Quixx

Quixx is another dice game, the aim of which is mark off as many numbers as you can on a score sheet. One of the nice things about this game is that everyone participates no matter whose turn it is.

The score sheet has four coloured rows, two of which are numbered from 2 to 12 and two of which are numbered from 12 to 2. You win by marking off as many numbers as possible, but you can only mark off numbers to the right of all the marked off numbers in the same row.

On their turn, the active player rolls six dice — two white ones and four coloured ones, the colours of which correspond to the rows. Any player may choose to mark off the sum of the two white dice on one of their four rows. The active player can also choose to mark off the sum of one coloured die and one white die in the row corresponding to the coloured dice.

If the active player fails to mark off any number, he takes a penalty.

As the rows fill up, it becomes possible to lock them which removes that colour (die and row) from the game. Once two rows are locked, or someone manages four penalties, the game ends and everyone calculates their scores based on the number of digits they have managed to mark off.

As with other dice games in our collection Quixx is an easy to understand game that takes no time to set up and can be played anywhere (as long as you have enough pencils to go around). There’s not much depth to the game and it’s not one that stands up to repeated play, but if you do find yourself with three kids and fifteen minutes to spare, it’s ideal.

Roll For It!

Roll For It! is a wonderfully simple game of rolling dice and collecting cards. It takes almost no time to set up, is quick to play and provides a great way to keep a family entertained for twenty minutes.

What you get in the (small and very portable) box is 30 cards and four sets of six dice (each set being a different colour).

To set up the game, you shuffle the cards and draw three which are placed face up in the middle of the table. Then each player picks a set of six dice in their preferred colour.

Each player then takes turns to roll all of their available dice. Any dice that match the dice pictures on any of the cards can be placed on the pictures. Once you have matched all of the pictures on the card, then you take the card. Each card has a score printed at the bottom and you have taken enough cards to score 40 points, you win.

The one thing you have to be careful of, though, is that once you have placed a dice on a card, you can’t roll it again until the card is taken (either by you or someone else). You have to be careful, therefore, that you still have enough dice to actually take the cards you have matched so far.

It’s quite a tactical game and one that is largely driven by the dice rolls — you roll the dice and then decide which cards to go for — and this makes for a quick and easy game that anyone can jump straight into.

The simplicity of the game means that it doesn’t really stand up to repeated plays, but for a quick game which everyone can enjoy, it’s a great way to pass a bit of time.

Also, the box lid is just the right size to use as a rolling tray and helps avoid having to stop the game to hunt for over-enthusiastically launched dice.

Evolution: The Beginning

First released in 2014, Evolution from North Star Games is an award-winning board game where 2 – 6 players adapt species in an ever changing ecosystem with hungry predators and limited resources. On their website, the publisher is keen to point out that this game has been used in the evolutionary biology department at the University of Oxford and featured in the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature.

Evolution: The Beginning takes ideas and concepts from Evolution to make a fun, and very playable, strategy game in which you adapt your species to survive and grow in a changing ecosystem.

The rules of the game are remarkably simple, making it a very easy game to learn, something that is helped immeasurably by the two (very slightly different) player aids which help you remember what you can do and when.

On each player’s turn, the player first places two food tokens in the watering hole and places a card face down in front of them to create a new species. The player then draws three more cards. These can be placed face down to enlarge the population of an existing species or create a new species. Alternatively, these cards can be used to add up to three traits to a species, and this is where the fun begins.

By default, each species can eat only from the watering hole and this supply is very limited indeed. So species will have to adapt — to become carnivores or scavengers so they can prey on other species, or grow long necks in order to reach food from the excess food pile. And once the carnivores evolve, other species will need to gain defensive traits such as flying, burrowing or speed.

As the game progresses, and the ecosystem changes, traits can also be discarded. This becomes important as each species can only have a maximum of three traits.

Once the player has played all of the cards he wants to play, his populations must eat. Any population that has not found food by this point dies and, once a species runs out of population it goes extinct.

When the cards run out, the game is over and points are totted up, the winner being the player who managed to consume the most food.

Over the course of the last week or so, Evolution: The Beginning has quickly become a firm favourite in our household. The game’s theme is so well integrated into the mechanics that each game becomes an evolutionary arms race as we watch species evolve, grow and go extinct.

Appropriately enough, it’s a very tactical game — any grand strategies you might have had vanish as soon as flying carnivores appear on the scene — and one that is beautifully balanced. It may just be us, but every game we have played so far has been surprisingly close.

All in all, Evolution: The Beginning is a marvelously playable and incredibly enjoyable game that also manages to give you a god’s eye view of the interplay between species and their environment.

It’s possible that the relatively limited number of traits may lead to things becoming a bit repetitive at some point in the future but, by the time that happens, we will all be ready to start on the full size version.

Onitama

Much as I like abstract strategy games, I have to concede that they can become a bit repetitive if you’re not careful. When there is no random element, and every possible move is clear to both players (as is the case with chess, for example), it is possible reach a point at which the same players keep making the same moves and each game is largely the same.

Onitama elegantly and effectively solves this problem, essentially by adding a random element to the rules.

The game is played on a 5×5 board and each player has five pieces — four students and a master. The aim is to either capture your opponent’s master or to move your own master into the opponent’s temple square.

What makes this game really unique, though, is that the possible combinations of moves are different for every game.

The game comes with 16 move cards from which you draw five at the beginning of the game. Two are dealt to each player with the fifth card being put to the side as a ‘draw card’. The first player can then take any of the moves indicated by the two move cards in front of them, after which they discard that card and take the draw card. The discarded card then becomes the next player’s draw card.

In this way, each player always has two move cards available and can see what their next move card is going to be.

With over half a million possible combinations of move cards, it will be a long time before the games start repeating themselves which massively improves the variability of the game. It also adds an additional level of strategy in that, by deciding which card to play and discard, you are able to exert some control over your opponent’s options.

The recommended age for Onitama is 14+ which, quite frankly, is nonsense. As with many strategy games, the rules are straightforward enough that they can be grasped by a nine-year old and probably younger. In many ways it plays like a simplified version of chess for which you don’t even have to remember the possible moves as these are in the cards in front of you.

Aesthetically the game is beautiful. The pieces are beautifully crafted and, combined with the artwork on both the board and the card, give the game a wonderfully Shaolin feel.

Overall, Onitama is a beautiful looking game that is very easy to learn and quick to play. The game also offers enough depth to keep us all coming back to it and, because it randomises the available moves, we can be sure that no two games will ever be the same.

Nine Men’s Morris

Many years ago, I picked up a “Classic Games Compendium”, a collection of boards and pieces needed to play a whole stack of classic, or traditional, board games. It also came with a pack of cards, because you can never have too many playing cards.

One game from this collection that has seen a lot of play over the past few weeks is Nine Men’s Morris. This is a game whose origins are lost so far back in the mists of time that no-one is quite sure where or when it first emerged, and it’s one that remains surprisingly playable.

Each player has nine pieces and the aim of the game is to form ‘mills’ a horizontal or vertical line of three men. When you form a mill, you can take one of your opponent’s pieces. When you reduce your opponent to two pieces, you have won the game.

It’s played in two parts. First, the players take turns to place their pieces and, once all of the pieces are placed, the players take turns in moving them.

It’s always tempting to try and form mills in the first (piece placing) part of the game but this, I think, is a mistake. When a player does this they tend to find all their pieces bunched up together and unable to move. It is far better to place pieces in order to achieve maximum flexibility later in the game.

Nine Men’s Morris is a solved game (pdf), for which the optimal strategy has been calculated and perfect play from both players will always result in a draw.

We are far from perfect.

Centrepoint

Way back in the late 1980s I picked up an interesting looking strategy game called Centrepoint. Although I played it a few times, it never really caught on with my gaming group at the time and the game ended up at the bottom of a box — dragged around with me but never actually played.

A few weeks ago, the boys found it and asked if they could try it out. Of course I said yes, and the game has proven to have a lot more traction than I remembered.

It’s a game for two to four players that, rather breathlessly, suggests that it’s the best game to come along since Chess. Which it isn’t. But it’s not bad either.

As with chess, each player controls an army the units of which all have different moves. The aim is to get your standard bearer into the middle of the board — the centre point — before anyone else. The moves are pretty straightforward, although the circular nature of the board makes for some quirks that are best ironed out before starting to play, and the game moves along at a fair old clip.

As a two player game, it’s okay, and I wouldn’t recommend the three player version as this is seriously unbalanced with one player always getting crushed between the other two.

It’s as a four player game that Centrepoint really comes into its own. This is clearly how the game was intended to be played and, it’s in this version, that the rules really do work. What’s more, with four players around the board, the opportunities for ad-hoc alliances and non-aggression pacts lift the game above it’s pure strategy origins.

As far as I can see, Centrepoint is no longer published. This is a shame because it is quite a good little game that requires very little explanation but offers plenty of scope for a negotiated victory.

Zombie Dice

I have, over the past few months, come to quite enjoy push your luck dice games. These games all have the same — very simple — mechanic at their heart which involves rolling dice and calculating a score. Then you have to decide whether to re-roll to increase your score, but risk losing everything, or stop. The challenge comes from deciding whether to risk rolling again or whether it’s better to stay safe.

Zombie Dice is exactly the same, but with zombies. The game comes with a metal container and thirteen dice, which come with red, green and yellow. The sides of the dice are marked with brains, footsteps and shotgun blasts with the red ones being biased towards the blasts and the green ones being biased towards brains.

On each player’s turn, the player takes three dice at random, rolls them and puts any brains and shotgun blasts to one side. If you want to roll again, you draw more random dice so that (combined with any feet you have already rolled) you have three dice. And you roll them again.

When you decide to stop, you count up the brains and add them to your total score. If you didn’t decide to stop and reach three shotgun blasts, you’ve been blasted and you score nothing. And the first player to eat 13 brains wins.

Zombie Dice is a simple, portable and very quick to play game. It’s a fun way to pass ten minutes and I shall never tire of shouting Brainnns!

Tutto

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that we have seen quite a few board and card games being brought out over the past few weeks. This weekend it’s been the turn of Tutto, and entertainingly simple push your luck game.

The rules are simple, you roll six dice and score if you roll three of a kind or a one or a five. Put the scoring dice to one side and decide whether to roll the remaining dice or end your turn. If you decide to end your turn, you get the points scored so far but if you roll again without scoring anything, all points for that turn are lost.

There are also cards to mix things up a bit and to encourage players to go for a “Tutto”, or full house, which is what you get when you manage to score with all six dice.

The game is played over a number of rounds until someone reaches a set number of points — or until it’s time to do something else.

The game is simple, fun and well balanced as evidenced by the fact that different playing styles — from very cautious to very reckless — can all be successful. Reckless means always going for a Tutto and alternating between scoring nothing and getting a massive bonus. More cautious players don’t allow themselves to be tempted by the bonus and steadily progress towards a win.

With my own approach I tended to strike a balance between the two extremes — which is probably why I kept losing.

Five Things #27

Song of the Water Bear by Laine Bell is a surprisingly effective story about tardigrades, from their own perspective.

I am constantly perplexed as to why so many people are people panic-buying toilet paper. Neuroscientist, Dean Burnett explains.

Sara Elsam talks to Games Workshop co-founder Ian Livingstone about fantasy, bringing D&D to the UK and the birth of Warhammer.

Kieran Fisher argues Buffy the Vampire Slayer Is the Perfect Binge Watch. This is part of a series, all of which is worth a look.

Dana Najjar considers the billion year algae that hints at the origin of land plants.

Best Treehouse Ever

We’ve been playing quite a few games over the past week or so and one game that keeps on being brought out is Best Treehouse Ever. This is a remarkably playable combination of card drafting and tile laying, the aim of which is to build the best treehouse ever.

Each player starts with a tree trunk (card) and a hand of six cards representing rooms. Players simultaneously pick a room card and place it face down on the table. Once everyone has chosen a card, these cards are turned face up and each player has to add the room to their treehouse. Then each player passes their hand to the player on their left and the process is repeated until all cards have been either played or discarded, at which point scores are calculated and another hand of six cards is dealt.

There are a couple of additional rules to make things a bit more tricksy. Your tree cannot rise more than six levels, it can’t lean too far to one side or the other, and rooms of the same colour have to be placed next to each other. This means that you have to think a bit about what card you want to play and where to place it. And if you are not able to place a card, you have to discard one, so everyone always has the same number of cards in their hand.

As with Bärenpark, there is very little direct player interaction which makes for a very calm gaming experience in which most of the conversation leans towards being an almost co-operative discussion about how to build the best treehouses.

The artwork deserves a mention here, being appropriately cartoony with a sense of fun showing on each of the room cards. This really adds to the spirit of the game and makes the treehouse theme come to life.

Best Treehouse Ever is a game that is easy to learn and very quick to set up. The game also has enough depth to make it worth bringing out repeatedly. We’re having a lot of fun with it.