Our gaming picked up a little in August, partly due to playing out the TaG Award, but also helped along by a holiday with the in-laws and an afternoon of gaming with some friends from the next town who have a daughter just a little younger than Miss B who also likes board games.
The holiday trip included another version of the Compact Travelling Games Cupboard (of Doom), which crammed a huge amount of games into a comparatively small box. Unfortunately I didn’t think to make a note of the games that were in it, but the selection rivalled the one from last year and, once again, most remained unplayed, but it was great to have the options when the schedule allowed for gaming.
Anyway, the month’s plays including Miss B came to 12 different games, with a total of 16 plays. The games played twice were Mutant Meeples (thanks to the TaG Award proceedings), Apples to Apples (actually played in two completely different groups — aside from Miss B and myself), newcomer Ali, and old favourite that only comes out occasionally, Ghost Party. It was particularly pleasing to have a couple of plays of Apples to Apples as Miss B really loves playing it but it really needs at least four or five people to make it worth playing, so it mostly stays on the shelf.
Summing up the year so far, not much changes, though Love Letter, with 8 plays this year, has edged ahead of Plyt’s 7 due to Plyt missing a month. Dobble is still sitting at 6 plays, followed by Gubs, Chess, and Apples to Apples following with 5 plays each. We’re definitely not playing as many games this year as we did last year, but it’s interesting to note that this year there aren’t any games we keep playing over and over like, in particular, Love Letter and Sleeping Queens last year. It means that it’s going to be very difficult to call what the winner for the year will be.
The time has come for the final of this year’s award. We have been away on holiday, which threw everything a bit out of whack, but Miss B and I finally found the time to play our two finalists back to back.
To remind you, we have two games that survived the gauntlet of head-to-head plays against other candidates. The first was Miss B’s initial choice of Mutant Meeples, a game of racing to solve puzzles faster than your opponents, with the nice twist that every puzzle you solve reduces your options (but not anyone else’s) for future turns. Our other contender was Gubs, a card game that can have a fair bit of inter-player nastiness in it, which is tempered by the fact that luck plays a huge part in the game and a big lead can be overturned in an instant by a bad card draw.
Miss B requested that we played Mutant Meeples first. She seems to be really getting her head around this game and quickly solved the first couple of puzzles to get an early lead which she maintained for most of the game until she finally won. I always pause for a few seconds before making a call in this game, just to give Miss B a better chance, but we are getting to the point where she doesn’t really need this handicap very much, so I will probably tone it down soon. An interesting element of the game is that when one of us solves the puzzle, the other is usually able to demonstrate an alternate solution, which means that each round becomes a nice discussion and an opportunity for us to show off to each other. Mutant Meeples is definitely a competitive game for us, but it also has some very nice social aspects.
After finishing the game, we stopped for a quick drink and snack break before setting up Gubs — though, in comparison, Gubs take very little setting up. Miss B showed no qualms in attacking me at every opportunity, maintaining a small lead (aided by her control of the Esteemed Elder from an early turn) through most of the game, and managed to play defensive cards pretty well to help her avoid the worst of the nasty event cards. I managed to keep in touch though and squeezed a narrow victory in the end thanks to the game ending soon after I had trapped one of her Gubs in a soap bubble. As usual, the game had its share of crazy twists and turns, and had both of us laughing hysterically on a couple of occasions as some inopportune card stuffed one or both of us.
So, according to Miss B’s scoring system for this year we both had to assign scores out of 10 for each game. I wimped out by giving both games 8 out of 10, though I think this was fair as Mutant Meeples was a fun and satisfying experience, while the game of Gubs was shallow but joyous. Miss B’s scores would decide the day. She told me, “It was a really close test and it was difficult to decide which would win because they were both very good.” In the end, though, she decided that Gubs would get 8 out of 10, and Mutant Meeples got 9 out of 10.
And as a result, I can now announce that Mutant Meeples is the winner of the 2014 TaG Award. Ted Alspach can, I’m sure, imagine a really cool non-existent trophy that he can put on his mantlepiece. (And a big thankyou to Graham, who bought us this game. It has been really appreciated.)
Now we reach the second game-off which, by a process of elimination, comprises Mutant Meeples versus Darjeeling. As these are potentially longer games (although neither is particularly long) than those in the first match-up, we had made sure that we had a whole afternoon available for play. Miss B came up with a system for deciding which game to play first, and soon we were setting up…
Mutant Meeples came first. This is a puzzle game, where everyone simultaneously tries to figure out how to move a super-powered meeple to a random location on a grid in the fewest possible moves. The problem is that each time you are successful you lose the ability to use the meeple that reached the target, meaning that as you move towards winning your options are reduced and the game gets hard for you. We have only played the game a few times so far. Miss B loves it, though the speed-solving aspect can make things very stressful and result in brief bouts of tears.
During this play I got an early lead, but having quickly lost the use of three meeples, Miss B started catching up. Actually, she is getting very good at solving puzzles using a single meeple, though really struggles to see how to work things out moving multiple meeples in a turn — something that is sometimes required. In the end, we were level pegging as the last puzzle was set and I won by a single point. Go me!
Then we moved onto our recently-acquired Darjeeling, a nice, fairly light set collection game with some nice twists as to how you collect the things you are collecting and what you do with them in the end. At first glance, Darjeeling looks fairly complicated for family play, but Miss B took to it almost instantly, and quickly got a pretty good handle on strategy. I really couldn’t be happier with this purchase (if you’re in the UK you may be able to find it at The Works, the book discounter).
Anyway, the game went quickly, with Miss B managing to get a good lead early on. The game has a system where, when you ship a load of tea, the shipment continues to provide you with victory points until enough other shipments have taken place. This means that if you manage to send off a consignment before other players are ready to follow, you can score quite a few points in the ensuing turns, or at least force the others to ship smaller loads than they were planning. Miss B took great advantage of this early on, but in the mid-game I managed to return the favour and ended up scoring a very narrow victory.
Despite our concerns that these games may take a while to play, each of them was complete in less than an hour and enjoyed them both. So it became time to vote.
I like both of these games, and probably slightly prefer Darjeeling, but on this occasion I figured we had a lot of fun with both, so I gave both of them a score of 8 out of 10, meaning that Miss B would be making the decision. She decided that Darjeeling was good and worth 8 points, but Mutant Meeples was worth 9. She entered all the data onto her bits of paper and announced that, with a total score of 17 out of 20, Mutant Meeples was the winner.
And so we now have two games for the grand final, which will be Gubs and Mutant Meeples. That should be a fun gaming session, so look out for the report soon.
The day of the first game-off arrived and Miss B chose the two competitors: Plyt, the game of rolling dice and doing mathematics, against Gubs, the game of maliciously attacking cute little beasties. You really couldn’t have two games that were much more different.
First up was Plyt. This year, Plyt has surprised me greatly by being one of our most played games. There isn’t really much to it as a game (it’s just a matter of doing randomly generated multiplication problems), but Miss B currently really enjoys maths and wants to get better at it, and Plyt gives her some really good practice. There is no way I can fault something that exercises skills that Miss B’s teachers say she should be working on, so I am delighted to have this in the collection. Our current set up has removed the awful “go down a level” cards, which means that the random card draws on average tend to push us towards the end. I roll four dice for my problems, which usually gives me a challenge to stretch my mental arithmetic skills, while Miss B rolls two dice. The dice are twelve-sided, by the way.
Anyway, the game went well. As usually happens, a couple of times during play Miss B struggled to hold back tears when she had a particularly tricky problem to solve. I got very lucky with dice rolls and card draws, and in the end I won. It is worth noting, by the way, that this is the first time I have ever beaten Miss B in a game of Plyt, so celebrations were very much in order.
After a short break, we got playing Gubs, which was one of our top games last year, but has come out less often recently, though we always enjoy it when it does. I got a shocking start to the game, and within a few turns Miss B had something like eight Gubs lined up in front of her, while I had only one — and he was trapped in a sud spout, so was no use to me. I commented that in Gubs things can change quickly, and a couple of turns later Miss B said, “You know you said things can change…?” as she turned over the dreaded “Dangerous Alchemy” card, which wipes out everything in front of the person who draws it. Disaster!
I was expecting Miss B to get a little upset at this point, but to her enormous credit she just shrugged and got on with it. Gubs is one of those games that can have really wild swings of fortune and if you can’t handle that, you’re probably best not playing it, and I think Miss B has got comfortable with the idea, which is really great. In the end, though, things went Miss B’s way and she won the game anyway, though only by a small margin.
Miss B has decided on a new scoring system for this year’s awards, and for the first time I have a say in the proceedings. Both she and I have to rate each game (based purely on how much we enjoyed it on the day) out of 10, then she will add the scores together to find the winner. She gets the casting vote in the event of a tie.
So, I enjoyed both games, but Gubs was a bit more fun for me, so I scored Plyt at 7 and Gubs at 8. Miss B felt that they were both good and gave them both a score of 8.
After a little while spent doing the calculations, Miss B was therefore able to announce that with a score of 16 out of 20, Gubs would be the first finalist. She said that she liked both games so is happy with that result.
Now we have a brief interlude from the coverage of the TaG Awards to bring to you our monthly gaming report…
This was our quietest month of gaming so far this year, with only 9 different games played and only one of them played a second time (Gomoku — that’s 5-in-a-row to you), but this saw the reintroduction of Magic: The Gathering (only played once, but we spent some good time building decks) and Plyt, which skipped a month of play in June.
Actually that statement about only playing one game more than once is not entirely true. Miss B hassled me into playing One Night Ultimate Werewolf with her. In case you don’t know this, it is an ultra-quick retooling of the classic Werewolf/Mafia game of lying to and murdering your friends, and is really quite good. The thing is that it really needs at least 4 or 5 people to make it work properly and the two of us plus a couple of Miss B’s toys to make up the numbers doesn’t really cut the mustard. So we had some fun going through the motions and had a system for the toys making votes randomly, and did this a few times, but I wouldn’t really class it as actually playing the game. By way of a compromise I have recorded that session as a single play.
Miss B is now worryingly keen to play the game with real people. That’s going to be an interesting day.
Anyway, all this leaves us with the year’s leaderboard headed up by Love Letter and Plyt on 7 plays each, followed by Dobble with 6 plays and Chess with 5. This year we don’t have any game running away at the front, so there really is everything to play for, and plenty of space for something new to jump in and take over.
I think the August plays may be interesting as we will be spending a part of the month away on holiday, so our game playing patterns are bound to be very different.
Summer is well and truly here and that can mean only one thing… Well, of course it means a lot of things, but one of the things it means is that it is time for the annual TaG Award, that highly sought-after prize for excellence in gaming which changes its name pretty much every year. Last year it was known as the Golden Game Award, and before that it was the Golden Thingummy, but now Miss B has settled on the TaG Award, which seems fitting.
Anyway, the rules are similar to previous years, but with a slight enhancement. The shortlist is made up of two games chosen by Miss B and two games that I choose to round things out a bit. We then play two game-offs, each playing two of the games in one day and selecting one from each game-off to go through to the grand final. The final works in the same way, and results in one game being given the much coveted TaG Award. In previous years, Miss B has had sole discretion in choosing the winners, but this time around she wanted me to have a say, so now we are each scoring the games we play out of ten (based on how much we enjoyed playing on the day) and adding our scores together to get a score out of twenty. In the event of a tie, Miss B has a casting vote.
So, the rules being dealt with, I’ll let Miss B explain her choices for the shortlist…
“I chose Plyt because it is a game that has helped me think harder and quicker in maths. It is also fun and enjoyable.
“I chose Mutant Meeples because it is fun and I like the way that if you do well at it it gets harder for you. It is frustrating and hard, but I liked it as soon as we started playing it.”
Two good choices there. I think an honourable mention has to go to Flippin’ Fruit, which was on the list briefly, but then Miss B changed her mind in favour of Mutant Meeples.
My choices were Gubs, because it is so much fun and we played it quite a lot over the last year, and Darjeeling, which we have only played a couple of times so far, but which has the potential to become a firm favourite.
So, there we have it, four candidates for one of the most prestigious awards that is judged by people living in our house. Watch this space for the competition’s progress over the next few weeks…
There is a game out there called The aMAZEing Labyrinth, which is really neat, involving a maze that constantly changes as tiles are pushed and slid about to open up new passages and close old ones, while players run around this shifting space trying to visit various spaces on the board in order to claim cards. It’s really neat, though you have to be careful as you slide the tiles around, and the game can be very difficult for young’uns, despite it looking like a kids’ game.
We have a copy of a later version of the game, called The Master Labyrinth, which makes the whole thing a bit more complicated. There is a cool bit where you can use magic wands to let you have two turns in a row, but the game’s scoring is more complex and includes a bonus system that can suck all of the fun out of the game if you get unlucky.
Recently, however, I found, in a charity shop, a copy of The Secret Labyrinth, which is another variation of the same theme. This one has a maze made of rotating concentric circles, which is really quite cool, though it doesn’t have the same variability of its square-tile-based siblings.
Play involves turning up a card which indicates a location to reach, you turn the maze elements, and then move your marker to try to reach your target and if you are successful, you keep the card. Collect a set of cards and you win the game.
This is all very nice, but you won’t be able to collect a set of cards without stealing from another player, which you do by landing on their marker and playing rock-paper-scissors. The winner of the RPS match gets to steal items from the loser.
Frankly I think this is not a good way to go; turning a nice (though limited) puzzle game into a player-versus-player battle just seems utterly wrong and destroys the essence of the game. I’m sure I could come up with a more in-character way to play the game without making it so confrontational. Maybe I will try some time as the look of the board is just great (and the mechanics are almost great).
Our play through of Secret Labyrinth was OK, but Miss B found predicting what the maze would do very frustrating and I found myself helping out quite a lot. This is pretty much the way of the more standard versions of Labyrinth for us, though, so wasn’t a surprise. The battling and stealing element definitely didn’t go down well, particularly as the attacker can just as easily end up losing treasure, which is quite a disincentive really.
As an aside, it is very easy to beat a 7-year-old at rock-paper-scissors, so it is probably best to try to play randomly in situations like this.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7½): “I give it 9 out of 10. I think I game one game 8 out of 10.” (I’m not sure about Miss B’s current grade scale, really — she said she would give this game a low score, which 9 apparently is.)
The game: The Secret Labyrinth (Ravensburger), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.