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.