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: GeekDad.com

‘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.

Tabletop Game: ‘Harbour’

Image: Tasty Minstrel Games
Image: Tasty Minstrel Games

Harbour is a worker placement game focused on humor and economy. Players run their meeples through town, using the special abilities of the buildings to earn resources, buy buildings, and ship their goods. Buildings have varying amounts of victory points, and each has its own ability. Once a player buys their fourth building, each player gets one more turn, and the game ends. The player with the most points wins.

Opening the box for the first time was an adventure of exploring the decks, abilities, and high quality parts. Players start with a player board, a meeple, and three goods of their choice. The meeple is the “worker” and travels along the harbor gathering resources, buying buildings, or triggering special abilities. Notes from Dockmaster Schlibble accompany many of the cards. Check out his notes for some laughs, which I won’t spoil here!

The harbor always has six buildings available. Each turn, the player must move their meeple to a new location, and use its ability. If the building they visit has a “buy building” symbol on it, they may choose to buy one of the six buildings. To buy a building, they must ship goods valued highly enough to pay for the building. If, for any reason, they earn more than they spend, the player loses that money.

Image: Rory Bristol

The economy is dynamic, but easy enough to track. The Market board has four resources: fish, lumber, stone, and livestock. When someone ships a resource, its demand decreases, and is moved to a lower value. The more value the resource has, the cheaper it is after it ships. The Market board keeps everything organized for you. The upset comes when another player ships the goods you have been saving, making some of your inventory less valuable, and some more valuable. The inland traders are an optional feature, which allow you to sell just one of each good for $3, no matter their values.

The character cards grant a special ability only usable by their player. They also come with a building, which is usable by all players at a cost. Players who use your building pay you a good of their choice for the privilege. They may pay this fee before OR after the action is completed. Each character also has fun flavor text describing the character. On the reverse of the character cards are generic player cards, which can be used if you don’t want to play with special abilities. The generic player cards are identical. The player cards also host your warehouse, where you store your goods. A player may have between zero and six of any good, but never more than six, and never in the negative.

My favorite card
Image: Rory Bristol

Each building has its own ability, cost, victory point value, and symbol(s). Cards cost between $6 and $12, and have victory scores between 5 and 13. There are four symbols which may appear on the buildings. Coins reduce the cost of future purchases. Anchors are a cumulative markers, which are triggered by the abilities on the buildings. Top Hats allow you to avoid the fees when visiting other players’ buildings. The Warehouse symbols are cumulative, and allow you to keep one shipped good per Warehouse when shipping inventory. Some cards have more than one symbol, making them more desirable to players.

Some strategy tips:
• Players can go straight for points, cashing in big and buying the most expensive buildings available.
• Players can go for many Anchors, increasing the income of goods.
• Players can collect Coins, making each purchase cost progressively less.
• Players who try to collect multiple Warehouses may suffer from insufficient inventory/savings.
• Players should never buy more than one Top Hat, as the effects do not increase.
• Players who prefer to play in a cutthroat manner will diversify, and remain flexible, since all 36 buildings are different.
• Synergy can make or break a game. See below.

building synergy
Image: Rory Bristol

Optimize your collection to take advantage of synergy bonuses, making your income grow faster. Always have plenty of at least two resources, to maintain a viable place in the economy.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

For fun, TMG included the Harbour Master card! Take a selfie, and show the world who’s boss with @TastyMinstrel! Keep the Master card with you during the next game, so opponents know who to fear! Of course, Dockmaster Schlibble has something to say about this. Check out his note, attached to the card above.

Everything you need to play is included in the box, a big benefit in my book. There are 36 buildings in the deck, 14 characters, 4 quality wood meeples, and 20 resource counters. No outside scorekeeper is needed, as the points are printed plainly on the cards.

With a small, well-made box, it can sneak onto almost any gaming shelf, making it a low-impact investment. The cards are easy to shuffle and aren’t too thin. The character cards are pretty beefy, holding up to rough handling very well.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Harbour also has a single player mode, playing against the Training Dummy. The Training Dummy is actually a competitive opponent, follows easy rules, and players can build strategies built on his turn preferences. Play alone, or with up to three friends. Be prepared for economic chaos with four players. The game becomes a bit of a waiting game, waiting for other players to change the economy to your favor.

TMG suggests ages 10+, but there are a lot of features to track, as well as tracking the progress of opponents. Kids need to be prepared to lose track of the game, and everyone needs to be ready to wait it out when a player has to re-examine the tabletop. I’d suggest 14+ for the most fun play, unless you have young strategists who can keep up.

Harbour is $19.95 on Amazon. The high number of buildings and characters mean that every game is different from the last, providing value beyond the quality pieces and interesting mechanics.

Disclaimer: Tasty Minstrel Games provided a unit for review purposes.

‘Lego Marvel’s Avengers’ Coming in 2016

LMA_KeyArt__QtrSz Digital
Image source: Lego Marvel Avengers cover art

If you’re like us, you can’t get enough of the Lego video games. Lego Dimensions comes out in September, and we just have to wait a little bit longer for the next one. Lego Marvel’s Avengers will be released on January 26, 2016 in North America and January 29, 2016 in Europe. It’s the first console game to include the stories and characters from The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

GameStop pre-orders will also get the Silver Centurion Iron Man minifig, also playable in the game. Pre-orders online will come with it, but if you buy in-store, it’s only available while supplies last.

Lego Marvel’s Avengers will be available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and Windows PC.

The game will follow the storyline of the two Avengers movies, which you can get a hint of in the peek at a few of the characters below:

Bruce Banner (Age of Ultron)
Bruce Banner, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Hulk (Age of Ultron)
The Hulk, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Speed, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Ms Marvel_Kamala Khan
Ms. Marvel, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Thor_Jane Foster
Thor, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel

Have You Tried ‘Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition Beta’ Yet?

Image: Microsoft
Image: Microsoft

For those people who like to play with as many different versions of Minecraft as possible, there is now a new one available.

Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta is (surprise) only available on Windows 10, so if this interests you, you will need to perform the upgrade first. For everyone who currently owns Minecraft on the PC or Mac, you’ll be able to download this new version of Minecraft for free! For the rest of you, it only costs $10 for the beta version, and updates in the future will then cost nothing additional. The game is in beta because this new version of Minecraft will evolve over time with the beta testers’ feedback and comments. You can join in at any time now, after you’ve upgraded to Windows 10.

“Does this replace my current Minecraft?”, you might ask. No. This is a new version that you can play in parallel along side your current version of Minecraft. It won’t affect your current worlds, but you also won’t be able to play them on the new version.

Here are some highlights, given to me by Microsoft:

  • Craft, create, and explore online with up to seven friends playing Windows 10 Edition beta, through local multiplayer or with your Xbox Live friends online.
  • Play online and local multiplayer with other Pocket Edition players thanks to a free update, due to arrive soon after launch.
  • Support for multiple inputs—switch between controller, touch, and keyboard controls with little to no effort.
  • Record and share gameplay highlights with built-in GameDVR.
  • Help shape the future of Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta with built-in player feedback mechanisms.
  • Chickens, zombies, pigs, boats, armed skeletons, potatoes, zombies, baby squids, enchantment tables, villagers, naked sheep, iron golems, potions, ghasts, pickaxes, carrots, and all the weird and wonderful goodness you’ve come to expect from Minecraft.

Since there are a lot of fingers in this particular pie, there are several places online to get more information and have your FAQs answered. Look at the Windows blog, the Mojang website, and the Xbox support page.

But if you’re like my son, one of your first questions is, what about mods? Since it’s still early in the beta’s development, they aren’t announcing anything about mods or plug-ins quite yet. Patience. Servers? This new beta version doesn’t currently support private servers, but will support multiplayer gameplay over Xbox Live. How about redstone? They have nothing to share yet about this. I am hoping they will soon!

Here are some additional answers to FAQs:

Q: Will I still be able to play the current version of Minecraft if I upgrade to Windows 10 operating system?

A: Yes, the current PC/Java version of Minecraft will play better than ever on your Windows 10 PC.

Q: Does the Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta have all the same features as the existing PC version of Minecraft?

A: The beta is in early stages so not all Minecraft features will be available right away. In the coming weeks we will bring all the features of the existing PC/Java version to Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta as well as exciting new features. Today, we are inviting players to download the beta and share their feedback with us.

Q: Does the Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta have unique features that aren’t in other versions?

A: Yes. The advanced gaming platform of Windows 10 allows us to bring some cool new features to the game including:

  • Switch between mouse and keyboard, game controller and touch screen on the fly; the UI adjusts automatically
  • Earn Xbox LIVE Achievements and Gamerscore
  • Record and share GameDVR screenshots and game clips to the web without leaving the game
  • Enhanced weather effects—smoother transitions between weather types and snow accumulation
  • (Coming Soon!) Play online with other Xbox LIVE friends in the beta
  • (Coming Soon!) Cross-play between Windows 10 Edition beta and Pocket Edition allows up to five friends to play together across mobile devices and Windows 10 tablets and PCs

Q: Does Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta allow cross-platform play?

A: Yes, but not on day one. Soon after launch, players on Windows 10 PCs and tablets will be able to play with friends on Pocket Edition (iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Kindle Fire). We’ll provide an update when this exciting new feature is available.

Q: Is this Minecraft 2.0? Does it replace current versions of the game?

A: The Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta does not replace other versions of the game running on PC, Linux, Mac, PlayStation, Xbox, Windows Phone, Android, iOS and Kindle Fire; it is simply a new option for players who want to share their feedback and help craft the best version of Minecraft possible.

Have you upgraded to Windows 10 and installed the new Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition beta? Let us know what you think! What are you hoping to see in this new version?

Note: As part of the Microsoft Bloggers program, I have been provided hardware and software for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these posts are my honest opinions about the subjects involved.

‘Laser Maze Jr.’ Mixes Logic, Science, and Fun

‘Laser Maze Jr.’ is recommended for single players, but kids of different ages can enjoy the opportunity to work together towards a similar goal. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

It isn’t easy trying to get two kids who are separated by five or more years to find the same activities interesting, much less enjoy it together as a team.

This has been the case with many tabletop games recently in our house. With one young teenager and one who just turned six, each with their own separate learning curves, levels of competitiveness, and, most importantly, threshold for boredom, the search for a new game that appeals to both of them is quite the undertaking.

ThinkFun, Inc. has announced some of their new games for 2015, including Laser Maze Jr., a version of the award-winning Laser Maze with age-appropriate challenges for players as young as six.

maze box
ThinkFun’s ‘Laser Maze Jr.’ offers similar challenges as its ‘Laser Maze’ game for players as young as age six. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Laser Maze was one of two of ThinkFun’s products nominated for the Toy Industry Association’s 15th Annual Toy of the Year Awards for 2015. The other nominee, the marble run and logic game Gravity Maze, won for Specialty Toy of the Year.

Laser Maze Jr. has also received its own share of awards, including a Parents’ Choice Gold Award from Children’s Media and Toy Reviews.

The goal of both Laser Maze and Laser Maze Jr. is to use both science and logic to guide a laser beam from its starting point to an end point (a rocket in the Junior edition), by the placement of mirrors, space blockers, and beam splitters. The junior level includes 40 challenge scenarios ranging from easy to difficult.

Although this in intended as a single player challenge, I found more effective as a way to get my children to work together on a singular goal.

It was a little difficult for my six-year-old to take on at first, since her lacking of impulse control made her just want to start lining up little rocks and mirrors in any which way she saw fit. This became frustrating for her.

Getting acquainted with how the pieces work is part of the fun for younger players. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

When my 13-year-old worked alone, she immediately wanted to start at the most difficult challenge. This also became frustrating, but teens being teens, she refused assistance.

It was when they sat down together, to work on a challenge, that the entire dynamic of the game changed. The six-year-old, who had the full attention of the big sister she admired, became very intent on finding a solution. The teen, wanting to take on a role of responsibility and knowledge, became a worthy teacher. Together, the pair worked their way through some of the tougher challenges, and had someone with whom to share their victory.

As a result, our younger found it easier to sit down to this game on her own, and couldn’t wait to show off her successes (on some of the easier levels) to her sister.

maze pieces
There’s something really satisfying about using logic and science to get that little red rocket to light up, no matter what your age. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

I’ve always adhered to the theory that teaching a concept to another person helps you learn it better, and this was the case with our teen. After helping her little sister with a challenge, she was better able to figure out the harder challenges on her own.

This game didn’t just appeal to younger players, as having it out on a table, was a great way to fill in those lapses in conversations when family and friends visit. On a recent visit from a relative, all it took was for one person to pick up a challenge card, and everyone was working together, laughing and having fun debates about what piece goes where.

Both Laser Maze and Laser Maze Jr. retail for $29.99, and share a similar gameboard. There are 60 challenges for Laser Maze, with smaller-sized challenge cards and more game pieces.

I do recommend this game, but I would occasionally ignore the “single player,” designation from time to time. Through working together on this “single player” game, my girls were able to experience the joy of problem solving, the satisfaction of learning something new, the accomplishment of reaching a goal, and, most importantly for me, acting as a team.

You can’t ask more than that from any game.

GeekMom received a copy of this game for review purposes.

Tabletop Game: ‘Dungeon Roll’

Image: Tasty Minstrel Games
Image: Tasty Minstrel Games

Dungeon Roll is an opposed-press-your-luck strategy game published by Tasty Minstrel Games. Players form an adventure party to delve into the dungeon. Each round gets more difficult, and if they bust, they are forced to fight the dragon.

Continue reading Tabletop Game: ‘Dungeon Roll’

‘King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember’ is a Game to Remember

Courtesy © Sierra Games / The Odd Gentlemen
Courtesy © Sierra Games / The Odd Gentlemen

Get ready to head back down nostalgia road, gamers! King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember heralds the return of Sierra Games’ classic adventure game franchise. Continue reading ‘King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember’ is a Game to Remember

Kickstarter Alert: ‘The Voting Game’

Title Image

The Voting Game, an interesting new party game by Tom Rohlf launched its Kickstarter today. The game is fairly straightforward. A player reads a question, and the players vote on which player is the answer to the question. The Voting Game is designed for 8-10 players, is for adults, and skirts a line close to Cards Against Humanity, without the “horrible people” goal. We still have had great fun with it, despite its slightly predictable premise.

Play Order 1
Image: thevotinggame.com

My favorite questions include:

  • Who would have the hardest time talking their way out of an insane asylum?
  • Who has hired a professional to make their dating profile?
  • Whose Google search history would you like to see the most?
  • Who clogs the toilet at their friend’s house and says nothing?
  • Who would you want to bring home with you for Thanksgiving dinner?

The game is not perfect, yet. Taylor has been working hard to fine tune the play. For now, the game is perfectly functional, but is a little more awkward than I’d hoped. The game is playable for fewer than six players, but is best played with eight to ten.

Unfortunately, some of the questions are quite mean, and were just removed from play as they came up, by general consensus. It’s no fun for us to attack a fellow party member.

The least friendly questions include:

  • Who would disown their homosexual child?
  • Who has the most obnoxious food allergy?
  • Who secretly hates their significant other?
Back Rewards
Backer Rewards, Image: thevotinggame.com

The initial goal is an easily managed $7,500. The backer rewards are appropriate to the levels, and include the options to get the three expansions: NSFW, Fill in the blank, and Create Your Own. I’m sure the game will fund quickly, and I’m excited to see the stretch goals as they appear.

Image: thevotinggame.com

The box is the right size for the game, which is a critical part of whether I’d buy a game. Too-big boxes take up valuable storage real estate. The cards are well made, and stand up to shuffling well. Unfortunately, 8-10 friends are not included, nor do they fit in the box.

The Voting Game is worth owning. The rules are simple enough for setting up quickly at a party. The questions are diverse and funny. I would suggest removing questions not appropriate to your group, play with 8+ people, and invest in the expansions to keep things funny instead of mean. Thankfully, the questions don’t tend to bias for or against any gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, or profession. Well, except for accountants. The Voting Game has a warning stating: This game is not intended for accountants and others without personality. As you can see, you have to be able to poke fun at yourself, and take it when your friends poke at you, too.

Tabletop Game: ‘Martian Dice’

Image: Rory Bristol
From left to right: Cow, Human, Chicken, Laser, Tank. Image: Rory Bristol

Martian Dice is a press your luck dice-based table top game from Tasty Minstrel Games. It begins simply enough, with 13 dice showing 5 different symbols. Each roll of the die has a 1-in-6 chance to roll either a Chicken, a Cow, a Human, or a Tank, and a 2-in-6 chance to roll a Laser. The goal is simple enough: Abduct 25 Earthlings before your competitors, without being forced to flee by Earthling military forces.

When I pulled Martian Dice out of the package, I was a little disappointed. It looked like a re-themed Zombie Dice, which had worn out its interest in our home some time ago. After playing the game, however, Jenny and I were both pleasantly surprised at the replay-ability and strategy choices available.

The mechanics are straight forward. Roll the dice, putting aside any red tanks. Choose one of the remaining four types to “keep”, and put those aside as well. You must “keep” all of a single type every turn, not including Tanks. You may only set aside groups of Humans, Chickens, and Cows once each. You may choose to set aside Lasers during more than one turn, however. If you are unable to collect anything on a roll, your turn ends immediately. The player scores one point for each Human, Chicken, or Cow they were able to keep without busting (see next paragraph).

The Lasers and the Tanks are the iffy bit each turn. You must have a number of Lasers more than or equal to the number of Tanks at the end of your turn to score any points. If at any time you roll a seventh Tank, you automatically bust, because you cannot roll enough Lasers to win the round. When you bust, you score zero points.

As a press your luck game with a low goal (25 Earthlings), it can be hard to know when to quit. We learned very well that caution wins, but adventure is fun. If you like to press your luck, you may be able to compete, but be prepared to bust just as often as you succeed. If you play safe, you have an advantage, but be prepared to only get a few points each turn. The larger the group is, we found, the easier it is to be adventurous, so if you prefer to really push, then invite a few more people over.

A successful heist. The dice on the right are the ones previously kept. On the left, you can see the player must keep the cow or the laser. After keeping the cow, the player decides to stops for a total of 9 points, thanks to the bonus. Image: Rory Bristol

The ways Martian Dice is not similar to Zombie Dice:

  • All the dice are identical. Zombie dice has a “luck” factor based on which dice you happen to roll.
  • There are no brains. This makes things less gross for sensitive players.
  • The Shotgun is replaced by a Tank, which can be countered. Also, losers are forced to “retreat” instead of being “killed”, the latter of which might bother some players.
  • Instead of a mad-grab for brains, strategy is required to score points.
  • If a player gets at least one of each Earthling (Cow, Chicken, Human) they get a bonus three points!

Theme note: Due to a lack of brains and a more traditional sci-fi theme, our gamers feel more immersed in Martian Dice than they do in other similar games.

Extra materials needed: Pen and paper, or score-keeping app.

The manufacturer suggests ages 8+, but I am confident that kids can play as young as five. There’s no reading or higher math skills, but you will need to judge your kid’s ability for yourself. Bonus: As a dice game, Martian Dice is easy to clean, and hard to destroy. If someone forgets to wash their hands, no biggie. Just wipe the dice off with a bleach wipe or equivalent.

The manufacturer suggests 2-99 players, which is totally appropriate, technically. I suggest between 2 and 6 players. If you have too many players, gameplay dissolves into chatter, and people forget to keep track of the game. Distracted players (especially young ones) will feel cheated, because they didn’t know they were going to lose.

Martian Dice costs $14.99 on Amazon. I’m already planning on getting extra copies to give to friends and game groups. It’s an affordable gift, and is fairly indestructible.

Disclaimer: Tasty Minstrel Games provided a unit for review.

Unlock ‘Lego Jurassic World’: Will Bricks Find a Way?

Lego Jurassic World © Warner Bros. Interactive
Lego Jurassic World © Warner Bros. Interactive

Lego Jurassic World was my first foray back to the Lego games franchise since Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. Recent offerings have put me off of the games, but the lure of my favorite ever movie being given the Lego treatment was just too strong. I was incredibly hopeful I would enjoy it.

Continue reading Unlock ‘Lego Jurassic World’: Will Bricks Find a Way?

Kickstarter Alert: ‘TEK: Heroes’ Call’

Photo: Rory Bristol
Photo: Rory Bristol

Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a Euro-style 4X game. Players eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate as they build the highest towers, claim their territory, and sometimes knock each other down a peg. This instant classic hit the shelves in 2014. And today Kickstarter launches a booster shot of awesome with the expansion: Heroes’ Call.

Heroes’ Call adds five new races, five updated territory cards, Hero meeples, and several upgrades to mechanics. The expansion is mostly stand-alone equipped, provided you have a the original rules. Oh, and did I mention? There are 15 new Hero Cards, allowing players to take on classes for the first time.

Photo: Rory Bristol
Photo: Rory Bristol

The basic mechanics remain the same. In each round, five of the following actions must occur:

  • Patrol: Move one meeple from to an adjacent region on the same territory card.
  • Quest: Move one meeple to another territory card.
  • Build: Build onto your tower.
  • Research: Level up your magic.
  • Expand: Increase the population of meeples on the board.
  • Trade: Exchange one resource for another.
The Lion Kin art is home to a punny Easter egg. Photo: Rory Bristol
The Lion Kin art is home to a punny Easter egg.
Photo: Rory Bristol

The new races are Frost Giants, Draconian, Bird Folk, Lion Kin, and Polar Kin. Each of these races has a new unique set of Magic abilities.

  • Frost Giants are really good at moving around and knocking down their enemies, incapacitating them until they patrol.
  • On the flip side of that coin are the Draconians, who excel at patrolling, including the ability to move two meeples when patrolling, and getting resources when they arrive.
  • Bird Folk take advantage of the crags, a region normally impassable to meeples.
  • Lion Kin get a lot of food, and bonuses for having the highest meeple population.
  • The Polar Kin are just mean ole war mongers, and they are great at it.

The territories also got a makeover, now with snow-covered art, and zones of Tundra and Silver Peaks, the two new terrain types. Meeples in the Silver Peaks gain Silver, a new wild-card resource, with 0 value in war, but being useful in all other aspects. The Tundra is hotly contested, and a bit dangerous. Instead of the normal two meeples, the Tundra is only capable of hosting one meeple at a time. When a player gathers resources from a Tundra, they gather whichever resource they like. Alas, the cold is too harsh for long lasting residence. Every time a player quests or patrols, you must move the meeple, which means you won’t ever be there for long. It’s also a risk, because it can force your meeple into another player’s territory, leaving you vulnerable to war.

Photo: Rory Bristol
Photo: Rory Bristol

The Hero Cards feature 15 classes of Hero. These classes cover everything from Ranger to Queen. Each player starts with one class, and must retire their current class before starting another. Each retired class is worth 3 victory points at the end of the game. The Hero powers add abilities which enhance play, but require resources and time to level. The diversity of Hero powers ensure a unique game every time.

And just in case the normal rules of combat aren’t enough for you, any player can attack their opponents’ Towers. Each time a player builds a level of the tower, a new Tower meeple is placed on the field next to the player’s meeple. If these Towers are destroyed, you lose the progress you’ve made on your tower. Keep your strategies close on this one, because the first tower to level 6 finishes the game!

Photo: Rory Bristol
My favorite combo is the Wizard Draconian. Magic FTW! Photo: Rory Bristol

The key to success in Heroes’ Call is flexibility. Different races, classes, and goals will change your strategies in a fluid way throughout the game. The challenge is to keep up.

This expansion hits Kickstarter today, and a backing of $16 will secure you a copy of the base expansion. Check out the stretch goals and higher backing levels to find your place in what is sure to be a line in the history of pocket-sized games.

Late to the Game: ‘Elder Sign’

Elder Sign © Fantasy Flight Games (Fair Use)
Elder Sign © Fantasy Flight Games

Elder Sign is a cooperative dice-rolling game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which you and your fellow players work together as a team of researchers investigating a museum, attempting to prevent the rise of an Ancient One. Players must collect a number of Elder Signs before the Ancient One fills its Doom Track, kills the players, or drives them all mad. Sound good? Then find out more in our in-depth look at both the physical game and its digital alter-ego, Elder Sign: Omens.

Elder Sign set up for a new game © Sophie Brown
Elder Sign set up for a new game © Sophie Brown

How Do You Play?
The museum that forms the playable region of Elder Sign is composed of a number of large cards, each representing a room, while in the digital version you are faced with a map of the museum with a number of locations highlighted on it.

Players choose a room to enter (embarking upon an Adventure) and attempt to roll dice and match the symbols on the card—sometimes in a specific order. If the player successfully completes their Adventure by matching all the symbols, they can gain spells and weapons to help them win more Adventures; they can also gain the all-important Elder Signs needed to defeat the Ancient One. Failing the Adventure can result in a loss of the player’s health and sanity, the arrival of a monster who will increase the difficulty of future Adventures, or Doom being added to the Ancient One’s Doom Track. After each player’s turn, a clock is advanced and at midnight, the Ancient One reveals a card that can benefit them, so players are encouraged to win as fast as possible. Some rooms also have their own, usually negative, Midnight Effects.

Elder Sign: Omens © Fantasy Flight Games (Fair Use)
Elder Sign: Omens © Fantasy Flight Games

How Do You Win and Lose?
To win at Elder Sign, players must collect a set number of Elder Sign tokens. The number is determined by the Ancient One they are fighting.

The tougher the Ancient One, the more Elder Signs will need to be collected to defeat it. Completing some Adventures will win you multiple Elder Signs, but the better the rewards, the harder the Adventure will be to complete. The team of players lose if they all are killed or driven insane by the Ancient One, or if the Ancient One fills its Doom Track.

Are There Any Expansions Available?
Yes. For the physical game two expansions, Unseen Forces and Gates of Arkham, are available. If you are playing digitally, there are currently three expansions: The Call of Cthulhu, The Trail of Ithaqua, and The Dark Pharaoh. All three unlock additional player characters and Ancient Ones to battle.

A successfully completed adventure, with three dice to spare © Sophie Brown
A successfully completed adventure, with three dice to spare © Sophie Brown

What Formats Is the Digital Game Available On?
Elder Sign: Omens is available on iOS (for both iPad and iPhone), Android, Kindle, and Steam.

How Do the Costs Compare?
The base game currently retails for around $30 with the expansions costing $15 to $20 each, making this one of the cheaper games currently on the market. The digital base game retails for $6.99 (iPad), $3.99 (iPhone), $14.99 (Steam), or around $4.50 on Android. Expansions are $2.99 each.

What Age Is It Suitable For?
The game is recommended for age 12+, and having played it many times, that feels like the correct choice from the developer. While the game play is simple enough that a younger child could understand what’s going on, the artwork is obviously very intense (this is a game set in the realm of the Ancient Ones, after all) and some of the mechanics would likely go over their heads.

The digital version also contains occasional cut scenes that could scare young children. If your child is already acquainted with classic horror, they may enjoy the game, but for the majority, the recommended age will be accurate.

Has It Been Featured on TableTop?
Yes! Elder Sign was featured on series one of TableTop and was played by Felicia Day, Mike Morhaime, and Bill Prady.

Attempting to complete the Mystery Tome Adventure © Fantasy Flight Games (Fair Use)
Attempting to complete the Mystery Tome Adventure © Fantasy Flight Games

Is It Actually Any Good?
Whether or not you will enjoy Elder Sign, either digitally or physically, is more than likely going to boil down to how much you enjoy randomness as a factor in your gaming. Completing Adventures is entirely based on dice-rolling (occasional cards and characters can change die rolls, but these are frustratingly few and far between), which means that even the best-equipped Investigator can fail spectacularly over and over again if the dice just aren’t in the mood to behave.

This can be incredibly aggravating, and I would know. Despite countless attempts and intentionally hoarding as many helpful cards as possible, I am still yet to beat the final card of The Call of Cthulhu expansion, by nothing more than sheer bad luck.

The randomness effect does, however, level the playing field, meaning that any group of players can work well together from experienced Investigators to total newbies.

The cooperative element really shines during physical play, as players debate which rooms/Adventures they should attempt and which to avoid. We played as a group late on New Year’s Eve and, despite losing spectacularly, had a great time playing—and isn’t that the whole point?

Digital Vs. Physical
Green = Pro, Red = Con, Black = Neutral


  • Game set up is as good as instantaneous.
  • The game keeps track of which cards can be used at any time, instantly deals out the correct rewards (or penalties) at the conclusion of an Adventure, and advances the clock as required.
  • The player has to play as multiple characters, remembering each individual’s special abilities and current inventory once their turn rolls around.
  • Designed for single player, so you don’t need to get a group together.
  • The single-player format means the game loses out on the cooperative nature of the physical version, arguably one of its best parts.
  • Both the base game and the expansions are cheap. The complete game with all expansions can be bought for as little as $13.
  • The base game is somewhat limited and quickly becomes repetitive, so the temptation to buy expansions is high.
  • Rooms with a Midnight Effect (a usually negative outcome every time the clock strikes midnight) are easily spotted on the map, as are those with Terror Effects.
  • Only one room can be seen at a time, so the player must either remember the requirements for each one or spend time looking at each one every time they choose a new room/Adventure.


  • Lots and lots of parts means the game takes a very long time to set up.
  • The game can be played by up to eight people, making it a great party game and a good choice at a games night with lots of guests, where other games might leave people out.
  • Midnight and Terror effects are written in small print on the cards, making them easy to overlook.
  • Although more expensive than the digital game, the physical edition is one of the cheaper games on the market (keep an eye out for frequent price reductions too).
  • Despite being cheaper than many games, the build quality is fantastic and the pieces are all well made and lovely to handle.
  • There are only two expansions. However, for those of us trying to limit our rapidly growing game collections, this may be a good thing!
  • The cards representing the rooms are laid out on the table and the requirements for each one can be seen all at once, making choosing your next room/Adventure easier.
  • Best played with a group, so not ideal if you don’t have a gaming group or local gamer friends nearby.

GeekMom received the base game of Elder Signs: Omens for review purposes.

E3: First Look at ‘Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer’

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

Fans of the Animal Crossing series will be ecstatic to get their hands on Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. Instead of playing the role of Mayor in the latest game in the series, this time get ready for an entirely new experience as a home designer happily working at Nook’s Homes.

Lottie, a new character with the quirky personality you’d expect from Animal Crossing, is your guide to your new career as a home designer. You’re tasked with fulfilling your client’s decorating wishes, and thanks to the usability improvements to the game, it’s never been more fun to design a home in Animal Crossing.

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

You don’t only take control of the look of the inside of a villager’s house; you get to decorate the exterior as well. The UI has been streamlined by taking full advantage of the touchscreen. Use the stylus to place a house, trees, plants, and items outside, and then further customize the color and look of the walls, roof, and more with just a few taps.

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

Next, go inside to place furniture and decorate to your heart’s content. The leaf icons that made the items in your Animal Crossing inventory a mystery have been replaced with full-color icons, so it’s much easier to find the item you’re looking for. And there’s no need to stand in the exact right spot to place furniture: Just select it and drag it in place with the stylus. You can even rotate the object quickly with the stylus as well.

Add to that a search function that immediately finds all items related to your customer’s requested theme, and you’ll be decorating the house like a pro in no time.

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

As you take jobs requested by the same 300+ villagers who populated Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you’ll unlock facilities in your town. You can even give your favorite villagers their own jobs in town at the school, hospital, and more.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer also introduces new amiibo card functionality. (A New Nintendo 3DS is not required to use this feature; an accessory to use the cards is also planned for release soon.) Pick up the card for your favorite villagers and special characters, like Isabelle or K.K. Slider, hold it to the screen, and you can fulfill their design requests as well. Cards have unlimited use and are sure to be another hot collector’s item from Nintendo.

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer features many exciting UI improvements and fun new ways to experience the eccentric, familiar characters of Animal Crossing. The game is planned for release September 25, 2015.

GeekMom attended a preview event courtesy of Nintendo.

E3: Hands On With ‘Super Mario Maker’

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

Kids and grownups who have daydreamed of becoming a game designer can make that wish come true in Super Mario Maker, coming exclusively to Wii U. Turn the Gamepad into your level designer as you place pipes, power-ups, Koopas, Goombas, and more into your dream Super Mario level, and invite players worldwide to take on your one-of-a-kind challenge!

Players choose one of four styles for their custom levels: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. The style can be changed on the fly at any time when designing, and whichever style you choose isn’t limited to items or enemies from that game only. In fact, there are few rules at all when it comes to designing your level.

Instead of tucking away a mushroom power-up in a question block, hide a Koopa Troopa inside! Forget Bullet Bill; why not have your Bill Blaster fire invincible stars? Kids can pick up the intuitive UI within minutes to drag and drop enemies, platforms, coins, blocks, and more. Your imagination can be unleashed on your level almost without limit.

© Nintedo
© Nintendo

One of the few rules is that your level must be beatable in order to be shared worldwide. You have to be able to reach the goal pole yourself before the level can be uploaded. Uploaded levels will be moderated, and inappropriate content can be reported and removed, so you don’t have to worry about your kids accidentally seeing something they shouldn’t (as in certain words spelled out in coins).

You’ll also get the chance to try out other levels that have been designed by fellow Super Mario Maker players around the world. Find a favorite designer whose levels you can’t get enough of? Subscribe to him or her and you’ll know when they share a new challenge. You can even see the top-rated levels and search by difficulty to find a new favorite easily.

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

Like many of Nintendo’s new games, Super Mario Maker will take advantage of the amiibo functionality to put those figures to good use. Tap your favorite amiibo to the GamePad, and take the reins of that character for an amusing run through your level.

Super Mario Maker accomplishes the difficult task of appealing to both the nostalgia of parents who grew up on Super Mario Bros. along with the Minecraft generation of kids who love to build as much as they do play. The game is currently slated for release September 11, 2015.

GeekMom attended a preview event courtesy of Nintendo.

Shanna Germain From Monte Cook Games Says, “No Thank You, Evil!”

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

Geek-of-many-trades Shanna Germain was kind enough to answer a few questions for GeekMom this week about games, geekhood, and more! Please help us welcome her.

GeekMom Mel: Welcome to GeekMom! Tell us a little about yourself.

Shanna Germain: Thanks so much! I’m a writer, editor, and game designer by both passion and trade. Right now, I’m the creative director and co-owner of Monte Cook Games, where I’m designing a storytelling game for families called No Thank You, Evil! I’m also a pretty big geek—I love books, games, TV shows and movies, and all things word-related. I even own a dog named Ampersand.

GMM: How did you get into gaming? Was it something you were interested in as a kid?

SG: My grandmother was a big gamer—she loved card and board games especially, so games have always been part of my life thanks to her. She taught me a lot about how to lose with dignity, win with grace, and play with style. I liked games when I was a kid because I was very shy and socially awkward, and having a way to interact with other people where I understood the rules really helped me overcome a lot of that.

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

GMM: What was the game that started it all for you, like your gateway drug into gaming?

SG: For storytelling games, it was definitely Bunnies & Burrows, which is a game based on the novel Watership Down. You could play a bunny in the game, which I thought was the most incredible thing ever, and you did martial arts moves called “bun fu.” My babysitter introduced me to it; I had no idea what a role-playing game was, but she told me I could pretend to be a bunny, and I was like, “Yes, please!”

GMM: What is your favorite game now?

SG: I don’t know that I could choose just one. I use different games for different needs. When I need a quick break, I’ll play an iPad game like Words with Friends. When I want to work out, I play a computer role-playing game like Elder Scrolls Online or Borderlands on my treadmill desk. When I want to immerse myself and spend time with friends, I play a role-playing game like OD&D and Numenera.

I tend to play a lot of games all the time, because they open my own way of thinking about games and game design.

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

GMM: I’d say it’s safe to say that the majority of our readers here have kids, and many of those kids have some geeky aspirations. If a kid came up to you and said they wanted to be a game designer when they grew up, what would you say to them?

SG: I would say that they should follow that dream by playing lots of games, thinking about games, and creating their own games. You’re never too young to start drawing maps, creating characters, and writing adventures. Get all of your friends to help you, and then play together.

GMM: Any other advice for young geeklings out there? How about for their parents?

SG: I think that it’s really easy for geeky kids to feel like their interests are weird or uncool. Thankfully, we live in a time where being a geek is cool. So to young geeklings, I’d say: Love what you love. You’ll be surprised how many other people love what you love too.

To parents, I’d say: If you’re already supporting your kids’ interests and want to find a way to do more, or if you’re unsure how to support the geeky things that your kids are into, consider looking into school programs and gaming clubs that support geeky interests, attending conventions that have a family focus, and finding geeky role models that your kids can look up to.

GMM: You are a writer, editor, gamer… how do you make time for all of your passions? Is there one role you identify with more than others?

SG: I feel like I could ask that same question about so many people I know, and I think we would all have a similar answer: I have no idea. It’s a tricky balance. If I don’t have enough going on, I lose that sense of pressure and am much less productive, but if I have too much going on, I get stressed about all I have to do and can’t seem to accomplish anything. Sometimes I think that there’s a perfect point of busyness—just busy enough to keep the pressure on, not so busy that you start to fall apart—and if you can walk that tightrope, you can accomplish everything. I have a hard time asking for help, and that is something I have to keep learning, because sometimes having someone else just take one thing off your plate can save you from falling off that tightrope.

Writing is my first passion, and has been since I was old enough to smash letters and words together. I’ve always wanted to tell stories. The medium doesn’t matter. I love writing fiction as much as I love writing games. It’s all about stringing words one after the other to tell a story that moves someone else in some way.

GMM: Tell us a little about your involvement with the new game on Kickstarter, No Thank You, Evil!.

SG: No Thank You, Evil! is a game of creative storytelling for families. I’m designing it, along with Monte Cook. Designing a game for families is really different than designing a game for adults, and it’s wonderfully challenging. Kids are so creative and so smart, and they intuitively understand how to pretend to be someone else. So the game doesn’t need to teach them how to role-play—it needs to give them the space to let their creativity shine, while also providing them with solid boundaries and guidance.

It’s also really important to me that all kids and families can play games, so one of the things that we’ve been working hard on is making sure that No Thank You, Evil! is accessible to and inclusive of children with cognitive and physical concerns like autism, dyslexia, and color blindness. We’re using fonts and colors that are easy to read and discern, creating art that depicts a wide variety of characters, and making sure there is no one right way to “succeed” in the game. Creative solutions are encouraged, so a player who’s nonverbal can draw or act out their character’s actions, while a more verbal player can do a robot voice, repeat a favorite phrase, or sing a song instead.

Image: Cathy Wilkins
Image: Cathy Wilkins

GMM: What project are you most proud of? What do you hope to be remembered for, and what is your dream project?

SG: Right now, I have to say that No Thank You, Evil! is my dream project. We’re right in the middle of play-testing, so I get to watch all of these amazing kids interact with something that I’m creating, and they just keep blowing me away with their creativity. When you write a book, the reader goes away to read it and you may never know what they thought of it. When you write a game for adults, you might hear afterward how much they liked it. But watching these kids at the table, when they get excited about their character or they get a really good dice roll or do something that saves the day—there’s something incredibly special about that energy and enthusiasm. It’s like you’re getting to watch their minds expanding right in front of you.

GMM: Anything exciting coming up for you?

SG: I’m still working on No Thank You, Evil! for a little while longer, and then I’ll start working on two new books for Numenera, which is the first game that we created at Monte Cook Games. One is a sourcebook and the other is a novel, so I get to do a little of each of the things that I love at the same time.

GMM: Thanks again for taking the time to chat! Best of luck to you with your Kickstarter and all your future projects.

SG: Thank you so much!

Photo: Annie Atkins
Photo: Annie Atkins

Shanna has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 20 years, and has six books, hundreds of short stories, and a myriad other works to her name. Over the years, she’s won numerous awards for her work, including a Pushcart nomination, the C. Hamilton Bailey Poetry Fellowship,​ the​ Utne Reader award for Best New Publication​, and 7 ENnie Awards. ​

The creative director and co-owner of Monte Cook Games, LLC, she is currently designing a creative storytelling game for families called No Thank You, Evil!

Kickstarter Games ‘Bane’ and ‘4 the Birds’ are 4 the Family

Kickstarter Logo Image: Kickstarter
Kickstarter logo. Image: Kickstarter.

I live in the Pacific Northwest. I live in a land of microbrews (yum), hipsters, and gourmet donuts (super yum). It is also the land of board game creation. So many great board games have hailed from the minds of Pacific Northwesterners that game stores are becoming as common as Starbucks (not a bad thing).

Two more games from the land of moss and rain are available to check out on Kickstarter now. Both games were made with families in mind.

Bane box art by Ryan Yee of Magic: The Gathering fame. Image: Gamesicle, LLC, on Kickstarter.

Bane is an expanded game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Remember a couple of years ago, when I talked about the social card game at GameStorm that had the attention of all of the kids who were in attendance? The full board game is now on Kickstarter. Werewolves, humans, and vampires battle each other to see who is fastest and can reach the level of Master first. Luck and strategy are both used in this card game.

Werewolves eat vampires, vampires hunt humans, and humans are after werewolves. The highest number played gets to try and hunt first. In this case, the human 6 wins. Image: Cathe Post.

The artwork on the cards will give this game a 13+ rating, but if your younger child is used to the artwork on Magic: The Gathering cards, this is at about the same level. My kids (5 and 9 years old) have both seen the cards, and it was fine.

Bane will be lurking on Kickstarter until June 10. If you back at the $28 level, you will receive a copy of the game if the project is successfully funded.

4 the Birds box art. Image: Blackspot Games on Kickstarter.

4 the Birds is a dice-rolling, sneakily educational game. I previously wrote about this game after play-testing it at GameStorm in 2012. Roll the dice to find the point on the board and place one of six of your birds. Get four of your birds in a row or  square shape and you win. It’s deceptively simple. But, when you add crows, a hawk, and cards with special powers, it is either the start of a bad bar joke or the gateway to adding quite a bit of strategy to a fun—and pun heavy—game.

A group of us played through the prototype of 4 the Birds. (This is not what the final game will look like.) It’s simple enough for young players, but has plenty of room for adult-level complexity and strategy. Image: Jonathan Liu.

This game can be played by any player old enough to roll dice and recognize numbers. The game can be just that simple or much more complex, depending on how much planning you put into the hawk and crows who join the flock (and how the ability cards are used.

4 the Birds will be nesting on Kickstarter until June 18. Backing at the $29 (+$5 shipping) level will pre-order the game for you, since the game has funded. Even with shipping, it is a deal. Retail price for the game will be $40.

Play It: ‘Sushi Go!’

Sushi Go! \ Image Gamewright
Sushi Go! Image Gamewright.

Every Monday night, we have family night. It’s a time that is designated for family interaction that doesn’t include electronics. More often than not, we put in a movie and sit down to play a game. And while Monopoly is fine and Uno is great, playing them every Monday night was getting boring. I decided it was time to dish up something new. It was time for a little sushi.

Sushi Go! by Gamewright was recommended to me by a friend over at The Read Pile. Knowing my 9-year-old son like he does, my friend told me it would be a good intro card game before hitting up harder titles, like Munchkin.

Looking over Gamewright’s website, they say that the game is for ages 8 and up and reinforces the ideas of probability, strategic thinking, and visual discrimination.

As the name implies, each card has a type of sushi drawn in an overly adorable fashion and a designated point value.

Who's hungry for some Sushi? \ Image Gamewright
Who’s hungry for some Sushi? Image Gamewright.

In terms of setup, Sushi Go! is as simple as Uno and consists of three rounds.

To start the game, the dealer gives everyone their first set of cards (the number of cards is determined by how many people are playing). Once everyone has their hand, they look it over, take the card they feel is the most valuable, and put it face down in front of them. Next, everyone passes their hand off to the player to their right and you pull another card. This happens only as many times as there are players in the game, so that everyone has a chance at everyone’s first hand.

Once the cards have made a full round, you turn them over, reveal your choices, and the scorekeeper marks down everyone’s points (and in case you’re wondering, yes, there is an app for this).

This is where the strategy comes into play.

After you see the other players’ picks, you keep that in mind when the fresh set of cards is dealt out. Since some cards are only worth points if you collect two or more, you can choose your card based on either stopping someone from getting a combo or adding points to your own set.

Each round there are fewer cards given to each player. After three rounds, the idea is that everyone will be stuck with two or three cards (and those will more than likely be the not-so-great ones).

My husband and I played a few rounds before letting our son in on the fun because we wanted to make sure the game was what my friend cracked it up to be. We were surprised at how much fun we were having with just the two of us. When our son finally jumped in, he got the hang of it very quickly and did pretty well his first few games.

He liked how the three rounds go quick enough to keep his attention and fun enough that he was hungry for more.

My husband and I agree that it’s a nice “strategy intro” game that isn’t overbearing (like Dice Masters), but still involves a little bit of luck (like Uno). It’s also enjoyable to have a game in our arsenal that’s fun and only takes 15 minutes to play a full game of three rounds.

Much like Munchkin though, you lose something when playing with just two players.

To spice things up, my husband and I made a few house rules:
• Maki rolls get zero points (with two players, it can be far too easy to win the game on just Maki rolls).
• The person with the most pudding gets six points and the second player gets nothing (instead of the -6 points that the rules call for).
• The standard three rounds goes by fast for two players, so sometimes we go with as many as seven rounds.
• At the start of each round, each player picks their card to keep and then picks a second card to discard so that their opponent can’t use it to their advantage.

We designed these house rules to work with two players, but feel free to modify them to work with more.

For those wondering what the replay value is, it’s really good. It’s similar to Uno and as long as you shuffle the deck well, you will have a unique game every time. If you feel like it’s getting too easy or going too fast, get creative and make up your own house rules.

Even though Gamewright suggests this game for between two and five players, if you get inventive, you could buy a second game and I’m sure you could make it work for more people.

Gamewright recommends this game for ages 8 and up because it might be a simple and quick game to play, but the strategy element could frustrate some younger kids. Of course, you know your child best, so feel free to give it a shot if you think they can handle it.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

‘Splatoon’ is a Blast For Squiddos of All Ages

Splatoon © Nintendo
Splatoon © Nintendo

It’s an all-out, all-ages turf war in Splatoon, exclusively on the Wii U! Every member of your family will love taking control of an Inkling to spray, splat, and roll their paint to claim their territory and battle it out with players worldwide. Splatoon is a completely family-friendly shooter that parents can feel good about while kids have a blast.

The goal of each Splatoon online battle is to cover as much of the ground with your paint color as possible. Players can also take aim at each other, but the objective of online play is to cover ground, not earn kills. Choose from a variety of weapons, including paint guns and rollers, and you’re on your way to earning points for your team of four players.

There’s no voice chat, which some veteran FPS might find dismaying, but it is a relief that your kids won’t be in danger of hearing words you rather they didn’t.

© Nintendo
© Nintendo

As Inklings play in turf wars and earn levels and money, they can visit the quirky shops in Inkopolis to customize their characters. Clothes, shoes, headgear, and weapons not only give your Inkling just the right look you want, but also add to your stats and grant abilities to give you the edge in your next paint-filled battle.

Inkling Girl amiibo © Nintendo
Inkling Girl amiibo © Nintendo

Solo play is also an option. In Octo Valley, players must take on the dastardly Octarian army to save the Zapfish. Solo play is a great way to hone aiming and weapon skills, and take on some serious boss battles. You can also pick up the Splatoon amiibo figures for extra solo challenges to earn unique gear.

If it’s a family feud you’re in the mood for, head to the Battle Dojo for a one-on-one local battle. As one player focuses on the GamePad and the other on the TV, the goal of the Battle Dojo is to burst as many balloons as you can find. Tally up the total and one member of the family has bragging rights for the day.

Quick Game Tips

  • You may be immediately tempted to turn off the motion controls, but leave them on! The game is much more responsive in aiming with motion controls on.
  • Even the littlest of players can take part in online play and help the team. All they have to shoot is the ground, which most young players can handle. I can enjoy watching my kindergartner play and help the team, even if she isn’t the best at aiming yet. And then I demand my turn.
  • Shooting the walls helps get you where you’re going faster, but won’t count toward your point total.

If you’re not comfortable with your kids playing first-person shooters yet, this third-person shooter is a game you can rest easy about. With a goal to splatter paint on the pavement, not other people, it has a shooter feel without any worries of violence.

Pick up Splatoon now for another family-friendly multiplayer hit from Nintendo at a retail price of $59.99. Nintendo even plans to offer frequent game updates and events, giving you a lot of paint for your buck.

GeekMom received a promotional copy of the game and amiibo figure for review purposes.

Try Your Hand at Solving the Mysteries of ‘Jenny LeClue’

© Mografi
© Mografi

If you loved Sierra Games as a kid, or burned the midnight oil reading Nancy Drew, indie game studio Mografi has just the game for you! Jenny LeClue, currently slated for 2016, is a mystery adventure game for gamers who love to follow the clues and solve puzzles. A new playable demo is now available, and after just a quick playthrough, suddenly 2016 can’t get here fast enough.

The adventure game follows the title character as she finds herself in an investigation she never could have imagined:

You play as Jenny, a brilliant young detective, living in the idyllic college town of Arthurton. Jenny is a sharp-eyed, relentless pursuer of the truth. But nothing exciting happens in Arthurton, and Jenny longs for real adventure.

Jenny gets more than she bargains for when her mother is accused of murder, and begins an unexpected journey to find the truth.

After playing the demo, I discovered that Jenny LeClue is brimming with atmosphere, from a stormy night to surprises lurking in the shadows. The (literally) heart-pounding sound effects add to the suspense, making this an enjoyably intense game experience without being too scary for younger players.

Fine details like creaking floors, characters with personality, and an abundance of clues to discover make this a compelling game that any fan of adventure games would love.

© Mografi
© Mografi

Just like when I was younger—we’re talking back in the days before GameFAQs—I found myself busting out the notepad and pen to write down the clues and solve a good ol’ fashioned game puzzle. And after just the quick look at the game, I absolutely want more.

Visit the game’s web site for more details, and to download the free playable demo. Jenny LeClue will be available on iOS, Android, PC, Mac, and Linux in 2016.

Amiibo-geddon Is Here!

If you thought the Nintendo Wii U was unpopular or that Disney Infinity and Skylanders characters ruled the cute little video game figures market… wrong! Nintendo released Wave 4 of their amiibo figures today, and people were waiting in line to get them. I was at the Toys”R”Us in Cary, North Carolina, and there were at least 40 people in line. I got in line at 9:15 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. opening, but some people had been waiting in line for hours!

Wave 4 amiibo line at Toys" R"Us
Waiting in line for Wave 4 amiibos at Toys”R”Us. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

My experience was very orderly. Toys”R”Us handed out purchase tickets for the desired figures. This store had 38 Greninja figures, and I got ticket 33. Woohoo! I was doing that estimate-how-many-people-are-in-front-of-me thing and was worried.

Toys"R"Us Wave 4 amiibo purchase ticket. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Toys”R”Us Wave 4 amiibo purchase ticket. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

As we stood in line, we discussed which figures we wanted, what our game plan was for hitting all the stores with exclusives, and the heat. Although the shopping experience was similar to Black Friday, it felt more like Red Friday as we melted in the heat and worried about getting sunburned.

One mother even had a special sheet that her son prepared for her to make sure she went to the right stores in the right order and secured the correct amiibos. Wow!

amiibo wish list
Amiibo wish list prepared by child. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Let’s be clear: My 12-year-old son, Joey, is the reason I was in line. He started talking my head off about the Wave 4 amiibo release a week ago and asked me to, “Please, please, please go get them.” I did my best.

So what did I get?

At Toys”R”Us, I got Silver Mario and Greninja.

Toys"R"Us amiibo figures
Amiibo figures from Toys”R”Us. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

At Best Buy, I got Inkling Girl, Inkling Boy, and Charizard.

Best Buy amiibo figures
Amiibo figures from Best Buy. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

And at Target, I got Jigglypuff.

Target amiibo figure
Amiibo figure from Target. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Joey will be pleased, although he is still hoping for Meta Knight and Rosalina/Luma, which came out in Wave 3 back in February. They are going for $50 or more now on Amazon and eBay. Gulp!

If you missed out on the amiibos you wanted today at your local store, you can try Amazon, but make sure to follow their ordering instructions and time intervals. Also, I previously ordered a Japanese marked Pac-Man from Amazon, and I can report that it works just fine with our United States Wii U.