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Magic Circle Games

Age Rating: 12+

Players: 2-4

Timeframe: 45-60 minutes

MSRP: $50.00 (Special Kickstarter price- $39)

Style: Resource Management

It’s time for your coven to select a new leader! Prove that you deserve to be chosen as the greatest amongst the other talented witches by creating the best gardens to gather the components needed to brew the most powerful potions. Don’t forget to use your powers to hex your competitors while you work on brewing your potions. The witch with the most wicked potions and victory points wins!

Introduction

Cauldron: Bubble and Boil is a game designed by Robert Booth that will be available as a Kickstarter on July 25, 2017. The theme of the game is a lot of fun and lets you explore your evil side while still encouraging friendly competition. This game uses some familiar mechanics such as resource gathering, set collection, objective completion, and a bit of “take that!” play which all combine to make a really unique game.

Contents

Rules Booklet
1 scoreboard
8 player markers (2 for each player)
4 cauldrons
80 cauldron cards
30 crone tokens
30 corruption tokens
128 garden tokens (32 red, 32 orange, 32 yellow, 32 green)

The artwork on the box, the cauldrons, and the cauldron card design really invoke the wicked witch feel and add to overall fun of the game.

Gameplay

Each player starts the game with a hand of five cauldron cards, a cauldron containing 1 of each resource type, and a diablerie track. On their turn, players may use their cauldron cards to cast a hex, harvest resources from an existing garden, plant a new garden, or record potion recipes to their recipe book.

If a player chooses to play their cauldron card as a hex, they pay the cost described on the card, follow the action (which can be good or bad for the player and opponents), and move their token on the diablerie track (hexes count in scoring in the end game).

A player can also choose to play their cauldron cards to plant a garden. Gardens require 2 or more cards with matching resource cubes in order to be planted. Players may only have 2 gardens at one time. Gardens yield resources which you can harvest later and they also help you gain crone tokens (victory points) when completed.

Players can also choose one cauldron card from their hand to place face down under their cauldron in a recipe book. These cards have a recipe on them that require a certain combination of components to complete and if you have all of the components to successfully brew the potion at the end of the game, you will earn the victory points listed on the card.

If a player is dissatisfied with the cards in their hand, they may discard and draw new cards. At the end of a turn, players draw back up to five cards and play passes to the next player.

The game end is triggered when one or more end condition is met.

  • A player has stored his or her 7th recipe under their cauldron
  • When two resource colors are depleted
  • The last crone token or corruption disk is taken from the supply
  • If one or more players reach the top of their diablerie track

Once the end game is triggered, players play until the end of the round and then score victory points based on the various rules.

Is it a Family Game?

The game has many different mechanics to keep track of and does require some basic reading. A savvy gamer of 8 and older should be able to play this game, especially considering the Kindly Crone variant listed in the rules booklet. The recommended age on the box seems to be a bit high. This is a light game that requires strategic thinking, planning and forethought, as well as some advanced memory and critical thinking skills. Players really need to have the ability to remember recipes, make independent decisions, and think about what their end game objectives are. Our adult players found both the theme of the game and the actual gameplay enjoyable. There were so many different ways to achieve the most victory points at the end, and we love the fact that the rules booklet contains variants for longer or shorter games and for more advanced gameplay

Conclusion

Cauldron: Bubble and Boil makes good use of game mechanics to balance play. It is very difficult for anyone to take an obvious lead. Also, it provides lots of play choices each turn so there are many different viable strategies to accommodate differing play styles among players.

It is apparent that there was quite a bit of thought put into the design of this game. The game was easy to learn, turns moved quickly, and there are is plenty of replay value. We had fun trying out different strategies each time we played to see which was most successful. We also loved the artwork and the theme. This game comes highly recommended by our play testers!

Check it out on Kickstarter ASAP!

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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Poop the Game from Breaking Games is a toilet and pooping themed card game.  It is a 2-5 player game recommended for ages 6 and up. A second deck, labeled the Party Pooper Edition, can be incorporated to make this up to a 10 player game. Play time is estimated at 15 minutes.  This was a Kickstarter in 2014 that was successfully funded and has expanded since then to include a Public Restroom Edition, which was also funded through Kickstarter.  

 

Contents

  • Cards:
    • Poop cards
    • Toilet cards
    • Wild cards
    • Drinking rules card
    • Poop Remix cards (4): provide alternative rules and objectives to the games
    • Deep Doo Doo Remix, for advanced play and 2 player games

 

Gameplay

The objective of the game is to be the first to run out of cards.  To play, a toilet card is placed in the center.  The number on it represents the “clog” number.  Each player is dealt five cards and take turns placing cards on the toilet, and cards are stacked staggered so they all are visible.  Cards with poop on them have a value from one to four bases on the amount of poop represented.  Players are not allowed to meet or exceed the clog number.  If the only cards they have will meet or exceed the clog number then the toilet is “clogged” and they have to add all the cards from that toilet to their hands and flip a new toilet card.  If three cards of the same color are played in a row the toilet is flushed, all other players draw a card and the “flusher” begin play again using the same toilet.  Wild cards add interesting twists to the strategy of the game. On the wild cards there are directions containing sounds or actions on the bottom of the card, and when the wild card is played the player must do this sound/action until another player plays the same wild card.  Failure to do so results in having to draw a card if it is noticed by another player and called. Some of the actions are “grunt on turn”, “hold nose on turn”, and  “fart sound on turn”.

 

Family Game Assessment

This game was as ridiculous as it sounds.  It was played with two boys; a five year old and an eight year old. They enjoyed the game and found its theme hilarious.  In contrast, I had some reservations about the theme, and found the cards gross. The poop cards show poop piles with flies and some have corn pieces in the poop.  The noises and descriptions on the wild cards also added to the crass nature of the game. While the game is recommended for ages 6 and up, I was uncomfortable playing with my two boys, as it was encouraging behaviors I am trying to teach them are not appropriate in most situations, such as imitating bathroom sounds.

There are also additional directions to make this a drinking game.  On the box it says, “It’s a kids game! It’s a drinking game! Just not a kids’ drinking game.”  As a parent I am uncomfortable with a game that comes with drinking rules in the game, and is advertised as a drinking game right on the box.

Conclusion

While the game itself is easy to play and learn, the poop theme, descriptors on the cards to act out, and the drinking game elements make it hard to recommend this game to the average family. This could be a fun and silly game for the right family and the right situation, however, I do not feel it will be a good fit for many families.

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Color Cube Sudoku by Thinkfun is a single player puzzle game.  It is a spin on the traditional Sudoku by utilizing colors instead of numbers, and allowing players to physically manipulate the colors to find solutions to the puzzle.  This is a logic game recommended for ages 8 to adult.  

Contents

  • 1Display Tray
  • 9 Color Cubes

Gameplay

The gameplay mechanics are quite simple, however, it is challenging to find a solution.  To play you flip, rotate, and rearrange the cubes in the tray until no colors are repeated in a row in any direction.  This follows the same core mechanics of traditional Sudoku by having there be no numbers repeated in a row.  Per the box, there are “2 trillion color combinations,  more than half a million solutions”.  For those who enjoy logic puzzles there are Bonus Pattern Challenges you can incorporate into the game, which include: No diagonals, Big X (creating a x using two colors), Outer Box( (two colors form a square diamond), and Long Knight’s Path (reference to the knight in chess, form 4 cubes in a row and one to the right or left with six squares of the same color).

 

Family Game Assessment

This is a fun puzzle that is appropriate for the whole family and can be done as a single player or cooperatively. This game is recommended for ages 8 to adult, and for the challenges of the logical reasoning involved and the abstract thinking 8 and up is a good recommendation.  However, since there is no reading involved and the pieces are large and easy to handle this could also be used by younger members of the family with support. This would be a good tool to play together and scaffold the logical thinking process for children. This would allow them to see the productive struggle through trial and error needed to reach a solution.  

 

Conclusion

Color Cube Sudoku is a kinesthetic logical reasoning puzzle game that is good for a wide range of ages.  For families that enjoy puzzles this is a great addition to their collection.  This could also be a light hearted way to introduce puzzle games and the Sudoku mechanics to the whole family.

To find more educational games from Thinkfun keep your eyes on Engaged Family Gaming!

 

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Publisher: Breaking Games

Age Rating: 10+

Players: 2-4

Timeframe: 30-60 minutes

Style: Light Strategy Game

You are a nomadic, prehistoric people. Your tribe prospers by growing in population, moving across a variety of lands, gathering resources, and by having a strong leader. Be the first to victory by scoring 15 points! Will your tribe rise above the rest?

Introduction

Rise of Tribes is a much anticipated game designed by Brad Brooks (creator of Letter Tycoon) that will be available as a Kickstarter on June 6, 2017. The artwork and component design is striking and extremely dialed in to the overall theme of the game. While this game uses some familiar mechanics such as resource gathering, dice rolls to determine actions, and quest completion, it puts them together with a unique twist that makes the game simple to play while adding some advanced strategy and technique for experienced gamers to really sink their teeth into.

Contents (The Standard Edition)

  • Complete Rules Booklet
  • 80 Meeples (in 4 player colors)
  • 15 Hex Tiles (the game board)
  • Action and Score Keeping Board
  • 4 Scoring Discs (1 for each of the4 player colors)
  • 60 Goal Cards (15 for each of the 4 player colors)
  • 14 Custom Dice
  • 24 Wood Tokens, 24 Stone Tokens, 24 Food Tokens
  • 12 Event Cards
  • 6 double sided Leader Power Cards
  • 6 Player Boards (1 for each Tribe)

The artwork on the box, the player boards, and  the rules booklet all help to evoke the tribal feel of the game. The cards and dice are of high quality and the cardboard components are of higher quality than most board games. The Kickstarter promises a Deluxe Edition with wooden components that definitely seem worth paying a bit extra for to really keep players immersed in the theme.

Gameplay

The object of game is simple – be the first Tribe to score 15 Victory Points. At first the rules and mechanics look intimidating, but if you dive in and play through a turn or two the mechanics become much easier to understand and play starts to move very quickly and competitively.

After laying out the hex grid for the terrain and setting up the Action Board and dice according to the rules booklet, the players put meeples on the board to start the game based on turn order. 

The first player rolls 2 dice and then chooses where to put them on the action board. The player must take 2 actions on their turn (each action must be different). The player can choose to GROW their Tribe, MOVE their Tribe members, GATHER resources, or LEAD their Tribe. GROW allows the player to add more tribe members to the board. MOVE allows you to expand your tribe to more hexes and different terrains. GATHER helps the player get resources to build villages or complete goals. LEAD allows a player to get goals to complete which give the player additional Victory Points and some fun benefits.

When they player rolls their dice and chooses an action, they add the first of their die rolled to the first die slot of an Action, pushing all the other dice along to the right. The end die gets placed on the bottom of the Action Board and will be rolled on the next turn. The result of the 3 dice on the top of the Action Board determines the power of the action chosen. This mechanic adds quite a bit of strategy to the gameplay and adds the ability to influence future turns for opponents. This helps balance the fact that your initial actions are determined by chance dice rolls. Once the first Action is fully completed, the player follows the same steps for their second Action. The dice also have another function. If doubles are rolled, a game wide Event is triggered. These Events become active immediately and get resolved by following the directions on the card. Events cards resolve at different paces and can change play positively or negatively depending on the directions.

After the Actions or any Events are completed, Conflicts get resolved. Conflicts occur when more than 5 tribe members occupy a hex. Villagers are removed until only one Tribe occupies the hex. After Conflict gets resolved, players can Build villages or reach Goals.

Is it a Family Game?

Because the game has so many different mechanics to work with, we think the age of 10+ is accurate. A savvy gamer of a younger age may be able to play with some adult coaching. There is also reading involved in the Event Cards and the Goal Cards, so that also adds to the minimum age that a player must be. 

This is a light game that requires strategic thinking, planning and forethought, as well as some advanced logic and critical thinking skills. Players really need to have the ability to make independent decisions and the ability to understand long term consequences. Our adult players found both the theme of the game and the actual gameplay enjoyable. They loved the fact that there were so many different ways to achieve the objective of the game.

Conclusion

The first few turns we played through moved fairly slowly, but as we continued, meeples and villages quickly filled up the board and players became much more aggressive, searching out conflict and rushing to pick up Lead cards. The more we played through the game, the more we saw that there were many different strategies to get to 15 points.

We were super impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into game balance. All of our games were close matches and the dice movement mechanic really required players to think a few steps ahead. This game was extremely playable by players of all types. Our 11 year old quickly taught his friends and they each jumped in with their own style of play. Our experienced players found that the pace of the game kept everyone involved until the end of the game. You couldn’t predict who would win, because the score could change drastically in one turn.

We really loved the fact that this game can be customized to play at a more advanced level with the Leader Power Cards once players have gotten the basic game strategy down pat. We also see many expansion possibilities for the future in this game (5-6 players, perhaps)!

Overall, it’s a tightly designed game with a beautiful theme that uses familiar mechanics in a unique way that really allows players to tailor their strategy and use their own personal style to achieve victory and rise above the rest! Replayability is high, and it is more than worth the MSRP.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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Grand Gamers Guild

2 Players

10-20 Minutes

Ages 6+

Pocket Ops is a board game that took me by surprise. It is, essentially, an updated version of Tic-Tac-Toe. This was clear from the get go so I have to admit that I was hesitant to even play the game. How good could it possibly be?

Well, to be honest, it turns out that it can be pretty good. Pocket Ops takes the Tic Tac Toe formula and adds a few simple mechanics to make things more interesting.

We played a LOT of games of Pocket Ops over the course of our testing. Part of this was because games were fast. But, more importantly, we kept playing games because we could teach everyone that was interested how to play. Everyone knows how to play tic tac toe, so teaching a few more rules takes literally seconds.

Components

Note: The component list is not final because this game will be coming to Kickstarter.

1 Facility Board

14 Spy Tokens (7 red, 7 blue)

10 Specialist Tokens (5 red, 5 blue)

18 Predictions cards (9 red, 9 blue)

1 Doomsday Device Token

2 Power Crystal Tokens

1 Start Tile

Gameplay

As I said earlier, Pocket Ops plays like an upgraded version of tic tac toe. The  biggest difference is that as each player selects where they want to place their spy on the 3×3 grid their opponents have a chance to guess a square too. If the second player successfully guesses the same square, then no one gets to place a spy in that square and play continues. This turns what was a simple game into a more complex game of deduction and probability.

If this were all the game had to offer then it might have been too light. Fortunately, there is more.

Each player has a selection of specialists that each have unique powers. These specialists include things like the Assassin that can remove enemies from the board and the Hacker that lets players choose two different squares on their next prediction attempt.

Is it a family game?

Yes. Sure, players take on the role of super spies attempting to infiltrate a secret base, but there is nothing here that is not abstracted.

Conclusion

This is an easy recommendation to make. The game is inexpensive, fun, and easy to teach. I would recommend this to just about anyone.

 

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Rage of the Trolls is a standalone expansion to the Gruff game system coming to Kickstarter on 05/30/2017.

Gruff is a tactical card game that has been around for a few years now. The game puts an interesting spin on the Billy Goats Gruff bedtime story. If you recall the three Billy Goats Gruff used their wits to outsmart an evil troll so they could cross a bridge. In the game’s universe this victory was noticed by the shepherds nearby. They decided that they would use selective breeding, magic, and technology to help turn the goats into an army of … very weird soldiers.

Gruff: Rage of the Trolls expands on the franchise by giving players a chance to cooperate against monstrous trolls for the first time. The mechanics themselves are simple. Players set everything up as normal and place the troll in between the two players. The troll acts using behavior cards that are drawn and played during each player’s turn. Each card has a series of actions and effects that are triggered based on the trolls “rage” stat.

The troll’s rage stat increases on each players turn and this has an impact on the damage it deals and the number of actions on its behavior card that it will take. The troll gets very dangerous quickly during each game as its rage meter increases. Players who aren’t careful will have their gruffs taken out quickly.

These mechanics do make for an interesting cooperative experience. Our playtesting team felt challenged and encouraged to really study their shepherds, gruffs, and cards to make sure they were playing with optimal strategies. Its a great feeling to be forced to make adjustments between games like this because the thrill of victory is a great payoff for experimentation.

With all that said, the troll mechanics were a bit difficult to follow because they added several steps to each round ,compared to the main Gruff games, that kept our team from ever really feeling comfortable. This wasn’t enough to keep us from playing, but it was frustrating until we were able to get the rhythm straight.

Is it a kids’ game?

While I don’t think there is anything in particular about the game that is questionable, I do encourage parents to take a look at the art for the game. The battle goats are beautifully drawn, but they are definitely weird. Parents will know if a particular character would be problematic. The only time I would imagine this to be the case is if your child has an odd or unexpected phobia. These critters are definitely dark, but they are not gory,

There is nothing in this game, outside of maybe the artwork, that is any more objectionable than Magic: The Gathering or Yu Gi Oh. Your family can play this game with confidence.

Can kids play it?

Rage of the Trolls is slightly more complicated than the base game. The addition of the troll “boss monsters” add several different steps to each turn that made it harder for out play testers to keep track of things. This added complexity could have a negative impact on the experience for some younger players.

Conclusion

We may have had our difficulties with the cooperative aspects of the game, but this is a must own expansion for fans of the Gruff series. It includes two new Shepherds and six new battle goats that are fully compatible with the rest of the Gruff games.

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Cheapass Games

Age Rating: 12+

Players: 2

Timeframe: 20-45 minutes

MSRP: $55.00

Style: Abstract Strategy

 

“My next several hours were spent learning how to play Tak. Even if I had not been nearly mad with idleness, I would have enjoyed it. Tak is the best sort of game: simple in its rules, complex in its strategy. Bredon beat me handily in all five games we played, but I am proud to say that he never beat me the same way twice.”

-Kvothe, The Wise Man’s Fear (book by Patrick Rothfuss)

Introduction

The concept of Tak originated in the second book in The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It was only described in vague detail but was always very intriguing to fans of the series. It was THE classic game in the world the author created. It didn’t exist in real life- until recently. Patrick Rothfuss and James Ernest from Cheapass Games had worked together on a little card game called Pairs. James Ernest had discussed creating a real and playable version of Tak. Patrick was reluctant, to say the least. But, the game ended up getting made (read the details here: http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2016/04/tak-a-beautiful-game/) and we all get to reap the benefits. (Editor’s note: If you’d like to hear the story you can listen to our podcast episode where I interviewed James Ernest about it!)

 

Tak is an abstract strategy game similar in play to Chess, Go, Mancala, etc. It has simple rules, looks (and sounds) beautiful and is easy to play. But, don’t be fooled by its outward simplicity. Playing this game requires a great deal of thought, tactics, and strategy.

 

Contents (The Classic Set)

  • Full rules booklet
  • 62 wooden pieces (31 natural colored trapezoid shaped pieces, and 31 darker colored flat bottom circle pieces including a capstone in each color)
  • 10” square hybrid game board

The components for this game are very clever and well thought out. The wooden pieces have a compelling tactile element because of their shapes and they also sound really cool when placed on the game board or when they clank together. We can imagine that it would sound even better if you had one of the higher end game boards that was available through the Kickstarter.

The game board itself is double sided and allows for highly customizable play. The “tavern” side of the board is printed to look like an old fashioned hand made wooden board and is meant to be played as a basic 5×5 grid game. The “court” side of the board is printed with a beautiful Selas flower and diamond pattern and can be used to play any size game from 3×3 to 6×6. .The artwork and aesthetic fit well with the world described in The Kingkiller Chronicles and should be pleasing to fans of the series as well as casual players. The box interior is not particularly well laid out if you are bothered by everything getting jumbled up. We would have liked to see separate compartments for the different colored wooden pieces.

Gameplay

The object of game is simple. Players have to build a road (using their wooden pieces) that connects from one side of the board to the opposite side. A road does not have to be a straight line and diagonal spaces to do connect.

On each turn players may either place a piece in an empty space in the board or move pieces in one of the stacks that they control. Pieces can be placed flat on the board, or standing upright.  Nothing can be stacked on a standing stone but standing stones do not count as part of your road (so standing stones act more like walls). Capstones can also be placed on the board like regular stones, but they do count as part of the road and they can be used to flatten standing stones.

Movement in the game is a bit tricky, and you and your opponent should read through the rules a few times before you play. If you’re anything like us, you will miss some rules the first time you play and will only figure it out when you encounter a scenario that doesn’t see to make sense or be fair. Movement is really the key to winning this game.

In addition to playing with different size grids, there is some more variety added when you score the game. Just like many other Cheapass Games, there are fun variations included in the rules to keep the game endlessly interesting and highly replayable.

Is it a Family Game?

Tak is absolutely a family game. There is nothing offensive or mature about the game, no reading is required, and the rules for gameplay are simple and easily explained to players age 7 and older.  However,we found that younger players will miss out on most of the strategy involved in the game and gameplay will often be much shorter because they do not apply complex or deep ideas.

This game is easy to jump into for children familiar with abstract games, but keep in mind that they have to be flexible thinkers and open to changing plans. Strategy and tactics are all well and good, but they’re only as good as the players’ ability to think and respond quickly on their feet. If you play with a young gamer who gets easily frustrated when their plans get changed by an opponent’s move, this might not be the game for you. If you are a player who likes games with deep stories and an aesthetic that supports that story, this is also not the game for you.

Conclusion

Tak is a game that can be enjoyed by new gamers, casual gamers and experienced gamers alike.  You do not have to be familiar with the book series that the game is based on to enjoy the game as a family. It really seems to be as timeless and classic as Chess, Checkers, and Mancala.  Because the game feels and plays similar to those classic and is beautifully designed we have really enjoyed playing it. There many different outcomes and playstyles, so the game hasn’t gotten dry or repetitive and our children often choose to bring this to the table to teach new friends how to play. While the game doesn’t have the inherent EXCITEMENT level of some of the more popular gateway games, the adults we introduced the game to definitely found it to be intriguing and fun.

FCC disclosure: A copy of this game was sent to us by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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The Nintendo Switch is a console designed to live in two worlds. It is expected to hold its own as a home console while also serving as a handheld gaming device. The Switch does not excel in either way compared to its contemporaries, but I just don’t think that matters. The Switch is able to serve both purposes well enough to justify its purchase. In this case being a jack of all trades is NOT a liability. Without further fanfare: here is our Nintendo Switch review.

Hardware

The hardware specifications are the boring part. So let’s get them out of the way first, shall we?

 

Feature Switch Xbox One PS4
CPU: Cores 4x ARM Cortex A57 8x AMD Jaguar 8x AMD Jaguar
Memory 4GB 8GB 8GB
Storage 32GB flash (microSD-expandable) 500GB HDD 500GB HDD
Physical game formats Game Card Disc Disc

 

These numbers likely won’t mean much for the average consumer, but suffice it to say that in regards to home consoles smaller numbers are generally worse.

The Nintendo Switch is underpowered compared to the other consoles on the market right now. This means that it won’t be able to output the graphics that most game developers would need to be able to put the same games on the Switch that they would on the PS4. As a result, it is possible that the Nintendo Switch may lose out on some of the higher end games that are released each year like Call of Duty, Battlefront, etc.

Nintendo does have the strongest lineup of first party (internally developed) games of any of the console makers though. These companies are no stranger to making the best of underpowered hardware which they have been doing since Nintendo launched the Wii.

Portable Gaming

We live in a world where almost everyone has a giant phone or a tablet. Mobile gaming is no longer the novelty that it used to be. As a result, the Nintendo Switch needs to do something different to stand out from the crowd. It needs to provide experiences that are unique to the console and superior to the other options on iPads and phones to be worth the increased cost.

Fortunately, this is where the Nintendo Switch shines. All you have to do is pull the Switch out of its dock and you can take it anywhere to play the same games as you would at home. I know that I was concerned (before the console’s launch) that this would be a significant drop in the graphics. The drop is certainly there, but it isn’t nearly as severe as I was concerned about. Instead I am left with a console where I can truly play console quality games wherever I go. That is an amazing feeling and one that cannot be reproduced on any other piece of hardware on the market today aside from the Nintendo Switch.

Battery Life

The Nintendo Switch is limited by the size and power of its battery. Our experiences and testing has shown that a fully charged Switch will last for between 2-3 hours undocked while playing graphics intensive games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

It is worth noting, however, that the Switch is compatible with USB C cables and will work with many of the popular portable chargers on the market. Using one of those will definitely extend the battery life of your device.

Unique Gaming Experiences

The Nintendo 3DS, the PSP, the PSVita, and many others have given us portable gaming before. That really isn’t anything new. The Switch, however, offers options for gaming experiences on the move that were never possible before.

The biggest new feature is the ability to play local multiplayer games like Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe anywhere we want. This is going to be one of the biggest features for our family and for many others, I’m sure. Our kids have had 3DS systems for years, but they have never been able to play their home console games anywhere else without moving the whole system. The fact that they can easily play multiplayer games on the thanks to the multiple Joy-Cons included with the console is just an added bonus.

Controllers

Each Nintendo Switch includes a pair of Nintendo Joy-Con controllers. They will attach to either side of the Switch tablet or to either side of a special controller called the Joy-Con grip. The Joy-Cons are definitely small so you will need to be careful not to lose them.

The Joy-Con Grip is a reasonable facsimile of a controller and will work for a while. But, if you or your family intends to play games for any length of time then I recommend the separate purchase of the Switch Pro controller. This is a controller that is built to be similar to the controllers for the other home consoles. It also happens to be a very good controller.

Online Services

As of today’s writing, Nintendo is offering a minimalist online experience for its online focused games at no charge.

That will change later on in 2017 when they add in a paid online service that will include a multiplayer app along with other functions at a premium charge (estimated to be around $30 annually).

We will have to see how that shakes out as they explain the service to us over the summer.

Games

Consoles live and die by the power of their games library. As of right now I feel very strongly that the library for the Switch is large enough to justify a purchase. The fact that the system launched with the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was likely enough, but in the months that have passed the library has only grown with such titles as Graceful Explosion Machine, Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Puyo Puyo Tetris.

Conclusion

The Nintendo Switch is an amazing device. It is not going to replace any dedicated home consoles like the PS4 or Xbox One in terms of sheer power, but I don’t think that matters. This is a tremendous system that will be a worthy purchase for any family.

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Unspeakable Words Deluxe Edition by Playroom Entertainment is a Cthulhu themed word game where your sanity is measured by the number of Cthulhu pawns you can hold on to.  The deluxe edition is an update to the original Unspeakable Works game, and features artwork by John Kovalic depicting the characters from H.P Lovecraft. Additionally, it includes more cards, and 10 more pawns than the original edition.  Unspeakable Words Deluxe Edition can accommodate 2 to 8 player game, is recommended ages 10 to adult, and the approximate play time is 30 minutes

Game Contents

  • 148 Letter Cards
    • The letter cards have values based on the number of angles the letter contains, for example,  a S has 0 points and an W has 3 points.   
  • Special cards ( in the Kickstarter edition)
    • Unspeakable Letter (wild letter card)
    • Elder sign (regain 1 sanity if successful with sanity roll)
    • Yellow Sign (discard to reroll sanity check)
  • 20 sided die (glows in the dark with a Cthulhu image to represent 20)
  • 40 Cthulhu pawns (8 colors, 5 each, 10 pawns glow in the dark)

Additional items needed

  • Pencil and paper to record words and keep score

Game Play

Initially the letter cards are shuffled and each player is dealt seven cards.  Each player also received 5 Cthulhu pawns of the same color. The remaining letter cards are placed face down as a draw pile.  On each turn a player can either play a word (3 letters or more) or discard all seven cards and draw seven new cards.  If they discard all seven cards their turn ends and they score no points.  If the player is able to build a word, which meets the criteria in the rules, then the player then earns the number of points displayed on the cards in their words. Next, they must then roll a Sanity Check by rolling the 20 sided die.  The number they roll must be the same or greater than the number of points in their words.  Regardless of the roll the player earns their points.  If they succeed with their roll the player just draws cards to return to seven cards in their hand, and their turn ends.  If they fail their roll, however, they player has to take one of their Cthulhu pawns and discard it in the center.  When a player only has one pawn remaining they no longer need to create real words (since they have lost most of their sanity). If a player loses their last pawn they are out of the game.  To win a player must reach 100 points and succeed on their sanity check on their final turn.

Family Game Assessment

Unspeakable Words Deluxe Edition is a lighthearted word game.  The words do not need to be complicated or utilize an extensive vocabulary, however the strategy and multiple steps at each turn make it challenging for younger players. The rating of 10 to adult seems quite appropriate, you might be able to go slightly younger with an 8 or 9 year old if they are savvy with multi-step turns and are good at building words.  Even though this is a Cthulhu themed game the illustrations on the card and the Cthulhu pawns are cute not scary.  The flexibility with the number of players is also an asset for bigger families or when there are several friends or family visiting.

Conclusion

Unspeakable Words  Deluxe Edition is an amusing word game.  The sanity checks you need to roll with each word played keeps the game light and silly as each player slowly loses their “sanity”.  I was able to play with 7 other adults and we were “assisted” by one of the other adult’s 4.5 year old.  Even though it was a game with 8 players, it moved quickly and kept everyone entertained even when they had been eliminated from the game.

This game is a great addition to any family game collection with older children.

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Sometimes a game just sneaks up on you and gives you everything that you wanted. Graceful Explosion Machines was that game for me this year. It came out right around the launch of the Nintendo Switch right in between two mammoth Nintendo franchises (The Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart). Just about any other game would have been forgotten amidst that kind of competition, but Graceful Explosion Machine was a neon pink sign that helped me find my way.

(Editor’s Note: The pink hat reference is perfect for ME, but definitely needs context. Back in the before times, when I was much younger, my family went to Disney World. My mother, in an effort to protect us, bought us these obnoxious, neon hats. This helped her easily pick us out of the crowd and find us as we pushed through the crowds.)

Graceful Explosion Machines is a classic space “shmup” (Shoot ’em Up) that is currently exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. It is also a spectacular video game.

Anyone who has ever played any sort of arcade game will recognize the gameplay loop immediately. Players pilot a ship around various colorful levels. The goal is to eliminate all of the enemies in each level as quickly as possible and without getting hit.

Eliminating those enemies requires careful use of the four different weapons at your disposal. Each of those weapons is assigned to one of the four face buttons. You have a standard blaster (that will overheat if you shoot too fast), a long range sniper blast that delivers continuous damage, a sword that swings around your ship, and a set of heat seeking missiles. The latter three of those weapons all share an energy bar. You cant just use those powers wildly.

This careful use of all of your different weapons while flying through the various levels pushes you into an almost meditative state as you play. It’s easy to get lost in the game during those brief moments. The longer you are able to play in that meditative state (without failing a mission) the more joyful that state it. This makes Graceful Explosion Machine one of those games where it actually feels better to play as you grow in skill. That is so rare in today’s market that some kids have probably never experienced it at all.

Fix that problem and buy this game for them. Trust me. It will be worth it.

Is it a kid’s game?

Graceful Explosion Machine is an arcade style game that is all simple shapes and bright colors. There is almost nothing to be concerned about with this game.

There is no narrative that expressed mature themes. The game does involve a spaceship blasting other enemy spacecraft, but all them are such simple designs that the inherent violence is very abstracted. This is a modern equivalent to Space Invaders.

Can a kid play it?

There is no doubt that GEM is a challenging game. But, it is still a very inviting experience. Failing at a level is painless and restarting is very fast.

The game does make use of all of the different face buttons on the controller and the should buttons as well so kids who aren’t used to that will have some difficulty.

Conclusion

This is currently the best game available for the Nintendo Switch not called Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Play this game.

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