Ghoti gave jack Patchwork to celebrate their second, traditionally cotton, anniversary. I fell for it instantly. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised since it's by Uwe Rosenberg who also made two of my other favourite games, Agricola and Loyang, but it's good in a really different way from those games. It's one of those games that really hits the sweet spot of emergent complex tactical play with really very simple yet original rules. It's almost an abstract game, though the quilting flavour is adorable.
I have only played once but I almost wanted to turn round and start all over again as soon as we finished my first game. It feels as if there's a lot of scope for quite subtle tactical play, an impression which at least is borne out by discussion of the game on BGG. I really enjoyed trying to figure out which tiles were the best value in terms of eventual VP for the cost, a calculation which shifts each turn and isn't completely deterministic because things like "how well it fits on the board" are not readily quantifiable. It's also really really accessible, the rules can be explained in minutes and I'm pretty certain there aren't any tricky edge cases where you'd need to debate the exact meaning of wording or look up / adjudicate how to handle a particular combination. Basically each turn you buy a tile or take income and if applicable place your tile in your grid, and that's all there is to it, but the precise details of the mechanic work really well.
The sensual as opposed to intellectual appeal of the game was somewhat marred for me because the build quality just isn't great. If you're using buttons as currency, why on earth provide cardboard tokens with pictures of buttons on as opposed to actual buttons? And the polyomino tiles themselves are not well enough cut to fit together pleasingly, which seems a great shame in a tile laying game!
Then with OSOs I played Brass, which Ghoti had given cjwatson for their copper anniversary present. But they don't get to play it very much because it's designed for minimum three players. Brass was fun in about the opposite way to Patchwork. It's rather complex, bordering on unnecessarily so, and the rules are not extremely user-friendly. OTOH it's really amazingly flavourful without being simulationist, being based on the development of the mechanized cotton industry in the north of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It's very clearly situated in a real world time and place, and I did love having a board with Liverpool and Manchester and Burnley and Oldham.
It took really a long time to set up, mainly reading the rules (as OSOs hadn't played recently enough to remember what to do), but some amount of faff with sorting tiles as well. Once we got started it played fairly quickly, and would probably be quicker if we were more familiar with it. It has a very nice balance of resource management and track laying, particularly in the way it makes it possible but more difficult to build in cities not connected to your network. And it has very cheap loans so that income rarely feels limiting, which again fits with the industrial revolution flavour, and makes the game not too frustrating.
The problem with the deeply historical flavour is that I felt a bit conscious that the game completely glosses over the role of slavery in the cotton trade. I mean, lots of Eurogames rather romanticize colonialism, but with the specific historical context beyond just conquering territory or plundering treasure, it felt a bit pointed. So it's not a game I'd recommend to people who are going to find that upsetting. Nor to inexperienced gamers really; it's just slightly fiddly, though very enjoyable once you get your head round how to play.
While the adults were playing the littles were playing Wii games, Skylanders and a deeply cute chasing game from Nintendo Land. I'm really impressed with the way the Wii seems to use some of the advances in gaming technology to implement classic-style games. I remember when jack got a Wii and I so nearly took up video gaming again in a big way, but at the time there were just very few games available for the console. Now it's much better; Skylanders is impressing me a lot because it's clearly pitched at children without being childish or cutesie, it has decent graphics and a deep, complex storyline, but it's mechanically easy to play (even for someone like me who in fact never really got into console gaming) and not pointlessly violent. Andreas invited me to play co-op with him for some of the evening, and is clearly really engaged imaginatively.
I also managed to squeeze in a round of Don't Panic (a list things in categories game) with the children between Brass and dinner. Any game of that type is going to rely on world knowledge a bit, but they're both getting good at it. (Even a few months ago, Andreas was a bit confused by the idea of things in a category rather than just free-associating, and now he completely gets it. And Judith is barely at a disadvantage compared to an adult, except with categories that rely on general knowledge she happens not to have.)
So yay, happy gamer.
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