Here we have another diversion from the normal run of things around here. Despite the fact that she is getting really good at a number of serious adult-type games, I have to remember that Miss B is still only five and does still like kiddie stuff too. On a recent shopping trip her eye was caught by Take the Cake so I agreed to buy it for her.
This is very definitely a kids’ game. You shake little wooden sprinkles out of a cake-shaped shaker and if any match the shape and colour of the spaces on the cupcake cards in the middle of the table, they get placed onto those cakes. If you fill up all the spaces on a cake card, you get to take the cake.
There’s not much else to say about the game really. It works well and is actually a bit of fun. There is actually a tiny amount of strategy involved in how you allocate the sprinkles to cakes, but other than that… Well, Miss B enjoyed it and wants to play it with her friends, and I was content to have a play as part of an afternoon of playing a few different games. Not a bad investment, I think.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “I liked collecting the different shapes and finding the cakes to put them on. I think my friends would like it.”
The game: Take the Cake (Gamewright), 2 to 4 players aged 4+.
So, our next two contenders for this year’s award are, as I’m sure you remember, Robo Rally and Citadels. Once again two very different games. And first up…
Robo Rally is a great, chaotic game with a heap of players, but it’s just the two of us and Miss B and I have only previously played it once together. She is very much in love with the little robot miniatures, particularly Twonky, the one that looks like a walking TV set (a nice one, not a malicious one like Evil Edna). The game can be, however, pretty tricky even for adults due to the need to plan moves five steps ahead, which can lead to hilarious results when robots get in each other’s way. To make this manageable we didn’t use option cards or lasers and allowed Miss B to program each phase of the turn as it came up (with me programming all five phases as usual).
To Miss B’s credit, after the first few turns she started trying to program the full turn in the same way as I did. We agreed that she could change her programmed cards later if she needed to, but most of the time she didn’t, as it turned out. We also set up a pretty simple route across two boards which required a little interaction with conveyors but nothing too confusing (though I elected to surf around on conveyors to demonstrate how they worked and also to have more fun.
For my money, two-player Robo Rally with a lot of the juicy bits removed isn’t the most thrilling game ever, but it’s a bit of a giggle and as it happened we had the perfect close finish with us both reaching the finish line on the same register phase. Miss B’s thoughts on the game (transcribed from a bit of paper she wrote on): “I like it Becos it was very very very close.”
We have a lot more experience with playing Citadels and have a lot of fun with drafting the characters each turn (with two or three players you get two characters to use and this opens up all sorts of possibilities that aren’t really there in bigger games). So off we went…
We both had some good runs of play in this game, with Miss B managing to keep the crown through most of the game. She even managed to find a couple of ways to ensure she had plenty of district cards which meant that at the end she was able to start playing quite a few cards and complete the spread of different colours. Unfortunately I managed to end the game by getting an eighth district, probably only a turn before she would have done the same (judging by the cards she had in hand at the end). So the game was actually pretty close, even though the final score was rather less so.
By this time it was quite late in the day and Miss B wasn’t happy with the end of the game. She said she did still really like the game in general, but: “I was very Dicaponted with How it EnDeD.” (Again, she wrote this down for me.)
So which is the winner? My choice from these two would certainly be Citadels, but this time Miss B’s experience was better with Robo Rally, so that is the game that she has chosen to go forward to the final. Coming up soon, then, Robo Rally versus Dominion for this year’s Golden Thingummy Award…
We interrupt your scheduled sequence of Golden Thingummy posting to report on yet another new game. This one is not just new to us, but is also pretty new on the market having only been released a few months ago. Lords of Waterdeep seems to have been greeted by an almost unanimous “OMG! Wizards of the Coast have made a D&D themed Euro-style game! And it’s really good! Need to sit down now from the shock!” It’s set in a city taken from the Forgotten Realms setting, something about which I know next to nothing, and somehow manages to combine a decent fantasy theme with slick, fast play with meeples and little wooden cubes.
After a lot of dithering I finally got hold of a copy, and we have at last had a chance to play. I was a little worried by the rules at first, but I basically explained a handful of things to Miss B and then started. By the end of the first round we were both playing comfortably and for the rest of the game Miss B only needed a little help deciphering what the text on her intrigue cards meant.
We’ve now played a couple of times. The first was with just the two of us and we had to abandon the game after five turns (of the scheduled eight) due to it being nearly dinner time. Next day we had another go with Mummy added to the mix and managed to complete the whole thing. Miss B clearly enjoyed the game but it took nearly two hours and towards the end she was flagging somewhat. Most of the time taken was due to Miss B wanting to discuss some side-issue, or getting distracted by the pictures on a card. I gather that with experienced players, the game usually comes down to an hour or so, but I think with a five-year-old we are in for long sessions. (Note to self: schedule a snack and drink break next time.) That said, the game pretty much held her attention throughout, which is pretty impressive.
An aside on this… I mentioned fast play in my opening paragraph and have now gone on to talk about it being potentially quite a long game. It’s all relative really. The structure of this game is based on each player taking lots of very quick turns where you mostly place one meeple onto the board and then collect resources associated with where you placed it. Sometimes you also complete a quest by spending resources. This sort of thing works well for adults who are paying attention, but for a kid (or adult, for that matter) who you have to nudge every time it is their turn, the time taken for those nudges mounds up.
Overall, I really like what I have seen of this game and can’t wait to break it out for a couple of plays with grown-ups. As a family game it can go on a bit long, but it’s fun and interesting and I’m sure that time will (eventually!) come down.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “I liked getting all those skullduggery ones when I had to get warfare and skullduggery for my bonuses.”
The game: Lords of Waterdeep (Wizards of the Coast), 2 to 5 players aged 12+.
You may remember that not long ago I commented on the apparent insanity of certain minimum ages as printed on game boxes. Specifically in this case the fact that there is no way I would reckon Citadels needs to be played by 14+ year olds.
Well, Miss B and I had a very pleasant detour to the excellent Gameskeeper shop on Cowley Road, Oxford (I haven’t been there for something like a decade and am somewhat embarrassed about that because it is such a good shop) and as part of a chat with the lovely Carol, she imparted some information on this matter. There are loads of rules about safety and suitability of toy and game components, and it would appear that some of these are such that making it clear that the product is not suitable for under-14s will make some of the testing and certification either less onerous or not necessary. (Apologies to Carol if I am misrepresenting her — any inaccuracies are almost certainly my fault.)
This sounds sadly plausible. I guess that if this means that manufacturers can get better value games to us, that is great, but the recommended ages for games are often shaky anyway, so devaluing their usefulness even more is a pretty poor show. After all, not all shoppers check The Geek (or even know about its existence) for more information before purchasing or have an expert sitting in the shop to give you advice. Perhaps we should campaign for some way to give better information to prospective buyers.
That said, I don’t have many ideas myself…
The contenders for the first game-off were chosen to be Carcassonne and Dominion. Two classic games in their own right that are massively different in just about all respects. We had a free afternoon, so cleared the table, lined up drinks and got started with Carcassonne…
We haven’t played Carcassonne many times with the full rules and not for some time now, as we have been through quite a lot of new games over the last few months. So it was nice to get this old favourite out again and start laying tiles. As usual, the only rule I really have for myself is to not deliberately play to cause problems for Miss B. Other than that, I try not to make dumb moves. This time, I wished I was playing harder. For the first time, Miss B made a really good play of a farmer which, combined with having a pretty good run of the tiles throughout, meant that she solidly and comprehensively beat me. Smiles and high-fives all around. This is the sort of a buzz that I always hoped for when we started playing these games, and it is great when it works out right.
After a short break we cracked out Dominion and Miss B set to choosing the kingdom cards. Her selections seemed pretty reasonable, though most of them were four-cost cards, which I felt might restrict the game. I suggested she might want to swap a couple to give more variety but she was happy with the way things were. Fine. So off we went.
I’m pretty inexperienced at Dominion and there were a couple of cards in this setup that I’d not used before, but it was really gratifying to see Miss B exploring some of the possibilities as much as I was. Very soon she was finding that she could combine the Adventurer card (which cycles through your deck looking for treasure) with assorted other cards to great effect. I don’t think she was really thinking of it in terms of building combos, but she was able to work out the best order to play her cards and it was amazing how often she ended up with a hefty fistful of treasure by the end of the action step of her turn. In the end we had a brilliantly close game that genuinely came down to the count at the end. And I won this time. Just.
This must have been one of the best gaming sessions we have had yet. Both games worked really well and gave us lots to think about. Dominion in particular seemed to be close to its best, playing quickly with the two of us using very different strategies but both doing well with it. I guess it’s all about the card mix — I’m kicking myself for not noting down what the cards were (though if I look closely enough at the photo I took, maybe…).
Anyway, Miss B insisted that I let her type her thoughts, so here we go…
“I like dominion becos i liked seeying who won.I like carcassonne becos i like the meeples 🙂 Missb wrote this.”
On sober reflection, Miss B has announced that Carcassonne scored 8 out of 10 and Dominion had 10 out of 10, so we are pleased to announce that Dominion is the first finalist for this year’s Golden Thingummy award.
You may remember that last summer Miss B and I selected a few games to play off against each other and see which one we liked best. By “we” I meant, of course, Miss B, who has the final vote in all things. I took a long time to write all this up but the eventual winner was the worthy Enchanted Forest.
Well, it is that time again and perhaps we will turn the Golden Thingummy Award into an annual thing. So here we go…
The selection procedure for the shortlist is that we make a big pile out of the games that we have played over the last year (the ones that we can play with just the two of us, anyway) and Miss B selects two of them. I then choose two more games that I think would be good contenders (based on the fun we have had with them plus a bit of my personal bias).
Miss B’s picks were…
Dominion. Miss B said, “I’m not sure why but I just like it.” I reckon this is a good, if slightly surprising choice. As long as we can keep the most disruptive cards (like the Witch) out of the game, we can have a lot of fun with this.
Robo Rally. Miss B said, “I like Twonky because I could make it out of a box.” A slightly random comment, but for those of you not in the know, Twonky is one of the robots in the game, and looks like a cute walking television (not at all like Evil Edna). I’m not sure this game is a strong one for us right now: we’ve played it once and it is a bit of a struggle, even with enormous concessions made to make it easier for Miss B. We’ll see.I was genuinely surprised that Miss B didn’t pick Sleeping Queens, which has been her go-to game for some time. But you know what I was saying about personal bias? Well, while I’m happy playing Sleeping Queens because it is a fairly decent game and Miss B loves it, I’ll never choose it myself. So, my picks were…
Carcassonne. We’ve not played this for a while, but it has always gone down well and is just a solid, fun game.
Citadels. A new one to us, but has already had a few plays and is becoming a firm favourite with a nice combination of ease of play and layered bluffing and psychology.
If I had a third pick it would probably have been Coloretto, which is just great.
So, that is our shortlist. We’ll be having two semi-final sessions where we will pick a pair of games to try together as a grand final. Updates will follow in the coming weeks…
Miss B has been away, staying with her grandmother for a few days (we’re going to catch up with her this evening), which means greatly reduced gaming opportunities and an unnaturally quiet house. However, she hasn’t been idle. It turns out I’ve missed out on a trip to Dinosaur Isle.
I’m gutted, but it sounds like she had a great time. I think on a future trip we’ll have to go there together. I’m totally wanting to meet a baryonyx walkeri. Miss B will probably have a load to say about this trip as she is becoming quite a dinosaur afficionado.
Still, we’ll have a day and a bit in the area, so we should be able to go and see something cool ourselves. There’s lots of Roman stuff around for a start…