Sushi Go!: A Neat Little Pick-and-Pass Game

sushi go box front

Sushi Go! from Gamewright Games

From US publisher Gamewright comes Sushi Go!, a neat little card-drafting and set collecting game for 2 to 5 players aged 8 and up. The clever mechanics and quick play mean that the game is enjoyable for adults, too.

There are three rounds of play, with each round beginning with a hand of cards dealt randomly to each player. Hand size depends upon the number of players. 

The 108 cards in Sushi Go! depict various kinds of sushi, with some strategically-important Wasabi, Chopsticks, and Pudding cards thrown in for good measure. The value of or action associated with each card is clearly stated on the bottom margin. The design and sturdiness of the cards is well up to the standard that one would expect from Gamewright. The game is packaged in a neat tin box, with a formed plastic insert that makes for good card storage.

The rules are easy to learn. On each turn, players choose one card from their hands and place it face-down on the table before them. The cards are then simultaneously turned over, and the remainder of each player’s hand is then passed to the player on the left. Everyone picks up their new, smaller, hands, and play begins again. 

This game mechanic is known as card drafting, and introduces a level of strategy to what is otherwise a simple game: when choosing what card to play from one’s hand, a player might also consider which card(s) he will be giving away at the end of the turn. In other words, because each player controls the hand that will be presented to his neighbour, he is in a position to thwart his neighbour’s strategy by using a card himself (whether he really needs it or not). It can make for some nasty blocking!

There are 20 purely strategic cards in the 108-card deck: 10 Pudding cards, 6 Wasabi, and 4 Chopsticks. Wasabi cards increase the value of Nigiri cards played on them, tripling their value. Chopsticks cards serve as a sort of placeholder, allowing a player to play two cards from his hand on that turn. The Chopsticks card is placed back into the hand, to be passed to the next player on the next turn. 

Although face-up cards are scored at the end of each round and removed from play, the Pudding cards remain on the table, unscored, until the end of the third round. At that time, the player with the most Pudding cards receives a six-point bonus, while the player with the least suffers a six-point penalty.

 

Sushi Go! was designed by Phil Walker-Harding, and initially published by Adventureland Games.

2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 20 minutes. $14.99

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Coming Soon: Five Tribes from Days of Wonder

five-tribes-box

U.S. games publisher Days of Wonder has just announced a new game from designer Bruno Cathala, whose game Mr. Jack Pocket was reviewed here.

Game Contents

Game Contents

Five Tribes will be an Arabian Nights-inspired game of worker placement on a 30-tile board. Here’s a quote from the Days of Wonder blog post:

Designed by Bruno Cathala, Five Tribes builds on a long tradition of German-style games that feature wooden meeples. Here, in a unique twist on the now-standard “worker placement” genre, the game begins with the meeples already in place – and players must cleverly maneuver them over the villages, markets, oasis and sacred places tiles that make up Naqala.  How, when, and where you dis-place these Five Tribes of Assassins, Elders, Builders, Merchants, and Viziers determine your victory or failure.

As befitting a Days of Wonder game, the rules are straightforward and easy to learn. But… devising a winning strategy will take a more calculated approach than our standard fare. You need to carefully consider what moves can score you well and put your opponents at a disadvantage. You need to weigh many different pathways to victory, including the summoning of powerful Djinns that may help your cause as you attempt to control this legendary Sultanate.

Palm Trees! Camels!

Palm Trees! Camels!

The components look beautiful and the game’s premise is intriguing. Five Tribes is scheduled to launch at GenCon Indy in August, and to be available for us to order for September. The tentative suggested retail is US$60, so it is likely to be somewhat higher here, depending upon the Canadian/U.S. dollar exchange rate at the launch.  We’ll keep you posted as we hear more from the publisher.

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All About … Active Games

ny-boys-playing

It may be difficult for today’s children to believe, but there was a time, not so very long ago, when there were no video games (nor consoles to play them on!), no iPads, no computers — really, no electronics to speak of in the home at all — and children played inside only when they were forced to by bad weather or illness. (This period is generally referred to by parents and older people as “the Good Old Days.”)  Most days of the year, children were outside with their friends, playing variants of games that had been played by their parents, their grandparents, and even their great-grandparents in their turn.

Here are a few active games that were commonly played in Canadian schoolyards from the 1930s to the 1970s. Let’s hope that a few survive to this day!

Stanza

This appears to be a descendant of the game known in late nineteenth-century New England as “Call-Ball.”  This game was mentioned in Games and Songs of American Children (1883) as having derived from a game played in Austria earlier in the nineteenth century. 

This version of the game — sort of dodgeball meets handball — was played in Montreal in the 1930s.   A group of children stands beside a brick wall; one bounces a small ball off the wall and calls out the name of one of the other children, who must then run and retrieve the ball. The rest of the children scatter and run about until the catcher calls “Stanza,” whereupon they must freeze in place. The catcher then tries to throw the ball and hit one of the other children.  If he is successful in hitting another player, then that player becomes the catcher.

British Bulldog

Players stand at one end of the play area with one or more “bulldogs” in the centre. Players try to run from one end of the area to the other without being tagged by the bulldogs. Any players tagged remain as additional bulldogs. The last remaining runner wins the game.

Red Rover

Players divide into two lines, which stand facing one another some ten metres apart. Each team links hands (or elbows), thus forming a chain. One team “calls out” a player — let’s call him Jimmy — on the opposing side:

“Red Rover, Red Rover,

We call Jimmy over!”

The player called out must try to run through the opposing team’s chain. If he is successful, he may choose one of the “broken links” to come back and form part of his team. If not, (i.e. if the chain does not break) the runner must form part of that chain.

When one team is reduced to one player, he must try to break through the chain. If he does, he may choose another link and increase his team. If not, the game ends.

Kick the Can

Kick the Can

Kick the Can

I always imagined that “Kick the Can” just entailed a bunch of kids kicking an empty tin can down a dusty country road, but it is, in fact, an organized game with specific rules.

The game is one of the kinds sometimes known as “wide games”, and is a mixture of tag and capture-the-flag; an empty can (probably chosen for its acoustic qualities) is placed in the centre of the play area.  One player is chosen to be “it”, and the rest scatter and hide while “it” counts to some predetermined number, whereupon he tries to find and tag the other players. Any player tagged must “go to jail,” in a spot close to the can. Any player who is not in jail and who can get to the can and kick it may release one player from jail — and each trip back to the empty can and subsequent kick releases another player.

If “it” tags all the players then the game is over, and a new player becomes “it” for the next round.

Some, if not all, of these games have been banned from school playgrounds due to fears of injury to children during rough play. Not all the fears are overblown; in 2013, an eight-year-old British girl died from injuries sustained in a London school playground after being accidentally pushed to the ground by a boy playing British Bulldog.

Despite this tragic accident, however, I can’t help feeling that banning high-energy games from schools has been a factor in producing a generation of overweight, fidgety, and unfit kids — and that we might do well to bring them back, under adequate supervision and with appropriate safeguards. What do you think?

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The Game’s Afoot, Watson! Mr. Jack Pocket Reviewed

Mr. Jack Pocket Contents

Mr. Jack Pocket Contents

When you read a detective story, have you already figured out whodunnit by page 49? Are you one step ahead of the Scotland Yard CID inspectors, the Swedish police, or the Parisian Préfecture whenever you watch Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS? In that case, you should give consideration to Mr. Jack Pocket from Swiss games publisher Hurrican.

Mr. Jack Pocket is, as its name suggests, a pocket edition of the original Mr. Jack. There are substantial differences between the two games in their mechanics, but I won’t get into a side-by-side comparison here. Suffice to say that the pocket game is just that: a version cleverly made miniature, designed for two players, and which can be played in about 15 minutes.

In Mr. Jack Pocket, two players face off: one is Mr. Jack, and the other represents the combined forces of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and their dog Toby. It’s difficult for me to really get behind the idea of a pug as a super-sleuth police dog, but what do I know? The object of the game is asymmetrical: Mr. Jack wishes to escape from the detective forces, while they wish to pin him down and identify him.

Only Three Suspects Left!

Only Three Suspects Left!

The game board is composed of nine double-sided cardboard tiles, each of which shows a configuration of empty streets on one side, and the same configuration plus a character on the other. The nine tiles are randomly placed, character side up, in a three-by-three pattern. The round counters representing Holmes, Watson, and Toby are placed beside the top-left, top-right, and middle-bottom tile, respectively. The player representing Jack draws an Alibi card, notes which of the nine characters’ identities he will be assuming as his disguise, and places it face-down before him.  

Mr. Jack Pocket is a line-of-sight game, so the detectives are trying to “see” suspects by creating a line-of-sight, while Mr. Jack is trying to evade their gaze. If the detectives can see a suspect (because no walls block their view), Mr. Jack must tell them whether he can be seen.  If he can be seen, then any tiles with suspect side up that are not in the line of sight of one of the detectives are turned to their empty side.

If Mr. Jack tells the investigators that he cannot be seen, however, any area tiles with the suspect side up that are in the line of sight of any detective are turned over to their empty side.

One of the four Action tokens, showing both sides

One of the four Action tokens, showing both sides

It is the four double-sided Action tokens that drive the game. These are tossed randomly at the start of each game to determine which actions will be available during the turns.  On odd-numbered turns, the Investigator starts, choosing one of the tokens and performing its action; Mr. Jack then chooses two of the remaining three actions and carries them out. The Investigator then performs the remaining action.  On even-numbered turns, the four tokens are first turned over, and then Mr. Jack chooses his first action, followed by the Investigator choosing two actions, with Mr. Jack playing the final remaining action.

The game ends when:  either only one suspect remains on the board (since it must be Mr. Jack!), so the investigators have been victorious; or when Mr. Jack has managed to achieve at least six hourglasses, indicating that too much time has passed for the investigators to be successful (and so Mr. Jack escapes once more!)

This is a surprisingly deep and interesting little strategic puzzle with lots of replayability.  Its small footprint makes Mr. Jack Pocket a terrific game to tuck into a carry-on bag for travel.  My rating: a solid 8.5 out of 10.

Mr. Jack Pocket

Designers: Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc

Publisher: Hurrican Editions SA

Players: 2

Ages: 14+

Duration of play: approximately 15 minutes

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“This Hunt is Doomed!”: Playing Nanuk from Steve Jackson Games

Nanuk, from Steve Jackson Games

Nanuk, from Steve Jackson Games

A couple of Fridays ago, at the store’s weekly games night, we played Nanuk from Steve Jackson Games.  I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Nanuk before that, having completely overlooked it in the SJ Games catalogue. Nanuk was designed by Brett Myers and Mark Goadrich, and illustrated by Alex Fernandez. (Goadrich is an associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Hendrix College in Arkansas, while Myers is a game designer from Madison, Wisconsin.)

The word Inukshuk means "to act in the capacity of a human."

The word Inukshuk means “to act in the capacity of a human.”

Nanuk is a push-your-luck game with an intriguing twist.  Players are Inuit hunters, and the object of the game is to have a successful hunt.  Each player is dealt a hand of cards depicting seals, deer, birds, fish, and inukshuks.  Players “boast” about the spoils of their upcoming hunt, with each player forced either to up the ante by betting that he will bag more game than the preceding player, or by increasing the duration of the hunt.  The bidding stops when a player calls the bluff by saying that the hunt is doomed to fail.  The player who calls doom becomes the Doom Leader, and the player whose bid was highest at the moment that doom was called becomes the Hunt Leader. At this point, players use a token to simultaneously reveal whether they will be part of the hunt or whether they prefer to remain on the sidelines (believing it to be doomed);  if they believe that the hunt will fail, they must contribute one card (face-down) which is kept before them until the hunt is resolved.

Nanuk Cards

Nanuk Cards (without deer)

The members of the Hunt then contribute cards, face down, to a pool that will represent the animals collected.  The Hunt Leader mixes the cards up, then reveals them one by one. Cards that match the target animal of the Hunt count towards the required total, whatever it is. Non-matching animals have no effect on the total.  Inukshuk cards are used to protect the hunt against Nanuk the Polar Bear.

After the cards are tallied, then one card is taken from the draw pile for each day of the hunt. Any card that bears a small polar bear symbol in the corner represents Nanuk, and if such a card is drawn during this phase the hunt will fail unless the pool of contributed cards contains an Inukshuk.  So, if a hunt requires six deer in five days in order to be successful, the players who join the hunt will first pool their chosen cards, to be revealed by the Hunt Leader. Five cards are then drawn, one for each day of the hunt, whether or not the six deer requirement has already been met in the pooled cards.

Counters used in Nanuk

Counters used in Nanuk

If the Hunt is a success (i.e. Nanuk either did not turn up or there were sufficient Inukshuks in the pool to deal with him), then the members of the Hunt share the spoils, including the face-down cards anted by those players who did not take part.  Cards are shared out with each hunter in turn choosing a card from the pool, until each has received an equal number of cards. Any extras are discarded. The shared-out cards are placed face-up before each player, grouped by kind.  Likewise, if a Hunt fails, the Doomsayers will share out the pooled cards, the drawn cards, and the anted cards in the same way.

Scoring for the game is strategic. Players are trying to collect pairs and sets, with each pair being worth one point and each set of four different animals being worth three. Inukshuks are wild cards.

I really liked this game. It has an interesting combination of bluffing and betting, with the added dimension of being able to join a hunt with the express intention of sabotaging the effort (and thus undermining the game play of the Hunt Leader).  This is a clever game that will stand up to many gaming sessions.  Many thanks to Jared Budd and Jack Schwarz, our local Men in Black from Steve Jackson Games, who brought this game along and taught it (and I’m pretty sure that one of them won each of the games we played, too!)

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All About … Mancala

Mancala, as it is commonly known in North America, is a game derived from a whole family of games described as “count-and-capture” games.  The word mancala is thought to have come from the Arabic word naqala, meaning “changed” or “relocated”.  The earliest known version of such a count-and-capture game is represented by a board found in what had been a 4th-century Roman fortress in eastern Egypt, while other, more fragmentary, versions have been dated to the 6th and 7th century AD.

The variant of Mancala most often played in North America was originally known as Kalah, and was introduced around 1940 by a man named William Julius Champion. Champion was born in Colorado in 1905 and attended Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. According to Champion family legend, Willie was a colourful character, who put himself through university (no mean feat even in 1905) by working odd jobs, including a summer job stint with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and is said to have walked from his home in Michigan to New Haven, a distance of about 1,370 km.

A Folding Mancala Board

A Folding Mancala Board

Champion conceived and marketed Kalah as an educational game, and there is no doubt that it does reinforce basic skills of counting and strategy.  At first glance, the game appears simple.  Forty-eight pebbles are distributed equally amongst twelve pits in the board. Each player “owns” the six pits directly in front of him, as well as the larger “store” to his right.  On his turn, a player takes all the stones from one of the pits on his side of the board, and distributes them anti-clockwise around the board (including dropping one into his own store). If he manages to drop the last stone from his handful into his store, then he may play once more.  If he drops his last stone into a previously empty pit on his own side, then he may take all the stones (if any) from the opponent’s pit directly opposite, and add them to his own store.  A player never drops a stone into his opponent’s store, but rather skips over it.

Ethiopian Pitted Stone Board

Ethiopian Pitted Stone Board

And that’s it. A surprising amount of strategy is required — there is no luck involved whatsoever. Mancala is an extremely enjoyable game that can be played over and over by children and adults alike.  You don’t even really need a board to play any of the Mancala family of games:  it has been suggested that, since this version can easily be played by scraping twelve holes into the ground and finding 48 beads, seeds, nuts, or stones, the count-and-capture game may be far, far older than 1,500 years — but these early versions would leave no archaeological traces.

mancala1

 

Finally, here’s a super-low-cost version you can try at home.  You can use any small objects for the counters: buttons, beads, coins, marbles, or candies. (Bear in mind that small objects do pose a safety hazard for children under the age of four.)

Got Eggs?

Got Eggs?

And now you know. So get cracking!

Mancala

2 players, ages 5+, 10 minutes. In stock ($14.99).

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If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Some Secret Practice Time

Small World

Small World

I’ve been playing a lot of Small World from publisher Days of Wonder recently. Here at the store, customers expect us to be able to give a reasonably concise and lucid explanation of any particular game, including optimum number of players, age and experience levels, and duration of game. We also need to know, however, what the game is really like.  How does it work? Does it play like any other board or card games (how many straight roll-and-move games do you need, after all?)

One of the best ways to learn something, of course, is through practice. And one of the best ways to get that practice time in (I’m not aiming for Malcolm Gladwell’s 10 000 hours, just familiarity) is to make it fun. Any eight-year-old video-game Jedi Master could tell you that. But you can’t always get people together at the drop of a hat to play a game — at your convenience — just so that you can get your skills up. What to do?

Enter the app. Board game companies have profited hugely, both monetarily and in terms of brand recognition, by creating or licensing versions of their products for use on portable devices, on computers, and on Steam (more on that in a moment). I learned to play Days of Wonder’s Ticket to Ride by buying and using the iOS app on my phone.  It gave me the ability to get a game going (with robot opponents) anywhere, anytime. I could make lots of dumb mistakes and there was no one to see (or hoot with laughter). And, because playing against bots tends to produce speedy games (robots don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about their next move), these games also gave me the chance to try out many different strategies.

Small World was another game we stocked that — to be honest — I really didn’t understand very well. The back of the box was uncommunicative, telling me only that the game was “fun” and “zany”, and that players “vie for control of a board … simply too small to accommodate them all”. Not much help there. The game mechanic is hinted at: “players must know when to push their over-extended civilization into decline to ride a new one to victory!”  Huh?  I read a bunch of reviews (not much help).  I watched the relevant episode of TableTop (you can watch it here: Wil Wheaton and friends appeared to be having a good time, but I still didn’t really understand what was going on). I resigned myself to memorizing some sort of canned spiel about Small World in order to wow customers.

Small World Splash Screen

Small World Splash Screen

Then, two things happened almost at once. We finally received a play copy of the original Small World board game (we have to buy them, and somehow we just hadn’t got round to ordering one till then), and I purchased an online copy at Steam for myself. What is Steam, you ask? Here’s the answer, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Steam is a digital distributiondigital rights managementmultiplayer, and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute games and related media online, from small independent developers to larger software houses.” What this means is that these games are all totally legitimate: sold (or given — some games are available at no cost) by their developers to the users, who then own a digital copy that they are able to play on any device that is supported by the game’s software, and that can connect to the Steam server. 

Turn One of New Game

Turn One of New Game

Here’s a screen shot of the very first turn of a new game of Small World on Steam. I am Player One and have just placed my Underworld Humans onto the map, “conquering” four regions and obtaining one bonus point, for a grand total of five points that turn (awful). I confidently expect to get my clock cleaned by my robot opponents:  the game consists of some 14 different races (Humans, Trolls, Wizards, and so on), each of whom have particular strengths and weaknesses; and 20 Special Powers (from Alchemist to Wealthy). Races and Powers are randomly combined, so that there are always six sets available to the the players. With so many different combinations, only lots of practice will help a player identify the best available pairings. So far, my choices have not been the greatest. (Note: I finished fourth, out of four, in the game above. Sigh.)

So, do electronic games mean the death of old-fashioned board games? I think not. If anything, I believe that electronic versions of board games encourage people to get out there and play, to practice and to learn. Electronic versions let us while away some down time, while simultaneously honing our skills on our favourite games.

So now I’m using Steam to learn how to play Magic: the Gathering. And according to Mr. Gladwell, I only have 9996 hours of practice to go until I’m a champ!

 

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