Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Table for two

As a gaming couple, we are always on the lookout for good two-player games. Granted, many multiplayer games work perfectly well with two, but more often than not they are designed with a larger group of players in mind.

We recently picked up a few new two-player games:

Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion is for the most part a re-skin of Cold War: CIA vs. KGB, and an entry into an emerging sub-category of games based on popular licensed properties and marketed more for their status as tie-in merchandise than for their game play. That's not necessarily a criticism, as it's easy to see that Star Wars is a much easier sell than 1960s global intrigue.

The game makes the transition from cold war to star war fairly easily, with a few minor changes and additions. Each round, an event card is played to the center of the table, representing an event from the original trilogy of Star Wars films such as "Duel on Cloud City" or "Locate the Rebel Base." Players secretly choose a strategy card to use for that round, which either gives them a boost towards winning the event, or an advantage in the following round. Players then attempt to score points for these events by playing cards that add up to a pre-determined value without going over.

Each player plays from their own deck of cards, which includes either the heroes or the villains of the Star Wars saga. These character cards have unique abilities that can be used when they are in play, and their value towards the total required to win the event is different depending on whether they have used their ability or not. Whether or not to use a character ability (and change your total) becomes one of the main strategic decisions in the game. Influence tokens, which are awarded upon winning an event and can be spent to re-use a card's ability, are another component that feeds the game's strategy and makes it different from Cold War.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) Not quite as simple and elegant as Cold War, but the Star Wars theme will most likely have a much wider appeal.

I'm a huge fan of Jurassic Park, Primeval, and all things dinosaur, so Raptor was a pretty easy sell for me. It's a two-player tactical movement game in which one player controls a team of scientists trying to gather baby velociraptors for study, and the other player controls the raptors and their outraged mother.

The board is made up of 6 square tiles, each with a 9x9 grid of spaces, plus two 1x3 end tiles on each side. Each tile has a different pattern of empty spaces and obstacles, so the board will be different for each game. The game starts with the mother and 5 baby raptor figures on the board, one on each tile, and four scientist figures, two on either end of the board.

Each player has a deck of 9 cards, each with a number from 1 to 9 and an action that player can perform. Players start with a hand of 3 cards, from which they simultaneously choose and reveal one card, comparing the two. The player with the lower number performs the action listed on the card, which are things like hide in the jungle or scare the humans for the raptor player, and reinforcements or move by jeep for the scientist player. The player with the higher number gets a number of action points to spend equal to the difference between the two cards. Action points are spent to move and attack.

Not knowing for sure what you're going to be able to do each round is the key feature of the game, and strategy consists of trying to anticipate what your opponent is going to do based on the figures' placement on the board. It's got a nice balance of randomness and strategic decision making, with simple, intuitive rules.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) A nice mix of tactical movement and card-playing, and I love the dinosaurs vs. humans theme.

Longhorn is another game we picked up on impulse based mainly on the genre. In this case, the wild west theme is largely tacked on, and the game itself is pretty abstract.

The board consists of 9 tiles, each with an effect and a random number of cows of different colors on it. There is a single pawn which represents both players. On each player's turn, that player takes all the cows of one color from the tile he is on, and then moves the pawn a number of spaces equal to the number of cows taken. Then it's the other player's turn to take cows an move the pawn. If a player takes the last cow from a tile, that tile's effect is resolved, with different effects including things like taking cows from adjacent spaces or the other player, getting extra points at the end of the game, or having to put cows you've taken back on the board.

It sounds simple, but as usual there is a bit more to it. The pawn can never be moved to an empty tile, and if there are no populated tiles to move to, the game ends. Cows are worth points based on the number of cows of that color still on the board at the end of the game, which means there is quite a bit of strategy involved in deciding which cows to take, and where to move the pawn so that your opponent's choices are limited.

It is interesting to note that Raptor and Longhorn are both by the same designer, Bruno Cathala (Raptor was co-designed by Bruno Faidutti).

Rating: 2 (out of 5) It's almost more of a puzzle than a game, and its one of the few games that we strongly disagree on; I think it's okay, but Katherine finds it really uninteresting.

Check out some of the other two player games we've reviewed.

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