Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

I have never played the big-box version of Agricola, but I saw this little 2-player version on sale at a local game store (shout out to and couldn't resist it.

The first time I tried reading the instructions aloud to a friend, we were in a Whole Foods cafe. It was just us at one table and three businesspeople at another table. One of the men was pontificating so loudly in the open space that his voice echoed everywhere, filling my head with his noise and making it nearly impossible to concentrate on the rulebook I was reading. So before we tried to play, we gave up and pulled out a game we already knew well.

When I got home I gave this one a try again. At first run-through, the directions seem REALLY complicated. But you just have to find the answers to a few basic questions, and then play a round or two. Then it starts to click.

The parts of the game are basically all placeholders so that you can keep track of the animals you've bought and bred, the land you've developed, and the turns you've taken. So you have lots of little pieces in the game: buildings, fences/walls, wood, stone, wheat, workers (represented by disks -- I want meeples!), sheep, pigs, cows and horses.

During setup, each player gets a farm board containing 6 grids and a Cottage. You also each get 9 yellow fences/walls (borders) and your workers (three for the red player, three for blue).

On the game board — used by both players — you lay out the starting markers next to any option with a tiny red arrow. Right now ALL of the options are available to both players, but as you take your "work phase" turns, the options start to disappear.

Let me give you an idea of some of the options: On the top left of the board is a half circle with the player disc shown and "1 Wood". In the beginning of the game you choose a starting player, but if someone chooses this space, they get to pick who goes first in the next rounds until the space is chosen again. And they also get one wood (a brown disc).

The player who chooses the half-circle on the top right of the board gets 2 stone. The player who chooses the grid with "+1 trough (yellow structure)" gets to build a trough. If that same player also has a lot of wood on-hand, additional troughs can be built for every 3 wood paid. See? Easy-peasy. But when someone takes that one grid you needed, you should think about trying to get the "first player" grid (the one on the top left that I mentioned earlier).

The player who chooses the grid on the bottom right of the board gets one horse. If no one chooses that grid, then the horse stays and, during the "refill phase" you would add 1 sheep. Add another sheep the following refill phase if the horse and sheep are still there. If you DO take an animal, you'd better have the space on your farm to keep it (an enclosed pasture, a building that allows for animals, a feeding trough — which will also double the number of animals that are in the area).

You use things like the stones and wood to purchase buildings, items and abilities. For example, there is a grid (second to bottom on left) that lets you build a Stall on your farm as long as you have 3 stone and 1 wheat to "pay" for it.  There are also grids that will allow you to build fences, buy more fences, and build more costly special buildings on your farm (or upgrade buildings). Or even add a strip of 3 grids to either side of your farm (you can add up to 4 of these; though there are only four available and you lose points if you don't utilize every space somehow)

After you've played all three of your workers, taking turns with your opponent, and have carried out each action (which you do immediately upon claiming it) there is the "breeding phase". If you have two of the same type of animal sharing an enclosure, you add one more (maximum) of that animal. If you have no room for it, you don't get to add it (and you can try to make room -- there is no limit to how much you can shuffle your animals around, but once your fences and other structures are placed, you can't move them).

Then it's the "refill phase" go back and reset the game board. So, if the wood is gone from the top left grid, you would place a new wood marker there. The 4th grid in the second row asks you to add a fence each turn — there are 8 fences after each player has his/her 9 fences at setup —  once all of those are placed, it is the last round. If a player claims that spot, he/she gets all the fences sitting there (there is always at least one there since you add one from the collection next to the board during each refill phase) AND a farm expansion, if they haven't all been taken.

...So you're taking turns to claim and carry out three actions apiece (from the 17 available actions) in each of 8 rounds, total. See? Easy :)

The goal? To obtain and keep as many animals as possible. Once the last round has been played, you add up your score. Each animal is worth one point. Then there are bonus points that come into play — those are listed on the side of the game box. For example, if you have 1-3 of any type of animal, that is MINUS 3 points per animal type. If you have up to 10 sheep (the easiest animals to collect) you get 1 bonus point. If you have 15 sheep you get 5 bonus points. And each animal has its own different scoring system. There are also some bonus points for some buildings, for completely used expansions, and if you have the Storage Building, you get bonus points for building materials you have at the end of the game. Like Carcassonne, the points can be small, but can add up.

I enjoy the challenge of this game and have even played solitaire versions, where I control both farms and just play against myself, trying to see if I can get some really high scores while trying to block my other self from doing the same. Haha! Yup, I'm a geek. But because it's only 8 rounds, it's a fast game. I'll have to try the big box sometime with more players and see how that goes.

Whew! I kinda went on there. Well, like I said, this game isn't the simplest. But once you play it through the first time it really does all click and makes sense. But if you have any questions, feel free to email me. LOL! ;)

I guess I would say that if you like games like Carcassonne, Catan, The Builders — games where you're working on your own goals while putting some obstacles in front of your opponent, then you'd like All Creatures Big and Small.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Munchkin Loot Letter

Well, how the heck could we resist this? With Munchkin being a beloved game of ours, especially when we're playing with the kids & teens, this was a must-have.

It's basically "Love Letter" Munchkinized. And if you haven't played Love Letter yet, you really should. It is a simple and fun game — small enough to keep on you at all times and pull out in case of gaming emergencies.

Loot Letter is a game for 2-4 players, using only 16 cards. It's a draw-one-play-one game. Each player starts out with one card. The first player (chosen in whatever silly way you want, really) draws a second card from the prepared draw pile ("prepared" because depending upon the number of players, you remove a certain number of cards from the deck so that each round goes a bit differently — remember to return the unused card or cards to the deck before shuffling for the next round).

You choose which card to play: Maybe you have one that lets you see your opponent's hand. Or one that is a high number, so you might want to hang onto it, for the higher the number you have, the better your odds of winning the round. You just basically follow the instructions written on each card. So know your cards! And know what cards are available to the others (this is where the reference cards come in handy). Usually the winner is the last man standing — the person who can cleverly or luckily get everyone else kicked out of the round.

At the end of each round, the winner gets a marker (representing loot), and that person goes first in the next round. First to a certain number of markers (with 2 players you need 7; with 3 players you need 5; with 4 players you need 4) wins the game.

Very fast game, very fun and frustrating at times, but in a good way. We've played This, Love Letter, and Letters from Santa and they are all pretty much the same, just a different theme. So go find a theme you love best! This is mine, and I am gonna keep it in my bag wherever I go. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


We found this old gem at a yard sale for a dollar or two — the decals hadn't even been applied and the plastic pieces were still attached to each other, so it was like new. And I'm glad I didn't pass it by! A 2-player game, Input plays pretty quickly, and after filling my brain with zombie games and RPGs and 60-page rulebooks, sometimes a game like this is just refreshing :) So compared to those more intricate games, it's no wonder boardgame website ratings on this were just so-so. But I think it's well worth pulling off the game shelf every now and then.

Gameplay is pretty simple. One player is red, the other is blue. The diagrams on each piece match the gameboard. Each player's 6 pieces are different, but aside from colors, each player has matching diagrams on their pieces. The hollow circle a the bottom of each of your pieces represents that piece's starting square. And the connected, filled-in circles represent the only path you can take from your starting square. So each piece is preprogrammed, but you control when to put it into play and when to move it.

Each time it is your turn you have three choices to make:

1) Move one of your pieces from your tilted/hidden tray to the "on-deck" square at your right. (you HAVE to do this on your very first move). This square is the only one that can be occupied by multiple pieces — up to three — but whichever one is on top is the only "free" piece.

NOTE: You can never have two pieces occupying the same space on the gameboard. If one of your pieces is in the way of another one of your pieces, you can't move that second piece. If an opponent's piece is in your way, you have captured it and remove it from play (into the storage bins at each side of the board).

2) Move one of your pieces from the "on-deck" square to the gameboard. You have to move it to the corresponding space in the starter row — the one that is in the same location as the hollow circle at the base of your gamepiece (the starter row is marked with dots the same color as your pieces).

3) Move one of your pieces along its designated path. Once it reaches the end of its path — and hasn't been captured — you can then move it back to your tray or back to its corresponding space in the starter row, skipping the "on deck" square. But if you move it back to the tray, then it does have to go to the "on-deck" square the next time you want to put it into play.

As you are moving along the path, there are two things to watch out for: can you take an opponent's piece by landing on it? Can an opponent take yours with his/her next move? You can see where everyone's "next move" is, for the most part — so it is very exciting to see if you can escape from certain doom by forcing your opponent to move the attacking piece before it can attack. I find myself constantly reminding my son: "Are you suuuuuure you want to move there...?"

The winner is the person who has captured all of the opponent's pieces. I have had this end in a stalemate — each of us with one piece, and those pieces never catch up, no matter what we tried. Not enough overlapping filled-in circles on our last diagrams. We could have kept going to see if one of us would make a stupid mistake, but that seemed silly :)

This game seems so simple, is so easy to learn, and yet affords you some unusual gameplay and a fun challenge. It is a little like someone took simple games like Connect-4 or Tic-Tac-Toe and put them on steroids.

It's an older, hard-to-find game (1984) but I have seen pictures of handmade versions of Input — pretty cool! And I guess it would be easy to make, as long as you can find a picture of all six diagrams. But I'm glad I found the sleek plastic gameboard — I love the look and feel of it while we play! (Click here for an image I found of a homemade set.)

Hasbro's website still has a PDF of the rules. Click here to see it.

So don't pass them by just because Chthulu isn't one of the characters — have fun trying the old games that are new to you!