Session Buzz: Couples Game Night

My wife and I recently moved to Colorado Springs, and have been happy to find that there’s a pretty thriving gamer culture here.  There’s a pretty active board game group, as well as five or six local game stores.  One of these is Petrie’s Family Games, and they have an annual Couples Game Night the weekend before Valentine’s Day.  It comes complete with dessert, wine tasting (if that’s your sort of thing), and lots of two-player games to play with your significant other.  We went to the event, and I thought I’d highlight the four games we got to play during the evening.

image by BGG user LoreChase
image by BGG user LoreChase

Onitama is a 2014 designed by Shimpei Sato and originally published in Japanese by conception.  In 2016, Arcane Wonders published a new version as part of their Dice Tower Essentials line, and that’s the version I got to play.  It’s an abstract game for two players only that is a kind of distilled version of games like Chess and The Duke.  It comes with four student pawns in each color, an master of each color, 16 cards, and a mouse pad board showing a 5×5 grid.  Each player’s pawns start on their side of the board, and each player is dealt two cards which are kept face up in front of them.  A fifth card is dealt out to the side, and will indicate which player goes first.

On your turn, you choose one of the two cards in front of you and move your piece to one of the indicated spots.  Boar, for example, can move a piece one to the right, left, or straight ahead; Tiger can jump two spaces forward or move on space back; Monkey can move one space diagonally in any direction.  Once you’ve used a card, you replace the card that was set to the side with the one you used and take the one from the side into your card supply.  This continues until one player has captured the other’s master, or has moved their master into the opponent’ master seat.

My wife and I played two games at the Couples Game Night.  In our first, we had Tiger, Crab, Dragon, Boar, and Cobra.  I managed to pin her in and capture her master with the Dragon.  In our second game, we used Rabbit, Monkey, Elephant, Goose, and Crane.  I was able to win a second time, though this time she conceded when she saw I had pinned her again and every move she could make would result in me capturing her master.  The games were pretty quick, with the small board making for a tighter game than, say, Chess.  I’d compare it even more closely to The Duke, which has a slightly larger board (6×6) and similar types of moves, though all pieces here are generally equal and each has the potential to do any move.

We both really enjoyed Onitama.  It wasn’t supremely difficult to pick up, and had a great depth of strategy for such a small game.  I definitely need to play this one some more.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Santorini is a 2004 game by Dr. Gordon Hamilton that was republished in late 2016 by Roxley Games.  It’s a game for 2-4 players, and uses the distinctive architecture of the island of Santorini, Greece to form the basis of the game.  The game comes with a board, which shows a 5×5 grid for building.  This board also has a cliff pedestal and an ocean base to give a 3D effect.  There are 72 building pieces, including bases, middle sections, top pieces, and domes.  Additionally, there are six builder minis and 30 god cards.

At the start of the basic game, each player places their builders on the board.  Then you take turns doing two actions – first, move; second, build.  To move, just take one of your builders and move it to an unoccupied adjacent space (even diagonal).  Then, put a building piece in an unoccupied adjacent space (even diagonal).  The object of the game is to get one of your builders to the third level of a building, so you have to try to maneuver yourself into position for this while trying to prevent your opponent from doing it first.  Builders can only move on the level they are on, or up/down one level, so you can try to block by building in front of them.  Also, once a dome is on the building (essentially the fourth level), no one can climb to the top anymore.  You can also win by making it so your opponent can’t move anymore.

Our first game of Santorini was played just using the basic rules.  I managed to win by making it to the third level of a building away from the blocking ability of my wife.  We then played a second game using the god cards.  Each god card adds a special ability to the players.  In our game, I was Pan, who has an alternate win condition – if he can jump down two levels, he wins.  My wife was Hephaestus, who can build two blocks at a time in the same place.  I managed to set up a situation for myself where I was on the second level and had two possible places to jump, so I managed to win the second game as well.

My wife was all for playing a third game, but I’m always leery about potentially burning out on a game by playing it too many times in a row, so we moved on.  We both really enjoyed it,  however, and look forward to playing again.  It’s very simple to learn, and has a lot going on.

image by BGG user jorgkuck
image by BGG user jorgkuck

Mr. Jack is a two-player deduction game originally published in 2006 by Hurrican Games.  It was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc.  In the game, one player is Jack the Ripper, and the other must discover his identity before the Ripper escapes, or before time runs out.  This is a game I’ve wanted to play for a long time, but never had the opportunity before.  So, we played.  It comes with a board, eight character discs, a round marker, eight character tiles, eight alibi tiles, a darkness/light tile, and various other tokens representing closed manholes, lit streetlights, and closed off exits.

In each round, four character tiles are revealed.  One player will choose one and do the corresponding action, then the other will choose two and do their actions.  The first player gets to do the action of whatever character is left.  At the end of the round, Jack reveals if he is in the dark or illuminated, and a new round is played with the order of the draft reversed.

What really drives the game is the special abilities of the different characters.  John Smith can turn lights off and on.  Sherlock Holmes can peek at a suspect card to see someone Jack is not.  Mr. Gull can switch places with someone else instead of taking a regular move.  Jeremy Bert can move manhole covers around the board.  Ms. Stealthy can move through obstacles.  John Watson has a flashlight that can illuminate an extra bit of the board.  Sergeant Goodley can blow his whistle to move characters a total of three spaces towards his position.  Inspector Lestrade moves police cordons, effectively blocking possible exits for Jack.  Jack wins if he can either escape or survive eight rounds.  The other player wins if he can land a character on top of Jack (though if he’s wrong, Jack wins).

Once again, we played two games.  I was Jack in both games as my wife preferred to play the Inspector (I suggested switching after the first game as neither of us had played before, but she wanted to keep her role).  Sherlock Holmes was the culprit in the first game, and I was able to get Mr. Gull next to the exit in the second round, then swapped his position with Holmes in round four and escape.  In the second game, Mr. Gull was the culprit, and my wife had it narrowed down to him and Sherlock, who were right next to each other near an exit in round five.  Sherlock came out as an option, but Mr. Gull was not there.  She chose Holmes, then moved him away from the exit.  So when Mr. Gull was an option in round six and I had first choice, I picked him and escaped.  I told her later that it probably would have been better to take a gamble and jump on me with Holmes, because if she right, she’d win.  If she was wrong, I would have won, but by moving Holmes away, she cleared the way for me to win.

We enjoyed it as a good deduction game.  I think I might get tired of it with too many plays, but it was good enough for this night.  Glad I got to play, now I can check it off my list.

image by BGG user jeston
image by BGG user jeston

I wanted to play one of the GIPF games, but my wife wanted to play something she knew, so Castle Panic it was.  Castle Panic was published in 2009 from designer Justin de Witt and published by Fireside Games.  It’s a 1-6 player cooperative game where players are trying to defend a tower from wave upon wave of nasty enemies.  The game comes with a board, 49 cards, 49 monster tokens, 6 walls, 6 towers, one Tar token, two Fortify tokens, and plastic stands for the walls and towers.

On a turn, you first refill your hand to six cards.  Then, you can discard one to draw another and/or trade with other players.  Then you attack the monsters by playing cards.  Once you’ve finished this, the monsters move towards the center of the map towards your walls and towers.  Each monster will take out a wall or tower when they hit it.  Finally, you draw two new monster tokens and add them to the map.  This continues unit you have defeated all monsters, or until the monsters have taken down every tower you have.

My wife and I had both played this game before, but it’s been a few years.  After a quick refresher, we went for it.  We ended up with one wall and two towers left, which is a win.  We didn’t play with the stupid scoring rule, where there’s one winner based on who slew the most points worth of monsters.  We had fun, but kind of had to blitz through the last half of the game as the game night was ending and most people had left.  We were glad to have ended the game on a positive note – if nothing else, cooperative games are REALLY good to play on a date because you either lose together or win together, but you’re together.

Overall, it was a great date, and we’ll be doing that again.  My wife even said it was probably the best Valentine’s date we’ve ever been on, so that’s either a great testament to the event or a horrible indictment of my Valentine’s plans up until this point.  Either way, it was a lot of fun to share some gaming time with my best friend.

Thanks for reading!


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