Of Lego, lollipops and food chains

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Today we had a lovely trip into Oxford to meet up with some friends with their two kids. After stuffing ourselves with pizza, we repaired to the Thirsty Meeples board game café for a few hours of playing.

I neglected to take a photo, so here's one ripped from the Thirsty Meeples' website.  Since this pic was taken, even more games have been piled on top of these shelves.

I neglected to take a photo, so here’s one ripped from the Thirsty Meeples’ website. Since this pic was taken, even more games have been piled on top of these shelves.

The selection of games available to play is quite intimidating, but we managed to identify some candidate games without needing to resort to recommendations from the very helpful staff.

So, while our friends’ sons started playing with their first choice, the Lego Battle of Hoth game, the other five of us tried out Om Nom Nom. which Miss B had spotted and fancied trying. I had never even heard of the game before, but it didn’t take long for us to get going. The game involves rolling enormous quantities of dice representing animals or things that can be eaten by animals, and then all players simultaneously playing cards representing animals trying to eat the things on the dice without themselves being eaten by something further up the food chain. This was just so much fun for all of us (I suspect it is best with five or six players), but it seems that it is quite hard to get hold of at the moment. If I manage to get a copy of the game I would love to write more about it (and play it a load more).

After that we played Gold Mine, which I have been wanting to try for ages, but which wasn’t much enjoyed by Miss B, so that comes back off the wish list.

Then I ended up playing the very pleasant two-player card game, Morels with one of our friends, while the others had a go at the Lego Creationary game (it’s basically Pictionary with Lego bricks rather than sketch pads). Creationary didn’t go down so well, so the others moved on to the daftness of Dalek Operation, followed by the great looking Monster Factory, which I was sorry to have missed: it’s a bonkers tile laying game which involved building some pretty crazy creatures.

That pretty much used up all our available time, so we all bought a load of games (hopefully you’ll be reading about Wicked Witches’ Race and Splendor here in due course) and went our separate ways. We think that was a very well spent afternoon, so we’ll do it again some time…

Categories: Events Tags: , ,

Gaming in March

April 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Another month, another report. March saw Miss B and I playing 16 different games for a total of 19 plays. We had one new-to-us game, Dixit Jinx, which you may already have read our write-up of, and this was one of only two games that had more than one play; Dixit Jinx got played 3 times, and Dobble twice.

It turns out that, for some games, you don't need the rules to have fun.  We'll probably play Maharani soon, though...

It turns out that, for some games, you don’t need the rules to have fun. We’ll probably play Maharani soon, though…

In the case of Dobble, we seem to be settling on the “Gotta Catch ‘em All!” variant, which has natural pauses in gameplay so is less likely to get manically out of control than the other Dobble games we have tried. Miss B is also getting pretty good at it.

Towards the end of the month Miss B was delighted to get a chance to play the original Dixit when some friends came to visit. This doesn’t often come out, and often ends in bewilderment, but Miss B still loves it. In fact, this play probably went more smoothly than any we had done before, which is nice.

For the year so far, our lead games are Dobble, with 5 plays, Plyt with 4, and a cluster all at 3 each: Apples to Apples, Dixit Jinx, Love Letter, Them’s Fightin’ Words, and my prototype card game without a name. It’s probably worth noting that Plyt is the only game that we have played every month so far this year — and always at Miss B’s suggestion.

Finally, an honourable mention for a game that we have played with, but not actually played: the beautiful tile-laying game, Maharani. Hopefully we’ll play and report on this soon, but for now it’s fun just laying out the tiles to make nice patterns.

Categories: Musings Tags:

The dragon is on the other side of the mountains

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Here we have another game by the ultra-prolific designer Reiner Knizia: Kingdoms. As with most of Knizia’s games, the rules are short, it’s quick to play, and it’s pretty abstract in style; and as with quite a few of them it is more than a bit mathematical.

Concentration... Where to put this tile amongst all those blue castles?!

Concentration… Where to put this tile amongst all those blue castles?!

The game involves playing tiles onto a grid, and those tiles have pretty pictures along with, in most cases, a number, either positive or negative. You also place cute, coloured plastic castles onto the board, those castles having between one and four towers on them. Then, at the end of the round, you total up the number of points on the tiles in each row or column, multiply by the number of castle towers in your colour in that row or column, adjust for the effects of a few special tiles, and that’s the amount of gold you win (or sometimes lose).

To a lot of people that is going to sound like about as much fun as having your ears straightened, but it’s the sort of thing that I love, and with Miss B’s current obsession with doing maths (we have to do sums on the walk into school in the morning), I figured this could be a good one to try out. The fact that the current edition of the game is beautifully presented (as is usual for Fantasy Flight Games) doesn’t hurt either.

Miss B absorbed the rules almost instantly and within a few turns she was talking about her options and which would be her best move. I needed to point out some of the less obvious options to her, like when a tile placement would harm her score but do a lot worse to me, but very little hand-holding was required here. Even at the points when I put a castle somewhere she wanted to go or placed a hazard (negative points) tile to affect her castles, there was a quick “Grr!” from her and she went right on to do something mean back to me. This is all good.

So I think we have found another winner here. We both like the game (and actually, I think we may be able to persuade S to try this one!) and Miss B seems to be up for playing it some more. I think this may become a valuable addition to the roster.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “I think it is better than it sounded.  I didn’t really like the sound of it at first but when I played it, it was pretty good.  I give it 9 out of 10 and if I play it more I might like it more and it might go up to 10 if we do.”

The game: Kingdoms (Fantasy Flight Games), 2 to 4 players aged 14+ (just one of those product testing dodges — there is no way you need to be 14 to play this!).

Cute rabbit is cute

March 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Time for another quick heads-up about a Kickstarter project that might be of interest. This one is called All Bunnies Eat Carrots and it is a cute card game about… well, bunnies, of course.

Image stolen from the ABEC Kickstarter page.  I think the lettuce is a serving suggestion.

Image stolen from the ABEC Kickstarter page. I think the lettuce is a serving suggestion.

A couple of points to note…

  • Despite what Warner Brothers would have you believe, I understand that carrots are not good food for rabbits (other than maybe as a treat). Lettuce, on the other hand…
  • I am not a rabbit person, though I know a number of people who are, to say the least.

This looks like it could be quite a fun little game though. The idea is that you are trying to collect bunnies by convincing them to stay with you by pandering to their needs. And what are their needs? Well, it’s stuff like carrots and rabbit food, but also glasses and hats and bows and stuff because… well, bunny crazy is a lot like cat crazy really. I don’t know if there is a pancake to balance on a rabbit’s head.

The rules are linked from the Kickstarter page and there is a video demonstrating play, during which they get through a 2 player game, including a load of explanation, in about 10 minutes, so you can get a decent idea of what is on offer here.

To be completely honest I am a little bit torn about this game. I’m not instantly enthused about the game itself as I have been about some others, but it is extremely cute (some would say sickeningly so), looks like it should be at least a bit of light fun as a family game, and is clearly massively infused with love and enthusiasm from its creators.

This is one major reason why I am considering pledging to this project. Where so many game Kickstarters are enormous, flashy projects, produced by established companies or, at the other end of the spectrum, clueless and naive rubbish, it’s great to see a project that appears to be a genuine labour of love. All Bunnies Eat Carrots is being produced by a lovely couple of people (I have been exchanging messages with one of the creators on Board Game Geek) who really believe in what they are doing, but appear to be listening to advice and trying to make the best game they can.

Or the best game about bunnies, at least.

So, if you are obsessed with rabbits, or you want to support this sort of enterprise, you could go over to their Kickstarter page and have a look. I’ve got a funny feeling that I’m going to end up pledging after all. The cute, it hurts…!

“Jinx!”

March 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Dixit is one of the games that Miss B spends a lot of time enthusing about, but we very rarely get to play. If we have a decent number of players available, we are more likely to play Apples to Apples, which is always a lot of fun, while Dixit, while excellent in concept, can be quite stressful as it is based on some pretty intense psychology which Miss B (and many adults, it must be said) can struggle with.

We probably need to tidy that square up...

We probably need to tidy that square up…

Anyway, S was away on a business trip recently and came back bearing Dixit Jinx, which comes in a pleasingly small and portable box. Inside there are a pile of double sided cards with a different image on each side; unlike the surreal illustrations in Dixit itself, these images are mostly just abstract patterns or look like extreme close-ups of some stylised pop art image. Dixit Jinx and its elder sibling play very differently, though there is just enough similarity to justify the name connection.

You lay nine of these cards in a three-by-three square in the middle of the table and one of the players uses a second set of cards (which show locations within the square) to select a card. The active player then gives some sort of a clue (usually just a word or two) and the other players have to put their finger onto the card that they think matches the clue, with only one person allowed to point at each card. Whoever guesses right keeps the card as a prize. If nobody guesses correctly, the active player is penalised a card.

Miss B, by the way, wanted the title of this post to be “Jinx!” because that is what you are meant to shout if two people point at the same card at the same time — whoever shouts first wins the right to point at the card alone.

So while Miss B claims to prefer the original Dixit game, this one certainly flows a lot easier, despite the occasional bit of “I meant to point at that one!” frustration. Apart from the odd moment like that (this is probably not a game to play too close to bed time!), it’s enjoyable and certainly easier to get to the table than its elder sibling, largely due to the fact that it really does take about 15 minutes, as stated on the box, and it does work pretty well with just the three of us playing.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “I’d say that the original is actually better because it is a 10 out of 10 but this game a 9 out of 10.”

The game: Dixit Jinx (Asmodee), 3 to 6 players aged 8+.

The slings and arrows of outrageous customer relations

March 17, 2014 Leave a comment

It has been a while since I posted an update on my campaigning exploits, which I will claim is in order to avoid derailing this blog too badly, but is actually more due to me not getting around to it.  Anyway, here is the latest.  I’m afraid it goes on a bit.

Two weeks after sending my previous email to WH Smith, I had heard nothing, so I figured I would send a short nudge email to them, just trying to get a response…

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it'll take a while to get there if it is.  (Image by John M,  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 - click on image to see details.)

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it’ll take a while to get there if it is. (Image by John M, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – click on image to see details.)

I wrote to you on 17th February (2 weeks ago) with a follow-up to a query about the gender-based display of toys in your shops.  I received an automated reply quickly, but have heard nothing else since.

Would it be possible for someone to let me know if WH Smith intends to change its toy displays to remove this bias, please, or give me some indication on the company’s stance on this issue.

My previous emails, along with the original reply from one of your customer relations staff are below.

Thanks for your time,

Well, happily I did indeed get a response. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for…

Thank you for your email.

I am very sorry that you were unhappy with our previous response. I have passed your comments on to our buying team who will take this into consideration.

If I can be of any help in the meantime then please let me know.

Kind regards

[Name deleted]
Customer Service Coordinator

Now, I have been really trying to think positively about this whole argument and not assume the worst of WH Smith, but when I get this sort of robotic reply that effectively parrots part of their original response, my hackles start to rise. The whole reason for my dissatisfaction last time was that they basically said, “Sorry you are unhappy, I’ve informed our buying team,” when I think the buying team is a wholly inappropriate place for this sort of query to end up.

Maybe it was time to take a different tack. At the suggestion of a friend, I tried contacting one of WH Smiths’ non-executive directors, who seemed to be slightly appropriate. Not having proper contact details, I fired off a tweet to her, trying to be polite and just asking for help finding the right person to talk to.

The next morning I was absolutely delighted to have received an “I’m on it!” type tweet. As you might imagine, I was in a great mood, actually thinking that things were finally progressing.

It was not to be. A few hours later, when I actually had some time to get online and think about what to do next I found that the tweeted reply had been deleted and said director had announced that her Twitter account had been compromised and that anyone who had followed a link tweeted by her should probably change their password.

Disheartened I decided to just wait for a little while, until today when I finally got around to replying to the last mail from Customer Relations…

Thankyou for your reply.

The reason I was unhappy with your previous response was that you forwarded my comments to the buying team, which I felt was the wrong place for the discussion to go, as how you present stock in your shops is nothing to do with purchasing.

Now I find that you have treated my follow-up email in the same way.
I’m sure you can appreciate that this makes me feel very frustrated with the whole process and gives me the impression that my emails have not actually been read.

So, taking a step back for a moment, I have a query about how shelf displays are designed and implemented within WH Smith shops. Could you please either forward my query to someone who has some responsibility for that element of the business, or give me contact details for someone I can talk to about it.

Many thanks,

A couple of hours later, probably by coincidence, I had this in my inbox…

Many thanks for your recent ‘tweet’ to [Director], which has been passed to me to respond.

I can confirm that the toy range in our high street stores is focused on best sellers in the market. Our share of the toy market is less than 2% and we therefore aim to display products by type, so that it is easy for customers to find what they are looking for, given the limited space dedicated to toys within the majority of our stores. We do value all customer feedback and would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

[Name deleted]
Group Communications Co-ordinator
WH Smith PLC

Wow, so my tweet seems to have actually had some effect after all. OK, so they are still missing the point, but we now appear to be at least talking about the same thing. I suspect that in WH Smith, a Co-ordinator is not a high rank, but I am taking this as progress.

Buoyed by this sniff of success, I figured I should get straight back in there with another attempt to get the point across…

Many thanks for your email. As you are contacting me via email I assume you have found my emails in the Customer Relations system somewhere and have read my comments. I will, however summarise my argument as it relates to your response.

You say that you display products by type so as to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for, and this is all well and good, but I would argue that “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” are not meaningful or appropriate categories of product. To say that, for instance, craft toys are for girls and science toys are for boys reinforces outdated and unhelpful stereotypes which have an influence on both the children and the people who buy toys for them.

Surely it is possible to label shelves as containing craft and construction toys, domestic toys, dolls and soft toys, toy vehicles, and so on. In the case of WH Smith, where there is often only a small area devoted to toys, then isn’t just “toys” an appropriate label?

I appreciate that WH Smith is not primarily a toy retailer, but it does have enormous visibility on many High Streets throughout the UK and a great deal of influence on shoppers. Many other retailers out there are starting to realise that gender segregation of toys is no longer appropriate or acceptable and are realising that by making a small change in how they label or organise their stock they can send a positive message to their customers and make the country just a little better for our children. Please can WH Smith become one of these forward thinking companies?

Thanks again for your time and attention.

So, that’s where we are now. I’ll report back again as and when there are any other developments.

Just as a bit of a postscript, it is worth noting that WH Smith can get it right, and are doing the right thing in at least some of their stores. All it would really take for this whole business to be put to bed — from my point of view, anyway — is for them to engage and say that they are working on it, and have already made the change in some shops. I would probably follow up with a request for some sort of a timetable, but then leave it at that (assuming they don’t rile me in some way).  But I’m not going to make it that easy for them. I want someone to show evidence of thinking.

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,

Gaming in February

March 2, 2014 2 comments

We had a good month of gaming in February, with Miss B and I getting through 24 plays of 17 different titles. This total was helped along nicely by one of Miss B’s school friends (whose father I play games with on occasion) coming over for a few hours during the school’s half term holiday, followed by some other adult friends coming over for games with us at the weekend.

When your castle is blinged out with a great flag like this. surely there is no need to panic when a few orcs turn up.

When your castle is blinged out with a great flag like this. surely there is no need to panic when a few orcs turn up.

Several games got played more than once during the month, with Dobble getting the most plays, three, though you should remember that Dobble only takes a few minutes to play so we usually play more than once in a sitting. Other multi-played games, with two goes each, were Castle Keep, Eco Fluxx (I think this year I will count all the Fluxx plays together, as they are essentially the same game), Goblins Drool Fairies Rule, and Love Letter, along with an early prototype for a card game I am developing.

So the most played games of the year so far all have three plays each: Apples to Apples (invariably gets pulled out when we have four or more people around — Miss B absolutely loves this), Dobble, and Plyt.

It’s far too early to make any real predictions about how this year will shape up, but maybe next month I’ll feel like extrapolating something.

Categories: Musings Tags:
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers