After a glorious first few weeks of September, autumn arrived in earnest this weekend, bringing with it cold rain and strong winds. On Sunday, an unusually strong gust knocked a branch off our neighbor’s tree, bringing it crashing down on the power line. And just like that, the whole block was without power from 6-11 PM.
Joe was already on his way over to play a few games, and I didn’t feel a little darkness would get in the way of our playing. I hurried around the house grabbing candles from the bedroom and living room. Joe arrived as night fell, and we lit the candles, placed them on the edges of the dining room table, and sat down to play.
The evening marked the first time I played games in my new house. It was built in 1928, and as we played Manoeuvre and Small World, I thought about all people who had sat down in the dining room in decades past with Monopoly, Risk, and other games. Outside, the wind lashed the branches of our trees, but it only provided quiet background noise as we moved figures across the board and rolled dice. Of course, the candlelight made it a little difficult to see the games, but it wasn’t too much of a hindrance. Instead, I would say that our experience was greatly enhanced by the warm, flickering light illuminating our Napoleonic regiments and sword and sorcery civilizations. It made me think about all the people throughout the centuries who have gathered at tables similar to my own, holding conversations over a light game.
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It would still be a travesty to let my candlelight musings stop me from reporting on the games themselves, however! In Maneouvre, I played my favorite side, the Ottomans, on a relatively open map against Joe’s Prussians. I lost my 1st Janissaries early on in the game, once again not seeing the danger of an encirclement until it was too late. However, my Ali Pasha’s Cavalry really fired up in the mid-game, and they were responsible for three of the four Ottoman kills. I did my best to cycle quickly through the deck, discarding cards that weren’t immediately useful and hunting for knockout combinations (outlined in this post). Joe played his deck a bit more conservatively, which meant he had control of when the game ended. He made some gains on my right, while I got hung up on my left, attempting to destroy units instead of take territory.
The game ended with a nightfall victory on Joe’s part. He had control of seven of my squares, while I had control of six of his. In my final turn, I killed a unit and thought I had the victory, but Joe took his time and found the one move that would give him the win. It was one of the most intense Manoeuvre sessions I’ve had, and it was a nice way to return to the game after a 1.5 month hiatus.
Our session of Small World was a bit less intense, but still fun. Sara declined to play so we set up the two-player map and began. I opted for seafaring trolls and quickly marched my way across the map, grabbing the three water spaces (although placing stone troll lairs on oceans stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point). Joe opted for alchemist skeletons in the early game and went after most of the lost tribes. I’ve only played with him once, and he surprised me by attacking some of my mountain troll lairs early on to slow me down.
In response, I declined the trolls and picked up berserker elves. Now he had no chance to grow his Skeleton army as my elves couldn’t be killed. I went right for him, doing damage until he declined, picking up mounted wizards instead. My response was to pick up underworld Amazons, and it just so happened that he had taken three of the four underworld spaces. I overwhelmed the wizards, but when we counted up at the end, he won 84-79.
This session showed me how tight the race economy can be in a two-player game. In all three cases, I paid in a significant number of points to pickup what I perceived to be more powerful races. I ended up spending eight or nine points to do so, whereas if I hadn’t, I might have won the game anyway. On the other hand, Joe paid very little (three points the whole game) to pick up his races, and this contributed significantly to his victory.
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Despite losing both games, it was an fun evening. Enjoying two games by candlelight in my new home while the wind blew fiercely outside was immensely satisfying, and I always enjoy Joe’s company. Despite his immense talent for these types of games, he never takes them too seriously, and there’s a lot of laughter at the table when he’s around.