Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gaming With Kids: The Answers

Grant Rodiek (who blogs at Exiled Here and Tweets as Herrogrant) is working a blog post about gaming with kids & sent out a list of questions... which he's graciously allowed me to post & answer here on my blog. (BTW, if you're a "nerd parent" - as Grant so accurately typed me - you might want to drop him a line & join in!)
  • How old is your child? (This question will be used to sort the answers you give below)
  • What is the gender of your children? (This question will be used to sort the answers you give below)
My boys are 10 and 6...
  • What are your children's favorite games?
My 10 year old LOVES Summoner Wars & Dungeonquest. My 6 year old has recently developed a fascination for Loopin' Louie... but his big game of the year is Gubs.
  • What are YOUR favorite games to play with your children?
I'm a huge fan of Haba games. I think that Kayanak is absolutely brilliant & Kaseklau! (English name: Cheese Snatching) is an excellent press-your-luck game with a fun "Tom & Jerry"-ish theme. I'm also enjoy Duck Duck Bruce & Gulo Gulo... but one of my favorite recent dad/kid gaming innovations in our home that makes me happy deep down to my toes is both of my boys wanting to play Memoir '44 with me!
  • What are the most important factors for YOU when you purchase a game for your children?
I want the game to have (a) great gameplay, (b) easy enough for kids to learn, and (c) not make me want to get a frontal lobotomy rather than play the game. Example of (c): Kinder Bunnies: Their First Adventure... shudder.
  • What seems to be most important for your children when buying a game? (I'm not sure if you take them to the store or shop online with them when you make purchases)
  • What themes seem to excite your children the most?
It's all about the theme for both of them... my youngest tends to like economic games (he wants to get money) while the older one likes fantasy, sci-fi & combat themes.
  • Do your children seem to enjoy a particular mechanic more than others? (i.e. dice rolls)
I haven't really noticed any one particular mechanic.
  • Do you want your children to learn something when playing a game? Do you prefer a game to be overtly educational, or is it okay for it to be more subtle (i.e. counting, chance, social skills integrated)?
Most educational games aren't very good games... and often do a poor job of teaching their subject matter. I think my boys have learned more in subtle ways (reading, math, logic, social skills, etc.) with "regular" games than they would have with a force-fed diet of "educational" games.
  • Anything else you'd like to add? Anything I forgot to ask? Any insights you have as a parent are greatly appreciated.

I just love that you're asking the questions!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Game Reviewlet: Ticked Off!

I will not – though every bone in my body tells me I should – make the obligatory “ticked off” title pun joke to go with my less-than-positive comments about the game. You should feel no such limitations.

We had the opposite problem from Greg’s experience with Ticked Off! – our game (with four players) only lasted 3 rounds. The bidding didn’t get pushed high enough in the first category, giving me the opportunity to score 25+ points on the first turn. I was Start Player once more (for another 20 or so points), then scored another 15 with someone else as the Start Player. Game over.

And then we come to my particular beef with the game: Ted’s self-proclaimed “awesome rule that prevents a living encyclopedia from running away with the game!” (This quote is from his BGG comment on Ticked Off!.) Until I saw Ted’s comment, I wasn’t sure whether the rule was serious or not – the rules are written in a jaunty style with a number of witty asides about questioning the mental fitness of the Start Player and taunting others about their lack of knowledge.

The rule in question?

“IMPORTANT! If the player with the most points at the end of the game is more than 15 points ahead of the next highest scoring player, he is disqualified for cheating (really, how else could he be that far ahead?), and the player in second place wins.”

This may be a great game for some people – but if you’re good at trivia games, the “game” for you (thanks to this rule) is gaming the system to stay in front but not too far in front. In other words, you have to “play dumb” in order to win – underbidding, intentionally leaving off answers, picking categories you aren’t good at, etc. This is decidedly not a “game” I want to be playing.

And while I understand that Ted & Frank are going for a smart-alecky vibe in the rules, the “disqualified for cheating” crack gets under my skin. I reserve accusations of cheating for, well, cheating. (Yes, I know, I know – I’m the butt of this particular joke… but that doesn’t make it any funnier.)

This is not a shot at Ted or Frank as designers or publishers – while I love Time’s Up & Smarty Party (both published by R&R Games), I have the same issues with another R&R game designed by my friend Stephen Glenn (You Must Be An Idiot). Both YMBAI & Ticked Off! punish players with more trivia skills in the name of fun for the rest of the table – which is not fun for those players.

I will say in the game’s defense that one of the players at the table really enjoyed it (granted, he came in second). As well, the production is very well done – with the exception of the gold & yellow pawns, which are way too close in color.

This, as you can tell by now, is not a full review - thus the "reviewlet" title. It's actually my comment on a full review published by Greg Schloesser on the Opinionated Gamers website.

I also need to note that a review copy was provided by R&R Games.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kid Game Review: Knock Your Blocks Off

Knock Your Blocks Off
  • Designer: Rebekah Bissell
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Playing Time: 15 minutes
  • Review by Mark Jackson (6 plays w/a review copy provided by Gamewright)
The word "off" in the title is not the only thing that Knock Your Blocks Off & yesterday's review (City Square Off) have in common - both are thematically city-building games. However, Knock Your Blocks Off allows - nah, encourages! - you to destroy your opponents' cities.

Each player has a set of 6 dice "blocks" which have a variety of two-color patterns on them. Simultaneously, the players roll their "blocks" and then build them into one of six different "structures". The first player to finish his structure places his king block on the top of his creation then grabs the destruction die from the center of the table, meaning he gets to go first when the attacking begins.

Once all the players have finished their structures, the starting player chooses one of his neighbors to attack & rolls the destruction die. The result determines whether the player will have to flick the die (boulder), throw the die underhand (ogre) or drop it from above (dragon) in his attempt to knock the king block to the table. If he's successful, he gets a point... but if he fails, the defender gets a point!

Now the die passes to the defender and he in turn attacks the next player. After each player has attacked and been attacked one time, the turn is over and players get ready to roll their blocks & build a new structure. The first player to reach 8 victory points wins immediately.

There are a few wrinkles, of course:
  • each of the five structures (tower, wall, fort, stairs, gate) have a special power - some give you extra points for attacking or defending successfully, while others make it easier to attack or defend.
  • the player who finishes their structure first not only gets the destruction die but also a victory point... unless they build the wall or the tower, in which case the ease of building means they don't get the point.
  • completed structures must match - in other words, the color on the edge of one block must match the color of the block(s) it is next to... and if they don't, the player doesn't get the special power of that structure
So, you ask, how's the game play? Well, it's quick... slightly faster with 2 players than with 3 or 4, but even with the full complement of players, it moves at a nice clip. (I think I like it best with 3.)

There are some tactical decisions, particularly as one or more players get close to winning. Do I build one of the quick structures to keep the the victory point away from another player, or do I work to maximize my own power? If I do get to decide the order of attack (by being the start player), which player should I attack?

Obviously, there's a bit of dexterity involved - the game rules specify that attacks take place from about a foot away, which is not as easy as it sounds, especially for younger players.

And that brings me to my one real caution about the game - while it's very attractive to my 6 year old son, he can not compete with his 10 year old brother or his dad in getting his structure built first. He's also not as able to attack successfully... which can be really frustrating for him in a game that he thinks is cool.

At the same time, Knock Your Blocks Off isn't substantial enough for gamers unless they approach it as an enjoyable short filler. I'd say that the sweet spot for the game is older kids (8+) and families... and in that context, it's been a great 15 minute game of construction & destruction.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kid Game Review: City Square Off

City Square Off
  • Designer: Ted Cheatham
  • Publisher: Gamewright
  • Players: 2
  • Ages: 8+
  • Playing Time: 15 minutes
  • Review by Mark Jackson (8 plays w/a review copy provided by Gamewright)
My wife likes this. Let me rephrase that... my non-gamer wife likes City Square Off. Heck, my wife voluntarily taught the game to one of her friends - a casual family gamer - who went out & bought a copy.

For some of you reading this, that's really all you need to know. This very straightforward Tetris-like two-player game is winningly produced (nice molds for the starting cities, Gamewright production people!) and the game play is simple enough that my six-year-old can play... though not competitively. And my very significant other likes it!

Ted Cheatham (note: Ted is a long-time personal friend) has created a game that's squarely (unintended pun - once again, my apologies for going OFF on a tangent.... dang, I did it again!) in the mode of FITS without being an identical gaming experience.

Here, players begin with non-identical city center pieces, an identical set of city "blocks" and their own gridded city board. (If you own a copy of Blokus, it's the same set set of tiles.) One of the players turns up a card which indicates which city block must be placed on the board... and that block has to go adjacent to the city center or an already placed block. The first player to be forced to play outside the grid loses... unless both players do so on the same turn - then the player with the largest single open area wins.

There are four variants listed in the rules - I especially like the "sprawl" version that lets player have city blocks hang off the edge - and there are four different city center pieces to increase the variety in the base game.

Like Take It Easy or Cities or FITS, there's really no limit on the number of players for City Square Off IF you have enough game sets... but the game is a lot of fun just with two players. As I said earlier, kids as young as 6 can figure out the game, but the ability to play well seems to develop a bit later.

Honestly, I'd be a fan of this game even if my friend hadn't designed it... but I do have give props to Gamewright for making it a classy & non-gamer friendly production.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prayer Space

Link Prayer Space.JPG Originally uploaded by bhsher

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity, that I might be happy.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy;

I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for;

But everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

(Author unknown - quoted by Neil T. Anderson in his book, Who I Am In Christ)