Monthly Archives: February 2014

Suburban dreams …

Suburbia – where the suburbs met utopia.

Pet Shop Boys “Suburbia” (1986)


Suburbia is essentially Sim City, the board game.  I’d heard a few people say that before I had played it, and thought it was said with a slightly dismissive tone.  But, wait a minute:

SIM CITY – which is totally awesome!   AS A BOARD GAME!!  How much cooler could that possibly get?

Lost in the high street, where the dogs run …


My first game was played at our local hostelry, The Village Inn which is, indeed, in the high street (well, main street) and definitely in the suburbs – so thematically, we were right on the money.  We were two pretty experienced gamers, an enthusiastic medium experience gamer and a newcomer to designer games.  For three of us, this was our first taste of this particular game, so the potential for getting lost was significant, to say the least!

I only wanted something else to do but hang around


Run with the dogs tonight - in suburbia
Run with the dogs tonight – in suburbia

Let me say at the outset that the game is a delight.  It is pretty straightforward to learn and although we all had a few “So, I can take this tile, and … ?” moments – we were all pretty much up to speed most of the time.  The scoring is probably the most complex part of the game, but it is worked in such a clever way that it adds to the interaction between players.  So, players may have to decide whether to build an office block in their own suburb, which gains extra points in their own commercial zone; but also enriches the player opposite, with his empire of office supplies stores!  But as the game doesn’t require a huge amount of brainpower, there’s plenty left for witty in-game commentary.  For example, my own aforementioned suburb which cornered the market in office supplies early in the game, was quickly dubbed “Staple City”.

Mother’s got a hairdo to be done
She says they’re too old for toys

I ended up with a pretty comprehensive victory, but actually, the fun part of the game was not in the winning.  Like Sim City, just building up your city, checking off goals and making it a nice place to live is a satisfying – and fun – exercise in itself.  It’s like playing Lego – it satisfies that same urge to build, and create.  And it is made even more fun with the addition of other players.

Simple fun in a quick and engaging package – and even better than Sim City!

Hive Opening Strategy – the Arachnid Slingshot

I love Hive – which is a tile laying game of two unlikely teams of bugs swarming around, beside and on top of each other in an attempt to surround the other team’s Queen Bee first.  I usually describe it to newcomers as “like chess, but with insects – and no board”.

I have Hive Pocket, which is the travel version of this game with slightly smaller hexagonal tiles (which are still just as gorgeous) all wrapped up in a hard-to-miss but easy-to-carry orange drawstring bag.  My seven year old son is pretty amazing at this game and regularly beats me.  I am starting to suspect that he may be half-insect – or that I may be really bad at Hive.

During our summer holidays last year, one of my favourite memories was of my wife and I drinking cider in the beer garden outside our hotel, playing Hive while the kids ran around the playpark.  Summer evenings were made for this!

Anyway, over the many games I have played, I have developed an opening strategy of sorts.  It is fairly common ground that the Beetles are the most powerful pieces in the game, allowing you to trap other pieces in a “stack” underneath them  If you can ever manage to get one of your Beetles on top of your opponent’s Queen, then the game is certainly tipping in your favour.

This opening set of moves is designed to get your Beetle into the front line and heading for the opponent’s Queen in the shortest possible time.

As simple as that!  What do you think of this strategy?  Would it work for your own style of play?  Do you have any strategy tips of your own?  Please share below…

Lessons in Luck (1)

I’m a teacher. All I need are minds for moulding.

– Dewey Finn, School of Rock (2003)

Today, at my sons’ primary school was the first day of this year’s “golden time” sessions.  Parents are invited to volunteer to run various fun activities for the P4-P7 pupils at the school.  I am one such volunteer, and my fun activity is – of course – board games.  In fact, as the school has taken to describing it “Games you’ve never played before!”.

Jungle Speed
Jungle Speed

I had a group of four, and so we settled down to a game of Forbidden Island. One child (my son) had played before and it was new to another three. I explained the rules and we sat down to raid the island for treasures, not forgetting our wellie boots. The four of them: Messenger, Engineer, Explorer and Navigator gathered first, synchronised watches, and raced off to collect treasure cards.

Those cards were kind at first, with few “Waters Rise” cards appearing early in the game.  Perhaps this lulled the team into a false sense of security.  Then, like waterbuses, the flood cards started appearing in pairs and the water began pooling around the ankles of all four players.

The game (played at Novice level) ended with a success for the team in just over 30 mins.  Before that, the game had clearly started to exert its unique brand of tension on each of them.  Each “Waters Rise” card turned over to a groan, and each tile lost beneath the waves mourned like a deceased pet.  Frenzied pointing across the table and cries of “No, no, no. Move there, then flip that tile over! Move me with the helicopter!” were music to my ears.

25 mins to go and we have time for something else.  But what?

Having recently picked up this dexterity game in a local charity shop at the recommendation of another parent volunteer, I suggested this to my four pupils with the summary: “It’s a bit like snap”.  Having removed the arrow cards to simplify matters, I dealt the cards, instructed them on turning over cards in the correct manner and sat back to the game which followed.

It started slowly at first, but matching the pattern not the colour became easier as the game went on.  One player came within a single card of winning, only to have the totem grabbed from under them while in the throes of victory.  This game did not conclude, and victory was shared on a (very) rough card count between two players.

Now, what shall we play next week … ?

A Few Acres of Snow

2014-02-10 23.08.08A Few Acres of Snow is a deck-building war game for two players, designed by Martin Wallace (Discworld: Ankh-Morpork; London; Brass ). It is set in North America in the 1700s where the French are doing battle with the British for control. There are two ways to win: take your opponent’s capital by force, or amass more victory points through controlling key towns and villages.

Players start with a small deck, but can draft additional canoes for river transport, ships for naval battles, and trained soldiers from home.  Native Americans can also be recruited and sent to raid the enemies settlements. But as your deck gets bigger it gets more difficult to get the right cards at the right time, and your empire can seize up under the weight of trying to coordinate a diverse and spread out force. The mechanics are simple, but the choices vast, and the game captures the feeling of trying to manage what at first is a small and nimble colony, but can quickly become a bloated bureaucracy.

2014-02-10 21.37.41

I took charge of the British armies, but decided initially to take the more peaceful approach of building a strong economy and settling in the East.  Taking Detroit was my goal, but there was a long slog of canoeing down difficult-to-navigate rivers  and traversing lonely trails to get there. Meanwhile, the French raised funds by trading furs, strengthened their forces and also went west, across the a Great Lakes.

2014-02-10 21.36.50

My Rangers earned their keep with daring raids into French territory, bringing back trophies. However, the French consolidated their position on the coast, fortifying Halifax and threatening the British settlements round the coast. With support from home, I had nearly captured enough territory to declare a victory, when the French launched an assault on Pemaquid. With weak defenses and my resources committed inland, it was only a matter of time before the town fell, leaving Boston open to attack. An attempt to split the French forces by seiging Detroit only resulted in further British casualties. Despite the territory gained in the west, it wasn’t enough to avert a narrow French victory.

The combination of card-drafting and war game seems a little strange at first, but it works very well. There are lots of difficult decisions to be made, and tricky trade-offs between short-term gains and longer term strategy, making it great fun to play.  The British will be back!