• 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.)

  • Top games to introduce folks to the hobby?

    There's a twitter phenomenon called "Board Game Hour" hosted by The Ministry of Board Games (www.mofbg.co.uk). Recently the founder of both, Nate Brett, asked his followers what they thought was the best game to introduce new players into the board gaming hobby. The results (and an extensive list of follow-up conversations) can be found at the Ministry of Board Games site under the heading "Try it, you might like it."

    The only problem with this list is that the suggestions don't consider the new players' tastes, ages, attitudes, or gaming experience. Nor does it account for the situation or environment that game(s) might be played in. It's a good list of good games, that's certain. But there's a lot more to the subject than just "make a list."

    "Castle Panic" might be a great game to bring teen geeks into the hobby, but if the novices don't know orcs from archers, this might not be a good choice. "Time's Up: Title Recall" is an awesome party game, with plenty of laughs and quick thinking. However, if your candidates are quieter types with performance anxiety, maybe not so appropriate.

    "Know your audience" is a good rule of thumb for a public speaker or entertainer, and just as valid for a "Game Sommelier" (thank you, Stephen and Dave at "The Spiel"). Considering the folks around the table, you can choose a game that will break the ice without burning the brain, and will focus on a theme or basic mechanic that all participants will enjoy. Throwing someone who's a Euchre player into a game of "Elder Sign" might work, but a comfort level with cards would suggest that Dominion might be a better choice. For a family who once played Chutes and Ladders, one might bring out "Magical Athletes." Almost anyone can warm up to Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride, and it's always a joy to see folks working together at Forbidden Island.

    Ask them what they like to play, too. I'm always up for a game of Sequence or Sorry or Scrabble or Scene-It! Then I can follow up with, "That was great fun. Have you ever played Fluxx or Guillotine or Settler of Catan?"

    There are so many choices to be made, and if made well, a good time will be had by all. And many more to come!

  • GrandCon — table-top games and more!

    GrandCon table-top gaming eventGreetings, table-top gamers:
    If the timing is right, and you have a few hours to spend immersed in the table-top game hobby, maybe you should seek out a local game convention. If you’d like to see the latest products and find knowledgeable folks to help describe them for you, here’s the place to be. In many cases, the actual designers of the games are there to show you how they’re played, and there will most likely be rooms filled with tables where you can try out a game before you buy.

    The calendar is filled with game cons these days. Every town on the map, it seems, has some kind of gathering happening to attract game players, game sellers, game designers and publishers, and mostly game fans. Attendees can enjoy shopping (browsing), talking with others about the latest releases and the classic board games, their latest adventures and hopes for the future. There are septuagenarians and toddlers, growing families and happily singles, quiet intellectuals and rambunctious partiers, conservative straights and radical cosplay nerds — in short, a fascinating cross-section of American geekdom.

    This was the second year for GrandCon — and my first visit. The comments I heard were that this is a tremendous second go for a con, and most everyone agreed that (with a more consolidated venue next year) it can do naught but grow. The success of last year’s premier GrandCon enticed visitors from well beyond the region, including folks from thousands of miles away. Yes, it was a big deal!

    One thing to clarify: in larger urban areas in particular, some of the game cons are very specific in their subject matter. There are cons that only focus on war games, kids’ games, or role-playing games — even cons that only focus on a single game, like poker or Magic the Gathering. So read the event flier carefully before you go. If they’re family-friendly, their website will probably say so. GrandCon provided a modest bit of the family-friendly, though it’s not their focus. The champion of family-friendly cons is probably ChiTag in Chicago each November, with large play areas and plenty of kid stuff going on while, in another part of the hall, rows of tables host a Magic the Gathering tournament.

    GrandCon was a great time, and I got to see some demos of not-yet-released products, put together some Christmas lists, and spend too much on games I’ve been wanting for some time. If you’re just getting into the hobby, it’s a great place to meet local folks and set up opportunities to play more and share!

    Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers who made GrandCon happen — one of the highlights of the season!

  • Top ten reasons to like top ten lists.

    Some folks use lists as tools to keep their busy lives in order. Others are just compulsive list makers. Some lists are collections of facts and figures - the dry necessities of life, I suppose. But here, we're talking purely subjective choices, brought together for the fun of it.

    Many publications, websites, podcasts, blogs and broadcasts have their top-ten lists (or top eleven, or even top 100). Folks are interested because we understand the list maker's feelings about a subject. We probably share the same values or opinions. In any case, to paraphrase: "One man's Top Ten is another man's Bottom Ten." We all have a right to our own opinion (right or wrong).

    I beg your forgiveness. I might not have played every Board Game in the history of everything. I try, but the real world tends to hinder my efforts. So my lists are based on two major criteria: "What do I think of a game based on personal experience?" and/or "What does the rest of the world think of it?"

    Likewise, I can't read every Top Ten list in the world, so I might be missing some critical evaluation somewhere out there. So take these entries as my own non=professional opinion in whatever wacky category we can come up with, and be sure to let me know when my opinion is wrong.

    1. Top Ten lists inform, succinctly, of what the list maker deems noteworthy. Some list makers take great care in making their lists, subjecting every candidate to detailed and systematic scrutiny. Others like something because they like it. 'Nuff said.

    2. Comparing Top Ten lists reinforces the individual evaluations with a group opinion. Statistically, if the number of Top Ten lists being compared is huge, the opinion should eventually approach a high degree of objectivity. (All you philosophers out there please refute that argument.)

    3. If I trust a Top Ten list, it saves me a lot of primary research. Let someone else do the trial-and-error and I will benefit. This assumes that the list maker's opinions, values, and tastes are similar to my own.

    4. They're quick. I can scan a Top Ten list in a few seconds, as opposed to reading in-depth critiques of a group of games. It's fast food for the opinionator.

    5. They aren't necessarily intended to be permanent. Most such lists are revised and reissued as often as the authors wish. They are living documents that change as the subject matter or the criteria change.

    6. I can ignore a Top Ten list that I disagree with. (And so can you!)

    7. Top Ten lists save me money. That is to say, they can help me avoid spending money unwisely. Like most folks, I can succumb to the shiny and sometimes even the hype, but if I see that a majority of trusted sources advise caution, I can think about the purchase one more time.

    8. Learn something new! A Top Ten will often include a previously unfamiliar item. By its inclusion in the list, it may well be a candidate for further investigation. Seek it out, play it, evaluate it, buy it, recommend it!

    9. Influence a tough decision with additional input. I might find myself torn between two alternatives, and a Top Ten list could persuade me to decide one way or the other, thus relieving me of the stress of a tough decision. (Then, if I find it's ultimately a wrong decision, I have someone else to blame.)

    10. Ten is a nice number for stuff. Ten fingers and toes. Ten single-digit numbers (if you count zero). Ten millimeters in a centimeter. It's all very convenient, and easy to accommodate mentally. Top 100 lists might just as well be a Top Million... I really only care about the Top Ten. Don't you?

    11. Well, it's one louder, isn't it?


  • Great New Games Debut at GenCon 2014

    gencon 2014GenCon is one of the world's largest and most anticipated game conventions. Each summer, game publishers time the release of many of their new products to debut at GenCon, and with 56,000 gamers descending upon Indianapolis for the experience, there is a lot of buzz generated. And after the con's over (this year's GenCon was August 14-17), attendees come away with their impression of what the new "hotness" will be for the coming months.

    Most of the popular board-game podcasts and blogs have done a recap of their GenCon experiences, and what they personally considered the most memorable new games at the show. What is it that everyone wants to play now? Everyone has their own list, but here's a sample of the buzz I hear...

    Sheriff of Nottingham, Tragedy Looper, Imperial Settlers, Dead of Winter, Black Fleet, Camel Up, Diamonds, Quilt Show, Castles of the Mad King Ludwig, King of New York, Kingsport: Festival; and many, many more.

  • High Society - a light card game ... but challenging!

    high-society-gameIf you like competitive buying, light card games, and making decisions then High Society is for you. Each player begins with the same amount of money, bidding on extravagant treasures that will make them the envy of their fellow capitalists. But should you bid high early in the game, or save the big bids for later to avoid failure and scandal? A fast, family friendly card game with surprisingly deep strategy, this offering from Gryphon Games is like no other from prolific, award-winning game designer Reiner Knizia.


  • Hall of Fame Games


    Acquire [Avalon Hill]
    Apples to Apples [Mattel]
    Axis & Allies [Avalon Hill]
    Blockhead! [Pressman]
    Bridgette [Xanadu Leisure Ltd]
    Civilization [Avalon Hill]
    Clue [Parker Brothers]
    Diplomacy [Avalon Hill]
    Dungeons & Dragons [Wizards of the Coast]
    Magic: The Gathering [Wizards of the Coast]
    Mille Bornes [Winning Moves]
    Monopoly [Parker Brothers]
    Othello [Mattel]
    Pente [Winning Moves]
    Risk [Parker Brothers]
    Scrabble Crossword Game [Milton Bradley]
    The Settlers of Catan [Mayfair Games]
    Sorry! [Parker Brothers]
    Stratego [Milton Bradley]
    Taboo [Milton Bradley]
    TriBond [Imagination Games]
    Trivial Pursuit [Parker Brothers]
    Twister [Milton Bradley]
    TwixT [3M/Avalon Hill]
    Yahtzee [Milton Bradley]

  • Sorry! Sliders World Grand Prix Race Game

    My granddaughter turned five a couple of weeks ago, and I got her a couple of toys (of course): a “pot-holder loom” and the classic “Barrel of Monkeys” toy. She being a big fan of the Disney/Pixar “Cars” movies, and a fan of “Sorry! Sliders,” I was very happy to track down a copy of the Sorry! Sliders Cars-themed race game. We opened it up last weekend and had a great time with it.

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