Saturday, January 26, 2008

Gaming With Grandma - 48

My mother (Grandma to our kids) came over for her usual Saturday morning gaming session. As it was Georgia's second birthday the day before, Grandma had a present which Georgie gleefully opened. We also had a small chocolate birthday cake which everyone enjoyed.

Our first game was chosen by Maddie - Enchanted Forest. This is a memory game in which players move through the enchanted forest searching for magical items. The first player to successfully advise the king in his castle of the correct location of three of these items becomes the king's heir. When a player's pawn is adjacent to one of the trees the player may look underneath the tree to see what item lies beneath. The roll of two 6-sided dice is used for movement. The numbers rolled are treated separately for movement purposes but each number must be used to move fully in a certain direction. For example, if you rolled a 6 and a 4 you could move 10 spaces in one direction, or you could use them to move 6 spaces forward and 4 backwards thus giving you a net movement of 2.

Another quality Ravensburger game

As there is no reading necessary it's a perfect game to play with young children. I also enjoy it as an adult and I'm sure it would make a challenging game for a group of adults. There are elements of screwage where you can land your pawn on another player and send them back to the starting village. There is also the opportunity to bluff when you are making your way to the castle perhaps causing the other players to use magic to change the face-up magic item to one where you may know it's location. Obviously there is a fair amount of randomness in rolling dice for movement, however this applies to all players so over the game I feel it evens out. And of course memory is the most important part of this game. I won with 3, Maddie with 2 and Grandma with 1.

Our second game of the morning was Packrossli (AKA Pakkesel). This is a fun little dexterity game with lovely wooden components in which each player is attempting to stack sticks of their colour on to the back of a donkey. Each player is assigned 12 sticks in their colour. Starting with the youngest player and proceeding clockwise each player attempts to place one stick of their colour onto the saddle of the donkey. If a player knocks over the accumulated bundle of sticks then they take those sticks. The first player to place their last stick (of any colour) onto the pile of sticks on the donkey's saddle wins the game. We played one game which I won. Coincidentally, my wife bought this game at a garage sale almost exactly one year ago to the day (27 January 2007). It ended up being a fairly close game between myself and Maddie.

Captain - she canna take any more!

Our last game of the morning was Der Schwarze Pirat. Maddie chose to sit this one out but stayed to watch. This is a fun dexterity game in which players use a rubber bellows to blow their wooden ships around the board collecting treasure. The two dice rolled during the game determine which ship is moved (your own or the Black Pirate's), how far (either 3 or 4 squeezes of the bellows), how much, and on what islands the gold coins are placed.

The dreaded Black Pirate!

A cool part of the game is that on a player's turn the dice may determine that they move the Pirate ship. In this situation you may use the Pirate ship as you would your own and move it to an island to claim the gold, or you may use it to board another player by moving it to touch another player's ship. If you board another player they must take 3 of their gold coins and distribute them as they see fit in their two closed fists. The Pirate player then chooses one of the hands and claims the gold coins within. I was the only player in this game to use successfully board another ship - in both cases my mother's ship. And both times she had 3 coins in one hand and none in the other. Unfortunately on both occasions I chose the hand with no coins. However, I did go on to take the win with 23 gold coins to Grandma's 13 gold coins. The more I play this game the more I enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Prototype Dice Tower

Back in late October 2007 I built a dice tower. Now, for those of you who don't know what a dice tower is let me explain. A dice tower is a tool for randomising the roll of dice. You drop the dice into the top of the tower and as they fall they hit a number of alternating sloped ledges within the tower before falling out the bottom ramp into a catchment area.

The benefits of a dice tower are that 1) all players use the same mechanical method for rolling dice (reducing possible individual influence over dice rolls), and 2) the dice when rolled are kept in one area (thus eliminating game components being knocked over or the dice falling off the table).

The dice tower almost complete except for the final face of the tower

I really wanted to make a dice tower out of wood. However, I realised that it would be wise to make a prototype out of cardboard first. I chose card of about 3mm in thickness which was similar to the thickness of mounted game boards. Then, armed with a metal ruler and craft knife I set to work.

I didn't work off any plans. I knew roughly what I wanted and based the dimensions on what card I had available. I first constructed the tray the dice would fall into. Then I built the tower to fit into the tray. I purposely only built three sides of the tower so that I would have room to insert the internal ledges.

This shows the internal ledges and ramp

After measuring and cutting, the card pieces were glued with normal white glue (PVA wood glue). This glue gives a really strong bond to card board. The internal ledges were inserted at roughly 30 degree angles. After waiting for these to dry I glued on the front of the tower and then left it over night to fully dry. The completed dice tower stands about 30cm (1 foot) high.

The completed dice tower

I was very happy with my first dice test. The dice fell through the tower hitting the internal ledges with satisfying bumps and came to rest fully randomised in the tray. The tower is actually quite fun to use and is now a regular part of any game that requires the roll of dice. I haven't bothered to paint it or decorate it in any way as yet.

I'm now in the planning stage for my next project - building a wooden dice tower.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gaming With Grandma - 47

My mother (Grandma to our kids) popped over for a cup of tea and our regular Saturday morning gaming session. We were joined by my daughters Maddie (6.5) and Georgia (almost 2). Maddie wanted to play a new game Mummy (my wife Deb) had recently purchased for AU$5.00 from a thrift store - Electronic Whac-A-Mole.

This game can be played with 1 to 4 players and can be set for varying degrees of difficulty. Each player is assigned their own mole and takes a plastic mallet. The multi-player game begins with a mole voice stating each player's 'sound' which they must listen for. Then the game begins and every second or so a random player's sound will be made and the corresponding mole's helmet will light up. The player then has a brief moment to whack their mole on the head before another player's mole's helmet lights up.

"Die, mole, die!"

It's fun and Maddie loves it but I couldn't see myself playing more than a couple of times in a row. At the end of the game the mole tells each player their score. I came first with 100, Maddie 2nd with 90 and Grandma 3rd with 80. Georgia had wanted to whack some moles so we let her go for it as we were setting up the next game.

Our next game was one we hadn't played in a while - Money, Money, Money. This is an interesting game which comes with what's got to be the sturdiest bag I've ever seen! I think it's made out of canvas. There are 77 plastic coins within the bag. They comprise of 17 each of yellow, red, blue and green stackable coins numbered $1-$16 plus a 'wild' coin, and also 9 white 'instruction' coins.

The final combined stacks. Can't get that ABBA song out of my head...

Each player attempts to collect the most coins and stack them according to colour in front of him. On a player's turn they guess either 'higher' or 'lower'. They then draw a coin from the bag. They then compare the value and colour of the coin they've drawn to the topmost coin in the stack of the same colour as the coin just drawn. If they guessed correctly they place the coin on the top of the same coloured stack and continue. If they guessed incorrectly they put the coin back in the bag and their turn ends. Obviously, at the start when a player does not have any coins their first guess will automatically be correct because they have no coins with which to compare the first drawn coin. However, as a player builds stacks and has a stack in each colour the ease of guessing becomes more difficult. For example, your yellow and red stacks may have low numbers on their tops but your green and blue stacks may have high numbers on their tops. This is where your memory may help to recall what numbers were drawn and are now hidden within other player's stacks or you can base your guess on how many of a certain colour have already been drawn by looking at all the stacks on the table. When all the coins have been used, each player joins his four stacks together and the winner is the player with the tallest stack (or most coins). The 9 white coins throw a little randomness into the game (e.g. 'miss a turn', 'collect coins', 'lose coins'). Grandma made some great guesses to win on 29, Maddie came 2nd on 20 and I came 3rd on 19.

Our next game was G.I. Joe - Live the Adventure. This is a game we haven't played for quite some time. That's probably because I'd moved it from our dining room game cabinet to a downstairs cupboard in the hope that it would fade into obscurity in the memory of the children of this house. Alas, it was not to be so. While Maddie was rummaging through the game cabinet she asked "Where's that G.I. Joe game?" Downstairs I had to go.

"Die, Joe, Die!"

In this roll-and-move game players take turns rolling a die and moving a single G.I. Joe token around a circular board. Most spaces consist of a "battle" with a Cobra soldier. Battles are resolved by the active player and an opponent of his/her choosing each playing one of two cards. If the active player wins he receives a Badge of Honor. The first player to earn 6 Badges of Honor is victorious. Grandma was the luckiest with her rolls to win with 6 badges, Maddie came 2nd with 2 and myself 3rd with 0.

After that game Maddie wanted to go into her room to play so said that Grandma and I could continue without her. For our next game I chose Rack-O. My wife had picked this up at a garage sale for AU$3.00 back on 27 January last year and it was as yet unplayed. There is a deck of cards numbered 1 to 60 and a plastic tray in which they sit. Each player (from 2 to 4) has a plastic rack which sits in front of them and holds 10 cards. The aim is to be the first player to accumulate 500 points. Each round consists of the dealer dealing 10 cards to each player. In a two player game only the cards 1 to 40 are used. As each player receives one of the initial 10 cards they must put them in the rack in order from the back to the front. This will mean you'll most certainly have a range of cards mixed in value ranging from the back of the rack to the front. The aim is to get the cards in any numerical order from the front (lowest) to the back (highest).

The Rack-O racks make great card holders

After the initial 10 cards have been dealt the deck is placed face down on one side of the plastic card holder which sits within reach of the players. The top card of the deck is turned over and placed face up in the other side of the card holder to start the discard deck. On a player's turn they may either choose the top card of the face up discard deck and then must exchange it with one card in their rack, or they may choose the top card of the face down draw deck and may exchange the card with one card in their rack (if they choose not to exchange the card it goes face up on the discard deck). So, each turn by choosing and exchanging cards both players try to go Rack-O by getting all their cards in any numerical order from lowest to highest. When a player goes Rack-O they get 75 points. The other players get 5 points for every card in any numerical order from lowest to highest. When counting these cards they stop receiving 5 points as soon as they reach a card that is not in numerical order.

It took us 9 rounds for one player to achieve 500 points. Grandma won 540 to my 435. This is a fun game which feels a little like Lost Cities in having to choose which card to exchange because as that card goes to the discard deck it could be used by your opponent to their advantage. There is also the similarity of waiting for a certain card to appear. There's also the difficult choice of deciding where within your rack you will place a certain card. All in all it's a decent game which I'm sure we'll play again. We may reduce the victory level to say 300 or 350 for a two player game next time though.

On a side note I just noticed that all of the games played today were purchased second-hand from various garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets or school fetes.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gaming With Grandma - 46

Our first Saturday morning gaming session of the new year was attended by my mother (Grandma), my six-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maddie, and myself. Although she didn't play, (and I know she wanted to!), almost-two-year-old Georgia sat on various laps wriggling and attempting to grab game components when they were within her reach. My wife Deb was out this morning with her father.

Maddie chose the six games we were to play. She then informed us of the order in which they would be played. This morning we would be playing the games in order of their individual box sizes, from largest to smallest. It was as good a method as any I've used before so we began.

First up was the largest box - Fraidy Cats. In this game the board is a 3d back yard with fences on the four sides of the yard and a dog house in one corner. Placed in front of the dog house is the battery-operated 'Mugs' the dog. The players are cats trying to make a precarious circuit of the dog yard along the top of the fence posts. Your token is a cat on a spring-loaded base. On your turn you roll two dice which have numbers and a picture of Mugs on the die sides. If you roll numbers you move that many spaces along the fence posts. If at any time either of the dice are rolled and you get a picture of Mugs that player presses a button on Mugs after they've moved. This then sets Mugs careening off from one side of the yard to the other, bouncing off the fences and turning every which way. If he happens to bump into a cat token sitting on the fence he triggers the loaded spring in the base of the token which then shoots the cat up into the air. The unlucky cat then has to return to the most recently passed trash-can (safe-spot) or the starting point if the trash-cans are occupied.

Mad Mugs the cat-hating dog

Sure, this is basically a roll-and-move game and I normally don't like roll-and-move games. This game, however, is a hoot to play with kids. There are squeals of fear when Mugs comes close to their cat and cheers when Mugs bumps into their opponents - and that's just me - the kids are pretty vocal during this game as well!

Mugs was particularly vicious this game, targeting me on several occasions and sending me back to the starting point. Grandma ended up winning with Maddie 2nd and myself 3rd.

The next box in size was Gulo Gulo. This is a fun dexterity game from Germany where those with dexterous fingers will egg-pluck their way to victory. Each player is a Gulo (wolverine) searching through the Swamp-Vulture-infested swamp to find the missing Gulo Jr (or Baby Gulo as we've nicknamed him). To move from dry land to dry land you must pluck an egg the colour of the land you wish to move to. The eggs are different shapes with the smaller ones obviously harder to pick than the larger ones. In the center of the egg-bowl (nest) is the Swamp-Vulture alarm. If it falls and touches the table, or you knock and egg from the nest, you set off the alarm and move back to the most recently passed land of the same colour as the egg you failed to take. Like she has done many a time before, Maddie was the ultimate winner.

A beautiful game that looks good enough to eat!

The next smallest game was For Sale. Maddie has said many times that she really likes this game. It's fast and it's fun and my daughter enjoys it which means it should see a lot of plays in 2008. This game was odd, with Grandma trying a different strategy of passing a lot to save money. I'm never really sure of Maddie's strategy but she always seems to do fairly well. Final scores were me 1st on $82K, Maddie 2nd on $77K and Grandma 3rd on $50K.

Hot property - but how much are you willing to bid?

The next game in size was Nobody But Us Chickens. This is another game I really enjoy. The object of this game is to score the most points in chickens. Each player has the same hand of cards representing chickens of varying values, a fox, a rat and a guard dog. A number of rounds is played equal to the number of players. Each round represents a night. Each round ends when all cards have been played from a player's hand. Each turn players play one card face down to the center of the table. The cards are then revealed and the outcome depends on what cards were played.

A fun game of bluff and counter-bluff!

If only chickens were played then those chickens stay in a pile (the chicken coop - we use the box to represent this). If chickens and a fox were played then the fox takes the chickens (more than one fox they share). If chickens and a rat were played the rat takes all the chickens. If a rat is played with other foxes then the rat has first pick of the chickens but can take only one. If a guard dog is played with any predators then he chases off the predators and rescues the chickens for points. If there are no predators the guard dog gets nothing. It's quite a fun game trying to outguess your opponents.

Night 1 - Me 22, Maddie 1, Grandma 1 (Wow! I scored big with the fox and guard dog!)
Night 2 - Me 10, Maddie 3, Grandma 3
Night 3 - Me 3, Maddie 11, Grandma 4

Final scores were me 1st on 35, Maddie 2nd on 15 and Grandma 3rd on 8

The size of our next game was again smaller than that of the one before - Pick Picknic. This game is similar to Nobody But Us Chickens in that each player secretly plays cards and the outcome is based on the comparison of those cards to any others played in the same area. It features lovely artwork by Doris Matthäus which also makes it visually appealing. In this game players are vying for corn in six poultry yards. The corn is represented by small coloured wooden cubes of values 1, 2 and 3 which are placed on the poultry yards. In our three player game, each turn each player played two cards of different colours on to separate poultry yards. If you were the only bird at the yard you ate your fill of corn. If there was a fox the fox ate the birds and gained points equal to their value. If there was more than one bird at a yard they could duel by rolling a d6 and adding their value to the roll. Highest roll got all the corn. There was also a fleet fowl who (similar to the rat in Nobody But Us Chickens) could pinch one corn and get away before having to duel or being eaten. It was a fun game with Grandma 1st on 61, Maddie 2nd on 60 and me 3rd on 47.


And so we had made our way from the largest game box to now the smallest - Der Plumpsack Geht Um (AKA Sherlock). I have the German version with the scrotum-like Plumpsack gracing the front of the box and also the title-card which is used in the game.

In this game play proceeds clockwise. Everybody has 30 seconds to memorise the cards and then they are turned face-down. The player on your right places the plumpsack card next to one of the cards. If you guess correctly you follow the directions on the card. There will be an arrow and a number. You then must guess the card so many spaces in the direction of the arrow. If you keep guessing correctly you keep turning cards face up. When you finally guess a card that directs you back to a card that is already face up you win that card.

It was as we were setting up the game that my wife and father-in-law arrived home. Deb saw what game we were playing and immediately wanted to play. We decided to make it 8 cards laid out and the first person to win 3 cards would be the winner. So it was Deb, Maddie, Grandma and myself in a battle to see who would be the best at recall. I've played this game before against my wife and she's pretty good at it. She did explain to me that she uses the pictures as items in a story. In this way she can better remember their order. This is a similar method to how some people can memorise the correct placement of a randomly shuffled deck of cards, or the names of people in a studio audience.

Apologies for the photo - it was blurry - unlike my memory in this game! ;-)

With that knowledge I approached the first layout of 8 cards. They were an alarm clock, a shoe, a sweater, a cap, an apple, a lollipop, an anchor and a yellow duck. I visualised myself waking up in the morning (the alarm clock), getting dressed (the shoe, the sweater and the cap) having breakfast (an apple and a lollipop), then having a bath and playing with a toy boat (the anchor) and a rubber duck (the yellow duck). This visualisation helped me to win the first card of the game. But here's the thing - when you win a card you take it as a point and replace it with another from the face-down deck. I ended up winning the apple and replaced it with a feather. This fit my story perfectly as it came straight after the cap allowing me to amend my story by placing a feather in my cap and reducing my breakfast to only a lollipop.

As expected it was a close game between myself and Deb. I ended up coming 1st with 3, Deb came 2nd with 2, Grandma 3rd with 1 and Maddie 4th with 0.