If you move the moon backwards you can go back in time!

May 5, 2015 4 comments

So far this year we have received a few games from Kickstarter projects, the most recent of which is Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet!, created by Ed Baraf, who you may remember from his guest post on this blog last year.

Getting close to the end. Another blue alien is about to make a run for it.

Getting close to the end. Another blue alien is about to make a run for it.

First off, I have to say that this is a charmingly presented game, with first rate components (like the ultra-cute “alieneeples” and the chunky, interchangeable jigsaw-connecting board elements) and a nice premise: the aliens are trapped on a planet that is a few days from exploding, and they need help to escape to safety.

Gameplay revolves around collecting resources (of two types) and moving your aliens to “lift-off points” where they can pay resources to escape through mechanics that vary from point to point. For instance, there is the rocket ship which can carry up to 6 aliens and if enough resources have been amassed when it is a full moon (there is a moon that orbits the board, partly acting as a timer and partly affecting the mechanics of some of the lift-off points) the rocket takes off, saving all the aliens onboard. Alternatively you could go to the bonfire and throw fuel on the fire in order to roll a die and, if you get lucky, a passing spaceship may notice the flames and rescue everyone gathered there. The game comes with a heap of different lift-off points that you can choose in order to have a huge variety of board configurations, and even special cards that allow the lift-off points to change during play (we haven’t tried using those yet).

We’ve played a couple of games so far, once with just Miss B and I, and once with S also joining in. I have to say that it was more fun with three players than two. That is not to say we didn’t enjoy the game for two (we did), but with more people the bigger lift-off points trigger more, and there is fun to be had by trying to freeload off someone else’s efforts to escape, and you end up with temporary alliances as you try to launch the rocket ship, etc. The game flows well, though we found Miss B spent quite a lot of time thinking about her moves, which slowed things down a lot — though this was the case for many of our games that we now play far more quickly, so I’m sure this will speed up too.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of strategy in the game (at least using the set-up that we used), but there is a little, and to be fair this is a game pitched mostly as a family game, and I think it hits that really nicely. We also found that in our plays, particularly late in the game, there were periods where turns were largely fishing for the “right” cards, and sometimes not bothering to move your aliens, though after a little while you got to make a couple of cool moves and launch some aliens, which made it all worthwhile. There some suggested variant rules to turn the game into fully cooperative, partner-based, or more cut-throat modes, which is nice to see. All in all, I rather like this as an addition to our collection, which we all enjoy, and I think we’ll be introducing it to people outside the family.

While I’m here, by the way, I’d like to draw your attention to Ed’s latest project, The Siblings Trouble, which is on Kickstarter now and only has a few days left to run if you want to get on board. It’s a lightweight storytelling game (kids having adventures in their backyards) with gorgeous artwork and it ran the gauntlet of the Tabletop Deathmatch, so you can watch that if you want an idea of what industry experts thought of the game as it was last summer. I’ve backed this one and have confidence in Ed producing a quality product again, but you’ll have to make your own mind up, of course.

Anyway, back to Lift Off!…

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8¼): “If you had a bit more things to do than just move around 2 spaces to get to a lift off point, and then collect up cards to move off the space, I’d think that it would be a 9.9.9 out of 10, but at the moment it’s 9.6. I like the cute little alien meeples. So like I said, 9.6 out of 10.”

The game: Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet! (Pencil First Games), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.

Our month in gaming: April

May 3, 2015 2 comments

April picked up a little from a gaming point of view, and we managed to have 25 plays of 17 different titles; and this is a heap more than the handful we managed to play in April of last year. Having the new games room means that most of the game collection is in sight and we’ve started getting into games that have been languishing for a long time, as you will have seen from the recent posts on Cathedral and Ramses Pyramid. The shelves have not been augmented by the addition of a table, so we can now play there without having to clear the dining table, which feels like an amazing level of luxury.

Runebound is a big event game for us and it's great to be able to leave it set up and play over two days.

Runebound is a big event game for us and it’s great to be able to leave it set up and play over two days.

The top game of the month was newcomer Cathedral, with a beefy 4 plays, followed by a bunch of games with two plays each: Dominoes, Frog Rush, Goblins Drool Fairies Rule, Monster Cafe, and Prickly Pile-Up. The big gaming event of the month, though, was a play of Runebound, which Miss B absolutely loves but can take several hours to play (even using the high speed rules that we opt for), so it doesn’t often come out. This play was a special to inaugurate the new gaming table and we were able to leave the game set up overnight for completion the next day.

For the year as a whole we don’t see a lot of change, with Yardmaster Express still on 10, followed by Rhino Hero and Dobble on 6 plays a piece. The 5-play group has expanded now though, with Loopin’ Louie and Backgammon joining Apples to Apples. If we progress more on our 10×10 challenge, though, we should see some of these games steadily climbing.

And thinking of which, we have made a little progress on our 10×10 challenge, but the rate of ticking off plays is still well off the pace set at the start of the year. We have added another five plays to the tally though. Miss B’s interest in this seems to be picking up again though, and she seems keen to get at least one play of all the games logged in May. We’ll see if that has worked out in a month’s time.

The current number of plays for each of our 11 games (10 plus an alternate, remember) are as follows…

Game Plays so far
Dobble 6
Plyt 2
Love Letter 3
Empire Express 3
Apples to Apples 5
Piece o’ Cake 2
Gubs 4
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck 4
Dungeon Roll 2
Timeline 4
Backgammon 5

I’m very surprised Plyt has fallen behind there, but with 8 months to go, it is still very possible to average a play per month for this and the other tail-enders and complete the challenge on time.

Categories: Musings Tags:

This one actually has a necklace

April 21, 2015 3 comments

Miss B has decided that we should play through the pile of Lego games that we have accumulated over the last couple of years and then write a post comparing them, and I think that is a most excellent idea. We have played some of them, but a couple of them have remained in shrinkwrap, so I’m well up for trying them out. I guess what we’ll do is give a load of them a go and write regular reports as seems appropriate, then at some point we’ll have an overview post. A few days ago we had a go at Frog Rush, which we covered ages ago, but now we have tried the new-to-us Ramses Pyramid.

Nearly to the top, we've avoided the mummies, and blue gets a burst of speed.

Nearly to the top, we’ve avoided the mummies, and blue gets a burst of speed.

So this is a game designed by the ultra-prolific Reiner Knizia, known for some of the most subtle and elegant games out there, as well as for banging out simple little games for the toy market. I was under no illusions that this would be the next Tigris & Euphrates or Modern Art, but who cares: this is Lego. With these games you get to build the board, and if the game is a real stinker, you still have a pile of Lego for the collection. As a result, Miss B and I had a nice pre-bedtime activity together of constructing a really cool pyramid with layers that could easily be removed and replaced with different orientation. Neat.

The next evening we got to actually play the game. The idea is that your adventurer runs around the base of the pyramid collecting gems and getting information about the location of additional gems in secret “temples” (effectively little cases that you can’t see into), then climbs the steps of the pyramid, dodging mummies that cascade down causing chaos, and then confront Ramses, the king of the mummies, to claim his crown. Each step on each side of the pyramid has a coloured gem on it, and you can only climb to that step if you are holding, or can remember the location of a matching gem.

This is all pretty cute, but turns out to be pretty trivial. Even the memory aspect of the game doesn’t really amount to much. But we had fun playing it, and it wasn’t as fiddly as some of the other Lego games we’ve come across. And it looks totally awesome, with great design from the Lego construction side of things. I mean, the way the layers of the pyramid move is stunning.

I think that, when playing through the rest of the Lego games, what I’m looking forward to the most is the building. We have one more of the big box games, and that should be fun to construct, and I’m sure there’ll be some amusement from the others too.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8¼): “I like the way that there’s secret temples and that you don’t have green and purples apart from in the temples. I also like the way the pyramid turns, and the little brown bits mark where the gems should go. I also kind of like the scorpion in the entrance. I give it a 99.9%”

The game: Ramses Pyramid (Lego), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.

I’m by the city gates! Oh, wait, there are two gates.

April 10, 2015 4 comments

Moving all the games down to the new “games cupboard” (as it has become known) has unearthed some old boxes containing games that haven’t been played for a very long time, if at all. One of these is Cathedral, which I showed to Miss B and she instantly wanted to give it a go. It was probably due to the pieces being reasonably nice models of buildings in assorted shapes.

When you're building a city this cool, everyone is a winner.

When you’re building a city this cool, everyone is a winner.

The game is one of those ones where you place different shaped pieces on to a grid with the intent of preventing your opponent from being able to place all of their pieces. In Cathedral, any empty areas your pieces completely surround (or are bounded by your buildings and the city walls) come under your sole control and your opponent cannot place there, and if you surround an area containing one (and only one) of the opponent’s pieces, you give that piece back to the opponent and then take control. It’s quite neat and is basically about trying to gain control of a decent sized area so you can place your remaining pieces, while preventing your opponent from doing the same.

Of course, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was wondering if the cars from Rush Hour would fit on the grid. We didn’t check this out, but probably should.

Miss B got her head around the rules very quickly and, after we finished one game, she insisted we played another. Then a couple more. She was soon spotting some good moves on her own and was giving me a run for my money. Out of our four games I was definitely the winner, but she beat me on one round and came close on a couple of the others.

To be honest, I was expecting this to be a game that we would be getting rid of as it had been gathering dust for so long, but given the way this play session went, I’m sure we’ll be keeping it for the foreseeable future.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8¼): “It was a very good game but not quite good enough to be favourite. I give it a 9.9 out of 10. :) I like the way the Cathedral works because it is clever about the way it can never be exactly in the middle and the way the buildings fit together so well.”

The game: Cathedral (Mattel), 2 players aged 10+.

Categories: Games Tags: , ,

Our month in gaming: March

April 8, 2015 4 comments

Oh dear, this is all getting a bit late isn’t it? More than a week into April and still no monthly report. Well, things have been a bit chaotic lately; the extension to our house that I mentioned a few months back has now been completed and so we have been spending a lot of time assembling new furniture, moving stuff around, and so on. There is still a fair bit to do, but we are getting there. And on the plus side, the board games collection now has a new home.

Still a work in progress, but we now have somewhere new to store the games.  Soon it'll be somewhere we can play them too!

Still a work in progress, but we now have somewhere new to store the games. Soon it’ll be somewhere we can play them too!

Compared with the last couple of months, March was fairly light on the gaming, but we still managed to have 19 plays of 15 distinct titles, which is the same number of plays as March last year (and one fewer title).

In March we didn’t play anything more than twice, and the doubles were Backgammon, “Coin Football” (an old game I learnt at primary school using three coins on a table that I taught to Miss B), Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck, and Hey That’s My Fish! (the digital version).

So the leaderboard for the year has Yardmaster Express ahead with a solid 10 plays, followed by Rhino Hero and Dobble on 6, and Apples to Apples on 5.

We made some progress on the 10-by-10 challenge, but we have some games falling a little behind schedule. That said, we have 9 months left, so if everything gets one more play per month we will have aced it. The current number of plays for each of our 11 games (10 plus an alternate, remember) are as follows…

Game Plays so far
Dobble 6
Plyt 2
Love Letter 2
Empire Express 3
Apples to Apples 5
Piece o’ Cake 1
Gubs 3
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck 3
Dungeon Roll 2
Timeline 4
Backgammon 4
Categories: Musings Tags:

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 10 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:
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