Friends invited some people over for gaming yesterday. I played one new game and two new variants of games I already knew.
We usually play Carcassonne with the river and cathedral expansions. This was my first time playing with whatever expansion introduces the dragon and princess. This adds chaos to the game: there are six volcano tiles, and when one of those comes out you place the dragon on it. Twelve other tiles are regular tiles but also have a dragon mark on them; after you play the tile the dragon is moved (six spaces total; players take turns directing the move). If the dragon lands on a player marker it eats it. Losing farmers in fields you can no longer get into is especially irritating, though losing guys in nearly-finished cities and cloisters hurts too. There is also a fairy token, which protects one tile against the dragon; if you don't play a token on your turn you can claim the fairy, so it moves around a lot. There are also "princess" and "portal" tiles that, in our game, had a less-pronounced effect on the game. Overall, I found that this expansion disrupted the game and also lengthened it, and while I'm glad to have played it once, it's not on my must-do-again list.
(In general, every Carcassonne expansion adds tiles without taking any away, so the game keeps getting longer. I seem to recall 30-minute games early on, but none recently.)
We played a couple games of Seven Wonders, one with the "leaders" expansion. (I hadn't been aware that Seven Wonders had expansions, but it has more than one.) With this expansion you draft four leader cards and can play one at the beginning of each age (so up to three of them). Leaders cost money to play and give a wide range of advantages; I had one that gave me a victory point for each gold card, one that gave me a one-coin rebate on purchases from neighbors, and I forget what my others were. One of my neighbors had one that conferred a military advantage, and she was already playing the military-minded city (so well-played). There was one that gave a victory point for each color of card you had in play. This expansion also adds two more cities, one of which gives discounts on buying leaders (in place of giving a resource). The leaders did help to channel one's strategy; I wasn't really feeling the lack of variety in the base game that leads to expansions, but maybe when I've played more I will.
This was also the first game in which the "card trees" really worked for me: I think I played four cards for free because I had the prerequisite cards, and previously I'd never played a game where I got more than one that way. Most of our games aren't seven-player like this one was, and with fewer players not all cards are in play, so that makes a difference. On the other hand, there's more competition for the cards; each of these free plays was a decision made in the moment, not part of a larger strategy.
This was my first time playing with sleeved cards. I understand the desire to protect one's cards, but I won't be in a hurry to sleeve ours -- the combination of the reflective surface and the lights in the room wasn't a good one for me.
The new-to-me game was Dixit, which is a short social game in the same vein as Apples to Apples. You have a hand of cards with art on them; the active player chooses a card from his hand and provides a clue of some sort (description, phrase, song lyric, noise, whatever); each other player selects a card that also matches that clue. Cards are shuffled and revealed and players vote on which card was the active player's. Having either everybody or nobody guess correctly is bad for the active player; otherwise, points are given based on correct guesses and playing cards that fooled people. We only played for about 20 minutes before breaking for dinner. I wasn't very good at it (especially in the active-player role), but I would enjoy playing more to see if I can do better. Presumably part of the key to this one is to play with different people; otherwise as you learn the cards a group might fall into ruts.