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.