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

IMG_20180329_073451.jpg

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

IMG_20180222_222745.jpg

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

IMG_20180310_162503.jpg

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

wp-image-486734231jpg.jpg

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!

Advertisements

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.

IMG_20180425_222918.jpg

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.

IMG_20180425_225207.jpg

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.

IMG_20180425_231239.jpg

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!

pandemic board
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.

potato_pirates

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!

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.

IMG_20180227_224802.jpg

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.

IMG_20180227_220721.jpg

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!

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.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑