This blog looks at the modern board game hobby, why I think they can be beneficial in a family environment, and how I've introduced my family to games.
It will contain reviews on games we play, and how I rate them for families.
I'll also add my random musings on the board game hobby and specific games.
When you hear "board games", and think I'm talking about Monopoly, then read further - and welcome down the rabbit hole!
Click the link above to find more details, but essentially at the beginning of the game each player gets a number. Whenever that number is rolled they move 1 space on the track (or 2 if they roll their own number).
Well, yes but then there are the cards - if a players number is rolled more than once, then they get to draw either a rat or a mouse card. Rat cards are negative cards that can be played on other players, whilst mouse cards are beneficial and can be played by the player drawing the card.
Candyland meets Mouse Trap? There are even some Early Bird space left, so back it today!
But seriously, what is going on with the prices of board games in the UK?
Take Tash-Kalar. Post-Essen it was £30. Now? The MSRP is £49.99 - a 66% increase.
Ok, well maybe it;s something to do with economies of scale? Let's check.
The German edition of Tash-Kalar is on Amazon.de for €27, or roughly £22. Whilst Germany is the home of the modern board game, I'm fairly sure that the English language version would have a larger print run and therefore should be cheaper.
So, maybe it's something to do with Germany - maybe board games are cheaper out there, or tax-free or something? Well, let's head back to Amazon.de and check the International version. €55 (or £45), so the same price I can get it in the UK.
Heading across the pond, we can see that US online stores have it for around $45 - so it appears this is mainly a UK issue.
Really - what's going on here? Can anyone explain?
Following the brief discussion on Kickstarter and Crowdfunding (found here if you missed it) I have crystalised my thoughts into 10 points - five 'pro' Kickstarter and 5 'anti' Kickstarter.
Please remember that I am using Kickstarter as that is the platform I am most familiar with, but a lot of the points probably apply to crowdfunding as a whole
Access to Market
One of the main benefits of Kickstarter is that it allows games to come to market that would never have had the chance to do so. Much like self-published ebooks, a designer no longer needs to hawk their creations to an established publisher in order for it to see the light of day.
A positive for both the designer and the prospective customers, due to the nature of the Kickstarter platform, the design becomes a bit of a community project, with the designer getting input from customers, and customers being able to influence design decisions. Now this can sometimes be a negative, if the designer tries to listen to all feedback, but if handled correctly this can be an extremely valuable asset to the design of a game.
Cult of the New
Backing a Kickstarter project should mean that you get a copy before it hits the stores. Lots of gamers are card carrying members of the Cult of the New and love to have the latest games to show off.
Reserve Your Copy
This is a strange one, but in this hobby, games are frequently out of stock and not available to purchase. As this is quite a niche industry, print runs are usually relatively small, and therefore the more buzz there is about a game, the harder it can be to get a copy. A lot of Kickstarter projects can take a while to get into stores, and when they do hit retail, they can be hard to get hold of - so becoming a backer means you will definitely get your copy! For instance Among the Stars is impossible to find in stores, so when the ne Kickstarter project appeared and allowed me to back at a level that included the base game, I jumped at the chance!
One of the ways in which project creators entice backers to part with their hard earned money is by offering exclusives that are only available via Kickstarter. For example, Dungeon Roll came in a special monster chest if backed on Kickstarter. Some games go even further and add new cards or figures into the games that are exclusive. Euphoria came with some gorgeous components, including solid metal "gold pieces". Other campaigns might give the backer special promotional cards, or extra characters, or even extra mini expansions. So this all sounds like great stuff - positives for the consumer, positives for the designer. But is it really a win-win situation?
Buy Before You Try
One of the biggest issues with Kickstarter from a consumer point of view, is that there is no way to try the game before you spend your money on it. Sure, there are often a few video reviews / game play videos, which although helpful is no substitute for actually playing the game yourself. This is especially true with games that rely heavily on miniatures, which often don't have the game play to back up the eye candy. But there's a bigger risk than getting a poor game - there's a risk that you get no game at all. There are some (thankfully not many) examples of projects that have funded and nothing being delivered. One of these projects was saved by Cryptozoic but the fact remains that you are giving up your money months or years before you are going to receive a product.
Surely getting nice components, or extra 'stuff' is a good thing? Why have I included this in a list of negatives? Well, the main reason is that some of these bonuses often feel like they are after thoughts, purely designed to try and grab as much money as possible from backers. Things like mini-expansions, extra character cards should either be part of the game or not - have these been play tested properly, or just tacked on as an after thought?
Skipping the Stores
There's a saying in this hobby. 'The best way to make a small fortune when running a game store, is to start with a large fortune'. In other words, it's a really difficult business and Kickstarter is removing a lot of potential sales from the local stores. Not only are they removing potential sales of individual games, but if you consider that consumers have a certain budget for games, then every dollar spent on Kickstarter is a dollar that is not spent in the local gaming stores.
This is more of a personal gripe than a negative, but I'm including it on this list. Kickstarter, and all crowd-funding platforms were designed to help projects get funded that would never be able to get produced. But we have more and more examples of big companies, that do not need to use Kickstarter to raise funds, treating Kickstarter as as sort of pre-order system. Do Queen Games really need to use Kickstarter to raise $20,000 to produce a game that has already been designed and produced? You could argue that as it has raised $115,000 then clearly there is demand, but the fact remains they could easily have released this without Kickstarter.
What do I mean by an incomplete game? Well, precisely the feeling I get as a non-backer and miss out on some exclusive Kickstarter content. I'll refer back to the Euphoria example earlier. Here's a game where I almost drooled over the components, only to discover that if I go to a shop and buy the game, that isn't the version I can get. I would just get the boring, plain components. It's the same with any content that offers extra game play choices, for example, extra characters, or extra cards. If I miss out on the campaign, then does that mean I'm only getting some of the game?
I have a weird relationship with Kickstarter. I go through phases when I will not touch it with a barge pole, and other times when I back every project I see (if my wife is reading this, don't worry, I end up cancelling most of the pledges). I'm still undecided if it's good or bad for the hobby - and whether the bubble will burst at any point still remains to be seen. Like or or loathe it, Kickstarter is probably here to stay. Which reminds me, I;d better go and check to see if any stretch goals have been unlocked for Maze Master....
For a while now, I've been meaning to get my thoughts down about Kickstarter, particularly in regards to how it is used in the board gaming world. But, before I begin, I probably need to give some of you a brief overview on Kickstarter.
What is Kickstarter?
There are probably some people reading this who might not be aware of Kickstarter, so here's a brief recap.
Kickstarter is probably the premier crowdfunding website - it doesn't just cover board games, it covers probably any creative product you can name; food, books, music, video games to name but a few.
Go and have a look and then come back and we'll discuss it some more: Kickstarter Homepage
The OED defines Crowdfunding as "the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet:" - wow, that's a dull sentence isn't it? Basically, let's assume you have a great idea for a product - in this example we'll pretend you have a concept for a new board game. The problem is though, you don't have enough money to fund the manufacture, art design and all the other good stuff that turns trees into playable games. One option is you try and go to a traditional publisher and get them to publish your game for you - but as anyone who has ever tried to get ANYTHING published, be it a game, or a CD or a book, it's not easy, and you don't make much off of your creative endeavour. So another option, thanks to the power of the internet, is that of crowdfunding - basically asking complete strangers for a little bit of money in order to realise your dream. Think of it like a version of Dragon's Den where you might have thousands of dragons, and they don't actually take any of your company in return for investment. Not too shabby hey? So that's what Kickstarter is. In the interest of fairness, Kickstarter is not the only crowdfunding site out there - Indiegogo is another example - but Kickstarter is definitely the largest player in the board game market.
So, how does it work?
Kickstarter for board games works very simply. The project creator decides how much money they want to raise, and how long the campaign will run for (usually it's a couple of weeks or so). Then they decide how to structure the pledge levels - what rewards do you get for different backing levels. Finally they can set some stretch goals - so if the funding target is greatly exceeded, things can get added; for example improved quality components, or extra content. Now here's the important bit - as a backer, no money changes hands until the end of the campaign, and only if the funding goal is attained. If the goal is not reached, even by $1, then the campaign is unsuccessful and no money gets taken. It's also worth pointing out that you can change or even withdraw your pledge at any time up until the end of the campaign. (Note: these last two points are not true on every crowdfunding site) So that's the brief background of Kickstarter - hopefully it will provide a decent background for my thoughts on the matter. Is it a good thing for the hobby? Do I use Kickstarter? Is the bubble likely to burst? These are all great questions, but as the average internet user has the attention span of a particularly hyperactive 3 year old who has overdosed on chocolate and washed it down with a pint of Pepsi, I'll leave my actual thoughts for another day..... In the meantime, check out Kickstater if you haven't already, and feel free to add any questions below.
Phase 10 might be an odd choice for a gaming website to review - after all, it's a simple card game that can be found in many high street stores, for under £10. However, it gets quite a few plays in our house, and apparently is the second best-selling commercial card-game behind Uno. So, let's take a look and decide if it's something that might be enjoyed by your family.
My sister actually introduced me to Phase 10, and it's a game her family enjoys a lot. My wife then bought a copy and we've played it quite a few times since. However, it's fair to say that it's not exactly well loved on the Geek (where it's currently ranked just inside the top 10,000 games. I decided to cast a critical eye over the game and let you know what I think.
How to Play
If you look closely you can see that the box has been ripped - that goes to show how much play the game sees in our house (and is also good evidence that you should be careful what you leave lying around in reach of a 1 year old....) The game consists of 108 cards; 24 each of the four colours (red, yellow, blue and green in my version), numbered 1-12, as well as four 'skip' cards and eight 'wild' cards. Add in a simple rules sheet, and some player aids, and that's the component list done!
Phase 10 is a Rummy variant - more specifically it falls into the family of Contract Rummy. Like most rummy games, it involves keeping score, so a paper and pen are also useful to have to hand.
At the beginning of each round, each player is dealt 10 cards. Like most Rummy games, the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards, usually by playing sets, or runs. However, the colours of the cards are, most of the time, irrelevant. Why most of the time? Well, that leads us to talk about why the game is called Phase 10....
Each player starts the game at Phase 1. If they manage to complete that Phase before one player gets rid of all their cards then in the next round they proceed to the next Phase. Therefore during the game players can be on different phases, and be trying to achieve different goals, which makes it a bit different to 'standard' Rummy. Game play is just like Rummy - on your turn you draw a card, play a card(s) to the table and then discard a card. When one player has got rid of all their cards the round ends. Scoring is as follows; - each special card (skip or wild) is worth 15 points. - each number card 10 or higher is worth 10 points. - each number card less than 10 is worth 5 points.
As an example, I've taken the hand above, and shown how it can be used to complete the second phase. As you can see, the player has played a run of four, and a set of three, thereby fulfilling the requirements of the phase. Also as you can see, the colours of the cards are irrelevant - in fact, the only time the colours come into play is phase 8, where you need 7 cards of one colour. You an also see that the player would have the following cards left in hand; red 2, a skip and a wild. If this was a real game the wild could have been played with either the set or the run, the skip could be discarded, which would end this players turn, and the next player would miss their turn!
The winner of the game is the player with the lowest score after at least one player has completed Phase 10.
Review I'm not a big fan of Rummy - my issue with these sorts of games is that they rely a lot on luck of the draw. If I were to chose, as a gamer, to play a Rummy variant I would play Rummikub, as I enjoy the board manipulation - I find that it allows a player of greater skill to do better at the game. Now, there will probably be people screaming at their computers now "Rummy has loads of skill!!"; you might be right, but I just don't find it engaging enough. Those decision making points and the puzzle aspect of Rummikub I find far more appealing.
So that means I'm not a fan of Phase 10 then - right?
Well, actually, I do quite enjoy this game. Sure, it still has the luck of the draw aspect, but the rounds play quickly, and the different phases make it a bit more interesting. Although the game play doesn't change, the fact the goal is changing keeps it a bit more interesting.
But if you're reading this, you don't really care what my opinion as a gamer is, you want to know how it plays in a family setting.
My 6 year old enjoys Phase 10, although it's not his favourite game and he doesn't ask for it all the time. He still needs a little help playing his cards, because he has a tendency to lock himself into a way of thinking and then not see other options. For instance, if he needs to sets of 3, he might have 2 4's and 2 6's and he has a wild card. He already decides that wild will be a 6, and if he draws another 6 he might not realise he can move the wild to the 4's so he has the 2 sets he needs. Other than that though, he doesn't need any help to play, and in a recent game we played, we didn't keep score and we both completed Phase 10 at the same time. So he's definitely able to be competitive!
Summary A nice, simple, inexpensive card game, that won't make your gaming group table, but should see enough play at your family table to earn it's price.
This year I have decided to try and keep a log of all games I have played, to get a feel of what has been popular in my family.
So, let's take a look at January, 2014.
New Games for my Family:
PLYT - I've done a video review and playthrough of this game that can be found here. It's more of an educational tool than a game, but it's brilliant for teaching multiplication (as well as being great at getting adults to practice skills they don't use very often)
Amerigo - a fairly light Stefan Feld game of exploration and discovery. Probably a bit too advanced for my family, but it's a game I really enjoy.
It Happens- another game I've produced a video and gameplay runthrough of (found here), this charming little dice game is perfect for families, with lots of simple decision making required.
New Games (for me):
As well as playing games with my family, I'm also fortunate enough to attend some nights with a gaming group, which gives me a chance to play games that I wouldn't get a chance to play otherwise. for this month, I managed to play the following games I haven't played before:
Gravwell - really excited to play this new game from Cryptozoic, and it didn't disappoint. the concept is relatively simple - play cards to move your ship along the track. However, your moves are influenced by what your opponents to, so there's an element of trying to figure out what the other players are going to play.
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - an interesting take on the Worker Placement mechanic; in Tzolk'in you place your workers, but the longer you leave them where they are, the more powerful the action they can do is
Spyrium - Another game that takes the worker placement mechanic and puts a different spin on it; this time you place your worker between two cards, and each worker around the card increases it's cost. A game with lovely components, and is very reasonably priced.
Rampage- a game I have since purchased a played with the family (although it falls into February). I'll be writing or filming a review of this soon.
Nations - a relatively deep civilisation game, which I have only played solo so far. Would love to play this is a group.
Game List (in order of Plays):
Any game with an * is one that the family have not played.
Games have only been listed if it's had more than one play in the month.
So, a Kickstarter project has recently come to my attention, that looks like a perfect game for a family setting.
It's compact, easily transportable, and doesn't require much table space to play, as well as being easily playable by very young children. Interested? I thought you might be!
Welcome to Flippin' Fruit - the fruit rolling, card flipping dice game.
As you can see from the contents, this is a very bright and colourful game - but let's look how it plays.
The game contains 5 12 sided dice. Each dice contains a cartoon like picture of a different fruit - but watch out for Rotten Tom the Tomato!
Here you can see the dice - I love the look of these and again the simple, bold, colourful pictures should certainly appeal to children (and adults!)
As well as dice, the game also comes with three sets of cards - Fruit baskets, Fruit Smoothies and Fruit Salads, but more on these later.
The tube container also acts as a method for rolling the dice. The game takes place over 8 rounds, and on an round each player will have one turn.
There are three types of cards in the game:
Smoothies are the Green coloured cards that you can see on the right of the picture. These provide 'pips' (or points) - in the example card shown, 2 points are available. Three of these cards are set out at the beginning of the game, and once claimed, the card is yours to keep.
Salads are the orange cards shown above - these cards form poker hands - for example, a pair, 3 of a kind, full house etc, and again provide 'pips' for their owner. Unlike the Smoothies, these can be 'stolen' from their owner at any point in the game.
These are the purple cards shown at the bottom of the picture above. Instead of providing 'pips' these cards provide special abilities, and they are claimed in a different way to the other two cards shown.
A player turn consists of three actions. These actions can be made up of:
- Rolling any fruit dice
- Rolling all Rotten Tomatoes dice
- Taking a Fruit Basket card
Once a player has used 3 actions, they can try to make a Smoothie or a Fruit Salad, by matching dice to the symbols on the cards. If you take a Smoothie card, replace the card with the one on top of the deck. Any dice that have been used, together with any Rotten Tomatoes get returned to the cup. Any dice that were not used, get passed to the next player, and the turn is over.
Rounds 3 and 6 are slightly different - in these two rounds Rotten Tomatoes act as wild cards.
I haven't had a chance to play the physical game yet, however I have had a couple of plays on their Flash version, which seems a decent enough conversion despite not having all the features switched on. It's a simple enough game, that probably takes 10-20 minutes to play, perfect for children who might have shortish attention spans, or for a quick calm game before bed.
I could even see very young children playing this - maybe with a little help (and maybe without the Fruit Basket cards), as the colourful fruits are easy to match. Plus the price of £17 seems reasonable enough.
Status of the Campaign:
At the time of writing, there are 8 days to run on the campaign, and there is just under £200 needed to get this project to happen. There are some interesting looking stretch goals too, so head on over to Kickstarter and get backing!
For more information on the game, check out these following links: