So we finally got around to playing one of the old German classics, Heimlich & Co., which is one of those ludicrously simple games that relies entirely on your ability to bluff the other players. And rather good it is, too. However, I’m always a bit nervous about playing games that involve having to keep secrets with Miss B, as it’s not something that comes naturally to a five-year-old.
…And so it turned out to be. We got a couple of turns into the game and hit the first round of scoring when Miss B inadvertently said “..and I score five”, instantly blowing the secret out of the water. That was not good for morale, so we agreed to start the game again now we had had a practice run and knew what it was all about. Good. That worked.
We got quite a bit further in the next game before things went wrong. Again the identity of Miss B’s agent slipped out, but this time she was quite a long way ahead of me and I managed to convince her that it was OK and we’d carry on and see if she could guess what my colour was.
From here on my play style got a bit cavalier, but by now the aim of the game was to finish with both of us managing to smile, rather than for us to have a good gaming contest. We just about succeeded on this front.
I still think this is a very good game (and I love that the pieces are so huge and chunky), but it’s not one that we’ll be playing together for a while, and it provides an object lesson to us. While Miss B has shown herself to be very capable of keeping a secret in a game (remember Lords of Waterdeep?), where the secret keeping is almost the entire game, the pressure is just too much. Maybe we’ll try again in a couple of years or so.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “I’m very sad that I gave my secret away.”
The game: Heimlich & Co. (Ravensburger), 2 to 7 players aged 8+.
Miss B has been getting into stories lately. Not just reading them: she’s in a sort of storytelling club at school and they’ve been encouraging her to create stories herself. This weekend, at bedtime after we had been playing Dominion, this encouragement really showed.
In the game, amongst other cards, we had the Bureaucrat and Throne Room cards. Miss B wanted to know what a bureaucrat is, so I told her something about it being someone who does a lot of work with rules, filling in forms, and so on. This clearly was the source of some inspiration.
We had a lovely start to the story: “Once upon a time there was a city. In that city there was a castle. In that castle there was a throne room…” And so on. She did a great job of painting a picture with words, and eventually introduced the character of a bureaucrat who, in the course of the story, learnt that sometimes strict rules aren’t good for everyone and that rules can be changed for the benefit of all.
I was very impressed with this story: it was more sophisticated that anything Miss B has told me before, and told with quite a lot of flair. And it’s great that the cards in a game can provide so much inspiration. I guess maybe we’ll have to get an expansion for Dominion to see where the cards take her imagination. (Heh! Is that just me searching out justification for a future purchase?!)
Oregon is a game that I picked up at The Works (a UK discount book store) because it was cheap, had reasonable ratings and reviews on BoardGameGeek, and had cowboy meeples in it. We have finally got around to playing it, and it’s pretty good. It’s all about distributing buildings and farmers (aka cowboys) around an area of countryside in a way that allows them to interact and earn you points.
This is one of those games that I think you kind of figure out in play and things that sound like they might be a bit tricky are actually pretty straightforward once you get to do them. The theme is pretty thin but it all looks nice with cute tiles for the buildings and those awesome cowboy meeples.
After a few turns I got a bit of a telling off from Miss B. Each turn I had been outlining to her what options were available and making a couple of suggestions of moves she might want to make. She told me that this was annoying and that I should not tell her what to do unless she asked for advice. Fair comment, of course, so I backed down and let her play. From then on she asked for help a few times but did very well (she actually won the game!) and it is notable that the first move she made after shushing me was one of the moves I would have suggested — and probably the one I would have chosen myself.
This is proving to be an ongoing issue that is really hard to get right: how much do I help Miss B on her turns? I want to make sure she understands what options she has available and prevent her making really bad moves, but I also want her to be able to understand the game situation and make her own decisions. Luckily she is fairly independent minded and wants to be in charge of things, so there isn’t much danger of her simply relying on an adult’s instructions.
I think the way forward is to offer advice at the start of play and encourage her to tell me when she wants to “go solo”, then she can ask for advice later if she wants. I still reserve the right to give an “are you sure?” if she does something that looks like an obvious bad move.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “Oregon was 9 out 10! I enjoyed building the gold mines and the coal mines! I won by 11 spaces. You got a counter with gold on one side and numbers up to 6 on the other side the same with the coal counters. It took a long time for me to get a warehouse and train station. The thing I didn’t like was if you played a joker or another turn marker because it meant you couldn’t play it until you got another train station or warehouse. I often put marks on the game I’m playing, do you?” (I’m going to have to get Miss B to write posts herself, possibly with me scribing, as she really seems to want to engage with her readers!)
The game: Oregon (Rio Grande), 2 to 4 players, aged 8+.
Catan Junior is pretty much what you’d imagine from the title: a version of Settlers of Catan, reworked with a younger audience in mind. I was a little wary of this, having heard less than stellar reports of an earlier attempt to shift the Catan franchise towards a younger audience (Kids of Catan), but over the last few months a steadily expanding body of positive reviews have built up. Then, while I was off at the highly enjoyable TringCon, I stumbled across a copy at a very reasonably price, so I laid my cash down…
I mean, there are pirates in this version of the game. Surely that’s enough?
Actually, my early impressions of the game are great. The basic mechanics of the game are almost identical to the original Settlers, but trading has been tweaked (so you trade with a non-player market or the bank), resource cards have been replaced by gorgeous tokens (though the design of the gold counters leaves something to be desired) and the development cards are now “Coco the parrot” tiles which do something good for you when you buy them.
We’ve played this a couple of times so far, with three and two players, and both worked well. Actually, during our first play I rushed reading the rules and we ended up playing with unlimited trading and no bonus for collecting parrots. This actually worked out quite fun, mind, but we have shifted to the proper rules now. The game zips along quite quickly, even with Miss B getting distracted and singing a song or chatting about the fact she doesn’t think there should be as much wood as it isn’t as interesting as goats.
In some ways I think this is actually better than the original Settlers. It is certainly less likely that someone makes a poor or unlucky start and never recovers. This could really turn into a very good gateway game which I’d be more than happy to play with an adult group. I think the “Junior” label is a bit unfortunate as it makes the game sound like more of a kids’ game rather than the great little family game it actually is.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “Catan junior was 10 out of 10 when you could get a lair onto Spooky Island because you had the most Cocos. I liked it because it was still part of the points because lairs score points when they’re on the board.”
The game: Catan Junior (Mayfair Games), 2 to 4 players, aged 6+.