Tag Archives: games

Coming Soon: Five Tribes from Days of Wonder


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


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!


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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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.



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!


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

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All About: Fortune Tellers and Cootie Catchers

Want to hear a joke about paper? Never mind, it’s tearable.

This is Not a Cootie Catcher

This is Not a Cootie Catcher

Paper is believed to have been invented in China in the second century AD. By the sixth century, paper and paper-folding had made the journey to Japan, where the art of folding paper into three-dimensional objects became known as origami.

Incredible, It Is

Incredible, It Is

Origami has been developed into an amazing art form over the centuries. Origami masters can create mind-boggling works from nothing more than a sheet or two of paper and a little time. Given a little practice, though, most of us can learn some simple origami — and most of us have done just that, without realizing it.  In the course of a school career, who hasn’t folded a cootie catcher?

A cootie catcher, or fortune teller, is a simple origami folding exercise that creates a moveable structure. The cootie-catcher-as-game is thought to have evolved from the origami salt cellar (prior to the invention of the salt shaker, salt was served at table in a small dish known as a cellar). Here’s a video demonstrating the entire sequence for folding a 4-compartment salt cellar:

As you can see in the last part of the video, the construction is sometimes also known as “heaven and hell”, because of the two alternate movements of the points (up/down, left/right). The words “Heaven” and “Hell” are written on

Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell

opposite interior diamonds, or indicated with different colours of paper (red for hell, blue for heaven). The fortune teller is then closed tightly. The player must then indicate to the one manipulating the fortune teller how to open it, revealing the reward (or punishment!) The game in this form is thought to have reached Europe sometime in the 17th century.

It’s only a small step from this to the North American cootie catcher. The same basic folding technique is used, usually with a square of plain white paper.

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

Courtesy: The Daring Book for Girls

The fun of cootie catchers lies, of course, in the silliness of the “fortunes” to be revealed under each flap. The more outlandish and ridiculous the fortune, the better!

Here’s a Valentine’s Day cootie catcher for some-buggy special! Print it off and cut out to make four valentines.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Courtesy: toysinthedryer.com

Courtesy: toysinthedryer.com

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Love Letter: Deliver De Letter, De Sooner De Better

Here at Scalliwag Toys, we have a weekly Games Night, during which customers can come in and play the featured game, choose from one of our open or demo games, or bring in something from home that they’d like to play.  Next Friday night, given that it will be Valentine’s Day, we’ll be playing a couple of games that, in some fashion, have love as one of their themes.

The Princess

The Princess

One of the games scheduled for 14 February’s Games Night is Love Letter, from publisher Alderac Entertainment Group.  Love Letter is a brilliant little card game for 2 to 4, in which players compete to deliver their love letter into the hands of the Princess, while keeping those of the other players away.

This whole idea sounded very strange to me at first — was this a story-telling game like Once Upon a Time? Were we going to role-play (a game mechanic I’m not overly fond of), each trying to be a more persuasive suitor than the other?

Thankfully, no. Love Letter is a game of bluffing and deduction, played over a series of rounds (how many rounds is kind of up to you). The game mechanic is simplicity itself: draw a card, play a card, do what it says. The highest card or the last card remaining at the end of the round gains a victory point. Simple, no?

The Guard

The Guard

Well, yes. And no. The deck consists of only 16 cards, one of which is discarded face down after the shuffle (so that even proficient card counters can never be quite sure who holds what). The point value, name, distribution, and effect of each card is as follows:

8 – Princess (1): Lose if discarded

7 – Countess (1): Discard if caught with King or Prince

6 – King (1): Trade hands with an opponent

5 – Prince (2): One player discards his or her hand and draws again

4 – Handmaid (2): Protection until one’s next turn

3 – Baron (2): Compare hands with another player; lower hand is out of the round

2 – Priest (2): Look at an opponent’s hand

1 – Guard (5): Guess an opponent’s hand. A successful guess means the opponent is out of the round.

It seems clear to me that Love Letter is a game whose appeal lies largely in the bluffing and deduction required to play. Luck plays a large part — there are so few cards, and each round lasts at most until the draw pile is exhausted — but it’s in what some reviewers have termed its “above-the-table” mechanic that Love Letter shines. As in the Dixit family of games, knowing your opponents can be an invaluable aid to successful bluffing!

Each round takes only a very few minutes to play. AEG suggests that a 2-player game is won when a player accumulates 7 tokens; a 3-player, after 5 tokens; and a 4-player after 4 tokens are won by one player.

Highly recommended. Great little filler game with a surprising amount of crafty fun.

Love Letter, 2-4 players, ages 10+.  CAD$12.99. In stock now.

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All About … The Ouija Board

The Ouija board is one of those things, like s’mores and ghost stories, now chiefly associated with pre-teen sleepovers and cottage weekends. It’s sold in every toy and games section, right beside Monopoly, Sorry, and other standard family amusements. There was a time not so long ago, however, when it was not considered a children’s game, but something much more serious.


Divination Homework at Hogwarts

People seem always to have been interested in foretelling the future, or in receiving guidance about difficult decisions, and in so doing they naturally looked to their gods and spirits for help (after all, who else would know the answers?) Divination was the name given to the practice of receiving messages from the gods or spirits.  Using tools such as pendulums, the entrails of animals (I know, ewwww, right?), or cards such as the Tarot, the practitioner would attempt to communicate with the spirit world.

In the latter half of the 19th century, there was a vogue for spiritualism of all kinds in the kitchens and parlours of the middle and upper classes across Europe and North America. In large cities and small towns alike, people gathered in dimly-lit rooms for seances, where, with the aid of so-called “sensitives” or mediums, they tried eagerly to communicate with the dead.  Sometimes the medium would call upon a “spirit guide”, whose persona was usually that of a shaman or other exotic holy man, and who would “possess” her (most mediums seemed to be women) and speak through her.

The Ouija board evolved from a different type of spiritualism called automatic or spirit writing.  The attraction of spirit writing seemed to be that it did not require the services of a spirit medium; amateur participants could ask their own questions, and receive answers, in private and without the need for any intermediary.  The craze for automatic writing really took off with the inventionn of a device called a planchette.

1860_Cottrell_Cornhill_Boston2A planchette is a heart- or teardrop-shaped device, made originally of wood (hence the name, which is French for “little plank”), with two short wheeled legs at the round end and a hole in which to mount a pencil at the other.  The seance participants would place the planchette over a piece of paper, then place their fingertips lightly upon its surface.


But What Does It Mean?

If this looks familiar, it’s because the planchette is the immediate ancestor of the Ouija board. Automatic writing, as provided by the planchette’s pencil, was often difficult to decipher and an exercise in frustration. In 1890, American lawyer Elijah Bond filed for a patent on a new and improved version of the planchette, in which the pencil was replaced by a circular glass lens, and a board containing the alphabet A to Z, the numbers 0 to 9, and the words “Yes”, “No”, and “Goodbye” was included. The combination of the so-called “talking board” and the planchette were named “Ouija” by a man named William Fuld, who took over production in 1901. The company’s claim was that the name had been disclosed to it by the talking board itself, and that it was an Ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck”.  The currently-accepted explanation is that the name was formed by hammering together the words for “yes” in French and German: “oui” and “ja” (no one really knows why).

The patents and production facilities were sold to Parker Brothers in 1966, which (although now owned by Hasbro Inc.) continues to manufacture Ouija boards to the present day.


It’s believed that the planchette’s motion around the board is provided by what is known as an ideomotor response, in which the participants’ fingertips resting upon the planchette’s surface exercise tiny, involuntary movements  — movements so subtle that the participants are not themselves aware of making them (similar to the phenomenon of dowsing for water using a forked stick).


Who Do You Think is Moving That Planchette?

Finally — why does the Ouija board contain the word “Goodbye”? It has long been a staple of spiritualist belief that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, having been lifted during a seance, must be let fall at the end of the session — lest the spirits find themselves with a permanent pathway from their world to ours. Ouija board practitioners are cautioned to always “say goodbye to the spirits” by moving consciously moving the planchette to the word printed on the board, thus closing the connection.


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Super sized checkers replacement.

A brilliant, low-cost fix for a common problem. Next time we’re asked at the store about replacement checkers for these oversize sets, I’ll know what to suggest!

Around the World in Eighty Games


I would like say thank you to the reader who sent this photo. When some of the checkers for this oversized checker board went missing, they replaced them with painted apple sauce containers. A very creative idea.

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