#FamilyFriday – #Coronapocalypse Family Gaming with Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (@wonderforge, 2017)

We are fortunate that I am able to telework during the Coronapocalypse but some of our family friends are not so lucky. A few are doubly challenged in that they need to occasionally work AND care for children when school is out and daycares closed. So Mrs. RockyMountainNavy stepped up and is providing daycare for two girls twice a week.

One of the girls is a young kindergartner. As an only child she struggles with social activities. Mrs. RMN believes in the power of boardgames and wants to play more games with her. Our problem is the RMN Navy Boys are, well, boys – and much older. So we have only few children’s games and of the few we have none are, uh, focused on young female players.

This past week Mrs RMN and I stopped by Tuesday Morning and while searching the clearance aisle I found the game Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017). Looking at the (very) few ratings on BGG I saw a respectable 7.3. The part that really intrigued me was discussion of the three levels of games:

This game offers 3 difficulty levels, each building off of the previous:
Level 1 (Ages 5+): Roll 2 dice and choose your destination. Be the first to collect the 6 different treasures plus 2 additional.
Level 2 (Ages 6+): Be the first to unlock all 4 characters, each of which give you special abilities.
Level 3 (Ages 7+): Earn three different keys by coming treasure, but watch out for Sudden Storm cards that take treasure away from everyone. You can also try to unlock characters, but there are one of each, so get them fast!

What sealed the deal was the price – 40% off of $7.99. We can try almost anything for less than $5, right?

The next time Little Miss A was over I showed her the box. She was immediately intrigued and taken by the box. Of course, she knew who Elena is and the Jaquins. I had no idea about Elena but she proceeded to tell me all about the character. The next time she came over she asked demanded to play. So we set up Level 1 – Elena’s Treasure Hunt.

Level 1 is a very, very simple roll & move and set collection game. One appeal of the game is the colorful game board and 3-D pieces – enticing and tactile for a youngster. There is very little strategy and a definite first-player advantage. But for a 5 year old it is perfect – take your turn with your colorful character piece, roll two dice then make a simple choice of color, and try to fill out your card first by collecting different colorful tokens.

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Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins – Level 1 Set Up

I let Miss A go first in both games and she won. I had to ‘advise’ her at points about strategy (‘You don’t need another green, but you do need an orange, right?’) but by the end of the second game she was ‘getting it.’ She now proudly calls it her game.

Later in the day I sat down with the older girl, Miss C, and played both Level 2 – Four Friends Adventure and Level 3 – Gabe’s Key Quest. Neither are much harder (each level builds on the core mechanic of the previous one) but each adds increasing degrees of decision space to the game. Miss C preferred Level 2- Four Friends Adventure as she made decisions as to which friend – and extra power – to go after first. Level 3 – Gabe’s Key Quest had maybe too much decision space (at least for Miss C) as you must work a sequence of actions (collect tokens then cash them in) while also making a decision whether or not to go after a single character to add to your powers.

From Mrs RMN’s perspective, the game is a winner for several reasons. First, the components and theme are appealing to the younger players – the visual appeal works and draws the players in. Second, and possibly more importantly, the three levels of play allow her to tailor gameplay to the player. In the case of Miss A, the simplicity of Level 1 is key as it reinforces the basics of play – taking your turn and following a simple set of rules. For Miss C, the simple strategy decisions are what she needs to work on – decisions found in Level 2 and Level 3.

Indeed, the three different levels of play is the most important quality of Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins. The three levels of play allow one to tailor the game to their desired family gaming experience. In the future I expect that Miss A will play Level 1 many times against somebody, but with a little help she could play Level 2 in a 3-player setting with Miss C and another. Miss C in turn will probably play more Level 2 when going head-to-head against another, and Level 3 when she wants to challenge the older RMN Boys.

Mrs. RMN was so taken by the game she asked me to go back and look for additional copies. I was very lucky and found the last one in the store, but now at a 60% discount or $3.20. A real bargain not only in price but for a decent family game too.


Update – The day after I wrote the first draft of this post Miss A was over again. After she finished her reading lessons she came up the stairs to the loft carrying the game box and set it down next to me as I was teleworking. Although she has played many games with me before, never has she “initiated” a game session. The fact that she brought this game to me and asked to play speaks volumes about its appeal to her. 

After #SpringBreak Di$ney it’s time to get back to #wargames

I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!

ZQXOtLiRS4yH9j7lKgkrigBefore Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!

sru0+D2iRSaTaHyp5osoWwAround the same time Campaigns of 1777 arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!

Y0BIfKqBQvWvDsPxZeosHgFinally, on the day before we travelled, a relatively new publisher, Canvas Temple Publishing, delivered their Kickstarter for WW2 Deluxe. This is supposed to be a game where one can play the European Theater (or Western Front) in World War II in an evening. First pass through the rulebook and components looks promising!

We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Ride or Battlelore or 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.

 

My #Boardgame Week – Evil times with Villainous: Wicked to the Core (Ravensburger, 2019) & questing with Quarriors! (@wizkidsgames, 2011)

This was a much different week of boardgaming than I imagined when it began.

Courtesy BGG.com

Our weekly boardgame night was moved to Friday to accommodate a family event on Saturday. I pulled out the new Villainous: Wicked to the Core (Ravensburger, 2019) to play. Wicked is a stand-alone version of Villainous with three new villains that is fully compatible with the original game. Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy took Hades, Middle RMN was the Evil Queen, and I took Dr. Facilier.

I can understand why these villains were not in the original game. All three play with a bit of a more complex mechanic. Hades has to summon and move Titans, Evil Queen must find ingredients and Brew Poison while Dr. Facilier has a Fortune Deck. Not that the new mechanics are overly complex; just different and a bit harder to understand given the short villain guides.

Component-wise, it was Youngest RMN Boy who pointed out the villain “Movers” (oh, how I hate that term!) seemed a bit better quality than the original. The cards are made with the same somewhat flimsy core and the new game does not have the cheap plastic Cauldron for holding the Power Tokens. For only a few dollars less than the full game one gets half the number of villains and less components. Not sure it is really a good bargain.

The game experience was ok. We all need to play these villains again to get a better sense of how to make their decks work. Bottom line is that Villainous will land on the table again, but we are not going to be in a rush to get there.

After Ravensburger won the Toy of the Year Award for Villainous, I expected a bit of some hype to accompany the release of Wicked. The game was released Sunday, March 3 in the states. Late Sunday, I went to the local Target to find the game because it showed in stock when I checked online. I couldn’t find it on the shelves; as a matter of fact, I couldn’t even find a spot on the shelves where it was supposed to be. I asked a clerk about it and he checked the item number then said, “Oh, they’re still in the back.” They hadn’t even moved the stock to the shelves. He brought an unopened box of four out and gladly sold me one. So much for the hype!

Last week, after playing our first game of Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011) in something like eight years, and not really enjoying it, the RockyMountainNavy Boys challenged me to  a rematch the next night…

…and the next night…

…and the next night…

…and the next night…

..and the next. All through the week, as a matter of fact. Youngest RMN Boy even went so far as to declare Quarriors! amongst his new favorite games. So why the total change of heart?

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Courtesy BGG.com

Quarriors! plays fast. We are able to fit a game into a 45 min slot after dinner. The game also plays in a very balanced manner. Youngest RMN is 3-3, Middle RMN 2-4, and I am 1-5. The RMN Boys like the stories the different cards create. Some games have a nice balanced selection of creatures. In one game all the creatures were expensive to summon which really changed the dynamic of the game. Another game it was the spells that made a powerful difference.

Quarriors! has moved to the living room cabinet as a game that can be brought out after dinner for a quick play. Given the card variety, it will be a while before it grows stale. Interestingly, I asked the boys about the other Dice Masters games built around the many superhero themes. They both declined buying a new version as they like the original theming just fine!


Feature image BoardGameGeek.com

#FirstImpressions of #Villainous (@wonderforge, 2018)

Let’s get this straight first; Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes it All (Wonderforge Games, 2018) is NOT a family game. Although it sports the Disney brand name and is rated for ages 10+, this asymmetric powers, hand-management, and (being a bit evil) take that game is not for youngsters. Villainous is actually a good game for adult gamers but may wear out its welcome a bit earlier than one may like.

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Courtesy wonderforge.com

Out of the Box Impressions

When I first walked the aisle in Target to find the game, I thought I had found an opened copy. Villainous does not come shrink-wrapped but is sealed using four tape tabs. The one copy on the shelf already had some scuffs on the matte finish box. I still bought it, but wonder just how much “shelf life” was lost even before my purchase.

The artwork in Villainous is very impressive as one expects from Disney. The color palette is a bit muted for my taste but is in keeping with the “darker” theme of the game. Appropriate quotes and card art goes a long way towards building the atmosphere of the game; a bit sinister but not horror.

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Hook rocks back….

My initial impression of component quality is less-than-impressive. The player boards seem a bit thin while the Villain Movers (pawns) are chunky with some unsightly flash. In my game Captain Hook seems unbalanced and is always falling over backwards. The cards in the Villain and Fate Decks seem ok with great art but I worry that the finish might not last; is sleeving necessary? The Tokens seem about the right weight but the Cauldron is a thinner plastic than I expected. I really worry about the folded Villain Guides because they seem so fragile being printed on glossy paper not cardstock; not sure how long they really will last.

Gameplay

Villainous is in many ways a set of solo mini-games with shared game mechanics and just a few chances for player interaction thrown in. Every turn you move your Villain Mover (geez, just call it a pawn!) to a new Location in your Realm (player Board). Then one executes as many of the Actions at that Location that you can pay for with Power Tokens or Villain Cards. Sometimes, your opposing players will draw from your Fate Deck and reveal Heroes to hinder your progress. If one pays close attention to the Villain Cards in their hand there may also be opportunities to play Villain Cards during another player’s turn.

While each Villain will generally use the same shared game mechanics, each has a unique Objective they must accomplish to win the game. This means players must discover the right strategy and play-style for each Villain; what works for Prince John may not work for the Queen of Hearts. In our first game, I played Jafar and failed to carefully read my Villain Guide as I was too busy trying to teach the game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. As a result, I did not optimally sequence my strategy and failed to even come close to accomplishing my Objective before the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy won as Captain Hook.

What Others Say

As of the date of writing this post, there are five reviews of Villainous in the BoardGameGeek.com forums for this game. I read some of the comments there with amusement:

  • Loophus continually points out how much trouble kids may have with this game. (HINT – Just because it’s Disney does not mean it is a kids game! Accept that Villainous is an “adult” game by Disney!)
  • LonoXIII believes the game lacks replayability – “One complaint, however, is that the game only comes with six villains; each villain only ever has one goal, and once you’ve beaten the game with them, there’s little replay with that character. Once a player has won with all six villains, the replayability drops notably, and I could see the game ending up shelved after a while.” (Since when does winning a game once make it “solved?” The random shuffle of the Villain and Fate Decks alone will ensure that no two games are identical. Sure, once you learn the necessary strategy it becomes easier (faster?) to execute play but by no means is it “solved.”)
  • TheHumanTim points out – “The only part of the physical game production that felt poorly designed was the box insert.” (Yeah, the insert doesn’t hold its shape well but at least they tried….)
  • Dismas gets the theme – “The theme comes through very well in this game. Yes, what it boils down to is your gathering power to play certain cards to win the game, but it feels like so much more. It feels like you are actually trying to rewrite the script to the movie. I think that is what I like best about this game. It would have been so easy (and lazy) to make this a game about “misunderstood” villains who aren’t actually evil. No, this game you are evil and you are trying to succeed in your plot.” (As the box back states, “Be a Villain…Defeat the Heroes…Enact Your Evil Scheme!”)
  • mattlowder also gets it – “I have to begin the review by saying this is not a light game. Do not be fooled. This is a richly complex games that will not click with you immediately. Strategy blooms in this one as each character you play has different goals, despite the mechanisms of triggering actions and movement being mostly identical for each player. They feel different, have asymmetrical powers, and the experience wholly satisfying if you are willing to grasp it and understand that this is not a light and fluffy game.” (“Richly complex may be overstating it but agree it is not a light and fluffy game.)

RockyMountainNavy Verdict

While I am not thrilled with the component quality of Villainous, I am generally pleased and greatly impressed with how well the theme integrates with art and play. Then again, for the $35 price-point the game is actually a bargain; just how many $35 games have this great art and chunky pawns to go with a better-than-average game mechanic?

Like LonoXIII, I too worry about replayability but not for the same reasons. To me, it is not the number of Villains but the strategy for each that limits replayability. A cursory look at each Villain Guide reveals an “optimal” strategy. Once this strategy is “known” the only difference in each game becomes how well the cards allow you to execute that strategy. If Villainous is played too often this could make the game challenge seem stale.

Finally, games like Villainous are not necessarily in the RockyMountainNavy Boy’s wheelhouse (preference being to lite wargames). Nonetheless, the combination of theme and game play makes Villainous enjoyable on the table and will get played. After all, we all want to misbehave once in a while!