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+.
Here we have another game by the ultra-prolific designer Reiner Knizia: Kingdoms. As with most of Knizia’s games, the rules are short, it’s quick to play, and it’s pretty abstract in style; and as with quite a few of them it is more than a bit mathematical.
The game involves playing tiles onto a grid, and those tiles have pretty pictures along with, in most cases, a number, either positive or negative. You also place cute, coloured plastic castles onto the board, those castles having between one and four towers on them. Then, at the end of the round, you total up the number of points on the tiles in each row or column, multiply by the number of castle towers in your colour in that row or column, adjust for the effects of a few special tiles, and that’s the amount of gold you win (or sometimes lose).
To a lot of people that is going to sound like about as much fun as having your ears straightened, but it’s the sort of thing that I love, and with Miss B’s current obsession with doing maths (we have to do sums on the walk into school in the morning), I figured this could be a good one to try out. The fact that the current edition of the game is beautifully presented (as is usual for Fantasy Flight Games) doesn’t hurt either.
Miss B absorbed the rules almost instantly and within a few turns she was talking about her options and which would be her best move. I needed to point out some of the less obvious options to her, like when a tile placement would harm her score but do a lot worse to me, but very little hand-holding was required here. Even at the points when I put a castle somewhere she wanted to go or placed a hazard (negative points) tile to affect her castles, there was a quick “Grr!” from her and she went right on to do something mean back to me. This is all good.
So I think we have found another winner here. We both like the game (and actually, I think we may be able to persuade S to try this one!) and Miss B seems to be up for playing it some more. I think this may become a valuable addition to the roster.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “I think it is better than it sounded. I didn’t really like the sound of it at first but when I played it, it was pretty good. I give it 9 out of 10 and if I play it more I might like it more and it might go up to 10 if we do.”
The game: Kingdoms (Fantasy Flight Games), 2 to 4 players aged 14+ (just one of those product testing dodges — there is no way you need to be 14 to play this!).
Many years ago I got introduced to Mystic Wood, which was a really cute game where you get to be a knight on a quest and explore a forest by flipping large, randomly arranged tiles representing paths and glades within the wood and drawing cards to see what you encountered on your journey. It had most of the good elements of Talisman, and played in a fraction of the time. Plus it was so big you generally had to play on the floor, and my friend, whose game it was, had blinged his set by replacing the uninspiring pawns with painted up 15mm wargames miniatures of mounted knights.
Anyway, I’ve had an eye open for this long out of print game ever since (and more recently I thought it might be something Miss B would enjoy), until over the Christmas holidays I found a second hand copy in good condition in a shop in Oxford, so bought it right away.
We got to play the game a few days later, spreading it out on the sitting room floor and, at Miss B’s suggestion, using miniatures from Runebound to represent our characters.
The game plays as quickly and easily as I remember, and although there are times when you miss a turn or have nothing to do but trudge across the map or roll a die to escape captivity, turns generally take so little time that it doesn’t matter too much. We did implement a house rule or two to reduce some of the duller “miss turns” effects, but there aren’t many of those. Probably our biggest problem was when one magical effect rotated half of the map tiles, meaning that our previous routes around were no longer possible, causing some very minor frustration for a while until Miss B found a way to start getting herself teleported around.
There is another potential problem in that the quests of the knights can be scuppered by the others. For instance, Miss B was on a quest to find the Prince, but I located him first and could, possibly, have persuaded him to come along with me, meaning that Miss B would have had to catch me and joust in order to steal the Prince from me. This isn’t really a problem as such, but we chose to sidestep this by deliberately evading the objects of each others’ quests. Maybe next time we will play the game a bit more as intended.
In the end, Miss B won easily, with me stuck trying to get past a nasty monster that was blocking off a whole section of the wood while I tried to complete a side quest. It probably took us a little over an hour of actual playing time (we paused mid-game due to a visitor arriving), and felt fun and engaging throughout. Hopefully this will come out a few more times in the next few months. I’m definitely happy with this find.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “I think it was really good, I would give it a 9 out of 10. I give it a 9 because there is a bit that could be improved. I’d give it a 10 if it didn’t have the mystic objects like mystic horn and mystic fog. If I compared it out of Runebound and Talisman it would be good if you mixed them together. Out of the three, I’d think the best would be Runebound because you get special abilities and some of the quests you get are special so I’m always really lucky because I usually get a card that says that if I defeat it then I can defeat another card that has a word saying Ferrox. The card was Mistress of the Ferrox.”
The game: Mystic Wood (Ariel), 2 to 4 players aged 9+.
Abstract games are not really for everyone but, then again, games with prominent themes can put off as many people as they attract. Quirkle seems to have found a place in the world, though, as an abstract game that finds its way into mainstream retailers as a “family strategy game” and is also enjoyed by many hobby gamers. Basically it just involves scoring points by making rows of colours and shapes by placing chunky tiles into a growing cluster on the table (or floor). If you want to see it played, Qwirkle recently featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop show.
We’ve played a couple of games of Qwirkle so far, and I expect we’ll play it some more. Miss B enjoyed the games in retrospect, but during play things got a little… fraught. I think the problem is that Miss B has got to grips with the game enough to know that she is trying to find the best score she can for her plays, but hasn’t developed the instinct for actually seeing good moves. This is the sort of skill that gets learned with repeated plays, but for the moment her turns take a very long time, and often result in her needing some help to spot her best options. She is also having difficulty seeing how you can score “round corners” while only placing tiles in a straight line. This can all lead to frustration and a game that takes far longer than it should.
I’d say we are in a tricky situation at the moment. If Miss B thought about games less, she could probably just play tiles where they look nice and have a good time. If she knew the game better then she’d be able to make stronger plays without help (at the moment she is reluctant to accept help as she seems to feel that she should be able to “get it” herself). All we need here is practice. I think the game is good enough, though, that it is probably worth persevering.
It has occurred to me that if I remove half of the tiles of each type from the game we should have a much quicker game that could work well for training purposes, although we’ll have a lower chance of getting the bonus “qwirkle” plays where you get six tiles in a row.
One serious problem with the game, by the way, is the colours on the tiles. The whole thing looks and feels lovely but in less than perfect lighting conditions sometimes it is hard to tell some of the colours apart, even for people with normally no colour vision problems. Unfortunate. I’ve heard of some people writing on the tiles to help with colour differentiation.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 7): “It’s good, but it’s really, really tricky. My favourite bit when I played it was when I got 18 points doing a qwirkle.”
The game: Qwirkle (The Green Board Game Co): 2 to 4 players aged 6+.
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+.
Castle Keep is another game from Gamewright, who make a pretty impressive range of games for kids/families which are often available in high street toy shops, which has to be a good thing. This one has been on my radar for a while, but we have only just got hold of a copy and played it.
So the game is about trying to lay tiles to complete construction of a castle in a 3-by-3 grid, with towers in the corners, walls connecting the towers, and a keep in the middle. The trick is that tiles come in three colours, and the walls and towers are each in one of three shapes, and you have to match adjacent colours and shapes to each other. You can also knock down sections of an opponent’s castle by playing a matching tile onto them.
Miss B is not generally a fan of direct conflict in games, so we played a game where we were just racing to build a castle. It took a couple of turns to fully get to grips with the shape matching (round towers match with wavy walls, diamond towers to zigzag walls, and square towers to straight walls) but then we were off in full flow with Miss B winning, before insisting that I took some extra turns to make sure I could finish my own castle.
We discussed introducing the attack rules for a second game and Miss B decided to keep them out. Then a few turns in, she spotted that she could knock half of my castle down in one go, developed a twinkle in her eye and announced that she had changed her mind and that it would be OK to do attacks.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6): “I won two games of Castle Keep. It was really fun and we took a few photos. In the first game we didn’t do attacking. In the second game we played a bit and then we decided that we’d do attacking. The best bet about the game was doing the attacking and building the walls. And I would really like to play it again.”
The game: Castle Keep (Gamewright), 2 to 4 players aged 8+.
Café International is quite an interesting tile placement game where you score points by arranging people at restaurant tables according to a few simple placement and scoring rules. The tiles depict cheesily stereotyped (some would say offensively so) men and women from various nations (plus a continent, in the case of Africa), but ignore all that and you have a pretty neat abstract game which I’ve really enjoyed playing in the past.
Miss B spotted the box on the shelf and asked to play it. I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, so a short while later we were setting up on the dining table.
The game is fairly intuitive to play, though some of the subtleties of scoring can be a bit tricky (like what happens when you place a person at two tables). Miss B also obsessed a bit about the bar and the negative scores to be had for late arrivals.
In the early stages of the game it can be quite tricky as you have a lot of space and arranging people so that they have a dining companion can sometimes be awkward. Towards the end, there are only a few seats left at tables and you will inevitably end up with some unplacable tiles, which can get frustrating too.
All in all, I think that the mechanic works well, but the game is a little too big and long to work well for Miss B. A cut down version with easier scoring might work very well indeed.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¾): “Cafe International wasn’t so good because it could have had all the countries scoring four points instead of eight if the tables were full up in the right country. And if you’re at the bar in the minuses it could have been just in ones not twos.”
The game: Café International (Mattel), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.