Games for Christmas 2014

Some fun dice games for Christmas plus stocking fillers
For those looking for their once a year games purchase, be it for children or the family, or just another game to add to their collection, then this article will hopefully offer some interesting possibilities. Possibilities all easily available online and most at around £20 or less!

This years's article focuses primarily on dice games, however towards the end of the article there are also ideas for Stocking Fillers all under £10 and mostly card games.

Each game has a suggested children's age it is suitable for; however this also gives a really good indication of how thoughtful or complex the game is and therefore what to expect when you open the box. All the games fall into one of three categories:

· Simple Family Game (8 years)
· Stimulating Family Game (10 years)
· Thoughtful Family Game (age 12 and up)

I recognize that you may have stumbled on this article and know little about modern board games, and be a little intimidated by games you will probably never have seen in the shops. No worries; using the power of Google and YouTube you will find lots of video reviews that will both expand on my short explanation and give a clearer idea of how to play any of the games that interest you.

Dice Games
Most of us were brought up with dice throwing games and so at one level at least, all these games will seem in some way familiar. Yes there is luck in the games listed, but each uses different mechanisms to moderate that luck. It isn't simply a matter of the person that throws the highest dice being the winner, rather to a much greater degree it will be the person that makes the best choices with the dice they throw! And in saying dice games don’t think each of these games just has dice numbered 1 to 6, most don’t!

Camel Up
Complexity: Simple Family Game
Playing Time: 30-60 mins
No. of players: 2 to 8 but best with 4 or 5 players!

Theme / Mechanic
Camel Up is a racing game where players bet on and manipulate the speed of 8 camels racing around a pyramid.

Camel Up is this year’s Spiel Des Jahres winner and in terms of family games there is no higher accolade! Having played it a number of times I feel confident most families will have a lot of fun with it; it will play within an hour; is quick to learn and will
unusually handle up to 8 players. At only just over £20 it is simply excellent value.

Why Not!
If you like a quieter more thoughtful game where you can control the outcome, then this is unlikely to work for you. Equally if you are only likely to have two or three players, then whilst fun, there are other games that may offer a better experience.

Escape: The Curse Of The Temple
Complexity: Simple Family Game
Playing Time: 10 mins!
No. of players: 1 to 5 players, but best with 4 players!

Theme / Mechanic
Escape: The Curse Of The Temple is a race against time (using a CD) game where players reveal new areas of the temple and rush around as they seek to find a way to escape the cursed temple. All players are simultaneously throwing dice and moving their character token on the temple floor plan!

An intense fast paced dice throwing game, over in 10 mins! Players are all trying to escape a temple and to do it they need to work together! Yes it’s a co-operative game, the first of three in this article and if you haven’t played this type of game before then the players are pitted against the game with everybody winning or losing together! A popular game that will definitely raise the heart rate and liven up a Christmas afternoon!
Why Not!
There is lots happening simultaneously and it is very much against the clock. Having played it a couple of times I would happily never play it again but I recognise that that’s my view and didn’t concur with the other people I played it with!!! As a cooperative game then there is no clear winner, this is a feature that appeals to some, but leaves others cold! It is also at the more expensive end of the games listed.

Garden Dice
Complexity: Simple family game
Playing Time: 60 mins
No. of players: 2 to 4 and thought to work equally well with 2, 3, or 4 players!

Theme / Mechanic
In Garden Dice players acquire seed tiles and then through efficient planting and watering try to be the most successful player at harvesting their crops. But beware the unwanted attentions of other player’s birds and rabbits which will mess with your carefully planted crops.

An unusual theme for a game but one that I thought would appeal to a wide group of people. As a family game there are a number of reviews that speak of its appeal to both young and old and it’s got garden gnomes!

Why Not!
If gardens and gardening are not your thing then clearly the theme will be less appealing. Although mild compared with the next game (King of Tokyo) players can attack each other through the use of the birds and the bunnies!

King of Tokyo
Complexity: Simple Family Game
Playing Time: 30 mins
No. of players: 2 to 6 but best with 4 or 5 players!

Theme / Mechanic
In King of Tokyo the players take on the role of big monsters all battling to control Tokyo and either conquer it or be the last monster standing! This is the only exclusion game and unsurprisingly therefore the most aggressive in this list of games (an exclusion game is a game where some players will be forced out of the game before the game ends; other exclusion games include Monopoly!).

Because it is great fun with the right group of people, has great artwork, is simple to learn, quick to play and will create a gaming experience with lots of player interaction.

Why Not!
Clearly it is the most confrontational of the games in the list and personally I avoid such games. However I have played it, had a good laugh and know lots of people who would recommend it. Not for everyone and because of the exclusion element I would personally avoid playing it with young children!

Pandemic: The Cure
Complexity: Simple Family Game
Playing Time: 30 mins
No. of players: 2 to 5 but best with 3 or 4 players

Theme / Mechanic
Pandemic:The Cure is a more thoughtful cooperative game, than the earlier Escape: The Curse of the Temple. This game challenges the players to work together to save the world from a contagious outbreak of 4 deadly viruses.

It is based on one of the most popular games available today - Pandemic; however this game offers a package that is faster to play but equally challenging! As a cooperative game again you win or lose as a group and so it will test players ability to collaborate in what will be both an enjoyable and thought provoking game! With the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, it offers a topical game that will resonate with many.
Why Not!
Cooperative games are not for everybody; some people only really enjoy games where there is a clear winner and with a more real world theme. This game is not as light hearted as the others in the list. It is also perhaps worth noting that the strength of a cooperative game of getting people working together is obvious. What is less obvious is that if you have one dominant player then they can end up telling everybody what to do and so create a pretty poor experience for all the other players!

Complexity:  Simple Family Game
Playing Time: 20 mins
No. of players: 2 to 4 but best with 2 players

Theme / Mechanic
Quixo is an abstract game with a board made up entirely of wooden dice (25 to be precise), with either a circle or a cross. Sound familiar!

It’s a simple abstract tactile game that can be played with younger children. The principle of the game is simple and for those who enjoy abstract games it offers something that both young and old will enjoy and whilst best with 2 players, offers an interesting alternative for 4 players.
Why Not!
It is an abstract game so for those who like a game with theme and or good artwork this will seem a dry and unappealing game.

Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age
Complexity:  Simple Family Game
Playing Time: 30 mins
No. of players: 1 to 4 but best with 2 players

Theme / Mechanic
In Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age players build an ancient civilisation using a combination of wooden dice representing their cities, a wooden peg board to record their food, wood and other resources/goods and a score sheet.

Yes its abstract and to me has always seemed akin to Yahtzee, but unlike Yahtzee it has a point to it! The mechanism is the same you roll dice and retain some choosing to re-roll others – simple enough. But as the game progresses you build, more cities so gaining more dice, ancient wonders and advance the abilities of your civilisation. I have played this game many times and in my view it’s a really great game, if you fancy something short over a coffee, but with some interesting decisions and no craziness!
Why Not!
It’s an abstract game and is a dryer with only very limited player interaction.

Stone Age 
Complexity: Stimulating Family Game
Playing Time: 60 mins
No. of players: 2 to 4 but best with 4 players!

Theme / Mechanic
Stone Age is a worker placement game where the player’s tribe can go, hunting, felling trees, to school etc as they seek both to feed and advance their little community.

This is my favourite game on the list; with a lovely board and components it offers an interesting game with plenty of replayability that whilst thoughtful is not taxing and so would offer a great way of spending an hour on a wintery Christmas afternoon!
Why Not!
The most expensive of the games present in this list at over £30 and enough bits to intimidate many, but………!

Stocking Fillers
Some fun quick games all at under £10!

Hanabi is a collaborative card game that has won the prestigious German game of the year prize. The theme of a firework display is thin, but if you are playing with a group that enjoy; working together puzzles and are up for a game that requires clear headed thinking and good communication skills; both speaking and listening then Hanabi would be well worth buying!

Love Letter
Love Letter is the smallest game in this year’s list made up of just 16 cards, great if you will be travelling to friends this Christmas as it will easily slip into a pocket or handbag and be there should you need it. Love Letter is a really simple fun game where you are trying to work out what cards (characters) the other players have as you try to slip past the guards to deliver a love letter to the princess. Another game with some lovely artwork

Pickomino is a classic amongst gamers and designed by possibly the best known games designer in the world. The theme of the game is about worms on a BBQ – who cares about the theme? It’s daft! But Pickomino is an excellent little game that will also handle up to 7 players, although its sweet spot is 3 or 4 players.

Zooloretto: The Dice Game
Zooloretto: The Dice Game is a lovely little game, based on the board game of the same name. The games dice have different animal symbols on them and using them you fill delivery trucks with animals on there way to your zoo. Essentially you are trying to collect sets.

Perudo (Liars Dice) Perudo is a fun and possibly noisy bluffing game where players inevitably lie about the dice they have hidden under their cups. Its quick and very amusing as players decide whether to bluff or tell the truth and gauge what their fellow players have done!

Post Script. How could I have forgotten Rory's Story Cubes?! This is reviewed on the blog here and wold be another excellent stocking filler if you wanted to stay with the dice theme!

And lastly
I have really enjoyed playing these games this year and feel they would make excellent gifts 

Firstly two Simple Family Games: Augustus (Think Rome and then add bingo!) and Colt Express (Wild West mayhem with a great model train).

Then three thoughtful family games that offer something deeper and again are included because I have really enjoyed them are: Keyflower An excellent game from a British designer with the theme of building your New World settlement and trading with your fellow players.

Istanbul The winner of this years Kennerspiel des Jahres roughly translated Connoisseur game of the year.

T’zolkin  An innovative worker placement game with an ancient Mayan theme and using an interlacing cog system based on the Mayan calender
So plenty of interesting games to choose from. However if you have read this far and a) haven't lost the will to live and b) not quite found a game that works for you then please take a look at my previous articles giving ideas for other games for Christmas. The 2010 took the approach that so many cookery articles do of what would work at various points over the festive season and the 2011 article suggested games that offered a fresh perspective on the perennial favourites.
Thank You For Reading and Happy Gaming!

THANK YOU to my fellow bloggers for the excellent photo's. In previous years I have used all my own however with limited time I have used those taken by others. I hope this is OK.

A New Begining

It has been a long time since I have put pen to paper, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since I last wrote anything, but the joy I encounter around the world of games is still there and the desire to record it is slowly returning!
Many keen Gamers will have a circle of friends and family around them that I would call ‘Social Gamers’. These people enjoy games when they encounter them but rarely buy any themselves and it is unlikely they would list Board Games as a hobby. However it is these people on the periphery of the avid enthusiasts that are fuelling my enthusiasm to start writing again. In particular this brief post was prompted by:
  • Turning up to see friends for a BBQ (with no games) and once the table was cleared it was the friends that raided their son’s small stash of games so we could play a game, or two: Straw, Hick Hack and Hey, That’s My Fish! In over 20 years of friendship this was a first!
But this most recent fuel is in addition to:
  • Mentioning modern board games (and our Friday lunchtime group) in passing to a colleague at work and having her come back and ask ‘did you mean board games, I love board games! I used to love playing them as a kid and now I have children of my own……’ The conversation that ensued revealed that she was completely unaware of the word of modern board games and for those that know the film the Matrix it was like she had just taken the ‘red pill’. Her eyes where opened and I don’t think it would be going too far to say she was overjoyed at the feast of games now available to choose from! With her desire to involve her young children then her first purchase is not a gamers choice but an excellent little game none the less, Sherlock. It has proven a great success with her family. Gamers will no doubt be pleased to hear that other purchases are Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Comuni, Voluspa and Qwirkle.
  • Highlighting the London On Board Meetup group to another colleague at work (and member of the lunch time group) and he going off over the bank holiday and spending 5 hours gaming with a group of people he had never met before and having a wonderful time.
  • Combining a love of modern jive dancing with a love of food and obviously games I have been hosting monthly dinners where different people bring different courses and we intersperse each course with a game. The dance friends have never played any of the games before but the combination of good company, good food and good games is proving great fun.
  • Following last year’s Essen trip it was the game (The Sheep Race) I didn’t buy that ultimately caught the attention of my Social Gaming friends and when I did buy they also wanted copies to play with their families and friends.
  • Lastly, introducing games designers to the team at work and seeing it result in a Print and Play game for schools – The Flood (more of that in future posts).
It is also nice to report that the gamers group at Crowborough whilst not very visible at pubs in the area is alive and well meeting at a variety of people’s houses anywhere between Tunbridge Wells, Hailsham and Haywards Heath and has drawn in a number of new members. 
It’s meeting are a bit adhoc but its active and has a huge collection of games between its members. The only sad part (from my point of view) is I had hoped to start a Social Gamers Group and it is ultimately now a group of Gamers!

Reviews will follow slowly and other posts as the inspiration takes me but they are likely to be occasional rather than regular! Happy Gaming!

Games in a Pub – 17th February 2013

8 Year Old Holds His Own At Pub Games Night!

As the group gathered they kicked off with one of our most popular fillers, Straw. Straw is an excellent card game that is simple, fast and has sufficient screwage to make it great fun. It is also a great way of helping children with their maths based skills.
Abandon Ship - The players
With George joining us (Simon and Laura’s 8 year old son) the consensus was to go for a slightly simpler game next (although as will be seen later this really wasn’t necessary) and Abandon Ship was selected. This is an amusing, but lightweight, race game about rats abandoning a sinking ship. Each player has 3 rats to look after. However the fun comes from the fact that the rats are shared and nobody knows who is looking after which rats. As the water level rises sadly the slowest rats get washed away. However the danger for the first rat on deck (the rats climb / race through 50 deck levels) is that it will get trampled by the passengers who are also trying to get off the ship; a close game that was won by George.
Abandon Ship - The surviving rats with the dead ones floating in the water with their dice!
Next up at Simon’s suggestions was Infinite City, a game that I would not immediately have picked to play with somebody as young as George but at another level doesn’t surprise me given experiences with other children from families who play lots of games.
Infinite City - The city early in the game
Infinite City is a tile laying game where each tile represents one of a number of different types of buildings each of which has some text narrative at the bottom of the tile explaining its special powers when placed in the city. As you place a tile you also place a marker in your player colour and it is these markers that indicate ownership of building which at the game end give victory points. In addition to these points you also score one point for each marker that is connected to 3 or more of its own colour. This was a game George clearly understood and was more than comfortable reading and understanding the text as well as making appropriate decisions! Whilst George didn’t win he competed well at and needed little help and when dad offered help George generally responded with a reasoned and logical argument for his actions.
Infinite City - The city as the game nears the end
The final game was The Dwarf King (reviewed here) and is best summarised by Martin’s comment that he would pay good money not to play it again. This is because, I think, that in the final hand the previous scores where completely reversed and the looser at the end of round two became the winner. It may be fun but balanced it is not, particularly if you don’t play the recommended number of hands (put no. in here?) where some of the big swings may get evened out
The Dwarf King - Some of the cards

More photo's of the evening can be seen here.

Our next event at the Crow and Gate (please note note NOT the Blue Anchor), Crowborough is in two weeks time on Sunday 3rd March starting at 7.00pm - £1 per head. More details can be seen on our Facebook Page Social Gamers - Crowborough

Match Report - 11th February 2013

A treasure island and the Robots of Doom! 
Tobago - The board during the game
This is a very short report & overdue - there are just not enough hours in the day! Although as ever there are plenty of photos (if you click on the link at the bottom of the post), in particular a series that show the progressive destruction of the robots involved in the second game Goblins Inc.
Goblins Inc - The two Robots ready to fight the first round with the Tactics Cards placed between them
On this occasion we had a group of four gamer's and Gwen slipped off to have a quiet evening not playing games! Malcolm had just returned from a two month holiday in the Far East, Robin’s wife had just had a baby boy and Natalie had once again baked some lovely cakes. We started with one of the Zoch games, Tobago. This went down well with the group, however as a family game I find the lack of player interaction makes it a little dry. I wonder if it might work best as a 2 or 3 player game, where there would be less down time between player turns? Note to self - must try those configurations at some point.
Tobago - A close up of the board
With coffee and munchies (wholemeal and apricot muffins) consumed, our second game was one of CGE’s new games, Goblins Inc. This is an interesting co-operative game were players work in teams of two to build two robots. It has many similarities to Galaxy Trucker, which depending on your point of view is the better game. Goblins Inc introduces the co-operative element in much the same was as is found in games like Saboteur, Bang! or Panic Station i.e. you are working together in some way but perhaps not everybody is working to the objective you think they are! It also introduces a more combative approach in that you are building a robot to fight the other team’s robot. This element will appeal to some but perhaps not all! Thanks to some inspired driving by Natalie our robot pretty much destroyed Robin and Malcolm’s and through good fortune rather than ability on my part I somehow amassed the most points.
Goblins Inc - Our opponents Robot, it is still there if look carefully!!

More photo's of the evening can be seen here.

Our next event at the Crow and Gate (please note note NOT the Blue Anchor), Crowborough is in two weeks time on Sunday 3rd March starting at 7.00pm - £1 per head. More details can be seen on our Facebook Page Social Gamers - Crowborough

Match Report - 28th January 2013

From Norse gods to bikers! Two mini reviews - Voluspa plus Skull and Roses

We only had a small turn out but pleasingly there was a willingness to have a go at two of my favorite games from last years Essen.
The Monday night gamers playing Voluspa

Match Report - 14th January 2013

With the winter snows just around the corner the group gathered to eat the remains of the Christmas munchies and obviously play a few games!
The Monday Night Gamers
At one end of the table Gwen led Crispin and Daniella in one of her favourites, Alhambra with many references from Crispin to the need for his palace to have plenty of Seraglios! Gwen, unsurprisingly, emerged victorious.
Alhambra - Gwen's palace part way through the game
At the other end of the table Kingdom Builder was played by Robin, Claire, Brian and I. This game again proved popular and, whilst far from being my favourite game from Essen 2012, it is growing on me due to its simplicity, speed of play, replayability and the balance of tactics to fun. Robin again won this game, although in part because I spotted a strategy that whilst I loused it up myself I had pointed it out to him. He obviously took the guidance with open arms and profited mightily from it!
Kingdom Builder - The board mid way through the game

Review – Geistesblitz 2.0

2 to 8 Players, Aged 8 with a 30 minute playing time 
Geistesblitz 2.0 - The box artwork
Gesitesblitz 2.0 designed by Jacques Zeimet was kindly provided for review by our friends at Zoch Verlag.

In Geistesblitz 2.0 –we meet the ‘ghostess’ (and 4 new objects) a friend of Balduin the ghost in Geistesblitz and this new game is essentially a re-working of the original. It is styled as ‘an independent game’ playable without the original but that can be combined with the original, in my view for unnecessary pain!

Given the similarities to the original Geistesblitz this review will build on my first review and seek to highlight the differences rather than go through the whole game again, although it will follow my standard approach.

What follows is an overview of the game broken down into 5 sections: The Game Components, Setting Up The Game, How To Play The Game, What Did We Think? and finally Who Do We Think Will Like It. So if you don't want to read the whole review scan down to the heading that interests you.