There is a game out there called The aMAZEing Labyrinth, which is really neat, involving a maze that constantly changes as tiles are pushed and slid about to open up new passages and close old ones, while players run around this shifting space trying to visit various spaces on the board in order to claim cards. It’s really neat, though you have to be careful as you slide the tiles around, and the game can be very difficult for young’uns, despite it looking like a kids’ game.
We have a copy of a later version of the game, called The Master Labyrinth, which makes the whole thing a bit more complicated. There is a cool bit where you can use magic wands to let you have two turns in a row, but the game’s scoring is more complex and includes a bonus system that can suck all of the fun out of the game if you get unlucky.
Recently, however, I found, in a charity shop, a copy of The Secret Labyrinth, which is another variation of the same theme. This one has a maze made of rotating concentric circles, which is really quite cool, though it doesn’t have the same variability of its square-tile-based siblings.
Play involves turning up a card which indicates a location to reach, you turn the maze elements, and then move your marker to try to reach your target and if you are successful, you keep the card. Collect a set of cards and you win the game.
This is all very nice, but you won’t be able to collect a set of cards without stealing from another player, which you do by landing on their marker and playing rock-paper-scissors. The winner of the RPS match gets to steal items from the loser.
Frankly I think this is not a good way to go; turning a nice (though limited) puzzle game into a player-versus-player battle just seems utterly wrong and destroys the essence of the game. I’m sure I could come up with a more in-character way to play the game without making it so confrontational. Maybe I will try some time as the look of the board is just great (and the mechanics are almost great).
Our play through of Secret Labyrinth was OK, but Miss B found predicting what the maze would do very frustrating and I found myself helping out quite a lot. This is pretty much the way of the more standard versions of Labyrinth for us, though, so wasn’t a surprise. The battling and stealing element definitely didn’t go down well, particularly as the attacker can just as easily end up losing treasure, which is quite a disincentive really.
As an aside, it is very easy to beat a 7-year-old at rock-paper-scissors, so it is probably best to try to play randomly in situations like this.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7½): “I give it 9 out of 10. I think I game one game 8 out of 10.” (I’m not sure about Miss B’s current grade scale, really — she said she would give this game a low score, which 9 apparently is.)
The game: The Secret Labyrinth (Ravensburger), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.
This latest weekend was a good one for many reasons, but one of them was that I got to play a real classic of a game for the first time in years and remembered how much I enjoy playing it. Scotland Yard has been around for thirty years (though I was introduced to it in the early nineties) and is still pretty easily available, which is great. Basically, all but one player gets to work as a team of detectives hunting down the mysterious and evasive Mister X, played by the other member of the group. While the box says three to six players, I think this really needs five or six to really motor, and luckily there were five of us.
Back in the days of yore, we could never play this once as everyone wanted to be Mister X. Being part of the team is great, but the challenge of evading capture is so much fun that there could be big arguments over it. Luckily this time there was no fighting and everyone rolled their eyes, sighed and agreed to my somewhat enthusiastic request to be the villain.
In the game, movement takes place using tickets for various forms of public transport (the police being without cars or bicycles for some reason) and Mister X uses hidden movement, but his location is revealed at various stages of the game. Miss B quickly got the hang of this and was soon chipping in to the team discussions as the detectives planned how to close the net on the villain. I noticed something similar when we played Flash Point in a large group a few weeks ago: Miss B gets quite involved in the planning and acts like she is really enjoying being part of the team.
Given our recent discussion on cooperative games, I think Scotland Yard might be in a bit of a sweet spot, being a cooperative game but having a “real” adversary. It’s probably not worth over-thinking this, because we all had fun and, happily for me, Mister X escaped, albeit by the narrowest of margins.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6¼): “Daddy was the bad guy and he won but I still liked it because it was kind of a guessing game and I’m quite good at guessing. I’m not too keen on teamwork games but we went to the right side of the board but just the wrong numbers. That was the best teamwork game I’ve played so far.”
The game: Scotland Yard (Ravensburger), 3 to 6 players aged 10+.
So we finally got around to playing one of the old German classics, Heimlich & Co., which is one of those ludicrously simple games that relies entirely on your ability to bluff the other players. And rather good it is, too. However, I’m always a bit nervous about playing games that involve having to keep secrets with Miss B, as it’s not something that comes naturally to a five-year-old.
…And so it turned out to be. We got a couple of turns into the game and hit the first round of scoring when Miss B inadvertently said “..and I score five”, instantly blowing the secret out of the water. That was not good for morale, so we agreed to start the game again now we had had a practice run and knew what it was all about. Good. That worked.
We got quite a bit further in the next game before things went wrong. Again the identity of Miss B’s agent slipped out, but this time she was quite a long way ahead of me and I managed to convince her that it was OK and we’d carry on and see if she could guess what my colour was.
From here on my play style got a bit cavalier, but by now the aim of the game was to finish with both of us managing to smile, rather than for us to have a good gaming contest. We just about succeeded on this front.
I still think this is a very good game (and I love that the pieces are so huge and chunky), but it’s not one that we’ll be playing together for a while, and it provides an object lesson to us. While Miss B has shown herself to be very capable of keeping a secret in a game (remember Lords of Waterdeep?), where the secret keeping is almost the entire game, the pressure is just too much. Maybe we’ll try again in a couple of years or so.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “I’m very sad that I gave my secret away.”
The game: Heimlich & Co. (Ravensburger), 2 to 7 players aged 8+.
So there we are, finishing a nice game of Ghost Party when Miss B says, “Let’s play a different game and you can try and sneak away from Hugo.”
A bit of a discussion on this and I wasn’t much clearer on the way this would work but, what the heck, I was up for this so we cleared the board and Miss B explained how it will work. We needed a few revisions during play, but this is the game we ended up playing:
- Hugo starts on the -6 step.
- Hugo moves 4 spaces instead of 3 each time.
- When you have someone on the stairs (or in the basement), you have the option of moving them back up the stairs and getting them back into play.
- Our usual kiddie rules of never needing exact rolls to get into rooms and not counting the scores on the steps or rooms.
Ending the game proved a little problematic with people on stairs constantly escaping meaning that eventually Daddy’s “enough already!” clause came into play. B’s idea of the winner being whoever sneaked up the stairs quickest was probably also not the best thought out house rule. However, we had a lot of fun. The faster moving ghost acted nicely against the escaping captives. In fact, I think that if we played until everyone was either on the stairs or in a room, and then actually scored up properly this might be quite a fun variant.
I’m sure we’ll have lots more rule changes suggested from Miss B for this and other games. I’ll continue to report back on them…
Another game of varying names, we have Highwayman, which is also known as Stake Your Claim, a name which I think fits the artwork (and gameplay) rather better. You have piles of treasure and other goodies which you try to claim either from the middle or by stealing from other players. Not entirely ethical, but fun for a quick game.
The rules we have suggest two different variant games. The two-player version seems a bit trivial to me, so we went with the standard game, the only tweak being that Miss B had her hand of cards on the table as she found it a bit tricky to hold them.
We’ve played this a couple of times now and it’s gone down well each time. Miss B is sometimes a bit more interested in the pictures on the cards than anything else (“You can have the house, I don’t want it” versus “Give me back my horses! They’re mine!”), but that’s not entirely surprising. We’ll do better when she can hold the cards in her hand, as more stuff spread out on the table confuses things at times. (Although now I come to think of it, a card stand device might be a good little project.)
Incidentally, we have developed a fun way of counting up scores in our games where you see who has collected the most treasures. We discard our treasures together, one at a time, counting as we do so. Eventually one of us runs out of treasure and the other is the winner (having completed the count, of course).
The verdict from Miss B (aged 4¼ and a bit): “I liked it. It was gooder than the others. Because it was good when we took things and then stole them back.” I think we may need to have a discussion about property and theft.
The game: Highwayman (Ravensburger), 2 to 6 players, age 6+.
There are many labyrinth games out there, all based on the clever sliding tiles that make up a constantly changing maze in which you hunt for treasure. Ours is called Master Labyrinth, although I understand another version with the same name and a dragon came out a few years back. Sadly ours doesn’t have a dragon.
We simplified the game by not using the magic wands or shopping lists. Instead we just raced to collect the items in the scheduled order and then counted up who had the most at the end. Each turn we discussed if Miss B could see a way to get her piece to the next bit of “treasure” and if she could think of a good way to change the maze. I’d then suggest one or two moves and leave her to it — she usually took the advice, and did well out of it, soon claiming the first couple of treasures.
One of the flaws with this game is that if the tiles aren’t perfectly lined up, they can get jammed when you try to slide them, but after initially not wanting me to help, Miss B finally allowed me to assist by straightening things out while she pushed.
We did have a bit of an issue arising later when I picked up a treasure that Miss B wanted: “Waahhh! But I wanted to get the worm.” We paused for a little while and discussed winning and losing, and how the nature of games involves not always getting what you want. She quickly calmed down and agreed that it was OK for me to get some of the treasures. From then on, however, we had some slightly over-the-top celebrations every time she found a treasure, dancing around the room singing, “Yippety yay! Yippety yay!”
Verdict from Miss B (aged 4¼): “I did like it but it’s much more boring than the other one.” (Meaning Enchanted Forest.) I had a feeling that this might have been a tricky game to play, but it went far better than I had expected, so yippety yay for that! We’ll probably pull this out again in a few more months.
The game: Master Labyrinth (Ravensburger), 2 to 4 players, age 10+.
Enchanted Forest is quite a nice family game: you run around the woods looking under trees for fairytale treasures, trying to remember where they are, and periodically stuffing the other players by bouncing them back to the start or switching the quest card at the castle. In fact, this is one game that Miss B’s Mummy will quite happily play. And in fact, Mummy was available, so we had a nice game for three.
Our simplifications for this were that we rolled one die to move instead of two (so fewer options available), didn’t require exact rolls to get anywhere, had no bouncing other players (if you landed on someone, you just moved on to the next free space), we had two turned up quest items at a time, and once a treasure had been correctly located, its tree was removed from the board. Actually the latter rule was only introduced after Miss B (and me too, if truth be told!) forgot that a particular tree had already had its treasure removed, so kept going back to it. We also ruled that you could guess the location of two treasures (one per turn) while at the castle and then you had to go back to the village, and played until all the treasures had been found then counted up who had the most.
The whole thing went pretty well, though it did take quite a long to play, so I was quite impressed that this held Miss B’s attention throughout. She got a little upset about being beaten to some of the treasures, and had difficulty remembering what was where, but went for most of the game without much help.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 4¼): “I liked it but I think the maze game would be easier.” The other option for a game this session was Labyrinth, hence the comment. When pressed, Miss B said she liked finding the treasures under the trees, but it was really difficult remembering where they were. I can sympathise with that!
The game: Enchanted Forest (Ravensburger), 2 to 6 players, age 8+.