It’s that time of year again and our house is filling up with Amazon boxes.
Kurtzhau, our eldest, has hit 11 and finally passed from that awkward age of grown-up interests but explored through toys — mostly Halo Megabloks — to the open-ended gamer phase. This makes him suddenly easy to buy for and relieved relatives have responded with generosity.
Mostly this has meant Warhammer and Firestorm Armada sets. However, there are also modern board and card games on his and our wishlist, or already in the family game cupboard.
The trick with games is to read the reviews on Boardgame Geek and pay attention to what people say on Amazon. However, if you’re buying for kids and teenagers, or for geeky families, then I thought you might like to see what’s on our radar.
(1) Fluxx Card Game
Fluxx is an awesome family of card games.
The card game “engine” behind them all is a typical “Pick up one, play one, have you got the winning cards in front of you?”
However, the cards themselves can change the rules, including the objective! This means at times the rules can be things like, “Pick up seven, play six, hand limit three, have you got Doctor and Captain in front of you… whoops I mean Mysterious Energy and Spaceship?”
Apart from being a hoot and almost impossible to take seriously, this has the playability advantage that you win by curating your own set of cards rather than counting what other people have in their hands.
Fluxx comes in several flavours that are more than just skins on the original game. For example, Cthulhu Fluxx has a card that gives you an advantage if you tell everybody something you are afraid of, Oz Fluxx has one that rewards players wearing green, and Star Fluxx has a brain transplant card meaning you swap hands and places with another player! As you might gather, they’re all built with real genre knowledge.
Playability-wise, the rules are on the cards themselves. Complex though play can be, playing the game is simple. My 7-year old manages fine with a little help to start her off, and my 11-year-old has sessions with his friends.
(2) Eclipse Board Game
Call it “Settlers of Catan meets Civilisation in Space.” Players lay out hexes to explore the galaxy, research or discover technology, then duke it out with fearsomely be-weaponed starships. The setting has an old-style Space Opera feel and the good playability and atmospheric design really capture the imagination of our little fathers-and-sons gaming group. You do, however need an afternoon to play the thing out.
It’s worth saying a word about the playability. The designers have cunningly made the player’s board the hub for all those otherwise annoying end-of-round resource calculations. For example, if you acquire a system that generates science, you take a marker of your science track. The revealed number is your new science output. This lets you concentrate on strategy and less on bookkeeping.
(3) Axis and Allies Board Game
I haven’t played Axis and Allies, however I was in the house during Kurtzhau’s recent birthday party when a group of 9-11 year olds cheerfully spent an entire day on this game — breaking only for pizzas and lemonade (and so it begins…)
Axis and Allies comes in several variations, all basically Risk in World War Two, but with nuanced resource management. It’s playable enough that savvy older kids can work it out for themselves, and rich enough that adults will play it into the night over beer. You do, however, need a good chunk of time, or a table where you can leave it set up so you can fight out your campaigns in several sessions.
Its big advantage is that its historical setting can draw in less geeky players. There are, however, rules to learn and master.
(4) Frankenstein’s Bodies Board Game
Frankenstein’s Bodies is not for the squeamish, which is why I haven’t played it!
However, I saw it played at Conpulsion last year (Edinburgh’s big gaming convention, now taking pre registration) and watched while nasty kids and strong-stomached adults had an amazing giggle; one little girl stole her daddy’s leg…
My impression was of a chaotic collision of Bohnanza and Milles Bornes doing Floundering but with more body parts and a Steampunk vibe. As you might gather from the game’s name, it’s all about being a mad professor trying to build a Frankenstein’s monster first, stealing from other players or infecting — ewwww — their components.
Being — I’m told — thoroughly playtested, it’s easy to pick up and would make a good present for horror-minded kids, and a more pranky gift — akin to a tin drum — for the children of relatives who have irritated you with their primness.
(5) Audatia Card Game
Audatia is on its way to me, even as you read this!
Devised, kick-started, and developed by my good friend the Historical European Martial Arts guru Guy Windsor, it’s either a stroke of genius or the most obscurantist card game ever.
Essentially, Audatia simulates Fiori De Liberi’s 15th century Italian martial arts system. Each card defines its possible defenses. The battle plays out depending on what you have in your hand, and how it was done in reality.
As an exponent of Medieval German Longsword, I view this development with a certain horror. If successful, the Audatia card game will equip the world with a knowledge of the structure and look of Italian longsword!
However, as a writer I can immediately see this as a resource for lazy fight choreography — though you still need to pick up a sword and learn to use it if you really want to trigger your reader’s mirror neurons.
M Harold Page (www.mharoldpage.com) is a Scottish-based author and swordsman with several Historical Adventure books in print. His creative writing handbook, Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic is available on Amazon.