Heavy, brain-burner games are great (and are my preference) but sometimes you just want something light, whether that be to play with non-gamers, to kill time until more people show up, or to recover from a heavier game. What are some great ways to fill the time?
Hey! That’s My Fish!
This simple tile-laying game takes two to four players, but becomes more chaotic as more players are added, Each player controls a set of penguins competing for fish trapped in the ice. The board consists of a number of hexagonal tiles, each of which shows one to three fish; each penguin starts on a one-fish tile. On your turn, you pick up one of your penguins and move it as far as you want in any direction, provided it does not move into another penguin or a hole in the ice; you then take the tile it started on. Play continues until nobody has any moves left, at which time you take the pieces your penguins were left standing on and add up your score; most fish wins.
While this is a quick, simple game, it’s a nice tactical exercise with two players, as each person attempts to block off large chunks of ice for his penguins and small chunks for his opponent’s penguins; with more players, planning ahead becomes much more difficult.
Clans is another game that takes two to four; with more than two, it helps for the players to be equally matched in strength, as otherwise a weak player has a good chance of inadvertently helping the player to his left.
The board consists of five types of regions and five colors of huts; each player (secretly) draws a tile telling him which color is his. On a player’s turn, he picks one group of one or more huts in a region and moves it into an adjacent region that also contains huts; if at any point a region with huts is completely isolated (has no adjacent regions with huts), it is scored. While you get a point marker for causing a scoring, the actual scoring during the game is done for the colors, so you may not know which color each person is trying to help! The type of region makes a difference in how many points are scored, so you’ll generally want to put your huts in the regions that will score better, but the regions that get bonuses change over time; additionally, since everyone who participates in a scoring gets the same number of points, you’ll want to cram as many of your opponent’s huts into the scoring as possible so that many of them are wasted.
Both Hey, That’s My Fish! and Clans have a semi-random setup and then no randomness for the rest of the game; any chaos is caused entirely by the players!
Felix: The Cat in the Sack
I’ll leave the backstory behind the title and theme of Felix to the rules, which are fun to read and explain, and skip right to the basic idea. This is a blind bidding game. Each player hasa hand full of cards, which include good cats (worth positive points), bad cats (worth negative points), dogs (which chase away cats), and a bunny (which is cute). Each turn, players secretly place a cat (or dogs, or bunnies) into the bag; the first card (put down by the starting player) is revealed, and players bid mice for the bag in a round robin auction. Anytime a player drops out, he takes some mice from the bag (the amount increases with each player, so waiting is more profitable but also more risky) and another card is turned over; when every player but one has dropped out, the last player must pay his bid and take the bag…whether he wants it or not! After all cards are auctioned, players add up their cats and mice and the high score wins.
Cartagena falls in the margins between light and medium games; it’s a card-driven game where you control a group of six pirates attempting to escape from a prison island. Each turn you get three actions, each of which can be one of two things: play a card (which contains one of six symbols) to move one of your pirates to the next open symbol of that type, or move a pirate backwards to the first space that contains either one or two other pirates (which don’t have to be yours) and draw that many cards.
This is resource management and set collection game: you want to avoid wasting actions drawing two many cards, but you need to get enough cards that you can set up a chain, blocking off a number of the same symbol so that a single card play can send one of your pirates the length of the island. While the game appears light, the play is a lot more strategic than many people give it credit for, and the players who plan ahead will usually win.