.  If they attract each other, then this comes down to a skill challenge, but if they repel each other, then your shot will increase the number of magnets on the table and lead to more turns being needed to complete the game.  (Oh, and that can also be frustrating.)  I wish the magnets had been marked in some way so that you could know which sides would attract and which would repel.  This would allow the game to be more skill based, and would prevent this luck element that occurs towards the end of the game.

AttrAction setup and ready to play
The early stages of the game (the best part)
So, ultimately, in AttrAction, the game has two phases - the initial phase where the game is incredibly fun, as you shoot your magnet into a large pile of magnets, and then a slower "cleanup" phase where you are taking turns shooting at individual magnets and hoping that they don't repel.  And, the game supports 2-5 players.  If you are playing with two players, then the number of magnets might be about right to make sure that the faster paced section of the game lasts quite a while, but as you play with more players, you will have very few turns where you get to try to collect a lot of magnets in a single turn.  After thinking about this issue, I realized that I really do enjoy the first part of the game quite a bit.  So, one thing that I'm considering is buying more copies of AttrAction (its MSRP is only around $15) and combining them to have more magnets.  If I do this, I might also change the end of the game to be triggered when there are only five magnets on the table, or something similar.

Overall, I give AttrAction an 8.0/10.  I spent quite a while looking forward to this game, and it is exactly what I expected it to be.  Now, I just need to decide if I'm going to buy more sets, or if I'm going to be content with the 25 magnets that I have.

If AttrAction sounds interesting, you might also check out Sorry! Sliders, Crokinole, and PitchCar.

I would like to thank R&R Games for providing me with a review copy of AttrAction.