I played a lot of board and card games this weekend. Friday night was “Clue Mysteries.” Saturday evening: Trhyme. Sunday: Go Bananas. Today, aMAZEing Labyrinth, Trouble and Uno. The first three games suffer from fomplicated rules.
- Clue Mysteries is essentially a respinning of the venerable Clue game. They’ve added fifty pre-canned scenarios, more of the shtick, and tons of little parts, which the box excitedly touts as a feature: “Use your detective toolkit to investigate: The spyglass decodes eyewitness accounts. The secret mirror tips you off if anyone is lying. And the decoding key reveals where the culprit is hiding!” In reality, they’ve effed the game up with too much stuff moving on the board. Players are supposed to “interview” each of the eight characters at their respective house. The “houses” are cardboard things sitting on the board, ready for the handy-dandy detective kit. They’re also in the way, easily toppled and dislodging game pieces.
- Trhyme’s instructions initially confounded the four adults attempting to play it the first time, in part because it was trying too hard to be clever. The basic premise is you are given three clues and need to guess the three rhyming words that are similar in meaning to each clue. (For example: Dell, dinner, and speeding ticket would be dude, food, and screwed, respectively.) There’s a time limit that decreases as you progress. The supplied timers — “hourglasses” to those over thirty — have different quantities of sand in them. We observed that you either get the puzzle within a few seconds. Usually, you get the puzzle in a few seconds, but occasionally the third answer is hard. Having to “rewind” the timer, e.g. turn it upside down and let the sand run out, slows the game down a lot.
- If the Go Bananas game was just about card matching, it would be more fun. The game play involves drawing a card from your pile and putting it in a neat stack in the middle. If a “mild monkey” (blue numbers, picture of them behaving) matches the “wild monkey” (red numbers, picture of primate pandemonium) and you’re the first to say the special catch phrase as you slap your hand on the deck, then you “win.” If you draw an monkey-eating alligator, then you get a pile of cards, unless it’s a wild monkey-eating alligator, unless the other card is a mushy banana. Aw, hell, I have no clue what those additional cards were for. The game only works if players are into action-participatory games and concurrently drop their cards onto the pile.
- aMAZEing Labyrinth was a refreshing change because the rules didn’t overwhelm game play. The minimal number of pieces were also uniformly functional to the game: there were no alligator, rotting banana, or crazed green monkey modifiers employed. In addition to the age range and number of players (surprisingly, you *can* play with yourself… in this game), the box features pictorial information very useful to the purchaser:
This is a refreshing addition to “Ages 8+” and “Caution! We told you every child under 3 may eat the bland, plastic parts. Don’t sue us!” disclaimers that adorn most games. Working from left to right:
- Estimated time to play – Frankly, I am surprised estimated time to play isn’t common. I dare say I’d be more inclined to play a new game if I had an idea how long it would take (and the rules to decipher – sigh). It might also make me more sympathetic to the child who’s displaying late-evening interest in parental (gaming) interaction as a last-ditch stalling technique before bedtime.
- Luck – self-explanatory. Though there are no infinite improbability generators (dice) the game has a chaos-aura to it. Unlike Chess, you can’t think too many moves ahead.
- Knowledge – Useful to know when playing with a mixed age range. For most games, we’ll assign an adult to advise each child. For example, during this evening’s “guess my vegetable” round table, the little one needed to know whether carrots had peels.
- Strategy – assuming the instructions are rational, it’s a strong indicator how much I’ll enjoy a game. aMAZEing involved a lot of thinking ahead to box one’s uppity opponent(s) in. The Bananas game — no strategy.
- Communication – A moderate amount was needed. Since we had a time deadline, we collaborated in the end. (A game like Caves & Claws would be a great example of collaborative play.)
- Creativity – I think this game gets a “dot” for the strategy aspect. Unlike most Cranium games, there is no pantomiming, drawing, or molding tacos out of clay.
- Action – (Or “Picasso”) The Go Bananas game or Twister would be “high action.” Chess would be the anti-action, unless you used a timer.
- Trouble is pretty straightforward bubblegum. However, the youngest got frustrated with the base rules because you have to roll a 6 before a piece could be freed from its penalty box. We’ve modified the rule to be “prime numbers” or “even numbers.”
- Finally, there’s Uno, which I like because it has a “null” card. We currently play this as “lose a turn,” but when the kids are older, there is the potential for a near-Calvinball game. (If it had irrational and imaginary numbers, I’d be math geeking out.)
The games would probably stack up like this:
|Clue Mysteries||3||2||1||0||0||0||1 – terrible|
|Trhyme||3||3||4||3||1||0||3 – use a watch|
|Go Bananas||4||1||2||0||0||2||1 – not my kind of game|
|aMAZEing Labyrinth||3||4||2||0||1||0||4 – simple rules, complex play|
|Trouble||3||1||1||0||0||1||2 – not much thinking|
|Uno||3||2||1||0||1||1||3 – brain candy, with null symbol!|
|Caves and Claws||2||2||4||0||1||0||3 – bonus point for collaborative nurturing|