Brandon Kempf: Three Games – Three Family Games

I have a lot of games. A lot of games that are on my shelves, or on my table being played, that I have told myself that I want to review at some point. For one reason or another, this doesn’t always happen. My goal here on The Opinionated Gamers is that I want to get about one review out per week, but I’d like to write about more games. So I’m taking a page out of Patrick Brennan’s playbook, and we’re going to start writing about games in threes, in snapshot form. This should be a good way for readers to get to know me and my gaming tastes a bit better, and also another way for me to talk about games that I maybe don’t really want to dedicate two thousand words to. Welcome to Three Games.

Blokus

Blokus is a tile placement game where you are trying to place your plastic polyomino pieces out in a way that will allow you to get rid of as many of them that you can in the enclosed space. Trick is, there are others doing the same thing in that enclosed 20×20 block area and when you place a tile, you have to connect corner to corner with a piece of your color. You have twenty-one pieces, from one block size to five square size. These plastic tiles are not all shaped like squares, they are of varying different shapes, aka polyominoes.

This is probably the oldest new to me game that we have discovered in a long while, and it’s odd because we have had Blokus Jr laying around for a good while, but it was never really played as an actual game, it was merely a teaching tool. Blokus on the other hand was played quite a bit over the past couple months and everyone in the family has enjoyed its ease of play. It certainly is a fun time figuring out how to block your opponents from being able to continue placing their polyominoes. I’m not a big fan of playing this at three player where everyone takes turn as the fourth color on the board, but at two or four players this is just a wonderful family weight abstract. It does what all really good family games do, it gives a solid game with minimal rules overhead, so you can get in and play as quick as possible.  

Qwirkle

Chris Wray did a wonderful job covering this one not too terribly long ago with his re-look at the SDJ winners. Qwirkle definitely feels like the love-child of Scrabble only for those who don’t enjoy word games. It’s dead simple in explanation. You have 108 tiles, and each of those tiles has one of six shapes, in one of six colors. When placing a block, or blocks, you can never have the same shape of the same color in a row. So you either have to have all different shapes of the same color, or all the same shapes of different colors for a placement to be legal. You score points based on how many tiles are in the rows you have added blocks to, yes, you can score for multiple rows. If you manage to place the sixth tile of a shape or color in a row, that’s a Qwirkle and you will score double the points. Play until someone runs out of tiles and the highest score wins.

Would Qwirkle win the Spiel des Jahres if it came out this year? That’s something I often wonder about. No matter how much I love this game, and I do love it, it can sometimes feel like one of those dated older titles, with the hand scoring and the constant drawing from a bag of tiles, turns where you do nothing but flush your hand of tiles, but it is an absolutely a wonderful family weight game that my family has just recently re-discovered. That’s the joy of having children nearly six years apart, I get to go back to these style games now. Qwirkle is probably my wife’s most competitive game, there is something about seeing everything laid out and growing and doing the math trying to find the absolute best placement for your score, which can lead to a bit of slower play, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. Those blocky tiles are also wonderful to hold and to play with, and it gives the game that table presence that draws folks in to see what you are doing, and at a quick glance, most can even kind of understand what is going on without you having said a word. An absolute gem of a game.

Zombie Kidz Evolution

The newest game in our family game rotation. I never played the original Zombie Kidz so I have no way of comparing the two other than reading, but I feel like Zombie Kidz Evolution takes that original game, and ramps it up over time. The game is dead simple, you win if you lock all the gates on the board, there are four of them. You lose if you ever have to add a zombie to the board and you don’t have any in reserve. Your turn consists of rolling a die and adding a zombie to the space noted, possibly moving your character to eliminate up to two zombies, you don’t have to move, you can stay right where you are and eliminate or do nothing. If you are on a gate space with one other player you high five them and place a lock on the gate. Gameplay goes like this until you either win, or lose, which on average is about five to ten minutes.

So, how do you make a game like this hold up over multiple plays? You create a brilliant trophy hunting system like you see in video games. After each game you get to add a sticker to the progress track, it’s a brain, if you are victorious and complete one of the many available achievements, you get to add a trophy sticker as well on the progress track. As your stickers reach or pass certain points, you open an envelope and BOOM, the game changes just a little bit. I won’t add any spoilers, but they definitely help AND hinder you at the same time, it’s really wonderfully done. The achievements are interesting and keep you coming back, everything from playing a game one week after your first play, to winning a game with no zombies on the board. New achievements unlock as you progress as well. I won’t spoil everything as there is a review of this coming from The Opinionated Gamers, but I will spoil the fact that I have been absolutely enjoying our time with this little game, and has my youngest daughter.

Three family games that my family really enjoys playing. Somehow these have managed to keep the interest of the adults in the house, myself and my wife, and also keep my two daughters actively wanting to play. Along with that though, these are wonderful games to play with just about anyone, of any gaming level, from “I’ve never seen a board game other than Sorry!” to “My favorite game is Agricola”. There are a lot of other family games out there that we enjoy, from Bazaar, to Takenoko or The Magic Labyrinth and what they all manage to do is get folks invested in them with low rules overhead, and that makes it easier for everyone to just sit back and just enjoy the games and the company.

Until next time, when I write about Three Games I Don’t Particularly Enjoy.

Thoughts from The Opinionated Gamers:

Matt C.: Zombie Kids Evolution was lightweight enough to convince my wife to play with our two boys and myself.  In the initial few plays it went fast enough that she was willing to give it another few go-rounds for that afternoon.  My boys have since played it several more times and it continues to pop up occasionally. I think the game has a great weight and playing time to fit with my middle child and the “evolution” (legacy?) side of the game helps to keep my eldest interest.  It isn’t deep by any means but I still enjoy playing it with them as an adult. I don’t think it would be drawing us back for more if it weren’t for the whole idea of the “challenges” to overcome.

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