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Patrick Stevens

Former mathematics student at the University of Cambridge; now a software engineer.

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It has been commented to me that it’s quite hard to find out (on the Internet) what different games involve. For instance, Agricola is a game about farming (and that’s easy to find out), but what you actually do while playing it is not easy to discover. Here, then, is a brief overview of some games.

Agricola

Agricola is a game in which you control a farm, and are aiming to make your farm thrive. It is a multiplayer game (for two to five) divided into turns. During each turn, you can make several actions (the number of actions you can make is determined by the number of people you have on your farm; you start out with two, and some actions increase the number of people you have). The actions are shared between all players - that is, if I make an action, you may not make that same action this turn. There is no other inter-player interaction - no attacking or anything, and you all have your own farm to manage. Your aim is to use actions to gather resources, build and extend your house, and plough fields; at the end of the game (after fourteen rounds, which is about forty minutes) everyone scores their own farm according to a set checklist, and the winner is the one who has the most prosperous farm.

Settlers of Catan

Catan is a game in which you are trying to build up your civilisation essentially from scratch. It is multiplayer (two to four), and is divided into turns. The game is played on a common board, which you gradually populate with your own settlements, cities and roads, while attempting to make sure that other people can’t foil your plans with their own building. (Once something is built, it can’t be un-built, so the game is competitive only in a strategic sense, not a combat sense.) You aim to gather resources (which you can trade freely with opponents) so as to build more such trappings (your settlements and cities gain resources according to dice rolls), and the winner is the first to reach a certain size of civilisation. Games last about 45mins.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy is a game almost entirely down to how well you can connive with and against opponents. It takes place in turns, but actions happen essentially simultaneously in a turn; the real action happens in between turns, when you go and plot with other people. Games take many hours, and are very multiplayer (eight or so, I think, is normal). Your aim is to take over the world, which you can only feasibly do by persuading people both to assist you and to foil your opponents’ attempts.

Dominion

Dominion is a two-to-four player deck-building game. You aim to have acquired the most Victory cards by the end of the game. Turns involve playing cards you have already acquired, and acquiring more cards; the cards you acquire become part of an “economy” that is almost never subtracted from, but you may only use a small subset of your cards during any one turn. It is somewhat like Magic: the Gathering (below), but restricted so that cards only modify the structure of your turn and allow you to draw more cards. (There are some “attack” cards, but I find them not to be conducive to fun play.)

Magic: the Gathering

Magic is a rather different game to those listed above. It is a collector’s game: you acquire cards over your lifetime, although some formats involve getting a random selection of cards and doing the best you can with those. It is multiplayer (two players is common, but it goes arbitrarily high). The format is turn-based - each turn is subdivided - but the key point is that cards can do pretty much anything to the game. Win conditions can be altered, turns can be prevented, cards can be renamed, all as the result of card effects. Your aim is to win the game, which is usually done by taking the opponent’s life total down to 0 or by forcing them to draw a card when they have no cards left to draw (that is, after they have already drawn all of their cards). Many other win conditions exist - one card causes you to win if you have a certain ridiculous number of cards; one card’s active effect is that a target opponent loses the game; one card causes you to win if nothing happens for a while; and so forth. A complete list can be seen on the Gatherer card search facility (you might want to search for “wins the game” as well as the default “win the game”).

That description of win conditions was intended to convey how complicated the game can become. It is not for the faint-hearted - it takes a while to get to grips with the myriad mechanics.

Mafia/Werewolf/Avalon/The Resistance

These two games (Mafia and Werewolf are isomorphic games, as are Avalon and The Resistance) are both highly-multiplayer games (up to ten people) in which there are two teams: a team of innocents and a team of hidden spies (I’ll refer to those as the Mafia). The job of the former team is to unmask the spies; the latter team usually wins by remaining undetected.

In Mafia, the game revolves around group voting to “kill” people (and the first person killed will have a much less interesting game!). The innocents naturally want to kill the Mafia; the Mafia want to kill all the innocents. The Mafia get an extra turn in between every group vote, in which they can elect among themselves to kill someone. (That is, every normal turn, two people die.) The innocents win if all the Mafia are dead and an innocent is still alive; the Mafia win if they kill all the innocents. There are some extra roles to complicate things, but those are the basics.

Avalon is slightly different - nobody dies at any point. In a round, someone chooses a team of people to go Questing, and the group votes on whether to allow that team to Quest. If the vote comes out negative, the next person chooses a team, and so on. This repeats until a team is approved; then if the team contains a Mafia member, the mission can be failed by that member (secretly: no-one finds out who the Mafia was). Otherwise, it succeeds. The aim is to accumulate failed/succeeded missions (depending on if you are Mafia/innocent).

Dixit

Dixit is a Keynesian beauty contest style game. Everyone gets cards with pictures on them, and each round, a different Storyteller describes one of their cards. Then everyone puts one of their cards into a pile, and the cards are all placed in the centre of the table. Everyone then guesses which card was the Storyteller’s card, based on their description. Points are allocated to any player whose card was guessed (that is, a player who put in a card which matches the description enough for someone to mistake it for the Storyteller’s card). The Storyteller gets points unless everyone or no-one guessed correctly. (That is, the description must not be so obscure that no-one gets the answer right, and it must not be so obvious that everyone does.)