Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition – Board Game Review

For #Blogmas 2020 day 30.

Cards Against Humanity is a card-driven party game that is very adult in content which can cause just about anyone to blush at some point. The Family Edition is designed to be played with children.

The game comes with a bunch of cards, most are white ‘answer’ cards with the rest being black ‘question’ cards. The question cards are either a literal question or a sentence with a missing word. Each player (as many as you can fit in a room) gets 10 white cards each and the starting player gets a black card. This is read aloud and all the other players choose one of their 10 cards to either answer the question or fill in the missing word. These offerings are then read out by the starting player prefixing each with the original question and the player who submitted the funniest response wins the black question card. Everyone who submitted a white card gets a new one and the next player gets the next black card. Play continues until it is decided to stop. The player with the most won black cards is the winner.

The overwhelming subject matter of the Family Edition is undeniably fecal in content. So many words for poo. There are other topics as well, but mostly poo, vomit or farting. However, having played this with an 11 and 12 year old, I can safely say they have levelled their subject matter appropriately. Both boys found this game absolutely hilarious and the adults were not all that far behind, to be honest. This isn’t a game about winning, it very much is the taking part that this is all about. With a hand of ten cards there are almost always good responses at hand for any black card. My main issue is the American content. The adult version of the game proudly boasts on the box cover that it is tailored for a British audience, it’s a shame they didn’t do the same for the family edition. There are some terms that we just don’t use here and some celebrity names we had to look up – a basketball player, some rapper and a dancer. Granted, had these been changed for a British football player, rapper and dancer I would probably still not know who they were, but at least I might have heard of them. There are also references to the Republicans and Democrats. It wouldn’t have been had to have either switched these our for British alternatives or provided some blank cards to make our own corrections.

I think I prefer this to the adult version, for one, I can play it with my children and also I can play it with just about anybody else without fear of offence being caused (the adult one goes to every ‘there’ there is).

Final score: Buy it!

Minecraft: Builders & Biomes – Board Game Review

For #Blogmas 2020 day 29.

Minecraft: Builders & Biomes by Ravensburger is a game loosely based on the hit computer game Minecraft. It is a 2-4 payer game that take about 20-30 minutes to play.

The game itself is comprised of 64 tiles, 64 wooden blocks in 4 colours and 16 white weapon tokens. Each player gets 5 weapon tiles a score counter a player board and a Minecraft character and standee. There is also a cardboard structure that is used to quickly assemble the 64 wooden cubes into one big cube.
The 64 tiles are shuffled and laid out in a 4×4 grid with each space containing 4 tiles. Space is left between the piles of cards with the corner spaces acting as the spaces where the players characters can stand. Around the outside of this 4×4 grid are the white weapon tokens (not including the corners).

Each turn, a player may perform two actions:
Move 0-2 spaces and reveal the four tiles surrounding that space,
Take a weapon
Fight a Mob
Take 2 blocks from the cube
Build a building

Each tile may reveal a Mob or building. Mobs can be fought using three random weapons pulled from a player’s weapon pile. If enough damage is pulled from the pile, the Mob is destroyed and VPs are gained. The Mob tile is then claimed and may add extra points or abilities later. Taking extra weapons from the perimeter will increase the chances of success. There is no negative result if the combat is unsuccessful apart from a failed use of an action.

Buildings require the expenditure of particular cubes and are then placed on the player’s board. Each board has 9 pre-printed Biomes in a 3×3 grid and each building must cover either one of these Biomes or a previously placed building. Each building has a Biome type, building material and building type. More expensive buildings will generate points when built.

There are three scoring events during the game, each one activated by the removal of the final block from each of the top three layers of the cube. The first round of scoring scores for a contiguous single Biome on the board. The scoreing tiles provided give further detail as to how much each Biome type is worth. Round two ignores the Biomes and focusses entirely on the building material. The final round of scoring focuses on the building type. Final points from any defeated Mobs are scored and the game ends.

Those familiar with the computer game, may find this board game not very much like Minecraft on the table. The wonderful wooden building blocks (which were much bigger than I expected) are used purely as currency, with the resultant buildings being cardboard tiles. The Mobs are printed on cardboard but are instantly recognisable and most of the traditional Mobs are featured. Forgetting for a second that this is a Minecraft game, this was actually a lot of fun. The turns were easy to execute with plenty of options each turn but I was never overburdened by too much choice. Fighting Mobs had a good level of excitement, particularly as a player’s starting weapon stash is mainly comprised of useless poisoned potatoes. The extra weapons not only added extra damage but also other abilities as well such as the pickaxe providing a free block.

I can’t not address the theme of this game, however. There is no crafting, though one could argue the nature of mining the big cube. I played this with my kids and their exclamation of “an Enderman!” near the end of the game when one popped up was certainly good, but if you have no knowledge of Minecraft, this game could be given a generic fantasy, space, robot or dinosaur, etc. face-lift and be exactly the same game.

I must stress though, that this is indeed a fun and entertaining game and not some generic trash hiding behind a popular franchise mask. The blocks have a good solid feel to them and the player boards do look nice. I think a separate board for the score trackers would have been better than having individual trackers around each player’s board. The markers feel very much like an afterthought and are too big to fit on any single space on the tracker and, due to the nature of adding stuff to the board, easy to get knocked.

Final score: Worth playing or for fans of Minecraft Buy it (but knowing it’s not Minecraft on the table).

Everdell: Spirecrest- Board Game Review

This is for #Blogmas 2020 day 28.

For this review, I’m going to assume you already know about how the main game works.

Spirecrest from Starling Games is the second main expansion to Everdell. This one adds yet another extension to the main game board, this time at the bottom, a bunch of new cards to go on this board (none for the main deck), five of large animal creatures, saddles, journey tokens, fox workers as another option to play as and a bunch of walking rabbits, one for every worker animal type there has ever been including all the expansions and extras.
The cards are small and normal sized and split into the four seasons. The small cards are weather cards and each game, one weather card will define what the weather is doing for that season. These cards generally limit what can be done during that season such as much certain actions cost more or even banned outright so new strategies need to be employed. There are only three weather cards per season, but this does give a fair amount of variation. The normal-sized cards are discovery cards, three of which are made available to each player when they end each season, but only one can be claimed each time. These can give certain benefits or rewards and may include one of the new large wooden animals that replaces a player’s worker (who can ride it with the help of the saddle). At the end of each season players also claim one of the journey tokens to keep until the end of the game. Once a player has completed their game, they then send their rabbit along their constructed journey, paying the required costs to score some extra points if they can.

I liked this expansion a lot. The look really compliments an already gorgeous game, the large animals, even if they never get used, look amazing standing on the board. I love how the introduction of the weather can make for a much more varied gaming experience and am looking forward to experiencing there different weather combinations. The discovery cards added a nice little incentive or benefit to the game play and I also appreciated that there were no more cards to add to the main deck, which I feel has enough in it as it is. I did find it a little tough to get the saddles on the big animals and get the worker animals in, but they looked great once done. This game with this expansion takes up quite a bit of table space now, leaving not all that much room left for the players’s cities. This is an even bigger problem if coupled with the other expansion(s). We played on a big table with just this expansion, and space was tight.

This didn’t make the game any more complicated, nor did it add much extra time to the game play. It simply slots in an extra thing each time a player changes season and gives a few extra abilities and scoring opportunities. I can see this being a standard inclusion in all my future Everdell plays.

Final score: Gametastic!

Space Base – Board Games Review

For #Blogmas 2020 day 27.

Space Base from AEG is a competitive 2-5 player game and takes about an hour to play.

Each player is given a board with 12 spaces and a deck of 12 narrow cards numbered 1-12 which go in the respective spaces on the board. 18 extra cards are placed in the center of the table which can be purchased by players and added to their board during the game. The first act of the game is for each player to take a random card from the deck and adding it to their board. Each added card replaces the existing card in that space and that replaced card is turned upside down and under the top of the board with only the red section in view.
A player’s turn comprises of rolling two dice and can either take the reward from the corresponding blue section of the card that matches the total of the two dice, or the two cards matching the two individual dice.
The main rewards can be gold which can be used to buy extra cards, income which increases the minimum gold a player can be left with and Victory Points. There are also some other rewards that do other things too.

While the main player is gaining the rewards for themselves, the other players may also gain rewards from red sections of their deployed cards. There can be multiple deployed cards for any space.
There are also some special Base cards, one for each of the twelve spaces that give instant points, but blocks that space for any further cards for that space.
Play continues until a player reaches 40 VPs.

The components themselves are very nicely made, the cubes that keep track of the scores are particularly nice looking, though a dual-layered board would help to keep the cubes in place. Thin narrow cards are a little tricky to handle but makes sense in order to fit twelve across a player’s playing area. Placing the cards under the board is a neat idea, but it’s easy to lose already deployed cards by pushing them all the way under the board. Towards the end of the game when there are many deployed cards, it does get a little fiddly getting those cards in place without knocking everything out of place.

The artwork and theme is nice to look at, but pretty generic and could be themed on anything to be honest. Why there needs to be a complete list of all the ships and their classifications in the back of the rule book when none of that has any relevance to the game, I don’t know. Many of the ships all look the same anyway.

The game play is very easy to pick up, though it does take a little while to remember to use the blue rewards on your turn and the red rewards when it’s not.
A fun game with a relatively short play time meaning that a few games can be played in a gaming session.
Final score: Buy it!

Gaming Terms

For day 25 of #Blogmas 2020. Happy Christmas!!!

Did you ever read an article or the back of a box to find out about a game and all you get are some ‘gaming buzzwords’ that mean not a lot to you. Here’s a handy glossary of some terms to save you the thirty seconds to look it up on google.

Worker Placement: Where players take turns placing their counters on a shared board to perform a certain action or to block other players from doing so. Stone Age and Agricola have little more to it that this and Five Tribes introduces an interesting spin to the idea.

Card Drafting: Players are dealt cards then choose one card each. Keeping it, the rest are passed on to the next player and receive the cards from the player on the other side. Repeat until all cards have been picked out. Sushi Go and 7 Wonders do this as the entirety of the game whereas Terraforming Mars and Seasons use it as only part of the main game.

Deck Builder: Where players start with a small deck of basic cards. Each turn they draw a hand and use the cards they hold to ‘buy’ better cards from the middle of the table. All cards ‘purchased’ and ‘spent’ go into a player’s discard pile. Once they’re out of cards, they shuffle their discard pile, and start again, with a bigger deck with potentially better cards. Dominion sees players trying to fill their decks with point cards, Star Reams adds combat cards in order to reduce an opponent’s health, Legendary has players playing cooperatively against the game and Quarriors uses dice instead.

Push Your Luck: Where dice are rolled or cards are drawn resulting in bigger and bigger rewards – unless there’s one draw or roll too many and the wrong thing comes up and all is lost! Zombie Dice is very travel friendly, Jungle Temple is a handy filler and Abyss uses it as only one of its many elements.

Bluffing: Honesty will only get you so far, which is why we invented lying. Perudo (Liar’s Dice) and Sheriff of Nottingham see players trying to catch each other out and getting stumped by the occasional bit of honesty.

Dungeon Crawler: Corridors, doors, battling monsters, upping stats and gaining loot, the battle mechanics may be anything from die rolls to holding more cards. These games are about gaining more stuff and killing more things than anyone else. They range from epics like Mice and Mystics to not even bothering with a board in Munchkins.

Tile Placement: It is most likely you have played the game of Dominoes where players take turns placing their tiles according to the game rules. Carcassonne, Gingerbread House and Patchwork do this in different ways.

Point Salad: Where everything done gives points but the trick is to do enough of everything or a lot of the right thing to gain the advantage. Pulsar 2849 and Dinosaur Island are good examples of this.

Betrayal: A cooperative game where one or more players are secretly playing against the rest.

Dice chucker: Games where you roll dice a lot.

Of course games may only utilise one gaming mechanic or many.

Games on the Go

There are some great games that have so many components they can take up the entire dining room table and take ages to set up. Once done, you can say goodbye to your evening (or weekend, I’m looking at you, Twilight Imperium) as you are embroiled in strategy, scheming, bartering, bluffing and rolling your way to victory. However, more often than not, you want a quick, easy game that can be played anywhere and can be used to stop you, or the kids (or both) getting bored waiting for whatever you’re waiting for. Here are some games that might just keep those electronic gadgets in pockets for a little bit longer:

Dobble (Asmodee)

55 cards with 8 pictures on each, but only one picture is the same on any two cards. Who can spot the pair the fastest? This is the game of Snap multiplied by 8 and, with at least 5 game variations, is far more engaging. Comes in a sturdy tin and can be played without a table. Look out for the waterproof version to play on the beach or in the pub.

Cobra Paw (Bananagrams)

21 domino-style tiles but with coloured symbols instead of the regular spots and two chunky dice with matching symbols. Roll the dice and find the matching tile the fastest. Very competitive. Swap out the overly large octagonal box for a small pouch and you can fit it in your pocket. If playing while waiting for your meal, move the drinks to the side!

Zombie Dice (Steve Jackson Games)

Take on the role of a zombie hunting for delicious brains. How many can you eat before you got shot three times? Comes in a small cylindrical tube that can fit in larger pockets. How to play. 1. Open tub. 2. Roll dice. Can be played off and on as with any number of players long as someone keeps track of the score.

Star Realms (White Wizard Games)

If you have a little space and a bit more time, this fantastic deck-building space-themed combat card game is little larger than a standard set of playing cards. However, hidden within the box is a highly engaging two-player game than can add more players with extra decks. An ideal game for taking abroad.

A Tiny Epic Game (Gamelyn Games)

Gamelyn games have specialised in producing great games that feel like big games, but in small boxes. Each title in the series is completely different in look and feel. Whether it’s in space colonizing planets in Tiny Epic Galaxies or fighting off zombie hoards cooperatively in Tiny Epic Zombies, the games do take up some space and time to play, but are highly transportable (meaning you can take many with you – they even do a bag!!!) and there’s bound to be at least one title that appeals to you.

Just One (Repos Production)

For fans of the ‘Guess the word’ party game, this is a must. Small without the box and hours of fun and laughter. One guessing with the rest independently providing one-word clues. Duplicate clues are erased.

House Rules

For #Blogmas 2020

Originally written for Board Games Crate.

With the makers of Uno’s recent rules clarification about not being allowed to stack wild +4 cards on +2 cards and vice versa, I thought it relevant to address the ‘issues’ of house rules. For this I’ll give examples using Monopoly whose varied house rules have been known to end friendships and cause no end of grief.

What are house rules?

These are rules for existing games that have been made up by gaming groups or families that are either not in the game’s rulebook, or directly contravene what is in the rules. In Monopoly, landing on Free Parking and winning all the taxes and fines paid by all the players is considered to be the most used house rule. The rules clearly state that Free Parking does nothing and all monies should be paid straight to the bank. How many of you are now in shock?

Why do we have house rules?

House rules are often introduced by parents or experienced gamers when introducing a game to new or young players. They tailor the game play to either make it ‘more fun’ or ‘more fair.’
Alternatively, certain rules have either been misinterpreted or are too complicated to grasp or execute and are misplayed or left out altogether. Auctioning properties is usually an aspect that is left out of Monopoly, in my experience.

Why do house rules cause problems?

In truth, the original rules are usually there for a very good reason. Hours of design and play-testing have perfected a game to be as good as it’s going to be in its current edition. The Free Parking house rule I’ve already mentioned, can give the game more spice with everyone trying to land on an ever-increasing pile of money. But look what happens when someone does eventually roll the magic number and win thousands of in-game currency: an instant game-breaker with the lucky roller pretty much set up for the rest of a now much longer and less interesting game. Also someone’s generally sulking at this point.

“But I’ve always played it that way!”

The other reason house rules can be quite damaging are that people get very attached to them. The very memories of playing with friends or family members no longer with us are threatened as soon as someone else demands that the game be played “properly.” This can be worsened if different players have non-compatible house rules. In many cases players have never read the rules beyond how to dole the money out or other basic set-up assistance and only know the game they were first taught. After dozens or hundreds of plays it would certainly baulk being told to have been playing it “wrong.”

The solution

Due to nostalgia or player preference, house rules will never go away. However, as many games nowadays come with alternative game-play suggestions at the back of the rule book, perhaps these should also contain known house rules, but also leave a space for extra house rules to be added.

Enemies to Gaming

This article was originally written for Board Game Crate, but never got submitted. Needless to say, this was written before COVID-19 and Lockdown which is a definite enemy number 1 nowadays – particularly with the government pretty much banning the playing of board games over Christmas.
For day 17 of #Blogmas 2020

The other day I listened to the Dice Tower’s Top 10 Enemies of Gaming on youtube. Here, three panellists presented their main barriers to playing games. Although I agreed with everything they said, I thought I’d try and compile my own list.

1. Lack of players
You’ve got all those great games, but nobody to play them with, or not enough to play that 6-player that’s been collecting dust. Finding players isn’t nearly as easy as it should. The rest of the list explores why there are so few.

2. Lack of player compatibility
Yes, you’ve managed find some game players, but they’re not into the games you are. Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons are examples of this. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but for some, it’s either you play that, or nothing.

3. Lack of games
Unless you’re lucky enough to live close to a games store, the high street offers a very narrow selection of games which leads into … –

4. Lack of new games coverage
We all grew up with the likes of Monopoly, Cluedo, Game of Life, Scrabble and Connect 4. Even if we didn’t play them, we were aware of them collecting dust on some uncle’s shelf. Today, if you speak to a non-gamer about the hobby, their immediate go-to game of reference are these old games. The Settlers Of Catan, for example, is over 25 years old and I’m still introducing it to people who’ve never heard of it.

5. Lack of storage space
Not limited to this hobby, but some of those games come in big boxes – I’m looking at you Gloomhaven. Storing 100+ games is also a problem.

6. Lack of play space
Some games require a lot of space to play and not everyone has the table or floorspace to spare, particularly if it’s a game that is played over multiple sittings.

7. Lack of time
The enemy of just about everything, tabletop gaming is very much included here.

8. Lack of money
Unless you live near a friend or gaming café with a good games collection, chances are most gamers will have to make do with a few of the more affordable titles. The silver lining here is that there are some great games in this category.

9. Video games
After Time, the greatest competition to tabletop gaming is the one where, at the push of a few buttons, a full and immersive game can be played with thousands of other players across the globe. Video games also don’t suffer from a lot of the other issues on this list.

10. Bad experiences
If someone’s first, or last experience of a game was a bad one, for whatever reason, they may be inclined to think that tabletop gaming isn’t for them and move on to other things. A bit like not enjoying a book and never reading again.

That was my list, it’s not exhaustive, but it’s what I’ve experienced or seen.

What’s So Important About Themes

For #Blogmas 2020 reusing an article I originally wrote for Board Games Crate

Good games can work totally fine without themes, but their design is understandably basic. Backgammon and Scrabble, for example, require nothing more than a simple board showing the essentials and some counters or letters. Jenga and Pick Up Sticks go one step simpler as just as a bunch of bricks or sticks. They need nothing else to do what they do well. Granted, Jenga with Limited Edition Bright Red Bricks™ might sell more copies to red-loving gamers, but the colour adds nothing to the game.

As soon as a game expects a bit more engagement from a player, that player will, in turn, expect a bit more from a game. The more complicated Chess, for example has an age of chivalry vibe to it with every piece having a name and look harkening to that era.

A lot of the appeal of games like Magic: The Gathering doesn’t just come from the excellent game-play, but through the design and feel of the theme. One could argue that it would play just as well with no artwork. Action (spell) cards would be titled things like Action #327 or character (minion) cards as Hero #43, but, even with the exact same gameplay rules, no one would want to play it.

Themes (and budgets, don’t forget the budget) should shape how a game looks and develops. A game crafted around a well thought-out theme, at least looks the part. Provided as much effort goes into making the game enjoyable, it should be a winner.

Be wary of generic ‘facelift’ games that have your favourite fandom on the box but the game really could have had any theme and be exactly the same. The gazillions of iterations of Monopoly, for example are, with few exceptions, no different to the original except you get to be Boba Fett, Hermione Granger or Mario instead of a shoe. Also look out for games featuring a great, big plastic MacGuffin that does nothing but shriek “THEME!”

Some themes can really make or break a game, particularly if they’re targeted at the wrong audience. Dinosaurs, Space or Fluffy Kittens can be real crowd pleasers whereas Demons, Sorcery, Zombies and War can be a real turn off to many. Or vice versa, which is what makes themes a really interesting subject.

When looking at a new game, you are probably attracted to it because the theme appeals to you but think, does the theme actually fit the game and, of course, is the game any good? Conversely, if a friend keeps asking you to play a game whose theme rattles you, can you look past it and see the beauty of the game underneath. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it only runs ink deep.

The games that I find work well with their themes are Terraforming Mars, a game so cleverly integrated into its theme that it couldn’t be about anything else and Photosynthesis which uses the direction of sunlight striking trees to generate energy.

Standard edition Vs. Junior edition

For day 14 of #blogmas 2020.
Yet another article I originally wrote for Board Game Crate.

Quite a few titles now come with a Junior version of the same. Is this just a money-grabbing ploy to get us to purchase a watered-down version of a game we already own, or is there a place in our gaming collections for them?

In my experience, regardless of the game being played (or any activity for that matter), children need adult supervision. As a parent, I find myself playing the part of referee with the added bonus of being included in the game. My roles include ensuring that turns are taken fairly, the rules are followed accurately and the playing pieces aren’t hidden in socks or bulldozed by a toy duck. At the game’s conclusion I also comfort the one who doesn’t win while re-educating the victor on the finer points of being a good sport and limiting the victory dance to less than a minute. To those ends, I find myself just as busy with the Junior versions as I do with the standard versions and find myself wondering why bother with the Junior.

Well, the first and most vital benefit of the Junior is that they are often quite a bit shorter so my time in purgatory is lessened somewhat. The pieces are generally larger and brightly-coloured and are easy to locate and retrieve from pockets and under the furniture making it more likely that there’s a complete game ready for next time. Also, the better-designed games also give a good rebalancing of play so that I don’t always win – whereas the standard versions that require more experience/strategy or skill can slew the games in my favour. In some cases, the Junior version is actually quite different from the original giving me a different gaming experience, but not one I’d necessarily share with an adult group of gamers.

However, most standard games can be adapted to accommodate younger (or inexperienced) players. Most of us have forgone particular rules or game aspects when introducing a game to a novice of any age for the first time and many games even have ‘Family’ or ‘Beginner’ rules included. Also, many games on my shelf have very enticing covers and I’m often asked if they could play that with me. Some games get a flat-out ‘No,’ as an answer but, as my children get older, more and more games are given a go (successfully) and none of them have a Junior version (or they do and I don’t have it). As the kids get older still, I fear that the Junior games will get left on the shelf time and time again until they’re relegated to the loft, or given away.

Like most children’s toys, the Junior editions can be great for the age groups they’re aimed at, but have limited staying power and do little different than the main games (with a little bit of rule tweaking). Of course, there are exceptions to this and if you have one of those gems, treasure it.