Losing at Board Games: The Archaeology of Love Letter, and Picking a Pig

Great Filler Games

The theme of this week’s column is great games that can play in 15-20 minutes.  Gamers call these “filler games”.  The reason for this is because if you are between marathon sessions of an epic battle (like Twilight Struggle) then you need a “filler game” to cleanse your palette.

I think the phrase “filler game” is a bit misleading, however.  Yesterday the Political Mastermind and I weren’t in the mood to play a longer game.  We didn’t mind the idea of playing multiple rounds of a shorter game, but after being soundly beaten in Agricola the day before I was only in the mood to play a few quick rounds of something. (In other words, I wasn’t ready to get stomped at a game that takes more than 30 minutes to play)

In this respect, it wasn’t a “filler game” at all.  It was the only game!

What game did we choose?  Archaeology.


Archaeology is a card game that plays in 15-20 minutes.  It is a set collection game, where you get dollars for selling archaeological treasures that you have gathered over the course of the game.  You are able to acquire these treasures by drawing cards.  Many of the cards in the game are treasure cards, but when you draw a card you also may draw one of three kinds of special cards.

Thief! lets you steal a card from another player.  Sandstorm! makes everyone at the table discard half of their cards.  These cards end up in the marketplace, a collection of cards in the center of the table.  Map! is a card that you can exchange to explore a pyramid.  There are three chambers to a pyramid, each of which contains multiple treasure cards.  When you acquire a map (or maps) you can exchange them for these treasure cards, and add them to your hand.


What I like about Archaeology

This game plays until all players are ready to stop.  Once the draw pile is exhausted, players can continue trading cards on their turn with the cards in the middle of the table.  The game doesn’t end until all players have passed their turns. Many games come to a screeching halt as soon as one player fulfills the winning criteria (in these games the Political Mastermind looks at me with no pity at all as I cry out “but if I only had one more turn!”) I like the fact that this game plays quickly, but doesn’t end suddenly.

What are some other quick games that I enjoy being beaten at?

I’m glad you asked, because I have two other games I want to talk about in this week’s column. The first of these is Pick-a-Pig. (Pick-a-Dog is played with the same rules, but I’m discussing Pick-a-Pig because it features pigs.)

how to play
quick rules!

I’ve mentioned Pick-a-Pig  in this column before (“Games I play when I’m tired”) but I wanted to give it a bit more space in this week’s column.

Pick-a-Pig is a speed-based card collection game.  You race to grab cards in the middle of the table before anyone else can get them.  These cards have to line up with the card you collected before it.  Each card you collect can only have one change from the preceding card you collected.  If your pig has two arms, you can grab a similarly colored animal of similar size, but with one arm.  (This would represent only one change from the card before it.)

If you don’t think you can grab anymore cards, you slap the table and yell “STOP!” (this is my favorite part of the game.  I love games where I can make loud noises and startle everyone playing.)

At this point, your opponents make you inspect your cards to see if you could have grabbed an additional card from the center of the table.  If you could have, then as punishment for stopping the round prematurely you have to discard all the cards you collected and you get 0 points for the round.

Each player then has to demonstrate that each card they collected only has one change from the card they grabbed before it. If any player makes an error, they have to discard all their cards from that round, and they get 0 points. (A fun house rule is to make that player oink like a pig for 10 seconds as punishment. )  Each player that played the round correctly gets to keep their cards from the round, and they will receive one point for each of these cards at the end of the game.

 Plays in 20 minutes!
Plays in 15 minutes!

The cards in the middle of the table are re-filled, and another round begins.  The game is over when there are not enough cards left to re-fill the center of the table.

This game is a lot of fun, and I’m happy to post a few photos because the art is whimsical and humorous.  It is a good thing that I enjoy the art, because I’m terrible at this game! I’m not good at speed based games, particularly if I have to be accurate.


If there were a game called “speed darts” then I would be the player frantically throwing darts and hitting wall sockets and windows while the political mastermind throws more darts in less time and hits the dart board.

I’m fascinated by “speed darts”, do you have any other games you want to talk about in this week’s column?

YES! Thanks so much for asking.  I wanted to take a minute here at the end of this week’s column to talk about Love Letter.

velvet bag!
velvet bag!

Love Letter is a game that consists of 16 cards.  It is playable from 2-4 players (as are all of the games I’m discussing in this week’s column).  The goal of the game is to deliver a love letter to the princess, which you do by holding a card at the end of the round that is higher than any other player’s card.  (The highest card in the game is the princess, and the higher your card, the more likely that your love letter will end up in the hands of the princess.)


Each player is dealt one card.  On their turn, a player draws one card, and then discards one card.  When they discard their card, they must take the action on the card.  The goal of the game is to be either the only player left in the round or to be the player left in the round with the highest numbered card left in their hand.

Sound simple?  It is, but deceptively so.  This is a game where you can get eliminated from the round before you even get to play a card.    A round can take a few minutes, or it can take 10 minutes, but it is a fast and furious affair.  It is very important to know what cards are left in the game, what cards have been played, and how to play your opponent.  (Your goal is to win multiple rounds.)

list of cards… VERY IMPORTANT!

I am terrible at this game!  I do not possess solid deductive powers (if I was featured in Sherlock Holmes, I would be the bumbling humor relief, walking into walls inadvertently while everyone else was solving crimes).  The political mastermind is a different story.  If she was featured in Sherlock Holmes, she would be Sherlock’s mentor!

But it doesn’t matter!  The art is great, the game is quick, and   I have yet to play a game of this where the whole table isn’t having a great time playing.


Each of the three games I’ve talked about today I would highly recommend buying.  They are great additions to any game collection, and each of these is simple enough to easily teach to non-gamers.

In other words, each of these is simple enough that people who don’t play board games will still beat me at them.

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