At the work board game club tonight I played a couple of games that were new to me (and neither of which, strictly speaking, involved a board).
The first was a dice game called Age of War. Themed around samurai warriors in feudal Japan, you take turn to roll sets of dice where the numbers have been replaced by symbols representing foot soldiers, archers, cavalry and samurai. Dice can be used to fill in lines on one of the castle cards and the remnant re-rolled – or, if no complete line can be filled, one dice is set aside before re-rolling. As well as tackling cards in the centre, you can attempt to steal ones previously claimed by another player. It was quick to set up, easy to grasp and the kind of thing you could carry around to play as a time filler.
It took me longer to grasp Bohnanza, an early game by renowned designer Uwe Rosenberg (Reiner Knizia is, if anything, more renowned but I haven’t played any of his other games). The theme is … growing beans. Not such a common one as fierce warriors but also entertaining once I’d begun to grasp it. You collect sets of cards depicting different types of beans but various tweaks make it far more than just another Happy Families. For example, different types of beans occur in different amounts – smaller sets tend to have higher rewards but it is more risky to try and build enough to get a decent return when you harvest. You have to harvest often as you only have two fields (a third can be bought by sacrificing some of your gold), which can each only hold one type of bean at a time. As you harvest beans and collect money, you are using the backs of the cards and so the supply of beans goes down over time. The mechanic that was most unusual to me was that you can’t rearrange the cards in your hand but have to play them in the order you get them or – interaction required – trade them with others.
I thought the latter game was going to drag on, especially when I saw that you had to play through three reshuffles of the deck, but it turns out that it goes quicker on the second round and like lightning on the third as so many beans have been converted into gold.
Both were very enjoyable although I think both really benefit from having at least three players (as we had at the table I was at tonight). Bohnanza could perhaps work co-operatively for two as more of a shared patience affair and a glance at Board Game Geek suggests plenty of other variants.