Monday, September 19

Gaming With a Four Year Old

This week I'm off to America for work (I'm writing this at 5am in an airport cafe!), and I'm intending to spend a decent chunk of the early hours that I will have free due to jet lag laying out the new rules for Zombology v2. I've honed them and now my mate Mal (who has a far deeper grasp of English grammar than I do) is going through them with a fine toothed comb weeding out a few extraneous words and fixing all my errors.

In the last week The Daughter and I have spent a lot more time gaming than previously so seeing as I have no progress to report yet, I thought I'd talk about that instead.

Since she was three we've played a bunch of the Orchard Toys games with her: Lunchbox Game, The Cupcake Game, The Ladybird Game, Monster Dominoes and more recently Shopping List (which is essentially a rebranded Lunchbox Game). She's enjoyed a few of those (not so much Ladybirds, but Cupcakes was very popular for a while) and a couple of more dexterity based games: Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Elefun.

These games have been entertaining enough and she's enjoyed them, but there's very little in the way of decisions to be made (in fact The Cupcake Game is entirely predetermined by the shuffle of the cupcake deck), so there's not been much preparation for real games.

I was determined not to force her into playing real (i.e. my) games too early as I didn't want to put her off, but then a few months ago I read a post on BGG about how much fun a four year old son was have with Carcassonne, just because there were choices to be made ('it's like a jigsaw puzzle but I can put the pieces in lots of places'). So I soften my stance a bit.

The Daughter and I started playing a cut down version of Carcassonne - no scoring, no farmers, just taking it in turns to place tiles and optionally add meeples in legal places. She really enjoys it ('Carcassonne is my favourite game of all I want to play it every day with you Daddy'), but she still doesn't have the attention span to play through the full set of tiles, so we just play until she gets bored (20-50 tiles in). Because there's no points involved she often helps me ('I'll add this to your city Daddy to make it bigger'), but she knows what she's doing and she's enjoying it, which is the important bit.

We've also played a few rounds of Martian Dice together, not tracking the scores between rounds, just taking it in turns playing a round and noting the points we got for that round. She's enjoying that too.

This week I bought Animal upon Animal (Tier auf Tier) and The Wife suggested getting Dobble Kids too. She wasn't ready for Tier auf Tier, we started playing a game but she wasn't really engaging with it at all so I've stowed that for later, but she loves Dobble. We've played it loads of times already, and we've only had it a week. I can see that being a huge hit for months to come.

With all this real gaming going on she's now showing a lot more interest in my games. Frequently asking questions about the pictures on the boxes racked up in our Games (Dining) Room. Fun times ahead!

Monday, September 12


This week I made it to Newcastle Playtest for the first time since April! It was a great evening - good to see the guys and catch up and also check in with their games designs. First we had a couple of games of The Book of the Dead, a fantastic little timed game from Paul Scott. We played it for almost the first time back in April and I loved it, and I was delighted to see that it was just as much fun this time round (by now with much nicer art!). Paul is thinking of Kickstarting it reasonably soon I believe. We ended with Galactic Contractors, one of Dan's that had improved greatly since my last play.

In between those we played a couple of games of Zombology, but with some slightly different rules. I'd played it a couple of times recently at work during our lunchtime games club and the rules explanation and then the confusion around hands of different sizes going round made me think I needed to do something about the Guru rules. I had an idea a couple of weeks ago that I tried out one lunchtime and that idea has since evolved in my head into a more streamlined idea. It has the double bonus of simplifying the Guru and failed cards rules and simultaneously getting rid of the uneven hand size too.

It worked pretty well, we played a seven player and then an eight player game (I think!) and won both. Everyone thought it was an improvement on the old rules, but we won both games, the first one in round three! The fastest win I'd seen in the previous 100-odd games was round five. So there's a chance it's suddenly much easier. I can't think how that would be true, but I need to play a load more games to get some empirical data.

During the week I've been working on the rules for a second edition taking the rules from the handmade limited edition as a starting point. I've changed the Guru rules as mentioned above which simplify things quite a bit and I've also tried to cut down on the word count. The rules sheet for the first version looked like a fairly intimidating wall of text, which considering it's not too complicated a game is a bit disappointing. It was so wordy once I'd covered off the rules and tried to make sure all the grey areas were clearly explained that there was no room for diagrammatic examples :-(

So this week I've been trying to pare the rules down a bit. The rules changes removed quite a lot of 'if this then that otherwise something else' and then I went through trying to cut out all the places where my natural loquacity had made things unnecessarily wordy. I've managed to shave off nearly 300 of 1844 words which, when I lay them out in InDesign, will hopefully free up some space for more diagrams and examples.

I'm not expecting to get much done this week - I've a work night out on Tuesday, Games Night on Wednesday, I've got to get stuff ready for a trip to America next week for work and I also want to spend some time with my family before I go.

But next week I'm in America all week so I'll probably have the hours of 3am to 7am every day to spend on sorting out the new rules in InDesign. Gotta love jet lag.

The good news is that the new rules don't require any new components - they work with the cards as published in the first version. The only slight exception is that the cards dealt in the first round have changed slightly, so the cheat sheet on the first round marker is now out of date.