You Win Some, You Bruges Some

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Multiple paths to victory. That’s a bad word in this house. I guess it’s more of a bad phrase, but whatever. It’s not good. It’s not that I don’t enjoy games where there are multiple strategies one can employ to win. It’s that Bex, my lovely wife, likes Very. Clearly. Defined. Goals. And. Win. Conditions. Just look back on our three most recent (only) posts. I’ll wait.

1. Ticket to Ride – win by completing your route cards/longest routes
2. Lords of Waterdeep – win by completing the most valuable quests
3. Cinque Terre – win by completing the most valuable produce orders

All good titles with clear paths but I thought it was time for something a little different.

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Now, I had never played a Stefan Feld game before. Partly because I’m relatively new to the hobby and partly because it seems like everybody is always cultish-ly fawning over the guy.  And the man releases like 17 new games a year so how much work is he really putting into all of those? So, I kept my distance until I saw today’s topic of discussion, Bruges, for cheap on Craigslist. As I believe I’ve stated before I’m a huge proponent of supporting my FLGS – and I do – but you can’t turn down a barely-played copy of Bruges for half of retail. I figured at worst I’d have good trade bait. At best, Bex might actually like it. So, the rules discussion went a little something like this:

“So, how do you win,” she asked. Hmm. The opening volley in most of my pitches to Bex is, “Okay, so hear me out,” reliably met with a roll of the eyes and slow, sideways shake of the head.

“You win by getting the most victory points.”

“Duh.”

“Well, you can get points by building the most canals.”

“So, it’s a game about canals?”

“No. See, you can also get points by having the best reputation.”

“From building the canals.”

“No, well, maybe. Kind of. You can also get points by building lots of houses.”

“I thought we were building canals.”

“Well, yes, that’s part of it. But you can build houses, too.”

“So, what, you sell these houses, then?”

“Well, no. You put people in them.”

“You mean, like, rent them?”

“No, you just put the people in there. They don’t pay rent. You don’t sell the houses. They’re just in there – the people.”

“So, they’re freeloading? They could at least help you build some canals. How do you get these people?”

“Well, you pay money to recruit them.”

“So you pay them to live in your houses? That doesn’t seem fair?”

“No, they’re helping you. Helping you. Get points. Because that’s what it says on the cards. See, look. The cards!”

“So how do you get money to recruit them then?”

“Well, you see, there are these dice, and…you roll them…and you get money if you roll higher numbers.”

“Oh, so rolling higher numbers is good? Got it.”

“Well, not always because if you get too many high numbers a plague might break out and…oh, forget it.”

“Wait, so are we building canals? The box top art is horrible by the way.”

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Off to a bad start. Fortunately before we got to this point we had put our heads together and came up with two tasty creations of our own – one called the ‘Belgian Adder’ and the other called the ‘Bridge Burner’ – to thematically pair with this title. Would tasty libations be enough to get us through the rest of the rules and into our play? As I have come to learn in our experiment called The Game of Wife, wherein the winning condition is picking a game Bex will like, sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose some. But sometimes, ‘Sometimes You Bruges Some’™. What does that mean? Join us on this installment to find out. But first, the drinks!

Drink #1: Belgian Adder
3 oz. Belgian beer
1 oz. hard cider
3 dashes of bitters

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Though this may not technically be a cocktail since it forgoes a distilled spirit, it is a mixed drink nonetheless. For this drink, and the next, I recommend using a champagne coupe if you have one. If not, use any highball glass. Please note, when most people think of champagne stemware, a tall and slender champagne flute comes to mind. This is not the same as a coupe, which is considerably shorter with a much shallower bowl rumored by some to have been modeled after Marie Antoinette’s, erm, décolletage.

Right, so, add about two cubes worth of crushed ice into the coupe glass. Add the Belgian beer and cider, give a few dashes of bitters, and give it all a stir. Viola. A Belgian Adder. Why the name? Well, as you may know a drink containing both beer and cider is called a Snakebite. Mine has beer and cider but I call it an adder because the adder is a viper indigenous to Belgium and other parts of western Europe. With the namesake and setting of tonight’s game being Bruges, Belgium, and for the type of drink it emulates, a Snakebite, an adder just made sense. Additionally, while the Snakebite and Belgian Adder drinks both refer to literal reptiles, an adder, as in 2+2=4,  is also what you’re going to be, given that the vast majority of the point totaling comes at the game’s conclusion. So, lots of math > one who adds > Adder > Snakebite > beer-and-cider combo. Whew. I had to work for that one. But there it is.

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As far as beer I went with a Belgian called Kasteel with strong notes of cherry which I thought would pair well with cider, though you should experiment with whatever Belgian you fancy. You should be able to find Kasteel at any Whole Foods if you happen to be near one but you’ll have no trouble finding at least one type of Belgian beer at any grocery store. And for hard cider, also just experiment or pick one you might already know or enjoy. Personally, we prefer a dry cider. Most ciders available are apple but pear is also a possible alternative. And for bitters I prefer using Peychaud’s (pictured above) but it might be a little difficult to find in a suburban grocery store. Luckily, you can always find Angostura Bitters in any grocery store. It is reasonably priced, will last a long time, and can be used for cooking and baking as well. As with the types of beer and cider to use pick whichever type of bitters you prefer or that you can get your hands on. We came to the 3:1 beer to cider ratio after several tastings but feel free to adjust your ratio to taste.

Drink #2: Bridge Burner
2.5 oz. Belgian beer
3 tbsp. bourbon or whiskey
2 tsp. Maraschino cherry juice (optional)
1 small orange wedge

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Again, preferably using a coupe, add about two crushed ice cubes to your glass and fill with the liquid ingredients, give a stir and add a thin orange wedge. I should add that for the Bridge Burner and for the Belgian Adder DO NOT shake them in a shaker James Bond style. If you do the carbonation in the beer will leave you with a very colorful and sticky kitchen. No, this is not from experience, mostly.

For this one I also used Kasteel, the cherry tinged Belgian beer from above, but use whatever you like. I tried two versions of the Bridge Burner: one with bourbon and another with whiskey. I settled on Jim Beam bourbon but any brand will do. For whiskey I used one only available in the Pacific Northwest from Woodinville Whiskey Co., which was more oaky and delicious. If you happen to be in the PNW I recommend it. Otherwise, just go with whichever whiskey or whisky you prefer. The liquid volume amounts in both drinks are small because I insisted on using a champagne coupe so you might have to take some pauses to refresh your beverage or use bigger glasses.

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A proper cocktail, the Bridge Burner draws it’s moniker from two thematic inspirations. First, the name for the city Bruges likely derives from the Old Dutch for “bridge,” I’m guessing from all the bridges stretching over the canals? And of course, during game play when too many red threat tokens are acquired a fire breaks out and stuff is burnt…like bridges. Now, these ‘point salad’ games of Feld’s can turn contentious, especially if many of the meanie Underworld gotcha cards are played such as the Troublemaker who forces all other players to remove a canal token. Not nice. So the opportunity exists here to strain a relationship though vindictive gameplay so that reconciliation becomes difficult, or idiomatically, burning a bridge. So, perhaps this drink should be a gentle, and tasty, reminder that you should enjoy yourself and remember that this is just a game. And don’t burn bridges, drink them.

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In Bruges

So, drinks in hand, we proceeded. The rules rundown was painful for both of us and I suffered some pity smiles and glazed-over eyes. Good thing we had drinks. Looking back, it would have been more effective for me to set up one sample round instead of going so in-depth into the rules.

By the end of the second round Bex had full comprehension of this game while I was still clumsily flopping around, inefficiently trying out all the different turn options as is my custom. Ooh, I’ll take some money; hmm, two workers please; I’m thinking canal; turning this guy into a house for sure…oh I need a purple worker for that?…two purple workers please! Ooh, I’ll take some money. This is fun, yeah? Yeah? etc. Bex is an efficiency finder and I am an experimenter.

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Knowing Bex’s tastes in games I was concerned at the outset that this gaming session was going to crash and burn. Like a bridge. That’s on fire. Because, you know, someone set it on fire. Anyway. The key mechanism in Bruges, 150-plus cards that can each be used six different ways, was not a mechanism the likes of which we’d encountered before and seemed a touch daunting. I am happy to report, however, that despite my initial trepidation Bex really enjoyed playing Bruges and demolishing me in the process. Here are some of our impressions.

With every other game we’ve played Bex has been able to clearly point to what she liked, though Bruges proved tougher to put a finger on. Surprisingly for me, she was not fazed by the so-called ‘point salad’ nature of the game where there are numerous and varied opportunities for scoring. Though success in this game follows a non-linear path that I thought would put off Bex, she was incredibly adept at following several crooked and often intersecting paths, eventually leading her to a convincing victory.

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Though she’s not particularly fond of dice in games she felt the mechanism of the triple purpose dice rolls (determining the amount of money you get, cost to go up in reputation, receipt of threat tokens) to be particularly clever. It made for a few stand up dice rolls – hoping to get a red ‘6’ to cash in two or your reds for 12 Guilders while hoping against the blue ‘5’ or ‘6’ that would give you a third blue threat token, thereby causing you to lose all those workers you were about to use to build some houses. There’s tension in them dice.

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With the sheer number of non-repeating character cards and the randomness of the dice, this game has an extremely high variability factor. In some games you’ll build lots of canals and in others you might be gaining reputation or combo-ing cards to maximize points. So many choices. Once you have a firm grasp of your six options per card and the best times to deploy them depending on your situation you quickly learn how to identify a strategy early in a game. It proves difficult trying to get points in every category and repeated plays teach you which few to focus on about a quarter of the way through a play. Even with a set strategy you have to be nimble enough to adapt to new obstacles, possibly changing strategies midway through.

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The well-worn refrain about Feld games is that their themes seem like a pasted-on afterthoughts. To us the theme matched the mechanisms well and was plenty evocative. We definitely didn’t feel like we were playing a spreadsheet and the card actions matched the character tropes. I should add that while to us an engaging theme is a critical factor of our enjoyment of a game, solid mechanisms tend to win our favor. Since this is really a card game the board is just a place holder of information more so than an interactive part of the gameplay. However, a lot of the flavor of the theme came through because of the presence and appearance of the board so I’m glad it’s there as a reminder of where we are and what we’re doing.

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Bex initially found the high number of components to be a bit fiddly and overwhelming but she’s now used to the fiddlyness. It was sometimes frustrating trying to develop a strategy becuase bad cards on your next turn or two could completely wreck what you were going for. The decision tree in Bruges branches out quite a bit leading to the occasional analysis paralysis, mostly on my part, but with repeated plays our turns are appreciably shorter. Despite Bex’s little frustrations with the game, it was those frustrations that fueled the tension and added to the fun of the gameplay.

Final Thoughts

For the benefit of those who skipped to the end (cheaters!) all of this is to say that this game is very fun, plays in a hour, is variable enough to encourage repeated plays, is challenging without being too difficult and scales incredibly well for two players.

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The two drinks we concocted paired very well with Bruges. Though you can easily tweak the recipe using whatever Belgian beer and cider you like, the cherry flavor in the Kasteel really propelled our Belgian Adder up several notches so if you have the means I would highly recommend it. It’s very choice. Otherwise, use a little Maraschino cherry juice as mentioned in the recipe.

Going into Bruges I was expecting the worst but was gratefully proved wrong when Bex really took to to it. We’ve since played this game about nine times (that’s two Ferris Bueller references for those keeping score), our collective enjoyment level increasing each time. The first play took about an hour-and-a-half but we have it down to a solid hour now and we’ve mostly traded victories, the spread usually 12 points or less. I am pleased to report that this was a Game of Wife winner and has officially made it into the regular rotation!

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So in The Game of Wife, sometimes I win some and sometimes I lose some, meaning that games are either a hit or a bust. Usually, the ones that are a hit I know Bex will like beforehand while the busts are ones I’m pretty sure she won’t favor, though I try anyway. But Bruges was a bit of a surprise because it was a game she enjoyed despite it lacking all the normal criteria necessary for her enjoyment. So, from now on when I encounter resistance during a rules breakdown I’ll remind Bex that when it comes to me picking games for us, sometimes I win some and sometimes I lose some. However sometimes – sometimes – I Bruges some, meaning that though a game might appear seemingly uninteresting, complicated or boring, like this one at first, there’s now always the hope and chance that we might be discovering the next Bruges.

Thanks for stopping by and cheers!
The Game of Wife

Please follow us on Twitter to find out about our next posting and feel free to email with any questions, comments, criticisms or corrections.
Twitter: @thegameofwife and @greenowlgames
Email: TheGameOfWife@gmail.com

The Game of Wife would like to remind you to please enjoy these beverages responsibly and only if you are of the legal age in your particular state, municipality, province, prefecture, division, territory, village, township or space station.

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Cinque Terre – A Production About Productively Producing Produce

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Summary
Play Time: 50-60 minutes
Number of Players: 2-5
Mechanisms: Pick-up and Deliver, Set Collection
Heaviness: Light-Medium
Designer: Chris Handy (Longshot, Perplext and Pack O Game series currently on Kickstarter)
Artists: Martin Hoffman, Claus Stephan, Mirko Suzuki
Year Published: 2013
Number of Plays: 
8
Thematic Drink Pairing: Limoncello

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Roman Holiday
Many years ago Bex and I had the good fortune of spending two weeks traveling through Italy on planes, automobiles, boats, buses and bicycles. Somewhere in the middle of the trip we came to a fork in the road – a literal one. Heading northwest along the Italian Riviera from Lucca, somewhere near the coastal town of Sarzana, the highway splits. Our choices were either go north and arrive in Milan on schedule or go west, be very late, and explore the Cinque Terre, or, ‘Five Lands,’ along the rugged coast. Having read about the Cinque Terre, the desire to visit was great and was subdued only by our need to be punctual in meeting our Milanese hosts. So, dutifully, north we went, bypassing the Cinque Terre with the hope of returning one day. The rest of the trip was magnificent but it nagged me a bit that we didn’t get to visit those five little villages.

So anyway, nine years later (which is now) I learned about SpielBox Magazine – a regularly-issued, German board game publication that fortunately has an English version. I ordered a few back issues, admittedly because they came with Keyflower and Carcassonne promos. Side note – I’d buy Keyflower: The Lunch Box, or Carcassonne: The Flame Thrower if they only made them. Anyway. So I’m flipping through Issue #5 from last year and what do I see? An advertisement for Uno. Really, c’mon Spielbox, Uno?!

So I flip a few more pages and there’s this review of a game with a colorful board and some nice bits. I like nice bits.”Hey, this game’s set in Italy. I like Italy,” I remember saying to myself. “Hey, this meeple looks like those delivery scooter-mini-truck-things they have there,” I said (again, to myself). Seeing that the game was named after and set in Cinque Terre, the region we passed over during our trip nine years before, brought back a cart full of memories and propelled this title to the top of the wish list and my wallet was soon made lighter.

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The Basics
To begin, let’s make sure we’re pronouncing it correctly. You say it like this, TCHIN-kweh TAIR-eh. For added flair use your best Super Mario accent. So in this game, simply put, you’re a present-day produce vendor collecting and selling produce in the markets in each of the five villages of the Cinque Terre region. You drive around in your little ape (AH-peh), or delivery scooter, delivering these goods as efficiently as possible and more quickly than your rival vendors to earn money. Ape is ‘bee’ in Italian, which is appropriate because this game is an efficiency and turn optimization race that has you zipping and buzzing across the board until the last play. You get Lire, or points, by selling produce and fulfilling produce orders. These orders come in the form of cards, some visible to all, some secret, and the market value for produce is set by an initial dice roll and varies by village. The most crafty and efficient player earns the most money and victory. Simple.

Now, this is a blog about thematic game/cocktail pairings, so I got to thinking. One of the main actions of the game is collecting said produce, which includes grapes, olives, oranges, garlic, mushrooms, lemons, tomatoes and zucchini. Surely there had to be some inspiration for a recipe there. I enlisted the help of the Twitters for recommendations and guess who had the first suggestion? None other than Chris Handy, the games’s designer himself. Mr. Handy recommended a limoncello, a very popular Italian liqueur made from the zest of lemons, simple syrup and grain alcohol. Rather than using store-bought limoncello I decided to make my own. Though the recipe was simple, the most difficult part was waiting a minimum of three weeks while the concoction aged. That was a rough three weeks. I’ve never attempted anything like this but it was incredibly simple. Here’s how you do it.

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Limoncello
Recipe 1
:
1 bottle of Everclear
3.5 cups water
3.5 cups sugar
Peels of 10-12 large, thick-skinned lemons

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First, you should either thoroughly scrub your lemons. If you buy organic that should ensure that there’s no wax or pesticide on the skins to taint your mixture. Next, peel all of the lemons with a potato peeler. Since the backbone of this drink comes from all the oils in those lemon skins, thicker-skinned lemons are preferred. Also, only peel as far as the yellow goes. Getting any of the pith, or the white part of the peel closest to the fruit, will impart an unsavory bitterness to your limoncello. Use a small, sharp knife to remove any of the pith.

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What a pithy! My lemons were thin-skinned so I spent a lot of time slicing off the pith.

Then, find a sealable glass container that holds about 8 cups of liquid that can be out of commission for awhile. Put the peels in, add the entire bottle of Everclear and seal the container, placing it in a cool, dark place. For three weeks. At least. The longer you let it sit at this stage the more the lemon oils will infuse into the alcohol. Give it a good stir every so often. Save the empty Everclear bottle – you’ll need it later – and use the lemons for making lemonade.

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If you happen to have a growler laying around they work perfectly.

After your mixture has sufficiently aged for three or more weeks you’re ready for the second part of the recipe. Boil the 3.5 cups water and add the 3.5 cups sugar, stirring occasionally for five minutes. Let the syrup cool completely, add it to the aged lemon/alcohol mixture, giving it a good stir. Remove the lemons by straining the whole thing, fill the empty Everclear bottle, seal and place in the freezer until thoroughly chilled. Don’t worry, the high alcohol content prohibits your newly crafted liqueur from freezing/expanding. Limoncello must be served extremely cold and a serving should be no more than 2 ounces when taken as a liqueur. Serve in a cordial glass or just a shot glass, being sure to first un-train your brian from immediately wanting to toss back anything in a shot glass. This is a sipper, for sure.

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Apart from being served straight out of the bottle as a liqueur, limoncello can also be used as the base in countless and often improvised recipes involving juices and sodas. Limoncello lacks the bitterness of lemon juice but retains the zesty flavor of the lemon making a great, albeit stronger, substitute. Above is a limoncello and orange soda libation.

Recipe 2:
Buy a bottle of limoncello and stick it in the freezer. Wait. Serve and sip. They do carry bottles of limoncello at my suburban grocery store for about $24. A bottle of Everclear is about $18 at the same store. Adding in the cost of lemons and the price for Recipe 1 and 2 are about the same. This is a much easier and quicker way but this method lacks the sense of pride one feels in crafting one’s own liqueur.

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The Game
First, the setup. There are quite a few bits in this game. In a two player game you have to sort and place 13 cubes for each of the eight resources. I’m no math major but I believe that’s north of 100 bits. Plus you have 16 dice that have a very specific and initially confusing set-up. You have two dice for each resource and by rolling them and placing them on different villages you set the market price for that good. Roll a black 2, bummer, olives are only worth two Lire (victory points) in the village of Riomaggiore. Roll a yellow 6, jackpot, big money on the table in Corniglia. After eight plays I still have to consult the rules to make sure I place the dice correctly. The dice are only rolled once for the entire game (for the setup) so the value for produce varies from game to game.

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Setup involves separating pairs of colored dice, rolling them to set the value of that type of produce (i.e., yellow=lemon, purple=grape), and placing them on the board according to very specific instructions.

Everyone starts with a secret order card that must be fulfilled before game’s end or risk losing points. Other order cards are face up and available to everyone so keeping an eye on what produce your opponent is harvesting will clue you in to what card they’re going for. When you complete an order card on your turn place it in front of you. You then have some options about taking another card in your hand that only you have access to. Any gathered produce can be sold in any village. Sometimes your decision of where/when to sell is based on fulfilling an order card while other times you might just be going for points. Every piece of produce you sell is placed on one of the eight empty spots for that village on your individual player board.

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The village of Manarola (second top-row circle from the left) shows the following produce values: green/zucchini=6 Lire; yellow/lemon=4 Lire; purple/grape=3 Lire. Selling four zucchini cubes here will earn you 24 points, which is a lot, but that could be at the expense of clogging up your player board as well as causing you to not be able to fulfill an order. Decisions, decisions.

In addition to the scoring opportunities above, the first vendor to sell eight pieces of produce in a given village earns the Most Popular Vendor tile for that village with some villages being worth more than others. Be careful not to sell too much of the same kind of produce in a given village, though. Since you can only sell a maximum of eight pieces per village you might lock yourself out of future order fulfillment cards if you oversell mushrooms in Monterosseo or tomatoes in Vernazza, for example.

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Here, the player is three cubes away from earning the Most Popular Vendor tile for the bottom two villages, Manarola, worth 10 points, and Riomaggiore, worth 8. Once eight pieces of produce are sold in a given village, no more can be sold there and you’re locked into those pieces for future produce cards.

On your turn you choose three of four actions: Move up to four spaces clockwise; draw one produce card; harvest produce; sell produce. All the actions are printed on your individual player board. To actually harvest produce you have to either have that piece’s matching produce card and be on the farm space that grows that produce, or have a matching pair of produce cards for an adjacent type of produce to get the one you really want. So if you’re going for a garlic cube but you don’t have a garlic produce card, you can discard, for example, two olive cards to get the garlic cube if the garlic and olives are grown in the same region. While they might be adjacent in this game, the next time you play they probably won’t be because the eight types of produce are distributed randomly during the setup, adding a great deal of replayability.

You can only ever carry a maximum of four pieces of produce at a time so you want to load up your cart deliberately before motoring on to the villages to sell your goods. To sell, simply place one or more of any of your harvested produce cubes on an empty spot on your player board for the village your cart is on and claim the points. If there is no die of the color produce you’re selling for the village your cart is in, the value is 1. The remaining choices – moving up to four spaces and drawing one produce card – are self-explanatory. Only four options but plenty of meaningful decisions here.

The end of the game is triggered when any player earns any combination of five completed orders and/or Most Popular Vendor tiles, or when two of eight fields are empty of produce. Each player gets one more turn and scores are tallied. The player who earned the most Lire (points) wins.

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Strengths
First off, Bex and I are both in agreement that this is definitely the prettiest game I own. The components are great. Though produce is represented by simple cubes, the colors are bright and the delivery scooter meeples are chunky, fun to zoom around the board, evoke the theme, and are “super cute” according to Bex. If you read the previous post of our play of Lords of Waterdeep you will recall that Bex can be highly critical of box top art. In this case, she found the artwork on the cover enticing and it immediately drew her interest, making it an easy sell getting this to the table the first time. I like the decision to use wooden dice instead of acrylic. All of the colors pop, from the board to the bits to the cards. Speaking of the cards, I also like that the Italian names for the produce are used instead of the localized language – pomodoro instead of tomato, limoni instead of lemon, etc. It’s a nice touch and it’s fun over exuberantly pronouncing the Italian words when discarding. The graphic design and iconography are top notch.

Whenever I suggest playing a game this is one of the three that Bex always recommends. She loves efficiency games and games with clearly define tasks, both of which are present here. She finds the theme very relatable and is happy we have a game that doesn’t involve “villains and Olde Englishy things” and sabotage. It’s not too complicated and there aren’t too many steps on your turn and being able to plan well takes you most of the way to victory. Again, all plusses for Bex.

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We’ve played Cinque Terre eight times and our games now clock in at just under an hour, though the frantic pace makes it feel much quicker. As with most any game, Cinque Terre rewards the experienced player. We feel it works beautifully as a two-player game. It would be more cutthroat and probably more exhilarating with more players but it’s still plenty tense with just us two. Bex would also recommend Cinque Terre as a gateway game, though I think it’s more of a light-medium game that you would want to save until after first introducing something along the lines of Ticket to Ride. The rule set it so simple (here are four options, pick three and keep going until there’s a winner), but there is so much depth there that becomes apparent with each successive play.

We’re big fans of fun tension and Cinque Terre has plenty. I often find myself nervously leaning in off of my seat while contemplating my moves. I get lots of satisfaction from a well-timed and executed delivery, either fulfilling an order or ignoring an order card for one turn to cash in for big points. The game is well balanced and we’ve traded victories for the most part, often with very close scores. We always have a post-game conversation with Cinque Terre. Usually, the loser agonizes about being a turn or two away from victory as with our last play where I needed only one more delivery of some produce to win. More often than not the loser was always in contention to win with just a couple more deliveries.

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A Few Minor Quibbles
I don’t have anything significant to gripe about but here are a few thoughts. If you’re prone to analysis paralysis, then you’re potentially looking at some long turns, at least for the first couple of plays. It can be a little mathy, too, as you weigh the many meandering vines of optimization options. I find it difficult remembering what my next move was going to be after a short side conversation so we don’t chat much now while playing and just get straight to business. Along those lines, you really have to plan your next move when it’s not currently your turn, otherwise you’re in for a long night.

Though the board is stunning, the sunburst-styled score tracker on the perimeter is not the easiest to read, but it’s just so pretty that you get over it. Most scores will be higher than the 100 shown on the score track which is not a problem with two players. With a full compliment of five players it could get a little unruly keeping track after the first go around the perimeter (“wait, are you at 42 or 142?”). Placing stickers on the underside of your score markers that you flip after passing 100 would largely mitigate that potential issue.

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Eye candy. By the way, check out that nice linen finish on the board. Primo!

The wooden dice are very pretty but they are not rolled during the game as they represent the fixed values for produce in each of the villages. Seeing 16 dice might lead you believe that you’re going to be doing lots of rolling but that is not the case. I think it’s clever using dice as a value randomizer and price indicator but I know some folks might find it irksome that all those pretty dice aren’t rolled. These rounded, wooden dice are so aesthetically pleasing that you might want to eat them. Do not eat them.

Though on every turn you execute only three of four possible actions (move, draw, harvest, sell) it’s surprisingly easy to forget how many of your three steps you’ve taken, especially if you, like me, are prone to taking actions in a different order every turn. Bex usually chooses her actions in the same order so it’s not a problem for her.

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I like the amount of luck in this game, but you could be at a disadvantage from the beginning depending on the fulfillment requirements of your mandatory secret order card and the dice-derived produce values in each of the villages. Additionally, the potential exists for you or your opponent to fulfill a newly-revealed order card with little or no effort if you’ve already delivered the appropriate produce to the appropriate village, similar to what you might encounter in Takenoko with already established hex tile patterns.

If all players haven’t played this game roughly the same number of times a new player is likely going to get crushed…like a grape. Sorry, I couldn’t help it. Grapes are in the game – had to do it. This game can be rather unforgiving when you make a few bad decisions and it can be easy to fall behind in score. A lack of a catch-up mechanism amplifies your inefficiency further. I don’t think the game would be better if there were a catch-up mechanism because the game is all about optimization, but it’s just something to keep in mind. Also, do not underestimate the value of a turn, since most games we’ve had could have gone either way had the loser had as few as one more turn. These are all just minor gripes put here for your awareness, none of which should dissuade you from taking a closer look at Cinque Terre.

Bex thinks that this game is perfect and that I should just shut up.

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Limoncello Pairing
A chilly limoncello, one of the most iconic of Italian drinks, was the perfect pairing with this game, especially considering that it was suggested by the games’ designer. Both the drink and the game are light and breezy with a substantial kick. Next time we play we’ll try mixing the limoncello with different juices, which won’t be a problem considering the recipe yields nearly two bottles worth of limoncello after combining all the ingredients. It is a strong beverage, though. I’ve heard you can make it with vodka instead of grain alcohol so that might be an option if you wanted to make it not so high-spirited. It’s really easy to make so be adventurous – and patient.

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Final Thoughts
On it’s surface, and after just a play or two, Cinque Terre is a pretty, cheery and simple-to-play offering. However, its prettiness belies its depth and after repeated plays, decent and fulfilling amounts of strategy unfold. That, along with the variable start conditions, means a high degree of replayability. On at least two occasions Bex has wanted to play again immediately after finishing a game. That is not something she says often, if ever, so it is quite a high compliment. Visually, Cinque Terre is stunning. Mechanically, this game is sound. But that’s not worth anything unless it’s fun and it shines in that category as well. I always say that the best games are the ones that you actually get to play as opposed to those that languish on the shelf and this title has made it to the table more that any other game since we’ve started this blog. Bravo!

If you couldn’t tell, we really like Cinque Terre and strongly recommend that you check it out as a top-tier, couples-friendly game. If Cinque Terre sounds interesting to you be sure to check out other works by Chris Handy, including his current Kickstarter campain for his Pack O Games series which ends in the next couple of days. If you do, please, please tell them in the comments that @TheGameOfWife sent you. If my Kickstarter budget wasn’t already depleted I would definitely back that project.

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Though we never got to visit the real Cinque Terre nine years ago I feel we’ve at least gotten to get a taste for what it must be like there. If I close my eyes and breathe in I can just smell the lemons in the village market. Oh wait, that’s just the limoncello. That will do just fine.

Thanks for stopping by, cheers and ciao!
The Game of Wife

Please follow us on Twitter to find out about our next posting and feel free to email with any questions, comments, criticisms or corrections.
Twitter: @TheGameOfWife and also at @GreenOwlGames
Email: TheGameOfWife@gmail.com

You Want Me To Play What?

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My wife, Bex, learns everything she needs to know about a game from the box top.  Does it have wizards? Nope, don’t like it. Does it depict warfare? Yeah, I don’t think so, buddy. Any fantasy adventure elements on there? Get that off the table. Really?! I don’t know if there’s been one box top she has approved of and it makes my job of getting new games to the table that much more of a challenge. How would she react to tonight’s game, Lords of Waterdeep, which had the two magic words on the box (dungeons, dragons) that would guarantee she would unapologetically dismiss it?

I’m not an RPG guy and have never played one session of D&D but I went ahead and picked up a copy of Lords of Waterdeep because the gameplay seemed of the type that Bex would enjoy. I was sure that if she could get past the theme, this tabletop version of D&D would be a hit with both of us. I also knew that the second she got a peek at the box top she would cast faulty judgement. I had my work cut out for me so I devised a sure-to-succeed, two-step plan.

Step One: hide the box top.

Step Two: Make a delicious drink for her using uniquely paired flavors, maybe using a spirit she was not accustomed to, thereby distracting her from the cover art.

Step One failed. It failed quickly. She found the box. Dungeons and Dragons? You want me to play what?  On to Step Two.

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Step Two: Rubies & Thorns
So, in Lords of Waterdeep, you win by earning the most victory points – a surprise, I know. In the game, these victory points are depicted with rubies as shown on the Quest Cards and on the victory point chits. So rubies = good. Victory is not just for the asking, however. It’s a thorny enterprise, dispatching your agents and recruiting adventurers to do your dirty work. It’s enough to make any overlord thirsty. So for this installment of The Game of Wife, belly up to the bar with us at the Grinning Lion Tavern as we concoct a fine, gin-based cocktail appropriately dubbed, Rubies & Thorns.

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So herbaceous, it makes one loquacious.

The Drink
We don’t normally have gin in the house but, since we’re broadening our horizons here, we went with a gin-based libation for this occasion. As with our previous post, all of the ingredients in this recipe* were found in our local, run-of-the-mill, suburban grocery store. It did require me to make a syrup. Specifically, a lemon-thyme syrup. I didn’t know that was a thing. It’s a thing. It’s also a really easy thing. Read and learn.

*Why the asterisk? I’m listing two versions of the recipe. The first version, immediately below, is the recipe as it appears in Bon Appetit. The second version, immediately following the one immediately below, is our variant. The reason for the two is that our variant slightly (but not negatively) modifies some of the ingredients from the first version because apparently we don’t shop at the same place where the readers of Bon Appetit shop (i.e., blood orange juice and lemon-thyme are difficult to come by in the burbs). So, we had to make some substitutions. No big deal. This syrup is so simple to make that it shouldn’t dissuade you from trying out the recipe. It will really help sell it to your significant other, too. Practice: I wanted to play this game with you so badly that I turned on the stove to make a syrup. Who knew I had it in me! Now, let’s make some cocktails!

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So a fighter, a rogue, a cleric and a wizard walk into a bar…

Rubies & Thorns (hoity-toity version)
2 oz. blood orange juice
.5 oz. gin
1 tsp. lemon-thyme simple syrup*
4 oz. Pellegrino
(serves one)

*Syrup – bring .5 cup sugar, .5 cup water and 2  sprigs lemon-thyme to a low simmer. Stir until sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.

Pour blood orange juice, gin and simple syrup over ice in a Collins glass, top with Pellegrino and stir. Garnish with a sprig of lemon-tyme.

Rubies & Thorns (TGoW variant)
5 oz. blood-orange Italian soda
1.5 oz. gin (any kind will do)
2 tsp. lemon-thyme simple syrup*
(serves one)

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Using blood orange Italian soda as in our variant works just as well as blood orange juice and Pellegrino.

*Syrup – bring .5 cup sugar, .5 cup water, 5-6 tsp. lemon zest, and 2-3 bountiful sprigs of regular ol’, grocery store, fresh thyme to a low simmer. Stir until sugar dissolves and let simmer a few more minutes. Strain and cool in the fridge for 24 minutes. Pro tip: set up the board while waiting for the syrup to cool.

Pour blood-orange Italian soda, gin and syrup in a glass over ice and stir. Garnish with a spring of thyme. Serve. Sip. Vanquish.

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Syrup before.

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Syrup during.

 

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Syrup after 24 minutes in the fridge.

Thoughts on the Game

Bex Says:
Pros: I love completing tasks with clear, uncomplicated goals that don’t require resource conversion (she’s talking to you, Agricola); the board is pretty and uncluttered; simple turn actions (assign agent and possibly complete quest, that’s it); lots of choices for agent assignment, but not too many. Despite the theme, this game is really enjoyable and I can’t wait to beat Rex, again.
Cons: I don’t like the theme so I don’t pay attention to the artwork or text on the cards; I can see why people would like the theme but it doesn’t do it for me in the slightest; if I would have told my 16-year-old self that she’d be playing a Dungeons & Dragons game on a Saturday night in her mid-30s, she would have cried, a lot. Oh, and the box top is horrendous.
Rating: 7/7

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Owlbears, domesticated.

Rex Says:
Pros: Though I’m not a D&D guy, I do enjoy the theme; high quality components, great graphic design, clear iconography; little things like the unique shades of blue and green used for the agents show the care that went into this title; our games last about 50 minutes, which means a high chance of replayability; great pacing and the right amount of fun tension.
Cons: Though the iconography is great, the icons on the cards could be a little larger; the box lid construction is a bit odd (must use rubber band to keep this one closed); I can’t win this game. As of this writing I’m 0-3, but I guess that’s not the game’s fault.
Rating: 7/7

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Mandatory Quest
So, despite a few small quibbles, this game has become our new favorite. This title is extremely two-player friendly and scales very well. Though there’s not a great deal of direct confrontation there was definitely a sense of fun tension, especially toward the end when scrambling to complete those last few quests. In our experience the Quest Card costs and benefits are so well balanced that it makes it seem like this game was playtested for years. The Intrigue Cards are a great addition that allow you to get those last few adventurers needed to complete a quest that your opponent thought they blocked you from finishing.

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For us, the enjoyable mental exercise of planning and optimizing our turns was enough to make us feel invested and immersed in the process, but not so much that we suffered from cognitive overload or analysis paralysis. In other words, it makes us feel smart being able to plan a few moves in advance and who doesn’t like to feel smart? The Mandatory Quests, while annoying on the receiving end, aren’t too overpowered. They cost you a couple of agent placements to regain what you lost which is frustrating, but I guess that’s the point. We’ve thrown up some high ratings on our last two reviews, but man is this game fun. You feel like you’ve accomplished so much in the hour this takes two players to play and offers a full, well-rounded experience.

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The color here is more orange because we tried orange juice and Pellegrino instead of blood orange soda just to mix it up a bit. Stick to the blood orange Italian soda.

Cocktail Pairing
Our cocktail tonight, Rubies & Thorns, paired very well with this game. The unique interplay between the herbaceous gin and thyme coupled with the citrusy qualities of the blood orange and lemon made for a uniquely satisfying, refreshing sipper. They call it simple syrup for a reason, so spend the extra few minutes to prepare one and it will add to your enjoyment. The addition of the thyme for me felt thematically appropriate as I could imagine thyme as an herb that our purple wizard might have in his spell making arsenal (I don’t know if that’s how it’s done in D&D, but that how I imagine it). The drink’s ruby color also harkened to the ruby-colored victory points for which you plot and scheme.

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Final Thought
As our unanimous 7/7 rating indicates, this is an excellent and highly recommended couples game, simple enough for the casual gamer, but meaty enough for more experienced types. If you and your significant other are not D&D folk don’t let the fact that this a D&D franchise dissuade you from giving it a try. This is just a really solid, simple worker placement game that happens to take place in the D&D universe. No role playing required. This will be a permanent addition to our collection and will get played often – as long as I start winning a few.

Thanks again for checking us out and come back to see what we serve up next.
Cheers!
-Rex and Bex
@TheGameOfWife
thegameofwife@gmail.com

All Aboard

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Not too long ago I had no idea that hobby games, gamer’s games, designer games, etc., existed. We all have our stories of the first game we found that turned the light on for us. For me and many others that first game was Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan R. Moon. Over the past 10 years since it’s debut this title has gone on to sell millions upon millions of copies, winning the coveted Spiel des Jahres prize in 2004, the Oscars of board game prizes. It’s so well-recieved that you can even now pick up a copy at Target. Yeah, Target.

It’s simplicity of play, elegance of design and careful balance of strategy and tactics make this one of our go-to games and I can think of no better starting point for this conversation than Ticket to Ride.

Let’s Have a Drink

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Though the gameplay makes it easy to think that this game is about building a railway empire, a reading of the rules tells us that it’s actually based on a fictional, turn-of-the-century wager amongst globetrotting friends, the winner being he/she who “can travel by rail to the most cities in North America.” Such a great deal of travel makes the throat parched. I tried to think of myself as one of these travelers vying for the $1 Million prize for being the most well-traveled amongst my tycoon chums. What drink would I order in a smoky dining car while watching the American landscape whoosh by?

A Choice Libation

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A modern-classic game set in America deserves a classic American cocktail. For that reason, we’ve decided to pair Ticket to Ride with our version of an iconic American cocktail, the Manhattan. First popularized in the late 1800s, innumerable Manhattans have doubtless been served to rail-weary travelers criss-crossing the country around 1900, when our game is set. We take this classic and put our own twist on by adding a tidy dollop of orange marmalade. Odd, you say? Give it a try and then decide. We call ours a Manhattan Moon. In addition to the cocktail’s color resembling a dusky moon, it’s name also serves as an homage to our designer, Alan R. Moon. Mr. Moon, here’s to you.

Recipe

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First, to be clear, I am no mixologist. I love cocktails, but every recipe I look up seems to involve ingredients I neither have nor can pronounce. For this blog I will venture out of my comfort zone and slowly acquire a few fancy ingredients but will also try not to post recipes that involve too many exotics or too many steps. We’ll see how that goes. Now, to the task at hand.

Manhattan Moon
2.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes bitters
1 maraschino cherry
1 tsp orange marmalade
(makes one serving)

Add all liquid ingredients and marmalade to an ice-filled shaker and, well, shake. Don’t add too much ice, as it will trap the marmalade in the shaker. Pour into a martini glass, garnish with a maraschino cherry and serve.

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Thoughts on the Game

Bex Says
Pros: clear tasks, not complicated, easy to have a conversation while playing
Cons: can get a little samey after dozens of plays (but what wouldn’t?)
Takeaway Point: “I like to play it. It’s a perfect ‘wife game.'”
Rating: 7/7

Rex Says
Pros: elegant and simple, good balance of strategy and tactics, can always get it to the table, wide open map with two players allows for relaxed play
Cons: I usually prefer something a little heavier, will eventually need an expansion or two to mix it up, wide open map with two players makes for relaxed play (yes, I said that twice)
Takeaway Point: This is a must-have game, essential to anyone’s collection whether they be newbies or seasoned, hard-core gamers.
Rating: 6/7

Last Stop

Why a 7-point rating system? Because 7 is Bex’s favorite number, that’s why. So, we’ve played this a number of times and the scores alway seem to be close. Our last several games were won and lost on one card, so there’s great deal of fun tension. I will add that I broke my four game losing streak on our last go, thank you very much. It can start to get a touch repetitive simply because it get played so often. Fortunately, Mr. Moon is as astute a business man as he is a designer and there is no shortage of expansions and other stand-alone Ticket to Ride games to keep this offering chugging along for a long time to come (sorry, couldn’t resist). Visit the TableTop YouTube page to see this video of Ticket to Ride being played by funny people. It’s a hoot and a half.

We felt that our Manhattan Moon paired well with this title, lending an air of sophistication that reinforced the theme of traveling tycoons on America’s early 20th Century railways. The ingredients were easy enough to find, all of them acquired at the grocery store.

Thanks for visiting us and check back every so often to see what our next game and cocktail pairing will be. Until then, play some games!

-Rex & Bex
@TheGameOfWife
thegameofwife@gmail.com

 

 

 

Wanna Play A Game?

20140405-084625.jpg I must say that several times a week. Most of the time, I’m met with an eye roll from my better half, followed up with a well-worn reason not to. “I’m tired. The kids went to bed too late. Too many dishes. DVR getting full. I don’t want to learn a new game.” All valid reasons but still, I persist.

In fairness, we do play a couple of games each and every week. Still, getting the new games to the table has become a game itself. Hunting down titles well-suited for two players, reading reviews, watching ‘how to play’ videos, solo practice plays to learn the rules and devising my sales pitch to her all add up to a little ‘game’ I call The Game of Wife.

I would classify myself as an overzealous aficionado of games who has been so taken by the hobby that I have dabbled in designing a few of my own. My wife really enjoys a good board game, casual games mostly, but she sometimes needs a gentle nudge to convince her to pull up a chair to the table. “What’s a way I can get her to play more games that she will reliably tolerate?” I thought. The answer, cocktails! More specifically, create an ‘experience’ and make an ‘event’ out of it by thematically pairing a game with a cocktail. A different libation mixed and served to pair with every game in my collection. You’ve heard of wine and food pairings, no doubt – this is the same thing, only different.

I’ll recount our experiences here along with photos, a mini game review and, most importantly, the drink recipe. I have two goals. One, I hope to help all you gamers out there in a similar situation to get in some more plays with your significant other while enjoying a grown-up beverage. Two, I hope to learn about and play more games with my wife, my best friend and gaming partner, while enjoying finely crafted cocktails.

If you’re interested, check back here every so often and join us on this journey we call The Game of Wife.

Now, let’s play some games!
@TheGameOfWife

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