Sherlock: A masterpiece from Reinhard Staupe

sherlock

If you are like most game buyers in the United States it is unlikely that you have ever heard the name Reinhard Staupe. That is a shame since he might just be the greatest designer of games for children. Fortunately, the folks at Playroom Entertainment are not only familiar with Staupe, they are big fans of his. Playroom publishes a wide range of his games for the US market. What makes his games so good?

  • Simple rules. It shouldn’t take you more than 60 seconds to learn how to play.
  • No words on the cards, only simple but engaging graphics.
  • Fun for both children and adults.
  • Easy enough for children to play competitively with adults.

I plan on reviewing a number of his games in the next few months. Since Sherlock is my favorite Staupe game let’s start there.

Game Overview:
A series of eight “Clue” cards are placed in a circle. Players need to remember the card in each location. After 30 seconds the cards are turned face down. The tricky part is the clues change during the game, as players collect them. Be the first player to collect six clues and you win.

Game Play:
Each card has a picture of a common everyday object. Things such as foods, clothing, animals and household objects. The cards also have a number between one and four along with an arrow indicating the direction that Sherlock moves. When it’s your turn, the player to your right places the Sherlock card next to any of the face down cards. You must then say what the object on that card is. The card is turned face up. If you are incorrect then your turn is over. All face up cards are turned over and the next player goes. If you are correct, then Sherlock is moved in the direction of the arrow the number of cards indicated by the number next to the arrow. You then need to remember what is on the card next to Sherlock. As long as you correctly identify the card, Sherlock moves and you keep guessing. If Sherlock is moved back to card that is already face up then you get that card. A new card is drawn from the deck to replace it, the cards are turned face down and the next player goes.

A typical game takes about 20 minutes. If you want a more challenging game then start with 12 cards on the table instead of 8. If you want to really make things challenging then add a rule that the player must also mention the color of the object as well. That’s one of the things I like most about Reinhard Staupe’s games. You can easily make it the game easier or more difficult.

The box says for ages 5 and up. With younger children you might need to remove the cards that have pictures of object they aren’t familiar with. Since the game comes with 49 clue cards, you can easily remove the few that your younger players don’t know.

Highly Recommended.

Grandpa Beck’s Golf: A Nifty Little Card Game

golfJust because a game company is small doesn’t mean that they don’t make great games. Sometimes a small publisher comes along with a terrific new game. When I first saw Grandpa Beck at The New York Toy Fair back in February, I could see he was a nice guy. What I wasn’t sure about was if his games were any good. After playing a few hands, I could see his card game Grandpa Beck’s Golf was a hit.

The first thing you need to know is that you don’t need to know anything about the game of golf to play. In fact, besides the wonderful artwork from Shawn MacGregor, the only thing related to golf is the fact that lowest score wins.

You start out by dealing each player 9 cards, face down. These are placed in a 3 by 3 grid in front of the player. Each player then flips any two of their cards face up to start the game. The remaining cards form a draw pile. The top card from the deck is turned up and forms the discard pile.

On your turn you have several choices of actions to improve you hand. You choose either a card from the draw pile or the discard pile. If you pick from the draw pile and don’t like the card, you may discard it and end your turn. However, if you pick a card from the discard pile you must use it to replace one of the 9 cards in front of you. You can choose to replace either a face up or face down card. The card you replace gets discarded. If it was face down and turned out to be a better card you’re out of luck. New cards played are always played faced up.

Grandpa Beck added one neat wrinkle into the game. If you get 3 cards in a row that are the same, you can remove the set of 3 completely. The set of 3 can be either vertical or horizontal, but not on a diagonal. This is a great way to lower your score in a big way and remember, just like real golf, it’s low score that wins. Of course, once you remove a row it will be more difficult to remove another one. If you remove a horizontal row then you will no longer have 3 cards in a row vertically. However, you could still remove another horizontal row. The benefit of removing a row will probably outweigh the loss of opportunity most of the time.

The end game occurs when a player has all of their cards face up. At that point, everyone else gets 1 more turn. Then all face down cards are turned face up for scoring. You get a -5 point bonus for having eliminated a row and a -5 point bonus for being the first player to expose all of their cards.

Grandpa Beck added another neat wrinkle to the bonus scoring. You only get the -5 bonus for being the first player to expose all of their cards if you have the lowest score. Otherwise, you get a +10 penalty. So you better make sure you have the lowest score before you try and end the game.

As an added bonus, the game includes one of Grandma Beck’s recipes. I’m not going to say what the recipe is, just that it looks like a great snack to munch on while you’re playing. You’ll have to buy the game to find out more.

Playing time is about 20-25 minutes and I’d rate it as suitable for ages 7 and up.

To get a copy visit Grandpa Beck.

City SquareOff: Simple yet challenging

city

Gamewright Games has an incredible variety of games in their product product line. They have card games, dice games, silly games for children, cooperative games and more. Jason Schneider is the driving force behind their games. Jason has a keen eye for exciting new games. He is also a New York Toy Fair legend. It’s said that Jason can teach someone 10 games in 10 minutes. Maybe it’s Jason quest to be able to teach a game a minute or maybe it’s just understanding the customer. Either way, it’s the reason Gamewright’s games are known for being easy to learn. City Square is no exception.

The game is themed as a city building game. However, it’s really just a simple tile laying game. Each player gets a set of 21 tiles to place on their 9 by 9 grid. The 21 tiles are all different shapes and cover between 1 and 5 spaces on the player’s grid. There is also a deck of 21 cards. Each card represents one of the tiles.

The game begins with each player choosing 1 of 4 different city tiles. These are 5 space tiles of different shapes. It’s this starting move the makes each players board slightly different. Each game turn consists of a card being drawn from the deck and both players then must add the corresponding tile to their grid. Tiles cannot be moved once placed and the new tile must fit completely within the 9 by 9 grid.

The game ends when a player cannot legally add the current tile to their grid. If both players cannot add the new tile then the winner is the player with the largest contiguous group of tiles. If that is also a tie, then you look at the 2nd largest group and so on. It’s that simple.

At first glance you might think this is just a rip-off of Blokus Duo from Mattel. What makes this different is unlike the Blokus line of games, each player in City SquareOff has their own board. This makes the game less of an attack the other player affair then Blokus. If you liked the tile laying strategy of Blokus but didn’t like the attack the other player’s position aspect of it then you’ll absolutely love City SquareOff.

One limitation of the game is it only allows for 2 players. That can easily be solved by using a second copy when playing with 3 or 4 players.

Game length runs about 15-20 minutes, provided that neither player suffers from the dreaded analysis paralysis syndrome.

The box says recommended for ages 8 and up. The game is simple enough that younger players should be able to handle it.

Fits by Ravensburger: Will the Real Knizia Please Stand Up

fitsDr. Reiner Knizia is one of the greatest game designers in the world. The good doctor has given us some solid gold masterpieces such as Tigris and Euphrates, Ra and Einfach Genial. At the same time the name Knizia adorns some of the most mundane games such as Easy Come, Easy Go, Fish Eat Fish and Mio. It’s almost as if there are two Knizias designing games: the utterly brilliant Reiner and his somewhat less brilliant, half-brother, Ralph. Reiner is simply too smart to have given us the likes of Mio and Callisto. Those must really have been the work of Ralph Knizia.

As an aside, if you really want to learn more about Ralph’s handiwork you can check out this review:

http://www.examiner.com/board-game-in-raleigh/mio-by-reiner-knizia-haven-t-i-seen-this-before-review

When I opened the box for Fits, as I do when checking out any Knizia game for the first time, I wondered to myself “Will this be a Reiner Kniza masterpiece or another Ralph Knizia dud?”

Fits – The Game:

Think of Fits as Tetris, the boardgame. Each player has 16 tiles of different shapes that they will slide onto their board, Ala Tetris. The tiles can be rotated in any way before being placed. The game consists of 4 rounds, each with a slightly different board and different task. In round one you are attempting to leave the fewest uncovered spaces. In round two several spaces award bonus points if they are left uncovered. Round three adds in both positive and negative bonus point spaces. In round four there are 5 pairs of symbols. If you leave a pair of symbols uncovered you get bonus points. However, if you cover only 1 of the symbols then you lose points.

The game is controlled by a deck of cards. There is 1 card for each of the 16 types of tiles and on each turn a card is drawn and all players then have to add that tile to their board. The game box says it’s for ages 8 and up. I’m sure the average 6 year old could easily figure it out.

So which Knizia is it?

Now if Ralph designed this game the rules description would end right here. At this point, an astute reader would say, “Duh!, If every player put their tiles in the same spot, we’d have a tie every time.” It would be like a really painful version of Tic-Tac-Toe. Thus, it would be so like Ralph. However, there is one little wrinkle. The game also has 4 “starting” cards. Each of these cards shows a different tile. At the start of each round, each player is dealt one of these cards. They then start the round by placing that tile. Later, when that tile is drawn from the deck, they don’t place anything on that turn. In this way, each player starts with a different setup. It’s such a simple detail. It’s brilliant. It’s so Reiner.

Playing time is about 45 minutes. If you want a quicker game you can decide to skip 1 or more rounds.

Very Highly Recommended.

Mio by Reiner Knizia: Haven’t I seen this before?

mioWe’ve all had that feeling of Deja Vu. We walk into a room and our brain tells us that we have been here before. Sometimes we have and sometimes our brain is just playing tricks on us. For me, it is often like that with games. With over 500 games in my collection plus hundreds more that I’ve seen but never made it to my bookshelf, I’m accustomed to seeing games that look a lot like other games. Very few games are completely new. Often it’s a refinement of a game element. Other times is a novel combination of existing elements. Sometimes it’s just a copycat.

I recently picked up a copy of Mio by Reiner Knizia at JR in Burlington. It was a most pleasant surprise to see a bunch of European imports. At $2.50 I couldn’t resist. Knizia is one the top game designers of all time. He has given us treasures such as RA, Ingenious, Lost Cities and dozens more.

It was dinnertime and Amy and I decided to stop at Steak and Shake for dinner. We often break out a card game while waiting for our food and this looked like a good choice. I opened the box and started to read the rules. Then a weird feeling came over me. Amy said it was probably just hunger and it would pass once I got a burger and milkshake in my belly. It wasn’t hunger, it was that feeling of Deja Vu again. I was sure that I had seen this game before, or was it just a hunger induced mirage?

Uno, I mean Mio is a simple card game where the object to the be the first player to get rid of all of their cards. There were cards numbered 1 through 5 in different colors. In addition, the deck had star cards in the different colors along with 5 jokers. The game play was simple. In Uno, I mean Mio each player tries to discard a card that matches either the color or number of the previous card. If a player doesn’t have a card to play, the must draw from the deck until the get a card that can be played. The first one to get rid of all their cards wins the round. Uno’s, I mean Mio’s scoring was simple. After one player ends the round, by discarding their last card, the other players get points for cards left in their hands. The winner in Uno, I mean Mio is the player with the fewest points.

Our milkshakes arrived and I put the game down long enough to satisfy my stomach. I still had that feeling of Deja Vu. Uno, I mean Mio looked so familiar, but I just couldn’t place it. I continued reading. “Just before a player discards his second to last card, he has to announce it by crying “UNO!” I mean “MIO!”. Amy said “Oh, so when you have 1 card left you need to announce it, just like in Uno”. That was it. I had seen it before. It was just a rip-off of Uno.

Our burgers arrived and the game went back in the bag. After a nice burger and fries I felt much better.I highly recommend the milkshakes at Steak and Shake. Mio, on the other hand, well let’s just say stick with Uno.

Chronicles of the Mind: A real talkfest

Like most game aficionados, when I get a new game I immediately start to categorize it. There are party games, strategy games, dexterity games and so on. Some games are like one of Ron Popeil’s inventions. They try to work well in multiple categories. It’s like those late-night infomercials screaming “you get all those and more”. Most games that try and span multiple categories are like a Popeil product. They do many things but they don’t do anything very well.

When I first looked at Griddly Games’ Chronicles of the Mind I wasn’t sure how to classify it. Was it a social activity? Was it a prop for a team building exercise?? Was it a game? I had that voice in my head yelling “And More”. I’d been down this road before and it was usually strewn with potholes. However, something was different this time. The ride was surprisingly smooth.

Chronicles of the Mind takes a simple function, telling stories, gives it a little structure and wraps game around it. It centers around a deck of 119(my deck had 2 “Craving Anything?” cards, but I think I can work with 118) category cards such as “Favorite Place”, “Secret”, “Most Memorable Holiday”. Players then tell a story involving the topic. You can play the game multiple ways:

  • One person per category
  • For each category every player tells a story in turn
  • Players draw a category card and choose another player, who has to tell the story
  • Truth of Lie?. The story teller has a choice to tell either a true story or a lie. After the story, the other players use their voting cards to show whether they think the story was true or was a lie. Players that guess correctly score points.

After a few minutes I realized this would be an excellent team-building exercise. Cards such as “Most Embarrassing Moment” could get a little personal. Revealing negative things about oneself can be a excellent part of a team-building exercise.

The box says “All ages can play”. And it’s true. My 6 month old son can play. He just whispers his story to one of the adults, who then says it out loud. It is amazing how creative they can be at such a young age.

When playing with younger players, you might want to remove some of the cards like “Freudian Slip”. Other than that it’s a great way to encourage them to be creative.

The prim and proper crowd might not appreciate the “Passing Gas Story” card. It will, however, be highly popular with some parts of my family. Also, I noticed one typo. There is a card “Favorite Foot”. The German text says “Lieblings Essen” so I think they meant “Favorite Food”. Of course a story about one’s favorite foot might be interesting.

I wish Griddly had included a few blank cards, for those of us that like to create our own topics. Of course, you don’t need cards for that, you could just make up your own topics.

A neat feature is each card has the topic in English, French, Spanish and German. You might even learn a ittle bit of a foreign langauge in the process.

Price is under 15 dollars and the box is not much larger than a deck of cards, making it easy to bring along on trips.

It will take about 20 seconds to “teach” to new players.

It is very suitable for playing with both adults and kids. And when it’s late at night and the children are asleep, then the “adult” version can start.mind

Farkle Flip: A classic dice game without the dice

flipI’m a big fan of dice games. Of the 700 odd games in my collection, over 100 are dice games. Farkle is one of my favorite dice games. So when Patch Products released a version that used cards instead of dice I knew it was a game that I had to check out. I wondered if it would be like when a movie version of one of my favorite books comes out. Usually, with movies, I end up feeling disappointed. The book is almost always better. So often the story gets changed so much to fit the new medium that we hardly recognize it. We sit down to watch the movie expecting to see an old and dear friend and end up meeting a stranger. Would the card game version of Farkle be like that old friend or not? There was only one way to tell, open the box and start dealing some cards.

At first glance it looked like a very familiar face. The cards were numbered one thru six just like dice. So far it was looking good. You get points for different combinations of the dice, oops I mean cards. For example a set of three sixes scores 600 points and a straight scores 1500. You play until someone reaches 10000. It was starting to look exactly like the dice game. I thought to myself, why would I need this if it is exactly the same. I continued reading the rules and noticed the card deck also had Farkle cards. So, it did have something new after all.

The game is slightly different than the traditional dice game. Each player starts with one face up card in front of them. On a player’s turn they draw a card and can place it in front of any player. The goal is to try and create scoring combinations. If you want to score a combination then you move it to the center of the table. Combinations in the center cannot be added to. Combinations in front of a player can be added to, to increase their value, but they can’t be scored. Initially you need at least 1000 points before you can stop. On subsequent turns you can stop anytime. If you choose to stop then you bank the points for any combination in the center. If you keep going and draw a Farkle card then your turn ends and you don’t get to score points.

The game retains that push your luck element that makes Farkle so much fun. Personally, I think the 22 Farkle cards, out of 106 in total, is a few too many. That, however, is an easy thing to remedy. You can just remove a few of them. You can experiment and find the balance that you like best. I tried a few hands with only 16 and I liked it better. The ability to have your own house rules is part of the charm of Farkle. Everyone I know plays with slightly different point values for each combination. You might prefer to use the point values you normally use with dice instead of the values listed in the rules. Again, just experiment and find what works best for you. It’s not like the detectives from Law and Order are going to show up and charge you with “Playing Farkle with the wrong point values”.

Personally, I like the dice version a little better. However, sometimes cards are more convenient or sometimes you just want a change of pace. Maybe the dice haven’t been friendly to you lately and you’re hoping you’ll have better luck with cards.

If you’re a fan of Farkle, what you probably love is the push your luck aspect. After all that’s the true magic of the game. You say you haven’t played Farkle before? Maybe you have and just didn’t know its true name. Many people call it Zonk, or Zilch, or 10000. Regardless of what name you know it as, if you like the dice game you really should check out Farkle Flip.

If you’ve never played the dice game and you want a fast paced, easy to learn game, then pick up a copy ofFarkle Flip.

Tsuro: Sometimes the simple path is the way to go.

I recently had a chance to try out Tsuro from Callopi Games. http://www.tsuro.com At first glance Tsuro looks like just a very simple tile laying game, where the players attempt to extend a path. There have been lots of games like that over the years. Spaghetti Junction and Metro immediately came to mind. I’m a big fan of Dirk Henn’s Metro, so I wondered how would Tsuro compare.

The game itself seems enough. The board is 6×6 and has hash mark along the edges that players select as starting locations. There are also 35 regular tiles, plus the dragon tile. The regular tiles have paths on them and players add those tiles to the board to extend their path and attempt to dead-end their opponents path. The board can never completely fill-up since it has 36 spaces and the game has 35 tiles. Each player is given a attractive stone to use as their playing piece, along with 3 tiles. A players turn is simple. Place a tile next to your playing piece to extend your path. Then you advance you piece to the end of your path. You also advance any other players whose path’s are extended by the new tile. Then you draw a replacement tile.

If a path is connected back to a hash mark on the edge of the board, then that player is eliminated. If 2 paths are joined then both players are eliminated. The object is to be the last man standing. If all the tiles have been played and more than 1 player is left, then they tie. It’s like Metro, without all the scoring.

It’s one of the few euro-style games that players actually get eliminated from the game. This isn’t really a problem because Tsuro is a quick game. Most games that I’ve played took 15 minutes or less. To me, this is a strength of the game. There is no need for players to get stuck in a long game that they know they aren’g going to win. Another big plus is Tsuro can accomodate up to 8 players. That’s really nice. Almost all euro-style strategy games max out at 5 or 6 players.

I found 2 minor annoyances with the game. The first is the tiles are ever so slightly large than the board spaces. It doesn’t affect the game play but it will annoy certain types of people. The second is the board is a US-style board with a gutter where the board folds. It’s not the clean edge style that you see in German games. Playing pieces on the edge of gutter fall over from time to time. Again, it doesn’t affect the game play.

It’s a terrific game to use as an introduction to euro-style games.

Highly recommended.

9 Tips to help you survive the New York Toy Fair

tfny

The 112th American International Toy Fair is less than a week away. This will be my 14th Toy fair and I thought I’d share some tips on how to survive it.

Where and When:

Toy Fair 2015 will take place February 14-17, 2015 (Sunday-Wednesday) at the Jacob K. Javits ConventionCenter and showroom locations. The show hours are 10:00am-6:00pm on Saturday, 9:00am-6:00pm Sunday & Monday and 9:00am-4:00pm on Tuesday.

The Javits Center is located at 11th Avenue between 34th and 38th Streets, New York, NY 10001.

Tips:

  1. You can’t have it all – With over 1000 exhibitors at the Javits Center plus showrooms across midtown there is no way you can see everything. The show is open for 33 hours so plan things out. I make a list of exhibitors that I want to see and prioritize them as either A, B, or C. A is for must see. This year I have 31 A’s. B is for really want to see and C is for would be nice to see.
  2. There’s an App for this – The folks that run the Toy Fair have a really neat app. If you have an IPhone, IPad, IPod Touch or Android device you need to get the app.
  3. The Agony of “Da Feet” – Javits Center concrete might just be the hardest substance known to modern science. Walking up and down those aisles can be murder on your feet. Wear the most comfortable shoes you have. Don’t worry, if you are buying they won’t care what your footwear looks like as long as your check doesn’t bounce.
  4. Do you have a reservation? – Most exhibitors love walk up traffic. However, some require an appointment to get in. The bigger the company the more likely you will need an appointment. The folks at Griddly Games and Playroom Entertainment won’t turn you away but you aren’t getting into Lego, Hasbro, Mattel or Spin Master without an appointment. If you didn’t make any appointment for the big guys ahead of time make sure to stop at their booth first thing and try and book one.
  5. Can you sent that to me? Those might be the most important words you’ll use at the show, especially, if you want to avoid neck and shoulder problems. Vendors will offer you catalogs, samples and all sorts of other stuff. The weight adds up. If it is heavy I try and get them to send it to me after the show. If that doesn’t work then ask if you can return at the end of the day to get it.
  6. Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow NOT – Global warming aside, Toy Fair is known for snow. It has snowed during eight of the 14 shows that I’ve been to and five of those were blizzards. Now you have been officially notified.
  7. The lines for the bus go round the block, round the block, round the block – If you will be taking the shuttle bus back after the show make sure you get to the bus a few minutes before the show closes. The minute the show closes all the exhibitors race to the buses and the lines seem like they never end. If you must be on the show floor at closing try and plan to be near the exits so you can beat the rush. And one more thing, if you checked your coat, get that at least 30 minutes before closing otherwise that line might make you wish you were on the bus line instead.
  8. Sock it to me – Back in 2005 one of the press giveaways was a pair of green organic socks. It might have been the best giveaway in the history of Javits. At first I thought it was a lame giveaway until someone mentioned that they would retire to the restroom and change their socks at about 3pm. It is a truly wonderful thing for the feet to be able to put on a fresh pair of socks after all that pounding on Javits Concrete ( please scroll up to tip number three). The math is simple 4 days times 2 pair per day equals 8 pairs of socks.
  9. It’s all about the fun – Yes, toy fair is big business for the exhibitors, but it’s still an industry that revolves around fun and games. Make sure you let yourself enjoy the fun. Be silly, clown around with the costume characters, try out the toys and imagine you were a kid again.
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