I’ve been meaning to mention this for a little while, but a couple of weeks ago or so one of my favourite blogs was rehomed.
GeekDad has been a staple of my reading for a while now as it seems to be about people like me. Not exactly like me, but geeks are all different, right? The blog covers all sorts of stuff, but they include gaming (roleplaying, video, board, whatever), film and TV (mostly fantasy, SF, supers, and the like), books and comics, computer and tech stuff, tinkery-makey stuff, science and engineering, all through the lens of parenting and doing this sort of stuff with your kids. Great material.
They also do a podcast, which I almost never listen to, but seems good if you’re into that sort of thing.
Well, for several years now, GeekDad has been operating as a blog hanging off the website of tech magazine Wired, but recently, for reasons I am not privy to, that relationship ended and so GeekDad has gone to its very own site at geekdad.com. This means that they no longer have the might of Wired behind them, but presumably it means they can control their own destiny a little more.
So, go on, give them a look, stick them into your feed aggregator, or whatever floats your boat. They’re doing a great job.
I only heard about Sheepland a couple of weeks or so ago. It looked cute, so I checked out some reviews and had a look at the rulebook. Simple rules, what looked like the need for a bit of thinking, plus (and this was the clincher) sheeples! (Sheep meeples, right?) So I had an opportunity to pick up a copy at TringCon over the weekend and did so.
Basically the game starts with a bunch of sheep distributed evenly around a map and you move shepherds around to build fences and manoeuvre sheep into fields of a terrain type that you favour, until you score points by counting up the terrain tiles that you have collected during play (and the one you had to start with) and the sheep in the different terrains to get your final score. Oh, and one of the sheep, the wilful black sheep, wanders randomly around the board.
We set up the game and off we went. Miss B had a little difficulty with the rule that in a two-player game you have two shepherds each but you are only allowed to use one of them on each turn. Maybe we shouldn’t have bothered with that restriction, but lately we have been almost always been playing with “proper” rules unless they massively complicate things. We got about two thirds of the way through when Miss B announced that she was fed up and didn’t want to carry on.
So we called off the game and had a chat about this. What Miss B told me was essentially that she had problems with the theme: if you were a shepherd, surely you would go into the fields to round up the sheep and not just walk up and down on the roads. She has a point here, though in other games we have played similar thematic issues have not proven to be a problem. I suspect this may have been her trying to express a general dissatisfaction with the game and reaching for the first explanation that made sense to her. Either way, though, this is the most surprising failure we have had yet.
For what it’s worth, though, I quite like Sheepland. I’m planning to take it into work as it could be a good little lunchtime game.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6¼): “I don’t like it because it didn’t make sense as much as other games that I’ve played because the shepherds can’t go into the fields and the sheep can’t go onto the roads and usually the shepherds go into the fields as well as the sheep.”
The game: Sheepland (Cranio Creations), 2 to 4 players, aged 8+.
This just in from Miss B: “Tonight the game went really quickly and Daddy won by just one point. Daddy got 40 and I got 39. I thought I’d win though. I had more cards than him but he got the higher number on the cards. I think this was the best game we’ve done so far of Dragonheart and I think it’s the quickest game as well.”
Over recent months I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about a little game called Love Letter. It’s a game from Japan that has been picked up by AEG and themed into their Tempest game world, and it seems the whole world loves it. The first print run sold out in double quick time and a second printing has just made itself out to the retailers, most of which have sold out again right away.
I say this is a little game and I mean that literally. It comprises 16 cards for playing, 4 reference cards, and a bag of little cubes which are used for scoring, all in a cute velvet bag which fits nicely into a pocket. The idea of the game is that players are suitors for the beautiful princess and are trying to get their love letters to her in order to win her heart and hand. Mechanically, it’s a guessing and deduction game, where you hold one card, draw a second, then play one of them and do whatever the card you play says. Some of the cards allow you to guess what another player is holding (in an attempt to knock them out), some let you see their hand, and so on. If you are the last player to be knocked out, or you have the highest value card when the draw pile runs out, you win a cube.
Hands of Love Letter can last for mere seconds, or up to maybe a couple of minutes if everyone is playing slowly. Then you play another. This is really a quick moving game, where swings of luck can wipe you out in a moment. But somehow that is all part of the fun as you are then back in the game again a minute later.
I usually write these posts up after one or two plays, but this has really caught Miss B’s imagination (and mine too), so we have played several games so far, and will probably play loads more in the near future. If we carry on like this, Love Letter may even overhaul Sleeping Queens as our go-to game, it is so quick, portable and fun. Watch the monthly round-ups to see if I am right on this. Miss B learnt the game very quickly and generally does pretty well, though she is still learning how to draw inferences from cards played. She does win sometimes though, which is great.
This write-up has really been a bit gushing, hasn’t it? I’ll offer no apologies. Love Letter really does appear to live up to its hype. It’s not for everyone, but everyone I have played it with so far has liked it and for its price (I believe the RRP is about £8) you can’t go far wrong. Over to the real expert, though…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6¼): “I like the pictures on the back of the cards and the game was 10 out of 10 so I think it was a really good game.”
The game: Love Letter (AEG), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.
Years ago I had quite a lot of time playing games with a lovely family who kept on letting me into their house despite the fact that I spent a lot of the time eating their food and playing their board games. Several of the games we played regularly came from the “Empire Builder” range of train games, including Euro Rails, Nippon Rails, and Iron Dragon. They all shared the mechanic of drawing a rail network onto the board with crayons and then driving trains around delivering goods to fulfil demands specified by cards. This was all good stuff, though the games could go on for quite a long time.
Recently I found out about a newer member of the range, Empire Express, which stripped out some of the more complicated elements of the system (which nonetheless weren’t actually complicated), made the map smaller, provided a core railway to get you started, and sped the game up quite a lot. Sold!
I’m quite impressed with the optimisation of this game. The fact that you can start with a load of track already built and some demand cards that fit that track means that you are off to a flying start without having to have a few turns of trying to figure out a plan and initial network from whatever dross you are dealt. To be honest I missed the train upgrades, which aren’t available in Empire Express but are in the sister games. But the easier start and speed of play make up for the simplifications. Miss B and I took about 90 minutes to play this from a standing start, which is far quicker than I expected.
Miss B took to the crayon aspect like a duck to water. She didn’t need much help with route planning or drawing; we quickly got into a routine where when she drew a new demand card I would explain her options from it, she would make a decision as to how it would fit into her plan, and then she was off again pretty much on her own until a new card came out.
I’m definitely very happy to have got hold of Empire Express as it allows us to play a style of game I enjoy and haven’t had much chance to do for a very long time indeed. But as usual I will leave the last word to Miss B herself…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6¼): “I like it when I get long routes because then I get more money but I have to make sure I don’t spend too much to make the tracks otherwise I might lose the game. ”
The game: Empire Express (Mayfair Games), 2 to 6 players aged 10+.
The gaming year continues to be a good one. In March Miss B and I had 31 plays, which comprised 21 different games, of which 6 were new to Miss B. The number of games was helped along by having a couple of friends staying with us for a weekend, during which we played quite a lot, which was great.
The most played game this month was the new-to-us RoadZters, thanks to being a lot of fun and being left set up in the conservatory for a couple of days so we could just pop in and have a race. Other than that, there was a 3-game session of Highwayman, which hasn’t been out for a while, and welcome returns for Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule, and Tsuro, amongst others.
For me, pick of the new games were Empire Express and Love Letter (which we only got to play on the last day of the month), so expect write-ups of these two very soon.
For the year, the Android version of Hey, That’s My Fish remains at the top (7 plays), with Sleeping Queens only just behind (6 plays). Crazy Creatures of Doctor Doom and Timeline are both chugging along nicely on the chart too.
I got hold of Valley of the Four Winds when I was at school and I think it was probably my first hex-and-counter wargame. It’s a pretty solid game and has quite a nice, epic fantasy feel, with the forces of good battling against seemingly insurmountable odds, trying to hold out long enough to recruit key allies and collect plot coupons enabling them to strike back.
But how would Miss B fare? Our previous exploits in games even slightly wargamey didn’t go particularly well, but her competitive spirit and tactical abilities have been coming on quite impressively of late. She’s been eyeing up a few wargames on the shelf lately and finally managed to persuade me to get one out. It was either this or Gulf Strike.
Miss B ended up playing the evil side, which means control of hordes of undead, swamp lord warriors and forest orcs, and the least said about her dice rolling in this game the better. The game isn’t as long as many wargames, but in this case it took a little over an hour before the King of Farrondil ended up taking his own life rather than witness the undead hordes rolling through his beloved city.
I guess I now have no excuse. We’ll just have to crack out the rest of those wargames that have been gathering dust. Mind you, I’m up for a game of Wooden Ships and Iron Men; that’ll tell if her planning skills are up to scratch…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6¼): “I liked it when you lost, Daddy. I bet no-one will believe that I played this.”
The game: Valley of the Four Winds (Games Workshop), 2 players aged 10+.