Tabletop Game: Battle Sheep

Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game from Blue Orange in which players try to fill fields with their herd of sheep. Sounds pretty easy in concept, so I jumped at the chance to play it recently. I grabbed a couple of kids (9, 11, and 12) and we dove right in. Continue reading Tabletop Game: Battle Sheep

Tabletop Games: ‘Super Genius’ Series

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

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

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

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

‘Covalence’ Game: Cooperative, Educational, Chemistry Fun

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

Is it possible to have all three in one?

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

How does it work?

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

Global Game Jam 2015

Image by Global Game Jam, Inc.

Innovation, experimentation, collaboration. That’s Global Game Jam. For 48 hours teams around the world will be given a theme to create video, board, and card games. For what? For fun!

It’s not a competition, and teams are formed by on-site participants (not beforehand). It’s a way to meet people who like to game, design, create, and enjoy using their imaginations. In 2014 there were 488 locations, and 72 countries that created over 4000 games! Many of these quick weekend game developments have continued to become fully realized versions afterwards.

Here are groups around the world saying hello:

Want to participate? Go here to find a location. Kids and adults are welcome to join in the fun, but you have to register; go for it!

Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game

Image by GoblinArmyGames

I put a new game on our table along with all my other stuff from the day. My fifteen-year-old son was immediately drawn to the unwrapped box.

“What’s that?”
“A game I need to review.”
“Nice art. Can I open it?”
“Sure.” I smile. “You can figure out the rules for me…”

He happily spent some free time reading the rules and playing on his own before we found an evening where he, his dad, and I could sit down and play Ruckus: The Goblin Army Game. It was a successful Kickstarter project early this year by Matthew Papa.

(Full Disclaimer: GeekMom received a copy for review purposes AND Matt is someone I chat with at my local gaming store, plus, we went to college together waaaaay back when. He’s a great guy! Okay, back to the review.)

Ruckus has definite curb appeal with its adorable-looking creatures with amusing props and scenes on each card, plus silly names for all the goblins: Both “Jerry” and “Jerry’s Uncle Larry” can help you win. It’s strictly a fighting game, with the winner gaining the most victory points after multiple battles.

My son did my homework for me, and led our family in the first gameplay. There are three levels of play, and we did the first level. It was halting with rulebook checking, and I doubted the “eight years and up” on the box. But by the end of the game, we were getting it. My son and I played a few times on the second level, and game play was smooth and fun. He then taught my eight-year-old niece, who picked it up faster than I did, and quickly trounced me later that week. She loved the art.

So how does the game work? There are four Goblin Guilds: Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, and Necromancers. Each has their own deck with unique characters. The goblins in each army have an attack level, defense level, and special ability. Learning how to best use your army as a unit is your personal battle to win. The strategies vary depending on the guild and which cards you happen to draw each turn.

Image by Rebecca Angel

Everyone sets up their army cards behind a battle screen for two or three lines of attack. After removing the screens, different card abilities are played, the top fighting guilds are determined, and damage is distributed. Eventually only one player is left standing, and they collect a card from a specific deck that usually comes with a Victory Token. There are other rules and ways to get VP points, and another deck of randomness that keeps the game beyond just a power-card fight.

Overall it’s well-designed, though we did have some sticking points, the main one being a power unbalance. After half a dozen game plays, no one in my family could figure out how to win with the Thieves. It may be we are missing something, but that guild seems to be underpowered. My son also felt the rulebook could have been clearer. He also argued that there was a snowball effect with how the cards are dealt back into the individual decks each round, but I disagree on that one.

Image by Rebecca Angel and YES! I did get that token! Wooooot!

Ruckus is straight forward enough to keep play exciting for all, while the multiple strategies will make it interesting for many game nights to come. Check it out!

The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

You love artists and their artwork, but want to somehow make a game out of it? No worries. It’s already been done for you.

The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards is a bit like the old card game War. It has very simple instructions and you can play with any number of people. The cards are much thicker and higher quality than normal playing cards, and have a pleasing matte finish. Each of the 32 cards contains a painting of a famous or less-famous artist, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Cindy Sherman, or Damien Hirst. In addition, there is a brief biography, and numbers corresponding to six categories that are integral to gameplay. The categories are Influence, “Shock of the new” effect, Versatility, Top auction price (USD), Critical reception, and The “beautiful” factor. Other than the auction price, I’m not sure how the values are computed, however.

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

To play, deal the cards out equally, face down. Figure out who goes first. Players then hold their entire pile of cards face up, so they can only see one card. The first player chooses a category from their top card and reads it and its number out loud. The other players then read the value of the same item on their top cards. The player with the highest value wins all of the top cards and places them on the bottom of their pile. The winning player then gets to go next. If the top value is shared by more than one person, all the cards are placed in the middle and the same player chooses again. Whoever wins that round also wins the cards in the middle. The winner is the person with all the cards in the end.

If you think that it does sound a bit like War, I would agree with you.

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

In theory, players can learn quite a bit about each artists’ work and stats as they play, but in practice, players will likely just utilize the numbers on the cards to try to win. The game itself doesn’t teach too much about an artist’s works, but the information contained therein is a great starting off point for further study. You may learn that a Picasso painting sold for a vast sum. Research what painting it was. Or that Marcel Duchamp has a “Shock of the new” value of 99. What kind of groundbreaking work did he do?

Playing it with my family of four, we felt it was a bit too unbalanced and hard to gain control, just like War. However, the deck is smaller than a regular card deck, so the game doesn’t go on forever. We played two rounds in about a half hour.

The Art Game retails for $9.95 and is great for people who love the card game War but want it to take much less time and to be exposed to art and artists as they play.

Note: I received a copy of this game for review purposes.

Building an Elder God: A Review

IMG_4263 - Version 2
Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

Who wouldn’t want to grow a Lovecraftian terror in the comfort of their own living room?

Building an Elder God: A Game of Lovecraftian Construction is a game from Signal Fire Studios, first published in April of 2012. I bought the game for my son because he loves all things Lovecraftian. I am pretty sure he might be one of the only young children in the world who gets comforted by getting told that Cthulhu will watch out for him in the night. Yes, he has the stuffed animal.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

Building an Elder God is a tile-based game, reminiscent of Waterworks, but with—at least in my opinion—far more interesting subject matter. The basic concept is to connect the pieces of your monster, starting with a body and ending with a head, to make a complete monster with no damaged pieces or open ended tentacles. But you have to finish your monster before your competing insane cultist friends finish theirs!

During your turn, you can put a damaged tentacle on an opponent’s monster. They won’t be able to win unless they heal that tentacle either with a whole tentacle that matches that card or with a Necronomicon card (you get two of these cards and you can place one on a damaged tentacle to heal it). There are immune cards, distinguished by a purple glow, which cannot be damaged, and only one damage card can be present on anyone’s monster at a time.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

At first, this game seemed really simple, almost too simple, and would be something only kids could enjoy. But if adults are a bit more competitive and the cards come up right, it can prove to be quite challenging. I’d say it is a game suited for families with people of all ages. It usually takes between fifteen and thirty minutes to play a full game. We have a lot of fun playing it.

The artwork on the cards is very enjoyable, especially with the five bonus cards that were available when I bought our set. Ben Mund, the illustrator and designer, also did the artwork for A Very Hungry Cthulhupillar, also out from Signal Fire Studios. I’d suggest sharing this video to enhance the game playing experience. My son, who is a very young twelve, got the biggest kick out of it and quoted from it all day.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

Building an Elder God is best played with three or four people, but can still be fun with two. The more people you have, however, the bigger of a playing area you would need. With three people, we almost didn’t fit on the dining room table. Most of our elder god building takes place on the floor. The game says it’s best for ages six plus, but with some help I think slightly younger kids could enjoy it as well. The instructions suggest that the damaged tentacles had been shot, but you can easily explain it with something else—experiments gone badly, etc.

All in all I recommend this game. There is always a lot of laughter and fun when we do. And check out Signal Fire Studios, they have a lot of fun related products you might enjoy as well.


Pirate Week: Gamin’ Like a Pirate

Image By Rebecca Angel

Avast! What will yer hearties be doin’ to pass the time on deck September 19th? Idle pirates are a dangerous lot, so here are some suggestions fer gamin’:

Loot be the best pirate-themed table-top game me crew has ever played. It says ages 10 and up, but younger have been able to join in. Always most fun while talkin’ in pirate-speak!

A close second is the pirate version of Fluxx!

Now if ye want to get fancy with some historical pirate games (or at least ones shown in a pirate movie), check out the rules for Liar Dice.

And if ya want to put some effort into a game fer yer mini-pirates, here are ideas for Pirate Scavenger Hunts.

Or if ye be a lazy pirate fer online fun:
Silly Pirate Personality Test
Pirate Name Generator
Plus a whole list of online pirate-theme games

Enjoy a gamin’ day at sea with yer hearties enjoying International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Making a Reader Out of My Son With The Minecraft Essential Handbook and The Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Essentials and Redstone Handbook \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Minecraft Essentials and Redstone Handbook \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Like many kids these days, my eight-year-old son is obsessed with Minecraft. He has it on the computer and his iPad so he can play it anywhere. We used to have restrictions on his play time, but now that he’s reading because of the game, the gloves are, for the most part, off.

Scholastic has done what I thought couldn’t be done—they got my son excited about reading by making not one, but two books that make him want to read and teach him at the same time.

The Minecraft Essential Handbook has a lot of basic information on the game. Some of the topics include:

  • Short history of Minecraft
  • Controls
  • Inventory
  • Torches
  • Shelter
  • Food and Heath
  • Table of Elements

There are several other “must know” topics.

Even though my son has two years of Minecraft skills under his belt, he still learned something from this book:

“I learned that sheep and other animals can breed. I also learned what all the animals eat.”

He also said that the pictures are easy to follow, and I agree with him on that one.

The Redstone Handbook is my son’s favorite because,

“It has electricity and a lot more stuff, like automatic doors, electrical lights, and canons. The canon didn’t go very well. It only blasted about a block and a half away. So, I built a new canon and it worked.”

A few of the things Minecraft lovers can learn in this title include:

  • Redstone Essentials
  • Power Sources
  • Clock Circuits
  • Laur Pit Trap
  • Deluxe Lighting Systems

And several community creations.

In the back of The Redstone Handbook, it says that there are two more books coming for the Minecraft world: The Combat Handbook (August 26, 2014) and The Construction Handbook (September 30, 2014). To say that my son is excited to add these books to his Minecraft shelf would be an understatement. I’m equally excited to buy them for him because of how much fun he’s had with the first two books in the series.

The Minecraft Essential Handbook and The Redstone Handbook are must haves for any family with Minecraft-obsessed kids. With the exception of The Fanastic Mr. Fox, my son has never picked up and read a book so fast in his life. And in the words of my son,

“The book belongs to people who play Minecraft, because if they don’t read it, they won’t learn more about Minecraft. If they do pick it up, they will learn more.”

GeekMom received these items for review purposes. 

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.

Catching Up With Storium

Catching up with Storium
Storium screenshots and montage by Helen Barker. Storium logo © Storium

Last month I wrote about Storium, an online collaborative storytelling game. They were in the middle of their Kickstarter campaign, and although at that point they had already met their first funding goal, they had many incredible stretch goals yet to reach. During the campaign I played Storium extensively, both as a player and a narrator, and I have been thoroughly enjoying my writing experiences. One minute I’m an office worker with a mysterious past, the next I’m a young warrior battling evil, pollen-throwing plants. It’s such fun and also incredibly engaging to be playing a such an interesting game, either with friends or with strangers from all over the world.

I have followed the Kickstarter campaign very closely, as I absolutely love Storium, and I’ve been very excited about their progress. So, what’s happened so far and what do Storium fans have to look forward to?

For starters, Storium absolutely smashed their original funding target of $25,000. They raised a massive $251,362 from 6,676 backers, taking them just over 1000% past their goal. In the process, backers have unlocked 60 worlds that will be available to play later in the year. Highlights of the new worlds for me include:

  • Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes, where players must find their way through a multi-dimensional panoply of worlds, while threats build and timelines twist and turn. I love Stross’ work and think that this world could be incredible to play in.
  • Maureen McHugh’s After the Zombie Apocalypse, where zombies have been rounded up into camps while a shocked and damaged population works out what to do with them and hunts down the remaining undead. Throw some other undesirables into the zombie zones too, and things could get very interesting very quickly.
  • Seanan McGuire’s Chambers of the Sea, where you must survive in the wilds of the Atlantean sea. There are dark things under the waves—and mermaids and pirates to deal with too. I thought that this sounded like it had lots of scope for really interesting character interactions.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg as there are a huge number of worlds now funded from a host of award-winning writers and game developers. There are ghost stories, space SF worlds, horror stories, quest adventures, historical stories, romantic worlds, steampunk tales… I can guarantee that there will be a fully funded world that will float your geeky boat.

So what else will the Storium team be working on? They now have the funding to integrate more language and socialization features into the game, as well as new avatar and story card artwork. A gamma test platform will be built to try out new features and invite feedback from backers. The biggest news for me is that at the $200,000 point, Storium for Schools was unlocked. This will be a specially adapted version of the game for students and teachers to use, with appropriate features and game worlds. I am incredibly excited by Storium for Schools, as I think that it could be a very powerful tool in helping children to improve and enjoy their writing. Development of this new version will begin after Storium has had its public launch. So, although I’m itching to get my hands on it, I’ll have to be patient!

If you missed Storium‘s Kickstarter campaign but now feel like you’d like to join the fun in the beta game, it might not be too late. You can sign up on the Storium website to find out when any more crowd funding opportunities will arise, or keep an eye on their Twitter feed.

In the meantime, I’ll keep playing Storium, including taking on another couple of characters and maybe setting up another story to narrate. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the game’s development and will let you know how it progresses over the coming months. Congratulations to all of the Storium team for such a successful crowd funding campaign, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Favorite Christmas Present: Roll & Play Game

Image via ThinkFun

As the first grandchild to come along in several years, our two-year-old got a lot of presents this year. So far, one of our favorites is this Roll & Play game from Thinkfun. (Retail price $19.99.)

The game is wonderfully simple, and can be started and stopped at almost any time. We take turns throwing the die, which is big and soft and plush and just about as big as our toddler’s head. He loves throwing it. We name the color that comes up on top, and then pick a matching color card. Then we act out whatever the card says, and move on to the next turn. No need to keep score, just something fun to do together.

There are six categories of cards, and each color has a specialty. The blue cards have you look for colors in your surroundings (“Find something orange”); others have you make face (“Make a surprised face”—just about the cutest thing ever), count (“Clap your hands six times”), make animal noises (“Gobble like a turkey”), or act (“Do a silly dance”).

Our son has started asking us to play “the dice game,” and it’s easy to throw the cube around a few times after dinner. And since the “set-up” is so easy, especially since the plush cube has a pocket to store the cards, you don’t feel cheated when your toddler’s attention finally wanders off.

My favorite part is that it’s teaching him to take turns along with the basic mechanic of drawing cards. My husband and I are both enthusiastic board gamers, and we’ve both remarked that our son’s enthusiasm for this game bodes well for future family game nights.