Friday, 23 November 2012

Axis & Allies Anniversary against the doctor

I recently played a game of Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (AA50) against Han in PBEM (Play-by-E-Mail) format using the TripleA free software. The last time we did this was three years ago (session 1, session 2), and those were two very tense and memorable games. I've been gaming with Han since 2005. One thing that I am sometimes very impressed about is how he doesn't give up even under extremely adverse situations. This is not specifically when playing Axis & Allies games, just playing games in general. There were quite a few times that he came back from very bad positions to win a game. I imagine if I were in his shoes I would probably have given up hope. I wonder whether it has something to do with his profession. I imagine sometimes he would need to operate on patients who are in critical conditions. Under such a situation he must keep his cool and do his best, no matter how hopeless the situation seems.

In our recent game of AA50, he played the Allies and I played the Axis. We played the 1942 scenario. Allen had planned to join us to play USA, but he had technical problems so Han took over USA. The Axis had a good start. I made a mix of moderately safe and slightly risky attacks, and all turned out well for me. The Germans captured Karelia in Round 1, which was a big loss for the Soviets, because it means Germany could start manufacturing tanks there starting the next round. The Italy supported Germany by attacking Caucasus (south of Moscow) to thin out some of the Soviet units. The Germans developed heavy bombers in Round 3, and also had many fighters poised to attack Moscow by then. Moscow fell to the Germans. USSR did not have many units to be able to launch a counter-attack, so it never recovered.

This was in Round 3, and was one of the happiest moments for me. Germany discovered heavy bombers! I jumped up and sang. Germany was poised to attack Moscow. There were five fighters stationed in Karelia, in range of Moscow.

On the western front (of Europe), the British worked steadily on building up their navy. In Round 1 they developed heavy bombers, which struck fear into the hearts of the Axis. Heavy bombers, which roll two dice instead of one, can be very very destructive. Using its strong fleet, UK managed to capture the coastal regions in western Europe a few times, but they were immediately repelled. UK also managed to capture Norway, Finland and Poland, which were not heavily defended. The UK fleet destroyed all German ships. I heavily fortified Germany, fearing an amphibious assault supported by British heavy bombers. I still remember how I underestimated the strength of an amphibious assault in the past and paid dearly by losing Germany and its massive treasury. In Axis & Allies it is extremely difficult for a power to recover from the fall of its capital. Italy supported Germany in the western front too, helping to recapture France when it fell.

In Europe, UK had a big navy, and managed to land some units in western Europe and Scandinavia. UK had three heavy bombers, and four transports. I feared an amphibious landing in Germany, and stacked many units there.

In Africa, Italy's attack on Egypt went awry. It was the Germans who eventually got the job done (good job, Rommel!), capturing Egypt in Round 2, and opening the door to the rest of Africa and the Middle East. The Germans made some advances while Italy rebuilt its forces to be shipped over, and eventually Italy took over Africa and Middle East, to let Germany focus on Europe.

Italians sweeping up the rest of Africa and even capturing India, finally meeting their Japanese pen pals.

US decided to focus on the Pacific arena, spending no money or effort at all in the Europe theatre. Japan did the Pearl Harbour thing, which was then avenged by the Americans. Japan built a factory in Manchuria in Round 1, and thereafter was able to build 3 tanks every round to help secure Asia. Japan decided to focus on the mainland and did not fight hard for the islands. The Japanese navy was soon wiped out. The Chinese fought valiantly, recapturing many Chinese territories. Japan had no transports to ship units from Japan to the Asian mainland. Thankfully the factory in Manchuria kept pumping out tanks (and didn't fall to the four Russians playing mahjong just across the border). Eventually China fell to the Japanese and all Chinese were mandated to have four characters in their names instead of three (or two). The US navy captured island after island, even coming as far as Taiwan (Formosa). Thankfully they didn't manage to capture my home state Sabah (then North Borneo), which was a lucrative $4 territory. One critical move that delayed the US was three of my Japanese bombers sinking part of the US fleet off Caroline Islands which included 3 transports. As a result, 5 US infantry and 1 tank were stranded. US needed to rebuild its navy and also to build more transports. US still had more money than Japan and could outspend Japan.

End of Round 2. US was advancing, and China was fighting back, recapturing many coastal Chinese provinces. Japan was carefully guarding its relatively new factory in Manchuria.

Japan was pushing into China again, and three bombers flew out to attack the US fleet off the Caroline Islands. In this US fleet, only the fighter, cruiser and carrier could fight. The three transports were sitting ducks if I could kill off the fighting units.

All three bombers killed their targets.

I lost two bombers, but I still had one left which would then destroy all three US transports.

At the end of the battle phase, Japan had made good progress in China, and 6 US land units were stranded on the Caroline Islands. There was still a small US fleet off Taiwan (Formosa), but with only one transport, it was not too big of a threat yet.

I noticed that Han did not have any US destroyer. I quickly built a fleet of Japanese submarines which would threaten any US fleet that tried to assemble at Caroline Islands to pick up the land units there. Without destroyers, all my submarines would enjoy the first strike attack, sinking any ships I hit immediately without giving them a chance to fire. Also the US fighters wouldn't be able to fire at my submarines. The mainland was secure now, but the US navy was much stronger than my Japanese navy of leaky but deadly submarines. I needed to stall the US and protect Japan and the Asian mainland. US had discovered heavy bombers, and could bomb my Japanese economy to smithereens if it established a strong base in Taiwan.

Japan had secured the Asian mainland, and now could start spending money on its navy. Japan was quite far behind in naval strength, so I started with building a group of submarines. Han didn't have destroyers to counter my submarines' special abilities, so building subs and having them in range of the Caroline Islands deterred Han from assembling his ships there to pick up his land units.

Back in Europe, Germany now rich from capturing Moscow, could spend more money on tech. It discovered the long-range aircraft tech, which worked wonderfully with the heavy bomber tech. Germany spent much money on heavy bombers, which helped tremendously in capturing European, African and Asian territories. In Round 6, a large force of German heavy bombers and fighters converged to attack the large British fleet in the Baltic Sea. It was a bloody battle. The British fleet was destroyed. The Allies conceded.

The final crucial battle between the German air force and the British navy.

Six heavy bombers wreaking havoc.

The British fleet was now at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

  1. Heavy bombers are probably overpowered, especially when one side gets it early.
  2. Techs are fun, but can be a little unbalancing. It's nice that when you fail, you keep your dice for next round, so there is incentive to at least invest in one die and hope for a lucky break. In the A&A 1940 versions (the more complex versions), the design goes back to the previous approach. If you fail, your money is wasted. That makes you more reluctant about gambling on techs. I'm undecided which approach is better, or even if having techs in play is a good idea in the first place.
  3. I think I still prefer AA50 if I want to play an A&A global game. AA1940 Global just feels a bit too clunky. I'm doing an AA1940 Global game via PBEM now. Maybe it works better as a PBEM game. But still, sometimes I feel distances are just too far and the game bogs down a little.

Monday, 19 November 2012

boardgaming in photos

22 Oct 2012. I continue to play Ascension regularly on my iPhone. In this particular game I tried a construct strategy, and it was a fine strategy. I had 5 constructs in play. Most were Mechana constructs and they jived well with each other. I find that I'm enjoying Ascension more and more. The designers have definitely done something right with it, although I can't quite put my finger on it.

28 Oct 2012. Another game of Fauna with the children. This time the whole family played. The children are not as keen about this game now, so I think it will be a long long time before we even get to use one side of all the animal cards.

9 Nov 2012. Another game of Ascension in which I used the construct strategy. This time I was very lucky with the card draws and with the cards appearing in the purchase area. I had 6 constructs!

Usually constructs themselves are worth many points (which are totalled at game end), but they don't always help with scoring during the game itself. In this particular game, they helped me tremendously with in-game scoring. By the last round, I had outscored Han 44 to 18 (in-game points only). Han actually had some constructs too, but I defeated some monsters which forced him to discard all of them. He would need to draw his constructs again to put them back in play. The final score was 87 vs 62, so our construct and card points were actually very close. It was the in-game scoring that won me the game.

15 Nov 2012. Shee Yun (7) wanted to play At the Gates of Loyang with me. We play with simplified rules that I invented because she can't handle the full rules yet, and I was not very keen to play these rules. So I suggested Agricola. She said OK, so we played the family game (i.e. without occupations and minor improvements). She managed to understand the rules well enough. Agricola is not exactly a simple game. I think what helps is that the actions in the game are mostly intuitive. Shee Yun was very careful with making sure she had enough food to feed the family. They did not starve even once. She enjoyed identifying the disks as the father, the mother, the son, the daughter and the baby. Thankfully she did not ask me much about the family growth action and how babies came about.

This was the farm she built. 28pts, which I thought was not bad for a beginner. I did guide her a little, e.g. making that 5-space pasture on the left. It greatly reduced the number of unused spaces and thus reduced the penalty at game end.

She loved the game! She soon asked to play again.

18 Nov 2012. Chen Rui (5) has been playing the iOS Ticket to Ride heavily lately, having discovered it only recently. Shee Yun (7) has been playing it longer. Chen Rui asked me to play the physical copy with her, so we played. I have no idea who taught them these annoying victory poses. It certainly was not me.

In this game I inadvertently blocked Shee Yun's way to Houston, and made her cry. She needed to go from Dallas to Houston, but the single-train route had been used by Chen Rui. So she had to painstakingly collect 4 red train cards and 6 green train cards to take a longer way. I had completed my tickets and was just wasting time to give the girls more time to complete their tickets, and I claimed one of the routes Shee Yun needed only for the sake of the points. When she saw that she had been completely locked out of Houston, she started crying. I consoled her, but I did not take back my move. I asked her to look at other actions that could better her position, and to just accept that she would have to take the 5pt penalty for failing to complete one ticket. 5pts was not much, I told her. I think learning to cope with frustration and with failure is something children can do in boardgames.

The card holder was quite necessary for Chen Rui. Look at how many cards she had! These are the first edition cards, which are smaller. Hey, I bought Ticket to Ride before it won the Spiel des Jahres (in 2004).

I recently bought Nightfall on iOS. Soon afterwards, after a few games against the AI's, I realised I didn't really like it much afterall. I find that I don't like the restriction in buying cards. Chaining cards is a key mechanism in this game, and to be able to chain your cards, the cards you buy need to have main colours, chain colours and kicker colours that match one another. I find that I need to decide on which few types of cards to buy early in the game, and then stick to the plan. If I try to change my mind halfway, I may end up with cards that don't work well with one another. I feel I don't have the freedom to buy any card I want at any stage of the game. I wonder whether it's just that I don't know the game well enough yet.

The iOS implementation was done by Playdek, so the interface is good. This is the purchase interface. Cards you can afford are highlighted with green borders.

This is a chain in progress of being resolved. The card on the right is the active card being resolved.

The interface was intimidating at first, but once I started using it, I found it intuitive. Maybe I'm already used to the interface style of Playdek. Similar to other games by Playdek (Ascension, Summoner Wars), to view you draw deck or discard pile, just touch it and the list of cards will pop up (the bottom row in this screen).

The victory screen. No I didn't take a screenshot of the defeat screen.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Great Zimbabwe

Plays: 5Px2.

The Great Zimbabwe is Splotter Spellen's new Essen game. Jeff was at the Essen game fair October this year, and brought back a copy to be played at OTK. I gladly grabbed the opportunity to do so.

The Game

The Great Zimbabwe is about building great monuments in ancient Zimbabwe. Players are kings competing to build the most impressive monuments. The modular game board is randomly set up every game, and it has four types of resources and some lakes and rivers. Resources are needed for manufacturing ritual goods, which are required for upgrading monuments to increase their values. Rivers (and lakes) ease the transport of ritual goods to the monuments where they are needed.

On your turn, you pick one main action out of three options. (1) You can build a new Level-1 monument for free. (2) You can do craftsmen-related actions. This usually means claiming a technology card and building the workshop type allowed by the tech. Claiming the card increases your victory requirements. The default points required for winning is 20, but it can increase up to 40 if you claim many useful cards. A workshop must be within range of the resource type it needs, and in future every time anyone buys a ritual good from this workshop, one resource will be depleted for the round. You set a ritual goods price at any new workshop, and can also increase the prices at your existing workshops. You can build new workshops of the same type as you already own. (3) You can upgrade one or more of your monuments by one level. Upgrading a Level-1 monument to Level-2 requires one ritual good; upgrading a Level-2 monument (to Level-3) requires two different ritual goods; and so on. The highest you can go is Level-5, since there are only 4 types of ritual goods in the game. You need to deliver the ritual goods to the monument you are upgrading. If they are too far away, you can use other monuments (yours or other players') as hubs to establish a delivery route, paying $1 to the bank for each hub used. Rivers can help in increasing range, because each connected body of water is treated as one space. Taking one step from a river bank space into a long river is one step; going ashore at the other end of the river is just one more step. Upgrading monuments is the main way of gaining points, because tall monuments are worth many points.

The game board is modular and randomly set up every game. 9 pieces are used for a 5-player game.

The single square icons printed on the board are the natural resources which are needed to manufacture ritual goods. The 2x1 and 2x2 tiles are the workshops which produce the ritual goods. The round disks are the monuments. The natural coloured wooden pieces are the depletion markers, indicating resources that have been used in the current round. That very very long river in the background would have been very helpful for transporting ritual goods, but no many people built workshops or monuments along its banks. Sigh... noobs... (and indeed we all were newbies in this particular game).

There is a concept of obsolescence of ritual goods. For three of the ritual goods types, players can build secondary workshops. These workshops further process the ritual goods from the primary workshops, creating more valuable versions. E.g. sculptures are the better version of simple wood carvings. Once a secondary workshop is built, the primary version of its ritual good type is no longer acceptable for monument upgrading. Anyone wishing to use this ritual good type must now pay both the primary craftsman to produce the basic good and the secondary craftsman to upgrade the basic good. He may also need to pay transportation fees to send the basic good to the secondary workshop. Using secondary ritual goods also consume more natural resources, since both primary and secondary workshops consume one resource each. This makes competition for resources tighter, and thus competition for turn order becomes more fierce.

Money is important (of course!). You not only need to think about making money, you also need to consider how money flows into the game, out of the game, between the players, and even between your left and right pockets. At the end of every round you earn money based on your tallest monument. Some god cards and specilist cards also let you make money. These are the only ways money enters the system. When you build workshops and when you pay for transportation costs, money leaves the system. When you use others' workshops, money is flowing between players. When you use your own workshops (yes you need to pay your own minions, a.k.a. craftsmen), it is money flowing from left to right pocket. You must still pay the full price, and you only get the money back into your hand at the end of the round. Making money is important, for buying ritual goods to upgrade monuments, and also for bidding for turn order.

The bidding for turn order is interesting. Every bid made is immediately paid in full to a pool. If you don't or can't make a higher bid than the previous player, you go to the last available slot. After the bidding is done, the bid money in the pool is distributed as evenly as possible to all players. So this is another way money is flowing between players.

The above are the basic structure of the game. What can shake them up a lot are the gods and the specialists. On your turn you can take a god card or a specialist card for "free". You can only ever worship one god, but you can have multiple specialists. These cards have various abilities, e.g. the toll booth god collects all transportation fees, the hardworking god reduces the victory requirement when taking tech cards, the rainmaker specialist (a bomoh! - which roughly translates to "witch doctor" in Malay) grows rivers, the banker specialist gives 50% interest for money banked in. The "cost" of taking these cards is your victory requirement will go up. So you better make sure they are worth it.

In addition to monuments, workshops are also worth victory points. The game ends after at least one player meets his victory requirement. If more than one player achieves that, whoever exceeds his victory requirement by the most points wins.

The board in the centre is the scoring board. The round disks mark the victory requirement for each player, and the cubes mark the current scores. The big square tiles on the left are used during turn order bidding. Bid money is evenly distributed on them, going from left to right. After the bidding concludes, every player takes the money on his tile.

The Play

I have played two games, both were 5-player games. In both games we made some mistakes. The impact was quite severe in the first game, and it made the game much tougher than it should have been. Splotter games are already unforgiving, and we made it worse. Imagine that! In the first game all players were new to the game. I spent money on getting a better turn order, and quickly built a workshop near a long river and also three resources. I thought it would get much business, but it didn't. It was off-centre and thus not near any of the start monuments, and no one built monuments along that long river. Another player who built an exact same workshop had many more customers than I did, because he built in near the centre of the board. I tried to right my wrong by building the secondary workshop of the same ritual goods type. However that secondary workshop was near only two resources, which meant I could only sell at most two ritual goods per round. My money engine never picked up momentum. We misunderstood the restrictions about placing workshops, thinking that primary and secondary workshops must not be in range of the same resource, and that workshops of the same level and resource type must not be in range of the same resource. The correct rule is a 2nd or 3rd workshop of the same level and resource type need to be in range of at least one resource not already in range of existing workshops, but it can "share" resources with existing workshops. Due to this misunderstanding, we only ever had two vessels (secondary ritual good using the clay resource) in any round, and we could not build the sculpture workshop (secondary workshop using the wood resource).

The card on the left is a god card. This god reduces my victory requirement (VR) increment when I take tech cards. However, in hindsight, it was a waste of time picking this god in this particular game. Taking the god increased my VR by four, and eventually I only saved 4VR from the two techs I took. Now I feel stupid.

The two cards on the right are tech cards that allow building workshops. The laurel icons are the victory points worth per workshop built, and the cattle icons are the costs per workshop. The cattle tiles are the prices I set for the ritual goods produced by the workshops. The top tech card is for a primary workshop. It consumes one clay resource and produces a pot. The bottom tech card is for a secondary workshop. It consumes one clay resource, needs a pot to be delivered to it, and upgrades the pot to a vessel.

Sheng had the god which allowed him to upgrade monuments while ignoring the different ritual good types requirement. Wood carvings were cheap and abundant, and Sheng himself owned two of the three wood carving workshops. He kept the price low, was able to cheaply upgrade his monuments, and no one could stop him. In hindsight, if we had understood the rules correctly, we could have tried to slow him down by building sculpture workshops and setting high prices. Sculptures would consume more resources, and would be more expensive too.

I tried to build more monuments, and hoped to upgrade many at one go. However my money engine sputtered and coughed and never quite started running. I came in dead last.

If you examine this photo closely, you will find that every resource is in range of at most one workshop (i.e. can be reached within 3 steps including diagonally). We had misunderstood the rules and made workshop placement more restricted than it should be. In this photo you can see that all the wood resources (single purple squares) have been "locked" by the three wood carvers (purple 2x1 tiles). We thought we were not allowed to build sculptor workshops (the secondary workshop) because there were no unclaimed wood resources.

In the second game, three players had played before and two were new. This time I remembered the pain of poverty, and told myself I wanted to be rich, rich, rich! I picked the toll booth god, which let me collect transportation fees whenever anyone (even myself) needed to pay such fees. Unfortunately in this game we had a massive river and the bomoh too. The bomoh grew the river, making transportation very easy for everyone. Many players built monuments on the riverbank. I made little money from my toll booth god. Wrong career choice! I built three different workshops, two of which were secondary workshops. Surely investing in business would let me become rich. It did. But I completely underestimated how quickly the game would end. Just when I started counting my hard-earned money, game over.

Black (sorry I forgot your name) had been steadily upgrading his monuments. When secondary workshops started popping up, increasing the cost of monument upgrades, he plonked down a diamond workshop (which was expensive but had no secondary workshops) which could access most of the diamond resources on the board. He set a moderate price, made some money from it, and also made good use of it himself to upgrade his monuments. I had misjudged the pace of the game, and I came in dead last again! I took many tech cards and had a high victory requirement.

This game, the god that ignored the requirement of different ritual good types (picked by Sinbad) did not help much, probably because the other players all tried to deny him cheap and abundant ritual goods. Heng worshipped the horny god which let him build two free new monuments instead of one. He went for the rabbit strategy, hoping to litter the land with monuments and then upgrade many at one go. Unfortunately he was cash poor, not having any workshop of his own. Allen joked that he could try building two free monuments every round until he reached his victory requirement.

This was the second game I played. In the south there was a big river, which had now been further grown by the rainmaker (bomoh) specialist and linked up with two lakes. Quite many monuments were built on the river bank.

My god on the right, Qamata, who claimed for me any transportation fees paid for using hubs. I call him the toll booth god. I had built two workshops at this point, and later built a third one.

Look at all those yellow monuments! This was the game end situation. Black was the one player to have met his victory requirement (VR). The rest all had the same number of points. However the absolute score is not important. What is important is how far you are from your VR. Allen (red) and I (green) had the highest VR, so we were last. He was ahead of me in turn order, so he had the 4th place, and I was 5th.

The Thoughts

I kept thinking about The Great Zimbabwe after playing it. I was quite the smitten kitten. Jeff brought a few copies back from Essen, and asked if I wanted to reserve one. I said I'd try-before-buy, even if it was a Splotter game. Allen decided to buy a copy, so I thought I didn't need to own it, because I game with Allen frequently anyway. I thought I had made up my mind. However I kept thinking about it, wavering and teetering at the edge, to the point of almost losing sleep. In the end, I decided to buy it. Even if I may not get many plays out of this physical copy, I feel it's a show of support to this great design. And I can sleep better now.

To play The Great Zimbabwe well, you need to grasp the full situation of the game, and you need to understand every moving part and what each opponent can do to affect the game situation. You need to be able to see the threat and the opportunities beyond what's immediately visible on the board. This is not a game where you just try to do your own thing and hope to win by being efficient. You have to understand the economic situation, the game dynamics and the pacing. There aren't that many rules in the game, but the various god and specialist abilities, the board setup, and the players' actions can create very different game situations.

This is not a game for casual gamers. It needs repeated plays to shine. It is unforgiving, like many other Splotter games. Despite being shorter and seemingly simpler than other Splotter titles that I like (Indonesia, Antiquity), I feel that The Great Zimbabwe has just as much depth as the other games. It's the same goodness with less fiddliness.

I just hope I don't come last again the next time I play. But maybe that's a good thing. This game is a temptress, always staying just out of grasp and making me want to come back to explore it more.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

family boardgame outing

The children are growing up (5 and 7 now), and there are more and more games that I can play with them. Some are children games, but many are "normal" games not designed specifically for children, or games that adults can enjoy too. We are no longer playing with the components, and I seldom need to invent simplified rules for grown-up games. They often request games. I hope they continue to enjoy them as they grow up, and that they'll continue to play with me when I get old and senile.

20 Oct 2012. Chen Rui playing Viva Topo!, a game about mice racing to grab the biggest pieces of cheese without getting caught by the cat.

Shee Yun only has one "strategy" - no one gets left behind. She moves all her mice evenly, like a family sticking together. In this game, this is not always a good idea. She is too kind and cannot bear anyone being left behind.

On 26 Oct 2012 we visited Meeples Cafe again. We stayed three hours, playing a total of 9 different games, some new to us and some not. It was a fun outing.

Captain Clueless. I teamed up with Shee Yun again, and Michelle teamed up with Chen Rui. The children didn't want to be blindfolded, so Michelle and I played the captains. My team (red) had very lucky cards. All our destinations were nearby (Roatan, then Montego Bay, then Kingston), and we quickly completed our voyage and returned home.

Forbidden Island, the family version of Pandemic by the same designer. It is a cooperative game where players need to collect four treasures and fly off in a helicopter before the island sinks. The core mechanisms are the same, but the game is streamlined and slightly simplified. There are some differences. The game is very well designed. It is still quite tense. We played the lowest difficulty level.

The treasures look very good.

We made a rule mistake in the first half of the game, which caused the island to sink more slowly than it should. So the game was even easier than Very Easy level. Still, the tension did build up and I felt that we were not far from the verge of losing. This was late in the game. Quite a number of areas were flooded (the blue and white tiles) and some had sunk. Later even more areas sank into the ocean, but we made it eventually.

When playing this game, Michelle and I guided the children most of the time. It was still a little beyond them. But they felt they had participated and they enjoyed it. We presented to them the few better options, or if they were making an obviously poor move or missing a golden opportunity, we gently suggested the better approach. I think they liked working together as a team.

I didn't expect much from Forbidden Island, because I thought it would be just a simpler little brother to Pandemic. However it turned out to be quite refreshing. I don't need to own it, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's a good gift choice for non-gamers.

Ubongo Extreme, where the shapes are made of hexagons. The general idea is the same as Ubongo, which I own. The scoring is a little different, simpler in fact. The puzzles are tougher. There was one I simply couldn't get after trying for a long time. Eventually it was Michelle who solved it.

Similar to Ubongo, the puzzles are two sided. This is the easier side, needing 3 pieces. The harder side needs four pieces.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple was a hot game at the recent Essen game fair. It's a 10-minute, real-time, cooperative, dice game. To win, players need to explore a buried temple, collect enough gems, find the exit, and all must leave the temple before time runs out.

All actions are done using action dice, and everyone gets five of them. You do your own thing using your own dice, all in real-time. You can coordinate with your fellow players, because some tiles need multiple players in order to fully utilise.

Three had escaped from the temple. When we played this, Michelle and I had no time to guide the children so we had to let them fend for themselves. We were busy enough managing our own dice and actions. They knew the basic idea and played on their own, although I don't think they strategised much. Chen Rui (5) mostly enjoyed rolling the blessing side and she kept asking who needed a blessing (to get rid of curses). Shee Yun (7) went off in a different direction exploring the temple by herself. Or maybe I should say we moved too fast and left her behind. Both the children seemed to enjoy themselves. I think this being a cooperative game helped. We all won together.

Actually we probably didn't win. We did "beat" the game by collecting enough gems and exiting the temple, but we didn't use the soundtrack that comes with the game (which is a timer) and I'm quite sure we spent more than 10 minutes.

Toss Your Cookies is basically a card game. Everyone has a hand of seven cards, and the goal is to collect 5 biscuits of the same type plus the milk card, of which there is only one in the game. In this photo, the two leftmost cards are jokers.

Every turn a player rolls two dice, and everyone follows the instruction given by the die roll. This combination here means the person with the milk card must give it to another player, and then get another card in return.

This combination means everyone passes two cards left. If the "TOSS" word were face-up, then everyone would toss two cards face-up onto the table, and race to grab the cards they want (still restricted to the hand size of seven).

Michelle won. Toss Your Cookies is a simple game suitable for children and casual players. Mostly a party game.

Dixit. I have played this with the children before. This was my turn to be the storyteller. The clue I gave was "animal". Since this was such a generic word, I was sure there would be others contributing cards with animals, and it would be difficult for everyone to guess the correct answer (the goal is to only have some players guess your card correctly). It turned out that all cards contributed had animals. A dragon is considered an animal, right? Albeit a mythical one. However, that turn everyone guessed my card correctly! What are the odds of that?!

Apples to Apples. First time for all of us. The idea is that every round a player takes the role of judge, and flips over a green adjective card. Each other player then picks a red noun card from his/her hand to play. The judge decides which noun card is the best, and whoever played it gains 1pt. The contestants can try to be creative in picking nouns. They can also try to present their reasoning to persuade the judge to pick their cards.

My hand of noun cards.

The game didn't quite work with the children. Too many concepts and words they are not familiar with. Even I don't know much about Clark Gable. There is a children's version of Apples to Apples. Maybe that would have worked better. At least it wouldn't have any adorable oil spills.

I thought my Infomercial card would surely win. It didn't. Gall Bladder won.

We also played two dexterity games at Meeples Cafe, Hamsterrolle (which we have played before) and Bamboleo. We didn't even last one round of Bamboleo. Shee Yun toppled the platter on her first turn. The game took less than 20 seconds. Chen Rui sulked and said this game sucked.

All in all, it was a wonderful outing and a great way to spend time with the family.

27 Oct 2012. Playing Uno at home with the children. I bought two card holders (which was suggested by a reader here - thank you!). Only my younger daughter Chen Rui (5) really needed one, but I bought one for elder daughter Shee Yun (7) anyway.

Chen Rui used to spend a lot of time peeking at her cards one by one because she couldn't hold them properly and had lay them face-down in front of her. Now she spends a lot of time trying to stick her cards into the card holder instead. So the end result is we still need to wait for her when he turn comes. Hopefully she'll get better at using the card holder soon.

This is a very old copy of Uno from my childhood. I counted the cards once, and one was missing. Doesn't bother me though. I don't even remember which card it is.

Once when I was about the shuffle cards, this little mischief Chen Rui intentionally blocked my way. So I shuffled the cards on her forehead. She thought that was funny, and since then she has been requesting me to do this whenever we play Uno.