Tsuro: The Game of the Path for All the Family

Tsuro © Calliope Games
Tsuro © Calliope Games

It’s rare to find a truly family-friendly board game, one that everyone from experienced gamers to little kids can get equal entertainment value from. Tsuro is one of those games, easy to explain, quick to play, and easy to adapt for different abilities.

The basic premise of Tsuro is one of the simplest in gaming. Each player is a dragon and by playing tiles from your hand you forge a path around the board. The goal is simple: Stay on the board. The last player to remain on the board having not forced themselves off the edge, or flown into an opponent, wins.

Tsuro Board © Sophie Brown
Tsuro Board © Sophie Brown

Although very simple to explain and play, the game is also deceptively strategic. At first everyone is off in their own parts of the board casually minding their own business. However after only a few turns you find yourself coming upon other players’ tiles and having to think several moves in advance to try to plan out where your tiles will take you in an effort to stay on the board and avoid others.

Although the game doesn’t allow for vindictive play (you must play tiles to move your own dragon, not putting them down in front of others to force them off instead), when players come close together tiles can affect multiple dragons at once allowing for absolute chaos to reign as dragons are sent flying all around.

My husband and I spent several evenings playing the game and I soon learned that my ability to plan ahead and consider where routes will take me is somewhat negligible as I consistently found new and elaborate ways to send my dragon careening off the edge of the board.

When he saw the game (which is technically rated for ages eight and up) my four year old desperately wanted to play with us. The strategic planning aspect of the game was far too advanced for him so I adjusted a few rules in order to create a version that he could play as well.

My Son After Playing Tsuro © Sophie Brown
My Son After Playing Tsuro © Sophie Brown

1. Rather than holding three tile in our hands at once as is standard, I changed to a “next tile from your pile” rule with each player having a stack of tiles in front of them.

This massively reduces the options available on each turn and makes the game easier to follow as you only have to think about the ways that one tile can be played rather than choosing the best option from up to 12 different routes.

2. Because the one tile only rule can result in more incidences of players being forced off the board (some tiles only present one movement option repeated on all four edges), when a player draws a tile which forces him or her off the board or into an opponent, they can swap that tile for the top tile from another player’s stack to give themselves a chance to save themselves for another turn.

My son still needs some help remembering to try out placing his tile in different orientations, and he sometimes thinks it’s funny to play with the intention of trying to crash into you rather than avoiding your dragon, but he absolutely loves playing and asks for “the dragon game” all the time.

It’s one I don’t mind playing too because rather than the often tedious and repetitive games we own that are designed for his age range, Tsuro allows me to actually play something with him that taxes me too.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Mom@Play: 8 Reasons to Play Machine of Death

Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination. Image: Cathe Post
Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination. Image: Cathe Post.

Planning an assassination with your friends is fun. Following through with an assassination plan while making sure the Machine of Death prediction comes through is beyond hilarious. Here are eight reasons you should plan an assassination at your next game night:

1. This card game already has its roots in geek culture, since it is based on a series of short stories which is based on a web comic. The general idea being that there is a machine that takes a little bit of your blood and then predicts with 100-percent certainty how you will die.

The tools we have available for the assassination.  The dice represent the number we have to roll in order for the tool to succeed in its part of the master plan. Image: Cathe Post
The tools we have available for the assassination. The dice represent the number we have to roll in order for the tool to succeed in its part of the master plan. Image: Cathe Post.

2. This is a game of imagination. You are given three tools to form a plan, so that your intended victim dies in the manner they are supposed to. It’s sort of like an invisible Rube Goldberg role-playing event. These tools are unique and can range from imaginary childhood friend to heavy furniture.

This person is going to die by “free samples.” Image: Cathe Post.

3. A sense of irony is not lost in the predicted death methods. Your card might say “old age,” but that could mean you are hit 5 minutes later by some old geezer driving a car.

4. Your assassination team comes up with the details of your target. Take this chance to warm up your brain to be imaginative and silly.

5. As a team of assassins, you are given strange tools to kill your target.

Specialists are earned by completing your assassination and covering up your tracks before time is up. Image: Cathe Post
Specialists are earned by completing your assassination and covering up your tracks before time is up. Image: Cathe Post.

6. The planning stage is not timed, but once you put your plan in motion, you have a time limit to succeed at killing your target. If you succeed and still have time left, you can cover your tracks and earn bonus Specialists that you can save for another assassination.

7. This is a great alternative to other party games, if you are looking for something adult to play other than Cards Against Humanity.

8. The box says it is for ages 14+, but I have played it with kids as young as 7. Parental guidance is advised.

Our team has succeeded on several missions. Image: Cathe Post
Our team has succeeded on several missions. Image: Cathe Post.

Do you want a reason not to play Machine of Death? The only negative I have found so far is the cards aren’t very sturdy. They can’t be shuffled traditionally without bending them.

If this game sounds like something that would interest you, check it out. Machine of Death has a website and is available for around $40 from Amazon and some other sites.

Catching Fire: Seeds of Rebellion The Board Game

Catching Fire © Sophie Brown
Catching Fire © Sophie Brown

I’m always slightly wary of board games that exist purely as movie tie-ins. They often seem to be developed quickly and cheaply to cash in on the film’s popularity rather than having any real effort applied to the game mechanics. This was my fear for Catching Fire: Seeds of Rebellion, the latest board game from the Hunger Games franchise; but there is quite a bit more to this game than first meets the eye.

The first thing you might notice about this game is that the box—and indeed the board, playing pieces, and everything else included—features no artwork from the film franchise. Instead the game builds on the story in the books rather than the glossy Hollywood adaptation. There is absolutely no mention of Katniss, Peeta, or even the Hunger Games themselves in the game’s instructions. Instead the game focuses on the rebellion that is growing in the background of the main story throughout the second installment of the saga.

In Seeds of Rebellion you are cast as a rebel leader attempting to set up secret bases across Panem. Missions are distributed across all twelve districts and you are tasked with collecting the different resources (food, medicine, information, fuel, and people) required for each one. Acquiring all the resources for a mission allows you to complete it and place one of your colored bases in that district. Each mission is worth a number of rebellion points depending on the difficulty—the number of resources required to complete it—and the player with the most points when a mission is completed and cannot be replaced from the stack is the winner.

The board after a game © Sophie Brown
The board after a game © Sophie Brown

Of course there are a number of obstacles standing in your way. Players can send Peacekeepers to different districts, each one increasing the number of resources required to complete nearby missions. Whenever a player completes a mission they draw a new one from the stack to replace it. Each mission is specific to a district and every mission on a district must be completed together. That can mean that as you are about to complete a set of missions, a new one is added to that district forcing you to start collecting something else and stopping you from completing those already there and placing your base.

As well as obstacles that hinder you, the game also provides opportunities for bonus points to be gained. Each player is assigned a number of strategic objectives at the beginning of the game. These are cards that highlight a number of specific districts within Panem; establishing a base in your strategic objective districts awards you bonus points. You can also gain bonus points by becoming an expert in completing certain kinds of missions or by being varied and completing one of every kind of mission.

The game mechanic itself is very simple: collect cards with symbols on that represent the various different resources available, and, once you have enough, discard the cards to complete the missions. However this simplicity could be a huge boost to the game. Not only is it simple enough for non-gamers to pick up and play quickly, the game could also be inserted into a larger campaign game as a mechanic for gathering resources and establishing bases. The tiny board (no really, this is the tiniest board I have ever seen) is again very simplistic with just the district symbols marking out each region, so it could easily be incorporated as a map in a larger RPG or even a LARP game looking for a simple way of committing resources across an area.

It’s great to see a spin-off game whose developers have really thought about what the original story is about and designed the game to become part of that world. Winning Catching Fire: Seeds of Rebellion sets up the rebellion so that the events in the final book of the series, Mockingjay, have a chance at being successful. Lose and the Capitol will probably be victorious; honestly this game really should have been a co-op. There probably isn’t an enormous amount of replay value here so the price could be a little steep but if you’re looking for a game that really ties in well to its fictional universe or need one to play with family on Christmas Day then there are far worse choices.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes. 

‘Scrabble’ Meets the Periodic Table in ‘Elemensus’

Elemensus © Elemensus
Elemensus © Elemensus

Hands up, who has ever tried to make words from the elements on the periodic table? It’s a game that most people who have ever spent time in a science lab have played at some point, and Elemensus has evolved the concept into a full-fledged board game that will have you tearing your hair out trying to think of a word that incorporates the chemical symbol for lead or magnesium.

At first glance Elemensus looks very much like its popular cousin Scrabble, and there are some definite similarities in gameplay. Each player draws a number of tiles then attempts to form them into words to be played on the board, placing them either vertically or horizontally and making them intersect with other words already played.

Continue reading ‘Scrabble’ Meets the Periodic Table in ‘Elemensus’

GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #2: Games

Second in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides is one detailing many games that we know and love. Some of them are new, some have been around a while, but all are great fun. This guide encompasses board games, card games, video games, and even an app. Check them out! And please share your favorite games in the comments.

Image: Eternal Revolution

Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype
Games with hand-made pieces and quality parts are sometimes easy to find. Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype, a board game similar to Chinese checkers but more like Traverse, is a great example. For 2-4 people, players try to get their pieces across the board before their opponents do, jumping pieces along the way. But here’s the trick: The pieces are six-sided cubes. Which side is up determines how the piece will move, and every time it is jumped over, the cube is rolled. A bit of luck is needed, but the game is also highly strategic. You’ll want to play it again and again!


Image: The Creativity Hub

Rory’s Story Cubes
Crafting a good story is something that is fun to share, but you don’t need to write it down or even to perfect it to enjoy yourself and get a good result. Gather friends or family around, and roll Rory’s Story Cubes (available in both the original dice and the newer Actions variety). Then tell a story out loud based on the images on the dice. The dice come with a few different game ideas, but you can think of your own rules or visit the Story Cubes website for more ideas. The dice are very portable, and can also be used for inspiration with more conventional writing activities.


Image: Bent Castle Workshops

Numbers League Card Game
Games that teach math are a great way for kids to reinforce their knowledge and have a great time. One math game that will keep you and your kids entertained and wanting to play over and over is Numbers League. Use simple and more advanced arithmetic along with your heroes and superheroes to defeat the villains. Decide whether you’d like to use a sidekick and/or a device, and then add up the values of the heroes to match the numerical value of a villain. Play by yourself or against opponents, and keep your city safe!


Image: Bent Castle Software

Numbers League App
The Numbers League Card Game also comes in an excellent app representation. This Numbers League version allows for playing against the computer, against human opponents, or a combination thereof. It also has a very large range of game settings and levels. There is no sidekick in this version, but otherwise the gameplay is very similar to the card game. Take this fun math game with you wherever you go!


Image: Gamewright

City Square Off
A bit like Blokus flipped on its head, City Square Off gives each player their own board on which to build, and each player plays the same piece on each turn. The last person to still be able to place a piece wins. A favorite in our house, this game is great for kids up to adults.


Image: Mayfair Games

Create a path for your piece to follow while trying to guide other players’ pieces off the board. This game’s very simple concept is a great deal of fun and offers a short game that you can play with kids and grownups of all ages. It is also great for a larger group, since up to eight players can play at once.


Image: Amazon.com

Loopz Game
Loopz is a skill and action game designed to get players moving. It can be played alone or with up to four participants. Loopz includes seven different games (some with multiple levels) to challenge memory, flexibility, speed, rhythm, reflexes, and more. The loops flash with patterns of color and light, making this engaging fun for players 7 and up.


Image: Amazon.com

Xbox 360 Console Kinect
$299.99 to $399.99, or add-on Kinect system for your Xbox 360 $119.99
Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle Special Edition
Xbox 360 4 GB Console with Kinect
Kinect Sensor Add-on
Kinect technology makes Xbox better than ever. Kinect sensor utilizes full-body tracking to mirror your movements within a game or to control an HD movie with a wave of your hand. No controller necessary. Features built-in WiFi so you can stream movies or television, download games, connect with friends on Facebook, and much more. The video game experience has never been so real. A great gift for kids as well as grandparents.


Photo credit: AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com

Awkward Family Photos Game
If your family is feeling the need for something new to play on family game night, or your group of friends has a great sense of humor, this is the game for you. If you’ve ever seen the hilarious website called Awkward Family Photos, and couldn’t stop laughing, this is the game for you. If you need an activity that young kids can play with older folks and everyone has the same chance of ‘winning’, this is the game for you. It’s appropriately called Awkward Family Photos and you can snag your own copy for less than $19. It comes with a two sided board, covered in pictures that have appeared on the website, and players compete to see who can come up with captions and answers to such questions as, ‘What happened right after this picture was taken?’. If you’ve worn out your copy of Apples to Apples, it’s time to break out this new gem.


Image: Nicole Wakelin

Star Trek Fleet Captains
This brand new board game is sure to appeal to your inner Trekkie. You command a fleet of Federation or Klingon ships, each beautifully modeled with a Clix dial on the base to track shields, weapons, sensors and engines. As you move across a board of random tiles, you’ll explore new planets, settle outposts and, of course, battle the enemy. To help you on your way there are cards with all your favorite characters from Kirk to Picard and, yes, there are even Tribbles wreaking havoc and threatening to sabotage your mission. With a huge assortment of cards and 24 ships to play, it’s never the same game twice.


Image: Nicole Wakelin

Mouse Guard RPG
If you’ve been looking for a great way to introduce your kids to the world of roleplaying, then the Mouse Guard RPG based on the series of graphic novels published by Archaia should be part of your gift-giving plans this year. Although it was not created specifically for kids but targets adult players, the images and the universe are perfect for children. Set in a forest populated by brave little mice in capes and hats, it provides a rich world with kid-friendly characters your children will be happy to return to again and again. And as your children grow, so can the intricacy and depth of your adventures.


Image: Amazon.com

Kinect Sports Season Two
This sequel to the bestselling Kinect Sports title for the Kinect on Xbox 360 gives you and your family the chance to match skills at football, skiing, baseball, darts, golf and tennis. You can challenge each other in your living room or friends and family across the country through Xbox Live. Winter may have everyone stuck inside, but this game will have you breaking into a sweat as you try to beat your opponents.


A game system comprised of stacking pyramids instead of playing cards. There are 23 variations of this game, the rules of which can be obtained from Looney Labs. Ice Dice is a fast paced, entertaining way to while away the holidays.


Star Fluxx
Quite possibly the best of the Fluxx variations offered by Looney Labs. Star Fluxx keeps the premise of the original game while adding in geeky elements, going to the limits of what you can do under copyright law. A card game that can last ten minutes or sixty, it’s a good way to while away some time while digesting Christmas dinner. Not for the easily confused!


Image from DNA family games, used with permission.

Is a word game for families, made by a family. It is fast, fun, and educational play. The game is $29.95 on the website and can be found in game stores in the Pacific Northwest.


Photo by Cathe Post

Under $25
Dixit is a card game similar to Apples to Apples, but with pictures. The artwork is amazing and the game is a lot of fun for kids and adults. The basic game is selling for just under $25 on Amazon.


Photo by Cathe Post

Once Upon a Monster
If you have a Kinect and children seven and under (maybe even older than seven), this is a great game. The artwork and graphics are top quality and the activities are fun for kids and parents. This is the first Sesame Street game that I actually want to play – even when my kids aren’t around.


Image courtesy of Disney Interactive

Disney Universe for Wii
Embark on a family-friendly trip through an imaginary robot-run universe that’s gone amok with mischief! Your avatar will attempt to free the costumes of numerous Disney characters and then don those costumes while attempting to save the different areas of the universe. There are blue bots that are helpful, and these black and red bots that are full of mischief and evil. For Disney, this game has some dark elements, but overall, it’s been fun to play with the family. Similar to the Lego video game series, players will use deductive reasoning to solve problems to get through each level, all the while collecting stars and coins, like the Lego games’ stud collections. The Disney franchise connection will make this video game a hit with the younger kids! Multi-player capabilities let teams work together to solve the problems. Rated “Everyone 10+” by the ESRB for cartoon violence and mild crude humor.


Image courtesy of Activision

Cabela’s Adventure Camp for Wii
Enjoy extreme sports gaming like never before! Cabela’s Adventure Camp takes on several sports with a new twist! Participate in biking, kayaking, wave runner riding, skeet shooting, fishing, archery, hogwhacking, and a very special version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”…called “Bear, Hunter, Ninja!”. Unlike other sports games, while Player 1 is doing his/her sport, additional players can wreak havoc on the player by laying obstacles! Each of my sons enjoyed downing trees across the river while his brother was biking or kayaking! Rated “Everyone” by the ESRB, but it does contain mild violence.


Image courtesy Microsoft

Star Wars Kinect Bundle
This gift won’t quite make it under the Christmas tree. It’s being released on December 31, but I promise you won’t be sorry you put an IOU under the tree and waited the extra couple weeks. If you don’t own an Xbox, this is an excellent, extra geeky way to jump into a way to play video games that require you to get up and move. The Star Wars bundle, aside from coming dressed up as Droids, also gives you the Star Wars Kinect game and an extra large 320 gig hard drive.


Image courtesy Amazon.com

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Lego Star Wars is my favorite video game of all time. You can play it at any age. You don’t have to see the movie first. It encourages cooperation, and you don’t have to be able to read. We’ve enjoyed all the other Lego video games in the series as well. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean adds more complexity to the game and makes money matter more. As with the other games, it parodies scenes from the movies without directly copying them, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to play the game before you watch the movie.


Image: http://www.telltalegames.com/

Back To The Future – The Game (Wii and PlayStation 3)
This game is the combination of five episodes that had been originally released episode by episode between December 2010 and June 2011 on the Microsoft and Mac operating systems. You play the part of Marty McFly in an adventure to save Doc and then restore the future. It is a game that any fan of the Back to the Future series.


Image: Microsoft.com

Kinect Disneyland Adventures
This new Kinect game for the xBox 360 allows you do explore Disneyland from the comfort of your own home. You can explore the attractions, meet the characters and complete challenges.


Image: Activision

Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure (Nintendo Wii)
Take innovative toys and match them with super fun gameplay and you’ve got Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure. An evil villain has frozen the Skylanders and sent them to earth, but with the Skylanders portal, you can send them back and save the Skylands! The single player mode is fun, but the cooperative mode is really something special. Oh, and if you pick this one up, you’re going to want more of the toys. Trust us. Read the full review.


Image: Hasbro

Simon Flash
Back in the day, Simon was a simple but addictive game. There was something about those glowing lights beckoning you to play. Now Simon has a high-tech update using Hasbro’s Flash technology. You can play the classic mode by following the pattern with the buttons, but you can also shift the cubes around to play four different games. A great update on a classic.


Image: Amazon

Word nerds, rejoice! Bananagrams brings the crossword puzzle to the tabletop. The flexibility of the game means that beginning and advanced spellers can all play together. The compact game comes in a banana-shaped zipper pouch suitable for travel (or hey, Santa – for a stocking stuffer).


Image: ThinkFun

Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game
Have you played Rush Hour? And no, we’re not talking the 5 o’clock commute. A strategy puzzle that will have players of all ages contemplating just how to maneuver the gridlock, Rush Hour comes with a set of cars and a deck of cards featuring challenges. In this single player game, the challenges begin simply but progress to more and more difficult layouts. For younger kids, there’s a Rush Hour Jr. Animal lovers will appreciate the Safari Rush Hour version complete with elephants and rhinos. This mind bender has been a favorite in our household for years.

Check out our previous GeekMom Gift Guide: #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts.

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