Dixit – Wonderfully Whimsical Wordplay

One thing I like about modern board games is the sheer variety available. After getting more into the hobby a year or so ago, I started researching what kind of games were out there and I was amazed to see there are now literally thousands of new board games released each year. The last few years has seen a boom in board gaming, so this number is only increasing. This can be quite daunting when wondering what games to get, you are spoilt for choice! Also of course, of those thousands per year released, most aren’t amazing, and you couldn’t possibly have time to play them all anyway.

So, what do you do? Well, there are a couple of options: You could research on the net, there are a lot of great game sites with information and game reviews out there, my personal favourite being Board Game Geek. The main method I would choose though is to try and only buy games that you have played before, so you know you like. I found out about the game I will be writing about today in just this way. We played it at a relative’s and straight away it went on to our family game wish list. It is a unique, beautiful and fun game, and it is called Dixit.

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Some of the cards of Dixit

Dixit is, at it’s heart, a card game. It comes with 84 cards, and the first thing you notice when playing is that these are not your average cards. They are oversized, approximately double the size of your average playing cards, and each card has unique fantastical, whimsical, surrealistic, dream-like pictures printed on them. The images almost all have more than one element to them, and it is a pleasure just to look through the cards the first time you play! There is a board of sorts included with the game, but this is only to keep score.

 

The game itself is kind of a guessing game. Each player gets six cards. Each round, players take turns to be the ‘storyteller’. They pick one of their cards and say a word or phrase that the card reminds them of (without showing the card). The other players pick one of their cards that best matches this phrase. All of the picked cards are shuffled and laid out, and then the players guess which card belonged to the original storyteller. If the storyteller makes it too easy, and everyone votes for them, or too difficult, and no-one votes for them, they don’t get any points. In this way, the subtlety of the gameplay when you are the storyteller is to say a phrase that means some people, but not everyone, guesses your card. There is an element of luck to the game, as the other players may have cards which either fit the phrase very well, or none at all, but due to the clever way that the cards are designed featuring several similar themes, this is not an issue very often.

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This game was actually originally released about ten years ago. Since it has been very popular, and as is the case with a lot of board games, a lot of themed expansion packs have been released, and are still being made. Here are a few from Amazon, for example.  Each pack contains 84 cards with even more original and beautiful artwork, so can be shuffled in to the base game cards, or bought and played separately. The main base game of Dixit (pictured above) and Dixit: Odyssey contain pieces to keep scores. If you play other expansions separately, you would just need a paper and pen for this.

I have played Dixit with different groups of people, including young kids and adults, and it has been enjoyed by all. Younger players may find it a bit more challenging to think of words that are not too easy for others to guess, but they should still enjoy it.  The game actually changes depending on who you play with, as different vocabulary and shared life experiences may change the clues you give so this allows for good replayability. I would say that this fact, the unique concept and the beautiful art style, make Dixit a fine addition to anyone’s board game collection!

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Switch and Snipperclips!

The Switch is Nintendo’s newest games console. It has been on the market now for almost a year. As I have made it clear in previous blogs, I am a big fan of Nintendo, so I couldn’t resist this latest machine.

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The Switch in handheld mode

 

The main unique feature of the Switch, apart from the great Nintendo games on it, is that it is a hybrid hand-held and home TV console, and can ‘switch’ between playing on a TV to playing in handheld mode very quickly.  This gimmick, and the really high quality games released (most notably Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild), have made it very successful so far.  Even in the first ten months of release, it has now sold more than Nintendo’s previous console, the Wii U, did in its 5 years on the market.  This also reflects on the poor marketing for the Wii U, but in any case, the Switch is a fantastic console and if you are looking for a new gaming machine, especially for a family, this should be at the top of your list.

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Switch docked in TV mode

 

One of the reasons I like the Switch is that the main controller can be fixed to the side of the console, or separated into two parts, and this makes it instantly ready for two player games out of the box.  This makes it great for family/friends game time, and there are already a lot of games out that utilise this feature, such as Mario Kart, Mario Odyssey and Puyo Puyo Tetris.  One game that I feel uses the multiplayer aspect to great effect is the ‘couch co-op’ game Snipperclips, and so to continue the co-operative theme from last week, the rest of this post will be about that!

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Snipperclips is a smaller sized ‘indie’ game that was released at the same time as the Switch and it was published and promoted by Nintendo at the time.  There are a few side minigames to it, but the main part of the game is a series of puzzles played with two U shaped characters, apparently called Snip and Clip.  They can move around and jump, etc. just like in a normal platform game, but they can also snip parts of the other one’s body out to change their shape.  They do this by overlapping their body with the other player, then pressing a button and the overlapping part is snipped off.

The snipping mechanic is pretty unique among computer games, and it is this that is used to solve the many puzzles that the game presents.  Each level is essentially a single screen puzzle.  There are a lot of variations to what you need to do in each level, such as: cutting yourselves out to fit in a dotted line shape, playing basketball, popping balloons, helping a flower to grow, and many more!  There are well over 50 levels in total and they are all presented in a clean and cute styled background, with a theme that changes for each world, or group of levels.

 

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Basketball!

The game can be played with one player switching between the control of each character, but the main fun to be had with this is playing with another human.  there are even a few four player levels available, if you have enough controllers!  Since you both need the other player to snip you into the right shape, and the answer to the puzzles are not always obvious, a lot of communication and co-operation is required to pass each stage.  Obviously this doesn’t go without the inevitable arguments!  I think this just enhances the enjoyment of a game compared to a single player one, so this is a big plus point for me.

I would say that if you own a Switch this is an essential purchase.  it provides a lot of entertainment, the price is reasonable compared to a big AAA game such as Mario, and it is a really good demonstration of the unique two player ability of the console.  At the very least, it is worth downloading the free demo, which contains the first few levels.

That’s all from me, next time, back to board games!

 

Forbidden Island – Adventure Together

Until I got into ‘modern’ unplugged games I thought at least one thing was true for pretty much all of them: the main high level aim of any game is to keep playing until one person wins, and therefore everyone else loses. Well, sometimes in games such as Uno, after the first person wins you could keep playing to determine who was second, third, etc. but there is still always one winner, and the motivation for playing the game is to try to be that winner.

The same is not true for all games however. Nowadays there are a range of co-operative games available where the main objective is for all players to work together as a team to try to beat the scenario presented by the game. For the un-initiated this can feel a bit strange at first, but after you get your head round it you can end up having some great experiences with this kind of game. It really can help bring people together towards a common goal, and significantly reduce common arguments that normally happen with competitive games.

One of the best examples of this kind of co-op game, especially for a newbie like myself, is Forbidden Island.

In this game, the theme/story is that you (the players) are a group of relic hunter/ tomb raider types who have found the fabled Forbidden Island of Archeans. This island is cursed, but it also holds four very valuable treasures. As soon as you land on the island, it slowly starts to sink, giving you a tight time limit in which to gather all of the treasures and reach the helipad to escape!

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Forbidden Island – Board Setup

The board for this game is great, as it is made of several small squares that you lay out in the same shape, but in a random distribution each game, so every time you play the island is different! The other reason for this board setup is the sinking mechanic mentioned before. There is a pack of cards with each card matching a piece of the board, and after each player’s turn, a number of cards are dealt from this pack and the corresponding parts of the island are either flipped upside down, which puts them ‘underwater’, or if they are already underwater and the card comes out again, that piece of the island falls into the abyss and is gone forever! If a tile where someone is standing sinks with no tile around it, or one of the key tiles sinks, then it is game over!

Luckily, each player has the chance to save, or ‘shore up’ underwater sections of island on their turn. They can also carry out other actions, such as moving and claiming treasures. To claim a treasure you need to collect four of the same treasure card (you get two random cards each turn). Overall the gameplay involves trying to balance keeping the island afloat and working to collect cards in order to claim treasures. Through the course of the game, the island starts to sink faster and faster, so things become a lot more urgent the closer you get to the end!

There’s something about this game that really seems to draw everyone who plays it into the adventure. It feels genuinely exciting when you are near the end and only have one treasure to go, but the island is crumbling around you. Another way that the game immerses you in the adventure is that each player is given a character, such as Explorer or Diver, which each have certain special abilities such as being able to move diagonally, or swim through the water.

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The handy tin box

 

All in all, I really recommend this as a great alternative family game, rather than the latest version of Monopoly, you won’t regret it! It comes in a nice compact tin too, which is handy for storage and travel.

Also by the same game designer, Matt Leacock, are Forbidden Desert and Pandemic. Both of these are well worth checking out too, they are both co-operative and have similar game mechanics, but add slightly more complexity than Island. There is also a third game in the Forbidden series coming out in 2018: Forbidden Sky, I will definitely be keeping an eye on that one!

It’s Dangerous to Play Alone – Take Kids!

Hi everyone, I’m back! I haven’t written one of these for quite a while now, life has got in the way a bit recently.

Well, I say life, I mean gaming.

Well, I say gaming, I mean one particular game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

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I previously wrote in this blog about my love for the Zelda series in general and my anticipation for the latest title.  I can now say that this game definitely lives up to the hype, and I have been playing it almost every free evening for the last three months or so (a lot of free daytimes too!).  The sense of freedom and adventure, size and beauty of the game world and just pure fun of the gameplay is unparalleled. Another Nintendo instant classic!

One aspect of this game that I have particularly enjoyed is playing together with my wife and kids.  The kids are now getting to an age where they are starting to be able to play this kind of game by themselves (the youngest is 5), and it is great to watch them having a lot of fun with this one.  I know that a lot of parents are not gamers, but we really enjoy playing as a family and would recommend it to anyone, so I thought I would share a few of the things that we do when playing this kind of game with kids to ensure a great time is had by all.  These are just things that we do, I am by no means saying that we are experts and know everything.  Every family is different, and I am always open to suggestions from others!:

1. Be Inclusive

When playing games with more than one child, you need to appreciate that each one will have a different amount of desire to play a game, and especially with younger children, they may find it difficult to fully express that desire.  What I mean by being inclusive in this context is to make sure everyone’s voice is given a chance to be heard, everyone is in agreement about the choice of game, and everyone’s expectations about what they want to get out of the gaming session is known and acknowledged.  This can be quite difficult to achieve in practice, especially with younger children, but when it is achieved it significantly reduces the amount of meltdowns during and after the play session!

 

2. Be fair with rules/turns

Another thing to lay out before starting is the rules, especially the system of taking turns.  Zelda, for example, is a single player game, but if reasonable rules are established, there is no reason it can’t be played by a whole family (we do it!).  For this game, we normally play ten minutes each before passing the controller to the next person.  We literally time this using a timer on one of our phones.  This is a clear boundary that everyone can see and the children usually engage with it.  Our daughter in particular loves taking control of the timer, and ensuring that it is paused for cut-scenes when she isn’t technically playing!

 

3. Set clear play session length boundaries

This could be contained as part of the rules set at the start of play.  This also applies to a lot of parenting situations, but since console gaming is particularly engaging for a lot of children it is especially important in this case.  Children need to learn that play time cannot be indefinite, things such as food time, bed time, or other planned activities also exist.  Also too much screen time is just generally bad for anyone, children and adults alike.

It is important to let them now before they start playing how long this session will last.  Since they generally forget things very quickly, this will also need to be reminded to them in the middle of the session, and definitely when there are only 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes left.  As long as they know the boundaries all along, they generally accept the situation, at least they accept it a lot better that you just saying “Right, turn it off NOW” at the end and pulling the plug!

4. Ensure play is age appropriate

So, there are a lot of computer games in the world now, and they clearly aren’t all appropriate for children.  The first step when choosing a game to play with kids is to check the age rating.  This is normally clearly displayed on the front of the box.  If you are going to let the kids play by themselves, don’t let them play a game too old for them!

After saying this, I am now going to sound hypocritical, since the age rating for Zelda: Breath of the Wild (at least in the UK) is 12, and my kids are all under 10.  I did not take the decision to play this with the kids lightly.  My wife and I played for several hours to evaluate the reasons the rating may have been given.  We also know the kind of things our kids are sensitive to.  Using this knowledge, we decided to let them play.  Zelda is an open world game.  There are a lot of different things to do, and a lot of ways to pass the story.  The reason for the 12 rating in the game is the violence.  The hero, Link has to fight off several monsters with a large array of weapons during the course of the game.  Since we had played the game ourselves, we decided that this violence was not something that we wanted to expose the kids to too much, but there were several aspects of the game that they would enjoy, such as horse riding, puzzle solving, cooking, exploration.  In this case they are allowed to play, but in a ‘low violence’ style, i.e. running away from inessential fights, and if there are enemies that need to be fought, such as end of level bosses, pass control to a parent (I myself have no problem carrying out this parenting service!).  The other important thing is that they are closely supervised when they are playing, and if any seem overly distressed, we stop playing and address the issue.

5. Relax and have fun together!

If you follow the above guidelines, the only thing left to do is to relax and have a great shared experience with your family!  This kind of activity for me is where you can experience beautiful moments, create beautiful memories, and just generally have beautiful fun!  For us this fun spills over well past the actual time playing the game.  We have several discussions about it, how we are going to play next time, what happened in the story, etc. The children demonstrate incredible creativity acting out their own imagined versions of the game, draw endless pictures of characters, real and invented, and everyone’s lives are just generally slightly more enriched because of it.

 

So, those are my tips.  Let me know if there is anything you do when playing with your family, and happy gaming!

5 Ways to increase Happiness and Play More

Today is the International day of Happiness!  What better way to celebrate than to play a game with others!

The benefits of play for anyone, especially playing with other people are numerous and well documented.  A quick internet search brings up many articles, such as this and this for example, and there are many more.

I have covered some unplugged games and console games that can be played together in previous blog posts, but how do you actually get time to play all of these games?  If you are anything like me, you already have a fairly busy lifestyle and maybe even though you really want to you don’t think you’ll ever have time for playing, not least finding other people to play with.

In this case, below is a list of things that I have tried and you can try too, to increase your play time and improve your life!  The list is not exhaustive, so any ideas you have are very welcome, just leave a comment 🙂

1. Play Time starts at home

If you live with others, try to start a regular game night every week (or more than one if you’re keen, I play almost every day!).  Setting a regular night will help encourage people to play more.  Take turns in deciding what to play, to ensure everyone is more engaged in the activity.  As well as increasing the level of fun in the household, playing with the people you live with also helps you bond and can improve everything about your day-to-day home life.

2. Replace wasteful habits with playful ones

A lot of people spend a lot of time on wasteful habits these days, such as binge-watching TV series and spending too long checking social media, etc on mobile phones.  While these things in moderation are fine and provide people a way to disconnect, it is very easy to spend too much time and end up regretting the time wasted.  Instead of crashing on the sofa with your other half and watching another 10 episodes of the Walking Dead, why not start your evening relaxation with a game or two?  Or try turning off your phone for half an hour for a game of snakes and ladders with the kids! After the gaming session you can still see an episode or two, or check Facebook again, but you will feel that you have used your relaxation time overall in a more fulfilling way.

3. Tell people about it

This one may seem obvious, but if you want to increase the amount of play in your life, tell other people that you like playing games!  I tried using this tactic more from the start of this year (partly by starting the blog you are reading now!) and just because more people know I’m into games, I find myself playing more, either by others inviting me to play games or as an icebreaker to lead to an invite for them to play one of my games.

This is possibly one of the most important things you can do as a gamer, as there are more other people out there who like games than you think , but just don’t like to talk about it, as it may not be cool, or may be considered childish.  I disagree of course, gaming is for everyone!

4. Gaming in the workplace? Surely not!

A couple of weeks ago I set myself a challenge – try to play games in my office.  It took quite a lot of time for me to build up the courage, but I did it!  The most difficult part of this is making that initial suggestion.  I sent an email around my department, suggesting we play a game on a Friday lunchtime.  I was hopeful, but realistically thought that no-one would be interested.  In the end the response was overwhelming, with more than half of the people in the department being up for it!  This goes along with my point 3 above, if you don’t tell anybody you want to play, you won’t play!

So far we have had one lunchtime gaming session, we played Jungle Speed, which is a great short game for a lunch break.  My longer term goals are to try and get a more regular fortnightly gaming session, or possibly open up the invitation to the whole building!  That may take a while, need to build up more confidence..

5. Find other gamers

So, you realise you are into games, and want to find others as into it as you?  Well, surprise surprise, there are hundreds like you!  The best way to find others with similar interests to you these days is through the internet, of course.  When searching, make sure you try to find people that live near you, so you can meet and game in person, and for safety try to find gaming groups rather than individuals.  There are gaming groups all over the place, who are all generally friendly and welcoming to newbies and probably have regular meet-ups where you can join in.  My home city even has a board gaming café pop-up that runs once a month and is open to everyone, and an annual board gaming festival, which I went to last year with my family and was great!  In fact, a lot of the games I featured in this post were first played there.

New Zelda Excitement!

Just thought I’d write a quick post about one of my favourite game series, which seems to be lesser known by non-gamers – The Legend of Zelda!

There is a new Zelda game coming out tomorrow, for the new Nintendo Switch console (also out tomorrow), but the game is also out for the Wii U.  More on those consoles here!  it is called Breath of the Wild, and reviews so far are already calling it probably the best game ever made.  This is not a light statement to make, especially for gamers, who prize their own personal top ten games over anyone else’s, but among gamers the Zelda series is one which is much more than others on or near the top of most of their best games ever lists.

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The Zelda games are kind of their own genre.  They are mostly role playing, more or less open world, action adventure games, starring the hero Link (Zelda is the princess that Link has to rescue).  They have been around for as long as Nintendo have been making consoles, with the first one being released on the NES.  Although they are not quite as well known as Mario, they are one of Nintendo’s biggest game series, with at least one Zelda game released on each hand-held or home console (more or less..).

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Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy

 

The first Zelda game I played was Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy.  Even with its basic black and green graphics, the game still had the ability to immerse me in the fantasy world that it created and got me hooked for the series.  Since then I have played several other Zelda games and loved each and every one of them.

As for playing together, even though the games are single player, in the same way as watching a movie together, the Zelda games can absolutely be enjoyed with others.  I have played through at least half of the games with my wife, and that has only increased my enjoyment and given us an amazing shared experience.  With this new game I am extremely tempted to coordinate time off work with her so that we can spend a whole day immersed in the land of Hyrule together with no other distractions.

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Zelda: Ocarina of Time

 

Now I have kids, I have, of course introduced them to the series.  We are currently playing through the widely regarded best of all, the Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. We are currently on the water temple, and fans of the game will know that we may be there some time..  it is great to see them as excited as I was for this game when playing it for the first time.  Just about as excited as I am for this new game – The Breath of the Wild!

So here is a picture of my boy as excited as me!:

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Nintendo: The Masters of Playing Games Together (part 2)

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Just a few amazing multiplayer games from the Wii U. CW from top left: Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Splatoon and Rayman Legends

So, I wrote about the early days of Nintendo consoles in a previous blog post (check it out if you haven’t already), and here is the second part, looking at the most recent consoles and their very newest one, soon to be released – the Nintendo Switch.

Wii

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Nintendo is really the best console maker if you are looking for something to be able to play with others in the same living room. One console that absolutely mastered that aspect, so much that it ended up in almost every living room in the late noughties, was the Wii.

When this console released back in 2006, it caused a bit of a gaming revolution (coincidentally, this was the console’s codename before release..).  It wasn’t the most powerful console graphics-wise, but it had a  completely new way of playing: motion controls.  Rather than trying to compete with the other main consoles of the time, PS3 and Xbox 360, Nintendo deliberately tried to market the game to absolutely everyone, in an attempt to increase the number of people playing games in the world rather than pleasing existing gamers – kind of what I’m trying to do with this blog!  This approach, coupled with the super casual-friendly game Wii Sports coming free with the console was extremely successful, and the console has sold over 100 million in its lifetime.

For me, the Wii was the first console I owned as a married man (so, co-owned with the wife..).  It was great to play with friends and portable enough to bring to family gatherings for Christmas Wii bowling tournaments. It continued the multiplayer racing excellence with the best Mario Kart ever (at the time), and it did have several other excellent games.

One of the best games on the console, and my personal favourite game of all time, was Mario Galaxy, and its sequel. This used the Wii remote controllers in an ingenious way and introduced asynchronous co-op multiplayer, definitely a mouthful, but a great way to play together! In this case one player controlled Mario, while the other used the Wii remote pointer to help by collecting power-ups, stopping baddies, etc. This was a great way to play for my wife and I, she was generally the helper as she wasn’t so good at the platforming, while I would never have 100% completed the games without playing together with her. I would say that this kind of gaming style is ideal for the type of couples I see where one is really into gaming and the other not (this does not apply to my wife, she loves games too!).

Wii U

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Then we come to Nintendo’s current console, well, for the next week anyway, the Wii U. Unfortunately, due to poor marketing (and naming) from Nintendo, people still believe that this is just a Wii with a new controller. It isn’t! It’s a new generation, the first HD console from Ninty. It came out in 2012 and unfortunately due to the above poor marketing it did not sell nearly as well as its predecessor. It is a really good console though, almost on par with the Wii, and now would be a great time to buy it, since it will probably be going cheap when the next generation comes out, and there is a good selection of games (also cheap now).

The games in the main image are some of the best the Wii U has to offer, and they are all up to Nintendo’s usual very high multiplayer standard. Again, Mario Kart 8 is the best Mario Kart, Super Mario 3D World, while not quite up to Mario Galaxy’s standard, is probably the best multiplayer Mario game. Splatoon is Nintendo’s take on an online shooter, and is fantastic paint splatting fun, and finally in that picture there is Rayman, not made by Nintendo but a superbly designed same-room multiplayer platform game nonetheless.

For me, this console generation followed the creation of my own generation, and was the first console we got after having kids. This is a great console to play with kids, as its any Nintendo console. We have had a lot of fun with our children playing Mario, Pikmin, Toad, Donkey Kong, Rayman etc. together, and I can see us still using this console all through this year.

Switch

Nintendo Switch Console
Another weird console from the big N

So, what about Nintendo’s future? Well, on the 3rd of March 2017 they’ll release their next console, the Switch. As you can see from the image, they still don’t care about looking like the others and have gone for another strange design. The main feature of this console is that it works on the TV and as a handheld. You can switch between the two modes as easily as removing the tablet-like console from the main unit (hence the name).

Ninty have again prioritised playing together with this offering, as the included ‘joy-con’ controllers (red and blue above) can be separated and used as two controllers out of the box. Also, if you are lucky enough to have 7 other friends who also have the console (unlikely..) they can be connected in a local network for up to 8 player multiplayer!

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The console in handheld mode

Games-wise, this is looking good, but not from launch. I would recommend waiting until later in the year, maybe Christmas for this one, by which time there will be a very decent selection. At launch they will have the Wii sports equivalent minigame packed 1-2-Switch, the latest Just Dance and the amazing looking Zelda game, Breath of the Wild though, so it is quite tempting..

I can’t predict the future, but I really hope that this is a success for Nintendo. The reason I like them so much is that their attitude to gaming seems to be the same as mine – it’s better to play together – and I would live to see this kind of gameplay increasing in the world.

Nintendo: The Masters of Playing Games Together (part 1)

In previous blog posts I’ve mainly been talking about ‘unplugged’ games, i.e. board games or card games. My main gaming love is still playing on a games console however. There is something about them that just hits that enjoyment sweet spot for me, and no matter how much I get into other kinds of games I don’t think I’ll ever like them more than video games.

There are obviously many games to choose from when it comes to consoles, but I want to focus on my experiences of playing together with other people, i.e. in the same room, rather than single player or online multiplayer.

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Some classic Nintendo console games. cw from top left: Mario Kart (SNES), Super Mario Bros (NES), Tetris (Game Boy) and Goldeneye (N64)

If you ask any video gamer who is the best at same-room multiplayer games, the answer has to be Nintendo. With the increase of mobile phone/tablet gaming, and online gaming, playing together with family or friends is decreasing in general. Nintendo however are still, and always have been, the greatest supporters of this style of play, so let me indulge in a bit of nostalgia, and make the rest of this blog post about them.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

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Even Nintendo’s first console, the NES, was known as the Famicom in Japan, short for family computer, and came with two controllers in every pack, showing that they always had family gaming in mind. I never owned or played this one myself when it was first out, but it did revolutionise console gaming, as this detailed Wikipedia article explains.  The first games of classic franchises, such as Mario Bros and Zelda were on this console, and the games they made then (over 30 years ago) are still very playable and enjoyable today. This has recently been proven by last year’s release of the NES Classic Mini, which is a mini replica of the original with 30 of its best games included. This has been extremely popular, and sold out really quickly after launch. I had a chance to play one around Christmas time, and a short try to show the kids quickly turned into a couple of hours of taking turns and just having ‘one more go’, the classic hook of a well designed game.

Game Boy

game-boy-consoleMy personal first experience of Nintendo was with the Game Boy. I didn’t want one at the time, I thought I wanted the rival, the Sega Game Gear. It had colour graphics, while the Game Boy was only black and white (well, technically black and green..). I soon realised though that graphics were not the main reason to play a game, playability was.

Being a single player handheld console, you may think that this is a strange choice for me to show examples of playing together. Just a simple game like Tetris however kept my siblings and I (even my mum) entertained for hours, trying to beat each other’s high scores.  Then there was Super Mario Land, which introduced the “level or life about” style of play in our house, as it was much more fun to experience the game together.  Nintendo also tried to promote multiplayer even with this console, with a “link cable” that you could use to attach two Game Boys together and play (among other things) a Tetris battle!

Super Nintendo (SNES)

snes-consoleWhile I never owned a SNES myself, some of my best childhood gaming memories come from playing this console. The main reason was Mario Kart, which had its first outing on the SNES. This was a revolution at the time, the playability and fun-factor was spot on, as well as the futuristic (at the time) quasi-3D graphics. It is considered by many to be one of the best games of all time.

The main fun to be had from this game was playing together with others in split-screen mode. There was the normal racing mode, but arguably more fun was the battle mode, where you had to burst balloons tired to your opponents’ by throwing green (or better, red) shells at them.

I remember playing this with my friends a lot, when I must have been 11 or 12. In particular, there was one sleepover where a group of about 5 of us played non stop, literally until the sun came up. Definitely one of my best gaming memories, and it cemented my lifetime love of Nintendo games.

Nintendo 64

nintendo-64Another console that holds many multiplayer memories for me is the N64. This console added to the possibilities by allowing up to four players at the same time!

This was about during my last years of school, so many an afternoon with free period was spent either having a four way Mario Kart battle, or better, a four way deathmatch on Goldeneye! You can keep your calls of duty and your battlefields, Goldeneye was so much more fun as you had to play together in the same room, and even if you have audio chat over the internet, the atmosphere and shared experiences this creates is so much better (especially in Golden Gun mode!)

Nintendo did have other consoles that I haven’t featured here, such as further iterations on the Game Boy: Colour, Mini, Advance, and later the extremely popular DS handheld.  Of course the GameCube home console shouldn’t go without a mention. I could go on forever about how great all of these are, but since I don’t want to bore you (more than you already are) I’ll stop there.

In the next part of this Nintendo themed blog, I’ll continue with the more modern consoles, the Wii and Wii U, and look to the near future with the soon to be released new console – the Switch! Stay tuned for that!

A wee Friday poem

I’ve had quite enough with all the misery and hate today, 

I wanna have fun, cos it really feels great to play!

Instead of stressing and depressing at the state of the world and stuff, 

Change it from the inside, you really are strong enough!

Play a game with your enemies, even leaders of nations,

Because what you find out May Trump your expectations,

That we’re all humans and we’re all stuck here on this rock together,

And we must have more fun and play, because this life is not forever.
Well, that’s what I think anyway.

What Should I Bring to the Party? – The Werewolf Game!

Hi, it’s Tom, your friendly neighbourhood gamer here again.

So far in this blog I have mainly been talking about family friendly games that are suitable for adults to play too, but a lot may dismiss them as too childish. This is not true, but I understand what people may think.

So, you are in a situation like a party where maybe you want to play a game, but you don’t want to seem like a big kid? (like me!). Don’t worry! Plenty of games exist that are better played with adults, and even designed with adult players in mind.  To help you increase your game playing time, this is the subject of this week’s blog: Games for Grown up Parties!  Here are a couple of examples of this kind of game:

Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow

Cards from the game Werewolves of Miller's Hollow
A few cards from the Werewolves game

This is a great game for a party of at least 8-10 people, and will work best with between 10 and 18 people.  It is a social game that encourage interaction, so good as an ice breaker, but even better with people that know each other well.  There are a couple of variations of this game, such as Werewolf and Ultimate Werewolf, but the version I have tried is Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, so that is the one I am describing here.

The game works as kind of an advanced version of winking murder, where everyone is given a secret identity and has a different job to carry out without revealing who they really are.  The story goes that a small village has been ravaged by werewolves and the remaining villagers have gathered together to work out who the werewolves really are and lynch them before they kill everybody!  In each game, each player is given a card with a role that they should keep secret – there are 3-4 werewolves, some normal villagers, and a few special characters such as a witch with powers to kill or revive other players and a psychic that can see other player’s cards.  A separate person (ideally someone who has played before) is assigned to be the Narrator, who keeps the game going but is not assigned any role.

Each game runs in night/day cycles. Without explaining the special characters’ actions, the overall game flows like this: During the night, everyone closes their eyes (it works very much on trust that nobody is peeking), then the wolves wake up and decide between them one person to kill.  After this the whole village wakes up, discovers who has died that night, then they have to decide on someone to lynch who they suspect is a werewolf.  of course, the werewolves are also posing as villagers at this point, so they have to deflect attention away from themselves without revealing who they are!  The game continues like this for usually about 3-5 nights until either all of the werewolves are killed – in which case the villagers win – or there are more werewolves than villagers, so the werewolves win.  There are a number of special characters as I mentioned which all add a twist to the main game, so these add great replayability value as they can be slowly added in each round.

I personally love this game, even though I’ve only played a couple of times.  The first time I played was with family at Christmas, and I immediately went to buy it online, it was that good.  The game itself is very cheap and portable, being only a small box of a few cards. It’s quite rare to only play one game in a session as it is a different game each time you play due to the different characters, plus the discussion and accusations flying around as you play are just great fun!

If you are planning a gathering of friends or family and are unsure of what to do, this game is a must!

Jungle Speed

The game Jungle Speed, with cards and totem
Jungle speed game setup


Fast, frantic, fist-smashing fun for four players!
This is an ingenious twist on the classic card game snap. It can be played by 2 to 8 players, but the best number is 4 or 5.  It consists of a pack of cards with similar, but not the same, patterns coloured in 4 colours, and a ‘totem’ – a small wooden tower that goes in the middle of the table. All the cards are dealt out, and play goes round the table, each player turning a card over on their go. When two upturned cards have the same pattern, i.e. there is a snap, the players have to try and grab the totem as quick as possible. The loser has to take all of the upturned cards from the winner and themselves and add them to the bottom of the pack. There are also special cards that make everyone turn a card at once, or switch to colour matching rather than patterns.

Playing this game is a really good fun but tense experience, as players are constantly on edge in case their pattern comes up. It can get pretty competitive too when going for the totem, there has been more than one hand injury in the times I’ve played. We also strictly keep a ‘no drinks on the table’ rule, as things can get (and have got) messy! Ideal time to play for us is a smaller party, when we only have another couple of people round.

Others

I hope that’s given you some inspiration and made you decide to play a game at your next party or family gathering!

There are of course plenty other party games out there, like the ‘South American liar dice’ game Perudo, where you can use a mixture of probabilities and bluffing to win, or the highly offensive (and hilarious if in the right crowd) cards against humanity, where the idea is to make the funniest and ideally rudest phrases.

So there you have it! At any party there is no excuse for not Playing Games Together!