Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 34

Mum came over to our house this morning for her weekly visit. I had planned to play Der schwarze Pirat and Burg Appenzell with her and Maddie but unfortunately Maddie wasn't feeling well. Having the GIPF project on my mind for the last few days I suggested some games.

First up Mum and I played ZERTZ. In this game you lay out 37 rings in a hexagon pattern. The first player to capture 3 of each colour (white, grey and black) marbles, or 4 white, or 5 grey or 6 black marbles wins the game. You capture marbles by jumping one marble over another checkers-style. Each player on their turn may place a marble and then take away a ring. As the game progresses the board shrinks. If on your turn you are in a position where you can capture a marble then you must do so. However, this means you cannot place a marble and take away a ring. You can also capture marbles by isolating them from the main area of the rings.


The strategy is in placing a marble on your turn to force your opponent on their next turn into capturing it with a marble of the colour you want and thereby putting their marble into a position where you can capture it on your turn. Obviously this means sacrificing marbles to be captured by your opponent. The trick there is to ensure that you force them to capture marbles which don't help them too much. I went on to win but it was by the rare event of, after exhausting the marble pool, using one of my captured marbles to place in the final vacant ring thus effectively 'isolating' and capturing all the marbles on the remaining rings.

We next played YINSH, a favourite of mine. In this game both players place their 5 rings anywhere on the board on the line intersections. The goal is to get 5 of your coloured markers in a row, thus allowing you to remove one of your rings as a scoring point. Score three rings and you win the game.


On your turn you choose a ring to move by placing your colour marker in the ring. You then move your ring in a straight line along any of the lines leading from that intersection. You cannot move through another ring. You can jump over as many markers as you want as long as they are in a straight unbroken line and you finish with your ring on the first vacant point after the last marker. Every marker you jumped over is flipped to reveal the opposing colour. You may jump over your own and your opponent's markers. I really enjoy this game and went on to win 3 rings to 1.

"Daddy can I play?"

Our final game of the morning was DVONN. I love the board for this - it looks like a sandy beach. In fact DVONN would be a great game to take to the beach. Leave the board at home and make the imprints of the spaces on the sand with the rings. As the rings are Bakelite it doesn't matter if they get wet.


In the first phase of DVONN players alternately place their rings on the board. The three red DVONN pieces are also placed at this time - two by the white player and 1 by the black player. The aim of the game is to have the highest stack of pieces at the end. A player owns a stack if their colour is the uppermost colour of the stack. The red DVONN pieces are important because a piece or stack must be able to draw a connecting line to them. If any pieces or stacks are isolated from being connected to a red DVONN piece they are removed from the game.

You can only move a piece that is not surrounded on all sides by other pieces. A single piece can move 1 space. A stack can move in a straight line an amount of spaces equivalent to the number of pieces within the stack. It's a great game of move and counter-move that is visually appealing as well. Mum won the game with some great moves and ended up with a stack almost twice as high as mine.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

TZAAR - A new game from Kris Burm

I'm a fan of Kris Burm's GIPF project. I've just become aware that he has designed a new game for the project entitled TZAAR. Boardgame News has a story on the new game here.

Apparently the new Belgian publisher of the GIPF project, Smart, is dropping TAMSK from the lineup and replacing it with TZAAR.

Here’s a description of TZAAR from Kris Burm (from Boardgame News):

TZAAR is a game about making choices. Both players have 30 pieces, divided in three types: 6 Tzaars, 9 Tzarras and 15 Totts. The 3 types of pieces form a trinity: They cannot exist without each other. The aim is either to make the opponent run out of one of the three types of pieces or to put him in a position in which he cannot capture anymore. The tricky question the players will have to ask themselves on each of their turns is: “Shall I make myself stronger or my opponent weaker?” Meaning: Will you capture an opponent’s piece and make him weaker, or will you jump on top of one of your own pieces and make yourself stronger? If you choose to jump on top of your own pieces too often, you will probably leave your opponent with too many pieces on the board. On the other hand, if you capture too often, you may end up with pieces that are not strong enough at the end of the game. What to do? Up to you to decide!

TZAAR will be released by Smart on a broad scale in 2008, but a special pre-release edition of the game—limited to 1,000 copies signed and numbered by designer Kris Burm—will be on sale at Spiel 07.

Spiele aus Deutschland!

Games from Germany! Fellow board gamer Friendless recently put in a games order to Germany and offered some other Brisbane gamers to share the cost of postage with him. This was an opportunity to get some games which may not be available in Australia and at a cheaper price than if they were.

I ordered Der schwarze Pirat, Razzia! and Burg Appenzell. These are all language independent games - they do not have any writing on the board or game pieces that would affect play for an English speaker. Two of them come with rules in English and I can get the translated rules for the third game from BoardGameGeek.

Friendless was nice enough to bring them into work with him today and as I only work in the next city block I was able to meet him for the pick up. I hope to play a couple of these games on Saturday morning so I'll post again then.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 33

My wife Deb recently picked me up the PC game Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy for $5 from a garage sale. Maddie wanted to watch me play so I let her design the character with which we would play. She chose a Twi'lek female and had fun designing the character's skin colour, face, and clothes. I control the character but she tells me what to do. We normally play for about half an hour each session and I've been surprised at Maddie's problem-solving abilities during game play. She's also good at reminding me to hit the quick-save button before we do anything too risky. So we've been sharing some Daddy/daughter time together and Maddie's been learning a lot about the Star Wars universe. Over the last week I've been calling her 'my young Jedi apprentice' and 'my little padawan' which she gets a kick out of. That sort of sets the scene for our choice of game when my mother (Grandma) popped around this morning for her weekly visit.

I brought out Epic Duels, a game from Milton Bradley/Hasbro which was released in 2002 as a tie-in with the 2nd of the Star Wars prequels Attack of the Clones. Epic Duels allows players to fight individual battles between famous Star Wars characters using a set of 31 miniatures on 4 different board locations. Players choose a major character that has one or two minor characters with it. Each set of characters has its own deck of cards which are used for attack, defence, or special abilities. Each deck is unique with certain special powers relevant to the major character. There are different modes of play; one on one battles, up to three teams can play against each other, or up to six players can play a free-for-all, last-man-standing battle.

In our first game Maddie chose Anakin Skywalker/Padme Amidala, Grandma was Obi-Wan Kenobi/2 Clone Troopers and I was Darth Maul/2 Battle Droids. We chose the Kamino Platform battleground.

Darth Maul AKA Darth Dad

The starting positions

We agreed at the outset that Grandma and Maddie would team up against me. I sent one of my Battle Droids to the left to try and get in a position to shoot the enemy as they advanced up the landing platform. Obi-Wan raced straight for me while Anakin and Padme followed. While Anakin and Obi-Wan engaged me in a lightsaber duel Padme and the Clone Troopers attacked my Battle Droids. Unfortunately, Battle Droids are as crap in Epic Duels as they were in The Phantom Menace and they quickly fell under the blaster fire of Padme and the Clone Troopers.

Lousy Battle Droids!

Meanwhile, wounded, I realised I was quickly running out of cards so I tried to buy myself some more time by moving behind the starship. Anakin and Obi-Wan closed in on either side of me. I dealt some major damage to Obi-Wan and he retreated but not before inflicting some cruel blows on me.

Darth Maul fights on alone with 1 hit point remaining

My double-bladed lightsaber flashed wildy but Anakin managed to land a blow that reduced me to 1 hit point. I counter-attacked but the next turn he cut me down. The light side of the force had triumphed.

I found it's very difficult for one player to win when being ganged up on by two players. This game is all about hand-management and as you only have two actions a turn you must decide whether to play a card or draw a card. The problem is that to attack or defend you must play a card so when being attacked and defending you quickly run out of cards. In hindsight I should have positioned myself behind my two Battle Droids and then tried to keep out of combat for as long as possible while just drawing 2 cards each turn.

Maddie immediately wanted to play again. I agreed but on the condition that I took two characters to even up the game balance. Once again it would be Grandma and Maddie versus me. For our second game Maddie chose Darth Vader/2 Storm Troopers, Grandma was Emperor Palpatine/2 Royal Guards and I chose Luke Skywalker/Princess Leia and Han Solo/Chewbacca. Our battle would take place in the Emperor's throne room.

Darth Vader makes straight for Princess Leia

Our 2nd game was much more balanced. Darth Vader moved quickly to attack Leia and Luke from behind while Han and Chewie blasted away at a Storm Trooper and Royal Guard. The Emperor hung back menacingly.

Chewie and Luke take out a Storm Trooper and Royal Guard

I sent Luke Skywalker towards the Emperor but he had to cut down a Royal Guard who tried to block him. Luke then realised Leia was in danger so he moved back to help her. Too late! Darth Vader cut her down. The Emperor decided this was an opportune time to attack and he and Vader trapped Luke in a hallway.

"Turn to the dark side Luke!"

Luke's Jedi skills were strong enough to do damage to both Vader and the Emperor and they retreated. Han and Chewie then fired away at Darth Vader while Luke chased down the Emperor.

"The Force is strong in this one..."

Luke managed to kill the Emperor but took a lot of damage in the process. Meanwhile, Han and Chewie were also almost dead but still fighting Vader heroically. A lucky shot from Han's blaster finally put an end to the Sith Lord.

"He's not so tough now is he Chewie?"

It was a surprisingly close game with all remaining characters being left with only a few hit points each. The game was very tense and it could easily have gone the either way. I liked the different powers of the characters and look forward to exploring the card combinations of the individual decks in future games. Epic Duels played fast and was heaps of fun. Maddie needed Grandma to read some of her special power cards but apart from that she held her own and really enjoyed herself. I can see us playing this game again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Foggy Morning

Last Friday morning I awoke to find a fog covering the area. This is a fairly rare occurrence so I took a photo. Compare it to the photo I took the following morning at about the same time. The view is taken from our back deck overlooking our back neighbour's house and yard.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 32

My Mum (Grandma) dropped by for our weekly gaming session. This morning we decided to play a game of Scrabble. Mum went first after drawing an A to my C.

Turn 1 [Mum] RAKE 16, [Me] YA(K) 18
Turn 2 [Mum] H(A)IR/H(A) 21, [Me] FLOO(R) 10
Turn 3 [Mum] (F)IG 14, [Me] (O)NE 4
Turn 4 [Mum] WA(G) 14, [Me] P(A)/P(I) 8
Turn 5 [Mum] (YAK)S/(I)S 13, [Me] DUA(L) 5
Turn 6 [Mum] (W)ED 14, [Me] (A)G/G(O)ON/(O)N/N(E) 16
Turn 7 [Mum] J(E)T/PA(T) 15, [Me] (J)EU/E(D) 26
Turn 8 [Mum] P(U)S/(WED)S 23, [Me] Swapped 3 tiles
Turn 9 [Mum] ((Y)AM 8, [Me] EXA(M) 26
Turn 10 [Mum] (HA)T/(A)T(E) 9, [Me] ST(E)W 14
Turn 11 [Mum] (T)O/O(X) 11, [Me] (PUS)H 13
Turn 12 [Mum] VA(S) 8, [Me] A(N) 2
Turn 13 [Mum] DO(V)E 24, [Me] (D)UN 4
Turn 14 [Mum] BR(I)DE 12, [Me] (B)EY 12
Turn 15 [Mum] TILE(R) 10, [Me] L(I) 4
Turn 16 [Mum] CO(W) 8, [Me] (C)AT 15
Turn 17 [Mum] LE(E) 9, [Me] ZeS(T) 24
Turn 18 [Mum] R(E)CUT 16, [Me] fE(Z)/E(R) 35
Turn 19 [Mum] DI(N) 5, [Me] MAI(L)/M(U)/A(T) 12
Turn 20 [Mum] GO(D) 7, [Me] (T)RIBE 10
Turn 21 [Mum] (Y)O 5, [Me] LI(E) 3
Turn 22 [Mum] N(O) 2, [Me] (I)N 2

I ended the game by playing my last tile. Mum was left with an F, Q, R and V for minus 19 points (ouch!) from her final score.

I found this an oddly satisfying and yet overall frustrating game. The word placement was very constrained and right from the start we both seemed to be trying not to let the game open up. The satisfying part for me was attempting to make several words at once and I believe my four words on turn 6 was the most words I'd ever scored on a single turn.

The frustrating part of the game for me were the tiles I chose. I seemed to get most of the vowels while Mum got most of the consonants. It got so bad for me that on turn 8 I decided to swap 3 tiles which is something I rarely do.

My 2-letter word knowledge paid off with some obscure words like ED (education), PA (father), PI (a Greek letter), AG (agriculture), NE (born with the name of), LI (a Chinese unit of distance), ER (used to express hesitation) and MU (a Greek letter). My interest in history gave me BEY (a Turkish ruler) and my interest in games gave me JEU (a game).

Mum held her initial lead for most of the game with me only overtaking her score on turn 18. Final scores were me on 263 points and Mum on 245 points. I averaged 11.95 points per turn which is a bit lower than some of my previous games.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Gaming With Grandma - 31

Another Saturday morning gaming session with three generations of my family; my Mum (Grandma), my 6 year old daughter Maddie, and myself. Today was Maddie's choice of games.

For our first game Maddie chose Nobody But Us Chickens. This is a fast-paced, trick-taking card game where players earn points by capturing chickens with their predators (foxes and rats) or protecting chickens with their guard dog. We always enjoy this game. Grandma came 1st with 31 points, I came 2nd with 30 points and Maddie came 3rd with 11 points.

After that Maddie chose Pass the Pigs. This is basically a push-your-luck game where you throw two pigs and score according to the positions in which they land. First person to 100 points wins. Grandma had the lucky throws today coming 1st on 100 points, Maddie 2nd on 46 and myself 3rd on 23.

Grandma wins in style with a double razorback!

Next up Maddie chose The Simpsons Slam Dunk game. In this game the dealer keeps turning over cards until one of the other players slams the slam dunk board and shouts out "Slam dunk!" thus taking all the face-up cards. The trick is to wait for enough good cards to be revealed and make the slam before the other players. As there were only three of us that meant you were only ever trying to beat one other player each round. Winner is the first person to win two hands. We chose to play only the one hand. Grandma came 1st on 32 points, I came second on 31 points and Maddie came 3rd on 24 points.

Following that game Maddie decided to play Pick Picknic. This is another family favourite and one we've played several times since it arrived as a present at Xmas 2005. It has a very similar theme to Nobody But Us Chickens but in this game players are vying for corn in 6 poultry yards. Points are scored by playing fowl to eat the corn or foxes to eat the fowl. It's another game where you try to outguess your opponents. I came 1st with 56 points, Maddie came 2nd on 54 points and Grandma came 3rd on 52 points. It was a very close game.

Maddie then wanted to play a couple of card games from the Kidz Cardz tin I'd bought her for a previous birthday. First up was Go Fish which Grandma won. We then played Old Maid and Grandma was left with the old maid card.

Our final game of the day was Loco! which I suggested. Loco! is a quick and simple game by Reiner Knizia. There are five different coloured chips, with six cards, zero through five, in each of the colours. The cards are dealt out, and then players take turns playing a card and taking any available chip. When one colour has all six cards played on it, then the game is over, and players use the last card played in each category to value their chips. The highest total value wins.

We played three games of Loco!

Game 1: Maddie 1st on 16, myself 2nd on 12 and Grandma 3rd on 8.
Game 2: Maddie 1st on 26, Grandma 2nd on 9 and myself 3rd on 6.
Game 3: Grandma 1st on 37, myself 2nd on 34 and Maddie 3rd on 29.

I was very impressed with the way Maddie played. We ended up calling her 'Loco Queen' due to the amount of times she frustrated the plans of Grandma and myself by slapping down a Loco! card on a colour in which we had both invested heavily.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Father's Day

We had a barbecue breakfast on the back deck this morning. The weather was great; clear skies with a cool morning leading into a warm day. The girls had made some Father's Day crafts at day care and school so they were eager to give them to me. I'll stick them up at work on my workstation. I was also excited to receive the 3rd season of Deadwood on DVD from Deb. I've seen the first two seasons of this brilliant TV series so can't wait to watch the 3rd season.

Maddie had found a recipe for fruit kebabs the other day and spent yesterday afternoon making them with a little help from Mummy. They had grapes, strawberries, kiwi fruit, marshmellows and banana on the wooden skewers. The girls also decided to cover them in chocolate before leaving them in the fridge overnight. We had them after breakfast - delicious!

Mmmm....chocolate-covered fruit kebabs!

After breakfast we drove to the Ferny Grove markets and walked around looking at the stalls. We arrived about 11.00am so by that time the stalls were fairly picked through. No matter.

Back home for a cup of tea and a read of the Sunday papers. We put Georgia to sleep in her cot and then Deb and Maddie decided to go rollerskating while I took the opportunity to have a nap. Three hours later I awoke when Georgia had awakened and started crying. Wow! Having the opportunity to sleep during the day is one of the things I've missed most since having children. What a pleasure it was to catch up on some sleep.

All in all a nice day.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fun With Bubbles

Today was the first day of Spring for those of us in the southern hemisphere. This afternoon we blew bubbles for our kids. Georgia was particularly fascinated by them.

They're so pretty!

I wonder what they taste like?


Gaming With Grandma - 30

My Mum (Grandma to our kids) dropped by for her regular Saturday morning chat and gaming session. We chatted and had a cup of tea while 19-month-old Georgia played on the floor. It wasn't long after that my wife Deb and our elder daughter Maddie (6) arrived home from their visit to some early morning garage sales.

"Daddy we got a game and it only cost $2.00!" exclaimed Maddie, "can we play it?"

"It's over 40 years old." commented Deb.

It was Railroader, a Waddington game from 1963. It is a race between rival pioneering railway companies to lay a track and run the first train from Junction City to Buffalo Creek. The box was huge, measuring 36cm x 51cm and in surprisingly good shape considering its age. I opened it and was instantly intrigued by the little plastic trains and tracks. The board folded out to reveal a beautiful map of plains, rivers, lakes and mountains.

So Grandma, Maddie and I sat down and counted all the components. All 104 pieces of curved and straight track were present. All the plastic train pieces were present as well. The only missing piece was one of the 20 dynamite tokens which does not affect game play at all. After we'd checked all the pieces I separated them and put them into ziplock bags.

We decided to play a game with Maddie choosing yellow, Grandma blue and myself green. On your turn you make a choice of either laying track or moving your train. Each piece of plastic track is either straight, a left curve or a right curve. The board designates where each player lays their track. Each track piece is 4 spaces long. Spaces are classed as the space between the sleepers.

If you choose to lay track you roll a d6; 1-2 allows you to lay 1 track, a 3-4 allows you to lay 2 tracks and a 5-6 allows you to lay 3 tracks. Each track has a small peg on its base which locks it into a hole on the board. If you choose to move your train you roll 2d6 and move that many spaces. Trains are composed of three separate pieces that can be linked together; 1 engine, 1 coach and 1 caboose.

There is a constant management of the balance between laying track and moving your train. If you lay too much track in front of your train you will open up more chances for other players to sabotage your track. If you move your train too close to the end of your line you will face the possibility of derailing.

There are coloured points along each player's route that signify the possibility of some sort of action when the train engine ends its turn on them. Probably the most important are the blue points where your track crosses a river. When your engine comes to a halt over a blue point adjacent to a river you may send a saboteur along the river to another player's track and place a box of dynamite on it. The cool part is that all rivers join so you can reach any river crossing ahead of an opponent's train.

Other points are hazards where you draw from a deck of hazard cards and follow the instructions and ambush points where Indians attack and you are forced to detach your engine and send it back to the nearest garrison post for a relief party.

There is obviously a bit of luck involved in this game but the leading player can always be targeted for sabotage by the other players. The box of dynamite on your track prevents you from laying further track and reduces your movement from 2d6 to 1d6 until your train reaches that point to clear it.

We chose to sabotage randomly to spare Maddie's feelings of being purposely targeted when she was leading. The luck was with her with Grandma and I mostly placing dynamite on each other's tracks. This allowed Maddie to develop and maintain a decent lead. Maddie went on to win with Grandma and I racing neck and neck for second place. I ended up coming second but Grandma was only one roll behind me for third place.

Railroader is not a challenging game by any means but the beautiful board and cool plastic trains and tracks make it fun. I found it quite enjoyable actually physically laying the tracks and then moving my train along them.