How can Death be an “easy” problem?

March 14, 2015 2 comments

After the sad news of the death of Terry Pratchett this week, it seemed only right and proper to play a game based on his work. Miss B has read one of his novels, The Wee Free Men (one I haven’t yet read), and so has been introduced to the character of Tiffany Aching and the environs of Lancre, so was interested in playing The Witches, a game which features Tiffany and other trainee witches trying to deal with enough problems to keep their homes from descending into chaos.

Tiffany appears to have found something a bit scary in Lancre Caves, so decides that discretion is the better part of valour.

Tiffany appears to have found something a bit scary in Lancre Caves, so decides that discretion is the better part of valour.

There are a number of interesting things about The Witches. One, which probably won’t surprise Discworld afficionados, is that all of the player controlled characters are female. It’s sad that this is worth remarking on, but this game is unique within my collection in this respect. Another is that, while there are bad guys to defeat, most of the challenges are mundane things like dealing with a farmer’s sick pig, or helping with a pregnancy. Also that you have to be really careful in using magical powers for fear of the cackles that lead you into darkness and becoming like Black Aliss, but take comfort that having a cup of tea with your fellow witches can help you keep the darkness at bay.

This is basically an adventure game where you wander about and deal with challenges around the board (which increase in number each turn if you aren’t quick in dealing with them), but designer Martin Wallace has done a lovely job in making the game feel like its source material. The detail is all neatly abstracted away, so to deal with a problem you just roll a couple of dice, then choose to either run away or play cards to help yourself, then roll a couple more dice to finish off. It’s really simple once you’ve done it once or twice (though I found it took a little while to explain everything before we started), and when you get going the game flows really well.

Miss B got the hang of the game right away and was soon off solving problems. This is one of those games where we naturally start building a narrative around our characters as the game develops. Miss B’s version of Tiffany Aching turned out to be a natural at comforting folk grieving for their deceased relatives, while my Petulia Gristle, in addition to being a dab hand at curing sick pigs, also had a real knack for fixing broken arms. And when you manage to get help from the older witches, particularly when you manage to get three of them at once (the unstoppable Power of Three) the results are really satisfying. B was frustrated for a while by the perception that I was getting more luck than her, but in the end, while I dealt with more problems overall, she managed to solve trickier ones and we ended up in a tie for points, broken by the fact that I had fewer cackle tokens and won by the slimmest of margins.

The general opinion in the gaming world seems to be that this is a bit disappointing as a game, being not very challenging. I’d say that it is no less challenging (in terms of strategy and skill) than most other adventure games I have tried, and out-charms just about anything. I like The Witches a great deal and hope to play it a lot more. It seems to me like a nice way to go about remembering the late Sir Terry.

The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 8¼): “It was really good but I found it frustrating at times. It’s good fun. I think it was coincidence, but I was Tiffany Aching, who started with an invisibility tile and I was the only one who drew invisibility cards! I give it a 9 out of 10.”

The game: The Witches (Mayfair Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.

Our month in gaming: February

March 2, 2015 6 comments

February was another good month for our game playing, comfortably beating the statistics for February last year, and not far off the dizzying heights of the 2013 figures. During the last month, we played 24 different games (exactly the same as January), for a total of 32 plays (down from January’s incredible 45).

One day's worth of games from the 28th February.

One day’s worth of games from the 28th February.

The month was helped along by a good few plays during the half-term holidays, and then February being finished off at a gaming weekend with some old friends at a holiday home in beautiful rural Shropshire, where we all played an obscene number of games for a couple of days. Actually Miss B played a few games that didn’t make it into the statistics due to me not being involved.

Another high point was that Miss B was given Maths homework over half-term to create a board game to help with learning times-tables, and she ended up producing a nice dexterity game where you flick a disk and play cards to complete multiplication problems. I’ll see if I can get her to write something about her game for the blog.

Our multiple plays for February were Apples to Apples, Multiflication (Miss B’s maths homework game), One Night Ultimate Werewolf (actually played in a big group this time), Tooth Fairies (my entry for a 24-hour game design competition), and Yardmaster Express, all with 2 plays each, and Loopin’ Louie (a gift from a friend) beating them all with 4 plays.

Which all means that for the year so far, our top game is Yardmaster Express with 9 plays, followed by Rhino Hero with 6, Dobble with 5, and Loopin’ Louie and Apples to Apples with 4 a piece.

Our 10-by-10 challenge wasn’t progressed as much in February as it was in January, but we still notched up a good few plays and, given the fantastic start we had in the first month, I think we are still well on track. I’ll round off with our current status (as of the end of 28th February) for the 10-by-10 challenge. Note that, as per the rules of the hardcore challenge, we have nominated 11 games, of which we have to complete at least 10 plays of 10 of them…

Game Plays so far
Dobble 5
Plyt 2
Love Letter 2
Empire Express 3
Apples to Apples 4
Piece o’ Cake 1
Gubs 2
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck 1
Dungeon Roll 2
Timeline 3
Backgammon 2
Categories: Musings Tags:

My ones are better because they can swim

February 21, 2015 2 comments

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Cartagena at a small games convention, and since then it has sat on my wishlist as a neat and fun little game that I’ve wanted to pick up at some point. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend announced a bunch of games he was selling off, which included Cartagena, so I happily relieved him of part of his burden.

A blue pirate is about to make it to freedom...

A blue pirate is about to make it to freedom…

The game of Cartagena is inspired by the story of a group of 17th Century pirates escaping from imprisonment, and has players controlling teams of pirates travelling down a twisting passageway, trying to be the first to get their whole team onto the escape boat at the end. This involves playing cards to move one of your pirates onto the next empty space marked with an icon matching the image on the card, or moving backwards to draw cards. This results in pirates leapfrogging each other forwards in sudden lurches, then staggering backwards as if, in a rum-fuelled haze, they have forgotten where they are going and what they are meant to be doing. This can get really quite tactical, but is very quick and easy to learn.

I got in a bit of trouble over this game, as the first couple of times I played it, Miss B came in on me mid-game with other people, and she missed out on the opportunity to play herself. I got growled at a bit, because the game looks very nice and seems (and is) fun, so I promised to play with her at the next convenient opportunity.

That opportunity arrived just a couple of days later and, thanks to Miss B having seen the game in action already, I didn’t have anything to explain to her and we were playing as soon as she had arranged the board pieces into a pleasing looking route.

While the rules are extremely simple, the tactics are a little less obvious, but Miss B managed to avoid a few pitfalls that she had observed previously. In mid-game she decided that, instead of running through a passageway, the pirates were travelling down a waterlogged gutter (or something) so her pirates, being clearly superior to mine, should lie down so that they could swim. In the end, it turned out that my pirates, staying on their feet, were able to get to the boat first, and win the game, but Miss B was only a little behind.

From my experience so far, I think the game really needs more than two players, but is still fun with two. I think next time we may experiment with having a “robot” player (draw a random card and move the hindmost robot pirate according to it), which should make for more opportunity to take advantage of the whole leapfrogging thing.

Anyway, this is a game that has gone down well so far, and works well as a filler for adults, so I’m very happy to have it in the collection.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8): “Very good. My pirate got stuck in the gutter/passage/not-very-secret passage/secret passage. 9½/10.”

The game: Cartagena (Winning Moves), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.

Little Gamers Guild

Our month in gaming: January

February 1, 2015 Leave a comment

So, it’s 2015 and Miss B and I have committed to the 10-by-10 gaming challenge where we try to play at least ten games at least ten times each, and I will be reporting monthly on our play as I have done for the last couple of years. Last January we played 16 games (12 unique), and the year before it was 20 games (14 unique), so how has 2015 shaped up so far?100_1814

Well, all I can say is WOW! In January we played a stonking 45 games, of 24 different games, making it our most gamey month since I started recording our plays (though in February 2013 we played 25 different titles). A lot of this was down to our plays of games in the 10-by-10 challenge, but clearly there were plenty of other games, most notably the new Yardmaster Express, which is quick and fun, so we’ve played that really quite a lot.

Our top games for the month were Yardmaster Express (7 plays), Rhino Hero (5 plays), Dobble (5 plays) and Timeline (3 plays), with Apples to Apples, Captain Clueless, Empire Express, Gubs, and The Hare and The Tortoise each being played twice.

It’s far too early to be saying anything about what will happen over the rest of the year, but we’ve made a good start on our challenge, and I’m looking forward to a good year of gaming.

Just for good measure, here is our current status (as of the end of 31st January) on our 10-by-10 challenge. Note that, as per the rules of the hardcore challenge, we have nominated 11 games, of which we have to complete at least 10 plays of 10 of them…

Game Plays so far
Dobble 5
Plyt 1
Love Letter 1
Empire Express 2
Apples to Apples 2
Piece o’ Cake 1
Gubs 2
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck 1
Dungeon Roll 1
Timeline 3
Backgammon 1

Hmm, I’ve noticed recently that, for some reason, I habitually refer to Piece of cake by its English, even though we have the German version of the game (Aber Bitte Mit Sahne), while I refer to Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck by its German name. I don’t know why — maybe it’s because of the version I first played of each game. Go figure.

Categories: Musings Tags:

Should they be at the end, or can they be anywhere?

January 27, 2015 2 comments

One of our latest acquisitions arrived a few days ago, following a Kickstarter campaign last summer. It was a little delayed (and then European deliveries were delayed a bit more), but Yardmaster Express is now here in a really sleek little box.

Okay, in a two player game there shouldn't have been the purple cards -- I forgot to remover them for our first game.

Okay, in a two player game there shouldn’t have been the purple cards — I forgot to remove them for our first game.

And, quickly, a word about the box and the production values in general: this game has had a lot of love, care and attention given to its presentation. The box is really solid, with a magnetically fastened flip-top lid, which has a handy illustration showing you the main game components (there were also some Kickstarter bonus cards) and card distributions, and the whole thing comes in a nice, stylish card sleeve. Inside, as well as the elegantly graphic-designed, high quality cards, there is a nice wooden start player token and a cloth bag, which is actually enough to carry all of the components if you want to stick it in your shirt pocket. Some of these components, I think, are Kickstarter specials, but the base game kit is really nice.

Enough of all that frothing about components. Everyone seems to be doing it, though, so I don’t want to be left out.

The game is actually really simple, and only takes a few minutes to play. Players take it in turn to pick cards showing a pair of rail cars in assorted types and colours, and add their pick to the end of their train. The wrinkle is that the first car on the card you play must match either the colour or number of the last car in your train so far. If you can’t make the match you can play the card face down as a low scoring wildcard.

When everyone has taken enough cards (seven in a two-player game, fewer with more players), you add up the numbers on your cards, add a bonus for whoever has the longest continuous run of a single colour, and then whoever has the highest score wins. There is an optional extra in that you can have one of the selection of “caboose” cards in play which gives another bonus to players who meet certain requirements, and this is a really nice addition which adds some depth (different objectives) with barely any increase in complexity.

There isn’t a lot to this game, but there is enough for a quick filler game, and it flows really well. I haven’t yet played it with adults, but Miss B got the hang of the rules instantly and within a couple of games she was talking through her plans and strategies and getting really invested in the game. On our first day we played three games before bedtime and then had to stop; I pretty much had to promise to play again the next day to get her to go. I’m not saying the game wasn’t without incidents — there was a bit of grumpiness on an unfortunate card draw, leading to missing out on a bonus — but when a loss is followed by a cry of “again!” you know you’re on to a winner.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8): “I like the idea of having the caboose bonuses because I really enjoy playing with them. I give Yardmaster Express a 9/10. At first I thought that it would be much thinner cards in width when I saw the box because there was a picture showing all the cards laid out on it and the cards looked like rectangular tiles.”

The game: Yardmaster Express (Crash Games), 2 to 5 players aged 13+.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope.

January 5, 2015 2 comments

Over the weekend we had the latest in an series of occasional meetups at Thirsty Meeples with another family to play some games, and a great deal of fun we had too (including progressing our quest for ten plays of Apples to Apples this year). Miss B had been given a voucher to be spent in the shop, so as we were packing up and getting ready to go, she went on a quest to find something to buy (with my promise to top up the voucher to double its value if needed). She was struggling to find something until she spotted a group playing Rhino Hero (also sold as the far snappier Super Rhino) and was captivated. When I pointed out that the game was available for purchase and within her price range, the deal was sealed!

This tower is, I fear, not long for this world, though it is a source of great pride for both of us.

This tower is, I fear, not long for this world, though it is a source of great pride for both of us.

It’s easy to see the attraction here. The game involved building a potentially enormous tower of cards (some of which are the walls, and are folded to make stable corners to balance “roof” cards onto) until either someone plays all their allotted supply of roof cards, all the wall cards run out or, as is much more likely, someone fumbles and brings the whole, teetering edifice crashing down. This is made more interesting by the way the roof cards dictate how the next player must position walls on it, and sometimes other special effects like making someone miss a turn or reversing the direction of play. The most interesting special effect is to make the next player move the Rhino Hero, a cute little wooden token, from wherever he is onto a spot on the current roof tile, and this can be one of the most difficult operations in the game.

Our first game went reasonably well, but ended up with Miss B crashing the tower at the extreme of her reach and then getting a bit upset over the incident as she thought S and I were picking on her (this was just before bedtime — we really must remember to not play new games before bedtime). The next day, the two of us had a couple more plays and it went fantastically, with a win each. We had learnt a lesson here too, and played these later games on the coffee table rather than the relatively much higher dining table. This meant that even when the tower was getting up near the limits of its height, Miss B was able to reach its top with comparative ease.

As I am pretty sure I have mentioned before, I have shaky hands, which make this sort of fine control dexterity game really tricky for me, and I generally avoid them (Jenga does not count as a good time in my books), but I will of course give pretty much anything a go with Miss B. Given this, it really surprised me how much fun I had with Rhino Hero. I think that for much of the game, the dexterity element is not too challenging, and it feels like there are some fairly interesting tactical choices to be made about which roof cards to play. All in all I think the game really deserves the love it seems to be getting from people and is a bargain at the price.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8): “It was a bit frustrating when we first played it, but now I’ve got used to it it’s a REALLY good game. I recommend Rhino Hero and I give it a 10/10.”

The game: Rhino Hero (Haba), 2 to 5 players aged 5+.

Gaming in December… and in 2014

January 3, 2015 8 comments

So, happy New Year to both of you out there! It is now time for me to give my final monthly gaming report for 2014 and sum up the year. So here we go…

An off-topic image, but our December has been largely dominated by the start of an extension to our house. When finished, we'll actually have a games room! :)

An off-topic image, but our December has been largely dominated by the start of an extension to our house. When finished, we’ll actually have a games room! :)

December was a middlish month by 2014 standards, gaming-wise. We played a total of 17 games, of 14 distinct titles, so not bad really. Our multiple plays this time were Timeline (the Discoveries version, played twice), and Magic: The Gathering (three plays), both of which are games that had been lacking in attention through the year. In the case of Magic, though, we spent some time tweaking Miss B’s deck, which she enjoyed doing, and we opened a couple of booster packs to add to the fun. We now have a 2015 Deck Builder’s Toolkit added to the stash, so I think we’ll be able to have a lot more fun with this in the coming months.

All that covered, we now get to talk about the year as a whole, and compare and contrast with the previous year, for which I handily also have our play statistics.

In 2013, we played 112 different games a total of 326 times, with 6 games played at least 10 times, and we ended up with an H-index for the year of 7. In case you haven’t come across an H-index before, it is a concept stolen from the academic world, where it is a measure of the “impact” of academic papers. Someone figured out how to apply this to game playing, and it is a slightly interesting measure of the breadth and depth of your game playing (there is a thread about this on Board Game Geek, from which a useful quote is, “To calculate your h-index sort your games by number of plays and start counting them. Your h-index is the index of the last game in the sorted list that you have played a number of times that is equal or more than the position of the game in the sorted list.”). It doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s fun if you like pointless statistics.

By contrast, in 2014 we played 103 different games a total of 223 times, with no games played 10 or more times, giving us an H-index of 6.

So we played many fewer games, but the variety wasn’t much less than the previous year. We just didn’t go back to the same games as often.

With us attempting the Ten-by-Ten challenge this year, the depth of play should increase (if we succeed in the challenge, by definition we will have an H-index of at least 10), but only time will tell if we have more plays overall or fewer.

And finally, what were the games of 2014?

Well, not much has changed since my last report. The handful of games played more than 5 times are:

6 plays of Dungeon Roll, which Miss B loves playing, and I’m surprised that it didn’t get to the table more.

7 plays of Coup, mostly played two-player, which makes for a very poor (but very quick!) version of the game, but Miss B is wanting to play more with a bigger group.

8 plays each of Apples to Apples, Love Letter and Plyt. Apples to Apples has done pretty well given that it really needs four or five players (or more) to play, so it only comes out when we hook up with other people to play.

Which means that the most played game of 2014 was Dobble, with 9 plays, though this only actually amounted to 6 playing sessions. It’s a good game, with several different rule sets, of which our favourite is currently “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”, and it’s on the Ten-by-Ten list (as are all the aforementioned games except Coup), so it should get a decent amount of play this year too.

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