As a quick interruption to your regular reading, I feel slightly compelled to draw your attention to a Kickstarter project that caught my eye a couple of days ago. It’s only got a few days left to run and is looking sadly like it may not hit its goal, but as I’d really like to get a copy of the game I thought I’d do what I could to help their publicity.
Anyhoo, remember those list memorising games you played in the car as a kid? You know, you say something like, “I went on holiday and I packed a toothbrush.” Then your sister says, “I went on holiday and I packed a toothbrush and a swimming costume.” And the game continues with the list getting longer and harder to remember.
Them’s Fightin’ Words is basically that same game transported into the wild west, based on hurling ever more convoluted insults (“You low-down, lily-livered son of a dirty, lollygaggin’ rattlesnake.”) and given some cards. I have no affinity to these guys. As I say, I just really like the look of this (along with its predecessor, Jazz the Singing Game), so please take a look and see if it’s something you want to back. It certainly made me smile, particularly after watching the promo video.
Only a few days to see if they reach goal…
The sun rises quietly over the peaceful valley, seemingly unaware of the advice of the recently late Elmore Leonard to never begin a book with weather. Or perhaps fully aware that this is a blog post, not a book. Either way, the peace is soon to be shattered as two titans manoeuvre for position in the epic battle that would echo throughout history and come to be known as the second game-off in the 2013 Golden Game Award.
At the head of the vast legions of imperial Rome stands Augustus, the first Emperor and commander of heaps of little red wooden legionaries (one of which has no head), which he will fearlessly deploy in order to control cards depicting senators and provinces within the Empire. They take position in the high ground overlooking…
…The endless ice flows occupied by enormous numbers of polar bears, seals and the dread shoals of herring, all being eagerly looked for by a little Eskimo boy named Enuk, who is waiting for his parents to build an igloo.
It seems an uneven match. After all, what hope do the legions have against polar bears? But one way or another, this ancient rivalry must end…
I must admit that since we got it, Enuk has actually grown on me. It is just a game of turning over random tiles, occasionally remembering stuff, and a bit of push-your-luck where you never come out empty handed, but it plays smoothly and it’s just… charming, I suppose. I’m glad it’s not a game we play all the time, but as kids’ games go it’s excellent and, to be fair, Miss B deserves to play kids’ games when she wants to. This game was fun and was eventually won by Miss B, who awarded the game a score of 15 out of 20.
Augustus was nominated for this year’s Spiel des Jahres award and, I think, deservedly so as it is a fun, slick, family game which uses a mechanic (bingo) that we don’t see often, and uses it very cleverly. Miss B definitely “gets” this game and competes well in it, though is yet to win. She did a good job again this time, focussing on collecting a combination of senators which set my efforts back as well as scoring quite a lot of bonus points at the end. I still somehow managed to win, though. Miss B’s special scoring system resulted in a score of 14 out of 20 for Augustus.
After all that (which was a lot quicker than the first game-off), Miss B told me that, “Enuk is better because it’s a bit of a memory game and I like to get my brain working, whereas Augustus is just bingo with more movement and things like that.” Yes, she actually used the word “whereas”. I don’t know where she got that from.
So, our second finalist is Enuk. Coming up soon, the final, between Enuk and Empire Express. Stay tuned.
Thanks to my friend Phillip for tipping me off on this nice post from a geed dad with far more creativity than I have, who created a nice maze exploration and adventure game that he could play with his five-year-old son. I particularly like how it evolved into a game on a magnetic board so it can be just left hanging on the wall between sessions. Great stuff.
It’s time for this year’s first game-off between contenders for the coveted Golden Game Award. The winner of this epic battle will win a place in the final and a chance to go down in history as a game that Miss B likes more than some other games on a particular day.
In the Red corner, nominated by Miss B herself, we have a game that represents an entire family of boardgames that allow you to draw on the board with crayons. It’s a game that is nowhere near as pretty looking as its competitors, but it’s one that rewards strategy, planning and luck, and involves building a huge rail network in order to deliver goods throughout the North-east of the USA. Yes, it’s Empire Express.
In the Blue corner, nominated by me and representing the hopes and aspirations of what is probably the biggest gaming franchise of the last 20 years, the Catan empire, we have a game that allows you to trade goats for cutlasses and swap stuff for parrots: Catan Junior.
To be honest, I’m a little surprised by the selection of Empire Express, but also very pleased by it. I like the “crayon rails” range of games, having played several of them in the past, though they are notable for being quite time consuming to play for fairly low complexity games. Empire Express cuts out some of the options and gives you the option of a flying start, and makes the whole game playable for the two of us in maybe an hour and a half now Miss B knows her way around the game. Still quite a long time for one game with a six-year-old, but it’s just about manageable.
This play went well and really held Miss B’s attention throughout. Thanks in part to some good card draws and me trying to be too clever for my own good (though it must be said, my track was beautiful, I just needed a longer game…) Miss B won. Actually, she didn’t just pip me at the post, she totally walked it, leaving me at least a couple of deliveries behind her. Well played!
As for Catan Junior, we always get on well with that one and it plays quickly, usually in the ballpark of half an hour. There was a little complaining when I built a pirate lair where Miss B wanted to go, but then she managed to get her own back soon afterwards. This time, though, her usual strategy of buying lots of parrot tiles (which give assorted bonuses) wasn’t quite enough and I managed to win by the narrowest of margins.
Miss B told me, “Empire Express is really good because you have the crayons and you can do a bit of drawing. Catan Junior is a teeny bit worse because you can’t have a draw in the game.” (Actually, you can’t get a draw in Empire Express either, but there you go.)
Based on this assessment, Miss B has awarded Empire Express 16 out of 20 and Catan Junior 15 out of 20, and thus our first finalist for this year is Empire Express. Personally I think Catan Junior is a better kids/family game, but I’m delighted because it means we’ll get to play Empire Express again very soon.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or have rummaged around in the archives), you may be aware that for the last couple of years Miss B and I have given a notional award for some game that we think is good. So, in what is definitely now an annual tradition, I give you the opening salvo in the 2013 Golden Game Award.
This is, of course, a change of name. As Miss B gets older and develops more sophisticated critical faculties, she seems to be developing a knack for spotting when I am talking absolute rubbish. As part of this she has decided that the Golden Thingummy is not a title suitable for such an auspicious endeavour as this (possibly not her exact words), so from now on we have a new, more sensible name.
The rules are this… We have a shortlist of four candidate games from those that we have played over the last year, two picked by Miss B and two picked by myself in a vain attempt to choose something that she might prefer to her own picks. The games, incidentally, must be ones for us to play with just the two of them, so Apples to Apples is off the cards. We then have two game-offs, playing one of her choices and one of mine back-to-back before discussing how the games went and getting Miss B to choose the one she preferred on the day. Then the two winning games go through to a grand final game-off to decide which will be awarded the prize of… Well, nothing, not even including prestige.
In 2011 the winner was Enchanted Forest, played with simplified rules.
In 2012 Miss B couldn’t decide an outright winner, so Dominion and Robo Rally (also with some rule concessions to make it viable for a 5-year-old) shared the honours.
This year the shortlist has been drawn up and, if you have seen the picture at the top of this post, you will already know what the selections were. I seriously suck at this suspense thing. But just for the sake of form…
Miss B’s choices were Empire Express and Enuk. Two more different games can hardly be imagined given the candidates, but they are both games that Miss B loves and Empire Express in particular doesn’t get played as often as we would like due to it taking a comparatively long time to play (the box says 60-90 minutes, which is probably about right for the two of us).
My choices were Augustus and Catan Junior, both of which are quick, fun and work some of those Euro-gaming muscles a little. Catan Junior is a great game to have in the collection and one which we have, in the past, pulled out when a friend of Miss B’s came for a play date.
So, over the next week or two I plan to post the gory details of our game-offs. Can you handle the suspense…?
Continuing my spell of catching up on recently introduced games we finally come to Frog Juice, another one of those cute card games from Gamewright. Seriously those people at Gamewright should be given medals: while there are some weaker parts of the range, they still manage to put out some pretty decent games which are head and shoulders above the run-of-the-mill stuff that is usually peddled as kids’ games, and (and here is the really great bit) they are available in mainstream toy shops. These guys rock.
Anyway, Frog Juice is a game about collecting magical ingredients, casting spells and doing sums. Due to the mathematical element I would compare it to Sleeping Queens, but here the sums are a bit more integrated into the theme as they are about trading spell ingredients (the value of ingredients on one side of a trade must add up to the value of the card on the other side). Frog Juice is also a little more complicated than Sleeping Queens, but the only time this game us trouble was on the first play, and the issue we had was on Miss B’s understanding of the scoring.
All in all this was a good find for us. I don’t think it runs quite as smoothly as Sleeping Queens, but seems a little more interesting and looks set for plenty more plays. I’m looking forward to trying it with more than two players some time as that could get nicely chaotic.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6½): “I think that Frog Juice is a pretty weird game because of the powers, spells, witches and cats. I think it’s got to be a 10 out of 10, but the first time I played it I got really annoyed so then I would have given it a 7.”
The game: Frog Juice (Gamewright), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.
I’ve had a copy of Asterix das Kartenspiel (Asterix the Card Game) for something approaching 20 years, most of that languishing unplayed on a shelf. It’s not been languishing because it’s a bad game, just because it keeps getting overlooked. Very recently, however, Miss B discovered the Asterix books and so the game’s time had come…
The game is basically a simultaneous bid auction, where players all have a hand of numbered cards (bearing a picture of their chosen Gaul from the books: Asterix, Obelix, etc) and play one of these face down in an attempt to win (or not) the Roman card that has been turned up. Whoever plays the highest card captures the Roman, which is worth a certain amount of victory points. You get bonuses for sets of Romans, and there are pirates who make Romans escape at the end of the game, plus everyone has a Dogmatix card that gives them a special action instead of their bid, but only if only one Dogmatix is played that turn.
There’s not really much to this game, but there doesn’t need to be as it is pretty quick and slick. There can be a nice bit of bluffing and guesswork as you try to build the most valuable sets of captives or force the pirates on your opponents. All good stuff, and the Asterix theme seems to have really captured Miss B’s imagination.
I gather this was released in English in the dim and distant past, but our copy is in German, which isn’t a problem, though the names of some of the characters don’t match up with what we are used to: e.g. Crismus Bonus is Gaius Bonus — which, unless I am missing something (entirely possible, my German is vestigial at best) suggests to me that the German translators of the stories took the punning names less seriously than the English translators.
We’ve had a few plays of this so far, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it finds a place in the pile of regular go-to games.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6½): “Asterix are really good books but I think the game’s even better.”
The game: Asterix das Kartenspiel (FX Schmid), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.