For many of us in the UK, the rules have been getting tighter over the past few weeks. Which if you are like me is having a none-to-positive effect on your mental health. Being forced back indoors when we have barely had a taste of freedom has got me feeling trapped. I have however found an escape, upgrade game night.
In the original lockdown (as if that is even a thing), I wrote about playing co-op games to aid mental health. If you missed that then you can find it here.
Now in lockdown mark Deux, I find myself in a similar situation, but with less panic over where my next toilet roll or bag of flour will come from. We can only play games either solo or with two players again. This does rule out some of our favourites of late; Captain Sonar, and King of Tokyo Dark Edition. You can play KoT with 2, but now having tasted it at 4, I don’t fancy regressing! If you have no one available at home to play a game with, then please check out the recent Games to Play Remotely. That article gives our top recommendations for games that can be easily played over a video call.
Let's Spice Things Up
So now, in an effort to spice up game night, we have started doing themed games and meals. We pair a meal with one of our favourite games. Much like wine and food pairings, but with added games. Pairing food and games has been a benefit for me in two ways. A) it takes time to think about, plan and cook the meal. In lockdown, I have nothing more abundant than time. And B) it gives a more immersive experience, so I get a touch more escapism.
Now, this does call for a bit of imagination in some cases. I mean for games set in space, the themed food is either just a ready meal or a snack of freeze-dried raspberries. So I moved all space-themed games off the potential list for these. In times of crisis, I want good food.
In this article, I’ll give you a few of my top pairings of games and food.
So first up, an Arabian game night. This theme is quite generalised. The games that I chose to play are kind of set in a made-up version of an average of a whole load of geographical areas. Having looked it up quickly, the Arab World is a collection of 22 countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East. So I based my food on Morocco and went for a firm favourite; tagine.
The Games: Jaipur for starters, and Five Tribes as the main course.
The Food: A warming and fruity tagine served with unleavened bread and couscous. I went veggie with aubergine carrot and onion, but chicken is also great. The spice baharat is your friend with a tagine.
First into the souks. Jaipur is a two-player specific set collection game. You are trying to collect and trade resources for cash. The trader who makes the most money wins. They are appointed to be the chief trader for the Maharaja, a most sought after accolade. If you trade resources early, then you are guaranteed the highest coin return. As the market is flooded with that resource it becomes lower in value. But if you get bigger sets of resource cards before you trade, you get a bonus token which has a coin value too.
So, do you trade and grab the higher points? Or collect just one more and get a bigger bonus? But then your opponent may grab those bigger tiles. The game is played over a best of three rounds and plays very quickly. It is all over in 15 mins. I loved playing gin rummy with my mum as a kid, so Jaipur scratches that itch for me.
Five Tribes is a meeple moving game where you are trying to gain control of cards on the board to gain the most victory points. The movement is a bit Mancala-esque (another firm favourite in my house). You pick up all the meeples from a tile and move, dropping one off at each card until you drop your last meeple. At the last card, you get to collect all the meeples matching the colour of the one you dropped. Each coloured tribe has a different action associated with it, all of which help you to amass victory points. Each in totally different ways, so you want to choose the tribe you collect each turn carefully.
You also want to choose your card carefully as you get to do the action of the card; claiming djinns, placing palaces and oases, or buying from the market. And if you collect the last meeple from the card you also get to claim the card as your own by placing one of your camels on it. This means you get the victory points from the card at the end. We absolutely love Bruno Cathala’s Five Tribes. It is quite thinky, but we didn’t feel the game was slow or crunchy. It was so good, we had to play a second round.
Picnic in the Forest
Now I did warn you that you had to be imaginative with this. So I was trying to come up with something that could be in some way linked to Everdell. I did think about rabbit or squirrel stew, but I don’t eat much meat, and the idea of eating your workers did not sit well with me. I had to go meta. The berries in Everdell really remind me of pomegranate jewels. So I ran with that.
Food: Feta and pomegranate seed tossed salad
Everdell is the most beautiful game in my collection. There is no game that even knocks on its door. The evertree gives it such a table presence. It may well be unnecessary and a bit of a faff, but for me, it is an essential part of playing the game. Everdell is a woodland themed worker-placement engine-builder. On your turn, you either place workers out in the wood to collect resources or you buy cards for your tableau. The cards are either critters (cute little animals) or constructions. These cards have either an immediate effect or a recurrent effect that happens at the beginning of each season. Most of them are also worth victory points.
The hardest thing about Everdell is making sure you don’t fill your tableau up too early, I always do this! Each card is worth points, and there are a number of public objectives which are also worth points. Everdell will stay in my collection forevermore. I think the next purchase for me might be the Spirecrest expansion which I hear adds some great new stuff to an already quite frankly spiffing game.
Mushrooms for dessert is not your typical menu, but on this occasion, I wanted a light game to round off the main event of Everdell. Fungi is a two-player specific set collection game (looks like a theme here in this feature article). Designed by Brent Povis, this card-driven game is about foraging for mushrooms, fungi, or morelles, depending on when you come from. The game plays in about half an hour, during which you will collect mushroom cards in sets of at least 3 and cook them on your open fire. Each set of cooked mushrooms gains you victory points.
The method of gaining cards was initially a bit clumsy for me. You get to choose from the leftmost end of the forest (market) only, and whatever you don’t choose will be discarded. The discard pile can be picked up, but if that is not soon enough then the pile gets burned. The forest needs to be constantly shuffled along, which is a bit of a time hog in a relatively short game. I think Fungi is an easy and enjoyable game to play, although I did think it took a bit longer to learn than I was expecting. It was a great woodland round-off to the night.
There you have two of our game and food pairing nights, I am sure there are many more that can be thought up.
As people who followed my Around the World Series will know, my collection chock full of Japanese themed games. I think though that might be a notch above my chef-grade, may well have to be takeaway on those nights!
Happy playing, and wash your hands (before handling games after eating).