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 Games to make Holidays more fun!

This is the time of year when people are starting to plan their summer holidays.  One thing you shouldn’t forget to plan, especially if travelling with kids, is your playing time!

Whenever I go on holiday with the family I always try to take a few games. These are useful for keeping everyone entertained on the journey, and also for some great quality family time when we are there. One of the main limits to what to choose is the luggage space, especially while flying, so all the things we take fit in a compact package. There are several games that would fall into this category, but here are five of my favourites, that we happened to take on a recent trip:

1. Playing Cards/Uno

This may seem a little too obvious of a choice, but for me taking a deck of classic playing cards on a journey is a must. They are very compact, only 52 pieces (not including jokers..), so versatile in the amount of games you can play with them and very accessible – pretty much everyone has played a card game in their lives. I played a few games with my son on the plane to my recent holiday, and the journey flew by (excuse the pun!).

Also, the classic card game Uno is played the same amount or more than regular cards in our household, so this is another no-brainer for us to chuck in to the bag.

2. Rory’s Story Cubes

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This is another simple game with many possibilities, that also comes in a packet as big as a deck of cards. The 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.

It’s great to play while travelling or on holiday, all you need is enough space to roll the dice! My children have Spanish cousins and it is also a good game for inspiring language learning among them. See another of my blog posts here for more educational game ideas!

3. Happy Salmon

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Happy Salmon is a fun and simple game, great warm-up or icebreaker game for family gatherings or any kind of party really!

In this game, three to six players each get a pack of 12 cards with a mixture of actions that need to be done in pairs: high five, fist bump, or ‘Happy Salmon’ (stick your arm out like a salmon fin and flap flippers with the other person!). They then have to be the first to get rid of their cards by shouting and finding partners to do the actions with. That’s pretty much the whole thing!

Since it is so simple, quick to play, but more importantly fun, it was great to take on our last holiday as we were going to spend some time with family. The other advantage for this game is that it comes in a cool neoprene bag, so it is super easy to stuff in any backpack or suitcase!

4. Love Letter

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I really enjoy introducing new games to people, especially if they don’t typically play games. Love Letter is a good game to do this as it gives people a sense of achievement. When you play for the first time it can seem quite overwhelming to learn the different moves, but since there are only 16 cards in the pack and the game is played over several very short rounds, it is actually soon picked up.

We played this a few times with different family members over our last holidays and it was enjoyed by all. It is simple enough to not put off casual players, but also has a basic tactical element that more experienced gamers will appreciate.

5. Sushi Go

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Sushi Go is a family favourite of ours, and it makes us hungry for sushi every time we play! If you have ever been to one of those sushi restaurants that have the food going by on a conveyor belt, the game concept should be easy for you to pick up.

The idea in this purely card based game is to build up the tastiest sushi meal possible. This is helped by the really nice art on the cards of different types of sushi dishes with cute faces.

The kids really enjoy playing the game and they really understand the rules and how to score points, while my wife and I understand the slightly deeper card drafting tactics, so it’s enjoyable for all of us to play together on a holiday afternoon.

 

As I said, there are absolutely loads of choices in this category of holiday games, and I need more as I love them, so please let me know what you take on your holidays too!

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 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.

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The Switch in handheld mode

 

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

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Switch docked in TV mode

 

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

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

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

 

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Basketball!

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

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

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

 

Forbidden Island 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!

It’s Dangerous to Play Alone – Take Kids!

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

Well, I say life, I mean gaming.

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

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

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

1. Be Inclusive

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

 

2. Be fair with rules/turns

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

 

3. Set clear play session length boundaries

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

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

4. Ensure play is age appropriate

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

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

5. Relax and have fun together!

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

 

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

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