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+.
If there was a gaming theme for June, it was traditional games. Through the month we played Chess, Draughts, Dominoes, Backgammon and Awale (or Oware, or whatever you want to call it — it’s a Mancala variant), the last of which was improvised with an egg box that Miss B acquired, along with some pennies.
This was also a month where, after a few months of being less interested, Miss B was back to being really active in requesting games — though unfortunately this was often near bed time so there was usually only time for something very short.
We also, as I reported a couple of weeks back, played two games that Miss B had invented herself.
So, over the month we played 13 different games for a total of 19 plays. The games we played more than once were Dominoes 4 times, and Darjeeling, Gubs and Pass the Pigs, all twice.
This leaves our leading game for the year so far being Love Letter, with 7 plays, followed by Plyt (which we didn’t play in June) and Dobble with 6 plays and Chess with 5. Any of those could be the top game of the year, but we haven’t had a “play it to death” game so far this year, and if one of those turns up, all bets would be off.
Any of you in the UK will probably know about The Works, a chain of shops which mostly sell discount books. Over the last few years they have had a few batches of boardgames of the sort I like, and a few weeks back they started stocking a whole heap of games, including some pretty good stuff. I’ve bought quite a few of these, but the first that we have got around to playing is Darjeeling, a game about harvesting and shipping tea.
That theme has surely got you eagerly wanting to know more. So basically, this is about collecting sets of tiles, but there are some cute things with putting crates onto ships and scoring points for those crates every turn until enough other shipments have taken place, and there is a really clever way of tracking market demand for different types of tea with a sort of ramp that has wooden cylinders rolling down it. Really neat.
Anyway, the important thing is that Miss B clicked with the mechanics almost instantly. It is easy to forget to claim your victory points at the start of each turn, but everything else seems to be fairly straightforward. We have played a couple of times and there have been very few moans other than the first time when we ran out of time and had to stop early — Miss B wanted to keep going.
It is also worth knowing that the game time is listed on the box as 60 minutes, but our first full 2-player game with all the rules in play took us about 45 minutes, with Miss B not just ready to play all the time, but sometimes eagerly starting to take her turn before I had finished mine. As always, your mileage may vary, but for us this seems to be made of pure gold. It’s a decent Euro-style game that Miss B gets totally into and eats up every moment of. I have no idea whether this will change after we have played some more, but for now it is looking like a great purchase.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7½): “I don’t know what to say about it because it’s too good. I give it 10 out of 10.”
The game: Darjeeling (Abacus Spiele), 2 to 5 players aged 12+.
On my regular rounds of blog reading is a site called iSlaytheDragon, which is largely game reviews but also a load of other gaming-related stuff. A couple of days ago they had a nice post about gaming with a 6-year-old.
I won’t try summarising the post here, but it’s a good read. The writer, Jason, is generally against simplifying “adult” games for kids on the grounds that there are a lot of games out there that are aimed specifically at kids, so why tear the heart and soul out of one of your favourite games in order to play with the young’uns? I don’t entirely agree with this, but it is a good reminder that playing some of those kiddie games is not only OK, but a good idea.
There are also some interesting thoughts about getting the offspring to learn games by effectively shadowing an adult and helping make moves rather than actually playing.
Ahh, if you’re interested, go and have a read…
One of the new and interesting (to us) games that we saw at UK Games Expo was called The Downfall of Pompeii, discovered when Miss B was offered a place in a demonstration game in one of the trade halls.
I sat alongside Miss B while she played cards to make her people move into the city of Pompeii and then, in the second half of the game, placed lava tiles onto the city while the terrified inhabitants ran around trying to reach the exits. Victims of the volcano, by the way, get thrown into a 3D volcano which sits in the corner of the board and is a lovely little gimmick. Never underestimate the value of a simple gimmick like this in attracting a 7-year-old — or her father — to a game.
One thing that made me chuckle about the game, incidentally, is that the designer felt the need to add a historical note at the end of the rulebook to point out that the inhabitants of Pompeii were killed by pyroclastic flows and not the lava, which works better for the game. I just love that the inaccuracy is acknowledged like that.
Miss B wasn’t really sure what she was doing during the demo game at the Expo, but when we sat down to play at home, she quickly got to grips with things and was happy and intent figuring out the best place to place her people so they would have the best chance to escape when the eruption came. In the later part of the game, when the lava starts flowing, the meanness of guiding the molten rock to cut off each other’s the escape routes of was all taken in the spirit of fun, with plenty of aggression going both ways. All in all, this was a hoot to play.
It’s an interesting game, this. Setting up the game involves seeding a deck of cards with special events in a prescribed way which isn’t too onerous, but seems a bit of a chore. The first part of the game seems maybe a bit dry as you place little wooden markers on the board, but it is diverting enough. All this doesn’t go on for too long, though, and it is all made worthwhile by the carnage that happens once the volcano erupts which, as I have said before, is just great fun. The box says it takes about 45 minutes to play and I think we took comfortably under an hour, so that seems a reasonable estimate.
I’m hoping we’ll get to play more of this.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7½): “I really like the volcano because it’s 3D and I like the decoration on it. I give it a 9 out of 10. I think it’s better with 2 players than 4 because it’s more of a panic and you have more people to save.”
The game: The Downfall of Pompeii (Mayfair Games), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.
I have recently been getting into game design as a hobby, and Miss B has been experimenting herself a little. After our recent visit to UK Games Expo, she has got a bit more fired up on this, partly due to seeing a bunch of new and interesting games, but largely due to the seminar on gaming with kids, where the chairman was encouraging everyone to have a go at inventing games.
This week, Miss B has been working very industriously on a new game, based on the idea of trying to escape from an erupting volcano. The inspiration for this came from our play of The Downfall of Pompeii that we both enjoyed at UK Games Expo. We bought a copy, so hopefully there’ll be a write-up on it soonish.
Miss B’s Volcano game is basically a Snakes & Ladders style roll and move game, where you race from the top of the volcano to the base. As you go, you may land on a “question mark” space, in which case you draw a chit from a cup. Some of the chits either move your marker forward or an opponent back, but many are volcano chits, meaning that one of you (selected randomly) loses a life and the other gains a gold coin (yeah, I’m not sure why). When someone gets to the bottom of the volcano (or loses all their lives) you score points by adding the number of the square you reached to the number of gold coins you have, and the highest score wins.
OK, so it’s not sophisticated, but it’s a good attempt to apply a theme to the roll and move mechanic, and it was pretty fun to play.
Later on we played another game that Miss B has been working on: Doctor Who versus Harry Potter. Now, regardless of the quality of the game, it’s awesome that Miss B is getting into this sort of nerdy fangirl mashup. There’s awesome right there.
The game itself gave each of us a small stack of cards that she had made up. On mine were monsters from Doctor Who (Daleks, Cybermen and so on), and on hers were monsters and enemies from the Harry Potter books (dragons, Dementers, etc.). We had a pile of counters each (actually we had little ducks as counters), and had to take it in turn to play cards on each other. In order to defeat a card you had to hand over to the other player enough ducks to cover the strength of the card, and on doing this you score some victory points (which are added to by remaining ducks at the end of the game). This went smoothly, but ended in a victory for the Doctor Who player simply because there were more victory points available on the Harry Potter cards.
I don’t think this worked as well as the volcano game, but it must be said that Miss B was moving away from standard kiddy-game fair here and trying to design something new. I’m not sure how we can make this work properly, but I’m sure there is a way to do it.
We’ll see how we go with both of these games over the coming weeks.
Moving away from the usual content for a moment or two of your time…
You may have heard of John Kovalic, the man behind the wonderful Dork Tower and illustrator of loads of games and stuff. Well, he’s been on a charity fund raising buzz (including a big bike ride last year) and now, in that spirit, he has made a colouring (sorry, coloring!) book which you can download as a PDF for the miserly sum of a couple of USian dollars, which go to John’s favoured charities.
The book, entitled Embrace the Squee! is a bunch of exceptionally random stuff for you and your nearest and dearest to colour in, from goofy dogs to kobolds in clockwork battle armour, and princesses on my-little-somethings to Cthul-Who, which you should be able to see a coloured rendition of somewhere on this page.
So, this is heartily recommended and definitely gets the Miss B seal of approval. There should be more geeky colouring books like this. You can buy one here if I’ve managed to convince you.