- We turned up at OSOs' in the evening of Christmas Day to find people playing Exploding kittens. I didn't actually join in, just watched the end of the game, but I formed a favourable impression. It looks like a good mix of silly and tactical, up there with Fluxx as a game that works well for slightly too many players in a silly mood. I'm not a huge fan of The Oatmeal, but the humour is less grating for a card game than for the actual comic.
- Judith had My Little Pony Top Trumps in her stocking. This mainly reminded me that I hate Top Trumps, but it's making Judith happy, and it's not bad for number recognition and sight-reading.
- ghoti gave jack Dixit. (The name of the game has earwormed me with a bit of Latin set to music which I can't place, but anyway.) It's one of those games which is only marginally a game, it's more like a creativity seed with a scoring framework. I often like those when they're done well, and Dixit is original and just lovely. It has some extremely beautiful and slightly surreal pictures, and you have to describe them ambiguously – you lose if you're too precise or too obscure. I played atrociously badly the first game through trying to be too clever, but I definitely want to come back for more. I think it might run out of replayability once a regular gaming group get to know the cards well, but that's a minor downside.
- We really shouldn't have started Smash Up as late as we did that evening, but my goodness it's a fascinating game, and the more so now that OSOs have acquired a bunch of expansions for Christmas (jack gave Judith the Pretty Pretty expansion, cos it has ponies, kitties and princesses. She's carefully keeping it separate from her family's main collection so that she can take it with her when she leaves home...) It's not totally unlike Magic:The Gathering, but takes itself a lot less seriously, and I love the way the game changes from one turn to the next. The biggest problem I have with it, and I don't think that's only because we were too tired to play properly, is that it's really quite hard to see what's going on with all the bases when they're spread over the table. jack and I were noodling around whether it's the kind of game that would work well augmented by a smartphone app, so that all the players had a quick reference to the state of the table without having to read something upside-down at the other end of the table. The cards are really well written, but that means that the exact wording is often vital to game-play.
- Boxing day is for opening boxes with new games inside (this is a lie, but it pleases me to believe it). jack and I had a go at The Harbor expansion for Machi Koro, ghoti having given me the base game for our anniversary. It's a somewhat different mechanic, in that the marketplace consists of ten piles of cards which are replenished by drawing randomly from a large deck, as opposed to a fixed set of cards in the base game. I think that works pretty well, because it limits how much it's possible to win massively by building up sets of cards that stack almost too powerfully in the base game.
- Playing that inspired jack to invent a new game, which is aiming to be a physically and conceptually compact game that lies somewhere between Machi Koro and Dominion. I've been having an interesting time playtesting it, and I'm excited about where it's going.
- During down-time over Christmas, we managed to get in a couple of games of alextfish's Steam works. I'm continuing to love the game on further plays, it still feels like it's a bit different every time.
- We also played the game jack chose as a present from me to him: Orcs orcs orcs. Apparently jack heard of it because there was some controversy about a designer ripping off someone else's ideas, but anyway, it's a cute little game. I really like that the meeples are semi-3D, with both fronts and backs printed on the cardboard, with plastic stands provided. The rules are atrociously badly written, but once we figured out what we were supposed to be doing, it plays reasonably well. It's got a slightly Dominion-like deck-building mechanic, and the scoring is quite clever. Don't love it, but I probably will play it again.
- And cjwatson gave me The castles of Burgundy for our anniversary, and Christmas was the first time we actually got an opportunity to sit down and play it. In fact I played once with cjwatson and a second time with jack. It's a game I've been enjoying a lot on Yucata, but it's slightly fiddly and the implementation there makes it even worse. Playing it in person feels nicer, definitely, even though it's still a little busy in terms of trying to use pictograms to explain what all the different tiles do. The basic mechanic is that each turn is two actions based on the roll of two dice, either acquiring a hex tile from the market, or playing the tile on your board, while playing tiles triggers extra actions, sometimes at the time and sometimes stored for later. I find that the mix of luck and strategy works really really well. For a game released in 2011 it feels strangely old-fashioned, as if the designers hadn't paid attention to the last 10 years of development of Eurogames (eg it doesn't have meeples, just plain round tokens). Pleasing in spite of that, though.
- jack and I gave our OSOs and their family Ticket to Ride: Europe, which for my money is the best train game out there. I really really like the balance between tactics and strategy, such that it tends to play fast, there's usually a fairly obvious thing or small range of choices each turn, but the route-building means you're always trying to plan long-term. We played it once with a mixed-age group, and it's a bit of a stretch for the littles but I think still basically interesting for them with a bit of adult help.
Besides that we've been rediscovering some classic games with having a bit more time lately.
- I gave Benedict Uno as a chanukah present, and we've played a couple of rounds and it's reasonably friendly for a mixed age group.
- Judith has, amazingly for someone who's still working on reading, got quite into Scrabble recently. It's very good for me to drop my usual cut-throat style and play just as a fun word-learning game. I was enjoying the Open Scrabble app pseudomonas recommended for asynchronous, remote play, but then it broke and the upgrade to fix the bug won't install on my phone :-(
- I managed to find our childhood Mah Jong set stashed away in the back of a wardrobe at my parents'. I had hoped that the combination of building the city from the lovely tactile tiles and the strategy of making sets would make it appealing to the children, but our first game didn't entirely work perfectly. I haven't given up entirely, I will keep it around as an option.
- I somehow accidentally got Andreas enthused about RoboRally... I think he was trying to pick a game at our place and recognized it as a game he also has at home, and we had a go at playing it. He doesn't exactly understand how to put a series of five cards together to make a viable program, but he gets the general idea and enjoys it at least for the first 20 minutes or half an hour, again with adult support. Myself, I am ridiculously terrible at it, cos I always get the mental rotations wrong or forget how the conveyor belts work, but I'm having a lot of fun playing it. There's no point trying to come up with ways to simplify it for an enthusiastic 3yo, because there are already plenty of professionally made games like that for kids, and I think it's the aesthetic of it that Andreas likes.
- Another one that's popular at the moment is a variant of Guess Who called Whoosit. The first couple of games that Andreas played gave me the impression it was a bit beyond him, but he kept asking for it again and actually if he concentrates fiercely he can in fact play it effectively, even without adult help. It turned out that the only mistake he was really making was getting confused half way over which side of the dichotomy he was supposed to be eliminating versus keeping, and if you keep holding his attention while he flips the pictures he completely understands how to play properly, and fully gets the idea of asking questions to narrow down the field efficiently and then making the appropriate single-step logical inferences.
Also early this week the OSOs and their littles joined me for a late lunch while I was working from home, and we played a couple of small games they'd acquired from a home ed resource swap. Klopf klopf klopf, which is a slightly brain-twisting memory / recognition game where one player knocks out a pattern and you have to rapidly grab the card that matches the pattern from a set that are all really similar. Andreas I think was basically playing randomly, but Judith got the hang of it in a really visible click moment, when she figured out that if she mentally rehearses the pattern, she can easily spot the match. That's such a valuable skill for lots of things beyond playing silly kids' games, I'm deeply impressed.
And King Toad, which is a very simple play the cards in sequence game but just exactly the right amount of silly. Basically if you can't play in sequence, you play a Toad wild card, and then you have to ribbit and stick your tongue out the number of times corresponding to the next number you want played. I often don't like games designed by adults to help children to be silly, but that one works well.
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