Archive for February, 2013

When was antibiotics? Can you give me a clue?

February 28, 2013 1 comment

I think it’s fair to say that playing a trivia game with a six-year-old is probably not really cricket. You really can’t expect her to know when the first antibiotic was discovered (to be fair, though, I don’t know either), but she requested we played Timeline, so why not?

So we have the theory of evolution before the first skyscraper.  That's a freebie for you.

So we have the theory of evolution before the first skyscraper. That’s a freebie for you.

This is actually quite a sweet little trivia game. You get a heap of cards with a title (something that was discovered, invented, built, etc.) and an illustration on one side, and on the other it’s the same apart from the addition of a date (the year that thing was discovered, invented, built, etc.). You have a few cards and the aim is to get rid of your cards by taking it in turns to add them to the right position in a growing timeline of cards in the middle of the table, flipping the card to see if you were right. If you are wrong you get another card.

With Miss B, we’ve been playing that she gets a couple fewer cards than the adults, and I’ll give her a hint of a couple of places I think the card might go (along with the caveat that I may be completely wrong). Armed with that information, she has demonstrated an unnerving instinct for this game and has won three of the four games we have played so far as a result!

I’m astounded that that Timeline has proven so popular with Miss B. I suppose from her point of view it’s a guessing game and we get to talk about the things that crop up on the cards, so it’s interesting from that point of view.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I liked it better this time because even though I didn’t know it that well I did it right at the end. The best thing about the game is some of the time when I get it wrong I might even get a card that I know where to put.”

The game: Timeline (Asmodee), 2 to 8 players aged 8+.

Being turned into a toad doesn’t sound very good

February 25, 2013 6 comments

Hmm, if you’d asked me a few years ago I would have told you that I was unlikely to ever play Talisman again. It’s a massively random game with relatively few meaningful choices to be made and it’s entirely possible you will bump into a dragon or demon in your first turns, plus the ending… well, the least said the better. I quite enjoyed playing it when I first encountered it in the mid-eighties, but since then I got into different types of game since then. I think part of the problem is that games of Talisman often went on for two or three hours and, for an essentially simple game, that was just too darn long.

The dilemma for the Prophetess: which card to keep...?

The dilemma for the Prophetess: which card to keep…?

Talisman’s not an awful game, just one I didn’t enjoy playing. The last time I played it was about a decade ago and involved a later edition of the game with all the available expansions, which I felt just made the game bigger and more chaotic without adding anything that appealed to me. But I’m not the target audience, not by a long shot.

And yet, for many years I have had a copy of the second edition of the game languishing in the back of the cupboard. I don’t know what made me keep it. Maybe there was something in the back of my mind that dreamed of those teenage years when it was actually fun. Either that or I’m just a magpie who hates to get rid of things.

Some time after I started writing this blog I found the old box sitting there and I thought, maybe Miss B would like to give it a go. After all, she likes Dungeon!, so another adventuring game may go down well. I mentioned it to her a couple of months ago, and this afternoon she decided to give it a go.

We agreed to not attack each other, plus I invoked Wil Wheaton’s Rule 17b and gave Miss B three re-roll counters (she used one after she’d misunderstood her options at the City). She wanted to play the one “good” female character in our set, the Prophetess, which worked out fortuitous as one of her special abilities mitigates well against bad luck in drawing adventure cards. I proposed that the winning conditions should be just to get to the Crown of Command in the centre, or to stop if we ran out of time or energy.

So we played for a little over an hour until S came back from work and we packed up so I could prepare dinner. That hour of play zipped past, with Miss B being thoroughly engrossed in the game. She finished the session off by building herself a raft and crossing the river to the middle region, which seemed a reasonable point to finish. She ended up full of excitement about some of her exploits and very keen to play again to a conclusion.

All in all this was a great success. I expect that when we do try to play for a conclusion we will schedule a snack break after an hour in order to keep the energy up. This is generally a good policy for us during longer games.

So there we have it: a game that I don’t like very much has really justified its place in the collection, providing entertainment, excitement and smiles. We’ll certainly be playing this again and, to my surprise, I’m OK with that. Actually, more than that, I’m looking forward to it.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “Really, really, really, really good!”

The game: Talisman (Games Workshop), 2 to 6 players aged 9+.

The bird is running away! Come back!

February 22, 2013 Comments off

Some years ago, a group of us who were involved in the running of a small, now defunct, games shop went on a little outing to a big toy and games fair in London. Amongst an enormous number of cool toys we discovered a little booth where a couple of folks were enthusiastically pushing their new game, Cat Attack. The demo made it look like fun and we figured that it was nice to support a new, British, game creator, especially when we were confident that we could sell a few copies.

Looks like the vets have opened again, just in time.

Looks like the vets have opened again, just in time.

When the game was available we got some stock in, and it did sell reasonably well. We also discovered that what looked like a fluffy family game about cats could, in the hands of the sort of people we played with, turn into a brutal, bruising battle that could take quite a while to play but was generally a lot of fun, despite a less-than-stellar rulebook.

Cat Attack has languished on the shelf for some time now, until Miss B spotted it and asked to play. We decided to strip out the rules for attacking and stealing from other cats in order to make a less confrontational game. To speed up play we also decided that the victory conditions were to collect four items instead of the usual six. This still left plenty of options, with some option to mess with the other player by controlling movement of mice and birds that they are chasing.

With these changes, the game went swimmingly and we had plenty of fun. It actually felt like a proper family game, with lots of randomness but with meaningful decisions to make each turn. Great stuff. Mind you, I have now got it into my mind that it may be fun to get a few friends together for an evening to have a “proper” play of Cat Attack, full of cat fights and burglaries…

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “It was OK because I didn’t really like the shops opening and closing and people stealing and stuff. I liked the way that birds were blue because usually they are just black and white or black or red and brown.” (Well, I thought it went swimmingly!)

The game: Cat Attack (Boardroom Productions), 2 to 6 players aged 8+.

It would be nice if Miss Stealthy wasn’t the only girl

February 18, 2013 Comments off

Mr Jack is a purely two-player game of deduction, misdirection and sneakiness, based on the hunt for Jack the Ripper in Victorian London. This could, of course, be really quite dark, but this is actually quite cute, with some nice, cartoony artwork, and no dwelling on the murdering of young women.

Looks like our perpetrator is actually either Watson or John Smith the lamp lighter.  And the lamp man seems to be making a run for it...

Looks like our perpetrator is actually either Watson or John Smith the lamp lighter. And Smith seems to be making a run for it…

So the game involves moving eight characters (from the street lamp lighting man to Sherlock Holmes) around the board, leaving them either seen or unseen by others depending on their positions. One of these characters — it could be any of them — is actually Jack, so one player is attempting to unmask the felon, while the other is trying to ensure his escape. This is all slightly complicated by the fact that both players may move all of the characters at some point (they all have special abilities too), so part of play is denying your opponent access to a critical character at the right time.

Anyway, this isn’t really meant to be a general review of how to play, but it is worth knowing that the Jack player in particular has to be quite sneaky in order to prevent the detective finding out too many clues too quickly. This, of course, means that I wasn’t expecting things to go too well for Miss B. But she wanted to play and, more worryingly, wanted to play as Jack. Luckily, S was willing to sit by and give her some advice. I actually figured out which character was Jack pretty quickly (thanks to a not-too-subtle six-year-old), but kept playing to ensure that all suspects were eliminated before making my arrest. We immediately played again and Miss B took over the detective this time. With S off to do something else, I was able to advise on possible options, and Miss B managed to make her own decisions most of the time, eventually getting a win.

I’m very new to this game too, and can see it being a good battle of wits between two adults. With Miss B, however, I think if we play it again I will strongly encourage her to play the detective for the time being. We both enjoyed playing though, despite frustrations when she was being Jack, so hopefully we’ll get more out of it in future.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I didn’t really like it when I was the murderer because it was too tricky finding an entrance that is free because you need to guess which the police will move to next. The detective was a lot easier because Daddy kept saying light for the clues. At the end of each round the murderer has to tell the detective if the murderer can be seen or not. I really liked it when I was the detective.”

The game: Mr Jack (Hurrican), 2 players aged 9+.

There, but not back again

February 16, 2013 1 comment

There are an awful lot of games based on JRR Tolkien’s works and a lot of them are awful. I don’t know half of them half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of them half as well as they deserve. Or something like that. Anyway, we have been playing a game called The Hobbit, which is one of a few with the same title. I know of one such game that has a huge dragon in the middle of the board. This is not that one. This game is by Reiner Knizia and has Smaug the dragon at one end of the board and Bilbo the hobbit at the other, and you need to get Bilbo to Smaug’s lair before Smaug gets to Laketown. All clear? Good.

Getting low on provisions but valiantly doing battle with wargs nonetheless.

Getting low on provisions but valiantly doing battle with wargs nonetheless.

I’ll come out and say it straight away: the rulebook for this game is a jumbled mess which spends more time (incorrectly) summarising the plot of the book (the Arkenstone is not a cup, for crying out loud!) than clearly explaining the rules. Still, we figured it out and got playing.

Once you are past the none-too-great explanations I actually reckon the game is quite good. Basically, part of the game is travelling to the next of four key locations, during which time you bid to accumulate provisions, develop skills, and acquire special items. On arrival at the locations you undertake a series of adventures which involve rolling dice in a simple sub-game. Cards get turned over at each step which reveal what is going on and give a little flavour from the book.

Miss B loved the flavour text on the cards, and we had to read each section out when it came up, which led to her commenting occasionally on how we were encountering things out of order (we read the book together last year). The aim of collecting treasure throughout the game seems to miss the theme a little, but it all seemed to work out OK, and it did feel like we were going on an adventure together. All in all I think this went really well, despite it taking us well over an hour to play. I expect the game to come out again from time to time, though I’m thinking a bit about making a small tweak to turn this into a proper cooperative game with increased difficulty.

We do have friends possessing one of the aforementioned other Hobbit games, so Miss B is hoping to try that one some time so she can decide which she likes the best. Looking forward to that.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I liked the game because a bit of the game is a bit tough, but some of the adventure fours are surprisingly easy. It was funny that there wasn’t enough gems so we had to use some of my beads. I was a bit scared when Smaug came up because I thought he would get to Laketown really quickly but it was lucky because he was only two, three or four spaces down the track to Laketown.”

The game: The Hobbit (Imagination), 2 to 5 players aged 10+.

I’ll buy your elephant and then I’ll get a baby elephant!

February 14, 2013 Comments off

One of our most played games is the quick and elegant Coloretto, which involves collecting sets of coloured cards while trying to not have too many sets. Zooloretto is a big box adaptation of the game, adding a nice theme (collecting animals to go into your zoo) and nearly tripling the price. Actually, there are enough changes to the game that I am very happy to have both in the collection for playing on different occasions.

Miss B's zoo receives a delivery.

Miss B’s zoo receives a delivery.

I’d been meaning to get a copy of Zooloretto for ages and, at last, a trip to the Gameskeeper (a fantastic shop in Oxford) resulted in us taking a copy home. Actually the trip was fun all round; S was chuckling to herself at the conversation with the staff who were trying very hard to recommend games for us: “Have you tried Hey That’s My Fish?”, “Yup, got it.”, “I assume you have Carcassonne?”, “Yup”, “Tsuro is back in stock and that’s nice”, “I agree, we have that too”, “How about Citadels?”, “Yes, that too”… Actually, I think this really showed that they managed to get onto our wavelength as they did suggest a lot of games we love, plus a few new ones we’ll hopefully check out some time.

Meanwhile, back on topic…

We got the game home and, that evening, had our first game for the three of us. There is a bit more to think about than in Coloretto due to the addition of money and things that you can do with it. Miss B took a little while to get to grips with things but towards the end she demonstrated admirable understanding of how things worked by, without guidance, moving one of her concession stalls to a location where it would be much more useful.

We’ll certainly still play Coloretto fairly regularly as it takes up little space and we play it in only about 10 minutes. However, for something a little meatier and a lot cuter, but still not too lengthy (this first game came in at under an hour) I think Zooloretto is looking like an excellent purchase.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I think the baby animals are really cute. But you only get a baby when you have a male and a female. You can tell which are the males and females because they have symbols on. I liked it because it was trucks instead of just cards saying the number you are allowed. But I would like it better if the lorries had fronts to them.”

The game: Zooloretto (Rio Grande), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.

Let’s rescue the dog!

February 10, 2013 Comments off

I recently received a very welcome present from the in-laws, a cooperative game called Flash Point: Fire Rescue which is, as the name may suggest, about being a team of fire fighters trying to rescue victims from a burning building. I’d been hearing good things about this for some time, so it was great to have a chance to try it out.

Looks like the fire is mostly under control... for now!

Looks like the fire is mostly under control… for now!

So the game is pretty straightforward: you move your fire fighter and/or take other actions like extinguishing flames or opening doors, then roll a couple of dice to see where more fire spreads; then it’s the next player. The mechanics quite cleverly make it more likely that existing fires will get worse and new areas generally build up smoke before flames break out. There are two sets of rules: a basic version, where everyone is the same, and a more advanced version where each fire fighter has specialist skills (like first aid, imaging, or dealing with hazardous materials) and other features are introduced like a movable fire engine and ambulance.

We have now played the game a couple of times: once with just the two of us and once as part of a games afternoon with five fire fighters (a couple of which were being controlled by a pair of children. Both times we played with the basic rules. Miss B enjoyed the first play, but wasn’t massively impressed. The second time, though, with the bigger group of players, the game really came to life and she was getting really into the swing of things, and she says it is definitely more fun with more people.

However, Miss B would like to withhold her verdict until we have tried playing with the specialist fire fighters. So no verdict this time. Some time, hopefully in the near future, we will do this and I will report back.

The game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue (Indie Boards & Cards), 2 to 6 players aged 10+.

Run, rabbit, run!

February 6, 2013 2 comments

A few days back we had a lovely day of gaming with friends, with a total of five adults and five kids.  The afternoon saw several games get played, including one that I had been wanting to play for some time, Dixit.

A can't remember what the clue was for this lot, but there was a great deal of pondering to do.

A can’t remember what the clue was for this lot, but there was a great deal of pondering to do.

Dixit is a lovely, visual game that needs at least three people to make it worth playing.  The idea is that one person chooses a card from a selection of beautiful illustrations in his or her hand and gives some sort of clue to describe it.  The other players choose one of their own cards that, hopefully, could match that clue, and then everyone tries to guess which of the shuffled and revealed cards was the original choice.  People who guess correctly get points, as do people who have their card chosen; however, the first player gets nothing if everyone chooses their card.

Now, this last point is the key one when playing with many youngsters as at Miss B’s age they can tend to be very literal.  Hence we had a point when Miss B had a card with lots of letters of the alphabet on it, so her clue was “alphabet”, which was rather obvious when the cards were revealed.  This could get a bit frustrating, but luckily the game is enchanting enough (and relatively quick) that it remained fun throughout.

I’m definitely sold on Dixit now.  It’s kind of a more visual and more creative version of Apples to Apples, so I’ll definitely be getting hold of a copy for those social gaming moments.  There are a couple of variant starter sets available, so I am planning to buy a different version to the one our friends own.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I think it’s 10 out of 10. It was quite hard because the first time I did it I chose my own one because I didn’t understand properly. I liked the rabbits racing. I wonder what we’re going to get.”

The game: Dixit (Asmodee), 3 to 6 players aged 8+.

I’ll have oranges because they’re healthier than tobacco

February 4, 2013 Comments off

Santiago de Cuba is one of those lighter-weight spinoffs from another game, in this case Cuba, which I have not played. SdC is a quick-playing little game where you drive around town visiting the locals, collecting goods and trading them with ships waiting in the harbour.

I don't know what that creature is, but apparently its name is Dandy and it likes to visit people in Cuba.

I don’t know what that creature is, but apparently its name is Dandy and it likes to visit people in Cuba.

I say quick-playing, and it is if you are playing with adults (I had previously played this with S, with neither of us having played before, and it took about an hour including the rules explanation) but with a six-year-old things are rather slower. The issue is similar to the one we had with Lords of Waterdeep: each player taking a great many very short turns can give us a problem as Miss B regularly needs reminding that it is her turn now. Like Waterdeep, though, she quickly got the hang of the way things work and soon started making some decent decisions for herself. The way the game works effectively restricts the number of options available each turn (for the game geeks, action is controlled by a rondel, with players sharing a single marker as it moves around) which is a great way to avoid analysis paralysis. The mechanics in this game are really quite slick.

It must be said, however, that there are a couple of issues with the implementation of the theme. This post is turning a bit geeky and technical, I’m afraid, so sorry about that. First, you collect money which you use to pay for extra movement, while you trade goods for victory points; why not trade goods for money and use something else for movement? Secondly, the rondel (movement track) is a route around the harbour which ends up with the car having to teleport magically across the water to start its next journey; perhaps a more logical design wouldn’t have looked as nice (I love the look of the board, by the way, though S thought it overly cluttered). S spotted this stuff straight away, as did Miss B, though I have to admit I didn’t think about it until it was pointed out. The other difference between the three of us is that S finds these issues very distracting for the game, which I can understand, though I am more interested in the slickness of the game play and it doesn’t really bother me much — or Miss B, for that matter.

So our game went pretty well, with both Miss B and I stuffing and gazumping each other a few times. We don’t usually play to directly affect each other as much as we did here and I am very proud of the way Miss B conducted herself, fighting back very well. However, by mid-game the clock was ticking along quite heavily and it was nearly dinner time, so we agreed to shorten the game by a couple of ships (you usually have seven ships to trade with). When the game ended, Miss B was disappointed with a loss and convinced that if we had played a full-length game she’d have done better. I guess next time we’ll just have to allocate more time and take a mid-game break.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I’m disappointed that it was a short game. Maria and Alonso were my favourite characters.”

The game: Santiago de Cuba (Pegasus Spiele), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.

A January of games

February 1, 2013 Comments off

At the end of last year, Miss B and I decided to record what games we play for the year so we can have some record of which games get played the most. So I have a spreadsheet for this purpose. I’m recording each individual game that gets played except when each game is so quick that you usually play several in a row; the main example so far is noughts-and-crosses. The other rule is that the game needs to include both Miss B and myself among the players.

So, in January 2013 Miss B and I played an impressive 14 different games and had 20 plays in total. Our most played game was Sleeping Queens (3 times), and the following games got played twice: Crazy Creatures of Dr Doom, Ticket to Ride, Hey That’s My Fish! (digital version), and Enuk. We also played Ticket to Ride, Enuk and Santiago de Cuba for the first time.

Sleeping Queens has been a favourite of Miss B’s since we first got it, and from the playing-time-per-pound perspective, is almost certainly the best value game we have. (Although it’s probably run close by Coloretto, which I sometimes also play in adult groups.) My prediction here is that Sleeping Queens will be the most played game of the year.

I have the Android version of Hey That’s My Fish! on my phone and that gets played sometimes while we are out and about; we get a proper game which requires no setting up and can also have computer controlled players too, which is good for Miss B as she can often beat the AIs on the easy level.

I’ll report back in a month’s time about how we did in February.

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