This week’s gamer challenge was to play a game lasting longer than four hours. If that phrase conjures for you rememberances of a purple pill commercial with an older man walking hand in hand on a pier with a similarly aged woman, don’t worry, it did for us too. More than one joke was made about that this week, and somehow I think that is why the bar was set at four hours, rather than three or five.
My typical game night with friends is on Monday (although you’ll see me gaming with one or two other people throughout the week). However, Mondays are a loud get together with a minimum of eight people and an upper limit closer to 18. We often play party games, or other shorter games. Games lasting two hours, such as Agricola or Powergrid, are about as meaty as we get on these nights. Why is that? Because the night is more about socializing. It’s loud, so rules are hard to hear. We have dinner together which takes away from our gaming time. It’s on a week night so no one can stay super late. I wouldn’t trade my Monday game night with friends for the world.
Getting in a game that would take longer than four hours on a Monday night wasn’t going to happen. So approximately two weeks ago I sent out a round of facebook invites to my friends for a game night on Thursday, February 2nd. I explained the kind of game that we would be playing, but left the specifics wide open.
Over those two weeks I asked around to a lot of folks what they thought we should try. Nearly everyone suggested “Dungeons and Dragons” right off the bat, and I certainly agree that four hours is nearly no time when you are talking about role playing. However, to meet this challenge it really felt like we should play a more traditional board game, so I nixed DnD and we moved on. What else? Diplomacy, Epic Munchkin, Civilization, Talisman… all, and more, were suggestions. They came in from all over: Facebook, Twitter, and friends. In the end we decided to go with one of my old favorites that I never get to play (because it’s such a long game): Empire Builder.
Empire Builder is a train game that uses the crayon railroad system. What this means is that as you build your railroad across the country, you draw it directly on the board with your color of crayon. Then you can travel your train (pawn) up and down the track to pick up goods from given cities and deliver them to other cities that are in need, for a fee of course. The winner is the person who can connect to at least five of the major cities and have $250 million first.
This is a tough game, the money is very very tight. Especially in the early game. Building one length of track costs $1 million. Building across a river or through the mountains cost $2 million. Connecting to a minor city costs $3 million, and connecting to a major city costs $5 million. You only start with $40 million at the start of the game, so it’s easy to use that up really really fast.
About an hour into the game I found myself with my back against the wall. I had spent all of my money, and had borrowed the maximum amount allowed from the bank ($20 million). I had three goals on the table in front of me, but none of them were remotely feasible without a lot more money to spend on track. I was screwed. Luckily the game allows for a reset button. I had never had to use the reset option before in my previous games, and was a bit embarrassed that I was doing so poorly, but press it I did. While the game continued on like normal for my opponents, for me everything went back to the beginning of the game: my track was erased from the board, the loads I was carrying were dropped, the goals I had were discarded for new ones, and all of my debt was erased and I was given $40 million more dollars. After the reset I did much better, and was having a much more typical game.
Gaming sessions for games like this seem to have a different feel to them. For starters, everyone doesn’t stay at the table the entire time. We have a new puppy in our household, and on a couple occasions people took their turn and then went to feed/potty the puppy. Other times, there was scampering off to the kitchen for beverages, Cheetos, or cake. Play continued between these temporary disappearances and shouts of “It’s your turn!” could be heard from across the house.
Another major difference between this and other, shorter, games was that distractions were welcomed. We had the TV on in the background (something we do not often do while gaming) so that as you were waiting for your turn to come back around you could watch “American Idol”, or Netflix, something to entertain you so that you were not just staring at the board for the next five minutes. Also, the use of a “filler” game was employed. Raymond (our third player) whipped out his phone for a rousing game of ‘Go’ while waiting for his turn to come back around.
All total, our game took approximately four and a half hours to finish. We started at just a few minutes before 7pm, and we finished right at 11:30pm. It was fun, and good to play an old favorite. By the end of the game we all were touching at least five of the major cities, and we were just racing to make the most money. Raymond ended up winning with $257 million. Tristan had $142 million. I finished off with $105 million, not too bad for restarting an hour in.
Next weeks challenge is particularly challenging: Play a game with Todd. Yes, Todd. Do you know a Todd? We don’t, and so we are scouring the Indianapolis area for a willing Todd to come game with us. If you know anyone who might fit this bill please have them contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to game together!
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