Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
When I'm trying to decide if a particular game is a good game to play with young kids, there are a few things I'm looking for:
1) Simple rules - If it's too complex, then they'll just start making up their own rules.
2) Players affect outcome - I'm not too big on games where everything you do in your turn is determined by a card, die, or spinner. Kids are smarter than that! Give them some choices! Allow them to evaluate between good plays and bad plays. Let them build skills (like flicking ants into pants) that they can improve at if they want to.
3) Is actually a GAME! - A lot of games out there have fancy components, but end up being more of a toy than a game (I remember building MouseTrap a bunch when I was little, but can't remember actually playing a single game of it)
4) Is fun - This one is hard to figure out just by looking at the game. I think the only way you can tell if it's fun is if you actually try it out.
Anyhow, if you look down the game section at Target or Toys R Us, there are a bunch of games marketed towards kids that don't fit my 'good kid game' criteria. There are a few that I like (Guess Who, Don't Break the Ice, Zingo), but not a whole lot. However, if you go to online boardgame sellers, you have a few more options. Here is one that has been a hit with my kids.
Max is a simple boardgame that has a cat, Max, chasing small animals around a board. The players control the animals. Their job is to get them around the board to their homes before Max catches them. Max moves around the board a bit faster than the animals, but there are shortcuts on the path to help them out, as well as special cat treats that will force Max to go back to the beginning. Now, the interesting thing is that this is a cooperative game. There are only 3 animals (a bird, a squirrel, and a mouse), but several players can play. On your turn, you roll 2 dice. You move Max 1 space for each black dot that comes up. You also move any animal 1 space for every green dot that comes up. This is different than the majority of kids games. In most games, one kid would be the mouse and another kid would be the bird. In Max, any player can move any animal on their turn. And they're all working together to get all of them home safely.
The cooperative aspect is a really nice feature. When I play the game with my kids, I'm not pitted against them. Instead, we're working together towards a common goal (this is a nice change of pace when you have competitive siblings playing together).
The game also provides for some decision making. Which animal should I move? Should I use one of the limited cat treat now or save them for later?
I introduced this to my 3 year old a little while ago, and he loves it. When we finish a game, he immediately wants to play another. Now I love playing with my kids. But sometimes, they'll ask me to play something with them which is a lot of fun for them but not very interesting for me. Which is why I get so happy when LilKat2 asks me for a game of Max. We both have a great time playing it together.
This game does have one downside though. It is not a very well made game. The board is very basic and doesn't have very interesting artwork. The pieces are just thin cardboard punchouts. I think that I would like to go to a craft store and buy little wooden figures for the different animals in the game and use those instead. That would be a significant improvement.
But you know what? Even with the cheap pieces, my kids have had a great time with this game. At $10 it seems a little expensive for what you get. But with how much fun we've had playing it, I think we've more than got our money's worth.
Monday, March 17, 2008
A little while ago, I wrote a little about my current favorite game, Race for the Galaxy. But it's such a good game, I thought that it deserved a bit more attention. There are many other reviews available for this game, so I won't bother to go over what other people have already said. But what I will do is try to figure out why this game is so appealing to me.
Back in college, some of my friends introduced me to a card game. They called it 'Big'. I have no idea why it was called that or if that was even the real name for the game. All I know is that we played it a lot. I remember one time when me and a couple of friends were driving up to the mountains to do some snowboarding. My buddy was driving we ended up having some car problems (if I remember right, someone cut him off and he did a 180 and skidded into the snowbank on the other side. My other friend who was in the passenger seat lost his beef jerky. Not the throwing up kind of lost, it just ended up on the floor somewhere). We wound up waiting around in a Carl's Jr. playing Big for about 5 hours.
Why did we like this game? Well, it was a pretty simple game. You took turns discarding cards in sets of increasing rank. Whoever got rid of all their cards first was the winner. Whoever got rid of all their cards last was the loser and had to shuffle the cards for the next game. One of the interesting parts of the game was that you could put down Poker hands when you discarded. So part of the fun was creating unstoppable combos that would allow you to control the game. Another part was figuring out how you could play the weak cards in your hand while still remaining in control. Probably the most fun part was the race to finish 2nd to last to avoid the humiliation of shuffling.
A lot of the other reviews compare Race to boardgames like Puerto Rico (which I've never played). But the replayability of Race for the Galaxy reminds me of Big. Here's what I mean:
1) It's a card game. That means that it's very fast to set up. There's no board, no wooden pieces. Just cards and point chips.
2) The game plays quickly. Mrs. BigKat and I can finish a game in just over half an hour. Which means that if you're stuck in a Carl's Jr. for 5 hours, that's 10 games of Race!
3) There are a lot of interesting combos available for you to figure out. Your hand is kind of like a puzzle. You need to figure out how to use the cards to create the most points for yourself.
But that's about where the similarities end. Race is much more complex and interesting than your normal card game. Not only do you need to figure out how to use the cards in your hand, you also need to be able to figure out what kind of cards you'll need to be successful. You also have to figure out the best way to be able to actually obtain and play those cards. And if the cards that you're getting aren't working with your initial strategy, you have to be flexible enough to try going in a different direction. AND you have to do all this faster than your opponents! Because it's a RACE! And one of the best parts is that it is a fantastic 2 player game. Not too many good card games can say that.
When I first heard of this game, I thought it sounded boring. I didn't bother reading about it too much. Like I said, people compared it to San Juan and Puerto Rico, 2 other games that I thought sounded boring and didn't want to play. And I didn't really care for the space theme all that much. Not anything too exciting about settling planets (it would be different if there was a Death Star that could blow up planets). But I kept reading about how people absolutely loved this game. So I decided to read through the rules to see what I thought. It sounded interesting, but the big trick was figuring out if it was something that Mrs. BigKat would like. In the past, our preferred games have been on the lighter side. Race definitely has a bit more 'meat' to it. It took her a couple of games to get the rules down (the different phases and the icons on the cards were a little confusing), but now, she not only likes it, she's getting pretty good at it! Last night, she clobbered me 48-40 (and it could've been worse, but she made a mistake at the end).
I'm going to be getting a new batch of games in May sometime. But I think that in the long run, Race for the Galaxy will get more play than any of those games. The combination of the quick setup, fast game play, diverse strategies, card combinations, and complex decisions make it the perfect game for our limited leisure time.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Now the whole idea that my son just traded me a Mike Vick for an Akili Smith was quite funny to me. And I decided that I should break down the trade to see who got the better end of the deal:
1) Card Quality
Mike Vick: Shiny silver card, almost like a hologram. But a boring pose, just him holding a ball.
Akili Smith: Glossy black card. Picture is of him going back to throw.
Advantage: Akili Smith. The shiny silver is cool, but doesn't make up for the boring picture.
2) Draft Position
Mike Vick: #1
Akili Smith: #3
Advantage: Mike Vick
3) Trade Value
Mike Vick: Traded for an All Pro running back, a Pro Bowl quarterback, and whatever Tim Dwight is.
Akili Smith: Mike Ditka offered basically a whole draft in trade for him.
Advantage: Akili Smith. But that's just because Ditka is crazy.
4) College Achievements
Mike Vick: Led his team to the national championship game as a freshman. Although his team lost, he singlehandedly made the whole Florida St. team look silly trying to catch him.
Akili Smith: Had good stats in his senior year that made people think he would be good.
Advantage: Mike Vick
5) Pro Football Career:
Mike Vick: 3 Pro Bowls, won a big game over the Packers in Green Bay in the 2002 playoffs. Got a bazillion dollar contract. Got in trouble for making obscene gestures at fans.
Akili Smith: Did poorly in Cincinnati, was released. Released by Green Bay. Tried out with Tampa Bay who sent him to NFL Europe. Did bad there and was cut. Tried playing in the Canadian Football League. Did poorly and was released.
Advantage: Mike Vick
6) What are they doing now
Mike Vick: Got in trouble for torturing dogs. In jail.
Akili Smith: Not in jail.
Advantage: Akili Smith
Well, it looks like it's a tie 3-3. But I'll give Akili Smith the tiebreaker for not being in jail. So LilKat1 comes out slightly ahead in the deal. Good trade by LilKat1.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Every year, I try to create a family movie that I can send out to the people we know. It's a bunch of video clips with some music in the background that lets people know what we've been up to. This year, I'm mostly done, I've got about 5 minutes of video left to put together.
But I'm stuck. I thought I would be done by now, but several things have come up that have delayed my progress:
1) Biking: We've had a lot of nice weather recently. We've been taking advantage of it by going on family bike rides. Sometimes, the boys and I will ride around the neighborhood a few times. Other times, we'll take the whole family and go down to the park and ride the bridge over the river. It's been great fun, and it's hard to stay inside when the sun's shining. LilKat2 has been having an especially good time bike riding. When he was 2, he got a small 12" bike for his birthday. Now he's approaching 4 and it's clear that his bike is a bit too small. When we go on our rides, his legs are pedaling furiously, but he just can't keep up. We bought him a 16" bike that we were going to give him for his birthday, but we decided to give it to him early so that he could be able to keep up with his big brother. Now he flies around everywhere and he loves it. It's a little harder to get on and off the bigger bike, but he's pretty good at it (although, last night he almost got hit by a car pulling out of a flag lot. Oh man, that was toooo scary. Praise God for taking care of LilKat2).
Now combine this with the time change, and it means that a lot of our time has been taking up riding bikes.
2) Sunday School: As I mentioned here, I've been spending a bit more time preparing for my Sunday School classes. This will usually eat up an evening. It's been going great and I definitely think it's worth the extra effort. But it just means that there's one less evening to do other stuff.
Oh, here's one great piece of Sunday School news. I have a new volunteer in my class. I've worked with her before, and she's great. She does a great job with the kids and wants to take part in planning the class. It'll be nice to be a part of a Sunday School team again, so that I don't have to be so much of a one man show.
3) Race for the Galaxy: What's that? You don't know what Race for the Galaxy is? Well, you don't know what you're missing! It's only my new favorite game of all time! This is great! It's a card game, so it sets up fast. It plays quickly so you can always fit it in the evening. And it plays great with 2 players (it supports 2-4), which is good because it's usually just me and Mrs. BigKat.
Now this game is a bit more complex than most of our other games. It has a bunch of different cards with a bunch of different icons on them. There are several actions that you can take, and many different strategies for winning. But it only took a couple of games for me and Mrs. BigKat to get the basic rules down.
In Race for the Galaxy, you're trying to get points by either settling new planets, creating technological developments, or producing and consuming goods. It sounds complicated, but the cool thing is that all of these things are represented by your cards. To settle a world, you play a card with the world you want on it. To create a development, you play a card with the development on it. To produce a good, you put a card on the world that is producing a good. To sell the good, you discard your goods and take points. So that part is pretty simple. The interesting part comes when you start trying to figure out what combinations of cards will work the best for you. There are 95 different cards so you have a lot of options. But you only have so many cards in your hands. The more powerful cards have a higher cost. And you know what you use to 'buy' the cards in order to play them? Your other cards! So if you have a hand of a bunch of cards that you like, you have to discard some of them to play the card that you want.
And there are many ways to get points. You could produce and sell goods. You could build up your military strength and conquer worlds. You can get cards through exploration or trade and use them to settle worlds or get developments. Which mean that there are a lot of different ways to win.
You also have to be aware of what the other players are doing. Keep in mind that this is a Race! I'm not going to go into the rules too much, but one big part of the game is taking advantage of the other players actions, so that you can build your system faster than they can build theirs.
I love this game. When we play games in the evening lately, this is always my game of choice. We're both still learning how to play the game well. I understand some of the strategies, but am not real good at actually putting them together in a game yet. But this learning process has been a lot of fun.
And I will pretty much always choose playing this game over working on the computer.
4) Spring: Spring is here. Which means...yard work! There are a bunch of things that I want to do to fix up our yard. Last year, I decided to get rid of all of our grass. I'm almost done, and I hope to finish that this spring. But that means I have to put something else where the grass is. We're going to have a little area where our table and chairs will go, along with a raised bed for some vegetables. I think it'll be nice when it's done. And I won't have to mow any more!
6) Game Room: My office used to be in part of our bedroom. Now we're making that area into a room where I can store and play my boardgames. But I decided that if I'm going to do that, I should probably go through all of my old stuff, organize the good stuff, and get rid of the junk. And there's a lot of junk! Old hard drives, all sorts of cables, little toys that people have given me throughout the years (I think I'm tossing a good half a dozen Pez dispensers), old maps that I used to keep in my car before the days where you looked up where to go on the internet. So this will take a while, but when it's done, I'll have a place where I can set some of my longer playing games up. That way, if we start a game like War of the Ring (big huge Lord of the Rings game), we can leave it set up and play it over a few days, rather than have to try and cram it in all at once and end up being zombies the next day from lack of sleep.
7) Taxes: I haven't done my taxes yet. This always takes a little while.
So what once was looking like a February release date for our movie is now looking like April. But at least we're not doing sports this spring. That would be too crazy!
Monday, March 10, 2008
I don't know what Battle Backpacks is, but I imagine that it's not something that a birthday present would want to experience. Good call by LilKat1.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Many of the kids in LilKat1's class collect Pokemon and Yugioh cards. He wanted some too, so that he could have his own collection. He started out with a few cards that some friends gave him. I went to go buy him some more, but then found out how ridiculously expensive they are. Instead, I went to ebay and sought out auctions that sold only the common (cheap) cards and not the rare (expensive cards). It worked pretty good. I got a nice stack of 150 cards for about $10. It was nice because I was able to use the cards as rewards, and they didn't cost too much. Been a good listener for your mom today? Here's a Pokemon card. Get ready for school by yourself without wasting time? Here's a Yugioh card.
But you know what the problem was? I don't really like Pokemon or Yugioh. Now, I don't have anything against LilKat1 collecting the cards, just to collect the cards. He likes the pictures and likes that he and his friends can show them to each other. But as a boardgamer and someone who is thrifty (cheap) by nature, I just really don't like Collectable Card Games.
Well, for LilKat1's birthday, I decided to try something new. I knew that he wanted more Pokemon cards. Instead, I got him some basketball cards. I loved collecting basketball and football cards when I was a boy. Basketball cards were a bit better than football cards because there was a better chance that you actually knew the person that was on the card. But I still loved them both. I still remember getting an Ahmad Rashad card and being so impressed with him because it was one of my only cards that said 'All Pro' on it (Wow, he must really be good!). I also had a Jack Lambert card that was very cool. Back then, pretty much having a card for any member of the Steelers defense was pretty cool.
Anyhow, I got LilKat1 just a $1 pack of basketball cards to start him out. And you know what? It worked! He loved them. He got a Brandon Roy card (which is cool because he lives near us). He also got a Kevin Durant rookie card (which I thought was cool, but he didn't care for very much). But he also got his favorite card...Mehmet Okur (not sure why it's his favorite, but it is).
Since I knew he liked the sports cards, I decided to get some more that I could use for rewards later on. I went to Target and looked for some cheaper sets. But everything was at least $10. Then I finally found a couple of sets (1 basketball, 1 football) that were $4 a piece with 75 cards in them. Not too bad! I grabbed them both and brought them home.
When I opened them up, I found out why they were so cheap. They were a bunch of old cards! They had maybe one or two new cards in them, but the rest were all old cards. But you know what? It was actually a really great thing. Let me give you a few reasons why...
From the football cards:
Barry Word...Pepper Johnson...Jesse Tuggle...Lionel Manuel...Gary Anderson (the RB, not the kicker)...Mark Clayton...Mel Gray...Mosi Tatupu...Tony Eason...Tom Rathman...Eric Dickerson and Curt Warner (on the same card!)...Richard Dent...Marcus Allen...Albert Lewis...Michael Irvin...Brent Jones...Ernest Givens...Jumbo Elliot...Nick Lowry...Wes Chandler...Jim Kelly...Pat Swilling...Elvis Grbac...Rich Camarillo...
From the basketball cards:
Sedale Threatt...James Worthy...Derrick McKey...Horace Grant blocking Kevin Johnson in the NBA finals...Mookie Blaylock...Cliff Robinson with the Blazers...Stanley Roberts...Kevin Willis...Nate McMillan...Craig Ehlo...Terry Dehere...Dan Majerle...Olden Polynice...Eddie Johnson...Michael Adams...Dominique...a young Sam Cassell...John Paxson...YINKA DARE!...Sarunas Marciulionis (I actually cheered out lout when I saw this card)...Jason Kidd, in college, with a fade!...Rex Chapman...Steve Smith...Kenny Anderson...Isaiah Rider...Vin Baker...Walt Williams...Karl Malone...Grant Hill with the Pistons (and healthy!)...Mugsy Bogues...SAM BOWIE!...Dale Ellis...Adam Keefe...Scottie Pippen...BJ Armstrong...and my favorite, Avery Johnson!
All cards that no one would buy now, but that I thought were fantastic. Some of these are guys that I watched when I was a boy. A lot of them were guys that me and my friends watch through high school and college. I love it that when I give one of these cards to LilKat1, I'll be able to share my memories of them with him at the same time.
Sure there were a few clunkers in the decks. The football pack had several 'rookie' cards of guys that I don't believe ever made the league (the cards are just pictures of them in training camp with no pads. One guy even had his name in tape on his helmet). But even the clunkers can be kind of fun. After all, I did get a really fancy looking Akili Smith card!
LilKat1 still likes his Pokemon cards (he actually likes the a lot more than the Yugioh ones now). But he really likes it that we can both have fun looking at our sports cards together. I don't know, card collecting may be a little bit silly. But LilKat1 enjoys it. And apparently I do too.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
I don't like coffee. I really can't understand why anyone would choose to drink coffee when there are so many other good beverages out there. A little while ago, I wanted to see what it was about coffee that people liked so much. I have a Thursday morning Bible study that meets at a coffee shop, so one time, I decided to order myself a small cup of coffee. Oh man, was that horrible. It was like I drank a hot cup of burnt with a heaping spoonful of bitter mixed in. One of the guys that was there drinks coffee every day. I asked him why he drank it, and he said it was because he liked having a warm beverage in the morning. He didn't really like the taste, which is why he has to put sugar and cream in it. He's masking the bad taste of the coffee. Which is very puzzling to me. Why not start with a liquid that tastes good? Then you wouldn't have to cover up the bad taste. I guess it would make a little bit of sense if it was just something that a few people did. But almost everyone drinks coffee! Why do so many people drink this horrible beverage every day? And pay money for it?
Well, you know who else likes coffee? Mrs. BigKat. She drinks coffee every day. It started out when she was in college. Her friends would go to a coffee shop, so she would go with them. She didn't drink coffee and didn't know what to get, so she would get herself mochas. And to this day, that is her primary drink of choice. But again, the idea is to put good tasting stuff (milk and chocolate) on top of the coffee to get rid of the yucky coffee taste. Last year, I got her several coffee related items. I got her a burr grinder, a french press pot, and an espresso machine. Me being me, I had to do a lot of research on the items before I purchased them. And boy, did I learn a lot. I went to CoffeeGeek.com to do mose of my research. And I found out that there are people that are CRAZY about coffee. There are people that will spend a thousand dollars on coffee related items in order to get the perfect cup. If you ask them what grinder to get, some of them will tell you that you need to get such-and-such model that starts at $400 and even then you may end up wanting to upgrade soon. Some of them order beans from all over the world and roast them at home so they will be as fresh as possible. Now for someone to be that crazy about coffee, I couldn't imagine that they were drinking the same horrible liquid that I drank at the coffee shop. There had to be something else to it.
I started helping Mrs. BigKat make her espresso drinks. I followed the advice given on CoffeeGeek to help me out. And every time I made a shot for Mrs. BigKat, I'd make one for myself to try out. Now, our setup is not the most expensive setup in the world (but it was by no means cheap either). So the results are not as consistent as you might get with better quality machines. But with some practice, I was able to start getting rid of some of the bad flavors, so that some actually interesting flavors came through (although, there's still a bit of sourness that I can't seem to overcome. My feeling is that it has something to do with the water temperature).
Well, recently Mrs. BigKat has found a local place that roasts their own coffee and delivers it to your house. So now she gets these interesting fresh roasted coffees to try out. She's really been enjoying her espresso machine, but I told her that she should try making it in her press pot. That way it might be easier to experience the flavor of the beans because some of the off-flavors that she's been getting from the espresso machine wouldn't be there. It took her a while, but last night, she finally did it. She made a cup for herself and had enough left over to make half a cup for me.
Wow! Now that was a good beverage! No burnt tastes. No bitter tastes. No sour tastes. No yucky tastes at all! It tasted like the nice smell that coffee puts off, mixed with some other complex, interesting flavors. I had no desire to add anything that would tone down its flavor at all. I'm starting to understand why all the people on CoffeeGeek love their coffee so much. I'm looking forward to having another cup this evening.
But my original question still remains, just modified a bit. Why would anyone pay to drink yucky tasting coffee when it's possible to make really good tasting coffee?
Monday, March 3, 2008
We recently celebrated LilKat1's birthday. One of the presents that he got was a little tiny skateboard. When I say tiny, I mean like the size of a Hot Wheel tiny. And it comes with little tiny parts. It has tiny wheels, tiny risers, and a tiny screwdriver/socket wrench that you can use to take off all of the tiny parts. Now holding these tiny parts on are these extra tiny nuts and bolts. These are super, super tiny. So tiny, that if a few of them dropped on your sandwich and you ate them, you probably wouldn't notice.
Well, we were all eating a special birthday dinner together. LilKat1 finished early, so he was sitting at the table playing with his new toy. He was using the tiny socket wrench to take the tiny wheels off of his tiny skateboard. Suddenly, we heard an 'uh-oh'. The 'uh-oh' had come from LilKat1 which meant that there were probably some tiny skateboard parts on the floor. It took us a couple of seconds, but we found them and I put the parts back on the skateboard for him. I decided that it was probably not a good idea for LilKat1 to handle the tiny pieces by himself. So I told him, "I don't want you to lose any of these pieces, so no more taking apart your skateboard without my supervision."
LilKat1 cocked his head to one side and and stared at me for a second. Then he shook his head and said "Dad...you don't have supervision."
It took me a second, but then I realized that he was right. I can't see through walls, burn things with my eyes, or read a newspaper from a mile away. I have to admit that I, in fact, do not have Super Vision.
My-Friend-Who-Lies was over and I think we had a good 5 minutes of I-need-to-sit-on-the-floor-because-I'm-laughing-too-hard laughing. Even for the rest of the night, every time I thought of it, I started giggling.