Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Mow, Black Sheep, Jungle Speed

I recently had a family outing at Meeples Cafe again, this time playing Mow, Jungle Speed, Zooloretto, Black Sheep and Mondo, all being new to me except for Zooloretto, which was requested by my daughter; and all having animals except Jungle Speed. We had a great time, spending almost 3 hours there. I was quite surprised when Shee Yun (who just turned 7) won at Zooloretto. I didn't teach the rules or scoring method in detail and just taught as we played. I'm still not sure what Michelle and I did wrong. I thought Michelle was doing well, but too many animal types at the barn gave her too many negative points. I'm not sure what Shee Yun did right either. During the game we did give her advice now and then, but she mostly made her own decisions, mainly enjoying collecting animals in her pens and not really strategising much.

Shee Yun's winning zoo in Zooloretto.

Mow is a light and quick card game. It is a little like 6 Nimmt / Take 6 / Category 5, but even simpler. On your turn you try to play a card into a row at the centre of the table. If you can't, or choose not to, you take all the cards in the row and put them into your (negative) score pile. Every card is numbered, and also has a number of flies depicted. When you add a card to the row, it must be added to either end, i.e. you can only play a number smaller than the smallest number in the row, or bigger than the biggest number in the row. The flies on the cards are the negative points you get if you take the cards. There are some special cards, e.g. some allowing you to insert a card in the middle of the row, some allowing you to change the direction of play. The game ends when the deck runs out.

All cards in Mow feature cows, and most depict flies too, which are negative points. Cards with dark green backgrounds are special cards. These two in my hand can be inserted between two cards, as opposed to being placed at either end of the card row.

There is some, but not much, strategy. Usually you try to get rid of the middle numbers, so that you can save the special cards and the extreme numbers for when things get dangerous. Sometimes you may try to intentionally play a very big or very small card to try to force the next player (or any other player) to take the row before your turn comes again. It's a light-hearted game, and it's fun to see people score tons of flies. Suitable for children. Suitable as a party game, and to play with non-gamers.

Shee Yun (7) looks rather pleased with her cards.

Chen Rui (5) knows where to play her cards.

Jungle Speed is a popular game that I have never tried before. Similar to Halli Galli, it's a speed / reflex game. Players take turns revealing cards from their personal decks, and when two cards with the same pattern (not necessarily colour) appear, the two corresponding players try to be first to grab the totem pole at the centre of the table. If you beat your opponent to it, you give all your revealed cards to him. You win by getting rid of all your cards.

There are some twists. When one particular pattern is revealed, everyone must try to grab the pole. Another pattern introduces a special round where everyone reveals a new card simultaneously, and if there are matching patterns, the corresponding players must again fight for the pole. The patterns used in the game are intentionally similar, so players can easily make mistakes. If you do make a mistake and grab the pole when you are not supposed to, you will be "rewarded" all revealed cards.

Jungle Speed is a party game. Very easy to teach. Suitable for children too. Just don't be too rough when you try to grab the pole, which is easier said than done.

Me, Michelle and Chen Rui and the Jungle Speed totem pole.

Black Sheep was a game that Shee Yun requested for on our previous visit, because the box cover looked interesting to her. I think she just likes animals. I hadn't read the rules before. In fact I hadn't read much about the game at all. I didn't even know it was a Reiner Knizia game. The staff helping us didn't know the game either, so we didn't play it that time. This time I was prepared, having read the rules beforehand.

There are three fields at the centre of the table, and each is randomly seeded with two animals for players to compete for. Every time the animals are won by one of the players, two more will be randomly drawn from the available pool to replace them. This continues until some animal types (there are six) start to run out, and the fields get closed down. At game end, players score based on numbers (1 - 3) written underneath each animal (which you can't see during the game), and also for each full set of animals. Black sheep score negative points, but they are needed to make complete sets, so sometimes they are worthwhile.

Players compete for animals by playing cards onto their sides of the fields. Each side can accomodate up to 3 cards. The cards depict one of the six animal types, and the 3 cards played together with the 2 animals on the field combine to make poker-like hands. 5 of a kind beats 4 of a kind beats full house (3A2B) beats 3A beats 2A2B beats 2A. When the ranks are the same, individual animals are compared - horse beats cow beats pig beats sheep beats chicken beats black sheep. You have no control and limited fore-knowledge in the animals that turn up in the fields. You only have a hand size of three, and on your turn, you must play one or two cards to one field. There is some luck in the card draw and in the random animals that turn up. Often you need to decide which field to fight for and which to concede.

One of the fields at the centre of the table. The yellow barn player currently has a full house (3 pigs and 2 black sheep). The purple barn player must play another black sheep card if he wants to win these two animals, i.e. to make four of a kind. The red barn player has already played all three cards, and they can't beat the yellow barn player, so the cards have been turned face-down.

The player board, or farm, where you keep animals that you've won. The animals are lovely.

My animal cards.

My farm at game end. I only have one complete set. If I had another sheep, I would have two sets.

Black Sheep is suitable for children too, but probably not for those younger than 7, since there is a need to understand, evaluate and plan for poker-like card sets. The strategies and tricky decision-making may be beyond young children. I see Black Sheep as a light strategy game most suitable for older children and casual gamers. It has the cute factor. It is too light for hardcore gamers though.

All in all, a fun family outing to Meeples Cafe.

The children liked the fishballs at Meeples Cafe.

No comments: