First we have the Catan Dice Game. My introduction to what I like to call "geek games" came through the Catan series. One of my cousins brought the original Settlers of Catan game to a family Christmas. I fell in love. I have the original, the Seafarers of Catan expansion (never played it), and a Christian variant called The Settlers of Canaan. While I love the strategy of these games, I usually wind up losing. Actually, I take that back. I usually win the first game I play with a new group while I'm teaching them the rules. Then I can never beat those new players again.
I've seen the card version and wasn't all that interested. And then Jill, my darling wife, spotted the dice version. Intrigued, I went on-line where I was able to play a solitaire version on the game's official website. That gave me enough of a taste to go out and get it.
Basically, each player gets a score sheet with a miniature version of a Catan map, complete with roads, settlements, cities, and knights. To build those items, you have to collect the right resources by rolling six dice. You do this three times, keeping the stuff you want and re-rolling what you don't. You then get points for what you can build and are penalized if you can't build something.
The mechanics are straightforward and easy to follow. The real strategy comes in what you keep and what you re-roll. When I played the first game with my dad, sister, and brother-in-law, we all wound up scoring pretty low. Or rather, I scored low. They kicked my butt. My only gripe is the size of the score sheet and the relative darkness of the Catan map. I often lost track of what I had built already, often winding up saving dice for something I couldn't build yet.
So that was last night. This morning, my brother-in-law Chris and I broke out another new game, namely Carcassone: The Castle.
I've never actually played the original Carcassone. I do own the Christian variant, namely Ark of the Covenant. For those of you unfamiliar with the basic game, you build the board as you play, laying tiles and then placing people on said tiles.
The Castle is a two-player variant of the game. It comes with a scoring track that frames the play area. The tiles have towers, houses, courtyards, and paths on them in varying combinations. You build the interior of the castle as you play, playing people on the various structures to claim them and then score points as they are finished. As you move around the track, you also gain one-shot bonus tiles that can make or break your game.
Again, this game was pretty easy to pick up. The only real problem I suffered was that the rules were a bit different from Ark of the Covenant. In Ark, you can score points for partially completed roads and cities. The same is not true in Castle. And while there were some new rules to contend with, they were pretty easy to understand.
The whole game lasted about an hour or so, which seemed a little long. I blame the fact that it was the first time for both of us. The corner tiles, the one-shot bonuses, were a good addition. I think they're why I was able to win pretty handily.
If you like a good strategic game, one you can share with non-hardcore gamers, these two are good ones to try. Consider them "gateway" games.