Come to stand H6 and say hi if you’re here this weekend and you want to check out our fancy new prototypes.
What an amazing day it’s been today. Met so many great people on the stand and somehow had the fortune to meet the team from Shut Up and Sit Down who liked the concept of Champion of the Wild so much they did a 30-minute feature on their live podcast on it!
We’re hoping for another busy day tomorrow and looking forward to meeting more awesome gamers!
Come and say hi if you can – stand H6!
After the recent birth of our beautiful third son, I’m finding myself remembering all those little things you forget about babies once your kids are older.
The comforting smell of their tiny heads… The warm sensation of freshly-voided urine on your hands… The constant question of how much vomit on your clothing is socially acceptable…
Well, one of the great things about babies like our little Simeon is that whilst they don’t really do anything at all, you could spend hours just … looking at them!
So in honour of the fascinating and enigmatic Simeon, let’s take a look at a game that doesn’t really do anything and see if it has a similar effect!
What is Snail’s Pace Race?
Well, it’s not really a game, but more of an activity for 2-6 players, with the box suggesting ages 3-7 as being most suitable.
There are 6 snail meeples on the board, each of a different colour and players take turns to roll 2 six-sided dice with coloured faces. Every time a colour comes up, that ‘sneeple’ moves forward one space and you take turns to roll until all the snails have crossed the finish line.
Once the sneeples have set off on their merry way, the players “try to guess who will win” and also who will come last. And that, believe it or not, is the game. Let’s try and casually guess the outcome of a randomly-generated event without anyone actually committing to a colour in any tangible way.
What’s in the box?
6 chunky sneeples, 2 six-sided dice with coloured faces, 1 rulebook (our charity shop copy was missing this) and 1 folded game board
How did the kids find it?
*Note: as a trial, this section is no longer solely focused on Ezra’s enjoyment, but it also includes wildly speculative estimations as to how it might suit other age children (see last week’s post for more on this), based on my experience of working with young people but I should stress, not from playing it with any children apart from my own…*
Well, Ezra (nearly 4) and Eli (2.5) did enjoy themselves. There is something strangely satisfying about watching six snails jostle for position over the course of the race and you do get a thrill from seeing the underdog overturn an unthinkable deficit to snatch a glorious victory (orange pushed green all the way)…
It is true, though, that Ezra became distracted after a single play through, preferring to physically race them himself the second time round in real time. Whilst many other children will have a longer attention span than Ez, I do think the lack of depth can be a bit of a problem in terms of replayability even at age 4.
And Eli – whilst enjoying rolling the dice and getting some good colour practice in – struggled a little with moving 2 different snails each time he rolled. This is easily remedied by just rolling one die at a time but this takes away some of that ‘underdog’ factor when a snail suddenly jumps in to the lead.
The other concern for children under 3 was that the dice are quite small (and certainly not baby-safe), which is a real shame for a game could otherwise function reasonably as a good gateway game for a 2-year-old…
As for the game’s stated age bracket of 4-7, I think without house rules to add complexity (and with a disclaimer re: safety for under-3s), I’d put it more in the 2-5 age range. I don’t think there’s enough here for a 7-year-old.
Ezra’s score (aged 4ish)- 13/25
Eli’s score (aged 2.5) – 15/25
What about Daddy Snail?
Well it’s clear from the outset here that this is an utterly dull activity which equates to predicting the outcome of a die roll…
So all the parent enjoyment without house rules comes from the joy of seeing your children play a game & practise identifying colours…
And yet, there’s quite an interesting thing going on here mathematically which lends itself to some house rules for adults or older children…
- First, find a coloured marker (or make one) for each of the 6 coloured snails and leave these at one end of the board.
- Everyone starts with 10 money tokens (£10, let’s say).
- At the end of the race, money is awarded to players based on the ranking of the snails equivalent to any tokens they are holding as follows :
- 1st place – £12
- 2nd place – £9
- 3rd place – £6
- 4th place – £4
- 5th place – £2
- 6th place – £0
- In order to initially pick up a token, you have to pay the same amount of money as there are tokens yet to be claimed (ie £6 if it’s the first token, £5 if it’s the second etc). You are then free to buy and sell tokens from each other until the end of the race. The amount of money reach player has is kept secret until the end. Whoever ends up with the most money after 3 races wins!
Suddenly, this transforms in to an interesting economic game for adults about estimating the value of each snail at any point in time and carefully buying and selling at the right times to make a tidy profit…
Parental enjoyment – 2/25 (normal rules) ; 14/25 (BIG house rules)
Overarching Principles Of Gaming
Now the game as published teaches virtually nothing to the budding gamer. Yes, it gives colour practice and the chance to take turns.
In fact, I also disagree with the whole premise of a game designed to have no winner (apparently, judging by the box blurb, to avoid any children getting upset). One of the reasons I think it’s great to play games with your children is that they are a great opportunity for exactly the opposite – to learn how to lose honourably in a safe environment.
Even at age 2, there is more that can be done to develop young gamers (see our First Orchard review for an example), but certainly above age 4, there is very little your child will learn playing this game and I imagine there aren’t many children aged over 5 who would suggest playing this game above another more decision-heavy title…
Unless of course you use the BIG rules variant and make it a sociable economic game, in which case they’ll learn about negotiation, how to manage probability/risk and estimation of expected value!
OPG (aged 4ish) – 3/25
OPG (aged 2.5) – 6/25
The other stuff
Cost – 5/5
£1.99 from a charity shop can’t be beaten really & it’ll be available for a similar price almost everywhere I imagine.
Theme – 4/5
Having initially mocked the theme openly as being incredibly dull, there’s a large part of me that hopes it’s been deliberately chosen as part of a meta-narrative mocking the majority of young children’s games for being so utterly boring…
And the kids do also seem to love the idea of snails racing, strange folk that they are…
The theme is at best a clever commentary on the state of children’s games and at worst appropriately ridiculous.
Art and design – 2/5
It’s hard looking at a game from 15 years ago and comparing it with today’s production values…
There is some nice thematic art around the edge of the board and on the box cover to be fair.
Components – 3/5
The sneeples are brilliant – wooden, painted, baby-safe. Unfortunately, the dice are too small to be safe for babies which as I said earlier is a massive opportunity missed. Plus, the box insert hasn’t lasted the course (although this copy was printed in 2002 so it has been a while…).
Rulebook – 3/5
I haven’t actually managed to find a picture of the rulebook & I imagine 3/5 is generous, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt, eh? It’s Easter after all.
The other stuff – 17/25
Snail’s Pace Race is an enjoyable activity for really young children that helps them practice colours and taking turns, but there is little to offer beyond the age of 4 and the lack of baby-safe dice limits its potential role as a gateway game for the under-3s, leaving it with very little appeal for us.
Then again, the sneeples are pretty awesome and it’ll only cost you a couple of quid!
Total score (aged 4ish) – 35 (or 47 with BIG rules variant)
Total score (aged 2.5) – 40 (or 52 with BIG rules variant)
Ridiculous uninterpretable graph to finish…?
Thoughts? Comments? Best urine and vomit stories…? Post in the comments if you like.
Next time it’s a big ‘un – Rhino Hero
So, when I was putting the finishing touches to the Loopin Louie video review, I found myself somewhat downcast… Of all the games that I’ve reviewed so far with my pint-sized progeny, there’s no doubt Loopin’ Louie would be the one I’d recommend…
And yet according to my scoring system, it came in third place, behind First Orchard – a beautifully-produced game for really young children that does at least have one decision for players to make, but remains for grown-ups an experience more akin to First Tortured…
So I got to thinking about what it is I personally want when searching for games to play with my kids Ezra (nearly 4) and Eli (2) and whether I need to rethink the rating system. The answer was a little disturbing…
All I care about is me!
Bear with me a second though gang.
Let’s be honest, here. Kids are easily entertained… Take this illustrative excerpt from my life…
Ezra: “Look at this leaf, Daddy! It’s so green!”
Me: “Yes, Ez, it is very green.”
Eli: “Plane! Plane! Plane, Daddy!
Me: “Yes Eli, consider your sighting of a plane formally acknowledged…”
Ezra: “DADDY, IT’S HERE – IT’S THE BIN LORRY! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
But somehow my own green leaf of childlike enthusiasm has long since withered, being trampled underfoot by the stampede of constant high quality entertainment at my fingertips – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TV, radio, podcasts – so much fascinating new content to bombard your senses, which ultimately numbs my innate sense of wonder and dumps me down to a media withdrawal state whose default emotion is boredom.
Or perhaps we just need more entertaining than children because our brains are more developed…
Anyways, whatever the reason for it – I am more difficult to entertain than my children. As such, my priority is to find a game (or a way to play a game) that I can actually enjoy myself, because I know the boys will be pretty excited even if all they get to do is open an empty game box…
Often with young children, it’s a question of how you play the game, as you’ll need to build in some complexity for your own mind that the rulebook of a toddler’s game will necessarily exclude. Perhaps you’ll play Floundering (pictured left) with your spouse, using the knowledge of your child’s colour preferences when choosing fish to give you the competitive edge. Or you’ll set yourself the challenge of trying to get exactly the same number of marbles as your daughter in a game of Kerplunk. Or maybe you’ll develop a physical or mechanical handicap to even the playing field, like we did for our house rules in Loopin Louie.
Whatever it is, you’ll need to prioritise your sanity if you want to get through gaming with your 2 or 3-year-old and you’d ideally want a list of the highest adult ratings of the games available for young children… That’s what I want, anyway.
Then again, some parents will be more focused on their child’s development and will want to know the best games for challenging their child’s age and stage.
Or they might be after a game like Spotty Dogs (see right) with high child enjoyment factor that the kids can play without them whilst they cook dinner. They may not care that it actually makes time stand still for playing adults.
Or maybe they need a game that will entertain their 10-year-old and their 3-year-old at the same time.
My point is, one of these days some bright spark needs to develop a system to satisfy all these different preferences and give parents a powerful reference resource to guide them in this minefield.
Well, today I am unilaterally declaring a national holiday for what will no doubt become known as Family Game Ratings Score Day from now on because that day has come…
Allow me to introduce you to… the Graph of Truth…
So, we’ve got age along the x-axis and rating on the y-axis, with the games listed including all those that I’ve reviewed on this site for young children up to now.
Each game rating has 4 components – child enjoyment (this varies with age), adult enjoyment, how it teaches the overarching principles of gaming (also varies with age) and other stuff (theme, components, cost, art/design and rulebook). The graph shows the total of those 4 areas for all the games covered so far, but just imagine the possibilities…
There is no game playable by a child aged 15 or younger that can’t be scored in this way…
If you want to take a look at the spreadsheet (and frankly, who wouldn’t?), then there’s a read-only spreadsheet available here where you can take a look, with different sheets for each age and all the data on the first sheet.
Not only can you see the total game rankings for each age, but also the rankings of the “child enjoyment”, “adult enjoyment”, “overarching principles” and “other” categories, with each age listed under a separate worksheet.
OK, so let me know your thoughts on this rating system in the comments? Has this already been done somewhere else?
Now all I need to do is review all the family games ever made… Shouldn’t take too long…
I wonder what was the last thing you named?
Your goldfish? Your new car? That ever-dependable paperclip on your desk?
I remember my sister had a long friendship with a spider Boris who lived in her car’s wing mirror…
Well, today we’ll be starting off a new series related to some of the joys and challenges of game design that I’ve come across during the development of The Animal Games and perhaps some of the joys and challenges of parenting interspersed.
So if you’re here for a review of a children’s board game then I apologise, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that Christmas haul before long…
Today though, let’s don our parenting sombrero AND our business bobble hat as we think about a taxing issue that’s unceremoniously invading my professional and personal life at the moment – namely naming children…
I remember that feeling of sheer horror 4 years ago when Verity first confronted me with a fresh copy of “40,0001 Best Baby Names” and announced “TC – we need to choose a name…”
I sat wide-eyed in disbelief as it gradually dawned on me that I had a 50% chunk of the responsibility for deciding what our child would be called. Their actual name… The one word that would be said more than any other in their life and would become a central part of their identity.
Well, Verity is due to have our third baby in a couple of months and so the clouds of doubt and despair are gathering once again and that baby on the book spine has started to eerily eyeball me from his vantage point on the bookshelf once again.
The problem is that there are so many questions you need to ask yourself when choosing a name for your child… Is it too common? Too weird? Does it sound good? What are the obvious (and not-obvious) abbreviations and nicknames? How does it fit with the surname? Will it be easy for them to spell? What does the name mean? What about the initials? What will our family think? Do we know any other children with that name? The list goes on and suddenly you feel like the list of names that are actually reasonable grows thin.
One name I really liked for a girl was ‘Ida’, but then we realised ‘Ida Clare’ was the start of a sentence… My wife was upset that I’ve ruined ‘Esme’ for her forever because whenever she mentioned it, I’d say “Esme favourite name” in a country accent… And she’s already trampled over my life long ambition of calling a son ‘Albert Ross Clare’…
And then there’s the fact that baby name books have become embroiled in a distasteful arms race as to how many names they can include in their book. I find myself imagining that moment in the writing of “40,0001 Best Baby Names” where Diane Stafford starts searching through her fridge trying to find something else to buck up the numbers…
And yet somewhere in amongst all that rubbish was the name of our first child. Like a tiny, elegant needle in a giant haystack of Moon-Units, Diogenes’ and Chubbys… And so we resolved that we had no choice but to hunt our name down by a mind-numbing process of dutifully reading every single name and compiling a running shortlist.
And somehow, after hours of grudging labour, we found the names for both of our boys.
We’ve not found out the gender again for this pregnancy, but if there was one temptation, it would be cutting all this pre-baby admin in half. I’m not sure I can face going through that whole book again.
And now for an update on the saga of naming my other child – a child that has had 2 names already, but is now in need of a third.
In a development that I’d term ‘a bit of a nightmare’, someone has registered a UK board game trademark for “The Animal Game” which is remarkably similar to the name of my design, “The Animal Games”. Now this trademark was registered after my design was finished and without any other indication that such a thing existed, which is frustrating. Being similar enough to cause confusion, this would put me in violation of copyright law if I were to go ahead and launch on Kickstarter with that name in 2017 and so (for the second time, after previous legal concerns over the use of the title “Animalympics”), I will have to choose a new name AGAIN. Bit of a nightmare, no?
At least in this case, I know what it is. I know its character, what it represents. It feels a bit like renaming your child on their 18th birthday. Now a good game name also needs to tick several boxes, just like a child’s name. It should convey a feel for the theme and capture the imagination of the audience. It should roll satisfyingly off the tongue and ideally lend itself to some graphic design trickery to bring in some thematic elements to the logo (see the “I” torch in the picture above). And then for any potential title candidate come some familiar questions…
Is it different enough? Or too out there? How would it be abbreviated? Would it be obvious how to spell it in search engines? What does it bring to mind? What about the initials? What will the playtesters think? Are there other games with a similar name? Has anyone registered a secret trademark…?
And I feel that familiar sense of crippling responsibility in finding a name that truly does it justice…
Well, such is my disillusionment with naming decisions, I’ll be looking for feedback from the gaming community (through Facebook board game groups, Twitter and BoardGameGeek) to try and establish which of the options for the game title stand up most strongly against this wave of questions and hopefully in that way I can spread the burden of responsibility over the shoulders of as many people as possible. This will be allied to a game giveaway competition to engender the motivation I am lacking so watch this space…
If it works, maybe we’ll be on to a winning strategy to choose a name for baby. Not sure how else we’ll be able to make the call between Bacon and Badger…
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever named? Do you have a child or game-naming horror story?
Feel free to post in the comments, or you can find me on Twitter on @TeeceBIG or you can send an email to TC@bigimaginationgames.com.
OK, it’s official. Big Imagination Games has wandered, scantily clad and wildly underprepared in to the unforgiving jungle of 4-dimensional photographs… Or video as they call it.
If you’re someone who likes planes, flat caps, underfunded building projects or if you have a particular hatred of chickens, this video review of Loopin Louie is definitely for you.
If not, then at least click play so it looks like you watched it…
Any comments, add them below…
And yes, I need a hair cut.
OK, so the Animal Games Kickstarter was officially cancelled way back in August – “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” (read ‘sympathetic crowd at the theatre’ rather than ‘petrified screaming child…’) and is now marinaded and roasting gently on the proverbial back burner where it will remain for another year or so.
And yet, the world has not stopped turning… Eli continues to churn out nappies so incredibly offensive that several passers-by have hammered on our door seeking shelter, convinced that the world is about to end… Ezra continues to correctly hone in on the logical inconsistencies in our evolving disciplinary strategies… And I will continue to propagate the flawed notion that the boys are in fact “sleeping better”…
So let’s move on, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get back to having a look at some games for young children!
Did it ever occur to you that some nursery rhymes are a little ridiculous…?
Scout: “Sire, sire! You must send help at once!”
Head of the King’s Guard: “What new tragedy darkens our door this day?”
Scout: “It’s Humpty Dumpty sire… He has suffered a great fall… His very life hangs in the balance…”
Head of the King’s Guard: “Send the Kings horses.”
Scout: “I will summon the knights immediately.”
Head of the King’s Guard: “No, just send the horses.”
Scout: “Err… Sire?”
Head of the King’s Guard: “Yeah, then send the King’s men along a bit later…”
Scout: “Errrrr… OK.”
Just imagine the devastation.
Well, today we’re looking at a game that takes one of the more dull but less ridiculous nursery rhymes – ten green bottles – and transforms it in to a counting game for young children all about recycling!
“Hang on, TC,” I hear you chirp, “are you saying this is a game with an educational benefit AND a theme encouraging environmental sustainability? What else could you want in a kids board game…?”
Well, let’s take a look and see.
What is Ten Green Bottles?
It’s a dull nursery rhyme, yes. Very clever…
But it’s also (thanks to giant UK publisher Orchard Toys) a game for 2-4 players, in which each player bids to be the one to recycle all of their bottles first and so win the highly coveted prize of …err… Greenest Gardener in the Village!
It’s advertised as suitable for ages 3 and up, taking 30 minutes to play.
First, the appropriate number of tokens, walls and bottles are counted out from the available components (including one of each numbered bottle and one of each numbered token for each player – a total of 20 in a 2-player game, 30 in a 3-player game etc). The dotted tokens are placed randomly in the middle, face down and each player lines up their 10 bottles in order on top of their wall. Or if you’re edgy like me, out of order…
Starting with the youngest player, each gardener chooses one token at a time, turning it over and counting the number of dots on the front. They then take the equivalent bottle from their wall and post it triumphantly through the welcoming jaws of the 3D bottle bank. Play proceeds clockwise and if the number of dots on the token does not match the number of one of that player’s remaining bottles, then that token is returned to the centre face down and play moves to the next player.
The first player to get rid of all their bottles is the winner!
What’s in the box?
There are 4 player walls (each split into 2 pieces), 40 green bottles, 40 tokens (each with 1-10 dots on), 1 triangular standing recycling bin and 1 rulebook.
What does Ezra reckon?
For all I’ve said in this blog about struggling to engage as an adult with some of the games published by Orchard Toys, they always do a brilliant job of making Ezra smile.
He has a great time playing Ten Green Bottles, although I think most of his enjoyment stems from one of the most basic human revelries – posting things through gaps.
There is something immensely satisfying about it.
My younger son Eli has recently written off 3 car tape/CD players by posting coins in to them when nobody’s looking. Even for me, slotting those parking tokens in to the machine on the way out of the car park can be in the running for the highlight of my day.
The game has enough to it to make him practice counting, which he fortunately enjoys anyway, but it all leads up to that cathartic postage moment.
There’s nothing overly new and exciting for him but he does enjoy it.
Ezra’s score – 17/25
Well, there’s no overstating the enjoyment to be found in posting cardboard bottles through a hole…
Well, actually, I think I actually just overstated it… And there’s not very much else to be stated. Counting dots was never supposed to be an enjoyable adult activity…
I think it’s become clear by now that Orchard Toys don’t make their games with parental engagement in mind and in one sense you have to give them credit for that as they do a wonderful job engaging young minds in gaming and getting kids away from screens and back to the real world. Young children genuinely enjoy their games and they don’t seem to mind that they all appear very similar in mechanics.
Perhaps it’s unfair to even have this “parental opinion” category for Orchard Toys given that they are not trying to entertain us?
Well… I’ll answer your question with another question…
If Darth Vader said to you – “You there, tell me what you think of my empire…?”, what would be your response?
a) “Well, Darth, given that you were never trying to be nice, I think you’ve done a sterling job!”
b) “Well, Darth, it may have been a slightly more enjoyable working environment if you hadn’t killed everyone who challenged you or brought you bad news…? Aa…aaah….aaaaah… my neck ….aaah… I can’t…”
Now that may be a bizarre illustration, but my point is that we shouldn’t excuse an undesirable feature in any product just because the company weren’t trying to make it desirable in that way. If Star Wars Monopoly deliberately avoided representing gender equally, then should we just roll over and accept it?
Personally, I am convinced that it’s possible to make games that engage parents and their young children at the same time and the more I navigate the vast oceans of Orchard Toys’ empire, the more I have come to realise that I long for deeper waters.
Daddy’s score – 4/25
Overarching Principles of Gaming
As discussed last time out, this is more of an educational development thing rather than a principal of gaming as such, so whilst some parents may be glad their kids are learning to count whilst playing, I don’t think it’s relevant to this category where we’re trying to prepare our progeny for that first big tabletop encounter where the gloves are well and truly off on their 18th birthday.
3. Practising visual memory
This is a new one, eh?
So when you choose a tile that’s not one of your remaining numbers, you need to try and remember which one it was so you don’t pick it again and inadvertently declare yourself a moron. Plus, when you’re playing with more than 2 players, you need to keep in your mind a mental map of where the numbers are that other players have turned over in case you need them in future.
This sort of visual memory is perhaps not used a huge amount in adult gaming these days, but sometimes this sort of thing could give you the edge – knowing all the cards an opponent could have in their hand for example relies on this sort of honed visual memory.
As far as gameplay goes, there aren’t really any other principles to grapple with here.
OPG – 7/25
The other stuff
Cost – 2/5
£10.38 off Amazon. Not cheap but not unreasonable. I got mine for £2 from a charity shop. #unleashthethriftmonster.
Art and design – 4/5
The art on the walls is nicely done, drawing a comment or 2 from the little ones. The bottles are well-designed and the dotted counters do their job just fine. Although the backs are a little uninspired.
Theme – 5/5
Having a theme about recycling is a huge plus for this game and unusually for a young children’s game it kind of makes sense! You can imagine the parents collecting up their bottles and putting them on the wall, daring their kids to be the one who got rid of their collections first.
In fact, I can actually see myself doing that in real life!
Rulebook – 3/5
Standard Orchard Toys rulebook.
Does the job of conveying the rules with a beautiful block of bulleted text…
Components – 4/5
Nice thick card for all the bits, although the box is too big as is often the case for these games. Ironically, unnecessarily large packaging does fly in the face of the apparent sustainable theme…
Total score – 46/100
This is a brilliantly-themed game which not only introduces a simple concept to encourage sustainable living but also helps children learn to count.
It won’t entertain you as an adult, but your young children will love it and it might just be worth it for the smile on their face… Then again you could just make up a silly word instead…
Current leaderboard of my review system:
Next time – maybe something German!
I hope you’ll allow me to take a short moment away from my passionate sense of injustice about the childishness of children’s games for a second. Because today I want to mention The Animal Games – a board game I’ve designed that’s due to launch on Kickstarter in 10 days on August 2nd.
When my wife first goaded me in to going through with trying to get this thing published I didn’t quite realise the amount of time and money that I was committing myself to spending.
From cutting out cards during quiet surgical night shifts, to staying up long in to the evening writing contracts for our artist, to editing graphic files and uploading them online to make prototypes, it turns out there is a LOT that goes in to making a game.
Fortunately, Jamey Stegmaier exists. He’s written a huge database of Kickstarter lessons that educate any would-be creator as to how they can build a successful project and get their game published. He was right when he said it would be hard work, but in my opinion it’s totally worth it.
To see an idea come to life like this and to see it gradually evolve over time and repeated playtesting is really rewarding. It’s a lot like having children. Only less vomit and more paper cuts.
Anyways, I’m hearing a definite cry of “that’s enough droning” through my interweb sixth sense, so here are the links to a couple of new independent video reviews for The Animal Games that explain the game nicely.
The first is a 2-minute review, with rules explanation and some quick thoughts. The second is an extended review, with positives and negatives of the game as it stands and some very positive feedback, as well as some fair feedback for improvement during the project.
Thanks to Ben for taking the time to do those reviews and for his kind words.
If you want to hear another review, check out this podcast by the Geek All Stars at 1 hour 15 mins
Here’s to the birthday of my third child on August 2nd – wish me luck with the labour!
Now you may think that I’ve inadvertently drifted away from this blog in the last 6 weeks. Or that maybe I’ve been busy working night shifts, holidaying in Portugal, or celebrating my son’s third birthday.
My prolonged absence from the interweb is in fact part of what I will christen a “meta-review”. I have carefully pre-prepared your emotional state for the upcoming game review (Spotty Dogs by Orchard Toys) by remaining unexpectedly distant for a while…
So what emotion did my absence provoke in you? Joy? Excitement? Resigned ambivalence? Or perhaps a crippling sense of emptiness?
Well, I was aiming for a specific emotion, so shall we get a wriggle on and find out if I managed it…
What is Spotty Dogs?
Spotty Dogs is a game for 2-4 players that’s box-recommended for ages 3-6 and published by UK behemoth Orchard Toys.
To play the game, you simply put out all 24 tiles dog-side-up on the table and the starting player spins the spinner. That player finds a dog with the equivalent number of spots on and adds it to their collection, turning it over to see how many biscuit bones they have won.
Play progresses clockwise and players take turns until all the tiles are claimed. If there are no dogs with a number of spots matching the number you spin, play passes to the next player.
Then at the end, players add up all their bone biscuits and the winner is the player with the most!
What’s in the box?
There are 24 dog tiles, one spinner and a rules sheet.
On one side of the tiles, there is a picture of a dog with between one and six spots and there are 4 tiles of each dog type. On the other side is a dog basket with between zero and three ‘biscuit bones’. There are six different dogs pictured and each has a set number of spots between one and six.
The spinner is split in to 6 areas, numbered (somewhat predictably) 1 to 6.
What’s Ezra’s chat?
He loves it!
I think there’s something magical for him about the ‘lottery effect’ of grabbing a tile and then dramatically unveiling how many bones he’s got. Whether it’s a zero or a three, he seems equally exhilarated just to have found out.
To quote Einstein:
“There is an innate exhilaration in the discovery of the unknown.” *
This sense of excitement at the revelation of his tiles is heightened by the feeling that by counting correctly, he’s earned his reward.
It’s like that emotion of finally crossing the finish line of the London Marathon and collecting your medal after months of training. Or when you take to the stage to collect your degree certificate at your graduation ceremony. Putting in all that work makes it way more satisfying.
The rules are really simple and it’s easy for to pick it up pretty quickly, so it’s a great game for him to play with other children his age.
Whilst it’s fun for Ezra, I’m not sure it has quite the depth needed for a six-year-old, but I’d certainly recommend it for children aged 3 and 4.
Ezra’s score – 20/25
What say you old man?
Well, as my dad used to say, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed…” Somehow that cuts deeper. “Why are you disappointed?” I hear you bellow… Well,
There are no decisions in this game.
Let me just repeat that:
There are no decisions in this game.
Who wants to play a game that is completely random? Does it even count as a game? Aristotle wouldn’t be a fan:
“Fortune is a friend best entertained amongst a larger party.” **
The only enjoyment I derive from this game comes from seeing my son get excited and seeing him grapple with counting. There is no other level of engagement for me here.
Not only that, but you have those infuriating last few minutes when you’re longing for someone to finally spin a two so they can take the last dog and we can all count up and get on with living our lives…
And it’s all-the-more upsetting because it would have been so easy to make this game so much more engaging for parents!
Here’s how they should have made it…
Imagine 25 tiles representing 5 different species of dog. There are 5 dogs of each species, each of which is a different colour (white, yellow, light brown, dark brown and black). Each dog also has between one and 5 spots on them. Every tile has between zero and four bones on the back.
The spinner still has six areas but one of them is a question mark and the other areas have a number and a dog species, but are coloured according to the 5 dog colours.
Suddenly we have a game with 3 different independent variants (and a 4th where you can choose whether to pick by colour, spot number or species), each of which has the capacity to be played by a thinking player who can use their memory to gain an advantage.
And the kids would still love it! If they’d made it like this, I have a feeling it would be threatening the top of the leaderboard.
As it is, though, it feels like watching someone spin a spinner… And then roll a 4-sided dice… And honestly, that is exactly what it is.
To quote Abraham Lincoln:
“That does not sound remotely enjoyable” ***
Well, I think I’d have to agree, Abe.
Daddy’s score – 3/25
Overarching principles of gaming
In spite of my anger at the oversights in the game’s design, it does bring something new to the table here that we haven’t yet seen in a game we’ve reviewed – counting.
Now it’s worth pointing out that we’re not just talking about the ability to count but also the skill of ensuring all spots are counted once and once only. An important skill, I’ll grant you.
But should this register towards its score for teaching the principles of gaming?
Do you need to be able to count to play adult board games? Well, yes. But you also need to be able to read, write and speak for most games…
I’d argue that this game teaches an educational or developmental milestone rather than a gaming-related skill.
Now that’s fine, if that’s what you want, but it won’t do anything to equip Ezra for his first epic Agricola showdown with me and his mum on his 18th birthday. He’s going to get battered by the way.
Yes, it teaches you to take turns, but once your little one can count spots consistently, they will learn no more from this game than from playing a game of hide and seek – which, I’m sure you’d find much more enjoyable.
OPG – 4/25
The other stuff
Cost – 5/5
At £6 new off Amazon UK, this is a cheap way to make your child smile.
Art and design – 3/5
The dogs all look exactly the same, with the same background & the art style is very simple. Having the dogs all look the same actually means that Ezra starts to recognise the dog representing a number and stops practising his counting, taking away from the game’s apparent purpose.
Theme – 1/5
Answers on a postcard here. So far, this is my best guess…
You are a big, scary, hungry dog in an educationally-aware canine crime syndicate. To intellectually challenge yourself, you and your friends decide to steal the breakfast of smaller dogs based on the result of a spinner for their number of spots…
Rulebook – 3/5
Nice simple rules. Although I’m pretty sure Ezra could make this look better by spending 5 minutes working on it in MS Word…
Components – 5/5
Nice chunky tiles that will age really well and a spinner that’s really good at spinning (when placed on a flat surface).
The other stuff – 17/25
Total score – 44/100
If you want a game for 2 or more preschoolers to play together, or if you’re desperate for your child to learn to count whilst having fun, this game is perfect.
Just do all you can to avoid actually playing the game yourself…
Next time – 10 green bottles (Orchard Toys)
I was going for “disappointment” in case you care… What was the last game that disappointed you…?
*, **, *** – All quotes entirely fabricated
It’s fair to say that I’ve had my ups and downs with dice over the years.
I’ll never forget the day we first connected. I was just a little lad and there was one small chunk of chocolate left up for grabs in the old ‘roll-a-six-and-put-on-winter-gear-before-using-a-knife-and-fork-to-carve-out-chocolate’ game, as it’s colloquially known.
“Come on Jiminy sixes” I whispered to the tiny red cube, just as my friend was lifting the chocolate-laden fork to his mouth. You can guess what happened next…
It was so exciting in those early days – discovering the joy of a ‘double’, the frustration of a 1 mitigated by the ever-present possibility of rolling a timely six. Snakes and ladders, the ladybird game, Monopoly and Cluedo as I aged. We even played an infamous “dice game” in my teens in which we decided where to go and what to do based on the roll of the dice… It was all so exciting, so unknown, so dangerous… It made sitting silently in a car in a quiet suburbian cul-de-sac feel like a Hillary-esque adventure.
But as we grew older, dice and I drifted apart. Somehow the thrill of pure luck that had brought us together became the very thing that stood between us, my eyes constantly wandering away from Pall Mall and Miss Scarlet towards something new, something better… I yearned for strategy, for meaning. I wanted to win by skill and declare my glory from the rooftops.
It started after a night with Catan and then all-too-soon came Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Dominion, before the all-consuming glory of Agricola. Suddenly I was a strategy addict, roaming the streets searching for the next hit of strategic decisionmaking to spend my cash on. What place is there for luck in such a meritocratic utopia?
The age of dice was dead.
Or so I thought.
Perhaps there was another way. What if you could change the dice – tame the dice – make them serve you? What if you could build an army of dice to carry out your heinous schemes? What if luck was not in fact an enemy, but an old friend. A friend to be persuaded…
And suddenly our relationship was born again! Now dice became a challenge – an Everest of randomness to be conquered by a map made up of ordered thinking and an understanding of probability.
Well, let’s see how we feel about our cubed companions after this week’s roll-fest – Floundering by Rocket Toys.
What is Floundering?
Floundering is a game for 2-6 players, recommended as for ages 4 and above. Players take it in turns to roll two dice with the aim of angling the most complete Flounders. Before you can get started on a particular pescine prize, you have to roll a 1, which gets you the head. Then you have to roll a 2, then a 3 and so on until the Flounder is complete.
But it gets a little more complex… You can start more than one fish at a time, so every time you roll a 1 you can start a new Flounder if you want to. If there are no more heads left in the middle, then you get to take one from the player with the largest number of complete fish, along with any ‘2’ or ‘3’ body pieces that player may already have attached to it. Cue evil laughter.
If there is a 4-fin or above on the Flounder, though, it’s unstealable. For now…
If you roll a 6 and a 1 together, you get to take a complete Flounder from the middle (if there’s any left) or, even better, you get to snatch it from the bulging net of the leading player. More evil laughter.
You can also add the 2 dice rolled to get the number you want. And if you roll a double, you get to roll again (as well as using the dice actions if you can).
And that’s basically it! You play until all the fish are captured and then you cast them all safely back in to the water with a pious sense of satisfaction.
What’s in the box?
Well, I made the foolish error of throwing away the templates from which the fish pieces are punched, so you can’t see them in these photos. But basically, there are 2 dice, a rules sheet and 12 fish of different colours made of thin punchboard.
What says the boy?
He’s in the early phase of his journey with dice and I’m not going to ruin it for him. He should enjoy it while he can before he comes to the realisation that winning games based on luck alone ultimately brings only emptiness.
He loves rolling a 1 and getting to choose the colour of his fish. He likes to try his hand at taking more than he should. He even seems to enjoy watching me roll, which is a little surprising, although it has been said that I have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ when it comes to rolling dice.
But most of all, he loves stealing things. Granted, not the best sign of what his future may hold, but it is undeniably the best part of the game. Rolling a 6 and a 1 and catching whole Flounders from right under my nose really gets him going and I can see why.
There are times when playing the game that his attention drifts off to something else in the room – maybe a younger brother in need of a gentle push, or a sofa cushion in need of a quick drum. But once he has dealt with whatever emergency comes up, he’s back in the game. It’s particularly hard to hold his attention at the beginning (when waiting for a 1) and at the end (when waiting for someone to finish their last Flounder by rolling a 6 or 2 numbers that sum to 6).
When we play with 2 of us, I’ve taken the liberty of decreasing the number of Flounders to 5 or 6 as it makes for a quicker game and the game is better for it.
There are quite a lot of individual rules to explain and I don’t think he yet understands them all completely. But the good thing about having slightly more complex rules is that you don’t necessarily have to use them all. If adding’s a bit much, then don’t add (and the game will take a little longer). Or if it’s too complicated to say “you have to take from the middle until they’ve run out” then just let him take from wherever he fancies. This doesn’t come naturally to me as I’m a bit of a stickler for rulebooks, but if he enjoys it more with different rules, why not try it?
I think mostly his enjoyment is fuelled by the giant dangling carrot of potential mischief – the chance to steal from his family. And what a wonderful mischief is on offer – a mischief that’s within the law and without consequence, a mischief that brings glory for him and shame for the rest, a mischief worthy of his truly mischievous nature.
All in all, he likes to play, especially when he catches a complete Flounder, but he’s not always totally engaged and he doesn’t get as excited as when the Raven’s bearing down on the orchard.
Ezra’s score – 16/25
What says the man?
I like it.
If it were just a case of rolling all the numbers in order, then it would be a big fat thumbs down from me. “You stay here playing in the rock pools Ezra – I’m going after meatier fish…” But there’s more meat on a Flounder than it may appear at first.
Is there really any strategy on offer here? Well, yes – there are occasional decisions to make.
Imagine you have a board as below and you roll a 3 and a 1 :
What do you do? Do you add them to make a 4 and put that blessed safety fin on top of your 3-piece?
Or do you start a new Flounder and also add a 3-piece to your 2-piece?
Well, I think it depends on the stage of the game. If there’s still a load of fish in the middle, you’re not really at risk of losing a head to the other players any time soon and it seems sensible to start a new fish and make the most of your 2 dice actions by adding a 3rd piece to your smaller Flounder.
But if all the heads are gone from the middle, it’s squeaky-bum-time and I’d stick that 4-fin on top before someone rolls a 1 and whisks it away.
If it’s somewhere in between those 2 scenarios, it becomes an interesting decision.
Now this obviously doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen. The vast majority of your goes are completely routine – you can’t do anything and you pass the dice on, or you can just put one piece on a single Flounder. But the dice move around fast enough and the decisions come along occasionally so that you stay vaguely interested.
There are a few other glimpses of strategy if you look closely or get creative. For example, I’ve changed one of the rules so that players can choose which player to take the complete Flounder from when you roll a 6 and a 1. This adds an element of assessing other players’ chances and allows for the scenario where the player with the most complete Flounders is not felt to be ‘in the lead’.
I’d recommend playing with at least one other adult or older child at the table (ideally more) and seeing it as a competition between the oldies. Who can manage the randomness of the dice and the smaller children’s moves to claim victory? Who can seduce Lady Luck to climb aboard their humble fishing vessel?
When you play like this, it’s genuinely vaguely enjoyable as an adult and given the amount of luck involved & the fact that the oldies all steal off each other, the little kids still have a good chance of winning which is great.
With 2 players, it’s not much fun for grown ups and you spend most of your time trying to stop the toddler cheating, willing them to roll that 6 that will finally end the game so you can go and do something else.
Daddy’s score – 16/25 (when playing with 2+ thinking players)*
*or 7/25 when played as grown up v a toddler
Overarching principles of gaming
OK, so what have we got here…
1) Turn-taking – standard.
2) Dice-rolling – standard.
3) Addition – ooh, that’s new!
I like this about the game as it serves 2 distinct functions. It works firstly as an educational tool for the little ones, as they come to terms with the idea of adding one and one together, or adding 1 and 5 to make 6. But it also works as a strategic option for the bigger kids among us as we can decide (as above) how to use our lower-roll combinations.
I don’t think we should be afraid of Maths in kids games – most adult games involve some element of Maths, whether it’s using your actions efficiently, calculating probabilities or more explicit Maths, it’s good to expose them early (and obviously it comes in useful in other areas of life too).
You could even add subtraction to the equation if you fancied, or multiplication (2 x 3 being the only useful candidate here).
If you’re unreasonably geeky like me, you could use addition, subtraction and multiplication alongside modular arithmetic! So if you rolled a 5 and a 2, you could add them to make a 1 (7 is 1 (mod 6)), a 3 (5 – 2 = 3) or a 4 (2 x 5 = 10, which is 4 (mod 6)). Maybe you could add a certain number of multiply, add and subtract tokens to limit your options and you get one token back whenever you roll a double?
“Or maybe you should stop being a loser and carry on with the review.”
Aah, yes. Sorry…
4) Decisions on your turn
Whilst the complexity of some of the decisions above will go over the heads of smaller children, it does nonetheless teach them about the idea of choosing what to do on your turn. Having said that, you only have one option most of the time and there are other games that will teach this theme better, for example, First Orchard.
5) Dynamics of player interaction
Board games are an interesting mini-ecosystem, where your interactions with other players are crucial in determining how you enjoy the game and often how the game turns out.
I remember one game of Monopoly (I am not a fan of Monopoly as you’ll learn if you keep reading this blog) where my wife deliberately kept one of each of the street colours as a response to a perceived injustice early in the game. Although she still denies this to this day. Sometimes this type of player interaction is what makes a game memorable and noteworthy.
The degree of interplay with other fisherman as you thieve their hard-earned produce is a nice introduction to the concept of the independent mini-community that is a social board game.
OPG – 18/25
The other stuff
Cost – 5/5
Only costs £9.99 from Amazon. Good deal.
Art and design – 4/5
The box is colourful and inriguing, with a helpful example of a flounder in the frame. The Flounders are different bright colours and look great when swimming together on the table.
Theme – 4/5
It is a nice idea and works better than most themes for games at this age. We’re all fisherman heading out to earn our living and the pickings are so slim that sometimes we need to steal them off each other to feed our starving family, like a water-borne Robin Hood.
If you look a bit closer, though, the theme doesn’t totally work, with the idea of angling anything less than a full fish becoming increasingly morbid the more you think about it. The image of a fishing line lifting a dismembered head from the lake is more Jaws than Free Willy…
Rulebook – 3/5
The rules sheet is small and lacking in any diagrams. Nowhere does it tell you to keep the outer punchboard frames, which is frustrating because in every other game ever, these frames are useless, apart from sometimes to prop up the plastic box insert.
Components – 3/5
The Flounders look great, but they are made of very thin punchboard and several bits of ours are already bent out of shape or in some other way damaged, probably because there is a little 18-month-old destroyer roaming around the house.
Speaking of which, the 2 dice are very small and not the sort of size where I’d be happy to leave the little one playing with them without supervision. This is a shame and I’d be willing to pay £11 for a copy with big baby-safe dice.
The other stuff – 19/25
Total score – 69/100 (with 2+ thinking players)
Or 60/100 with parent vs toddler
An unexpectedly clever game that teaches several useful concepts for budding gamers including early addition and can actually be mildly entertaining for grown ups!
Next time – not sure yet. Maybe Carcassonne?!
How do you feel about luck and dice in games? How many days stubble do you think I’ve got in the above photos? Leave your comments below. If you get the number of days right, I’ll send you a free sample.