Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Board Games anyone?

On our wedding registry, Owen and I asked for several games, and received even more than we asked for. Since the games are pretty fantastic, and since many people have not heard of a lot of these board games I thought I would review some of our favorite games. Some are strategy games, some are speed games, some are played with tiles or cards or boards or trains or bunnies. Feel free to skip about.

Dixit was a surprise to us for our wedding. We had never heard of it but now that we know it, we love it.  It's fun, not too long and has all that whimsical fairy tale art. The game is sort of similar to Apples to Apples and Balderdash, but I'd say more fun than either (though unlike those games, it's not a game for a large party). The active player chooses a picture card from his hand, and says outloud a clue for the picture which is vague, but not too vague. The other players look in their cards and find a picture from their hands which could also fit with that clue. When all of the players have chosen cards, the chosen cards are shuffled and revealed, and all the players (except the active player) vote. But here's the catch. If the clue is too specific, like "Cello lady" for the first card below, all the players will vote for it and the active player gets no points. If the clue is too unrelated, something like "title" no one will vote for the active players card and the active player will still get no points. But, if the clue is just right, a little-but not too- vague, some but not all players will vote for it, and then the active player will get points. It's really fun and beautiful and it uses a totally different sort of intelligence than other strategy games.

Ticket to Ride is also pretty fantastic. I've played the (regular?) America version, but the one we got was the Europe edition. Both are excellent, and the rules are pretty much identical. Few minor changes on the Europe edition (makes it feel like they tried to improve on the earlier version, and it seems like they did a good job.) It's a game you can have real conversations over because everyone's game play is pretty independent, and each turn is very short. My housemates and I played it for the first time a reunion weekend with some friends from undergrad, and over that weekend I think I played the game five times. It was just a great game to play while interacting, while other games are much more attention dominating. DixIt for instance IS your interaction while you are playing it, but Ticket to Ride is just as involved as you want it to be. Stay focused on your train routes and it will be a quicker game, but if you get all into your discussions about educational reform while playing? The game should still only take about an hour.

I think that most people know about Settlers of Catan at this point: a strategy game where you build settlements, barter for resources, hope for the right rolls of the dice so that you can get enough wheat to support your next settlement. It's a really nice blend of skill and luck, and though the turns are not short, everyone can participate in everyone else's turn (in a way that older games like Monopoly totally lacked). It has become a classic, and is played throughout the world. If you don't know it, ask a few friends, someone you know probably has it, and they'd almost certainly be thrilled to play it with you.

For those of you who already know and love Settlers,  7 Wonders is similar to Settlers, but... all boiled down. The rules are simple once you understand all the pieces and symbols, etc, but pretty scary when you first start. However, when everyone knows how to play, it's a quick game- 30 to 45 minutes, typically. There's a "Watch It Played" video on youtube for 7 wonders which is long (about half an hour) but will teach you the rules so well that you will be able to play the game after watching it. And if you still don't feel comfortable, you can watch the subsequent videos of the dad and his kids playing together, stopping to explain along the way. Also it can be played with only two players, a real plus for couples. Also, it is one of the most beautiful board games I've ever played. I really like it, and hope more people find out about it. When you get your hands on a copy you'll be rather impressed by the wallpaper of awards on all sides of the box. It just swept the international board game awards, and with good reason.

Apples to Apples is another one we received, and love. It's especially good for large parties or when people are getting to know one another. This game is an American game, I believe, so I think more people know about it than some of the German ones. I've also seen the cards re-purposed for hilarious photo shoots?

Other games I've played once or twice but really liked are Bang, Metro, Citadels, Caylus, etc. Ones which are smaller (in price, size, time commitment, etc.) which we really like are IZZI (more of a puzzle than a board game), Tantrix, Set, Flux, Quiddler, Timeline-we have the "Diversity" version. I'll tell you a little about a few of them:

Set- It has its own sets of cards with patterns and symbols and it's a game of organization and quick thinking. I love it. Quick, smart, fun. Easy to learn and play without getting repetitive, and good for kids too.

Quiddler - also a game played with cards by the makers of Set, this one feels like the doubly blessed child of scrabble and gin rummy. I like it better than both of its parents, and it's portable, fun, and easy to play.

Flux - this game is a wild little thing. Much like Calvin Ball (from Calvin and Hobbes), this game's rules and goals change constantly with the cards the player choose and lay down. The goals are goofy things like "melted chocolate" -both the "sunshine" and "chocolate" cards need to be in play- and the rules are full of funny details if "it's a holiday or anybody's birthday take an extra card." Again, just played with it's own little deck of cards. If the regular version seems too run-of-the-mill for you, the cards also come in many varieties such as Oz and Pirates.

How about all of you? What games have I missed? What games do you like?

Birthday Cake

When my mom grew up in Nigeria she lived most months at a boarding school. The cooks would make cake (any kind of cake) for the whole school whenever one of the children had a birthday, and since there were about 300 students... that was most days, (sometimes two or three flavors a day), and chocolate cakes were frequent. For decades afterwards my mom had never tasted a chocolate cake that really tasted chocolate-y and good like the chocolate cakes she had in Nigeria, until she happened to try this recipe from the side of a baking chocolate box. It has two eggs, a stick of butter, and sour cream in it, but oh, it is good, and to my mom and to me, it tastes like home.

Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake by Hershey’s

4 bars (4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, broken into pieces) (I substitute 3/4 c. cocoa & 4 Tbsp. additional butter)
1/4 c. butter
1 2/3 c. boiling water
2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. dairy sour cream
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

In large bowl, place chocolate, butter and boiling water, with spoon, stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add flour, sugar, sour cream, eggs, baking soda, salt and vanilla; beat on low speed of electric mixer until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 min. or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Frost as desired. We always have it just with whipped cream. Maybe strawberries.

Owen and I are moving to the Netherlands soon, where I hear birthdays are extremely important. I hope to have lots of opportunity to make this cake, and see what I can do to gluten and egg replace so that my husband can eat it.