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+.
Where do I start? OK, a few weeks ago, we went to the UK Games Expo, and one of my plans in attending was to pay more attention to smaller game producers. In a conversation with an Internet-acquaintance (hi Colin!), I got tipped off about a little strategy game called Mijnlieff, produced by a guy with a stall in the corner. I tried that game, liked it and bought a copy, but that is not what this post is about (though hopefully we’ll have a write-up of Mijnlieff later). It turns out that this stall was being shared by three designers, who were all peddling their wares, and one of their wares was a little tin containing a bunch of dice and rules for six games. They were selling it for £6 and the whole thing was called, simply, 6. (As an aside, it is impossible to find using the search tools on BoardGameGeek, so treasure that link I just gave you!)
I had a demo of one of the games in the tin at the Expo, which was enough to convince me to part with some cash, then when we got home I tried out another with Miss B. Since then, 6 has been our most played game (or set of games — difficult to know how to phrase this), and we have now tried all six sets of rules.
What is nice here is that, in six dice games, not one of them is like either Yahtzee or Pass the Pigs. Three of the games have elements of dexterity. One has a bidding stage where you find who is willing to take the biggest risk in order to earn the right to take a turn. One has next to no skill, but great excitement and tension. There is even a neat spin on rock-paper-scissors, where there is more information to go on when deciding your play. And in keeping with the design efficiency here, there are two games where the rule cards themselves are used as components.
Miss B took to the games very quickly. We have developed a little ritual to go through where we select one of the rules cards to use and someone reads out the list of dice that are required for that game (while the other lines them up), and then runs through the rules, which fit, for each game, on the two sides of a small card. Then we are off. None of the games are complicated, but they all have their own flavour and appeal.
Before we go on to Miss B’s verdict, I’ll just summarise my thoughts, which probably won’t be a surprise by now: you should go and buy this game (and you can do so here). OK, so many gamers would probably have everything they need to play these games in their stock, but it’s not much money, you are supporting some very creative game designers, all the games are fun (in different ways) and if you don’t like any of them, you still have a nice little tin with a pile of nice red dice in it. For me, this was the best money I spent at the Expo, and I don’t doubt that we’ll be racking up quite a few more plays of these games.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 8½): “I would like to try Triangles with more than 2 players because it’s not very good with about 2. But apart from that 6 is a very good game to play. Wrestle was quite clever because you get people into a hold and they need to get you into a hold to get out of your hold. Foiled is a bit like fencing, and to play it is like a very fancy rock-paper-scissors. Dicey Winks is quite fun to play because you’re flicking dice even though it’s hard to get to the target. Airstrike you try and bomb the dice so they get the number you want. But I think Dicey Winks is my favourite, followed closely by Wrestle. I’d give it 99% out of all the 6 games.”
The game: 6 (Too Much Games), 2 or more players.
May was a good game for games, and finished off with a bang as we went to UK Games Expo, where Miss B spent her usual couple of hours playing roleplaying games in the family zone, and also spent some time exploring a few of the games available in the family games library provided by Imagination Gaming.
So how good was the month? Well, we managed an impressive 40 plays together, from a total of 29 different titles, which is the best score for variety that we have ever recorded. We even did well in the 10×10 challenge — but more on that later.
We played Balanx and Yardmaster Express 3 times each, with Backgammon, Ingenious, Lift Off!, Pick-Up Sticks, Plyt, Quoridor, and Timeline (the General Interest set) each getting 2 plays a piece.
So for the annual totals, that reinforces Yardmaster Express in its strong lead, now amassing 13 plays, well ahead of Backgammon and Dobble on 7, and Apples to Apples, Rhino Hero and Timeline played 6 times. Still a long way to go, but I’m sure Yardmaster Express will get at least a few more plays this year, so it’s looking unlikely that it will get caught, but you never know.
As for the 10×10 challenge, we played all of our nominated 11 games at least once, and as you can see from the above, we played three of the games twice, meaning that our chart is looking pretty good now:
|Game||Plays so far|
|Apples to Apples||6|
|Piece o’ Cake||3|
|Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck||5|
So that means that for our lowest scoring games we still only need to average one play per month and we’ll get there. And we even have two games that only need three plays each to complete. I’m feeling a lot more confident about this than I was last month, but we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out.
Now we have a games room with most of the board game collection visible on shelves, Miss B has been asking me about various boxes that she hasn’t seen before. So I’ve been telling her about each of them, and usually showing here the boxes and contents, and some of them she has wanted to play. Interestingly, and against my expectations, the games Miss B has shown the most interest in have been what could be described as abstract strategy games. If you haven’t come across the term, an abstract strategy game is one where there is little or no theme, and the game is all about pitting your wits against an opponent (and it is most often one opponent), usually with little or no randomness in the game. So Chess, Go and Draughts would be firmly in this grouping, and there are thousands of other more modern titles alongside them, a few of which we have played and written about on this blog.
So one of the first of this new group of games is called Balanx, which is based on the classics Halma or Chinese Chequers, where you have to shift your pieces across the board to the place where your opponent starts. All very straightforward but for Balanx’s novel gimmick, which is that each player’s pieces are large marbles which rest in slots in the plastic board. That’s not the actual gimmick, which is that the board has a pair of feet under its centre line, meaning that the whole thing can be made to rock backwards and forwards. When it is your turn, you push down your side of the board, meaning that some of the balls roll in their slots towards you and change the configuration of the board from what your opponent was working with.
What this means is that this is a simple game that uses some clever design, combined with basic physics to add a nice mental agility requirement as you try to figure out what the board will look like on your opponent’s turn and whether you will be setting them up with a great move. Our first game was a little confused, but then Miss B really seemed to click with it, and now we have played three games I think that this is one that will be a real challenge for me to keep up with her. Plus she is itching to play more similar games, so I expect you’ll be seeing more write-ups of abstract games over the next month or two.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 8½): “I think it’s clever how the moves you can make are different depending on which way up the board is. I give it a 9.1 out of 10 and I think it’s a pretty good game. I would recommend playing it for people who like abstract strategy games.”
The game: Balanx (Fun Connection), 2 players aged 8+.