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Why I Love Board Games #3 They’re Good For The Brain

17 Apr

Another thing I love about board games is that you can learn while playing them. Sometimes it can be genuinely interesting facts, other times it’s just putting your game into gear while you work out an incoming move. Ultimately though, you’re always thinking, often learning and always having fun. Take the rather excellent Memoir 44 for example. It’s a genuinely superb board game from Days Of Wonder that reenacts key scenes from the second world war. The manual has a huge number of different scenarios, but the original information about those events are also included. Without realising it you’re soaking up world war 2 history without even realising it. Wrath Of Ashardalon is a lite version of Dungeons & Dragons, but it still teaches you (indirectly admittedly) about fundamental mechanics of the original game, ensuring you’ll have a better idea of play mechanics if you ever step up to a proper RPG night. Tales Of The Arabian Nights is another great example because it teaches you about some of the most famous stories ever told. Admittedly there’s not as much solid information as with Memoir, but it’s a surprising jumping off point, while the included books contain plenty of snatches of information about the famous tales.

Ticket To Ride Europe has done wonders for my daughters’ geography, Wildlife Adventure teaches the importance of endangered animals, while Powergrid has been useful for understanding where some of America’s biggest cities are. And then there are the game mecahnics themselves that require a good memory, and numerous maths solving to solve. I get a real kick when I play games┬álike Agricola and Lords Of Waterdeep with my 11-year old, as you can almost see the cogs whirring around her head, as she mentally works out her next few moves.

Board games are soon as boring and stuff, but they are anything but, even more traditional ones like Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit can genuinly help a number of everyday skills. So next time you sit down for a game of something, have a think about what you’ve just played. Odds are you might have learnt something that will stay with you forever.




Thunderstone – An 11-year old’s viewpoint

26 Jan

I’ll be covering the awesome Thunderstone soon because it’s brilliant. In the meantime, here’s my daughter Emily explaining why she enjoys playing this excellent deck builder from AEG.

Play The Game Of Thrones (without dying)

23 Jan

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

I’ve heard this quote countless times over the last year, despite having little knowledge of the book it came from. HBO’s adaptation of A Game Of Thrones changed all that, and I’m now a fervent fan of George R.R. Martin’s work, even if I’ve not read all the books yet.

But don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about the novels and excellent TV adaptation. No I’m here to reveal the numerous board games that are available, and have been available for quite some time now. Please note that these are only basic overviews, I will go into more detail in later reviews. I just felt that if you’re new to the series like me, you might want to know what sort of stuff to start looking for.

A Game Of Thrones (The Living Card Game)

The most interesting aspect of this game is that it’s actually an adaptation of an older collectible card game that Fantasy Flight Games first released in 2002. Fantasy Flight converted it over to the LCG format in 2008 and it has stayed this way ever since. It’s been a big success for Fantasy Flight, and while it’s perfectly possible to play the game straight out of the box via a very balanced base set, many like to buy the monthly expansions that enable them to constantly upgrade and improve their decks.

In the core set, it’s played between 2-4 players, but it’s definitely built for a full group of players. Players take on the role of 4 of the major house: Stark, Lannister, Baratheon and Targaryen and must attempt to seize 15 power points. What’s interesting here is that there are 3 distinct types of challenges: Military, Intrigue and Power, which can be played to give you an edge over your opponents and earn different rewards. It’s a slick, beautifully presented game, rich in theme and dripping with flavour.

A Game Of Thrones (The Board Game)

I’ve literally just got my hands on a copy of this, so can’t really tell you to much about it at the moment. What I do know is that it’s a 2nd Edition of the game that was first released in 2003. It’s infamous for taking an extremely long time to play (typically around the 4 hour mark) and for being an incredibly back-stabby game. As I like games like this, I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into it. It featured two expansions: A Clash Of Kings and A Storm Of Swords, and elements from both expansions are included in the new revision. The game takes place over 10 turns and sees players amassing armies and trying to seize control of Westeros. From what I’ve seen of the instructions it’s a fairly complicated game, but it does appear to have a lot of potential for intrigue and political might. One thing I like about the card game is that it’s very swingy, with games often going several ways before a winner is determined, and from what a friend has told me, the board game is very similar. Expect a review very soon.

Battles Of Westeros

Many battles take place in the novels, so it should come as no surprise to learn that there is a war game that takes place in George R.R. Martin’s fantastical world. Unlike the other games, it’s designed from the off for just 2 players, and sees them pitting rival houses against each other on the battlefield. The game comes with a huge amount of playing figures and is far quicker to play than the other A Game Of Thrones titles, with a game typically lasting around 45 minutes. I admittedly know very little about this last game, but it does look very interesting. Needless to say I’ll be hopefully picking up a copy very, very soon.

I appreciate that these are only brief intros (and in the case of Battles Of Westeros, rather flimsy) but hopefully they’ll inspire you to at least check the games out.


Cyclades Video Review

22 Jan

Here’s a vide review of Cyclades to complement the written review on the blog. Enjoy.

Scooby Doo Haunted House Board Game Review

8 Jan

Scooby Doo has been entertaining children for over 40 years and in that time he’s featured in hundreds of different types of merchandise, including lunchboxes, videos, jigsaw, books and anything else you could care to mention. He’s also appeared in a number of board games, and it’s one of these titles we’ll be looking at today.

Scooby Doo: Haunted House, has you effectively trying to solve the riddle of a scary ghost who’s terrorising the local old house on top of scraggly hill (I’ve made up this location as I like the sound of it). Players do this by entering the haunted mansion and making their way through its trap-laden halls, where they will eventually come face to face with the tricky ghost and discover his true identity.

You only get cardboard figures, but the house itself is well constructed.

Scooby Doo: Haunted House is ideally suited for up to 5 meddling kids, as they will then be able to replicate the full adventures of Mystery Inc team. It scales down to 2 players just fine though, and if anything works a little better, as it’s a lot harder to disrupt the board. A spinner is included on the base of the board, and players take turns to spin it. You can move up to six spaces at once, although only one 6, 5 and 1 appear on the 9-numbered dial. Should you hit a gravestone there are no mishaps and you are free to move your character and finish your turn. Hit a ghost tile however and the Haunted House is activated. This is achieved by pressing down on the ghost at the top of the castle, until you hear him click. This will then activate the 7 traps found throughout the playing area, which range from a cage, to shaking stairs and falling platforms. It’s a nice throwback to the old game Haunted Castle, but everything is done mechanically.

Should your charater get knocked over or trapped you must then return to the beginning of a set area, or what until the trap is once again activated so you can escape from it. Once a player finally reaches the top of the house, they can unmask the troublesome ghost and win the game.

As you might expect, Scooby Doo: Haunted House is best catered to the taste of younger players. It’s is a very simplistic game, with players at the mercy of the mechanical traps that can strike without warning. It also has a few issues that can make the game needlessly tricky. For starters, the spinner is part of the main board, meaning younger children can knock down player pieces by overzealously spinning the marker. The cramped area of the game also means that it can be easy to catch yourself on the board itself and again knock characters over. Oh and the included instructions are a real pig, as they pictures are very small and hard to look at. Finally, the house itself is extremely noisy when traps are activated.

And yet even with these issues it’s a fun game for the very young and a nice introduction to board games as a whole. It’s dripping with theme, and will go down extremely well with fans of the TV show.

Expansion Madness #1 Carcassonne Catapult

6 Jan

Expansions are a great way of extending the life of a board game, so join me as I look at some of the best and worst that are currently available. First up I’ll be taking a look at Caracassonne The Catapult.

Carcassonne is a brilliant game that I always have trouble pronouncing properly, and sometimes even spelling properly. While it appears deceptively simple – you do little more then lay tiles each turn, which edges must match other tiles that are already on the board – it proves to be a deceptively strategic game. A game that my 6-year is absolutely amazing at, constantly trouncing me by a good 70 points whenever we play. She’s like the Rain Man of board games, so good is she at grasping the mechanics of most titles. But I digress.

You get 12 new tiles with Carcassonne Catapult. I like the one that looks like a cat's head (top left second in).

There are many expansions for Carcassonne, befitting for a game that’s so popular, and it’s a typical ‘Gateway’ title, essentially a stepping stone to other types of board games. Although there’s a certain randomness to the game (in so much that you don’t know what tile you’re drawing) it’s balanced enough that you’re rarely stuffed by a draw, as there’s always somewhere that you can place the tile.

Sadly, Carcassonne The Catapult, ignores this careful beautiful structure and throws a barrel load of chaos into the mix with a healthy side order of randomness. In short my six year old loves it.

Here's the catapult itself. It appears to be made out of a sturdy balsa wood. I've included a bumper pack of Pringles for comparison purposes. The Pringles were very nice.

The main draw of Carassonne Catapult is the catapult that comes with it. It’s a fairly sturdy construction and i’d imagine you’d have to apply a lot of pressure in order to break it. Which you’ll want to do, as it’s one hell of a frustrating addition to the game, mainly because it’s about as accurate as hitting a square peg into a small round hole. Whenever you flip the catapult it rarely lands where you want it to. While this randomness delights young children, it becomes very frustrating as it’s possible to lose larger number of points due to randomness that’s completely out of your control. Take a look at the following new cards to see what I mean…

The new tiles from left to right: Target Hurling, Catch, Knock Out, Seduction. I hate you all.

Each player is given 4 tokens, one of which can be played whenever you draw a Catapult tile from the bag or pile of tiles you have. The first tile shows a bullseye and is ‘Target Hurling’. If you play this, you must take it in turns to try and hit the last placed tile. Whoever gets closest scores 5 points. The icon showing a ball is called ‘Catch’. Here players use the included measuring tile to mark a halfway line between an opposite player. You must then attempt to flick your tile past this line. Points are scored by your opponent if they catch it or you don’t shoot far enough, and you score points if they miss it or you shoot to their side. Next up is the blue knock out tile – one of the most horrid tiles in all Carcassonne creation (at least in those I’ve played). If this little bugger comes into contact with an in-play meeple, it immediately removes it from the board (you can lose your own this way as well) as horrible as it sounds. Lastly we have the yellow ‘Seduction’ tile. Successfully land the tile on the board and you can switch the nearest meeple of an opponent with one of your own. It’s a nice idea, but like all the other options, is flawed due to the unpredictability of the catapult itself, which turns the game into a complete luckfest. Fine if you like that sort of thing, dreadfully frustrating if you don’t.

While I recommend Carcassonne The Catapult to those with small children, the sheer randomness and the low precision targeting of the actual catapult makes it hard to recommend to anyone else.

New Year, New Games

2 Jan

So it’s the start of a brand New Year, so I thought I’d post what I received, or gave for Christmas. One of the great things about my new hobby is that the family enjoys it just as much as I do, so I was able to give presents that would not only benefit them, but also me. Cracking, and not something I’ve ever been able to do with videogames.

Anyhoo, I won’t go into too much detail here, simply because I haven’t had much time to play the games in question. This in itself is typical. You have an entire 10 days off for the Christmas break, and don’t give yourself enough time to do anything. Very annoying.

Anyway. Let’s take a look at the actual games…

  • Carcassonne The Catapult

This was actually a gift for my 6-year old daughter Alice. She’s a huge fan of the standard game, and already owns The Princes And The Dragon. This new set is a little too random for my liking, mainly because the included wooden catapult is pants, making it very hard to genuinely judge where you want tiles to fall. Still Alice likes it, and I guess that’s what really counts.

  • Quarriors! Rise Of The Demons

Another present, this time for my wife. She loves Quarriors! so the expansion was something of a no brainer for me. We’ve not played it yet, but it features a brand new monster, a new spell, a new type of basic corrupted die and corrupted versions of all the main monsters from the core set. It looks like a lot of fun.

  • Thunderstone Heart Of Doom

This is a gift for my 11-year old daughter Emily. She’s absolutely amazing at this game, so much so that we dread playing it with her. There’s something completely devastating about being regularly beaten at games by a child, but we plug on with it regardless. Anyhoo, we’ve not played this yet (there’s a theme building here) but it looks like a very cool set, with some great new monsters, including a mighty living thunderstone that requires a stupid amount of hit points to kill. If you fail, or if it breaches, it’s game over!

  • Power Grid

This was a present from my wife and one I’m greatly looking forward to playing. It’s a great resource game (according to those who have played it) and sees you building your own power companies to take over either germany or America. Great theme, and something I can’t wait to get stuck into.

  • Summoner Wars

Again, another game from my wife, and another game I’ve not played yet. It’s basically Magic: The Gathering, but without the need to spend an absolute fortune on cards. This sounds right up my street, as well as my mate’s Greg, so I’ll be playing it later this week.

  • Fortune And Glory: The Cliffhanger Game

I want to love this with all my heart, I really do, but so far something is stopping me. It’s steeped in theme and is effectively Indiana Jones the board game, just an unofficial version of it. you play 1 of 8 adventurers and must travel around the world retreiving artifacts and battling nazis. It’s dripping with theme, but it’s over reliance on dice is making it feel a little too random at the moment. I was playing it wrong though (I’m a chump like that) so expect a more balanced review when I’ve had some more time with it.

So that’s my new games, hope you all got great stuff as well.