So let’s say that you’re studying and you need to take a dinky break to let your mind stretch. You want a game that takes about 10ish minutes to play start to finish. I mean, you can’t say “hey, let’s play Pillars of Eternity and only do one quest!” because goodness only knows how long that one quest might take and the storyline might be so good that you’ll say “okay, juuuust one more” and then next thing you know you haven’t studied for a couple of hours instead of just taking the dinky break you meant to.
So you need a game that you can pick up, play, then have it *END*.
For that, I have discovered “Small World”. It’s based on a board game which is sold as being for 2-6 players (but only really “works” with 3 or 4) but makes for a really good single-player game. Here’s the conceit: it’s a civilization game. There are a bunch of unique races (Dwarves, Wizards, Giants, Humans, etc) and a bunch of unique traits that are shuffled randomly. Each race has a bunch of unique traits (Dwarves get extra points from mines, Wizards get extra points from magic crystals, Giants have an easier time attacking map sections adjacent to mountains, humans get extra points from farmland) and each trait modifies your race in an interesting way, “swamp dwarves” get extra points from swamps *AND* mines, underworld wizards can “teleport” across the map between map sections that have underworld caves on them, so on and so forth.
The game is played by each person choosing a race that has a randomly picked modifier attached to it (with a certain number of members based upon both the race and the modifiers… dwarves get 3 dwarves automatically, “swamp” gives you 4 more creatures, “fortified” gives you 3, “seafaring” gives you 5) and then placing their “flying ratmen” or whatever they have on the map until they are out of race units. (It takes 2 units to take over an empty segment, 3 to take over one with a mountain on it, and 1 additional for every occupying unit on there). The first turn can have everyone occupy a section of the map without much friction, but by the beginning of turn 2, you’re going to have to start attacking each other.
What makes the game interesting is the dynamic of “decline”. When your race has spread itself out too thin (or you’ve lost too much of your map), you can put your race in decline. This causes you to lose your turn but you start the next turn with a brand new fresh race (with another randomly picked modifier). So when the Commando Orcs go into decline, they can be replaced with Bivouacking Elves. And you can go to spread yourself too thin all over again.
Most games that I play involve going into decline thrice (but if I get a couple of decent combos, I might only decline twice… but, sometimes, I decline 4 times). The dynamic of having to pick when you go into decline is what turns the game from just another blah civilization game into something that really makes you think about the tactics and strategies of this combo vs. that combo and whether you want to push it for just one more turn or if you want to decline now and make sure that your opponent doesn’t get the Dragon Master Skeletons before you can. (Or whichever.)
And since the game only lasts 8 or 9 turns, you’ll be able to squeeze in two or three games in the time it takes to write a post about it.
And then get back to studying.
So… what are you playing?
(Picture is “Untitled” by our very own Will Truman. Used with permission.)