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.
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.
I haven’t posted about a Kickstarter project for a while. I’ve backed a few recently (mostly small and cheap ones), but I’m trying to not get into having a “Kickstarter Corner” on the blog so I’ll just post about the ones that particularly tickle me.
And the game that has done the tickling recently is Oddball Aeronauts, which is basically a small card battle game based largely on Top Trumps and themed with anthropomorphised animals flying around in airships. The idea is that while you do the statistic matching as per the perennial kids’ game (that Miss B absolutely loves, incidentally, especially her Doctor Who deck), you have the choice of boosting the statistics of your first card by using the one or two cards behind it in the deck. Plus there are assorted special effects that switch things around a bit, all adding to what looks like some meaningful decision making.
Miss B was totally sold after watching a couple of the videos on the Kickstarter page, and I figure this looks like it should at least be a fun, portable filler game — one of the major selling points is that you don’t even need a table to play on.
So, if this looks like your sort of thing then Oddball Aeronauts’ Kickstarter is running for about another week. It’s British too, which is nice to see.
After my little foray into activism a few days ago, I am pleased to say that I received a reply from Customer Relations at WH Smith. I am less pleased to say that the reply was pretty much a boiler plate “sorry you aren’t happy, we’ll bear your views in mind” which didn’t really fill me with confidence that they are taking the matter seriously.
You don’t have to take my word for it, here is what I received:
Many thanks for your email.
I am very sorry that you are unhappy with the display of toys in store. We stock a wide range of toys and try to meet the needs of all of our customers and make products easy to locate.
I’ve passed your feedback on to our Buyer and I can assure you that it will be taken into consideration during our next range review.
If I can help further please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Customer Service Co-ordinator
Now, I wasn’t expecting the earth to shake and a thousand WH Smith employees to be instantly mobilised in order to appease me and my radical opinions, but I was hoping to receive a reply that made me think that somebody had actually thought about the issue. Can I actually be the only person that has written to them about this?
I guess I just have to write to them again as I don’t think they have this filed in the correct pigeonhole…
Thankyou for replying to my email.
I understand that WH Smith must decide how best to present stock to customers in order to ensure your customers find what they are looking for and can make their purchase. However, I am trying to point out that you can achieve this aim in different — and potentially more effective — ways than simply presenting a selection of toys for either boys or girls, ways that do not reinforce unhelpful gender stereotypes that can cause problems for girls and boys alike.
This is not an issue of reviewing your range. The range of toys in your stores is completely unrelated to how they are presented to your customers. This is all about what message you are sending to boys and girls as well as the adults who buy toys for them. From what I can see in the Wantage store, you are suggesting that craft toys are for girls and space toys are for boys.
It is a small thing, but this detail is insidious and in a world where we are trying to encourage women into technical fields, which have been traditionally male-dominated, the small details can add up to work against all the efforts of schools, governments and these fields themselves. Similarly, when the images of, say, craft and childcare are reinforced as being something for girls, this discourages boys from leading rewarding lives in these areas. The whole of society is made less because of this.
WH Smith must, of course, make its own business decisions, but please, please take this issue seriously. It may seem a small and irrelevant thing to some, but there are a lot of people out there who would just love to promote businesses who help to move this cause forward. Campaign groups like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks (who, despite the name, are not wanting to ban the colour pink!) are genuinely looking for leadership in making this form of casual discrimination a thing of the past and, I’m sure, would be more than happy to spread the word of any improvements you can make.
Thank you again for your attention. Please give this some real thought.
So, that’s off into the ether. I’m hoping that I receive a reply that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been summarily dismissed. I will report again as and when I hear something. Hopefully I can then get back to writing about playing games as usual.
Monster Café was Miss B’s Christmas present to me, so we were pretty keen to give it a go — although we had to play a bit more on other occasions before Miss B was happy to let me publish a post on it.
The game is actually quite a lot like Coloretto. This, I think, is a good thing as Coloretto is one of my favourite games and one Miss B loves to play too. Basically you have cards representing tables with icky food on (the sort of thing monsters like to eat) and play monsters around the tables. At some point you can choose a table and take the meal and any monsters sitting there into your scoring pile, and sit out the rest of the round. Then you do it again a few times. At the end, you score points for monsters you have claimed if you also have some food they like, and negative points for monsters who have nothing to eat.
What stops this being just a themed up Coloretto clone (which, given the monster art and nice tin it comes in, would be fine anyway) is the element of chaos introduced by the dreaded lemon sorbets. Yup, monsters hate lemon sorbets and so, if you draw a card with one on, some of your monsters run away and you won’t score them. This isn’t always bad, but it makes for a lot of laughter when I manage to draw almost all of them, meaning that my score was pitiful.
We got on well with this game, enjoying the ickyness of some of the dishes being served. It’s clearly not Miss B’s favourite, but it’s another good offering from Gamewright that’ll stay on the shelf in the living room where we keep our selection of casual play games that are played most often.
Just for reference, though, Miss B is not sure she wants to give detailed verdicts for the time being, so until further notice she will just be rating games out of 10. Seems fair to me.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “I’d give it an 8 out of 10.”
The game: Monster Café (Gamewright), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.
In a bit of a diversion from the usual subject matter for this blog I’d like to say just a few words about the gendering of toys.
Why today? Well, today I popped in to our local WH Smith’s shop. For those of you not in the UK, WH Smiths is a chain of newsagents/stationers with a shop on most high streets in the country. They sell toys and games too, the quantity varying from store to store. Today, however, I actually noticed that the toys were divided into those for boys and those for girls.
This is an unsettlingly common practice, and one that a lot of people are trying to change. Why can’t toys just be toys? Sure, you can have sections for construction toys, cars, dolls, domestic toys, and stuff like that, but why do you need to send a message that girls shouldn’t really be building Lego spaceships, or boys shouldn’t be playing with baby dolls?
I know the counter argument that kids show this sort of preference anyway without any encouragement from adults or marketing, but I’m not sure I buy that. Are we really sure we aren’t projecting the biases ourselves? Whole can of worms, that one.
Anyway, I decided in this case that I’d not just post a picture on Facebook to farm likes from people who I know largely agree with me on this, but I would also send an email to WH Smith. I did my best to avoid being ranty and make my point in a polite and reasonably concise way. In the spirit of self-congratulatory and self-righteous blogging, I reproduce the text of my mail here…
I was in your Wantage store today and noticed that your toy section was divided into two sections: “Boys’ Toys” and “Pre-School & Girls’
I am a strong believer that toys are just toys and if a boy wants to play with toy pet animals, or a girl wants to play with Star Wars Lego (as my 7-year-old daughter does) then either is fine and to be encouraged. I know that simply labelling a shelf as for boys or girls does not actually limit play, but it does send a message of what society expects of our children and reinforces stereotypes, adding to the weight of pressure that discourages girls from being scientists and engineers as well as keeping boys from the caring professions, home making, and so on.
WH Smith is definitely not the worst offender in this regard, but I would still urge you to rethink how toys are presented in your stores to children and to the people who buy toys for them. Surely in this day and age we should be beyond simple gender stereotypes and should be doing our best to encourage all forms of creative play to all children so they can grow up to fulfil their potential free from centuries-old biases.
Thanks for your time.
Incidentally, if you are eagle-eyed, you may notice that in the girls’ section in the picture above there is a build-your-own pirate ship kit, which kinda throws the argument a bit. Though I can picture the little boy being given one of those: “But it’s a girl’s toy! I don’t want it!”
And finally, here is a nice infographic to help you tell if a toy is for boys or girls.
We’ve decided to track our game playing again this year, so I’ll do something similar to what I did last year and report monthly on what we have played.
January was pretty much a month of two halves. For the first couple of weeks we played quite a lot, but then plays declined quite a lot for the latter portion of the month. In total, though, we played 12 different games for a total of 16 plays. No game got played more than twice.
So our repeat plays, with two a piece were Apples to Apples, Monster Café, Plyt, and Them’s Fightin’ Words. All very different games. I’m hoping to post about Monster Café soon, but Miss B still needs to decide what her verdict will be. We actually have a few games lined up like that, so hopefully there will be a few game posts in the coming weeks.
Rather pleasantly, we got sent a free copy of a game called Plyt for us to check out. Miss B was excited about the prospect as it is a game about maths, something she enjoys at school, and the last maths based game we tried out (City of Zombies) went down very well.
Unlike City of Zombies, Plyt is a traditional competitive game, where everyone is trying to be the first to move their pawn around a spiral track to the winner’s space in the middle. On your turn you roll a bunch of twelve-sided dice and have the time provided by a 30-second sand timer to multiply the numbers on the dice. If you do it correctly in the time (you’ll probably need a calculator for checking — luckily Miss B has one in the shape of a frog which she relished using), you move forward a number of spaces equal to the number on the differently coloured die. If this moves you onto a space with a Plyt logo on it, you draw a “chance” card, which may be to the advantage or disadvantage of yourself or an opponent.
That’s about it.
To be frank, I was a little disappointed when I opened the box and seeing it was nothing cleverer than rolling dice and doing sums, with no chrome other than the unimaginatively named “chance” cards. Even the rules to set up balance between players are presented as optional rules that you should negotiate before you start. This is clearly not a game created by someone embedded in the modern gaming hobby.
But it works. Make some reasonably intelligent choices with the balancing rules and go for it, and we at least had a good time with the game. Miss B was rolling two dice each time, which meant she got most of the calculations right but had trouble with some of the times-tableses, while I was rolling four dice and revealing that my mental arithmetic skills could seriously do with improving. I got beaten quite spectacularly.
And then the game got a real thumbs up from Miss B: she wanted to play again, suggesting that I might like to use fewer dice to make it easier for myself (stubbornly, I refused). She beat me a second time (though it was much closer) and asked for a third game. It was, however, time for dinner, so we had to stop there.
Incidentally, I’d like to give kudos for the excellent decision to provide a little dish for rolling dice into. This makes things so much easier and almost avoids having dice landing on the floor or knocking pieces off the floor.
So, while I am not overwhelmed by Plyt as a game, it has some things to recommend it, and Miss B is extremely keen. So it’s certainly going to get played again.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “It was a very good game. I really liked the chance cards idea because they move you up or down a level and other stuff you weren’t expecting so you don’t know what’s going to happen to you and your opponents. I like the game overall. I think it was a good idea to make it about maths because I’m really good at it.”
The game: Plyt (Talkplaces), 2 to 6 players aged 4+.