Back in the late 90’s the German game company Kosmos churned out an impressive range of two player games, which was slightly unusual then, and still is. Dragonheart is a more recent addition to that range, which sounded like a good idea to me. The presentation is, as with the other games I have seen from the range, great, with a gorgeous and striking box, and nicely illustrated cards and board, plus a cute dragon miniature figure. Once I’d got past all that it quickly became apparent that the theme (the forces of light and dark doing battle to decide the fate of a petrified dragon) is entirely superficial: you just lay down cards in a kind of serial game of advanced rock-paper-scissors. The rules explained the mechanics just fine but left me with no real feel as to how to approach game play.
Miss B, of course is not worried about such niceties as strategy and quickly embraced the whole concept of playing a fire dragon to grab the treasure, or three huntress cards to shoot down the fire dragon. The pictures provide enough theme for her to start imagining the stories going on behind the game play.
This is a game that actually feels harder to explain than to play. Dragonheart just plays insanely smoothly. Most of the rules, which could easily have involved a lot of referring back to the rulebook, are elegantly represented by arrows and rectangles on the board, so there is actually very little to remember. After the first few turns, Miss B was even starting to remind me of the rules.
Once we had finished our first game, we instantly had to have another go, and since then the game has found its way onto the regular request list, alongside the likes of Sleeping Queens and Coloretto, which is some achievement. More to the point I think that this is one of a handful of games that, in our little household of three of us, would work well as a quick game between any two of us. We’re definitely pleased with this purchase.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good because I really like dragons. Can we play again?”
The game: Dragonheart (Kosmos), 2 players aged 13+.
So where do you go for information on boardgames? Well, generally there is one answer:
Board Game Geek is the most comprehensive database of information on board games (and card games, dice games, etc.) that I have come across. I have never tried looking up a game and failed to find it there. This is a positively awesome resource, with images, rules, reviews and very active forums covering all aspects of board (and similar) gaming. The downside is that it can feel pretty jumbled, largely because of the sheer quantity of stuff there. But apart from that, it is the boardgaming site.
More recently we have gained BoardGaming.com which is much newer and has much less stuff there (and almost certainly always will), but is a true thing of beauty, having been built by people who care about appearance and ease of use. Plenty of the Board Game Geek functionality isn’t there, but it is (comparatively) so easy to navigate and find reviews and comments on games. Plus, the big bit of fun is The Game. They have “gamified” the whole site, so you get experience and rewards for just about everything you do there, which can be a surprising amount of fun. The community isn’t up to the “other site” yet, but it is building very nicely.
I enjoy visiting both sites and recommend them each for their own virtues.
Incidentally, if you decide to get an account on BoardGaming.com, please do it by clicking on this link and, if you stick around and get to level 1, I get some credit in-game. ;o) [Update: I forgot to add that you need to type in the “beta registration code” when you sign up. This is 849356.]
So I’ve been keeping this blog (on and off) for over a year now and we’ve played quite a lot of games. We’ve had only one report for most games, though a few have had extra mentions. The question now is which are the favoured games that we keep going back to?
Well, over the last couple of weeks or so, I would say that the games most requested by Miss B would be:
- Sleeping Queens
- Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule
The other games that have had a lot of play but which are usually suggested by me (and readily agreed to by Miss B) are headed up by:
- Castle Panic
Now, all this is just me recording my hunches, but it’s probably safe to say those six games are a good selection that get plenty of play and will probably continue to do so for a while. But in the interest of science, I’m planning to be a bit more systematic for a while. My plan is to record what we play and who chooses it through the month of July. I’ll report back after doing that and see what that tells us.
After spending quite a while trying to come up with some clever way to introduce Miss B to Dominion, I finally decided that I was over-analysing, so decided to just cut the game back a bit and give it a go. If it all went horribly wrong, we could give up and try something else later.
In case you don’t know Dominion, it is a game that spawned an entire new style: deck building games. It has a lot in common with some collectable card games in that there are relatively simple rules and cards with effects that can interact in exotic ways. What happens here, though, is that players begin with a small, skeleton deck which allows them to buy other cards from a selection on the table, and these make the decks grow during play, adding more options as you go along. Dominion has a selection of 25 stacks of ten “kingdom cards” in the basic set (several expansions are available) of which ten are selected for each game. If you do the sums that means that there are over three million ways to set up a game, which means that the game offers enormous variety, especially when you start buying those expansion sets.
I thought that one major cause of problems could be having too many options available, so we used just five kingdom cards, selected by me picking cards that I figured wouldn’t cause too much confusion and from that set, Miss B chose cards she liked the look of: Cellar, Woodcutter, Smithy, Feast and Mine. Plus in order to shorten the game, we only had five cards in each pile, including victory cards, with the game ending after running out of cards in any two piles or just the Province pile. Aside from that we played the standard rules, though I played gently without trying too hard.
Another likely issue was with shuffling. A feature of Dominion is that there is a lot of deck shuffling, and Miss B only has little hands. Sometimes she went through a simple “deal to a few different piles” shuffling routine, which is pretty effective, if slow. Other times I did the shuffling for her. We even tried using an electric card shuffling machine a few times which, though fun, was not particularly quick when Miss B had to first split the cards into two even halves, and isn’t really designed to be shuffling a 20 to 30 card deck. Now Miss B has tried it, though, she wants to use it at every opportunity.
Overall the game went really well and we both had fun. I think that one of the trickiest parts of Dominion is in figuring out when to start buying victory cards, and this is still a problem in our cut back version, so it may be worth coming up with some tweak to help with that. Or maybe I’m over thinking things again and we can just leave things as they are.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good. I liked the shuffler and getting gold.” So, swayed by gadgets and bling!
The game: Dominion (Rio Grande), 2 to 4 players aged 13+.
It was fun to see that on this week’s Tabletop show, they are playingone of our house favourites, Castle Panic. The show gets a bit more loud and manic on this game than on previous episodes, but that’s down to the chemistry between Wil and whatever guests he has. This is definitely one of the great, fun social games for folks who like beating up on monsters.
As it turns out, Miss B and I had a good game of Castle Panic at the weekend. We lost most of our walls and had a dodgy spell towards the end where the board was full of trolls and we had cards that were all the wrong colour, but eventually managed to chalk up another mighty victory for the valiant defenders.
Fluxx is an odd game in so many ways. Some people love it, some hate it, some love it but then have a hand that goes on for ever with no sign of ever ending, so go off it. If you don’t know it, you start the game with rules that say “draw 1 card, play 1 card” and say nothing about how to win, then all this changes as new rules and goals are introduced, plus other cards have odd effects or give you an item to keep on the table in front of you. The missus and I love it (but not all the time!) and were pleased to find that “Family Fluxx” is available (actually, it’s been out for several years, we just hadn’t spotted it) with supposedly prettier art and more family friendly cards.
The game went well, with all three of us playing, though sometimes took a while for B to read cards and decide what to do next. After the game finished, Miss B was keen to play again, which is always a good sign, though after that she was ready for something else. I’m pretty sure this one will come out on a fairly regular basis on the future.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 5½): “Good. But I didn’t win. Can we play snap now?”
The game: Family Fluxx (Looney Labs), 2 to 6 players, aged 6+.
I was listening to the latest Dice Tower podcast earlier, and there was a short section when they were discussing parents playing games with kids. Tom made a very good point there about how many of us glibly joke about how we’re just working on getting ourselves a new gaming partner, but what it is really about is doing something fun that the child enjoys.
My motivations for playing all these games with Miss B are partly that I want to play games more often, sure, but it’s also that it’s really great to be doing things with her that we both really enjoy. I think board and card games are a great social tool, providing a framework for a shared experience with either some low-stakes competition or room for teamwork (I’ve got a few more cooperative games on my wish list too — need to save up for Defenders of the Realm!). Plus, from an educational side, the need to read, think, plan, reason, occasionally do maths, and so on, is all great stuff.
On the podcast, Tom warns against bragging about things like, “Hey, my kid was playing Twilight Imperium by the age of 4”, and I must admit that I occasionally wonder if I’m straying into that sort of territory with this blog, but hopefully I’m managing to stick to having some fun with my daughter.