30 December 2007

Phase 10

I try not to be a snob, but it isn't easy. None of the people in my social circle share my love of research so it is tempting for me to pull a "Well, actually . . ." on them. When my family hears the song "Hallelujah", all they think of is the movie Shrek. It is so much more than that, but I just bite my tongue.

What does this have to do with boardgames? I only have a few people to play games with, so I don't want to alienate them with my game snobbery. When one of ABM's best friends was excited to share a game called Phase 10 I had to control the urge to sniff derisively and stick my nose up in the air. I mean, even though this card game is easily available at any discount store, there was still a chance that it could be a good game, right?

Before I share my final opinion of the game, let me give a brief overview of the rules for those who have never played. Phase 10 is a deck of of cards in 4 different colors, numbered 1 through 12. There are also Wild cards and Skip cards. Each player gets 10 cards and on your turn you draw a card and discard a card. The goal is to complete each of the 10 phases, which are rummy-style combinations of cards. Everyone starts at Phase 1, which is 2 sets of 3 matching cards (such as three 3s and three 12s). You can't put down your phase on the table until you have it completed. Once you have completed your phase, you just discard a card when your turn comes around. When someone has no more cards, the round is over. Cards still in your hand are added to your score, which is bad because lowest score wins if there is a tie at the end.

OK, did I like this game? I would have to give a qualified "yes". It is a step up from Uno, and I think it is a good introduction to rummy-style games. I wouldn't mind adding this game to the mix of other light games that we tend to play. However, it does run a little long for me. Although I don't always agree with the recommendations on BGG, I have learned to take heed if several users say that a game outstays its welcome. We played using the Master edition rule that says you can work on the phases in any order, and it still felt like a long game to me. If we had played with the original rules (you must complete phase 1 before you can work on phase 2), then I think it would have added at least 30 minutes to the game. Since the adults don't get together to play that often, we try to play a mix of games. Long games like this are a downer for me on game night, but I wouldn't mind playing it on a Sunday afternoon with the kids.

23 December 2007

Year of the Board Game?

We are late shoppers in this family, so we didn't start buying Christmas presents until today. This isn't usually a problem for us, but it was today. DJ requested a copy of Game of Life: Twists and Turns. However, the board game shelves at Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, and Target were more picked-over than a turkey the day after Thanksgiving. I don't know whether people are being brainwashed by all the commercials that say boardgames are perfect for family night or parents are buying them because they don't know what else to get.

I estimate that 1/3 of the kids who come to play at our house like boardgames; the rest of them can't seem to wrap their heads around anything more complicated than Candyland or War. I wonder if any of my kids' little friends have requested boardgames for Christmas this year. Hopefully, one of them gets that new Game of Life and invites DJ over to play!

21 December 2007

Give me your DS picks!

If you have been reading my main blog or have seen me on Twitter during the past couple weeks, then you know that I have the Nintendo DS on the brain. I acquired several units for the kids at a price that I can live with, and now I am looking for games. I'll be going Christmas shopping this Saturday (I know, I know!) and I would like to have some good games in mind to look for. Here is what I have in mind so far:

Pokemon Diamond or Pearl
Mario Kart DS
Bomberman Land Touch
Chibi-Robo Park Patrol
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales

Let me know if you have had any experience with these games and what you thought of them. So don't be shy -- I know that many boardgamers also play video games :-). Give me your recommendations or let me know what games are real dogs!

13 December 2007

Any board and card game recommendations?

Although I think that the kids have been enjoying the board and card games that I test out on them, I still worry that they feel a bit like lab rats. Imagine my surprise when my sone DJ actually requested board and card games for Christmas. He didn't give me a list of specific titles, however, so I am turning to the five of you who may still be reading this blog for recommendations.

DJ is mad about Pokemon and Naruto, but he hasn't really played the CCGs with the proper rules. The games we have played that he likes a lot are Incan Gold, Give Me the Brain, Bang!, and Escalation. The only two games he has mentioned that he wants are Battleship and Game of Life: Twist and Turns. Any suggestions?

02 December 2007

Game Review: Pass the Ewe

Pass the Ewe is a card game for 3-6 players. The rules are available for free on the Invisible City website. Although many of their games are print-and-play, the only thing you need to print for this one is a reference card for the scoring. To go along with that, you need a standard deck of playing cards and some sort of totem to pass around. The creators used a toy sheep, hence the name Pass the Ewe. We used a fluffy green teddy bear named Clover. Grown men look so cute playing with teddy bears :-).

The game rules seem simple at first. The deck is divided into five suits -- the four usual suits plus a fifth one called royals which is made up of all the jacks, queens, and kings. All the cards are dealt out to the players evenly; the remaining cards are put to the side. The first person plays one or more cards of the same suit. The next player needs to play cards to beat those cards or pass. If you play cards that make all the other players pass, then you take all the cards in the middle of the table and put them in a stack in front of you called your wool pile. You also get the totem and the 1-point bonus that goes with it. That is the end of the hand. If all the players still have cards, play another hand. Continue playing hands until someone runs out of cards; that is the end of the round. Whoever has the totem at the end of the round gets 2 bonus points. Anyone who still has cards in their hands will get negative points. The cards you have gathered into your wool pile are positive points. The first player to reach 100 points wins.

Easy, right? The tricky part is the ranking of the suits. Here it is:

Suit Ranking:
Hearts beat spades and clubs. Clubs beat hearts and diamonds. Diamonds beat clubs and royals. Royals beat diamonds and spades. Spades beat royals and hearts.

If the most recent play was one heart, you can play one club, or one spade, or two hearts. You can not play more than what you need to beat what was played; you can’t play three or more hearts or two or more clubs or spades.

I played a game with 3 adults and played again with 2 kids. Both times I had to look at the reference card during the whole game. Even my husband, who has a pretty good memory for such things, had trouble keeping it straight. I thought it might get better with the second game, but it didn't. Each player had to glance down at the reference card every time and it slowed down the gameplay.

What's the bottom line? I like the scoring system and, as I said before, it is kind of fun watching my husband and his friends get so happy about gaining possession of a stuffed animal :-). I just think the gameplay would go more smoothly if the game was played with specialized cards. I recently purchased a copy of the card game Escalation and it occurred to me that it plays almost like Pass the Ewe except in reverse. If you have a good memory, then Pass the Ewe may be your game.

22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

One of the things I am thankful for -- my new job -- has kept me away from updating this blog. However, I have still been playing games and I definitely want to talk about them. I'm also waiting for a few new-to-me games that I picked up on eBay to arrive. So have a good meal, count your blessings, and join me back here after the holiday for some new content!

03 November 2007

Game review: Ghoulash

This week I received a review copy of Ghoulash, Scenario Pack 1. Ghoulash is a pen-and-paper dungeon crawl for 2 players. The company website also refers to it as an advanced version of Battleship, and I would say that is accurate. Both players get an identical scenario sheet with grids on it. Each player places items, obstacles, and ghouls on her obstacle grid which she hides from the view of her opponent. There is a movement grid above the obstacle grid where each player marks her movements as she calls them out to her opponent. As soon as she hits something, the opponent lets her know and her turn is over. In play, my kids sounded a bit like this:

"I'm moving north 4 squares, then I'm turning left and walking two squares until I get to the door. Then I'm going south --"

"Uh, oh! You hit a debris field and got hit in the head with a block of concrete. Take a wound point!"

The bad guy of the game is the ghoul. He would be the equivalent of your battleship, in that you want to sink him. Each ghoul is divided into 6 zones. When you find a ghoul on your opponent's map, she secretly decides which one of those zones is the soft spot. Then you call out numbers one at a time trying to find the soft spot. When you call out the right number, that is a hit and the ghoul splatters.

To win, you either have to meet the goal of the scenario (in the sample, you have to be the first to find the cache of food and return to the shelter) or outlast your opponent. When I say "outlast", I am referring to the wound points. At the bottom of your sheet there is a wound meter. Each time you fire at a ghoul and miss or hit a debris field, you get a wound point. If you rack up 15 wound points, you lose. However, there are first-aid kits hidden out in the field. Each kit can only be used once. The strategy the kids used is to find the kits but don't use them until they were close to death. You can't pick them up and carry them with you, so you have to run back and get them. This is where marking your path accurately comes in handy!

The scenario pack itself resembles a comic book. There is a slick cover and the pages themselves are newsprint quality. The basic rules are in the front of the book followed by enough charts to play each of the 3 scenarios 4 times. They are perforated so you can easily rip them out of the book for play. The book also contains a 4-page comic and special rules for each of the 3 scenarios.

Here you see my daughter M (top right) and my son DJ (bottom left) with 2 of their friends enjoying the game. We found that game boxes set up between the players are perfect for shielding your obstacle grid. The game designer recommends putting the sheet on a clipboard for more portable play.

So what do I think of the game? It plays a little long for me, but I wouldn't mind playing it with my kids every once in a while. It sure beats Go Fish! I don't think I could get my adult gaming buddies to play it; they prefer more raucous games with a party-game feel. M, DJ, and their friends enjoyed it, though; I ended up printing a copy of the sample scenario for one of the friends so he could play with his dad. The kids liked it from the very first play, but reading the comic and the scenario briefings added more life to the game. Now I have more of an inkling of what experienced gamers mean when they talk about a theme fitting with the mechanics. The kids were able to visualize themselves going into different buildings and fighting ghouls. I didn't think Ghoulash would be something that they would play a lot, but both my kids and their friends have requested it several times after the initial play test.

Ghoulash scenario packs (pack 1 is available now and pack 2 is due to be released shortly) are sold at game shops around the country as well as online. At $6 a pack, they are inexpensive enough to make a novel stocking stuffer for your kids. If you want to try before you buy, the game creator informed me that a PDF of the sample game should be back up on the Ghoulash site shortly.

17 October 2007

Game Carnival #8 for 17 Oct 2007

Welcome to the Game Carnival! Have we got some special rides for you! Try not to eat too much cotton candy, though; I really don't want to clean up that mess :-).

Seriously, we have gaming-related entries from all up and down Blog Street. Click on all the links -- maybe you'll find your new favorite blog.



James Lewitzke presents Top 10 Awesome Monopoly Variations posted at Toptenlisted. It is a list of Monopoly variations he would like to see created. Googopoly might get me to play the game one more time :-).


You didn't think I was going to run a carnival and not set up my own stand, did you? Scroll on down to read my post about Fluxx.


Over at The tr00f, Matt is already predicting that Bioshock is the Game of the Year.

Alfonso at Valhalla TV is conducting an experiment in making money with online videos of exhibition games.

Keira Peney presents Does a pretty box cover mean good sales? posted at Write the Game. It looks like a bit of research went into the writing of this post.


Thus concludes the eighth edition of the Game Carnival. If you are interested in hosting an edition of the carnival or contributing a post, contact Jeff over at Play2Relax. See ya in two weeks!

11 October 2007

Game Review: Fluxx

Fluxx starts out with one simple mechanic: draw one card, then play one card. No other rules are given at the outset, which truly makes this a game that you have to play to understand. Whenever we bring it to the table, newcomers go "Huh?"

Basically, the 84-card Fluxx deck can be broken down into four categories. There are Actions, Goals, Keepers, and Rules. The Rules cards change the "draw one, play one" mechanic. The Action cards can cause people to do things like switch hands or draw extra cards. No one knows what the winning condition of the game is until someone plays a Goal card, but it usually involves someone having a certain combination of Keeper cards in front of them on the table. That's it!

There are several varieties of Fluxx. The rules are the same but there are a few different cards thrown in based on the theme. The creators appear to be aiming at all segments of the gamer community because they have Christian Fluxx and Jewish Fluxx alongside EcoFluxx and Stoner Fluxx. The biggest departure from the basic game is their new edition called Zombie Fluxx, which adds undesirable keepers called Creepers to the mix. I've been thinking about adding another Looney Labs game to my collection, and I think that Zombie Fluxx may be it.

I will acknowledge that Fluxx is a game that gets a lot of flack from serious boardgamers because of all the randomness. In my opinion this is a game isn't for them; it is for new gamers. It has a sense of whimsy that isn't bogged down with heavy strategy. I've also noticed that kids pick up on this game much more quickly than adults do. If you are a fan of unpredictable play in your games, then I would recommend Fluxx.

Friendly Local Game Store vs. Online Shopping: A Compromise?

I was on the website for the game Ghoulash looking at their retailer list. I don't think I have a game shop in my area but I've learned from my experience with the online knitting community that if I check the websites of products, I find local stores that I didn't know existed.

Anyway, I didn't find a shop in my area but there is a game shop in Durham that takes online orders. It occurred to me that this might be a good compromise for me. Part of the argument for shopping in a brick-and-mortar store is to support local business. Shopping online at at North Carolina store keeps the money in the state and that is better than nothing, right?

10 October 2007

Game Carnival in one week

Gameguy, the owner of the game carnival over at Blog Carnival, has asked to me to host the next one on 17 Oct. So if you have written a game-related post on your blog recently, send me a link so I can add it to the carnival post. This carnival is about all kinds of gaming -- card games, board games, video games, whatever. I would prefer it if you didn't send a link to a year-old post, but if you think you have a well-written post from the days when only two people were reading your blog, go ahead and send it!

09 October 2007

Back and ready to play!

I'm back in full effect! Unfortunately, I didn't get to play any games on our cruise but we did introduce the idea to our traveling companions. Of course, as soon as we said "Let's play cards!", the first thing the women said was "I'm no good at cards." That's because everyone around here automatically assumes that playing cards means poker or spades or (in the case of our black friends) bid whist. I can understand why the women hesitate. I don't play spades with ABM. He has so many years of experience playing that game that he is unable to play it casually any more and gets frustrated with me when I mess up. That is one of the good things about introducing people to new games; the women are more likely to give a game a try once they realize that the men don't have the advantage over them. Anyway, since our cruise buddies live in our subdivision I think we will be able to coax them over to the house for a game night.

I have several games lined up to try. It is just a matter of finding time to play. With ABM working extra hours to cover the loss of my regular paycheck and the kids having more homework this year, it seems like no one has time to play with me :-(. However, I will find a way to squeeze a few games in and report back to you guys.

27 September 2007

Sailing away

As I mentioned, I'm going on holiday tomorrow. That means this blog will be silent for a week, but I'll be back! I plan to return rested, refreshed, and ready to post on a more regular basis. With any luck I'll get to play a few new card games while I'm gone. See you soon!

26 September 2007

Games are my shield

ABM loves to socialize. He is at his best when he is in a big group of people. I am not so lucky. Even if I know several people in attendance, I am uncomfortable in a room with more than four people. If I don't have a task or a purpose, I get fidgety. I was the girl at the party who helped the hostess pick up empties instead of flirting with guys on the dance floor. Nowadays, that translates into me carrying my knitting everywhere; if I don't have anything to say, I can always concentrate on my hands and people don't think much of it. Unfortunately knitting doesn't work in all situations. For those times, I keep a deck of cards tucked in my purse. It may sound strange, but if I am teaching someone a game I feel like I have a reason to be there.

At first, it was difficult for me to pull out a card game at someone else's house. I didn't want to hijack the plans that the host may have had. It has gotten easier, though. First off, most of the couples we know don't have a plan for a get-together beyond what we are going to eat. Secondly, I think I'm getting a reputation as the game girl. When we go to someone's house, the couple brings up playing a game so I don't have to. They now expect me to pull something fun out of my purse.

ABM said that he didn't want to play games on this cruise because he didn't want to do the same stuff he does at home. However, I've got Poison, Word Thief, and some playing cards in my purse, anyway. I have a feeling there will be times when we don't have anything planned. For instance, we are flying to Miami the day before we have to board the boat but we don't want to spend money on renting a car and seeing the sights. Several other people in our cruise group are going early, too, and staying in the same hotel. Break out the cards!

24 September 2007

Moola: Not quite ready for prime-time

I signed up for the Moola beta and got my invitation today. Moola is ostensibly a casual game site. It has an appealing pseudo-gambling structure that is sponsored by ad dollars. Every new member is given a penny and they can play a game against any other player that has a penny (the site has an auto-match feature for players). If you win, you double your money and can play on the next level. If you ever lose your money down to zero, the site gives you a penny to start over. As I said, it is very appealing for people like me who want to gamble a little but not with my own money.

As far as I can tell, Moola's real business is as a get-paid-to site. I already belong to a couple GPT sites (CashCrate and Gangster Greed) that pay you to take surveys, and Moola has similar features. There are invitations that you can give out which are really referrals that will earn you a percentage of the winnings that your friends earn. There is also a Booster Zone where can get paid to sign up for free trials of services such as RealNetworks.

What about the games? Well, that is where Moola falls off. Right now, there are only three games. Hi-Lo is a card game where you guess whether the next card you are dealt is going to be higher or lower than the last card. Ro-Sham-Bo-Ful is Rock-Paper-Scissors with a karate theme. Gold Rush is a game where you try to pick a nugget that weighs more than the nugget your opponent picks. All games are played against real people, but there is no skill involved. It is all guessing. I think I would get bored out of my skull before I even got to the $40 rung! Unless they add some games that have a little strategy, Moola will suffer the fate of the other GPT sites I belong to -- just something I do for about five minutes a week to kill time.

19 September 2007

Casual Games = Family Games?

The results of a recent survey on casual games suggests that such games promote familial bonds. Some might find the results a bit suspect since it was sponsored by Popcap, one of the leading publishers of casual games. However, I can tell you that the results reflect how casual games are played in my house.

My kids' first casual game was Tumblebugs, a garden-themed Zuma clone. I remember ABM pushing me out of the chair after a few minutes to see if he could last longer than I did. It didn't take long for the kids to get in on the act. It was the first time since Tetris was popular that I had seen kids comparing high scores.

The current craze in my house are hidden object games like Mystery Case Files: Huntsville. All the kids gather around one computer and hunt for the objects. They've learned new words like spigot because the games use different names for the same objects as you get to the higher levels. My kids don't fight a lot, but they have their share of disagreements. These games always have them working together in harmony, without anyone arguing about whose turn it is in the computer chair.

Lately, I've noticed that the casual games are getting deeper. That may seem like a contradiction, but it's not. Many of today's games involve more strategy and trickier puzzles to challenge a player. However, they maintain the frequent save points that make a game casual. I welcome more challenging games, not only for myself but also for the kids. With their group brain power, they can finish all the levels on a simple game in a week. I'm looking forward to games that they don't devour so quickly!

Time for another game carnival!

Go visit the 6th edition of the Game Carnival! There are articles about all kinds of games there. My favorite is about a lawn game called Kubb. Since the pieces are just wooden blocks, I bet I could get my handy husband ABM to make a set for me in no time. September is the perfect time to play outside with the kids, now that the miserable summer heat has let up a bit. Anyway, go visit the carnival and find your favorite article!

18 September 2007

Thanks for your feedback!

I appreciate all the kind comments from experienced hobby gamers and bloggers. I promise I will read them in a more timely manner in future :-).

Nathaniel Todd said,

"You mention in a post (it may have been a different one) that you don't have access to a veteran gamer to help explain new games to your friends, and I agree that with most designer games that would be a big help. Given a few curious friends and a couple hours, however, I love to just open up a new game and figure it out."

It is encouraging to know that even experienced gamers have to slog through games. It makes sense, really. When a new game is released, someone has to be the first to play it. Unfortunately, my adult group isn't very patient when it comes to learning rules (especially my husband ABM). They expect me to know the game before I present it to them; if they have to struggle even a little, they want to fall back on our old favorites of Pounce and Poison. That's why I test games on my kids first. They are more patient about learning rules and they make good coaches for the adults.

In response to my Clue post, Mark suggested that I try Clue DVD. My husband is also interested in trying a DVD-based game. Now that we have a laptop with a DVD drive, this game is much more possible. I can't see crowding a group around the TV in my tiny den! Commenting on the same post, Nathaniel said that a game has never worn out its welcome with him. All I can say is that he has either been extremely lucky or he has a higher tolerance that I do :-).

Dumb, dumb, dumb!

I just noticed today that I have several comments on some of my older posts. For some reason, I thought that when I chose the option "send notification to my email address when someone comments" that it covered all my blogs. Now I realize it is only for my main blog. Duh! I hope I haven't scared anyone off by not responding to comments. I'm off to read my feedback :-).

Changing my focus a little

I originally started this blog to talk about board games and card games. While I still want to feature them, I would also like to add casual games (PC and online) into the mix. My kids, who are my main game group, have more homework than they did in previous years so we haven't been playing cards as much as we once did. ABM, my husband, has been putting in a lot of overtime so the adult game night is on hold for now. That leaves me to play games on the computer. Rather than let the blog go silent, I want to write about what I am playing in the interim.

One thing I don't want you to worry about is me posting reviews of shmups (shoot-em-ups) or other hardcore gamer games. As a wife and mother of four kids, I have too many other responsibilities to go gonzo over the big games. My taste in computer games is a bit more retro. I will be following the same guidelines I follow for picking board games: cheap or free to get and easy to learn. I hope you will stick with me!

17 September 2007

Many ways to play Ingenious

Ingenious started life as a board game by Reiner Knizia. Now there are several places that let you play it online, as well as a PC version that you can download and play offline. As I mentioned before, I downloaded the PC version. Since I don't belong to a big gaming group, playing computer versions of these games is the only way I can try before I buy.

Let me give you a brief outline of the rules. Ingenious is a tile placement game. Each tile consists of two hexes stuck together. Each hex has one of six symbols on it and each symbol is a different color. On each turn you place a tile so that it is touching the same symbol (for example, yellow circle next to yellow circle). You score one point for every matching symbol next to the one you placed. So if I placed a green circle next to a row of four green circles, I would get four points. The game ends when there are no more empty spaces for tiles. At that time, each player looks at the color on their scoring track that has the least points; that is your score. The player with the highest score wins.

Ingenious is a game that lends itself well to being played on the computer. It reminds me of a lot of the casual games that are popular on the internet right now. I don't think I would want to play it against bots that often, and that's not because the bots beat me all the time :-). This game just seems like it would be more fun at a table with live players. With games like this, I am not very good at picking the best move, so I get my enjoyment from chatting with friends. Still, the computer game served its purpose -- it let me test-drive the game.

I'm pretty sure that I want to buy this game now. It is moving to the top of my list. The rules are simple enough that the kids can play it without adult supervision. It is also perfect for our friends who are prone to forget game rules from one session to the next. The scoring is similar to the other Knizia game that I own, Poison. That will increase their comfort level. I can't wait to get this one in the house!

Places to play Ingenious online:


10 September 2007

Game called because of . . . eww!

I know that I owe you guys a description of Ingenious, but I ran into a little trouble. I will spare you the details of my yucky illness; let's just say I was too delirious to string 5 words together. Hang in with me and I will get that review up soon!

02 September 2007

Computer version of Knizia game "Ingenious" for free

The Reiner Knizia "Ingenious" is the current freebie at the site Giveaway of the Day. You have to download and install it today for the game to be fully functional. I've downloaded programs from GotD before and they have been a hit-or-miss affair. However, I am going to give this a shot and let you guys know what I think. Of course, you don't have to wait for me -- go over there and download it for yourself!

23 August 2007

Join me at the carnival!

The blog carnival, that is. For the uninitiated, a blog carnival is almost like an e-zine. A host comes up with a theme, then different bloggers contribute links to posts on their own blogs that fit the theme. It is similar to the link posts that blogger do from time to time, except bloggers send in their own links rather than the host scouring the internet looking for them.

Anyway, Yehuda is hosting a game carnival. Yes, I'm plugging it because I contributed a post, but there are other great posts besides mine. Although I focus on board and card games in my blog, I also play computer games. One of my favorite post in this edition of the game carnival talks about indy adventure games. I loved adventure games back in the 8os; the only reason I don't play them now is because I am too afraid of getting sucked in and neglecting my chores!

There are several other intriguing posts in the carnival that will lead you to new blogs you haven't read yet. The best thing is there will be another one next month!

19 August 2007

Session Report for 19 Aug 2007

PLAYERS: Me, ABM, CJ, Libby, and Josh

We started off with a game of Pounce, as usual. It's our favorite warm-up game. Then Libby bowed out to go to a meeting. That left 4 of us to play Word Thief and Mexican Train. These games were new to CJ and Josh, and ABM and I haven't played them in a while. Thank goodness for the internet, so I could go online and refresh my memory as far as the rules!

--Word Thief is a card-based word game. Each card has a letter, a point value, and a suit. Basically, each player makes a word on her turn. If the word is made of cards that are all the same suit, it is all yours. If it is a mixed-suit word, then another player can steal it to make a new word with it. There are bonus points for using all your cards in one turn and for making words longer than 4 letters.

This game doesn't get great reviews on Board Game Geek. One of the complaints that I saw repeated was that all players could just stick to making protected words and take all the challenge out of the game. That may be true in theory, but my group didn't find it that easy to make protected words. Josh won our game by a big margin, but it was because he racked up bonuses for long words.

--Mexican Train is a domino game. There are many variants so if you want to play it with your friends, make sure that everyone knows the same rules. The basic idea is to get rid of all your tiles, either by matching pips at the end of your own row or the row that another player is building. It is a quick and easy game that is perfect if you want to chat while you play.

Libby came back to collect her husband and we played a couple rounds of Poison before they left. I don't usually get to play games with adults 2 weekends in a row so I enjoyed myself. With cooler weather on the horizon, this may turn into a regular date. I need to buy more games!

My aversion to Clue

Eric Mayer wrote a post last week about his attraction to Clue that made me start thinking about the game again. I've always lumped Clue in with all the other American games that were in almost every house when I was a kid. Although I don't think board games are exclusively for kids, there are some games that I don't play because they are part of my childhood. As with many things, my philosophy is "So many XYZ, so little time." Why stick with the same old games when there are so many others to explore?

Anyway, that isn't the reason for my aversion to Clue. It is all my husband ABM's fault, really. Early in our marriage, I discovered that he had never played Clue. This was unimaginable to me. We went right out and bought a copy of the game. That was when my nightmare began. ABM fell in love with the game. He wanted to play the game every time we got together with friends. We played it so much that my fond memories of the game have been replaced by the sense of boredom I felt during those sessions. The desire to move Clue to the back shelf propelled me to research and find other games for us to play.

I'm wondering now if enough time has passed for us to bring Clue back into the house again. My kids have never played it, and I hate the idea of depriving them of a culture reference point. ABM still has the tendency to request the same games again and again, but these days he is leaning toward fast-moving games. I think the danger has passed.

14 August 2007

Why we play filler games

In issue 110 of The Escapist (an online gaming magazine), there is an article about casual gaming. Although the author is talking about video games, I think that some of the same principles apply to board games. In our hobby, casual games are called filler games or beer-and-pretzel games, but the reasons why we play them is the same.

Toward the end of the article, the author lists some reasons that people have given for being attracted to casual games.

The first true generation of gamers, people who grew up with console systems and PCs in their bedrooms, is aging. Members of the MSN boards had this to say about why they play casual games:
"I still enjoy posting high scores, even if my days of spending hours online are over now that I've got two kids."
"The shooters I loved tend to get [me] wound up, and these days I can only play in the late evening in the hour or two before bedtime.
"I just want to chill after a long day. A game should be a game, not a job."
"The games take more skill than people realize. There's twitch and strategy, but I don't have to deal with a massive, complicated controller or spend four hours on a learning curve. I just settle in and play."
"My kids took over the Wii and the PS3 takes too much effort these days."
Nearly every anecdote was along those lines. Coincidence? Could it have been a measure of maturity, all along?

So, what reasons would my husband and I give for why we choose filler games?
--We play games about once every other month so we want to squeeze in as many games as we can.
--Since we don't game on a regular basis, we have to refresh our memories on game rules almost all the time. This is easier if we stick to simpler games.
--As someone said in the article, we don't want gaming to feel like work. If I want to play something challenging, I stick with a PC game. When I am playing with friends, I want to build memories of us laughing and drinking and playing games together.
Comments on Board Game Geek suggest that serious board gamers frown on filler games. The very name "filler game" means that it is something you play until all the players arrive for the "real" game. For our group, though, filler games satisfy our gaming hunger just fine.

Session Report for 12 Aug 2007

Games Played: Pounce, Fluxx, Poison

My group for this session consisted of me, my husband ABM, his friend CJ, and the couple who just moved in across the street, Libby and Josh. Pounce and Poison went over well with Libby and Josh, who had never heard of either one of them. Their previous gaming experience matched mine: the children's games that everyone had on their shelves (Candyland, Monopoly) plus some classic card games in Josh's case (poker and cribbage). Fluxx seemed to be fine with everyone except my husband. As I've mentioned before, he doesn't like the chaotic nature of that game.

The scorecard:

--CJ won Pounce, as he does quite often, but Libby made it a close game for a while. She won the first few rounds before CJ turned the score around.

--I won Poison; it is one of the few games I ever win. Even though people say there is a lot of luck in that game, I have built up a strategy of sorts that has served me well.

--Libby won Fluxx. She was a bit confused by the game in the beginning, so I had my daughter C2 sit with her. C2 is only 10, but she is the best card player of all my kids and the only one who can hold her own with the adults. I'm not surprised that she led Libby to victory.

What scares off new players?

I have found that there are certain things, even in supposed "gateway" or beginner games, that scare off my group of friends. One of them is unfamiliar game mechanics. The way that many designer games work is counter-intuitive to someone who grew up on basic American games like Life or Uno. For instance, many of the card games like Bang! or Fluxx require a player to draw a card first and then make a play. This trips my friends up every time because they are accustomed to playing games where drawing cards is a penalty.

Another thing that puts my husband off are games where most of the instruction is on the cards. Before I started researching games, his favorite card games were Uno and Spades. In those games, the gameplay is pretty much the same for every player. I thought he would like the newer card games because he likes games with a bit of a "take that" aspect. How wrong I was! He found Bang! to be confusing, and Give Me the Brain! to be chaotic. The gameplay didn't move fast enough for him because everyone had to read their cards to figure out what to do next.

Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride are usually mentioned as good gateway games, the sort of games that will draw people into the hobby and prepare them to play more complex designer games. Just from reading the rules I can tell that these games would only frustrate my group of friends. If you are like me and don't have an experienced player to present games to your group, then you should look for a game that has only one unfamiliar mechanic. That way, you won't overwhelm your friends and they will be more open the next time you show up with a new game.

10 August 2007

Game Review: Pounce

Pounce is always the first game that my husband wants to play when we have folks over, so I figured it was natural that it be the first game I recommend here. This is a fast-paced game that is easy to learn and will definitely break the ice if there are several members of your group who don't know each other.

There are commercial versions of Pounce under the names Nertz and Dutch Blitz, but they only accommodate 2-4 players. If you want to play a big game like we do, use standard playing cards. Be sure that every player has their own deck of cards and that each deck of cards has a different back. It will make it easier to separate the decks later. Pounce can be a bit rough on your cards, so I wouldn't pull out that souvenir deck you bought on your honeymoon to Niagara Falls. We usually buy decks from the dollar store for 50 cents each.

The short description of Pounce is that it is a game of group solitaire. If you know how to play the patience game Klondike (which is the version of solitaire found on most Windows-based PCs), then you are halfway to knowing how to play this game. Each player deals out a pile of 13 cards with only the top one face up. This is your Pounce pile. Then each player deals out 4 face-up cards that serve as the basis for the work piles. The object is to be the first to get rid of your Pounce pile by playing the cards on either your work piles or on the aces in the middle of the table. The twist that makes the game interactive is that each player isn't confined to playing cards on the aces from her own deck; she can play on any of the aces in the middle of the table as long as she follows the correct suit.

Since all players play at the same time, it can make for a hectic and funny game. It is great for loosening up new players, which is why I think my husband always likes to open the game sessions with it. I found a Nertz video on YouTube that gives a sense of the spirit of the game. You can't really see the suits on the cards, but it will give you a feeling for how quickly the game moves. In Party Game Central's entry on the game, it is noted that Pounce is usually a silent game. As you will see from the video, I think most people avoid that rule.

There is an official group devoted to the game called the National Nertz Association. Through their website I found that there are places to play Nertz variations online. If you use MSN Live Messenger, they have a version called Solitaire Showdown. It is only for two players, but you get a taste of how the game works. I say, if you are going to spend all evening chatting on an IM client, you might as well have some fun while you do it.

If you want to try something different after dinner with friends, I would say that Pounce is the first game you should learn. I have yet to meet anyone who is familiar with Pounce or any variation of it, but everyone I've introduced it to has loved it. If you have played this game, leave me a note in the comments section.

08 August 2007

Game Rules: They aren't always perfect

In episode 8 of the podcast On Board Games, presenters Erik and Donald discuss the poorly designed rule books they have come across in some board games. I've been lucky in this area. Up until now, most of the games I've played have come from major American companies like Hasbro and Milton-Bradley. These companies target their games at families, so the rules are clear enough for Mom, Dad, Grandma, and all the kids to understand. When you leave the shallow end of the board game pool, however, the water becomes a bit more rough.

I may not have a lot of experience with boxed games, but I have been experimenting a lot with free game rules that I find online. There are many sites dedicated to free gaming; they provide the rules and you provide the bits (cards, markers, board). Some of the games are simple to understand, while others made me give up in frustration. My tendency is to believe that I am too dense to understand the game. After all, the rules were printed (or posted online) so someone must have proofread and edited them, right? It must be my fault that I don't understand them.

The beauty of online communities is that people can discuss their experiences. I'm glad that podcasts like On Board Games and resources like Board Game Geek are around to remind me that designers aren't perfect. Confusing rule books do make it into print. There are typos, poor layouts, and other errors that can make game rules learning a new game difficult. If you are like me and jumping into the board game hobby without the guidance of a local game group, keep that in mind.

05 August 2007

Gaming Podcast: The Spiel

When I discovered podcasting near the end of 2005, most of the shows in the gaming category were about videogames. Slowly some shows about roleplaying games and miniatures showed up, then the family boardgamers came out of hiding. I think I've listened to almost all the podcasts devoted to boardgames, and The Spiel is my current favorite.

The Spiel is hosted by Stephen Conway and David Coleson. While they maintain the casual air of two friends sitting in the living room, the show is divided into different segments that give it a polish not found in many independent podcasts. Conway and Coleson must have listened to other podcasts and took notes about what works and what doesn't work. From the very first episode they sounded smooth and in control.

My favorite segments are Back Shelf Spotlight and Game Sommelier. Back Shelf Spotlight is the segment where Conway and Coleson talk about older games and games that got very little press. The choices range from modern Eurogames to public domain chestnuts such as cribbage. Game Sommelier is a challenge between the presenters. One of them picks five games that fit a certain criteria (such as games for a wine-tasting party) while the other votes on how well it was met.

I would recommend this podcast to boardgaming newbies because of the presenters' focus. Conway and Coleson embrace the idea that any game is worth playing as long as it is fun. You won't find any snobbish attitude toward party games or beer-and-pretzel games on this show. Go check it out!

02 August 2007

Games Magazine

Although I started this blog primarily to talk about board games, I felt that I needed to devote at least one entry to the magazine that first exposed me to the world of hobby gaming. In the days before I owned a PC, I entertained myself with crosswords and other paper-and-pencil games. After years of the supermarket variety, I found Games Magazine and it was a revelation to me. The puzzles are more witty and challenging than anything I've found anywhere else.

How does this relate to board games? Well, in the back of every issue of Games Magazine is a game review section. When I first subscribed years ago, it only covered board and card games. Nowadays they also review console and PC games. There are also articles about the hobby, such as interviews with game collectors and reports on game conventions. Right before the winter holidays, Games Magazine puts out a "Games 100" issue with an expanded review section. I used to pore over the Games 100 issue each year and wonder what it was like to play those games. That planted the seed for the New Year's Eve game parties that I would host with my husband years later.

With the advent of widespread internet access, I doubt that many people turn to Games Magazine these days to learn about the latest Ticket to Ride expansion. However, for those times when you want to entertain yourself away from your computer, I still recommend it. Studies show that crosswords and other word puzzles help to stave off senile dementia, and Games Magazine provides some of the best.

27 July 2007

The Why of This Blog

Why do you want to listen to my advice on games? That must be what you asked yourself when you stumbled upon this site. Well, first off, I want to emphasize that I am not an expert. I don't have a large board game collection, and I don't expect it to grow very quickly. I don't work in the industry, either, so I don't have any inside information.

What you will get from reading my blog is the opinion of a middle-aged wife and mom who enjoys playing card and board games. I am also a person on a budget, so you will get a lot of info on free card game rules that you can find on the internet and games that you can make yourself with a printer and some card stock. I may even cover some options for trying out online versions of board games before you buy them.

What style of games do I like to play? My group of friends is filled with beginners. They want to have quick fun and they don't want to learn a lot of rules. This means you won't find me reporting on any marathon wargaming sessions. We play what board game aficionados call "beer and pretzel" games.

Who do I play games with? Since the adults only get together every other month or so, my children are my main gaming partners and test subjects. This means that you will read a lot about how games work with kids.

Hopefully, I can provide you with a different perspective than other gaming blogs. More importantly, I hope I encourage you to turn off the TV and engage your family and friends in a game or two!