My partner and I enjoy the occasional modern board game. There has been a renaissance in high quality board games in recent years. If you haven’t tried any of the new European-style I can recommend giving one a try - they are very different to, and much better than the old Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit style games. However, there is a problem. Most require more than two players for the best experience. So the two of us can only play when we convince others to join us.
As part of a Christmas gift we recently bought three board games that supposedly work just fine with only two players. The other requirement was nothing with a fantasy or science-fiction theme. We bought: Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small; Carcassonne; and, a third I’ll detail in another post (it is so good it deserves a post all to itself).
Carcassonne is a tile placement placement game with a medieval French theme. Each player takes a random tile (no peeking) from the remaining pile and places it on the board. The tiles show parts of an old countryside with roads, cities, fields, rivers and monasteries on them. When placing a tile, it must share at least one edge with a tile already on the board, and must continue any features in adjoining tiles. So roads just can’t stop at the edge of a field. The tiles are built so that there is nearly always somewhere to put them, it might just be that none of the available positions help you much. In this way the countryside constructed should be consistent, although it may look a little strange (with roads running in loops and awkwardly truncated cities). The comment at the table was that the French King should sack the person laying out roads and cities as they were such a mess.
After placing a tile, the player has the choice to place a meeple (a little wooden person) on it. Depending on where the meeple is placed the player can “claim” a city, road, field or monastery. Then once that feature is completed the player scores depending on it’s size. However, there are only 7 meeples per person and 72 tiles, so careful placement is required as the meeple can’t be placed again until the feature it is placed upon is complete. Soon players are placing tiles to maximise their claimed features or make it harder for their opponents to finish theirs.
Playing a full game takes around an hour, as players struggle to determine best position for their new tile and then decide if it is worth their last meeple. After four games, I haven’t got all the strategy down yet. So far all the games have been won by building cities in the early game, sniping small points in the middle, followed by careful placement of farmers in the last third of the game.
We have played Carcassonne with both 2 and 3 players and it has always worked well (the box says it can be played with up 5 people). All the games have been close all the way through, often with large points swings at the close - they have never been boring. Players concentrate up to the end, hoping for just the right tile to bring them victory (often a tile that allows them to join together some fields or complete the monster sized city they have been building since the beginning).
Carcassonne is a great little game. Definitely worth a try (many game stores, at least here in Malaysia, let you try before you buy). The components are well made (out of cardboard). Once standard play has been mastered, there are a plethora of expansions. The only downside is a large table is required to play! Tabletop has a Carcassonne playthrough video if you are interested.
Agricola: All Creatures Great And Small is the simplified two-player version of the far more complex Agricola board game. I have never played the full version of Agricola, so I can’t comment on the differences. This game not only handles two players well, it is designed specifically for two players and can not be played with more.
The first thing you notice is the small box - it could easily be carried around to events or even the coffeshop. The playing area required is fairly small too and a game takes around half an hour. It is an easy game to just pick up and play. The components are also beautiful. Thick cardboard for the bases and little wooden animals. Also all the cardboard pieces are doubled sided, but the non-playing sides show an abandoned farm - a nice touch. Looking at these pieces makes me think of other game ideas which could use them.
Agricola: All Creatures Great And Small is a worker placement game with a subsistence farming theme. Each turn the players can place one of their two worker tokens onto a spot on the worker options board. This then blocks the other player from placing one of their workers in the same spot. Each spot on the board provides a different set of materials. These range from fences to build fields (long yellow rectangles) or materials then can be used later to construct buildings, or animals to put into your fields. Points are scored for the number of buildings and animals on your farm.
The game ends after 8 turns of placing tokens, collecting materials and making use of them (if possible). This means that our games have turned into a sprint of farm improvement. It ends long before plans can be fully realised (and long before it outstays its welcome). So far, one player’s placement of workers has had little negative effect on the other player. Perhaps this is because we haven’t worked out the proper strategy yet. At the moment we try many different things. Often one player focuses on expanding their farm to its maximum extent with large fields before filling them with animals, the other creates small fields and immediately puts animals in them, upgrading as time permits. So far the later tactic has been more successful.
Scoring is on the basis on the number of animals and certain farm improvements. Interesting, if a player has less than 3 of any type of animal then a penalty is applied. If the player has more than 3 then a bonus is given depending on the animal. Horses are worth the most, sheep the least.
A quick, easy and fun game. Again, worth a try.