We did pretty well for games in August, with a games afternoon with another family as well as a couple of father-daughter games afternoons throughout the month. We even got started (a little late) on this year’s Training a Gamer Award, so you can expect the reports for that to be forthcoming over the next few weeks.
Our total for the month was 28 plays, with 15 different games. This is well down on last August, but only beaten by two months this year. We had several games with multiple plays, top of which was In a Bind, with 6 plays, followed by Apotheca, Hey That’s My Fish, and Yardmaster Express, with 3 plays a piece, and 6 and Win Lose Banana each on 2. That latter game (WLB) is a bit bizarre (to say the least), requiring exactly three players and being a game that seems entirely random at first, but then turns into a game of psychology after a few rounds.
I think my highlight of the month was trying out Railways of the World, which I had been wanting to play for some time and then managed to acquire a copy on the cheap, then had a great opportunity to play it when we had a visitor over. We made a couple of minor tweaks to the rules to make it a little more accessible for a first play with kids, but after the rules explanation, the game flowed really well and we all enjoyed it very much.
For the year, BraveRats maintains its lead position with 11 plays, followed by Push It with 10, both unchanged from the previous month. But now we have 6 and In a Bind, right in the chase, each with 9 plays, so it looks like the race is well and truly on at the moment. There is nothing else we have played more than 5 times so far yet this year.
Apotheca is one of those games I acquired from a small, indie game publisher via Kickstarter, which sat on the shelf for a couple of months before we got around to playing it. It is essentially a lightweight abstract game but, boy, is it beautifully produced or what?
So basically this is a game where you win points by getting three potions of the same colour into a row on a four-by-four grid. On your turn, you either add face-down potions to the board, turn potions face up and earn yourself gems, use gems to hire apothecaries (gain cards that grant special abilities), or use the apothecaries you have hired to move potions about — and they all have different movement options available. When you have managed to make three rows of three, you win, but the twist is that when you score a row of potions, it means you lose access to the ability of one of your apothecaries.
That’s about it.
Over the last couple of years, Miss B has been getting pretty keen on abstract games, and regularly beats me in games like Balanx or Mijnlieff, and also really likes games with great artwork, so this was one I was keen to try with her. Eventually the right moment came along, I suggested Apotheca, she took a look, and readily agreed. So far we have played a few games and she has won all but one of them, and she is keen to play it pretty much any time now, so I think this is a game that we might actually get past that sought-after ten play mark, and reasonably quickly too.
I’ve not yet played Apotheca with adults, but it does have a reasonable solo play mode, which is nice. It also has a variant for two teams of two, and an asymmetric version where one player is the “Master”, who is pitted against a team of up to three apprentices. We’ve not tried either of these modes, but they look fun and I’m hoping to give them a go some time. In general, I’m very pleased with this purchase, despite the fact that it could have been made so much smaller and cheaper; I’m kind of glad it wasn’t, as the game as it is is such a lovely object. But my opinion doesn’t matter in this blog. It’s all over to the boss…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9½): “Apotheca is a brilliant game. I like that you are collecting potions for your apothecary. I would give it a 95% rating.”
The game: Apotheca (Knapsack Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.
One of the game designers at the London playtesting meetups that I attend when I can created a little game called In a Bind, which she Kickstarted a while back, then I ended up playing at a games day earlier this year, and buying a copy at UK Games Expo. It is, for me, one of those little games that just needed to be in the collection as it is small, fun, and takes about 5 seconds to teach to just about anyone. Miss B was more than happy to give it a go when we got our own copy.
I have heard In a Bind described as “Twister the card game”, which isn’t too far off the mark. It comprises a deck of cards, each of which has an instruction, like “This card on left shoulder”, or “Right pinky pointing down”, and when it is your turn, you draw a card, read it out loud, and then comply, while still complying with instructions from previous turns. If you can’t follow an instruction, or stop doing one later on, you are out of the game. That’s it.
Miss B immediately took to the game, and has wanted to play it over and over again. In fact, I’m pretty sure she has played it a load more than me, as she has played it with her friends, relatives, and anyone else who will give her the time, even after I have run out of the necessary energy. There is actually a junior version of the game available now, which I believe loses a few harder cards, but includes some other twists like cards which require you to make an animal noise when anyone draws a card, and other such daftness. We’ll have to pick up a copy of that when the opportunity arises.
Officially the game is for 3 or more players, but it works just great for 2, and Miss B even enjoys it as a solo challenge, where you just draw cards and try to beat your personal best. The biggest problem with this (other than that a codger like me can end up with a cricked neck) is that the cards can end up getting a bit battered from the inevitable mistreatment, but frankly I don’t care. This is a game that may get destroyed by play, but I’ll be more than happy shelling out for a replacement later on, if necessary.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9½): “In a Bind is a really fun game to play, though it can sometimes get quite uncomfortable! I would rate it a 10/10 because it is really funny to watch and play.”
The game: In a Bind (Stuff By Bez), 3 to 10 players, aged 13+.
The latest in our ongoing series of reports on Lego games is on Magikus, one of the smaller games in the series, which is about collecting ingredients to make a magical potion. The first person to get the full set of four ingredients gets to put them into the little cauldron that comes in the box and, according to Miss B, gets to choose what spell to cast on the losers.
The game is very simple: there is an owl piece, which you position on the edge of the rack of spell ingredients, so it lines up with one of the rows or columns, then you roll a die. If the die shows the colour of an ingredient that is still in the row or column that you chose, you take that ingredient; alternatively a white result on the die allows you to take anything from the row or column, and a black result allows you to steal from another player. If you end up with a set of the four different ingredients, you win!
So that is it. There is a strategy to find here, but it is obvious to most people. I think this has a problem that is common to most of the Lego games: the game design is awesome for younger kids, and not bad for a parent to play with the kids, but the components are just too fiddly for the ideal age range. That said, we had fun with this, and Miss B just loved imagining herself making potions at Hogwarts, even though she got frustrated a couple of times when she forgot to move the owl before moving. (Easy fix: no problem, just move the owl and then roll again.)
Plus, of course, it’s Lego. We now have a bunch of Lego skulls that we can put onto minifigs if we want to! 🙂
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9¼): “Very silly. It is a bit more difficult because you have to move first and then roll, which is not what most people would do by natural instinct. I would give it 10/10, but because of the dice rolling flaw I will give it a 9/10.”
The game: Magikus (Lego), 2 to 4 players aged 6+.
You may remember a while ago we had a guest post by game designer, publisher, reviewer and all-round nice guy Edo Baraf. Well, a while after that he ran a Kickstarter project for a storytelling game that he had co-designed, called The Siblings Trouble which is pretty much The Goonies: The Game. The idea is that you and your siblings are having an adventure in some relatively mundane location (the game is subtitled “Backyard Adventures”) which can be the basis of a fantastical story, and our copy turned up earlier this year.
So the basic idea is that you take it in turns to flip over a series of cards, each of which represents a location, monster or event, and you have to incorporate the card into a narrative that you are building. Is that troll really a troll, or is it just the janitor from the abandoned amusement park? You just interpret each card as you wish, and sometimes you need to roll a die to determine what happens next — and, of course, you need to work whatever the outcome of the die roll is into the story.
There are other rules, but I don’t think they really matter. The main thrust of the game is to tell a story of encountering dinosaurs in the forest or renegade robots in the junkyard, where you save the day with a bit of string and a bag of marbles. From that point of view, the game is utterly charming, a charm which is helped greatly by beautiful artwork and excellent production values.
We’ve played the game a handful of times so far, but only with the two of us playing, and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. Hopefully we’ll rope some others in some time and see how it goes with more people. There are a choice of characters to play (with alternate gender and race variants for each), plus four different locations to adventure in, and a way of building an adventure deck to make for a different game each time, so we’ve mixed stuff up a bit each time.
To be honest, I don’t imagine playing The Siblings Trouble in an adults-only group, but to do so is missing the point: this is really a family game, and it’s a good one. But, of course, it’s what Miss B thinks that counts around here…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9¼): “This game is very interesting, because you can never really predict what is going to happen next. I love the way that you make up the story with only a little bit to guide you. The characters’ powers are especially funny! I will rate it 10/10 because of all the great ideas merged together.”
The game: The Siblings Trouble (Pencil First Games), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.
It was a few months back that Miss B and I were talking about old puzzle games, and I explained the concept of Mastermind to her. In case you don’t know, this is the game where one “player” sets a sequence of four coloured pegs and the other has to guess what the sequence is; on each guess, the code setter has to reveal how many pegs are fully correct and how many are the correct colour but incorrectly placed. With this information (and a little luck) the guesser should be able to figure out the sequence.
At the beginning of this month Miss B found a Mastermind set in a charity shop and waved it in front of me, making a hopeful face as she did so. I took the hint and, as the set looked to be complete and in decent condition we made the purchase.
Since then we have had several plays, each comprising one go at guessing each, and we score according to the number of guesses taken so we end up with a winner each time. Miss B has clearly taken to this game in quite a serious way and so far she has won more games than I have. It’s fascinating to hear her talking through her logic when she is starting to get enough information to solve the puzzle and eliminating options to deduce a solution.
It must be something like thirty years since I last played Mastermind, so I was a little nervous about the prospect, but we’ve been getting on great with it. This is a game (it’s really a moderated puzzle, but we play it like a game) that Miss B is currently really enthusiastic about, and the set we have is good for travelling with, so I expect it will see a fair bit of use over the coming months. I think it’s doing my addled brain some good too.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9¼): “Mastermind is a brilliant game because of how clever you have to be to work it out. I will rate it 99% for how clever it is for such a simple game!”
The game: Mastermind (Parker Brothers), 2 players aged 8+.
We’re back! Miss B has had a bit of a spell of providing verdicts for games, so you should see a few new posts over the next mumblemumble period of time. First up we have a lovely looking game about making mosaic floors in the Taj Mahal called Maharani. We’ve had the game for a while, and Miss B spent a happy time a year or two back just playing with it and making patterns with the tiles, but we have only just got around to playing it.
This is a game that is pretty much a classic Euro-style game where you are mostly working on your own project, and you can get in the way of other players, taking a tile or blocking off a space they wanted, but they will usually have other good options and can just get on with their life after a mild bit of fist shaking. And it’s all about earning points in ways that don’t really make a lot of thematic sense, but that’s OK because you are building something that looks nice using colourful tiles and little wooden workers.
In the case of Maharani, most of your turns are spent placing tiles onto the large floor plan, selecting your tiles from a rotisserie selection in the middle, and sometimes you also get to place workers on the new tiles. You earn points for having groups of tiles of the same colour and for having workers standing near each other (which requires different colour tiles because reasons), and then when each quarter of the floor is complete, you score bonus points according to the number of workers you have in the area.
It all sounds a bit dry, and maybe it is, but the components are so nice, and there is really something special about painting the board in those bright colours as you go. Miss B missed a couple of rules when I was explaining them, which was all sorted a couple of turns in, and then things flowed very well. It took us about an hour to play, and I think Miss B was getting a little bored towards the end when there were only a few tiles left and a handful of places to put them, so it was just a matter of figuring out the moves that eke the most points out of the last few turns. But the scoring of the last two quarters of the board towards the end lifted things up and made things more exciting.
To be honest, I love this sort of game, so it was great to get to play it with Miss B, even though it didn’t really fire her up. Hopefully a rematch will happen one day, though.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9¼): “The game isn’t my absolute favourite of all time but I think I would give it a 10 out of 10 for presentation. For the actual game itself I would give it about 7 out of 10.”
The game: Maharani (Queen Games), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.