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You don’t need to press it down because there are more on your side

May 27, 2015 Comments off

Now we have a games room with most of the board game collection visible on shelves, Miss B has been asking me about various boxes that she hasn’t seen before. So I’ve been telling her about each of them, and usually showing here the boxes and contents, and some of them she has wanted to play. Interestingly, and against my expectations, the games Miss B has shown the most interest in have been what could be described as abstract strategy games. If you haven’t come across the term, an abstract strategy game is one where there is little or no theme, and the game is all about pitting your wits against an opponent (and it is most often one opponent), usually with little or no randomness in the game. So Chess, Go and Draughts would be firmly in this grouping, and there are thousands of other more modern titles alongside them, a few of which we have played and written about on this blog.

Early in the game, but Miss B already has a couple of her black marbles home.

Early in the game, but Miss B already has a couple of her black marbles home.

So one of the first of this new group of games is called Balanx, which is based on the classics Halma or Chinese Chequers, where you have to shift your pieces across the board to the place where your opponent starts. All very straightforward but for Balanx’s novel gimmick, which is that each player’s pieces are large marbles which rest in slots in the plastic board. That’s not the actual gimmick, which is that the board has a pair of feet under its centre line, meaning that the whole thing can be made to rock backwards and forwards. When it is your turn, you push down your side of the board, meaning that some of the balls roll in their slots towards you and change the configuration of the board from what your opponent was working with.

What this means is that this is a simple game that uses some clever design, combined with basic physics to add a nice mental agility requirement as you try to figure out what the board will look like on your opponent’s turn and whether you will be setting them up with a great move. Our first game was a little confused, but then Miss B really seemed to click with it, and now we have played three games I think that this is one that will be a real challenge for me to keep up with her. Plus she is itching to play more similar games, so I expect you’ll be seeing more write-ups of abstract games over the next month or two.

The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 8½): “I think it’s clever how the moves you can make are different depending on which way up the board is. I give it a 9.1 out of 10 and I think it’s a pretty good game. I would recommend playing it for people who like abstract strategy games.”

The game: Balanx (Fun Connection), 2 players aged 8+.

If you move the moon backwards you can go back in time!

May 5, 2015 4 comments

So far this year we have received a few games from Kickstarter projects, the most recent of which is Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet!, created by Ed Baraf, who you may remember from his guest post on this blog last year.

Getting close to the end. Another blue alien is about to make a run for it.

Getting close to the end. Another blue alien is about to make a run for it.

First off, I have to say that this is a charmingly presented game, with first rate components (like the ultra-cute “alieneeples” and the chunky, interchangeable jigsaw-connecting board elements) and a nice premise: the aliens are trapped on a planet that is a few days from exploding, and they need help to escape to safety.

Gameplay revolves around collecting resources (of two types) and moving your aliens to “lift-off points” where they can pay resources to escape through mechanics that vary from point to point. For instance, there is the rocket ship which can carry up to 6 aliens and if enough resources have been amassed when it is a full moon (there is a moon that orbits the board, partly acting as a timer and partly affecting the mechanics of some of the lift-off points) the rocket takes off, saving all the aliens onboard. Alternatively you could go to the bonfire and throw fuel on the fire in order to roll a die and, if you get lucky, a passing spaceship may notice the flames and rescue everyone gathered there. The game comes with a heap of different lift-off points that you can choose in order to have a huge variety of board configurations, and even special cards that allow the lift-off points to change during play (we haven’t tried using those yet).

We’ve played a couple of games so far, once with just Miss B and I, and once with S also joining in. I have to say that it was more fun with three players than two. That is not to say we didn’t enjoy the game for two (we did), but with more people the bigger lift-off points trigger more, and there is fun to be had by trying to freeload off someone else’s efforts to escape, and you end up with temporary alliances as you try to launch the rocket ship, etc. The game flows well, though we found Miss B spent quite a lot of time thinking about her moves, which slowed things down a lot — though this was the case for many of our games that we now play far more quickly, so I’m sure this will speed up too.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of strategy in the game (at least using the set-up that we used), but there is a little, and to be fair this is a game pitched mostly as a family game, and I think it hits that really nicely. We also found that in our plays, particularly late in the game, there were periods where turns were largely fishing for the “right” cards, and sometimes not bothering to move your aliens, though after a little while you got to make a couple of cool moves and launch some aliens, which made it all worthwhile. There some suggested variant rules to turn the game into fully cooperative, partner-based, or more cut-throat modes, which is nice to see. All in all, I rather like this as an addition to our collection, which we all enjoy, and I think we’ll be introducing it to people outside the family.

While I’m here, by the way, I’d like to draw your attention to Ed’s latest project, The Siblings Trouble, which is on Kickstarter now and only has a few days left to run if you want to get on board. It’s a lightweight storytelling game (kids having adventures in their backyards) with gorgeous artwork and it ran the gauntlet of the Tabletop Deathmatch, so you can watch that if you want an idea of what industry experts thought of the game as it was last summer. I’ve backed this one and have confidence in Ed producing a quality product again, but you’ll have to make your own mind up, of course.

Anyway, back to Lift Off!…

The verdict from Miss B (aged 8¼): “If you had a bit more things to do than just move around 2 spaces to get to a lift off point, and then collect up cards to move off the space, I’d think that it would be a 9.9.9 out of 10, but at the moment it’s 9.6. I like the cute little alien meeples. So like I said, 9.6 out of 10.”

The game: Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet! (Pencil First Games), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.

Our month in gaming: April

May 3, 2015 2 comments

April picked up a little from a gaming point of view, and we managed to have 25 plays of 17 different titles; and this is a heap more than the handful we managed to play in April of last year. Having the new games room means that most of the game collection is in sight and we’ve started getting into games that have been languishing for a long time, as you will have seen from the recent posts on Cathedral and Ramses Pyramid. The shelves have not been augmented by the addition of a table, so we can now play there without having to clear the dining table, which feels like an amazing level of luxury.

Runebound is a big event game for us and it's great to be able to leave it set up and play over two days.

Runebound is a big event game for us and it’s great to be able to leave it set up and play over two days.

The top game of the month was newcomer Cathedral, with a beefy 4 plays, followed by a bunch of games with two plays each: Dominoes, Frog Rush, Goblins Drool Fairies Rule, Monster Cafe, and Prickly Pile-Up. The big gaming event of the month, though, was a play of Runebound, which Miss B absolutely loves but can take several hours to play (even using the high speed rules that we opt for), so it doesn’t often come out. This play was a special to inaugurate the new gaming table and we were able to leave the game set up overnight for completion the next day.

For the year as a whole we don’t see a lot of change, with Yardmaster Express still on 10, followed by Rhino Hero and Dobble on 6 plays a piece. The 5-play group has expanded now though, with Loopin’ Louie and Backgammon joining Apples to Apples. If we progress more on our 10×10 challenge, though, we should see some of these games steadily climbing.

And thinking of which, we have made a little progress on our 10×10 challenge, but the rate of ticking off plays is still well off the pace set at the start of the year. We have added another five plays to the tally though. Miss B’s interest in this seems to be picking up again though, and she seems keen to get at least one play of all the games logged in May. We’ll see if that has worked out in a month’s time.

The current number of plays for each of our 11 games (10 plus an alternate, remember) are as follows…

Game Plays so far
Dobble 6
Plyt 2
Love Letter 3
Empire Express 3
Apples to Apples 5
Piece o’ Cake 2
Gubs 4
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck 4
Dungeon Roll 2
Timeline 4
Backgammon 5

I’m very surprised Plyt has fallen behind there, but with 8 months to go, it is still very possible to average a play per month for this and the other tail-enders and complete the challenge on time.

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