I'm also blessed in that several members of her family are more then willing to try out my "weird" games. I love watching their initial skepticism turn to epiphany when they realize that they're playing a previously unheard of board game that's intuitive, strategically deep, aesthetically pleasing and not just some weak-assed crap targeted towards chronological or mental infants.
Recently Cheryl's mom Sheila came up for a visit. Back in 2008 the three of us went on a tour of Scotland and Ireland together so I thought that she'd be an easy mark for the set collection / hand management game 10 Days in Europe.
In this Alan Moon / Aaron Weissblum classic, players strive to be the first to plot a ten day itinerary through Europe via a deck of colorful cardboard tiles representing travel by land, sea and air. The game begins with a free-for-all as players fill up their play rack with ten randomly selected tiles.
The goal is to be the first player to complete a circuitous ten day journey. In order for plans to be considered legit, each stop has to be linked together either through adjacency, ferries, tunnels, sea routes or color-coded flights.
On your turn you can either pick up one of the three face-up tiles or draw a random one off the top of the face-down pile. After sizing up your new acquisition you can either discard it or swap it out for something on your rack. What makes this especially tricky is that you can never, ever shuffle the order of the tiles as they appear on your rack. In an added wrinkle, swapped or discarded tiles are placed on top of one of the three face-up piles, which can really cock up even the best laid plans.
Although this is an incredibly simple game rules-wise, it's also surprisingly deep and strategic, even during set up. When I'm drawing those initial ten tiles I always look at where the draw falls on the map. If I draw a country like Spain or Russia I try to place it on the rack around Day One or Ten. If I draw the Czech Republic or Hungary, I typically place it around Day Five or Six. Right off the bat, this gives me a somewhat logical framework which I can build my ten day itinerary on.
A similar tactic goes for the special tiles. If I snag a green flight tile I try to place it next to at least one green country. Cruise ship routes are much more flexible, and if used wisely, can really accelerate your efforts.
Cheryl had played the game a few times before but in Game One she really struggled with picking up a surplus of special tiles. Sheila did an admirable job as a first-timer, even declaring a premature victory at one point.
As a side note, new players tend to struggle with following two rules...
(1) The color-coded flights can only be used to link countries of the same color. In the photo below, two pink countries (France and the Ukraine) are adjacent thanks to the connecting pink flight tile.
(2) Cruise ship routes can be used to link any two countries that share coastline with the sea tile in question. For example, the Atlantic Ocean ship tile makes Scotland to Norway a legal play.
I managed to eke out a win in Game One with the following itinerary:
I drove from Albania to Montenegro, hopped on a Mediterranean ship and sailed to France, took another boat to Sweden, went back out to sea to land in Denmark and then flew to Turkey for my last stop.
Okay, so beyond exhibiting the fact that I clearly have some sort of boat fetish this example shows just how devious your path to victory can be.
In the second game my otherwise promising initial set up got monkey-wrenched when I became obsessed with digging out a linchpin tile. Occasionally it makes sense to voluntarily place a valuable tile on top of one of the three face-up piles and pray that no-one else will pick it up or bury it under another discard. I gambled and lost twice with his strategy, spending two precious turns digging out a particular tile and then visibly wincing as Cheryl snapped up my temporarily discarded Spain tile.
Word to the wise gamer (and real-world traveller): don't be afraid to alter your route (and your strategy) if your initial plans go to shite.
I was one location away from my second win when Cheryl swooped in for the victory. Here was her winning route:
From Iceland she took a ship into the Atlantic Ocean, landed in Spain, drove next door to France, hopped a plane to Greece, took a Mediterranean cruise to Italy, bipped up to France and then ended up in the microdot nation of Luxembourg.
This past Easter weekend Sheila casually mentioned that she "really liked playing that 10 Days in Europe game" and she was "looking forward to trying it again soon".
Yes! Another successful salvo fired in the war against bad games!
My rating: four pips out of six!