Tobago Review – Tropical Treasure Tracking

Ever wanted to hunt for treasure on a cursed mystical island that changes every time you visit? Well, if you’ve read one of my older blog posts, you will know that you can do this with the brilliant cooperative game Forbidden Island. If you like the theme of that one though, and fancy something a bit less cooperative and a bit more competitive, then you should definitely give Tobago a try!

The main idea of Tobago is that you are treasure hunters working together to piece together map fragments to locate and dig for buried treasure, but also make sure you get a bigger share of treasure than the other players.

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The board is a big island, loosely based on the real island of Tobago, made up of different terrain types. The are also randomly placed trees, huts and statues on the board. The map fragments are just cards that give clues to narrow down where treasure may be, e.g. ‘in the largest jungle’ or ‘next to a palm tree’. Each turn you can either move your ATV style playing piece (jeeple?) around the board, or place one of these map cards to reduce the number of possible spaces the treasure could be. If you manage to reduce the possibilities to only one space, then that is where the treasure is and everyone needs to rush there to dig it up!

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Here, the map cards say that the treasure is within two spaces of a statue, in the largest lake, and next to a jungle.  This leaves only one space, so the yellow player is about to start digging for gold!

The treasure is not just won by the player who digs it up though, everyone who contributed a map piece gets a share. Cards with gold coins on them represent the treasure. When these cards finish, that is the end of the game and whoever has the most coins wins.

That is the main game, but there are also a couple of added gameplay wrinkles; there are always up to 4 treasure hunts going on at the same time, some of the treasure may be cursed, which will actually lose you money if collected, and magical amulets appear on the board after every treasure is found which, if collected, can grant the owner extra abilities.

I think that Tobago is a great adventure game for the family, or any other group.  The theme, along with the high quality components, especially the realistic Easter Island style statues, definitely give you that Indiana Jones type vibe while playing.  Another good thing is that the island board is actually modular, in that it is made from three double sided pieces that you fit together jigsaw-style at the start.  Each side gives you a choice of more or less spaces on the board, so you can use this to change the difficulty (more spaces = more places the treasure could be), or just randomly mix them in up to 32 different combinations at the start of the game and play on a different island each time.

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Now that I have an increasing amount of board games in the cupboard, I also have to mention that this game has a very well designed insert inside the box.  There is a little hole for all of the components, and the board slots in nicely in a specially made space to ensure nothing goes astray if transporting it.  I would recommend some small bags for the various treasure marker cubes however, as they can get fiddly to separate each time you play.

Tobago is probably one of the most gamer-y games we have so far, it does have quite a lot of pieces in the box and reading the rules for the first time can be quite daunting, but after one play through it all becomes clear.  We actually even went full board game geek and ordered the game from Germany, the heart of modern ‘Euro gaming’, (as it was slightly cheaper).

So there you have it, another great modern board game to pick up, or at least have a try if you know someone who has it or see it in a board game café!

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5 Console Games that Break From the Norm

Hello again! As established early on in previous blogs, I am a console gamer at heart, even though my interest in board games grows daily.

Ask the average person on the street to think of a console game and they will most likely tell you a game that involves shooting, violence, or football/sports. Even though I would consider myself to be a ‘hardcore’ game fan, I very rarely play the kind of things that most people do. I love games because of the amount of variation and wildly different experiences available, and I love finding hidden gems of games that sound crazy on paper, but due to the developer’s genius and vision, actually work really well!. So, without further ado, here are four of this kind of game that are all available right now on current consoles!

1. I Am Bread

I am Bread

Lets go straight in with one of the most off-the-wall game concepts that I have had the chance to play recently.

The name basically describes the main idea – you are bread. More specifically, you play as a sentient slice of bread, embarking on an epic journey to fulfil your destiny, and become toast! Each level is based on a room of a house, starting with the kitchen. Along the way you encounter different hazards, such as rotten fish, dirty floors and sinks full of washing up. If you touch any of these during your quest, your ‘edibility’ rating goes down and you get less points.

As ridiculous as this may sound, the game is really playable and addictive! Half of the enjoyment for me is from the absurdity and just realising that you are actually controlling a slice of bread flopping around someone’s house! In addition to a slice, there are also other types of bread in different game modes, such as a baguette or a speed-run mode with a bagel.

Another added bonus is that since the game is a couple of years old now, it can be found pretty cheap. I picked it up in a recent PS4 sale for only £3, well worth it even if you only get a couple of hours entertainment from it!

2. Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido

Sushi Striker Cover

This one is a much newer game, just released in June for both of Nintendo’s current consoles, the Switch and the 3DS/2DS.

The game, when you get to the playable part of it, is essentially a new take on the classic colour-matching puzzle genre. The idea is that you are standing in a sushi restaurant with loads of dishes going past on conveyor belts, and battling someone else by picking as many of the same colour plates as you can in one go, eating the sushi, and throwing the empty plates at your enemy!

Sushi Striker Screenshot

The gameplay is fun, but what makes it stand out for me is the hilarious backstory. The game is set in a world that has been ravaged by the Sushi Wars, due to a shortage of fish. Now, the evil Empire has banned all sushi, and you as the main character must lead the resistance against them. The story is told in extensive anime cut-scenes, including a lot of classic Japanese style humour, many over-the-top facial expressions, camp, buff bad guys and magical creature sidekicks.

The humour and tone of the game really reminds me of another classic from the Nintendo DS era, probably hard to come by now, called Elite Beat Agents, which itself was a westernised version of Japanese game Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. These are rhythm games about special agent cheerleaders, which have equally ridiculous scenarios and cut-scenes. If you have played and enjoyed these, you will probably like Sushi Striker.

Even if you only slightly like the idea of this game, there is a free demo available in the Nintendo online shop, so if you have a Switch or 3DS, definitely give it a try!

3. and 4. Flower and Journey

And now for probably the best known games in my selection. They are made by a developer called ‘Thatgamecompany’. They released three games back in the PS3 era: Flow, Flower and Journey. All three were so good that they were re-released on the PS4. I haven’t played the first one, but knowing the others I would recommend it!

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In Flower, you play as a flower petal blowing in the wind. You travel through a beautiful environment, touching other flowers and picking up their petals, steadily growing into a giant group of petals. Some flowers will activate other things in your journey, such as splashing beautiful colours around the environment.  It is not free roaming though, each level has an objective, and there is an overarching theme of a growing evil as the levels progress.

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In Journey, you play as a humanoid being that wakes up in the middle of the desert. Your only guidance is a mountain in the background that has a bright light coming from it. The journey in question is to make it to the top of that mountain. To traverse the landscape you can only walk at first, but as the game goes on you gain the ability to fly for short times thanks to your magic scarf.

In both games, there is a very minimal interface, hardly any tutorial, and no speech. What there is, is a beautiful soundtrack, serene visuals, and gameplay designed to give you an emotional response as you are immersed in the world of their creation. A bonus in Journey is that if you are online you sometimes get paired up with another player who journeys with you. The only way to communicate with them is by how you move, or by sending energy pulses, but this is enough, and it’s great having someone there to show you around and point out secrets, or if you are more experienced, it is also nice to help others if they look to be struggling.  If you are lucky enough to be paired with someone for a whole game (it takes about 2 hours to get through), it can make for one of the most beautiful moments in gaming.

I can’t strongly recommend these two games, especially Journey, enough to any PS3 or PS4 owners.

5. Everything

Everything cover

So I have to end this post with a game that is about everything!  In this game, you can actually be almost anything!  You start as a fairly normal animal , but after playing for a bit you gain the ability to be, or possess, another animal or object smaller than you.  When you do this, your perspective shifts down to the size of that object. You can keep doing this to get smaller and smaller, right down to the sub-atomic level of matter!  later on you also gain the ability to shift back in to larger things, and literally anything you see in the game, you can be, all the way up to super clusters of galaxies, and beyond!

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The game is actually procedurally generated, so each play through is different to the last.  There is a vague goal, but most of the enjoyment of this game is just roaming around, discovering all of the environments and things that you can be.  As you roam around, some of the objects talk to you.  You can also get groups of the same kind of thing to follow you.  Every so often you get to hear audio snippets from the late philosopher Alan Watts about life and existence, and this, plus the general experience of the game start to leave you with a different perspective on real life.

This for me is again a game I highly recommend trying out.  It is a beautiful zen-like experience.  You can play just to chill out, or you can play to explore and try be every object it has to offer.  You can even just leave it on in the background and the game will play itself.

 

I hope that at least one of these games has piqued your interest enough to give it a try, and I hope that you, like me, start to realise that the world of computer games outside the standard samey mainstream ones is a beautiful and varied one that is worth diving into!

Azul Review – Try some Tactical Tiling

Hello, I’m back after a short break. Today I am going to tell you about a new game that came out last year and has had quite a bit of attention in the board game world and won quite a few industry awards, but if you are not at or above my level of geekery you may not have heard of it!  This is definitely a game more suited to adults, due to the thinking required, but kids should be able to play too.

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The game is called Azul. The name comes from the main thematic inspiration, azulejos, the Spanish word for tiles. The initial attraction to the game for most is the art style used. Even the box is beautifully decorated with colourful patterns inspired by classic decorative tiles reminiscent of the Alhambra in Southern Spain. Once you open the box, the components of the game all follow this theme, and really are a pleasure to look at. The main pieces used in the game are the tiles. These have 5 different patterns and are a similar size to Scrabble tiles, but a bit thicker. They come in a cloth bag to reproduce that classic Scrabble feel when delving into it to retrieve more. There is actually another small similarity to Scrabble in the scoring, which I will explain later. There is a very loose story to give an excuse for what you are doing in the game (you have been commissioned to decorate a royal palace in Portugal), but that really is of minimal importance to the gameplay.

So, what do you actually do in the game? Well, the main aim is to fill a 5*5 square with beautiful tiles, and do so in a way that scores the most points. This is achieved over several rounds (at least 5) and each round consists of two phases: Drafting and Placing/scoring.

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The first job is to try and fill up the left side of the board (see picture) by drafting/selecting tiles from the ‘factory displays’ in the middle of the table.  This sounds simple enough, but due to some restrictions, you may be forced to take too many tiles, and any you can’t place on the board ‘smash on the floor’, giving you negative points!

If you complete any rows in the drafting stage, you can then add one tile of that colour to the main ‘wall’ and score points. Here’s where the other Scrabble similarity comes in – you score one point for tile that joins the new one, plus one point for each joining tile in the column, including the new tile both times.  This way, the more tiles you already have on the board (and how well you placed them), the better your score, so the points obtained each round are higher and higher.

As you progress with each round the restriction that you can’t place the same colour tile twice in the same row or column forces you to think more carefully about your tactics, and also makes you more likely to drop tiles.

The game ends when one player has completed at least one row of tiles.  At the end there are various bonus points available for every completed row or column, or for getting five of the same colour on the board.  These can definitely change the outcome, so are worth going for.

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I got Azul as a gift for my wife, as something that we could play together that wasn’t more aimed at a younger audience.  We both really like it, I think it works really well as a 2 player game, although you can have up to 4 players.  It has a great learning curve while playing. During our first 5-10 games we both found and employed different tactics that increased our score since the last game.  This feeling of progression and discovery of tactics is very satisfying and is what makes me keep coming back.  We mostly play to try and get the highest score on our own boards, but due to the drafting mechanic you can absolutely aim to sabotage the other player and stop them collecting sets, if you like that kind of thing.

Overall, I would recommend Azul to anyone who enjoys thinking games, Scrabble (but without the words), colourful components and especially those of you who love tiling and have been looking for a way to make a game of it!

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!

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!

Forbidden Island Review – 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!

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.

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