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Board Game Review

By: Jesse Stanley

Alderac Entertainment Group

Age Rating: 8+

Players: 2-4

15 – 20 Minutes

COMPETITIVE

I pressed the letter into the guard’s hand and expressed to her how important it was. “Get this to Princess Annette at all costs and as quickly as possible,” I said. Ever since her mother, the Queen, was arrested the princess locked herself in the palace. The only way to gain her attention now was to sneak a love letter to her, but I had to be swift. Surely other suitors were attempting to do the same at this very moment.

Love Letter is a very easy and fast moving game. The object of the game is to get your love letter closest to the princess while preventing others from doing the same. Each round represents one day. When the princess has received enough letters from one suitor she grants him permission to court her. Whoever wins the princess’s heart also wins the game.

Love Letter Contents

Beautiful components!

The game has only 16 cards. Each card has a picture of a character, a number representing their rank and text that explains what happens when the card is discarded. The game also comes with 13 wooden tokens used to keep score as you play.

The cards are pretty simple and have nice artwork depicting each character. Many players find it fun to replace the tokens, which are small wooden cubes, with small gem hearts easily found at any local craft store.

Game play is quite simple. Each player is dealt one card and one card is left out of the game each round. In two-player games four cards are left out. The game starts with the last person who most recently went on a date.

On his or her turn a player draws one card and then discards one of the two cards in their hand. As they discard this card face up in front of them they must apply its effects, even if they are bad for them. For example some effects will cause you to be eliminated from the round if you discard that card. Others force a player to discard their card and draw a new one or allow you to peek at another player’s card.

The goal is to try to have the highest ranking card in your hand at the end of a round, which can take a little strategy to do. Drawing the princess from the start, the highest ranking card in the game, isn’t always a good thing. A round ends when the deck is empty. All remaining players compare their cards with the highest ranking card winning. The round also ends if at any time all players, but one, are out of the round. The remaining player would then win. The winner of a round receives a token of affection, the cards are shuffled and a new round begins. Once a player receives 4 – 7 tokens, depending on the number of players, they have earned the affection of the princess and win the game.

The game is rather fun to play and has a surprising amount of strategy for having so few cards. There is an element of luck at work here too, so those who do not enjoy games where a lucky guess can influence the outcome may not enjoy this too much.

The game is very easy to learn and teach. You never have more than two cards in your hand and the cards tell you exactly what to do. Even someone who does not play games often will pick up this game and understand how to play after seeing one turn.

The game plays very quickly as well. Once everyone gets the hang of the game it is common to have an entire game done in ten minutes. It is very easy to play several games in a row. It is also a very portable game and easy to take with you to play just about anywhere. It comes in a small red bag embroidered with the name of the game on it. A child should be able to pick up and learn this game very easily once they are able to read and understand the cards. The need to employ an elaborate strategy to win this game is not necessary. Usually the most complex a strategy needs to be is figuring out what cards have been played already to try to guess what might be in your opponent’s hand. Though with at least one card being left out each round you never can truly know.

It is most fun to play this game with three or four players, but the game plays with two players surprisingly well.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a game with a cute story, simple rules and a lot of replay value I cannot recommend this game enough. It is frequently the game we use to break the ice on a game  night with friends and family.

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Kitki
2-4 Players
Family
30+ Minutes
COMPETITIVE

A long time ago, when I was a child myself, tic-tac-toe was an endless stream of winless frames. My mother showed me the most amazing game that could ever be played on the back of a restaurant placemat. She began by using a pen she kept in her purse to draw what seemed like an expansive square of deliberately spaced dots and instructed us to use the three restaurant provided crayons to begin drawing one line at a time between them.

We obliged, and soon, she had closed off a square and emblazoned the intervening space with the ominous and forever taunting letter, “M” (for mom).  Once we caught on to this plot, letters began to appear everywhere, before we knew it, our primary colored maze of squares and line segments was a resting place for the bright orange of macaroni and cheese and the chocolate laden smiling face of an ice cream clown.

Since this isn’t a review of that simple, on-demand game that parents everywhere use to hasten the apparent time between ordering and the arrival of unnaturally colored cheese. You are probably wondering why I am taking this trip down memory lane. Well, Three Sticks is basically what you get when you combine the original dot-matrix design (yes, I know what I did there) with Scrabble-like point gains and variable sized pieces.  Except, instead of making a simple square of area 1 unit2, you are attempting to build much more complicated and interesting polygons.

This isn’t your mother’s dinner distraction, this is a forward-looking strategy game with points based on the shape, it’s perimeter (you might have to remember that from school) and how unique that shape is to the game (has it been played before).  Also, there are Scrabble-like bonus points scattered around the board to give you a chance to take your score even higher.

The board consists of a 26×26 grid composed of dots (way bigger than any board my mother ever made), bordered by 4 color-coded number lines for each player to keep score as they work to reach the ultimate, game ending score of 500.  What’s interesting about this line is it uses 3 tokens to keep track of 10’s position, so were you to score 114 points, you’d move one token to 100, one to 10 and the last to 4.  It cuts down on the space needed significantly and helps to promote better understanding of multiples and 10’s and 100’s place counting and addition for higher numbers.  It’s an innovative method for score-keeping that also promotes a different way of thinking about large number addition.

To begin the game players are dealt 5 “Power Cards” that they keep for the duration of the game.  They also select one “Reload” card that provides them with some combination of 6 sticks for use on their turn. Sticks come in three varieties, hence the name of the game, a 3-unit purple stick, a 4-unit orange stick and a 5-unit red stick.  The sticks may only be played if they are end-to-end with another already placed stick, and only the red stick can be played at an angle.  If you remember your trigonometry, you might recall this Pythagorean triple.  If not, when a segment with a length 4 intersects at a right angle to a segment of length 3, the resultant triangle will have a hypotenuse of 5 (a2 + b2 = c2).  In non-math, if a purple stick and an orange stick are aligned at their edges where one is vertical and one is horizontal the red stick will make it a triangle.

The oldest player goes first (because they are at a first turn disadvantage unless they have power cards to help them to score) and has a series of actions they can take.  Unfortunately, this is one of the parts of the game that needs some polish, as it is unclear whether the actions must be taken in the order given, or not.  We assumed they should be, which made some of the power cards work poorly on their own.

First, if the player has no sticks, they may draw a reload card to gain 6 more.  Next, a player may play a stick, for the first turn, an end of that stick must touch the central “X” of the board.  On subsequent turns, if that stick makes a shape, it’s scored.  Then another stick may be played, which will trigger another scoring.  After this is complete, that player may play up to two power cards from their hand.  Power cards add mechanics like “Skip”, “Gain two sticks”, or “Play two more sticks” to the game. They can even allow you to play sticks completely independently of the board or to manipulate points.

Once the player has finished the turn, play moves on.  When a shape is made, if it is the only shape made by that stick, it is scored simply with the method above.  If it creates more than one shape, the active player must determine the highest point shape they can be credited with to gain the most points.  This deliberation and puzzling out can take some time, and the more disparate the level of the players, the more frustrating this can be.  With younger players, it helps to point out the shapes and let them determine the highest point values from your calculations.  Older players have the ability to look forward and to plan moves to trick opponents into giving them higher point plays, also older players are more aware of multi-faceted shapes and how they can vary, whereas younger players will need that explained and will require assistance.

Adding the perimeter to the point calculation is also quite ingenious, it strengthens the child’s ability to understand the concept of a shape’s size and it also gives them a visual relationship to the term.  With a younger child, I’d suggest either not using this calculation or doing it for them.  Having the child recognize the bonus shape on the poster will help develop the understanding of higher tier shapes, and larger numbers.  Older children can have it taken a step further, for an added challenge, have the child calculate points in area of the shape as opposed to perimeter, this variation could allow for reinforcement of multiplicative skills, as well as a better grasp of how to assess area for abnormal shapes.

Conclusion

Overall, Three Sticks is interesting and could be a lot of fun with a well matched group, or with very patient adults among children. Of course, if you are like many people, you probably don’t remember much about polygons (beyond that octagon you accidentally forgot to stop at this morning) and likely wouldn’t know a parallelogram from a decagon if it bit you in the rhombus. (Editor’s note: Yes. I AM sorry I had our resident mathlete review this game. I’ll try to better next time. – Stephen ) Well, lucky for you, Three Sticks includes basic descriptions and pictures of these shapes (in their most ideal forms) to help guide you to geometric maximization. 

Three Sticks is currently on Indegogo – check it out here!

Need more math games? Check out our math-related games!

Looking for more educational games?  Check out our list here.

 

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2-4 Players
Ages 10+
10-15 minutes

COMPETITIVE

Have you ever dreamed of being an enzyme? Do your thoughts drift to Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine more than you’d like to admit? Have you ever wished you could act just like mRNA? Well, you’re in luck!

Linkage is a fast-paced game of DNA transcription… that’s right, DNA transcription!  Players create a shared strand of DNA from a deck of beautifully designed nucleotide cards, and then use their own hand of RNA nucleotides to try to match it.  It’s as easy as protein synthesis!

I know what you’re thinking, “I left my DNA Helicase in my other genome”! It’s OK, you won’t need it with this game!  Gameplay starts with each player drawing 4 cards from the RNA deck, and laying out the DNA promoter next to the DNA deck.  The promoter starts the nucleotide sequence that you will need to try to match to when transcribing your strand. Each subsequent DNA card has a secondary color that corresponds with the color of the RNA nucleotide cards in your hand.

Play starts by laying the first card of the DNA deck next to the promoter, the oldest player then must draw a card and must play a card.  Of course, the goal is to match the laid down DNA card, however, that may not be an option! Once a card is played, the next player completes a draw-play turn.  The turn ends and the next nucleotide is drawn in the DNA strand.

Since RNA transcription is never as simple as it sounds, there are some other mechanics at play.  Chaperone cards act as a wild card and can replace any active nucleotide in your strand, DNA Mutation allows a player to switch out a card in the DNA sequence and any RNA card marked as a Mutation can steal a card from someone else’s RNA strand.

The round continues until the Terminator (no relation to John Connor’s T-800) is drawn.  Players then add up their points for the round, gaining points for each card in the sequence that matches the parent strand, and racking up bonuses for long strands.

Currently, there is no suggested “best play” number of rounds, but our test went well with three.  Playing like a classic card game, Linkage is very much a learning game that puts the entertainment in edutainment. Color matching lends to play with younger kids interested in science, while the more complicated strategic mechanics will keep older kids ribosomes revved up for transcription!

I can’t imagine a better game to teach budding scientists (or even those struggling with the concept of Uracil as a general agent of confusion) some tough concepts through play.  Though many of the mechanics seem advanced, little reading is necessary, as the game can be played via symbol and color recognition.  Children who have mastered games like UNO and Phase 10 might struggle a little with the DNA Mutation and Chaperone cards, but would be able to grasp it after a few rounds of guided play.

Now that the Kickstarter has ended, Linkage has a $19.99 price tag and is available here!

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There is nothing in this world that a child loves more than playing a game with their parents… Except dinosaurs.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to play Super Tooth this past week with my family. I’ll admit that I had my doubts when the game arrived. It looked too simple. But, Super Tooth hides its complexity well. So well, in fact, that you might not notice it if you aren’t looking for it. That is one of the secrets of a good family game in my eyes.

Super Tooth is, at its core, a matching card game. Players are tasked with collecting matched sets of plant eating dinosaurs. Each turn a “landscape” of three cards is laid out on the play area. Players will then resolve event cards (like the egg that lets the player bring back a card that had previously been discarded), feed or chase away meat eaters, and then ultimately choose one type of plant eater from the board. There is some luck involved here, but it is important to choose carefully to make sure that you are getting matched sets and not just random cards.

The game itself includes the cards (the number will vary depending on how many expansions you are using, and “Cretaceous Coins” that are used to help keep score. The cards were thick enough that they would survive through a lot of play, but it would be best to protect them from little hands whenever possible. They would fit very well in standard card protectors.

My youngest son feels left out of a lot of gaming sessions because a lot of the games that cycle through our home require reading or advanced strategies that he struggles with (being five). He was in all his glory while playing Super Tooth. He was able to grasp the basic gameplay mechanics quickly and was able to implement his own strategies after his first game.

What turned this pleasant surprise into a best case scenario was the level of engagement from everyone playing. My brother was playing with us and he tends to stick with “deep strategy” games and he enjoyed himself (even if he was getting beaten by a five year old)! Super Tooth may be a matching game at its core, but the way that it is played turns it into a sort of drafting game. Players who pay attention to what other players are picking up and discarding will be able to employ strategies like counter-drafting (taking a card that your opponent needs even if it isn’t beneficial to you). My eldest son did that without giving it a name.

I’ll cut to the chase here folks. Super Tooth is an amazing game, but it might not see the light of day without a little help.  Do yourself a favor if you have younger kids and buy this game. You will not regret the chance to play this great game with them (and lets admit it… you like dinosaurs too.)

Supertooth was picked up by Gamewright for 2015!  Find out more here!

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By: Jennifer Duetzmann

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Players: 2-5

Ages: 8+

Play Time: 30-60 minutes

Price: MSRP $49.99 (we found it on Amazon for $36)

Ticket To Ride contains 1 nicely designed heavy cardboard map of North American train routes, 225 multicolored train cars, 144 really tiny cards, 5 wooden score markers, and a rules booklet that is very simply organized. It takes up a lot of space, so you’ll need a big table to play on. Since pieces are tiny and easily lost, you’ll want to save the bags that the pieces come in and make sure you keep uncoordinated little hands out of the way when you’re putting things away.

During gameplay, players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout the United States.

It only takes about 15 minutes to learn the game. One of the nicest things about Ticket To Ride is how deceptively easy each turn is. On each turn you can only take one of 3 actions:

  • Draw Train Car Cards (you need specific colors to match up with routes)
  • Claim a Route between two cities on the board (you earn points based in the length of your route)
  • Draw additional Destination Tickets (you earn extra points if you connect the two destinations by the end of the game)

The object of the game is to score the highest number of total points.

It sounds simple and almost too basic, right? Think again. Each round allows for players to plan, think strategically, and make tactical decisions. Do you try to claim as many long routes as you can to earn the most points? Do you choose to risk negative points and collect and fulfill Destination Tickets to get your points in big chunks? Do you attempt to build the longest continuous route? Or, do you attempt to block your opponents from scoring points?

When playing the game with a mixture of adults and children, we found that the 8+ age range seems to be spot on. Maybe an advanced 7 year old could play, but the strategy would be completely overlooked by younger players. Also, fine motor skills would be a problem due to the tiny cards and pieces. Since the map is fairly geographically accurate, we found that adults with a knowledge of North American cities had a slight advantage over the children who didn’t know their geography. The children had to give away some of their ‘secrets’ by searching for or asking an adult to help them find their cities. Also, children needed to talk through their actions, while adults often made their plays quietly.

During gameplay, a few interesting things happened. It seems that when adults took their turns, the tension was higher. I know for me the tense feelings came from choosing between greed (picking up more colored cards or wild cards) and fear (keeping an opponent from claiming a critical route). Also, another adult player actively tried to block opponents routes, which led to frustration. The children who played either focused on achieving Destination Card connections, or making the longest route. Most of the children seemed to take the possibility of taking the longer routes in stride when they got blocked off. I’m guessing it was because they were unaware of the time management part of the game and were simply enjoying the playing. Every child seemed surprised when it was time for the game to end (based on a mechanic in the rules) and tally up points. Another aspect that the children overlooked was the point deduction from not achieving Destination connections.

Overall, Ticket To Ride has a high replay value. We don’t see it getting boring any time soon. And, because the game has expansions for other geographical areas (Europe, Asia, India, etc), we can add to it later on to keep things fresh. We love the fact that this game includes opportunities to learn counting, patterns, color matching, planning, and geography without actually seeming like it’s teaching.

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Robot Turtles: A Game for Little Programmers

By: Jennifer Duetzmann

1-4 players (plus one adult)

Ages 3-8

Thinkfun (Dan Shapiro)

$25.00

Robot Turtles is a family board game created to teach kids computer programming.  It is simplistic and super fun.  The goal is for kids to is to place directional cards on a board to get their turtle to a matching colored jewel. It starts out easy, but as your child learns, you can add obstacles to make it more complex.   The children get to be the programmers and take control by playing out cards.  The grown-ups act as the computer, following commands and making all sorts of goofy noises as they play. The key is that the computer has to follow the commands exactly as entered by the kids. For example, turning left and moving forward twice is different than going forward twice and turning left. It is a sneaky way to instill in children the importance of the order of operations in programming.

You might have heard about this game in the news.  Maybe you’ve seen someone who has it.  Maybe you’ve seen it reviewed on a website. But, you’ve looked everywhere for it. It appears it was only released on Kickstarter and there might be a few copies left online. But it’s crazy expensive. Guess you will never have a chance to get it for your family, right?

Guess again.  Here is some wonderful news direct from Dan Shapiro (the game’s creator):

Thinkfun, one of the top publishers of kids educational games, is releasing a shiny new version of Robot Turtles this summer. And for anyone who preorders, they’ll include a really cool expansion pack.

Check out the link here:

http://www.thinkfun.com/robotturtles/

We really enjoyed playing as a family.  The biggest draw has been the scaling difficulty. It lets my sons play together despite their vastly different abilities. My 4 year old loved the basic game, and was super excited to have a robotic turtle with lasers.  My 8 year old liked coming up with 3 card at a time moves in advance, and my 20 something year old brother-in-law liked writing his entire program up front (he was even able to experiment with function commands) .  The game uses simple concepts to sneakily teach computer programming concepts and kids enjoy it.  From an educational standpoint, it doesn’t get much better.

We definitely think it’s worth preordering a copy for your family.

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