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Showing posts with label Chicago Cribbage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chicago Cribbage. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What to pack for a vacation


[While on vacation in North Carolina, I scheduled this re-post of my vacation boardgaming selections from last summer.  Originally appeared 29 July 2011]

We recently went on a vacation in the West Virginia mountains for some white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and a zip line canopy tour.  (ACE Adventures, if you're interested.)  In the absence of internet and video games, we anticipated the need for some quality family downtime in the cabin.  So of course that means boardgames!

Last time we went, three years ago, we brought Uno and Guillotine, both of which were successful choices.  This time we wanted more options without having to bring the entire game closet.  So we put together a packing list of games that most of us like.  Everybody got to pick at least one game.  We wanted to have at least three options each for two, three, four, or five players.  At least three of the games had to be accessible to the youngest of us (ten years old).  We were mindful of space limitations, but we didn't necessarily cramp our style if there was something we really wanted to bring.  Here's the list we came up with:
This turned out to be a great list for several reasons, not the least of which is nearly all the games fit in a small tote bag.  (At one point I had 7 Wonders on the list, but the box is a bit bulky, and we already had plenty of options.)  The nice thing about this selection of games is that it has variety, nobody has to play if they don't want to, but we can always find options for any subset of the five of us.

So what did we actually play?  Well, Car-Go Othello got a lot of action during the six-hour drive to West Virginia.  The brilliance in the design of this game is that there are no separate parts.  The board (a six-by-six simplification of the eight-by-eight original Othello) has an integrated rotating piece for each space on the board.  Each space can be rotated to show a green blank, a white piece, or a black piece.  The game can be passed back and forth without risk of something falling on the floor of the car and getting lost under the seat (as happened with Travel Scrabble).

Whirlpool randomizer from
Uno H2O Splash
In the hot tub at our cabin, Uno H2O Splash got a lot of action.  Here is another clever production idea to solve the problem of a challenge game-playing venue.  The cards are clear plastic, printed in such a way that one side shows only the card face, the other only the card back.  The game plays like the familiar Uno with a water-themed twist:  Certain cards have a "splash" icon that, when played, require the next player to take a spin on the "whirlpool," a device rather like a small "Magic 8-ball" with an eight-sided die inside to yield a random outcome that the player must perform.

Sample page from Ace of Aces
Another brilliant game design that got some action was the old classic World War I dogfight game Ace of Aces.  This game requires neither board nor cards but is played with just a pair of books through which players flip from one cockpit view to another as they try to outmaneuver one another and get into firing position to inflict damage on each other's aircraft.  While I was in the Navy, I played this game many times with my chief engineer because it was so well suited to the tight confines of a submarine wardroom.  My sons each successfully chased me out of the skies, but in both cases I was able to escape with my badly damaged plane before being shot down.

We did play a few conventional games during our down-time in the cabin.  Incan Gold played out to an exciting finish, when our ten-year-old left the ruins with the artifact and the lead on the final mission, forcing the rest of us to play out the round until scared away by monsters and leaving him with the win.  Our Pirateer session saw a crazy round in which every player touched the treasure at least once before our ten-year-old stole the treasure on a perfect snake-eyes die roll and brought it home to his harbor just a few turns later.  My wife beat my 18-year-old son and me in Black Jack (using cards from Chicago Cribbage and money from Incan Gold) when she kept betting all her money to get out of the game but kept winning hand after hand.  My wife just destroyed me in a two-player session of Citadels, which is nevertheless still my favorite game right now.

And, oh yes, we were in the mountains of West Virginia, so we did plenty of white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and zip-line canopy touring during the gaps between boardgames.

Six days until I go to World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What to pack for a vacation

We recently went on a vacation in the West Virginia mountains for some white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and a zip line canopy tour.  (ACE Adventures, if you're interested.)  In the absence of internet and video games, we anticipated the need for some quality family downtime in the cabin.  So of course that means boardgames!


Last time we went, three years ago, we brought Uno and Guillotine, both of which were successful choices.  This time we wanted more options without having to bring the entire game closet.  So we put together a packing list of games that most of us like.  Everybody got to pick at least one game.  We wanted to have at least three options each for two, three, four, or five players.  At least three of the games had to be accessible to the youngest of us (ten years old).  We were mindful of space limitations, but we didn't necessarily cramp our style if there was something we really wanted to bring.  Here's the list we came up with:
This turned out to be a great list for several reasons, not the least of which is nearly all the games fit in a small tote bag.  (At one point I had 7 Wonders on the list, but the box is a bit bulky, and we already had plenty of options.)  The nice thing about this selection of games is that it has variety, nobody has to play if they don't want to, but we can always find options for any subset of the five of us.

So what did we actually play?  Well, Car-Go Othello got a lot of action during the six-hour drive to West Virginia.  The brilliance in the design of this game is that there are no separate parts.  The board (a six-by-six simplification of the eight-by-eight original Othello) has an integrated rotating piece for each space on the board.  Each space can be rotated to show a green blank, a white piece, or a black piece.  The game can be passed back and forth without risk of something falling on the floor of the car and getting lost under the seat (as happened with Travel Scrabble).

Whirlpool randomizer from
Uno H2O Splash
In the hot tub at our cabin, Uno H2O Splash got a lot of action.  Here is another clever production idea to solve the problem of a challenge game-playing venue.  The cards are clear plastic, printed in such a way that one side shows only the card face, the other only the card back.  The game plays like the familiar Uno with a water-themed twist:  Certain cards have a "splash" icon that, when played, require the next player to take a spin on the "whirlpool," a device rather like a small "Magic 8-ball" with an eight-sided die inside to yield a random outcome that the player must perform.

Sample page from Ace of Aces
Another brilliant game design that got some action was the old classic World War I dogfight game Ace of Aces.  This game requires neither board nor cards but is played with just a pair of books through which players flip from one cockpit view to another as they try to outmaneuver one another and get into firing position to inflict damage on each other's aircraft.  While I was in the Navy, I played this game many times with my chief engineer because it was so well suited to the tight confines of a submarine wardroom.  My sons each successfully chased me out of the skies, but in both cases I was able to escape with my badly damaged plane before being shot down.

We did play a few conventional games during our down-time in the cabin.  Incan Gold played out to an exciting finish, when our ten-year-old left the ruins with the artifact and the lead on the final mission, forcing the rest of us to play out the round until scared away by monsters and leaving him with the win.  Our Pirateer session saw a crazy round in which every player touched the treasure at least once before our ten-year-old stole the treasure on a perfect snake-eyes die roll and brought it home to his harbor just a few turns later.  My wife beat my 18-year-old son and me in Black Jack (using cards from Chicago Cribbage and money from Incan Gold) when she kept betting all her money to get out of the game but kept winning hand after hand.  My wife just destroyed me in a two-player session of Citadels, which is nevertheless still my favorite game right now.

And, oh yes, we were in the mountains of West Virginia, so we did plenty of white-water rafting, horseback riding, paintball, and zip-line canopy touring during the gaps between boardgames.

Six days until I go to World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chicago Cribbage - a new appreciation

Kathy and I had an occasion that required a portable game yesterday, so she brought several options, and I settled on Chicago Cribbage, which I reviewed here once before.  In our previous games, we'd explored each of the Chicago cards in isolation as to optimum opportunities for play and the poker aspect of reading one's opponent's face to consider whether it's time to play a "gotcha" card like "Reverse Counting" or "Trade Hands."

In yesterday's session, another tactical consideration emerged - the use of Chicago cards as response actions.  Two combinations came up in yesterday's game.  First, we realized that the negative effects of a "Reverse Counting" card can be mitigated by playing "No Fifteens" when one's own hand would otherwise score heavily in fifteen-point combinations.  Now the order of play is important.  We'd already realized that a "Reverse Counting" is most effective when played on the dealer, who will count negative for both his hand and the crib.  But since the dealer's opportunity to play a Chicago card comes after his opponent's, he has the opportunity to respond with a "No Fifteens."  

Second, we'd already recognized that an advantageous situation in which to play "No Fifteens" is when one holds a hand that scores well but has no fifteens.  So a logical response by the dealer to "No Fifteens" is to play "Trade Hands," so as to take advantage of the opponent's well-prepared hand and otherwise-well-played "No Fifteens."  

Now that these counter-moves are evident, they become considerations for the non-dealer as to whether to play a Chicago card for which the dealer still holds the counter-card.  Similarly, that means that the counter-cards might be held in reserve rather than played aggressively.  

I'm finding that this conceptually simple variant on classic cribbage has layers of depth that I hadn't originally appreciated.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: Chicago Cribbage

Chicago Cribbage is a 2007 title by Outset Media for two to four players.  It requires a cribbage board (not provided) and familiarity with the traditional game of cribbage.  It comes with its own deck of conventional playing cards plus 28 "Chicago Cards" that modify the game of cribbage.  In a sense, Chicago Cribbage can really be thought of as a "cribbage expansion" deck.

Full disclosure:  Outset Media gave me a review copy of Chicago Cribbage.  No other consideration was given associated with this review.

[Since Chicago Cribbage is intended for players already familiar with cribbage, I refer to standard cribbage terms and rules without definition in this review.]

Artwork
And a rather handsomely printed deck of cards it is, too.  The playing cards that come with Chicago Cribbage are designed with a font and art deco style reminiscent of 1920s Chicago.  The face cards and aces feature mob characters and icons representing the period.  Overall the game presents a rather nice look and feel just in the conventional deck of cards itself.

Gameplay
The real innovation in the game comes in the form of the additional "Chicago cards," which add a new dimension to the familiar game of cribbage.  Each player starts with a fixed set of seven Chicago cards, each of which may be used only once in the course of the entire cribbage game.  There are two opportunities during a hand of cribbage where a Chicago card can be put into play.  The first is immediately after the deal (before players place cards in the crib), at which point any player may play a "Deal Again" card.  The second opportunity comes immediately after the cut (when the "starter" card is revealed but before any play starts), at which point a player may play one of any of the other possible Chicago cards - "Cut Again," "Trade Hands," "No Fifteens," or "Reverse Counting."

As you might expect, "Deal Again," "Cut Again" (which forces cutting a new starter card) and "Trade Hands" can be played to change the cards that you have to work with.  "No Fifteens" and "Reverse Counting" affect scoring of the current hand.  "No Fifteens" affects all players (including the one who played it); when played, combinations that add to fifteen are worth no points - not when playing cards, nor when scoring hands, nor when scoring the crib.  When "Reverse Counting" is played, all opponents hands (and crib, if the dealer is an opponent) score negative points, but one's own scoring is unaffected.

Impressions
At first, incorporating the additional Chicago cards takes some getting used to.  The two opportunities to play Chicago cards come almost as interruptions to the normal flow of a cribbage game, at least at first to the conventional cribbage player.  Once the Chicago cards become familiar, however, the opportunities to play them are anticipated and become a natural part of the flow of the game.  We found that when a hand is first dealt, the first thought isn't, "what should I put in the crib" but, "should I play the 'Deal Again' card?"

Likewise, after the cut, players start to evaluate the cut and the cards in hand against one's remaining Chicago card options.  A player holding several fives might benefit from a "Cut Again" in hopes of bringing up a face card as the starter.  Or if an opponent has built a big lead, it may be time to play "Reverse Counting."

We found that the Chicago cards nicely mitigate card luck, which had been a rather significant factor in our previous conventional sessions of cribbage.  A standard cribbage game requires some basic tactics to make the most of the cards that are dealt, but once dealt, the course of a hand is confined to the available cards.  Chicago Cribbage adds several opportunities to make up for bad card luck - but only a few opportunities, so the player must apply them judiciously.

Timing of Chicago card play can be crucial.  In one game, when my wife had built a big lead and I had the deal, I decided to wait to play "Reverse Counting" until she had the deal and the crib, when I figured the effect of the card would be greater.  But instead she scored so high during my deal that she ended up within pegging distance of winning the game.  Since "Reverse Counting" only affects hand and crib scoring (not pegging from card play), she was able to win the game on the next hand regardless of the card I played - a valuable lesson in timing.

We found that Chicago Cribbage is better suited to a full 121-point cribbage game, less so the shorter 61-point version.  It takes the full length of a 121-point game to force careful consideration of when to play a Chicago card, since there are only one or two of each available, and each can be played only once.  Most of them came into play over the course of a 121-point game, whereas they seemed underutilized and less tactically demanding in the shorter 61-point game.

One dimension that Chicago Cribbage adds is a certain poker-like element of trying to read one's opponent's reaction to his or her cards.  If I'm dealt a hand and react too enthusiastically, I can expect my opponent to play "Trade Hands" to take advantage of whatever got me so excited.  Similarly, if my opponent seems pleased with the starter card that is cut, I might consider playing "Cut Again" just to thwart whatever benefit he or she saw in that starter.

All of the games played for this review were in the standard two-player format, but Chicago Cribbage comes with enough Chicago cards to be played with three or four players as well (just as standard cribbage can be).  

Summary
Chicago Cribbage is a clever addition of a new dimension to conventional cribbage.  It spices up an old familiar game in a new and challenging way.  Purists might object to introducing new gameplay elements to a time-honored standard (like some chess variants, for example), so I wouldn't recommend it for those who like their cribbage "just fine the way it is, thank you."  For those who have played "the old cribbage" but find it a little dry and uninteresting, however, Chicago Cribbage provides a new element of strategy and thought, perhaps more in keeping with the kind of decision-making and gameplay that characterize more contemporary board and card games.  I would especially recommend Chicago Cribbage if you have a cribbage board gathering dust in a drawer or closet and vague memories of enjoying cribbage but never recently including it in your list of, "so what should we play today?"

I should add that my wife and I are divided on whether Outset Media ought to consider offering Chicago Cribbage as a complete set, with cribbage rules and board provided.  My wife feels that Outset Media could expand its customer base and broaden interest in cribbage by offering the game in a form that players can learn from scratch.  For my part, I'm skeptical that the game would work as a way of learning cribbage itself; to me, the appeal of the product is in bringing new life to an old familiar game.

Chicago Cribbage is recommended for ages 10 and up (although Outset Media's "cribbage game" web page lists it as "8+").  Frankly, the age recommendation is irrelevant; if you are familiar with cribbage, you can play Chicago Cribbage.

Outset Media doesn't sell games from their website but refers customers to independent retailers across North America and provides a toll-free phone number to inquire about finding a local retailer.  I did find that Chicago Cribbage is available at Amazon for $9.99.