Back in days of yore, TSR’s The New Dungeon! Game came out on a pretty regular basis as a fun, fairly sociable game for us hardcore gamers. For an hour or so you trundle around on a dungeon crawl, beating on innocent monsters and stealing their stuff. Sometimes you help other players, sometimes you ambush and mug them. It don’t get much better than that. This is a 1980’s upgrade to a 1970’s game and is pretty dated (though who cares much about that if it’s fun?), but has the advantage of having basic and advanced rules. It also has a large board, which meant that we had to play on the dining table instead of the coffee table, which we usually use.
So we went for the basic rules, which means no magic, no ambushing other players or helping them with big monsters, and simplified combat (though it’s pretty simple anyway). It didn’t take long for Miss B to get the hang of moving and fighting monsters, and she was positively delighted to get hold of the magic amulet that gets you through secret doors (plus a spare, which she was even more pleased with). The victory conditions require amassing (for the warrior characters in the basic game) 20,000 gold pieces worth of treasure, and this is a bit of a big ask for a 5-year-old to keep track of, so after we had collected a few treasures, I did a regular tot-up so we both knew how things stood.
As is often the case, it is the details that attract Miss B the most. The variety of treasures we found were of great interest and she spent some time coveting the gold ring I found and hunting for one for herself. The illustrations and labels on the board were also the subject of much discussion as Miss B wanted to know more about the King’s Private Chamber and other such locations, wondering what had happened to the King and Queen. We could well have a roleplaying adventure based on this one day.
I have to confess to one little cheat: Miss B got beaten in a fight for the last piece of treasure she needed to win the game and the damage roll would have made her lose half of her treasure. This would have been distinctly un-fun for everyone given the stage of the game, so I let her re-roll on this occasion. This goes against my general approach of “tough luck, kid, that’s the game”, so we’ll have to see if there are any repercussions from this later.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼): “I liked the special treasure that gave you +1 and the special treasure that allows you to go through the secret doors. I also liked that my warrior only got wounded a bit.”
The Game: The New Dungeon! Game (TSR), 1 to 6 players, aged 8+.
Here’s a nice blog I stumbled across: Growing Up Gamers. It’s basically a mix of reviews and musings on games (largely, but not entirely boardgames) from a gamer family with two young children. I’ve not read it all yet (there’s quite a lot there!), but I’m sure I will do as time allows. Go there and you will find out that Settlers is “twenty-hundred and fifty-nine percent excellent”. Who can argue with that?
It’s time for one of the biggies: the Settlers of Catan. Actually, I think Miss B would struggle greatly with the full game, so a simplified version is in order, so enter Kindercatan, a variant aimed at providing the bones of the full game with not-completely-trivial gameplay that a four-year-old could enjoy.
Well, I can’t speak for a four-year-old, but the five-year-old and I thoroughly enjoyed the game. We were actually using a brand new set, so had all the tiles and counters to pop out, which was fun but meant we took a long time setting up, alongside a lot of questions about what all the bits were for. I made a minor mistake with the setup (due to having only printed out a black and white version of the rules), but that didn’t seem to cause any problems.
Kindercatan definitely introduces some of the core concepts of the game in an easy way and Miss B was soon completely comfortable with resource production, trading with the bank (there isn’t really much room for trading between players) and building stuff, and in a very close finish she won the game. We’ll definitely be playing this again and I don’t think it will be far down the line before we play the full game.
The verdict from Miss B (age 5¼): “I liked it but I don’t know why I liked it.”
The game: “Kindercatan” variant of Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games), normally 3 to 4 players aged 10+.
One of those games you find in the cupboard at holiday cottages and in many homes, Frustration! is just a branded version of Ludo or Parcheesi and I figure is best viewed as a gateway drug for backgammon, which is one of my favourite traditional games. Our version has been sitting on the shelf for some time after picking it up for cheap at a supermarket, but now Miss B asked to give it a try.
One of the attractions of this game is that the dice are enclosed in a special popper (in this case with paddles at the side which you whack to roll the dice) and there are holes to stick the men in so they don’t get knocked off the board all the time (a constant hazard when playing with a young child). Well, it turns out that when an enthusiastic five-year-old whacks the paddles, the men have a tendency to pop out of their holes anyway, so it is important to hold the board down firmly when dice are getting rolled.
Overall the game went pretty well, but with the run of luck that we had we might just as well have been playing snakes and ladders for all the interaction between us. With a couple more players, however, things would have got a lot more manic, and a lot more fun would have been had. I think I’ll keep this off the “live” pile when it’s just the two of us, though.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼) : “I liked it because I kept getting the sixes.”
The game: Frustration! (Hasbro), 2 to 4 players aged 6+
Another Christmas present, this one, and it’s a Rio Grande boxing of a little kids’ game from the always charming Doris & Frank stable, with the somewhat lame title of By Golly. Basically, this is pelmanism (i.e. “pairs”) with a little added cheese. A load of animal cards are placed face down in the middle and you have to match the cards you have in your hand using a combination of luck and memory. Some additional silliness is that among the face down animals are a couple of cards depicting piles of animal poo. If you turn over one of these you need to then turn over a shovel card to avoid a penalty.
I must admit that I rarely get on well with these memory games. I can either concentrate hard and do OK, at which point I don’t have as much fun, or I can just go with the flow and generally do badly. Enchanted Forest has enough “other stuff” to it to be more amusing, particularly with a table full of players, but even so, memory games aren’t my first choice. Miss B seems to have similarly mixed fortunes and feelings. Generally she enjoys herself with this sort of game, but can get frustrated after a while. Still, the theme is fun, the art is (thanks to Doris) charming, and it’s fairly quick even given our incompetence in play. Plus it’s a heck of a lot better than some of the other pair matching games out there.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5): “It was rubbish!” Me: “Why was it rubbish? I thought you liked it.” B: “I did like it but we were rubbish at it!”
The game: By Golly! (Rio Grande), 2 to 6 players, age 5+.