Back in days of yore, TSR’s The New Dungeon! Game came out on a pretty regular basis as a fun, fairly sociable game for us hardcore gamers. For an hour or so you trundle around on a dungeon crawl, beating on innocent monsters and stealing their stuff. Sometimes you help other players, sometimes you ambush and mug them. It don’t get much better than that. This is a 1980’s upgrade to a 1970’s game and is pretty dated (though who cares much about that if it’s fun?), but has the advantage of having basic and advanced rules. It also has a large board, which meant that we had to play on the dining table instead of the coffee table, which we usually use.
So we went for the basic rules, which means no magic, no ambushing other players or helping them with big monsters, and simplified combat (though it’s pretty simple anyway). It didn’t take long for Miss B to get the hang of moving and fighting monsters, and she was positively delighted to get hold of the magic amulet that gets you through secret doors (plus a spare, which she was even more pleased with). The victory conditions require amassing (for the warrior characters in the basic game) 20,000 gold pieces worth of treasure, and this is a bit of a big ask for a 5-year-old to keep track of, so after we had collected a few treasures, I did a regular tot-up so we both knew how things stood.
As is often the case, it is the details that attract Miss B the most. The variety of treasures we found were of great interest and she spent some time coveting the gold ring I found and hunting for one for herself. The illustrations and labels on the board were also the subject of much discussion as Miss B wanted to know more about the King’s Private Chamber and other such locations, wondering what had happened to the King and Queen. We could well have a roleplaying adventure based on this one day.
I have to confess to one little cheat: Miss B got beaten in a fight for the last piece of treasure she needed to win the game and the damage roll would have made her lose half of her treasure. This would have been distinctly un-fun for everyone given the stage of the game, so I let her re-roll on this occasion. This goes against my general approach of “tough luck, kid, that’s the game”, so we’ll have to see if there are any repercussions from this later.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5¼): “I liked the special treasure that gave you +1 and the special treasure that allows you to go through the secret doors. I also liked that my warrior only got wounded a bit.”
The Game: The New Dungeon! Game (TSR), 1 to 6 players, aged 8+.
Miss B thoroughly enjoyed laying the tiles out to make the board. In fact, it occurs to me that there is some good opportunity to allow for creativity and let her put the map together however she wants instead of using the regulation layout. Maybe next time. The four treasures have a great look and feel to them and the illustrations on the tiles were a great topic of conversation, so even before starting play we were on to a winner.
I’m not sure Miss B really got to grips with the game mechanics, but the nature of the game (fully cooperative, with all cards visible on the table) meant that I could advise as much as she liked, which in general meant that I would suggest a couple of things to do and she would choose one of them. She was playing the pilot character and loved the idea of being able to fly anywhere and give people rides — this was helped by the fact that she ended up getting all the helicopter lift cards. The only simplification we made was to allow cards to be traded anywhere, not just when pieces were in the same location.
I really like what I have seen of this game so far. It’s a lot of fun as a sort of semi-roleplay game, though I’m sure it would get a lot better with four players. Miss B certainly seemed to like it, so we’ll be playing again. So, over to management for the official word…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 4½): “This game was excellent because both of us won the game. My favourite bit was how the island sinked and I loved it because we escaped on a helicopter.”
The game: Forbidden Island (Gamewright), 2 to 4 players, aged 10+.
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+.