Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cartoona: Fun for All Ages

Cartoona (and expansions)
Designed by Robert Burke
Published by Robert Burke Games
and by Game Salute
1 to 8 Players
30 Minutes
A set-collecting-tile-laying-creature-creating game for ages 3 and up

One of my absolute favorite games is Carcassonne, which just happens to be a tile laying game as well. Cartoona caught my eye because of the interesting cartoonish artwork and the fact that it was a tile laying game. The artwork is pretty simplistic, but it is fun and it really reminds me of the early Simpson episodes. I really think this game shines with its ability to work well with a very large age range. My daughter who is between 2 and 3 loves just playing with the tiles and sorting them according to their color. The game tiles are very thick and good quality, so I'm not worried about my daughter bending them or ruining them very easily. The game is very simple in nature and is a light family game. The instruction book comes with some great different ways to adjust the game for the younger age groups or just provide fun variation. There is an expansion pack that you can get with a few more tiles and cards, and this just really adds to the giant box of stuff. You will notice right off that the game box is fairly large and that isn't just extra room for expansions, it is there to fit all 94 creature tiles (don't worry, the expansion materials all fit in here too), 70 action cards, 8 player screens, a scoring track with pawns, and the rule book.

Components/Rule Book
As I just stated above in the background above, the game is chalk full of good quality components and in a game where the tiles really make up the game, I'm very glad that the tiles are top notch. Great colors and fun artwork with very thick and sturdy tiles, will make this game last a long time and makes me feel more comfortable letting the younger children play the game. The scoring card or track that came with the game feels more like a heavy paper however and I would have liked to see a fun scoring card made out of similar material as the creature tiles. The cards are good quality and the instruction book is very nice (again, with the different variants that you can play) and includes illustrations.

Gameplay and Thoughts
The basic idea for the complete game is that you have a certain hand or pool of creature tiles that you can use to build and create different creatures. The creature tiles are split up into certain body parts (front legs, rear legs, tail, neck, head, ears, mouth) and you can create creatures by matching up these tiles appropriately. You will score points for your completed creature and you will be able to start another creature. There are points on each tile that you play and each of the tiles have a different color (some are split into two colors providing an option - a mini wild card if you will). If your creature is made up of all the same color, you get double the points! This seemed more challenging to me than I originally thought it would be, but it is a nice reward for being picky on your tiles and tile placement. I found myself too many times not being able to complete a creature in one color and just settling for normal points by adding a yellow tile to my otherwise purple creature. Drawing and adding tiles - pretty straight forward right?

Well, you can play a variant with just the tiles, but the cards included in the game add a needed element in my opinion to the game. With the younger kids, tiles alone will be great, but if you are playing with older kids and adults I highly recommend the cards. When playing with the cards, players also are able to draw cards and play cards in addition to creature tiles. These cards can give bonuses, block other actions, change tile scoring, swap tiles, and much more. This adds some fun and gives the game some player interaction.

The game isn't Carcassonne or wont feel like other euro style strategic games, but the game is a fun light family game. I am impressed with the different variations given in the rule book and how the game can be played with such a young age group. That is probably my favorite thing about the entire game is that I feel like my kids can enjoy this at a really young age and it can continue to evolve for them as needed. Again, the quality of the tiles is just fantastic and there are a lot of them. I recommend this game for those looking for a family game that can work well with a really young age group. It can be fun with the cards added for an older group, but may still be too light for some more strategic gamers. I give Cartoona and its expansions a 2 Fingers Up or 7/10 Stars for being one of the few family games that can reach such a young generation and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to Game Salute and Robert Burke Games for providing this review copy and making this review possible.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

You Say Pigeon, I Say Pijin

Featured Kickstarter Interview

Interview with Game Designer Travis Feldman

Travis, thanks for doing this interview. And thanks for creating a word game where I don't need to know how something is properly spelled (never one of my strong points). Pijin is currently 100% funded on Kickstarter!

Q- Tell us a little about your background Travis and what lead you to create Pijin?

Awesome, thanks for talking with me, Landon!  I have a PhD in Comparative Literature and have been teaching English since 1999.  I've been making games and electronics projects on my own since I was a kid, and in 2012, during a slump in the academic job market, I decided to try a Kickstarter campaign for a musical instrument that I invented, and I launched Molecule Synth in September 2012.  

Since then I've been teaching workshops on interactive electronics and DIY electronic musical instruments all over the place.  This past summer I put together a DIY electronic music festival in Portland, OR, where I live — I called it the Battery Powered Orchestra Workshop, BPOW!! It brought all kinds of creative people together for a full weekend of building, hacking, coding, circuit-bending, and performing.  That weekend got me thinking about what I was doing with workshops, and the connection between experiencing a (musical) performance and learning in a classroom. Most importantly I had a direct experience with the way that these things relate to playing games, especially tabletop games.  With board or tabletop games there’s an inimitably social environment that gets created when the game is really buzzing along — everyone's talking and sharing ideas in the moment, keeping track of the game’s progress, and yet, everyone’s also doing their own thing.  We had more game nights in the weeks that followed, and although I have other projects going at the moment, I felt like it was time to work a bit more on my own games.  I had been working on Pijin in various forms for about a year already at that point, and so I got more serious about it’s design, and got it into shape within a couple months, and….started forcing all my friends to play it, of course!  

Q- Do you really like Pigeons? Why the title?

The title is from the word “pidgin” - a pidgin is a spoken language that often takes shape in places like port cities where people meet and do business and have to get things done, but don’t speak each other’s languages.  I like the association with birds, too - the bird sort of brings to mind the ancient phrases like “winged words” and the images of messengers or message-bearers in myths and stories.  It’s sort of evocative of a bunch of things at once, so I just went with it!

Q- What is your dream job?

My dream job is being an inventor.  I want to create cool, inspiring stuff that improves some portion of everyone’s experience, and I see that as an artistic as well as a scientific exercise.  I am kind of doing that these days, but not really making enough money to call it a “job”… it’s more “dream” and less “job” at this point -haha.

Q- What is your favorite word game besides Pijin?

Anomia is brilliant for its mix of pattern recognition and word association, but I love the speed and open-endedness of Apples-to-Apples/CardsAgainstHumanity (I see those as twins joined at the head).  
Q- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Indonesia would be pretty amazing.  There’s incredible language diversity there, fading fast as modern technology spreads across traditional cultures, and its got incredible bugs, crazy landscapes, great food, and all kinds of wild stuff happening in the music and performance cultures.  

Q- Hungarian is a pretty cool language as it is almost a perfectly phonetic language. Do you speak any other languages? What language would you like to learn?

That’s really funny about Hungarian, i hadn’t thought of it that way.  I speak a little German and read Spanish and French. I studied Ancient Greek and Latin in grad school.  I’d like to learn Japanese… I’m eager to check out the recently Kickstarted card game for that!

Q- What would be your favorite word? Favorite letter?

Favorite word: Nostalgia.  “the pain [algos] you feel for home [nostos].”
Letter: I like Z, zed.  

Q- Can you name the famous Sesame Street character who has a pet pigeon? (Bonus points for the name of the pigeon.)

Haha - oh man, I love Sesame Street, and we had great fun putting an Electric Co piece in the Kickstarter video, but….nope, don’t know which character that is.  

For anyone curious - and the pigeon's name is Bernice
Q- I think this looks like a really fun game and one where my bad spelling wouldn't hinder me one bit! Tell the world why you think they should back Pijin and let us know anything else we should know.

Well, first of all, it is a super fun game - you’re gonna love it!  The world should back the project because what we plan to bring into existence is a new experience of language and an empowering way of viewing speech.  It’s game that could find itself being the center of a loud party (we’ve had several of those!), or it might be the center of lessons in an ESL classroom that has students moving between several languages, or a fourth grade class that’s working on reading…  The future of the project will include customizable boards, expansion card sets, and an ever-growing number of possibilities for gameplay — backing the Kickstarter is simply the best way to be a part of that, to participate in deciding how the game will look and feel, and for staying up to date as we grow the project.  

Thank you for the questions and for taking the time to meet with me — if anyone has any questions at all, please send me a message through our Kickstarter, since that’s where my attention is focused for the next few days :)   THANKS!!

Thanks Travis for sharing with us how you see things! If you are interested in backing Pijin, head on over to its Kickstarter page to find out more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Space Sheep!

Space Sheep!
Designed by Anthony Rubbo
Published by Stronghold Games
1 to 8 Players
20 to 30 Minutes
A Cooperative (w/ Traitor Variant) Puzzle Game

Background / Introduction
Like most people, I really enjoy Star Wars. So, when I see a game like Space Sheep for the first time, I'm already intrigued. A really smart move by either the game designer or the game's publisher, the parody on Star Wars really is an eye catcher. The artwork is even really cool. The actual game however is at its heart an abstract puzzle game. If you enjoy doing some sort of puzzle (let that be Sudoku, KENKEN, Rubik's Cube, or a good old fashioned riddle) I think that you will enjoy Space Sheep! Now, that isn't to say that if you don't like any of those puzzles, you won't like this game at all - you still may enjoy Space Sheep! But, if you enjoy those puzzles, I really think you will enjoy this interesting take on a cooperative puzzle game.

Components / Rule Book
Stronghold Games does a fantastic job with the components of this game. My only experience with Stronghold Games up until this point was with Little Devils and Crazy Creatures of Doctor Gloom. Not much to judge component wise as those are both light card games. With Space Sheep - an entirely different saga. This game is chalk full of great quality stuff. The game includes 8 sets of giant sized meeples in the shape of sheep and ships (a Millennium Falcon sort of shape) and a wolf silhouette meeple too. The game has 9 home planet mats and 23 different instruction tiles with 32 different colored chits to vary each instruction tile every time. The game also includes a cloth bag for randomization, a one-minute sandtimer, an eight-sided die, 90 tactics cards, 4 wolf strength tiles, and a few other cards and of course the rule book.

That is a lot of good stuff and all of it really contributes to the variability and customization of the game. The rule book is OK. There are some pictures included that help with visually learning the game and in all honesty, the game is pretty straight forward to learn. Now, that being said, there may be some confusion when first trying to grasp the game. This is easily remedied by reading the Strategic Space Sheep Commander Training Manual or watching a few of the videos on Board Game Geek (or my video found below). This will present the material to you so that you may understand it a bit better. If you are like me, it is really nice to see something played first before trying it yourself.

Gameplay and Thoughts
Swapping pieces around strategically to get all of the colors matching may sound like an easy task, but that can readily become very challenging when you have the wolf at your heels! I highly recommend playing the game at least once or twice through without the timing element of the attacking wolf. This allows players to get a feel of the mechanics of the game. Not too difficult: play a tactics card and move the ship of that color clockwise one space (swapping ships with that mat), play a tactics card and utilize the Instruction Tile on that colored mat/planet, or discard a card. The player then draws a new tactics card. What makes the game challenging is the different combinations of Instruction Tiles used in the game. This is the only way you can move your sheep around the board. If you have the same colored sheep and ship together you can move both of them using the Instruction Tile or you pick either the ship or the sheep and move them accordingly.

It is really interesting because in a lot of cases, these instructions will change how you can move pieces around the board depending on where the pieces are (or where they are in relationship to the other pieces). There is a lot of strategy to how you move everything around, and once you add the timing element of the wolf, you loose your precious time to think out 10 steps ahead and you must try and figure out what will work best for you with only a few steps in mind. You will also need to communicate with your partners so that you can work well as a unified flock of amazingness. Only then will you escape the grasp of the wolf and be victorious. Players win when all the sheep/ships of each color match on the corresponding color. The players lose when all the tactics cards run out.

Space Sheep is built such that it provides players many different ways to customize the game to their liking and change the difficulty. You can start of easy peasy with just a few colors, basic Instruction Tiles, lots of tactics cards, and a wolf with a little bit...then you can move up adding more colors, more intricate Instructions, remove some tactics cards, and make it so that just one attack from the wolf ends the game! I think Space Sheep successfully provides easy difficulty levels (especially without the timer) to extremely difficult and challenging. You can even add in a traitor element where you hand out secret roles and you play with some players actually trying to help the wolf and keep you from winning.

I am just amazed by how this game can be so different each time with the same game mechanics. Huge variability and customization - that is what makes this game great. Is it dripping with theme and related to Star Wars at all - not really, but it provides the players with a unique gaming experience that I have never experienced before and it provides ways to constantly change the game and continually challenge yourself. This game will stretch your mind and thought process. Space Sheep is an enjoyable game that will help you stretch and improve your thought process and decision making skills and with customization/variability out of this world, I think Space Sheep will provide you with a fun and unique puzzle solving experience and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to Stronghold Games for providing this review copy of Space Sheep and making this review possible.