Today I feel like the 17-year-old Harry Potter…
***SPOILER ALERT – SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU’VE SOMEHOW NOT READ IT YET***
You know that bit in the Deathly Hallows where Harry finds out that his hero Albus Dumbledore used to be bezzies with major badman Gellert Grindelwald and that Dumbledore had a sister for whose death he was partially responsible…
Well, in that defining moment, he’s hit by a silent tidal wave of realisation.
Perhaps he was wrong about Dumbledore…
Well, today I’ll be reviewing one of the plethora of games published in the UK by the proverbial publishing Mega-Shark, Orchard Toys. For non-UK readers, this company is the Balrog of Moria when it comes to UK children’s game publishing and they’ve been boshing out top quality games since before the forging of the One Ring.
And yet today we will be turning our fierce, lidless eye towards Orchard Toys, who in some (highly tenuous) ways are my own Albus Dumbledore. So prepare yourselves for the destruction of your childhood dreams and join me as we merrily skip in to Mordor.
What is Character Lotto?
This is a memory game for 2-4 players published by Orchard Toys in 2014. It plays in about 10 minutes and is suggested as suitable for ages 3 and above.
Each player chooses a player mat (blue, red, green or yellow), each of which has 6 tiles pictured. All 24 tiles are placed face down in the middle of the table and players take turns to reveal one tile, showing it to everyone. If this tile is on their board, they take it and place it over the appropriate picture. If not, they return it face down to the space from whence it came. I’ve added a house rule where every time you get one right, you get another go before play passes to the next person.
Play continues like this until someone has filled their board and they are the winner! Hazah!
Now if you type “lotto” in to BoardGameGeek, there are 55 games that come up (anyone for a game of ‘short-vowel lotto’?). Whilst this review is looking at this particular incarnation of ‘lotto’, I’m hoping that most of what’s said will be transferable to the other relevant versions (ie not the ones that are play like Bingo).
What’s in the box?
There are 4 player boards, 24 character tiles and a rules sheet.
And that’s it.
What says Ez Bez?
We’ll, you don’t publish 55+ variants of a game without it being fun for kids.
Ezra undoubtedly enjoys it. Although that may not be immediately obvious if you were to watch him playing, observing his vacant stare as he calmly places his characters on the board.
But don’t let his glum, disinterested facade fool you – this is a face of pure gaming ecstasy…
The fact that he has come back to it several times this week asking to play shows that he does enjoy it, and he does give away an occasional smile.
So what is it that’s fun for him?
I think there’s something innately enjoyable about revealing something unknown and finding that it is in fact yours! Gets those Christmas endorphins firing. And that surprise feeling is even better when you feel by your skill (memory in this case) you have somehow earned that prize. Gets those Oscar-winning uber-endorphins going too.
Next there is what I call “the satisfaction of completion” (or soc for short). We all know this well from our daily lives. When that living room wall is finally wallpapered. When you reach the top of Ben Nevis, or casually stroll out of your last exam, or eat the last roast potato at Christmas lunch.
And obviously (acting as the enjoyment placebo in all these reviews) there’s the joy of spending quality time with just his Dad.
It’s worth mentioning that the 16-month old also loves getting this out and in spite of the 3+ age bracket, it’s entirely safe for him to play with. He can’t get enough of the octopus in particular…
All in all, ‘E likes it. But I don’t think ‘e loves it.
Ezra’s score – 15/25
And Daddy Pig?
Hmmm. Well, I’ve played it mostly as a 2-player game and if I’m brutally honest (sorry, Albus), it’s not great for 2 as it stands. It is essentially a memory game and with 2 players there is very little memory required. One of the following 3 things will happen on each of your turns in a 2-player game:
1) You turn over one of your own characters by chance (cue Christmas endorphins)
2) You turn over one that’s neither yours nor your child’s and put it back
3) You reveal one of their characters and they then take it on their turn as soon as you’ve turned it back over
For a memory game, that’s not a lot of remembering.
With 3 or 4 players, it is better but still you will only get an average 1/3 (for a 3-player game) or 1/2 (in a 4-player game) of your characters by actually remembering where one of the other players found it and the other ones on your board will either be pure luck or as a gift from the player before you.
Now I am oversimplifying a little. If you can remember where all the ones are that have been revealed and aren’t yours, it does increase your chance of choosing one of your own characters randomly. But can we really be bothered with that given that we’re already deliberately handicapping ourselves to help our child be competitive with us?
One solution to this problem is to add a rule where you can’t choose the tile the previous player revealed. This would mean that when the player before you turns over one of your tiles, you’d have to remember where it was for a whole extra round before taking it. But given Ez’s difficulty in adhering to the rules as they stand (see OPG section below), adding another limitation like this would not work at his age. It might work with older children though.
It’s pleasant as a parent to play this with your child, but not something I particularly look forward to. Like turning on the air conditioning on a hot summer’s day in the car.
Daddy’s score – 9/25
Overarching principles of gaming
This is pretty much a given, but the lack of a die does make it harder for the little ones to know whose turn it is. I’m considering using a tennis ball or similar as a turn marker to make this easier.
As mentioned above, this is not tested as much as it perhaps could be, but nonetheless there is an element of memory that is desirable to do well at this game. I think at age 2-4, the idea of trying to remember the whereabouts of all the tiles that aren’t yours is a little ambitious, so as discussed above there’s only really effective memory practice involved in a 3 or 4-player game.
Resisting the temptation to cheat
Interestingly, an unexpected benefit of this game was that Ezra has learned about the importance of rules and of not cheating.
It was highly frustrating in our first few games because having turned over the wrong tile, he couldn’t resist sticking it back and immediately turning over the next one. There is no marker for whose turn it is and the tiles are all tantalisingly right there!
Whilst this made for a teeth-grindingly frustrating game or 3 at the start, it actually did help develop Ezra’s gaming in terms of learning the importance of following the rules. And now he’s much better at it.
“Son, it’s not all about winning – it’s about winning having followed the rules”. I think he understands that better now having played a game where it is so easy to cheat. I guess it’s also good to learn about cheating when playing games where cheating is obvious to everyone, not when he’s harvesting extra sheep in Catan.
OPG score – 15/25
Cost – 3/5
You can pick up an Orchard Toys lotto game (Old McDonald Lotto) for £7.27 from amazon.co.uk, or $17.99 on amazon.com. I don’t know where character lotto has gone but it seems to no longer exist…
Theme – 1/5
I don’t think it’s really possible to have a theme for this sort of game is it…? Why would you ever need to collect an octopus, a sheep, a spider, a blue 3-eyed monster, a gingerbread man and a spaceman…? Answers in the comments please.
Art/design – 4/5
Easily identifiable characters with a colourful and informative box. I like the use of different coloured animals to hold the different player boards and the layout is simple and effective.
The rules are extremely simple and it is just a small sheet, but perhaps they could be a teency bit more engaging?
Components – 4/5
Nice chunky cardboard components made in the UK. Maybe the back of the tiles could have had a slightly more interesting design but now I’m just being picky.
Total score – 54/100
A pleasant way to entertain your pre-schooler, develop their memory (a little) and test their ability to resist cheating.
Next week – Floundering by Rocket Toys
What do you think? What did I miss? Please post your comments below.