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The 2013 Golden Game Award: Game-Off Number 1

August 18, 2013 Comments off

It’s time for this year’s first game-off between contenders for the coveted Golden Game Award. The winner of this epic battle will win a place in the final and a chance to go down in history as a game that Miss B likes more than some other games on a particular day.

Miss B introduces our contenders for the day.

Miss B introduces our contenders for the day.

In the Red corner, nominated by Miss B herself, we have a game that represents an entire family of boardgames that allow you to draw on the board with crayons. It’s a game that is nowhere near as pretty looking as its competitors, but it’s one that rewards strategy, planning and luck, and involves building a huge rail network in order to deliver goods throughout the North-east of the USA. Yes, it’s Empire Express.

In the Blue corner, nominated by me and representing the hopes and aspirations of what is probably the biggest gaming franchise of the last 20 years, the Catan empire, we have a game that allows you to trade goats for cutlasses and swap stuff for parrots: Catan Junior.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised by the selection of Empire Express, but also very pleased by it.  I like the “crayon rails” range of games, having played several of them in the past, though they are notable for being quite time consuming to play for fairly low complexity games.  Empire Express cuts out some of the options and gives you the option of a flying start, and makes the whole game playable for the two of us in maybe an hour and a half now Miss B knows her way around the game.  Still quite a long time for one game with a six-year-old, but it’s just about manageable.

This play went well and really held Miss B’s attention throughout.  Thanks in part to some good card draws and me trying to be too clever for my own good (though it must be said, my track was beautiful, I just needed a longer game…) Miss B won.  Actually, she didn’t just pip me at the post, she totally walked it, leaving me at least a couple of deliveries behind her.  Well played!

As for Catan Junior, we always get on well with that one and it plays quickly, usually in the ballpark of half an hour.  There was a little complaining when I built a pirate lair where Miss B wanted to go, but then she managed to get her own back soon afterwards.  This time, though, her usual strategy of buying lots of parrot tiles (which give assorted bonuses) wasn’t quite enough and I managed to win by the narrowest of margins.

Miss B told me, “Empire Express is really good because you have the crayons and you can do a bit of drawing. Catan Junior is a teeny bit worse because you can’t have a draw in the game.”  (Actually, you can’t get a draw in Empire Express either, but there you go.)

Based on this assessment, Miss B has awarded Empire Express 16 out of 20 and Catan Junior 15 out of 20, and thus our first finalist for this year is Empire Express.  Personally I think Catan Junior is a better kids/family game, but I’m delighted because it means we’ll get to play Empire Express again very soon.

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The 2013 Golden Game Award (formerly the Golden Thingummy): The Shortlist

August 15, 2013 2 comments

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or have rummaged around in the archives), you may be aware that for the last couple of years Miss B and I have given a notional award for some game that we think is good. So, in what is definitely now an annual tradition, I give you the opening salvo in the 2013 Golden Game Award.

If you would like to maintain a sense of suspense, please don't look at this picture until you have read the rest of the post.

If you would like to maintain a sense of suspense, please don’t look at this picture until you have read the rest of the post.

This is, of course, a change of name. As Miss B gets older and develops more sophisticated critical faculties, she seems to be developing a knack for spotting when I am talking absolute rubbish. As part of this she has decided that the Golden Thingummy is not a title suitable for such an auspicious endeavour as this (possibly not her exact words), so from now on we have a new, more sensible name.

The rules are this… We have a shortlist of four candidate games from those that we have played over the last year, two picked by Miss B and two picked by myself in a vain attempt to choose something that she might prefer to her own picks. The games, incidentally, must be ones for us to play with just the two of them, so Apples to Apples is off the cards. We then have two game-offs, playing one of her choices and one of mine back-to-back before discussing how the games went and getting Miss B to choose the one she preferred on the day. Then the two winning games go through to a grand final game-off to decide which will be awarded the prize of… Well, nothing, not even including prestige.

In 2011 the winner was Enchanted Forest, played with simplified rules.

In 2012 Miss B couldn’t decide an outright winner, so Dominion and Robo Rally (also with some rule concessions to make it viable for a 5-year-old) shared the honours.

This year the shortlist has been drawn up and, if you have seen the picture at the top of this post, you will already know what the selections were. I seriously suck at this suspense thing. But just for the sake of form…

Miss B’s choices were Empire Express and Enuk. Two more different games can hardly be imagined given the candidates, but they are both games that Miss B loves and Empire Express in particular doesn’t get played as often as we would like due to it taking a comparatively long time to play (the box says 60-90 minutes, which is probably about right for the two of us).

My choices were Augustus and Catan Junior, both of which are quick, fun and work some of those Euro-gaming muscles a little. Catan Junior is a great game to have in the collection and one which we have, in the past, pulled out when a friend of Miss B’s came for a play date.

So, over the next week or two I plan to post the gory details of our game-offs. Can you handle the suspense…?

More goats? You should set up a farm.

December 18, 2012 Comments off

Yesterday Miss B had a play date, bringing one of her friends from school, Miss A, home for a couple of hours. This sort of thing usually involves a lot of running around the house and shouting, but we know Miss A has Loot and Sleeping Queens at home, so Miss B wanted to try a board game with her. The one we chose was Catan Junior.

We took a few minutes explaining the main rules (with Miss B very keen to help) and then got started. To be honest, I don’t know Miss A very well so wasn’t sure quite how much was sinking in. Such is the way with six-year-olds. I shouldn’t have worried as after two or three turns, Miss A was clearly getting the hang of things and working out what trades she needed to make to complete her next build. She took an early lead and, despite Miss B and I rallying to catch up, our guest managed to hold on to the win.

I was really impressed at how well this game worked out for playing with a young visitor and held her attention. Catan Junior is not a deep game and probably would probably bore most adult gamers after not too many plays, but it is proving to have been an excellent purchase for us. And I’m more than happy to play it any time it is requested.

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It would be good if we really had a parrot called Coco

October 1, 2012 Comments off

Catan Junior is pretty much what you’d imagine from the title: a version of Settlers of Catan, reworked with a younger audience in mind. I was a little wary of this, having heard less than stellar reports of an earlier attempt to shift the Catan franchise towards a younger audience (Kids of Catan), but over the last few months a steadily expanding body of positive reviews have built up. Then, while I was off at the highly enjoyable TringCon, I stumbled across a copy at a very reasonably price, so I laid my cash down…

Pirates everywhere! (Though here we’re forgetting to keep hold of our parrots.)

I mean, there are pirates in this version of the game. Surely that’s enough?

Actually, my early impressions of the game are great. The basic mechanics of the game are almost identical to the original Settlers, but trading has been tweaked (so you trade with a non-player market or the bank), resource cards have been replaced by gorgeous tokens (though the design of the gold counters leaves something to be desired) and the development cards are now “Coco the parrot” tiles which do something good for you when you buy them.

We’ve played this a couple of times so far, with three and two players, and both worked well. Actually, during our first play I rushed reading the rules and we ended up playing with unlimited trading and no bonus for collecting parrots. This actually worked out quite fun, mind, but we have shifted to the proper rules now. The game zips along quite quickly, even with Miss B getting distracted and singing a song or chatting about the fact she doesn’t think there should be as much wood as it isn’t as interesting as goats.

In some ways I think this is actually better than the original Settlers. It is certainly less likely that someone makes a poor or unlucky start and never recovers. This could really turn into a very good gateway game which I’d be more than happy to play with an adult group. I think the “Junior” label is a bit unfortunate as it makes the game sound like more of a kids’ game rather than the great little family game it actually is.

The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “Catan junior was 10 out of 10 when you could get a lair onto Spooky Island because you had the most Cocos. I liked it because it was still part of the points because lairs score points when they’re on the board.”

The game: Catan Junior (Mayfair Games), 2 to 4 players, aged 6+.