27 November 2008

Observations after my first try at Rock Band

There hasn't been much gaming going on around my house, so when my kids saw that the neighbors had Rock Band they jumped at a chance to play it. I even lent my vocals to a couple songs. It was a fun way to wind down after a big meal.

I think that people underestimate the amount of musicality required to be good at rhythm games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Dance Dance Revolution. If you are familiar with the song before you ever play the game, then you will know the rhythm and react more quickly when the colors pop up. I'm not a good singer at all, but I scored well on Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" because I love that song. I've been singing along with it for years, so I knew when to stop and start and when to raise and lower my voice.

--When Guitar Hero came out, many musicians hastened to remind people that playing the game is nothing like playing a real guitar. While that is true, you still have to have a sense of rhythm to be good at these musical games. My daughter M, who has been in her school band for five years, rarely misses when playing guitar in the game.

--Playing the drums in Rock Band comes closer to playing real drums than the guitar controller comes to real guitar. If the person playing the drum controller is doing well, you can mute the TV and hear a definite rhythm in his tapping.

--Singing well on Rock Band does not mean that you can sing. Most of the songs my neighbors had on their version were classic rock tracks that I grew up with. I am a lousy singer, but I scored high on songs like Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive". Whether you are singing or playing in the game, it helps to know the song well before you start.

16 September 2008

Games I Tried to Play

Although I enjoyed my recent train trip, I had trouble sleeping. While everyone was snoozing away, I took that opportunity to try a couple games that have been sitting on my laptop for a while. I may not play these games in their entirety, but I definitely learned something about my preferences.

First up was the demo for Rooms: The Main Building. It is available at Big Fish Games. Although casual games tend to feel repetitive to me, I don't mind playing them in small doses. Usually the graphics are pretty and if you need a match-3 or a hidden-objects fix, casual games are perfect for that. However, I didn't get much enjoyment from this game. Rooms: The Main Building is a category of casual games that I hadn't tried yet -- the sliding puzzle. The instructions for this particular one were confusing and even after I figured them out, I didn't feel that there was much game for me to play. Basically, the player has to rearrange blocks so that the online character can walk through the rooms in the correct order. If this is the best example of it, I may never try another one.

Next, I attempted a spin on an old adventure game classic. Remember Sam and Max? I didn't read the comic book or play the computer game when it was released in 1993. In fact, I never even heard of the characters until last year when I saw that they had been revived in episodic game form on GameTap. I downloaded episode 201 to give it a whirl. It was more entertaining than Rooms, but I was stumped in no time. My ability to work through the puzzles in adventure games hasn't improved with age. Give me a good walkthrough to help me when I get stuck. Either that, or a 10-year-old. It took my son DJ five minutes to solve the puzzle that stumped me for 20. If nothing else, Sam and Max reminds me that my kids have creative thinking skills.

13 September 2008

Popular Games for Playing on the Train

Well, I am back from my family trip. As usual, I had high hopes for playing games with my family, but the cards barely came out. We didn't play anything until the train trip back home. The kids and adults had separate sessions of Landlord!, and the boys gave Ghoulash a try.

The lounge car on the train was a perfect place to play. Even when the tracks got really bumpy, the cards stayed put on the table. There was enough space on the table top for four players to play Landlord! comfortably. I think we could even play Pounce. It was definitely more fun than traveling by plane.

01 September 2008

And . . . we're off!

Tomorrow is the day! We're off on our big family trip. I still haven't quite decided what games to pack, but I work well under pressure :-). Hopefully, I'll have plenty of material for the blog when I come back since we should have several opportunities to play cards. In the meantime, the blog will be quiet unless I get a chance to post from the hotel on Wednesday. See you soon!

29 August 2008

Games to play on a train?

"No, I will not play it on a plane,
And I will not play it on a train . . ."

Sorry, I had a bit of a Dr. Seuss moment while I was thinking of a title for this post :-).

The whole "fam damily" is going on a trip this coming Tuesday, which starts with a 15-hour train ride to Florida. The batteries for our various electronic devices (laptop, Nintendo DS, smartphones) won't last that long. I'm on the hunt for other free, compact entertainment options. I'm packing my knitting, a copy of Ghoulash, and several copies of Games magazine. Now I'm searching for either simple free print-and-play games or rules to games that can be played with standard playing cards. Anyone have any suggestions?

26 August 2008

Board Games On Screen

This morning, I fired up the demo for Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble while the kids were getting ready for school. It's been sitting on my hard drive for a while so I had forgotten the description I read that made me want to try the game. One thing I definitely forgot was that this game is styled to look like a board game on screen.

I'm not a fan of a board game interface on computer or video games. I'm not talking about games like Scrabulous, which allows you to play Scrabble with your online friends. The ones that bug me are the imitations of roll-and-move games, whether they are original or a digital recreation of a classic like Monopoly. Pressing a button to roll dice and then letting the computer move your piece is terribly dull. The thing that makes this type of game bearable is when you are playing with your friends and laughing about the text on the board or on the cards. A computer-generated partner doesn't have a great sense of humor.

Even the board-style video games that you can play with friends don't impress me. I've tried two different incarnations of Mario Party, which is supposed to be a great party game. My kids like it, but I didn't have any fun. Not being able to see the whole board at all times is frustrating for me. The mini-games are OK, but I didn't feel invested in my character or beating my opponents the way I usually do with a regular board game or another style of video game.

As I said, there are many board games that make the leap to the screen rather well. I wouldn't want to deal the fiddly scoring of Ingenious on my own, so playing it on the computer is ideal. I just don't see why a game that didn't start out on the table would want to go with a board-game layout when there are so many other options available. I haven't played enough of Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble yet to make up my mind about it, but the layout does give me pause.

17 August 2008

Where my gaming head is at

School will be starting for my kids on 25 Aug, and in this house that means more game time! We don't allow our kids to watch TV or have lots of visitors on school nights, so I want to give them something to do that doesn't make them feel like they are trapped in the house. Once school work and chores are done, I plan to engage the kids in more card games. Our game repertoire has gotten stale, so I can't wait to test some games on them.

There is another gaming opportunity coming up for us right after Labor Day. We are going on a big family trip and the first leg of the journey involves a 15-hour train ride. There will be about 20 of us taking the train, so I'm sure at least a few of them will be open to playing cards.

Once we get this trip out of the way, I plan to go back on the hunt for inexpensive board games on eBay again. ABM is getting bored with the games we've been playing, even though he is the one who insists on playing the same games over and over :-). The top of my wish list is High School Drama, but I'm not sure if he would like that. It looks like we may be visiting my sister and her husband every other month, so I am also interested in games with a real estate theme. They really got a kick out of Landlord! so I need to find some other Monopoly replacements. I may have to spend some quality time with Board Game Geek. If any of you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along!

12 August 2008

Tired of MySpace? Roll Your Own!

I've never been interested in joining sites like MySpace or Facebook, partly because they are too general. I looked around MySpace and didn't see anything to do. Half the people don't update their blogs so there isn't anything to read, and I am not into randomly befriending people. Even my teenage daughter M found MySpace dull. So when Ravelry, a social network for knitters and crocheters, I was ecstatic. It gave me a place to discuss patterns and yarns as well as seeing what else other people are knitting. There aren't many social networks that are devoted to specific groups, though. That's where sites like SocialGO come in.

SocialGO is a social network builder. It is owned by Bright Things, a company created by former executives of the video game company Eidos. It is similar to Ning, although I like the look of SocialGO better. My eldest daughter M's high school has a website that is rarely updated. I could see her starting a private page for herself and her band geek friends. It would also be great if you were running a game group and wanted to have an online spot where members could keep up with events. SocialGO seems to have all the functions that either group would want: instant messaging, profiles, forums, photo and video sharing, and communal blogging.

SocialGO has free or premium options. The big difference between the two is advertising. If you don't mind SocialGO running ads on your network, then go for the free option. If you want your site to be ad-free or if you want to make a little change by putting your own ads on the site, then you can sign up for a premium account. A paid account will also get a few bonus features like live video and audio chat.

Currently, SocialGO is in a closed beta testing phase. If you would like to sign up for the beta, leave a message in the comments and I will email you the code. If you start an account now, you get to use all the premium features for free until 01 January 2009.

Brought to you by your friends at www.socialgo.com

09 August 2008

Board Game Night with Sis

I'm in GA visiting my sister and her family. Usually when we visit, it is for a special occasion and there is a strict timetable; in fact, we were here a few weeks' ago for my niece's Sweet 16 weekend. However, I wanted us to have a visit where we could just sit around, eat, and play games. So here we are!

My sister K and her husband AJ are big on Scrabble, but they don't play much else. They don't even keep a deck of cards in the house! When we showed up this weekend, I was surprised to find that they bought another game -- Catchphrase. The quickest way to describe Catchphrase is that it is similar to Taboo but with fewer restrictions on what you can say or do to get your team to guess the word. The game goes so quickly that we were able to play three times in a row. I have to admit that I was getting a little bored by the third game, though. Party games are fun to me as a warm-up, but I find that most people like to play them way more than I do. Still, I was glad to see my sister branching out.

ABM's choice of game for the evening was Landlord!. Gameplay took an hour, which was longer than I expected. The first game we played with our neighbors only took half that time. The extended gameplay in this case probably had something to do with K and AJ's playing style. My sister and her husband are rather analytical players, so they had extensive questions every time ABM and I laid down a card. They've never played a hobby game, either, so some of the game mechanics were unusual to them. K kept shaking her head and saying, "Who comes up with a game like this?" Overall, though, I believe they enjoyed Landlord!. They certainly got into the theme, being property owners themselves.

We still have one more game night, and I think we will either play Pounce or Word Thief. That is, unless AJ wants to play Landlord! again. I won last night, but he came in a close second. He would have beaten me if he had listened to DJ, who was coaching him. I think that AJ may want a rematch :-).

06 August 2008


Landlord! is a card game designed by Friedmann Friese for 2-6 players. It was published in 1992 and distributed here in the US by Rio Grande Games. For my friends who are new to hobby gaming, this is a game you would most likely have to order online if you don't have a specialty gaming shop in your area. I bought mine from Amazon for $12. Board Game Geek has a more in-depth explanation of the gameplay; below you will find my impression of the game.

As the name suggests, the basic idea of this game is being a land owner. Each person builds apartments and tries to fill them with wealthy tenants, while putting the deadbeats in their neighbors' apartments. You can also blow up other landlords' buildings, but don't get caught without an alibi!

There are two unusual game mechanics in this game. One is that each card does double-duty. You can turn the card on one side to use it as one of the apartments in your building, but that means you can't take advantage of whatever is on the other side. It could be a tenant, an alibi, or a chance to cheat another player out of his rent. So with every turn, you have to decide how each card would benefit you most. The other twist is that you have to pay money to draw cards. This causes more decision-making because you win by having the most money at the end of the game. You don't want to buy more cards than necessary and deplete your bankroll.

The card art is in a slightly grungy, black-and-white cartoon style. It is my understanding that earlier versions were a bit vulgar, and you may read that in reviews. However, the Rio Grande set that I got is perfectly child-safe -- other than the fact that you can blow up a building or murder a tenant, of course. At least the alibi cards don't picture an orgy like the ones in the German set! The cards themselves are not flimsy, which is a good thing because my kids also like playing this game. As for other components, I would recommend the use of poker chips or paper money. My copy of Landlord didn't come with anything to use for money, and I don't like keeping score on paper. I have two incomplete copies of Monopoly, so I borrowed the money from that. If you want something that matches the art style of the game, you can download this file and print your own money.

Landlord! is less complicated than Bang!, but it is still more complicated than any other game I've attempted with my adult gaming partners. The information on all the cards is in English (at least in the Rio Grande version) and there are no strange symbols to interpret. I think the theme elements of building apartments and collecting rent are more intuitive than pretending to be cowboys, so the game flowed more easily even when we flubbed the rules.

ABM, my husband, likes Monopoly and I wanted to find a game with a similar theme that could be played in less time. Also, I wanted something that had a board game feel but with a card game price :-). I think this fit the bill. It takes us about 35 minutes to play, but that might decrease once everyone is a bit more familiar with the rules.

28 July 2008

Puzzle Hero

Puzzle Hero is a casual game published by Genimo Interactive. You play a warrior girl looking for her brother Tristan who has been kidnapped. You battle monsters along the way by playing a match-3 game. Different actions play out on the top half of the screen depending on what type of item you match. Sound familiar?

It is difficult not to call Puzzle Hero a simplified version of Puzzle Quest because that is what it feels like. Some areas benefit from being pared down. For instance, I understand my powers and my opponent's powers more easily in Puzzle Hero. There is only one kind of mana in this game, instead of the four different types in Puzzle Quest. Collect enough mana and cast a spell -- easy as pie. I also like actually seeing my character attack the opponent instead of having a static headshot in the corner.

There are downsides to a simple game, as well. There isn't much of a story. I played for an hour and after about 15 minutes I forgot that I was supposed to be searching for my brother. I just felt like I was battling monsters. There is a salon and shop in Puzzle Hero, but the salon doesn't have that many choices and isn't really worth visiting. The shop has some items that increase your defenses but I didn't feel like my character was much stronger after I bought them.

I would say that if you have never played Puzzle Quest, you might enjoy Puzzle Hero. Unlike me when I was her age, C2 actually finishes video games and she does it rather quickly. She likes playing variations on a theme, as well. I can see her running through Puzzle Hero and then wanting to try more of the same, so then I can hand her Puzzle Quest. As for me, Puzzle Hero started feeling like Diner Dash or some of those other casual games. I will drop in when I have a craving for Bejeweled-style action, but I don't feel compelled to finish it.

17 July 2008

Thank Goodness for Board Game Geek!

ABM had to do some last-minute shopping for a birthday party the twins are going to tomorrow. Rather than guess which Hannah Montana/High School Musical/Jonas Brothers item the birthday girl didn't have, ABM decided to pick up a couple card games. As usual, he shopped without me and then expected me to give him info about his choices over the phone. That's where having Board Game Geek available really helped out. It took me no time at all to steer ABM away from a bad choice and over to a better one. I wish that all my research online could be this easy.

07 July 2008

Kingdom Of Loathing

Disco Bandits, Seal Clubbers, Turtle Tamers, Pastamancers, Accordion Thieves, and Saucerors. What do all of these things have in common? Well, aside from being some rather odd titles, they are classes in the free online game Kingdom of Loathing. KOL is an turn-based RPG where you can go on odd quests in very strange places such as the Misspelled Cemetery in the Plains and the Sleazy Back Alley on the Wrong Side Of The Tracks. All of the art in this role-playing game was hand drawn by the creators. Some of the pieces might seem crappy while others are downright hilarious.

Once you register and pick your class (I'm a Disco Bandit), then you go find you very first quest at -- get this -- Mt. Noob. Yes, you will be insulted by a mountain. After you finish the quests you are given by The Toot Oriole, you go to the city council for most of the rest of your quests. The game screen for KOL consists of three separate sections. There is one for your stats, one for game play, and one for chat. The stats section shows your screen name, level and the title that goes with that level depending on your class. It shows your Muscle level, your Mysticality level, and your Moxie level. It also shows your HP (health points), MP (for Seal Clubbers and and Turtle Tamers that is Muscularity points, for Pastamancers and Saucerors it's Mana points, and for Disco Bandits and Accordion Thieves it's Mojo points), meat, and adventures. There are a couple of ways to get more HP, eating and sleeping at your campsite. MP is based directly on how much Mysticality a character has. Now, you might be wondering why you would need to know how much meat you have. Well, let me tell you, it's not for cooking! Meat is the currency in KOL represented by a little, and might I say well-drawn, steak.

Since KOL is such an addictive game, the creators needed a way to stop people from playing constantly and getting too far into the game at once. They use two methods to do this. One of them is the amount of adventures they give you each day. Adventures are your turns, and there are certain things you can only do if you have adventures. However, as I'm sure you've already guessed, there must be a way to get more adventures each day, and there are multiple ways. The ones most commonly known are eating and . . . drinking booze. But don't drink too much because, just like in the real world, if you drink too much you get too drunk to do anything.

To enter the chat you first have to pass a simply literacy test. From then on all you have to do once you log on is click "Enter Chat" in the chat screen and everything should be fine. If you have a funky system, then you can revert back to the old chat system. Now, I'd like to warn you that the ages of the people in the chat go over 35. If you're thinking about letting your kids play this game, I would suggest that they be at least 13-15 years old and that they keep the profanity filter on for the chat.

I would recommend this game to kids in high school and maybe middle school if they're pretty mature. It's a pretty fun game and I've been playing it almost every day since I signed up for it. I think my mom might regret recommending it, because I'm addicted and I admit it!

06 July 2008

Welcoming another contributor

My 15-year-old daughter, who is referred to as Mimipink or M, will begin writing for Average Girl Plays. She loves to write, so I thought this would give her a place to hone her skills. I tend to give all my kids supplemental work during the summer, but M has outgrown the workbooks I give the younger kids.

I must admit that I have a selfish reason for recruiting M, as well. I want this blog to continue, but at the moment M has more time to play games and write about them than I do. She fits into the "average girl" theme of the blog because she isn't a hardcore gamer. I still want this blog to be about how people who aren't boardgame hobbyists or hardcore gamers view the new stuff that's out there. We are family gamers; we play within the family or with other families on the block. It makes sense to me to get the kids' perspective, and M can help with that.

Anyway, this blog needs new life and M is definitely lively. My hope is that you will enjoy M's work. Her first post should be this week, so watch for it!

26 April 2008

Game Carnival for April 26, 2008

Welcome to the April 26, 2008 edition of the Game Carnival. We are a little light on entries this week, but every one is "cherce" (choice). Being the slack hostess that I am, I'm letting all the guests provide the entertainment. My excuse is that I've been too busy working in the garden to play games. What about the rest of you?

old-wizard presents Top 10 Video Game Heroes of All Time posted at old-wizard.com.

This article is full of video game nostalgia.

NLHE Player presents NLHE Cash Game Basics posted at No Limit Holdem Advice, saying, "Author presents some basic tips to play no-limit hold'em in a ring game setting."

I know very little about poker, but this article appears to be very thorough.

Board games

Gameguy presents Chicken Cha Cha Cha posted at Gameguy thinks..., saying, "This is a fun memory games for young and old alike."

This sounds like a great game to bring out when my four-year-old neighbor comes over.


Eclipse presents Victory in Roleplaying Games! posted at Gaming My Way.

Another thorough article on a genre of gaming that I know very little about!

Video Games

Scott Davis presents Guitar Hero For the Nintendo DS | ZombieChatter.com posted at ZombieChatter.com.

This looks like a version of Guitar Hero that will fit into my budget!

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of
game carnival
using our
carnival submission form.
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blog carnival index page

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20 April 2008

New Game Carnival Coming Up!

I'm hosting the Game Carnival again this week. There is still time to submit an article! Look at the widget in the left sidebar and click the Submit an Article link. You can submit a blog post on any kind of gaming, but we are a bit short on posts for card and board games. Do you have a gaming-related post that you are proud of? Help me make this a great carnival and bring more traffic to your blog by sharing it with us!

13 April 2008

Battle of the Sexes: Game Review on Helium

I've been a member of Helium for almost a year, but I've never written anything. That is, I've never written anything until today. I put that Battle of the Sexes game session to good use and wrote a short review:

Board game reviews: Battle of the Sexes

I hope you enjoy it!

06 April 2008

Enlightening Game Session with Teens

Spring Break has come to my corner of the world! Even though kids are always out of school on Saturdays, this past Saturday the neighborhood kids were in the mood for a little extra fun. Unfortunately, it rained all day so the party ended up at my house :-p. While the young ones watched movies and played video games, the teens wanted to try something different. This was my cue to break out the board games.

First up was Battle of the Sexes. It is a standard trivia game; the guys answer "female" questions and the gals answer "male" questions to advance to the opposite side of the board. ABM and I received this game as a Christmas present a while back but it has never made it to the table. After a couple questions, it was clear that this was turning into an "old vs. young" contest rather than a "male vs. female" one. I knew the answers to the male and female questions, while my 15-year-old daughter and her two 15-year-old male friends couldn't answer any of them. All the cards we pulled had questions about TV shows and movies that they weren't old enough to see yet. I can see Battle of the Sexes being a mildly amusing way to kill an afternoon, but only if the group members are all over 21.

After a disappointing attempt to play Taboo, we went for our old standby -- Pounce. This is where I learned my second lesson of the afternoon. Kids these days don't kill time playing solitaire, either with cards or on the computer. I had to teach three kids the basics of Klondike before we could play Pounce. Luckily, they picked it up quickly and we had a hot table of six going for a while. A kid would drop out to check in with his parents and another kid was waiting to fill the empty seat. More than one kid caught Pounce Fever and kept shouting, "One more game!" We have a whole week without school coming up. I have a feeling that if we get more rain, the Pounce table will heat up again.

29 March 2008

Are we too lazy to play difficult games?

I was reading back issues of The Escapist when I ran across a well-written article entitled The Slow Death of the Game Over. The author gave a brief history of how the save system in video games has changed over the years. He also suggested that players might be spoiled by the ample save points that have been programmed into today's games. Go read it and see what you think.

I will admit that one reason I stopped playing console games when I was a teenager was because I died so easily. The dexterity necessary to get through platformers like the old Super Mario games came more naturally to my siblings so I got edged out of my time on the Nintendo. By the time I was out on my own and didn't have to compete with them, I owned a computer and had moved on to adventure games which allowed me to save frequently.

The author of the article mentioned that in the early days, difficult levels were put into arcade games for economic reasons. If you keep dying, you will keep plugging quarters into the game. I believe that current games also have liberal save systems for economic reasons. If I pay $50 for a game, I want to get to see the cool bits. If I keep dying before I get off the first level, I am going to be angry that I spent the money and I won't recommend that game to anyone.

Today's console games are more similar to the old adventure games. Instead 100 levels of basically the same action, the console games now have a story. The games aren't always as linear as they used to be. There may be one correct path to victory, but some games don't stop you if you go in the wrong direction. In this type of game, it is rather boring to keep repeating the same section over and over. It's like watching the same TV episode again and again within a short period of time. It may be considered lazy, but I'd rather be able to create a save point so I can go directly back to the spot where I messed up instead of redoing everything before it.

I read about a game called Tex Murphy: Overseer that had two modes, Entertainment and Gamer. In Entertainment mode, there were hints available and the player could skip certain puzzles. In Gamer mode, there were no hints and bonus points were given for speed in solving puzzles. If more games could incorporate something like this and publicize the heck out of it, then I think publishers could get money out of the people who are currently sticking to casual games.

I don't think that current gamers are lazy, but I do think we may want something different than gamers did in the past. Some people want to feel like they've accomplished something when they play a game, but I just want to be entertained. A walkthrough and a liberal save system are my friends!

Game Carnival for March 29, 2008

Welcome to the March 29, 2008 edition of The Game Carnival. There are several good articles in today's list. I hope they inspire you to get out there and play more games!

old-wizard presents Old-Wizard.com Top 100 Video Games of All Time List / Introduction posted at Old-Wizard.com.

old-wizard presents Old-Wizard.com / Video Games / Top 10 Gaming Consoles of All Time posted at Old-Wizard.com.

presents Old-Wizard.com / Top 20 Worst Video Games of All Time posted at Old-Wizard.com.

Gameguy presents Nacho Loco posted at Gameguy thinks..., saying, "Resist the urge to eat the cards and you'll have a good time with Nacho Loco"

Heather Johnson presents A Guide to Z-Man's B-Movie Card Games posted at Yehuda

Geek's Dream Girl presents Diary of a Drow, Days 6 & 7 posted at Geek's Dream Girl, saying, "Mar'Kessa saves the life of the kobold leader, but only because she hopes he'll give them more stuff."

Game Fan Art presents Game Fan Art: The Legend of Zelda posted at Game Fan Art - Article - The Legend of Zelda saying, "This site is the place for artists and game fans to celebrate innovation and excellence in all aspects of game fan art. Game Fan Art exhibits, discusses, connects and promotes artists and fans. We are looking for any quality artwork having to do with games."

joe boomer presents Toribash posted at Tech Smartly, saying, "A nice game called Toribash, very interesting method of control."

Jigsaw hc presents Army of Two Review posted at Jigsaw hc's Rants & Reviews.

Damon presents A Whole Bunch of PS3 Bullshit from CNet posted at The Deathbox: Issue #1, saying, "An interesting reply to a very uninformed CNet article"

Eric Miller presents Nascar 09 by EA posted at Supercave.com.

Jigsaw hc presents Battlefield: Bad Company Beta Impressions posted at Jigsaw hc's Rants & Reviews.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of game carnival using our carnival submission form.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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02 March 2008

Never heard of Pente?

One thing that always amazes me, no matter how many times it happens, is that as a parent I am often the first person to expose my children to things that grownups take for granted. I know that sounds crazy, but once my kids started going to public school I expected that they would be learning about stuff without me. I get a little thrill every time I find out that I am the first one to tell my kids about a game or song that has been around forever.

So what was my kids' latest discovery? This:

To me, Pente is as common as Scrabble or Monopoly. I don't think of it as a hobby game. Although I haven't played it in a while, I assumed that the kids had probably run across it as someone's house. I think my copy of Pente has been with my longer than my husband has, and we've been together almost 20 years.

Anyway, the kids were bored yesterday and I sat Pente on the table, not really expecting that they would play it. Boy, was I wrong! They took to it immediately. Apparently, the neighborhood kids hadn't heard of Pente, either, because I had several of them wander in to take a turn. Who knew that something that had been sitting in my garage all this time would turn out to be the kids' next game craze?

24 February 2008

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

I've never played an RPG before. The online versions confuse me, and I don't have the type of friends who would be willing to play the tabletop variety. So when I heard about Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, I thought it would be a good way for me to get a taste of computerized RPG gameplay in a format that I could understand.

Puzzle Quest first came to my attention as I was searching for DS games for my kids. Last year, it was on several "best games of 2007" lists. In addition to the DS version, this game has been ported to the PSP, XBox Live Arcade, the Wii, Windows PC, and the PS2. A mobile phone version is scheduled for some time this year and there are rumors of PS3 and Mac versions being created, as well. I decided to try out the PC version to see if it would be something I wanted to buy for my kids on the DS.

Puzzle Quest is a combination RPG/puzzle game, set in an established game world known as Warlords. The basic storyline is that an Undead army is running rampant through the land, threatening different towns. You play a knight serving the queen of one of the bigger territories. The main quest is to find out who is behind the Undead uprising, but there are also several side quests you perform to collect gold, learn new spells, and earn the allegiance of other races so that they will help you fight.

How do you fight? Well, that is where the puzzle part comes in. You battle by playing a Bejeweled-style game. Going into each game, there is a screen that tells you what spells and strengths your opponent has. You also have access to different spells and powers that are dependent on how much mana you collect. Matching three gems, for instance, gives you three or more bits of green mana. This adds a different dimension to the regular match-3 game rules because you aren't just trying to make as many matches as possible; you are looking for certain matches so you can collect enough mana to cast spells that will damage your opponent. It sounds simplistic, but it is strangely addictive.

So would I buy this for the kids? You bet! They have already been looking over my shoulder and asking when they could try it. I've played Bejeweled on my Treo 700p, which has a touch screen, so I know how much more enjoyable this type of game is when played with a stylus instead of a mouse. I think that Puzzle Quest will be a perfect addition to their DS game collection.

01 February 2008

No Child Left Inside

This morning I read an article about taxing videogames to pay for outdoor fitness programs. It doesn't apply to my state, at least not yet; I found that there are similar efforts in other states under the moniker No Child Left Inside. Getting kids moving is a good thing, but I can't decide whether I think this tax is a good or bad idea.


--The proposed tax is 1%, which would only be about $5 added to the price of the average game console or 50 cents to the average game cartridge.

--Schools across the country have already cut recess and physical education programs under the pressure to improve academic test scores. This would help to counteract that trend.

--Kids today don't get as much time to explore nature as their parents and grandparents did. How can you expect kids to want to live a "green" lifestyle if they don't spend any time enjoying the thing they are trying to save?


--Even though the proposed tax is only 1%, I understand why childless gamers don't want to pay it. As Chris Rock said in one of his stand-up routines (before he became a parent), people who chose not to have kids don't want to pay for the work that parents neglected to do.

--NM store owners are worried that more gamers will buy online to avoid the tax.

However, the main bone of contention with gamers seems to be the notion that TV and video games are the only obstacle to kids being more active. Some kids are just not interested in athletic pursuits. I know that when I was in grammar school, we didn't have the internet or TVs in every room with 100 channels to watch. Did I play outside? Only when my parents pushed me. My parents would drive us to the park and lock me out of the car to force me to get some fresh air and activity. I would just go sit on a bench and pout. You can drag the kids to the outdoor games, but you can't make them all play.

25 January 2008

Elite Beat Agents

Well, I managed to buy 2 Nintendo DS units for the kids for Christmas. I also bought 4 games, but 3 of them have been sitting on the shelf. That is because one game called Elite Beat Agents has been a runaway hit, not only with me and my kids but also with the neighborhood kids.

Elite Beat Agents is the Americanized version of one of those wacky Japanese games that tend to be so addictive. It is a rhythm game; if you have ever played Dance Dance Revolution or Space Channel 5, then you know what sort of game I'm talking about. The basic premise is that there is a group of agents that shows up whenever someone cries for help and dances to give the person encouragement while she works through her problem. I told you it was wacky :-).

As you can see in the screen shot above, there are numbered circles that show up on the lower screen. You have to tap them with the stylus in order, but only when the outer ring shrinks down and touches the border of the circle. If you do it correctly, it sounds like someone clapping her hands in time to the music. There are also phrase markers where you have to drag the stylus across the screen in time with a little ball and spin markers where you have to trace a circle over and over really fast. If you go to the Elite Beat Agents website, they have video of the people playing the game so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Since this is an American version of the game, there isn't any of the J-pop or club music that you usually hear in DDR games. Out of 19 songs, there were only 4 that I didn't know before playing the game. Songs are unlocked as you beat the current songs on the screen, which you make you think that the early songs are easier than the later songs. For me, though, that wasn't always the case. With the songs that I knew really well before playing the game (like that rhythm game staple, "Rock this Town" by the Stray Cats), I flew through them. Other songs that I only knew slightly were harder.

One feature that has made this game very popular with the neighborhood is the multiplayer game. With only one game card, you can have up to 4 people play head-to-head. The player with the card can beam a limited version of the game (5 songs) to the other players' DS units, the same way you beam contact information from one PDA to another. I love this feature and I am looking for more games that have it. Being able to have the kids play together has cut down on arguments over who gets the game card first.

Kids love this game, but I also think it is perfect for the adult who is into casual games. There is no long storyline or difficult puzzles to solve. I've played it whenever I had 15 minutes to spare and it scratched my gaming itch. I would highly recommend adding Elite Beat Agents to your DS game collection.

06 January 2008

Incan Gold

One of the the disadvantages of not being associated with a hobby gaming group is that I have to figure out how to play the games on my own. I do a lot of research online and lean toward simpler beer-and-pretzels games to make the task easier on myself.

That's what I thought I was doing when I bought Incan Gold. However, I am disappointed with the game. Even my husband, who loves quick games and shies away from ones that take longer than 30 minutes, couldn't wait for it to be over. After all the glowing reviews I saw on BGG, I couldn't understand why we didn't enjoy it. I know that it is a light game, but I thought there was more to it than what we got. I even started to wonder if we were playing it wrong. From what I have seen on BGG, however, it seems that we are playing it correctly.

For those who haven't heard of Incan Gold: it is an American remake of a game called Diamant. It is a game for 3-8 players where you pretend to be adventurers searching for treasure in a jungle mine. You turn up cards from a deck. Each card will either depict a hazard or a number of jewels. If it is a jewel card, the treasure is split evenly among the players; any odd amount is left on the card. If it is a hazard card and it is the first hazard of its kind, don't worry. However, if you turn up a second hazard of that kind, then everyone who is still on the expedition loses their treasure. The crux of the game is deciding whether you are in or out. Before every card flip, the players decide whether they are going to stay or go. Those who go back to their tents get to keep the treasure they have gotten thus far. They also get to split the treasure that was left on the cards. Those who stay are taking a risk to get more treasure.

The main thing I don't like about this game is the stay-or-go mechanism. No matter how much I try to build up the theme, there is no suspense in whether someone is going to stay or go. Perhaps my group didn't have the right attitude, but I have seen ABM and his friend CJ try to fake each other out more in a card game like Spades than they do in this game. Also, using cards for the stay-or-go vote is fiddly. Even after several plays, we had trouble remember which card was for Stay and which was for Go. For our last game, I switched to using a checker in the hand: if your hand is empty you are staying, but if you show your checker then you are taking your treasure and going back to your tent. That went more smoothly, but it didn't really increase our enjoyment of the game. ABM kept revealing his hand before the 1-2-3 count. I tried to get him to understand that he doesn't want to show his decision early because there are times when you get more treasure if you are the only one to go out. He just didn't seem interested in the game enough to care.

Buying Incan Gold wasn't a total loss. First off, the kids love it. It is another game that is simple enough for them to play without me being there to supervise. Secondly, it has shown our adult group that we may be ready to add a few heavier games into the mix. Up until now, I've taken ABM at his word and only purchased quick games. I think he is starting to see that the quick games don't always give him the depth that he wants. His friend CJ even commented that he prefers games where he has to think a bit more. So it sounds like they may be up for a challenge.