So, rummaging around the house I found an ancient artifact from the late 90’s, a “Portal” demo pack for Magic: the Gathering. This was from a trip to GenCon UK, where I was part of a team tasked with demonstrating the basics of the game using this mini-game crammed into a booster pack. For that weekend we sold our souls and had, if truth be told, quite a lot of fun being the “Portal Pixies”.
The pack contained two mini Magic decks, each of 12 cards and containing land and creatures only. One was red-while-green and one black-blue. The game was a quick 5-life duel which worked pretty well overall.
So, we cracked the cards out, Miss B chose to play the red-white-green deck, and we were off. She got the hang of playing land and summoning creatures. The intricacies of attacking and defending (trying to work out what happens when a 2/3 creature meets a 3/2 creature) resulted in an “I’m a bit confused!”, but we got through the game with Miss B’s massed goblin (well, two of them plus a minotaur) attack finally finishing me off.
Back in the 90’s I had a mixed relationship with Magic. I felt it was a good game, but where most people I knew were wanting to track new expansions and play in sanctioned tournaments, this left me and my casual approach to play way behind, with my two-colour, theoretically fun-to-play, kitchen sink deck that quickly lost every time. I gave up on that and dabbled in a couple of lower profile CCGs and, until now, haven’t played Magic in well over a decade. It’s still a decent game, though I gather that the official releases have steadily got more and more complicated. Maybe we’ll pick up an intro pack or two and play within the family a bit, but I don’t know. Miss B certainly enjoyed this play through, and we can always limit ourselves to using the simplest available cards for now, and then introduce more challenging stuff later…
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 5½): “I liked it but it was a bit confusing.”
The game: Magic: The Gathering “Portal” mini-promo decks (Wizards of the Coast), 2 players, aged dunno.
A few days back I got hold of a game I have been hearing good things about for a while but haven’t had a chance to try: Dominion. It has been around a few years now and seems to have kicked off a new style of gaming: deck building games. My early experiences with the game are great: it plays quick and slick, and is full of juicy options. There are three-million-odd setups for the game and if they lose their lustre, several expansions are out there adding new cheese to the old cracker.
So now I need to work out how I can try this with Miss B. She helped me sort the cards out when we first opened it up and was very interested in the whole thing, asking me about what the cards were. So I think I am going to have to dream up a simplified version to play with her. It probably doesn’t need to be massively simplified, but fewer options would seem sensible. And we need to reduce the amount of shuffling: small hands are not great with shuffling and tend to achieve the desired affect by making use of the floor. Something like the Leicester shuffle.
I’ll report back when we have something working.
This is a bit of a departure from the usual “proper games” brief, as this is very much a kids’ game. I remember playing a lot of Top Trumps at primary school, it actually being a pretty nerdy game which pays you to learn all sorts of statistics (some real, some imaginary) about whatever the theme of the deck is. When I was a youngun, our decks were about tractors, lorries, tanks, and stuff like that. Miss B and I have a “Deadliest Predators” deck, so we can pretend we are learning useful information about the natural world.
As expected, Miss B took to this pretty quickly and the game shifted backwards and forwards — her big moment of glory (and happy dancing) came when I smugly called weight with my 2-tonne great white shark only to be smacked down by her killer whale. Darn it!
Probably the biggest problem for us with this particular deck was that the “weight” statistic is in kilogrammes and has a number of sub-kilo beasties, with the weight expressed in decimals. That’s a bit of maths way ahead of any 5-year-old I’ve met, but Miss B cottoned on to the idea that numbers with a zero and a dot at the start are less than one and she shouldn’t try calling that as her chosen stat as she would probably lose.
After playing this, S and I went out for the evening. When we came back, the babysitter told us that they had been playing Top Trumps again until bed time. I guess that means Miss B likes it.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼): “I liked it but I don’t know why.” Not the first time we’ve had a verdict like that. When pressed, she said she really liked finding out about the animals.
The game: Top Trumps “Deadliest Predators” (Winning Moves), for some players, aged… umm, it didn’t say.
I was reminded of Robo Rally recently and thought to myself that it’s a fun game that we should try playing sometime. Bleeding ambitious though, so this would take a little thought on the best way to approach playing with a 5-year-old in a not-completely-trivial way. I think we ended up with something pretty workable.
So, what we did was ignore lasers and option cards, and we chose what I figured was the most straightforward board (“Island”), with just two flags to visit on opposite edges of the board, so there was a route which avoided conveyors, etc. (though I chose to go via the conveyors to demonstrate what happened). We then, instead of programming the whole turn at once, worked through each register phase, choosing a card for each move as we went along. After a few turns I switched to setting up the five cards in advance, which made things a little more fun — and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of that at the beginning of the game.
All-in-all this setup seemed to work pretty well. Miss B needed a little help with getting the right and left rotations straight in her head but, to be fair, that’s the case with many adults too. She didn’t like the idea of the lasers and having damage, so I’m quite happy leaving that out for the time being. I think she enjoyed it as an unusual sort of race game but, for the moment at least, robots directly interfering with each other (via lasers, shoving, etc.) is not what she wants to see. Maybe we’ll introduce some of those elements later.
Oh, and painted miniature robots make for instant win, even though I still need to paint the bases on them. Maybe this is sufficient incentive for me to finally finish the job. Overall I think things went very well and I expect we’ll be playing again, though I have no idea how long it will be before we develop into doing the programming aspect of the game. It probably won’t be soon.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼): “I liked it but it was tricky. I really liked the robots. I liked Twonky the best.”
The game: Robo Rally (Wizards of the Coast), 2 to 8 players aged 12+.
Carcassonne is another one of those Eurogame classics that pretty much everyone likes, though I have only played it a few times. With this game, the rules are so straightforward that it’s difficult to simplify, though possibly the most complicated part of the basic game involves the scoring of farmers, so we just did away with that and only had knights, thieves and monks to play with.
Miss B got the hang of tile placement right away, perhaps because the rule is effectively “put it anywhere it looks right”. The game also lends itself well to a “let’s just start and I’ll explain as we go along” approach. After we had played half a dozen or so turns, B asked me, “Are we playing the game now?”
The scoring also went well and soon she was playing a pretty respectable game with little guidance from me. In fact, she went into a strong early lead which she maintained throughout the game until I finally managed to scrape a draw in the final tally.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼): “I liked it because I wanted you to win and I wanted to win so I liked that we had a draw… I liked everything the best.”
The game: Carcassonne (Rio Grande/Hans Im Glueck), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.