One of our latest acquisitions arrived a few days ago, following a Kickstarter campaign last summer. It was a little delayed (and then European deliveries were delayed a bit more), but Yardmaster Express is now here in a really sleek little box.
And, quickly, a word about the box and the production values in general: this game has had a lot of love, care and attention given to its presentation. The box is really solid, with a magnetically fastened flip-top lid, which has a handy illustration showing you the main game components (there were also some Kickstarter bonus cards) and card distributions, and the whole thing comes in a nice, stylish card sleeve. Inside, as well as the elegantly graphic-designed, high quality cards, there is a nice wooden start player token and a cloth bag, which is actually enough to carry all of the components if you want to stick it in your shirt pocket. Some of these components, I think, are Kickstarter specials, but the base game kit is really nice.
Enough of all that frothing about components. Everyone seems to be doing it, though, so I don’t want to be left out.
The game is actually really simple, and only takes a few minutes to play. Players take it in turn to pick cards showing a pair of rail cars in assorted types and colours, and add their pick to the end of their train. The wrinkle is that the first car on the card you play must match either the colour or number of the last car in your train so far. If you can’t make the match you can play the card face down as a low scoring wildcard.
When everyone has taken enough cards (seven in a two-player game, fewer with more players), you add up the numbers on your cards, add a bonus for whoever has the longest continuous run of a single colour, and then whoever has the highest score wins. There is an optional extra in that you can have one of the selection of “caboose” cards in play which gives another bonus to players who meet certain requirements, and this is a really nice addition which adds some depth (different objectives) with barely any increase in complexity.
There isn’t a lot to this game, but there is enough for a quick filler game, and it flows really well. I haven’t yet played it with adults, but Miss B got the hang of the rules instantly and within a couple of games she was talking through her plans and strategies and getting really invested in the game. On our first day we played three games before bedtime and then had to stop; I pretty much had to promise to play again the next day to get her to go. I’m not saying the game wasn’t without incidents — there was a bit of grumpiness on an unfortunate card draw, leading to missing out on a bonus — but when a loss is followed by a cry of “again!” you know you’re on to a winner.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 8): “I like the idea of having the caboose bonuses because I really enjoy playing with them. I give Yardmaster Express a 9/10. At first I thought that it would be much thinner cards in width when I saw the box because there was a picture showing all the cards laid out on it and the cards looked like rectangular tiles.”
The game: Yardmaster Express (Crash Games), 2 to 5 players aged 13+.
Over the weekend we had the latest in an series of occasional meetups at Thirsty Meeples with another family to play some games, and a great deal of fun we had too (including progressing our quest for ten plays of Apples to Apples this year). Miss B had been given a voucher to be spent in the shop, so as we were packing up and getting ready to go, she went on a quest to find something to buy (with my promise to top up the voucher to double its value if needed). She was struggling to find something until she spotted a group playing Rhino Hero (also sold as the far snappier Super Rhino) and was captivated. When I pointed out that the game was available for purchase and within her price range, the deal was sealed!
It’s easy to see the attraction here. The game involved building a potentially enormous tower of cards (some of which are the walls, and are folded to make stable corners to balance “roof” cards onto) until either someone plays all their allotted supply of roof cards, all the wall cards run out or, as is much more likely, someone fumbles and brings the whole, teetering edifice crashing down. This is made more interesting by the way the roof cards dictate how the next player must position walls on it, and sometimes other special effects like making someone miss a turn or reversing the direction of play. The most interesting special effect is to make the next player move the Rhino Hero, a cute little wooden token, from wherever he is onto a spot on the current roof tile, and this can be one of the most difficult operations in the game.
Our first game went reasonably well, but ended up with Miss B crashing the tower at the extreme of her reach and then getting a bit upset over the incident as she thought S and I were picking on her (this was just before bedtime — we really must remember to not play new games before bedtime). The next day, the two of us had a couple more plays and it went fantastically, with a win each. We had learnt a lesson here too, and played these later games on the coffee table rather than the relatively much higher dining table. This meant that even when the tower was getting up near the limits of its height, Miss B was able to reach its top with comparative ease.
As I am pretty sure I have mentioned before, I have shaky hands, which make this sort of fine control dexterity game really tricky for me, and I generally avoid them (Jenga does not count as a good time in my books), but I will of course give pretty much anything a go with Miss B. Given this, it really surprised me how much fun I had with Rhino Hero. I think that for much of the game, the dexterity element is not too challenging, and it feels like there are some fairly interesting tactical choices to be made about which roof cards to play. All in all I think the game really deserves the love it seems to be getting from people and is a bargain at the price.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 8): “It was a bit frustrating when we first played it, but now I’ve got used to it it’s a REALLY good game. I recommend Rhino Hero and I give it a 10/10.”
The game: Rhino Hero (Haba), 2 to 5 players aged 5+.
So, happy New Year to both of you out there! It is now time for me to give my final monthly gaming report for 2014 and sum up the year. So here we go…
December was a middlish month by 2014 standards, gaming-wise. We played a total of 17 games, of 14 distinct titles, so not bad really. Our multiple plays this time were Timeline (the Discoveries version, played twice), and Magic: The Gathering (three plays), both of which are games that had been lacking in attention through the year. In the case of Magic, though, we spent some time tweaking Miss B’s deck, which she enjoyed doing, and we opened a couple of booster packs to add to the fun. We now have a 2015 Deck Builder’s Toolkit added to the stash, so I think we’ll be able to have a lot more fun with this in the coming months.
All that covered, we now get to talk about the year as a whole, and compare and contrast with the previous year, for which I handily also have our play statistics.
In 2013, we played 112 different games a total of 326 times, with 6 games played at least 10 times, and we ended up with an H-index for the year of 7. In case you haven’t come across an H-index before, it is a concept stolen from the academic world, where it is a measure of the “impact” of academic papers. Someone figured out how to apply this to game playing, and it is a slightly interesting measure of the breadth and depth of your game playing (there is a thread about this on Board Game Geek, from which a useful quote is, “To calculate your h-index sort your games by number of plays and start counting them. Your h-index is the index of the last game in the sorted list that you have played a number of times that is equal or more than the position of the game in the sorted list.”). It doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s fun if you like pointless statistics.
By contrast, in 2014 we played 103 different games a total of 223 times, with no games played 10 or more times, giving us an H-index of 6.
So we played many fewer games, but the variety wasn’t much less than the previous year. We just didn’t go back to the same games as often.
With us attempting the Ten-by-Ten challenge this year, the depth of play should increase (if we succeed in the challenge, by definition we will have an H-index of at least 10), but only time will tell if we have more plays overall or fewer.
And finally, what were the games of 2014?
Well, not much has changed since my last report. The handful of games played more than 5 times are:
6 plays of Dungeon Roll, which Miss B loves playing, and I’m surprised that it didn’t get to the table more.
7 plays of Coup, mostly played two-player, which makes for a very poor (but very quick!) version of the game, but Miss B is wanting to play more with a bigger group.
8 plays each of Apples to Apples, Love Letter and Plyt. Apples to Apples has done pretty well given that it really needs four or five players (or more) to play, so it only comes out when we hook up with other people to play.
Which means that the most played game of 2014 was Dobble, with 9 plays, though this only actually amounted to 6 playing sessions. It’s a good game, with several different rule sets, of which our favourite is currently “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”, and it’s on the Ten-by-Ten list (as are all the aforementioned games except Coup), so it should get a decent amount of play this year too.