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Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Frugal date nights: Board Games

With winter well and truly set in frugal dates like fishing, picnics and hikes are few and far between. Mr. FIRE and I are still looking for ways to spend quality time together and while they largely involving building a nest on the couch, enjoying the wine and cheese and projecting a movie straight onto a wall sometimes we like something a little more intensive.

We play board games. Somehow we're still together....

Board games have been pretty integral to our relationship since it's early days. The first time I met Mr. FIRE's friends was over a long weekend and a game of Munchkin. It was also the first time I yelled at Mr. FIRE's friends, insulted a couple of them and did my absolute best to sabotage their game. Munchkin is a vicious backstabbing game that largely consists of bending the rules as far as possible and picking on whoever is in the lead. It was great fun.

Unfortunately Mr. FIRE and I are both the kind to bend the rules as far as they go, and our regular gaming group isn't particularly willing to break up our arguments. Many a game has ended with someone throwing cards down and leaving the room in a huff. We aren't allowed to play Munchkin anymore - in four years it's the only serious argument we've ever had. That and Betrayal at House on the Hill. Anything where the rules are wiggly and open to interpretation doesn't end well in the FIRE household.

However we still love gaming. We have friends over at least once a month to eat like teenagers, play Offspring too loudly and swear over dice rolls. We're all an introverted nerdy bunch of weirdos and having some structure to our interactions is great.

On top of playing with friends, Mr. FIRE and I like to game together occasionally. Unfortunately most games are made for 3+ players. Oh, they might say 2-4 players on the box, but they're pretty dull with just two people (looking at you Takenoko, with your cute panda and terrible gardener).

However there are some games that play brilliantly with two people. Paired with a small glass of mead or port, and some home baked snacks, they make for a brilliantly frugal date night.

Disclaimer: All the links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you go on to buy the game I'll make a little bit of money at no extra cost to you. Click a link and feed a starving blogger? :) 

Lords of Waterdeep

This is a favourite in our household. In Lords of Waterdeep: A Dungeons & Dragons Board Game you don't play any lowly adventurers seeking glory - you play the Lords sending the cannon fodder adventurers to glory. Of course you take a cut of their glory.

Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game. In each round you can take a certain number of actions to do things like visiting places in town to recruit adventurers to your cause, building new stores in town and collecting quests.

The game is brilliantly balanced so that building new stores brings you ongoing benefits - if people visit the store, and certain quests give you extra abilities moving forward like bonus points. Halfway through the game each player is given an extra action each round - if no one has built a building by this time, then there won't be enough actions available each turn.

Playing this game in our house is reasonably quiet as you try and plan each move, and build up fallback plans in case something goes wrong. Most actions can only be done by one player each turn (for example, only one person each round can visit the plinth and recruit a priest) so certain spaces are a hot commodity. While we plan in near silence, there's always a little friendly abuse if Mr. FIRE takes the space I needed to finish a quest.

To add an extra twist to the game, each player is assigned a Lord at random at the start of the game. Lords receive bonus points for completing certain quests, for example Brianne Byndraeth earns an extra 4 points for each Arcana and Skullduggery quest, while Mirt the Moneylender earns 4 bonus points for each Commerce and Piety quest. These aren't revealed till the end of the game, so while you can take a guess at the bonus points, you never quite know where your opponent is up to.

Side tip: There is also a Lord call Larissa Neathal, aka 'The Builder'. She scores 6 points extra for each building. While this is great in a multiplayer game, in a two player game there isn't really enough competition for spaces to make her worthwhile, I suggest taking her out.

Photo credit: deskovehry.com
Lords of Waterdeep is a rather deep game that takes around an hour for a good solid play through. The first game may take a while as you work out all the rules, but you won't play much faster as you get more familiar because there are plenty of intricacies and plans to be made and games often come down to one or two moves.

If you already have Lords of Waterdeep, I strongly recommend adding the expansion Scoundrels of Skullport into your collection. It's actually two expansions in one, the 'Under the Mountain' expansion, and the 'Skullport' expansion. Under the Mountain is a simple 'more stuff' expansion that creates more town spaces, and gives you a couple more Lords.

The Skullport expansion introduces the concept of corruption. There are quests and town spaces that give you a lot more money and units than usual, but they also give you corruption tokens. These cost you points at the end of the game, and the more in play the more costly they are. The spaces are oh so tempting though, and it's hard to keep a clean slate.

The Skullport expansion has a lord call The Xanather who gains 4 victory points for each corruption token. Unfortunately he still has to take the penalty for having the corruption, so he's pretty worthless. I'd suggest removing him from the game.


Lords of Waterdeep is a big intimidating game with a 24-page rulebook and at least 15 minutes set up on your first game. By contrast, Carcassone has a trifold pamphlet that you can skim read in five minutes or less. There is also zero set up for the game, you can play straight out of the box. All you need is a big open table, put the box within arms reach, and you're ready to go.

Our version came with a mini-expansion called 'The River' which gives us 30 seconds of set up time, and a bit of structure for starting the game. Once again, all you need is the box within arms reach and a big open table. To set up The River expansion, grab the river tiles out of the box and play them first, then go on with the rest of the game.

Carcassone is beautiful, relaxing and deceptively simple. You can your friends (2-5 players, and good with any number) and slowly putting together a countryside by laying tiles. With the river expansion you start by placing the source tile (the start of the river) and lay out the river one tile at a time before ending at a small pond. After that you can expand out into building more of the country side.

The rules are pretty simple, pick up a tile and place it down. You have to place your tile against an existing tile (which is why The River expansion is so nice, it gives you somewhere to build from) and your placement has to make sense - for example there are roads, towns and open fields. When placing tiles roads must touch roads, towns against towns, and fields against fields.

Photo Credit: The Board Game Family
Whenever you place a tile you have an option to place down a meeple (cute little person shaped tokens) on the road, in the town, or in the monastery. Each feature scores points, once it's completed. For example roads start and end at towns or villages, once a road is completed you score 1 point for each tile. Towns are worth 2 points per tile, and need to have a complete wall. Monasteries are worth 1 point for the monastery, and 1 point for each surrounding tile, scored when the monastery is completely surrounded.

There is also the option to play a farmer - by claiming a field the farmer scores 3 points per adjacent completed city at the end of the game. The field stops at any road, river or city - to be honest we've never played with farmers. We treat it as an optional extra and have enjoyed the game without it plenty of times.

In the game you have only 7 meeples, and you don't get them back until they score so it can be stressful committing your last meeple to the board. You can also force and opponent to share their hard earned points by connecting your road or town to theirs. If you have an equal number of meeples, you both score the full points, however if one player has more then they get all the points and the player with less gets nothing.

Other than that, Carcassone has very little opportunity to back stab your opponents, it's largely a peaceful game of building a beautiful countryside. Beautiful isn't an exaggeration either, the artwork in this game is wonderful, with plenty of cute little details, but still simple to understand at a glace. It's a wonderful, easy to play game that even Mr. FIRE and I can't fight over.


Finally, sometimes it's nice to work together on a board game. Pandemic pits you and your friends (2-4, more players makes the game harder) against four virulent diseases that have broken out worldwide. You take on various roles of CDC researchers and you travel the world curing breakouts and trying to research a cure before mass panic breaks out and everybody dies.

This game is brutal. Absolutely horrendously evil. At the start of each turn you draw from the player deck, what you hope for is cards that will help you develop a cure. Sometimes your turn up an Epidemic, where all hell breaks loose.

To understand why Epidemics suck (apart from the obvious implications of the name) you have to understand the 'infection phase'. In a normal, not horrible round, you draw from the player deck, and then run the infection phase. In the infection phase you flip cards in the infection deck and place disease tokens on a city as instructed by the card. The harder you've set the game, the more cards you flip. Once you've pulled a card it goes into the discard pile, and you don't have to add diseases to the city again. Unless...

If you've drawn an Epidemic then you first grab an infection card from the bottom of the pile and place three disease cubes on that town. You then shuffle the discarded infection cards and place them on top of the infection deck. Then you draw your infection cards, piling more diseases onto the already sickened cities. If the game asks you to add more disease cubes to a city that already has three, you have an Outbreak and you need to place disease cubes in every adjacent city. If one of the adjacent cities already has three disease cubes, then other Outbreak occurs, and the disease keeps spreading.

It is nasty. You then have four actions in your turn (move, heal, research a cure) to try and mop up the damage.

To win at Pandemic you need to research all four cures. Thankfully you don't need to wipe the diseases off the board, just figure out how to do it. The mop up happens post game.

To lose at Pandemic... well, there are so many ways! If you run out of disease cubes and cannot place them on the board when required, you lose. If more than seven outbreaks occur you lose. If you run out of cards in the player deck, you lose. In each case the in-game explanation is that the people of the world have panicked, rioted, and probably died. Yay!

Despite this, Pandemic is a great couples game. I suggest playing with cold drinks and cold snacks, because you'll be so engrossed in planning saving the world that any warm food will go cold before you remember to eat it. Pandemic isn't really played a turn at a time - you'll map out your plans for the next three to four turns, agreeing on an action plan to save the world. And then, halfway into your plan you'll draw the wrong card and have to start all over again.

When we first played Pandemic we lost horribly and constantly. After about twenty playthroughs, we actually started to win consistently. So we bought the expansions.

We have two of the expansions and since we have never beaten the second expansion, we haven't bothered to buy the third (State of Emergency, if you're curious).

The first expansion is On The Brink. It comes with two ways to make the game harder, Mutation events or the Virulent Strain challenge. In Mutation events one of the diseases mutates (surprise surprise) and you now have a fifth purple disease to cure. In the Virulent Strain challenge one of the diseases becomes extra bad with horrible rules like 'put down two disease cubes instead of just one'. We've beaten both of these challenges, but not at the same time. This game is hard, did I mention?

The second expansion is called In The Lab. You can't just wave your hands and research a cure anymore. You need to collect samples of the disease and process them through the lab. This is impossible. Losing still makes for a great date night, but we've never won this game.

(Technically, Mr. FIRE won this game once, but I wasn't there so it doesn't count. He was playing with a guy named Jesus - miracles are required to finish this game!)

Frugal wins?

At a glance board games are expensive. I bought mine for $60-$80 each. The current prices seem to be sitting around the $20-$40 mark, which isn't so bad. It all comes down to how much you play the games. If you only play them once or twice then they are a huge expense, but you can easily play them enough that they come down to a $1 an hour dollars to fun, or even less.

After the initial outlay for games the only cost for a date night is dinner and wine. Since you eat every day anyway (I assume) date night can be 'free'. However to jazz it up a bit Mr. FIRE and I play games with a glass of wine and a bowl of snacks. Depending on your budget this could be a fancy antipasto platter complete with stuffed olives, or a name brand packet of potato chips.

Whichever way you choose to go with dinner, you can knock out a wonderful date night for $20 or less. You have to interact with each other, probably yell at each other, and you'll have to focus on each other - no one wins a game with a phone in their hand. And winning is the most important thing. Right..?


  1. I'm in the middle of playing a game of Pandemic Legacy, think pandemic but played >12 times with increasing difficulty, it's been absolutely brutal. Whilst it is a single time use game, it ends up at ~$10 per session which is still cheaper than a TAT movie ticket.

    Can also recommend a few other games such as Scuttle! Xibalba, or Aeons End, which have been brilliant at my games nights.

    1. Those are all new titles to me :D nice!

      I'm keenish on Pandemic Legacy but also... single use makes me cranky. Like, I won't be tearing cards in half like you're supposed to. If I do get it I'll be looking for ways to obey the rules without damaging the game.

      There's probably a guide online from someone whose already done it :)

  2. This is great! We don't have many board games, but the occasional card game or game of cribbage makes for a great date night :) Thank you for the reminder!

    1. I wish I played more card games. I learned to play Gin as a kid and I think I enjoyed it, but the rules have all trickled out of my head.

  3. I'd like to learn more card games too. Cheaper and more portable than board gaming, and as kids we used to love them.

    Thanks for the in-depth review! As AwP jokingly pointed out, it appears that Mr. ETT and I kind of failed at date night. I'm not even sure which of the games we own can be played with two people only, but I think we need to begin board gaming with just the two of us. I'll make sure he reads your post ;-)

    We haven't played any of these, it's fun to discover new games. I agree with your assessment on the cost. Upfront it's big, but every play moves it up on the "thrifty entertainment" scale. We also find that we can play different games with different groups of friends, and if the friends also buy games, that helps to spread the cost.

    1. We have so many gaming groups! And we play different games with all of them, which is great. All the games I've listed are ones the expand beautifully to multiple players. I heartily endorse them, but if you need a little more motivation, they've all been played on Will Wheaton's Tabletop (just make sure you come back here and click through the affiliate links ;) haha)

  4. My better half and I play Ticket to Ride, Talisman and Sushi Go at times. We're in our early 30s but definitely feel like primary school kids during game play. If you get a chance give them three a go!

    1. We haven't bought Ticket to Ride because literally everyone else in our gaming group has a copy :p

      We played Talisman once and decided we're new-age game snobs... Talisman is from back in the 80s (I think?) and we found it too slow.

      And Sushi Go... I've seen on Tabletop, does it play well with two people?

  5. I always have a good time when we bring out the board games and host a game night. There's also been a lot of board game cafes pop up here (I have a friend who owns one), but I still prefer staying at home...cheaper and more relaxed.
    I'll have to try Carcassone, I'm not a big fan of overly complicated games so this one looks right up my alley.

    1. Carcassone is super simple :) Mr. FIRE has a reputation for taking so long thinking through his turns that we joke about playing a side game while he thinks, but in Carcassone we don't have that problem.

      We had a board game cafe nearby I wanted to try. But my friend was a chef there, and the horror stories put me off. It's cheaper and nice for me to wine and dine my friends than to go out

  6. I loved Pandemic when we first got it, but it's been 4-5 years since and we have delved so much deeper into the realm of boardgaming that I actually find Pandemic too simple, which is kinda sad as it was the top of my list once upon a time!

    I definitely agree about the upfront cost esp for the prices for boardgames in Australia. But with regular use, this then becomes a secondary concern. Especially the big euro games we tend towards these days, where each boardgame comes in between $80 - $110. What I wouldn't give to have the USA prices! But the investment is a long term one, and we buy games that are geared towards different types of players as well as those that I can foresee me using to teach my children with in the future. We did a valuation and a stock take recently of our collection for insurance purposes and when it cracked the 5 digit mark, I said... maybe it's time to slow down. hah!

    If you are after recommendations, let me know and I would love to talk boardgames with you!

    1. I'm curious what you play if you find Pandemic simplistic?

      Our collection has easily cracked 4 figures, but it's definitely not up to five yet. Congrats, i think? :D

  7. Terra Mystica, Scythe, Tzolkin are some of our regulars on the table. And thanks! I'm not sure how I feel about all that money that's gone but I'm going to count it as an investment, haha.

    1. I havent heard of any of those :D I'll put them on the list to investigate :D


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