Saturday, 7 May 2011

pick a game for my wife

My wife Michelle was my first boardgame kaki (gaming buddy) when I first got into the hobby (defined as the start of regular boardgame playing). At the time we had no kids yet. I was on a long work assignment in Taiwan and she went with me. It was around that time that I discovered German games. Prior to that I played some Axis & Allies games and Samurai Swords once or twice in a year, and Michelle had little interest in those. But German games, that was something that she could accept.

We played with my Taiwanese colleagues. After returning to Malaysia we played with whoever I could convince to play with us. Two children came along. Gradually Michelle drifted apart from my gaming friends. When friends come to play, she prefers not to play so that she can take care of the children. She would otherwise be annoyed if she keeps getting interrupted by them when in the middle of a game.

So now I have two quite mutually exclusive game circles - my wife, and the rest of the world (I do play boardgames with my children, but let's exclude that from this discussion). The rest of the world part has overlaps. Most frequently I game with Allen and Han. Then there's also Afif, another gamer whom I got to know via the internet (maybe I'm old-fashioned, it still seems spooky and a big deal to make new friends via the internet). And there's also Jeff, Heng, Jimmy, and the many other gamers who play at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras on Fridays. The biggest difference between these two circles is the wife circle purely plays 2-player games (including games that can support more than 2 players) and the rest-of-the-world circle usually plays 3+ players games (mostly 3). I have access to lots of new games with my rest-of-the-world circle. All being gamers, there is no shortage of new and interesting games to try. Where I now have a bit of a dilemma is the choice of games when playing with my wife.

Nowadays Michelle is less patient to learn new games, and we tend to stick to old favourites: Through the Ages and Race for the Galaxy, the former for when we have 2 hours to spare on weekends to sit down for some quality spouse gaming time, the latter for those half hour quick games when she feels up to it. I have been struggling to move on to some new games, since these regulars have been regulars for the past 3 years or so. Any suggestions?

Here's the gamer psychoanalysis profile of my wife:

  • Favourites that have seen heavy play (roughly ordered by timeline): Carcassonne (168 plays), Ticket to Ride series (230), Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper (199), Blokus and Blokus Duo (71), Race for the Galaxy (383), Through the Ages (54), Agricola (54).
  • Other games she likes: Le Havre, At the Gates of Loyang, Galaxy Trucker, Goa, Princes of Florence 2-player variant, Puerto Rico 2-player variant, Jambo, Hacienda.
  • Games she dislikes:
    • Games about fighting and war, confrontational games, games where you need to attack and bring destruction to your opponent, games where you need to be nasty to your opponent. Our games of Through the Ages is by unspoken rule the peaceful variant. Noone plays Aggression or War cards. Thankfully military is still important for the colonies and for the events, so the game is still very playable. The same cannot be said for Sid Meier's Civilization where military is much more "undetachable".
    • Innovation - I had high hopes for this, and I like the game a lot too. But she finds it too confrontational - the part where your points cards can be robbed or discarded by your opponent.
    • Blue Moon - Too directly confrontational. I tried to convince her that it was just about pleasing the dragons, but she's smarter than that.
    • Lord of the Rings - the Confrontation - she actively hates this game. It even has the word "confrontation" on the cover!
    • Babel - This has a lot of destroying your opponent's towers and robbing your opponent's tribes.

I recently managed to persuade Michelle to play Twilight Struggle again, by saying my beautiful deluxe version had not been played yet and it was such a waste. She had played it once before. She didn't seem to dislike it, but she did not particularly fancy it either. She had lost the first game playing USSR. I let her play USSR again, which should be easier for beginners. As the game progressed, I worried whether I was going to lose her. She seemed frustrated by the game, or rather, by the learning experience. She struggled to digest everything and to optimise her card play. USSR got close to 20VP, but as the game progressed, the VPs shifted towards USA. Things started to look bad for USSR, as the USA score moved towards the teens. I became nervous that I might win the battle (win this game) and lose the war (getting her to like Twilight Struggle).

USA (me) was at 11pts.

USSR (Michelle) remained strong in Europe throughout the game.

This is the deluxe version, with a mounted board, and improved graphics.

Mexico had been hotly contested. It was right next to USA so I wanted to make sure it didn't fall to USSR, because that would be 1 extra point for Michelle.

Then on one turn she played both Red Scare/Purge and Quagmire.

Red Scare/Purge reduced the operations value of all my cards for the whole turn. Quagmire was a card that in the best case wasted one action and one medium-to-high valued card, and in the worst case paralysed your whole turn (6 or 7 actions!). I did manage to remove Quagmire, but only on the second attempt (i.e. 2 actions and 2 high-valued cards wasted). And since my operations values were greatly reduced, Michelle took control of Europe, and then played the Europe scoring card to win the game. Europe was already close to being controlled by her, so I couldn't stop her. Aarrgghh!!... She literally got up and did a victory dance. I guess 383 games of Race for the Galaxy have taught her about card combos.

Michelle controlled all the battleground countries in Europe. Soviet victory!

The game took about 2.5 hours, since it was a re-learning game for Michelle. I hope she will be willing to play again, when we have time for a longish game.

As for shorter games, we are still enjoying Race for the Galaxy (with all 3 expansions) very much. It is our bedroom game (no naughty thoughts please) - I put it in the bedroom so that I can quickly set it up to play at any time, without even needing to walk to my game shelf. However it would be nice if we can have another short game to turn to, just to break the monotony. Dominion is OK (she finds the constant shuffling tiring) but it's a hassle to setup and put away. Lost Cities has been played a lot and is not meaty enough. Here are some that I am going to try or am thinking about:

  • 7 Wonders - I've finally managed to try this and I like it, just like 95% of the gamers out there. Some say the 2-player variant is quite a strategic way to play, although most say it is best with 3 or 4. I've pre-ordered this from
  • Maori - A recent and less well-known game from Rio Grande Games, with individual player boards, and a little Carcassonne-like. Also pre-ordered.
  • Jaipur - I just worry this will be too abstract, like Lost Cities is. We enjoy the theme in Race for the Galaxy and Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper.
  • Haggis - Again, the themelessness worries me a little. Also we've never really got into climbing games or more traditional card games. The 2-player version can actually be played using a normal deck of cards, so I'm probably going to try that first.

On medium-length games, I guess we do have a decent selection. We don't play Agricola as heavily as we used to. There is a better rotation of medium-length games. But any suggestions are most welcome. I just discovered that there are some 2-player variants for Endeavor, which I recently bought, and they are supposed to be quite decent. So I'm going to try this on Michelle.



nijoos said...

Recently tried Vikings. It works well with 2, not confrontational, has a spatial element like PoF and Carc. Short play time. Not particularly heavy but seems to be a good spouse game.

How about Macao? Has the card combo stuff that you two seem to like. Decent with 2.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks for the quick recommendation!

I have heard of Vikings before but have not researched it in detail. I think my friend Chong Sean in Sabah has a copy. I should try it next time I'm back in Sabah.

I've tried Macao but didn't really enjoy it.

Avravanel said...

I've played Vikings once, 3-player, it was really good.
My all time favourite 2-player game is Ceasar & Cleopatra. Since it is designed for 2 players it is confrontational but not more than Twilight Struggle. Probably there is not 300 games in it but 1-2 games a month definitely.

P.S: I love Macao :)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I actually have Caesar & Cleopatra. Michelle doesn't find it confrontational and is willing to play. She likes it more than I do. I'm quite neutral about it. Should be no difficulty in bringing it back in circulation.

Sue G said...

Gaming-wise, she sounds very much like my main gaming partner, my husband. He likes Le Havre, Gates of Loyang, Through the Ages if there isn't war/aggression, etc. He does not enjoy games with conflict. Other games he likes: Shipyard, Mr. Jack, Merkator, Navegador, Glen More, Alien Frontiers (although he doesn't like when I use raiders), Luna, Egizia. We also play Day and Night, although that has some conflict.

Jason said...

Glad to hear you picked up 7 wonders. It has been a hit at our house for some time, i agree it is better with 3+.

Give Jaipur a try as well. If your wife has days like mine when she does not feel like "thinking", this game brings a lot of colour and theme. Very nice components as well.

I am amazed to see you both play race for the galaxy, you will have to tell me how you sold that one to your wife. I would be willing to pay for such secrets :)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thank you for the recommendations. I have played Shipyard before and quite liked it. Maybe I should borrow it from my friend and try it on my wife.

My wife generally likes card games because they are convenient and quick. She doesn't have any issue with the complexity of Race of the Galaxy (she always comments that she can't understand why people consider Puerto Rico complex). She has played Puerto Rico and San Juan before, so the gameplay is familiar enough. Basically, there is no secret, so no need to pay me. :-D

Randomscrub said...

It sounds like your wife has similar (if a touch heavier) gaming tastes to mine. As such, I can highly recommend Jaipur. It's definitely light fare, but it does feel like it has more theme than you'd expect.

(Also, as an added bonus, it doesn't actually require much talking, which means that we got to play it even when my wife had temporarily lost her voice due to illness!)

Sue G said...

He kills me in both Race for the Galaxy and San Juan. I'm not sure what my mental block is but he's very good at those compared to me. He really likes Shipyard compared to some of the others and surprisingly Merkator. Glen More is the other one I'd highly recommend. He likes that one a lot too.

Aik Yong said...

I played with my wife Carcassonne, Lost Cities and Puerto Rico 2-player variant and War of the Ring, well, War of the Ring only once and it's also because she is a LoTR nut, but I found myself disliking 2-player games. I seem to have a hang up playing games with my wife.

However we don't have any qualms playing with others in Battlestar Galactica, Bang, Blokus, etc.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Why the dislike of 2P games? Is it because it's always a zero sum game?

Paul D. Owen said...

I think you and your wife will like Maori, and it will also cross over well into your 3+ player group.

I hope you like the two-player variant of 7W more than we did. Since your wife is comfortable with some more complex games like RftG (which my wife doesn't like), though, it might work out well for you. We just found the third-player dummy mechanics a bit fiddly.

A couple others we enjoy and you might consider:

Battle Line: Despite the title, this is not a confrontational wargame but just a really good card game. One friend of mine described it as nine simultaneous hands of three-card poker, but it's a great deal more than that. This is a rather brilliant Reiner Knizia design (at which my wife has beat me four straight times so far).

Alexandros: Again, despite the apparent martial theme, this is a game of territorial acquisition and generation of revenue (taxes). There are times when you play cards to take territory from your opponent, but it's not "combative" in the sense of a wargame - rather a matter of card play and commitment of resources. We've only played it as a two-player, but it handles up to four. Here's my latest blog post on Alexandros.

There are several lighter card games that we're fond of:

Empyrean, Inc.
Martian Fluxx

Isamoor said...

Well that's a tough one. RftG and TtA are really hard to compare against. Most of these other suggestions just seem "meh". They're not going to hold up to the 100+ plays you've already gotten from RftG. (MR:Jack the Ripper was the closest we came and I still am rather burned out on that.)

Honestly? Crokinole. It's expensive, but get a good board. There's a surprising amount of skill and strategy in this game. And it plays great with 2 players. Lots and lots of replay value since you can always get better. No, it's not as "deep", but I find it just as replayable.

If you really need to stay in the "board"game realm, then I'd probably say Battle Line.

Alternatively... maybe talk her into trying to make a RftG expansion as a couple to add to the base game?

Andrew said...

I had tried Vikings, quite interesting. Thanks for recommendation for this game.

Andrew said...

If you guys like Twilight Struggle you should check out Labyrinth: War on Terror

Anonymous said...

I'd second Shipyard as a good 2-player game.

Have you considered 51st State? It is about the same level of complexity as RftG, but the mechanics are very different so it makes a nice change of pace. The factions have different strengths and weaknesses, which can significantly affect how you play. Turns are quick, and there is a nice sense of developing your own territory. The interaction is mostly non-aggressive, apart from a small number of cards that allow minor thefts of resources. The core focus is definitely on building your territory rather than attacking your opponent. The post-apocalyptic theme isn't for everyone, but apart from that it seems like a game that may fit well with the other games your wife likes.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

one of my friends has labyrinth, so it's something i can try with my wife if she continues to enjoy twilight struggle. for now i'll probably try to play more of twilight struggle with her.

i have done some research on 51st state too! it is a game i'm interested to try. however it is precisely because of it's similar feel to Race for the Galaxy that i hesitate to buy it. I might compare them and find that I'd rather stick to RFTG. My wife and i still find RFTG a lot of fun after a few hundred plays.

Anonymous said...

Yes, if you can try 51st State before buying, that would be good. I think it is different enough from RftG that the two don't feel that similar to me, although I know some people disagree. I think the level of complexity is about the same, but to me, 51st State feels more like a board game than a card game because of the resource collection and management aspects. There's also no role selection mechanic in 51st State, so there isn't the same element of trying to guess what your opponent is going to do that RftG has. I've never play RftG with the second and third expansions, though, so my take on it might be out of date. If you do get to try 51st, I'll be eager to read your report!