Thursday, August 2, 2007

Meatloaf & Sheep

Last night the Mrs. and I had friends over for dinner and a game. Karin works in the same building as the Mrs. and James is her husband. The dinner: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, beef gravy, tossed salad, whole wheat dinner rolls, berries with Creme Anglaise, a bottle of red, and a bottle of white. The game: Settlers of Catan, basic game.

Act I: Dinner

Sometimes when I get a little too excited about a meal I tend to overdo it just a little bit. This was one of those times. Of course, the meals never seem that time consuming or complicated when I'm brainstorming what to serve; that part only becomes glaringly apparent when I actually begin the cooking. The bad side: the meal was obscenely labor intensive and took much more time than planned. The good side: everything turned out precisely how I intended and I was completely satisfied with my results. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to food and it is extremely rare that I make such an unqualified statement such as this.

Of course since the preparation and execution of dinner was so much more than I had realized, my other big job of the afternoon, cleaning the house, was only half completed when the Mrs. arrived home from work. So I scrambled to finish the meal while she finished the housework. A little more hectic than I like, but everything turned out okay. The meatloaf and rolls were especially popular.

We drank two bottles of wine with dinner. The white was under the Black Tower label, a 2005 vintage of a grape called Rivaner, a variety I have never tried before. Its flavor was quite pleasant, very fruity, a touch sweet, and tasted strongly of grapefruit (although no one else agreed with me on this point). This is not a wine I would choose to drink on a regular basis; I prefer whites that are much more dry and typically that are much less fruity. To me it would best serve as a wine to enjoy on its own on a lazy weekend afternoon rather than drunk alongside a meal. The red was a Yellowtail Shiraz/Cabernet blend which I have had several times before and has proven to be very enjoyable. This is a very inexpensive wine, yet to my (admittedly fairly untrained) pallet, quite delicious. Also, being an assertive blend, it was strong enough to stand up to the bold flavors of the meal. The wine and the company were so good we relaxed for some time after the dinner drinking and chatting, a most pleasurable time indeed.

Act II: The Game

Our guests had a generally positive attitude toward board games, yet had never tried any of the modern strategy ones I typically play. The gateway game I usually reach for in such situations is Settlers of Catan. You can say all you want about weaknesses in the game after hundreds of plays, but there's just something about Settlers that sparks an interest in those new to the hobby. As James put it in response to a comment about liking board games: "I like that kind of game." Whatever you want to say about Settlers, either positive or negative, it is that kind of game. It's the kind of game that a lot of people would love except for the fact that they've never played one. There is this realization midway through that first game that they are glimpsing something grand, discovering something fun that they didn't know existed. Settlers really has that power to redefine someone's opinion of what board games are all about.

What makes the game a slam dunk besides exhibiting many great qualities of modern board games is that it is so accessible to new players. Not only is Settlers easy to learn and grasp strategically, the die rolling mechanism combined with the static starting board layout for beginners does a great deal for leveling the playing field and giving any newcomers an excellent shot at winning. This fact certainly adds to positive impressions after a player's first game.

This particular session was interesting (atypical?) in a couple of ways. Many games I've played end with one person being left relatively behind in the scoring, this time I believe all players had at least eight vps at the conclusion of the game: everyone was really in it to the end. At one point or another in the last few turns each player had nine points, due to the longest road card being passed between the Mrs. and Karin several times right near game's end. James was the victor, I believe with just settlements, cities, and one development vp contributing to the win. The Mrs. had both longest road and largest army, but failed to close out the win because she kept drawing development card soldiers instead of the one vp she needed to close the deal. Karin stumbled at the very end when the Mrs. finally secured the longest road for good, and I ended the game one wheat shy of building the city that would have been my tenth vp.

Another interesting point was that the number distribution of resource rolls seemed to be almost dead-on long term expected ratios. Funny that this would seem atypical, but certainly a very large percentage of Settlers games have a noticeable tendency towards a few numbers in particular. I noticed no such variation this game. There were lots of sevens, sixes, and eights, somewhat less fours, fives, nines, and tens, and very few of the least common rolls. Overall a very entertaining game, although it did drag at times because we had all been drinking and two of us were brand new players. We all look forward to our next game.

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