This is the first installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. First up: Two Player Games.
My Best Two Player Game award goes to Famiglia, but there were many other solid and fun games in this category, notably Mirror, Mirror and The Kingdoms of Crusaders. An honorable mention also goes to Jaipur, a 2010 Spiel des Jahres Recommended title which played for the first time this year and also loved. Also worth noting is the excellent What's My Word?, a two-player game that will appear in another installment under "Word Games". Of the two-player games you learned this year, what was your favourite?
Famiglia is a clever little two-player card game from Friedemann Friese that was first released at Essen 2010. It flew under the radar for quite some time and only in the last half a year is it finally getting some of the interest and attention it deserves. It's different - and that's immediately obvious by looking at the box, which is amusingly and cleverly designed to look just like a cigar box. I was initially sceptical about the game, and the mafia theme and artwork didn't help matters. But if you can overlook the fact that cards with tattooed mobsters might not be ideal candidates for a family-friendly game, there's a remarkable little hand management game to discover here. It has deck-building and set collection elements, offers fresh mechanics, and comes in an attractive package.
The cards feature four families, and players try to recruit more powerful and higher point scoring cards using a type of pyramid scheme: the usual way this works is that you need two cards of the same value and colour, in order to get the card of the next highest value in that colour (e.g. you'd need two yellow 2s in order to take a yellow 3 from the Street). The basic concept of the game may seem rather simple, and it would indeed be boring if that's all that the game offered - but what really makes this game shine is that three of the four families have special abilities which allow you to exchange cards, reduce their value, or act as wild cards.
It can take a few plays to click, but when it does, you may find yourself playing multiple sessions in row! The theme and artwork won't please everyone, but those who aren't put off by this will find something that rivals some of the best of the Kosmos two-player series, and it's continued to get regular play here over the last year. Famiglia is certainly one of the best new two player card games I've played in a while. And yes, Aldie and Derk's names really are featured as characters in the game!
Want to know more? See my full review: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Friedemann Friese's deck-building pyramid scheme (featuring Aldie & Derk)
Considering that this 2011 game originated with the designer being given a bunch of small round mirrors, a bag of wooden balls, a paint tray, and the challenge of a year to turn those into a game, Jacob Davenport has done an outstanding job of creating an enjoyable two-player game.
The objective of Mirror, Mirror is to move pieces (some of the moves are like chess) on the board, and try to capture your opponent's piece that is carrying a red letter - somewhat similar to the idea of capturing the "Flag" in Stratego. The characters all have `letters' on the reverse side, so they're hidden from view, and only one is red. But you can move your pieces - which have these awesome mirrors on them - into a position behind enemy lines so that you can spy on his pieces and see what colour letters they are carrying.
It's best described as playing a speedy and fun Stratego but with mirrors. Some of the mechanics certainly are more reminiscent of Stratego than Chess, but it's on a smaller playing field, and in much quicker game time. Add in a small element of deduction, a dash of tactics with regard to moving and positioning your pieces, a light-hearted and fun theme, colourful and quality components, and that's Mirror, Mirror! While being an abstract game at its core, it doesn't feel at all like an abstract, and is very fun to play and deduce. It also plays very quickly (15-20 minutes), so it doesn't get bogged down with analysis paralysis. Altogether these elements make Mirror Mirror stand out head and shoulders above your average chess-like abstract as a very clever and a novel two-player game worthy of attention.
Want to know more? See my full review: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Imagine playing Stratego with mirrors!
The Kingdoms of Crusaders
Straight from Moscow comes The Kingdoms of Crusaders, a cute little two-player game that's highly reminiscent of Battle Line, but with less card-counting and arguably simpler and quicker. It became available in an English edition for the first time at Essen 2011.
Players place cards competing for five territories, with best of five winning. Each territory will have players placing a total of four cards, much like Battle Line, but the winner is determined by combinations of symbols, the winner being the player who can get the most four-of-a-kinds and/or three-of-a-kinds.
There's a good dollop of luck, but who cares given that you can play it in 10 minutes flat. The crusade style artwork from 19th century artist Gustav Dore is a nice touch, even if the theme is pasted on. A very worthwhile little filler from our Russian gaming friends!
Want to know more? See my full review: Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Hey, it's a great Russian take on Battle Line & Lost Cities (sort of)
Even though I didn't get around to reviewing it personally, Jaipur deserves inclusion as one of the very best two player games I learned in the past year. Not only was it in the 2010 Spiel des Jahres Recommended list, but it picked up several awards, including the 2010 International Gamers Award in the Two-Player category, and it's proved to be a very popular little game among gamers ever since.
The box contains a deck of cards and scoring tokens. The game has players function as traders in the city of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan in India. You're going to be buying and exchanging cards from the market, trying to collect sets of goods such as leather, spice, cloth, silver, gold, diamonds, which you'll then trade in for points. There are also camel cards, which allow you to trade multiple cards at once, and this mechanic is part of the genius of the game.
Altogether it just comes together in a way that is tense and rhythmic, to make up a package that rivals some of the best lighter two-player card games out there. While luck-of-the-draw certainly plays a significant role, there's enough room for decisions and it plays quickly enough to make it addictive. The nice components also enhance its case as a superlative choice for casual gaming with a spouse or friend.
Want to know more? See a full review: Diamond in the Rough - A Dice Hate Me Review of Jaipur
Castaways of Deadmans Bay
Castaways of Deadmans Bay is a very fun and super quick bluffing game, where the game-play is virtually reduced to rock-paper-scissors style bluffing in its purist form.
As pirates in this two player game, you engage in a battle of wits with your opponents: will you choose Insult, Strike, or Charge? Players simultaneously choose and reveal cards, and the winning player will be able to trigger various actions on his opponent, such as pushing him backwards (Charge), lose crew (Insult), or lose life (Strike). The impact increases in the closing stages, so the tension ramps up as the game progresses.
You win by sending your opponent off the plank, stealing all his crew, or reducing his health to zero. It's a very simple mechanism, but works very well, and really does justice to the pirate theme. A fine new 2011 release from a new designer.
Want to know more? See my full review: Like En Garde but for pirates: a 13 year old girl reviews a new two-player bluffing game (with pictures!)
Join the discussion: What is the best new two-player game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?
Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games