Monday, 23 July 2012

Klop - a gem of a game.

The name suggests a sterling example of onomatopoeia, but this game can also be found under the names M√∂lkki or Finska, and probably more.  It is an outdoor game of Finnish origin, in the same vein as bocce or bowls.

The rules are very simple – the pins, each with a number from one to twelve on them, are set up in a pattern, and players toss a log at them from the throwing point attempting to knock them down. 

There are a couple of rules that make the game somewhat different and certainly more interesting.  If a player knocks down one pin, they score a number of points equal to the number on the pin.  If they knock down multiple pins, they score points equal to the number of pins knocked down (and the numbers on the pins are ignored).  This means players have some choices to make about whether they try and simply knock down a bunch of pins en masse, or whether they try to be more accurate and take out a specific number.

The question of whether to go for many or one is made more interesting by the fact the winner needs to be the first to accumulate exactly 50 points; if you score more, your total is reset to 25.

After each throw the pins are stood back up – but rather than being placed back into the starting position they are simply righted where they lie.  This has the effect of causing the pins to slowly disperse as the game progresses, and compounds or adds some interesting layers to the choice of whether to try and knock down a bunch of pins, or one.  Add to this the pressures of a ‘three consecutive misses and you’re out’ rule, as well as the simple fact that the physics involved with the throwing, bouncing and rolling of a cylinder of wood can lead to unexpected consequences and you’re left with a highly enjoyable game.

Klop is an excellent game, easy enough to explain and start playing very quickly, and combined with a small set of rules that make for some unexpected and enjoyable situations.  All in all this is one of the absolute best of this style of game that I have played.  It’s highly enjoyable and takes more care than you might otherwise expect from such a game.  Ultimately, when this sort of game is wheeled out at barbecues, on holidays or just for some enjoyment at the park or in the backyard I want something that will be entertaining.  When the throwing piece bounds closely and unexpectedly over the top of the pin you were aiming at there are groans and cheers alike from yourself and your competitors, and the same occurs when a carefully weighted throw takes out the piece you need.  When all is said and done – the game is quite simply: a lot of fun. 


Sunday, 22 July 2012


Tschak! is a card game, published by GameWorks and designed by Dominique Ehrhard.  I have to admit up front that I am a fan of GameWorks, a company that produce some beautiful and well designed little family games (Animalia especially is one of my favourite little card games).  I am also a fan of Dominique Ehrhard - at least those games of his that I have played (Condottiere is a brilliant little card/board game).

Tschak! is an attractive game, with a small neat box, board and card art that is thematic, well done and amusing, and a general high quality of production.  All this is well and good, but it would amount to little if the game itself was uninteresting.

Tschak is an excellent little card game.  It plays quickly, and yet involves a good number of interesting choices throughout.  It is not a heavy game by any stretch of the imagination, it is light and very family friendly.  The backdrop to the players’ choices is that they are assaulting a keep in search of booty and treasures.  Players will have a hand of ten numbered cards from three suits, and on each of the three levels of the keep will play cards - abiding by the rule that each card played on a level must be of a different suit.  The levels mix up the way in which players choose and play their cards, and this introduces some interesting flavours into each level.  The long and short of it is that the player who plays the highest value set of cards on a level will earn the treasure, the player who plays the lowest will take the monster.  At games end, treasures are tallied, and monsters subtract from this total - highest score wins.

All this sounds very simple, but there are some subtle twists introduced in the ways in which the players play their cards on each level.  There are also some player cards that add interest - the chameleon wizards (aside from looking neat) add a layer of bluff and uncertainty, the artifact cards also add a twist to the way the cards played are counted - with each hand including 1 artifact.  When to the play which cards and what you expect others will play is the key.

The 'Wizard' suit, including the neat looking Chameleons!
There are treasure and monster cards that also add a twist to the game - and while none of these subtle additions add much individually to the complexity of the game, the whole is a great deal more than the sum of its parts.  One of the things that is perhaps most interesting is that once a round is done (ie: each level of the keep defeated), players pass their cards to the player next to them - and so, over the four rounds of the game players will have played the cards they were dealt, as well as the hands of cards dealt to every other player.

Altogether Tschak! is a game with simple and easy to grasp rules, but which has enough subtle twists here and there to make the choices involved interesting.  Players will be watching what each other are doing, wondering when *that* card you know is an opponents hand will come out, wondering whether they should try for each treasure or aim for one, whether they should focus on taking treasures or avoiding monsters.

Tschak! is an enjoyable game, it is lucky, but there are choices, it is simple, but there are twists.  Tschak! plays quickly, and with its mixture of lightness and subtlety, doesn’t feel as if it takes too long.  It’s just the sort of game that is easy to get off the shelf and play when you only have so much time, or are in-between heaftier offerings.

The back of the board!


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Regulars...

All is quiet in the castle, finally.  The children are abed, the littlest sated with a belly full of milk and kissed goodnight by doting parents wishing for a good few hours of restful sleep from her.  The whir of the machinery of the household hums in the backdrop, washers, driers, heaters...

Sitting and soaking up this quiet is peaceful.  Being able to sneak in a chapter or two of Jeeves and Wooster, or listening to a podcast: a secret and nighttime pleasure.

It was my birthday a few days ago, and I was thrilled with the chance to relax with my family - there is no greater or more fruitful use of my time.  Also rather nice was the fact that my dear wife showered me with gifts, The Wonders of the Universe is a DVD I am very much looking forward to enjoying - I loved the Wonders of the Solar System series.  A collection of games were also among those gifts given, and gratefully received.

A mixture of the peace and the presence of new games in the household has led me to ponder those games that have been absolute boons to my collection.  These are those games that find a place at the game table like a long and dear friend.  The games that are scuffed from play, box edges worn from the action of their continual removal from the shelves.  These games are as familiar, nearly, to the game table, as the faces sitting about it.  In their presence one can relax, the awkwardness of those early days of getting to know one another have long passed.  These are the regulars.

There are a handful of games I’ll briefly cover here, some I have written about before, others may have gone unmentioned - until now!  This list is in order of the most to least played of my 5 most played games.  I don’t keep a log of all my games played, but try to most of the time as I find it interesting to see what has hit the table and what has not.

Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale is a card game I have blogged about before.  It’s a drafting game - where players start with a hand of cards, pick one and pass the others to the next player.  Once this drafting is done cards are played out on the table.  Different cards have different effects, some are just worth points, some combine with others, some flip cards face down, some flip cards back face up.  There is nothing overly complex about Fairy Tale, but the action and interactions in the game are enjoyable.  Players need to play by the seat of their pants, making the best of what they have in hand and keeping an eye on what everyone else is collecting and playing.  All in all it is an excellent game - one of the very best in my humble opinion.
Plays: over 200.

Photo by the Greatsage...
An Indian dexterity game, something like a flicking version of billiards or pool.  I love flicking games as a general rule, and this one is the very best in my opinion.  With a proper Carrom board the pockets and board size make for a game of skill, where angled shots, rebounds and clever placement elevate the game into a pitched duel.  I’m not much good at the game in all honesty, but for me it is the very best of the dexterity genre.
Plays: nearly 150

No Thanks

Possibly the best light family card game I’ve ever played.  This is the game people should play instead of Uno.  Players turn a single card face-up in the centre of the table, they must then decide to either take it, or pay a chip to refuse it. Each card has a number, and a run of cards will count as the lowest number in the run.  The object is to end the game with the fewest points.  A simple game, easily played, extremely cheap, and should be ‘one of those games’ - that is to say, if the average family has a dusty shelf of games whereupon may be found Monopoly and Uno waiting a rainy day - so too should there sit No Thanks.
Plays: 50 odd.

Court of the Medici

A two-player head-to-head battle of a card game.  This, for all the renaissance art, is a pure card game.  Players are trying to end the game with more ‘points’ worth of cards on the table than their opponent.  Nastiness abounds however, as cards can be played onto other cards to form an alliance, or may equally be played onto other cards to conspire - that is if I play a 5 onto another 5, I can discard any card or alliance worth 10.  It is pure card play, simple maths, and yet a highly enjoyable and very well designed little game.  Highly recommended as a knife-fight like two-player card game.
Plays: 50 odd.

Ra: The Dice Game

Roll the dice, keep the ones you want, put aside any suns, and roll again.  Over three rolls players are trying to get their cubes down on the various scoring tracks on the board.  This is a dice game adaption of the wonderful auction game Ra, also by Reiner Knizia.  The dice game is, of course, completely different in many respects, but it is still a highly enjoyable game.  For me this sits next to a game like Roll through the Ages, but when decided which to get out I will almost always choose Ra.  Why?  Because everything on the board is easily visible - so it is much easier to play with family and friends who have trouble reading the small writing in Roll through the Ages.  Ra the Dice Game is also simpler - yet for its simplicity it loses nothing - a wonderful dice game that plays quickly, involves some choices, and has the right amount of luck.
Plays: 40 odd.

It is only natural that my most played games are those that are easy to get to the table and short enough to played repeatedly.  Perhaps some day soon I’ll put together a list of those most played ‘bigger’ games of mine to talk about... 
until then, here is a pic of the birthday loot that will hopefully make these lists one day:

And another that arrived recently that I'm looking forward to getting to the table:


Thursday, 12 July 2012

Mr. Wooster and Jeeves...

Thanks to the intervention of my wonderful brother, I have discovered Jeeves and Wooster, the inestimable creations of P. G. Wodehouse.  Bertie Wooster: the perfect fop.  Jeeves: his rational sidekick and the very architecture of deus ex machina made character. The various concerns of this pair, the plots and schemes over problems of gentlemanly import, are a source of great amusement.

The writing is gentle and easy to enjoy, the characters affable and the plots are amusing and engaging.  Bertie’s observations and consternations, not to mention his continual obsessions with the frivolous (hats, suits, moustaches etc) are in sharp contrast to the very able, rational and worldly Jeeves.  Bertie’s outrage at the trivial happenings in his circle of acquaintances, his foolish scheming and consequential tricky jams serve as opportunities for Jeeves to demonstrate his capability to resolve and navigate the general mess of Bertie’s problems.

It is not deep literature in many ways, and while it may be a cliche to write it: these books are perfectly charming and engaging.  Jeeves and Wooster are a pair of characters and collection of stories that are wonderfully crafted to be both light and airy, and at the same time sprinkled with witty observations, comments and situations.  Currently I am reading ‘Carry on Jeeves’ - a collection of very likeable short stories concerning a variety of adventures of Jeeves and Wooster.  Perfectly long enough to enjoy while my dear new daughter slips quietly into a slumber.  Well recommended.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Evenings whiled...

While my daughter sleeps like a princess during daylight hours, the onset of night induces a restlessness in her, during the sleepless hours of early morning my paranoia speculates as to whether this is all a part of some sinister plot.  During her scheming time she seems most content to lay perched atop my chest, as I sit on the couch.  

During such times I, of course, seek to absorb the atmosphere of the moment - after all, these days will pass all too quickly.  But as the hours roll by I seek other diversions as well.  I’ve been finding some distraction through a variety of iOS games - Ascension, Ticket to Ride Pocket, Neuroshima Hex and more recently - Summoner Wars.  All of these are highly enjoyable and well done ports of their various board game counterparts into digital format.  I shall, perhaps, cover them in more detail in other posts at some future point.  

I’ve also been finding the time to read a little - something I love, but which always seems to be relegated to a ‘later time’ - which too rarely arrives.  Jeeves and Wooster has topped my reading list of late - and has been rather enjoyable.

My lad has been clamouring for attention too, naturally so, now a competitor is upon the scene.  His general volume has increased by several decibels, perhaps several tens of decibels.  He has taken a great interest in my games collection, which is to be much admired of course, unless it means the spreading of pieces left and right across the lounge floor.  

A game he is ready to play, in some fashion resembling that of the intended process, is Loopin’ Louie - a game that is amusing enough for adults to enjoy and is well recommended.  In Loopin’ Louie a motor drives an aeroplane in circles, in so doing it knocks down the rows of chickens. Using a paddle or lever, players attempt to protect their chickens by batting away the aeroplane, thereby causing the aeroplane to swoop and knock the chickens of their opponents down (ideally at least).  

Is it a cerebral test plumbing the breadth and depth of strategic intellect?  No.  But it is a lot of fun, and heartily recommended as a family game.  There is a Toy Story themed version which looks rather amusing, and also seems more widely available - at least in antipodean stores.  Well worth it for amusements sake - whether child or child at heart.


Friday, 6 July 2012

New resident at the Castle

There has been a serious paucity of material on this blog in the last two weeks.  Happily I haven’t lost my fingers in a freak culinary incident, rather more happily this laxity on my part has been due to the arrival of our second born.  And by the use of ‘arrival’ I neatly and blithely sweep under the carpet any further mention of the ordeal this involves for all mothers.  My apologies; birth makes the machinations of the wildest of the Inquistion’s torturers look like a paper cut next to a disemboweling.  My humble appreciation to mothers everywhere.

So the castle has, by moonlight especially, been filled with the polite requests of our new-born for food, swaddling, burping, bathing, and every other need.  This has a rather draining effect given time, and affects one’s abilities to see to other matters of the estate, such as blogging etc.

Gladly the positives far outweigh the short term negatives.  A smiling baby girl with eyes open and dazedly gazing about the place, in what can only be described as general indifference, is a sight to warm the heart and bring life’s foibles into perspective.

One ponders the greatness of being a child again, albeit from an outsiders perspective.  The untimed days and nights, the tender smiles, hugs and love of doting parents... Though it goes without saying that being rudely awoken from one’s slumbers to have one’s nethers scrubbed with a damp baby wipe is a downside worth serious consideration should the proffered wish from a magic lamp ever supply one with the opportunity to revisit those days.

All things said, there is nothing I have experienced quite so life changing, affirming and rewarding as being a dad (and also challenging of course).  Hiding from dinosaurs with our eldest boy, holding our new baby girl, these are the moments that stop you, that make you think how wonderful it is to be a parent. So please excuse what will undoubtedly be a sporadic period for Castle by Moonlight - the residents, old and new, require attention.