Alright, so maybe this isn't a topic worthy of multiple columns, so you're getting the shortened version.
Though my heart lies with AT plastic-filled dicefests, sometimes there just ain't time. Or you're dealing with a crowd that won't be able to roll with that. Still, you're a game junkie; get your fix in quality ways, I always say.
Two-Player, One Hour, AT-Inclined Opponent
Man, these are really, really rare games that fit here; an hour is tough to fit in anything that has a lot of theme. Still, there are some notable titles.
- Lord of the Rings: The Confronation: Stratego for the modern audience. Knizia somehow manages to capture the theme of the characters (Boromir's sacrifice, Sam's steadfast defense of Frodo, the Balrog as guardian of Moria) in a game that plays in 15 minutes. Ridiculously good.
- Hellas: AKA the big wargame in the little, tiny package. Seriously, the box is the same size as Lost Cities, but contains 30 plastic troops, 20 plastic ships, several tiles, and three decks of cards. The combat is deterministic but the cards add a crazy amount of chaos--they are very "Magic-esque" in their power levels. Great two-player war game that plays in 30-45 minutes.
- Blue Moon: For reformed CCG addicts like myself, Blue Moon is a godsend. Scratches the CCG itch without all the nasty blind-booster aftertaste. You can buy additional decks but instead of a weak-assed deck with just enough cards to entice you to get more, you get a fully powered deck for the race in question. Takes 15-30 minutes to play, you can squeeze two games of this in easily.
- Card Football: Now, you may not be a Sports geek, and that's okay--this is more poker and hand management than true football. Also, this is some serious quality from a small publisher with lots of tokens, a fold-out mounted board with a magnetic referee as a yardage marker, two specialized dice, and an awesome stand-up plastic scoreboard usable in any Football game you could imagine (I will use this for Pizza Box Football from now on). This one can run a little long until you get the hang of it, but after a few plays this will fit inside of an hour.
- Navia Dratp: I know Barnes is a big Dreamblade guy and I probably will be too once they hit the clearance bin, but for now you've got to go with this excellent two-player chess variant. All the pieces have differing powers to give you your "variable power" fix, and the best part is that this is one of those rare Collectible games that plays fine with a pair of starters, available cheap online. Get 'em before this does become hard to find.
- Memoir '44: This one is supposed to easily fit two back-to-back games in a lunch hour, but we've yet to pull it off; it's probably because we're slow at setup still. However, one scenario will easily fit in a lunch hour if you're only playing one side. I think this is probably as AT as a game will get inside of a lunch hour.
Two-Player, Lunch Hour, Non-AT-inclined Opponent
I'm not a gaming evangelist but I like to create new opponents whenever I can. This can be rough when you're dealing with someone who either isn't a gamer or hasn't played anything AT-ish before.
At this point you're practically required to drag out the Euro-standards, which I won't list too many of here (Lost Cities and its cousins). Though you may hate yourself in the morning, just remind yourself that you are creating new opponents. Once they realize that there's a bigger world than Monopoly out there, they may be more receptive to your AT wiles. Time, patience. Learn them, and use them.
I will make a special note of one game that I think goes over well with this kind of person--IF they can handle a little meanness. That game would be Travel Blokus. I'm not the world's biggest "absolute abstract" fan but this game has a mean-streak a mile wide; it's notable that after your very first play you will have blocking options available to start to hem in your opponent. It's nasty, and it's mean, and it's just colorful and pretty enough to lure your non-gamer associates to try it with you. Pick this up at Target for $20, it's worth it.
Multi-Player Lunch Hour, Mixed
I'm not going to cover an AT crowd for Lunch hour because if you can find a sizable group like that at work, you have my congratulations and envy.
Our group at work is a quartet; me, my brother, and two other ladies from our office. For them, their boardgaming horizon was fairly limited before we started these gaming sessions, and we've managed to work in some pretty nifty games. We've had a few bombs (Oasis was seriously the epitome of boring, mechanical Euro; maybe I missed something the first time, I don't know), but also their days of only knowing Sorry! and Candyland are long, gone.
- Ticket to Ride: This is hated fairly vehemently by some of my AT colleagues, so let me explain. First, anyone can learn to play this; if you're asking someone to make that leap into hobbyist gaming, this is a nice baby step. Two, it helps puncture preconceived notions--certainly, you've just introduced them to a game with a map and plastic pieces that IS NOT RISK (this is *huge*, man). Third, the game can be mean, a fact that its critics sometime like to gloss over. There's enough possibility for blocking, counter-drafting available cards, and hoarding to make for a rather tense little game, all-in-all.
- Ra: Continuing with the "Euros that Don't Suck" theme, comes one of my favorite games, Ra. Initially I was worried that it wouldn't work with a more casual crowd, but I underestimated how its simplicity makes it so accessible even while you struggle to master it. On your turn, you bid, or you draw. That's it. Teaching the scoring actually takes longer than teaching the game. Easily fits in an hour with three; it's pushing it with four but it can be done.
- Roborally: Another game deceptive in its simplicity; much more "trashier" than other items on this list. You'll get some nice "attack your opponent" or push them around moments, and the wonderful feeling of driving your bot right off a conveyor belt into a pit beyond. Ridiculously good game with broad appeal.
- Verräter: This one is a little ambitious, so be sure your group is ready for it. This is actually the best of AT games crammed into a little card game; alliances that shift, combat, back-stabbing, variable player powers, gang-up on the leader, and picking conflicts strategically (know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em). The math in the game will sometimes give you a headache--sometimes it's more fun just to let the cards fly. This will also fit in an hour due to the very short, tight number of turns.
- San Juan: I can't explain why I like this game as much as I do. You do get the nice variable player powers thing with the role selection every turn and perhaps my favorite thing is how you string together combinations of buildings to give you an edge. Having Quarry, Carpenter, and the Library out will let you build purple buildings at -3 when you choose Builder AND get a card draw afterward to boot. I think I like this game so much because it is focused on an old CCG chestnut; card advantage. Anyway, this has been a runaway hit at work, I think the fact that it is a card game makes it more accessible. Even if you hate Euros and couldn't be bothered to piss on a burning copy of Puerto Rico, you owe yourself to give this a look.
- Drakon: Now you're really getting sneaky, getting them used to the idea of little plastic warriors in your game. Drakon has been a hit, though my only problem with the game is that it's always over too soon--the game is getting interesting, then BAM it's over. We're thinking of using the official variant in the book of having to make your escape, that might solve it. Anyway, with this game you get the cool theme, plastic bits, player screwage, and variable powers. Really, if you can get them to play this you're almost ready for full-blown AT.
- Mall of Horror: I hesitate to mention this one because it's right on the brim of an hour with three--and with three, it's much more a tactical "optimize your move" game than the much better five and six player versions are. But with that many, it probably won't fit into an hour. This is another case of if you can get your co-workers to play a game with little plastic zombies in it, you're more than half won the battle already. YO JOE!
So that's it, for now--just some recommends for those scenarios when you're pressed for time or you have a "Not Ready for Prime Time" gaming crowd. Some Euros ain't so bad; it's just a matter of weeding through the ones were you "Go Three" for the ones that have a little bit of meanness in them.
LATER THIS WEEK: An article about the different criteria used for attacking other players and when, and my thoughts on each.