GIL Series: Annoy the Ones you Love

Games I Love (GIL in the title) is an article series about games I sincerely love. Inspired by numerous "best 100 games of all time" lists, I initially sought to cover 50 games, as it's a nice number. However, upon reflection, I settled on a core group of 37 games. For each article I've grouped some of the games based on a label or quality I have deemed relevant.

The category for this third post is Annoy the Ones you Love, as in games that give you a method by which you tormet those about whom you portend to care. The systems drive players towards not only interaction, but methods of deep, sibling rivalry esque nonsense. These are games that lead you to curse your opponents, decry their supposed friendship, and laugh heartily. This can be done with piracy, real estate, and colors. Today, we're covering Libertalia, The Estates, and Coloretto

Libertalia

If you've played any of my designs, it's obvious that Magic: The Gathering has deeply influenced me from my junior high years of play. But, by now, it should also be clear that I'm obsessed with Mori's Libertalia. Ignore the silly pirate theme - it doesn't, and doesn't need to, matter. The game has a brilliant and simply mechanism of evolving hands. At the start, all players have the same, randomly selected 9 cards from a 30 card pool. Six are played in the first round. Players then keep three in secret, then get six randomly selected new cards. In round two, six are played. Finally, in round three, players get six new cards. By this third round, the three cards left in their hand, potentially unique, are devastating bombs. 

The game is about simultaneous card selection. The cards then resolve in an ordered sequence. This matters for two reasons. One, the order the cards resolve could affect how their powers resolve. Two, players also use their cards to gather treasure, some of which is good, some of which is just fine, and some of which is punitive and awful. A really good round of Libertalia is when the board is full of curses, no way to resolve them, and cards wth questionable ability and value.

Do you find the right combination sequence to profit mightily? Or are you just a hair too slow, always one step behind Dave, furious with your cursed, empty hand? Libertalia is hilarious if you're winning and hilarious if you're losing. The schadenfreude is contagious. If you can imagine a whole game designed around the notion of not being faster than the bear, but faster than your slowest friend, and then add silly pirate ship names, well, you have one of the best games ever on this earth. 

  • 2-6 Players (any amount above 2) and about 45 minutes to play
  • Designed by Paolo Mori
  • Published by Marabunta
  • Large investment (over $50)
  • Limited Availability
  • Expansions: No

The Estates

Every few years I seek a deeply out of print game so that I can have something special in my collection. While not a collector, I do have a few titles that are quite special to me. I was about to splurge on Neue Heimat, a legendary, and legendarily out of print, design. But, Capstone Games came to the rescue with a beautiful reprint in The Estates. Don't let the lovely wooden blocks and charming city art fool you. This is a game with a demon's heart. 

The Estates is about investment and hoping that the areas in which you invest flourish. If you're familiar with The Tenderloin in San Francisco, you know it's a rather run down and dilapidated part of town. It's rather unfortunate. But, the city has cajoled companies like Twitter to build their headquarters there. "It'll be renewed," they say. "It'll be so lovely," they say. What if The Tenderloin DOES bounce back, property values sky rocket, and all is well? That's fine. But what if they don't, and investment value plummets, and everyone is left holding their empty, sweaty palm?

Let's take that latter scenario, and imagine that the reason it tanked? Is your competing investor. And what if they themselves didn't profit, but they're just a spiteful butthead named Dave, and they tanked your neighborhood because if they couldn't have it nobody could have it? What if everyone tanks, and the winner walks away with negative points? 

The Estates is about timing, fragile alliances, placing your bets, spite, disappointment, and Dave. It's the best. 

  • 2-5 Players (recommended 3-5), about 40 minutes to play
  • Designed by Klaus Zoch
  • Published by Capstone Games
  • Large investment (over $50)
  • Limited Availability
  • Expansions: No

Coloretto

You might think Coloretto is about set collection, optimization, or pushing one's luck. Nope! It's about the gentleman's agreement. Years ago at Gen Con I was at one of the "fancy" bars playing this with an assortment of characters, one of whom was a Magic player. As I drew my card, I'd see the color, identify the player who most desired it, I'd look them in the eye, place it on their optimal row, and say "this is for you." The Magic player would scoff "What the hell are you doing! You're kingmaking!" I winked. The incredulous player would accept their gift, leaving the round with two cards, and freeing up space. 

Then, I'd look the player who most had an optimal row established. I'd point to my row. "Gentleman's agreement," I'd ask? I'd so so very sweetly. The Magic player again through his hands in the air. "You'll lose! You're just giving away points!" The other player would see my generous offer and say, "Sure, gentleman's agreement." We would then place cards for each other, optimally. The Magic player would have nothing to do with our collusive gestures and would set out on his own, competing with luck and the deck.

I won three games in a row. While the victory was sweet, sure, the dismay and disappointment of the Magic player was the sweetest. You see, Coloretto purports to be a set collector that, when wielded by assholes, becomes a game of economic manipulation, collusion, alliances, and spiteful play. It is one of the meanest games I know, a game that rockets towards betrayal in 15 minutes instead of Diplomacy's 15 hours, and is one of the most played games in my collection. 

Coloretto is for evil people. It is for gentleman's agreements. 

  • 2-5 Players (recommended 3 or 4), about 15 minutes to play
  • Designed by Michael Schacht
  • Published by Abacusspiele
  • Small Investment (~$10)
  • Easy to obtain
  • Expansions: Yes, but they feel more like variants and they aren't necessary.