The snack? M&Ms, of course.
I'd never played California before, but had heard good things from people, especially considering that it was one of Tanga's "specials" which are usually utter crap. As it turned out, this is a clever little game. You play someone who inherited a run-down mansion in California somewhere, and your goal is to renovate it to attract your rather shallow neighbors so that they will bring you gifts. There are 12 rounds in which players may take $5 from the bank (revolving credit?) or buy a renovation or new furniture from one of the stores. The renovation/furniture costs as many $s as there are gold coins in the bank, so if you buy something early in the round it's $4, later it can get as low as $1. If you are renovating, you must also pay the amount of $ showing on the square in your home that you're placing it on, so a single tile can cost as much as $6, although usually it's much cheaper. When one of the two stores or the bank runs out of whatever it is they stock, the round ends, the remaining goods are discarded, and everything is refilled from the stocks.
If you buy furniture, you must either place it on a matching renovated room tile (you don't pay the "extra" costs once you've renovated that space), or put it in your attic. You also attract one of your neighbors, who will bring a gift if there is another neighbor visiting. I can only imagine this is because they don't want to appear cheap to their other friends, but since you're new it's not so important! There are points for each gift you get, for each space in your home that's been renovated, and bonus points for getting specific groups of furniture tiles, or for furnishing specific types of tiles (three furnished red tiles, for example).
As you can imagine, the fun is in trying to decide if you should take money, which makes it cheaper for others to buy things, or to take out a loan to grab something *now* before someone else gets it, or if you should try to end the round knowing your opponents will get first pick of the eight new goods in the store. Twelve rounds sounds like a lot, but the game moves along very quickly, and while you'll need to spend some time figuring out what your opponents are collecting, at the same time the game is tactical enough that the decisions aren't too agonizing.
I managed to win my first game, beating out Alex and Ken by nabbing an extra bonus tile for three points. Part of my strategy was in taking loans when I really wanted something, and it paid off over time, even though I took out three loans (meaning I had $3 less to work with over the course of the game). Of course, *when* you have the money is at least as important as *if* you have the money, which I'm pretty sure was the difference (I was the only person taking loans). This is a fun, fast, light game and one I'd play with non-gamers. However, while I thought that my wife might enjoy it because there is decorating, I think that she'd just get upset that she couldn't arrange the furniture any way she wanted (every room type will connect to all the other tiles of that room type, and you can't move things around - actually, this sounds like Heaven to me, since I won't have to shift that coffee table another micrometer only to be told I moved it too much!)
With three players, I wanted to get in a game of Schnaeppen Jagd, or Bargain Hunter, as it's at it's best with three. The game has never been published in an English rules edition, which astonishes me - it's a great game and there's nothing else like it. The deck is made up of six suits (colors), and each suit has 18 cards ranging from 1 to 9, two of each. There are also two Super Bargain cards. In the game, you get eight cards dealt from the deck, and for the first round (only) you pick one to place face up in front of you as your "bargain" pile. As you take tricks in each round, you put the cards that match your bargain in that pile, while the rest go face down in your "odds and ends" pile.
The trick taking part of the game is fairly straight forward with three exceptions. You have to follow suit if you can, but otherwise you can play what you like, and the winner of the trick leads the next card. If you can't follow suit, you may declare the suit you played to be trump or not, as you wish, but only if no one else has called trump. If you play the same card as someone before you played (a yellow 9, for example), you can declare that card to be above or below the previous card. Finally, you can play the Super Bargain card anytime you wish regardless of whether or not you can follow suit, and the first of these played in a trick will win that trick with no exceptions.
Once all of the tricks have been taken for the round, you can go through your odds and ends stack and choose one group of numbered cards (for example, the 4's) to discard. Three go to a discard pile, which is shuffled once everyone has chosen their odds and ends to get rid of, then placed under the deck. Any cards over three that you have go instead to your bargain pile, and you will be collecting *these* cards in the next round, not the old ones. As such, you may be collecting more than just what's in your bargain pile so that you'll have lots of those cards in your odds and ends to put in your bargain pile at the end of the round. Since one number is known to all but the others are secret (odds and ends are face down), it makes for a very interesting game.
With three players, you play six rounds, and in the last round you can discard/collect from two different numbers (e.g.; 2 and 8). Add up all the cards in your bargain pile, one point per card, and subtract all of the cards in your odds and ends pile, one point per card. Whoever has the highest total wins the game. In our game, I cleaned up with 8 points total, compared to 1 and -1 for Ken and Alex respectively. It helps to have played this game a few times, but with only eight cards per hand it's not too hard to make decisions. Given that with six suits it's almost a given that people will have voids in their hands from the start, you never know if a 9 will win out or not as an initial lead. Again, highly recommended if you can find a copy.
Last up was Zooloretto, which is still my favorite of the "loretto" games, and I haven't even tried any of the variants yet! Like California, timing is everything, and deciding how to spend the money element (especially putting critters you know someone else will want into your barn) takes this from a very light games in it's initial form of Coloretto and makes it much more strategic. I ended with four full pens, one of every concession, one pen with three of five animals, and one critter type in my barn. Alex, however, did exactly the same but had nothing in his barn, one less concession type, and four critters in that last pen, winning by two points over me. It always amazes me that such a seemingly light game in the early rounds becomes a min/max contest in the end, deciding how to use your money with the limited number of actions you have and choosing which truck to put a given tile into to poison other people's obvious selections.
And to think that I almost passed this one by solely because I didn't think that a simple card game could be improved as much as this one was, especially since it got put into a large box and cost five times as much. The truth is that it's worth every penny. I've only played Aquaretto once, and didn't feel like I had as much say in my own destiny, but Zooloretto will have a place on my gaming table for a long, long time.
Thanks to everyone who came and played games, it was nice to have a full house. Next Tuesday session is at Matt's, followed by Chris. Next month we'll go back to the original rotation, so it will be six weeks until I host a Tuesday again.