Thursday, 19 July 2007

games played a lot

There are some games in my collection that I have played a lot, much more so than other games. Since starting to record my games played in mid 2004, for the 90 games that I own and have played at least once from then to now, I have played 1638 times. More than half of these times played are contributed by the top 10 games that I have played the most. They are:

  1. MR1: Jack the Ripper - 200 plays
  2. Carcassonne (including with expansion) - 186 plays
  3. Ticket to ride - 126 plays (if adding TTR Europe and TTR Marklin, it would be 162 plays)
  4. Lost Cities - 93 plays
  5. Blokus (and Blokus Duo) - 84 plays
  6. LOTR Confrontation - 76 plays
  7. San Juan - 53 plays
  8. Coloretto - 45 plays
  9. 6 Nimmt - 44 plays
  10. Gulo Gulo - 43 plays

Among my 90 games owned and played, on average I play a game 18.2 times. The median is 8 times. So, obviously the skew is towards the more frequently played games, i.e. there are fewer games that get played a lot, and more games that do not get played a lot. When I calculated this I was surprised, because the average and median are much higher than I expected. When I take into account games that I do not own and have played, the average becomes 10.5 times, and median 3 times. So, that means there are many games that I do not own and have just tried once (or twice) and decided I don't need to buy it.

Five of my most played games are card games, i.e. shorter games, so play time being short definitely contributes to a game being played more frequently. The other main reason that I play these a lot is Michelle likes them too. She is my most convenient boardgame kaki. Although she is not crazy about boardgames like I am, I am thankful to have a wife who does like boardgames and who does humour me sometimes. She doesn't complain that I spend too much money on boardgames. Maybe because I kept conditioning her that boardgames are better and cheaper than if I were to go out frequently for night life / karaoke / drinking etc. It's all relative.

The game that we have played the most together is Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. This is a card game based on Gin Rummy, but many twists have been added. The basic are still there - drawing cards, collecting at least 3 of a kind to play melds, adding cards to your own or your opponents' melds, discarding cards. However there are also additions such as determing the identity of Jack the Ripper, Ripper Escapes, scoring points, victims and scenes, and gavel cards (we call these hammer cards).

There are cards in the game representing 6 characters who are suspected to be the true identity of Jack the Ripper. These cards have point values on them. At the end of the game, the character with the highest point total is Jack the Ripper. Players score points for cards they have played, but cards belonging to the Jack the Ripper character double their points. So, players compete to try to make "their" character Jack the Ripper.

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. See all those gavel (hammer) cards? Usually, that's baaaad.

We used Shee Yun's cloth diaper as a tablecloth to play on the floor, on the other side of the master bed, opposite from where Shee Yun was sleeping, so that the glare of the table lamp does not disturb her sleep.

There are some special cards called gavel cards which have special powers, but only one gavel card can be played on a player's turn. Some cards allow you to take two cards from the draw deck. Some cards allow you to pick any one card from the discard pile. There are some alibi cards which when played will make a character definitely NOT Jack the Ripper. However, only one alibi card can be in play at any one time, so when another alibi card is played, the previous one will be discarded.

The most interesting addition is the alternative ending - Ripper Escapes. In real life, Jack the Ripper was never caught. In the game (at least in 2 player games that I always play), it is very difficult to achieve Ripper Escapes. If you have the Ripper Escapes card, you win instantly when the 5th victim card appears. In this alternative ending, the player playing Ripper Escapes scores 35 points for the card, and other than that, only scene and victim cards give points. No points for other cards. Ripper Escape is hard to achieve and can be very satisfying. It also gives you a big boost and makes it difficult for your opponent to catch up (multiple hands are played in a game and the first player to reach 100 points wins). I think this is a master stroke, because it creates the additional tension of Ripper escaping. If you get the card, should you attempt an escape? (if you still have the card when the game ends normally, you are penalised) If you have many victims, do you play them (they let you draw more cards)? Is your opponent trying to escape?

These additions add to the flavour of the game and make it very interesting, but it also makes the game a little daunting to learn when first played. One rule that we do not like and do not play is the voting rule. Players can guess who Jack the Ripper will be and if he/she is right, he/she gets an extra 10 points at the end of that hand.

Our other favourite game is Carcassonne. This is the Spiel des Jahres (the prestigious Game of the Year award in Germany) winner of 2001. The basics are simple - you draw a tile and add it to the landscape, and then you can choose whether to place your meeple (a slang in the Eurogame hobby, meaning "my people") on one of the features on that tile. When placing the tile, features of the tile must match the other already placed tiles of the landscape, e.g. roads must connect to roads, plains to plains, castles to castles, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. The meeples placed help you to score points, depending on whether they are knights (when placed in castles), priests (when placed in cloisters - we call them churches), robbers (when placed on roads) or farmers (when placed on plains).

Carcassonne. I'm always green. Michelle is always red.

Carcassonne is an easy game to teach new players, and also looks attractive. It can be played in a friendly way, with players advising or coaxing one another about where to place their tiles. In fact it was responsible for creating my boardgame group when I was in Taiwan. This innocent looking game drew in my colleagues and allowed me to introduce them into the boardgame hobby. However, Carcassonne can also be played in a very aggressive and strategic way, especially when playing with fewer players. With fewer people, there is less luck and more control. Serious players of Carcassonne can remember what kind of tiles are in the game, what have been drawn and what have not. They try to neutralise or steal their opponents' scoring opportunities, e.g. by joining their small castles with their opponents' large castles. They play tiles in a way so as to lock their opponents' meeples. In Carcassonne, whenever a feature is completed (e.g. a road is completed) the player scoring that road can retrieve his/her meeple for future use. However, if a feature cannot be completed, that meeple will be stuck there until the end of the game. So Carcassonne can be played quite viciously. And this is how Michelle and I play most of the time.

We always play with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion too, which introduces some new features and makes the game more strategic and more interesting. One important addition is the big meeple (we call it the fat boy), which counts as two meeples, and is a powerful piece to be used to steal your opponents' hard work.

Carcassonne has many many expansions. Inns and Cathedrals was the first one. Traders & Builders was the second one. I have played this before, but did not like it that much so I did not buy it. Other expansions that I have played include King & Scout, River. Expansions I have not played are Princess & Dragon, The Tower, Catherers (a mini 4-tile expansion). There are some other mini expansions which I cannot remember all of. There was one that came with the Knucklebones magazine which Han subscribes to and he gave it to me. There are some games which are variations of Carcassonne, some by the same designer, some by others. I own Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers; I've played Carcassonne The Castle and Ark of the Covenant; I haven't played Carcassonne The City or Carcassonne The Discovery. So this simple game spurred a LOT of expansions and variations. But I'm quite content with just basic Carcassonne plus Inns and Cathedrals and do not see myself buying more.

How many times a game is played should not be directly interpreted as how good a game is, since the length of a game is a big factor in how frequently you'll bring out a game to play. I will pick another day to write about some of my favourite longer games that do not get played very frequently.

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