[MyLittleSandbox] Played It - Three children's games

I have a bad op shop habit; I work around the corner from a couple of fairly decent Salvation Army and Good Samaritan stores and I would usually visit each store at least three times a week. There are a few slightly more distant stores that I'll hit once every fortnight, and a few more that get monthly visits.

I am of course on the hunt for boardgames. Most of the time I leave empty handed, but on occasion there's something worth grabbing and every now and then I come across a real gem (like a copy of long out of print 'grail' game Up Front).

Almost all of the children's games I own are secondhand. Some really are not worth the shelf space, others look more interesting... but the only way to find out is to play them.

Animal Olympics box art

Animal Olympics (Ravensburger, 1989, age 7+, 2-4 players, 5-10 min)

This is part of a Ravensburger small box line. I'm an absolute sucker for games in small boxes. Components are thirty-nine small cards, numbered 1-39, each featuring an animal athlete. Players are trying to build a sequence from low to high. Once a card is placed it cannot be moved - so you have to make smart choices about where to leave gaps.
It's simple, with one or two neat mechanics and I quite enjoy it as a quick game. I'm not sure 6YO quite 'got it' - or else she suspected dad's ulterior 'maths practice' motive - she wasn't especially enthused.

Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus (R&R, 2003, age 6+, 2-6 players, 10-15 min)

Flea Circus box art

This one I picked up on sale at a toy shop (and it's nicely reviewed by Neil Thompson if you follow the link ) for a few dollars. An over-produced card game with some take-that mechanics and toy cat and dog pieces to keep score with. I found it a very dull experience with two, I suspect it would be more fun with four or more. 6YO on the other hand enjoyed it - partly because she liked the cats and dogs and partly because she won easily. I'll probably play it again with her as she needs practice at holding a hand of cards (she tends just to lay them out in front of her), and because she didn't grasp all the rules the first time. Perhaps with a couple more kids her own age or slightly older and see how she goes coping with a game that lets you steal points from other players.

Lilly's 3 For All (Gamewright, 1998, age 4-8, 2-3 players, 10 min)

Lilly card art (image by Amy O'Neil)

Gamewright (again follow the link to a Neil Thompson review) have a sizable catalog of children's games, many of which make their way to op shops - and then to my shelves. This is another card game, three separate card games in fact, with relatively simple symbol matching gameplay. I played the first game with 6YO, who found it a little too simple and pretty uninteresting. I'll see if she finds other games to be more interesting - but I suspect she was put off by the card art as much as anything, feeling that the game was a little babyish.

So - no complete stinkers among the three, but a reminder that sometimes it's factors other than the game play that make a game fun (or otherwise) in a child's eye.

Originally posted (with links and images intact) at http://mylittlesandbox.blogspot.com/2012/10/played-it-three-childrens-games.html

[MyLittleSandbox] 1d6 Links

1. Mike Doyle has taken a few years off from reimagining game art (more's the pity), his latest creative venture involves LEGO sculpture.

2. Lovely story about reliving 1940's LA via a video game (HT @StewartWoods)

3. Pretty much spot on review of X-Wing and the various X-Wing Expansion Packs

4. Jackson Pope dissects the corpse of Reiver Games. Happily he still has the game design bug, and is blogging his work-in-progress 'Codename: Vacuum'.

5. In the space of a few hours, Daniel Solis creates, refines on twitter and releases another game into the wild - Picker is a simple dice game.

6. A big week for iOS boardgames saw Knizia's Qin, Alien Frontiers, GMT's first iOS game Dominant Species and the Sackson classic Can't Stop released. Qin was the first simultaneous iOS and physical boardgame release, and is getting good reviews. Both Alien Frontiers and Dominant Species look like faithful conversions of their parent game. Can't Stop however suffers from the too many animations disease; a quick push-your-luck game is bloated into an exercise in tedium.

originally published http://mylittlesandbox.blogspot.com/2012/10/1d6-links.html - with links and images and stuff

[MyLittleSandbox] Played It - Ahoy

Ahoy is a simple memory game from one of my favourite designers, Corne van Moorsel - who is perhaps best known for Powerboats.

Twelve cards are arranged in a clock, each card is two sided and each side shows one of four sea creatures (Orca, Dolphin, Shark, Turtle). Players move by choosing a card, flipping it and moving their token to the nearest card showing the creature revealed. They might move right round the clock - or only advance a single space.

The game is a race - five laps of the clock and then finish exactly on the starting location.

It's simple enough for my six year old, and difficult enough for adults to enjoy. I'm somewhat embarrassed at how difficult it sometimes is to remember the flip side of a given card..

Ahoy - published by Cwali (van Moorsel's company), 2005

Plays 2-5 players ages 5+, takes 15-20 minutes to play

Available from Unhalfbricking for $25.00

originally published at http://mylittlesandbox.blogspot.com/2012/10/played-it-ahoy.html (with links and images !)

[MyLittleSandbox] Played it - X-Wing

Starting the game - Rebels on the left

Demonstrating how not to play the game

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is Fantasy Flight's game of dogfighting in the Star Wars universe. FFG sell the game much like they'd sell a Living Card Game; a starter set contains the rules and enough components for 2-3 players, expansion sets are then made available to add more variety (and players) to the game.

I was lucky enough to play a six-player game using a WABA member's rather extensive collection of miniatures. What I bought to the table was... the table. I picked up a copy of Skeleton Key Game's Starbase Trench Run and printed it onto full sheet sticker paper - then cut out each tile and stuck it to 4 (roughly) 600mm x 600mm MDF boards. It was a bit of a rush job - as the photos show, but I think it was more fun than a plain tabletop.

Mechanically the game is built on the engine used by Wings of War with players pre-plotting, then executing, their movement, firing upon an eligible target and using a deck of cards to assign damage.

This is a simple system that lends itself to speedy game play. To it the designers have added Star Wars themed chrome - like target locks, proton torpedoes and astromechs.

X-Wing assigns each starship, pilot and component a fleet point value, meaning that players can build balanced, customised forces to oppose each other. Rebel ships are generally more robust and deal more damage - and cost more. Imperial ships are faster and more agile - and significantly cheaper. Our game was played with 100 fleet point builds and saw 3 X-Wings face off against 5 TIE and 1 TIE-Advanced.

Playing on the Rebel side I think I (and my team mates) made several rookie mistakes that saw us easily defeated. We called the game with a single X-Wing fleeing five surviving TIEs; it really wasn't close. I suspect the game is harder for a Rebel player to master.

Although individually tougher, the X-Wings need to stay together to allow them to concentrate their fire. We chose to split up instead - which allowed the more nimble TIEs to gang tackle us one at a time. I would also be tempted to build a larger force with fewer 'premium' pilots and addons; superb combat skills are of little use when outnumbered four-to-one.

The beauty of a fleet point system is that it allows for fairly easy handicapping. In our case playing with 120 Rebel points vs 100 Imperial may have balanced out the learning curve. This might be appropriate to learning games for example where you want to avoid player frustration.

While the game is easy to pick up, there are a couple of rough spots - mostly cropping up in situations where a lot of minis are crowded together. Aside from the obvious issues with fat fingers and waving range sticks knocking miniatures over, the game handles overlaps in a way that might grate with some players. If a ship moves in such a way that it ends up with an overlapping base, it must be moved back along it's path until it finds a clear space. In some cases this means it will not move at all. This was a bit of a jolt (I'd actually misread the rule - surprise !) when it first happened - but I can see that it keeps the game 'neater'.

This is a simple and quick Star Wars themed combat game - and it certainly captures the theme. Fleet points and an active fan community promises lots of customisation and replay value. Negatives might be the cost and perhaps an initial learning curve for one faction. Despite being the first to disappear in a ball of expanding gas, I had a lot of fun playing, and I'm already planning a rebuilt Death Star surface with a recessed trench and turbo lasers.....

BGG user Hivegod captured the game best however ... 'All too Easy'

Originally published at http://mylittlesandbox.blogspot.com/2012/10/played-it-x-wing.html (with links ! and images !)

[MyLittleSandbox] 1d6 Links for the Week

Some interesting links I've found this week

Kickstarter - Hillfolk by Robin Laws (Feng Shui, GUMSHOE, Dying Earth RPG, Over The Edge). Hillfolk is but one setting for his new DramaSystem RPG engine, another ten settings have been unlocked as stretch goals. Funded seven times over - with 22 days still to go !
Beating the Odds - successfully tackling gender imbalance in presenters at a tech conference.
Review - Other Dust - a post-apocalyptic RPG / sandbox tool set by Kevin Crawford (Red Tide, Stars Without Number - both excellent). Taking the old school approach outside it's standard fantasy setting.
Interview with Rick Priestley (from 2011) discussing amongst other things the origins and influences on the Rogue Trader/WH40K setting.
Awesome custom cast Death Star terrain for Fantasy Flight's new game X-Wing. Apparently an AUS distributor has been located...
Daniel Solis talks about designing the masthead for the new edition of Designers and Dragons - a wonderful history of the RPG hobby.

original post : http://mylittlesandbox.blogspot.com/2012/10/1d6-links-for-week.html (with working links !)

[MyLittleSandbox] Played It - Cheese Snatchers (Käs

School holidays brings with it more chances to game with my six year old
daughter. I read about Käseklau! on Mark Jackson's blog aka pastor guy and
knew it was a game that would catch her imagination.

To play Käseklau!, five large tiles representing different rooms in a house
are placed in a circle. On each are placed six smaller face down tiles each
showing between one and three slices of delicious cheese. A cat starts on
one room tile, a mouse on another. Now the players roll two dice - a mouse
die showing 1-4 mice, and a cat die showing 0-2 cats. The cat and the mouse
move round the circle the number of spaces shown on their die.

If the mouse is alone on the new tile he takes a piece of cheese - and the
player MAY choose to take another turn, or they can choose to stop
and 'bank' their cheese. If the cat catches the mouse however the player
loses any cheese collected this turn.

Thus the player has the choice to play it safe or to push their luck. The
6YO seems to find this difficult to manage - several times she pushed on,
collecting six or more tiles (a game winning haul) only to push once too
many times and lose the lot. Stung by that she'd then play very
conservatively for several turns. She is graceful in defeat however and
enjoys playing - I'll enjoy watching her come to grips with a new game

As a HABA game I knew two things; it would be beautifully made and...
really hard to get hold of in Australia !

Fortunately the boardgamegeek page for the game also has photos of all the
components - which made it easy to create a homemade copy. While the pieces
are a shabby imitation of the original, and the dice have very crude
dad-graphics the game itself is fun - and was a big hit with the 6YO. A day
after our first play, she was making plans to create her own copy with new
graphics - the cat would chase a bird instead of a mouse through different
trees rather than rooms in a house.

That's my lil gamer girl !


[MyLittleSandbox] Award Winner - Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

The Indie RPG Awards celebrate the achievements of the indie roleplaying scene. If you are interested in developments outside the mainstream then keeping an eye on the annual nominees and winners is a great way to stay in touch - and find some amazing games. I'm personally a fan of games than focus on story rather than mechanics and many of the indie games take that approach. (It's interesting to see designers adapt techniques from improvisational theatre for example).

Daniel Solis is a deserving winner of Best Game for 2011 for the collaborative story telling game Do : Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I follow Solis' blog with interest - he's a great proponent of crowd-sourced game design and documents the game design process as he goes. 'Pilgrims' was supported by a Kickstarter campaign and is a wonderful example of how designers can add incorporate supporter contributions in their finished product.

'Pilgrims' is a little like an earlier game Happy Birthday Robot ! (which is aimed at a younger audience) with players taking turns to create a collaborative story. Described as 'a comedic crossover between Avatar: the Last Airbender, the Little Prince and Kino's Journey', the players are travelling monks who try to help people - but spend most of their time getting in and out of trouble.

The game is very simple in structure - each player has an avatar, a banner and a short description:

Pilgrim Cloudy Window gets in trouble by having his intentions misunderstood and helps people by opening opportunities.

The scenario is described by a letter detailing the problem for the pilgrims to solve, and players take turns writing the story of what happens.

There is a short summary of the rules on Solis' blog which would be enough to get a feel for the game. The full product is available as a PDF or as a hardback book (I picked up a copy from Tactics). I recommend the latter - it's a beautifully produced item with wonderful thematic art throughout.


[MyLittleSandbox] Award Winner - Kingdom Builder

The Spiel des Jahres (German: Game of the Year) is a jury-based award given to the game judged to be the best amongst those released in Germany in the previous year. The awards were created in 1979 and are seen as a major contributor to the growth in quality and popularity of 'eurogames'.

Image by BGG user KForm

Games nominated for the SdJ are generally of low to moderate complexity; it is seen as an award for family games. This year's winner Kingdom Builder by Donald X Vaccarino (of Dominion fame) is a perfect example of this; simple rules, quick play time, quality components and no (direct) conflict.

The game is played on four modular boards, chosen from a selection of eight. Each will have two special locations of which there are eight different types; placing a token next to a location gives the player a extra ability they can use once per turn. Victory conditions for the game are chosen - three conditions from a deck of ten. As with Dominion, Kingdom Builder is all about the variable setup ! This variation gives a simple game a great deal of replayability.

Every turn a player draws a card showing one of five terrain types found on the boards. Each player has forty house tokens, and on their turn they must place three. A house must be placed in a location matching the terrain type drawn and must (if possible) be placed next to an already placed hosue in the player's colour. This means that house's tend to be grouped together, which may be an advantage or a disadvantage depending in the victory conditions. Additionally the player may use any special abilities they have gained through placing tokens adjacent to the special locations discussed above. These abilities tend to allow extra token placement or minor rearrangement of already placed houses.

Initial placement is frequently critical. A player will need to evaluate the available terrain, special locations and choose that which offers the best chance of meeting the victory conditions. Choosing a special location tile that allows an extra token to be placed each turn has obvious value, but being able to 'shuffle' houses about in order to form lines or small groups can offer greater rewards in some cases.

With such simple rules, the game moves swiftly. Even those prone to dithering will find they have only a limited number of moves to choose from given the random terrain and adjacency rules. What can be tricky is choosing between conflicting victory conditions and deciding on a strategy that offers the greatest reward.

I think of Kingdom Builder as a snack game. It's easy to teach and even new players can complete a game in around thirty minutes. It offers your brain a light workout without too many heavy decisions. Like many snacks you find yourself going back for 'just one more'.


[MyLittleSandbox] Planned it - Ravenloft Folly.

A game for Swancon 2013.

The pitch:
1. Take a copy of Castle Ravenloft.
2. Paint the miniatures.
3. Replace the tiles with 3-D dungeon sections.
4. Add props (like 3-D coffins).
5. Play a series of linked games in a mini-campaign - the players may even be different for each game.

So far I've painted about half the minis. My skills are best defined as 'adequate' - we're talking base coat, quick shade and maybe a little dry-brushing. The results to date have been quite pleasing - bearing in mind the aim is to have game pieces not exhibits. It's also been fun.

I've put together a series of tiles using papercraft products from Fat Dragon Games and mounting them on foam core. This is probably going to be the most time consuming activity.

Once I have enough 3-D tiles for a game I plan to do some play-testing. The most important issues I can see again revolve around the tiles. Will they shift around too much ? Will the walls make playing the game a pain ? Will finding a particular tile be too time consuming ? How big a box will I need ?

So that's Ravenloft Folly, completely impractical and it may end up killing me... but it should look good and be fun to play with !


[MyLittleSandbox] Played It - The Castle of the Devil

Box cover - image by BGG user 'scratches'

German publisher Adlung-Spiel have published a number of what are essentially board-games in a small format - the size of a standard card deck. I like lots of bits and high production values as much as the next collector of games - but I also appreciate games that are distilled down to their simplest form - and this format doesn't take up much valuable shelf space !

The AS edition was how I saw 'Castle of the Devil' - or Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg as it was first published - and it's a game I'd always wanted to play. I got my opportunity on Saturday where I joined a game played with a later, larger format edition from Italian publisher daVinci Games.

Castle is a game of hidden identity, the players are members of two conspiracies and must use deduction and in game mechanics to identify the members of their own faction. The principle method for doing this is the duel- one player challenges another, all the players support one side or the other and the winner gets to see the allegiance of the loser. Observing who supports who in the duel is another method for teasing out this information. If you have determined that another player is a member of your conspiracy you might signal this by supporting them in a later duel.

To complicate matters, each faction are also trying to collect three specific objects, and there is another mechanism for trading objects or spying on the objects of another. Again if you have identified a fellow conspirator you can use trade to signal this.

To win, a member of a faction must declare the identities of his fellow conspirators and identify which among them hold the conspiracy-specific objects. Alternatively a player can 'out' the members of the opposing conspiracy and declare that they own all the objects they are trying to obtain. I used this second goal to steal a win.

I tried to use duelling and trade to identify other members of my conspiracy and signal my membership to them. Sadly I was unsuccessful in the latter - and spent half the game being thwarted by the one player I knew to be on my side ! I also realised half way through that two players I had assumed were members of my faction were not. This left me in what seemed to be an incredibly weak position with no objects to trade and unable to win a duel. Fortunately the members of the other conspiracy overplayed their hand and began using the trade action to accumulate objects amongst themselves. This made their allegiance clear - and given that they had acquired a majority of objects I felt sure that they had all the objects they needed - (they just hadn't worked out who had them) and the risk of making a declaration was worthwhile.

Having two factions makes Castle an interesting variant on other hidden identity games of the 'Werewolf' type - in a game like The Resistance members of one faction are known to one another and need to avoid detection. The detection also happens (at least in our game) in secret - there is very little accusing X of belonging to faction Y, which fits the conspiracy theme nicely. In my case of course, I won despite being a poor conspirator - thanks to being unable to win a duel, all the players knew my faction. I'm unsure if that helped me at all, but it's a nice feeling to claim victory when your position seems completely untenable !

A couple of reservations - we played with 7 which meant one side had fewer conspirators. This meant that the larger conspiracy began to dominate - winning more duels and noticeably benefiting from the trade of objects. That imbalance became clear and left three players largely powerless to ward the endgame. I think I'd prefer to play with an even number of players. The game - although simple - takes a bit of getting used to and player confusion as to what they should be doing can cause it to drag. Our game took (I think) a couple of hours, whereas I could see experienced players knocking it over in less than half that time.The reviews I've read suggest that this is a fairly common experience - and also that it's one of those games that requires the right 'crowd' to be enjoyable.

It took a few rounds, but I started to see how players could use trade and duelling to signal their identity to others - I like that kind of in game lightbulb moment where an apparently simple game reveals unexpected depth.

(Thanks to Rob & Leece for the game)