zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Pocket Fishermen – Hey! That’s My Fish

My version - Mayfair standard edition (Photo by Neven Rihtar)
Okay, this game won’t actually fit in your pocket.  My version probably could if you repackaged it and, well, had somewhat larger pockets.  (The box was sized to be visible on the shelf, which makes it larger than really needed.)  That’s not the point though.  The fact is that this is one of those games that every family should own.  I will review why I believe in this game, the one big downfall it has, and the three different versions (as of today’s announcement).

Hey! That’s My Fish (H!TMF) is a very simple game to learn.  In reality, it is an abstract game, with perfect information.  As such, it would provide a great stepping stone for games such as chess.  Chess has three primary strategic elements: time (who has the initiative), space (including freedom to move) and material (who has the most valuable set of pieces on the board).  H!TMF has two of those three elements, time and space.  Since everyone has the same number of pieces that all behave the same way, material is not an issue.  The theme really isn’t present, but does make for a cute presentation.

Photo by Chris Norwood
How does it play?  Sixty hexagonal tiles are laid out in rows, making the “board”. Each player takes a turn initially placing his or her penguins on tiles.  After penguins are placed, players take turns moving their penguins in one of the six directions through the sides.  After a penguin has moved, the owning player collects the penguin’s start tile from the board, leaving a hole.  Penguins can move as far as they want until they either run into another penguin or a hole, at which point they stop.  The game is over when no one has a legal move left.  Each tile has one to three fish on it, and each player counts the fish on the tiles they collected.  The player with the most fish wins.

H!TMF  is simple enough for your average 5 year-old to play.  However, it's a GREAT game for any age! Your little one will understand what they are doing, but the strategy is a bit deeper.  When I really love it is when the kids leave the table and the gloves can come off.  About halfway through the first adult game, most people have The Great Light come on, and they realize this is pretty vicious as everyone tries to cut their opponents off and strand them in a corner.  A vicious little abstract that plays up to four people in 20 minutes – I’m all over that!

It is this simple game play and cute figures that leads to the one real issue H!TMF  has.  My 13 year-old sees this and thinks of it as just a “kid’s game”.  Most people do not see it that way, but I can see how a young adult might want to separate themselves from it.  So, while it is a great family game, and I can’t say that enough, not everyone in the family will rave over it.  Though that’s probably true for any game.

The game publishing house Fantasy Flight Games just announced that they have obtained the rights to H!TMF, and will publish their version later this year.  It has previously been published by Mayfair games in two different versions: the standard version and a “deluxe” version with cute plastic figurines.  All of the versions play the same way, but the artwork is a little different.  Fantasy Flight puts a lot of effort into game components, so this will undoubtedly be a great edition to own.

H!TMF Deluxe (Promotional image from Mayfair Games)

2011 Version from Fantasy Flight (Promotional image by Fantasy Flight)
Fantasy Flight also announced that H!TMF apps will be available for both iPhones and Android phones.  The Android app will be $4.99, and it would be natural to guess the iPhone app will be priced similarly.  That’s an app I probably will skip, primarily because I am cheap, and chess and Words for Friends is the limit of my mobile gaming.

The board version though, is a must own for me.  Here are the vital statistics:

Hey! That’s My Fish
                Ages:                     8 and up (perhaps as low as 5)
                Time:                     20 minutes
                Players:                 2-4  

 It’s your Move!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Twitter account!

I case you haven't figured it out, I am new to the whole Twitter thing.  Somehow I managed to get @Zwischenzug2011 suspended in the first 30 minutes of life, and my understanding is that it could be a long time before that is resolved.  (The fact that you can "re-open" a trouble ticket that is still "in process" isn't reassuring.)  So, I have a new place to find us on Twitter:


Thanks for your patience!

It's Your Move!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Zwischenzug is now on Twitter!

We can be found at @Zwischenzug2011.  Thanks for reading!

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pecking Order

We finished the school chess club tournament last week – sort of. I had roughly 13 kids playing each other to figure out the pecking order and establish a chess ladder. It’s late in the year to be doing this, but it finally dawned on me that the reason the kids don’t want to learn chess is that they have no real sense of competition. A chess ladder will establish a ranking, and each child can compete to improve his or her ranking.

However, there are kids with different abilities and patience, which results in different lengths of games. As a result, this tournament was threatening to stretch out for the remainder of the year; something that just wouldn’t do. Our spring break is tied to Easter, so I decided that was a good break point at which to end the tournament. Unfortunately, I had kids who had played as few as five games, and some who had played as many as ten. How should I rank them?

I used a traditional scoring method for the games: 1 point for a win, 0 points for a loss, and a ½ point to each player for a draw or stalemate. From that, I could compute the average number of points per game for each child, effectively normalizing the data to one game. Now I had points/game for everyone, ranging from 0.80 pts/g to 0.0 pts/g. Ranking came pretty easily, as the first three slots were unique numbers.
Lewis Chess Queen (Finlay McWalter)

What did I learn from all of this? I learned three things, two of which are significant:
  • Do this at the beginning of the year to provide motivation for everyone. This will also show where the children fall out in terms of “chess education”.
  • Chess clocks would be a great help. A 10 minute per game limit would allow for two games per player per week (we meet for an hour) with sufficient time for clean-up.
  • Less importantly, it is amazing how many stalemates show up in games at this level! The kids tend to promote pieces to Queens, and then are shy about moving right up against the King and putting the King in check! The result of two Queens and a Rook attacking timidly is very often a stalemate, just because the attacked King has nowhere to go!
 I am getting better as a chess club leader every year. Then again, as long as the kids are having fun and learning, I guess it is all working out! 

It’s Your Move!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Second Chance at a First Impression

Earlier this week I briefly mentioned the fact that our gaming group didn’t play 7 Wonders because I was doing a poor job teaching it. I actually called off the game before getting through the explanation because I really didn’t know my stuff. We played a game we already knew and everyone had fun. I hate to think how dreadful the situation might have become if I had pressed on. I could have soured everyone on 7 Wonders. As it is, the game may still become a favorite because I stopped. It can be hard to admit, but the explanation of a game can make or break the whole experience, and possibly even permanently move a game to the back of the game closet.
Since this is so crucial, how does one go about teaching a game? Everyone develops their own method over time, but I do think there are three critical phases that are needed. Within each phase there are more variations, but I personally have three steps within each phase, leading me to the Three-On-Three Method.
The first phase is Study. Long before the game session is to begin, you, as the Game Explainer needs to:
  1. Become intimately familiar with the parts of game. This starts with unpacking. If the game is being unsealed, this is a great time to punch and bag any counters and cards. (I wrote about card storage a little while ago.) Use this time to take a look at all of the game components; this will make reading the rules clearer.
  2. Read the rules – several times. This may seem to be obvious and overkill, but many rules aren’t written as clearly as they should be. This is particularly true when the game was developed someplace else in the world; something literally may be lost in the translation. Take a second look at the game components as you read.
  3. Play the game solitaire. Look at the range for the number of players, and set up the game for somewhere in the middle of that range. Play several turns of each player, until the flow of the game is well understood. As an example, 7 Wonders is a game for 2-7 players, so I will set up for four players and play the game myself. (Hey, I said I didn’t know my stuff, didn’t I?)
After these steps, it is time to Setup. It’s Game Day, so:
  1. Before everyone comes to the table, set the game up for the correct number of players. This way everyone will be set up correctly, and all of the components will be out where they can be seen in reference to the game board and players.
  2. Teach the game in layers, becoming more detailed as you go. (Discourage questions until you are through.) Give the storyline for the game; often this can be read from the back of the box or beginning of the rules. Explain the overall objective and victory conditions. Then review the board and components and their role in the game. However, do not explain every detail; keep it to the general effect on the game. Then, discuss what a player will do on their turn. Provide a little more detail, but not every bit.
  3. Answer relatively simple questions. Often, they will be explained in the next phase. Stay on track and keep moving towards the next phase as quickly as possible.
Lastly, it’s time to play a Sample Game. Have everyone play a few turns, during which:
  1. Their options can be explored as a group. This lets everyone see how choosing an option plays out, and the short term impact of the choice. Long term impacts, if they are at all understood, can be discussed.
  2. Details of the components can be explained, including any symbols used. In particular, cards might be used in multiple ways, and each of these ways can be talked about.
  3. The game should slowly be turned over to players. This is when the last finicky details can be added. For example, if the conditions that end the game are different than the victory conditions, they can be explained here. In Ticket to Ride, the end of the game is triggered by any one player having only two of their 45 markers left. At that point, play goes one more time around the table. Explaining this a few turns into the game provides more context, and is better understood without impact to someone’s strategy.
At this point, you have taught the game. I will generally suggest to my group, particularly in a longer game, that we start over after a few more turns. Everyone should have the flow of the game down, and starting over can erase any really ugly strategic mistakes. If we will probably get multiple plays in that day, we tend to finish the sample game, ignoring the win and chalking it up to a “learning experience”. Then we get more serious.
If the Game Explainer is already a long-time veteran player of the game being introduced, the Study phase can clearly be dropped. The point is to know the subject. Time in class can be traded for experience! However, teaching a new game well will always take some extra effort.
Now it is time for me to follow my own advice. I need to grab 7 Wonders off the shelf and not only become more familiar with the components, but play a solo game too. Until next time…

It’s Your Move!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

HunterCon and 3rd Sunday Gaming

This weekend I gamed more than I have in a long time.  Friday night and Sunday were both great sessions.  Saturday was spent with the Scouts, orienting the new boys coming in, so the whole weekend was pretty tiring.  No gaming with the Scouts, but the list of games I played Friday night and Sunday follows.

Promotional Image from Z-Man Games
I will start with Sunday, since it covers a game we have played and I have talked about before.  There were only four of us from the group who could make it.  I started to teach 7 Wonders, but I really wasn’t prepared.  After a few minutes of fumbling around, I put the game away.  Teaching a new game well is so important that I didn’t want to keep stumbling forward.  Instead, we pulled out Pandemic, and let it beat us up some more.   (For those of you who are new to this blog, I reviewed Pandemic last week.)

We took six beatings.  Pandemic is a really difficult game to win with four players.  We were so close in two of them, but then this game always seems to be close to me.  It is one of the things amazes me with this game.  The good news is that we really learned some things about the various roles, and so should play better next time.

Friday night I was invited to HunterCon.  This is “house convention”, in which someone has an invitation-only event.  I am not sure how many were actually invited, but at least several dozen people were on the list.  Friday night there were only a little more than ten attending.  Considering I had only met our host once, and no one else, smaller was probably better for me.  The entire group was very welcoming, and I felt at home right away.  These good people confirmed what I have seen in the board gaming hobby community at large; they are a caring and helpful group of people who love playing games.  I am glad to be one of them.

Image by Ender Wiggins
I learned two new games Friday night.  The Resistance is a game for up to ten players, playing in 30 minutes or so, in which all the players are part of a resistance group going on missions.  A portion of the players, however, are traitors to the Resistance, secretly sabotaging the missions.  The object of the game is for those who are loyal to the Resistance to successfully complete at least three of five missions; the saboteurs are trying to prevent it.  Each side wins or loses as a team.  After only one play, I will say this would be a good family or casual game for older kids and adults, but keep in mind that I have only played it once!

Image provided by Surya Van Lierde
The second game was Battlestar Galactica, which is based on the newer TV series.  (For a plot synopsis, go this Wikipedia article.)  This is once again a semi-cooperative game with traitors, but is more elaborate than The Resistance, since it creates a narrative that parallels the TV show.  Up to six players are on the Galactica attempting to get to the planet Kobol to win the game.  Some of those players secretly act as Cylon agents attempt to stop this.  Players win or lose in teams.  The game we played had elements of some expansions in it.  Since this was my first time playing it, (even though I own the base game!) I wasn’t exactly sure which rules were from what.  Nonetheless, from playing and from reading the base game rules, I think this game is probably longer (3+ hours) more involved than many people would enjoy.  I am pretty sure there are those in my 3rd Sunday group who will have fun with it.  For casual and family play, I have to give this one a thumbs down.

All-in-all, it was a great weekend spent playing great games and meeting new friends.  Games tend to provide an opportunity to make friends, since we can get to know each other while having fun.  This is one of my favorite things about the hobby.

If you played games this weekend, I would love to know what you played.  Drop me a line, or put a comment at the bottom of this post.

It’s Your Move…

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Poker Chip – It’s not just for gambling anymore…

I hate paper money.  Not greenbacks*, but rather the pink-backs, white-backs, blue-backs or whatever color money it is that comes with a particular game.  Inevitably, they get bent, torn or mutilated.  Then, you are playing a great game with one of the major components in nasty shape.  I am talking here about the aesthetics of playing a game.  Casual gaming with friends and family ought to be a great experience, not just competition.  Having nice components is like having great glassware – always using the same paper money for a great game is like always drinking wine from the same paper cup.  Let’s get out the glassware after all!

This is not without its drawbacks, however.  There are three issues in using poker chips that you can easily deal with, if not just ignore.  I will briefly talk about them, and then help you get around them.

The first thing that comes to mind is the number of different bills used.  Monopoly for example, has denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.  That’s seven different denominations.  My poker chip set has four colors; I have seen sets with five.  Thinking about it though, is there really a need for all of that variety in Monopoly?  With a decent quantity of four colors of chips, you could easily play with denominations of 1, 10, 100 and 500.  Maybe 1, 10, 50 and 500 would be better.  With five colors, you get the best of both: 1, 10, 50, 100 and 500.  I cannot imagine that dropping the 5’s and 20’s will make much difference.

Another minor issue is the fact that everyone can see how much money you have.  In some games, that’s open information that everyone can see, in other games that information is closed.  Many times, that information can be played either way; players decide before starting.  If it needs to be hidden, screens can be made to hide poker chips, though that requires work that I am not willing to put forth.  (And remember that I make tuckboxes!)  A simpler alternative is to hide some of the chips in one hand.  My personal favorite is just to mix them up so that they are hard to count from across the table.  No matter the solution, it really isn’t a major issue.

How do players remember which color chips have what value?  This is probably the most bothersome concern.  Yet even this isn’t too bad to work out, and is a bit of work I am willing to do.  My second favorite game, behind chess, is Acquire.  Acquire was designed by the late, great Sid Sackson, (who by the way had a reported collection of 1800 games, so my collection is still small!) and has been around for almost 50 years.  It has four denominations of money: 100, 500, 1000 and 5000.  So:

Red        =  100
White    =  500
Blue       =  1000
Black      =  5000

Originally, I thought that assigning them in patriotic order would be a great mnemonic for American players, but it wasn’t.   I ended up remaking the player aid that comes with the game.  My version of the player aid has monetary information right on it, giving each player a reminder right in front of them. 
My Acquire play aid - with the denominations at the bottom

 In fact, my paper money for Acquire is still in the wrapper.  We have always used chips, and everyone seems to like it better.  I certainly do.  Now, the ceiling fan can stay on in those hotly contested games!  For Monopoly, I would take a simpler approach, and just put out a bill of each denomination with its corresponding poker chip on top.  (Money in Free Parking is for sissies...)

I will add one more thing.  I had plastic poker chips I inherited from my parents.  I found heavier clay chips on sale, and replaced the plastic ones in the poker chip carousel I have.  The heavier chips just feel better.  They are worth the minor expense, particularly since there are so many games that can use them. 

Do yourself a favor and try poker chips.  Break out the wine glasses.  I am confident that it will make a better experience for everyone at the table, even when you are playing poker.  And when you play poker, don’t invite me.  Thanks, but one of my former hobbies is card magic, and for some reason I always get accused of cheating!

It’s Your Move!

* For those of you from countries other than the United States (a whopping 20% of you!) and aren’t familiar with the term greenbacks, it is a nickname for the US dollar.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saving Humankind from Death and Disease: Pandemic
Pandemic (image from Z-man Games)
Our gaming group, which will meet this Sunday, is regularly beaten by the game, Pandemic.  That’s right, the game beats us.  As I mentioned in the session report after last month’s game day, Pandemic is a cooperative game, where everyone is playing as a team against the game mechanisms, trying to cure the world of diseases that are threatening to wipe out the human race.  For each of the past several months, we have played this game once the group has whittled down to four players, which is the most that the game can support.  In over 25 plays, I have only been part of a winning team a handful of times.  However, in nearly every loss we have been incredibly close to winning, which is what keeps us coming back.  (Well, there was one game that went very, very badly and very, very quickly, ending with a crushing defeat in about 10 minutes.)

This game is widely regarded as a fantastic game.  On BoardGameGeek, it is ranked #4 in family games, and ranked in the top 50 for strategy games (“thinky” games) and in the overall ranking.  Everyone I personally have played it with loves it.  There are several reasons why I think this should be one of the first games anyone should own: it’s almost universally appealing theme, the ease of play, and the fact that it is a co-op.

The Roles (Photo by Richard van Vugt)
Many people enjoy having some theme, some plot line, to the game they are playing.  However, not everyone likes to play a ruthless tycoon trying to make money at the expense of others.  I understand that.  Not everyone wants to play the heroic leader of the forces of good defending against the evil horde of malicious creatures that I, AND I ALONE, COMMAND!  Yeah… this one I have trouble understanding.  But it is what it is.  Nearly everyone loves the idea of saving world, the real world, from the brink of disaster, and Pandemic allows the players to do just that.  The theme is reinforced by the different role each player has, which allow him or her to contribute to the team in different ways.  For instance, the Scientist role allows a player to find cures for diseases more easily and quickly.  The Medic, on the other hand, can treat diseases more easily.  It’s easy to see how these two can play off of one another, and the other roles similarly give each player a different way to help.  There are five roles, but a maximum of four players.  As a result, there are five different combinations of roles in a four player game, and many more combinations when the game is played with fewer players.  The game plays well with any number of players up to four; it even makes a pretty good solo game.

It's the end of the world as we know it! (Photo by Chris Norword)
The game is very easy to play.  Each player gets four actions per turn, which include moving in various ways, curing a disease if they have the right hand of cards, treating diseases, exchanging information (cards), and building research stations.  After playing their four actions, the player draws two cards.  Lastly, the player acts as “the infector” spreading the diseases a little bit.  Sounds simple enough, but there are terribly bad things that can happen.  First of all, whenever a disease reaches a certain level in a city, there is an outbreak, which infects surrounding cities.  If those cities then are above the threshold, they outbreak in a chain reaction.  Furthermore, when drawing new cards, a player can draw an “Epidemic” card, which puts infected cities at additional risk, making outbreaks more likely.  The net result is that once bad things start to happen, they tend to accelerate, which keeps the team of players on edge and forces a coordinated effort to win!

My last reason for whole-heartedly recommending Pandemic is the nature of cooperative games themselves.  As a style of play, co-op games are still relatively uncommon, and offer new players a fresh look at gaming.  Because co-ops are a team effort, the game lends itself to bringing along both new players and younger players.  Discussion amongst players is allowed, and even necessary.  Furthermore, since everyone wins or loses as a team, children tend to be less heartbroken, and can learn as the adults around the table (hopefully!) deal with the loss gracefully.  In fact, there are lots of lessons about healthy interplay that can be learned in this style of game.  That said, I have to admit the nature of co-op games makes them difficult games to play with very controlling or very passive people.  Neither person contributes equally with the rest of the team.  Either can make for a bad situation; control freaks can absolutely destroy the game experience.  This is the one drawback, though even this can also provide a lesson to a controlling or demanding child.

Pandemic is a great game.  It is right up there with my top games, both in how I rate it and in number of plays.  Your family and friends can save the world together in an easy to play game in about an hour; I am confident this will make it one of your favorite games.  Our local Barnes and Nobles are now carrying it for roughly $35.00 (USD), so it is getting easier to find.  Even at full price, the high number of plays for me means the game has yielded an entertainment value of $1.25/hr, and I am ready for more plays!  I cannot recommend this game enough!

Vital Statistics:

                Ages:                     10 and up (perhaps as low as 7 due to the co-op nature)
                Time:                     60 minutes
                Players:                  1-4 


It's Your Move!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cheat Sheets

I am a big advocate of cheat sheets for games.  No, I am not talking about secret ways to win.  I am talking about rules summaries.  After all, who really likes to wade through rules to a game?  Furthermore, some games have longer rule books.   Pandemic, for instance has an eight page rule book.  One whole page is a setup diagram, one a sample turn, and there are lots of helpful illustrations, so it’s not really an outlandish amount of rules.  However, since they are spread out over eight pages, looking to verify a specific rule during the game, or even just reviewing the rules quickly before teaching the game, isn’t particularly easy.

Enter the game cheat sheet.  Really, there are two kinds.  The first are what are typically called player aids, which prompt the player for the phases of their turn, or provide other useful information.  I will cover these down the road.  The other type is the rules summary, which are attempts to boil the rules down to their essence.  In many ways, a rules summary is the equivalent of highlighting the rules, though highlighting alone has two issues.  First of all, the rulebook is now permanently marked up, which is ugly, and lessens the value of the game should you ever decide to eBay it.  Secondly, it doesn’t alleviate the problem of having to flip pages to find that rule you’re trying to verify.  There are two ways to obtain summaries: make them or download them.

Making a rules summary is much the same as any summary, but I do have two particular ways of going about it.  The first way is to photocopy or download a copy of the rules.  (Rules can typically be found at the publisher’s website.)  Highlight that copy, and then gather all of the highlights into one page.  Pretty simple.  In fact, I am sure I didn’t tell you anything new there.

The second way creates what I refer to as a turn sequence, and is a hybrid of the player aid and rules summary.  These are particularly useful in solitaire or two player games with more involved turns, like wargames.  Often these rulebooks are 10+ pages long.  For many of these games there is a section in the rules that gives a high level turn sequence.  I copy that and then add more levels of detail in an outline form, with references to the relevant rules section.  As an example, the one I created for Silent War, a solitaire WWII submarine warfare game, can be found here.

Before I go to that trouble, though, I will typically check for summaries online, for instance on BoardGameGeek (BGG).  (I talked about BGG a few posts ago.)  On the page for that game, there is a section called files.  There will be lots of stuff that fans of the game have created to support game play, including game summaries.

Often you will find summaries by an individual I only know by his/her penname: Universal Head.  This person makes great summaries using artwork from the game, so the summaries are aesthetically pleasing too.  Not only are these summaries on BGG, but Universal Head maintains a website that lists them all at Headless Hollow.  Check them out!

The level of effort required to print, or even make and print a rules summary pays off over a brief amount of time.  I love them; they are just so handy.  Next game you purchase, find or create a game summary.  Then please share with me what game you purchased and how you obtained your summary.  Until then,

It’s your move!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me! Happy Birthday to Me!

My birthday was last week, and I got a great present last night!  Okay, it really wasn't a birthday present, since I actually sold off some games to buy this games - back in January!  One of the games was on back order until last week, (something to do with US Customs) and so it finally came last night.  The games are:

7 Wonders (image by a_traveller)

Onirim (image by Shadi Torbey)
Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game  (image Jesus A. Perez)
Wings of War: Watch Your Back! (image by Andrea Angiolino)
All of them are fairly short games, which was part of the reason for the purchase.  7 Wonders also supports seven players extremely well, which is rare for a game.  Onirim is the highest rated solitaire I have seen in a while.  Death Angel gives me a Sci-Fi filler, and is also playable as a solo game.  Watch Your Back can be played with Wings of War: Burning Drachens  for up to six players now.  And all of the last three games are small enough to travel well.

As I get them played I will try to review them.

It's Your Move!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 Wooden 11.5" Dice tray: Sports & Outdoors

I guess the dice rolling posts were more timely than I thought. Amazon has several dice trays on sale for $9.99 for those who are interested. The one that seems to be getting the best reviews is found here: Wooden 11.5" Dice tray: Sports & Outdoors

It's your move!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mass Market Monkey-business: Bananagrams

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about Scrabble and the fact that it really isn’t a vocabulary game.  This time I will cover a game that really is about your ability with words: Bananagrams.  I generally don’t like word games, with Scrabble being a rare exception.  Bananagrams turns out to be another exception.  I like how easy it is to learn, how fast it plays, and the fact that it lends itself to secret handicaps.  All of this makes the game one of those rare finds; it’s a mass-market game that really is fun!

Bananagrams promotional image
The game is incredibly easy to learn.  All of the tiles are placed face down in the middle of the table; this is called the “bunch”.  Each player draws a preset number of tiles from the bunch based on the number of players: usually eleven.  Someone calls “go!”, and everyone flips over their tiles and builds a crossword out of them.  When someone completes their crossword, they call “peel!”, and everyone draws another tile.  If you have a tile that is giving you trouble, you may call “dump!” and exchange it for three other tiles.  As letters are added, a player’s words can be disassembled and reassembled, completely rearranging their crossword.  This continues until the tiles in the bunch number less than the number of players.  The first person then done with their crossword is the winner.  There, I taught you the game!  See how easy that was!

The game plays just that fast, too.  It really falls into that category of games known as “speed games”, which tend to be short and center on getting some task completed first, or beating the clock.  (The classic example from my childhood is Perfection.)  My wife and I were judging Destination Imagination a few weeks ago, and finished two games during the half hour lunch break with other judges who had never played before.  The short playing time of this game means that those who need to be sucked in encouraged can play a game that doesn’t last long enough to be painful if they don’t like it.  You will be amazed at how fast an hour or two can go by in twenty minute increments!

Of course, this is where the language skills come into play, which reveals the biggest fault this game has.  Anyone with good language skills will outshine someone with lesser skills.  An adult will outshine a child; a writer will outclass a mathematician.  Since words only have to be two letters long, someone with good word skills can just capture the initiative and keep “peeling”, completely disrupting other players and maintaining the lead.  However, this is where the secret self-handicapping comes into the game.  An adult playing Bananagrams with a child could decide to make nothing less than three letter words to help level the playing field, without letting the child know.  My wife’s favorite secret handicap is to refuse to dump any letters, and live with what she draws.  However it’s done, it is an easy game from which to eliminate any inherent advantages.

I rate Bananagrams as just as a-peel-ing (sorry, it just had to be done!) as Scrabble.  On top of everything else, it is readily available in stores around town, and prices at roughly $15.00 (USD), and can play a bunch of people (okay, I’ll stop!), which makes it almost must have for your game library.  I will say that it is not good for the under 10 crowd, since their word skills are just not developed enough. 

Here’s the vital statistics:

                Ages:                     7 and up (though I would tend to say 9 at the youngest)
                Time:                     15 minutes
                Players:                  1-8 (but really best with 3-5 players)

And it travels well too!

Monday, April 4, 2011

CBS Sunday Morning Spot on Boardgames

This is a spot shown yesterday (3 Apr 2011) on CBS Sunday Morning.  Not all of the information is accurate, but it's good to see that board games are getting respectful attention!

Click here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Game Storage and OCD

Tuckboxes by mrkaf
Lately, I have started making tuckboxes for my games.  Everyone who has ever played cards with a traditional deck of 52 cards is familiar with tuckboxes; they are the cases the cards come in.  My niece, who thinks 200+ games is obsessive anyway, would probably say this is an OCD issue.  (Feel free to weigh in on this, Ang.)  What are the alternatives?  There are three that I know of, but they all have their issues: free floating cards, rubber bands (ouch!), and plastic baggies.  Let’s examine each of these, and then I will explain how I go about getting tuckboxes for my games.

The easiest way to store cards, and the easiest was to dismiss, is just letting the cards lie loose in the game box.  That’s because it is the easiest way to lose cards.  There is only one time when I will do this, and that is when the box insert has a well for the cards that will be covered by a heavy game board.  Even then, I stick some tissue paper on top of the cards, so they can’t travel to the top of the well and slide out.

Rubber bands are the ruination of card decks.  Applied across the deck, the cards tend to fan out at the ends, creating some cards that are warped in one direction or the other.   Of course, one could run the rubber band one way, give it a twist, and then run it the other way, so that the deck is bound both in width and length.  This is certainly better, since it keeps the cards from warping.  I don’t do this because there are games, Like Fury of Dracula, that only get played at certain times of the year.  After a year of storage, the rubber bands tend to either break (see above!), or worse, melt.  There is also the problem of the Rubber Band Gremlins in our house, who always have stolen the exact size of rubber band I need at the moment, leaving behind only the ones that won’t work.

Plastic baggies are the best solution of these three, but can also have their issues.  Common kitchen baggies will keep the card from getting lost, won’t warp cards, and don’t melt or break.  However, the cards can slide around within the baggie if it’s too large, allowing the small possibility of card damage from heavier game components during transport.  For several years, I used 3” x 5” (76mm x 127mm) craft baggies.  They work great, but won’t hold many cards, so a deck has to be split amongst several baggies.  That’s really the only downside, which admittedly isn’t much.

So, why did I convert to tuckboxes?  First of all, all of one type of card goes in one container, rather than several.  This allows for faster setup and cleanup of the game.  How to put the game away is now clear to those helping, and even more so to anyone who borrowed the game and is cleaning up on their own.  Secondly, there is the Awesomeness Factor; it just looks much better.  Lastly, it gives me a way to work on my collection without spending money buying new games.  (I know; it’s pretty sad.) 

How do I get the designs?  Tyson Manwarren has created a tuckbox creation website.  After providing the needed dimensions for the tuckbox, and uploading jpg artwork for it, the website creates a pdf of the tuckbox to be cut out, folded and glued.  Prior to going through that process, however, I check the file section of that particular games page on BoardGameGeek to see if anyone has already created one to download.  The Fury of Dracula pattern was created by BGG user Helen Holzgrafe; I just downloaded it. 

I use 110 lb paper in my printer.  The boxes aren’t very solid, but they are going inside the game box, so they really don’t take a beating.  Besides, I can remake it if I have to replace it.  My wife is taking over making them for me, since she has craftier hands.  (No, she is not OCD. She is a loving supporter of my hobby!)

So, I guess the final thing I have to say is: FOR THE LOVE OF HEAVEN, PEOPLE, STORE YOUR CARDS RIGHT! 

Umm, sorry…

Rather, for the sake of your games’ longevity, decide on a good way to store your cards.  Use baggies as a minimum.  Unless you have another idea, of course, which I would love to hear about.  While you are deciding that, you can also decide on whether I need a twelve step program or not.  Feedback is welcome – in the meantime,

It’s Your Move…