GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

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

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor

I’ve been asked many times through the years how I became the big ole nerd that I am. It has been asked in many ways by many types of people and I choose to believe it is always asked out of jealousy of my awesomeness. I mean, how could anyone not want to be just like me, right? I usually laugh, make a joke, or will reply with my standard response of, “It just happened over time, there was no one thing or event.”

Over the last few days, as I prepared to join this wondrous team known as GeekMom, I’ve been actively thinking about this topic. No easy task for a busy gal with ADHD and a to-do list that would make a lesser person weep, but perhaps highly overdue. Why did I become a geek? Most people I know can attribute their geekiness to someone in their family who is also a geek. They picked up their love of this or their fascination with that by observing loved ones in their passionate undertakings. Alas, there is no one in my immediate family who has the same predilections as I.

How did this happen? I’m going to tell you my story. You tell me yours.  Continue reading GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor

4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

Image: Laurence King Publishing
Image: Laurence King Publishing

It’s still relatively warm where I live, but September means the coming of cooler weather for most of the country, and sometimes even snow, but often additional rain. For those weekend afternoons when your kids come to you, yet again, saying, “Mom, I’m bored,” here are a few new suggestions to give their play some direction. Continue reading 4 New Books and Activities For Indoor Fun

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?

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…

5 Things You Must Do at GenCon

Achievement Unlocked - Bought New Games at GenCon, Image: Nicole Wakelin
Achievement Unlocked – Scored Games at GenCon, Image: Nicole Wakelin

GenCon, held each summer in Indianapolis, Indiana, touts itself as “The Best Four Days in Gaming.” The focus isn’t on video games, but on board games, card games, role-playing games, and miniature wargames. It’s the unplugged game convention and it is a massive affair. You cannot possibly see and do it all, but having just come back from my fifth GenCon, these are five things that should definitely be on your list.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

1) Wander the Vendor Hall

It’s pretty much mobbed from open to close, but you must spend at least some time wandering the aisles. There are big names like Fantasy Flight Games alongside small independent companies that are the ones you should really check out. The big guys will be in your local games store, but the small guys might not, so this is your chance to demo great games you’ve never heard of and take them home on the spot.

GenCon Cosplay, Image: Nicole Wakelin
GenCon Cosplay, Image: Nicole Wakelin

2) Watch the Cosplay Parade

The cosplay parade at GenCon happens on Saturday afternoon and it’s not to be missed. Any cosplayer can participate in this march through the convention center to an area outside the vendor hall where they all gather. It’s a great chance to take pictures without clogging up the aisles of the vendor hall.

Image: Scotty's Brewhouse
Image: Scotty’s Brewhouse

3) Eat at Scotty’s Brewhouse

You have to take a break from gaming sometime and that means squeezing in a few hours of sleep and grabbing something to eat to keep you going through your next game demo. There are food options aplenty, but my can’t miss meal is at Scotty’s Brewhouse. They rename the foods to things like Goblin Fried Pickles and Ectoplasmic Dip, play geeky movies all day, and have the 501st on hand in the evenings for photos. Also, you get a limited edition die that’s a different color each day of the convention. One can never have too many dice. Good food. Good beer. Free dice. Enough said.

Cardhalla Gets Underway Image: Nicole Wakelin
Cardhalla Gets Underway. Image: Nicole Wakelin

4) Cardhalla

You know that tower you built on your kitchen table with a handful of playing cards? Imagine that, but with hundreds of cards from all different kinds of games stacked into towers that start on the floor and rise up above your head. This charity event is open to anyone with some very creative types building clocktowers and even dragons. Saturday night at 10:30, it all comes to an end. Everyone throws coins at Cardhalla to knock it down with frantic bidding taking place to see who gets to toss the first coin. Cardhalla comes crashing down and local charities benefit from all the donations.

Games! Games! Games! Image: Nicole Wakelin
Games! Games! Games! Image: Nicole Wakelin

5) Play All The Games!

This is The Best Four Days in Gaming, so play some games. There is open gaming everywhere, even in the hotel ballrooms, and if you don’t have friends at the con, then you’ll easily make some. People want to play with all the games they just bought and will be looking for players ready to join up. Don’t be afraid to jump in and try a new game with a whole new group of gamers.

Just remember, food, sleep, and a daily shower are important parts of the convention experience too. You can’t see it all, so don’t stress. Instead, enjoy what you do see and make the most of every minute. It’ll all be over before you know it!

Common Sense Graphite: Quality Educational Resources

Image: Common Sense Graphite

As a parent who is constantly looking for engaging and out-of-the-box ways to teach my kids and deliver content, I often look online for ideas. One of my go-to places for information about games, apps, and websites is Common Sense Graphite.

Common Sense Graphite is connected to the likely better known Common Sense Media, a site which helps parents make smart media choices with and for their kids. Common Sense Media also makes a fantastic Digital Citizenship curriculum, tailored for all grade levels.

The Graphite side, however, focuses on education specifically. It is aimed at teachers, but as parents, we are our kids’ first and longest teachers. You don’t need to be homeschooling to use this site. If you’d rather your kids spent time playing games which have at least some educational benefit, Graphite is the place to look.

What does Graphite offer? Fantastic search capabilities, ratings in a variety of areas, standards match-ups, screenshots, and tips to use in an educational capacity. You can search for just the free resources, by platform, by grade, by subject, and more. You can also read teachers’ ratings on the site as well, for even more real-life feedback.

Now, Graphite doesn’t host or create these games. They merely evaluate and review the games, apps, and websites available on the internet and in the off-line world. This makes them an independent resource not beholden to any company.

If you aren’t sure where to start, begin with the Top Picks section, which divides up some sure bets into subject areas and grade levels. Then, as you find resources you like, check out their related titles. This will lead you down a fun and eye-opening rabbit hole that will leave you with a long list of resources you want to check out with your kids.

Graphite doesn’t just review games and websites that deal with major subject studies. They also cover things like video and animation websites and apps, gaining global perspective, geography, art, music, and even resources and organizational tools for teachers themselves.

Here is a list of a few of the many interesting stand-outs:

  • Papers, Please – A bleak immigration game that forces players to make difficult choices. Great for teens.
  • The Republia Times – An editorial simulation that teaches about the introduction of bias. Also great for teens.
  • Quandary – A game about ethics and argumentation. Great for late elementary and middle school.
  • Crazy Gears – A fun physics game, for early elementary.
  • Smithsonian Quests – Researching already-curated topics teaches students to build skills. Great for late elementary through early high school.
  • Stellarium Mobile Sky Map – Makes it easy for students to identify night sky objects. Great for middle school through adult.
  • BioDigital Human – Allows students of any age to investigate the inside of the human body, systematically. Best for middle school and up.
  • Algodoo – An open-ended physics sandbox game allows kids to just play, unfettered.

Visit Common Sense Graphite today to find some games, websites, and apps to help boost your kids’ education, or just to help them learn more about their interests!

Disclaimer: I write educational reviews for Common Sense Graphite, but I would use them as a resource even if I didn’t. I stumble across curriculum-changing games and websites weekly.

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.

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.

Math: All You Need Is Games

Image By Rebecca Angel

I was the kid that had to stay in at recess in second grade. Was I bad? No, I needed extra help in subtraction. Sister Brendan, a very nice old lady (who gave me snacks too) sat patiently with me each day to get my wee brain to learn the tools of taking away in an equation. I was a smart kid, and I could memorize how to do it, but I didn’t understand why and that made me second guess myself and screw up on tests. Eventually I got the concept, but I also learned another lesson: Math isn’t fun.

But it can be! My teen son loves to play board and card games with his young cousin. They both homeschool, so I suggested he come up with a math curriculum for her that incorporated games we already owned to teach the concepts she was supposed to learn in second grade (according to Common Core for a reference). Her parents thought that was great, and when she took a simple test at the end of the year, she aced it. No boring textbooks and worksheets!

Unlike most math curricula that teach one concept at a time, games utilize several skills at once in a fun atmosphere that keeps the challenges from getting overwhelming. Basically, instead of learning to do math on its own, the student is using math to play the game.

Granny Apples is a good example of multiple math skills at once. It is a simple game of tossing wooden apples on the ground and counting the different types to find a total score. However, it involves fractions, addition, subtraction, sets, and is all mental math in a visual setting. There is no writing involved, which is perfect for learning concepts without tripping over the writing/reading challenges. It is a fast game with tactile satisfaction with smooth wooden objects.

Bakugan is perfect for those writing/reading challenges, and so fun that kids will not care. Each sphere is tossed into a ring and pops open to reveal a monster. Each monster has a number printed on it for its “battle score.” But these scores are up to triple digits. The student must keep track of all the digits, keep their columns neat, and continually add and subtract to figure out if they win the battles.

Polyhedron Origami is not a game, but the best way to teach geometry of three dimensional shapes—by building them with paper. It is not difficult, but requires attention to detail, with a satisfying ending of something beautiful with math. Using this method, even the youngest students can make truncated octohedrons, and know what that means!

Phase 10 Card Game is all about sets, patterns, and reasoning.

Could there be a more entertaining way to learn graphing skills than Battleship?

The top half of the Yahtzee sheet is a fun introduction to multiplication. Rolling dice, counting, and writing. Over time, students will count the dice faster and faster based on the visual sets of dots on each die. This is learning sets and geometric reasoning for multiplication skills. Sounds complicated, but in this game, it’s just fun.

Games like Cathedral Chess, TangoesMancala, and Connect 4 are ways to teach spatial reasoning, patterns, shapes, strategy, structure, reasoning, and mental acuity. They range in complexity, but are able to be played by children as young as five in simple formats.

Check out some other posts about math games here and here and here and here.

What games does your family play that teach math concepts?

2015 GeekMom Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. It’s the one time of year when you “legally” have to shower Mom with love—and gifts! Of course, we’re kidding (sort of). While most moms do love the homemade cards, hugs, and brunch offers, a lot of us also love to get a gift that keeps on giving. So instead of giving your mom (or yourself) the same old wilted flowers, consider one of the gifts listed below in our 2015 GeekMom Mother’s Day Gift Guide.

The Sprite Bag by Pixelle is a ThinkGeek exclusive. Photo: ThinkGeek.

Bookworm Shoulder Tote
Haul around your mom gear in this large zippered bag from Blue Q. It’s waterproof, wipes clean, is made from recycled materials, and is crazy strong. It measures 11-by-15-by-6.25 inches. One percent of the sale price supports The Nature Conservatory. And if the bookish design doesn’t do it for you, check out the same tote with a Da Vinci design or a Batista design. [$13.30]

“I Aim to Misbehave” Car Decal
This car decal serves two important purposes: It shows off your mom’s love for Firefly and that she is one spirited lady! [$6]

Multitool Hair Clip. Photo: Yaacov Goldberg/Monkey Business.

Multitool Hair Clip
Made of stainless steel, this creative hair clip for Mom is a secret multitool. It’s a screwdriver, wrench, trolley coin, ruler, and cutting edge, always handy and helpfully keeping her hair out of her eyes. [$9]

Ogio Hudson Pack
GeekMom Dakster is a huge fan of Ogio bags. As a mom on the go, her go-to laptop bag is the Ogio Hudson Pack in Peacoat blue. It fits her laptop, iPad, iPod, writing supplies, and all without feeling bulky on her back. [$64.99]

Pelican Elite Weekender Luggage
Built for the adventurer, this luggage will take any beating the cruise line, airline, or any other transportation service can throw at it. GeekMom Dakster likes having her bag around to protect her costumes when traveling to conventions. [$445]

The Sprite Bag by Pixelle
“Level up your look” with the subtle touches of The Sprite Bag by Pixelle. It’s just the right size for a mom on the go and comes in white or black. [$49.99]

ThinkGeek Star Wars Stainless Steel Pendants
For the Star Wars mom, check out these pendants from ThinkGeek. Choose from Boba Fett, Rebel Alliance, Stormtrooper, or Tie Fighter. [$29.99 to $39.99]

A peek inside Ryder Windham’s Ultimate Star Wars. Photo: © 2015 Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book
Coloring books intricate enough for adults are trendy right now, as if we haven’t been coloring in them all along! You may prefer a different adult coloring book like Steampunk Coloring Book or Unicorns Are Jerks. [$11]

Furry Logic
Furry Logic is a fun book filled with furry animals and cute logic. It’s a quick and easy pick-me-up read for anyone. [$8.99]

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will)
Get Mom prepared for the inevitable attack of the garden gnomes. They may look harmless, but these cute and decorative keepers of gardens are secretly planning to attack you and everyone you love. [$11]

Instant Happy: 10-Second Attitude Makeovers
Everyone needs a pick-me-up every now and then. For the days when Mom is feeling the weight of everything on her shoulders, hand her Instant Happy: 10-Second Attitude Makeovers. It has 128 pages of happy thoughts, with cute drawings and animals to accompany each one. [$11]

Knit Your Own Zombie. Photo: Fiona Goble/Adams Media.

Knit Your Own Zombie: Over 1,000 Combinations to Rip ‘n’ Reassemble for Horrifying Results
Easy-to-knit, hard-to-kill zombies held together with Velcro strips and snaps, so you can create your own mashups. Knitting never looked so easy and yet, so softly terrifying. [$12.04]

Subversive Cross Stitch: 50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side
Stitch some snark with this updated anniversary edition of the now-classic book that upended the ladylike craft of cross stitching. “Eat, Drink, and Be Quiet” may add some charm to your kitchen. If you have no intention of making any of the designs, just leave it out to shock your Great Aunt Rhonda next time she visits. [$11.50]

Ultimate Star Wars
A trained tauntaun of your own would be a fantastic gift. Sadly, Echo Base won’t ship them to Earth. Instead, consider this newly released large-format hardcover book to explore the Star Wars galaxy chronologically. It’s packed with in-depth information about characters and storylines. Yes, it has photos of tauntauns. [$26.49]

Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life
Your Family In Pictures takes mom from the basics of family photography to the more advanced setups. Our recommendation? Pick one of the suggested cameras out for her in the first few pages and wrap it up with this book. Say cheese! [$15.99]

Geeky tees. Photo: Friendly Oak.

Banned Book Socks
Ankle socks with a kick, these Banned Book Socks feature titles on one foot and strike-outs on the other. Wearable all year ’round, not just during Banned Books Week. Made of nylon, polyester, spandex, and cotton; machine wash. [$10]

eShakti Gift Card
eShakti lets Mom customize clothing in sizes from 0-33. With numerous patterns and styles, she can pick out her favorite neckline, hem length, and sleeves style. The online retailer features a wide variety of fabrics. GeekMom Fran likes the cotton dresses very much. Did we mention that most dresses feature actual full-size pockets that you can put things in? Yes. [Varies]

Friendly Oak Geeky Tees
Printed on super soft American Apparel tees, these women’s shirts come in a variety of geeky designs: An octopus in a top hat! Sloths! Hot air balloons! Pirate ships! Bugs! Books! Dinosaurs! Bats! [$18 to $19 each]

High Commander Cardigan
Mom is the ultimate power in the universe, and now she can show her Imperial strength with the High Commander Cardigan from Her Universe. The light sweater is perfect for everyday cosplay, but subtle enough to pass as a simple gray sweater. But true Star Wars fans who catch a glimpse of the insignia on the front will give Mom a knowing smile. [$50]

Hot Topic’s Orphan Black Fit & Flare Dress
Hot Topic’s latest television show-themed clothing line is Orphan Black, and the red DNA-patterned flare dress is a standout. One of the best things about this simple dress is you don’t have to be a fan of this popular sci-fi series to appreciate the cool DNA double-helix design. This could be the perfect gift for science teachers… or just any mom who loves and appreciates the building blocks of life. Keep in mind Hot Topic’s women’s clothes tend to run in juniors’ sizes, so it may be a smart idea to get a size larger than Mom would usually wear. Oh, and FYI: This looks cute with another item in the Orphan Black line, the Lightweight Ombre Open Cardigan. [$29.50]

Solar System Knee Highs. Photo: Sock Dreams.

Marvel Ladies Knee High Socks
Comic book fans of Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Spider-Woman will wear these knee-high socks with pride. Whether she’s padding around the house stealthily in Black Widow socks or channeling her inner Princess Sparklefists in her Captain Marvel knee-highs, Mom will feel like a superhero in these ThinkGeek exclusives. [$14.99]

Octopus Arm Cozies
Above the elbow arm cozies are a stylish way to tell Mom she’s cool and keep her warm at the same time. Sock Dreams has several styles and colors, but everything goes better with cephalopods. Made of 95-percent cotton with spandex; machine washable. [$25]

Solar System Knee High Socks
Mom will be walking on the sun with these Solar System Knee Highs from Sock Dreams. Made of 75-percent cotton with polyester/spandex, they’re machine-washable and keep their shape. For all the times she’s found your socks, or told you she loves you to the moon and back. [$10]

Toothless Tail Fin Skater Skirt by WeLoveFine
Help Mom show her dragon pride with the Toothless Tail Fin Skater Skirt by WeLoveFine. It’s flowy, it’s twirly, and it was designed to look like Toothless’ tail fin—complete with a white Viking skull on the back. [$25]

A peek at the “Relax” setting on the Philips hue lighting system. Photo: Philips.

D-Link WiFi Smart Plug
If you’re anything like GeekMom Rachel, you’re constantly telling someone to turn off the lights. This handy gadget bypasses the people who never seem to learn and allows you to take control. Just plug the Smart Plug into any existing outlet, push the WPS button on your router, and the button on the Smart Plug. Then, you’ll be able to power off (and on) everything that’s plugged in via the mydlink Home mobile app, which is free for iOS and Android devices. [$39.99]

Martian Notifier
The Martian Notifier is GeekMom Dakster’s new favorite phone accessory. It’s a simple smartwatch whose only job is to send notifications from your phone to your wrist. What’s great about it is that there are no fancy bells and whistles; it’s simple, to the point, and the battery lasts over five days on a single charge. It also comes in white, black, and red. [$95.99]

Me-Shot Deluxe 2.0
Give Mom the gift of selfies with the Me-Shot Deluxe selfie stick. It comes with a remote to help her get that perfect group shot and it’s compact enough to fit into her bag. [$49.99]

Martian Notifier. Photo: © Martian Watches.

Parrot Flower Power
For the mom who lacks a green thumb, this little device can be a lifesaver—or at least a plant-saver. It’s basically a little smart sensor that sticks right into the soil. Once it’s embedded, it can measure moisture, fertilizer, ambient temperature, and light intensity, and will send all of that info to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. In case Mom needs a little extra TLC for her plants, Parrot also has a library with info on thousands of plants, flowers, herbs, and more. [$49.95]

Philips hue Connected Light Bulbs
Sure, you could offer to mow the lawn or do the dishes, but the gift of automated lighting is something that Mom can use every single day. And it’s downright addictive! That’s because the hue offers remote control of lights via any smartphone or tablet. Even better, it’s also a nice decorative element, since the hue can be adjusted to make mood lighting in over 16 million colors. [$199 for the Starter Pack]

Sonos Play:1 Wireless Speaker
Just because Mom isn’t partial to extra-large speakers doesn’t mean that she can’t rock out. This small, mighty speaker is the least expensive in the Sonos line, but still packs the power needed to drown out Dad’s singing. It’s important to know that it needs WiFi or the Sonos Bridge ($49), as well as the Sonos app. Once everything is hooked up, it can stream music to anywhere in the house. Also nice to know is that you can always add on to this gift later, since it works well alone, in pairs, and with every other speaker in the Sonos line. [$199 each]

XSories Large Power CapXule
The Large Power CapXule keeps Mom’s GoPro camera safe and charged with the case’s built-in battery. [$79.99]

Sauria Cakestands. Photo: MoMA.

Kitchen Goods
Don’t Talk to Me Yet Mug
For coffee- or tea-loving moms, for sleep-deprived moms, this white ceramic mug lays out when it’s safe to approach with questions about where your socks are, or whether you should be allowed to wear flip-flops in 20-degree weather. [$17]

Evil Genius or Everyday Super Hero Mugs
Is your mom a superhero, or does she get a certain amount of pleasure from being just a little bit bad? Be careful picking the appropriate one for your GeekMom—or buy both and let her decide how she feels in the morning! [$10.50 each]

Kitchen towels. Photo: LoveYouALatteShop.

KitchenAid Mixer Decals
If Mom has a KitchenAid mixer, it most likely lives on the countertop. Why not help her put a little bling into that permanent fixture? There are an endless number of decal options, from flames to flowers to a Flying Tiger Shark Plane. GeekMom Rachel has a set of superhero-themed decals for her KitchenAid and can tell you that they are easy to apply and stick quite nicely, even after a messy, marathon baking session. [Starts at $9.99]

Onion Goggles
GeekMom Rachel says that she loves a good cry—but not when that cry is initiated by cutting onions. Her husband got her a pair of these a little while ago. “They make me feel like a superhero and work like magic,” she says. [$19.95]

“They See Me Rollin’ They Hatin'” Kitchen Towels
These towels are too cool for school. Kick-ass kitchens? That’s another story. In case your mother isn’t down with the lyrics of Chamillionaire, there are plenty of other punny options that she’d be happy to display in her kitchen. [$18]

Triceratops Cake Stand
A 2014 Grassi and Bertoni design for the Museum of Modern Art, these dinosaur cake stands can hold all of Mom’s favorite cakes. Made of porcelain, the triceratops stands approximately 5 inches high, with the brontosaurus being 3.5 inches high. [$130]

Tsuro: The Game of the Path. Photo: © 2015 Calliope Games.

Toys & Games
Cluedo Sherlock Edition
Eagle-eyed fans of the BBC’s Sherlock know even the great sleuth himself enjoys Cluedo (or Clue in the United States), provided he wins. Now, the BBC has come up with an official Sherlock Edition of the classic mystery game. There’s a reason the original version of Clue is still a tabletop favorite, and now this version has made it even more enjoyable to match wits with friends and family around the table. A perfect Mother’s Day gift for those treasured family game nights and those who are still waiting… and waiting for Sherlock Season 4. [$39.49]

Fiesta Sea and Shore Series 36” Giant Octopus
Ignore all descriptions that allege this stuffed creature is a child’s toy. Those staring eyes, curling tentacles, and soft body make for an awesome cephalopod pal for someone your age too. You don’t have eight arms to attend to all your mom-ligations, but at least your giant octopus does. [$69.99]

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. Photo: Nintendo.

A beautiful board game to play with the family. Players compete to see who can stay on the board longest. For two to eight players, ages eight and up. Each game takes about 20 minutes to play. [$24]

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
If Mom has fond memories of playing Final Fantasy or other Japanese RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a no-brainer. It looks fantastic on the New Nintendo 3DS, with phenomenal voiceovers, a sweeping story, classic JRPG elements, and a big world to explore. Hours of epic gameplay just might fill that Dragon Age-shaped hole in any RPG fan’s life. Just FYI: This title is only compatible with the New Nintendo 3DS. [$39.99]

Shadows and BURPS: RPGs With Kids!

shadow pic small
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Gather your family at the table with paper, pencils, and dice.

First tell them to draw a quick picture of themselves—stick figures are fine. On the same paper, they should draw their shadow: the person, monster, or alter-ego that is longing to get them in trouble, to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. Then assign one die (different colors) to each of these drawings. Finally, say to your family, “You are asleep in the house. Suddenly you wake up to a strange sound.” And so the Shadows game begins.

This is one of the simplest role-playing games around, which makes it great for kids. And perfect for adults who are interested in RPGs, but don’t know where to begin. Shadows, by Zak Arntson, is a group storytelling game with a fun twist. Whenever the leader of the group asks about a move, the player has to answer twice—what they want to do in a situation, and what their shadow wants to do. The decision is made by dice.

My children and I have played the Shadows game many times, and this was the game I chose when I did an “Intro to RPG” event at my local homeschooling group. I wanted a game with a short prep time, so we could jump right into the action. Experienced gamers really, really enjoy character creation, spending weeks on stats and backstories. But with kids, they just want to play.

There are many systems out there (feel free to comment below with your favorite) that are quick on the start-up. Risus by S. John Ross is one I like. It has enough structure to satisfy kids who want more than Shadows, but with a twenty second character creation, there’s no waiting. My favorite part of Risus is how characters are defined by cliches. You can make up your own or be inspired by their example list:
Gambler: Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast.
Computer Geek: Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions.

My kids enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, so one afternoon I took out Risus, a list of Greek gods, and a list of Greek monsters. I told the kids they were demi-gods, and monsters were ravaging our downtown. They grabbed their dice, picked whom their powerful parent was, wrote down a cliché or two, and we were off on an exciting adventure.

Now perhaps you are an experienced gamer and want to bring your geeklings into the fold of serious RPGs. There are also many systems that allow for expansive character creation and detailed worlds (again, list your favorites below.) Anything with the PDQ# system by Chad Underkoffler is creative and easy to run. I once ran a long campaign with my kids and their friends in the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies world with great success.

My husband did a few one-shot Dungeons and Dragons games with the kids when they were younger. But he made their simple character stats for them, “I want to be a really cool warrior with a big sword!” I had asked if he ever wanted to run a family game, but he remembers the amount of time it took to create a satisfying game week after week for his friends way back when. So that was a “no.”

My personal introduction into RPGs is a system called GURPS (generic universal role playing system). However, I will never read all those books for the GM (game master). Luckily, there’s this handy-dandy version called GURPS LITE. It’s perfect for playing with kids, and I used it for a short series with my own kids a few years back. The character sheets were still too unwieldy, so I wrote up my own called BURPS (beginner universal role playing system). Please feel free to grab it for your own game.

Not enough suggestions? Go here. Spend an afternoon on an adventure with your children using your collective imagination and the clattering of dice.

LEGO Classic Arcade Games Could See Production With Your Help

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

The latest cool build to go up for voting on Lego Ideas is one that’s sure to appeal to anyone who grew up in the ’80s and spent hours pumping quarters into a machine at the local arcade. It’s a set of three arcade games especially for Sega fans.

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

The first game is Space Harrier which was released in 1985 and designed by Yu Suzuki. It used what they called Super Scaler technology to give things a 3D effect. In the deluxe version of the game, the whole cabinet moved as the player moved the joystick so this Lego version moves left, right, up, down, and tilts.

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

There’s also Out Run which came out in 1986 and was also designed by Yu Suzuki. This time the cabinet moved according to how you turned the wheel in the racing game so this model moves left and right.

Image: Thunder Blade
Image: SpacySmoke

The last game is Thunder Blade which came out in 1987 and had a seat that rotated to match your motions as you piloted a helicopter. This model follows suit with a seat that rotates in a circle.

Image: SpaceySmoke
Image: SpacySmoke

The set even includes three minifigs. Set designer SpacySmoke made a Male Sega Fan, Female Sega Fan, and a miniature Yu Suzuki to immortalize the game designer in Lego form.

The set needs 10,000 votes to be considered for production by Lego. You can lend your support and help make this set something that we all can play with one day.

(via NerdApproved)

Kalk: A Card Game That Makes Math Fun!

Image: Kalk (Used with permission)

I was cruising Kickstarter the other day, as one does, and I came across something unexpected among the plethora of games and comics that I usually love to back. It was a math game.

Now, math is on my mind a lot these days. Both my son and I learn math almost organically. Workbooks are like tedious torture to us, because we need to see the math in action. So I have been looking for ways that I can help him learn in a way that makes sense to us. We’ve had a lot of fun with Math Dice and other games like that.

Kalk might just be the next math game in our library.

After watching their Kickstarter video (which does an awesome job at explaining how the game works) and talking with designers Tommy and Jonathan a bit via email, I could tell these guys were both enthusiastic about their game and passionate about sharing a love of math with everyone, even those who have a hard time with it. I took the opportunity to ask them a few questions about their game, so hopefully others could share in their enthusiasm.

GeekMom Mel: What inspired you to make Kalk?

Jonathan: When I was young, my mom and I used to go on the street and she used to ask me to sum up car’s license plates, after a while it became easy and she challenged me to get to specific numbers by using + – x ÷, just like our goal number in Kalk.

GMM: Why math? Do you have a special relationship with the subject?

Tommy: Jonathan is more into math actually, but we both created this game in order to bring math to kids and parents in a cool and fun way, so everybody will like it, like we do!

GMM: What do you think makes Kalk different?

Tommy: Kalk is a very simple game. It takes less than 10 seconds to learn how to play. This was one of our challenges in creating something simple, yet challenging and inspiring. You can actually choose the difficulty by adding more cards, playing with our magic cards, or choosing your competitors.

GMM: What do you think is the funnest part about math, maybe something that even people who hate math can appreciate?

Jonathan: The funnest part in math, in our opinion, is the ability to solve things in different ways. It always amazes us how creative our minds can be! For example, we are posting several challenges during the week on our Facebook page, and it’s always fun to see people solving our riddles in different ways.

Image: Kalk (Used with permission)

GMM: Were you good at math growing up?

Tommy: Jonathan was really good! He’s like a little professor even though he doesn’t admit it. He used to help me in school, but it didn’t help that much. However, since Kalk was created, my math skills got better. Jonathan still wins ⅘ of the times! :)

GMM: Tell us a little about the process of designing your game. What was the funnest part? Which part was the hardest?

Jonathan: The design process of Kalk was very cool! Me and Tommy used to play Kalk long before we launched the project. Back then, I started to imagine how it will look. The hardest thing I did was to design the right numbers that will look clear, fun, and appealing to both kids and parents. The funnest part was to print the first pack of Kalk and playing it for the first time!

GMM: Do you have any advice for parents who might have kids who struggle with math?

Tommy: We would suggest to go really slow with it, for some kids (like me!) it doesn’t come naturally. Try to make math more like a fun riddle, or a challenge and less like just an assignment.

Image: Kalk (Used with permission)

GMM: Anything you’d like to add?

Tommy and Jonathan: We would like to add that we are really excited about this project and hope we will fund it within 20 days. It will be much appreciated if people could help us spread Kalk to the right people because unlike other “cool” projects on Kickstarter, those educational projects are a bit behind.

We really care about kids’ education these days, and believe that Kalk is a part of the solution with all the crazy technology games that you can find today. We miss sitting in the living room and play cards with friends.

We have created Kalk because we think it’s time to exercise our brain and reinforce our math skills (… and hopefully yours too!).

Best of luck with your Kickstarter campaign, Tommy and Jonathan. This looks like an awesome game, and I know I’ll be backing it!

For more details, or to back the Kickstarter, please check out Kalk‘s campaign!

Gamin’ Up New Year’s Eve

Image by Rebecca Angel.

Family game night is a nice thought, but usually in our house, we just don’t have time for more than a quick Fluxx after dinner. But New Year’s Eve? Oh, there is time! No matter the ages of your children, if you are home or at a party, New Year’s Eve is a great excuse to break out the looooong games as we wait for the ball to drop. Here is my list of games that you probably already have—and ones that you should pick up before the 31st:

Monopoly: I never liked this game growing up, but everyone seemed to have it in their house. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I ever finished a game (and won!). No matter where you are, this game is sitting in a closet somewhere. The fun is hearing the random “house rules” people have. Tip for Monopoly fun: no mercy. Be as bloodthirsty as possible. If everyone agrees to this, then it is ridiculous—and makes for a quicker game too.

War: Yup, the traditional card game. This can go on for hours, with lots of people, especially if you have multiple decks of cards combined. It’s easy enough for the youngest to play, and handing off your deck to someone else to continue in your place is simple.

Chess Tournament: Although one game of chess can certainly go on for awhile, a tournament stretches play time in an exciting way. Most people probably have at least one board in their house (often more). You could even find online versions to play each other, if no physical board is available. Most adults are familiar with the basics and New Year’s Eve is a perfect time to finally learn. If everyone tries to play the first round, they’ll all be invested in who wins overall.

Phase 10: This is a really easy game to learn based on pairs and sets. It also takes a long time to play to the end. It’s more luck than strategy, so it’s great for sitting around chatting or watching the entertainment on TV at the same time. I highly recommend this one for New Year’s Eve, especially if you have multi-generations in your house. Grandmas and grandpas will love it.

Balderdash: This is a hilarious party game. It’s creative and silly and takes awhile to finish. Each round is based on a strange law, word definition, movie synopsis, or initial, with players trying to fake each other out to win points and move up on the board. For example, the Dasher would roll the dice, pick a card, and read out, “The initials are A.D.R.C.” Then, each player writes on a paper what they think it could be. I usually go for silly and may write, “Arsenic Diletantes of Rochester Corporation.” Everyone hands their paper secretly to the Dasher, who mixes them up and reads them out loud. Then the players choose which they think is the real one, and points are distributed. (The real one in this case was: American Dutch Rabbit Club.) Trust me, it’s a good game for non-gamers and gamers alike. Kids who aren’t deft at reading and writing can pair up with an adult.

The Settlers of Catan: As gamers, we know it and love it. You’ve told your friends and family about it, but it’s hard to get them to sit down and just play it. New Year’s Eve is the time! Warning: I know you’re excited, but don’t do the expansion sets. Just stick with the original to introduce it to others. Once they’re hooked, you can break everything out when they finally start coming to your gaming nights :)

StarCraft: The Board Game: Just kidding. But if you happen to have this in your house (sigh…we do) and your son has been begging you to play it more than just that couple of times he wrangled you over, and you never finished either time because setup alone took about 20 minutes, then you should probably be a good parent and finally play a full session of it on New Year’s Eve. Maybe.

MMOs: I mention this because my son had a great experience one year playing StarCraft on New Year’s. As he played with random people from all over the world, each hour someone would mention it was New Year’s for them. He thought it was very cool to realize how much of an international community he was part of.

So what other games do you already have or played once at a Con that would be perfect for New Year’s Eve?

Gaming This Christmas With Holiday Fluxx

Image: Sarah Pinault

No Christmas is complete without gathering the family round the table for a rousing game of (insert favorite game here). In our family, no Thursday is complete without it, but that’s just us. We’re a big fan of Looney Labs for a quick and fun card game, and this holiday season they have done it again with a seasonal twist on their most popular game: Holiday Fluxx.

Image: Looney Labs

The basic rules and tenets of the game remain the same. Each player starts with three cards, and the rules are draw a single card and play a single card, until a new rule card changes the rules. The goal is an ever changing object that you determine by playing certain cards. On your turn you can create a new goal, lay down a “Keeper,” or play an action card and do something immediately. It’s a game of both short- and long-range goals, all of which can be thrown out at a moment’s notice. All of the cards are rather more holly jolly than usual.

Unlike the most recent iterations of Fluxx, this version does not have any creepers, those dastardly little cards sent to thwart your victory. I am, however, tempted to make up a blank creeper card and create a few myself; Scrooge, the Grinch, and Bill Murray spring to mind. There was a special card issued in their holiday package this year: Mrs. Claus, a keeper that has the same properties as the Santa card. Also, this version includes a few ever popular surprise cards to throw an extra turkey bone in the works.

There are twenty-one new keepers, four surprise cards, thirty-two goals, and twenty-four new rules—a new rule for every day of Advent. The holiday game incorporates elements of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, though it is heavy on Christmas. Holiday-specific rules are the “Xmas Bonus” and “Regifting” cards. Some of the best themed cards come on the action cards however. In “gift Give-Away” every player must give away a keeper that they have before them. If you don’t have any, you are to be the first to receive a gift. In “Clear the Table” you must remove any keepers, held by any player, that are food related, such as Side Dishes or The Roast. In “Today’s Special” you get to draw three cards and play a different amount of them depending on what day it is. If it is your birthday you can play all three; if it is a holiday or a special day in your family, you can play two. For a normal day you can play one card.

Image: Looney Lab

The production value is of the high quality we have come to expect from Looney Labs, but it is the illustrations by Ali Douglass that absolutely steal the show. In an old time style, Douglass has created some wonderful images that add greatly to the enjoyment of game play. The old fashioned ornaments and twinkle lights are my favorite. Douglass’ Etsy store is on hiatus for the holidays but I thoroughly recommend checking it out in the new year. Her Sound of Music illustration is wonderful but the cityscapes are stunning: classic and eclectic in the best ways. It is rare that a game introduces me to a new artist, but this was a wonderful treat from Looney Labs.

All in all this game is a great stocking stuffer, great office gift, or just generally a great addition to both gaming closet and holiday repertoire.

GeekMom was provided with a copy of Holiday Fluxx for review purposes.



Board Games for Newbs and Kids!

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

Felicia Day recently released a video, called Newbie Board Games!, in which she shows off some board games that are perfect for beginners. These games are great for those who are inexperienced gamers because the instructions are not complicated, and you can sit down and start to play pretty much right away.

My family loves playing board games, so I thought I would share some of our favorites to play when we are playing with new people or even when we are tired or have limited time. These games are simple but very fun.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

1. King of Tokyo: Hands down, this game is the best to gift to new board gamers. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone personally say that they did not have a great time with this, kids and adults alike.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

2. Dino Hunt Dice: This is a very simple game that even young kids can play. I reviewed it a couple months ago on my personal blog. It’s great to take with you if you are waiting at the airport or at a restaurant. And, you know, dinosaurs!

Zombie Dice
Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

3. Zombie Dice: This is Dino Hunt Dice‘s big brother, with very similar rules. Braiiinnnnnssss….. You roll dice and collect brains. But don’t get shot! Again, it’s simple, but involves a little strategy. There are also a couple expansion packs available to add even more fun to the mix.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

4. Shinobi Wat-AAH!: Practice your ninja skills! Again, simple rules, and there are two levels of play–one with just cards, where you build clans, and another with a board that is slightly more complicated but still is a lot of fun. I love the art work in this game.

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

5. Castellan: A game of competitive engineering. You draw cards that tell you which pieces you can use, and build pieces onto a castle. When You enclose an area, it’s yours! At the end, you count up how many towers are in your enclosures. Whoever has the most, wins!


There is something for everyone here. Happy gaming!

Elevenses: Tea With Strategy

Photo on 11-26-14 at 7.56 PM #3
Image by Rebecca Angel.

“You are a respectable 1920’s socialite striving to serve the finest morning tea!”

Sounds like a light, silly card game, right? Nope. This is a diverting strategy game by David Harding that just happens to be clothed in pale pink, with sugar cubes as tokens. It is distributed by AdventureLand Games. I purchased Elevenses because I’m a wee bit obsessed with tea and gaming, and wondered if the twain could meet? Why, yes they can!

My son, my mom, and I played first. It was an easy setup with clear rules for a quick start. I enjoy games where I can learn as I go—no studying tombs of rule literature just to begin. My son found it annoying that all of the pronouns in the rules are feminine. Ha. Welcome to how I feel as a female gamer All. The. Time.

The rules state that the person who most recently sipped tea is first. With my mug still in my hand, I started us off. We each chose a colored deck of cards. The artwork by TJ Lubrano is stylin’ and elegant, depicting various essentials for an 11 o’clock spot of tea and snacks. Unfortunately, the back of these cards have eye-straining stripes with blunt colors that don’t match at all. What happened there?

After choosing our deck, we shuffled and placed our eight-card “spread” face down in front of us. The rest of the cards were held in our hands, called the “kitchen.” We then proceeded to play our kitchen cards, following directions right on the cards as our actions, or rearranging our cards for later actions. Some of the actions are being able to peek at your spread, exchange cards with other players, take extra rearranging chances, etc. Each card played has a point value (the number of tea spoons depicted on the cards). It’s a race to have the most points face up in your spread, then play the “elevenses” card to end the round, and gather up sugar cube points.

This isn’t easy. Our first round was slow as we began to understand the various strategies to stay ahead long enough to play the ending card. The second round was more conniving towards each other, and we finished the game by the third round with some clever moves. My son and I played a two-person game later and it was fine, but not as fun as with three. We hope to play with four people.

The game comes with a mini-expansion: Extra guests come to tea bringing extra points with them if you can match up your face-up spread to what they like most on the various cards.  We played with them, and it was more interesting to have that extra challenge.

The cards all have sayings on them to bring some proper fun, while trouncing your opponent. (“Setting the table correctly is of utmost importance!”) Sipping my tea while playing added to the experience, of course. It is recommended for ages 10 and up, though I think younger gamers could get a handle on it pretty quick. I recommend Elevenses for anyone who enjoys a fast-start strategy game where fancy hats are optional, but will make it so much more fun.

Pulp Fiction in Pearl’s Peril

Image: Wooga media

I’ll admit that I’m a casual gamer. Kingdom Rush and Plants vs. Zombies on my phone have gotten considerably more play than any game on my PC, and at the moment I don’t even own a gaming console. However, I’ve never been tempted by the Facebook games that bug your friends to join you and send you things. There’s one game that’s overcome that barrier, however, and I’ll argue that it has succeeded due to its exuberantly pulp fiction plotting. Pearl’s Peril is a Facebook hidden object game (that I play on my iPad) that has held my attention for much longer than any comparable game ever has.

Pearl’s Peril has a straightforward structure: in each scene, you find the hidden objects on the list. The faster you do it, the more points you get. It gets a little complicated with game progression: the more points, the faster you progress. But to unlock new scenes you need to build buildings and decorations on your own personal island. There’s a limit to how fast you can advance, and you can speed that up considerably if you spend money. This is the only game I have sunk more than $5 into in the last several years, and I’ve been playing it for over a year now.

Image: Karen Burnham

For one thing, decorating your island is actually fun in and of itself. You unlock new buildings and decorations as you progress, and they often offer seasonal decorations for limited times. I took advantage of a Halloween special to build a mausoleum with a fiery fountain of doom in front. I’ve also got a research quad (with an observatory, aviary, library, and greenhouse) and a forest going.

But really, the thing that keeps me playing is Pearl, the heroine, and her adventures. Pearl Wallace is the daughter of privilege. In 1929 she is living in America, flying her own plane, when she gets news that her estranged father has died. They say he committed suicide after the stock market crash, but while they weren’t on good terms she’s pretty sure he was murdered. She and her journalist friend Iris fly home to her family’s island (the one you’re decorating) to investigate. Thus begin her adventures that take her all over the world and from the depths of the seas to the peaks of the Himalayas.

There’s a lot to love here: for one, Pearl is fully competent and always clothed. That seems like it shouldn’t need stating, but a while ago I was jonesing for a new hidden object game, so I downloaded a highly rated one for the iPad. In the first scene you’ve just survived a plane crash on a creepy deserted island, so of course the first thing you see is a barely clad buxom flight attendant throwing vampy looks your way. Delete. Pearl always wears her flight jacket and is ready for adventures. One scene is from her private room in the zeppelin, and even her intimate space isn’t titillating: it’s got her dressing gown, but also her diary, college graduation picture, pictures of exotic locales she’s visited—no lingerie for her! And while she does have the occasional romantic interest, they never distract her from the plot.

And what a crazy, pulp adventure plot it is! In each scene you start with some dialog between a few characters to advance the plot. Then you can find three clues. After five scenes each chapter ends with an adventure scene where Pearl has to solve some puzzle, enabling the dramatic climax that leads to the next chapter. In over a year of playing she’s been to New York, Paris, Africa, Atlantis, Russia, the Himalayas, Oklahoma, been on a submarine, cruise ships, and a zeppelin, attacked by a kraken, forged an aegis, found a pirate cove, etc, etc. Just like the old pulp serials, it can go on forever! Some clues immediately pan out and others wait in the background to resurface many chapters down the road. And amazingly, it stays true to history: every time I’ve googled some plot element that they mention, it’s turned out to be historically accurate: from the Graf Zeppelin’s record breaking flights in 1929 to the mystery of Kolchak’s gold in Russia after the Soviet Revolution.

And through it all, Pearl is a focused, competent heroine. Usually the dramatic chapter-concluding puzzles involve her doing some engineering to get something to work: smelting gold, fixing the sabotaged control system of a zeppelin, disabling some guards to steal a submarine, that sort of thing. Very MacGyver-y. Although violence happens around her, she rarely resorts to it herself. It’s amazing how much plot you can get through using just the few lines of dialog and notes on the clues she finds. And just like the pulps, each character has a very limited range of facial expressions/emotional states: I think Pearl herself only has four expressions: cheerfully competent, winsomely affectionate, frustrated/disgusted, and surprised. But you can go a long way with that in an adventure story; this is the casual gaming equivalent of a magazine serial page-turner.

There is a social aspect to the game, although I don’t really take advantage of it. The game often urges you to send energy to your friends on Facebook, even those who don’t play. These prompts are pretty easy to ignore. There’s also a “Captain’s Challenge” section where you do a timed scene and compete against friends to get a high score. I enjoy these, competing against my husband who just picked up the game recently. Everyone plays the same scene during the challenge period, so it’s fun to compare. And you can send each other resources, increasing the amount you can play. So if anyone wants to start playing, send me something in the game and I’ll happily reciprocate!

Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Photo on 11-19-14 at 9.39 PM
Image By Rebecca Angel

My 8-year-old niece and I were sitting for a few minutes waiting for her sister to finish up. Before she could sigh in frustration, I handed her Unbored Games and told her to open it to a random page. Now this was taking a huge chance. The book is chock full of instructions, illustrations, and easy to follow guides to over 70 games, but they aren’t all indoors, under ten minutes, and for two people to play. Luckily, she opened up to a page detailing a few hand-clapping games. Perfect! We learned some silly rhymes, and tried to keep a rhythm together with snaps and claps. By the time her sister was ready, we were both laughing.

Unbored Games by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen begins with a rundown of why games are important. That’s right! Games aren’t just something to fill the time, or only do at parties. All their reasons are legit, but I like these three the best:

“Gaming encourages you to develop skills and expertise, by practicing something over and over. More importantly, gaming challenges you to teach yourself how to do something.”

“Gaming teaches you that your environment is modifiable. You realize that everyday life is a puzzle to be solved: the more difficult the obstacles, the more fun you’ll have figuring out how to beat them.”

“Jumping in and making mistakes is the fastest way to learn how to play a game. Not worrying about being perfect, and just trying your best, is known as ‘fun failure.'”

The book is divided into four chapters:

PWNAGE: This is what most people think of as games, like board games, back-of-the-classroom fun, and dice and card rules. But there are also “secret rules” games, app recommendations, and more.

HOMEGAMES: Whether for a simple family night or a big party, there is entertainment in these pages. There are even games for the car. I especially enjoyed the section on croquet. My family plays croquet often (really!), and the variations mentioned look intriguing.

GAME CHANGERS: These aren’t your typical ones. Online activities to fight climate change, “guerrilla kindness” in your neighborhood, and a list of cooperative board games to mention a few. I really liked the outdoor, big group game “Survive! Predator and Prey.”

ADVENTURE GAMES: The final section has plenty of ideas to create your own fun indoors or out. There are photographic instructions on how to build a rocket, for example. And a whole section on LARP (Live Action Role Playing).

Within each chapter of the book are short histories of gaming, and suggestions on how to modify, vary, or hack any and all the games presented. The illustrations are in a likable, quirky style, and all the instructions are clear.

Regardless of age, there are games in the book that will interest anyone. Whether you work with kids, have kids, or are a kid yourself, I recommend Unbored Games!

Geekmom received a copy for review purposes.

Let’s Play! Comic Book BINGO

Comic Book BINGO \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Comic Book BINGO \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

While surfing Facebook the other day, I found a BINGO card for readers and immediately tried to see if I could fill the card with books I’ve read.

I started to realize that I had a mix of novels and comics that I was trying to fit onto the card and then it hit me…why not make a BINGO card of my own, specifically for comic books?


A few hours later after looking over my own comic book shelf and pulling my brain apart, I had my BINGO card. In my excitement to create my game, I overlooked the fact that it’s my game and I can’t even get a BINGO. Well, it looks like I’ve given myself a challenge and it’s one I’m going to be skipping all the way to the comic book store to complete.

Here’s how to play!

  • Each square has a reading requirement. If you have read a title that fits the description, you get a check mark on that square.
  • Each title can be used only once (for example: If you use Guardians of the Galaxy as a “Best-Selling Title” then you can’t use it for the “Series that is now a TV show or a movie”).
  • BINGO is achieved when you have filled an entire row either horizontally, diagonally, or vertically.

So, can you claim Comic Book BINGO champion? How many squares can you fill?

Ninja Dolls, Zombie Plants, and Gloom

ninja fam
Image By PegNation

Only just getting into the Halloween spirit now that October is here (not before October, dammit!), I was at a local festival and saw this ninja family. So cute! So deadly, I’m sure. Want a custom made peg doll? She’ll do whatever you like. I was thinking of a pirate-Christmas theme. (But not until December!) You can find PegNation on Etsy and Facebook.


zombie plant
Image By Ticklemeplant

How about a plant that dies and then rises from the dead? My son thought this one was really cool. It’s called a Zombie Plant. Perfect for your party, or just to freak out visitors.


Image By Atlas Games

I’ve mentioned this game before, but it’s absolutely perfect for the season: Gloom: Kill off your family to win!

Oh, there’s so much more to get into the creepy spirit. What’s on your radar this month?

How Ecological! A Review of EcoFluxx

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

Designed by Alison and Andrew Looney, EcoFluxx is one of the many games in Looney Labs’ line of Fluxx card games. Santa gave it to my son for Christmas, since he is such a huge fan of Cthulhu Fluxx and also because he’s a big lover of cute natural things.

But I wondered: Was it worth buying yet another Fluxx game? We already had three of them.

The blurb on the Looney Labs website is as follows:

In the wild, you must adapt to survive! Will you win by having your Bears Eat Fish? Or will someone change the Goal so that their Frogs and Insects can make Night Music? Play ecology themed Actions and Rules like Scavenger or Composting, but watch out for Creeper cards like Forest Fire, that can hurt everyone! Discover a little about how things go together, with EcoFluxx—the nature game of ever-changing rules!

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

The packaging of the game is kid-friendly and appealing, at least to my kid. The same goes for the artwork on the cards, done by Derek Ring. Even I enjoyed looking through the cards at the various critters. Shockingly enough, the game is educational. Throughout play, my son was asking questions. “What’s this?” He was reminded about photosynthesis, recycling, and how composting works. There are predators and decomposition. And of course, all the fun gameplay that always comes with Fluxx.

To get an idea of how to play the game, the Looney Labs website has a copy of the rules. Gameplay can last anywhere from 2 minutes (I’m not kidding) to an hour, averaging about 15 minutes or so.

We’ve played with two and three people, but you can play with up to six. It’s the perfect game to play after dinner for a nice family activity, or even to take on a trip to play in the hotel.

The rules are super easy to learn, and it’s not a complex game. There is strategy involved, though, so don’t let the simple concept of the game fool you. The instructions say ages 8+ will enjoy, but I think that with some reading help, most 6-year-olds could enjoy it.

I would note that this is a nice addition to any homeschooler’s game library. There are so many opportunities for discussion about how life and the environment work together. It makes teaching the subject almost effortless. There is even a learning guide online for those who are interested.

All in all, I have nothing negative to say. EcoFluxx is a fun game for the whole family!

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

Our Epic Family Road Trip to GenCon

Helping build Cardhalla. Image: Nicole Wakelin

We’ve been to GenCon for the last five years, but it has always just been me and my husband. We’ve flown out and driven out and decided that driving is more fun. Flying can be a hassle and I love road trips, so we always stop at fun places along the way. World’s largest ball of twine? I’m in!

This year, we did the whole trip a little differently because we decided to bring our two girls for the first time. They’re 12 and 10 and have been to local conventions, just nothing this big and all consuming. It’s one thing to drive into Boston for the day to attend PAX East, but an entirely different thing to drive 14 hours and then spend four days straight at a convention.

We thought about this, a lot, before we actually decided to bring them on the trip. It’s not just the distance, but the whole intensity of the thing. We wondered, as much as they love to play games, would The Best Four Days in Gaming be too much? Would they stay up late and be so tired that by day three they’d be little wrecks? Would this somehow make them hate gaming and never want to go near a board game again for the rest of their lives? We had concerns.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

In the end, we decided that we’d make the trip with the girls and just play it by ear. We didn’t plan to attend a lot of events. We didn’t have a crowded schedule of games to play. We didn’t even plan our exact drive route. Instead, we figured we’d see the sights on the way and take it easy once we arrived at the convention.

Lots of people make the drive from New Hampshire to Indianapolis in one day, but we broke it into two, stopping in Buffalo, New York, at the Staybridge Suites so we could have Buffalo wings for dinner. It’s what you have to do when you’re in Buffalo, right? Last year when we made the trip on our own we stopped there, too, and tried Anchor Bar. This year, we went with Duff’s Famous Wings because we were told that these are the places you go to in Buffalo for wings.

Although we liked Anchor Bar, Duff’s won our hearts for their super hot wings and giant bowls of french fries. If you want great hot wings and plenty of fries and giant pitchers of soda at a price that won’t break the bank, then try Duff’s. Also, there are two locations and though you might be tempted to go to the original, the one near the airport is not far and way less crowded with no wait when the other location is packed.

Paula’s Donuts. Omnomnom! Image: Nicole Wakelin

We also found a great stop for breakfast at Paula’s Donuts. This and Duff’s are all within just a few minutes of the hotel which really makes this a great pit stop. Sure, donuts aren’t the healthiest breakfast but I’m choosing to channel my inner Bill Cosby and his famous chocolate cake bit. If you go, try the cheese donut. I know, sounds odd, but think cheese danish. Everyone local suggested we try it, and they did not steer us wrong.

We arrived at GenCon on Wednesday night, the day before the convention started, and the kids had plenty of time to unwind in our room at the JW Marriott. This is where we stay every year. The staff handles the crazy of everyone checking in at once as though it was no big deal. They’re friendly, helpful, always professional, and never frazzled.

There are lots of places to eat in Indy, but the hotel offers a little break from the mobs of gamers. Their restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offers a wonderful breakfast buffet and a selection of upscale meals for dinner. It is on the pricey side, but the food is worth it, and the wait is never as long as you’ll find at less expensive restaurants in the area.

Ready for GenCon! Image: Nicole Wakelin

First thing Thursday, they were ready, and when I say ready, I mean ready like it was Christmas morning! There was no plan to get there the minute it all opened, but the kids wanted to see the crazy.

It was packed, and they were totally fine with the mob. They held our hands through the initial rush through the doors and happily wandered the show floor with us, checking out games and dice and stuffed animals and t-shirts and hats and, it was a lot of stuff. This is a big convention and it hit a record number of attendees this year at nearly 60,000 people, but the crowd was still manageable.

The girls loved every minute. They tried out some demos, had fun looking at the cosplayers, discovered the joy of eating at food trucks, and my oldest narrowly avoided being thrown in jail by a Stormtrooper. Hey, it happens at GenCon.

A little Imperial entanglement. Image: Nicole Wakelin

This was a GenCon unlike any other for me and my husband. We still went out and gamed, but we ended up splitting up with the girls so we could show them each the things they wanted to see. One night, the three of them played a new game at some chairs in the hotel lobby and the girls thought it was the best thing ever.

During GenCon, gamers take up every square inch of space in the local hotels. There are games being played everywhere you look at all hours of the day and night. This small moment, simply playing a game with my husband in the hotel lobby, made them feel like they were a part of it all and it was wonderful.

They even helped us at at our panel, where we recorded an episode of The D6 Generation with a live audience. Let me tell you, if you’re trying to get a room of unruly gamers to behave, nothing works as well as having two little girls give them all sad puppy dog eyes.

Cosplayer: @meaghanslottje Image: Nicole Wakelin

At the end of it all, we were all exhausted, but in the best way possible. We stayed up too late playing games. We walked around all day long hardly stopping to rest for fear of missing something good. And we all ate like we were on vacation.

But what made it perfect was going with the kids. We shared something we love and they loved it, too. It wasn’t the same as going on our own, but in the end, this GenCon was so much better. The last day, my youngest was very sad and said, “That went too fast. I don’t want it to be over.”

I know exactly how she feels.

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!

Gaming for Kids: Dragon Con Kaleidoscope Track Game Tips for Families

Image credit:

Since 2011, the Kaleidoscope track at Dragon Con has added a special place for kids 9-13 and their parents at a convention that can sometimes otherwise have a more adult feel (especially at night!).

One of the best things about the track is that it offers those families a place to meet each other and talk about the great geekery that they find they don’t have in common with most of the other people on the playground or PTA meeting. This year I attended one of these, “Gaming for Kids,” which brought together Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains, dads Bryan Young and Jonathan McFarland, and 12-year-old Sam Rittwage.

The panel had a lot to say about video games, especially, of course, Minecraft. It served as a perfect example of a game to use to teach your kids about online interactions, as well as a way to give them a safe space for their first online gaming by using servers to which only they and their friends have access. Through this method, the panel encourages teaching them proper behavior in online gaming, including saying only things to one another that you would say if you were with them in person.

“If you’re the parent of a young boy, talk to them about the rules, and make sure they know,” McFarland said. “My son said something that would be common for adolescent boys, and I asked him if he knew what it meant.”

Kids easily pick up language from other players in games as well as from other kids at school, but they often don’t realize the nature or severity of the language, particularly the violent imagery often brought into online gaming chat. The panel recommended playing with your kids or first playing through the games they want to play, even if they’re not particularly appealing to you. It will give you the opportunity to both understand the content as well as to lead them in appropriate online interaction.

The range of games recommended for kids varied somewhat with age but ranged from the distinctly kid-friendly Skylanders and Disney Infinity to M-rated games like Assassin’s Creed. Young noted that he chooses games not by the rating but by the actual content. For example, slaughtering zombies is different from Grand Theft Auto, where the focus is entirely on real-life illegal activities.

In the second half of the panel’s time, they moved on to tabletop gaming, largely with a long list of recommendations for all ages and interests. Many were old favorites for us, but some where new. I suspect our family’s new favorite (which we picked up in the dealers’ room after this panel) will be Call of Catthulhu! If you’re looking for something new to try out, here are the rest of their suggestions:

For pre-readers

We all know how hard it can be to find a game that’s interesting for you but easy enough for your little ones who can’t read yet. For that problem, try:

Iota: The Great Big Game in The Teeny-Weeny Tin
Rory’s Story Cubes
Hey That’s My Fish
Tsuro: The Game of the Path

For older kids and the whole family

⚫ Get them started on RPGs. It doesn’t have to be Dungeons & Dragons. Find a game that interests them and is at the right level of complication. You could try Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space, Toon, Buggin’, or The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. There’s even an older game, Fuzzy Heroes: The Game of Conflict For Stuffed Animals and Toys, that pits your kids’ stuffed animals in battle, but it can be hard to come by. Conveniently, the second edition is available at Drive-Thru RPG in PDF format. (This is also a great site to surf through for other RPG ideas!)

⚫ Cooperative games like Flash Point Fire Rescue, Pandemic, and Castle Panic. The latter also has a zombie version, Dead Panic Board Game, and a forthcoming mashup with Munchkin, Munchkin Panic.

Telestrations is a mashup of Telephone and Pictionary. (Of course, you can also play this with a notebook and your own list of words without buying the box.)

Finally, the panel had two great suggestions for your general family game play enjoyment:

⚫ Institute the 20-minute rule. You can play anything for 20 minutes. After that, check to see if everyone’s still having fun. No? Time to move on.

⚫ Make old games new again. Create your own rules. Young suggested the example of adding dice and action figures to Candyland, calling it “Siege of Candy Castle.” Make the kids figure out the mechanics and why the pieces are there, which also gives them insight into why rules exist in games and how they can change the outcome.

Tiny Hands Apps Puts the Joy of Learning in Toddlers’ Hands

Image: Tiny HandsAs the mother of two kids in a very tech-connected geek household, apps are often on our minds. Which is why I’m so excited to share Tiny Hands Apps, our sponsor, with you.

Our daughter, the youngest, is only two. And while she’s fascinated with the iPad and certainly wants to use it like her brother does, there’s not much out there that caters to her. Generally speaking, it’s too complicated for her—and to be honest, I don’t just want to throw her the iPad to keep her busy when it’s not something that’s helpful for her.

That’s where Tiny Hands Apps comes in. Tiny Hands Apps are designed with toddlers in mind, from top to bottom. They’re educational and fun, and go beyond being just apps—really, they’re developmental apps. Everything is designed with a great deal of thought, not just a bunch of bright colors and sounds. In fact, Tiny Hands Apps are put together with certified child psychologists and produced in such a way to be exciting and interesting but never compromising on the content.

Even better? There’s no ads. No pop ups. No network access. Your littlest curious kiddos are free from the advertising crush that we so often see in games. It’s a gateway to learning without interruption.

Image: Tiny HandsA great example is Tiny Hands Raccoon Tree House. Your toddler sees a friendly raccoon character, and a story to go along. But you’ll know that it’s far beyond that. Tiny Hands Raccoon Tree House includes sorting, classifying, hand-eye coordination, concentration, vocabulary… and so on.Image: Tiny Hands

But that’s just the beginning. The world of Tiny Hands Apps is full of bright and colorful fun, learning about the world and all that’s in it.

We all know that it’s almost impossible to avoid technology—and we certainly never would want to. But we always want to make sure that we’re delivering the best quality to our children, both appropriate and exceptional. If you have a toddler who’s ready, we can’t think of a better place to start than Tiny Hands Apps

You can see the full lineup of Tiny Hands apps at the iTunes store, and follow them on Facebook, too.

This post is sponsored by Tiny Hands Apps.

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8 Current Favorite Family Games

Making Gloomy families at ConnectiCon. Image by Zach Schuetz.

Everyone goes through phases. In our family, it’s about games. We tend to play the same ones over and over until we’re ready for something new. This year, we happened to buy and play lots of new games, and they are keeping our interest. Most of them have been around for a few years; we just didn’t know about them until now! My kids are teenagers, but almost all of them are suitable for the younger set. Here’s a round-up of my family’s tabletop fun:

Image by Gamewright.

Sushi Go! Yes! This game was introduced by a geekdad (Hi, Jamey!) at our homeschooling group and quickly became a favorite. Everyone selects sushi choices to add up points. The game play is passing card hands around each turn and selecting cards from your current hand. This means everyone is playing all the time. It is easy to learn, fast, and suitable for elementary ages and up. Plus, the pictures on the cards are adorable. Oh, the pudding…

Image by Gamewright.

Forbidden Desert was a birthday present from my husband. So far, I have died a dry, sandy death more than survived. But I always had fun. This is a cooperative game, which I love, and the tiles that make up the board move around, which I think is fantastic. It takes constant attention, communication, and of course, luck.

Image by Asmodee.

For a couple of years now, 7 Wonders has been one of our top choices. We’ve brought it to family game nights with friends and visiting grandparents. The first time through, we were ready to give up in 10 minutes because it seemed way too complicated. Then we actually played… and it’s not. And it only takes a half-hour. And there are multiple strategies. And we all enjoy it! The artwork is great and with cards being passed around, everyone is always playing. What I like best about this game is that you can play without having to pay attention to anyone else, or start looking around and use that to your advantage. This comes highly recommended!

Image by RandR Games.

UnNatural Selection was a random pick at ConnectiCon‘s gaming area this year by my son. When we needed something that a large group could play and that didn’t require much, well, thought (it was Sunday morning), this was perfect. It has Apples to Apples-style of play (someone is the judge and the “winner” of the round is whatever they want, ending is whenever you want). The group puts together strange combinations of animals, beings, and attributes that are then compared to who would win in a fight. All ages. Ridiculous fun.

Image by Atlas Games.

Gloom is disturbingly enjoyable. My friend Jenn introduced this one to us years ago, but we only recently started playing it ourselves. Everyone gets a family. Your goal is to kill them off, but only after they have become depressed (more depression is more points for you!). Attribute cards are both negative (for your family) and positive (for other people’s families). The best part of the game is making up storylines of why another player’s character Mr. Giggles was “delighted by ducklings” when he just was “diseased by dysentery.”

Image by Fireside Games.

Castle Panic is another cooperative game. Ogres and other nasties are attacking your castle, and it’s up to your group to defend it! Lots of communication and planning several moves ahead for your team to win the day. A good one for elementary age and up. At ConnectiCon, our group won!

Image by Rio Grande Games.

Race For The Galaxy is definitely for the older set of players. It’s kind of complicated, though to be fair my son and I were introduced to the game playing with the expansion set. Our friend Zach (again, at ConnectiCon) talked us through several rounds, and then we played a game. Each player is building civilizations in the galaxy. To win you must be capitalistically ruthless. There are multiple strategies, which is cool. My son really, really liked it. On the birthday list…

Image by AEG.

Love Letter: Legend of The Five Rings was a random choice for me at my local gaming store. It is probably one of the easiest games to play without knowing what in the world you are doing. I learn by playing so after a few rounds I got it. It’s a lot of luck, but there is bluffing and keeping track of cards. Basically, every player is trying to win the hand of the princess by sending her a letter, but in a court of intrigue, that is harder than it sounds. The mechanics are pick a card, play a card. There are several version of Love Letter, so choose your favorite artwork!

Giveaway: Pokémon TCG: XY-Flashfire Booster Box and Theme Decks!

Image: The Pokémon Company

We here at GeekMom have a great giveaway for the aspiring Pokémon trainer in your life featuring the Pokémon TCG: XY-Flashfire expansion pack. This expansion pack includes the Mega Charizard-EX and Mega Kangaskhan-EX cards, as well as the Brilliant Thunder theme deck and Mystic Typhoon theme deck. You know the Pokémon fan in your life would love to have these for their next game.

The giveaway includes (1) Booster Box and (2) Themed Decks for a total of three items. Entering is super easy through the Rafflecopter link below. You can even enter multiple times to increase your chances of winning.

The contest will run through midnight ET on Wednesday, April 13th, at which time a winner will be randomly selected. As soon as that winner is notified, their name will be posted right in the widget.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please note this giveaway is open only to those with shipping addresses within the continental United States.

Good luck!