Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The special children's game post

So, there's been a lot of demand recently in the house for game playing. And what a tangled web of games there is! Since it's a 4-year old and a 2-year old asking, needless to say, the game list is not your typical geeky game list.

Thankfully, we've been feeding them not on the usual roll-and-move games, but on a collection of Cranium and Gamewright games (along with a few Zach kiddie games). These are games that pretty much don't get the lovin' they deserve on BGG, mainly because they aren't targeted at Geeks, but instead at little kids. And they are (mostly) surprisingly great little diversions.

In fact, what I believe is a good benchmark for a small kids game is that it would simply make for a good college drinking game. For the most part.

Anyway, here is a list of kids games that has been seeing a lot of play time, in rough order of preference:

Cariboo (great for the wee little ones)
Balloon Lagoon (fairly entertaining mix of family gambling/dexterity games)
Duck Duck Bruce (fun little press your luck game)
Hullabaloo (Twister-lite)
Chicken Cha Cha Cha (memory game where the kids usually beat the parents)
Gulo Gulo (dexterity game)
Cookin' Cookies (slap the ingredients as fast as you can)
Zooreka (Settlers for kids, more on this later)

I'm not a big fan of the following:
Leaping Lizards, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and, ESPECIALLY Wormy Apples.

I hate Wormy Apples. Both the game and in real life. Spin the spinner and remove the matching worm from your apple. First to get rid of their worms wins, provided you don't fall asleep first.

The one game that sort of surprised me was The Ladybug Game. Yes, it's pretty much a roll-and-move with no thought. But it's a fairly entertaining race game considering that it was created by a 6 year old, with a few wacky aphid-collecting twists. Given the choice between The Ladybug Game and, say, CandyLand, the ladybugs kick CandyLand's butt.

It should be noted that in some cases, some of the rules have been bent a little bit to allow the kids to play the game more easily, and is some cases, less agressively. Also, there are a few other games that right now are being used more as puzzles than games themselves, such as Landlock and Snap!

Snap! is a particularly interesting mechanical marvel in the way the puzzle nubs on tiles ensure that you can only place similarly colored dragon parts next to each other.

Gamewright gets a nod or publishing a series cheap card and tile games that won't put the adults asleep. There's usually just a slight amount of strategy in there to keep things interesting enough.

But really, I can't give enough praise to Cranium Inc. They do a pretty fantastic job of creating pretty fun kiddie game, with great components and simple hooks (Cariboo is a really amazing package that easily attracts 2 year olds and their 15 second attention spans, and is even understandable to them. A feat of epic proportions.)

But I do have a few issues with Zooreka. As the box says, it is designed to be played with someone aged 8 and older. Which maybe is a little old. You do have to be able to read some of the special action cards. Anyway, it plays sort of like a weird, simplified combination of Monopoly and Settlers of Catan. But it seems to me that at that age, you probably are just better off teaching the 8 year old those games instead.

Zooreka involves rolling dice, running around a board, and landing on a space that gives you a special action on that turn. Also, before each player rolls, all players "bet" on what symbol is going to come up on the Resource die. If you guess correctly, you win a resource card of that symbol. Ultimately, you need a large set of certain symbols to buy a zoo display, showing off your favorite animals. Get four zoo displays, and you win.

The biggest problem is that you can only build a zoo display if you land on a Trading Post. Meanwhile you are collecting resources willy-nilly. It can be frustrating sitting around with enough resources to build 4 displays, but never landing on th Trading Post to do it.

Additionally, the Trading Post allows for conversions of your resources. You get a little conversion chart, similar to the shopping card for Settlers of what you can buy. However, I have a little nickpick on the card, which is sort of interesting from a design standpoint. Here, take a look:

Due to the justification, it appears that the trading is a one-way street. One Paw can be traded to get 3 Bananas. Thankfully, they have arrows indicating that the trading post can work the other way, too. However, by justifying it to the left, it creates a certain visual flow that seems to indicate a trade only going one way. I think I would've centered the "math," thereby visually equaling the trade flows. Something more like this:

Anyway, it's a minor nitpick.

Games on the Cheap
In other news, I've added two more games to Games on the Cheap collection: Checkpoint: Berlin, and The Great Lakes Fish-Out.

While everyone that I've taught Werewolf to has had a blast playing it, there are some nagging issues with it, especially when you can't get over 7 people to populate the village. These things include some stuff like "the first lynching" problem, where the villagers really have no information to go on, and there's probably a mathematical proof somewhere that indicates they really DO need to lynch someone anyway. (I referee the game in such that the Villagers can choose not to lynching someone during the day).

Checkpoint: Berlin is an extension of Werewolf, in that there is still two asymmetrical teams vying to win the game. The larger group is trying to smuggle diamonds past the guard at a checkpoint. However, there may be a mole secretly working with the guards within the thieves. There is no attrition of the players that Werewolf has, so everyone is pretty much in the game the whole time (unless the thieves start killing off their own in the hopes of getting rid of the mole). Plus, it doesn't need as many players as Werewolf really needs to make it hum.

The Great Lakes Fish-Out is a rules cleanup of my GDS entry from last year. A fairly quick, simple, and chaotic trick-taking game.

I'm finding coming up with these style of games is pretty fun, in that they aren't these projects that just drag on forever while I try and find the time to work on them (Leviathan, anyone?). These two games also represent me toying around a little bit with the way I've been laying out rules. I'm trying out landscape ratio, with 2 columns, instead of the usual "endless paragraph in portrait" style. This sort of came about from Byrk's Fistful of Football rules.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Inspirations and a Game on the Cheap

Like a huge chunk of the English speaking world, I recently finished the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While I won't go into any real criticisms of the book, I will say that is the conclusion of the series finishes it off fairly satisfactorily (with a few complaints). It's pacing and settings are refreshingly different than all of the other books in the series, and it goes to great lengths to make you rack your brain and remember elements and details which you've read many years ago in earlier books.

There is one part I found particularly interesting, which I will attempt to go into non-detail here as to provide as little spoilage as possible. For this is kind of required to explain before I go any further. So here we go...

Near the end of the book, the story unfolds with a large battle between the forces of evil attacking Hogwarts, which is being defended by the forces of good. It is a foolish defense, however, as most realize that it will not take long for Hogwarts to fall. However, they join this fight in order to allow the Potter Trio time to search for something hidden within Hogwarts itself.

However, like most of the series except for a very few chapters, we follow Harry around, seeing the action with his eyes. So, we are getting mere glimpses of the battle that is surrounding Hogwarts when Harry runs into it; there is the glorious doomed battle going on, but we are shown very few exacting details about it.

As an example, a few secondary characters die during the battle. We are never given the exact cause of death; who pulled off the fatal blow, what was being directly defended, or even where it occurred. We are merely treated to having the bodies being collected during a pause in the battle, and weeped over.

Which leads me wanting to see a very long, detailed, Ken Burns-ish documentary on all of the details that occurred during this great battle. I assume Rowling has notes on it as it appears that she has a ton of unused notes.

And, as sort of an inspiration, this got me to thinking about, "why not do a game that 'includes' all of these missing details."

The game becomes something fairly unique. It would have to be a wargame where the game's goal isn't about beating your enemy senseless, but more about fighting the attrition of war against overwhelming odds defending a castle trying to beat the clock. It's about how long can you keep the opposing forces at bay, without even knowing the length of time you need? When things DO collapse, did you give Harry enough time to find his object?

This got me into thinking about creating a simple system for handling Attrition Warfare. Ideally, in my mind's eye, you would be assigning various good guy factions to defend areas of the castle, such as The Grounds, The Grand Enterance, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor Towers, etc. A deck on Event cards would pseudo-randomly play out certain attacks from the bad guys, which would would come at a continuous place. But you only have a limited amount of defenders.

In addition, on the Event cards certain Potter Trio events of the search would "pop out," and there'd be a running total of those events. And, without giving away anymore elements of the book, certain events would happen based on if Hogwarts fell or not, and some kind of random check would be made to determine if your defense gave the Potter Trio enough time to find all the clues (the running total of Potter clues).

At least, that would be the general direction of the design. But the hard part in all of this, the unexplored territory, would be coming up with a simple Attrition Warfare mechanic. Which after some amount of thought while driving to and from work and during a fairly exhaustive day of lawn work, I think I have one.

And while at some point I may evolve it back into a heavily themed Hogwarts affair, to be able to play it currently and quickly, I've distilled the main system of the game down into a fairly simple, abstract affair playable by two players with a standard card deck and a few other components.

To get the game, click here.

One can see the many variations that can be developed off of this basic system. Instead of just having designated Battlefronts, each Battlefront could be a card that can give certain bonuses to type of other cards that are at that Battlefront ("All Battalions led by a diamond card gain +2 Strength). You could add some kind of production rule to uncontested Battlefronts, and let players re-gain discard cards. In my mind, each type of Battalion in the Hogwarts game becomes a different type of unit, such as Giants, who are more interested in damaging different parts of the castle, than damaging opposing Battalions themselves. The Werewolf Battalions are fast and can move to any weakened Battlefront. Reciprocally, Ravenclaw Battalions have greater strength when defending the Ravenclaw Tower Battlefront, while the Order Battalions are better for front line defense in the yards outside the castle.

But all this data sort of hangs on the main system. Which is important to work out first.

The system itself is fairly interesting in that it handles the randomness of a battle is a much different way that a wargame does. Typically, you simply roll dice against a few charts or numbers. Here, the changing value of the top card in a Battalion somewhat capture the ebb and flow of how a particular Battalion is doing; are they geared up and ready for a fight with a brutal attack? Have they fallen into a sullen, we can't win malaise? And these Battalion "emotions" switch during every Attrition of the Battalion.

Games on the Cheap:
Anyway, I've decided to start a new little heading of designed games entitled, Games on the Cheap. These are games where the rules are the only things that requires downloading; no assembly required. You just have to gather up the required, pieces that you might have laying around the house (or at least, easily purchasable at the local drugstore). Playing cards, poker chips, and 6 sided dice being the usual fare. Maybe a checkers board. No goofy polyhedral dice.

However, this does create an interesting issue in that these games may likely turn out to be a slightly poor quality cousin of a game with component design targeted at the game. But that's all part of the fun of the challenge.

Battlefronts provides a good example of this, most notably the card distribution that is natural to a regulation playing card deck. Ideally, the spread of 1 through 10 is quite ridiculous for causing damage with it's 10:1 ratio of highest to lowest; dividing the totals by five (with rounding up) solves this problem somewhat nicely (if rather in-elegantly) in that the damage caused by a ranking card of 10 has a strength that is only twice as strong as an Ace (a strength of 1).

But hey, you live within the confines of which you create, I suppose.

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