Well, 2010 got started when I invited a few friends over to get in a couple of games on the second. To start the new year I suggested we play Die Macher the "Daddy" of German board games (the first game in the BGG database). Joining me were Nathan Winchester, Amelia Boli and Matthew Frederick. Nathan arrived first and Matthew sent me a note that he and Amelia were running late, so Nathan and I pulled out GIPF. I have only played this little abstract game once previously against Nathan and apparently we played the simple rules. This time, we played the normal rules (which it appears just adds the double pieces to the simple game). Though I seemed to position myself well a couple of times, Nathan smoked me in short order.
Once Matthew and Amelia arrived, we setup Die Macher and Matthew started going through the rules. Having been through them now, I can see that the rules themselves aren't terribly complicated - there are just a lot of moving parts and steps to be taken each round. About halfway through the explanation I needed to see a turn being played and wanted to just jump in. We started the game and about halfway through the first election we all decided it would be a sample round and we'd reset the game to play. This was the best thing we could have done - if you have never played before, it is probably the easiest thing you can do to learn the game. In fact, if I had to teach this, I'd just setup the game and start playing, explaining the process and the possible impacts and choices you have. However, this is a deep game and just grasping the mechanics isn't enough - it is hard to understand the impact of each choice until you feel the flow of the entire game. We started slowly (with the rules and playing a whole turn for example), had some dinner and it ended up being most of the day before we finished our full 7 election game. Matthew and Nathan won the first election (something in the low-mid-twenties) and we over paid them for their victory. I was a bit surprised at how big an advantage that was (it was big seeing as how they earned much more money than they should have) and set my sights on the next election which was in the 50s and right before the biggest possible area (80). I reasoned I needed to win big to capitalize and position for the 80 in the third round. I did well and helped myself recover, but Matthew and Nathan ended up winning the 80 together. Amelia caught back up in the 5th election and I played really poorly in the 6th. I targeted the last election to keep everyone else from killing me in the National Issue bonus points, but nobody was going to catch Matthew. He won by close to 100 points. I was behind Amelia by 3 pts and Nathan was behind us by around 15-20. This was a fascinating game (which is hard to understand - "you liked a game about trying to win German Elections?") that is deep and each move impacts your game. Though it is a euro-game (lots of wooden bits and mechanics out the wazoo) the theme is not tacked on by any means. Everything feels like you are running an election campaign and it is really interesting. Unfortunately, it is also really long and not easy to teach. The Valley Games edition I have has an option for playing a 5 round (rather than 7 round) game, which I'd guess could be played in about 3 hours with players that knew the game. The full game probably runs 4-5 with 4 players. Definitely 5 hours with 5 players (unless everyone plays fast as hell, which I don't). Also, though the game is great, Valley made some bad choices in the art when they re-printed the game and it was hard to tell a couple of the cards apart (especially in the light I have in my dinning room). Those gripes aside, I'd like to play again, but I have doubts whether this will see me playing it again this year. Possibly.
We finished pretty late, but had time for something else so I pulled out my Treehouse pieces so we could try a game I've been wanting to play - Undercut. Undercut is a pure auction game where you bid your pieces (5 colors in three sizes) for more pieces. Each round, there are sets of pieces (each set being a randomly chosen small, medium, and large piece) and each player bids on one of the sets. Bids that are LOWER than other bids will win. The trick is - after you get pieces, if you have matching sets (same color one of each size - a tree, three of the same size and color - a triplet, or four of the same size different color - a quad), you must turn them in and score points. You don't want points and the values of the sets go up as each set is turned in. The game hinges on deciding when you can take pieces and when you can force someone else into taking something they don't want (just like any good auction game). The fact that the bidding is in reverse (lower is better) makes things interesting. It took us about half the game to grok, but it was really pretty fun (and short). Nathan managed to hang for the win while we all screwed each other (Matthew screwed himself).
On Monday, I managed to get a couple games in (sort of). I finished a game of In The Year of The Dragon online (MaBiWeb) with Chester Ogborn and Mike Garrett. Mike started the game going after the double dragon strategy. I went for the double dragon in the second round, but wanted to get the builder and some houses/levels going. Chester loaded up on the scholars and scored something like 9 points on them more than a couple times. I somehow managed 5 houses and 4 monks which gave me a huge number of bonus points at the end of game. Mike and Chester were close, but Chester finished by having to lose ALL of his people and he hadn't built up enough points to win before that. We were talking about the game a bit as we played (we had started this to see if I could get in a 5th playing before the end of last year) and I've decided to drop my rating on the game. I just don't enjoy it and there doesn't really seem to be a ton of different approaches to the game. After a dozen playings, I don't really care to play it much anymore - even online. I'd much rather play Notre Dame.
I also got to play a game of Pokémon with my son. This was my most played game last year and it is still quick fun. He started with no cards at all last year and now has close to a dozen decks which allows us a good amount of choices. I suspect this will quickly end up as the most played game of 2010 for me as well.