Something old, something new

I finally played Tobago this past week.  I now understand why it is getting some support for the Spiel des Jahre (German prize for Game of the Year).  First off, it is a good game.  Secondly, it is a beautiful game.  And while it isn’t really a simple game, I’d not call it complex.  Considering Dominion won last year’s prize, I would think Tobago is reasonably accessible.  Since the Spiel des Jahre is aimed at the typical German family, they do not tend to select really complex games.

I also played Vasco de Gama for the first time ever earlier this week.  I enjoyed the game, but would not expect it to be a contender for Spiel des Jahre.  While some might call it a medium-weight game, there were enough interlocking mechanisms to make me work a bit to sort out what a viable plan might be.

Both of these games do a good job of making the players explore how the game system is designed.  You have to understand how amulets can affect the course of play in Tobago.  Cause if you don’t, you may suddenly be surprised by how busy your opponents will be once they have grabbed them.  Likewise, in Vasco de Gama, you must bid a indeterminate amount of resources to pick the sequence in which you will place your workers.  But even more – the game systems amplify the risks your opponents pose.  In Tobago, opponents may use amulets to gain more of a treasure that you thought was going to mostly your own.  In Vasco de Gama, opponents vie for the sequencing so they can get the limited resources available.

Which brings me to the “something old”.  We played Shark at the bistro Tuesday night.  Shark has a stark set of rules.  On your turn you can buy or sell, then you roll a couple of dice and place the 1 building you must, and then buy/sell.  There are a couple of details, but the rules are not convoluted.  But the game still offers lots of interesting decisions.  But rather than the complexity of the game system – Shark uses your greed and your opponent’s avarice to set up tricky situations.  Not everyone I game with likes this game, but several do.  I find it interesting that this game with very simple rules can make me think just as hard on what my best options are as a game such as Vasco de Gama which has a noticeable amount of rules.

Another game, Brass, is a game with even more of an overburden of rules.  Brass is in my top 25 games – but it is not a game I lightly suggest.  Many players will despair of understanding the game before the explanation is complete.  It’s of a class of games, I do not know how to effectively teach a new player how to be competitive in their first game.  In Brass there are enough complexities in the rules, that there are likely opportunities for clever play that I still have not yet discovered.  A rewarding game indeed.

But complexity does not necessarily = depth.  I tend to usually think it does.  But Shark reminded me this week, that simple rules can sometimes tease out situations that have more to consider than you would guess.  Another recent game added to the collection is The Climbers.  In the Climbers, there are few rules, but some real depth of decision.  Blokus also comes to mind – a game with 2 or 3 rules, yet lots of replay value.  Depth.

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