Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Our month in gaming: December, plus bonus 2015 roundup

January 10, 2016 4 comments

Happy new year! I’ve been more than a bit tardy with getting back to blogging this year but here, at last, we have the final gaming roundup for 2015…

Scrabble Scramble: a pocket sized, dice based word game; not bad!

Scrabble Scramble: a pocket sized, dice based word game; not bad!

December was a bit of a quiet month for us from a gaming point of view, with only 17 plays of 7 different games. Based on those numbers, you’ll be able to infer that there were some multiple plays, and indeed there were. The biggest game of the month was Codenames, with 6 plays: three plays were just one-on-one games with Miss B and I working for the best score we could, but on Christmas day we had a few games with the extended family, with proper team play, and it was a lot of fun.

Our other multiple plays in December were Loopin’ Louie with 3 plays and Balanx with 2.

And, of course, that brings us to the totals for the year. We got up to an impressive 360 plays throughout the year, so were unbelievably close to averaging a game per day. This is better than we have managed in previous years: 2014 had 223 plays and 2013 had 326.

As for variety, we played 121 different games in 2015, beating 102 in 2014 and 112 in 2013. And, just for the hell of it, let’s work out the mean number of plays per game: 2.98 in 2015, 2.19 in 2014, and 2.91 in 2013.

So, whichever way you cut it, 2015 was a bumper year of gaming by our standards.

I’m sure you can guess what our top game was, based on previous posts, but I’ll go through the games we played at least 10 times in an attempt to build up some dramatic tension.

Apples to Apples, Boggle Slam, Dobble, and Love Letter all had 10 plays each.

Backgammon and Timeline were each played 11 times.

Loopin’ Louie got to 12 plays.

Yardmaster Express had an impressive 16 plays.

But our game of the year, with a walloping 19 plays, was the little tin of dice called ‘6’. This was particularly impressive as our first play of this was on the last day of May, so it only had a little over half the year to amass all those plays. But, like Yardmaster Express, play is quick and we often played more than once in a session.

All this brings us to our final results for the 10×10 challenge. Well, as we only played nine games at least ten times, and some of those weren’t on the challenge list, you can see that we failed. We did manage to get a tenth play of Apples to Apples in over Christmas, but that was about it. Our final scores were as follows…

Game Plays so far
Dobble 10
Plyt 9
Love Letter 10
Empire Express 8
Apples to Apples 10
Piece o’ Cake 7
Gubs 6
Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck 7
Dungeon Roll 4
Timeline 10
Backgammon 10

If we had gone with a “standard” version of the challenge, where we can declare the games we are going for as we go along, we would still have been one short, but then, maybe we would have edged another one over the line. We’re not planning to do the challenge again this year, but I guess we can change our mind later by joining this standard version.

Finally, I guess we have to consider the status of this blog. The truth is that, while Miss B enthusiastically plays some games sometimes, most of the time she would much rather be doing something else. She’s growing up so fast and, while she will always have the opportunity to play games, the priorities of a nine-year-old are not the same as those of the four-year-old I started with.

I expect we’ll keep the blog ticking over for the time being and post occasionally (maybe I will go with the monthly updates at the least), but I expect I might not often get up to even the couple of posts a month that was the norm for last year.

But then again, maybe things will change again. We’ll certainly be playing now and then, and we’ll just see where things go.

Thanks for reading.

Extreme Yahtzee Empire

October 7, 2015 2 comments

So we had an afternoon free, so I challenged Miss B to a game of Empire Express. It doesn’t really take that long to play (maybe an hour or so these days, plus some set up and clear away time) but it is long enough that it can’t just be played on a whim any time we fancy. This being one of her favourite games, she readily accepted the challenge, but added that she also fancied playing Yahtzee, a game that she has recently developed quite a taste for.

Right, marble for Washington and looking for a large straight...

Right, marble for Washington and looking for a large straight…

No problem, I said, would you like to play Yahtzee first, second, or play them both at the same time? What was meant to be a little joke was greeted by bright, wide eyes and an enthusiastic request for the at-the-same-time option.

And that’s what we did. While one of us drew lines on the Empire Express board and moved our train around, the other was rolling dice and noting down scores. I was busy trading in goods for $profit$ when I heard a gasp and Miss B was holding out the dice tray to show me her second Yahtzee of the afternoon, meaning lots of points.

Yahtzee is a rather shorter game than Empire Express, with only 13 turns, so it finished while we were probably two thirds of the way through the bigger game, after which things seemed actually a bit dull. Miss B had beaten me soundly with the dice and I was at that stage of EE where you have enough track and the right contract cards that you just chug along knowing that you will finish the game in a few more turns, as long as you don’t get derailed anywhere.

The session finished with an equitable win for each of us and high-fives all round. I think we agreed that the whole exercise of simultaneous games was fun, but neither game turned out to be as good as it would have been with both of us paying proper attention. Probably a lesson for life there.

Ten by ten in fifteen

December 29, 2014 Comments off

Each year there is a challenge on BoardGameGeek to play at least ten games at least ten times each throughout the year. There are two variations of the challenge: the “normal” one is just play some games, while the “hardcore” version requires you to declare which games you will play in advance (plus an additional game which allows you a little wiggle room). Obviously which games you choose will affect how difficult the challenge is: it would be easy to play 10 games of Coup through a year, but Twilight Imperium 3? Not so much.

Our  hardcore challenge selections for 2015. Photography and composition by Miss B.

Our hardcore challenge selections for 2015. Photography and composition by Miss B.

Anyway, Miss B and I have decided to enter the 2015 challenge as a team, using the hardcore rules, and we have chosen the games that we intend to play. Most of these are fairly quick games to play, but it will still take some organising to get through them, particularly as some of the games either require, or are best with more than two players.

And so, without much more ado, I give you our list of 11 games, in no particular order other than this is the order Miss B wrote them down…

  1. Dobble
  2. Plyt
  3. Love Letter
  4. Empire Express
  5. Apples to Apples
  6. A Piece of Cake
  7. Gubs
  8. Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck
  9. Dungeon Roll
  10. Timeline
  11. Backgammon

If we manage to play ten of those eleven games at least ten times, we will have succeeded!

I’ll report on our progress as part of our monthly updates. This will, of course, skew our statistics somewhat, but it’s not like we’re doing any scientific experiments here, is it?

Categories: Musings Tags:

Two Hundred!

June 2, 2014 2 comments

I just noticed that I was about to hit a landmark number of posts, so in a slight break from schedule (I had just started working on the play report for May), I figured I would post a short bit of musing to mark the occasion.

Ahh, Lords of Waterdeep, always enjoyable.

Ahh, Lords of Waterdeep, always enjoyable.  (I didn’t feel like making a pile of 100 games to photograph for this post.  Though, thinking about it, that would be cool!)

This blog started a little over three years ago, and I wasn’t really sure where I was going to go with it. And, truth to tell, previous attempts at blogging never really had any staying power, so I didn’t really expect to stick to it. In fact, if you look back through the archives you will see there have been some hefty spells (especially in the first year) when I lost touch for quite a while.

Anyway, at the beginning there was this whole (largely joking) thing about training Miss B up to be some opposition in games, but as time has gone by I think it has largely been me who has been the gamer being trained. I need to listen to Miss B, play the games she wants to play (which, usually, are ones I also like) and on the occasions when she doesn’t want to play, to respect that. This has meant that updates to this blog are sometimes a little uneven as, like is the case now, sometimes we have a few games lined up that Miss B doesn’t want to give a verdict on yet. That’s fine, we’ll probably get to them eventually.

I have just counted up the games that we have written up over the years and by my reckoning we are up to 104! That’s hardly the Dice Tower’s output, but I don’t think it’s bad. I wonder if we’ll get up to 200…?!

Anyway, I’ll stop rambling on now. Thanks very much for reading — to both of you!

Categories: Musings

The slings and arrows of outrageous customer relations

March 17, 2014 Comments off

It has been a while since I posted an update on my campaigning exploits, which I will claim is in order to avoid derailing this blog too badly, but is actually more due to me not getting around to it.  Anyway, here is the latest.  I’m afraid it goes on a bit.

Two weeks after sending my previous email to WH Smith, I had heard nothing, so I figured I would send a short nudge email to them, just trying to get a response…

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it'll take a while to get there if it is.  (Image by John M,  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 - click on image to see details.)

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it’ll take a while to get there if it is. (Image by John M, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – click on image to see details.)

I wrote to you on 17th February (2 weeks ago) with a follow-up to a query about the gender-based display of toys in your shops.  I received an automated reply quickly, but have heard nothing else since.

Would it be possible for someone to let me know if WH Smith intends to change its toy displays to remove this bias, please, or give me some indication on the company’s stance on this issue.

My previous emails, along with the original reply from one of your customer relations staff are below.

Thanks for your time,

Well, happily I did indeed get a response. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for…

Thank you for your email.

I am very sorry that you were unhappy with our previous response. I have passed your comments on to our buying team who will take this into consideration.

If I can be of any help in the meantime then please let me know.

Kind regards

[Name deleted]
Customer Service Coordinator

Now, I have been really trying to think positively about this whole argument and not assume the worst of WH Smith, but when I get this sort of robotic reply that effectively parrots part of their original response, my hackles start to rise. The whole reason for my dissatisfaction last time was that they basically said, “Sorry you are unhappy, I’ve informed our buying team,” when I think the buying team is a wholly inappropriate place for this sort of query to end up.

Maybe it was time to take a different tack. At the suggestion of a friend, I tried contacting one of WH Smiths’ non-executive directors, who seemed to be slightly appropriate. Not having proper contact details, I fired off a tweet to her, trying to be polite and just asking for help finding the right person to talk to.

The next morning I was absolutely delighted to have received an “I’m on it!” type tweet. As you might imagine, I was in a great mood, actually thinking that things were finally progressing.

It was not to be. A few hours later, when I actually had some time to get online and think about what to do next I found that the tweeted reply had been deleted and said director had announced that her Twitter account had been compromised and that anyone who had followed a link tweeted by her should probably change their password.

Disheartened I decided to just wait for a little while, until today when I finally got around to replying to the last mail from Customer Relations…

Thankyou for your reply.

The reason I was unhappy with your previous response was that you forwarded my comments to the buying team, which I felt was the wrong place for the discussion to go, as how you present stock in your shops is nothing to do with purchasing.

Now I find that you have treated my follow-up email in the same way.
I’m sure you can appreciate that this makes me feel very frustrated with the whole process and gives me the impression that my emails have not actually been read.

So, taking a step back for a moment, I have a query about how shelf displays are designed and implemented within WH Smith shops. Could you please either forward my query to someone who has some responsibility for that element of the business, or give me contact details for someone I can talk to about it.

Many thanks,

A couple of hours later, probably by coincidence, I had this in my inbox…

Many thanks for your recent ‘tweet’ to [Director], which has been passed to me to respond.

I can confirm that the toy range in our high street stores is focused on best sellers in the market. Our share of the toy market is less than 2% and we therefore aim to display products by type, so that it is easy for customers to find what they are looking for, given the limited space dedicated to toys within the majority of our stores. We do value all customer feedback and would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

[Name deleted]
Group Communications Co-ordinator
WH Smith PLC

Wow, so my tweet seems to have actually had some effect after all. OK, so they are still missing the point, but we now appear to be at least talking about the same thing. I suspect that in WH Smith, a Co-ordinator is not a high rank, but I am taking this as progress.

Buoyed by this sniff of success, I figured I should get straight back in there with another attempt to get the point across…

Many thanks for your email. As you are contacting me via email I assume you have found my emails in the Customer Relations system somewhere and have read my comments. I will, however summarise my argument as it relates to your response.

You say that you display products by type so as to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for, and this is all well and good, but I would argue that “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” are not meaningful or appropriate categories of product. To say that, for instance, craft toys are for girls and science toys are for boys reinforces outdated and unhelpful stereotypes which have an influence on both the children and the people who buy toys for them.

Surely it is possible to label shelves as containing craft and construction toys, domestic toys, dolls and soft toys, toy vehicles, and so on. In the case of WH Smith, where there is often only a small area devoted to toys, then isn’t just “toys” an appropriate label?

I appreciate that WH Smith is not primarily a toy retailer, but it does have enormous visibility on many High Streets throughout the UK and a great deal of influence on shoppers. Many other retailers out there are starting to realise that gender segregation of toys is no longer appropriate or acceptable and are realising that by making a small change in how they label or organise their stock they can send a positive message to their customers and make the country just a little better for our children. Please can WH Smith become one of these forward thinking companies?

Thanks again for your time and attention.

So, that’s where we are now. I’ll report back again as and when there are any other developments.

Just as a bit of a postscript, it is worth noting that WH Smith can get it right, and are doing the right thing in at least some of their stores. All it would really take for this whole business to be put to bed — from my point of view, anyway — is for them to engage and say that they are working on it, and have already made the change in some shops. I would probably follow up with a request for some sort of a timetable, but then leave it at that (assuming they don’t rile me in some way).  But I’m not going to make it that easy for them. I want someone to show evidence of thinking.

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,

Once more, with feeling…

February 17, 2014 3 comments

After my little foray into activism a few days ago, I am pleased to say that I received a reply from Customer Relations at WH Smith. I am less pleased to say that the reply was pretty much a boiler plate “sorry you aren’t happy, we’ll bear your views in mind” which didn’t really fill me with confidence that they are taking the matter seriously.


Image sliced from a strip at (CC-BY-SA Nina Paley)

You don’t have to take my word for it, here is what I received:

Many thanks for your email.

I am very sorry that you are unhappy with the display of toys in store. We stock a wide range of toys and try to meet the needs of all of our customers and make products easy to locate.

I’ve passed your feedback on to our Buyer and I can assure you that it will be taken into consideration during our next range review.

If I can help further please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind Regards

[Name deleted]

Customer Service Co-ordinator

Now, I wasn’t expecting the earth to shake and a thousand WH Smith employees to be instantly mobilised in order to appease me and my radical opinions, but I was hoping to receive a reply that made me think that somebody had actually thought about the issue. Can I actually be the only person that has written to them about this?

I guess I just have to write to them again as I don’t think they have this filed in the correct pigeonhole…

Thankyou for replying to my email.

I understand that WH Smith must decide how best to present stock to customers in order to ensure your customers find what they are looking for and can make their purchase. However, I am trying to point out that you can achieve this aim in different — and potentially more effective — ways than simply presenting a selection of toys for either boys or girls, ways that do not reinforce unhelpful gender stereotypes that can cause problems for girls and boys alike.

This is not an issue of reviewing your range.  The range of toys in your stores is completely unrelated to how they are presented to your customers.  This is all about what message you are sending to boys and girls as well as the adults who buy toys for them. From what I can see in the Wantage store, you are suggesting that craft toys are for girls and space toys are for boys.

It is a small thing, but this detail is insidious and in a world where we are trying to encourage women into technical fields, which have been traditionally male-dominated, the small details can add up to work against all the efforts of schools, governments and these fields themselves.  Similarly, when the images of, say,  craft and childcare are reinforced as being something for girls, this discourages boys from leading rewarding lives in these areas.  The whole of society is made less because of this.

WH Smith must, of course, make its own business decisions, but please, please take this issue seriously.  It may seem a small and irrelevant thing to some, but there are a lot of people out there who would just love to promote businesses who help to move this cause forward.  Campaign groups like Let Toys Be Toys and Pink Stinks (who, despite the name, are not wanting to ban the colour pink!) are genuinely looking for leadership in making this form of casual discrimination a thing of the past and, I’m sure, would be more than happy to spread the word of any improvements you can make.

Thank you again for your attention.  Please give this some real thought.

So, that’s off into the ether. I’m hoping that I receive a reply that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been summarily dismissed. I will report again as and when I hear something. Hopefully I can then get back to writing about playing games as usual. 🙂

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,

At least it’s not all pink

February 14, 2014 6 comments

In a bit of a diversion from the usual subject matter for this blog I’d like to say just a few words about the gendering of toys.

Umm, isn't Lego, like, for everyone?

Umm, isn’t Lego, like, for everyone?

Why today? Well, today I popped in to our local WH Smith’s shop.  For those of you not in the UK, WH Smiths is a chain of newsagents/stationers with a shop on most high streets in the country.  They sell toys and games too, the quantity varying from store to store.  Today, however, I actually noticed that the toys were divided into those for boys and those for girls.

This is an unsettlingly common practice, and one that a lot of people are trying to change. Why can’t toys just be toys? Sure, you can have sections for construction toys, cars, dolls, domestic toys, and stuff like that, but why do you need to send a message that girls shouldn’t really be building Lego spaceships, or boys shouldn’t be playing with baby dolls?

I know the counter argument that kids show this sort of preference anyway without any encouragement from adults or marketing, but I’m not sure I buy that. Are we really sure we aren’t projecting the biases ourselves? Whole can of worms, that one.

Anyway, I decided in this case that I’d not just post a picture on Facebook to farm likes from people who I know largely agree with me on this, but I would also send an email to WH Smith. I did my best to avoid being ranty and make my point in a polite and reasonably concise way. In the spirit of self-congratulatory and self-righteous blogging, I reproduce the text of my mail here…

I was in your Wantage store today and noticed that your toy section was divided into two sections: “Boys’ Toys” and “Pre-School & Girls’

I am a strong believer that toys are just toys and if a boy wants to play with toy pet animals, or a girl wants to play with Star Wars Lego (as my 7-year-old daughter does) then either is fine and to be encouraged.  I know that simply labelling a shelf as for boys or girls does not actually limit play, but it does send a message of what society expects of our children and reinforces stereotypes, adding to the weight of pressure that discourages girls from being scientists and engineers as well as keeping boys from the caring professions, home making, and so on.

WH Smith is definitely not the worst offender in this regard, but I would still urge you to rethink how toys are presented in your stores to children and to the people who buy toys for them.  Surely in this day and age we should be beyond simple gender stereotypes and should be doing our best to encourage all forms of creative play to all children so they can grow up to fulfil their potential free from centuries-old biases.

Thanks for your time.

Incidentally, if you are eagle-eyed, you may notice that in the girls’ section in the picture above there is a build-your-own pirate ship kit, which kinda throws the argument a bit. Though I can picture the little boy being given one of those: “But it’s a girl’s toy! I don’t want it!”

And finally, here is a nice infographic to help you tell if a toy is for boys or girls.

Categories: Musings, Off-Topic Tags: , ,