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 travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. 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, June 30, 2011

Games in the Car – While Waiting!

Like many people, our family can be waiting for our turn, whether it is at a restaurant, the doctor’s office, or some other place.  Like many gamers, my solution is to have games available to play.  I have seen “car kits” put together by gamers to put in their automobiles, but I was never completely convinced on the solution.  I guess I was looking for something neat and tidy, and many of these kits were in plastic storage boxes; the kind I really don’t like in the car.

Then I saw someone had used a backgammon case for their car kit.  Whoa!  What a great idea!  After all, backgammon is a great game that many people can play, and our son needs to learn how to play.  I decided that was the way to go.  I grabbed our backgammon set (the full size one, not one of the two travel sets we own!) and opened it up.  The pieces and dice have their own space.  Aside from the dice cups, the playing area can hold a few items.

What to put in it?  What games should I carry?  I ended up with the following games in my car kit:

  • BackgammonKind of obvious, but worth mentioning if only for to make sure I count right at the end of this post!
  • Chess.  I have a small Drueke chess set from around WWII that fits nicely inside.  Chess is my favorite game, how can I not have a set in the car kit?
  • Brandubh.  This is sometimes referred to as Irish Chess, though that’s not entirely accurate.  The game predates chess in Ireland though, and is related to a family of tafl games that is various traced back to the Vikings, Welsh, Saxons, and Irish.  It is a print-n-play (that you print at home and make in a small amount of time), with aquarium/floral stones of different colors used as the pieces.  Printed on card stock, the board takes no room, and the 13 stones take very little.
  • Zombie in my Pocket.  This game has been around for a few years as a print-n-play game.  Zombies are chasing you through a home that you have never seen before, but which you know has the talisman inside which needs to be buried in a mystical place in the back yard.  This is silly, solitaire fun that can keep me entertained for a little while.  It easily fits inside a 3x5 plastic baggie, and then into the car kit.
  • Standard Playing Cards.  We are set for solitaire and two-person games, but there are three of us in the family.  A deck of cards is also a pretty obvious choice, since it’s essentially a whole bunch of games in a pocket sized packet that will work with any number of players.  With that goes a…
  • Cribbage Board.  This can be played multi-player.  The only problem with this is than I am the only one who knows how to play.  That can be fixed though.  To conserve even more space, this tiny folding board fits inside the backgammon dice cups when they are placed top-to-top.  Not much else would fit in there.
  • Bandits.  This game might be taken out of the car kit and go permanently into a Scouting bag of games.  The younger Scouts seem to love it, but it seems a little light.  While my wife likes lighter games, this one isn’t her style.  I will look for a replacement if I do.
  • Bananagrams.  The whole family likes this game; I reviewed it a while back.  This game is a little thick to go in, but I will push it a little bit.  It might help if I took it out of the banana-shaped bag, but what’s the fun in that?

That makes eight different games that can be in this kit.  Yet, as the infomercial says, “Wait, there’s more!”  With these components there are a few more games that can be played, and that’s not counting standard deck card games:

  • Liar’s Dice.  Many people who are aware of this game know it through the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  This is a centuries old game with many variations; my favorite is Mia
  • Fox and Hounds.  This is really a checkers variant, but could easily be played with the chess pawns. 
  • Lines of Action, Crossingsthese are games published in the great book, A Gamut of Games by the late, great Sid Sackson (who also designed Acquire, another favorite of mine.)  You might have to use more of the chess pieces, or draw a checkerboard to use with the backgammon disks.  This might be a little ugly, but what the heck.

Promotional Image for Treehouse Pieces
There are other systems to include too.  There is a whole set of games surrounding Treehouse (aka Icehouse) pieces for example.

As you pack the car for your summer outings, what will be in it?  Don’t forget the games as you head out of the house!  However you pack them, in a box or in a backgammon case, having a few games along might be the difference between your time being fun in the sun or bland in the sand.

It’s Your Move!

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.

Promotional Image
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, 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!

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!

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!