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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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!

Happy Salmon Review – Fantastic Fin-Flapping Fun!

Ok, here is a quick post about a quick game we got recently. It is called Happy Salmon. It is a very simple card game about shouting and having fun!

In this game, three to six players each get a pack of 12 cards. These packs contain a mixture of actions that need to be done in pairs: High Five, Pound It (fist bump), Switcheroo (physically swap places) and Happy Salmon (stick your arm out like a salmon fin and flap flippers with the other person!).

To play the game:

  • Each person looks at the top card in their pack and shouts out the action on it.
  • If they find someone else with the same card they do the action with that person, then discard their card.
  • The winner is the first to get rid of their cards.
  • That’s it!
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The cards in the game

 

Due to this simplicity, Happy Salmon can be played with pretty much all ages. I would say that as long as you can read the cards, you can play. Obviously since it is a very noisy game kids love it, but it can also be played and enjoyed by fully grown adults, as an icebreaker at an event, warm up for a game session, or any family gathering.

Depending on the players the noise can get a bit much to be honest, so luckily there is a quiet variant to the rules. Here you play the same way, but you aren’t allowed to speak. This can be even more fun than the original, as everyone sits around frantically making hand gestures to each other in an increasingly urgent fashion!

A limitation to playing could be for players with reduced movement, who e.g. can’t move around the table quickly for a Switcheroo.  To get around this, a different action could be invented for that card, or the Switcheroo cards could be removed.  The different coloured packs also have symbols on them so they can be distinguished for anyone with colour blindness.

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You can take the Salmon anywhere!

 

On top of all of this, the pack it comes in is a cool neoprene salmon shaped bag, great for travel.  The original is green, and there is also a blue variant of the game.  This is exactly the same game but the packs are different colours, so can be combined for up to 12 player madness!  On top of that, I have just heard that a ‘sequel’ of sorts will come out this year, called Funky Chicken.  This has more standing up dance moves and can be played separately or also combined with the Salmon!

So, this is a great little game for anyone to have in their game drawer, and I advise everyone to flap their flippers and go out and get it!

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.

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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!

 

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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