We haven’t been writing up new games very much lately, largely because we just haven’t been playing that many new-to-us games of late. But now we have cracked open another of the pile of Lego games that we have lying about the place. This time, we have Lava Dragon, a game that involves knights, a dragon and, yes, some lava.
Our copy of the game got picked up from a charity shop recently, and the parts were mostly assembled, so we didn’t have the fun of building the whole assembly, but we did spend a little while checking that everything was set up right. It mostly was.
This is one of the smaller Lego games, with a small “board” being a pyramid-shaped mountain, and you move your knight figure up the steps on it trying to get to the top first. Die rolls may make lava move around, potentially blocking your way, and there is an optional rule (which we didn’t use) where the knights can get knocked off the mountain when eruptions occur. The distinctive Lego die in this case starts off with little on it, but gradually changes, so on most turns you get to add a little square onto the side you rolled, meaning you get more movement the next time that side is rolled. And you sometimes get to move on other players’ turns. This part is really quite cool, and means that the game speeds up as it goes along.
Like most of the Lego games, though, this is really not very much of a game. I quite enjoyed it though, and Miss B demanded a second game straight after we finished our first. The attraction of a Lego dragon is not to be underestimated. And the way the die is used in this game is, I think, the most interesting variant I have seen yet and one which makes proper use of its Legoness.
We still have a few more of the Lego games to go…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 8¾): “Brilliant! 100% I like the dragon, the dragon is cute. This is the best Lego game I’ve played so far. I recommend it a lot. :)”
The game: Lava Dragon (Lego), 2 to 4 players aged 7+.
I was expecting October to be a bit quiet on the gaming front, but was seriously mistaken as we ended up playing 36 games, of 22 different titles. OK, so most of the games were crammed into a couple of game binge days, and a lot of them were short games that we played more than once, but there were some pretty big games in there as well.
So the top game of the month, in terms of number of plays, was One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which Miss B loves but we don’t get to play often. In this case we played it a few times with one of her school friends, whose dad later joined us for a couple more plays. Next most popular was the ancient game of Nim, this time played on a bit of paper (rather than with coins or stones), with three plays, followed by a whole bunch of two each: ‘6’, Boggle Slam, BraveRats, Empire Express, Gnomi (a prototype from someone else), Noughts and Crosses, and Sleeping Queens (a former favourite, back after a long absence).
This doesn’t make a huge difference to the year’s standings, as we still have the little tin of dice that is ‘6’ ahead, now with a slightly increased count of 19 plays, followed by Yardmaster Express, still with 16. Way behind, Timeline and Backgammon are on 11 plays each, and Love Letter, Dobble and Boggle Slam all on 10 plays.
Finally we come to the 10×10 challenge. We didn’t make a lot of progress in October but, critically, we did get a couple of plays of the biggest game in the set, Empire Express. We also notched up a play of Plyt and finished off our plays of Love Letter. We now have four games completed and three more only two plays from the target. Miss B has looked at this and seen that the end is definitely in sight and, even though right now she is less than enthusiastic about some of the games on the list, she thinks we might be able to do it…
|Game||Plays so far|
|Apples to Apples||8|
|Piece o’ Cake||5|
|Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck||6|
Will we succeed? Watch this space. It’s going to be close.
We’ve been struggling to find time to finish off the awards process this year. This is partly because (as I have mentioned before) one of the finalists, Catacombs, is a big game in just about every sense of the word. It takes more setting up than most, and can take longer to play than most of the games we have in our current repertoire. But at last we found an afternoon and got on with it. And here we have our report of this year’s grand final between the behemoth of cardboard and wood, Catacombs, and the feel-good Pratchett game, The Witches.
First up was Catacombs, which we played in our currently-standard form of running through two preparatory rooms, followed by the healer and merchant rooms combined and then the catacomb lord’s lair for the big boss fight. We decided to up the ante in this game by using the next boss in difficulty: Shargila the Gorgon. I had fun with centaur archers running around and taking pot shots at the adventurers, while Miss B hurled fireballs around while her wolf companion run amok. I am pretty sure we still get quite a few rules wrong (the rulebook is probably the weakest part of the game, which is a real shame), but this being something akin to a roleplaying game rather than a real competition between us, we tend to just go with what seems fun.
When we got to the final battle, I was very impressed with how philosophical Miss B was when I started using Shargila’s mega-power of petrification: a one-hit kill weapon, but using it can leave her wide open to counter-attack. I managed to petrify two of the four adventurers before the last two managed to incinerate the gorgon with a volley of giant fireballs.
I wasn’t able to get a thoughtful critique of the play experience from Miss B as she was too busy with her victory dance.
We cleared up, grabbed fresh drinks, and then set up our second game, The Witches.
The game officially has a phase of drafting the different characters, but Miss B always wants to play Tiffany Aching (natch!) and I’m happy to let her have that when it is just the two of us playing. I randomly took Annagramma Hawkin with her boosted magic capability at the game start.
Having played the game a few times now, The Witches flows really quickly, with the simple structure of turns going nicely, and there being some fun decisions to make most of the time: off over here to deal with those elves, then jump on the broomstick to visit another witch for a cup of tea. An, yes, having a cup of tea can be a critical part of the game, and one which I exploited rather more this time than I have in the past.
Miss B also had fun this game, but I think moved on to dealing with the harder problems a little too soon and had a couple of turns of having less useful cards in hand, leading to a couple of frustrating turns. To be fair, the game is such that no card is useless, but it can be infuriating to battle some elves and be forced to run away due to some poor dice rolls, only to draw a frying pan card (a mighty weapon, greatly feared by elves) right afterwards.
We hadn’t even started putting the game away before Miss B announced, “Catacombs wins!”
She went on to say that it was just because of the fun from these plays and that it’s not anything wrong with The Witches, which is also great.
I asked if we should take a photograph to commemorate the result. “I know what to do!” she said and ran out of the room. A couple of minutes later she reappeared, stuck a smiling face and a medal onto the Catacombs box, grabbed the camera and started taking pictures.
And so, I give you the winner of this year’s TaG award: Catacombs. Well deserved by a great fun game.
So we had an afternoon free, so I challenged Miss B to a game of Empire Express. It doesn’t really take that long to play (maybe an hour or so these days, plus some set up and clear away time) but it is long enough that it can’t just be played on a whim any time we fancy. This being one of her favourite games, she readily accepted the challenge, but added that she also fancied playing Yahtzee, a game that she has recently developed quite a taste for.
No problem, I said, would you like to play Yahtzee first, second, or play them both at the same time? What was meant to be a little joke was greeted by bright, wide eyes and an enthusiastic request for the at-the-same-time option.
And that’s what we did. While one of us drew lines on the Empire Express board and moved our train around, the other was rolling dice and noting down scores. I was busy trading in goods for $profit$ when I heard a gasp and Miss B was holding out the dice tray to show me her second Yahtzee of the afternoon, meaning lots of points.
Yahtzee is a rather shorter game than Empire Express, with only 13 turns, so it finished while we were probably two thirds of the way through the bigger game, after which things seemed actually a bit dull. Miss B had beaten me soundly with the dice and I was at that stage of EE where you have enough track and the right contract cards that you just chug along knowing that you will finish the game in a few more turns, as long as you don’t get derailed anywhere.
The session finished with an equitable win for each of us and high-fives all round. I think we agreed that the whole exercise of simultaneous games was fun, but neither game turned out to be as good as it would have been with both of us paying proper attention. Probably a lesson for life there.
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||6|
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.)