Archive for the 'The Game Room' Category

Cooperative Board Games

I came to cooperative games with a healthy dose of skepticism. The exhilaration from out-smarting an opponent is a big part of what makes gaming fun. A relatively new batch of cooperative board games, though, doesn’t skimp on the challenge and tension found in traditional competitive games. Games like Flash Point, Pandemic and Forbidden Island succeed by offering a clear opponent and win/lose conditions against a simulated threat. In Flash Point, a team of firefighters must rescue the occupants of burning building before it collapses. In Pandemic, the team travels the globe, battling a rampant disease. And in Forbidden Island, the team sets off to save treasures from a tropical paradise before it sinks beneath the oceans. We like how each game allows players to take on a role with unique skills and bonuses. If you want to encourage family teamwork, try out one of these games. All three are suitable for gamers eight and up. We like Flash Point for its theme and action. Pandemic is harder and the theme a bit more mature, but the consequences and scale make it feel epic.

Ace of Aces

Back in the 80s, before the age of HD, virtual dogfighting, my brother and I would take to the sky in Ace of Aces. The game plays a bit like a cooperative choose your own adventure novel. Each page shows your position from a first person cockpit view. The players choose their maneuver and a quick calculation sends them to a new page with a new view (ideally behind your opponent’s plane). I pulled my old copy out this week to play with Peabody. He picked it up rather quickly and seemed to like it. The game is out of print, but if you come a cross it at a used book sale, pick it up and take to the sky!

Rivers, Roads and Rails

If you’re looking for a great holiday gift for kids five and up, I highly recommend Rivers, Roads & Rails. It’s a bit like dominoes. Each of the 140 square tiles have one to three transportation connections on at least two sides. Players must connect one of their tiles with one on the board or they must pass. The winner is the person who first plays all of their tiles. At the end of the game, you end up with a huge map of a fictitious land.

Game Auction Tomorrow

EndGame is our favorite game store in the East Bay. The mix of family, traditional, European, RPGs and miniature games is superb. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. About once a month we’ll stop for breakfast at the nearby Cafe 817 and then drop in at EndGame. On one such occasion we visited during their annual game auction. Customers bring in their surplus games which are auctioned off for store credit. We came home with some great deals on that trip. This year we provided a few lots of our own, some kids’ games that we’ve grown out of. The auction is on Saturday. More information can be found here. While Nettie is packing for her 8th grade class trip to Mexico, Peabody and I will be bidding away.

Twilight Struggle

What do you do when your Tokyo-based brother is in town for just a few precious hours? You take him to your favorite game shop, feed him dinner and then stay up all night playing games. On this visit we played Twilight Struggle. No, it has nothing to do with the relationships of adolescent vampires. Twilight Struggle simulates the Cold-war between the US and USSR. Players vie for influence in different countries and play cards based on historic events. In our conflict, the Bear took an early lead in global influence, with some smart moves in Asia and the Middle East. Using captured German scientists, my brother’s space program was years ahead of my efforts at NASA. But late in the game, the balance of power turned when I was able to add South America and Africa to my sphere of influence through a series of coups and puppet dictatorships. I never landed a man on the moon, and we came close to igniting a nuclear conflagration, but the US successfully won the Cold-war again! I can’t wait for our next match!


We brought in the New Year by breaking open Battlelore, a two-player fantasy wargame. The basic game mechanics were easy enough for 7 year old Peabody to handle. He mastered them well enough to repeat Henry V’s victory at Agincourt in the game’s introductory scenario. Set up took about 15 minutes. The actual battle lasted about 45. The action is very fast paced, keeping us both in the game the whole time. Battlelore includes more elaborate rules for fantasy battles. There are several expansions also available. For now Peabody and I will stick with the basic rules, but we’ll be coming back to Battlelore soon.

Risk by Mail

For the ilpast couple years, I’ve been playing a Risk clone with friends through It’s isn’t played in real-time, so you can enter moves whenever you have a moment and your friends don’t need to be online at the same time. It makes it easy to play with people in different time zone. I introduced Nettie and Peabody to the Risk this weekend, It was a short and frustrating game for Peabody as the yellow army quickly overran the blues and reds.

Uncovering Old Games

On a visit to my mom’s over Christmas, I found some of my old games hidden under a blanket in the basement. I thought she had thrown out these books for the classic version of Traveller, a sci-fi RPG. We also found a copy of The Farming Game, an agricultural hybrid of Life and Monopoly, and played a round. Its a lot of fun and is still in print. Read about it here.

Star Wars Miniatures

C-3PO and R2-D2 miniatures

We have a e collection of Star Wars minis, painted plastic figures each about an inch tall. They are part of a game system that includes hundreds of little heroes, villains and droids, each with their own stats and special abilities. They come in packs of seven characters that you can pick up at your local game store. The packs are randomized, so you never know what you’ll get. It’s fun opening the packs to see what you’ve gotten, but frustrating when you find you’ve gotten your fourth Bespin Guard but still haven’t gotten an Obi Wan. The rules are simple enough for players ten and up. Nettie prefers playing out stories rather than pitched battles. She always plays as the Rebellion, with Princess Leia on her side.

That’s Life

The Game of Life

I’m a game snob. I like games that take hours to play, call for deep strategies and have obscure themes. Most of our games are European. So when I broke out a copy of The Game of Life I picked up at Hasbro’s HQ, I was surprised how much we all enjoyed playing. It’s by no means perfect. The components are cheap. Nettie doesn’t like the amount of luck involved. Peabody gets frustrated late in the game if it’s clear that he has no chance of winning (as his debt piles up). But even with all of this we eagerly come back to Life for its simple and fast gameplay, constant interaction between players and the overall silly experience of seeing a life unfold in less than an hour.