September was a much quieter month for gaming than we have had for a long time, with Miss B largely wanting to be doing other things lately, mostly either reading or playing with the vast stash of Zhu Zhu Hamsters (plus accessories) that she blew a chunk of her savings on when we found them in a local charity shop. It has to be said that it was a fantastic value purchase, but it means that the conservatory is now overrun by small, furry, motorized toys with squeaky voices.
Anyway, the score for September was 22 plays of 14 distinct games, though some might consider we cheated a bit because several of those plays were of a couple of prototype games that I have been working on. They’re still games though, so I reckon they count. The most played game of the month, in fact, was one of these prototypes: I Know An Old Woman, which is a contender in the Children’s Game Design Contest on BGG (if you want to see what’s up, the entry thread, including downloadable and printable materials is here), with 5 plays. Timeline (General Interest) had a respectable 3 plays, and Loopin’ Louie and Yahtzee had 2 each.
Yahtzee has been a new introduction, after Miss B played it on a website that she had to visit to do maths homework, and then I pointed out that I could download and print some score sheets and, of course, we have plenty of dice around here. So far she’s been showing a much better aptitude (plus uncanny luck) for the game than I have.
All this doesn’t affect the year’s top games by much, though it does bring Timeline into double figures. We still have ‘6’ in the lead with 17 plays, closely followed by Yardmaster Express with 16. Backgammon and Timeline are on 11 plays and Dobble is still on 10.
As for the 10×10 challenge, we haven’t been doing so well, and Miss B has been losing enthusiasm for the enterprise, so it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will get there. Mind you, we only have 24 plays left to go, with 3 months in hand, so with a bit of a tail wind, 8 plays a month is entirely possible. This could go to the wire…
|Game||Plays so far|
|Apples to Apples||8|
|Piece o’ Cake||5|
|Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck||5|
This year’s TaG award has been progressing a little slowly, partly as one of the shortlisted games is one that requires some logistical effort to get to the table and we needed to have the time and space available at the same time that Miss B felt like playing something that would take more than a few minutes. But this weekend, the day arrived when we could play both Catacombs and Lift Off in the same session.
The problematic game here is, of course, Catacombs, as a full game would probably take us something like two hours, plus setting up the copious quantities of components and putting them away again afterwards turns this game into a major (though really fun) undertaking. We have decided to trim the game down to just three rooms (roughly half the normal game) for our normal plays. This makes the game far less challenging for the heroes than it would normally be, but in the case of Catacombs, the aim is definitely more to have fun than it is to win, so if we can have fun in a manageable time then we all win.
As you may remember, Catacombs is a dexterity-based dungeon crawl game. One or more players control a team of adventurers, represented by wooden discs, who fight their way through a series of monster-infested rooms by flicking their discs at other discs representing the monsters. Add a smattering of special abilities and there is space for a load of fun to be had.
For this particular play we opened up one of the expansions that we got from the Kickstarter project, “Chicks in a Catacomb”. I can’t stress just how cool this little expansion is, largely because it goes so strongly against the way fantasy games usually go. In most games where there are individual characters, there is often a single, token female. Runebound 2nd edition is better than most, with three female characters available, but this is out of a total of twelve, and I won’t go into the appearance of the women. The base set of Catacombs has six playable characters, two male, two female, plus one undead and one chicken (yes, really), both of uncertain gender. The Chicks in a Catacomb expansion, despite its less than PC title, adds four new female characters which all have unique awesomeness to them. Miss B very much approves, as do I.
As usual, I was the Overseer, controlling the monsters against Miss B’s all-girl team of adventurers. We had a really good time with this, and I was really proud of the way Miss B dealt with failures at various times. It wasn’t long ago that we might have got very close to tears if things went wrong, but not this time. Though it must be said that it never really looked like the adventurers would fail this time. And eventually the evil sorcerer Vasesak was defeated.
After a load of packing stuff away and a short break, we got Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet out for its first play in some time. It was also a game we got from a Kickstarter project, but it is a lot lighter than Catacombs — though the box is even more dense, thanks to the generous quantities of cardboard inside.
By way of a reminder, Lift Off! is a game about trying to help aliens escape from their home planet, which is going to explode very soon. You collect cards which allow you to access four different lift off points (from a sizable selection, which vary from game to game) and, hopefully get off the planet; each lift off point has different (generally simple) rules dictating how it works, and sometimes you have to cooperate with your opponents to, well, lift off.
The game is very much a family game, with very simple rules and some of the cutest presentation of a boardgame I have seen, from the lovely board graphics to the absolutely adorable “alieneeples” that you have to rescue.
This time we were chugging along, having a nice time (which got a little bit weird when one of the lift off points, the Star Gate, suddenly vanished to be replaced by a teleport pad) when Miss B suddenly, without warning, sent the “Garglore” (a monster that gets in the way of launches) to the satellite station, preventing my guys from escaping and allowing hers some extra time to secure the win. It was a well-timed play that she was apologising for for the rest of the game, despite me telling her that it was a totally cool move and it was not only OK but really neat that she did it.
So, an eight-year-old that makes killer moves but feels remorse for them.
We got through the game pretty quickly and as we were packing up, I asked Miss B which game she thought was the winner. There was no hesitation before she announced that Catacombs had the edge. She clarified that it was pretty close, but not as close as last time, so she didn’t feel that we needed a formal scoring system like we used in the first game-off. She did say, though, that Lift Off! is definitely great and that we should play it more often.
So, we now know this year’s finalists: Catacombs will be meeting The Witches to decide the 2015 TaG award winner.
August was an excellent month for gaming for us, though actually we didn’t do so well on the 10×10 challenge. But more on that later. The month saw a great games afternoon with friends, as well as a holiday to see the part of the family in Ireland, meaning that we got to play a couple of games on a ferry, which is good for novelty.
As you have probably seen, we also began this year’s TaG Award process, but unfortunately we’ve been a bit slack about progressing the contest. Hopefully we’ll get to have the Catacombs vs Lift Off! session to determine the second finalist very soon…
The headline numbers for August are that we played 25 different games, for a total of 39 plays. Our top game for the month was actually Boggle Slam!, with 5 plays (which reminds me that we haven’t done a write-up on that yet), followed closely by 6, with 4 plays, Te Kuiti with 3, and on 2 plays each there were Apples to Apples, Citadels (awesome to have this back from the wasteland), EcoFluxx, Magic The Gathering, and The Hare and the Tortoise. A good spread of multiple plays there, I reckon.
So that leaves our leader board for the year so far with 6 finally taking the lead with 17 plays, overhauling Yardmaster Express, still on 16, then Backgammon on 11 and last year’s winner Dobble on 10. All of these games have been played more times than anything was played last year, and the total games we have played so far this year has flown past the 2014 total. 2015 is turning out to be a good year for us and games.
As for the 10×10 challenge, we fell back a little through August, only adding 6 plays to the tally. However, I make it that we need a minimum of 27 more plays to complete the challenge, which means about 6½ plays per month would get us there, so we are still in with a very good chance. Miss B has gone off the idea of the dice games (Heckmeck and Dungeon Roll) in particular lately, but we’ll see how things go.
Our current scores are as follows…
|Game||Plays so far|
|Apples to Apples||8|
|Piece o’ Cake||5|
|Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck||5|
(We have actually played an extra game of Backgammon, but it doesn’t count for the challenge.)
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…