Before I begin, I’d like to draw your attention to the Extra Life banner located on the right side of this page. Extra Life is an annual event where people commit to playing games of all types for 25 hours in order to raise money for children’s hospitals. I’m participating this year for the first time, and I’m pretty excited. If you’d like to sponsor me, please follow that link and donate whatever you can. I usually suggest $25, which is $1 an hour, but anything is welcome. You can also sponsor anyone on my team, or, frankly, anyone who is participating. The important thing is that we’re helping kids. And if you can’t donate, you’d be doing me a favor just by helping spreading the word. Thanks! We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.
Last month, I began a series on two player games. This post continues the list. I’ll remind you that these lists are randomly organized, and there are some two player games not on the list simply because I haven’t played them. With that out of the way, on with the show!
Memoir ’44 is the second game in what has come to be known as the Commands & Colors series, a series of simplified wargames designed by Richard Borg. Memoir was released in 2004, and is published by Days of Wonder. The game is set during the last years of WWII, and specifically about the siege that came to be known as D-Day. Other games in the series include Battle Cry (Civil War), Commands & Colors (Ancients set in Roman times, Napoleonics set in Napoleon’s time), and BattleLore (the Hundred Years’ War with fantasy creatures thrown in).
In the game, one player takes the role of the Allies while the other is the Axis. You alternate turns ordering your troops and attempting to break through the other side. The board is divided into three zones, and on your turn you’ll play a card that will order units in one or more of those zones. After moving, you can attack with the units that were ordered. This is done by rolling dice, with each success eliminating a troop in the unit. There are also retreat symbols which force the attacked unit to back up. When a unit is completely destroyed, the attacking player claims a trophy. The game comes with a number of scenarios, and each indicates a different number of trophies for your win condition.
Of course, that’s a very stripped down explanation of the game. Memoir ’44 is a very tactical game, with players trying to use their cards in the best manner possible to put themselves in the best position for victory. Of course, it all comes down to dice rolling, but you can’t win without taking some risks. The game does a very good job of balancing itself, and the scenarios are all based on historical battles so you get a little history lesson on top of the game. I’m not someone who really likes wargames, but this one is very good. Real wargamers turn their nose up at this one (they think it’s too light), but I think it hits the right notes for people who don’t really want to play an eight-hour detailed simulation. Highly recommended.
Balloon Cup is a 2003 game from designer Stephen Glenn that was originally published in the Kosmos two-player line. Rio Grande published in the US, and recently re-released the game under the name Piñata. Balloon Cup is a game about competing in a balloon race, though the theme is a little pasted on. The object of the game is to be the first to claim three of the five trophies.
Four tiles are set up in the center of the table. These are balloon hops. Two of these are on their low side, and two are on their high side. Also, each is randomly seeded with 1-4 cubes, depending on the number on the tile. On your turn, you play one card. This card can either be played on your side or on your opponent’s side. The cubes tell you exactly how many cubes and which colors must be on each side before the hop is complete. When the hop is done, you total the cards on each side (numbered 1-13), and depending on the side of the tile you’re on, the high or low total wins the cubes. Once you have enough cubes, you can trade them in for a trophy, and (as mentioned before) the first player to three trophies wins.
I love Balloon Cup. It’s one of my favorite games. There’s a great game of tug-o-war as you try to get your side to the right total and your opponent to the wrong one. There are a ton of tactical decisions to be made, and you need to be aware of when you just can’t win something and need to let it go. There’s strategy in how you win or lose, and even when you win or lose. There’s even a rule that allows you to trade in three cubes of a color that has already been claimed to help claim a different trophy, and this can make the difference in many games. I first learned this game on Yucata.de, and am very glad to have my own physical copy.
Another design by Stephen Glenn is 1st & Goal, a 2011 American football game. It is published by R&R Games. 1st & Goal simulates a football game using a pretty clever card mechanism in choosing your plays, then uses dice to resolve plays. There is a deck of cards for the offense, and a deck of cards for the defense. For a play, the offense will choose which play they want to run, and the defense will choose how they want to defend. They are revealed at the same time, and you compare the two to see what dice will be rolled. For example, if the offense runs a sweep play and the defense covers with a nickel defense, the offense will look on his card to see what dice to roll for a nickel defense (gray, brown, white, and black dice). The offense rolls and moves the indicated yardage, or rolls for a penalty or a turnover as indicated by the dice.
Standard football rules apply throughout – you have four downs to get 10 yards. If you don’t, your opponent takes the ball. You want to score as much as you can (field goals, touchdowns, and extra points) before the decks are depleted twice (once per half), and offense and defense switch decks when the ball changes possession. Yardage is tracked on a magnetic board.
1st & Goal is a great simulation of a football game. It’s fairly simple to understand, and it’s a whole lot easier to handle than its counterpart, Pizza Box Football. PBF is a great game too, but it has the problem of having a bunch of charts to reference in order to find out what happens on a play. 1st & Goal streamlines it down to the cards, and it makes the game so much more accessible. If you’re a football fan, I’d definitely recommend this game. If not…there might not be anything here for you.
Dragonheart is a 2010 game from Jambo designer Rüdiger Dorn (making him and Stephen Glenn as the only two designers to make this list twice). The game was part of the Kosmos two-player line, and is published in the US by Fantasy Flight. It’s a card game where you are trying to fulfill certain conditions to claim cards, each worth a certain number of points. Cards are played into specific areas that match the cards.
- Treasure chest: Play as many of these cards as you want, but they don’t do anything. They just stack up
- Fire dragon: Playing one fire dragon card allows you to claim all treasure chest cards. Again, you can play as many as you want and they stack, but you only need one for the treasure.
- Huntress: There can only be three huntresses in play. When the third is played (and it doesn’t all have to be the same turn), you claim all fire dragons that have been played.
- Petrified dragon: These stack up, but don’t do anything by themselves.
- Sorceress: You can play one ore more sorceresses to claim the treasure chests, OR to claim the petrified dragons. If you get the petrified dragons, you get the dragon token (worth 3 points at the end) and can have one extra card in your hand. If you lose the dragon at any point, you put a card from your hand back on your deck.
- Troll: You can play one or more trolls to capture all sorceresses. If you play a troll and there are no sorceresses, you get nothing.
- Knight: Only two knights can be in the knight area. Playing the second knight allows you to capture all trolls, OR to take all sorceresses. If you play a second knight and there are no troll or sorceresses, you get nothing.
- Dwarf: Once someone plays the fourth dwarf, they claim all four.
- Ship: Once used, knights and huntresses go to the shipping area. When the third ship card is played, the player gets all knights and huntresses present. When the third shipping has occurred, the game is over.
I really like Dragonheart. For one thing, it’s beautiful to look at (par for the course for a game that has Michael Menzel artwork). The gameplay is simple, but there really is a tension to trying to choose which cards to play. Timing is everything, and though luck plays a big role, you do have to know how to play certain cards in order to do well. I play this game on Yucata.de and BoardGameArena. Check it out.
Summoner Wars originally came out in 2009, designed by Colby Dauch and published by Plaid Hat Games. In 2011, a Master Set came out that added a number of different factions. The game is a tactical fantasy battle game where different factions battle to destroy the other player’s summoner. On a turn, players first draw their hand up to five cards from a thirty-card deck. You can then summon units by spending magic from what is essentially a special discard pile. You can then play events, move your units, and attack by rolling dice (3+ is a hit). If you defeat a unit, it goes into your magic pile. Your turn ends with the opportunity to put cards from your hand into your magic pile. The first person to knock out the other’s summoner is the winner.
The really cool thing about Summoner Wars is that you get this big fantasy battle using some fairly small decks. There’s lots of variety within the decks, and there’s a lot of variety between the decks – none of the factions play like any of the other ones. It’s nice and portable, and there’s a ton of tactical decisions to be made. I like it, I just don’t get to play it much. Good thing there’s an iOS app.
Pixel Tactics is a 2012 game that was designed by D. Brad Talton and published by Level 99 Games. It was originally part of the Minigame Library, but proved to be so popular that it got a sequel and a second edition, both being released soon. The game is set in the world of Indines (a Level 99 property) and is a tactical fighting game where the position of your units matters.
The game is set up with a leader chosen to go in the center of your army. There are eight theoretical spaces around it which form waves – three in the front (the vanguard), two to the sides (the flank), and three in the back (the rear). The game proceeds in waves – one player will resolve vanguard, then the other; then they’ll move on to flank; then the rear. On your turn, you can recruit a unit (play it in an empty space); make an attack (melee, ranged, or use a power); reorganize (move a unit to another spot); play an order from your hand; clear a corpse to make room for another card; or draw. Each card can do different things based on its position in the army. When one player’s leader falls, the other player wins. You play best-of-three or best-of-five in a typical session.
Pixel Tactics is a great game. It’s a lot of fun, and there are a ton of ways to use each card. With just 25 cards per side, you’d think it would be limited in its replayability, but with five different options for each card, plus the different times each one comes out of your deck, every game is going to work differently. You should definitely check it out, particularly if you like fighting games.
Dungeon Twister (2004) is a game designed by Christophe Boelinger that was published by Asmodee. The game is a dungeon crawl where the object is to score five points by killing characters, grabbing items, and making it out of the dungeon. It’s a game that has very little luck – the only luck you’re going to get is in the setup as the eight tiles are randomly distributed face down.
At the beginning of the game, each player selects a team of four characters that get placed on a starting line. The other four characters, plus all items you have, are placed face down on the face down tiles. When a character flips one of these face down tiles, each player gets to place the other player’s stuff. On your turn, you will select an action card that tells how many action points you get in the round (2-5). You can the move around the dungeon, attack other characters (with a pick a card and reveal your strength mechanism), rotate tiles, pick up items, and try to make it off the board. Each character you get off the other side of the board gets you a point, and each character you kill gets you a point. The first to five points wins.
Dungeon Twister is a fascinating game because it’s a real back and forth battle. You can choose how many action points you want to use, but that number of points won’t be available again until you’ve cycled through all the cards. You want to put yourself in a good position to move through the dungeon, but you have to be aware of the potential for tiles to rotate. Characters have special powers that will help you, but it still takes some very careful planning. It’s a highly strategic game, and a good one.
Kamisado is a abstract strategy game from 2008. It was designed by Peter Burley, and is currently being published by HUCH! and Friends. The game is played on an 8×8 grid, much like checkers or chess, but the squares are all one of eight different colors. Each player has eight pieces, one per color, and these pieces all begin on their matching color of their home row. The object of the game is to get one of your pieces to your opponent’s home row. On the first turn, you may move any piece any number of spaces forward in a straight line. On each subsequent turn, you must move the piece indicated by the color the previous piece landed on. If the piece can’t move, your opponent gets another move. When a piece reaches the other side, the player scores a point and that piece turns into a sumo. This piece can’t move quite as far, but can push a piece that is right in front of it. If a sumo reaches the opposite side, it scores two points and becomes a double sumo. And so on. You play a best-of-X number of matches, and the first one to win a majority is the winner.
Kamisado is a really good intellectual experience. You have to move a certain piece, so you need to try to set yourself up so when your opponent moves, they are forced to set up a good move for you. You have to think ahead, which is especially tough since your opponent determines which piece you need to move. I’ve been playing this one on Yucata.de, and I really enjoy it.
The Duke is another abstract strategy game, this one designed by Jeremy Holcomb and Stephen McLaughlin that was published in 2013 by Catalyst Games. This game is probably the most similar to chess on this entire list – it shares similar tactics and similar goals, but with some twists that I think elevate it to a new level.
The Duke is played on a 6×6 grid, and you begin with only three pieces on the board – your Duke and two Footmen. Players take turns either moving a piece or drawing a new piece from the bag. The new piece must be placed next to your Duke. The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s Duke, and in this way, it’s like chess. All the pieces have unique movements, which again is like chess, but that’s where the similarities end. The most intriguing aspect of the game is that the pieces, which are double-sided wooden squares, have different moves on the front and the back. When you move a piece, you flip it over so it will move differently the next time. It really takes things to an all new level.
I really like The Duke, mostly because it is so varied. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with chess, but it’s been so analyzed that you are at a severe disadvantage if you aren’t familiar with all the strategies. With The Duke, you can know all the pieces, but the randomness of how they come out to the board means that it will be virtually impossible to come up with a strategy that will work every time. It’s a great game, and I think it will appeal to people who both like chess and those who find it intimidating due to the skill differential.
Morels is a game designed by Brent Povis and self-published by his company Two Lantern Games in 2012. Morels is a game about picking mushrooms in a forest, cooking them up, and scoring points. The game centers around an ever changing path, a line of eight cards from the day deck. On your turn, you can take a card from this path (the forest), paying walking sticks if it’s too far from the end. You can also take all cards from the decay, which is where cards go once they have expired from the path. You could choose to cook a set of at least three like mushrooms for points, or sell at least two like mushrooms for walking sticks. Your final option is to play a pan, which is necessary for cooking.
When your turn is over, the card that is closest to the decay (the oldest card left) moves into the decay. If this would put the total cards there at more than four, discard all cards in the decay before adding. This means that the display of available cards is going to be changing throughout the game. There are special cards – baskets allow you to hold more cards in hand, pans help you cook, butter and cider increase the value of your mushrooms, destroying angels make you discard cards, and night cards are used as two mushrooms when making a set.
Morels has a really neat theme – I don’t particularly like mushrooms myself, but this does make the whole process of picking them and cooking them sound appetizing. The concept of having an ever-changing path is a cool aspect of the game. I got to play this as a demo at GenCon last year, and as time has gone on, I’ve regretted not picking it up. Definitely one to check out.
Finally, Famiglia is a 2010 card game designed by Friedemann Friese and published in the US by Rio Grande. It’s a Mafia themed game where players are trying to collect the most gangsters through set collection. Each player begins with four value zero cards, one from each family (green mercenaries, yellow brutes, blue accountants, and the red famiglia). Six gangsters start out in the street. On your turn, you claim one gangster from the street – either a zero (if there aren’t any, you can discard a gangster and draw new ones), or one valued 1-4. In order to claim the 1-4, you need two gangsters valued one below the number you want – so, two zeros for a 1, two ones for a 2, etc. One of the cards you used to claim a gangster goes into your play area, and won’t be available to help you claim more.
Each family has a special power – accountants make gangsters cheaper; brutes frighten gangsters down to a lower value; mercenaries can be used as another gangster when claiming; and the famiglia gives you more VPs. The game ends when you’ve gone through the deck twice, and the winner is the player with more points.
I’ve only played Famiglia on Yucata.de, but it’s one I’ve enjoyed. I like the back and forth, and it’s definitely a puzzle trying to figure out how to best get the gangsters you want. There’s not much interaction between the players, it’s just kind of a race to get the gangsters you want. It’s one I’m terrible at, but I do like it, and would really love to play it in person someday.
And that’s the list! Thanks for joining me, and thanks for reading!