Thursday, 28 November 2013

Top Twelve Games - As Chosen By a 5 Year Old (part 1)

It's getting towards the end of the year, a time for reflection, for looking at what we've done over the past year, and what we want out of the new year. 

But rather than that boring stuff, it seemed like a much better idea to have a look at our game collection and see how Benji ranks them. Plus I've just listened to Tom Vasel's rant about games with children, so it seemed like a great opportunity to create a list of my own. In total I gave him 22 games to chose from, and this is how he rated them. Bear this in mind when you ask "why isn't Game X on the list, it's awesome!"

Cue the Eric Summerer voice -over!

Number 12 - Dungeons & Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt (honourable mention)
This box is huge!

Why 12 games? Simply because Benji insisted on having this (and the next game) on his list, but didn't want to remove anything else!
It wasn't a surprise that this game is in Benji's list - I've been wanting to sell it for ages, but he won't let me. We don't play this very often - partly because it takes quite a while to play, partly because my wife will not play it, and partly because it requires quite a lot of space to play, and the floor is now out of bounds due to a one year old in the house!
This is one of three games in the D&D Adventure Game series; Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon being the other two. All three of the games are mainly co-operative adventures, with random dungeons created by drawing tiles from a stack as you explore.
Each time you explore a new monster is revealed, and if you don't explore an event is triggered (which are usually punishing).
Combat uses a simple roll of a D20, trying to hit a target number.
Personally I think the game is too long for what it is, but Benji likes it enough for it to (almost) make his top 10 list!

Number 11 - Takenoko (honourable mention 2)
Cuteness! And a good game too
Ahh Takenoko, possibly the cutest game ever to have been made. How can you take one look at that cute panda and resist wanting to play? Seriously this game just looks amazing on the tabletop - from the cute panda, to the hard working gardener, and the way that stacks of bamboo grow as you play and add a real tactile element, makes this a feast for the eyes. You can keep your '3D HD' television, this is the real thing.
Thankfully this is not just style over substance. There's an enchanting game here, full of decision points that are simple to explain, and easy for children to get to grips with. It's no surprise that Benji insisted on including this game.

Number 10 - Forbidden Island
Can you get the treasure before the island sinks?

This is another game that looks visually appealing on the tabletop, and it's components are durable enough to survive small hands - with the exception of the cards which could be ruined easily. It's also really inexpensive to buy and comes in a relatively small tin, so it doesn't take up a lot of shelf space.
This is another co-operative game (you'll spot a theme here), and there's always something to keep the children engaged. I'm a little surprised this didn't come higher up the list, it would probably make my top 3.

Number 9 - Dungeon Roll

Dungeon Roll is a new game for our collection, which is possibly why it features this high - I think Benji is definitely a card-carrying member of the Cult of the New!
Like Forbidden Island, Dungeon Roll is a very inexpensive purchase, and this takes up even less space on the shelf. Game play is essentially a press your luck dice game, but with quite a few decisions to be made during the game. It can play up to 4 people, but honestly this is a game that is best as a 2 player game, or even a solo game. Great components, great presentation, and a fun little game.

Number 8 - Augustus
Don't judge a game by it's boring cover

When I first saw a video of Augustus (or Rise of Augustus as it's called in the US), I was under-whelmed. It didn't seem all that interesting or exciting.
Well, I'm happy to admit that i was wrong - this is a phenomenal family game, playable by very young children. It also plays up to 5 players, and there's no real advantage for adults.
You see, Augustus is basically a version of Bingo - no, don't stop reading!
It's a game that takes the Bingo mechanic, but makes it fun. Unlike Bingo, this is a game where there are decisions to be made every turn. It has simultaneous game play, so there's never a chance for children to disengage and get bored. It plays in around 20 - 30 minutes, which is perfect for a family setting. Definitely a great choice for this list, and a game I would recommend to any family.

and finally.....Number 7 - Mice & Mystics

Mice and Mystics is the 3rd co-operative game of this half of the list, and is one of my favourite games to play. It would probably be a little higher on the list if we played it more - and if I could get Hayley to play it.
It has a long play time, but it's actually quite easy to have "save points", where you can note down progress and return to the game at a later date.
Of all the games listed, this is the adventure game that captures the imagination the most, and really draws you into the story. In fact I've used the story book included in the game as a bedtime story before.
Very highly recommended.

So - there we have it, the first half of the top 12 is done - and what a nice mix of games.
3 Co-operative games
3 Fantasy games
1 game set in Japan
1 game set in ancient Rome

What will make the top 6 games? Let's see your predictions below, and come back in a few days when the rest of the list is up.

Until then, Happy Gaming!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Board Games? Or Bored Games?

So, if you're reading this article, then you are either a fan of boardgames, or someone that my wife has badgered to read this to make her husband feel popular. Either way, you might find this article interesting.

Now let's put aside the fact that it's in the Daily Mail - let's face it, I wouldn't want most of the people who read the Daily Mail anywhere near my house. But still, I think the article raises an interesting debate, and possibly a sad commentary on our society.

For those who can't be bothered to read it (or those who don't want their delicate eyes to come close to reading anything put out by the Daily Mail, I'll summarize.

Essentially the article is a list of do's and don't's that one should consider when hosting a 'gathering' at their house.

And it starts with the headline: Board games? What a bore! Being asked to play is considered one of most annoying things when visiting a friend's house

Now admittedly if the board game in question is Monopoly, then I might agree with them. But here's the odd thing.

Who does this? 

Is there anyone out there who invites people round and expects them to play games without prior agreement? 
In my circle of friends, I own more board games then anyone, and yet I have never inflicted a game on anyone. Sure, some are on display, and if people are interested and want to play, I'd be happy to introduce them to a game - but I've never invited them round and then forced them to sit through a game.

Of course if you read the article, it actually says "1 in 10 people resent having to play a board game", but why let pesky things like facts ruin a good headline. After all, did you see how the geniuses managed to create a pun based on the the "board / bored" similarity? 

But read a little further - go on, I dare you. Fine, I'll read for you then. 
"The same number expect a good host provide them with a wi-fi password". So for those keeping score at home, 1 out of 10 people that you invite over, come to your house to browse the internet, using your data allowance. 
That's right - so rather than doing something sociable, like playing a game together, 10% of people expect you to feed and water them whilst they surf on their mobile devices.

Is this a reflection of society? We'd rather sit, surfing the internet and checking Facebook, rather than talking and interacting with people who are sitting in the same room as us? 

Reading further into the article, 31% of people are "offended in they have to fend off a pet" - that's right, they come over to your house, knowing you have a dog, and are 'offended' that the dog isn't shut outside.
And a whopping 19% of people resent having to take their shoes off.

So let's put all this together. 
10% of people don't want to play board games
10% of people demand wi-fi passwords
31% of people are offended by pets
19% of people resent taking their shoes off

This adds up to people who don't want to socialise, demand pets are kept elsewhere, and don't care about ruining your carpets. 
For once, the fact that they read the Daily Mail is the least of their problems.

Friday, 15 November 2013

What to play instead of........Monopoly?

In this series of posts, I will take a look at some 'family favourite' games, and look at modern boardgames that you might want to play instead.

This has been inspired by Scott Nicholson, who produced a video which broke Monopoly into it's component parts, and suggested some games that use that particular aspect of Monopoly, but in more interesting ways. My list however will focus on games that are playable by young children.

Now why is this list important? Well, I've made my dislike of Monopoly clear (see my earlier blog post for details), but it goes slightly deeper than that. Monopoly was first developed in 1903 (when it was called The Landlord's Game) so it is now over 100 years old. Isn't it about time we explored more modern games? There have been some incredible advances in gaming design over the intervening years, but yet most people ignore that and stick with Monopoly.

Odd isn't it? I mean we don't ignore advances in music over the past 100 years do we? People aren't just listening to the early work of Al Jolson for example. For all the fault with modern pop (and without wanting to sound too much like my dad....) just think of the songs and artists you wouldn't have experienced. The Beatles, Elvis, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Queen, to name a few.

Now, do the same exercise with books, or with movies. No Gone with the Wind, Catcher in the Rye, Star Wars, Toy Story, Lord of the Rings and so on. Not many people would suggest that they are happy just reading Jane Austen novels, and ignore anything written after 1900, so why do we limit ourselves when it comes to games?

Anyway enough of the preamble and justification. Here are some games to look into if there are certain aspects of Monopoly you enjoy.

I really enjoy rolling a dice and moving!
'Roll and Move' is one of the simplest game mechanics out there and is usually derided by modern gamers. The reason being is that it takes your choice and decision making away. In Monopoly, you roll your dice and you move that number of spaces along the track.
However, it's an elegant, easy to understand mechanic, so it definitely appeals to some people. If only there was a way to make it more interesting. If only there was a game that young children could play which took this mechanic and still provided some opportunity for quality decision making.

Step forward, Formula D - a motor racing game that uses roll and move in an interesting way. The board features a typical track, split into spaces, and it features dice. So far, no difference. However, the dice are where the game shines. There are different sized dice depending on what gear your car is in. D4 for first gear, D6 for second gear, all the way up to .....for sixth gear. You can shift up or down one gear per turn without taking damage. Simple the - just shift up as far as possible, and roll the big dice, right?
Well, no, it's not that simple. Like most racing tracks, the board feature corners, and each corner has a number by it. Each player has to stop in the corner as many times as indicated by the number - therefore like real racing you cannot just keep speeding as quickly as possible (rolling the biggest dice).
Each turn then turns into an interesting decision - do you push your luck and stay in the higher gears, or play it safe, chose the smaller dice, but lose time getting back up to speed.
A great game for children, and it plays up to 10 players - perfect for birthday parties and family gatherings!
An example of a corner - players need to stop at least once!

I really enjoy collecting sets of things!
Set collection features in so many games, there's is a veritable feast of games to pick from here.
Ticket to Ride is worth looking into (see detailed review here:) A player needs to collect sets of cards in order to claim sections of the track, which will gain the player victory points.
Forbidden Island is another great co-operative game to play with young children. In it, players need to collect sets of treasure cards to be able to collect the four treasures in the game. It has a short play time, limited text and is a game that should be in every family's collection.
The cards in Forbidden Island

I enjoy crushing others!
So the main part of Monopoly is beating others - forcing them into bankruptcy and removing them from the game. This can be a difficult mechanic to deal with in a family environment, particularly when young children are involved, as not many people like destroying children.
However there is one family game that is just plain mean - and yet remains a really fun game in a family environment.
In Survive! Escape From Atlantis each player has 10 meeples that they place on the board - the board is made up of individual hexagonal tiles that are of three different thickness's. The coast tiles are the thinnest, than the forest tiles and finally the thick mountain tiles. A player's turn consists of 3 actions. Firstly they can spend three movement points, divided amongst their meeples as desired. Secondly they remove a tile from the board (simulating the sinking island), dumping any meeples that are on that tile into the sea. Finally they roll the dice and move a sea creature as directed. The object of the game is to try and get as many of your meeples safely to the mainland, whilst trying to get your opponents meeples eaten by the sharks or sea monsters. Definitely a worthy addition to any family's collection, it can be played by children as young as five, and still be enjoyed by adults.
It's not looking promising for the Yellows....

I like Trading!
Trading is a difficult mechanic for young children, as often they aren't really sure on the relative value of things. However there is an inexpensive game that you may wish to consider if it's the trading aspect that you really enjoy - and that is Jaipur. Jaipur is a game that has a trading theme, and there's also an element of trading, although you actually trade with the game, rather than the other player.
In Jaipur, the aim of the game is to become the Maharajah's personal trader, and you do this by having the most points at the end of the game. Each player has a hand of cards, and there is the marketplace in the middle, made up of 5 face up cards. On their turn a player can swap cards in their hand with cards from the marketplace, to try and get sets of goods that are worth more points. Because there are strict rules about how you trade, this is one of the more accessible trading games, so would be my recommendation for young children - although for this game I would probably not play with children under the age of 7 or so.
Note: this is a two-player game only, so not perfect for all family's, but it plays quickly enough that you could take turns playing.

I love the Auctions!
Like Trading, Auctions is another mechanic that doesn't really suit children, for much the same reason - children find it hard to value the worth of goods, and therefore auctions are a bit beyond them (we all know what happened when Jack took the cow to market....)
So, I've had to cheat a bit for this category, and will recommend SmallWorld. I will do a detailed review of this game soon, as my son really enjoys it, but the brief overview is as follows. SmallWorld is a game of map conquest, much like Risk - however unlike Risk a player is never eliminated, instead at any point they can chose a new race and come back onto the board.
Each player chooses a race and power combination face up from the offering, and this is the part of the game that is similar to an auction. The first player chooses first - they can take the top race / power combination for free - alternatively they can put a coin on that option and go to the next choice. Now they can take the second choice, or put another coin on that one and go to the third choice.
In this way, players give up coins in order to take more 'powerful' combinations - but as the game progresses these weaker options are worth taking as they have more and more coins put onto them.
So, it's not an auction in the true sense of the word, but it has the same idea of "how much is this worth to me" that players need to consider.
The 'auction' part is on the left

So hopefully that gives you an idea of modern game to play that provide certain aspects of Monopoly, but in a far more interesting and entertaining way.

If there are any games I've missed that could fit into these categories, I'd be interested in hearing about them

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Review - 7 Wonders

7 Wonders is a card game that let's you build one of the great cities of the ancient world. Gather resources, develop commercial routes and affirm your military supremacy. Build your city and erect an architectural wonder which will transcend future times.

Wow - sounds a bit more impressive than "travel round a board, buy up properties and bankrupt your friends and families" doesn't it? Let's take a look at how it plays, and more specifically how it plays in a family setting.

What's in the box?

Facts and Figures:
Published - 2010
Publisher - Repos / Asmodee
Designer - Antoine Bauza
Number of Players: 2-7
Mfg Suggested Age: 10+
Playing time: 45 minutes
Honours: Kennerspiel des Jahres 2011, plus too many others to mention. 
Mechanic: Card drafting, Tableau Building

Side A of the Rhodes board

How to play:
For all the grandiosity described in the description above, 7 Wonders is, at heart, a card game. Not a traditional card game like Rummy or Whist, but a card game.
The central mechanic is card-drafting - this is where each player is dealt a hand of cards, chooses one to play, and passes the rest to the player on the left.  

The game is played over three ages, and the aim of the game is to score the most points at the end of the game. Each age has it's own deck of cards, and these cards are marked with the number of players on them . For example, in a 5 player game you would remove all cards that say 6+ or 7+ on them.
The Baths - an Age 1 card

At the beginning of the game, each player is randomly assigned one of the 7 Wonders boards. These boards are double sided, and again the players randomly choose whether to play side A or side B. Each player is then given 3 coins, and then the Age 1 cards are dealt out, so that each player has 7 cards. Then the game can begin.
The 7 boards
Each player looks at the hand of cards they were dealt, choose one card to play and place it face-down on the table. Once all players have chosen, the cards are revealed and resolved simultaneously. The remaining cards are then passed to the player on the left, and the next round begins. This repeats until each player has two cards remaining - at which point they play one and discard the last card.
Some example of the cards
That brings an end to the first age - at the end of each age, each player compares their military strength with their immediate neighbours, and gain positive or negative points depending on their relative strengths.

What does 'playing a card' mean? On each turn a player has 3 options to play a card: 

  • They can either pay the cost and place the card into their tableau, gaining use of that card
  • They can discard the card face down, and get 3 coins
  • They can use the card, face down, to build a stage of their Wonder.
As you can see in the picture above, there are different colours of cards, Each colour has a different effect:
  • Grey and Brown are both resource cards, which are used to play other cards
  • Blue are Civic cards and give you victory points at the end of the game
  • Yellow are Commerce cards and either provide coins or resources, or makes it cheaper to trade
  • Red are Military cards, and provide military strength for the end of Age battles
  • Green are Science cards, and provide victory points, but need 'set collection'
  • Purple only appear in Age 3 and are Guild cards. These provide victory points at the end of game, based usually on what you or your neighbours have done in the game.
That's the basics of the game - there are rules regarding trading, and the Wonders' special powers, but in essence you play 18 cards over the course of the game, then compare scores at the end.

7 Wonders is an interesting game. It's certainly not a Gateway Game - despite the fact it plays in around 30 to 45 minutes - just look at the fact it won the Kennserspiel des Jahres and not the more 'family friendly' Spiel des Jahres award , and yet at the same time, it's quite accessible to new players. It's got a great amount of player interaction - not only do you trade between players, but you need to watch what other players are doing as you will be passing them the cards you don't play, and you need to make sure you aren't giving them a card that is really useful to them. 
The different Wonders go a long way to help decide your strategy, but you find that depending on what cards come up, you might change your strategy half way through the game.
It's also worth mentioning how the game changes at different player counts. With 3 players the game is a lot more strategic, as it's possible to try and work out what each player is likely to do with the cards you give them, and which cards will still be left by the time that hand comes back to you. As the player count increases, the game gets more tactical, as you will only see each hand once, so you have to react to which is the best card to play. 
The really great thing about this game though is that an increase in the player count doesn't really affect the game length - and nothing ruins a game for children than one that takes too long to play.
The end of a 3 player game

Modification for children:
We don't make any official modifications for children, but we occasionally allow Benji to take back his cards and chose a different one, and also there are times that he asks for help - the great thing about 7 Wonders is because there is no hidden information it's really easy for the player who just passed the cards to Benji to then help him chose what to play if he asks for help.

Skills used:
Forward planning
Decision making

Benji's opinion:
I'll keep this one simple - this is Benji's favourite game, bar none. In fact, the interesting thing is that Benji loves to win - and yet he will play this game despite him never winning until last weekend. With every other game we've played, that long losing streak would have probably caused him to not like the game, but not with 7 Wonders. 

The joy he felt when he finally won a game (and it was a legitimate win, neither Hayley nor myself let him win), was so lovely to see.

Hayley's opinion:
This is another game that Hayley is always willing to play. Whilst not her favourite, it's probably in her top three. I've introduced this game to a few non-gamers and it seems to be well received.

My opinion and final thoughts::

7 Wonders is a phenomenal game. It's versatility in player count, the fact it appeals to children, non-gamers and gamers alike, and does all this in a play time of 45 minutes means it is so easy to get it to the table.
On Boardgamegeek, it's currently ranked #14 overall, and #1 in Family Games. It has over 30 international awards.
Definitely a great game and one that should be in most people's collection.
The winning player