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).

Showing posts with label kids. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kids. Show all posts

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Wow.  This has been a pretty different year.  Lots of things in my personal life have worked against my gaming, which is why I haven't posted as much.  Here's a quick recap.

So far, I am on pace with last year.  In other words, I am having another bad year in terms of number of games played.  At this point in time last year, I had played 28 games of twelve different titles.  This year, I have played 27 games of 14 different titles - though seven of those games are a special case as you will see below.  It's amazing to me that I have dropped off that much.

I have received a lot of fun by learning new games.  I have found that I learn a new game, and I am much better able to teach a new game, by playing the game through by myself with several players.  It's a sort of "multiplayer solitaire", but it's been good.  Of course, that's also kind of sad; I am getting the most gaming enjoyment from playing a game by myself.  Ugh.

The good news is that the gaming group is managing to meet every month.  The group was very hit an miss last year.  Right now, we are hitting on all cylinders, and it looks like there isn't anything to get in the way this year.  That's great, because my gaming outside of the group is down.

We also finally got the chess club started at the school.  With only a month left, there was some question as to whether or not it was worth doing, but the kids really wanted it.  We are just going to play, and not give much formal instruction.  I played seven of the kids at once this past Wednesday, which is what I was referring to above.  So instruction will be on an individual basis, as I point things out to the kids as they play. 

We are going to try something different this year.  I play a lot of chess on, which is a great site.  (My number of plays doesn't include online chess games.)  They have an associated website for kids, on which parents and coaches can control the amount of contact their kids have.  I will be introducing it to the parents, so that the kids can continue to play over the summer with each other, and with me.  I will be able to comment and keep track of their progress.  If I can keep them playing, I will.

It's their move!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

King of Fillers: A King of Tokyo Review

We normally don’t play many fillers in our gaming group.  For the most part, we know each other well enough that we spend time catching up before we start playing.  I have been trying to curtail that, since we have plenty of time while gaming to catch up, and we are trying to limit the session to four hours.  A couple of weeks ago we had a couple of people running late, so a filler was in order.  King of Tokyo was what made it to the table, since it met the player count and wasn’t too long.  Did we like it?  Well, we finished with it too…

Promotional Image
King of Tokyo is meant to be a light game where each player takes on the role of a giant monster attacking Tokyo.  There is light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor which is evident from the moment players start selecting their monsters from the pool consisting of Meka-Dragon, Cyber Bunny and Alienoid.  During the course of the game, each monster will gain special powers, helping them defeat the other monsters (by doing damage) or lay waste to Tokyo (by gaining victory points).  Players win by either gaining 20 victory points or by eliminating all other monsters.

Here’s the thumbnail version of the rules.  On their turn, each player picks up a handful of dice and rolls them Yahtzee-style.  Each die has six sides with the same faces: the numbers 1, 2 and 3 as well as a claw, a heart and a lightning bolt.  The dice are rolled up to three times, with the player selecting which dice to keep and which to re-roll each time.   Rolling three numbers of a kind awards that many victory points.  In other words, rolling three 1’s gives 1 victory point; rolling three 2’s gives 2 victory points.  Rolling a claw is an attack, rolling a heart heals, and rolling a lightning bolt awards the player with an energy cube.  Energy cubes are the currency of the game, and are used to buy cards that give the special abilities mentioned before.  Players outside of Tokyo damage the one player inside the city (two in a five or six player game), and vice versa.  I won’t go into details on how one gets to Tokyo.  Suffice it to say that being in the city is a higher risk / higher reward position, and there are ways to force people into Tokyo.

I won with Alienoid in the first game, but he let me down
in the second! (Image by Raiko Puust)
This is a GREAT game!  In the first game, I won by being the last monster standing.  I had the chance to move into Tokyo on a turn late in the game.  On my next turn, I played an “Air Strike” card which dealt everyone – including me – three points of damage.  I then rolled four claws, doing damage to everyone outside the city and eliminating them all!  Since it was a six player game, it was just between myself and the other player inside Tokyo.  A couple of turns later there was a showdown and I barely won.

The second game lasted a little longer, and resulted in a victory point win for one of the other members of the group.  On one hand, this was a little less climactic, since only two people were eliminated (including me).  On the other hand, a longer game allowed more special powers to be put in play, and there’s some drama and humor to be gained that way, so it was just as fun!  Cards with titles such as, “We’re Only Making It STRONGER!”, this game begs to be played in your best B-grade creature feature voice.  In fact, part of the fun (at least for me) is going over the top with this.

The cards add special powers to the monsters, not to mention some corny humor!  (Image by Raiko Puust)
  At a half hour play time, this game has that in-between playing time that is a little long for a filler, and a little short for a full experience.  It’s kind of like getting loaded baked potatoes for an appetizer; should I stop here or order more food?  I am also not sure how well this will do with kids.  The theme is perfect for them, and they will easily be taught the rules.  However, being forced into Tokyo and then having everyone whomp on you just might be a little traumatic for some younger children.  I’ll still call it a good kids’ game, because I believe a typical 8 – 10 year old will be past that point.

The only other issue with this game might be finding a copy!  You will either have to go online or find a local gaming store to purchase it.  Do yourself a favor and find a way to get it!  When I recommended this on my 2012 Gift Buying Guide, I hadn't played it.  I based the recommendation on the games reputation, and it has more than lived up to it!  This is a great game that will be fun for many gatherings.  It will play well in both casual groups and in family groups across generations.  I plan to make it available at all of our game group sessions for quite a while, since it was a big hit with nearly everyone. 

King of Tokyo
                Ages:                    8 and up
                Time:                     30 minutes
                Players:                 2-6 (but I think it really needs at least three)

It’s Your Move

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Pizza Box Football

Pizza Box Football is a great game to play with kids young and old, so I posted my review on Father Geek.  This is a particularly good game for a Christmas gift, since gridiron football is ramping up for college bowl games and pro playoffs!

It's Your Move

Monday, December 3, 2012

Father Geek Article on Buying Chess Sets as Gifts

Last year I wrote this post about buying chess sets for the Holidays.  I covered the topic again over at  Father Geek.  If you read last year's post you won't find this one that different.  Whichever version you read, it makes sense to buy a child a good chess set that will last for years.

It's Your Move!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Teaching Chess to Kids – One Rule to Wring them All!

 Most people think chess is a hard game to learn.  It’s not.  Once someone learns how to move the pieces they can play.  Sure, there are a few slightly complicated moves like castling or en passant, but generally speaking moves aren’t an issue.  Learning how to move pieces in combination, that is where the game gets involved.  It’s not the rules; it’s all of the strategy and tactics that make the game complex.

Except with kids.  Now we are into a whole different area.  First of all, kids want to know all of the odd-ball rules, not only castling and en passant but also the three-position and 50-move rules.  Normally, I try to just move past these topics, but generally someone has heard of them and I eventually end up explaining these rules.  They will try to invoke them, and be completely wrong; this is particularly true of the three-position rule.* However, we get past them and put them away.

So what is the concept that wrings all the certainty out of their heads, leaving the idea that chess is hard?  What is the hardest thing for children to learn (that actually does show up in their games): the knight’s move? No, they need some help with that, but it comes pretty quickly.  The key to that is not only the shape of the move, but the fact that the knight changes the color of the square he stands on with every move.  If the knight is on a dark square now, it will finish on a light square.  What about the pawn?  The fact that the pawn moves differently when it attacks causes a little confusion, but that’s cleared up quickly. 

The toughest part of chess to teach is check (and by extension checkmate!)  Then how do they end the game?  They end the wrong way, at least in the beginning.  Here are the most common misconceptions:

  • “If I threaten the king on this turn, and don’t call check, I can capture it next turn!”  Of course, the king is never actually captured in chess.  When the king is threatened, it’s in check, and must get out of check.  If the king can’t get out of check, then it is checkmate and the game is over.
  • “But you didn’t call check!”  Check is check, called or not.  Often it doesn’t need to be said, because it’s that obvious.  This is a common source of disagreements, because this statement will probably follow the previous thought!
  • "I’ll move my king next to theirs and put my enemy in check!”  The problem with this is that two kings next to each other are both in check!  Since a king cannot move into check, it’s an illegal move.  Last night I actually had an 8th grader, who has been playing for a year, suggest that doing this would allow a player to win with just a bishop and a king – wrong!

How does this get solved?  In the immediate game, I try to back the players up to the last legal move, and then continue the game.  Otherwise, I call it a draw.

Speaking of draws, stalemate is also a problem concept, but not as hard to overcome.  It is truly amazing how often stalemates occur at this level.  Last year our youngest member played his first ten games without a loss – 3 wins and 7 stalemates! 

As frustrating as it can be, teaching chess has its own rewards.  It is wonderful to see their enthusiasm, and fun to watch their faces as the “light comes on”.  Even though my son graduates from the school this year, I can’t imagine giving this up.

It’s Your Move!

 * The three position rule says that an exact board position occurring three times is a draw.  For this to happen, every piece and pawn must be in the same position all three times with the same moves available.  As a result, a piece captured or a pawn moved means none of the prior positions can be repeated, since those pieces can never go back to where they were.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tasteless Fun: Dominion -- Great Game, Little Flavor

I have to confess that Dominion is completely out of style with the games I normally like.  In fact, I probably would never have played it except for my brother's family.  The year it was published, it was quite the rage.  Yet, its reputation as a themeless game put me off.  So did the constant card shuffling I heard about.  Then why, in the end, did I end up giving it a rating of 9 out of 10?  After all, I like games that drip with theme, telling a story as they are played.  I was just as surprised as you.

Incredible fun in 30 minutes!
That year, when my brother and his wife came back from visiting one of their kids, they raved about Dominion.  For my brother to do this, it must be a huge success as a family game.  His motto is, “If it starts to feel like work, I’d rather work.”  This game he was anxious play with us.  For Christmas they gave my son a copy.  I still wasn’t convinced.  Not until we sat down to play it a few months later was I completely won over.  We got home late the night of our first play, but still took the time to break the seal on my son’s copy and get it ready to play.  A few days later I bought a copy of Dominion: Intrigue, which is the first expansion, but is also playable as a standalone version.  This way, when Big D (he has grown taller than me since I started this blog!) goes off to college, I am sure to have a copy.

Dominion is a card game which is supposedly building up a kingdom, a dominion, by adding various places, people and features to it as the game goes on.  However, the game doesn’t really feel like you are doing any of that.  Typically, this is where I take a pass.   The game play in Dominion is so good, however, that it makes up for any lack of flavor. 

Players have a deck of cards that sits at their left hand, and are holding five cards.  At your right hand is your personal discard pile.  More cards of various types are on the table for purchase, including cards which represent money and cards that are victory points.  On your turn, you can play one card from your hand for an action and/or buy a card from the table, and then you “clean up” by discarding everything you bought, played and your hand.  Five cards are drawn from your deck for the next turn.  An action allows you to draw more cards, make more than one purchase, play more actions, attack or defend or some combination thereof.  When your deck runs out, you shuffle the discard pile and make it the deck and keep going.  When the game ends, the person who has the most victory points wins.

Some of the cards from Dominion (Image by Gary James)
 That’s not a thorough description without going into the cards, but it does go about that fast: 30 minutes for a complete game.   It’s not terribly complicated.  (Little ones will have trouble with shuffling and reading text on the cards though.)  Your deck grows as you buy cards and they eventually cycle around.  The fun is in the interaction of the cards.  I love trying to buy cards that will work in combination to allow multiple actions or buys, or more valuable buys.

The game components consist exclusively of the cards and the rules.  While available at Target and Barnes & Noble, don’t look for it on the same rack as Rook, or Monopoly Deal.  This game comes in a full size box.  That’s because it doesn’t have the usual 50 – 100 cards; there are 500 cards in the box!  The artwork is adequate, though not awe in inspiring.  As I said, the excellence of this game is in the game play.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider that Dominion was the 2009 Spiel des Jahres winner.  Since its publication, the game mechanism of buying the cards you will play with later in the game has appeared in a lot of games.  I haven’t played any of them, since I love this game so much.  It’s hard for me to justify another game that largely plays the same way.

I gave this game a 9 / 10.  That's pretty high praise from me; it's a rating for games I don't imagine giving up. 

It's Your Move!

 Dominion: ages 8 and up, 30 minutes, 2-4 players.
Good Casual Gaming! Kid Friendly!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chess Sets for Gifts

One of my last posts was my buying guide for holiday gifts.  I suggested that the dedicated chess player is so focused that buying chess items for him or her is more likely to fail then succeed.  However, that's not true of the starting chess player.

This year's Chess Club at school has a lot of new kids in it.  I am so glad my wife is there as the librarian, so that she can use her classroom management skills to my benefit.  In the interest of crowd control, she has taken all of the new members and is walking them through a short introductory course in the game which will finish soon.  This is mandatory, even if you know how to play.  Meanwhile, I have the veterans, who are starting their chess ladder.  I will go into this another time, though I talked about it briefly in a post from last year.

With all of these new kids, I know there will be a few Christmas Lists that have chess sets on them.  Wednesday was the Feast of St. Nicholas, so jolly old St. Nick picked up all of those lists as he stopped by and dropped off tangerines and candy (at least at our house!).  So, where should Santa go if he needs a few more chess sets then he has ready?  I will give you two ideas:

The Chess House is a great place to find a chess set.  I have personally purchased from there, and the transaction was quick and easy.  I would buy their   Quality Regulation Tournament Chess Set Combo .  This set has several advantages: 1) this set (or one VERY similar) is the set used in the school, so children are used to it; 2) this set is a regulation tournament set, so it can be used in official events; 3) it transports easily; 4) it's nearly indestructible.

Similar sets can be found at the US Chess Federation's online store. Their are more options here, with different styles of bags, combinations that include chess clocks, and some that include the book How to Beat Your Dad at Chess.  Always popular.

The US Chess Federation (USCF) is the governing body for chess in the United States.  While you're there, consider getting a gift membership for your little chess player.  It will be well worth it.

I will apologize to my overseas friends; this post is very US-centric.  However, I am sure there are scholastic memberships available in your part of the world too, so the advise still holds.  Regardless of where your live, support your little chess enthusiast and your school's chess program!  There are studies that show how beneficial chess is to young minds, and there are measured results.

It's Your Move!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm Not Ready Yet!

Tomorrow is the first day of chess club at our school.  We wait until after football season is over, since my son and several of the other boys play football.  That just makes it too hectic for my wife and I to get every place we need to be, so chess waits.  Of course, as I mentioned in previous posts, I made great plans for moving forward this year.

I love the "whooshing" sound that great plans make as they blow right out the window.

We bought a chess curriculum last year, and I might still be able to use it.  Hopefully I can do that enough to becomes at least familiar with it.  I have a little more time, since this week is just the first week, and is really about getting acquainted.  As I said this morning, the kids should break down into four groups, who can be generally dealt with separately.

The first group are the kids who were coming last year.  They all know the rules, and can actually play a game.  Some of the older kids are decent players.  We will set up a chess ladder like last year, although I need to look at some of my "lessons learned" from last year.  Nonetheless, those kids can be turned loose to play for the first day if need be.  This is an easy group.

Group two consists of those kids who willingly admit they have no clue how to play.  These are the children who just admit up front they can't even move the pieces correctly.  This is the other easy group, since we have material to teach them with, and nearly anyone can use the material.  Typically, my wife takes this group and brings them along.

The last two groups are the hardest, since they need assessment.  The better of the two are those kids who are mature enough to know if they can play chess or not, but don't have much experience.  They may fit in great with the returning members, but also could be intimidated.  Helping them level the playing field is important.

The toughest group are the kids who truly believe the know how to play, but don't.  In the same group are those who are too embarrassed to admit they don't know how to play.  Either way, you have to get them to the point where they know it's okay to be learning the game from the ground up.  That's a particularly tough job. Last year, I had a girl in the club who could not grasp all of the rules, but insisted she did to the frustration of her opponents.  She was crying at the end of the year, because she never won a game.  How could she?

In the end, all of these groups will resolve into two; those who know the rules and those who don't.  When we figure out where everyone is at, then we will know how to proceed.  All that really matters is that the kids get a bit of a mental workout, and have fun playing!

It's Your Move!

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

Magic: The Gathering started it all.
Ever heard of Magic: The GatheringPokémon?  These are “rabbit hole” games, otherwise known as collectable card games or CCGs.  These are the greatest cause of grocery store checkout disputes since the invention of bubble gum.  Many of you experienced parents have an idea of what these are.  Some younger parents will soon find out, if you didn’t already play them as a youngster.  Once you enter the rabbit hole, there is a lot of game space to be explored.  It comes at a price though.

What exactly are CCGs?  How do I avoid them?  Can I avoid them?  Do I want to avoid them?  I know we have had these questions as our boy has grown, and we seemed to hit on a solution that kept him happy an let us keep our house.  Let me clear things up a bit.

Magic: The Gathering is the first and most commercially successful of all of the CCGs.  It was first published in 1993 and quickly became a huge hit.  When first published, it was a completely new concept in game design.  Following right on the heels of the bad press surrounding Dungeons & Dragons, it rapidly came under scrutiny due to the title and theme.  Parents wondered exactly what arcane things were really going on during those late night sessions.  Little did they know that the game play isn’t the issue; the business model is the real danger.

Getting started in a CCG is easy.  Nearly all CCGs sell “starter decks” which contain enough cards to begin play.  The cards typically consist of characters, locations and powers or weapons which all work together towards combat prowess.  Typically two players face off with their decks of cards and play through various combinations in order to win the game by defeating the other player.  Starter decks are built equally, so getting started is easy.

The genius behind the business model lies in making the decks more powerful.  After their starter deck, players can buy booster packs of cards that can be exchanged with other cards in their deck.  Customizing  the deck this way makes it more powerful through the cards or through the interaction of the various combinations of cards.  To play competitively, players need to purchase better cards.  There are several levels of cards: common, uncommon, rare and “mythic rare” (number of levels and terms may vary: these are specifically Magic terms).  Cards get more powerful as their rarity increases.  The “gotcha” is that the booster packs are random assortments, so players may need to buy many packs to find specific cards.  Cards are always being retired from official play even while new cards enter stores, creating an endless cycle.  Now we are fully inside the rabbit hole!

Because it appeals to all ages, Magic maintains its success nearly 20 years later, largely through tournaments held from local to national levels.  These tournaments are key to the success of any CCG, since they drive the competitive spirit of the game.  Even in tournaments with prescribed decks provided by the tournament, players want to be aware of the combinations that might be possible. This leads them to buy their own cards.  Magic tournaments are common in any city, and there is even a professional circuit now.

Before you decide to just nix this whole idea for your child, I must say that there are some benefits.  Some of them are common to many games, but one benefit in particular is unique to this style of game.  Simply put, CCGs are an activity as well as a game.  I have seen children sitting and discussing the various merits of various cards (providing social interaction) and trading each other for needed cards (developing negotiation skills) while customizing their individual decks.  Furthermore, customizing and re-customizing decks can occupy a child for a fair amount of time, which is sometimes critical as a parent!

In that case, how does a parent handle this while keeping their child from spending too much?  I can give two approaches that have worked for us as well as others, and I am sure there are other approaches that will keep the expenses down.

Some games just never catch on
The key to both of these methods lies in this: without tournament play, CCGs are doomed to failure.  The gaming landscape is littered with failed CCGs, even those covering popular themes: Star Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to name a few.  (Note that there are several CCGs for every theme: it’s important to pay attention to the exact title.)  The first approach is therefore to allow your child to pick one CCG, and only support it on a schedule.  Our son picked Chaotic, since he loved the cartoon, and we had specifically ruled out Pokémon.  (None of the kids were playing Magic .)  Chaotic never caught on, and the danger was avoided for a couple years while it died out.  The one booster pack a month we promised to support, at a few dollars each, did not crippled us.  Soon, the cards were no longer available, though he kept looking.  If a child’s game does catch on, don’t let them enter any tournaments until they can support the habit; most tournaments have an age limit anyway. 

Another alternative, which works particularly well for Magic and Pokémon, is to buy outdated cards in large lots on eBay or in a local game store.  The tournament model also means that there are a lot of cards, particularly for Magic, that have either fallen out of favor or are specifically excluded from tournament play.  Failed games can also be found this way as well as at thrift stores.  I have two games found this way:  Star Wars CCG and Star Wars: The Trading Card Game.  (A trading card game is the same concept, but the term is often used to produce another game with the same theme.)  The former has a good reputation, but I have found that customizing decks is something I don’t have time to do, so neither game has ever been played.

Wings of War may do me in!
Of course, I have found my rabbit hole anyway.  (And I am not talking about the elephant-sized hole that is buying games in general!)  Another type of collectable game involves miniatures, and I am slowly starting to buy aircraft for Wings of War (aka Wings of Glory).  The good news is that there are fewer miniatures to collect due to the production costs.  The bad news is that they are more expensive.

Carrot, anyone?

It’s Your Move!