I’ve always enjoyed a game of Scrabble. Flicking through holiday snaps from the last ten years it’s often a case of “A win for Nadine in Lisbon”, “Victory for Eoghan in Tromso”, etc. (Actually, sadly it’s more often the former than the latter in terms of the winning player.) In the last few years the menu of games has expanded a bit in our household, with Settlers of Catan being a popular one for when friends are around. But there’s a certain category of game that I’ve really been getting into: two-player strategy games that can be quickly learned and don’t last too long. There are three that I particularly enjoy playing and that I can recommend to anyone who enjoys a good board game, but doesn’t have the time or energy for the one or two hour sessions they sometimes entail. (And they’re great for travelling.)
Before we set off for a trip around New Zealand I visited a games shop in the Nine Streets in Amsterdam and asked them to recommend a good two-player game we could take with us. This is how I was introduced to Quoridor, a game that we’ve now introduced to lots of friends. It involves moving your piece across a simple board of 9×9 squares, trying to get to the opposite side before your opponent. Each player has ten walls they can place at any time instead of making a move. This is what keeps the game interesting, as you try to find ways of blocking your opponent without making your own journey any longer. It’s almost as much fun to watch as to play, and there’s a four player variant that gets quite manic at times (for a board game).
Quoridor: The dark player looks to be about to win here, but not by much.
A mini-catalogue of other games from the same manufacturer brought us to Quarto. It has a similarly short learning curve to Quoridor, but is quite a different game. In this case you’re trying to create a row of four pieces that share the same characteristics. There are 16 pieces in total, each one unique, having a combo of four possible characteristics: square vs. circular; hollow vs. solid: dark vs. light; tall vs. short. An interesting twist is that you choose the piece your opponent has to place each time. It requires quite a bit of mental agility to keep all of the combinations in mind and to try to second guess your opponent’s next few moves. Both of these games take three minutes to learn and shouldn’t last more than ten to play a full game.
The same games shop in Amsterdam that recommended Quoridor also introduced us to Hive, another fun quick-to-learn, quick-to-play, two-player strategy game. There are five different pieces that can be played, things like ants, spiders or beetles. As in chess, each has a different movement pattern which makes them useful for particular moves or strategies but not for others. Unlike chess, there’s no board here, with the aim being to avoid having your queen bee encircled.
And with pen and paper…
Finally, I also wanted to mention briefly a fun variant on Noughts & Crosses or Tic-Tac-Toe that I came across recently via kottke.org (a great compendium of interesting stuff from around the web). Called “Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe”, it takes the standard, childish game to a whole new level and actually makes it fun again. You draw one big grid and then place a smaller grid in each of its nine spaces. Once the game is under way each player’s move dictates the grid where the next player must move. Each grid you win becomes an X or an O for you, as you attempt to win on the big grid. This blog post explains well how it works and provides a few notes on tactics. But I recommend just learning the basic rules and then exploring the possiblities with a fellow gaming geek. It’s more fun that way.