Dust (Fantasy Flight
April 13, 2012
Word on the Street @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Jack Degnan (2009)
2-8 players / 20 minutes / Ages 12+
Another game near Out-of-the-Box's booth was an eye-catching, life-sized setup of their popular, team party game, Word on the Street. My two boys, nephew, and I were immediately interested. We popped into the booth to quickly learn the game from a staff member on a table set-up before tackling the monstrous edition. The game is extremely straight-forward. Before we finished up with the demo game, another family happened in to inquire about the life-sized version. Game on!
The board consists essentially of five "lanes" of a street with a number of letters running down the center lane from top to bottom. There are no vowels and some of the uncommon consonants are also omitted. Each team owns one side of the board. On a team's turn, they will flip a category card and must think of a word that fits that category. Then, spelling it out in proper order, they can move each letter of that word one lane closer to their edge of the board. Your goal is to eventually move it off the board, at which point that letter is yours. Collect a total of eight letters in this fashion and you win. If you come up with a word that has one particular letter multiple times, then you can move it as many times as it appears. So say the category card reads, "U.S. States," and you say Mississippi - well then that letter 's' is most likely yours!
Word on the Street is a nice jack-of-all-trades title. With it's sand timer, all-ages access, and potential for humorous results, it certainly fits the party game scene in a similar vein as Taboo, Apples to Apples, and Wits and Wagers. It is a good choice for the "wordy" and learned crowd that likes Scrabble and Boggle. Its family friendliness is off the charts as both a fun way to spend time and bond with your kids, as well as a learning tool for categorization, synonyms, and spelling for them. And finally, I could easily see this as a starter, filler, and/or night-cap for hobby gaming groups - there is a tad bit of strategy in not only trying to think of words (quickly) that will pull letters to your side of the street, but also pull them away from the other team.
I'm not pretending this is a deep game, because it is not meant to be such. It will lack staying power and probably not be a common or recurrent title. So just don't over-do it. As a filler, or a fun activity for family gatherings, or a social ice-breaker, or as a learning opportunity for kids, you can't go wrong with Word on the Street. In doses, this unique social game concept is simple to learn, accessible to kids, and a blast to play.
April 06, 2012
Pirate vs. Pirate @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Max Winter Osterhaus (2010)
2-3 players / 20 minutes / Ages 8+
Out-of-the-Box Games had a welcoming booth with plenty of space and a good number of tables for demos. Curious to try something new as we wandered in, the boys immediately spotted the cartoony box art of Pirate vs. Pirate all set up and ready to go. My two boys and my nephew eagerly sat down to a 3-player try while a staff member launched into the rules.
This lightly, pirate-themed, abstract game sort of struck me as a combination of chess and capture the flag. You begin the game with 6 scurvy, scallywags (nicely molded plastic figures) in your own little corner (think boat) of a unique, triangular board with triangle spaces. In the center are three silver coins and one gold (all cardboard tokens). On your turn, you roll two 4-sided dice and then move one of your pirates that many number of triangles. The object is to run and nab the coins and bring them back to your boat/corner. If you collect two of the silver coins, or the one gold coin, you win. Now, don't let the cartoony caricatures fool you. No, sir, these are blood-thirsty, murdering scoundrels and your opponents are not going to just let you drift in and claim the booty like rowing on a spring-day afternoon with your sweetheart on the lake. If you roll an exact number of spaces, you can land on an opposing buccaneer and kill him, sending him to Davey Jones' Locker - which is horrible since he hasn't washed his gym shorts in ages. If the unfortunate soul was carrying a coin, it's now yours. Yep, in this game, you have to kick some booty to get some booty! Then again, if it's just blood ye be after, you can always win by the cutlass, instead, and wipe out all of your enemies. Of course, in that situation, I guess all the treasure lying about would be yours by default, anyway!
As you've probably deduced by the short paragraph of rules - made longer than necessary by bad jokes - this is a simple game. It is also fairly quick. Our 3-player, first-time demonstration game took barely 20 minutes. It does offer some interesting strategy and cost-vs-rewards decision making. After you have a coin or two in your possession, do you race back to the boat? Or do you send out more of your men to block or sacrifice himself to take one for the team (I'm pretty sure that's un-thematic!). An interesting wrinkle to securing loot is that all your pirates begin in your boat. However, there must be an empty spot, or two, at the back in order to place the treasure. And there's no jumping over other guys. Furthermore, you have to roll an exact number to put the booty in your dinghy (okay, I'll stop now).
The challenge becomes protecting your loot while maneuvering for free space and waiting to roll the right number to bring it aboard where it'll be safe. Plus, you must weigh that balancing act against the need to go after the other players before they can grab their own winning haul. Even if you're not strictly targeting an opposing pirate for his coinage, you still may want to simply knock off an innocent bystander when advantageous to do so. After all, they're not so innocent and may be gunning after you next!
I have no doubt that this enjoyable title is an excellent, puzzle-solving exercise for kids in the same manner as Chess, Checkers, or Go. Yet here, the pirate theme adequately masks its abstractness to be a hair more engaging than those others - at least for kids. I'm not sure it would appeal to adult, hobby gamers as anything more than a light diversion in the long-run. There's just not a whole lot terribly memorable about it. My boys really liked their one play and asked me to buy it, though I did not. I went ahead and put it on our wish list for now, but not as a high priority. One, it only suits 2 or 3 players, although admittedly it's quickness could negate that personal drawback. But also in just knowing my kids, I'm really not convinced it will be a repeated attraction down the road after the dull of the initial shine. Still, Pirate vs. Pirate is a simple abstract game, short and sweet, that will hone children's basic critical thinking skills in an entertaining fashion because of its theme - a theme of which I've yet to find that one person doesn't like!
April 05, 2012
Once Upon A Time @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, James Wallis (1993)
2-4 players / 30 minutes / Ages 8+
While browsing through the game library, a volunteer named Tanner, with Gnome Games, approached us and offered to teach us Once Upon A Time. This is an older game, but still available in print and it is decidedly much different than what we're used to. After explaining it as a story-telling game in a fairy tale fashion, I could tell my boys were a bit unsure. However, I brought them to the convention to experience new things, and I talked them into giving it a try.
As explained by Tanner, Once Upon A Time is a card game that provides a light structure for the players to tell a story. The goal of the game is to guide the story towards an end that is randomly assigned to you - your version of, "They lived happily ever after." For example, the ending I had to try and reach was, "And so true love had broken the enchantment." In addition to your "The End" card, you are also dealt a number of cards that sort of act as plot devices that you must get rid of before you can reach your end. These cards consist of people, places, items, aspects, or events. Each time you say one sentence in the story, you are allowed to play one of these cards. For example, if I had a card that read, "Sword," I could lay it down while narrating, "The prince drew his sword as he approached the dragon's lair."
You will continue to develop the story until you pass or another player steals your turn. You might pass because you've run out of ideas to keep the story moving along (awkward mumblings and long delays will lose your turn for you) or if you'd like to conserve your cards for later use. Another player can interrupt you and steal your turn in two ways. First, he/she can play a special steal card that corresponds to a category that you just laid down. In the sword example above, some one would need an "Item" category card to play as soon as I laid the sword down (which is an item). The second way to interrupt the story is by laying down a card that just happens to match something said by the current narrator - yes, it is that completely random! For example, I was telling a part of the story where a gnome was chasing a queen around his forest lawn and Tanner beamed with joy as he plopped down a "Chase" card! Any time your turn ends, you draw a new plot card. And when continuing the story at any point after another player, the only rule is that there must exist some continuity and it must make some logical sense, even if within a fantastical, fairy tale context.
It took several minutes for my boys to get warmed up and even then, they contributed only little nuggets at a time. Despite their timidity, they generally followed the story's wacky development and contributed in sensible, even imaginative ways. Our particular story involved standard bedtime tropes such as the queen, the prince, a wizard, a fairy, and a gnome. We had a dark, enchanted forest, a castle, potions, and transformations. However, we had a dash of odd creativity, as well. On top of being ugly, our queen was first turned into a bird, but escaped a cage-trap because the bars were set too far apart, and then she eventually turned into a man (somehow). And of course, we solved a riddle that queens only cruise the Royal Caribbean lines when journeying upon the sea.
Once Upon A Time is not a traditional game. The rules and basic structure of play are easy enough to grasp. The challenge is to be creative and imaginative in trying to steer a corporate story toward your personal end goal, yet still retain logical continuity within the framework that everyone else contributes to the tale. I'm not sure that a dedicated gaming group should really take this title too seriously. I think it is designed to create a good time and a fun experience. Challenging narrative delays and screeching plot disruptions is certainly legitimate, but nonetheless should be light-hearted. We played fairly loose with plot development when the boys jumped in, but still stopped them short when venturing too far from the storyline or trying to jump ahead of themselves.
Kids are typically very imaginative by nature. This unique title is a good tool to develop that natural inclination. Will it be a frequent and regular game brought to the table? Probably not. It will probably only appeal to a niche group of adult gamers, as well. In the right social situation and with the right group of creative gamers, this could definitely provide a roaringly funny time. But it is not a strategy game in the traditional mold of the hobby. It will be very hit-and-miss with children, too. My boys sort of enjoyed the experience, but it was not a game they begged me to buy afterwards. One specific purpose for which this title might shine is in preparation for introducing your kids to role-playing games. While Once Upon A Time is not an RPG, it will still get them to creatively think and develop narrative "in character" - and in a smaller and more focused, thus manageable, environment than what RPG's provide.
April 04, 2012
Forbidden Island @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Matt Leacock (2010)
2-4 players / 30-45 minutes / Ages 10+
This is a game my brother-in-law's family owns, though they've only played it once completely through - and that is when they were visiting us. So my nephew was familiar with it. I've had it on our wish list for a while, and my kids had certainly been interested. In fact, if it could play up to five people, I probably would have bought it long ago. Anyway, we pulled Forbidden Island next from the open library, set it up, and then I jumped into a quick rules explanation. My two boys followed along and after one turn were up to speed. This is a very simple game to learn and play.
Quickly, your goal is to work together with the other players to find four different treasures - by any one person individually collecting a set of four cards representing one of those treasures (think rummy, Indiana Jones style). When a player has a matching set, he/she must run to a designated point on the island in order to pick it up. Once your team has gathered all four treasures amongst yourselves, then everyone needs to dash off to the helicopter pad where some one must play a helicopter card to fly home. The kick is that the island is sinking - and faster than the U.S. economy! After each player's turn, not only are a random selection of tiles flooded, but it's possible that the overall water level will rise, meaning even more tiles will flood each turn. If a tile is flooded twice, it sinks completely and is removed from the game, creating an impassable gap between other tiles. Not only that, but if enough treasure location tiles sink to where you can no longer collect a required treasure, the game will end. Luckily, you are able to "shore up" a partially flooded tile before it floods a second time, but really you're only delaying the inevitable. Speed and mobility are the core principles you'll need to survive as you race around to shore up sinking tiles and to trade cards so that individuals can collect those precious sets.
Turns are dead easy and quick. You have three actions per turn, one of which consist of one of the following: move one tile, give a Treasure card to another player on the same tile as you, shore up a flooded tile, or turn in a collected set to gain that treasure. After you use your three actions, you draw two Treasure cards which are usually a treasure. However, there are some special sandbag and helicopter cards which give you extra benefits. And there are also three "waters rise" cards, meaning the overall water level goes up a notch. If it rises too high, the game ends immediately. Otherwise, the water level indicates how many tiles flood and you randomly draw that many Flood cards to see which areas flood or maybe even go the way of Atlantis.
With its cooperative nature, simple play, and minimal downtime, this is an ideal family game for kids. The tiles are laid our randomly every game and you can even experiment with different layouts and designs. In addition to the normal rules, there are also six different roles from which you randomly assign to players at the beginning of the game. Each role gives you a rule-breaking ability. For example, the Engineer can shore up two, adjacent, flooded tiles for the same action point; and the Diver can swim through any number of missing or flooded tiles as an action. This adds a great deal of flavor and replay value. There is player elimination if you get caught on a tile that sinks with no adjacent land space to move to, but that ends the game for everybody else, too! The components are all colorful and beautiful, with little, plastic, sculpted treasure tokens. The artwork is very nice. Both the time and age suggestions on the box are slightly high. Both of my sessions took right at half an hour, but that was with rules explanations. And kids as young as 6-7 years would be able to handle this title, especially given is cooperative mechanics. There are four different difficulty levels, which simply translates to how high the water level begins at the start of the game.
Forbidden Island is a fast-paced, tense, and accessible title for kids with a good deal of luck and replayability. It is great for teaching problem-solving and teamwork. It is also an "out of this world" value considering what you get in terms of game play and components at a price point of anywhere between a mere $11-$18. That's just unheard of! Really the only drawback for our family is the 4-player max. We have Red November, which is similar in chaotic cooperativeness, but accommodates up to 8 players and is thematically richer, though it is much more fiddly. However, I can highly recommend Forbidden Island as a family game for kids and adults. It will remain on our wish list and probably be a purchase down the road.
April 03, 2012
Carcassonne: The City @ Let's Play Green Bay!
Designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede (2004)
2-4 players / 45-75 minutes / Ages 8+
While my brother-in-law was off battling some famous Pokemon champion with my nephew and Brendon in tow, Cory and I jogged over to the open gaming library to pull out a title on our wish list - Carcassonne. I'm a bit surprised that he's had his eye on this one, but based on videos, he liked the tile matching, the developing map, and the little meeples. Plus it seems simple and a good game for kids and adults to play together. So, grabbing a table and opening the box, I soon discovered we actually pulled out Carcassonne: The City, a slight difference in name, sure, but quite a bit different in game play, from what I understand.
Having never played Carcassonne, but knowing a fair amount of the rules thanks to BoardGameGeek, we began play with the rulebook open. Each tile has a residential area, market, and/or street on it - sometimes all three. When placing tiles, only streets are required to be lined up or matched. After placing it, you may also put one of your meeples on the tile in either the residential, market, or street terrain. If you place one on the market or street, you will score points as soon as that section is completed with subsequent tiles and receive your meeple back. If you place one in a residential area, then it stays there until the end of the game, at which time it scores points for every market terrain bordering your connected residential areas (complete or not). The second mechanic includes building walls around the city, which begins in the game's second phase. In this round, after the first street or market is completed and scored (and for each time after that), players will take turns building wall segments. This is another way to complete streets and markets for scoring - essentially they end when hitting the walls! Also, you can place meeples on a wall segment who will score points at the end of the game based on the number of certain historical buildings in tiles of the adjoining row.
C:tC is a shade more complex and subtly more strategic from what I've read/seen of it's original ancestor, but the rules and play are still simple enough. Upon playing this particular implementation of the famous franchise, I hesitate to purchase regular Carcassonne with has even less features than this one. Or at the very least without an expansion or two, which I generally do not like to do. The components are of fine quality and it is fun to watch our city unfold. However, it is pretty repetitive. Generally, in shorter games or card games, that is not an issue for us. But with a bland theme and going on over 30 minutes, my son began to lose interest and focus. The other guys rejoined us and it did not take much at all to persuade him to quit the game and move on to something else.
There is a significant luck factor in the random draw of the tiles that affects long-term planning. That is often balanced by the fact that many times an opponent is forced to make a play that benefits you. Your strategy must be open to allow for a variety of options and you'll soon find yourself struggling to decide how best to place your meeples - especially considering that those in residential areas and on walls stay for the remainder of the game. We actually prefer some luck in our family games and I like the concept of teaching my kids to adjust their plans on the fly, when needed. However, the lack of conflict, bland theme, and (in the end) repetitive play will sink this one near the bottom of the wish list - of which it was namely on just for it's iconic status, anyway.
April 02, 2012
Of course, I was there mainly for board gaming and I was not disappointed. Gnome Games had a large store-booth to which I donated some money in exchange for three games. They also had a nice library for open-gaming with a knowledgeable staff of volunteers and employees. Most had a wealth of helpful information and even a few were able to teach some games to people. Aside from the FLGS, the publisher booths also indulged our interests with enthusiasm and kindness.
So what did I play? This week, I'll be posting little capsule reviews, but for summary's sake. New to me games from the open game library (in which we had to read the rules before/while playing) included Carcassonne: The City and Memoir '44. We also played Forbidden Island from the library, which was new to our boys. Gnome Games staff and/or volunteers taught us Once Upon a Time, Poo, and Quarriors. The folks at Out of the Box demonstrated Pirate vs. Pirate and Word on the Street (including a fun "life sized" version). Over at Fantasy Flight, we saw, but did not participate in, demonstration games of Game of Thrones: The Board Game and Dust: Tactics. And Aaron Kreader, with Studio 9, Inc., personally demonstrated to our boys his new card and dice game Villagers and Villains. He was friendly, patient, and connected well with the boys. His game was one of the three I purchased on Saturday. The other two were Condottiere, a card game well established on my wish list; and Sleeping Queens, a whimsical card game that I purchased moreso aimed at my 4 and 1/2 year old daughter. My brother-in-law came away from the weekend with Memoir '44 - an exciting development considering he is less engaged in board gaming and much more into Pokemon!