I think most folks who play boardgames as a hobby will have come across the name of Reiner Knizia. He is possibly the most prolific game designer in history, and we have already written here about a few of his games: The Hobbit, Heckmeck and, one of our favourites, Loot. He has a reputation for games that are slick and abstract, generally with a pasted on theme. The latest game of his we have tried is Botswana, which is true to form in that it has a wafer thin theme, but it has a special, secret ingredient that lifts it to a new level: loads of toy animals. If you don’t like the game, you can play at zoos.
The game plays quickly and easily. You explore the landscape of Botswana, seeking out animals to
shoot spot by… umm… playing cards with numbers and pictures of the animals on. Then you get to add one of those cute toy animals to your collection. At the end of the game, each animal you own is worth points equal to the value of the most recently played card depicting that animal. That is the whole of the game.
In our first session, we had a two player game with just Miss B and I, then we were joined for another by S, who enjoyed playing. Miss B did OK, but said that we should play on another occasion before she made up her mind about it. This was clearly not a bad game in her eyes, but probably not great either. It is worth pointing out, however, the importance of ensuring, while setting up, that the zebras are separated from any predators in the area by a group of pachyderms which can prevent things turning nasty. Luckily we now have a system for ensuring this.
We have now had another go at the game and it went quickly and easily. I won both of the hands we played but the scores were close enough for there to be a little tension and Miss B was all smiles at the end of it.
To be played well, Botswana needs some planning ahead and occasionally bluffing, which doesn’t come particularly naturally to this six-year-old, but it still works well as a light game. I think the game’s biggest problem is that you deal out all the cards at the start of the game. In a two-player game this means that you have a starting hand of 14 cards (too much even for effective use of the card holder we have), which is awkward for little hands and hence Miss B was making face-down piles of cards on the table and looking through them on her turn. The number of cards in hand goes down quickly, so the problem reduces.
I reckon this is probably going to find its way into semi-regular play.
The verdict from Miss B (aged just about 6½): “I like the game, I like the animals, and I like how you play it.”
The game: Botswana (Gryphon Games), 2 to 5 players aged 7+.
One of our most played games is the quick and elegant Coloretto, which involves collecting sets of coloured cards while trying to not have too many sets. Zooloretto is a big box adaptation of the game, adding a nice theme (collecting animals to go into your zoo) and nearly tripling the price. Actually, there are enough changes to the game that I am very happy to have both in the collection for playing on different occasions.
I’d been meaning to get a copy of Zooloretto for ages and, at last, a trip to the Gameskeeper (a fantastic shop in Oxford) resulted in us taking a copy home. Actually the trip was fun all round; S was chuckling to herself at the conversation with the staff who were trying very hard to recommend games for us: “Have you tried Hey That’s My Fish?”, “Yup, got it.”, “I assume you have Carcassonne?”, “Yup”, “Tsuro is back in stock and that’s nice”, “I agree, we have that too”, “How about Citadels?”, “Yes, that too”… Actually, I think this really showed that they managed to get onto our wavelength as they did suggest a lot of games we love, plus a few new ones we’ll hopefully check out some time.
Meanwhile, back on topic…
We got the game home and, that evening, had our first game for the three of us. There is a bit more to think about than in Coloretto due to the addition of money and things that you can do with it. Miss B took a little while to get to grips with things but towards the end she demonstrated admirable understanding of how things worked by, without guidance, moving one of her concession stalls to a location where it would be much more useful.
We’ll certainly still play Coloretto fairly regularly as it takes up little space and we play it in only about 10 minutes. However, for something a little meatier and a lot cuter, but still not too lengthy (this first game came in at under an hour) I think Zooloretto is looking like an excellent purchase.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “I think the baby animals are really cute. But you only get a baby when you have a male and a female. You can tell which are the males and females because they have symbols on. I liked it because it was trucks instead of just cards saying the number you are allowed. But I would like it better if the lorries had fronts to them.”
The game: Zooloretto (Rio Grande), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.
I picked up a game called Enuk at The Works just before Christmas. It is supposedly about a little Eskimo (that’s the term used in the game, even if it isn’t correct) boy helping his parents build an igloo while looking out for arctic wildlife. It looked cute and the reviews and ratings on The Geek weren’t bad for a kids’ game, so I picked it up.
This very much is a kids’ game. But what stops this from being a tile-matching memory game is a really neat little press-your-luck mechanic. You see, you turn over tiles and can keep turning over tiles until you choose to stop, you find a piece of the igloo, or animals start scaring each other off. Herring flee from salmon; salmon flee from seals, seals from polar bears and polar bears from reindeer accompanied by humans. So when you have turned over a few tiles you have to decide whether to claim those for your scoring stack, or turn over another and risk losing several tiles due to one of these fleeing issues. I really rather like that. And Miss B, after a little confusion for the first couple of times, got to really enjoy this aspect of the game.
Our first game was over remarkably quickly — when eight reindeer tiles have been drawn, the day ends and there is a special memory round for people who have managed to find bits of the igloo. So we had a second game, which used up pretty much all the tiles. Miss B won comfortably in both games.
I quite like this. The game is very random indeed, but due to it rewarding some memory, it is less so than most dice games, and that press-your-luck aspect makes the game feel rather more meaty than I had expected. It’s not enough that I would play this with an all-adult group, but it’s definitely a worthwhile purchase and Miss B is keen to play it again.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “Really good because of the way things ran away from each other.”
The game: Enuk (Queen Kids), 2 to 5 players aged 5+.
I bought Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small as a game that I thought would be good to play with the missus, but I also figured Miss B may get on well with it. After all, it has little wooden animeeples and is all about building a farm full of animals. What’s not to like?
Actually, the basic mechanic of the game is very similar to the one we are familiar with for Lords of Waterdeep: take it in turns to place a worker onto an action space and then do what that space allows you to do. No problems there, and it makes for a pretty fast paced game, notwithstanding having to give many reminders to the young opponent that it is her turn!
I haven’t played the original Agricola game, although I’m sure one day I will be able to remedy that. By all accounts, though, All Creatures Big and Small takes the essence of a big and deep game and distils it into a quick and lightish game that can be played in about half an hour (or closer to an hour so far with Miss B). The original game, apparently, derives a lot of challenge from trying to keep your family fed and healthy, whereas ACBAS gets rid of that and just has you developing pastures and farm buildings in order to raise animals.
As with many worker placement games there is quite a lot to think about as you have to gather resources and then make use of them. In practice, this means that she needs some suggestions most turns as to what to do. The rulebook actually covers this and suggests that if a kid is playing, a parent sits with them and gives them a couple of decent options to choose from each turn. Nice to see that sort of thing incorporated into what definitely a fairly “grown-up” game.
Overall I like this game a great deal so far and hope to be playing it a lot in future. It ticks a lot of boxes for me as a gamer (though I do like a small random element in general, which this does not have) and, stepping away from serious gaming, there is a lot of joy to be had from playing at building a farm containing heaps of cute little wooden animals.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “I don’t like it because the workers are just big blobs. I like it if they were meeples. I like making the buildings and adding bits to our farm. It’s a good and fun game.” I’d very much agree with that: with the awesomeness of having animeeples, it’s a shame that the workers are just wooden disks; making them meeples would make the whole thing so much cooler. Come to think of it I might get hold of some meeples to substitute in.
The game: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Z-Man Games), 2, aged 13+.
Another Christmas present, this one, and it’s a Rio Grande boxing of a little kids’ game from the always charming Doris & Frank stable, with the somewhat lame title of By Golly. Basically, this is pelmanism (i.e. “pairs”) with a little added cheese. A load of animal cards are placed face down in the middle and you have to match the cards you have in your hand using a combination of luck and memory. Some additional silliness is that among the face down animals are a couple of cards depicting piles of animal poo. If you turn over one of these you need to then turn over a shovel card to avoid a penalty.
I must admit that I rarely get on well with these memory games. I can either concentrate hard and do OK, at which point I don’t have as much fun, or I can just go with the flow and generally do badly. Enchanted Forest has enough “other stuff” to it to be more amusing, particularly with a table full of players, but even so, memory games aren’t my first choice. Miss B seems to have similarly mixed fortunes and feelings. Generally she enjoys herself with this sort of game, but can get frustrated after a while. Still, the theme is fun, the art is (thanks to Doris) charming, and it’s fairly quick even given our incompetence in play. Plus it’s a heck of a lot better than some of the other pair matching games out there.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5): “It was rubbish!” Me: “Why was it rubbish? I thought you liked it.” B: “I did like it but we were rubbish at it!”
The game: By Golly! (Rio Grande), 2 to 6 players, age 5+.