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 scouts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scouts. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2013

3 Great, Easy-to-Find Boardgames to Play on Your Patio this Summer

Last weekend I was camping with our Boy Scout Troop, enjoying some great weather and managing to play a few games.  (I was actually undefeated in three games of chess, three games of backgammon and three games of Hive - a very rare thing indeed!)  Playing outdoors is a lot of fun, but not every game can handle it. I wrote about this after the same campout two years ago, but with a focus on games good for camping.  This time, I want to talk about three excellent family games that could be played on a lazy Sunday afternoon right on your patio; games that would be easy to find.

The difference between a game good for camping, and a game that you would play on your patio, is the weather. When you're camping, you have to be prepared for any kind of weather that might come along. That limits your selection of games to those that could get wet. However, on a patio, you can wait until the weather is dry before you go out. That opens up some additional possibilities, like having an actual board in your boardgame. Another possibility would be having some tiles. Either boards or tiles will soak up some water if the surface is wet. You can avoid that on your patio. Additionally, a lot of picnic tables at campsites are not flat, but most peoples patio tables are fine. In fact, the only real environmental issue on a patio is the wind. So now that we understand why games good for camping are not necessarily good for the patio, let's move on to the actual games:
  • ScrabbleHere's our first case in point. Scrabble is a great game: a timeless classic. It does not work well as a camping game because it has a board which would soak up water if anything dropped on it, or was it laying on the table. However, on a patio, that's not an issue. Furthermore, this game's wooden tiles won't blow away in the wind. The best part about this game is that you probably have a copy laying around. Almost everyone knows how to play, or is at least somewhat familiar with its ideas. I know some people don't like Scrabble, because they don't feel their vocabulary keeps them very competitive . However, I wrote a whole article on approaching Scrabble as a strategic game, rather than a word game, and that will make anyone a winner..

  • Qwirkle.  Qwirkle can be thought of as Scrabble with colors and shapes. It has the opposite problem than Scrabble does though; it has no board.  It is therefore susceptible to unevenness in the playing surface. Picnic tables don't work well for this game. However with chunky blocks as the playing pieces, this game isn't going anywhere. Qwirkle was the Spiel des Jahres winner a couple of years ago, and that means it's a great game. This German award is given to the best new family game each year. My full review which can be found here.
  • Blokus.  The last game is Blokus. Blokus has a plastic board, so it cant get wet. Since its plastic, it's also rigid, and therefore doesn't care what service its all. It might think that this would make it a good game for camping, but some of the pieces a rather small and could be easily lost in the grass. This will be a great games to play with the little ones, it's fairly easy to understand and very colorful. I wrote about the entire family of Blokus games several years ago. 
These are three great games for the family that will make a great afternoon or evening outdoors in the fresh air.  All of them are readily available at stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Barnes & Nobles.  None of them are terribly expensive, and the latter two are certainly playable by the under 10 crowd (probably down to about age five or six).  I've seen these games at all of those stores, as well as bigger grocery stores.  Barnes & Nobles stores are carrying more and more good games all the time.

Bonus.  This brings me to my last point.  Speaking of B&N, I can't help but mention one other game that plays really well outside: Carcassonne.  This is another game without a board; you actually build the board by laying down tiles.  This game plays very well with anywhere from two to five players, and I just can't say enough about how good this game is.  This is one of the very few games I rate a 10/10 on BoardGameGeek, and I have played more than a few games.  At one point, we actually owned three copies, so we would have one for my wife and I each at work, as well as the one we keep at home.  I don't play games at work anymore, so that copy now belongs to a neighbor who loves it.

Pick a warm night under the stars with a lantern and play.  Take an afternoon in the shade and have a blast.  In any case, everyone in the family will be a winner.

It's Your Move,


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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chess is now a Boy Scout Merit Badge

This just has to be announced.  Boy Scouts of America has just approved a merit badge for chess.  I guess I will add "merit badge councilor" to my titles "school chess coach" and "troop leader"!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Good Camping Game ≠ Good Scout Game

I spent the first half of this week at Boy Scout Summer Camp with our troop.  It was a great experience, despite the rain.  There is no better way to see how the future of our society will react to adversity than watching patient, yet determined young men (or women, your mileage may vary) work through mud, wet gear and soaked wood to build a fire in the pouring rain.  It makes me proud to think maybe I have some slight influence for good there.

Yet, all is not perfect.  One of the things I learned in the course of this week is that games that are good for camping, which I have discussed before, are not necessarily good for Scouts.  I had a deck of cards and several games with me at camp, three of which came out: Hive, Bandits, and one of my travel chess sets.  All were put to good use; putting them away was the issue.

Image by David Detwiler
Looking around the table, it was easy to see that playing cards were not given much respect.  In fact, the deck of playing cards that I brought had a few bent cards after just an hour.  I don’t particularly care about that; standard playing cards are cheap and easy to replace.  However, Bandits is a card game that uses its own cards, not standard cards, and would not be as easy to replace.  The game never really caught on in the gaming world, since it is a little simplistic and without a whole lot of choices.  Those facts make it great for young Scouts with little gaming experience; however, it also makes it a game that didn’t stay in print.  If I want it for future events, I need to keep it safe.  It went to bed when I did.

A took a bit more of a chance with my chess set.  Some of the boys were still up when I retired, and chess, unlike Bandits, is a well known game.  One of the new boys was playing, but with an older Scout, so I figured it would probably be okay.  I was wrong.  One knight was lost in the mud.  Since the pieces are less than a half inch tall, and the knight was maroon in color, it was never found.  The new Scout felt pretty badly, but disappointingly the older Scout was pretty cavalier about it.  I knew it was a risk, and I chose to take it, so I am not horribly upset.  I guess for each of those determined and patient Scout there is one who still needs work.  Well, they are boys after all.

Hive is always a huge hit! (Image by Richard van Vugt)
With Hive, I am taking an even bigger risk.  I left it at camp to be returned to me at next week’s troop meeting.  This game was once again a huge hit, and several more boys were introduced to it and loved it.  I left it with a new Scout, and left an older Scout to follow behind him.  The pieces are big and few in number, so I am confident I will get it all back.  Honestly, it was too good an opportunity to teach responsibility to one and leadership to another, so I couldn’t pass it up.  The senior Scout loves games, so I think he will place a little more value on the game coming back whole.
What makes a good Scout game?  First of all, it really needs to be fairly durable (or disposable), just as any other camping game.  Secondly, it really needs to have fairly simple rules.  Some of these boys find Egyptian Ratscrew, a variant of Slapjack, to be a good game, and that (along with Pokemon cards) may be the limit of their gaming experience.  A game like Pandemic may be asking too much, even if it is a good teamwork game.
I will be keeping a separate game bag for my Scout games.  What about you?  After all,
It’s Your Move!

P.S. - Yes, I know that right now Brandubh is also showing as a game I played recently.  I played it with one of the camp councilors.  Afterward I gave it to him, since they can never have too many games and they may need something to do on a rainy evening too.  It's an ancient game that can be made from a board printed on cardstock and aquarium stones.  Let me know if you are interested, and I can shoot you a copy.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lighting My Fire – Games Good for Camping

I mentioned camping with our Scout troop the other day.  It was supposed to be pretty rainy the whole weekend, (thankfully it was not!) so I planned my games for the weekend around those that can get wet.  In reality, though, it isn’t just rain that is bad for games.  No matter what the weather is supposed to be like, dirt, mud – even a little breeze – are all environmental considerations when you combine gaming and camping.

What game components are not good for camping?  There are really two characteristics that define this.  You wouldn’t want those which can soak up water.  That rules out anything with paper money or cards. (Though standard playing cards are cheap enough to be an exception.)  The second problem type is anything that might catch the wind.  These rules eliminate a lot of games, since so many of them have cards in them.

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Good components are ones that can get wet, since this allows not only for rain, but for cleaning them up at the end of camp too.  They should be chunky, too, since this helps keep them from getting lost in the grass.  Less common, except with games having homemade components, is having a vinyl or cloth  board (like a handkerchief) if any at all.  Dice and craft stones are the key.

Dice games are great, since they can always be washed off.  If they are standard dice, they can easily be replaced if needed.  On this outing I took GoLong!, an American football game, which is a fun little dice-fest.  These dice are not standard, but then I picked it up at the thrift store for $0.69, so who cares.  Since the game is out of print, I won’t do a full review, but I will say that while it was very light and had nearly zero strategy, it was a fun game.  It comes with a dice cup, too, so I could easily take a couple of standard, six-sided dice to use with the cup for a game or two of Mia, a variant of Liar’s Dice.
Game stores have 12-sided dice, but not with these icons. (Image by Donal Dimitroff)

There are places online that sell handkerchief type boards for Nine Men’s Morris.  Different colored craft stones could be used for the playing pieces.  I am having a friend of mine print a board for Brandubh, another ancient game, on white cloth and I hope to have it matched with stones for the next camping trip.  Not that cloth is needed; printing a board on a piece of paper or even drawing the board in the dirt would work since craft stones can be washed.

My two “games for all seasons” are Hive, which doesn’t have a board and has big chunky tiles, and a travel chess set.  (I took Hive on a Scout outing this winter, and talked about it then.)  I usually take a deck of standard playing cards and a little cribbage board as well.
With those games and the two other copies of Hive other leaders brought, there was plenty for everyone to do during the couple hours of rain we did get.

Quick – what would you bring to a campout or picnic?  Do you already own it?  It is amazing to me how weathering a storm by playing a few games as a group can bring people together.  I would certainly suggest having a few “games for all seasons” in your closet.

Do me a favor and drop me a line:  What games would you take?

It’s Your Move!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


This past weekend was the annual trip our Scout Troop takes to Angola, IN. We spend a few hours on the iced toboggan run of the nearby state park as the focal point of the weekend – 35mph worth of fun! Since it’s a three hour drive, though, we go up Friday night and come back Sunday morning, which leaves quite a bit of time for games. We have a big gym available to us at the National Guard armory where we stay. Much of the gaming is dodgeball and other physical games, but there is some boardgaming that goes on, too.
Typically, the Scouts play Magic: the Gathering, Axis & Allies, and a few other games. Apples to Apples seemed to be big this year. It’s always interesting to see what the Scouts bring themselves, and to see where there interests lie.
I brought an assortment of games that I consider travel games. Those are games that, at least individually, would easily fit in a briefcase or backpack for playing on the road or trail. Of the games I brought, two made it to the game table:
clip_image002Hive. This game has been a hit for a while now in the Troop. In fact, two other leaders have copies now, so it gets played fairly regularly on outings. It is an abstract strategy game for two players in which you move your different “bugs” around the hive in unique ways in an attempt to surround your opponent’s queen bee. There isn’t much theme, much of a storyline, in this game. It has been described as “the new chess”. I won’t go that far, but it does have the same strategic elements as chess: time, space and material. The rules are few, the components are great (you can wash them in the sink if they get dirty!), and it is a LOT of fun. There is a bit of “brain-burn” to it, but not too much. I would say more than checkers, but less than chess. Hive may not work for kids younger than 10 years old.  It takes around 30 minutes to play. 
clip_image003No Thanks! This is not a new game, but it is new to me. I had just recently purchase it, and was eager to play it. The game is a reverse auction, in which you pay to not take a card. Each card is worth points, and you are aiming for the lowest score. Very light on rules, they only took a minute to read, understand and teach them. No deep thought is required. The components are cards and small chips, which is perfectly appropriate for this game. This game doesn’t even pretend to tell a story, but is great fun. It played in about 15 minutes, so we played nine times! No Thanks! Is designed for 3-5 players, but we stretched it to six for a couple of games without an issue. This game should work pretty well with younger children.  This was a great purchase!
thumb-up Kid Friendly!
I also played a game brought by one of the other leaders. I only managed to play it once, but it proved to be a lot of fun:
clip_image004Abalone. This is another 2 player abstract strategy game, in which you place a group of marbles on a hexagonal board across from your opponent. You then attempt to align your marbles so that pushing a line of them (maximum of three marbles) against a smaller number of your opponents pieces shoves them off the board. This was a good, solid game, again with few rules but some thought needed. I personally enjoy Hive a little more, but Abalone is probably a little bit easier to grasp.  It would be a great introductory abstract for children. Playing time is roughly 30 minutes.
thumb-up Kid friendly!
Roll On!