The Liar’s Club

We recently got a new game, called Sheriff of Nottingham.

This is basically a bluffing game, where you take turns being the sheriff and trying to figure out whether or not people are trying to sneak contraband into Nottingham. One thing I like about the game is that you suuuuure learn a lot about the people around you. Ya’ll are LIARS.

I, on the other hand, am clearly the worst liar there ever was, because I am *terrible* at this game, and I always lose horribly. Apparently , I just look really guilty, because everyone thinks I’m lying on every single hand, and they double think I’m lying when I’m actually not lying. However, you can’t win if you never sneak ANY contraband in, so, you know.

Anyway, I decided to try to play with the kids. Technically it is a little old for them (especially Ollie), but I kind of thought perhaps they were lying virtuosos, you know? Lying well beyond their age range.

Well, apparently I was right. I had no sooner finished explaining the complicated rules, when Ollie immediately called two chickens, when what he actually had was zero chickens. I mean, I wasn’t sure if he’d even want to lie to his parents, much less start off on the *very first hand* doing it. Like a pro. I think he lied on pretty much every hand, except the one where he said he had 5 apples which was so clearly and obviously a lie because, 5 apples? Come on!

Evelyn, on the other hand, was stressed out at the very IDEA of this game. It was very clear that she was never going to lie. Which is why when she suddenly got very agitated, holding her head in her hands and unable to sit at the table or even look at me I thought, “gee, I wonder if perhaps she is lying this time?”

Except she was LYING about LYING, tricking me into inspecting her bag when she was actually telling the truth. She played me like putty!

These kids, man. I told you, lying virtuosos.

Weekend, Chicago-style

Even though we live IN THE CITY LIMITS of Chicago, we rarely actually go into the city. Even when people come to visit, we mostly just hang around the neighborhood. So when my siblings came over, we decided to do some of the regular, old-fashioned tourist stops.


You never know what kind of weirdos you’re going to find at The Bean.

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This was as good excuse as any to hit up Cafecito, and then visit everyone’s favorite dinosaur, Sue:


Of course, we also left plenty of time for board games.

I think the most memorable game was The Resistance, which I will have a separate post on coming up soon. But we also introduced some new people to Puerto Rico, and found some time to play Pandemic.

You know, in retrospect, I think I am innately something of a story teller. That’s why I enjoy writing and blogging, and why I always enjoyed role playing games. So, for me, the storytelling aspect is always one of the funnest parts about a game. My brain just tries to fit a narrative to any situation. I would imagine that there are people who play a tabletop game and they just treat it as a straight up game: “I move my piece to this spot in the red zone and play this 4th blue card to accomplish the goal”. I suppose that’s kind of fun, but I prefer to imagine it as, “I go to the research station in the explosive diarrhea epidemic zone and cure the childhood obesity epidemic faster than you can say Fecal Microbiota Transplant!” Sure your job is to manage the island of Puerto Rico, but it’s more than just shifting little cardboard squares. Those little brown tokens working in your fields and factories have LIVES! And you can’t just go on a mission for the resistance, you have to know what you’re fighting for! How can you play your card with the proper zeal if you don’t even know if you’re fighting against Hitler, robots, or nut-free classrooms?

All in all, one of the best weekends I’ve had in awhile. Hope to do it again sometime.

Board Game: Ticket to Ride

When you don’t have the time for Axis and Allies, and you don’t feel like exerting the mental stamina it takes to play Acquire, but you still want to play a great game, how about Ticket to Ride?

I should start by saying that the game I actually have is Ticket to Ride: Europe. So when I say Ticket to Ride, I really mean Ticket to Ride: Europe. However, I believe the two games are the same, but just with different maps. So everything I say probably applies to both.

Ticket to Ride is about building trains. You get secret destination cards, and the goal is to try to complete your destinations by connecting the two cities listed with a train line. The farther apart the cities are, the harder it is to connect them, the more points the destination card is worth (higher risk = higher reward). Of course there are wrinkles along the way, like tunnels and ferries across bodies of water.

This game is a *little* complicated, but not too bad. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a breeze. Also, you don’t really compete much against each other. Sure, someone might steal your route now and again, but usually you just build a train station to lease their line and move on. It’s certainly less player-to-player competitive than most games of this caliber. You’re more playing against the clock: seeing if you can complete all of your destinations before the game ends.

It’s hard to explain why this is fun exactly, but everybody we’ve introduce it to has enjoyed it. There’s a little bit of stress and worry over completing your destinations, there’s a little bit of strategy over choosing your routes, and there’s a little bit of friendly competition (especially when you get to flip up the cards on someone who’s trying to build a tunnel!). But there’s not *too much* of those things, so it keeps it fun.

So come on over and give it a try! You’ll definitely have a good time. Games take about an hour and a half.

Board Game: Axis and Allies

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Acquire without mentioning the OTHER best board game ever, Axis and Allies.

Axis and Allies is like Risk on steroids. In fact, after you’ve played Axis and Allies, Risk seems so un-strategic and pointless, it is hard to ever play it again.

Like Risk, you have a certain number of units that “fight” against an opponents units by rolling dice. That’s about where the similarities end though, because in Axis and Allies there are many different types of units, and each need to roll a different number for a “kill”. For example, if I am attacking you with my infantry men and my fighter jets, my infantry needs to roll a 1 to kill one of your guys, but my jets need to roll a 3 or lower (obviously a jet is a lot more powerful than an infantry men).

So why wouldn’t you just have only jets then? Well, much like Risk, you gain “points” during your turn based on how much territory you control. In Axis and Allies, these points are money, and you can spend them on units. This is where some of the strategy comes in: do I buy a ton of cheap infantry to throw into the breach and eat up bullets, or do I buy something more expensive, like tanks or bombers? Do I spend money on a navy, and patrol the Atlantic with wolf-packs of subs, or do I blitzkrieg my panzer divisions across Africa? Or maybe I should be going  Luftwaffe all the way?

As you’ve probably picked up, this game is centered on World War II, and is eerily accurate, historically. In fact, the initial setup of the board is to replicate the troop placements of a specific year of the war. I’ve seen alternate setups online where you can replicate the troop placements of other years of the war. And if you make the same historical decisions (good or bad) made by the countries in those wars, you tend to have the same results those countries had. I am always amazed at how accurate the whole thing plays out (like the way Russia is almost forced to sacrifice ridiculous numbers of infantry men to buy time against the German army, or the way the U.S. has very little effect on the war until the end, when they become a powerhouse. The “sleeping giant” indeed!) History classes should be forced to play this game; I think they would learn a lot about why certain decisions were made.

However, the game gets interesting when you DON’T follow the precedent of history. Russia captured by Japanese invaders from the East. Britain fighting Pacific naval battles from a base in Australia. A powerful Russian navy (strategy-wise, this is about as bad as it sounds). D-Day taking place, but in Africa, or Scandinavia, or some other strange location. Now we’re talking!

The downside to this game is that it takes a long time to set up and an eternity to play. If you have people who don’t know all the troop placements off the top of their heads, it can literally take 45 minutes to an hour to set up. An hour before you can even begin playing! But that’s nothing compared to the game itself. I’d say 6 hours is not unreasonable.

This is crazy talk, you’re probably saying. 6 hours or more to play one game? Well, sometimes a long game can be immensely more satisfying than a short one. These are games that you’ll be recounting years later (no joke!). It is also technically possible to play a game over a couple sessions, unless you have kids or a cat. Seriously, I swear Nala just *has* to lay in the middle of the board! In high school we used to keep a game going in the back of Mrs. Jones’ class, and she would keep curious kids from messing up the board. Then we would run in and take a turn in between classes. Games would last for weeks! And don’t even get me started about the ill-will we generated playing a game entirely through the night on Christmas eve.

Anyway, I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed a gaming session as much as I’ve enjoyed a session of Axis and Allies, but it’s pretty intense, and the length of the game makes it difficult to play very often. If you have a chance though, it’s well worth it!

Board Game: Acquire

I grew up playing a little-known game called Acquire. I don’t run across many people outside of my family who are familiar with this game, but once people play it, they are hooked. It’s sort of like Monopoly meets Pit (except a lot more complicated than either).

Acquire is about buying stocks. You have a “hand” of tiles which allow you to start companies (hotels in the old school version, but I have the newer set, pictured below)(picture not taken by me), increase the size of companies, and merge companies into other companies. You buy stocks in these companies, and, depending on how the tiles fall, you can sell these stocks for money (hopefully for more than you paid), parlay stocks from a smaller company into stocks in a larger (and thus more expensive) company, or hold onto them until the end of the game, when they could be very valuable.

I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t sound fun at all. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to convey the fun of the game in this simple blog post. However, if you’re really interested, you’re all invited to my house for a giant Acquire tournament! It is deceptively simple, as you soon find out when you’re forced to purchase a stock which might have implications 3 or 4 turns from now and you have to count your stocks, your opponents stocks, your money, your opponents money, and the number of stocks left for that company 5 or 6 times each, trying to predict how it will all end out.

The thing that makes Acquire the best board game ever, is that every game is different. For such a small board, you’d be amazed at all the combinations you can have. The board shapes up depending on how many people you have and how the tiles come up, and there are even multiple different ways for the game to end. Sometimes you have one big company that eats up all the others. Sometimes you have 2 or 3 even sized companies. Sometimes the guy with all the cash wins. Sometimes the girl with all the stocks wins.

The tricky part is that you can only buy 3 stocks per turn, but you have many different things going on at the same time. So the hard part is deciding what to buy. Do you get majority stockholder in this company, or do you get second place in these two? If you buy one stock is that going to be enough to hold on until the company merges, or do you need to buy two? But if you buy two, what else can’t you buy? Who seems to be doing better at the moment? Can I sabotage them somehow by giving majority to someone else who’s not doing as well?

It’s exhilarating, and it’s hard. When you get done you feel like you’ve really given your brain a workout. And if you can do that while having fun, what’s not to love?

Some people complain that the game takes too long. Honestly though, I think our average is around an hour and a half per game. To me, that’s not really much longer than any other board game you’re going to play. And it’s a lot more fun than any of those other games anyway.

Trust me on this one: Best. Board game. Ever.