Monday, December 5, 2011

Hands On Impressions: Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower

When you think of Castle Panic by Fireside Games, you probably think of a fun cooperative game for the whole family.  With the addition of the new Wizard's Tower Expansion, the game transforms from a straight forward family game to a more challenging gamer game.  Don't get me wrong, it still plays very much the same as the original, but the expansion adds new layers that provide more depth and excitement for the typical gamer.

The Wizard's Tower Expansion adds several New Monsters (including 6 Bosses), Powerful Wizard cards, nifty little Flame tokens (for when monsters and the tower catch fire - Totally Cool!), a nice token bag to hold all the monster tokens, and of course the Wizard's Tower.

The 6 new Boss tokens include a Chimera, Dragon, Necromancer, Baslisk, Hydra, and Warlock, all with interesting new abilities. For example, on our first play,  we encountered the Necromancer who puts 2 monsters from the discard pile back into the draw, but who dies on contact with the wall.  He also adds monsters back to the draw for each life he has left. We also ran into the Warlock and the Hydra.

Our first game was quite fun.  We had several moments where we thought all hope was lost, but we battled back and ended up victorious (even if it was by the skin of our teeth).  In the end we only had the Wizard's Tower and the wall in front of it left!  Imps are so annoying, and its best not to catch the tower on fire!!!

I have to say that this version of the game requires a lot more discussion and team work to succeed, and it seems to run a little longer than the original.  Also, due to all the new monsters, your first few games will require more visits to the rule book.  It's not a bad thing, just something to be aware of when you pick it up for the first time.  One thing's for sure, you definitely want to protect that Wizard's Tower.  We lost it at one point and we thought we were done for.  Luckily we were able to build it again and regain our ground with an epic play that took out two bosses and a climbing troll in one fell swoop!

So, if you are a fan of the base game, but were hoping for a little more substance or just a little more variety, definitely give the expansion a try.  You won't regret it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Martians and Zombies and Bears, Oh My!

If your looking for a fun and fast way to pass the time between the Turkey and Pumpkin Pie this Thanksgiving, then look no further.  Dan, Brian and I took a look at three quick and easy dice games that are sure to make you giggle with delight.  Whether you are a fan of the Wild Outdoors, Martians, or Zombies, all three of these compact dice games offer simple game play, easy set up, and great flavor.  Just open one up and your ready to play!

Each of these three games offers slightly different game play.  Zombies and Martian dice both offer a turn based game that is risk and reward.  These games are great for engaging in conversations while playing the game.

In Zombie Dice you play as the zombie trying to eat as many brains as possible without getting shot.  The game offers three colors of dice, Green, Yellow, and Red, that represent the risk involved when rolling.  If on your turn you grab a yellow and two green dice, then you have a good chance of surviving the roll and getting brains.  If you grabbed a yellow and two red dice then you may not be so luck.  Each die has footsteps, brains, and gun blasts.  Brains are good, Blasts are bad, and footsteps mean you have to roll it again.

In Martian Dice you play as the Martians trying to collect data from Earth.  You are particularly interested in the Human, Chicken, and Cow species.  On your turn you roll the dice to try and collect each of the three species and avoid being destroyed by tanks.  Unlike Zombie Dice, each of the dice in this game is equal and you roll all dice at the same time.

Bears! is a very different experience.  Though it is packaged very much the same way as the other two, this dice game is much more a group affair.  In Bears! everyone rolls simultaneously and tries to collect sets of dice from the center of the table.  Each player has a set of 5 white dice, and the center of the table has 5 black dice for each player in the game.  Once person roles the black dice (which contain images of bears and tents), then everyone rolls their white dice and races to make sets of black and white dice.  As soon as all the bears or tents have been taken from the middle of the table someone yells BEARS! and you score your sets.  Its fast and fun, and it gets everyone involved!

Personally, I'm a huge fan of having everyone involved and think that Bears! has a slight edge over the others, but that's just me.  Still, all three have a place in our game closet, and I would never say no if someone asked me to play.  So, take your pick, toss it in your bag, and get rolling this Thanksgiving!

Hear which dice game Brian and Dan enjoyed most here...Martians and Zombies and Bears, Oh My!

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Am The Lorax!

Just in case you missed this, The Lorax is coming to a theatre near you!

"I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees!  I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues...."  Ever since I was a young girl, I have adored this tale of the glorious Truffula trees.

The Once-ler, enamored by these gorgeous trees, decides to use their beautiful foliage to knit a "Thneed."  You see, a thneed is a thing that all people need!  The thneed is such a success that the Once-ler calls upon his relatives to come help manufacture more thneeds.  The Lorax pleads for him to stop, but he is ignored.

Unfortunately, the Once-ler learns too late what his greed has done to the land, and as the last Truffula tree gets chopped down, the Thneed factories close down and the Once-ler's family departs, leaving the Once-ler alone with the Lorax.

As the Lorax sadly departs through a hole in the smog, he leaves behind a small pile of rocks with the word "UNLESS" inscribed into them.  Unless someone lilke you cares a whole awful lot...

This message has stuck with me throughout the years, making me more conscious of the environment and my impact on it.  It's a message that I hope to pass along to my own son, and I can't think of a better tale than The Lorax.  Thanks you Theo Geisel for such a wonderful story.

The movie is aiming for a March 2, 2012 release to coincide with what would have been the 108th birthday of Seuss.  I hope you join me in celebrating this fantastically fun story written by an amazing storyteller.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Revamping Your Family Game Night

The days are getting shorter and the air is getting cooler.  Now is the perfect time to start thinking about revamping your family game night!

Why have a family game night?
Game nights are the perfect opportunity to reconnect as a family and create fun memories.  In the whirlwind of life, sports, play dates, school, and work can make families feel like strangers.  Many families strive to have dinner together in an effort to stay connected, but why not extend that time to include a game?  When you play games, you are creating experiences.  There's nothing better than spending quality face-to-face time together and games provide the perfect atmosphere to get better acquainted with one another.

Games provide a great platform for adults to illustrate some great life skills, too.  Team work, sharing, and winning/losing with grace are just a few of those skills.  Not only are your children learning from you, but they are also practicing math and reading without even knowing it.  Games provide a great way to reinforce all those new skills they are learning at school.

Each game offers its own unique FUN.  Some games offer opportunities to giggle and share humorous stories, while others provide nail biting adventures where everyone must cooperate to succeed.  With a creative plan, you too can start a family game night tradition that can last for generations. Whatever mood your family is in, there are great choices to fill them all!  The following is a list of some of our families favorite games to help you start building your own game library. 

Games, Short and Sweet! (great for those evenings when time is, well, Short!)

  • Blink by Mattel
  • Eleminis by Smiley Pop
  • Dweebies by Gamewright
  • Super Circles by Out of the Box
  • Feed the Kitty by Gamewright
  • Zombie Dice by Steve Jackson Games
  • Bears! by Fireside Games
  • Martian Dice by Tasty Minstrel Games

Team Work Challenges (these are great for families with multiple ages since everyone is working together and information is shared - Cooperation anyone?)

  • Forbidden Island by Gamewright Games
  • Castle Panic by Fireside Games
  • Cranium by Hasbro

Games to Get the Wiggles Out: (especially effective during those weekends when the sun is not shining and it is too wet to play...)

  • Ring-o Flamingo by Gamewright Games
  • Boochie by Gamewright Games
  • Reverse Charades by Gryphon Games
  • Step to it by Gamewright Games
  • Space Race by Gamewright Games

Brain Busting Games (for those who like puzzles and strategy)
  • Got 'Em by Calliope Games
  • Pirate vs Pirate (or Ninja vs Ninja) by Out of the Box
  • Word on the Street by Out of the Box
  • Gobblet by Blue Orange Games
  • Qwirkle by Mindware
  • Tsuro by Calliope Games
  • Carcassonne by Rio Grande Games
  • Hey That's My Fish! by Fantasy Flight Games
  • Survive: Escape from Atlantis by 
  • Stronghold Games

Games On the Silly Side (when everyone just needs a laugh)

  • Befuzzled by Fun Q Games
  • Shake n Take by Out of the Box
  • Faux-Cabulary by Out of the Box
  • Who Would Win by Gamewright Games
  • Joe Name It by Gamewright  Games
  • Anomia by Anomia Press
  • Crappy Birthday by North Star Games
  • Say Anything Family by North Star Games

Just Plain Fun! (Pirates, Monsters, the Wild West and more...great themes for the whole family)

  • Abandon Ship by AEG
  • King of Tokyo by Iello
  • Jamaica by Asmodee
  • Dice Town by Asmodee

These are only a small sampling of the wide variety of games you can find today.  Pick one up, try it out, and see all the great laughs and memories you can build with your family!

Oh and one more thing...
There's no denying that great games pair well with tasty treats.  The following are some great "Game Friendly" recipes to make your family game night even more special.

Pizza is always a big hit at our house.  In an effort to try to contain the mess I make pizza rolls. Even though they take a little bit of time, they are delicious, self contained, and freeze very well.

Pizza Rolls
  • cups shredded pizza cheese blend or mozzarella

  • 8  ounces mini pepperoni

  • medium green bell pepper, finely chopped

  • medium onion, finely chopped

  • Two 14-ounce jars pizza sauce

  • 32  egg roll wrappers

  • Vegetable oil for frying  

1. Combine cheese, pepperoni, bell pepper, onion, and pizza sauce in a large bowl; mix well. 
2. Arrange the egg roll wrappers on a work surface 
3. Spoon 1/4 cup of the mixture in the center of each egg roll wrapper. Fold the bottom edge toward the center over the filling. Moisten the top edge with a small amount of water and fold over, sealing tightly.
4. Heat 1 inch of oil to 375 degrees F in an electric skillet. Fry the rolls in batches until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

Another easy to grab favorite of ours is pigs in a blanket.  They are super simple and can be made with mini dogs, sausage or regular hotdogs for variety.

Pigs in a Blanket
  • 1 package pre-cooked  breakfast sausage, hotdogs, or mini hotdogs
  • 1 package refrigerated crescent rolls
  • Honey mustard, Ketchup, or Maple Syrup for dipping
1. unwrap crescent rolls and preheat oven to package directions
2. cut each crescent dough section  in half.  (cut in quarters if making the minis)
3. place a link on the wide side of the crescent dough and roll
4. bake until golden brown (about 6 minutes)

If you are looking for a quick and healthier option, try making fruit kabobs.  The kids will have a blast helping you put them together and you can whip up a little yogurt or chocolate dip to make it extra special! 

Simple Yogurt Fruit Dip
  • 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 (8 ounce) container of your favorite flavored yogurt 
 1. In a medium bowl, blend the whipped topping and yogurt. Chill in the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.  

So decide on a night, put it on the calendar, and have fun playing!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gamers Raise Over 1 Million Dollars for Children's Miracle Network!

Today I am so proud to be a gamer.  Around 3 AM this morning, gamers all over the world reached an amazing milestone.  In only its fourth year, the Extra-Life 24 Hour Game Marathon climbed to an amazing total of over 1 MILLION Dollars raised for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. 

Doc (of Sarcastic Gamer) had this to say about the momentous occasion:

"This is one of the most memorable moments of my life, and if you’re an Extra Lifer, it ought to be yours.  Because I sure as hell didn’t raise a million dollars.  We all did.
For the history buffs here were the Extra Life totals in the past:
2008 – $121,000 – 1165 gamers
2009 – $170,000 – 1654 gamers
2010 – $465,000 – 3299 gamers
2011 – $1,000,000 AND CLIMBING – 13,596 gamers
More than 13,000 gamers from 97 countries, and every continent except Antarctica (penguin scientists suck) came together to make this happen..."

If you are one of those gamers, Thank You!  If you are one of those donors, Thank You!  If you had to skip yesterday and are making it up this weekend, Thank You!  Children around the world thank you for giving them a chance at extra life.  A million dollars is a lot of dough, and a lot of hope for families. 


Now get some sleep.  You deserve it!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photo Tour: The New Puzzle Stike Upgrade Pack!

Calling all Puzzle Strike Fans!

Sirlin Games is upgrading your experience.  The new upgrade pack includes 4 striking playmats and 4 retro player screens.

Both are sure to make your games run smoothly, without worry of showing your chips or confusing your gem pile with other zones.

Each Player Screen features a different game rule. I love the 8-Bit style.

The pack also includes a second set of character chips, allowing players to engage in exciting mirror matches!

The chips have also been re-balanced to improve game play.

And if you long for more customized play, the set also comes with 3 new puzzle chips and 15 blank chips to allow for new strategies and exciting combos!

Stay tuned for my full review of this exciting upgrade!

**Important**The upgrade pack does require the original Puzzle Strike game.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hands on Impressions: Sunrise City

On a recent rainy Sunday, Dan and I had the opportunity to break out a prototype copy of Sunrise City.  For those who haven't heard, Sunrise City is a new city building game from Clever Mojo Games that combines tile placement, bidding, and strategic planning.  You are one of the founders of Sunrise City and it is your job to develop the best city possible.

My first impression of the game, as we began to set it up, was that "this looks a lot like Infinite City."  But that view didn't last long! The 60 zone tiles are in fact the same size as the tiles in Infinite City, but there is oh so much more to this game (we'll get to that in a little bit).  The game also comes with 70 Benchmark Tokens, 28 Bid Markers (7 each in 4 different colors), 20 Floor Markers, 16 Role Cards, 60 Building Tiles, 1 City Hall Start Tile, 5 Community Tiles, 1 Protester Meeple, and a Scoreboard. 

Although the copy was only a prototype, the pieces were clearly constructed to resemble their final construction.  I was particularly impressed with the heft of the building tiles.  If you have ever played Survive: Escape from Atlantis, the building tiles are about the thickness of the mountain tiles from Survive (about a 1/4 inch thick).  These tiles are the equivalent of two of the zone tiles stuck together, or the shape of a large domino.  What makes these tiles so great is that, because you use them to construct the city, the thickness really helps the city come alive as you begin stacking them up.

Now onto the game play...

The goal of the game is not to score the most points.  It is to earn the right points by strategically placing buildings that allow you to reach the top of the scoring track and earn the most benchmarks.   There are various activities involved that will earn you points.  If your marker ever lands on the star at the top of your
score track exactly, you earn 2 benchmarks.  Any time you reach the top but overshoot the star, you earn 1 benchmark.  

The game is played in 3 rounds. Each round consists of four phases: Preparation, Zoning, Bidding, and Constuction.  Before you begin, everyone drafts 3 roles, one role for each round.  At the start of your preparation phase, you will choose one of those rolls to play.  These rolls provide players with a special ability for the round.  They also help determine the first player in each round (The card with the lowest number will go first). You then draw 4 building tiles and 4 zone tiles.

After the preparation phase, you move on to the zoning phase where you begin to plan out the city.  You will take turns placing one of the 4 zone tiles you just drew in the preparation phase.  In order to play a tile you must connect the sidewalks.  It does not matter which way the tile is facing as long as you can walk between tiles.  These tiles will become the base on which you will begin constructing your buildings, so it is important to attach your zone tiles accordingly.  Each tile represents a residential, commercial, industrial, parks & recreation, or mixed use zone. 

Once the zoning phase is complete you move onto the bidding phase.  In this phase you are bidding on the zones where you want to place your building tiles.  It is important to remember that you must own at least one connected zone in order to construct a building in a given area, so this is an important step in the game.  Each player has 6 tokens with which to bid.  When the bidding is completed only the top most bid markers count and the rest are redistributed to their owners.

After all bids are placed, you will begin the building phase.  This is where the game visually shines.  Each building tile is made up of two building types that match the zones that were just added.  The tiles are placed on the board connecting the appropriate zone to the type of building.  There are three numbers on each building tile.  The middle number is earned by the player that places the tile and the two outside numbers are earned by whom ever owns the zone on which it is placed.  As you build you can also stack tiles on top of one another building multiple floors after the ground floor.  Players earn bonus points when they build the odd numbered floors. In a four player game, this can get quite impressive as some buildings reach floors of 8 or 9. 

And that's it! You complete these phases for three rounds and the player with the most Benchmark Tokens wins!

The only issue I have with the game is that there is a slight disconnect thematically with the roads.  They don't seem to go any where, and while the theme of not being able to build buildings over the roads on the ground floor makes perfect sense, the fact that the roads tend to not connect to one another, seems a little odd.  They usually end up as little circles all over town.  Like a said, not a problem with the mechanics of the game, just a little weird visually.  Regardless, I love the game play and think that it is a great middle of the road strategy game - not too simple, not too complex.  I would place it right between Infinite City and Power Grid. 

So, if you are a fan of tile placement games, I would definitely recommend giving this one a try.  It is fun, relatively quick, and has enough strategy to keep things interesting.  I can't wait to see the final product, as I am confident that it will have beautiful components to go along with its solid game play.  Also, if you pledge $50 or more to its KickStarter you will get the promo roles and community tiles too.  These will definitely add even more fun to the game, so check it out!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Play Games...Heal Kids!

Want to be a real life hero?
Who doesn't?  

Children all over the county are dealt some pretty tough cards sometimes, but on October 15, 2011, you can help those kids win.

Logan at Buffalo Children's Hospital
This is something that recently hit home.  Not long ago, my son, Logan, had his own scary adventures with the hospital.  He suffers from Febrile Seizures and, as you can imagine, it is a terrifying event for both him and his parents.  Without the wonderful doctors and nurses, I would not have known what to do.  I thank God every day for the support and care they have provided to our family.  They made us all feel safe and informed.  This event is my way of giving back, and is a cause near and dear to my heart.

Extra Life, an annual 24-hour video game marathon started by Sarcastic Gamer, raises money to help kids at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.  It's simple.  You sign up. You get sponsors.  And you play games for 24 hours.  Fun right?  The more people you get to sponsor you, the more money you will earn for your local Children's Hospital.  And that's the best part.  You can pick YOUR local hospital and 100% of your donations go directly to them! 

Last year, gathered their forces and joined Sarcastic Gamer to bring board and card games to the fight.  From 8 AM Saturday to 8 Am Sunday, gamers all around the world played games to help heal kids. Their efforts, as a member of Team,  raised over $5,000 for their local hospitals.  I was one of those gamers.  So, if you are a fan of board and card games, join Team or start your own!

If you can't commit to the full 24 hours (it doesn't have to be a continuous 24 hours), or if you are just not that into games, but you still want to help, search for team and you can sponsor one of our team members.  I will be raising money again this year and have hopes that we can beat last year's record.

So, join in the fight and help us give kids Extra Life!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Calliope Games: Not Your Average Game Company

Like my motto states, I'm a Mommy by Day...Gamer by Night! (Well, at least when my son goes to bed on time.  We have been struggling with bedtime lately, but that's a subject for another post.)

So, what does that mean for my game closet?  What it means is that I have a new view of the games we buy.  When I look over a new game, I am not only looking for a fun game that's innovative and elegant, but a game that is also easy to set up, quick to play (around 30 minutes), and plays well with 2 players.  As my son grows, I am also beginning to look for games that he can play along with us.

As all parents know, there is a precious amount of time for families to spend together and even less for mommy and daddy to be alone and relax.  Usually it is that tiny little window between the kids' bedtime and mom and dad collapsing on the couch.  I have found that this is anywhere between 2-3 hours, and it still includes tidying up after the kids are asleep.  That is not a very large window to pull out a game and play. But hope is not lost!

A new company has surfaced with parents and families in mind.  At Gen Con this year I had the opportunity to talk with Ray Wehrs, president of Calliope Games.  Their mission is to provide games that get kids and parents together for face-to-face entertainment.  To do this, their games play in under 60 minutes, support 2 or more players, are easy to learn, and work well with a wide range of ages.  And here's the best part.  They make games that are fun for both adults and kids to play together!  It's not a case of parents needing to dumb down the rules or for kids to feel frustrated that they can't play and win.  These games are designed for both kids and adult to feel challenged and motivated to improve their strategies.

A great example of this philosophy can be seen in their first game, Tsuro: The Game of the Path.  Some of you may be familiar with this fun tile laying game.  The rules are simple: Place a tile and follow the path.  The last person left on the board wins!  The challenge is to keep your stone away from danger and to send the other stones on a path to the edge.  It sounds easier than it is, and for those who like puzzles and mazes, this is a great game.

Ray showed me three other games that are hitting your local game store shelves with the same great mission: Fun for Everyone!

Double Double Dominoes is a new approach to traditional dominoes.  More like a combination of dominoes and scrabble.  Players score points by matching their dominoes to spaces on the board.  Probably the most challenging of Calliope's games, this is a great one for older kids and for mom and dad to play together over dessert.  A 5-6 player expansion is in the works as well and can be expected to hit stores in 2012. 

Got 'Em! turned out to be an addictively fun game for me.  Again the rules are simple.  You try to wall in your opponent while keeping your own pawn out of harms way.  There are two modes to the game offering slightly different levels of luck vs. strategy.

In Brainy Got 'Em, players are forced to use what? Their brains of course! And corner their opponents by outsmarting them.  On your turn you place a wall and move your pawn 1 plus the number of walls that surround you.  Simple, right!

Your other option is to play Bright Got 'Em.  In this version, cards are used to determine your movement and wall placement.  Each card tells you what color square you may place a wall on and the number of spaces you may move.  There are even some cards that allow you to remove walls and improve your escape.  This version is slightly more luck based since you will be relying on the cards to determine where you may place walls and move.  Both modes are great fun and don't be surprised if you get beat by your kids!

The final game that Ray showed me was the most animated of them all.  For those of you who love Munchkin and the art of John Kovalic, this game will make you giggle with delight.  Ugh! is a push your luck card game set in the Stone Age.  You each play as a cavemen collecting cards that represent your jobs, pets, and homes, but be careful for the dreaded Ugh! cards (which is exactly what you will say when you draw one!)  Everyone takes turns drawing up to 3 cards and scoring sets.  The player with the most points when the deck runs out wins!

To here our interview with Ray from Gen Con

So as you begin thinking about family gatherings this fall, consider picking up some of these great titles from Calliope Games at your Friendly Professional Games Store.  Give them a try!  You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Support the Arts Spotlight: 'Night, Mother

If there is one view of an artist that sticks, it's that of the "starving artist". Wouldn't it be great if this image were just a myth? Unfortunately, the constant lack of funding for the arts, including funding in schools, means that many artists often struggle to make ends meet.

Meet Kelly Lett, Ex-Derby Doll and talented actress.  Instead of waiting for the right part to fall into her lap, she has taken the bull by the horns and is producing her first live piece of theatre.  'Night, Mother is a two woman, one-act play written by Marsha Norman. The show features Jessie Cates (Lett), a woman in her late thirties to early forties, who lives with her mother, Thelma.  Jessie shocks her mother by announcing that she plans to commit suicide by the end of the evening.  This touching piece of theatre leaves the viewer in suspense from the very beginning. Will Jessie really kill herself, or can Thelma find a way to stop her?

Kelly is joined by Joyce Hackett, who plays Thema. The show is directed by Caprice Spencer Rothe and assisted by Dion Chang. The cast and crew have been working day and night to make this show a reality.  Using any space available to rehearse, including their own homes, they are the real deal.  Dedicated to their craft, they will stop at nothing to see this project through.  Please take a moment to check it out.

The show will debut
Friday, September 8th
from 8:00pm - 10:00pm at
801 East 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA
If you live in the LA area, go see this phenomenal show and support live theatre!  If you are not local, but would like to help, please consider making a donation.  Large or small, every little bit helps. Your donations will help fulfill an artists dreams by providing the funds necessary for the show to go on.  Share this with your friends and help spread a little sunshine on the Arts.