Set – Card Game Review

Set Card Game

Set Card Game

Set is a card game developed by Marsha Falco and published by Set Enterprises, Inc. and Cannei, LLC. It was released in 1991 to understandable acclaim, as it is a clever, novel card game. Set may be played solitaire, or with any number of players provided there is enough space around the table for everyone to see what cards are in play.

There are 81 cards in the Set deck. On these cards are combinations of one, two, or three shapes in the form of a squiggle, diamond or oval. These shapes appear in one of three colors: purple, green, or red. Each card’s shape is solidly filled in, unfilled, or shaded. At the game’s start the deck is shuffled, and twelve cards are laid face-up in the center of the table in a 3×4 grid.

Set 3x4 grid arrangement

Set 3×4 grid arrangement

Once all of the cards are laid out, those who are playing examine the grid for potential sets. A set is defined as a group of three cards anywhere within the grid that all either share a similar or completely distinct characteristic for each classification of shape, shading, color, or number of items on the cards. Once a player is sure they see a set, they call out that they’ve found one to everyone else playing. They then pick out the three cards and all other players confirm whether a set has actually been found or not. If a set has indeed been found, the player who found the set keeps those cards and a point is added to their score. Three new cards are drawn from the deck and are used to fill in the places where the cards used to make the set were taken. If a valid set was not confirmed to be found, the player who claimed a set has their score decremented by one set. Play then continues with all players looking for the next set. Play ends and scores are tallied when the deck runs out of cards. Whoever found the most sets becomes the winner of the game.

It is important that all players understand exactly what a set is before play begins. I was mad as a hen when I was picking what I thought were sets and losing points the first time I played Set. Meanwhile my opponent was selecting out sets that I had disregarded because I thought they did not fit the description of a set.

An example of a set is shown where there are three solid green ovals, three solid green squiggles, and three solid green diamonds. These constitute a set because they are all green, there are three shapes on each card, the shapes on each card are all solid, and a distinctly different shape is displayed on each card.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

An example of a group of three cards that is not a set is also shown here. While all three cards are colored purple, each card has a distinct number of shapes, and all of the shapes shown are solid, two of the cards display diamond while the final card is oval. Because not all of the cards contain diamond nor does each card contain a distinct shape, these cards do not constitute a set.

This is not a valid set.

This is not a valid set.

One final example of a set is shown here. The color is different on each card: red, green, then purple. Each card contains diamonds, but each one has a different number of diamonds. The diamonds have distinct shading across all cards. The first is solid, the second shaded, and the third empty. This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

If at any point no set is found within the grid on the table, then three additional cards are pulled from the deck and placed into the grid for a total of 15 cards. Play then continues. When the next set is discovered, no further cards are drawn in order to get the grid back down to twelve cards. Therefore, as I understand it, there should never be more than 15 cards in play at a time. In solitaire play, a player is trying to find as many sets as they can to beat their previous score. When they are unable to find a set in the twelve card grid, they may add the additional three cards, but doing so creates a one set penalty to their score. Of course, who is going to know you’re cheating if you’re playing alone?

Set is a fun little card game that is easy to learn how to play. Given that any number of players may play it, it is an ideal card game for party situations. It has won several game awards including the MENSA Select award. I can vouch that this is a fantastic title that belongs in any serious card gamer’s collection.

Cocoto Magic Circus – Nintendo Wii Game Review

Cocoto Magic Circus Title Screen

Cocoto Magic Circus Title Screen

This is the worst game ever. I hate this game! It’s so stupid! – my wife.

Cocoto Magic Circus is a light-gun mini-game shooter released for the Nintendo Wii in 2008. It was developed by Neko Entertainment and published by Conspiracy Entertainment. It follows the same classic formula of many of the light-gun mini-game shooters of the era. The game case boasts, “40 mini-games, each more original than the last!” All of the games are point and shoot with lots of similar patterns strewn throughout all of them making the advertising deceptive at best.

Cocoto Magic Circus was not a new game when it came out on the Nintendo Wii. It debuted on the Playstation 2 where it was played with the GunCon light gun. Since the Nintendo Wii was the ideal console for this type of shooter, it makes sense that Cocoto Magic Circus might be re-released for the system.

Save Fairy from the spiders before she's eaten!

Save Fairy from the spiders before she’s eaten!

The beginning cutscene handily tells the backstory without any words. Four monster-looking friends: Cocoto, Baggy, Neuro, and Shiny, according to the game manual, and their friend Fairy who is a pixie, meet a clown in the woods. He looks creepy as all get-out, but instead of running away they stick around to be friendly with him. The clown kidnaps Fairy, and the others race to help rescue her. Theoretically the objective of the game is to rescue Fairy by shooting her captors in the various mini-games. While some mini-games had us shooting bad guys to keep them away from Fairy, there was no point at the end of any mode of gameplay where Fairy ever regained her freedom that I noticed. The competing monsters would just hop up on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place stands at the end of the game to show how they placed in the Tournament or Duel modes.

This is air hockey... with guns. This shouldn't be a mini-game, but a full featured title.

This is air hockey… with guns. This shouldn’t be a mini-game, but a full featured title.

There are three multiplayer modes: Arcade, Tournament, and Duel. In arcade mode, one or two players play simultaneously and cooperatively until they run out of lives. Lives may be replenished in periodic bonus rounds. Tournament mode is a little bit of a misnomer that actually means hot seat in the case of Cocoto Magic Circus. In tournament mode players pass around one controller and play the mini-games one player at a time competitively. Some mini-games actually lend themselves to this mode of play better, especially for players who are less experienced with aiming a wiimote. This mode allows 2, 3, or 4 players to play. Duel mode allows 2 or 4 players to play competitively and simultaneously for a set number of games.

Try not to shoot Fairy in the face. Oops, instant mini-game over.

Try not to shoot Fairy in the face. Oops, instant mini-game over.

As I alluded earlier, some of the mini-games can be rather frustrating when playing simultaneously with another player. There are a handful of mini-games where all players are aiming at the same target and they only are given one shot to hit it. If all miss, the mini-game is failed. If an opponent hits the target first, the mini-game ends and you won’t get a chance to hit it as well. Then at the end of this short “mini-game,” the player who hit the target is awarded a large number of points for the round and the other players receive nothing. I felt like this happened more frequently than it should have, keeping the game from being well balanced. For this reason I am not sure this game would be very high on my list for Wii games to pull out in a party setting. It seems like the kind of game that is just begging for an argument to break out. My wife argued and screamed about how unfair the game was. I couldn’t understand why the ESRB rated this game for players 10+. There are no unsavory themes that I could find that a 7-year old couldn’t handle. Perhaps the frustration/unfairness issues were a factor?

Cocoto Magic Circus Game Disc

Cocoto Magic Circus Game Disc

Cocoto Magic Circus is a fine game for practicing accuracy with the wiimotes on the Nintendo Wii, but out of all of the similar light-gun games I have played on the Wii, this one is actually my least favorite. It’s just more blah than fun. That combined with the fact that my opponent was yelling at the television the entire time we played made me want to put Cocoto Magic Circus back on the shelf for awhile.

Twenty-Two – Card Game Review

Twenty-Two Gameplay

Twenty-Two Gameplay

I went camping this past weekend. As I mentioned in the Mexican Train domino game review I published the other week, dominoes seem like a good durable piece of gaming equipment for rough terrain and weathered environments. I took my double-twelve domino set on the camping trip and we played a few rounds of Mexican Train. It worked well. The dominoes got very dirty as you might expect, however. I would recommend keeping two sets of dominoes, one for indoor use and another for outdoor use. It also might be good to clean the outdoor dominoes from time to time.

The biggest downside to taking a double-twelve set of dominoes camping is that it significantly adds to the weight I carry on the hiking trail. I have a travel sized double-six domino set that is approximately the size and weight of a pack of playing cards. Games played with double six dominoes I feel are over too quickly and tend to leave me hungry for more, though I have begun browsing through domino game rules that use a double-six set to see if there are any exceptions that will prove me wrong.

In the meantime it seems the most logical piece of gaming equipment to take the place of the double-twelve domino set in a camping situation would be the classic deck of cards. While not as durable, standard decks of playing cards are cheap and easily replaceable. Most importantly they are very light and easy to pack.

My wife gets bored from time to time as was the case last night. When she gets bored she corners me and demands that we play a game together. When we can’t agree on a game, we usually look up a new game neither of us have played. That way we have the greatest potential of being equally bad at something new. And if one of us happens to be naturally good at playing the new game, the other can chalk it up to beginner’s luck without feeling taken advantage of.

Last night’s new game is called Twenty-Two. It is played with a standard deck of 52 cards, four suits ace to king sans jokers. The cards are ranked such that aces are high and twos are low. All suits are equally ranked. Twenty-Two is a trick taking game sort of like Hearts, Spades or Euchre, but with a great deal of difference in objective and strategy of gameplay.

The objective for the player when playing Twenty-Two is to be the last player with a total score less than 22 points. Any number of players can play Twenty-Two. For every six players, simply add another deck of cards. So 2-6 players, play with one deck. For 6-12 players, play with two decks, and so forth. Each player is dealt seven cards by the dealer. The first dealer is chosen by everyone drawing a card from the deck, highest card is dealer, ties are redrawn.

After the cards have been dealt, the players beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, may choose to discard any number of cards up to and including their full hand and redraw that number of cards from the draw pile. If you’ve got good cards you don’t have to do this, but this is probably the most important mechanic of Twenty-Two. If the number of cards in the deck run out before everyone has a chance to do this, the remaining players are out of luck and the first trick begins.

Right player led with three jacks. Left player won the trick with two aces and a king.

Right player led with three jacks. Left player won the trick with two aces and a king.

The player to the left of the dealer begins the first trick. A card or multiple cards of any one rank may be played. In one of our games three jacks were led, but it would have been illegal to begin a trick with two jacks and a queen. Play then continues clockwise with each player attempting to beat or equal the leading cards. For instance, with three jacks led a player could beat the jacks by playing three queens or two queens and a jack. The next player could beat the second player’s play with three kings and so forth. If a player cannot beat the highest valued play in the trick before him, he must play his lowest cards. So if three kings are now the highest valued cards in play, he must play the three lowest cards in his hand.

Left player then leads the second trick with a queen. Right player wins trick with a king.

Left player then leads the second trick with a queen. Right player wins this trick with a king.

As soon as everyone has made their play, the player with the highest ranked play wins the trick. That player then leads the next trick. Any number of cards of the same rank may be played to lead any trick, but the last card in everyone’s hand must always be saved for the last trick. On the last trick, everyone plays their card to see who had the highest card. The player with the highest ranked card, or players in case of a tie, in the final trick lost the round of play. They keep their final card to the side as their score. If they rack up the equivalent of 22 or more points in last round cards, they are eliminated from the game. Number cards are scored at their numeric value. Face cards are worth 10 points, and aces are worth 11 points.

Right player leads third trick with two fives. Unable to beat both fives, the left player plays his two lowest cards.

Right player leads third trick with two fives. Unable to beat both fives, the left player plays his two lowest cards.

The person who lost the round becomes the new dealer who deals out seven cards to each player and play continues in the next round. If there is a tie, the tied players draw for who is dealer; the player with the highest draw becomes dealer. The game continues until all but one player is eliminated from the game. The last player standing is the winner.

In the final trick, the left player has the highest card. He loses and becomes the dealer for the next round.

In the final trick, the left player has the highest card. He loses and becomes the dealer for the next round.

In playing Twenty-Two I found myself having to figure out new strategies I’m not used to in a card game. On one hand, you don’t want to run out of low ranked cards in your hand so you can have the lowest card possible in the final trick. This makes the game kind of like Hearts. On the other hand, if you are not taking tricks, you’re at risk of being forced to play a higher card during the final trick, which makes me want to play the game more like Spades. The need to think about these things while balancing my hand make this game really fascinating. Twenty-Two is an easy to learn and easy to teach card game that can be played in most any setting with any number of players. Because of its versatility, I would recommend this game for any setting where other games are unfeasible due to the size of the group or the difficulty of setup in the physical environment.

Turnspell – Board Game Review

Turnspell Game Box

Turnspell Game Box

Another game we played at our most recent game night was Turnspell released by Mattel in 2016. This is a word game where 2 to 4 players are scored based on their ability to construct four letter words. Contained with the game are four, four-by-four letter boards for each player with scoring pegs and a center spinning board which contains letters chosen randomly from a pouch.

The pouch contains tiled letters with the exact same frequency and score values as Scrabble. I was actually disappointed to discover I am missing an “I” from my favorite travel Scrabble set when I tested the theory that these games use the same lettering system. Mattel, I think you may owe Hasbro an explanation, or at least a concession that they know what they are doing more when it comes to word games.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Letters are chosen at random and placed on the center spinning board, filling each of its four four-letter tile spaces. When we started the game we thought you were supposed to spin the spinning board to determine who started with which letters. Don’t do this unless you want pick the letters up off the floor on opposite sides of the room.

Try to make the letter setup truly random so no one feels cheated in the first turn. When we started one game, one of the sides of the center spinning board was completely filled with “E” letter pieces. Given that there are rare letters that are worth more points and common letters that are quite prevalent, my friend was forced to take an “E” on his first turn while his opponents were taking “J” and “X” letters. Perhaps a mulligan system could be employed to provide a more balanced start for all players. I would suggest if a side on the spinning board is completely filled with one-point vowels, or perhaps only one-point letters (vowels or consonants) at the beginning of the game, one letter should be traded out until a higher point valued letter is drawn to take its place.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

All players play simultaneously. Each player draws a letter and places it somewhere on their player board. The player’s objective is to create four-letter words on their board. Once a four-letter word is created, it is scored by counting the point value each of the letters is worth. The word’s total score is added to the player’s score total using the pegs on the player’s board and the letters from the word are then placed back into the letter pouch.

There is a possibility for a player to use a letter to create two four-letter words at the same time. When this happens, the letter values from both words are added together and then that final sum is doubled to compute their total score for that turn. When a player reaches a score of 44, they win the game. If two players surpass a score of 44 in the same turn then the highest scoring player wins. If both players tie past 44 in the same turn, I assume they must fight to the death or the universe explodes. The rules do not specify in this final case.

Once a tile is placed on a player’s board, it cannot be replaced without taking a penalty. If a player wishes to remove one tile, they may surrender five points or twice the point value of the letter to do so, whichever total is higher. If they do not have enough points in the game to take the penalty, they may not remove the tile. When a tile is removed, it is placed back into the letter pouch. It cannot be replaced on the player’s board.

A player board. All she needed was a "Z" and I took it before she could get it.

A player board. All she needed was a “Z” and I took it before she could get it.

The player may also remove an entire row of tiles from their player board for no penalty. If there is only one tile in the row, it may be removed with no penalty. Similar to removing the one tile, if a row is removed from a player’s board it is removed to the pouch, not rearranged on the player’s board. Once all players have placed a tile on their player board, the center spinning board is turned one-click clockwise so that the next set of letters is facing a new player. Then the missing letters from the previous round of play are replaced at random from the letter pouch.

Turnspell is a good word game for board gamers who are not good at word games. I never win at Scrabble. I only ever really play it because other people enjoy it. I won at Turnspell against people who enjoy Scrabble and win often at Scrabble. It felt good, but also felt like sort of a cheap thrill for me while playing with such Scrabble aficionados. This is a nice light party game that takes a lower vocabulary and less brain activity than other word games in its class.

Dragonwood – Card Game Review

Dragonwood Game Box

Dragonwood Game Box

Game night was fast approaching, and it had been made my duty to bring an old game night favorite, Apples to Apples to the festivity. I had many side quests to attend to on my way. In the midst of my engagement to these side quests, I realized I had left all of my games, including Apples to Apples at my abode. Devastated by my error, I made a trip to the local merchant to examine their wares. There I found and purchased a game called Dragonwood, developed by Darren Kisgen and released by Gamewright in 2016, “a game of dice and daring.”

Dragonwood may be played by 2, 3, or 4 adventurers. These adventurers are tasked with slaying all sorts of hideous beasts that seek to threaten the land. These creatures are contained in the green Dragonwood deck. The greatest of these foes are the blue and the orange dragons, the final bosses of the adventurer’s journey. These cards are shuffled into the bottom half of the Dragonwood deck. Prior to this happening, a number of cards must be removed from the Dragonwood deck.

For 2 players, this number is 12 cards.
For 3 players, this number is 10 cards.
For 4 players, this number is 8 cards.

At the beginning of the adventurers’ quest, the top five cards of the Dragonwood deck are drawn and placed face-up in a row in the middle of the table. There are three types of Dragonwood cards: creatures, enhancements, and events. The effects of events occur immediately when drawn. Whatever the event card says must be executed in that moment of play. If an event card is discovered in the original five card reveal, remove it and shuffle it back into the Dragonwood deck and reveal a new card. Enhancements can be used to make the adventurer’s quest easier. And creatures are fodder for the fortune and glory of the adventurers.

The adventurer deck is then shuffled. Five cards from it are dealt to each player. The adventurer deck contains numbered cards 1-12 in five suits along with four joker cards with a Lucky Ladybug on them. When a Lucky Ladybug is drawn, the player discards the Lucky Ladybug and draws two more cards. A player may have no more than 9 adventurer cards in their hand. If they exceed this number, they must immediately discard to bring their total hand size back down to 9.

The adventurer cards are played and creatures are thereby slain and taken as trophies in three ways. The player may strike the creature by playing a straight of numbered cards of any color. An example might be red-9, green-10, blue-11, and green-12. The player may stomp a creature by playing cards of the same number. An example might be purple-4, blue-4, and orange-4. Or the player may scream at a creature by playing cards all of the same color. An example might be cards that are all green.

Each Dragonwood card revealed on the table has a strike, stomp, and scream value. In order to defeat the Hungry Bear I could stomp on him by playing three cards with the number 4 on them. The Hungry Bear’s stomp value is 6, which is the number I have to roll in order to slay the bear and take him as a victory trophy. I receive one die for each card I play in an effort to slay the creature; in this case I would receive three dice. The dice are six-sided and have the following numbers on their faces: 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 4. This means with a roll of three dice, it is only slightly probable to get a 12, but impossible to roll an 18. There are six such dice which is the maximum number of cards that may be played at a time. The minimum number of cards a player may play is one. If my roll to slay the Hungry Bear is 6 or above, then I take the Hungry Bear and add him to my personal victory pile and I place the cards I used to attempt to slay him to the adventurer deck’s discard pile. If my roll were less than a 6, then I must discard one card from my hand representing a “wound” from the encounter with the creature. The adventurer card discarded may be from any adventurer card in my possession, not just the cards currently in play. Enchancements are captured in the same way as creatures, but other enhancements cannot be used to aid in capturing new enhancements.

In an adventurer’s turn, the player has two options: draw a card, or attempt to slay a creature or capture an enhancement. The player with the most victory points from slain creatures at the end of the game wins. The game ends when either both the orange and blue dragons have been slain, or the adventurer’s deck has been fully played through then reshuffled and played through a second time.

Dragonwood deck in play, adventurer card combinations, and dice.

Dragonwood deck in play, adventurer card combinations, and dice.

After the rules had been laid down, the adventurers set out on their quest to slay the wild beasts of the land, to ultimately defeat the vicious dragons threatening the safety of their peoples. Laid before us were items of mystical powers and creatures of varying strengths. A Magical Unicorn was charmed by one of my fellow adventurers to give her plus one in subduing any beast. Another fellow adventurer laid claim to a Silver Sword to give her plus two to her strikes against any creature. But me, I chose the way of the sailor, the Bucket of Spinach proved my greatest weapon dealing an extra two stomp damage to any fowl beast.

Along the way we all had our successes and failures, incrementally increasing our victory points, until at last it happened; the blue and orange dragons were revealed. They were the most majestic of creatures: powerful, colorful, graceful in their movements, and deadly. We targeted the blue dragon first, given that it was slightly weaker than the orange dragon. A few of my fellow adventurers tried their luck with the blue dragon, but all wound up wounded from their attempts. As fortune would have it, I had succeeded in obtaining a one time use enchantment, a Lightning Bolt, that would increase my chances against the dragon by 4 damage points. With the help of my trusty Bucket of Spinach, I stomped that blue dragon into the dirt to the cheers of all the people of the land.

Unfortunately for them, the adventurer deck ran out shortly thereafter for the second time. My fellow adventurers and I counted up our victory points, looked at each other, and commended ourselves for the trophies we were able to seize. We’ll let the common folk contend with the Orange Dragon now that we have become rich in our fame and fortune.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 – Board Game Review

Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game Box

Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game Box

As alluded in the title, Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game is a board game released by Milton Bradley in 1966 after the release of the hit movie starring Sean Connery playing as James Bond. The Goldfinger board game centers around the scene in the movie in the vault room of Fort Knox as depicted on the game’s board. This is a two player game. One player controls the red pieces while another the blue pieces and one yellow piece which depicts Goldfinger. There are 8 blue pieces. The blue player’s objective is to get the Goldfinger piece to the outer edge of the board. If the blue player is able to accomplish this, they win. There are 16 red pieces. The red player wins when they are able to successfully capture the Goldfinger piece.

Game board with initial starting locations colored in.

Game board with initial starting locations colored in.

Capturing is accomplished by directly surrounding a piece on both sides. The blue player would capture a red piece by having two blue pieces on either side of it, and vice versa. If the red player were to move a piece between two blue pieces, their piece remains safe and is not passively captured. A player may capture two pieces in one turn, if they happen to move a piece into place such that it completes the corner of a right angle. When capturing, the Goldfinger piece may act as a blue piece. Neither red nor blue pieces are allowed to occupy or move through the Goldfinger piece’s starting location.

Standard capture.

Standard capture.

The Goldfinger piece can be captured in one of three ways. It can be captured if it is on the yellow dot in the center of the board if there are four red pieces surrounding it on the blue dots with white circles which are adjacent in cardinal directions north, south, east, and west to the yellow dot. If the Goldfinger piece is on one of the white circles, it may be captured by one red piece that places itself on a normal dot such that the Goldfinger piece is sandwiched between the yellow dot and the red piece. And if the Goldfinger piece is on a normal dot, it can be captured in the same way as any other blue piece.

Capturing two pieces at once.

Capturing two pieces at once.

Red always goes first. Each turn a player must move one piece in any horizontal or vertical direction any number of spaces. They may not turn a corner or move in two directions in their move. Play alternates until the Goldfinger piece escapes to the edge of the board or the red player captures the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 is a very mentally stimulating, challenging strategy board game title. Much like chess, it really takes a great deal of skill and thought to master. The first few times I played through this game, I made some of the clumsiest mistakes that my opponent was quick to take advantage of. It’s nice to play with someone who has never played before on your first time, because she made just as many mistakes that I was then able to take advantage of as well.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

It’s strange and interesting to switch colors and play the other side from game to game. The set of strategies is completely separate between blue and red players, and I found myself really having to think through every move. The rules make a point of stating that this game is meant to be played like chess. That means, while the blue team could win by taking direct advantage of a mistake made by the red player and move the Goldfinger piece to the outer edge of the board, the blue player is supposed to alert the red player as such a move is made. The idea is that a sort of check and checkmate should be called as the game is approaching completion in order to ensure the game is played strategically, not accidentally.

Example of "checkmate."

Example of “checkmate.”

It surprised my opponent and I both how quickly the tide of the game can turn. It is easy to get cocky when you have clearly captured more of your opponents pieces than they have captured of yours, yet still get routed. This game is not quite like any other two-dimensional strategy board game I have played. It is sort of like Chess, Checkers, and Nine Men’s Morris, but none of these games really do justice to explaining the gameplay going on here.

I found my copy of Goldfinger James Bond 007 at a local antique store a few blocks from my house in the city I live in. They sold it to me for $15. The cheapest copy I saw online was on Ebay for $40, which is a little steep. From my limited research it appears this game may be rare, but it would really be trivial to duplicate on a checker board without the movie theming. In order to do this you would need two sets of checkers pieces for one of the colors. So if the red player were still red when using checkers pieces, they would need two sets of red checkers or 16 red checkers. Meanwhile, the black player which is taking the place of blue would place 8 black checkers in their places on the board and two black checkers stacked on top of each other in the center to designate the Goldfinger piece. Instead of playing on the squares, play would be done on the intersections of lines and the board would have to be laid out as shown in the pictures in this article.

Initial piece positions. Note how this could be imitated on a standard checker board.

Initial piece positions. Note how this could be imitated on a standard checker board.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 is a great game for the collector. It’s a nice piece of American cultural history, it’s a Milton Bradley game from the 1960s, and it’s somewhat rare – all things that make the game a nice conversation piece. But beneath all this theming and history is a well balanced, impressive strategy game that can be played using very basic gaming components. I would hate for any fellow gamer to have to miss out on the richness of this impressively amazing strategy gameplay simply because they haven’t been able to get their hands on this particular movie to board game title.

Mexican Train – Domino Game Review

Cardinal Mexican Train Domino Kit

Cardinal Mexican Train Domino Kit

Cardinal’s version of Mexican Train is documented to support 2 to 8 players. It is played with a set of double-twelve dominoes. I’ll cover other variations in the future, but this is the one I learned how to play first.

  • With 2, 3, or 4 players, initially draw 15 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.
  • With 5 or 6 players, initially draw 12 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.
  • With 7 or 8 players, initially draw 11 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.

There are thirteen rounds of play, one for each double domino in the set. The dominoes are shuffled and players draw their initial hand out of the pile of dominoes referred to as the bone pile. And whomever has the current round’s double domino places it in the middle of the table. For the first round, the double domino required to start the round would be a double-twelve. For the second round it would be the double-eleven and so forth until the round with the double-blank. If no player in the first round has a double-twelve, each player draws one domino from the bone pile at the same time until someone draws the double-twelve. Once the double-twelve has been played, everyone should have the same number of dominoes in their hand except the person who played the double-twelve. That person will have the same number of dominoes in their hand as everyone else minus one, the missing one being double-twelve that was played.

Play then proceeds clockwise around the table from the person who played the double. In their first turn a player may start their own train. They do this by placing a domino that has a side that matches the current number represented by the starting double. Trains come out of the center like spokes on a wagon wheel. In the first round I would be able to play a domino that has a twelve on it to start my train. If I had no domino with a twelve, I would then have to draw and place a marker on the place where my train would be. In the Cardinal Mexican Train domino set I have, there are small colored plastic train engines provided that may be used as markers. In the past when I didn’t have such frivolous gaming equipment, I would use a penny or bottle cap as a marker. Any sort of token will do.

While the token is on a player’s train, and it must remain there until the player’s next turn, any other player may play on the marked train instead of playing on their own. They may also start the Mexican Train, a public train that anyone may play on. If a player has a marker on their own train, and they play on the Mexican train or someone else’s train, the marker on their own train comes off of their train until such circumstances where it may be put back on their train again.

To review, a player’s turn consists of playing or drawing. If they draw, they must place a marker on their train to indicate it is open for others to play on. Players may play on their own train, a marked train, or the Mexican Train. If the Mexican Train has not been started, it may be started off to the side of the other trains in the same manner the players’ trains were started. If a player plays a double, they may play again. The objective is to run out of dominoes in your own hand.

When a player is down to their last domino, they must tap it on the table to indicate there is a likelihood that they will run out of dominoes in their next turn. This is similar to calling out “Uno!” in Uno. If you get caught not doing this, all the other players may call you names and force you to draw two additional dominoes into your hand.

When a player runs out of dominoes, all of the other players count up the face value of all the other dominoes in their hand. This becomes their score for the round. Scores are summed up and carry forward for each player from round to round. The player with the lowest score after the double-blank round wins the game.

Mexican Train is primarily a game of chance and is fairly easy to learn, which makes it great for children. There are some elements of strategy, however, that can keep it interesting. It is usually best to play your highest point dominoes as early and as frequently as possible so they are not left in your hand by the end of the round.

It’s also good to learn when to be nice and when to let someone stay stuck. In the last game I played, one of my opponents needed a domino she didn’t have and had placed a marker on her train. I had the very domino she needed, but did not provide it since she had fewer dominoes in her hand than I did. I let her sit there for several turns until she had accumulated a hand that was sufficiently and safely larger than my own.

Take care in how you arrange your domino hand since one side of it is somewhat public for others to see. On one hand, you will want to arrange your dominoes in such a way that you have a plan for every one you play so you make the maximum use of each one On the other hand, if people can predict by the way you’re arranging your dominoes which one you plan to play next, and that you are a certain number of turns from going out, they may play accordingly in a manner that is not in your favor. Just some food for thought.

Mexican Train gameplay

Mexican Train game play

Double-twelve dominoes are really easy to find in all sorts of stores. Outside of playing cards, I can’t think of any other piece of gaming equipment that is so versatile in being used to play more distinct kinds of games. Dominoes are also spill and dirt resistant. They are handy for when I want to play games outdoors. I don’t ever worry about getting dominoes dirty. If you don’t already have a domino set and you want to consider yourself a board gamer, then you owe it to yourself to go get one. Mexican Train, is just one of many games you can play with it, though it is a fun one; one I would recommend everyone try.

Codenames – Card Game Review

Codenames game box.

Codenames game box.

Codenames is a party game for two teams consisting of at least two players on each team. The best game I have played so far is one where there were five players on each team and the team member playing spymaster rotates within each team on each round. Codenames was developed by Vlaada Chvatil and released in 2015 by Czech Games.

Codenames Key Cards

Codenames Key Cards

Players divide into two teams: blue and red. Each team selects one person on their team to be spymaster. The codename cards are shuffled and 25 of them are drawn and placed into a 5×5 grid in the middle of the table. The key cards are also shuffled and one key card is drawn at random by a spymaster. The border color around the key card indicates which team will go first. The key card shows which codename cards provide points for the blue team and red team, and which codename cards are for the innocent bystanders (white) or for the assassin (black).

Codenames initial card setup.

Codenames initial card setup.

On each turn a team’s spymaster will say one word out loud as a clue and a number referring to the number of cards on the table that relate to that clue. For instance, given that the key card was chosen where the red team goes first, the red team’s spymaster might say, “Gamble 2.” The players on the red team might then select the codename “Play.” The red team’s spymaster would then place a red card over the codename “Play.” Since the spymaster said there were two related cards, the red team might continue guessing and choose “Game.” The codename “Game” belongs to the blue team. The spymaster would then place a blue card on the codename “Game” which would award a point to the blue team. When a team guesses a codename wrong, their turn is over and play moves to the other team.

Codenames gameplay

Codenames gameplay

On the blue team’s turn their spymaster might say, “Jurassic 2.” Then players on the blue team might point to the codename “Dinosaur.” At that point the spymaster would place a blue card over the codename “Dinosaur” and the blue team will have scored a point. Given that the spymaster stated that there were two cards corresponding to the clue “Jurassic,” the players on the blue team might want to choose again. If they were to choose “Hollywood,” the assassin would be revealed. This is kind of like knocking the 8-ball in a pocket at the wrong moment when playing pool. When a team reveals the assassin the game is over and they lose the game. If instead the blue team had chosen “Screen,” an innocent bystander card would be placed over the clue and the blue team’s turn would end. Play would then go back to the red team. Once a team has correctly guessed the number of codenames their spymaster has given them, if they are bold they can continue guessing. This is helpful when a team is behind and wishes to make a Hail Mary effort to catch up and win the game.

The first team to guess all of their codenames correctly wins the game. The codename cards have codenames written on both sides of them. To quickly set up a new game, simply flip all of the cards over and then choose another key card. Codenames is a fun game for parties as it can be played with nearly any number of players and its easy to learn. I would recommend that this game be in any serious board gamer’s collection.

The Game of Life Adventures – Card Game Review

The Game of Life Adventures Game Box

The Game of Life Adventures Game Box

The Game of Life Adventures is a card game based off of the Game of Life board game of similar name first released by Milton Bradley in 1960. This card game was released by Hasbro in 2014. To setup the game, the players separate out and shuffle the four types of game cards into four distinct decks. The types of cards are family, career, adventure, and wealth. Family cards relate to getting married, having children, etc. Career cards relate to education, careers, and getting paid. Adventure cards are ways the player could make their life more interesting. Wealth cards provide various tangible assets required to fully take advantage of career and adventure cards.

Cards are shuffled into four draw piles.

Cards are shuffled into four draw piles.

The Game of Life Adventures is designed for two to four players. Once the cards are divided into their four distinct color cards, players take turns drawing one card at a time from whichever pile they desire until all players have five cards in their hand. Within the decks there are cards that have a +10 printed on them. These cards indicate that 10 years have passed. If a player draws one of these cards during an initial draw phase, they are placed to the side and the player then redraws. The +10 cards are then reshuffled back into their respective decks.

After all players have their five card hand, play begins with whomever was selected to go first. Within a turn, a player will play a card, tell a story about how that card relates to their fictional life they are creating there within the game, and then draw a new card from any color pile they choose. Some cards have prerequisites that must be satisfied before they may be played. For instance, it is impossible to celebrate a wedding anniversary if you have not yet gotten married.

This is my life.

This is my life.

Every time someone draws a +10 card, ten years have passed within the game. After sixty years, the game ends. I spent my first ten years working on two degrees while my opponent built an igloo and got herself a pet polar bear and a pet shark. I was stunned at how quickly time had flown, so I raced to catch up doing everything interesting I could while I was young. I began a career as a politician and got paid handsomely. This allowed me to plan an extravagant wedding where my spouse and I exchanged vows while sky diving, and we moved into a beach front property where we had our two twin boys.

Meanwhile my opponent became a rock star sensation, rising in the music charts. While I didn’t think much of her music, my campaign staff apparently thought it would help as background music on the campaign trail. Since she apparently didn’t give them permission to use her songs, she sued (by playing a card) and took my house. Given that I am an expert politician, I passed legislation that allowed me to do what I wanted to do and countersued, taking my house back. From that day on, we were rivals.

This is my opponent's life.

This is my opponent’s life.

Twenty years had passed. I wanted to do everything interesting I could. I wanted to make a mark and be somebody. I purchased a car, a boat, and a plane. I circumnavigated the globe. I learned to do a loop-the-loop in my plane. I even took a rocket ship to the moon. But what I hope I will most be remembered for is skydiving from my hot air balloon with a skateboard in my hand so I could skateboard land into a skateboarding contest for charity, which I won by the way.

The years went by. My opponent had three girls, while I had three boys. I suppose we both decided it was time to give back to society. She completed her Ph.D. and became a rocket scientist. After robbing the taxpayer blind I began a rewarding career in teaching that I held until the end of the game.

The game ends when six +10 cards have been played.

The game ends when six +10 cards have been played.

Once the sixth +10 card has been played, the game ends. Each life event card played has a number on it showing how many points it is worth. The player with the most points wins. I felt I had lived the most rewarding life of all with 1055 points. My opponent got 1050 points, so maybe she wasn’t so boring after all.

The Game of Life Adventures card game is a great party game that you can teach newcomers very quickly and have a lot of fun telling stories about your fictional characters. There is more chance than skill involved in this game, so it might be a good title to pull up when you want to play something with someone who is not very confident in their gaming abilities or when you are playing with children who like to talk more about their fanciful in game character than any gaming strategy. Even though there is a scoring system, there is not much about this game that takes itself seriously. It’s a light-hearted bit of fun to have, much like its board game counterpart.

Apples to Apples – Card Game Review

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples: The Game of Crazy Combinations is a party card game released by Mattel. My copy is copyrighted 2013. The game is designed for 4 to 8 players, but I have played games with as many as 12 participants.

My Apples to Apples deck contains 438 red apple cards, 62 green apple cards, 3 blank red apple cards, and 1 blank green apple card. In our house rules we decided to not require players to use the blank cards if they did not want to. They are available to make the game more interesting and more personalized for those who wish to come up with a creative wild card.

All red apple cards are shuffled together and randomly distributed across as many piles as is convenient face down. These are the draw piles for all players. All players draw five cards out of the red apple cards to compose their beginning hands. The green cards are also shuffled together into their own deck and placed in the middle of the table so everyone can reach them.

Apples to Apples Card Piles

Apples to Apples card piles

Someone is selected as the first judge. It’s typically best for this person to be the one with the most prior experience in playing Apples to Apples. The judge takes a green apple card off of the green apple card pile and selects one of the two adjectives written on the card. They then place the card face up on the table where everyone can see it and say what adjective they chose out loud. All other players then play face down the red apple card they feel contains a noun that is best described by the green apple card adjective selected and then draw a new red apple card from the red apple card decks to replenish their hand up to five cards. Once all of the players have played a red apple card, the judge selects which green/red apple card combination they like the best. Once they have picked the winning red apple card, the green apple card is awarded to the winner of that round for score keeping and play continues with the player to the left of the judge acting as new judge in the next round of play.

The rules state that the first person to win four green apple cards wins the game, but there is really no max number you have to stop at. The last time I played this game we exhausted the entire deck of green apple cards. Another interesting twist we made to our own game was to create a dummy player. Each round of play we would toss an additional random red apple card into the pile for the judge to examine. It was fascinating to see how well the non-player did compared to the actual human players around the table. In fact in the game I played last night, the dummy player actually came in second place!

There have been numerous times that I have asked people if they wanted to play Apples to Apples and they have wanted to know what it was. I would then explain it to them and they would say, “Oh, kind of like Cards Against Humanity? I’ve got that one, why don’t we just play that?” Apples to Apples is a family friendly game, while Cards Against Humanity is more adult themed with explicit content. Be aware of this if you are a newcomer to this genre and you want to keep your gaming experiences more family friendly for everyone involved.

The Apples to Apples rulebook contains a couple other play variations that I have yet to try out. In the Crab Apples variation, the objective is to pick the best red apple card that is the opposite of the word chosen for the green apple card. In 2 for 1 Apples, each player attempts to pick the one red apple card in their hand that matches best with both words on the green apple card.

If you were judge, which would you pick?

If you were judge, which would you pick?

Apples to Apples is probably my most frequently used go-to game to take to parties, especially those where I am unsure of the tastes of the hosts and whether they are gamers or not. Given that Apples to Apples is essentially an exercise in understanding other players’ psychology, this game acts as a good icebreaker to better understand and relate to the people I play with without bringing up any over the top embarrassing or offensive themes. One of the red apple cards is “Republicans” while another is “Democrats.” One of the red apple cards is “George W. Bush” while another is “Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I have been able to learn a lot about the people I play with based on the cards they play and how they talk about the subjects on the cards. We all learn a lot more about each other. Apples to Apples has probably helped me build rapport with those I have played it with more than any other game I own.

Any gamer who is serious about being a social gamer should have Apples to Apples in their collection. It’s easily available and fairly inexpensive in most stores with a toy section. I don’t even worry if my copy gets damaged because I know I can always get another copy. Meanwhile its benefits to opening avenues of conversation through a friendly game cannot be understated. I feel this game truly is a treasure to human society.