So Miss B was in the “spare” room (which is largely taken up with games, so isn’t very spare) looking at the shelves of boxes and commenting on a few games that she’d like to play again, some she really didn’t fancy, and asking me about a few she didn’t know about. One of this latter category was Dragonlance, a big box boardgame TSR made in the late 80’s based on the popular D&D scenarios and novels.
I played this game a couple of times, many years ago and thought it was OK, and then found a copy of it in a charity shop a few years back, so added it to the collection. To be frank, it still looks pretty cool when set up on the table, even if it is almost impossible to get the gates and walls to fit together properly. I mean, when you have everything in play you have 30 dragon miniatures (in 6 colours) to fly around the place, how cool is that? The altitude of the dragons also come into play, and this is represented by a stack of disks that elevate the figures, and combat causes losers to fall towards the ground. And on the subject of combat, it generally strongly favours the attacker, who gets bonuses for swooping in at speed rather than just taking pot shots. Movement is, unfortunately, based on a die roll, but at least if you get unlucky and roll low you get to draw magic cards which can give all sorts of nice bonuses to compensate you for the lousy moves.
So far, so fantastic. Unfortunately, the stacks of disks with dragons balanced on top can be really precarious and there can be a lot of accidental knockings-over, particularly when you have a functionally one-armed seven-year-old and a shaky-handed klutz like me. Still, we muddled on through.
The game we played just used the basic rules and one set of dragons each. The rules suggest that in a two-player game you could play two, or even three colours each, which I think we will do next time as our game was over quite quickly without much battling and too much manoeuvring space. Miss B had a shockingly bad start, movement-wise, but then managed to draw a couple of magic cards which helped her get to the Dragonlance rather easily and then out again with some neat tricks, after which I was unable to catch her.
We had a great time with this. The game has amazing visual appeal and is quite a lot of fun to play, despite its flaws. We’ll probably be giving it another go soonish, using more dragons but almost certainly sticking to the basic rules. There are advanced rules that add all sorts of extra tactical factors but, frankly, who needs them?
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 7¾): “Very exciting adventure game. I WON! One of my dragons kept falling over. Daddy drew a magic card but it was, ‘bronze dragons immune’, so VICTORY!”
The game: Dragonlance (TSR), 2 to 6 players aged 10+.
It has been some time since I’ve written up a new game. We have actually played several new (to us) games over the last couple of months, but with most of them we just haven’t got to the point where Miss B wants to give a verdict. We do have one now, though: Piece o’ Cake.
I had heard of the game a couple of years or so ago, but we only got to try it out during a visit to the Thirsty Meeples boardgame cafe in Oxford. Everyone enjoyed the game and I totally fell in love with its elegance. Unfortunately it is out of print (at least in English), but a couple of days later I managed to find someone selling a copy of the German version (called “…aber bitte mit Sahne”) through the BoardGameGeek marketplace. The game is completely language independent (apart from the rules, which are downloadable) so we are now the proud owners of this little gem, which we have played a few times since.
So, I may have given the impression that I like the game, but how does it work?
Well, basically, Piece o’ Cake is a game about sharing pieces of cake. Each round one player lays out a cake which comprises slices of different varieties: chocolate, strawberry, gooseberry, and so on. There are 11 slices laid out each time, and the player whose turn it is divides the cake into portions, one per player in the game. Each portion can have one or more slices in it and due to 11 being a prime number, there will always be at least one portion of a different size to the others, which is a neat touch. Each player chooses a portion to take, with the player who chose the splits taking last. For each slice taken, each player chooses to either eat it (which will score points equal to the number of dollops of cream on it) or keep it (which scores more points for the player with the most uneaten slices of each type of cake).
That’s pretty much it other than a rule where you can pass your turn in order to just eat a load of cake you had previously been keeping. You go through all this process five times and then count up the scores. The game is actually really mathematical, with a bit of push-your-luck and psychology thrown in, but it plays so easily that most people don’t notice, and just have fun sharing out slices of cake.
I’ve played this now at all player counts from 2 to 5 (Miss B hasn’t been in on a 5 yet) and have to say that it is weak (though not awful) with 2 players, so I don’t expect I’ll be playing it with Miss B alone all that often, but other than this it is absolutely great. Miss B seems to enjoy puzzling over her decisions and figuring out her best options, and has fun regardless of her end score. And to round off, this was the first game she got out over the weekend when some friends came around to play games with us.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 7¾): “It’s a very good game. I’d recommend this game because it’s very light and easy.”
The game: Piece o’ Cake/…aber bitte mit Sahne (Rio Grande/Winning Moves), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.
Posted by Miss B…
I made this game at after school club as there was a junk modelling table, so I decided that I’d make a balancing game. At first, Daddy thought that it was a pile of rubbish but I explained that it was a game. When I played it before, it was a pretty good game but we had to change it a bit.
A week or so ago, Miss B returned from After School Club bearing a pile of what, to the untrained eye, might have appeared to be a bagful of junk: small boxes, plastic cups, toilet roll tubes, and so on. This stuff all had a purpose, though, and she spent quite a lot of time explaining how all these objects were part of a game which involved stacking the various items on top of each other.
Since then, Miss B has been hard at work developing her idea. She recently broke her writing arm and has it encased in plaster from bicep to hand, which has made everything a lot harder, but some of the development time has been spent painstakingly typing rules into a text editor on my computer.
This evening, though, we had the grand unveiling of the game, Tumbling Towers. The game was set up with an initial base of a cardboard box balanced on top of three toilet roll holders. Players take it in turns to stack seven plastic cups on top of this base, and successfully doing so, with the tower staying for a count of ten, results in scoring one point. Before starting the stack, players roll a die to determine whether or not they have to add an extra bit of card or paper into the tower.
We had a couple of goes at this each and then had a discussion about how to improve things. We agreed that it would be more fun if we took it in turns to add objects to the tower. Miss B had been intending to have a deck of cards indicating what object from her stash should be added to the tower, but hadn’t got around to making them (the broken arm making this difficult) so we came up with a scheme where we put the objects in a row and rolled a die to decide which one was to be used next. We also decided that objects could be stacked on the base any way we liked, as long as the new object didn’t go inside another object.
This proved to be quite a lot of fun. Of course, not all objects are equal and getting a penny or a button made your like a lot easier than if you got a cup or an Altoids tin. I have suggested that this could work really well if we had a selection of different shaped wooden blocks instead. Miss B isn’t sure right now as she likes her box of random junk — and who can blame her?! She says that she would love to get this game published one day. Maybe she will…
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.