I’ve never been much enamoured of what are often described as dexterity games. You know the sort of thing: Jenga, Tumbling Chimps, and so on. But once in a while they can be fun and in that spirit I recently picked up a bargainiferous copy of RoadZters, which is a racing game where you proceed around a track (which looks like a Scalextric track without the grooves) by means of flicking a “Z-ball”, a ball with a cluster of ball bearings inside it which makes it behaves in odd ways which are, I am led to believe, controllable with practice. When the ball stops (assuming it is on the track) you place your car there and the next player flicks the ball from where their car was left last turn. Simples.
So it turns out that this is quite a lot of fun, though frustrating at times as an over-cooked flick can send the ball flying off the track and under the sofa. We soon learned that using blankets, cushions and the like to frame the play area can save us a lot of time looking for the lost Z-ball.
Miss B had even more difficulty with the game than I did, but despite the frustration, she got around the course and then wanted to play again. And again. And even when I had to go off to do something else for a while, she kept going to practice her flicking.
The set we bought is enough for some good races with several different track layouts, but for playing with Miss B it would be nice to have more barriers to go around the track to just make things a little easier. Extra barriers are available (as are many other bits) in expansion packs, which I would certainly buy if the opportunity arose.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6¼): “I liked trying to get over the jump and not fall off the track.”
The game: RoadZters (Cepia Games), 1 to 4 players aged 5+.
Close on the heels of Rune Age, we have finally had a play of a game set in the same world, which I’ve been wanting to play for some time now: Runebound. This is a fantasy adventure game, where heroes wander the land fighting bad guys and trying to be the first to defeat the Big Bad. It is often spoken of in similar terms to Talisman, though it is clearly less on rails and attempts to introduce a narrative which develops through play.
There is a good selection of characters to choose from and Miss B chose the all-rounder Red Scorpion, who seems to go into battle wearing a +1 bikini of somehow-not-freezing-to-death. The rules are pretty straightforward, using a novel dice system for movement around the map and dice-plus-modifiers versus a target number for combat and other skill checks. Miss B mostly got her head around this, but needed constant reminders of what was going on in combat. She was, however, getting really into the decisions of what type of attack to launch each combat round and clearly enjoyed all the dice rolling.
The real juice of the game happens when you move onto a space with an adventure token. You then draw a card of the appropriate colour (the adventures are colour coded according to difficulty so you can choose how much risk you want to take), which might be an interesting encounter, a world-affecting event, or a combat challenge which needs to be defeated (actually, you keep drawing and resolving cards until you reach a combat challenge). I rather like the event system as the cards do steadily develop a plot, making it feel that things are happening in a world that is heading towards a terrible cataclysm.
I knew Runebound was likely to take a long time to play, so we had ensured that we had the whole afternoon available, had taken a “shorter game” option which meant that our characters would gain experience more quickly (though next time we’ll go even further with this — and I think starting with more gold should help make for a quicker start), and we’d decided that we’d finish when someone gained one dragon rune, instead of the rulebook-mandated three (or the defeat of the boss). In the event it still took well over three hours and we only just managed to get things rounded off by dinner time. Towards the end, Miss B got a bit of an injection of chutzpah and dove into the red (most difficult) adventure deck, which nearly ended up very badly. But thanks to judicious use of her Rule 17b counters (if you don’t know about that, Google is your friend) she managed to get through and defeat a dragon to gain the first of the dragon runes, which we ruled to be a victory for her.
Given the length of the game, we scheduled a tea-and-snack break to allow us some time to recharge, but I was slightly surprised that this was the only break we needed (other than a few short toilet trips). The game held Miss B’s attention throughout and, although there were a few moments of frustration due to bad die rolls, etc., some Rule 17b counters dealt with that and all went well overall. I don’t think we’ll be playing this very often in the near future, purely because of the length of the game, but we definitely will when the time is available.
And in comparison with Talisman? I’d definitely prefer Runebound. I think Miss B is torn, though likes the characters in Runebound more.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6¼): “It was quite scary when I just did one purple card and then went straight on to the red. Green is the easiest level, yellow is next, next is purple, and the winning cards are the reds. You need to collect three runes which are in the red cards but we only did one this time because we were running out of time. I really liked this game because you have different skills and everyone’s different and when I played it I was Red Scorpion. She’s called this because she’s red and she’s got a scorpion on her arm. And Red Scorpion can change a wound into an exhaustion once a turn.”
The game: Runebound (Fantasy Flight Games), 1 to 6 players aged 14+.
For some time now, Miss B has been eyeing up the copy of Rune Age with a mix of expressed feelings. At first it was terror at the picture of the undead necromancer on one side of the box, but more recently this mutated into interest, and then near-obsession with the picture of an elf on another side. Eventually she managed to persuade me to get the game out so she could try it.
Rune Age is another flavour of deck building card game, but here there are a small number of shared cards that you can acquire along with a few more specific to your faction — and everyone plays a different faction, which all work in very different ways. Furthermore, there are effectively three currencies: gold, influence, and military strength, each of which can buy certain cards, many of which provide a different kind of resource.
Another little quirk (some would say major selling point) of Rune Age is that in the basic set there are four different scenarios to choose from, and these set objectives so that the game could be a pure cooperative game (well, almost — one event card gives an option for a solo victory) at one extreme, or a full-on last-man-standing war. Miss B chose the competitive scenario where the aim is to be the player to defeat the big bad boss monster and which allows, but does not require, attacks between players. This scenario also has events which cause damage to players after a few turns, so that’s a big incentive to get yourself in gear and go for the win, as it is entirely possible that everyone will lose.
It took a little while for Miss B to get the hang of things, but she got into making reasonable decisions after a few turns, though neither of us really ended up with particularly efficient decks. As we usually do with deck building games, we generally put our cards on the table during our turn and played them from there, which meant that if necessary I could offer advice to Miss B. This was needed a few times as she hadn’t yet developed a feel for combos in this game. We did attack each other a little bit to steal cities, and this didn’t prove to be a problem.
Eventually we got to the point where we were attempting to defeat the boss dragon, and after an attempt each and some nasty events (which, when you get to the endgame, start recycling scarily fast), it was looking like we would both lose. Miss B was launching her do-or-die attack (I, having failed in the previous turn, would not have survived long enough to have another go myself) and needed a good draw from her deck. Now this is one of those rare points where I “tweaked” probability a bit. I figured she had about a one-in-three chance of drawing one of the cards she needed, so when I reshuffled her deck for her (I generally do the shuffles at the moment to speed things up) I ensured there was something decent on top.
I’m not sure if I did the right thing there, as it may have been a worthwhile experience for us to both lose. But it made for some good excitement as she was still relying on a not-awful die roll to seal the deal. So that was a win for Miss B.
I think Rune Age is a little fiddly to be playing with Miss B, largely due to the levels of indirection brought about by the currencies, but if she wants to play again, that’s fine by me.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6¼): “It was 10 out of 10, if it was out of 20 it would be 15. I liked the part where there was 12 fighter skills to get the dragon as a prize. That was quite a lot but not as high as the 18 dragon which made us win and I got it.”
The game: Rune Age (Fantasy Flight Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.
Sometimes some toy comes along that is simultaneously too cool and too nerdy to be allowed to exist. This time it has to be Grime Dice, which are a set of non-transitive dice.
What does that mean? Well, basically there are five dice, let’s call them A to E, and if you roll A and B together, A will have a higher result than B more often than not.
Similarly B will roll higher than C, C than D, and D than E. But then E will roll higher than A most of the time. Huh?
And then, if you roll two of each die, the sequence of winning reverses. Double huh?
Apparently there’s a load of information about the maths of all this on the creator’s web site, which is linked from the shop page that I linked above, but unfortunately word has got out about this and half of the Internet wants to know more, so the poor guy’s website has exceeded its bandwidth limit and has been cut off by his ISP. Please try later.
Oh, I love this stuff. And I’ve ordered a set.
This latest weekend was a good one for many reasons, but one of them was that I got to play a real classic of a game for the first time in years and remembered how much I enjoy playing it. Scotland Yard has been around for thirty years (though I was introduced to it in the early nineties) and is still pretty easily available, which is great. Basically, all but one player gets to work as a team of detectives hunting down the mysterious and evasive Mister X, played by the other member of the group. While the box says three to six players, I think this really needs five or six to really motor, and luckily there were five of us.
Back in the days of yore, we could never play this once as everyone wanted to be Mister X. Being part of the team is great, but the challenge of evading capture is so much fun that there could be big arguments over it. Luckily this time there was no fighting and everyone rolled their eyes, sighed and agreed to my somewhat enthusiastic request to be the villain.
In the game, movement takes place using tickets for various forms of public transport (the police being without cars or bicycles for some reason) and Mister X uses hidden movement, but his location is revealed at various stages of the game. Miss B quickly got the hang of this and was soon chipping in to the team discussions as the detectives planned how to close the net on the villain. I noticed something similar when we played Flash Point in a large group a few weeks ago: Miss B gets quite involved in the planning and acts like she is really enjoying being part of the team.
Given our recent discussion on cooperative games, I think Scotland Yard might be in a bit of a sweet spot, being a cooperative game but having a “real” adversary. It’s probably not worth over-thinking this, because we all had fun and, happily for me, Mister X escaped, albeit by the narrowest of margins.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6¼): “Daddy was the bad guy and he won but I still liked it because it was kind of a guessing game and I’m quite good at guessing. I’m not too keen on teamwork games but we went to the right side of the board but just the wrong numbers. That was the best teamwork game I’ve played so far.”
The game: Scotland Yard (Ravensburger), 3 to 6 players aged 10+.
There seems to be a perceived wisdom on young children and competition in that competitive games can upset them and lead to tears before bedtime. It is thus preferable to play lots of cooperative games, along with other games where any competition is incidental and you can pretty much gloss over who has won (or you can go with the “let the wookie win” approach and keep throwing the game, which is a whole other kettle of worms). Indeed, we have generally avoided direct conflict games as they have mostly not gone too well in the past, with the notable exception of Magic: the Gathering, which is purely a slugfest.
The thing is, though, that Miss B has been developing quite a competitive streak, though she is usually pretty good when she loses and generally remembers to compliment the winner (sometimes along with an “I’ll get you next time!” comment). Furthermore, over the last six months or so I’ve noticed that she is getting more resistant to cooperative games, which I feel is a shame as I happen to love them!
Anyway, we have had a discussion about this and I asked her about the various cooperative games we have played to see if I could figure out how she is thinking. Here are some of the things Miss B said…
“I’m not too keen on Forbidden Island because you’ve got to be good at guessing what cards you get and it might be water rise and that’s really bad.”
It seems that the problem here is that the game state just keeps getting worse, however hard the players try. Later on she commented about liking to play against people and not “Mr Nobody”, which seems to fit in with this.
“Castle Panic was good but I hate it when we get the giant boulders even when they crush the monsters, it’s killing monsters but damaging the castle.”
We’ve always had fun with Castle Panic, particularly when playing with more people, but again I think the problem with the giant boulders is that they are just these big bolts from the blue; at least when monsters are coming, you see them coming and can do something about them.
“Flash Point is 6 out of 10. I’ve only tried it twice and the second time was better because there were more people. But at home we’ve got to do it with less people because there are three people and Mummy doesn’t usually join in the games.”
Cooperative games definitely seem to go down best with more people and both Flash Point and Castle Panic can handle six players, which can make them into a real social event which can distract from any deficiencies in Miss B’s eyes.
“I like close games as well as ones where you play against each other.”
Win or lose, games always seem more exciting if they are close and it really feels like the winner only managed to squeak ahead. I guess that if you lose, this supports the “I’ll get you next time” thing.
“I don’t really like the idea of doing what cooperative games do.”
I should have asked for clarification on that but I didn’t think about it at the time. I think that in general, if Miss B is going to be playing on the same side as everyone else she might as well be playing one of the free-form make believe games that kids play all the time.
I wondered about team-versus-team games though. At first Miss B misunderstood me, thinking that I meant when people help each other to play one position in a game between them (as we do sometimes), but I gave her an analogy about football teams.
“I think that’s in the middle of everyone working together and everyone just on their own.”
So, team games are okay but individual competition is better.
I feel this was an interesting discussion and I learnt a lot. Miss B wants to discuss competitive games for another post, and I think that sounds like a good idea (though maybe thinking about types of competition), so maybe there’ll be another discussion soon. In the meantime I have to remember to listen…
A few weeks ago we had a visit from the cousins-in-law, or whatever they might be best described as, and they brought along a copy of Doctor Who: the Card Game as Miss B is starting to become something of a Who fan and the cousin-in-law (in-law?) actually runs the company that publishes the game. So, in the interests of propriety, I should now declare a possible conflict of interest: we got a free copy and the publisher is family. Make of that what you will.
Actually, I must admit I was a little nervous of this game as it has received very mixed reviews. But we set up a four player game (though in this case, Miss B and I acted together as a single player) and off we went.
The mechanics of the game are very simple, but a bit weird as you play cards from your hand until you have three left, then pass these last three to your right. All a bit odd, but it means sometimes you end up trying to make sure that you don’t pass anything too good to the player sitting next to you. Each player controls both bad guys (enemies) and goodies (defenders) and the idea is to have control, by whichever means, of location cards which give you victory points at game end. I think this arrangement might disconnect some people from the theme, but we actually had a lot of fun with it. Miss B loved spouting trivia about various monsters that she had read about in her Doctor Who annual.
We have now played a second time, this time with three players and Miss B taking part in her own right. There are quite a lot of cards to play through, so we set the game length to be a little shorter by putting the end of game card higher in the deck than usual. The game played really smoothly and had some nice ebb and flow of play until, in the closing phase of play Miss B suddenly started attacking all over the place and ended up with a nice victory.
Unfortunately this game requires three players, which means it’s likely to not get as much play as we’d like. That said, I have an idea for how to play with two, so I think we’ll give that a go some time soon. Plus S quite likes the game, so three player games may happen from time to time.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “It was cool how you could play two monsters on the same thing because if there’s one defender there, there’s a good chance the enemies could defeat them. I liked it and I really want to play it again so it’ll be one of the top ones on the game chart. This was my first time on my own but I won because in the last round I got the Weeping Angels and the Beast and I played both the Angels and the Beast on Daddy and he got no points for the ones I attacked because the defenders were too weak for the monsters. I thought that was really cool.”
The game: Doctor Who The Card Game (Cubicle 7), 3 to 4 players aged 13+.