GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #5: Video Games and Apps

Since Pong, video games have been of great interest to the geek community. The games and graphics have gotten much more sophisticated, but the appeal hasn’t waned. See what games the GeekMoms are playing this year!

Image: Telltale Games
Image: Telltale Games

Back to the Future: The Game (30th Anniversary Edition)
About $20
If you haven’t yet gotten enough of Back to the Future this year (and who has?), check out Telltale Games’ fantastic Back to the Future: The Game, put out in a 30th Anniversary (for the movie) edition. Set six months after the story of Back to the Future III, you’ll take Marty through time once again to save Doc Brown, making choices for him as he tries to stay out of trouble himself. It’s a bit like the old Secret of Monkey Island game, except much more up to date, and with time travel!

Super Mario Maker Wii U Bundle © Nintendo
Super Mario Maker Wii U Bundle © Nintendo

Super Mario Maker Wii U Bundle
Super Mario Maker not only puts all of your game designer dreams to the test, it also challenges all of your Mario skills with a staggering amount of brilliant levels created by players around the world. If you don’t already have a Wii U, there’s no better time to buy one than now with this bundle including both the game and the console. Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #5: Video Games and Apps

D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 1 — Getting Started

Since 1974, millions of geeks have dug their teeth into the lore, magic, and adventure of Dungeons and Dragons. Over 40 years of shenanigans and sleight of hand have carved a backbone in the Geekyverse, before many of us were born, and each of those 40 years has seen a new crop of newbies join the ranks of Dungeon-crawlers. Embracing the idea is the easy part, in the end. That hard part? Learning thousands of concepts, rules, and options.

No one can learn it all overnight, and sometimes, you won’t have a teacher. D&D for Young Players and DMs is a journal of the lessons our family learned while introducing my kids to D&D.

Continue reading D&D for Young Players and New Dungeon Masters: 1 — Getting Started

Finding My Tribe – Gaming Guilds

A gaming guild is a group of individuals who get together to play a game. My gaming guild is like my family. We play together, laugh together, and share in each other’s lives.

The guild I am a part of, Alea Iacta Est, is actually more than a guild. It’s an online community that grew out of a World of Warcraft guild. It started as a fan guild for The Instance Podcast and it now spans multiple online role playing games and game networks. If an online game exists, odds are there is an AIE guild active in it. I am only one of several thousand people who call themselves a member of Alea Iacta Est, but whenever I get to meet up with fellow guildies, it feels like I am meeting long-lost relatives. We know that we have at least one thing in common, if not more.

I’ve been able to meet other AIE guild members through several different events. Not only is AIE a large community, but we are very active as well. I’ve gone to several local meetups, not just where I currently live but also during my brief stint in the Bay Area. There’s a convention called Nerdtacular I’ve attended for the last three years that celebrates the Frogpants podcast network community, which The Instance Podcast is part of. So while it is not only AIE guildies that attend, they make up a large part. This year we took our four-month old, and so we had a little different experience than previous years. Continue reading Finding My Tribe – Gaming Guilds

Forget Pepe. #ifoundmurky at BlizzCon 2015

Throughout October, leading up to BlizzCon 2015, one hashtag ruled them all as far as Blizzard games were concerned. The tag #ifoundpepe took off as players tweeted images of their characters with the beloved bird on their head.

When the Blizzard Gear store released a plush Pepe, the frenzy around him reached a fevered pace. But while there were dozens of Pepes to be seen throughout BlizzCon, another character also seemed to have caught the eye of crafters throughout the fandom. So I would like to propose a new hashtag, #ifoundmurky.

Murky is a murloc, a small creature that most World of Warcraft players would recognize as one of the many mobs that characters plow through in their quest for experience and gear. Heroes of the Storm players might recognize him as a niche character that shocks everyone when a player selects him.

No one really gives the poor creature much of a thought, outside of being a humorous addition to any game. But he has found love among a small group of crafters and I caught up with a few of them at BlizzCon. Continue reading Forget Pepe. #ifoundmurky at BlizzCon 2015

Screenshot Photography: Where Does it Fit in the Art World?

Screenshot photography is a newcomer to the art world. Screenshots have been around since the beginning of computer video games. PC gamers would use screen captures to document moments in games and capture vast virtual landscapes and character customizations.

With the introduction of screen capturing on new generation consoles, this new art form has made way into casual gaming.

In most instances, screenshots are basically candid snapshots. However, screenshot photography is gaining popularity with artists who are looking for an additional medium to explore. This new attention is due to the growing demand for video games. Games are worlds to experience, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that artists have begun to embrace screenshots as a new medium.

Continue reading Screenshot Photography: Where Does it Fit in the Art World?

Should Parents Sign Those Sports Media Permission Waivers?

It was time to sign up my kid for futsal, so I followed the link in the email from the team manager to sign him up. Only, in addition to digitally signing a waiver recognizing the health risks and holding the organization free from blame, I was also expected to sign a media release waiver:

“I, the parent/guardian of the above named Registrant, in consideration for accepting the Registrant for their Futsal programs and activities (collectively the “Programs”) hereby grants to [The Organization] and its member clubs and organizations, the right and permission, free from approval, review or cost, to photograph, record or otherwise capture the Registrants likeness in participating in the Programs for use in media, now or hereafter known, including, but not limited to pictures and video, to copyright the same in its own name, and which may be included in whole or in part for commercial or promotional use”

A quick perusal of the organization’s website shows that they pretty much just show group pictures of winning teams, maybe a couple action shots of groups, and that the likelihood of my child being singled out for ridicule or being the subject of a “what not to do” article is low.

But that’s not the point, is it?

I’m talking about digital images of my child that will live on to perpetuity and granting the rights to that picture to someone else forever. In whatever way they choose. Without my approval or review.

Do I sign?

Continue reading Should Parents Sign Those Sports Media Permission Waivers?

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

Many geeks sure love their tabletop games. From family game night to weekend-long game fests to gaming conventions, tabletop games play a pretty big role in our lives. We’ve come a long way since the days of Monopoly and Sorry (though those games still have their uses). What are GeekMom’s favorite games this year? Check them out!

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

Get a Head Start on the Holidays Thanks to Nintendo [Giveaway!]

My six-year-old and I recently attended an event at Nintendo to get a firsthand look at some of their best offerings for the holiday season. Not only did my daughter make her own Nintendo-themed holiday wish list, we are ecstatic to share an incredible prize back with Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival and her other top picks with one lucky reader!

Continue reading Get a Head Start on the Holidays Thanks to Nintendo [Giveaway!]

PAX Australia 2015 (Part 2): Indie Video Games Steal the Show

PAX – where Gamers go to Loot.

Walk the exhibition hall and the first thing thrown at you is every big name in the video game industry, and more. The hype is about new and upcoming games; the atmosphere is about promoting the most unreal gaming experience.

In between all the glitz and glory are the indie developers, stealing all the tweets. Part 2 of my PAX review is aimed squarely at the video games: the games planning to conquer the world… and the ones I predict will succeed.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 2): Indie Video Games Steal the Show

6 Things You Should Know About ‘The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes’

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes knows it’s dangerous to go alone, so the game invites your friends and family to go along with you.

The new Nintendo 3DS release takes place in the kingdom of Hytopia, where a witch has replaced the princess’s stylish clothes with a drab unitard that she can’t remove. (The horror!) It’s up to the heroes of the land to save the princess…’s awesome fashion style.

This lighthearted take on Zelda is a one-of-a-kind co-op title that takes teamwork between friends and family to save the day. Here are six things you should know before you pick up the game.

Continue reading 6 Things You Should Know About ‘The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes’

Beware the Horsemen! Mark Lawrence Brings on the Apocalypse With New Game

When I found out that Mark Lawrence, a popular grimdark/dark fantasy author (The Broken Empire series, The Red Queen’s War series) was designing a new game, I had to check it out. It looks like irreverent dark comedy gold, to be honest. Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a card-based game where players try to evade the horsemen as long as possible by throwing others under their hooves. The cards themselves have color art on them by Cathy Wilkins (Numera, No Thank You Evil!), and stretch goals include contributions to cards from additional authors like Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, Peter V. Brett, Anthony Ryan, Michael J. Sullivan, James Lovegrove, Myke Cole, and more.

I asked Mark why he decided to create a game. He was kind enough to tell me all about it. Please welcome him to GeekMom!

Image: Ragnarok Publications
Image: Ragnarok Publications

Hi, I’m Mark Lawrence, a late-starting novelist, long time research scientist, and father of four. My main occupation is actually looking after my youngest child who is 11. She’s very severely disabled and takes an enormous amount of looking after. My first book was Prince of Thorns, published in 2011.

I came up with the idea for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse card game the same way I come up with ideas for my books. I just sit and get on with stuff that needs doing, and while I do it ideas bubble up. I have a restless imagination—it’s always throwing ideas at me, occasionally some of them stick. Continue reading Beware the Horsemen! Mark Lawrence Brings on the Apocalypse With New Game

Fun & Spooky Games Whatever Your Halloween Plans

Whether you’re throwing a big neighborhood party, or staying home with the drapes closed this Halloween, chances are there’s a game to suit both your tastes and this spookiest of seasons. To help you celebrate Halloween I’ve picked out six games in six different styles including board games, video games, and games to play with kids.

Continue reading Fun & Spooky Games Whatever Your Halloween Plans

We Bought Our Sons a New Gaming System…and a History Lesson

"Like" this post if you have ever used one of these! Image credit: Patricia Vollmer.
“Like” this post if you have ever used one of these! Image credit: Patricia Vollmer.

You’ve said it to your kids when they complain about how difficult life is. Go ahead…admit it.

“Back in my day, we had it hard!

“We walked uphill in a blizzard to school…both ways!”

“Your Dad and I had only seven TV channels! And if you missed your favorite show, you were doomed until the rerun came on!”

“If you didn’t rewind the video cassette rental before returning it, you were charged a fine!

Recently, my husband and I had heard some commentary from our 10- and 13-year-old sons about how primitive their Wii video game system is compared to their XBox 360. That seemed to spark quite a family conversation one evening.

Continue reading We Bought Our Sons a New Gaming System…and a History Lesson

Tabletop Game: ‘Rattus Cartus’

Think you can survive the Black Death? Think you could become the ruler of a Plague-torn nation? Here’s your chance to try! Rattus Cartus is a fun game for families ready for a life-and-death challenge to shake things up.

Not very heavy on the history,  the mechanics add up to fun and engaging play. However, given its elaborate setup and sometimes complicated game play, this is a game that is more suitable for teens than younger kids.

Rattus Cartus is a worker placement and press your luck game. Set in 1347, there is only one goal: become the ruler of your kingdom. The biggest challenge? Not dying from The Black Death.

Without risk, you can’t gain supporters, but you also gather rats along the way. Careful—if you have too many rats at the end of the game, it won’t matter if you have the most points, because you’ll be dead.

Continue reading Tabletop Game: ‘Rattus Cartus’

Tabletop Games: ‘Super Genius’ Series

Super Genius is a series of educational flashcard games. Normally, I avoid flashcards. They have one job, they do it well, but then you never need them again.

But instead of your normal flashcards, Super Genius players match questions and answers in a variety of different games. Each game comes with several rule-sets, allowing each one to be played in a half-dozen different ways, including cooperative, matching, and ditch-your-cards style games.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Opening the first box was both underwhelming and exciting. Each box is exactly the size it needs to be, not bigger or smaller. Each of them comes with brightly colored cards, covered in a collection of numbers, pictures, or words. Setup was easy and took maybe a minute, including reading the rules. Continue reading Tabletop Games: ‘Super Genius’ Series

‘Covalence’ Game: Cooperative, Educational, Chemistry Fun

I love cooperative games because the dynamics of the group shift from finding any possible way to beat the live humans hanging around with you to exploring all possibilities within a game system to triumph together.  I also appreciate educational games that keep the fun.

Is it possible to have all three in one?

Why, yes, and the game is called Covalence: A Molecule Building Game recently put out by Genius Games. This is the latest in their series of science-based table-top games.

How does it work?

Covalence uses deduction. Continue reading ‘Covalence’ Game: Cooperative, Educational, Chemistry Fun

6 Tips for Throwing a Video Game Playdate With ‘Yoshi’s Woolly World’

Having your friends over to play video games isn’t a new idea. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you probably had some buddies over to check out the rad new Super Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog. But “playing games together” back then was more your friends staring at the screen while you play, instead of playing together.

Thanks to the attention spent to co-op play in games like the upcoming Wii U title Yoshi’s Woolly World, video games now are more social than ever! Plan a perfect video game playdate for rainy day fun with the help of these six tips and Yoshi’s Woolly World. Continue reading 6 Tips for Throwing a Video Game Playdate With ‘Yoshi’s Woolly World’

Let’s Be Bad Guys: Time for Some Thrilling Heroics With ‘Colt Express’

In Colt Express, you take on the role of a bandit holding up a train in the American Wild West. Players use their cards to move around the train, gather loot, attack rival players, and influence the Marshall—at the end of the game the player with the most loot is the winner.

Continue reading Let’s Be Bad Guys: Time for Some Thrilling Heroics With ‘Colt Express’

Tabletop Game: ‘Machi Koro’

Machi Koro is a card drafting and dice rolling game in which players try to develop their city faster then their opponents. Each turn, players roll dice, reconcile the relevant actions, and then buy cards to earn them the money they need to develop their towns. The first player to finish all of the landmarks wins.

Continue reading Tabletop Game: ‘Machi Koro’

7 Things You Should Know About ‘Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer’

If you or your kids loved decorating your house more than anything else in previous Animal Crossing games, you’re in luck! With Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, you can put your own style on the inside and outside of homes of over 300 villagers. You’ll also make a school, hospital, restaurants, and more to make your new town feel like your very own.

Before you pick up the game, now available for the Nintendo 3DS, here are seven things you should know. Continue reading 7 Things You Should Know About ‘Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer’

Let Brett Dalton Keep You Up ‘Until Dawn’

When Brett Dalton and Elizabeth Henstridge took the stage at Rose City Comic Con, you would have expected that all of the questions thrown their way would focus on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But a surprising number of audience members asked Dalton about his recent appearance in Until Dawn, a PlayStation 4 exclusive horror game released in August.

Dalton revealed a few behind-the-scenes tidbits about the frightening but stunning game that any fan of survival horror should pick up. Continue reading Let Brett Dalton Keep You Up ‘Until Dawn’

3 Quick Games For When You Have No Time to Play

Games © FreshPlanet Inc/Twice Circled/Bethesda
Games © FreshPlanet Inc/Twice Circled/Bethesda

If I had to pick one adjective to describe moms, it would be “busy.” We’re always on the go doing something or other, usually at the the cost of our own leisure time. As a result I find it difficult to find the time to sit and play video games that require hours of game-play working through excessively long levels, or exploring open-world universes, unless I choose to sacrifice even more of my sleep. I’ve therefore become a big fan of games I can dip in and out of easily when I have a little time to spare.

I’ve rounded up three of my favorite games that can be progressed significantly when you have under five, five to 15, or 15 to 30 minutes of free time: Fallout Shelter, Rock On, and Big Pharma. Continue reading 3 Quick Games For When You Have No Time to Play

Disney Infinity 3.0: Return of the Hoarder

The Disney Infinity pile up continues at our house with the addition of Star Wars and Inside Out worlds. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.
The Disney Infinity pile up continues at our house, with the addition of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Inside Out’ worlds. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

“We’re just going to look, okay?”

Ever utter these well-intended and ill-fated words to your children, before breaking down and displaying a disturbing lack of self-restraint?

This is the type of bad parenting Disney 2.0 did to us last year, as I talked about in my post “Confessions of a Disney Infinity Hoarder,” and Disney Infinity 3.0 is threatening to do this once again. When the first wave of 3.0 figures came out Aug. 29, our intentions were to purchase a starter set and a couple of figures for a surprise family Christmas gift.

That didn’t happen. Continue reading Disney Infinity 3.0: Return of the Hoarder

Create Your Own Mario Masterpiece With ‘Super Mario Maker’

Super Mario Maker Wii U Bundle © Nintendo
Super Mario Maker Wii U Bundle © Nintendo

You might not have known it, but you’ve been training for 30 years to design the most epic Super Mario level ever.

Or to beat it.

Super Mario Maker not only puts all of your game designer dreams to the test, it also challenges all of your Mario skills with a staggering amount of brilliant levels created by players around the world. Continue reading Create Your Own Mario Masterpiece With ‘Super Mario Maker’

Popular Games vs. Geek Gamers: Can They Impress?

Firefly Clue Pieces © Sophie Brown
Firefly Clue Pieces © Sophie Brown

As a group, us geeks can be a little, well, snobbish about the games we play. Why would we play Clue when we could play Catan? Why choose Scrabble over Stone Age? As much as we might think that way, a quick Amazon search for “board games” reveals that classic titles such as Monopoly, Clue, Sorry!, and The Game of Life are still the top results. My husband and I returned to two popular games—Yahtzee and Clue—both of which had recently been given a Firefly-themed makeover, to see if they could win us over.

Continue reading Popular Games vs. Geek Gamers: Can They Impress?

Tabletop Game: ‘Double Feature’

Image: Renegade Games
Image: Renegade Games

Double Feature is a trivia-adjacent game, in which players shout out the names of movies that meet the requirements of the two face up cards. Each card has a feature of a movie, such as a setting, character, or prop. The player who comes up with an answer first gets one of the criteria cards, and another is placed. The first player to collect enough cards wins the game. The number of points needed varies according to the number of players. The concept is printed clearly on the box: “All you need to know are the movies you’ve seen!”

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Setting up the first time, we realized that there were very few rules, 120 cards, and lots of room for fun. The six features are Characters, Production, Props, Scenes, Settings, and Theme & Genre. Set up took about 15 seconds. Play began immediately.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

We chose our first two categories randomly, and assigned myself as the Director (current judge). It was my task to decide the winner. Play flew quickly. We started with “HAS OR IS A SEQUEL,” and “GOLD, DIAMONDS, OR PEARLS.” The Fellowship of the Ring took the first victory. The player took the Production card.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

The next card played was chosen by the current director, the player to my left. They chose to flip a Theme & Genre card, which happened to be “ROAD TRIP.” This combo was immediately snapped up by another person in the group with Diamonds, a fun film from 1999. The player received the Props card, because it had been face up longer. This keeps the criteria rotating, keeping players from stalling over a particular feature.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

The best part of this game in our group is that the goal isn’t coming up with one specific movie, making it less about trivia, and more about connecting dots in movies you already know. With Double Feature, every player can use movies they know personally. This makes it easier to play with young kids, or with people you might not know well. Players just stack their cards in a staggered fashion, so it is apparent to all players how close to the end of the game they are.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Everything you need to play is in the box. The cards are decent quality, with the art done by the amazing John Kovalic. The box is a bit big for its britches, though. A small rulebook and one 120 total cards means this game could have been packaged in half the size. Not a deal breaker, but it does take up a bit more room than I’d like.

Play is suggested for 10+, but I can tell you our 11-year-old had a hard time. As a shout-it-out game, he struggled with getting answers out in time. Both of our kids struggled to play with adults, because of the huge number of movies adults are exposed to, even if they don’t watch them. I’d encourage kids to play with kids around their own ages. Adults should be prepared for thousands of movies to be fair game.

Play is intended for 4-10 players. A four player game requires ten points to win, meaning it has a maximum of 36 rounds, and can be finished in ten minutes, provided players are on point. An eight-to-ten player game requires six points to win, with a maximum of 46 rounds. Expect games to take significantly longer with more players, though. A ten player game can take anywhere from 15 and 40 minutes, due to the sheer number of players, and inevitable squabbling over who answered first, or whether an answer might be valid. Our group finds it easiest to play with a maximum of seven players. After that, it’s hard for everyone to keep track of the game.

I totally suggest this game for smaller groups, or when players need a palate cleanser without too many rules. I’ve taught the game in less than twenty seconds, and finished games quickly many times, regardless of number of players. Double Feature runs $14.99 on Amazon.

Disclaimer: Renegade Games provided a copy of Double Feature for review purposes.

Games! ‘Paperback’ and ‘Five Tribes’

Image By Rebecca Angel

One of my favorite things to do at a con is try new games. At ConnectiCon this year, my son and I played many and two stood out as the best: Paperback and Five Tribes.


My friend Tim brought Paperback with him to play with our group. He said, “It’s a deck-building game…” and my shoulder’s slumped since I rarely like those kind of games,  “…with letters to make words.” And I brightened since I love word games!

First off, the design and artwork is retro-mid-20th-century-pulp-fiction cool. Players buy letters to build a deck to make words. Letters have special abilities, and your goal for length or type of word varies on those abilities to help you win. Making words grew more challenging as the game progressed and fewer cards were in play, but the strategy to actual win is based on points and gaining paperback cards, and watching how everyone else is doing. It moved along well, and kept everyone’s interest. I lost because I wasn’t paying attention to the other players, too focused on making interesting words. Highly recommend for ages 12 and up.

You can watch a video of game play:

Five Tribes

“Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy?  Invoke the old Djinns, move the Tribes into position at the right time and the Sultanate may become yours!”

I like that fantasy description introducing Five Tribesa board game with mancala-based movement. My son and I play-tested this with a big fan of the game, who had his pre-teen daughter with him. Although it took some explaining, once we got going, everyone had a good time.

The game is brightly colored with fantastic artwork and tactile-satisfying pieces. Each round, turn order is determined by bidding. Then each player moves meeples around the board to land on a space they can gain influence. Like many modern games, there are many strategies to win. My son focused on gaining most of the land and specific color meeples, the gamer’s daughter collected resources and slaves, and I took as many djinn cards as I could. My son won.

We played it again the next day with our regular group of Con attendees and it was more fun now that I knew what I was doing. (Still didn’t win…)

And here’s a video of game play:

My son and I know what we want for Christmas this year…

‘Minecraft’ Server Design From Youth Digital


Youth Digital is an online classroom dedicated to teaching kids how to do a number of things including Game Design, Animation, and Minecraft Server Design. GeekMom Jenny wrote about the Minecraft Mod Design course a while back, but today I’ll be discussing my favorite course: Minecraft Server Design.

Image: Youth Digital
Image: Youth Digital

Minecraft, of course, is the second-most sold PC game of all time, surpassing World of Warcraft, Half-Life 2, and The Sims 3. With over 60 million players on all platforms, it’s no surprise that players of every age group want more and more from this celebrated sandbox game. After all, what’s better than a sandbox game with millions of custom mods, settings, and maps? Not much, I tell you. Not much.

Youth Digital’s Server Design Course allows players (particularly kids) to design servers that will let them define the rules of their Minecraft experience from the ground up. Our family was getting a little overwhelmed with commercialism on normal servers, and it was really making us wary of playing on servers. This sucks, because so many of the best mini games out there are designed to work on their signature servers. But paying for mini games, perks, and maps can get expensive.

When I started doing the YD course with our son, it was a great opportunity to decide which mini games we wanted to pursue. We both love PVP and parkour, so we agreed to design a map that provides plenty of both.

The class started off with some server basics: how to launch your server, setting yourself up as the moderator, and white-listing your friends. After the basics were set up, we explored the map. We had three choices, and decided to go with the map that had the most interesting features for us, the City map.

Image: Rory Bristol
Choose your team! Image: Rory Bristol

We discovered skyscrapers, cranes, helipads, and glass domed buildings. We found hidden parkour and interesting hiding places. It was a great canvas on which to paint our server. After checking everything out, we decided that Red v. Blue felt just a little stale. We switched to Green v. Red, which just felt more like “us.”

Read the rest of this article on our sibling site:

‘Splatoon’ Free Demo Begins August 21

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

Haven’t had a chance to play Splatoon on the Wii U yet? This is your chance to get inked—for free! Splatoon is back as a “global testfire” (i.e. a free demo) during the dog days of summer.

Since launch, Nintendo has consistently been adding new, free content in game updates. New weapons, stages, and game modes have been keeping the game fresh, and a recently increased level cap adds even more fun for the dedicated Inklings out there.

Check out my review of Splatoon for more details about the game; so far it’s my family’s favorite game of the year.

Visit the Nintendo eShop to download the demo now! Free play is available from 3-5 PM PT on August 21-23.

Tabletop Game: ‘Lanterns: The Harvest Festival’

Image: Foxtrot and Games
Image: Foxtrot and Games

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a tile placement game with an Asian festival theme. Players place tiles, strategically giving each player lanterns each turn. Players collect lanterns in the seven different colors, trying to match the three goals for points. The three goals are four of a kind, three pairs, and one tile in each of the seven colors. After the last tile is placed, each player gets one more turn to complete actions and score points.

Opening the box was fun for the kids and me. We love punching pieces out, and the tiles all came in sheets. There are tiles for placement and scoring. The lantern cards are thin but sturdy. The board begins with the Boat card placed in the middle. When it is placed, each player gets their first lantern. The first player gets a red lantern and, in clockwise order, the others get white, black, and blue tiles. The first player places a tile, and play progresses.

Image: Rory Bristol
An example of color matching. Image: Rory Bristol

Every turn, all four players get a lantern card, unless the bank is out of the required color. In such cases, the player is out of luck. When the current player puts down a tile, they automatically get a lantern based on which color of the tile is facing them. If, however, they match colors, each matched color nets the player a corresponding color. If a tile has a symbol on it, such as a dragon or panda, a matched color also nets the player a token. Two tokens can be spent to exchange one lantern for another color.

The current player has to play in a particular order on their turn. There are two optional steps a player can take. The player may exchange two tokens and a lantern for another lantern from the supply. The player then has the option of “Dedicating” their lanterns. The player returns lanterns to the supply, and takes a score tile matching the lanterns they turned in. After the player chooses whether or not to take these actions, they must place a tile, and distribute the four lanterns, if possible. This immediately ends the turn, and the player cannot dedicate again until their next turn.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

The point values of the score tiles decrease over time, so players must act quickly to get enough points to win. Since a player may only exchange and/or dedicate once per turn, there is no reason to hold on to tiles when the player might dedicate. The player would only fall behind.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

There are no outside materials needed. Scores are clearly labelled on the tiles, and there is no need for outside notes or labels for play. The game includes 56 lanterns, 30 scoring tiles, 36 placement tiles, 20 tokens, and a tiny boat to mark turns. We’ve never really needed the boat, but some groups would benefit, since every turn includes at least some action for all players.

Despite the large number of pieces, the box is easily three times too big. The quality of the pieces is fantastic, though, and deserve the sturdy box, regardless of size.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Lanterns can be played with 2-4 players, but I strongly suggest four players every time. Otherwise, the balance is a little off. Some tiles are marked for removal for games with fewer players, but there are the same number of lanterns on the field. Solo play is not possible in the slightest.

The suggested age range is 8+, but younger players can absolutely play. The skills required involve placement strategy, minor resource management, and simple addition. I’ll happily play with a six year old, regardless of math skills, because Lanterns can be simplified into a matching/scoring game concept, while still using the proper rules.

Lanterns is $35 on Amazon. Appropriate for many ages matched with high re-playability, I would say this is a decent investment, especially if you can get it on sale.

Lanterns also was one of the winners at this year’s Mensa Mind Games and is allowed to carry the Mensa Select seal. GeekMom Jenny wrote up the winners on GeekDad, if you want to check it out.

GeekMom received a copy of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival for review purposes.