• A review of "7-ate-9"

    Title: 7 ate 9
    Publisher Out of the Box, 2009
    Designer: Maureen Hiron
    Artist: John Kovalic, Cathleen Quinn-Kinney
    MSRP: $9.49
    Specs: 2 - 4 Players / Ages 8+ / 5 min
    Style: Math-centered Card matching game for families with elementary-school-age kids

    From the box: "Fast and Fun Number Crunch'n! Players add, or subtract, 1, 2, or 3 to the number the top card on the pile to determine if they have a card that can be played next. Sounds simple, but with everyone playing simultaneously, the options are constantly changing."

    Part of Out of the Box's “Fun to Go” series, the game contains 73 cards, each with a large yellow number (1 through 10) and a small one in the corner indicating "plus or minus" 1, 2 or 3. A card is laid to start a central pile, then the rest of the cards are dealt out to all the players. Players race to add the next card to the center pile. As an example, a card with a large yellow 5 and a 2 in its corner could be covered by a 3 or a 7 card (which is 5, plus or minus 2). The first player to run out of cards wins.

    We found this to be a great teaching tool, and a good brain exercise for us older folks. I can't say that it's really fun, and I don't think the kids will ever choose to bring it out. The question "Was it fun?" met with a wrinkled-up nose. Not so much, I guess. On the other hand, once my brain got into the arithmetic groove, it was pretty easy to process the sums in a hurry, and that made me feel good about myself anyways.

    Near the end of the game there were no playable cards in anyone's hand. The rules accommodated this by calling for a new starter card to be drawn from the bottom of the central pile. That seemed like a clunky solution to keep the game going—sort of an afterthought on the designer's part.

    Speaking of the game's pedigree, Ms. Hiron designed several other games, noteably “Stick Around” which is a pretty nice little puzzle game, and "Continuo" which has been published in several versions. (I particularly like the "Hexago" version from 2006, published by Schmidt Spiele.) The artist first credited here, John Kovalic, has many credits in the game world, not the least of which is Steve Jackson's "Munchkin" and the Dork Tower comic strip. He also happens to be co-founder and co-owner of Out of the Box Publishing (kind of a shoe-in for the art contribution on this one).

    The version I have is in a tuck box with a hang tag on it. There's another that's in a tin, which might be preferable, and can be found for about the same price, though it comes enclosed in a mostly-air-filled cardboard box (not sure what's up with that).

    Recommendation — if your kids are budding mathletes, or could use some brainercise, go for it. Play several quick rounds while you're waiting for the popcorn to get done, then go watch that movie. If you're after a rollicking good time, or a party game starter, you might pass this one by.

    * * *

    David McCord has over a half century of board gaming experience, and has been designing games for decades. As an avid gamer, he focuses primarily on family & casual games intended for a wide audience, but still enjoys an occasional multi-hour heavy simulation as well. Over the years, David has grown a collection of nearly 2000 table-top games, has constructed reproductions of antique parlor games, and conducted game workshops. Original game designs and ideas are showcased on the website at www.NewVentureGames.com, which also includes contact information.

  • The 2014 Spiel Game Show at Essen, Germany

    And the winner is...

    The prestigious Speil game show is going on this weekend in Essen, Germany - world's largest game convention. They began awarding a “Game of the Year” award (called the “Speil des Jahres”) in 1978, and it's the most coveted recognition in the industry. You can read more about the awards and past winners here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiel_des_Jahres .

    The award is specifically targeted at casual / family-style games, which are very popular in Europe.

    Some years ago they instituted a “Kennerspiel” award for more sophisticated (a.k.a. complex) games, and a “Kinderspiel” award for children's games (the under-ten crowd).

    I have only played a couple of this year's nominees, and none of the winners. Having won the award now, they will probably sell out fast - we Americans may not even be able to find them here. (You can get games shipped over from Europe, but you'd pay a high price for the privilege.)

    But fret not! Most of the Spiel des Jahres winners make there way across the pond to America within a year of the event. By that time they are usually re-titled in American English, and the cards and rules translated for our mostly-monolingual market. So if you're not an impatient type, these might be on the wish list for a while.

    A few of these are available here in the States, and have been for a while. Search your favorite game store, and ask your local game group (sometimes those folks have “connections”).

    Meanwhile, the big winners this year have been announced, and they are:

    “Camel-on-Camel” from Pegasus Spiel took the big award for 2014 - a race game with some wacky stacking tactics. This one is available in the U.S. if it hasn't already sold out. It's a strange theme, but all accounts I've read or heard say it's very fun, and very easy to learn.

    “Istanbul” has been awarded the Kennerspiel prize. This is a game of economic wheeling and dealing, manipulating markets and making investments at just the right time. The setting is a middle-eastern marketplace, with all the adventure you'd expect with such a theme.

    The Kinderspiel winner this year is “Geister, Geister, Schatzsuchmeister!” (Does sound quite German, doesn't it?) It's a kids roll-and-move adventure about ghosts in a haunted house defending their hidden treasures. Of course the object is to collect those treasures and escape from the ghost's domain. Some awesome games for kids come from Europe, but some never seem to make it onto the store shelves in this country. You might have to search for this one - and maybe learn German, too.

    Overall, there were over 600 new games debuted at the Essen game show this year. How many will we get to play? Well - let's get started!

  • Under the Dust

    Game of Ages — Nine Men's Morris

    The game that I share most often is Nine Men’s Morris, a.k.a. Mills, Morrels, and a few other names as well. It’s extremely easy to teach, but has a level of challenge that makes it somewhat sophisticated. People tend to be impressed with its age (several thousands of years), and the fact that one can purchase a finely crafted set made with exotic materials, or simply scrawl the board layout in the dirt and play it with stones and twigs.

    The game is described in the esteemed reference entitled “Libro de Juegos” commissioned by King Alphonso of Spain in the mid-13th Century. This small publication documented many ancient table games, and recounted some of each game’s history as well. At the time that work was published, Mills was already extremely ancient and was being played throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region.

    Mills layouts have been found carved into the stones of ancient temples in Egypt and gothic cathedrals in Germany and France, inlaid into Roman mosaics and whittled into benches used in renaissance taverns. There are “cousins” of the game found in Asia, Africa, and Mesoamerica, too. (Apparently “three-in-a-row” embodies an archetypal symmetry.)

    The colonial Americans in the 18th century brought it with them, and it was popular with all ages. During the American Civil War, soldiers used pebbles and buttons for markers, scratching the game board into the dirt. A letter from soldier Charles Wickesburg, written to his family from a U.S. Army Hospital in 1863, explains that Nine Men’s Morris is among the games he can get from the hospital reading room.

    Commercial versions of Mills have been around for a couple hundred years also. One of the favorites in my collection was made by the Druke Game Company in the 1950s, and the Milton Bradley version called “Swords and Shields” (ca. 1970) with plastic pieces depicting medieval shields in red and baby blue. Another popular version was the 1937 Parker Brothers “The Game of Mill.”

    Today there are wood sets available, and plenty of documentation to be found if you’d like to play. It’s especially suitable for a beginner who has grown beyond tic-tac-toe (a.k.a. naughts and crosses), or someone who likes Pente, Kono, or Teeko. And, as with most everything else—there’s an app for that.

    Be aware that there are also some “house rules” about repeat moves and first-player handicaps. Casual players may not mind so much, but there are occasional “Morris Tournaments” where these rules need to be made clear. There are also variations for “Five-Men’s-Morris” and “Twelve-Men’s-Morris” that are worth a try.

    For the “mathletes” in the audience: In 1993, Ralph Morris (!) “solved” Nine Men’s Morris, showing that a perfect game by each player would always result in a draw. Good luck with that.

  • Won-on-Won : Comparing Checkers and Alquerques

    The "Won-on-Won" comparison series looks at games you may know (e.g. "Checkers") and games you may not know (e.g. "Alquerques") and talks about what's similar and what's distinctive about each. Sometimes these might just be a variation on a theme, but other games may provide a similar play experience through very different means. Here's our first installment in this series:

    Checkers and Alquerques

    In the Americas, it's called “checkers” and played on a “chequered” board of 8x8 squares. Each player has 12 large discs that fit nicely on the squares, set up on the first three rows of dark squares on their own side of the board. The game is played entirely on the dark squares, all moves being on the diagonal. The objective: to “capture” all of the other player's discs by jumping them with one's own onto a square immediately beyond them, also on the diagonal, one at a time. It is thought that draughts is an adaptation of Alquerques to utilize a chessboard and simple playing pieces.

    Alquerqes is a medieval Latinized derivation from the moorish “El Quirkat.” The rules are included in Libro de los juegos ("Book of games") commissioned by Alfonso X of Castile in the 13th century. This game is considered to be the ancestor of draughts/checkers. The board is an array of 25 points and an underlying pattern of lines, orthogonal and diagonal, which indicate which moves are allowed. Each player's 12 pieces can move one point at a time following those lines. The objective: to “capture” all of the other player's pieces by jumping them with one's own onto a point immediately beyond them - one at a time.

    Although these two games share many similarities, from moves to jumps to the number of pieces and the common objective. However, the very different boards make the strategies and tactics of the games very different. Alquerques tends to be a faster game, due primarily to the smaller board, which is often quite desirable. Checkers is ubiquitous in the English-speaking world, and variations are found throughout Europe and beyond. Alquerques is fairly rare, but every bit as much fun and easy to learn. The two are comparable, but not interchangeable.

  • Games O'Glossary - Abstract Game

    As with most hobbies, board game players have developed a lingo all their own. They rely on certain terms and phrases to convey specific points and to simplify conversation. Call it jargon or call it slang - salespeople, reviewers, game industry folks, and the fans themselves use it. This entry attempts to define - or at least demystify - some of these words for you.

    An abstract game is a “themeless” game, or nearly so. There's no back story, no setting, and almost no resemblance to a real situation or occurrence. There may be a board with some geometric pattern, some pieces to place or move around, and some objective that's usually about forming patterns or eliminating the competition.

    Usually an abstract game is also a “perfect information” game — that is, a game with no hidden information. Pieces on the game board which are in full view of all the players, or cards face-up on the table provide perfect information. Blokus, Pentago, and Mills are in this category, and usually (but not always) "cooperative" games are as well.

    Chess, although it is loosely called a “war game”, is quite abstract. Shogi is less abstract - Wei Chi (a.k.a. “Go”) is more abstract. Games like Checkers (a.k.a. “Draughts”) and Halma, Seega, and Salto are very abstract, whereas Battleship, Stratego, Arimaa, and Dominion are less so because the pieces, or the cards, represent capabilities and relationships.

    Card games that use a standard poker deck are abstract because the cards do not really represent kings and queens and so on. Some game designers have attempted to change that situation by giving those cards some personality, but really they're just sets of numbered cards. Likewise, Uno and Rook and Sorry are themeless abstract games.

  • Family Friendly Game Conventions

    Many (if not most) game conventions are family friendly, or have family friendly activities planned within their schedules. But two in particular are coming up that I wanted to spotlight today. First, the world's largest game con is the International Spieltage held each year in Essen, Germany. Grab the kids and jump on a plane and join 100,000 other game-players for four days of deep emersion in the game world. I've never been to Essen (the con is generally just called "Essen" by us foreigners), but I hear its a family event. Game-playing in Germany is so much a part of their culture that it's simply what people do, and Essen is where game companies from around the world announce new products each year. Arguably the most prestigious award in the industry is the Spiel des Jahres - the German "Game of the Year." The show is this month - October 16 thru 19 - and after it's over I'll share the winning games with you here.

    Meanwhile, back here in the States, another great family friendly gathering happens each year in November. I'm talking about ChiTag in Chicago, November 20-23. It's sort of like Toys-R-Us meets Chucky Cheese, but there are "real games" being played, too. The "Tag" in ChiTag stands for "toys and games" and there are lots of shiny toys being shown here, as well as all the major game publishers, minor publishers, contests, workshops, panel discussions. It's a great time (yes, I have attended this one) for families as well as hobbyists. It's a great day-trip - more of a show than a convention for most visitors - but there are several days of industry-related activities as well. The best part is that you get to see the latest toys and games, have them demonstrated for you by the company representatives, and get the jump on the "holiday hotness" for gift-giving. (Take a sturdy tote bag.)

    I'll not get to ChiTag this year (I'll be at the Great Lakes Comicon that weekend instead), but I'll try to solicit a first-hand report from someone after the show.

    Have any favorite family friendly game cons? Share them with us here at Gamesopedia! (Thanks.)


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