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.     

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hands on Impressions: Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan

One of the hot new games featured at AEG's booth this year was Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan.  Set in the world of L5R, this is the first in what the company hopes to be a series of lighter L5R board games.  Their hope is to create more titles, pitting different clans against one another.  I was personally excited to try this as I have been interested in L5R culture, but found breaking into the card game challenging to say the least.  With the lack of a good set of rules, it appears that only those who have friends already fluent in the language of L5R can really learn the ins and outs of the popular trading card game.  This new set of board games is perfect for entering the samurai world of L5R. 

I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to sit and play Ninja at Gen Con, but I had obtained a copy for review and I finally got it to the table during a recent Friday game night.  That evening Rob, our in-house expert on all things L5R, and I sat down to see what this game was all about.  Ninja is centered around the Lion and Scorpion Clans (both of which are Rob's preferred Clans).  The board features a map of a castle in the heart of the Lion Clan provinces.  It is a beautiful board, but I wish the walls were a bit more defined.  They tend to blend in with the surroundings making it a little confusing when trying to locate the boundaries.

The game supports 2-4 players.  One or two players can play as the Samurai Guards who stand, alert, around the grounds of the castle.  The other one or two players take on the role of the intruders who move secretly around the board.  One player plays as a Ninja and the other as a Traitor amongst the Lion Clan.  In a two or three player game one player handles both traitors.

The traitors are given different secret objectives that they must complete in order to win the game.  These could be anything from destroy the supplies to kill the honored guests.  Each intruder must navigate across the board, undetected, to locate their goals.  To do this, they chart their moves secretly on a map hidden from view.  While moving and searching around the grounds, the guard player(s) are given clues as to the where-a-bouts of the intruders.  The faster the intruders move, the more easily they are heard and possibly discovered.  Through deduction, and the help of some cards, the guards attempt to locate the intruders and remove the threat. 

The game suggests that play time is around an hour.  Do not expect this for your first game.  Like most games, expect to add at least an extra 1/2 hour, and in the case of our first game it was more like an extra hour.  We found the initial set up to be simple enough, but did have some trouble working out all the rules on our first run through.  We often found ourselves checking in with the rules for clarity and thought that some of the rules could have been clearer.  I do believe the game will run much quicker the next time we play though.  More in the realm of 60-75 minutes.

Despite the extra length of our initial game, I thought the game was enjoyable.  I am a fan of most deduction games and found great pleasure in sneaking around the board as a ninja.  Not so sure Rob was happy about the situation, though.  I lucked out and managed to find my two objectives rather quickly and escaped without a scratch by turn 11. Sorry Rob!  

Ninja: Legend of the Scorpion Clan is set to reach your FLGS this October and would be a great holiday gift for anyone who loves deduction games. A beautiful game with solid game play, this is sure to to bring a smile to any Ninja fan!  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gamers in the Making: Family Days at Gen Con 2011

Gen Con has been The board gaming destination for years.  Dubbed "The Best Four Days in Gaming," it is no surprise that this year's attendance jumped a whopping 20%.  36,733 unique attendees graced the halls of the convention center to do what they love most, play games!

And one of the hottest spots this year was the Family Fun Pavilion and Training Grounds areas. These sections of the main hall are dedicated to introducing kids to the gaming world and all of its possibilities.  By the time Saturday and Sunday rolled around, this area was swarming with kids, parents, and grandparents all looking for great family fun.  Just take a look at the smiling faces.

This year's family exhibitors included Blue Orange Games, Chaotic Connections, Compound Fun, Crystal Tower Games, GameBrotherz, The Haywire Group, INI LLC, LEGO, Mattel, Moosetache Games, Mindtwister USA, North Star Games, Out of the Box, School on Wheels, Spin Master & USAopoly.  Here are some of the highlights.

LEGO had an impressive set up that catered to everyone young and old.  It was not uncommon to see lines of people waiting to test out the newest games in their booth.  Heroica was especially popular. It is a new series of adventure games that can be played separately or together.  Every Herocia game is a unique adventure that you build and explore with LEGOS.  Highly customizable, this game has loads of re-playability and can be customized for a wide range of skill levels.

North Star Games was showing off their newest party game, Crappy Birthday.  Crappy Birthday is said to be "a humorous game about pranking your friends with gifts they don’t want."  As expected, loud laughter emanated from their booth as families and gamers alike demoed their hilarious games.  They also were sporting their wheel of prizes which is always a big hit with fans at Gen Con.


GameBrotherz had a nifty little booth that my son would have loved (see Elmo's appearance with Spuzzle below).  These bright and cheerful games had major kid appeal and the booth was always buzzing with families.  They were featuring three titles.  Spuzzle was a quick little puzzle building game that is great, with a little adult help, for kids as young as 3.  Boo, ages 5+, and Mister Mailman Junior, ages 8+, were both racing games that would make any kids smile.

Spin Master was another impressive booth with their holographic Redakai cards featured prominently within.  Families and gamers could demo this innovative new game throughout the four days.  Here's the back story of the Redakai universe:
"Many years ago, a great battle took place between two powerful Redakai masters, Boaddai and Lokar -- a battle that would forever change the fate of the universe. Known today as the Great Cataclysm, the event resulted in the destruction of the planet Nevrod and the scattering of Kairu energy across Earth.
The Redakai of Earth have assigned their most promising warriors to find and collect Kairu energy. Their greatest challenge remains the villainous Lokar, who has assembled his own teams of warriors to find the Kairu before the Redakai. With the fate of the universe at stake, good and evil are put to the ultimate test."

Fireside Games, though technically not part of the family pavilion, was featuring Castle Panic and its new expansion!  Many have hoped for an expansion to this great cooperative game and the wait is now over. Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower features an ally, a friendly Wizard, who provides magic spells to you while his Tower remains standing.  Make your stand against bigger and smarter monsters including the Dragon and Necromancer. Coming this fall to your FLGS.

Training Grounds
Like its name suggests, the training grounds is a great place for families and especially kids to learn the ins and outs of games.  There are areas for the kids to run amok battling with boffer weapons, doing crafts, or playing a variety of games.  best of all, kids can be left in the care of responsible adults so that parents can play some new games too!

So, the next time you are looking for a great place to take the family, think about a weekend at 
Gen Con
The Best Four Days of Family Gaming!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hands-On Impressions: Rune Age

As a member of the press at Gen Con, I rarely get to play games.  Most of my days are spent photographing the fun and excitement others are having with the new and shiny products.  So I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to play Rune Age, a new deck building game by Corey Konieczka this year.   Dan, Jeff and I sat down in hall G on Thursday evening and got our first impressions of this highly anticipated game.

What makes this deck building game different from all the others are its "modes" of play.  There are four scenarios in the base game and each is arranged to give you a different type of play experience.  Our table was set up for the first scenario, Resurgence of the Dragonlords.  This particular scenario is a race to defeat a specific foe, but also has the option to directly confront your opponents.  The first player to defeat the enemy is declared the winner.

The other three scenarios allow for outright confrontation and player elimination (Runewars),  cooperative play and survival (The Cataclysm), and parallel play with little player interaction (The Monument).  Therefore, you should always be able to find a mode that suits your groups style of play.

There are four races in the base game.  I chose to play the Latari Elves, Dan snatched the Daqan Lords, and Jeff grabbed Waiqar the Undying.  The other race available was the Uthuk Y'llan.  Poor Uthuk, no play time for you!  Any who, we completed our set up and began the game.  I immediately fell in love with the elegant flow of each turn.  There are no limits on actions or buys and each can be done in any order.  There are three different ways to acquire cards.  Some cards require that you pay gold, others that you pay influence, and still other use strength.  And, in the case of a stronghold, you have the option to either pay gold or use strength to secure it.  Once you learn the general layout of the cards, turns move quickly and smoothly from player to player.

Once everyone has had their turn, an event card is drawn and you resolve its effect immediately.  Sometimes this is an ongoing effect and sometimes it will effect one or multiple players.  One particularly helpful card, for me in particular, was Rally Support. This is a reward card that the first player gives to the player on his right (ie. the last player).  This turned out to be extremely helpful since as the last player, I had a bit of a disadvantage in the game.  You see, there are a static amount of certain cards, and each player before you has the opportunity to try to gain them.  This extra boost of influence helps the last player gain momentum and actually have the chance to obtain some cards before others are able.

All in all, we enjoyed our first experience with the game.  We even hoped to play a second scenario, but our time ran out.  There was a little bit of slow down that occurred near the end of the game, so I am curious to see if other scenarios address it.  It almost feels like you are waiting for the right hand of cards in order to beat the final challenge and win.  There seems to be very little you can do on those last few turns aside from battling each other.  In any case, we really enjoyed the game and I am anxious to play the other scenarios and even this one again.  The fact that this game is so diverse should make it a definite purchase for any fan of deck building card games.

Dan and Jeff never stood a chance!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interview with Reiner Knizia

Dr. Reiner Knizia is a master game designer, and we had the opportunity to speak with him during Gen Con 2011.  We met at the Lego booth to learn a little more about his involvement with Lego's new board games.

 "What fascinates me the most is actually (Lego's) approach to say, uh, first of all we build the game, that's typical Lego. Now it's new, we play with the game. But then comes a very creative part, and then we change the game. So, there's always an invitation in each role of the game...because we are Lego you can rebuild the board you can rebuild the figures, you can redo the rules." -Reiner Knizia

"Of course it isn't a wooden die, it is a Lego die...In some of the games the die actually changes while you play." - Reiner Knizia

Dan: "So, they are encouraging future game designers. After they play, they can become the next Reiner Knizia."
Reiner: "Yes, why not?"

There is no doubt that Reiner is passionate about games.  His love for games and certain individual themes can be seen in many of his titles including, Star Trek Expeditions from Wizkids, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings board game from Fantasy Flight Games, and Ramses Pyramid and Ramses Return from Lego.  To hear more about Reiner and his games, stay tuned for the new Board Game Documentary: Going Cardboard coming soon from Lorien Green.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011