Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Cardooo - or Card Don't?

This post will be a little bit different.

I was contacted by the people at Cardooo cards and asked if I would be interested in reviewing their product for my blog. The concept sounded interesting, so as agreed I'd like to share my thoughts with all of you.

Just to clarify, I have received review copies of the product, but otherwise have received no money or other benefits for writing this review.

So with that out of the way.....

What is Cardooo?

From the website, Cardooo (yes, there are 3 o's in the name; no, I have no idea why) thinks that greeting cards should be more than just cards. They should be full of stories, activities and games, to create an experience to remember. 
However there is another motivation behind the product - the people at Cardooo clearly believe that their product will help children develop their numeracy and literacy skills; and seeing as the UK has one of the worst literacy and numeracy levels in the developed world, anything that can help improve this has got to be a good thing.
Cardooo aim to make the giving of a greeting card an experience to remember, rather than something that is glanced at once and forgotten.

What am I buying?

Cardooo's come in a variety of types, and all fit a standard sized letter and can be posted in the UK with a first class stamp.

The actual product is a greeting card, with multiple pages inside that open in all sorts of ways to provide the experience of a small book, in a product the size of a greeting card.

Here's an example:

This is the front cover - as you can see, it's the size of a standard greeting card

 The card opened up at the first page.

As you can see the middle pages open out into a very large board game, and comes complete with a paper dice that you can construct.

This particular card has lots of these little pouches throughout that contain more things to discover. In this picture, I've deliberately partially pulled out the hidden clue so you can see it better, but it does fit snugly into the pouch.

Here's a video of that card which probably does better justice to the product than my camera has managed:

So far, so good - what about the price?

Most cards are £3.50, so much more expensive than a trip to the Card Factory.
However, if you're planning to purchase a Moonpig card, then Cardooo are at a similar price point.

Also, Cardooo provide a video of many of their cards so you can actually see what's inside. Here's a video of the Doctor Who card I was provided:

So, what's the verdict then?

So here we are at the sharp end of the review - what do I think of the product, and is it something I recommend you purchase?
Well before I answer that, I suppose I should state my starting point here. I've always thought that greeting cards are a little pointless. Let's face it, when we are kids, all we want to do is tear that shiny wrapping off that big present and find out what's inside, but before we can do that we hear are parents - "wait, open the card first!". So we dutifully open the card, acknowledging that this exciting present has been given to us by Auntie Judy, and then get on with the fun business of tearing that wrapping paper.

Even as adults, how many greeting cards do you actually 'cherish' and read over and over again? I mean, sure it's nice to know that someone has thought of us, but is a card really any better then a post on Facebook, a text or an email?

If that's my starting point, does Cardooo do anything to change my opinion?


I know, I know, I need to be careful not to get splinters in my rear from sitting on the fence, but that is honestly how I feel about this product. It's not a product that excites me and makes me want to rush to the store and buy loads, and for a card it is quite expensive.

But, here's the thing. For children, I can see this being quite a fun thing. Rather than just a card, Cardooo does succeed in making it an experience - whether it's "an experience to remember" is debatable, but a Cardooo definitely has more longevity than a normal greeting card.

And how about the aim of improving literacy and numeracy? Well, this is hard for me to judge - Benji really enjoys reading and maths, and doesn't need any encouragement to read a book. However if your child is more reluctant to read, then the puzzles and short 'reading-bites' (is that a thing?) could be a way to engage your child and start to help them discover the joy of reading. Even if it doesn't help, it certainly can't do any harm!

So after all that, here's my final thought. 
Cardooo certainly won't be a product a buy for a 'regular birthday' - it's just too expensive for that. However, for tht special child in your life, if you were going to spend money on a personalised card from Moonpig, then certainly check out Cardooo - the personalised card is good for a quick chuckle, but Cardooo is so much more.

for further information:

Monday, 9 December 2013

Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?

If you've been following my blog, then hopefully I've piqued your interest in this wonderful hobby, and maybe you're now thinking to yourself  "Ok Neil, these sound great and everything, but I've looked in the stores and none of them stock this stuff".

Well, welcome to one of the bugbears of mine - 'big box' stores don't tend to sell hobby games, as they don't sell enough - yep, it's something that Joseph Heller would come up with.

thankfully though, your friendly (sometimes) blogger is here to point the way - this post will give you some overall pointers on where to purchase these games from, and then leave you with some examples that I have personally used before.

So, on with the shopping guide!


No, don't worry, a cat hasn't just walked across my keyboard. Let's look at these acronyms:
FLGS - Friendly Local Gaming Store
OLGS - On-Line Gaming Store.

In other words, one is a physcial shop, and the other is an on-line retailer (or e-tailer if you insist), and of course there are pros and cons of each.


A FLGS (note you can get LGS which aren't nearly as friendly and should be avoided) is a wonderful place, full of shelves to browse to your hearts content. They will have staff who are quick to help, with recommendations of games to suit your needs. They are great places to meet fellow gamers, and most FLGS have tables where you can actually sit and play the games - usually they even have a store library so you can try games before buying them.

Here are some of the stores I have personally used:

Orcs Nest, London:

If you are in central London, then there is only one real choice. Orcs Nest is situated just off Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square underground station. It's quite a small store, but has lots of cool stuff packed in. Prices are MSRP, but I can forgive that due to their location.

Leisure Games, London:
This is my local store, located in Finchley, North London. It's got a great layout, is well lit and is usually easy to navigate. Parking is easy and free on the local streets, and the staff are excellent - approachable without being overly pushy. It's another store that usually sell at MSRP, but if you're near North London, it's definitely worth a visit.
Facebook link

Spirit Games, Derbyshire:
I discovered this store whilst working in Derby, although the store itself is in Burton. they have recently moved location, and although it's not quite as easy to find free parking in the new location, the move has given the store a much more open and inviting look. I think the old store, whilst great, tended to be a bit 'man-cavey', but thankfully this is now resolved in the new store. Like Leisure Games, Spirit have fantastic staff, willing to help answer questions. Their prices are fantastic too - not only do they sell below MSRP, but they also have bulk order discounts in place.

Shire Games, Stoke:
If you're in Stoke, Shire Games is the place to visit. You have to pay for parking (unless there's a trick I'm not aware of), but it's a lovely store, open plan and very well lit. Prices are slightly below MSRP also with bulk order discounts in place. It's worth noting that they have free shipping if the order is over £50 too.


It's worth noting that all the above stores have websites where you can order on-line, but for this section I will have a look at some of the pure on-line stores.
In general, OLGS are the cheaper option, but they lack the immediacy of the product, and also it's harder to get advice from the staff.
Obviously Amazon sell board games, although a lot of games there are sold by third parties, so beware expensive shipping costs. Besides, isn't it nice to support the smaller stores? 
With that in mind, here are my go to on-line stores.

Paul Lister runs Boardame Guru, and is one of the best retailers I've dealt with. He's incredibly responsive to email requests, and is very active on Facebook too. His packaging is superb, and I cannot find any negatives to his service. If you're in the market for an on-line store, there's no reason not to check out BoardGame Guru. Facebook Link

Games Lore is another on-line retailer with good prices and bulk buy discounts. Reputable and great service.

Free shipping, plus bulk buy discounts - what's not to like?

So, there you have it - if you're looking for a game, hopefully this list gives you some ideas of where to begin shopping. Feel free to add comments below if I've missed your favourite store.

P.S. Bonus points if you can name the film the title is taken from

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Games for Kids - a reponse

On a recent Dice Tower podcast, Tom Vasel had a rant against parents who play 'adult games' with their young children - or to put it another way, people who ignore the 'Suggested Ages' on the box, rather than sticking with games that are designed for kids.

If you've seen my previous posts highlighting my son's favourite games (Part 1 and Part 2) then you will probably realise that I'm one of those parents, and I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to Tom's argument.

Now before I continue, I realise that some people who read this blog may not know anything about the Dice Tower, or Tom Vasel, so let me give you a brief background.
The man himself
Tom Vasel is one of the most prominent members of the board game community, and one of the most respected reviewers. He started out creating written reviews, and now creates video reviews and weekly podcasts (insert links)
The podcasts and video reviews are created under the Dice Tower, and the Dice Tower itself is the flagship product of the Dice Tower network, which brings together lots of board game related podcasts under one banner. The Dice Tower podcast alone has around 330 episodes (at the time of writing) - so it's fairly safe to say that Tom's opinion carries a lot of weight.

So with introductions out of the way, what was his rant about? Well you can listen to it yourself HERE, but in summary I think Tom has three main points:
1) Don't use kids as a bragging right
2) Let kids be kids, they grow up quickly anyway, so let them enjoy the kids game whilst they can
3) Kids are not your gaming partners

I think most people would agree with these points, so why do I routinely ignore the suggested ages and have Benji playing games such as Star Wars X-Wing (14+) , Lords of Waterdeep (10+), Legendary: Marvel (10+), and Krosmaster Arena (14+)?
The guys and gals of Krosmaster Arena

Well, before I answer that question, let me deal with Tom's concerns.

1) Don't use children as a 'bragging right'
Come on, be honest - we all know that there are parents who seem to have children purely to boast about their exploits. Go to any softplay, or coffee shop, or any other place where parents congregate and you will probably hear a conversation that goes a little something like this:
- "Oh, is your son not walking yet? My son could walk at 8 months!"
- "Ahh but he can count to 1,000 and has just started with long division"
- "Oh that's lovely. My Johnny is very advanced at speaking for his age, he's fluent in 7 languages"
I mean seriously, either i happen to live in an area with an abnormally high number of toddler super-geniuses, or these children are all more or less average who happen to do that thing that young children tend to do - advance at different rates.
This, I think, is exactly what Tom is referring to, when he is concerned that people are playing advanced games with their children to be able to brag about that fact:
"My son is 4 and is playing Agricola"
"Well my daughter is 3 and regularly plays TI3"
I hope there's no 3 year old playing this 8 hour game.....
So, what's my response to that accusation? Am I playing these 'grown up games' with Benji in order to brag about it?
I don't think so - firstly, if I mentioned Agricola, TI3, or Lords of Waterdeep to any of my friends, they'd look at me like I was speaking Russian. You see, my social circle isn't made up of gamers, so these references would be lost on them.
Besides, if I wanted to brag, I'd just mention that Benji is fluent in 8 languages, including Latin and Egyptian Hieroglyphics......

2) Let kids be kids, they grow up quickly anyway, so let them enjoy the kids game whilst they can
Again, if you have children, you are probably all too aware of how quickly they grow up - society tends to 'encourage' children to be teenagers before they are ready. Tom's valid point is to refrain from adding to this hastening of the process and just let them enjoy children's games.

In all honesty, I don't really have a counter argument, other than Benji got bored. The issue with children's games, due to their simple mechanics, they tend to not have much variation.
Kids of Carcasonne might be a great game, but Benji hasn't asked to play it for months.
If you're in the UK, you've probably seen Orchard Toys (Greedy Gorilla, Bus Stop and so on), but Benji has long since out grown these.

3) Kids are not your gaming partners

Now, this is an interesting point. You see the problem with board games is that a lot of the time they require other people to play with - and when you have family commitments, organising game nights might be a thing of the past. Some of us are lucky to marry fellow geeks, but if not, then what option do we have? That's right - breed some offspring, wait a few years, and you have a ready made gaming partner.
Well, it worked with Benji at least - not sure I'll be as lucky with Jennifer....

Now out of all of Tom's 'accusations', this one is probably the one I'm most guilty of. I'll admit, it got to a stage when asked for another game of Greedy Gorilla or Crazy Chefs had me desperately trying to find reasons that I couldn't play.
- "Sorry Benji, I need to empty the dishwasher"
- "Sorry Benji, I need to sort the washing out"
- "Sorry Benji, I need to paint the house - with a toothbrush" (ok, this one may be made up).

So, yes your honour, guilty as charged on this one. Playing a game of X-Wing miniatures is much more fun than Crazy Chefs, and if I'm having fun then Benji will have fun too - right?
Admit it - you want to play this
But here's the main reason I like to play these games with Benji - they're a challenge.
As I explained in a previous post board games can develop life long skills in children, and Benji is the type of child that likes to be challenged. It's fantastic watching him develop with these games, getting more and more self sufficient as he understand the rules and mechanics.

So where does that leave us? Tom makes some very valid points in his rant, but I think it's very dependant on your child, and what they enjoy. Some will be happy playing children's games, and some will enjoy the challenge of these more adult games. Whilst I wouldn't suggested starting out children on these more difficult games, don't rule them out entirely once your child has cut their teeth on children's games - you might just be surprised at what they can cope with.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Top Twelve Games - As Chosen By a 5 Year Old (part 2)

So here we are then - Benji's top six favourite games.

Having listened to Tom Vasel's rant recently, there are definitely 4 of these that will be causing his blood to boil. For those who aren't aware of this rant, or who Tom Vasel is, I will provide a response to his rant in a future post - but for now on with the list!

Number 6 - Castle Panic

In truth I thought that this would be a little higher on Benji's list. Like Forbidden Island, this is a fantastic cooperative game for families. We have the expansion, Wizard's Tower, which actually adds some complexity, but personally I prefer playing the basic version of the game. High on drama, lots of decisions to be made, and usually quite close finish. Like a lot of cooperative games, there is a danger of the adult becoming the alpha player, and telling the child what to do, but if you can restrain yourself, and let the child make the decisions on their turn, this is a great game to add to your collection.

Number 5 - Lords of Waterdeep
Don't let the D&D theme put you off
Now I'm surprised this is so high on the list, as Benji usually comes last when we play - however, it's my wife's favourite game, so that has possibly influenced his choice a little bit, as he often suggests playing this to keep her included.
First thing to admit - we take out the Mandatory Quest cards when we play, as they can be a bit mean, and we also keep his Intrigue cards face up so we can help him play them. On all the games on his top 12 list, this is the one that he requires the most help with, which is why I'm surprised it's in his top 5. Having said that, if you want to introduce a non-gamer to the Worker Placement style of games, it's hard to go wrong with Lords of Waterdeep.

Number 4 - Legendary: Marvel Deck Building Game
Typical comic artwork on the game board
Ahh, now what child doesn't love superheroes?
This game is exactly what the title suggests it is - it's a Deck Building Game, set in the Marvel universe (for those non-comic book fans out there, think X-Men, Spiderman, Hulk, Thor, Captain America etc. - no Superman or Batman will be found here).
In a deck building game, each player starts with exactly the same cards; on your turn you draw 6 cards, use them to purchase other cards, or fight the villains. As the game goes on, the cards you have will be stronger, until you can finally beat the super-villain.
This is the game that really helped to develop his reading skill, as like most children, he's determined to do everything himself.
Technically this is a semi-cooperative game, but we play it purely cooperatively. He's completely self-sufficient now, and he really loves this game. It's a fun game that the three of us can play, and the fact it helps develop both his reading and counting skills, not to mention strategic thinking and forward planning, makes it a game I'd be happy to suggest for the family setting.

Number 3 - Ticket to Ride
Look at all those trains, and not a spotter in sight!
I'm also surprised that this is so high on his list, it's another game that might be being helped by "the wife factor". Ticket to Ride is generally regarded as THE gateway game, the perfect game to introduce non-gamers to this peculiar hobby of ours. So, why am I surprised it's this high on Benji's list? Well, similar to Lords of Waterdeep, the usually requires a lot of help from mummy and daddy when he plays Ticket to Ride.
I've posted a detailed review of Ticket to Ride here so I won't go into any further details, but if you're looking at getting into the hobby, or trying to convert new gamers, or you want a game to play with your family, it's hard to go wrong with this classic.

Number 2 - 7 Wonders
I need a bigger table!
Now this was a bit of a surprise to me, I felt sure that this would be Benji's number 1 game - in fact it was, until he remembered about the game below!
7 Wonders is another game I've already reviewed, so go here to learn more about this wonderful game.
Benji now plays this completely unaided, and in fact has even won a few times. We recently added the Wonders pack to expand the game further.
This is such a versatile game, it deserves it's place on this list.

So, what game made the coveted number 1 spot? Any guesses?

Number 1 - Monopoly
That's right, now you can teach your children that spending on a card is fine!
Monopoly - the game where you give you kids money, then systematically take it all away from them, driving them into debt, until finally they are pushed into bankruptcy. Harsh, but I guess it's a way to teach them about fiscal responsibility in life......
Only kidding - if you really believed that my son would be playing Monopoly, let alone make it his favourite game, you clearly haven't been reading my blog properly.....however before we leave the topic of Monopoly, and get to the real number 1, this clip always makes me chuckle!

And finally (for real this time)....Number 1 - Heroscape (Rise of the Valkyrie)
Yep, all this stuff comes in the box!
I suppose before I go any further, it's only fair for me to point out that this game is long out of print, and will not be coming back any time soon - which is a pity as it's an absolute classic game. Everything about this game is amazing - from the way you build up the terrain using these thick plastic hex shaped tiles, to the different creatures you can play as, to the way it has basic and advanced rules for play (note, we've only played the basic rules so far).
Heroscape is a (mainly) 2 player game, and it's a game where two armies battle it out across different level terrain. The miniatures are gorgeous, the whole game is just so durable, and it's so easy to play and understand - so, why was I surprised it is number one on Benji's list.
Well, the main reason, is that we don't get to play it very often. It takes up a fair amount of space (it just fits onto our table), it take a little bit of time to set up, and mostly it's 2 player only so my wife doesn't get to join in. But the fact that as soon as Benji saw the box in the upstairs cupboard, he immediately insisted that it was his favourite game, shows how great this product is.
It's such a pity that you can only buy this second hand now, but if you're interested in a copy, keep an eye on eBay, charity shops and car boot sales. Copies usually turn up, and if you don't want it, I'll gladly take it off your hands for you.

So there you have it - my son's favourite games.
There are some I'm surprised that missed the list:- in truth, I think PitchCar might have made the list, but it's in a cupboard where we don't usually keep games, so I completely left it off the shortlist - oops!
If I'd done this 6 months ago, Sleeping Queens could well have made the list, but I think he's possibly outgrown it.
I'd also be interested if seeing if Krosmaster: Arena will replace Heroscape - we just haven't gotten it to the table enough yet.

As always, I'd be interesting in seeing you comments - any surprises of game that made the list, or games that didn't?
Any great family games I'm missing out on?

Until next time - happy gaming!