Ben came over for games and I started the afternoon by teaching him Battle Line, a short and excellent two-player card game by Reiner Knizia that both Van and I enjoy tremendously. For its length, it has a nice degree of tactical depth but what I particularly like about the game is the constant tension present in managing your hand.
We played the first game without the tactic cards so that Ben could get a hang of the mechanics. He won by taking three adjacent flags with a good draw at the end. After introducing the tactic cards to him, we played two more games which I won, probably due to a better understanding of how to utilize the tactic cards.
Some on the geek forum have expressed preference for the vanilla version of the game, but having experienced the fine balancing play of the tactic cards, I would have it no other way. I particular appreciate the rule of being able to play at most one more tactic card than your opponent for it forces you to choose carefully both the right card as well as the right timing to employ it. Blatant use of the tactic cards is thus not possible, and overdrawing from the tactic cards pile means a diminished ability to hold number cards which is key to forming strong 3-card 'formations'.
With Van and Siew Min still busy in the kitchen, I suggested playing Agricola after enjoying it as a two-player with Van the day before. While Ben wasn't a fan of worker-placement games, he was open to trying it with the occupation and minor improvement cards since his only prior experience with the game was the family mode.
I find the game less tedious with fewer players, especially with less resource replenishing to do between rounds. While I don't enjoy it as much as El Grande or Princes of Florence, it does scale incredibly well. At the moment, I probably enjoy it more with two or three than with four or five.
I won the game with a better diversification of my farm though Ben did put up a good fight. He would probably have scored better if he didn't forget about the 'Wet Nurse' occupation card which he had in hand which allowed him to add a family member for free each time he added a room to his hut. We played with the K deck which I find much better balanced than the E deck though the 'Wet Nurse' occupation does seem somewhat overpowered.
The two girls finally finished up their baking and joined us for a game of Galaxy Trucker. This was only the second play for Van and I and there were some rules that we still needed to iron out.
Ben and Siew Min seemed to catch the basic premise of the game after the tutorial round which makes me wonder if the game is truly as unaccessible to first-timers as some posts in the geek forum seem to suggest. Van managed to finish building her ship first each time and ran off with the game with a score of 106. I was a distant second with 64.
The jury is still out on this one. I spent a long time considering whether to splash out on this game and it was eventually a substantially discounted price on CoolStuffInc.com that made me take the plunge. After trying it, I think it did concur with my prior research on the game. The ship building aspect is novel but the space flight segment seems largely on auto-pilot. Think I will give it a few more tries before determining if it is a keeper.
Siew Min left around dinner time, and the three of us continued with the final game of the night, Glory to Rome after having our fill.
Glory to Rome has really become a crowd favourite since we started playing it which makes me wonder about its mediocre ranking on the geek. I suspect it is due to some feeling that the building powers are overpowered and while I do agree with that, it seems to me that they do balance each other out. There are sufficient powers available to hamper an opponent pursuing the Forum strategy, where you immediately win the game with each of the six roles present in your clientele.
I made an effort to play my hands more efficiently today and took a close one from Van. I also paid more attention to the vault and stashed valuable gold earned from selling stone and marble materials in there. An early Shrine (+2 hand) and an eventual Circus Maximus (doubles the actions of clients led or followed) helped substantially as well.