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A 99 with raspberry sauce, please

July 22, 2012 Comments off

And now for something completely different: a game that Miss B plays on her own. We got Rush Hour Junior some time last year and at the time Miss B spent a good few sessions puzzling away at it. If you didn’t know, Rush Hour is a simple sliding piece puzzle, where the aim is to shuffle vehicles backwards and forwards on a grid in order to let your car escape. In the junior version, your car happens to be an ice cream van.

Get that fire engine out of the way!

The junior version comes with forty puzzle cards, graded into four difficulty levels. To play, you just choose a card, set the pieces up on the grid, and start trying to work out how to get that ice cream van out. This can be quite tricky, involving several logical steps, and requires some thinking ahead — or an incredible amount of trial and error.

The set went down well when we first bought it, with Miss B getting through about twenty puzzles over the course of a week or two with quite a lot of help and encouragement. This time she started again from scratch and, with almost no assistance, she got to about the same place after a couple of sessions, with quite a lot of enthusiasm.  Of course, now we’re on the third difficulty level, things are slowing down a bit.

I reckon this has been good value for money, especially as the puzzles are a bit of fun for me too. Maybe we’ll pick up the adult version some way down the line.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “I like the cars because there’s a purple truck. I like building the puzzle and then working out how to get the ice cream van out.”

The game: Rush Hour Junior (ThinkFun), 1 player aged 6 to 8.

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Verwirren Sie Ihre Mitspieler

July 18, 2012 4 comments

El Grande is certainly one of my all-time favourite games. With four or five players it provides a quick moving, deep tactical game which really set the standards for area-control Euro games. It’s rather less good with two players, but it’s still OK and as there isn’t any real hidden information in the game, I figured Miss B could probably handle it.

…and two for the castle…

Oh, and my copy is in German. This really doesn’t matter though as it just requires reading out the translations of the action cards once each turn, and the illustrations on these cards are generally very useful for demonstrating what they do.

Due to it being many years since I last played El Grande and my failure to read the rules properly, I made a bit of a mistake over where you can place your men on the board. When I remembered the mistake we had a discussion and decided to carry on as we were. The mistake just made it easier to place men, removing a degree of potential frustration, though also getting rid of much of the tactical play. For a first play with a 5-year-old that sounds in retrospect like a good thing, so I’ll pretend here that I intentionally decided that caballeros can be placed anywhere and not just adjacent to the king and would you please disregard the rest of this paragraph.

The game went remarkably well. El Grande really isn’t much of a two-player game (though there are some tweaks that can improve it) but it’s not a bad way to spend some time. Miss B got to grips with the basic province-to-court and court-to-board mechanism to move the caballeros, and was happy with the action cards too. I needed to remind her of things from time to time, but that’s normal: most card games involve regular reminders for her to draw a card. During play I challenged Miss B for a couple of regions so there would be a bit of a feel of competition, but we mostly pottered along on our own. Overall I felt things went really well, though it’ll be a while before we have a competitive game.

Next time we play (and I’m pretty sure there will be a next time) we’ll play the proper placement rule and probably just play a six-turn game (another thing I didn’t think about in advance). Then hopefully we’ll be able to play with more people one day.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good. I liked it because I learnt new words… like Koenig.” Ah, gaming plus German lesson all in one. Sometimes I miss the time when so many of these great games weren’t available in English.

The game: El Grande (Hans In Glueck), 2 to 5 players aged 12+.

Ha! You can’t move your spider now!

July 14, 2012 2 comments

I’ve been thinking about getting a copy of Hive for a while and this week finally got hold of the “Pocket” version of the game, which has smaller (though still lovely and chunky) tiles than the original, but includes the expansion tiles that you have to buy separately for the full sized version.

Yay! The black queen is surrounded!

The game is pure strategy, a little like a version of chess where there is no board, but the play area is constrained by the tiles themselves (anyone ever play SJG’s Tile Chess?). As such I was a little concerned at how well Miss B would handle the game, but she specifically requested to play it, so why not…

As it turned out the weak link in the game was me. For our first play (I had never played the game before), Miss B fumbled around a bit trying to figure out the various ways of moving the bugs, but since I had forgotten the “you can’t place a piece adjacent to your opponent’s piece” rule, she ended up running rings around me and winning. Excellent for morale, that.

We played again, this time with the proper rules and had a close finish with me just squeezing the win. This is an intriguing game and could provide lots of head-scratching entertainment in the coming years as we explore what looks like a very deep game (I’m looking forward to introducing this to the gaming lads at work). But for now, as a don’t-plan-too-much-or-play-too-defensively quickie, it works well. I can’t praise enough the quality of the pieces which make it into a touchy-feely game par excellence, much like its sort-of predecessor Tantrix (which I have only ever played in puzzle mode — note to self: must check out the competitive rules). And comprising, as it does, a bunch of chunky tiles in a bag, this is a good one to add to the travelling games selection.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good.  I liked the queen bees because they make you lose when they are surrounded.”

The game: Hive (Gen 42), 2 players aged 8+.

I’ve been a Wild Talespinner for many a year…

July 11, 2012 1 comment

Not long ago I caught wind of a game called Story Realms, which aims to be a quick, fun, family-oriented roleplaying game. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but there is a lovely bit of backstoryfor the game on the Growing Up Gamers blog (browse around there to see more posts about story realms). Anyway, to cut a long story short, I figured Miss B might like this, so I registered as a playtester and we now have a print & play playtest set, complete with home-decorated special dice.

Summoning the power of storm magic and… a jar of goo.

Our first session had myself as Storyteller, with Miss B and S playing the heroes. S knows her way around a roleplaying game probably better than I do, but this whole concept is completely new to Miss B. 5-year-olds roleplay all the time, but doing so within the constraints of a set of rules is a whole different kettle of fish.

Miss B really struggled for a while to know what to do. The sort of games we have been playing together so far essentially involve making choices from a small set of alternatives like a hand of cards. In a roleplaying game there are far fewer constraints and so you have to start thinking in a different way. This was probably all exacerbated by her choosing a character type that didn’t really fit how she wanted to play. Eventually, though, she started thinking of things like the fact that she and S had been hurt in a fall so she could try using the jar of goo in her healer’s kit to make it better.

By the end of the session (and the end of the scenario) Miss B was getting really into the whole experience and was very disappointed that we had to stop.

A few words on Story Realms itself. The game is roleplaying gaming stripped down to the basics. There are some lovely rule mechanics and the character set-up is beautifully slick. The materials at the moment are pretty scrappy, but it is just playtest kit and having seen a little of the final artwork it looks like it should look beautiful. I’ll be sure to post updates here as and when…

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “I liked it because it had a story in it.”

The game: Story Realms (Escapade Games), no other details available yet.

Chocolate caterpillars and a festival in the throne room

July 9, 2012 Comments off

So we had a day trip to visit our lovely friends, ED and ID. The idea was that S could mostly do arty things with ED, I could play some games with ID, and Miss B could join in whichever activity she fancied. Actually, Miss B had been thinking about what games she wanted to play for a few days (Dominion being top of that list) and helped me choose the pile to take along. We knew ED and ID have a decent selection themselves, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Nervous Nelly flips Kokopelli and PB and Jelly…

Before lunch we had a couple of rounds of Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule, which is always a crowd pleaser and we are seriously looking forward to getting hold of the real cards when it is finally published properly. This was then followed up by a couple of hands of Sleeping Queens, which has been consistently one of Miss B’s favourite games since we got it.

After a pasta break, the ladies went off to be creative while Miss B joined ID and I for a game of Dominion. We let Miss B choose the cards, which turned out to be a source of great challenge and opportunity. Miss B is rather into attack cards in Dominion and was soon repeatedly playing Witches (as were we others) which meant that the game steadily slowed down due to the sheer number of accumulated curses (and we didn’t have cards that would effectively clear them up in the game). In the end, we ended the game a little early as Miss B was getting a bit bored with the slow progress and wanted to do some painting.

I’m not sure if I should ban Witches when playing Dominion with Miss B for the time being, or if I should just remind her of this experience next time and then let her decide. Of course, now I write that down it seems pretty obvious to me that the latter option is the right one.

Anyway, after Dominion, Miss B moved on to the art area while I got to have a game of Infiltration with ID to round the afternoon off. By the end Miss B was showing quite a lot of interest in this, so maybe I’ll try playing that with her soon — though probably using a cooperative form of the game.

Another great day, and many thanks are owed to our hosts.

Look, the hand is the same size as my hand!

July 5, 2012 Comments off

You remember a couple of posts back I mentioned the range of Kosmos two-player games, well, this is another one. Kahuna is a cute little strategy game based on building magical bridges in a South Sea archipelago. It’s a decent little game and Miss B requested to play it right after our couple of games of Clans, as previously reported.

I’m sorry, but this really is a bridge to Faaa.

This was another game that went remarkably well given that it is actually a pretty abstract strategy game where you need to be working on a big picture as well as dealing with the little details. Miss B did get fixated for several turns on the possibility of removing a particular bridge, if only she could get hold of the right card to go with the one she had in hand. I needed to look at her hands and make suggestions on quite a few occasions, particularly when the board had got very full later in the game.

While we had fun with this (and finished with me only one point ahead), I think we probably won’t be playing this as much as some of the other games we’ve tried recently. In a year or two, I think Miss B will get a lot more out of it. But we’ll just have to see how we do on requests to play. I may well be surprised — as I often am!

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good because I liked it being close.”

The game: Kahuna (Kosmos), 2 players aged 10+.

Can you get to these islands?

July 2, 2012 1 comment

For my money, Clans is a real hidden gem. I think it was only available for a short time in the early noughties, but I am so glad I have a copy. The game is a nice exemplar of “Euro” style games: simple, a beautiful game mechanic, excellent presentation (including lovely little wooden huts), and pretty abstract, but with a theme that fits the mechanic well.  This is just great.

Trying to build a village in the mountains.

The main thing that held me back from introducing it to Miss B earlier is that it involves keeping a secret.  Clans is one of those games where different colours score points and players are secretly trying to make one of the colours win.  The problem with this is that My experience of five-year-olds suggests that their ability to be subtle and secretive is akin to that of a cartoon Tazmanian devil.  Still, I figured we’d have to give this a go sooner or later so I put Clans into the pile of “new games” to try and it was the one that got chosen.

The mechanics are easy and Miss B quickly got the hang of them, though occasionally forgot that you’re not allowed to move to an empty territory.  She was massively transparent as to which colour she was playing, to the point of asking how she can score points with her colour.  I played gently, but still won.  And then the worm turned…

Miss B requested a replay right away, so we set things up and played again.  I made the fatal error of assuming that we would have a similar experience to the previous game, so I didn’t really think about what colour she was playing, had a guess based on some early moves and then, you know, kinda played casual.  A short while later, the colours were revealed and Miss B turned out to be blue, winning the game!

I was so proud.  Daddy displays hubris and gets smacked down with extreme prejudice.  I think we can safely say that Miss B is really starting to get the hang of this and I couldn’t be more pleased.  And she was grinning like a nutter over the whole experience.  High fives all round.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good because it was a bit like Settlers.” Plus we had a request to play again immediately, which I figure is a classic “two thumbs” verdict.  The Settlers thing is because of the terrain illustrations on the board looking a little like that other game.

The game: Clans (Venice Connection), 2 to 5 players aged 10+.