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Games For The Last Half Hour


You ought to be getting home, getting to bed, getting on with something productive. Maybe one more game. Not too long, not too much of a set-up and pack-away – what are your options? Well, of course, there are loads. Here are three of my favourites.


Arboretum has become a go-to for this situation in our house. The set-up is super-quick, basically shuffle a deck of cards. You do need to take four or two ‘suits’ out if there are fewer than four players but the box comes with two compartments for the cards, so we just keep a two player deck at the ready and add in another suit or two on the occasion it’s needed.

Arboretum is easy to teach and easy to play. But it’s also a game of difficult strategic decisions. You are trying to build pathways beginning and ending with the same species. The more cards in the pathway, the more points you get. If your pathway is made up of all the same species, you get double points. An attractive prospect, but to employ this strategy will mean that your opponent soon knows what you’re collecting and that’s a problem: The clever thing about arboretum is that you can only score a pathway if you have cards of the same species in your hand at the end of the game. And if your opponent can beat the value of those in your hand, you still can’t score it. So you’ll always find yourself torn between keeping the cards you need to secure your own points, playing them into your arboretum to increase how many points that is, and sacrificing them to keep hold of cards to stop your opponents scoring. You are trying to keep track of which cards your opponent might have and how you can maximise your pathways. Arboretum is a good little brain-strainer but not too arduous. The artwork is great and the theme is simple and relaxing.



Second up is Codenames. Everyone must know this game by now. Linking cards with a single word so that your teammate can guess which you are referring to is the basic mechanism of this game. Simple enough, but whereas saying mammal if ‘lion’ and ‘seal’ are on the table is easy, how do you steer your guesser away from the ‘kangaroo’ that also features. Sometimes finding links can be fiendishly difficult and reading your friends/sisters/husbands mind even more so! And there are so many possible combinations of cards that might be dealt for your 5x5 grid that you could play a thousand times and not get the same ones together.

Codenames is usually played with four people, but we regularly play it at two, against the game. After each of our turns, we cover one or two of the other colour’s cards, making sure we select these at random. We found that covering only one card for the opponent, as the rules suggest, made it too easy for us to win. Covering two each time made it too difficult so we alternate between one and two.

Codenames is not the super-quick set-up of arboretum, but it’s pretty close, and the games can be quite short, so you should get two in, each person taking a turn at describing and at guessing. I must admit, the theme – something to do with spies – doesn’t come across at all for me but this doesn’t seem to matter because codenames has been popular for a long time. There are also different versions available, pictures and Disney being a couple of examples.


Caper: Europe

My third suggestion for the last game of the night is Caper: Europe. It was a long time before this game graduated from my wishlist and I actually bought it. Now I’m disappointed that there isn’t a Caper: Asia or Caper: somewhere else. I was initially put off by the fact that it’s a two-player game only. Then I realised that at most of my board gaming sessions there are only two of us, duh!

The first thing you notice about Caper is the quality. The box is sturdy and weighty. I’m not a fan of plastic inserts because I think manufacturers should be using less plastic whenever possible. With that said, Caper has a beautiful velvet effect insert which is designed well and looks like something you might want to steal. And that is the theme. Choose groups of thieves to plunder three locations in Barcelona, London, Paris or Rome while keeping an eye on the rival gang to make sure they don’t get their hands on the loot first. You will draft cards to choose thieves for your crew, deciding which of three locations to send each one depending on his or her skills. Then follow a similar process when you buy gear for the gang. There is a core deck of cards and you shuffle in extras from the City you have chosen. Each one has unique ways of scoring points and that makes for more variety with each game.

Caper is much more difficult to learn than either Arboretum or Codenames. It certainly isn’t quick enough to teach as part of your half-hour slot so you’ll both need to be familiar with it to choose it at the end of an evening. The set up takes a little longer too but this game has really grown on me since I bought it. I had to invest quite a bit of time reading the rulebook and still have to refer to it occasionally for some location cards but it’s an enjoyable two player head-to-head and in my collection to stay.

Obviously this is not even close to a comprehensive list of half hour games for the end of a session, but it’s the top three for me. What are yours?