We have a few games that feature sheep now, though none yet have really caught Miss B’s imagination. Here’s another one, though: Te Kuiti is brand new and shiny, comes in a smallish box, and was sent to us by one of the designers, who thought we might like to take a look at it. Miss B was at first a little sceptical, but gave it a go anyway.
The game is a straight two-player game (though there are rules for a solitaire variant), but is interesting in that it involves the two players playing in completely different ways. The game is set up with a set of twenty-five tiles arranged face-down in a five-by-five square. One of the players, taking the part of the sheep, plays the classic game of “memory”, turning over two tiles at a time, and if both depict the same sheep, that pair is claimed into a scoring pile. What makes it interesting is that the other player is the shepherd, and lays wooden “fence” sections between the tiles and, if one or more tiles become completely surrounded by fences, the sheep player may no longer turn them over, and instead they score points for the shepherd. There are a few special tiles that allow for extra adding and removal of fences, and that’s it. The idea is that you play two rounds, so each player plays each role once, and then add scores up across the two rounds to find a winner.
On a personal level, I love the concept of this game: mashing together a couple of ancient games that most “gamers” would find dull (memory and boxes) and making something new from them. I’m also pleased to report that we both enjoyed the game rather more than we expected. After completing our first play, Miss B’s initial reaction was, “That was fun, can we play again?” I think it helped that she wiped the floor with me first time, but apart from that the game plays smoothly, and both players can see clearly what they are trying to do. The “ram” and “shepherd” tiles, which allow removing and adding extra fences respectively, are just enough chaos to mix things up and give you something to hope for if things are going badly for you.
So, we have another winner here. And if we take the game out of its box, the tiles and fences will fit into a small bag, so I think it will make it into this summer’s Compact Travelling Games Cupboard of Doom and maybe get some extra plays while we are on the move.
Incidentally, in case you are as uninformed as I was, Te Kuiti is a place in New Zealand, where they have a lot of sheep.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 8½): “It’s obviously a thumbs up from me because we’ve played it more times since it came than we often play games that we’ve had a longer time. I’d recommend it to people who like memory games.”
The game: Te Kuiti (Ludically), 1 to 2 players aged 6+.
The day of the first game-off for this year’s contest arrived and Miss B selected the games to try, following the usual tradition of taking one of the games selected by her and one of mine. And so, we settled down for an afternoon playing The New Dungeon and The Witches.
Our first game was The New Dungeon, which is a fairly lightweight dungeon crawl game that we first played over three years ago and have enjoyed playing from time to time ever since. The game has been through a number of editions (ours is from the late 1980’s), and is actually still in print as Dungeon!
Anyway, the game involves moving your character around a subterranean complex, investigating rooms, rolling dice to fight monsters, and amassing treasure. When you have amassed enough treasure (the target amount depends on which character you take, as some are far more powerful than others) you return to the start space in order to win. Miss B has decided that she likes playing a wizard, which is a very powerful character, allowing you do get deeper into the dungeon more quickly, while I usually play a paladin, with healing powers; these two characters having the same treasure target, but different styles of play.
On this occasion I managed to make a great start to the game and soon got myself two thirds of the way to my target, while Miss B was struggling to progress. Then everything changed when I got unlucky and failed to kill a monster. Not a problem, I just needed to roll a pair of dice to see if I was wounded. Anything but a double-one and I survive, but take varying degrees of penalty, any of which are only a minor inconvenience given my healing powers. The roll, of course, was snake-eyes! That made me drop all of my treasure and go back to the start. I then spent several turns trudging back to face the same monster, only to fail again and roll another double-one. So Miss B strolled in, lobbed in a fireball, picked up all my lost treasure, and was just a couple of rooms away from a win, which she easily sorted.
That second death was actually just hysterically funny and had us both giggling for some time.
Once we had recovered from that experience, put the game away, and had a cuppa and a snack, we got out The Witches: A Discworld game. This is a game that is much newer to us and we only played for the first time earlier this year. In this one, players are apprentice witches wandering around the environs of Lancre from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, trying to deal with an array of problems that range from simple issues like pregnancies or sick pigs to nasty threats like vampyres or elves. The game is actually about visiting a location and rolling dice to see if you can overcome a challenge, so has that in common with Dungeon, but in this case you can play cards to help yourself in assorted ways, and I think the game evokes its theme pretty well, including making it so that witches periodically end up stopping to take tea together (to everyone’s benefit). As a sad note, I heard recently that Martin Wallace and Treefrog Games have now lost their license to produce Discworld games so this game (along with its sister game, Ankh Morpork) is extremely unlikely to even get reprinted.
This game didn’t have anything like the laughter that we had during our play of Dungeon, but we had a lot of fun working together to ensure that the problems were kept under control (there are a couple of ways for everyone to lose — something that really winds up some gamers, but this is much more of a family game than a real “gamer’s” game) and trying to engineer a situation to invoke the “power of three”, where if you have cards for three different adult witches to help you, you can automatically deal with any problem, however dire. Neither of us managed to do this in this game (B nearly did at one point, but then didn’t need to), but it’s great trying to get it lined up.
So to the verdict…
Actually, this turned out to be a lot trickier than expected as Miss B said that both games were really good and she couldn’t choose between them. It was actually a couple of days of thinking before we finally agreed on a plan to give scores for each of the games on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of a number of different categories. Then we could add the scores up and see if we had an overall winner. For each category we had a short discussion and then Miss B assigned scores.
The categories, as chosen and recorded by Miss B were: “Funnyness” (a comfortable win for Dungeon), “Thinking” (won by The Witches), “Artwork” (again The Witches), “Easyness” (taken by Dungeon), and “Howmuchplayagainwantability” (narrowly edged by The Witches). Once the scores had been totaled and not independently verified, it turned out that The New Dungeon had a creditable score of 39, but The Witches had won by the narrowest of margins, with a score of 40.
I am therefore delighted to announce that The Witches is this year’s first finalist.
Miss B reminded me the other day that we haven’t done something that we have done at this time for the last few years, and that is starting off a contest for the coveted and prestigious Training a Gamer Award (previously the Golden Game Award, and before that the Golden Thingummy). She’s right, of course, so here we go with the fifth annual award…
We’re running the same format that we have run for the last few years, which is clearly superior to other, rival awards. We don’t do the wimpy stuff like having panels of industry experts playing the games dozens (or hundreds) of times. No, we just select four games we like and play pairs of them off against each other to find out which is most fun. The process is scrupulously scientific, with Miss B having the last say in all decisions.
The first two games for this year’s contest were chosen by Miss B…
Catacombs was selected instantly, being the game that has generated the most buzz over the last few weeks. I think that if the game didn’t take so much setting up, we’d be playing it every day. This is going to be a tough game to beat.
After a bit of thought, Miss B also selected The New Dungeon, a game that is thematically similar but mechanically couldn’t be more different. We don’t play it very often, but we always have fun with it, so it’s an excellent choice.
I then added my choices, which needed to be negotiated and vetted with Miss B, but it didn’t take long before we had two more games that we could both be enthusiastic about…
The Witches is a rather nice little game based on the works of the late, great Terry Pratchett, that doesn’t get much play here, but I think reflects its theme very nicely and we both enjoy playing, so this is a good excuse to get it out again.
Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet is another recent game that is just generally fun, but we both feel that we should play more often. And it has the cutest alieneeples.
So, that’s the runners and riders. We’ll have a round of playing one of her choices and one of mine in the same session and deciding which of those is best, then one final game-off between the winners of the first round. Expect the reports over the next few weeks…
We need to come up with some sort of logo that publishers can print on the front of their games, so they can show off their membership in an extremely exclusive club.
July was a pretty good month for gaming, helped along a bit by the arrival of GanCan’t, the Internet “unconvention” for those who can’t attend the enormous GenCon in the USA. This was a great excuse for us to wear fake convention badges and play a load of games.
So the headline figures are that we had 32 plays of 19 distinct games, so almost the same as June, and a whole heap more than last year. The top game for the month was Love Letter which, after not much play for the first half of the year, suddenly came back into favour with 4 plays; I think that some of this was due to Miss B finding the massively unofficial Dad’s Army Love Letter set that I have lying around (even though she has never seen the TV show). Following up on 3 plays each there was 6, Boggle Slam, Yardmaster Express and a prototype for my entry to the July 24 hour game design contest. Balanx and new Best Thing Evvarrr, Catacombs, had 2 plays a piece.
For the year’s totals, that leaves Yardmaster Express the leader with 16 plays, followed by Dicey-come-lately 6, with an impressive 13 plays. Dobble and Backgammon have now made double figures at 10 plays each but, having hit their targets for the 10×10 challenge, will they do any more? Love Letter and Timeline are next in line with 8 plays.
Having covered the main numbers for the month, I just wanted to relate another story from this month. We were well into a game of Empire Express, and I was looking at cards while Miss B took her turn when I heard her saying: “One, two, okay! *giggle*”
“What did you do?” I asked. She pointed at the board, where she had added track out of a city to connect up to my incoming track, meaning that if I wanted to connect to the city (which I did), I would have to build a detour in order to enter on the other side, or pay her 4 megabucks to use her track every time I wanted to go there. She had spiked the city most effectively. “Really?” I said, completely astounded at what had just happened.
“Nah,” she said, “Only joking!”
“No, it’s okay, it’s a fair move and you can do it if you want.”
“Nah.” And with that she rubbed out her new bit of track and got on with her turn.
Wow, that was quite something. Miss B was able to spot a really cool move that might have changed the result of the game, but didn’t want to go through with it because she didn’t want the game to go that way. I would have been very happy if she went through with it, but it’s lovely that she isn’t wanting to win at all costs. I don’t know if she meant to take the move back all along or she saw my shock and surprise (which I really must learn to hide better) and changed her mind, but this is a definite sign that she is now starting to look for, and spot, deeper possibilities in a game board.
Then a few days later she kicked my butt in Mijnlieff, followed by two consecutive games of Balanx, showing that she really is starting to get the hang of some of these games and I am now having to really pay attention. The days of me winning easily are over, and I couldn’t be happier.
And finally, just to finish off, we have the 10×10 challenge status, where we are making solid progress once again, with another game hitting the target, and only really a couple of games struggling (though still moving along)…
|Game||Plays so far|
|Apples to Apples||6|
|Piece o’ Cake||4|
|Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck||5|
I think we may actually get there…
Having heard lots of good things about it, early last year I decided to back the Kickstarter campaign for a new edition of Catacombs, which looked really cool with new, cartoony art. The game soon built up quite a collection of stretch goals, providing new monsters and stuff, plus some great expansions and add-ons, including “Chicks in a Catacomb”, which was awesome in that it took a game that already had a decent proportion of female heroes to play, and added a bunch more. I ended up getting suckered in and bought everything they were offering, which amounted to a fine pile of loot. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the project was delayed significantly and instead of its planned delivery date of autumn last year, it finally arrived a couple of weeks ago.
But wow, what a treasure chest!
I’ll back-up a little and let you know what this game is all about. Basically it is a dungeon crawl game, where one player controls all the monsters and acts as an opposition for up to four other players, who play heroes fighting their way through a series of rooms until they confront the big boss, the catacomb lord. So far so standard. The genius of this game, however, is that it is actually a dexterity game. In order to attack a monster you flick the wooden disc representing your hero and if you hit the monster you hurt it (and possibly kill it). Wizards can summon things like fireballs that are other discs that you can flick in order to attack at range, and there are other ranged attacks like arrows and the awesome ice blast. Monsters work similarly. The rulebook looks intimidating at first, but if the player being the “overseer” (the opponent controlling the monsters) knows the rules he can bring other players up to speed very quickly, largely as easily understood physics controls most of the game. You flick to move or attack. Simple.
Catacombs is a stunning looking, heavy and enormous pile of awesomeness. I’ll forgive it that the rules are arranged in a rather awkward way (sometimes there needs to be some flicking to find the rules for some special monster or room), as the game as a whole just wants to be played with. It’s a toy as much as a game.
We’ve played Catacombs a couple of times so far, with me as the overseer both times. The first time we used the recommended set up, which involves five rooms/levels of increasing difficulty, with a shop and a healer mixed in between them, followed by the final encounter in the catacomb lord’s lair. This took over two hours, and we had a food break half way through. It turned out to be pretty exhausting for both of us, so the next time we played, we just had two rooms (followed by the shop) before the final battle, and this took around an hour and was a lot more enjoyable.
We haven’t yet played this with more players than just the two of us, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity, as I think having several hero players to make plans together will make for a much more fun experience overall. Until we get that organised, I think we’ll be having some great fun playing occasional rooms against each other or mini-adventures like our second play through.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 8½): “I give it 99.9999…%. I like flicking games in general and Catacombs is a really good one. I did get a bit upset when the raven died because it’s really useful if you’ve got a wizard because you can fire the spells from where the raven is if it is in a better position than the wizard. Sometimes the catacomb lord isn’t the hardest level with the one I’m facing at the moment because you can get ones like poison levels with lots of tiny monsters and poison. It’s hard to avoid poison some of the time, so I think the skeleton explorer is really useful for facing the poison monsters.”
The game: Catacombs (Elzra Corp), 2 to 5 players aged 14+.
After the awesome gaming in May, June was still good, with 34 plays of 19 different games. That sounds like a lot more multiple plays than usual (and, to be fair, it was better than many months in that respect) but the figures were rather skewed by the fact that 9 of the plays were of the little tin of dice that is “6”. Apart from that we had 3 plays of Dobble, taking us up to our scheduled 10 for the year (I’m sure there will be more!), and 2 each for Backgammon, Dino Hunt Dice, EcoFluxx, Loopin’ Louie, and a prototype of a game I threw together for a contest on BoardGameGeek.
EcoFluxx’s plays were both in a coffee shop while we were out and about, as it happened to be the game that I had thrown in the bag, “just in case” (I usually have a game or two with me).
We had a few games too thanks to a visit from one of Miss B’s school friends, who went on to rule the roost at Loopin’ Louie, which is always good for a laugh.
Oh, and Miss B has been reading her Chess book a bit lately, so we got a chess set out for a play. We settled on me having a 2 rook handicap, which wasn’t enough to make it too difficult for me, but she’s definitely getting a lot better at spotting threats and possible attacks on her own, so I’m looking forward to that handicap getting reduced very soon.
So, for the year to date, Yardmaster Express still maintains its position at the front with 13 plays, despite not coming out during June. But the chasing group is getting close, with Dobble and newcomer “6” coming up fast on 10 plays, and Backgammon only just behind on 9. Loopin’ Louie is now alongside Timeline on 7, with Apples to Apples, Gubs and Rhino Hero on 6 plays. We should get a few more games to at least 10 plays thanks to the 10×10 challenge, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if either Yardmaster Express or “6” took the crown despite not being on the list due to their fast, multiple-play appeal.
And thinking of the 10×10 challenge, we fell behind a bit in June, with only four of the games played during the month, but being half way through the year we have got through more than half of the necessary plays, so there is definitely hope. Our current status is:
|Game||Plays so far|
|Apples to Apples||6|
|Piece o’ Cake||3|
|Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck||5|
It’s nice to have one of the games complete and another really close. We just need to bring up some of those laggards…
I remember being given Cambio by some friends as a Christmas present many years ago. It was a really nice object to receive, being a load of large wooden cubes with designs printed on the faces, with a wooden board/frame on which to arrange them. We played the game a few times that Christmas, but unfortunately it has remained on the shelf for most of the time since. Until Miss B got onto her current interest in abstract strategy games, so it came out again…
So Cambio is one of those games that can be loosely described as turbo-charged tic-tac-toe. Play is on a five-by-five grid and you slide cubes with your personal symbol uppermost in on one side of the board, pushing another cube out of the other side, but with the restriction that the cube coming out may not show your opponent’s symbol. The first player to get a five-in-a-row is the winner.
That’s all there is to the standard two-player game (though there are alternative rules that allow more players), and the strategy basically involves taking control of corners as quickly as you can. It all works well and is a nice twist on an old standard. And those cubes are a pleasure to play with. This sort of game can be really made by good quality components, as we know from playing those jumbo games at UK Games Expo, or playing chess with large, weighted pieces.
Miss B found the game straightforward to learn and play, but occasionally forgot the rule about not pushing your opponent’s symbol off the board. Given that there are up to six different symbols cluttering up the board to start with, it is easy to overlook this and plan an illegal move. Still, that only happened a few times and we had fun playing. I’m not sure this will get played as often as some other games (and actually, right now, I think the big buzz is exploring the sheer range of options in this style), but it has been a modest success. As always, though, I’ll leave the last (ish) word to Miss B…
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 8½): “It’s not my favourite abstract strategy game and I’d give it about 97%. For my opinion I wouldn’t play it as much as the other games but I’m still happy to play it a few times.”
The game: Cambio (Lagoon Games), 2 to 5 players aged 9+.