Saturday, January 21, 2006

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Hello from the annual Rogerson/McHarg family beach holiday. One of the wonderful things about writing a blog is that you can do it anywhere, as long as you have access to (1) a computer and (2) the internet. Well thanks to my work, the computer comes with us when we travel – and thanks to a very delicious café (and another internet café which is less good, simply because it lacks apple crumble), we can login every couple of days to see what's up in the world.

Of course, something that is simpler than blogging is gaming – but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me set the scene first.

We're holidaying at Lorne, on Victoria's Great Ocean Road. It's a popular holiday destination with a great surf beach and rapidly escalating property prices – the vacant block of land across the road from where we stay is for sale for a cool $1.3 million. Needless to say, we rent.

The house we stay in belongs to friends of my parents. We holidayed here every year from when I was about 7-15 - I remember many happy stays here, and my particular memory is of sneaking out of bed every night (I was the oldest of the four children of the 2 families) to join the adults in countless rounds of Oh Hell. Later, this progressed to 3-handed Bridge and even Backgammon, when my dad bought a set at the local newsagency and taught himself and the house's owner, a statistician like him. Then there was the year we were sent a strange new cube puzzle by some Hungarian friends – dad and Alison spent hours cracking a solution.

But anyway. Venue. Rickety old beach house (2 rooms don't even have windows, just flywire and shutters), beds that are probably older than me, paper-thin walls, ocean views from the living room windows, funny old stove with a power plug in the front of it and no TV.

What's that? No TV? It's probably why the house is cheap enough that we can rent it for two weeks. And funnily enough, the girls haven't even missed it (although we did bring a DVD to slip into the computer if things got sticky). But it's probably one of the reasons why, in the first ten days of our two-week holiday, I have clocked up a fairly impressive 42 games played.

No, we're not neglecting our kids. We go to the beach every day, have been to a movie, plan to go to the circus. They're enjoying the trampolines (and the ice cream) on the foreshore, reading books, and playing with the little friend who visited last weekend with his parents, our friends Amanda and Steve. We've not even "played" Biggie's Snakes & Ladders beach towel (although I confess to having been tempted).
But … 42 games!

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that that's nothing. I just counted Fraser's tally and he beat that in the first 4 days. Now, he's up to 143.

One hundred and forty three!!!

I'm having a small case of game envy here.

So what have we been playing?

We brought 16 games with us, and so far nine of them have hit the table.

Pick Picknic is at the top of my list, with twelve plays logged. We bought this at Mind Games in Albury on the way to Sydney, based on 'Geek recommendations, and they didn't steer us wrong. Whether it comes to a "fox off" or a "chicken lickin'", the Bigster loves this game – and Otto loves to play with the bits, sorting the yellow cubes and cards onto the yellow tile and rolling the dice for us. (Note to self: Get a die with numerals on it instead of spots. Otto knows most of her numbers, and that's how Biggie learned to read numbers up to six). Our visiting friend is colourblind, which proved a bit of a challenge at first – we have new appreciation for this often-overlooked requirement of game design.

Next on my list is Connect Four, with ten plays logged. I don't feel quite so inferior when I realise that a whopping 97 of Fraser's games played are Connect Four – thirty seven of them on Tuesday! Biggie loves this game, which we gave her for Christmas, and we suspect she's the Connect Four shark of her school After Care program. She certainly demoralised our friend after just a few plays. When we're not playing this, Otto loves to make patterns and even 'play' with one of us (taking turns putting pieces into the frame – every so often she will exclaim triumphantly, "Me stop you 'nect Four!"). She likes to play with it by herself too – shame it's such a noisy toy!

There's a big drop to my next game – Frank's Zoo (four plays). This, like Pick Picknic, was one of my "pledge" games – I've sworn to try to get through most of my unplayed games before buying any new ones this year. We've had this for ages but been daunted by the apparently complex rules of animal precedence and by the "4-7 players" on the box (it's 3-7 in the rules). Well daunt me no longer, little beasts. I know what you do. What a great game this is! We played it with our friend, and have been playing it with the Bigster, although we're trying to find a suitable way to handicap her. We're experimenting with card distribution – 16 for her, 22 each for me and Fraser, although that may make us more likely to have those important sets and pairs. Perhaps we should just let her go out with 4 cards left in her hand, for a similar effect without the extra cards. This does suffer somewhat from seating position – coming after either the strongest or the weakest player is an advantage of sorts, particularly playing with only three. Biggie's looking forward to sharing this with some of her friends after school resumes on the 31st. Hopefully it will be when Otto's not around – she, intriguingly, has a great grasp of the rules already. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a similar grasp of secrecy, so tends to sit on my lap and announce, "You got two green dinosaurs, mummy. Needs two big elephants to beat that."

King's Breakfast has had three plays – another light, fairly quick card game. Otto likes to sit on the table and steal the King's food, especially the King's Special Cake. Fraser's sister is our family champion at this game from her last visit to us in Melbourne. I find this less exciting than some of the others on the list, so it's not usually my first choice when we sit down to play something.

Another Pledge game is Drunter und Drüber – my Secret Santa game (thanks again, Kevin!). What a fun little game this is – we played it with our friend and with Biggie as well, and it's another that she regularly asks for.

Puerto Rico was our Summer Holiday game last year – 15 games over the space of a week, almost all 2-player. It's taken a hit this year for two reasons – we brought a lot more games, firstly, so it has to share the limelight. Also, Biggie is much more determined to play with us this year, and we really don't think she's up to Puerto Rico yet. Parents have to have some mysteries!

Durch die Wüste, on the other hand, has been a big hit (three plays). This would have been another Pledge game but I played it on New Year's Day – and enjoyed it, as everyone had predicted. It was a little difficult for our colourblind friend, but he worked out what was what – and so did Biggie. She now asks for this – and Otto plays with the spare camels in the end part of the board. I asked Biggie what she thought of this one and she said, "I think it would be better if it had enough palm trees. But I like it because of the camels."

Schotten Totten, similarly, has had three plays to date. Fraser and I like this, although it tends to devolve into "who has the most convoluted logic on why their set must be better than any other". That's a different game mechanic than most of the others on this list, and it's a good one. Biggie tends to hang over the table asking for explanations when we play this, so I suspect it won't be long. Is it legal to introduce small children to poker in the hope of a happy, well-funded retirement in thirty years or so?

The last game on my list is Goa, with one play this holiday. I'm happy to have had that, as it was the first time I played with more than just me and Fraser, and the game is much more complicated with four. I lost by an embarrassing margin, but we all enjoyed it very much. I've been nagging Fraser to play with me, but he doesn't enjoy it as much 2-player and Otto has been going to bed frighteningly late so there really hasn't been time.

Not played yet are:
  • Attribut - Pledge game - needs more than 3 players – won't get a look in now we're down to 3

  • Mu & More - ditto

  • Gargon - for 3 or more, and possibly a bit much for Biggie

  • Guillotine - we are thinking of introducing this one to the Bigster

  • Circus Flohcati - will probably get played soon

  • Ticket to Ride - probably a bit long to play down here, although Biggie would like to

  • Uno - there's just so much else to choose from – although this is a traditional Lorne game...

Our gaming may drop off a little now the temperature is soaring again – but I fully expect to get at least 2 more games onto the table, and to clock up quite a few more games played.

This holiday always gets me thinking about that big lottery win that will get me my fantasy beach house. An important component of that is, of course, the game shelf. A fantasy (or even a non-fantasy) beach house needs a good permanent selection of games, ranging from gateways through to more complex games that you only really get to play if you're away for a full weekend or longer with your gaming buddies. You need to have good family games, games that play well with two and games that scale for larger numbers of players. And you can always bring more down with you – because fantasy beach houses are always within comfortable driving distance of home. (Actually, to tell the truth, mine would probably be on that vacant land across the road).

On my FBH list right now: Apples to Apples, Pick Picknic, Frank's Zoo, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Pirates' Cove, Puerto Rico, Euphrat and Tigris (which I am itching to play), History of the World, Civilisation, Diplomacy, ...?

You tell me. What are the other beach house essentials? I'm thinking maybe a couple of longer Euros, too, like das Zepter von Zavandor and Caylus. And of course some kids' games like Uno – and probably even a silly fast game like Perpetual Commotion (although Fraser might be unhappy with me – he was PC'd out last year in the ConVic PC tournament and hasn't played it since).

And when I win, maybe you can come and play too.

May your holidays be as game-friendly as this one,



Coldfoot said...

I once met an Aussie family in January in Alaska. It was quite cold at the time. The man said "You know, things aren't really that different in Australia right now."

We said, "Really"?!?!

He said, "Really. In Australia we're making a mad dash to the car to get it started, too. The only difference is that we're turning the air conditioner on."

gamesgrandpa said...

Our daughter carried a deck of Frank’s Zoo in her purse for about two years, until their youngest (Joel) began Kindergarten. Anytime she and he were waiting somewhere (doctor’s office, car repairs, etc.), they played two-handed. I don’t recall exactly how they played it, but could ask, if you are interested. I know they wore out at least one and maybe two decks. Also, if their other child (Natalia, two years older) was with them, they played three-handed, and the whole family of four played it a lot.

We have played Pick Picknick with the grandchildren since the oldest was starting Kindergarten and the youngest wasn’t yet in pre-school. I still think it’s a fun game. Zirkus Flohcati has been a favorite of the grandkids for several years, as well as Knizia’s Vampire card game.

We recently acquired Mu and More and find it great fun. Our 8-year-old grandson is now playing Ticket to Ride very well, and we introduced him today to Around the World in 80 Days. He is a great game-player and caught on quickly. Earlier this week, I taught him Cartagena. After playing one game with our hands face-up, so he could learn the game, he has beaten me two of the other three games we’ve played, including one in which he got his sixth pirate to the boat (winning the game), while I had only one in the boat!

Both grandchildren (8 and 10) enjoy Bohnanza – we played it with 7 players today and had a ball. Finally, our grandson loves to play Settlers of Catan and has beaten the five adults at least once (drawing four VP development cards in that game).

We have found that if kids like games and like to play with adults, many of the games that indicate they are for “age 10 and up” can be played by a child at age 7 or 8, depending on the amount of reading and the overall complexity, of course. And, many games marked for “8 and up” can be played by kids age 5, if there is no significant reading or mathematics involved.

We played a lot of Uno over the past 25-30 years (or whenever it came out) with our kids and our grandkids, but after playing Euro-type card games, like Frank’s Zoo, Pick Picknick, Vampire, Zirkus Flohcati, and Bohnanza, among others, no one in our family even mentions playing Uno these days.

Sounds like you are having a great vacation. Happy Gaming!

GROGnads said...

Now, as for "Otto", then does "She sell seashells situated strategically at the seashore"? Well, if NOT, then she "Otto"!

Anonymous said...

Other games to add to your FBH list; I'd need a few abstracts, so maybe Pente, Zertz, Blokus & Rumis.