inconsequential ruminations

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High Frontier

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I played High Frontier a while ago with Peter Haslehurst and friends, but real life got in the way of blogging. Hard-working Peter got his thoughts down quickly. The recent Ludology interview with Phil Eklund was superb and inspired me to get my thoughts down.

After playing High Frontier, Peter’s initial reaction was that it was like the German games revolution never happened. Any game with eight pages of core rules, that still takes seven hours for four pretty hardcore gamers, including two hours of explanation, has hardly been influenced by Settlers of Catan.

Amazingly Phil Eklund said in Ludology that he has been assimilated by the German gaming revolution and pares down his designs from complicated drafts. Don’t believe a word of it – at least if you’re thinking of trying High Frontier. It is an amazing design – in the same way that a 20-minute guitar solo is amazing. Definitely an acquired taste – especially the the rule that lets the Chinese jettison their crews.

I’m not the only one who struggled:

The last is a podcast describing the game in detail. There’s a moment when one guy is rendered speechless when he’s told they were playing the game with a few rules significantly wrong. Priceless.

All grumpiness aside, if you like simulations and space more than me, you will agree with Michael Barnes and Paul Evans.

Check out this Essen preview. Phil Eklund’s reaction, at the end, to HF being described as a sci-fi game is the highlight:

I would like to play again, but as a two-player game to save time and there’s hardly any player interaction anyway. I’d also like to take notes, as there’s too much for this newbie to keep in his head. If I can avoid running out of fuel at the far end of the solar system, there’s far more chance of me enjoying it.

Written by Iain

December 30th, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Games for young children

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I was asked for kids games recommendations for a four year old. I have played quite a few, mostly two player, games with my daughter, who is now 6 and a half. Most of the these are fine for the very youngest kids, especially if you adapt the rules:

  • Viva Topo! – Clever little race game. Not as good as I thought it would be. Probably better with more.
  • Snail’s Pace Race – Totally non-confrontational and very simple, which is very important for their first multiplayer games.
  • Schildkrötenrennen – Good, Knizia racing game. You have to keep secret which is your racing tortoise, which is a struggle for very young kids.
  • Rüsselbande – Alex Randolph. I prefer Schildkrötenrennen.
  • Piratissimo – Nice components, but this race game takes too long and has almost zero skill. Nevertheless my kids often ask for it.
  • Monkey Madness – Works for the youngest kids. Small and simple. Highly recommended.
  • The Kids of Carcassonne – Quite good, but you might as well buy regular Carcassonne and play simplified rules.
  • The Kids of Catan – Beautiful components and simple enough for the youngest kids, but large and pricey.
  • Happy Families – My kids love playing with me and my wife. The oldest designs are usually famous for a reason.
  • Gulo Gulo – Not quite as good as it’s rated. The core dexterity game is great, but the game surrounding it isn’t so good.
  • Giro Galoppo – A great first racing game.
  • Flinke Flitzer – Fine for the youngest kids.
  • Enuk – Inelegant game design. Not recommended.
  • Elefun – Lovely dexterity game. Excellent, but you’ll lose all the floating shapes.
  • Click Clack – Excellent for very young children. Beautiful components. Vast, poorly made box. My kids love it – even though I’ve had enough.
  • Chateau Roquefort – Another inelegant design. Probably better with more than two.
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha – Excellent memory game. I played this with a few friends and they want to buy it for the kids in their lives.
  • Capt’n John – Not much of a game.
  • Buckaroo – Old favourite. More of a toy.
  • Barnyard Critters – Stressful speed game. My daughter suggests this, but she nearly blows her top when she’s playing.
  • Au Backe! – OK memory game, with lovely art, but a bit clumsy. Chicken Cha Cha Cha is better.
  • Let’s Catch the Lion! – Lovely introduction to Shogi/Chess. My girl likes it, but it’s a challenge.
  • Loopin Louie – Excellent dexterity game, but we lost all the plastic coins within a month.
  • Piccobello – Lovely little game for the youngest children. Highly recommended.
  • Wooly Bully – Played this a couple of days ago with my daughter. Not bad but better with four.
  • Villa Paletti – My kids enjoyed this very much. Jenga but more interesting.

Written by Iain

December 20th, 2011 at 11:22 pm

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Was Sticht

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I played Was Sticht?, from Mü & Lots More last night with my in-laws and Duncan. It was a great choice. My in-laws are lapsed Bridge players. Everyone abused me for refusing to play Bridge, but they picked Was Sticht up really quickly and we all had fun.

Was Sticht plays like a regular trick taking game, but each hand you try to complete a goal. For example:

  • take the last trick
  • take no blue cards, but at least one trick
  • take no tricks

At the start of the game you all pick four goals. The first to complete them wins.

Four suits, values 1-9. Trump suit and trump number are random each hand. Trump number outranks suit.

Each hand takes a while to play. Our game had only five hands in total.

Gameplay:

  1. Dealer peeks at the trump suit and the trump number.
  2. Dealer lays out all the cards.
  3. Players take one card each.
  4. Dealer says which player would have won the “hand”, so players can deduce the trumps.
  5. Repeat previous two steps until all hands dealt.
  6. Dealer reveals trumps.
  7. Players select one of their goal cards. Dealer does not pick a goal card, but tries to make one of the goals of the other players.
  8. Play hand like a regular trick taking game, except that number trumps can be played at any time.
  9. All players who reach their goals discard a goal card.

First player to discard all goal cards wins.

The problem is that Was Sticht is too lucky relative to the complexity. The selection of cards and deduction of trumps is interesting, but actually doesn’t matter too much in practice because you don’t know which goals your opponents will pick. I would definitely play again, as the whole experience is fun, but explaining it to new player’s is not.

6/10

Written by Iain

November 10th, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thunderstone

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Two plays of Thunderstone tonight.

Combined scores were:

  1. Duncan 15 + 32 = 47
  2. Iain 19 + 17 = 36
  3. Rafa 13 + 22 = 35
  4. Chris 15 + 19 = 34

It was fun, but I got a headache from reading small text at a distance in bad light.

I was impressed by the difference in feel between each play. There is very little waiting around for others as you always have something to think about. Thunderstone grabs me much more than Dominion, which felt very dry. The rules felt a little convoluted for the style of game. We printed out some revised rules from BGG, which seemed to help.

I’d like to play again. 7/10

Written by Iain

October 19th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

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The Guinness Book of Word Games

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Looks like I only get the energy to blog when I’m on holidays with wifi.

Rather than reading all the worthy novels I brought, I got through The Guinness Book of Word Games by David Parlett, which I bought second hand on Amazon for a pittance. You may know David Parlett from his card game books, his Oxford History of Board Games and Spiel des Jahres winner Hare and Tortoise.

It’s split into:

  • Spoken Word Games e.g. I Spy, Charades
  • Written Word Games e.g. Jotto, Hangman, Call My Bluff
  • Boxed Word Games e.g. Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords
  • Playing With Words – a slightly superfluous section discussing issues in word games, e.g. anagrams, synonyms, franglais etc.

I really enjoyed the book, despite not really being a fan of word games. I listed the best known games above, but many original lesser-known games are described. The book also covers a lot of games I already knew in depth. I had no idea there was a dictionary specifically for Call My Bluff / Fictionary.

David Parlett’s writing style is worth the read in itself. He never misses a chance at neat, witty word-play, while still writing perfectly sparse, economical English.

I played Jotto last night, which is a true classic and I’m looking forward to trying more.

It’s made me consider trying the Alpha Word Games System. I bought the Alpha Playing Cards a few years ago and should really try the rummy game in it – which I now know is similar to Lexicon.

UPDATE
I forgot to mention that you can get a taste of the book by reading David Parlett’s original word games at his website.

Written by Iain

July 26th, 2011 at 9:26 pm

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Shut Up & Sit Down

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Shut Up & Sit Down is a new Tumblr and video podcast. It’s aiming at new gamers and they have a gentle eccentric style of humour. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Written by Iain

July 11th, 2011 at 10:31 pm

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Washington’s War

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Washington's War

I played Washington’s War with John on Friday night. I played the original, We the People, a few years ago. Just about the only thing I remember about We the People was that it was a great game let down by a tediously slow battle card system. Washington’s War fixes that simply with a modified die roll. Both games have top-notch components, so this seems the perfect reprint.

We the People started the Card Driven Wargame genre and as a genre-creator it has genuine quality. If only it had been imitated by more games that were as fast-playing and easy to understand. Twilight Struggle fits that bill and the BGG ratings speak for themselves. I would like even simpler, shorter wargames to come out of this mould, but I doubt I’ll see them. If you like Twilight Struggle or Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage you will almost certainly like Washington’s War.

8/10

Written by Iain

March 6th, 2011 at 8:44 pm

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