Monday, June 29, 2009

Test Drive Update - Bang!

Bang! is a great game with some quirks and our latest test game bore this out. In the game of Bang! people sit in a circle and are assigned roles- sheriff, deputy, outlaw, and renegade. The roles are secret, only the sheriff identifies themselves. The person sitting next to you could be an outlaw or a deputy, there's no way to know. The sheriff wants to survive the game. The deputies want to protect the sheriff. The outlaws want to shoot the sheriff. The renegade wants to be the last player. As you can see, each player may have a different objective for winning.

In our recent game the play started out awkwardly. The players weren't really sure what to do. I realized that I needed to get the ball rolling and play to teach rather than play to win. I was an outlaw so I played a "Bang!" card and shot at the sheriff. At that moment people began to get it. The players who were deputies realized they probably had to shoot at me but knew that then the other outlaws would shoot at them. The outlaw players realized they probably should act to help but also knew than once they did the deputies would know who was who. The renegade player decided to sit low until the dust cleared and then go after the survivors.

Quickly the flow of play began to speed up and the fun began. One player played the "dynamite" card. This card is passed around the table and each round it may or may not explode. Of course when you're the one holding the card things are quite tense. Then you pass it to the next player and hope it goes off on their round! The dynamite made its way completely around the table and blew up the person who had played it in the first place. Truly if you live by the dynamite you die by the dynamite.

Bang! is a well designed game in that no one can win or lose suddenly. You can play a "beer" card to heal yourself and each player can be shot at several times before they are out. In our game we took unsuccessful potshots at the sheriff but eventually the deputies removed the outlaws from the game. At the end there were two players and the sheriff. One player was a deputy, one was the renegade. The sheriff held his fire and waited to see who would be the last standing. At last one man fell. He flipped his identity card for us- it was the renegade! The forces of law had triumphed in Malden that night.

Once the players understand Bang! they have a lot of fun with it. I would tell new players "look, this may seem odd, just follow my lead," and then do Something. If you're an outlaw just shoot at the sheriff. If you're a deputy then decide someone looks shifty and announce that you think they're an outlaw and open fire. Just by demonstrating a role you may get the action started. This is absolutely a learn by doing game. Get over the first hump and people will want to play again.

Test Drive Update- Race for the Galaxy

I've played Race for the Galaxy (RftG) about seven times in the last week or so. This game is just much more fun than first impressions would imply.

On one sense I love the theme of the game. You develop your own galactic civilization and try to improve it over time. One player might seek to make the biggest civilization. Another might make the most luxurious, or the most militarily powerful. It's fun to imagine the lives of the people in your worlds in each case. It's fun to say "hey, my civilization has contacts with ancient alien races and now I've discovered yet another." Or, alternately, "my empire is so powerful that now I can add pirate bases and rebel worlds without blinking an eye."

The course of the game remains pretty simple. You get a hand of cards at the start. As game play progresses you get new cards. Through the entire thing you basically try and make the best combination you can. In this sense RftG has all the best aspects of poker. And like poker, once you get the idea the rest of the game follows easily. You have three aces? Maybe it's time to aim for three or four of a kind. In RftG it's "you have three mining worlds, maybe it's time to create a mining empire." There's more subtleties to the game but the essence is straightforward.

I introduced an adult to the game who was not a routine gamer. We managed to finish games in thirty minutes and by the second or third round he had the rules down pat. Judging from our experience I don't think I'd throw this at anyone younger than 12 but for teens and up this is a simple fun game with huge replay value and extraordinary room to develop strategies and tricks. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mystery for Kids- The Secret Door

For whatever reason I'm not feeling like wrestling with sixty dollar Euro games so let's aim small scale and young with The Secret Door. This simple game has a lot of appealing qualities and could be good fun for a wide range of ages.

The Secret Door plays very much like Concentration. Players begin the game with twelve cardboard tiles with clock pictures on them. They also get twenty four tiles with pictures of various valuables on them, two tiles per item. The tiles with the valuables are turned face down and mixed up. Then three are removed from the group and set aside. The clock tiles are then turned face down and the whole mess of tiles are mixed up. Finally they are all placed onto the game board, still face down.

The object of the game is to guess while tiles were set aside. Players take turns flipping two tiles. If the tiles match they are set aside. If any of the tiles are clocks they are set up at the top of the board. Then the next player takes a turn. When all twelve clocks have been revealed the game is over and the players have to guess, as a group, which valuables were drawn at the start and set aside. The clock element adds a nice time limit to the game, not to mention a bit of drama. Players may wait eagerly to see whether later tile flips reveal a helpful item or a dreaded ticking clock.

The Secret Door is played cooperatively and thus is a perfect game for a gang of children. Imagine one child flips a tile with a ruby on it. You may recall that the other ruby was flipped earlier and where it is. But you give the player a chance to remember, then wait and see if anyone else remembers, then jiggle their memories a bit, and if all else fails just step in and help. There's a lot of opportunity for success and pride in this game and really not much chance of bad feeling of any sort. Players win or lose as a group as well and if they lose then it's just time to try again. Finally, the game does reward logical thinking and strategy so children will have some motivation to try and solve the mystery rather than playing randomly.

The Secret Door is a small press game and may have to be special ordered from Family Pastimes games. Its components are likely to reflect its humble origins so don't expect the sort of fantasmagora that accompanies opening a Days of Wonder game. Nevertheless this is a very solid piece of game design and well suited for a wide variety of ages. Further, it's a cooperative game well suited to younger players who may find competitive play emotionally trying.

Pros: Simple and Fun, some strategy

Cons: kind of bland, but it's for younger kids

Beyond the Basics: Well, it's Concentration, so a pretty basic system

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Slamwich- Mayhem and Fun

Let's look to some more reliable Gamewright games. Today's buy-twelve-for-upcoming-birthday-parties entry is Slamwich. My testing crew says it's a lot of fun but sometimes ends with fists being thrown. Could this be true?

In the game of Slamwich each player is dealt a hand of cards. The cards start out face down so no one knows what's in their hand. The players take turns flipping cards from their hand onto the center of a table. The cards generally have illustrations of sandwich items on them. The players look out for various patterns to appear. If two of the same item are flipped in a row this is a "double decker." For example, the player to your right flips a tomato card and in your turn you do the same. Likewise if two cards of the same type are flipped with one card between them this is a "slamwich." An example might be if one player flips lettuce, the next flips a tomato card, and then the next flips another lettuce card. If a double decker or a slamwich appears then the players must slap the center pile, the first person to slap winning all the cards. Parents with some imagination may already visualize how this game can spiral if the slaps start to wander or get too energetic.

Recognizing patterns and slapping with a vengeance are the basic rules of Slamwich. There are a few special cards and they vary the play a bit but it's still basically a reflex game. As in the case with most Gamewright games, Slamwich is pretty simple and is likely to entertain a gang of children for a decent amount of time. I think Gamewright has noted that traditional games like "Simon Says" or Freeze Tag are noteworthy for giving kids simple guidelines to do things they like to do anyway. Kids likes the concept of games, they like surprises, shouting, and slapping things. Slamwich offers all of that.

I don't have the love for Slamwich that I do for Sleeping Queens, and the design isn't as clever as Tiki Topple. It's simply fun, fast and cheap. There's a lot to be said for a fun fast and cheap game. Slamwich is available in most toy and game stores.

Pros: Simple, fun

Cons: physical game, slapping involved, slaps could spread onto sister or brothers

Beyond the Basics: Looking for these patterns reminds me of playing the slots. I'm sure there's no connection though.