Tag Archives: Scrabble

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.

Boardgames in the News: What’s all this about a Hasbro-Mattel Merger?

In what is the latest of a long line of merger and acquisitions stories, it seems that the really big boys are now getting in on the act:  according to a report by Bloomberg, late last year, Hasbro initiated talks with Mattel for what would become the worlds largest toy company. This is not the first time a merger has been proposed; twenty years ago, Mattel attempted to buy Hasbro for $5.2 billion, but Hasbro resisted the deal with what Mattel described as a “scorched earth” campaign.  In the end, Mattel withdrew the offer citing an “intolerable climate” created by its competitor’s use of the media and politicians to fight the proposed takeover. Since then, there has been a lot of water under the bridge and representatives for Hasbro and Mattel have declined to comment, so we are left to speculate as to why the subject of a possible merger has arisen once more.

Hasbro & Mattel
– Image by boardGOATS with components from wikipedia.org

Both Hasbro and Mattel are currently valued at approximately $10 billion with an annual revenue in the region of $5 billion.  Hasbro owns brands as divers as Furby, My Little Pony, Playdoh and Nerf, but is perhaps best known amongst gamers for titles like Monopoly, Cluedo, Connect 4, Cranium, Battleship and Jenga.  Mattel brands perhaps tend to be aimed slightly more at the toy market with Barbie, Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Fisher-Price some of their biggest sellers.  There are also a number of games under the Mattel umbrella though, including UNO, Othello, Scene It?, Apples to Apples and Scrabble.  Clearly, both companies have a very similar portfolio, and are essentially direct competitors.  This has been very clearly demonstrated with Hasbro recently taking the licensing rights to Disney’s lucrative Frozen and Princess brands from Mattel, a change that will undoubtedly make a dent in their bottom line.  While changes are often a sign of a robust market, such seismic shifts are seldom good for the companies involved at least in the short term, often leading to restructuring and job losses – we have seen something similar with Mayfair Games and the recent loss of the distribution rights to the Catan Brand.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

It seems there are two other key driving forces however.  Firstly, it would make them much stronger competition for the Danish company, Lego, which has been growing much faster than its U.S. rivals.  Secondly, both Hasbro and Mattel are looking to expand their presence in the digital market, with movie and computer game tie-ins similar to those seen with Hasbro’s Transformers franchise, and, according to Bloomberg, a merger would facilitate this.  The real question though is, regardless of whether or not Hasbro and Mattel can agree a deal, would the regulators let it happen?  In the last year alone, the U.S. Department of Justice has prevented Electrolux’s purchase of GE’s appliance business as well as stopping mergers between Office Depot and Staples, and Sysco and U.S. Foods, all due to concerns about industry concentration and the potential for higher prices resulting from the deals.  So it seems quite likely that a deal between Hasbro and Mattel would go the same way.  If they do merge, however, the giant Hasbro-Mattel would make Asmodee look like very small minnows indeed, right up until they get gobbled up too.

Lego
– Image from 3dprint.com

Boardgames in the News: Is Boardgaming a Sport?

A judicial review of the status of Bridge, began earlier this week, following the funding body, Sport England‘s decision not to class the card game as a sport.  Sport England have reportedly claimed that Bridge was no more a sporting activity than “sitting at home, reading a book”.  In contrast, the English Bridge Union (EBU) contests that Bridge is a “mind sport” that exercises the “brain muscle”.

Bridge
– Image from innontheprom.co.uk

Contract Bridge is a trick-taking card game for four players where the two teams bid for how many tricks they will win.  Once the contract has been made, the hands are played out and if the number of tricks agreed is achieved, the team who made the contract win.  The case against Bridge being classed as a sport depends on the definition of a sport:  Sport England defines a sport as an “activity aimed at improving physical fitness and well-being, forming social relations and gaining results in competition”.

Bridge
– Image from goodsamchurch.wordpress.com

The case for Bridge as a sport includes the fact that other EU countries (including the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland) recognise Bridge as a sport, and that Sport England include angling, model aircraft flying, quoits and rambling in their list of sports as well as popular pub games like darts and pool.  Perhaps more importantly, sports are defined in the 2011 Charities Act as activities “which promote health involving physical or mental skill or exertion”.  Lawyers for the EBU are reported to have told the High Court that Bridge was based on rules, fairness and competition – just like other activities classified as sports and Heather Dhondy, winner of three world and five European gold medals made the case in the Independent last year based on the stamina required for tournament play.

Bridge
– Image from bbc.co.uk

The bottom line is that this is all about funding.  If Bridge is classed as a sport they can apply for National Lottery Funding allocated by Sport England.  Sport England has a finite pot and claim it is their job to get the nation fitter, but in reality they are probably concerned they will be heavily criticised by the media and the general public if they give money to a bunch of people “sitting about playing cards”.  Of course, the courts cannot really decide if bridge is a sport, only whether it was reasonable for Sport England to have ruled it was not.  To date, judgement has been reserved and at the end of the High Court hearing, Mr Justice Dove gave no indication as to when he would give his ruling.

Chess
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The final say, however, will perhaps depend on the International Olympic committee (IOC). In 1999, the IOC said that Bridge and Chess should be considered “mind sports”.  If this is taken to its logical conclusion, Bridge, Chess and perhaps other boardgames like Scrabble will eventually become Olympic sports and medals will be awarded every four years.  Indeed, Chess and Bridge are among twenty-six sports that have applied for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.  Since Team GB are the Kings of “sitting-down sports” (cycling, sailing, rowing, equestrian etc.), it seems inevitable that these would be sports we should excel at.  If there were even a small chance of increasing Britain’s tally of Olympic gold medals, Sport England would undoubtedly change their view.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

Boardgames in the News: Twenty Awesome Games according to The Guardian

The Guardian boardgame section has produced a number of interesting articles over the last few months, including one about a French Scrabble champion who doesn’t speak French; an article discussing the impact of political boardgames, and a review of the cooperative war game, 7 Days of Westerplatte, where players take on roles of Polish defenders trying to save their city from attack in September 1939.

7 Days of Westerplatte
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Their latest article is entitled, “20 Awesome Board Games You May Never Have Heard Of” and as well as the inevitable usual suspects, there are indeed a number of even less widely known games.  Popular franchise games are included like spin-offs from A Game of Thrones and Firefly to catch the eye of the general public, but these have a good reputation amongst gamers too.  Twilight Struggle also makes its second newsworthy appearance in a month, as well as the slightly less well known gateway games, Dominion and 7 Wonders.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

More interesting are some of the other inclusions.  For example, Survive: Escape from Atlantis! is an excellent game that is very easy to teach, but has a nasty edge, with players trying to save their meeples while encouraging monsters to attack everyone else’s.  Although it is a great game to play with teenagers and students, for some reason it very rarely makes this sort of list.  Similarly, newer games like the 2014 Pandemic spin-off, Pandemic: Contagion and this years’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Colt Express also get a mention.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

It’s not all light family fare either and games like the well regarded semi-cooperative game, Dead of Winter, make an appearance as well as older “Geek Fayre” like Netrunner and Civilisation.  Perhaps the biggest surprises though are Antiquity and Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia.  These are both much more obscure games:  Antiquity is produced in very small numbers by Splotter (and is currently out of print), and Euphoria is the product of a very successful KickStarter campaign by Stonemaier Games.  The inclusion of games off the beaten track, shows that the Guardian boardgames coverage is from people who know their subject matter much better than those at the Telegraph!  As such, these Guardian articles are always well worth a look and it will be interesting to see what comes of their quest to find the worst games people have played.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

Rummykub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

Alchemists
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer

Boardgames in the News: Spiel des Jahres Awards

This week, Colt Express won the Spiel des Jahres Award.  Although it may seem strange, this German award is highly sought after and is the most coveted award in the world-wide world of boardgames.  The reason for this goes back nearly forty years when the “English” market was dominated by companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  These concentrated on producing a few top sellers, however, in Germany there was no such dominance.  So, the German market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.  This, coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry, encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, began in 1978, with the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design, and promoting top-quality games in the German market.  The red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has since become a mark of quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Thus, the award has been such a success that it is said a nomination can increase sales from a few hundred to tens of thousands and the winning game can be expected to sell up to half a million copies or more.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Domostie

Over the last fifteen years, years, the Spiel des Jahres has generally gone from highlighting games like El Grande, Tikal and Torres (1996, 1999 & 2000), to rewarding lighter games like Dixit, Qwirkle and Camel Up (2010, 2011 & 2014).  The problem was particularly brought to light in 2002 when Puerto Rico, arguably one of the best games ever made was not rewarded because it was perceived as too complex.  The problem reared its ugly head again in 2008, but this time the jury awarded Agricola a special “Complex Game” award.  These two games are widely considered to be the pinnacle of “Euro-Games”: between them they’ve held the top position on the BoardGameGeek website for the best part of ten years, yet neither were awarded the top prize. The problem was that these games were not mainstream enough for the German family game market:  they were too complex for those families making their annual purchase. On the other hand, for frequent and dedicated boardgamers, these Spiel des Jahres games are too light.  So, for this reason, the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “Connoisseurs’ Game of the Year” was introduced in 2011 and for more serious gamers, this has largely superseded the Spiel des Jahres.  This year it was awarded to Broom Service, a reimplementation of Witch’s Brew which was itself nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008.

Adel Verpflichtet
– Image by BGG contributor Henco

The Kennerspiel des Jahres is not the only prestigious award available to strategy games however.  In 1990, the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue”, introduced the Deutscher Spiele Preis or “German Game Prize”.  This is announced in October every year at the International Spieltage in Essen.  In contrast to the Spiel des Jahres, the Deutscher Spiele Preis has gone from rewarding lighter games like Adel Verpflichtet (aka Hoity Toity, in 1990) and our group’s current favourite filler, 6 Nimmt! (winner in 1994) , to highlighting games like Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica (in the last two years).

Deutsche Spiele Preis
– Image from bordspil.is

Boardgames in the News: Confusion at The Telegraph!

Anyone who plays modern boardgames knows how our hobby has been growing and growing.  Games like Carcassonne and The Settlers of Catan are now available in Waterstones and WHSmith, there has been a series of regular comments in The Guardian, there are repeatedly TV appearances, and boardgame cafés are sprouting up all over the place.  It seems strange then that last week, Harry Wallop from The Telegraph announced that “Card games and board games are dying out and it’s no great loss”.

Snap
– Image by BGG contributor loopoocat

The basis of this report is a survey carried out by Barclaycard which apparently indicated that games like Old Maid, Happy Families and Snap are in danger of dying out.  Strangely, on the same day, Martin Chilton, the Telegraph online Culture Editor reported that 67 per cent of the children surveyed said that they would like to learn how to play traditional games.  The really annoying thing about all this is that they focus solely on “traditional games”:  Martin Chilton’s article is entitled “The five best board games” and lists them as Chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, Cluedo and Backgammon.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

On closer inspection, however, Harry Wallop’s article does include a link to a more interesting list of fifteen party games, including Pandemic, Camel (C)Up and Biblios.  While their definition of “Party Games” clearly leaves a lot to be desired, it is clear that someone at The Telegraph at least has heard of modern games.  Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of this though, is the response to Martin Chilton’s article in the comments section which includes a nearly eighty passionate  responses pointing out better, modern, “classic games” and where to find information about them.

Biblios
– Image by BGG contributor creatsia

Let’s hope Mr Chilton and Mr Wallop read the comments and write a better article soon!