At some point every gamer looks at their shelf and finds a game that makes them say, "How do I own this?" Maybe it's because there's an interesting story to how they got it, maybe it's a game they haven't played in a while (or at all), or maybe it's the leftover cruft of fads and collections long past. After several moves I wanted to take the opportunity to look at every game I own, and to really reflect on why I still own it, and whether I have much reason to.
15 Dias: The Spanish Golden Age
How did I get it? Every year Fortress: Ameritrash (now There Will Be Games) has run a "Secret Satan" for Christmas. The idea is to send each other stupid or forgotten games, with maybe some gems thrown in there. I didn't participate last year (2018), but the year before I was preparing for an international move to the Philippines. The person who had my name, who was from outside the US, sent a small game to my American address, and then told me they would send a proper package when I had an address overseas. This particular game was from the first package, though whether it qualifies as a forgotten game or a gem is open for debate.
Why do I still have it? Inertia, mostly.
How is it? I pride myself on playing just about everything I own, but this one has eluded my table thus far. The truth is that my international move severely shortened my time playing board games, and from the rules this one looks a little arcane. It also looks like it plays best with an even number, and more than four, so it's a game in search of a unicorn session. The premise is underhanded court politics in Rennaissance Spain, which could probably describe a lot of other games as well, but it looks suitably backstabby, so it's probably not going anywhere. (It helps that the box is small too.) The rules have given me trouble on a couple of game attempts, but who knows, I might not have had enough coffee the last time I tried.
7 Wonders Duel
How did I get it? Another indirect result of the big international move. This one came from some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket. I took a risk on this one, because I've never liked the original game very much, finding it too abstract and repetitive for what is ostensibly a civ game. Truthfully, I took an even bigger risk by purchasing the Pantheon expansion at the same time. I've actually done this a few times, and it always feels like I'm courting disaster.
Why do I still have it? Originally the intent was for this to be a good two-player game for my wife and I while we waited for our other personal effects to make the trip across the Pacific ocean. She played a few times and liked it okay, but it turns out my nine-year-old son is a pretty big fan of it. It's become a regular feature of our game sessions together. The lesson here is never buy a game with the intent of your spouse playing it, but also that at least one of your kids will end up liking the same kinds of games you do.
How is it? A couple of changes from the original 7 Wonders make Duel way better. The first is the new drafting method, which makes decisions on which cards to take way more interesting. The cards are laid out in a little pyramid with about half of them visible from the beginning, allowing you to both anticipate your opponent several moves ahead and to get lucky when the perfect card is revealed. It's way more interesting than the plain ol' draft in the original game. The other improvement is some instant win conditions, although the science victory is not very likely without the expansion. These give the science and military some much needed thematic flavor, and the threat of an instant win adds a bit of dimension to card choice.The Pantheon expansion is good too, if not strictly necessary. It adds a few one-shot powers from various gods that can spin the game in some interesting directions, though the expansion comes at the cost of maybe a shade too much complexity. With or without the expansion though, 7 Wonders Duel is probably the best miniaturized adaptation of a big game I've ever played.
How did I get it? Like many board gamers, Acquire was one of the very first hobby games I ever tried. I played that first game on the opulent 1999 edition, then still in print. I had fine ideas of buying it for many years after, but I never got around to it, and then it went out of print. I did play it a couple more times, but some bad experiences with losing badly put me off of the game for several years. But I came around again, and traded for a copy. No fancy plastic hotels for me though; I went with the version from the 1960s, which looks like a prop from the set of Mad Men.
Why do I still have it? The pace of game releases is so fast these days that older designs, even ones as good as Acquire, have a hard time making a case for themselves. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast bring this one back in print every now and then, so it stays in the consciousness over fifty years after its original release. I try to do my part by making sure every board gamer gets a chance to play it.
How is it? My enjoyment of Acquire is based more around its status in the hobby than sheer pleasure at playing it. The abstractions of stocks and mergers are really terrific, especially since they use the familiar gaming vocabulary of placing tiles. I also admire how it makes ownership ambiguous, something that I imagine felt truly revolutionary in the 1960s. But do I actually enjoy it? Mostly, though it's the sort of game I will only ever win by accident. I am altogether too quick to commit to a particular chain that goes nowhere, and this is not the sort of game that coddles you if you make bad decisions. Still, it's a genuine classic that holds up very well after several decades, which is something only a couple of other games can claim.
How did I get it? This was one of the first real blockbuster games I remember after I got into the hobby. Agricola took Essen by storm in the autumn of 2007, and it was one of those FOMO games before it was clear whether an English edition would see the light of day. That did eventually happen thanks to Z-Man games, who at the time were basically known for their new game, Pandemic, and little else. When the English edition finally dropped, my friend Brad came over and taught me how to play it. I enjoyed it so much we set it up and played again right away. I then promptly told my wife that we just had to get it.
Why do I still have it? Agricola was my first major exposure to the worker placement genre, and it froze my opinion of that mechanic in amber for several years. I've played so much that I now view its many imperfections with fondness. I never really needed the newer rebalanced edition, or the Farmers on the Moor expansion, because I already loved what was there. In hindsight, Agricola represented the apotheosis of Eurogame design for me in 2008. As it turned out, very little else in that genre could measure up, and for years it was the last big Eurogame I still loved. I've come around on euros more in recent years, and Agricola has not seen much action in the last five years or so, but I still am up for a game just about any time.
How is it? After so many games it's tough to view this one with any objectivity, but some flaws have become apparent. The speeding up of the harvest is very gamey, and the last turn is usually a bit of a slog while people figure out how they will feed their families and wring a couple more points out of their farms. I have the original edition with some 350 cards as well, and some of those cards are kinda crappy, which means that much of how the game will play out is set by how those cards are dealt. But those cards are also what has made me love the game, because they make what would otherwise be a pretty stuffy severe game into a completely different experience every time. That kind of variety in a game like this was unheard of in 2007-2008. Some are very strong indeed, but there is a pretty high opportunity cost to putting them in play and using them, because of the constant pressure to feed your family. Anyway the game has never felt deterministic to me, even if it might actually be that way. And there's some kind of ineffable pleasure in seeing that completed farm at the end of the game.
How did I get it? Does anyone else make an annual game purchase right around the time their income tax refund comes in? I've made the tax return purchase many times, which is what Argent was. This particular purchase came at a time when I was spending very little of my own money on games, but the word of mouth from friends and colleagues was good enough that I even felt compelled to pick up the Mancers of the University expansion along with it.
Why do I still have it? Argent is the game that finally dethroned Agricola as my favorite worker placement game. Its combination of card effects, direct competition, and remarkable variability has always been something of an addiction for me. This is one of those games that I have tried to get played whenever possible, and when it clicks with someone the results have been magical. The second edition Kickstarter from a couple years ago allowed old owners to back an upgrade kit with improved and corrected components, and a couple of small expansions. It's more game than I could ever possibly need in a single box, and I'll take all I can get.
How is it? Not a lot of games can impart a sense of specific location as well as Argent. The magical university has a lot of specificity to it, even if most of that detail is folded into the rulebook and flavor text. A lot of people have compared it to Hogwarts, though I have always thought it bared more resemblence to Brakebills University in The Magicians. Anyway, I feel like Argent is able to make a case for itself as its own setting pretty well, kind of like an anime series that never got produced. (Others will probably disagree with me here.) This is also an absurdly generous design, one which takes on completely different feelings depending on what cards and rooms are active. Mercifully the rulest itself is pretty contained, although the wild variability makes it a time-consuming learning experience sometimes. You can even play with six people, though so far I'm the only person I know who has been willing to do this more than once. I felt a little guilty allowing it to dethrone Agricola as my favorite in the genre, but it has frankly redefined what I think worker placement is capable of. That's good enough to stay in my collection forever.
Next week: A new award winner, and a thematic classic that works about half the time.