Updated: Jan 27
A Busy Gamer....
Work. Kids. Life! llike Spiderman or Elastigirl, if we aren’t multitasking like a superhero, we are slipping, right?
But with everything we mere mortals juggle every day, it’s a wonder we have time to breathe, let alone participate and enjoy our amazing hobby. However, for that very reason, no matter how busy we get, there should always be time for games. In fact, my own primary coping mechanism for managing today’s relentless sensory overload (not even counting the homeworking-home schooling-emotional explosion that has been 2020) is the soothing, familiar, and reliable activity that is board gaming.
Blessed with an amazing 5 and a half year old (I lose count of the times I have been chastised recently for forgetting that all important 6 month maturity boost!), career, husband, home, and a family that is as engaging as it is diverse, life is busy, like, what-day-is-it-when-did-I-last-shower-can’t-remember-my-own-name level eventful.
And so, whilst I may covet the sprawling, heavy hitting immersive games dominating Boardgamegeek’s top 100 spots, that halcyon time-generous space is not where I am at right now; not even close. Currently, I am on survival mode; fruitlessly trying to stop my son cameoing on work Zoom calls whilst scheduling like a general preparing for battle and ceaselessly online shopping delivery slot hunting on my smartphone.
Indeed, my son now builds Ocado vans out of construction blocks and his go-to greeting when the doorbell chimes is “hello again Mr Amazon Man”. (Passive-aggressive judgment from a 5 year old is harsh!).
Truly, I feel more Wile E Coyote than Wonder Woman. When I can shoehorn 15 minutes (dare I shoot for a whole half hour) into the liminal zone between the day’s human hamster wheel spinning down and me falling unconscious in front of a book only to drag myself out of bed 5 hours later, I need a hit and I need it fast; get in, game, get out.
Now, I know I could rely on an app to get my fix; Sagrada, Castles of Burgundy, Jaipur... the number of tempting little icons waiting patiently on my tablet have multiplied faster in the past six months than drunken bunnies at a barn dance. Plus the rapid advancement of digital and online playing formats preserving social interaction and enabling game groups to endure has been one small high point in this otherwise dark and devastating pandemic-age. But, as a board gamer, when I do find myself app-ing, I can’t help but miss the tactility of a physical game; that special calming effect which touching components and parsing turn information in a multidimensional way that only tabletop gaming can provide. On that basis, in case you too find yourself with a gaming itch that an app can’t scratch, I am sharing with you three of my favourite little-big hitters.
I would highlight that this selection box of rapid-fire tabletop games are not just quick because they dispense with complexity in the same way that apps eliminate set up and tear down time. Despite their swiftness, their boxes runneth over with depth, strategy, and the much sought-after “crunch". They are the snatch and grab petrol station, deep-fill, all day breakfast stars of the board game sandwich buffet.
And so, without further ado, here are three of my favourite speedy yet satisfying games you can squeeze in between the daily working, washing, and worrying:
Tora’s Top 3 Games For Busy Gamers
Hanamikoji (EmperorS4 (2013) 2 Player)
In Hanamikoji, designer Kota Nakayama has sharpened the “I cut you choose" mechanic to such a degree that it makes Kill Bill‘s sword feel like a melted marshmallow. In a game comprising just four prescribed actions, you will experience something sounding remarkably like your own brain squeaking under the strain of objection as you seek to earn the favour of seven skilled Geishas.
Staying true to the theme of this piece, set up time is minimal; 7 large numbered Geisha cards are lined up along a central space with a circular marker placed on top of each one. Players then receive 4 small square tiles apiece (each depicting one of the permitted four actions) and a hand of 6 smaller, numbered cards. The remaining smaller cards, having discarded one at random, are shuffled and form the draw pile. Each player then takes it in turns to draw another card and carry out one of the available one-time only folks moves. Whoever secures 11 victory points or 4 of the seven Geishas is declared the winner. Kaia!
Now, underestimate this small-box, big think game at your peril; the other--worldly sensation as the magnitude of your decision making crawls over you like Japanese knotweed is on a sand-in-your-knickers level of discomfort. In four small but exquisitely unbearable turns, you will either become the calculating victor or the architect of your own failure; whatever the result, it is going to be directly attributable to your actions; in Hanamikoji, there is nowhere to hide!
As an out-and-proud analysis paralysis sufferer, I have an overwhelming love-hate-love relationship with this game as it forces me down a strategic path from which there is no return. In the space of just 15 minutes, I routinely blast through a mental and physical marathon, repeatedly hitting the metaphorical wall like a bag full of warm custard. Having to make such profoundly game altering decisions without any buffer, break, or filler is a lot of crunch in very little time…..and I.love.it.
I would note that timings may stretch a little longer depending on the degree of choice-induced paralysis taking place. Ultimately, however, simmering beneath its graceful artwork and stylish theme lies something as cold as steel and, in Hanamikoji, everybody can hear you scream!
Battle Line(GMT Games, CMON (2000) 2 player)
Reiner Knizia’s flag-grabber may appear to be another surprising choice for a badge-wearing analysis paralysis sufferer but the Dr. was definitely on to something when he pulled Battle Line from his bag of gaming tricks.
In another simple but incredibly strategic card game (incidentally re-implementing the Scottish themed Schotten Totten), two opposing armies are fighting to secure 3 consecutive or 5 random flags out of a total of 9, captured by achieving formations scored similarly to poker with certain combinations trumping others. Players may also employ additional Tactics Cards which can instantly flip-reverse your own strategy or that of your opponent in a single action. It is fast and it is furious, ancient Greek style.
Once again hitting the spot at around 15 minutes, the heady mixture of deduction, skill, and luck of the draw makes Battle Line an incredibly tense game in a very short space of time. The duelling mechanic forces players to lay down cards each turn in a way that makes being dipped in BBQ sauce and dangled naked in front of a salivating hell-hound a far more appealing prospect.
Somehow, knowing that you could be giving your opponent an undeniable advantage at the expense of your own formations every single time is as exciting as it is distressing; the pain that flashes through your jaw when you pick up a card that WOULD have been perfect on the previous round but is now completely USELESS is teeth-grindingly intense.
Ultimately, if you like pulling no punches when it comes to duelling with your opponent and you don’t have the time to wage war, Reconquista style, Battle Line could be your quick-hit Demolition Man moment.
Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games (2016) 2-4 players)
Territory building in the blink of an eye, Kingdomino is a masterpiece at fitting a big game tactical tussle into a much shorter time frame. Based upon that old-timer classic, dominoes, players here take on the role of Lords expanding their empires by laying tiles around their own castles. Each chunky, colourful tile shows two different terrain types and a player can only place a new tile where at least one of the two sides of that tile matches an existing tile in their kingdom. With some tiles depicting a number of crowns that, when connected to matching terrain types, multiply the points for each of those regions at the end of the game, victory is secured by constructing the most profitable kingdom when the tiles run out.
Set up is a synch; pile up the tiles, shake out the meeples to determine player order, and bestow a little castle upon each Lord.
Sounds simple but, in a tense twist, kingdoms can only be designed in a 5 x 5 grid (or 7 x 7 for two player games). At all times, players must predict what tiles they will be able to lay down in future turns, but the tiles available to them on the next round will depend on which tiles they chose in the previous one because less lucrative tiles are always higher up in the turn order. This need to balance coveting crowns against first player advantage whilst simultaneously ensuring the spatial rules are not broken is intense. What’s more, for those who cannot work out how to construct a 5 x 5 square in an ever changing landscape, Winter is coming.
Like a good Disney film, however, this game works on multiple levels and, if younger children want to muscle in on your “me time”, they will enjoy seeing their colourful kingdoms grow whilst you sweat and strain under the pressure to conquer your opponents under the weight of your bountiful realm.
I hope these three particular games have reassured you that fulfilment can come in a fun-size package and, if Jim will let me [Editors note - I sure will!], I hope to be back to share more ideas for time-starved gamers with you in 2021!
Merry Christmas and a happier, healthier, and brighter new year to you all.