6 School Subjects Supported by Games (part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of my last post about games that can help with school subjects, but are actually fun! Please read that first if you haven’t already, it covers the most common subjects of Maths, English/Language and History. In this post I will cover three more school subjects with perhaps slightly more tenuous links to board games, but I think they are valid nonetheless.  So without further ado, let’s get on with it!

4. Drama

Useful in the subject of drama are the ability to act outside your normal personality and also to observe how others behave in different situations. Social deduction games are perfect for this. This sub-genre includes the really fun Werewolves game, that I wrote about before and the inspiration for Werewolves: Mafia.

Another nice example of a social deduction game for a smaller player count is The Resistance. This is a 5-10 player game where you act as a group of rebels who go on missions to try to bring down the evil Empire. Some of the group are undercover empire spies however, who try to sabotage the missions without anyone working out who they are. Players take turns in going on missions, and use their deduction or bluffing skills to choose the right people to go with them. The ‘goodies’ are trying to pass the majority of the missions, while the spies are trying to sabotage them.  The situation can get quite tense, as you don’t know who is who, and it can make for a great different gaming experience.

Before moving on the to next subject, I do have to mention murder mystery games as another really good way to flex your acting muscles. There are several of this type of game available on the market, mostly designed to be played during dinner parties. Generally each person is given a specific character to portray and act through various rounds with clues to who the killer is being slowly revealed as the night goes on. These games are vastly improved by everyone staying in character throughout, and if anyone who hasn’t done a murder mystery game gets the opportunity to try it, I highly recommend it!

5. Geography

Geography is a wide ranging subject, covering all aspects relating to land and how it is formed. Board games have a particular field that they can help in best, and that is maps and map reading. There are games such as Forbidden Island, where the board is a map of a fictional place, and there are also a surprising number of games, mainly the wargames mentioned in the History section of part one of this post, where the board is an actual map of the real world location in question.

The best example I can think of where this is the case is actually the classic game Risk. Risk is a war game at heart, it has a tactical and luck of the dice side to it. There are a lot of spin-offs available, but the original game is played on a (simplified) world map, with each player trying to take over the world country by country. I remember as a child playing this a lot (my friend had to be red, or he wouldn’t play at all..). I mainly remember the fun I had playing, but actually, without that game, I would have no idea that there was a place called Kamchatka, let alone where it was on the map!

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The board for Pandemic

 

A more modern game where the board is a world map is Pandemic. This is by the same designer as Forbidden Island and has similar cooperative gameplay, but with a couple more layers of complexity added. In it, you are trying to save the world from deadly disease outbreaks and you travel between major cities around the world to do so. This again has the side effect of increasing your general knowledge as to where major cities are located around the world.

6. Computing

Ok, time for the final subject that I am going to cover: computing.  Or more specifically, computer programming.  Surely you can’t learn programming skills with an unplugged, completely-in-no-way-electronic board game?  Well, there is a board game that covers almost every subject, so yes you can!

Potato Pirates is a very new game that just came out in late 2017.  It is actually so new that I can only find it for sale on the maker’s website at the moment.  As a lot of games do these days, it went through a Kickstarter crowd-funding process to be able to launch it.

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The game comes with a pack of cards and a bag of mini potatoes, which are your pirate crew.  You also get some ships for the potatoes to sail.  The idea of the game is to attack (boil, mash or fry!) the other players’ pirates by building up a series of attack cards, and also collect the pirate king cards before anyone else.  So how does this teach coding?  Well, there are a lot of programming concepts that are common to any programming language, such as loops, conditional statements (IF), and handling variables.  The attacks that you build up use these concepts, so you may have a card that says ‘Mash 2 Potatoes’.  This used on its own would be ok, but if you combine it with a For card, e.g. ‘For 3 times > Mash 2 Potatoes’, it can be devastating!  Learning a programming language with all of its intricate syntax requirements can be daunting, but knowing the fundamental concepts goes a very long way and this game teaches these concepts while also managing to be a really fun game about potatoes!

 

I hope this post has inspired you to think more about the educational benefits of board games, for children and adults alike, and I am always interested in learning about new examples, so if you have any ideas of your own, let me know!

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6 School Subjects Supported by Games (part 1 of 2)

Before writing this blog, let me get one thing straight – I play games primarily because they are fun to play. I enjoy the aspect of learning the rules to a game, and how to exploit those rules to perform in the best way. I also like seeing all those playing having a good time.

Aside from learning rules and tactics though, there are several games that as you play actually help with learning skills and concepts that are useful in the real world (if you ever want to venture out there..). A lot of these type of games may fall under the umbrella of ‘educational’ games and toys, the kind that are very obviously made for an educational purpose, and in that sense immediately lose any aspect of real fun that the designers may have desired them to have.

The games I want to highlight today are examples that I have played where the game aspect is given as high priority, if not higher, as the educational element. This means that anything learnt after playing is purely as a by product of having fun, which in my opinion is the absolute best way to learn! I have split them into easily recognisable school subjects for reference. I have only picked a few examples here, and there are obviously countless more. Let me know your favourites in the comments!

1. Maths

Maths is probably one of the most commonly used skills in games, as most have a scoring system. This is good way to practice addition, but there are a couple that go a bit further. The fantastic Kingdomino, which I wrote about previously, is a great example as it uses some multiplication. Another game that I came across recently is the lesser known Symbotica.

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Symbotica – shapes and sums

 

This is a card game where each card is a coloured shape. The idea is to place the cards so that they match the shape or colour of an existing card, a bit like another one I wrote about in this blog, Latice. The scoring for Symbotica is the number of sides of each shape multiplied together, so a blue pentagon could go next to a blue square and score 5 x 4 = 20. This is great for recognising shapes and times tables, and my primary age kids love playing it!

2. English/Language

A lot of learning a language (even your own, when you are younger) is practice and learning how to express what you want to say in different ways. A good way of getting this practice is inventing stories, and Rory’s Story Cubes are a perfect way to provide inspiration!

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Rory’s Story Cubes – prose prompters

 

This is a simple game with endless possibilities. The main game comes with 9 dice, each covered with various different pictures. To play, you roll the dice (as many as you want) and use the pictures that come out in any order to inspire a story. There is no score and no winning or losing, it is just about telling entertaining stories. While this works really well in your native language, it can also be used as a learning tool for intermediate language learners. There are several expansion sets of three dice available, and also quite a few copies of the same concept on the market. I particularly like these for long train journeys!

3. History

There is a whole subset of tabletop games known as wargames which focus on recreating various different historical battles and times of unrest. You can find ones about almost any historical period, from World War II to ancient Rome, feudal Japan to the cold war. These games tend to be fairly complicated, and are more about strategy however, and while they do give an idea of certain historical events, they are very focused on one aspect.

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Timeline – play in the past

 

A more simple series of games that helps with learning historical facts is Timeline. Each game is a set of cards covering several historical events. The event is on one side of the card and the year the event happened is on the other. The idea of the game is to try to guess where on the timeline the event that you have happened, compared to other events already on the table. I played a British history version, but there are different versions for many different country’s histories, also for scientific discoveries, inventions and even Star Wars!

Laying out events like this in a time line really helps to visualise and understand the progress of history. After a few plays you really start to learn the historical story. There are over 100 cards, so it would take quite a few plays before you started to learn every single one off by heart.

 

Unfortunately I have realised that this post is getting fairly long now, as I could go on for a while about this topic.  I’d rather not bore people too much however, so this will be continued next week, with Drama, Geography and Computing!  Update: Part 2 is now available by clicking here!

Kingdomino Review – A new Twist on a Classic

Board games have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There are only a few classics from hundreds of years ago that still survive now. Dominoes is one of them. The game I am writing about today uses the classic idea of dominoes in a fresh new way.

I think today’s game may be one where the name was thought up before the game mechanics, as Kingdomino is a game about building a kingdom from domino pieces, exactly as you may think!

The game is for 2-4 players. Rather than numbers, the domino pieces in this game have pictures of different land types, e.g. field, forest, bog, mine, at each end. The aim of the game is to join these pieces together in a 5×5 square to make the best scoring kingdom. Each domino must join to the existing kingdom by matching at least one end or side of a tile already placed, dominoes style. At the start, you place a castle square (unimo?) that any other piece can join on to.

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Certain dominoes have crown pictures on them as well as the terrain type, and the score for each area at the end is the number of crowns in the area multiplied by the number of squares of that terrain. For example, if my kingdom had one grassy area made of five squares with two crowns in it, and one forest area of ten squares with one crown, the score would be: 5×2 + 10×1 = 20. This scoring system is great for our family with primary age kids, as it really helps them with their times tables! The numbers never get too big either, so the sums are never really complicated.

For an added challenge, if playing as two players (as my wife and I do after kids are in bed), you can both try to build an even bigger 7×7 kingdom. This obviously increases the score potential much more, and also means you have to be that bit more tactical in which tiles you choose and where you place them to try to get the biggest scoring areas.

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This game was only released a couple of years ago, but as with all board games that gain a bit of popularity, a couple of expansions are available. Queendomino is a ‘sister’ (or spouse?) standalone version of the game. It has the same basic rules, but adds a bit more complexity, such as knights and dragons! It can be played separately and is compatible with the original game, so both can be combined to allow even more players in one game, or have four players making 7×7 size kingdoms! A new smaller expansion is also due out this year, Age of Giants. This can be added on to Kingdomino to give enough tiles in total for a fifth player, and it also has a new giants mechanic which can either help or hinder you! This would be perfect for my family of five, so I am looking out for that one.

I think this is a really great family game, easy to learn, but also challenging to get high scores. It is educational for kids learning maths, but also still entertaining for adults to play. Perhaps it is not yet as much of a classic as the original dominoes, but who knows, in a few hundred years it may be!

Dixit Review – 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!

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.

Switch handheld mode
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!

snipperclips

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.

 

snipperclips screenshot
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!

 

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.

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!

Nintendo Switch console in handheld mode
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!

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!

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