Monday, 13 October 2014

family outing to Meeples Cafe

It had been quite a while since my last visit to Meeples Cafe. The outing before this was last year! We were planning to spend about two hours, but we ended up playing for four hours. Just nice for an early dinner at Burgertory which is nearby. As usual, I read up quite a few sets of rules beforehand, hoping to introduce the children to more new games. We have plenty of games at home. Visits to Meeples Cafe are always for trying out new stuff (at least new for the kids).

This is Baker's Dozen, a game by Reiner Knizia. There have been many versions published. I think the first version was Poison. The latest version is Friday the 13th. There are three donut flavours - chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. At the start of a round, all cards (donuts) are dealt out to all players. Then you take turns playing a card to the centre of the table. Cards of the same flavour must be played to the same group. If your card will push a group's total value over 13, you must claim all donuts in the group into your face-down eaten pile before playing your card into the now empty group. Donuts you've eaten are -1VP each at the end of the round, unless you have eaten the most donuts of a particular flavour. You are exempted from the penalty for such flavours. So you either want to eat the most of a flavour, or none at all. The green donuts are rotten donuts. They are jokers and can be played into any group, but if eaten, they are always -2VP each, no exemptions.

Michelle and Chen Rui (7). At this point all three groups had one rotten donut, so none of them look appetising now.

The round cards look good, but are not practical. They are a pain to shuffle.

Chen Rui applied a simple strategy called nom-nom-nom. She tried to eat the most donuts of all flavours, so that she could completely avoid all penalty points (of the normal flavours). She was going against the flow. She kept telling us not to take "her" cards from the table. Michelle, Shee Yun and I played in a more conventional way, so Chen Rui ate a lot of donuts. Her strategy didn't quite work, because she was not trying to force some of us to eat some donuts and get penalised. Also she wasn't trying hard enough to avoid the rotten donuts. She was more keen to collect as many donuts as she could than to avoid the rotten ones. She was having more fun doing that than trying to win. So she came last, and she had a great time.

No more strawberry flavoured donuts in my hand, so I was safe from taking any strawberry flavoured donuts.

Every player needs to manage many cards at the start of a round, and Shee Yun (9) had to resort to sorting her cards into piles. This was not a good idea, because Michelle and I could easily guess which was which, and what flavours she was short on.

Chen Rui ate so many donuts that Michelle had to help her count at the end of the round.

The packaging is nicely done. The game box (bottom right) is like a real donut carry box.

Although I wanted to get the children to experience new games, sometimes they requested to play games which they have played before and liked, like GIFTtrap. This is a game about picking gifts for your fellow players. You need to know what they like, and you also hope they know what you like. Giving and receiving appropriate gifts both allow you to score points, but if you give or receive a gift which is not appreciated, you lose points.

Shee Yun's (blue) recipient score marker (in the shape of an opened box) has already reached the goal, which means the rest of us have been giving her the gifts she likes. We know her well. Her giver score marker (shape of unopened gift) is still at 0pts, which means she is horrible at picking gifts for the rest of us. At the moment I (green) am the most successful in picking the right gifts for my family.

Michelle (purple) is currently closest to winning. Both her score markers are near the goal. You need both to reach the goal to win.

Michelle (purple) is just one step away from winning.

Take It Easy!, a game I have heard about for a long time, but only now played it for the first time. Every player has his own board and an identical set of tiles. One player takes the role of coordinator, and randomly draws a tile. He announces what tile it is, and everyone else looks for the same tile from their respective sets. Then everyone adds his own tile to his own board. This repeats until you fill up your board. The objective is to complete lines with a single colour. E.g. so far I have completed a yellow line and a green line. The yellow line gives me 9x4=36pts. The green line gives me 7x4=28pts. It's a simple multiplayer-solitaire game, like FITS. I'd avoid likening it to Bingo, because Bingo doesn't require much strategy or planning. Take It Easy! is more challenging.

I have played Hare & Tortoise before, but this was the first time for the children. This was the 1979 Spiel des Jahres winner, and I think it is a very good family strategy game.

It is a race game, but you are not rolling dice to move. The dice are only used when you land on a specific space, to determine whether you encounter good luck or bad luck. It is mostly up to you where you want to move, just that you need to pay carrots (the currency in the game) depending on how far you move. The game is more about managing your carrots (how to earn them, how to spend them) than about blindly rushing forward.

Look how serious Chen Rui is. This game is mostly open information, the only hidden information being cards in hand, so Michelle and I could give the children advice on what good moves were available.

Shee Yun and I.

These are cards from Dragon Parade, a game by Reiner Knizia.

In Dragon Parade, the dragon dance troupe starts a round at the palace (centre of the board). Players then play cards to move the troupe towards either the yellow gate (on the left) or the red gate (on the right). After each card you play, you also place one of your hawkers on an empty space on the board, hoping to guess where the troupe will stop at the end of the round.

At the end of a round, if the dragon dance troupe stops exactly where your hawker is, that hawker earns 5pts. If the troupe stops near a hawker, he earns 3pts. If the troupe stops on the same half of the board (yellow or red) as a hawker, he earns 1pt. For a complete game, you play the same number of rounds as the number of players. The game has a little stock market feel. You have partial information and partial control, and you need to read the group's thinking. You need to guess where your opponents will try to push the troupe, and you have to take into account your bit of control over its movement too.

You start with six cards every round, but you will only get to play four. The surplus two are important, because they are useful information, and they give you options. After playing the first three cards and placing your hawkers, everyone pauses to discard two cards, i.e. you need to decide which one is going to be your last card. Only after that everyone plays his last card to see where the troupe finally lands.

Hamsterrolle was another game we have played before and the children wanted to play again. It's a dexterity game of adding wooden pieces to the wheel and hoping you don't cause other pieces of fall off.

Bananagrams was new to all of us. It's a real-time game. Everyone starts with a certain number of tiles depending on the player count. There will be leftover face-down tiles at the centre of the table. Your goal is to use up all your tiles to make interconnected words. Once someone achieves this, he announces so, and then everyone must draw one more tile from the central pool. This new tile must be added to your network of words. Sometimes it means taking apart your network and rebuilding it.

If you get stuck with a particular letter, you can decide to pass and return it to the pool face-down, but the price is you need to draw three more tiles from the pool. When there are fewer tiles in the pool than the number of players, the game enters the end stage. Whoever uses up all his tiles wins immediately.

Chen Rui was youngest, so we let her team up with Michelle. Shee Yun and I played individually. The game is fun, portable, and easy-to-teach, but I think it doesn't work very well when there is a big gap in English skills among players, e.g. parents and young children. I took a time penalty in our game, but still managed to win rather easily. Maybe I need to find a better way to handicap myself.

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