As you know I just spent a few days with M. as a sort of holiday. We went out for a day to the seaside, we went to a play, went out for meals and also played some games.
What happened was one night when we were in M. wanted to play Risk, which we did (I won – yay!), but to be honest my enthusiasm for Risk used to be huge when I was a student but these days I am daunted by it being a potentially hours-long game because of the open-ended nature (you play until someone wins). Also it can be less satisfying for just two people. As it happens the game we played didn’t fall into either of these pitfalls that night but when we discussed repeating the experience we ended up deciding to look into buying a new game or games.
Which is how we ended up visiting a games shop in Greenwich Market and purchasing two games – one chosen by me, one by M. We played both over the next couple of days, here’s my verdict:
Carcassonne (M.’s choice) – Carcassonne is a tile-laying game. It’s named after a town in France and the idea is that you pick a tile from a pile, which are face down, and place it where it connects to the existing tiles. As the tiles have roads, junctions, fields, cities and cloisters on them, it’s a question of making sure that your tile’s edges matches the one(s) you’re placing it against. Whilst there is a rule about what to do if there’s no legal move, in the games we played (4 or 5) that never happened.
Once you’ve place your tile you can optionally place one of your “men” on it to occupy it according to its type – as a farmer, thief (for the road), knight (city) or monk. You earn points for these men when the various map objects are completed – e.g. when a city becomes complete.
I really enjoyed Carcassonne. The things I liked about it were that it’s easy to pick up the rules but that doesn’t preclude some serious play. It works well for just two players. Finally, as the game ends when all tiles are placed, there’s an inbuilt time limit which for us was about 45-60mins.
There are apparently several variations and expansions and I look forward to playing them sometime.
Fresco (my choice) – a game based around the idea of being a renaissance artist restoring a cathedral fresco. You are a Master Painter with a number of apprentices. Each day you assign your apprentices a number of tasks – buying paint, mixing paint, painting portraits to earn money, restoring the cathedral, visiting the theatre (to keep their mood up). You first get to decide what time you want them to get up in the morning, which affects their mood, how much you’ll pay for paint but also its availability and so on.
The rules are not too hard to pick up though not as quick as Carcassonne. If you like having lots of different pieces, cards and a complicated board to play with — it’s what made me choose it — then that is something in its favour. It was quite complex strategically because you had to think about how best to use your limited resources and time – whether for instance to achieve points this time by restoring part of the fresco or spend time and money on mixing paint to be used next round. M. liked that aspect of it.
It also has an inbuilt time limit in that there are a fixed number of pieces of the fresco to restore. However in the one game we completed it took maybe a couple of hours and I voted to abandon the second game (in favour of Carcassonne) because of the time element.
I also found that I didn’t like that some “individual” actions required fiddling with several pieces. For example buying paint would involve taking a card from the paint store “booth”, removing your apprentice piece from your action card, paying your money pieces to the common supply, retrieving the paint pieces (usually two or three) and finally removing any remaining cards from the same booth (for some reason buying from one booth “closed” it down to any other player). I’d often go to take all the cards from a booth (2 or 3) to do that in one go but then I’d have to remember which card was the one I wanted to buy the colours for when I went to pick the paint pieces. It all felt a bit fiddly for what was one discreet game action. But maybe that’s just me.
I did however enjoy it and I think it would be better with 3 or 4 players.