Friday, June 15, 2012

Pirate Dice

In my line of work, I have always found steering a pirate ship to be more difficult than it seems. What with the ropes and the sails and my complete lack of nautical knowledge, even I find it trying at times. However, every now and again a game comes along to truly inspire a new generation of young lads and lasses into becoming a pirate and taking to the seas on one of these awe-inspiring vessels. Today, this game is Pirate Dice: Voyage on the Rolling Seas.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Word games are not my friend. Growing up my mom loved to play Scrabble, but would pull no punches. So when you're 8 and are proud of spelling "cat", having mom throw down "scapulary" for a double word score you tend to not want to continue to play. But to each their own because if anything "Words With Friends" proves that plenty of people out there like the challenge of knowing more than me. Montage does a great job of doing this, while also adding in color coded word jumble, crossword puzzles, and clever clues while being timed. Its a wonder any who played with me survived.

Montage is a recent Kickstarter project from Gryphon Games, which is actually a remake of the game, originating in 1973. In the very retro feeling box you will find a board, a sand timer, an arrow, brown pips, and a bunch of colored pips - each color being associated with 5 different letters. 

To play the game, you'll need three other players since this is a 2v2 partner game, and can only be played with 4. Once you find three people who are smarter than you, you set the board up to match a starting pattern with both the brown and colored pips (the game comes with a 4 page visual guide of different starting patterns to challenge you). To begin playing, the first player will choose a space to "build" their first word in their home zone, and then think of a word to fill that space in with. Words must begin and end either between two brown pips or one brown pip and the edge of the board, and must contain at least one colored pip that you build upon. This is not terribly difficult when there is only one colored pip somewhere within your word, but when you have three or four, you have to be clever and think fast.

This is where your word would go
Once you've found your space for your word, and you know what your word is going to be, you now need to get your partner to guess what that word is by giving them clues. However, your clue can be no longer than 5 words, and everyone playing has a chance to guess what that word is. If both of your opponents "knock" in, then you are SOL because your partner wasn't quick enough to comprehend your clues. Whoever does guess the word correctly will then put down colored pips to spell out the word, with the side up that represents their team (can be black or white). Each pip is worth a point, and when a team scores 10 points in a zone, they win the zone. First team to get 4 zones wins.

Did I mention that you are trying to do this all while being timed?

Yes, you will have a minute to do the following:
  • Think of a word with 1+ predetermined letters
  • Find a place on the board to do it
  • Think of a 5 word clue that your partner will get but your opponents will not
What that row looks like after someone gets it right
When we played this, it was me and a buddy vs his wife and mine. To share how unfair this matchup is, his wife is currently playing 12 different games of "Words With Friends" and winning all of them, my wife loves riddles/brain teasers, where as my I couldn't find Waldo to save my life. On my first turn, I got "lucky" and had a 3 letter word that I could play (Jug) and so my clue was "Moonshine Container". Granted not the best of clues as far as they go, but what else would you put moonshine in? Needless to say he didn't get it, and it went downhill from there.

While I do not like playing this game, it is a very clever game that I would easily recommend to anyone who likes word games. That said, it still has its own issues, especially since it does require you to have four and only four people playing the game. The game is also as much about words as it is about working with your partner and knowing them well. If you are partnered with someone you've never met you might do well, but your clues may have to be so watered down that the oponents would "knock" in as fast as your partner. With a good balance of players who both want to play word games and are knowledgable of real words, Montage could be a lot of fun that won't end with your brain exploding like mine did.

Game in action, my team is about to loose.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Ah yes, the carnival. A place where one can go to watch the oddest assortment of people wandering the fairgrounds. It is a place where mullets are in, and sleeves are out, and a mans self-worth is measured only by how much fried food can fit in his belly. It is the one place where you can go and see people who call you neighbors but you never knew of their existence. In a simpler time, these people were not allowed outside the sideshow tent, but we are a more accepting society now. And now, there's a game based on all the excitement there is to be found at the carnival. And what is this mysterious games name you ask?

Ok, so pretty much none of that fancy lead in is true about this game, but how cool would it be if there was (hope you're paying attention Cherilyn - that's the premise for Carnival 2: Carnie Boogaloo). Carnival from Dice Hate Me Games is their first release, and at its heart is a set taking card game with a minor "worker placement" mechanic to drive the action of the game. In the box you'll find dice, an action board to assign the dice, and cards used to build the rides at the carnival, and tickets. Lots of glorious tickets.

In the game, you take on the role of a glorious carnie setting up the rides on the midway. In typical carnie fashion, you are trying to be the first to build four out of five rides to win and become the carnie king. Nowadays there are unions that keep this timeless tradition from happening, but back in the day carnies would race to get their rides set up first and would steal and sabotage each other while MacGyvering their way to the top.

Game designer Cherilyn Joy Lee Kirkman has simulated this in card and dice as you belittle your friends to a win. Through the playing of cards, players are trying to complete four rides, each consisting of four different parts. During their turn, players will roll the dice and assign two dice to actions on the board corresponding with their roll. These actions are:

  • Draw a card
  • Take a discarded card
  • Steal a card from another players hand
  • Trade a card from another players hand
  • Trade a card from another players midway
  • Steal a card from another players midway

Once their actions are complete, players will then play cards from their hand to complete rides along the midway. Now, along the way other players will try and steal and trade away your cards that you need to win in order to screw you and win themselves. This is where the glorious tickets come into play, as they will block an action from happening so that "yellow seat" card that you've been holding on to will remain safe, for at least a little bit longer. These tickets can also be used to modify or reroll the dice if the actions they produce do nothing for you.

The game is a light, fun game that has a bit of chaos to it, but with some strategy as well. I like the idea of rolling dice and assigning them to actions, and its simple enough that you can pick it up and learn pretty quickly and be moving within 10 minutes. It's not really a deep thematic game, but its theme adds to the fun, especially if you play the part of a carnie while playing (note - may freak your significant other out in the process). I had issues with the included rules as I found them a bit out of order, but I accept the fact that my logical progression does not always match that of others. Also, the first time we had a chance to play was on New Years Eve and several drinks were had by all at this point, so I'm sure that didn't help much. In the end, everything you need to play is in the rules and as long as you read it all you're good. 

But heres the thing - in a world where Kickstarter makes it possible for small indie publishers like Dice Hate Me to fund a project like this, the world has become smaller and more accessible. I was able to tweet the team behind the game for rules clarification, and within a few minutes they tweeted back with an answer. While not every publisher may be this accessible, it's pretty fantastic to know that the games put out by a pair who are willing to connect with their audience and help make the experience more ideal and personable. 

**Make sure to check out Dice Hate Me's second game Viva Java - Currently on Kickstarter and awaiting you to back it!**

Friday, January 13, 2012


Ever wanted to build a series of islands in a timed fashion?

Mondo is a tile placement world building game from ZMan in which players compete against each other to build a consistent landmass while being timed. In the box you'll find 4 double sided player boards, a bajillion double sided land tiles (consisting of water, desert, forest, and plains), some additional tasks tiles, score modifier tiles, score sheets, and a timer.

The game has three rounds is played as thus: Set the timer, play tiles to build your island making sure to match the edges (desert to desert, forest to forest, and so on), repeat. Incredibly simple but actually very hard to do since you are racing against the clock (7 minutes per round), are fighting others for the tiles, you can't rearrange the tiles once they are on the board, and you can only use one hand. Seriously, its in the rules. During the building phase anyone can "tap out" at any time by grabbing the bonus chip, which will give you 1-4 points depending on when you go out. Of course as soon as you do this, then you're done for the round and can not add anything else to your board. After the round is over, be it because everyone tapped out, or the timer went "Ding!" its time to score. You score the following way:

2 points for properly connected tiles (forest to forest, etc) (land only, not water)
1 point for every animal on the board
1-4 points for bonus points, based on what you grabbed
-1 point for every active volcano you have on the board
-1 point for every misconnection (desert to forest, etc)
-1 point for every blank spot 
Points for if you played with the modifier/additional task tiles (advanced game)

Can you figure out my score for this round?
Player with the highest score during the round gets the volcano chip which counts inactive volcanos as active for purposes of scoring. At the end of three rounds, whoever has the highest score wins.

So yeah, thats it. Theres a large variety of tiles with different land combinations to them that make digging through them crazy. After a few games you know exactly which tiles you are looking for but with up to 3 others playing against you who are after the same tiles as you in real time makes for an exciting and frustrating time. The player boards are double sided (one side has water boarders, the other has all four tile types) and really force a change in how you play since you need to build off of previously played tiles.

The game is a lot of fun and forces people to spatially think on the fly, which in theory should keep those players who suffer from analysis paralysis from holding up the game (gooooo timer!). That said, for those same reasons its probably not for everyone. If you don't do well in a timed environment, you're probably screwed (unless you are playing with others). If you don't do well with spatial placement, it'll frustrate you. My wife is competitive but gets frustrated by this game due to the timer and spatial placement isn't always her strong point, so this isn't her favorite one to play. Honestly I'm surprised our timer hasn't sailed through the air to its untimely demise against the refrigerator with springs and bells strewn across the floor. 

In the off chance of that happening (or if it has already happened to you) I have created this fantastic tool for you to use - the Youtube Mondo Timer:

Please keep your computer in a safe place that can't be thrown across the room.

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