Tuesday 31 December 2013

Review - Race Around Britain!

Race Around Britain!

Race Around Britain!
Designed by Bertram Kaes
Published by Ravensburger
For 2-6 players, aged 8 to adult

Race Around Britain! game box
Those kids are totally faking it...

So, as you might know, I have this... condition. I like to collect old board games. It's actually quite a fun way to spend the time. I enjoy hunting down the games, and then cataloguing the components, trying to find space for them on the shelf.

Sometimes, when I'm lucky, I even get to play the games I own.

Surprisingly, my wife seems to condone this kind of silly behaviour; and when she goes off shopping without me, she will always check out the charity shops to see if there is anything I might like. She once asked me what she should look out for, and I gave her one simple rule: "Never leave a Ravensburger on the shelf."

This simple rule has yielded some pretty positive results. She scored a complete Enchanted Forest (1982 edition), which is in lovely condition, and one of my Christmas presents this year was an unpunched, unplayed copy of Scotland Yard, which I was so excited about I nearly did a little wee.

However, there are exceptions that break any rule, and I was unable to disguise my horror the day my wife brought home Race Around Britain!

I mean, seriously; you know this game is going to be awful. It has an exclamation mark in the title, and it's about travelling around Britain. If I want to travel around Britain I'll buy a train ticket, not a board game.

And that front cover? Showing two smiling kids, with their dad, playing the game... Yeah. That ain't fooling anyone. They look like they've just buried Mum under the patio and are trying to act natural for when the cops show up.

Now, you may be wondering why I think this game is so bad. I'm glad you asked...

Race Around Britain! basically combines a whole bunch of game mechanisms I hate.

Race Around Britain game board
They really took the time to make Britain look as dull as possible.

The concept is simple: A starting city is chosen, and then 12 other cities are selected at random (four cards each from three stacks of location cards). The top card is turned over, and the "race" begins. On each turn, a player rolls the dice (roll and move, hurrah!) and then moves the number of spaces indicated, heading for the currently revealed location. If a player lands on the location (and of course, this requires an exact roll of the dice), he or she wins two points. Furthermore, that player then gets to answer a trivia question about that location (hurrah!), for the chance to win an additional point.

Lovely Plymouth
I went to university in Plymouth... The more you know...

After all that excitement, the next location is revealed. This continues until all 12 locations have been visited.

And then all the players have to race back to the starting city. The player who reaches the starting location (by exact roll of the dice, of course), wins a bonus three points, and then everyone adds up their points to determine a winner. Not that anyone will care by then.

Race Around Britain tokens
Plastic tokens for keeping score.

So there you have it; a game that combines everything wrong with board games: roll and move, requiring an exact roll to land on spaces, and trivia.

The trivia element is actually the least egregious aspect of the game. It almost makes sense. Most of the points are allocated to people who are lucky enough to roll the numbers needed to land on certain spaces, and the trivia element allows people who are not so lucky a chance to catch up. Of course, you only get asked a question if you land on the right location in the first place, so normally the questions just help the luckier people get even further ahead.

Race Around Britain rules
The rules sheet - great job by the graphic designer, there.

I can't even recommend this game as an educational tool. A game can last for a painfully long time, as each location needs to be reached by exact roll of the dice; and yet only 12 trivia questions will be asked. This is just as well, as there are only four questions for each city. If you played with any kind of regularity (which you wouldn't), you would quickly get through all the questions available.

You could say that the game will help children learn geography, but the terminally dull gameplay, and the terminally dull artwork on the board, is hardly going to keep anyone interested long enough for any kind of learning to take place.

Race Around Britain game components
Capture the flag... Or... You know... Don't bother... Whatever.

So, no; I'm not keeping Race Around Britain! in my collection. And maybe it's time I gave my wife a more definitive set of board game-hunting rules to follow...

Monday 23 December 2013

Review - Dr Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Game

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Dr Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Game
Published by University Games
Designed by someone who chose (or was forced) to remain uncredited.
For 2 - 4 players, aged 4 to adult

How the Grinch Stole Christmas board game
It looks like a present! Cute!

My daughter turned three this December. She has been quite interested in board games for a little while, and we have been playing Parcheesi and the like over the last few months. It is truly wonderful to watch how her ability to play games is developing, and how much fun she has spending time with me, my wife (and sometimes our friends) playing board games. And yes, I admit, I was proud when I found out her most wanted birthday present was a board game she had seen on the television called Go Piggy Go (a game I will be reviewing another time, and which is surprisingly tactical and fun).

Anyway, as a result of my daughter's increased interest in games, I have started looking for more games I can play with her. And so, I picked up How the Grinch Stole Christmas in a little charity shop ready for the festive season. I didn't expect it to be very good, but I will play anything when my little girl is at the table: Snakes and Ladders, Junior Monopoly, Candyland, it really doesn't matter. The important thing is spending time with her, and...

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Okay, okay, I'll confess: I love the Dr Seuss books. I think they are wonderfully inventive, and excellent for teaching children to read; and one of my favourite Christmas stories is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, so if I am being honest, I would have purchased this game no matter what. Besides, it gives me something interesting to write about.

Now, where was I?

Oh yeah. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is published by University Games as part of their Beginner Games series. Games in this series are exceptionally easy to learn, quick to play, and feature elements that help children to read and learn social skills. The focus here is on learning, and encouraging children to play well, and that means you can't really expect much from the game itself. Hardcore gamers need not apply.

Inside the box, you get a nicely illustrated mounted board, four cardboard player pieces in plastic stands, a spinner, and some lovely three-dimensional cardboard "Christmas presents." The quality is okay, but not in the same league as many modern games from companies such as Queen Games and Days of Wonder.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas game board
Forks in the path encourage decision-making for young children.

The game itself is simple. On your turn, you spin the spinner, and then move your playing piece that number of spaces.

Yeah. It's roll and move. What did you expect?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas player pieces
Roll and move? Hurrah!

Anyway, after moving, you look at the space you have landed on. If you land on a space with a letter on it, you get to pick up one of the presents and look at the bottom. If the bottom of the present shows a picture of a toy that contains the same letter as the letter your playing piece is on, you get to keep the present. If you don't get a match, you show everyone what you got, and then you return the present to the pile.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas presents
Merry Christmas!

As you can see, this is teaching a number of core skills. Counting (moving the piece), reading (matching an item to the letter you are on), and memory (remembering which presents have already been looked at, and what they contain). Forks in the path on the board also encourage simple decision-making and strategies.

This is basically the whole game. There are a few other special spaces, like Grinch spaces that make you return a present to the pile, and Cindy-Lou Who spaces that allow you to take and keep any present you want, but generally, you just try to match letters, and remember where the presents you need are. At the end of the game (one circuit of the board, which only takes a few minutes), the player with the most presents wins, but everyone gets to hold hands and sing "Welcome Christmas, Ba-hoo Bo-ray."

Yeah. Really. That's actually in the rules.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas rules
Who decided to print green ink on white paper?

The description in this review should tell you everything you need to know about the game, and whether you would actually enjoy it.

It's quick, it's simple, it's about the Grinch, and it's designed to be educational. For me, that makes it a perfect game to play with my daughter on Christmas Eve. And I guess that makes it one of the best games in the world. For now, at least.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Review - Temple Run: Danger Chase

Temple Run: Danger Chase

Temple Run: Danger Chase
Published by Spin Master Ltd
Designed by Nick Hayes and Brady Lang
For 2 - 4 players, aged 8 to adult

Temple Run Danger Chase game
Evil demon monkeys? Endless running? Eternal horror? Sounds great.

So, I have this dream...

Wait, wait. Don't worry. It's nothing weird. Well, not that weird.

In the dream, I'm running away from a monster. It's normally a werewolf. Werewolves really freak me out.

I'm running away, but no matter how fast I run, I can't escape. The road I am on goes on forever, and the werewolf is always snapping at my heels.

I hate this dream.

But then I wake up, and the dream fades, and I am lounging around in my underwear with a mug of tea skipping through the daytime television channels (this constitutes work for a writer, you know). Sooner or later, I will pick up my iPad (other tablet devices are available), and I will load up the Temple Run app.

I am sure most people are aware of this app. Basically, you are a guy (or maybe a gal), who has stolen an idol from a temple. This has awoken a demon ape thing that starts chasing you. The aim of the game is to keep on running for as long as possible, through a winding maze of bridges and tunnels filled with traps. If you hit a trap you die, if you stumble, the demon monkey eats you. And the game never ends. You just keep playing, racking up a high score, until the inevitable happens and you get got (gotten? gotted?).

It's a simple but incredibly addictive game.

And that's the funny thing about games. In my real life, and even in my dreams, I can't think of much worse than endlessly running for my life from a demonic beastie. But controlling a character in a game that is doing just that... well, that's a whole other story.

Anyway, where am I going with this meandering tale?

Oh yeah, that's right... Temple Run: Danger Chase. The board game version of the Temple Run app.

I first saw the game in a discount store called The Works (other discount stores are available). It was priced at £7.99, and that seemed a little steep for a game that was probably going to be a bit crap, so I left it on the shelf. However, a few days later, I saw the same game in a Home Bargains store (other discount stores are available), and it was just £4.99. My willpower isn't that great, so I paid the money.

Luckily, the game is actually (surprisingly, perhaps) very decent.

The premise is simple, and true to the app that inspired it. Two to four adventurers (or even a lone adventurer, playing to see how long he or she survives), are running along a path made up of five double-sided game boards. Close on their heels is an "evil demonic monkey" (yes, that is how it is referred to in the rules). The aim? Be the last adventurer alive once the monkey stops feeding.

Temple Run playing pieces
The adventurers - sucks to be them.

On a player's turn, he or she activates an electronic idol timer (batteries not included), that starts playing a suitably tense piece of music. The player then grabs five custom dice and starts rolling. Dice have blank faces, faces with one or two running symbols, and a face with the evil monkey. Monkey faces cannot be rerolled, but anything else can. Once the player is happy with a roll, he or she has to slap the idol timer. If this is done in time, the player will get to move; but if the timer emits a screeching monkey sound, time is out, and the adventurer gets moved backwards, closer to that hungry monkey.

Temple Run demon monkey
Evil demon monkey - released from the closet.

Assuming a player succeeds in rolling dice before the timer expires, he or she allocates the dice. Each runner forces an adventurer to move forward one space, and each monkey symbol forces the evil monkey to move forward one space. If an adventurer lands on a danger space on the board, that adventurer dies (unless a "save me" token has been acquired earlier in the game). If a monkey overtakes an adventurer, that adventurer dies.

Temple Run dice
Custom dice - I've seen that monkey's face in my dreams.

Whenever an adventurer reaches the end of the last board in play, the first board is flipped over and placed at the end, thereby continuing the path indefinitely.

Temple Run game boards
The endless path.

It is a game that can only end through player elimination.

Just like the app.

Just like my dream.

Just like school football matches.

Temple Run idol timer
The idol timer has three speeds: agh, aagghh, and aaaggghhh.

And that's all there is to it. The game really is very simple. You can learn the rules in less time than it takes to read this review. In fact, you pretty much have learned all the rules by reading this review.

But is it any good?

Well, yes. It is the game that I have played the most in the last month. This is partly because it is easy to teach and quick to play, and partly because it is just stupidly fun. You don't really have many decisions on a turn, you just frantically roll the dice, and try to slap the timer when it looks like you have rolled well enough to avoid being caught by the monkey or falling down a ravine. Yes, there is player elimination, it is an integral part of the game mechanism; but players who get knocked out still roll to move the monkey, and as games only last five minutes, nobody really minds if they die on the first dice roll (which does happen).

Is it the best dice game out there? No. Not by a long shot. But it is good, solid fun as a light filler. It is suitably tense when it is your turn, and there is no shortage of laughs around the table. After 15 minutes you will be exhausted, and you will want to do something else; but somehow that seems entirely in keeping with the game's theme.

So yeah, why not? I'm recommending this game (assuming you can get it cheap, like I did).

The game components are okay. The boards are thick enough, each adventurer is a different sculpt, and the evil monkey is suitably creepy; the dice are printed rather than being stickers, the idol timer is large, and seems to be able to stand up to grown men slamming it repeatedly; the rules are clearly laid out and well-illustrated, although they lack any colour. The only real problem is the tokens are paper thin; but as they don't get used all that often, it isn't a major problem.

Temple Run rules
The rules - clear, well-illustrated, and bland.

I'm saying this is a worthwhile purchase. And believe me, that surprises me almost as much as it surprises you.

Now, I want to tell you about this other dream I have...

I'm on a bus, on the way to school, and everyone is laughing at me...

Monday 9 December 2013

Review - Redakai


Published by Spin Masters Ltd
Designed by John Fiorillo, Justin Gary, and Brian Kibler
For 2 players

I should probably be banned from Poundland. I don't mean because I do weird stuff, like frightening the children or stuffing washing powder down my trousers. I mean because I have a habit of going in there and buying any old tat that looks remotely like a game. I almost always regret my purchases, and considering each purchase only costs me £1, that should give you some indication of the utter dross I have picked up over the years.

Dross like Chaotic and Huntik, which still give me nightmares.

But sometimes I get lucky, and I will pick up something that turns out to be half-decent. Enter the ridiculously named Redakai, which is surprisingly okay.

My initial foray into the game included the purchase of two starter sets, each comprising two packs of random cards, and a crappy plastic tray that is used for playing the cards into if you are playing the basic game.

The cards are absolutely awesome, as they are not really cards at all. They are pieces of thick, transparent plastic, with images printed on them. Sort of like the cards from Gloom. The images even move when you move the card, bringing the characters and special powers to life.

Redakai character cards
Character cards

The transparency of the cards is important, because the main mechanism in the game involves playing cards on top of cards already in play. Bits from the card underneath will show through transparent areas of the card on top, while other bits of the card will be obscured. For example, you could play a monster card on top of a character card. This effectively transforms the character into that monster: The original character image is obscured by a new monster image, and some of the character's statistics (such as health and defence) will be obscured by new statistics. It's a very simple, very clever system to show how cards affect other cards already in play. I was impressed. But then, I was impressed by the first Silent Hill movie, so maybe I'm just not all that demanding.

However, I was less impressed by the rules. You see, falling into the same trap as most other collectable game starter sets, Redakai only includes rules in the starter sets for the basic game. And frankly, the basic game is appalling.

It's like Top Trumps, but will less choices.

Redakai rules
Redakai - basic game rules... Don't bother

In the basic game, each player lays out a single character, and then shuffles the rest of the cards in his or her hand. On a turn, a player draws the top card. If it is a monster (transformation) card, the card is played on top of that player's character. If it is an attack, it is played on top of the opponent's character and may or may not do damage.

Each character has three life bars in the top right corner of the card, and if all three bars are obscured by overlaying attack cards, the character is defeated.

And that's it.

Draw a card, and then play it.

That's not a game.

Of course, I wanted to play the more advanced game, but there were two problems.

First of all, the advanced game involves using three characters per player, and my starters only contained a total of four characters.

The second problem was that the advanced rules are available from the Redakai website, but that site has been shut down.

So, with what I had in my two starters, I couldn't play the advanced game.

Guess that's the end of the review then...

What can I say? If you are just thinking of buying two starter sets to try this game out, don't bother. You're wasting your money. Even if you're only spending £1.

Redakai monsters
Monsters - three versions of "Slab"

But wait. Wait! I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But he said this game was half-decent."

And it is. Sort of.

Normally, when a game offers up starter sets as bad as these ones, I will cut my losses and walk away. However, I was so enamoured by the mechanism of laying transparent cards on top of each other that I was prepared to give this game another shot.

After some searching, I found the full advanced rules online, and a quick search on eBay netted me a sealed box of boosters (over 100 additional cards, for the princely sum of just £5). By the time I had opened all the booster packs, I had enough creatures, characters, and attack cards to create three distinct decks: One that focuses on heavy attacks, one that focuses on replenishing cards to your hand, and one that focuses on acquiring resources to play additional cards.

I was now set to play the game as it was intended to be played, and... Yeah... It's okay.

In the advanced rules, each player has three characters, and the aim of the game is to kill all three of your opponent's characters (and there was me thinking violence never solved anything). Each player also starts the game with a deck of 40 cards (monsters and attacks), and three "kairu" which are the resources used to pay to play cards.

On a turn, a player replenishes his or her kairu plus one additional kairu, draws one card, and then uses kairu to play cards. Monsters can be played on top of your own characters, while attacks can be played on top of enemy characters. Attacks are colour-coded, and will either cause damage (if they exceed the character's defence value in that colour), or they will block out certain defence values or special powers, making the character weaker and easier to kill with subsequent attacks.

It's very simple, very quick to play, and very slick.

Is it amazing? No. But the plastic cards have a nice feel to them when you shuffle them and flick them across the table, and it is cool to see the cards stacking up on your characters to alter their statistics in positive and negative ways.

Redakai attack cards
Attack cards in three flavours

There are still some problems though. The biggest problem is down to the fact the cards are transparent. It means you can see through the back of them. You will know what the top card of your draw deck is before you draw it, and your opponent will be able get an idea of what cards you have in your hand by looking at the card backs.

The designers realised this, and created some accessories: Stands to hold your hand of cards, and boxes to put your draw deck in. But a game this simple shouldn't need so many accessories, and if you draw from the bottom of your deck, and keep your cards well-hidden, it shouldn't be necessary to fork out more cash for the extras.

The other major problem relates to stacking cards. Sometimes a stack can get quite large, and then the cards start sliding around and may spill across the table. Of course, the designers realised this, and created some accessories: Trays to hold each character, which will stop the cards from sliding about. But a game this simple... Well, you get the point.

Basically, in order to get around all these little niggling problems, you can spend a load of extra money on accessories. This could well be one of the reasons why the game only lasted a few years; after all, what would you rather spend your money on? More cards, or little bits of plastic to organise those cards?

I guess it really is best to keep things simple.

As with all collectable card games, the more cards you buy, the more you will be able to hone and refine your deck to create killer combinations. I have no intention of doing that. I am happy just to tinker with the cards I have, and use this game as a light two-player filler.

Do I recommend the game?

Er... Not really. It's a good, simple game, but it doesn't do anything incredible; and I can't see you burning your Magic: The Gathering collection to invest in Redakai instead. However, if you can grab a lot of cards cheap, then it might be worth it, especially if you play with younger gamers.

But you absolutely must use the advanced game rules.