Back to School: Gaming Edition

School is starting very shortly in our house. My son will be starting preschool in 2 weeks, and I’ll actually be aware of school schedules and events now! This summer, you may have played tons of games with family or friends. With school starting, here are some ways to keep playing board games even when the schedule gets busier.

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1. Schedule family/friend game nights:

Choose a night every week or every other week to be your game night. Specifically put in on your calendar. Gaming can often be put on the back burner with all the extracurricular activities and sports you or your kids do. Game night is very important, because instead of everyone just going on their devices and ignoring each other after a long day, you can connect face to face!  If you build it into the schedule, then it won’t go by the wayside.

2. Start a board game club.

What better way to get gaming in then to start a board game club at your school! If you are a parent, this can be a good way to bring board gaming into the community. It’s also a great way to find out who your kids are hanging out with! You can even go into the educational parts of gaming, such as mathematics, social skills, and English skills.

3. Gaming at lunch

Some schools have longer lunches or recess, if the weather isn’t good, you can encourage your kids to bring a short board game to school. This can be a great way to meet new kids, as well as introduce board games to many students. If you are a teacher, you can have board games available in your classroom for kids to check out at lunch, or have them or when students are done with schoolwork/tests.

4. Host a board game event at school

Many schools have a math night, why not try to host a board game event at school? This would be another great way to get to know the kids and parents in your school community. It could also show many teachers and administrators the educational aspects of board gaming.

These are some fun ways that you and your family can keep gaming during the school year.  I know we’ll be doing more family game nights, especially since my son asks for games often. School may be starting, but that doesn’t mean gaming is ending.

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Quixo Review

Quixo is an abstract strategy board game for 2 players (or 4 players with 2 teams). Quixo is designed by Thierry Chapeau and currently published by Gigamic Games. Quixo is a take on tic tac toe, except more complex and incredibly more fun. Quixo is played on a 5 by 5 grid of cubes, with blank sides, and both X and Os. One player is X’s and the other player is O’s. The goal of Quixo is to match 5 of your cubes  in a straight or diagonal line. While this may seem easy, this puzzle spatial game can work your brain.

Quixo has such high quality components.
Quixo has such high quality components.

At the beginning of the game, all cubes are turned to their blank side. On your turn, choose a cube with either a blank side or one with your symbol. Then, the player chooses one of the incomplete rows and uses the cube to push the row down, replacing the space. Whenever a player chooses a cube, they always make sure it is turned to their symbol. A player cannot ever take a cube that is their opponents’ symbol. Play continues until a player gets 5 of their symbols in a row, either diagonally or in a straight line.

You cannot put a cube back in the same place, instead you must push the incomplete row with the cube to replace the gap.
You cannot put a cube back in the same place, instead you must push the incomplete row with the cube to replace the gap.

Quixo is very fun because it is easy to learn and quick to play. While I don’t typically like spatial puzzle games, Quixo was very enjoyable because it was fairly easy to see all the options of moving the cubes. It’s one of those games that can be easy to learn, but takes awhile to really master. You have to balance doing both offensive and defensive moves, not allowing your opponent to get too many of their symbols in a row and being stuck with just helping them win.

Early game it can be very important to get the center piece in your symbol.
Early game it can be very important to get the center piece in your symbol.

I’m also very impressed by the quality of the board and the cubes. I feel confident Quixo will last a long time, even playing the game with kids. Quixo has a very clean and modern look to it, and I know this will be a great game to play out on the patio or even at a park. I recommend Quixo to anyone who enjoys 2 player abstract games and loves sturdy, high quality components.

I was provided a review copy of Quixo.

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Scoville Labs Review

Scoville Labs is an expansion for Scoville (review here). Scoville Labs is designed by Ed P. Marriott and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. Scoville Labs adds a new mechanic to Scoville, namely, a personal lab where players can plant and crossbreed peppers. Opponents cannot plant in your lab, nor walk through the lab to harvest peppers. Each player gets their own lab board, and can plant a pepper in the lab after the main plant phase of their turn. Scoville Labs also includes extra peppers, recipe cards, market cards, pepper multiplier tokens, and a new crossbreed chart.

Scoville Labs in action with a full lab!
Scoville Labs in action with a full lab!

Scoville Labs is a fantastic addition to Scoville. Being able to plant and crossbreed peppers without opponent interference is very fun. While you still have cutthroat nature of the main board, each player has their lab in which they can get a few extra peppers. This allows players to be able to focus more on recipes, because they are able to get more peppers per turn. I also feel like this can speed up the game a bit, which is important in higher player counts.

I love the new crossbreed chart. It's much better for my brain.
I love the new crossbreed chart. It’s much better for my brain.

I also appreciate the extra recipe and market cards added to the game. The market cards, in particular, a new way to pay for market cards, such as money.   It’s always good having more market and recipe cards, so that each game is very different. Scoville Labs definitely adds to the replay value of Scoville. I couldn’t imagine playing the base game without Scoville Labs now, because it just adds so much to the game without being too complex.

I love some of the new market cards!
I love some of the new market cards!

Very solid expansion, I recommend Scoville Labs to anyone who owns Scoville and enjoys the game.

I was provided a review copy for Scoville Labs.

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Quarto Mini Review

Quarto Mini is a 2 player abstract strategy game designed by Blaise Muller and published by Gigamic Games. Quarto Mini is a smaller version of Quarto which is the same game. Quarto has 16 high quality wooden pieces each which have 4 different characteristics: light or dark, round or square, tall or short, and solid or hollow. The goal of the game is to create a line of four pieces all which share one common characteristic.

Quarto photo 1

Players start the game by setting out the 16 pieces and game board. Determine a first player. On your turn, you select a piece that the opponent must place anywhere on the board. Then, the 2nd player chooses a piece for their opponent to place anywhere on the board. Play continues until a player calls Quarto, indicating they have made a line of 4 pieces with at least one common characteristic. That player wins the game!  You do not have to place every piece in order to make a Quarto. In that sense, no piece is owned by any one player.

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Quarto is a simple game to learn, but full of strategy. You must be careful which pieces you give your opponent for them to place. Ideally, you want to get a set of three set up so that your opponent has no choice but you give you winning piece. I love the minimalistic style of Quarto, including the box art. It is very clean and high quality. The pieces and board are gorgeous. While this game has no theme, it doesn’t need it with its fun gameplay and strategy.

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I enjoy Quarto Mini because I can easily take it on trips.  The small board size makes it possible to play almost anywhere. It’s a very solid 2 player game, and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves logic style strategy games.

*I was provided a review copy*

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Games to play on the 4th of July

4th of July (Also known as Independence Day) is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Fireworks, yummy food, hanging out with family and friends, it’s just so much fun. Typically board games aren’t played on this day, usually because we are just busy swimming, playing outdoor games, or shooting off fireworks. In recent years, however, we’ve actually played a few board games while hanging outside! Here are some thematic favorites to play.

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Hanabi

This goes without saying, but Hanabi is a perfect 4th of July game! We’ve played this for the past few years while waiting for it to get dark enough to shoot off fireworks. It’s also great for newer gamers because it’s cooperative. We usually grab a couple people and play a quick game.

Timeline: Americana or American History

I love the Timeline games, and the Americana/American History versions are awesome for the 4th. It’s also a shorter game, and can be easily played on a small table outside. Timeline is easy to teach, and almost anyone can play.

Rolling America

Rolling America is a more recent acquisition and it’s a great puzzle dice game. You can even play this one solo, so if no one can play, you can get a quick game in. Rolling America is easy to learn, but hard to master. I love the custom star dice!

There are many games you could play on the 4th of July, these are just a few that I have that will work with the theme. I’ll hopefully get one or two of these in on the 4th!

 

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World’s Fair 1893

World’s Fair 1893 is a area control, set collection board game, designed by J. Alex Kevern and published by Renegade Game Studios and Foxtrot Games. In World’s Fair 1893, players act as organizers of the fair, who are trying to gain favor with influential figures by sending out their supporters to find the best exhibits to put on display at the World’s Fair.  World’s Fair 1893 supports 2-4 players and takes about 40 minutes to play.IMG_5939

The gameplay of World’s Fair is quite simple. On your turn, you place a supporter on one of the five game areas. If you have any influential figures from your previous turn, play those cards now. Then, you take all the cards that were in the area where you placed your supporter. The areas can hold either 3-4 maximum cards. There are three different types of cards: Influential figures, Midway Tickets, and Main Exhibit cards. Influential figures allow you to add or move supporters to different areas, which can help gain dominance in one area. Midway Tickets are one point each at a scoring round, and move along the round track. Main exhibit cards are how you obtain exhibit approval tokens, which will be points at the end of the game.

World’s Fair has both area control and set collection mechanics within the game. During one of three scoring rounds in the game, players will look at the game areas and find out which player has the most supporters in that area. That player then gets points for being 1st as well as the ability to turn in up to three exhibit cards of that area color for tokens. These tokens are then counted as points at the end of the game. If a player is 2nd in an area, they can turn in one exhibit card and may get points, depending on the player count.

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World’s Fair is very interesting because you must consider the cards you collect with also being 1st or 2nd in an area. You may have several exhibit cards, but if you don’t have any way to turn them in, they are useless at the end of the game. Gaining dominance in areas in very important, especially because you need to collect unique sets of tokens. There are other ways to gain points, such as having the most midway tickets during a scoring round.

I love how easy it is to learn World’s Fair, with also having very interesting choices each turn. Do you try and get dominance in an area, or focus on getting the cards you need to make a unique set? These decisions are not often AP inducing, and the turn go fairly quick.  The art and components of World’s Fair are very high quality. I love the detail in history on each card. It was very enjoyable learning so much about the World’s Fair while I played.

World’s Fair 1893 is a great gateway game to set collection and area control. It does not feel too cutthroat, and has a very good game pace. I would recommend it to any gamer who likes these mechanics and appreciate the art and history of this beautiful game.

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2P Experience: 70

  • Shorter gameplay, less rounds.
  • Easier to predict who will be in 1st for each area
  • More cutthroat as any positive decision is mostly negative for the opponent
  • Still fun to play, but more predictable

4P Experience: 80

  • Longer gameplay, more interactive
  • Harder to predict who will be in 1st/2nd during scoring round
  • Very fun, like it most at 4 player because of the interaction and excitement.
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Eminent Domain Exotica Expansion Review

Eminent Domain Exotica is an expansion to Eminent Domain, designed by Seth Jaffee and published by Tasty Minstrel. The Exotica expansion can be played with or without the Escalation expansion. The rulebook suggests to play Exotica with just the base game for several games to get used to the new technology cards, planets, and the mining mechanic.Exotica expansion pic 1

Exotica adds two new types of planets, exotic and asteroid.  The exotic planet gives points as well as the ability to produce a new resource: crystal. Also, the exotic planet can have a translator effect on it, which turns the new exotic symbols into usable symbols such as research, colonize, etc. These exotic symbols are on the new technology cards.

The asteroid planets are easy to settle and attack but they don’t give any points. However, new technology cards allow the player to do special effects if they have asteroids in their empire. Also, the new mining action allows players to mine an asteroid immediately by discarding their hand, instead of settling or attacking.Exotic expansion photo 2

Eminent Domain Exotica differs from the Escalation expansion in a variety of ways. For one, Exotica does not have much player interaction, other than following or dissenting during another player’s turn. In Escalation, there were some cutthroat technology cards, as well as stronger ships which encourage players to either do warfare or get the peace treaty card. For players who want a less intense expansion, Exotica is the way to go. I found it more straight forward than Escalation in terms in strategy, and learning the new technology cards was easier.

The only caveat I have with Exotica is reading the red halo around the exotic symbols was very difficult. I have 20/20 vision, and even under bright LED lights, I could barely see the red halo. This is important for some scoring at the end, and it was not thick enough, and thus I short changed myself some points at the end, until I realized there was a red halo on the exotic planet card. For players who are colorblind, the red halo is impossible to see. You may have to memorize or mark the cards that have red halos around the symbols in order to score the game correctly.Exotic expansion photo 3

I highly recommend the Exotica expansion for anyone that enjoys the base game: Eminent Domain. The exotic and asteroid planets add some variety to the game, and I really enjoy the new technology cards! It definitely helps the replay value of Eminent Domain, and adds a less complex and cutthroat expansion to the EmDo series.

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Good Games That Won’t Break the Budget

When you get into the hobby of gaming, it becomes clear that careful budgeting is very important when buying new games. Some games cost 10 bucks, while others cost 100+ bucks. Cheap games don’t mean cheap quality and I have some favorites that won’t break the budget, all these listed can be found for under $15.

No Thanks

No Thanks

No Thanks is a quick, press your luck card game for 3-7 players. Each turn, you can either choose to grab the face up card or say “No thanks” and put a token on it. Any points on the card will penalize you at the end of the game, unless you have at least a 2 card run, in which only the lowest card in the run counts against you. Also, if you run out of tokens, you must take the face up card! It’s a great little card game, and kids enjoy it as well as adults.

No Thanks! can be found for about 10-12 dollars.

Tides of Time

Tides of Time

Tides of Time is drafting card game for 2 players. Players draft cards each round in order to build up their kingdom and earn victory points. There are 5 different suits and each card has its own scoring objective, so some card combos will be much better than others. The art is beautiful and the cards are high quality.

Tides of Time can be found for about 10-12 dollars.

Bang! The Dice game

Bang the dice game

Bang! The Dice Game is a secret role, semi-cooperative dice game for 3-7 players. It’s based on the Bang! card game, but plays much faster. Each game takes about 15 minutes. A player is either a Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw, or Renegade, but their role card remains hidden. Players try and figure out who is on their team while rolling dice and taking out other players or healing hit points. You may unwittingly kill a team member, but thankfully the game is quick so you can play another if your side doesn’t do well!

Bang! The Dice Game can be found for about 12-14 dollars.

Oh my Goods!

Oh my Goods

Oh my Goods! is an resource management card game for 2-4 players and has multi-use cards. Players build up their engine of cards in attempt to gain more resources so they can buy more cards and earn more points. It has similarities to San Juan and Isle of Trains. It’s very thinky for such a small card game, which gives it lots of replay value.

Oh my Goods! can be found for about 13-15 bucks.

Timeline

Timeline

Timeline is a logic card game for 2-8 players and has many different sets such as Historical Events, Inventions, and Americana. Players try to fit their card in the correct timeline, if they are wrong, they draw a new card, if they are correct, they have one less card to solve. Timeline is great for classrooms or with anyone that enjoys history. With all the different sets, it’s easy to find one that your group will enjoy.

Timeline sets can be found for about 10-12 bucks each.

Other games that won’t break the budget:

Qwixx, Codenames, Rolling America (Favorite Family Games)

Martian Dice, Coup, Love Letter, Great Dalmuti (Games that Travel Well)

 

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Reviewers Should Play Games More Than Once

I got into an interesting discussion on Twitter today about reviews and gaming. The conversation got into talking about if you don’t like a game, there’s no reason to try it again, especially as a reviewer. We also talked about if a game needs to get better over time to be considered a great game. I have some reasons why you might not like a game on first play or why a game may fall flat on one play and astound you on another.

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I didn’t like the game, should I try it again?

There are many factors to consider if you didn’t like a game. Here are some of those factors and whether or not you should try a game again.

Consider any outside circumstances

Were you or anyone in your group stressed/rude/mad or had any other negative emotion? Was the location not ideal, such as low light or too loud? Did people feel rushed because they wanted to play another game, or just in a weird mood? I think these outside circumstances can have a huge factor into playing a new game. Gamers are people, and as much as we try not to, we bring our emotions, stresses, thoughts to the table. I’ve played many games where I was stressed or hungry and I didn’t enjoy the gameplay. This doesn’t mean I should give up on a game, especially if I feel like these outside circumstances were a factor.

Consider your group’s tastes

Not only can the groups emotions play into whether or not you enjoy a game, but simply the overall game tastes of the group can factor in. We’ve tried to play games like Camel Up at our normal game group and they didn’t enjoy it as much. It was a bit too random for their tastes. If that was my first experience playing Camel Up, I may not have enjoyed it as much as I did. My first plays of it was with family who likes lighter games, and because of that, everyone had an awesome time. If others aren’t having fun, that can affect your experience as well. The game may be a good game, but with that particular group with those tastes, it may just not be fun!

It wasn’t what you expected

Sometimes reviews or recommendations can give you a wrong perspective on a game. This happened with us on Last Will. My husband had thought it was a light card game based on a review he listened to. As we started playing, we realized it’s a heavier euro game. We didn’t expect that going in and it made us not enjoy our first gameplay as much. We’ll try it again, because now we know what to expect.

You lost the game and got frustrated

Yup, this happens to me! I’m a hothead. It’s something I’ve been working on for years. There are times where I get so frustrated in a game because I lost, that I say “I hate this!” I said this about Star Realms because I didn’t expect how fast the pace was, and after losing because someone did 50 points of damage in one turn, I got very frustrated. However, I decided to keep trying the game, but on iOS against the AI. Once I realized how the game worked and the strategy, I fell in love with the game. It’s in my top 5 of games of all time! If I had just given up because “if a game is good you must like every single play of it” then I wouldn’t play a lot of my current favorite games.

Because of these factors, I believe once you consider these, then decide whether to try the game again. Maybe with a different group, or at a different location, or after you watched a gameplay video to get a better feel of the game.

Reasons for not playing a game after a first play.

One reason may be you feel like the rulebook is only half complete. One game I reviewed, it was riddled with so many grammatical errors and spelling errors I could barely read it, let alone understand the game. Another reason may be that it is a prototype game, and the rules keep changing before you can even write a review. I’ve had this happen with several Kickstarter games I’ve previewed, and it can be frustrating as a reviewer to keep playing a game with new rules everyday. Finally, if a game’s theme offends you, or the art, or any reason you feel uncomfortable playing the game, then it definitely makes sense to steer away from it.

If after a few plays of a game, with different groups and different settings, and you still don’t like it, then I think it’s safe to give up on it, or as a reviewer, give it a negative review.

Sometimes, Friday is just frustrating! Other times, it's amazing.
Sometimes, Friday is just frustrating! Other times, it’s amazing.

Does a game need to get better with each game session for it to be a “great” game?

Considering all I’ve mentioned above, a game won’t necessarily have that “wow” factor every single game play. There is the outside circumstances we mentioned, plus who and where you play a game with. Also, some games have variable set up like Dominion and one set of 10 kingdom cards may be much different or better than another. Also, player count is a huge factor in many games. You may love a game at 2 player, but dislike it at 4 player. I think it’s pretty unrealistic to love every single game session of any game you play. I’ve played tons of 7 Wonders and Carcassonne games and while these are two of my favorite games, not every single session was awesome. Does that mean these games aren’t great? By no means! It just means that just like in life, not every day is going to be awesome. Not every Stumptown coffee is going to knock your socks off. There will be off days in game sessions, just like there is in every single part of life!

Ultimately, games are about having fun. However, as a reviewer, I have to sometimes take a step back and say “wait, I may have not enjoyed this particular game session, but I may need to try this game again, under different circumstances.” Only then can a reviewer give a better opinion about a game. If I had reviewed Star Realms after my first 3 plays, I would have given it a very negative review. I disliked it because of my own personality flaw, not because it was a bad game. I’m so glad I gave Star Realms and many other games another chance, because I understand that not every game play session is going to be perfect, even with great games on hand.

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Summer Gaming: Playing Board Games Outside

The weather is getting nicer, and I am reminded that my board gaming tends to drop quite a bit in the summer.  There’s a few reasons for this. I live where it rains 8-9 months out of the year. When it’s warm and sunny out, people here want to get outside. They want to go on walks, to the farmer’s market, have a BBQ or pool party. While this isn’t a bad thing, it can mean that instead of gaming on pizza nights or family events, we are instead swimming or playing outdoor games. So as gamers, how do we adjust toward warmer weather? Is there some games we can play outside, or maybe shorter games to get in while still enjoying the weather? I also realize that for some, summer means lots more time to play games, especially if you have kids in school. Instead of spending the evenings on homework, you’ll play board games. Since my kid isn’t in school yet, summer doesn’t change our schedule much, other then having a lot more outside time.

Many games can be played outside, especially if you have a table or stable surface.
Many games can be played outside, especially if you have a table or stable surface.

Things to consider when planning games outside:

 1. Is it windy?

In the summer, it gets quite windy in the evenings where I live. This can greatly effect what type of games you can play outside. Basically any card game is out if it’s windy. Some dexterity games, like Bandu, could be effected by the wind. Always plan a backup game if you start playing a card game and it ends up being too windy. Games with heavier pieces or dice won’t be effected by the wind.

2. Do you have a table or at least a stable surface?

Most games do require a table, but there are some games that can be played with players holding all their cards or game pieces. Many party games don’t require a table, which can be great for outside play. Some card games, like oddball Aeronauts, don’t require a table at all, and can be played just about anywhere. Some games may not need a table, but require at least a stable surface like a dice tray or concrete ground. Many dice games you can just carry a dice tray with you so that you can play it wherever you go. Portable stable surface!

3. Is it wet or sandy where you are playing?

When playing outside, there is a much greater risk for your game to get ruined. Consider this before bringing your game outside. Card sleeves can help this, as well as games with plastic cards or pieces. Spot it Splash, for example, has plastic cards so the risk of the game getting damaged is very small.

 

Hanabi is a perfect game to play outside, especially on the 4th of July!
Hanabi is a perfect game to play outside, especially on the 4th of July!

Conclusion:

In reality, just about every game can be played outside, but some work far better than others. Smaller games will be easier, especially since most people do not have access to large tables outside. Games with plastic pieces or cards can prevent them getting wet or messy. What’s great about board games is that they can be enjoyed outside or inside! So play board games this summer at the beach, on your back porch, or even in the pool!

Game suggestions for outside gaming:

Small card games: 

Star Realms, Timeline, Sushi Go, Red7, Hanabi

Dice games: 

Dungeon Roll, Martian Dice, Dragon Slayer, Skyline, and Roll for It

Party games: 

Time’s Up, 5 Second Rule, Say Anything, Telestrations, Spyfall

Dexterity Games: 

Bandu, Sorry Sliders, Animal Upon Animal, Chopstick Dexterity Challenge

Puzzle/Abstract Games: 

Pyramix, Blokus, Convert, Pentago

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