Monopoly Deal / Lost Cities

I was going to post a bunch of stuff about Halo today, but then I thought it would make the blog a little video game centric. So, instead, I want to talk about the 2 card games I’ve been playing lately: Monopoly Deal and Lost Cities.

I first learned about Monopoly Deal earlier this year and I picked it up, mostly because I was tired of Lola beating me at this Peruvian card game that we’ve been playing for years, Casino. It took a little convincing to get her to play but once she saw that the game was a) super random and b) involved charging me rent and stealing property from me, she was hooked. Monopoly Deal is one of those games that you can play “just one more” very easily and we’ve developed a routine: best of 3 sets of games to decide who is the winner, but then bonus games tacked on in a sort of “double or nothing” which can decide the “ultimate winner”. You wouldn’t expect anything with the name “Monopoly” to be fast or exciting, but Deal has managed to hook everyone I’ve introduced it to: work friends, family members, etc. For a 5$ card game, you really can’t ask for more.

The thing about the games is that they can be as I said, incredibly random, and yet patterns emerge, especially when you play with the same person night after night. For example, there are 2 super powered steal cards in the game (dealbreakers) which let you turn things around pretty fast. There are 3 counter cards which can stop them. So, when Lola and I play, usually you don’t play a dealbreaker unless you also have a counter, so that you can counter if the other player has a counter. This leads to counter-counter-counters, which are just insane. Also, when you play 2 player, certain cards are totally nerfed compared to multiplayer.

When my conservative friend Jason was out visiting, we played a few games and he noticed that we always attack the people who have low money, since you stand a better chance of getting good property from them. This made him pretty frustrated. I needled him, “How’s cutthroat capitalism working out for you now?” I brought it on a ski trip and we played every night and even squeezed in one last game at the airport before we had to split up to fly back to respective cities. My little godson even started playing and it’s so sweet to watch him develop his killer instinct: he loves to smack you when you’re on the ropes. There’s that old Monopoly feeling.

The other game that Lola and I play all the time is Lost Cities. My brother got us a gift certificate for games for our wedding and this was the one we got. Again, it was a little hard to convince her to put down the Deal in order to try it, but once she realized that the game rewards risk taking, she was hooked. Basically, you have 5 types of expeditions which can be undertaken and you need to overcome sunk costs in order to reap the reward of pillaging ancient civilizations. You can also bet on which expeditions will do well by laying down investment cards, but if you fail to recoup expenses, the investment multiplies your loss. You embark on these expeditions by laying down numerical cards, but once you’ve advanced past a certain point, you can’t go back to make more money: you can only build on top of your previous cards. I’m much more risk averse than she is, so while I won the first game (due to lack of rules reading), she won every other game we played that first day. I was getting a little frustrated myself.

It took a while to develop some winning strategies. For a game with such simple rules, it really has a lot of complex behavior as a result: when to hide cards from your opponent, when to cut your losses, and how to look at the remaining cards to guesstimate how many turns are left so you’re not stuck holding the bag. Like my musings on Starcraft openings, I enjoy laying a card down knowing that it’s the mathematically best card for me to play. However, there’s nothing quite so aggravating as deciding to play a card because you are running out of time or other options, and that mathematical best card comes right into your hand (and now it’s useless). It’s the sort of feeling that make you shake your tiny fist at fate.

But beyond the mechanics of these games, what really makes them awesome is playing them night after night with Lola, watching our play styles evolve, trashtalking in English and Spanish, fighting over who won last or who won most, and knowing that there’s always “one game more” waiting around the corner.

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