#Family Friday – A breath of fresh (hot?) #boardgame air with Dragons Breath: The Hatching (@HABA_usa, 2019)

If you are a follower of my blog, you might recall me making occasional references to Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and her students. In this year of COVID schooling she really leaned in to help the young daughter of a friend. Miss A is in first grade and, coming from a family that speaks nothing but Korean at home, is an at-risk learner. As a first-grader, this was the year she needed to really learn to read. So Mrs. RMN tutored her. Well, actually she did more than that. Miss A was at our house two of the four online school days each week while her parents worked and Mrs. RMN tutored her as well as helped her with online learning. We also played lots of games—but only after the school day or her tutoring was finished. But before I tell you about a game let me tell you a bit of the backstory.

Miss A started the year as an English as a Second Language (ESL) student in a Title I school. That’s a school where over 40% of the students qualify for reduced price or free lunches. Although Miss A’s teacher tried, online learning is NOT what those economically—and often educationally—disadvantaged children needed.


Fast Facts for Miss A’s School

Total Students: 726

English Learner Services: 372 (~51%)

Free or Reduced Fee Lunch: 476 (~65%) [No Fee Waiver: 326 (~45%)]


Mrs. RMN basically did all the teaching for Miss A this year—and it shows. She had taught all four of our children to read, even our Autism Spectrum boy. She went back to school to study Early Childhood Education. In other words she knows what she’s doing. She has a phonics reading program she knows and believes in. We have all the sight words cards a child needs. We have a children’s library with literally a thousand books (that’s just K-3…and I kid you not for we bought through the Scholastic Book Club for something like 15 years straight). All the books are marked with their Accelerated Reader level so we could make sure Miss A was reading the right books for her stage of learning.

Miss A is doing so well in reading that she left the ESL classes. She is doing so well in reading that she is at the top of her regular class—far ahead of many of her peers. The tutoring Mrs. RMN provided was certainly helpful, but also the environment we gave Miss A was very important. Where her fellow students lacked books to read because the school or local library was closed Miss A had hundreds to choose from (we try to get her to read 8-10 books a month – or or two or three each week). Where her fellow students lacked social opportunities, Miss A had “three older brothers” in the RMN Boys. Miss A also had plenty of opportunities to play games and benefit from all the great learning and socialization skills they build.

Last week Miss A completed the phonics readers that Mrs. RMN uses—all 68 books. It’s a great achievement so we decided to reward her. We made a nice certificate and printed it on heavier card stock. We also decided to buy her a game because as often as she is at our house she has picked up gaming too.

In a bit of a change of pace, Mrs. RMN went with me to the local FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies in Sterling, VA, to pick out a game. Huzzah stocks a small but nice selection of children’s games. Mrs. RMN easily recognized the bright yellow HABA boxes and quickly decided on Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching (2019).

Of course, after we gifted Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching to Miss A we had to play it with her. Actually, she had to play it with me as I am her “game teacher” while Mrs. RMN is her “school teacher.” Thus, it fell on me to quickly learn the game and teach it to Miss A and Mrs. RMN.

Here is how HABA describes the Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching:

“Oh no! The nest, complete with dragon egg and sparkling stones, is frozen inside an ice column! Help Dragon Mom melt the thick layer of ice, but be careful that the egg doesn’t fall out of the nest! Earn points by collecting the fallen sparkling stones and placing them on your amulet.”

Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching is a light dexterity, set-collection game. Players take turns being the Dragon Mom and melting the ice tower full of crystals and topped by the Dragon Egg. As the Dragon Mom blows (melts) the ice tower, the player removes a ring and watches as crystals fall. If the Egg drops then Dragon Mom covers one of two holes on the treasure box. The other players now take turns collecting the different color crystals that fell and place them on their cards. As a card is completed, it is retired for scoring and replaced by a new card. The Dragon Mom player does not have cards to collect, but instead can put one or two crystals in the treasure chest on their turn, effectively keeping them away from the other players. A round consists of removing the three levels of the ice tower, and the game ends after each player has been the Dragon Mom once. At the end of play, scored cards are added up with the winner being the player with the highest score.

The best review on BGG at the moment….

Miss A absolutely loved Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching because of the “cute” Dragon Mom wooden character and all the “pretty diamonds.” Both Mrs. RMN and myself realized the game could have a darker side since the Dragon Mom player effectively “hate-drafts” crystals to keep them away from others. Miss A realized that too, and was always very sad when she lost out on a crystal, but squealed with glee every time she kept a crystal away from me! In other words, she loves the game.

I am very proud of Miss A who has come so far in this horrible year of COVID schooling. I am also very proud of my wife and all she has done for Miss A this year. In a year where schools failed our children, Mrs. RMN has worked wonders to keep Miss A not only on track, but to push her ahead. Miss A is very proud of herself because she can read. She is also proud of herself because she does good in school. We constantly tell her she can do anything because she is smart. We also have given her a passion to play games. In this year of COVID, I think Miss A will not only enjoy Dragon’s Breath: The Hatching but also remember it for a long time.

Family Friday #Boardgame – Plucky family chickens in Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande Games,1997)

Some of earliest posts on this blog covered family boardgames, and one of the more popular in the RockyMountainNavy house back in the late ‘oughts was Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande Games, 1997). I am happy to report that this game has stood the test of time (over 10 years of play) and is still a favorite in the RMN home. This week Mrs. RockyMountainNavy pulled it out to play with one of her students and mother. I was fortunate enough to be home at the time and was able to capture a few pictures.

Chicken Cha Cha Cha. It’s just a simple memory game. Really! (Photo by RMN)

THIS is what boardgaming is.

The joy.

The expectation.

The nervousness.

This is why we play boardgames.

#Boardgame #FamilyFriday – Quick ticket to restaurant fun with Ticket to Ride: New York (@days_of_wonder, 2018)

AT THE ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY HOUSE WE USUALLY PLAY GAMES AT THE HOUSE. However, two weeks ago we tried something a little different. It was a Friday night and Mrs. RockyMountainNavy and RockyMountain Jr. were tutoring a student. The young lady is an only child and both her parents work hard and get little couple time to themselves. Seeing that this particular Friday was Valentines Day, Mrs. RMN suggested we take Ms. C to dinner with us after tutoring so her parents could have a date. We are strong proponents of ‘couple time’ and are fortunate that the RMN Boys are older so they can take care of themselves giving us a chance for our ‘couple time.’ We recognize that not all families are as lucky.

img_0512.pngThat night we ended up at a local bar-restaurant, Ono Brewing Company (@OnoBrewCo). This is a self-serve brew pub that has a food truck-like small restaurant, Odd BBQ (oddbbq.com) inside. Having been here before, we saw a shelf with boardgames on it. We even saw other patrons bring their own games to set up and play, so we knew the place is both family and boardgame friendly.

Ms. C expresses great interest in boardgames. She even lamented to me once that, “I like to play games, but my parents don’t.” So we always try to leave a little bit of time at the end of her tutoring to play a boardgame. Two week before, the moms and kids had gotten together (I was at a Bachelor Party) and the RMN Boys taught Ms. C Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004). The Boys told me she really liked the game, but this night I knew the table was going to be smaller and time shorter. So we took along Ticket to Ride: New York (Days of Wonder, 2018).

It was perfect.

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Courtesy Days of Wonder

The smaller footprint meant the game easily fit on our table. We had eaten at a casual pace so we only had about 20 minutes to kill before we had to leave to get Ms. C back to her parents. Most importantly, Ms. C totally enjoyed the game. I mean she was really into it! As she played, she had that Michael Jordan-tongue thing going as she looked at her cards and the board and considered her options. The RMN Boys were playing very casual but Ms. C was super serious! In the end she came in second of three players but you could tell that she really enjoyed the game.

This very casual boardgame play was satisfying on several levels. First, it was the right game for the space and time available. Secondly, but more importantly, it was the perfect game for Ms. C and the RMN Boys to enjoy. Given the great level of enjoyment we all had, I have the feeling this game, and maybe the newer version, Ticket to Ride: London (Days of Wonder, 2020) will land on tables outside the RMN home more often.

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Courtesy Days of Wonder

 

#FamilyFriday – 2019 Golden Geek & Origins Awards #Boardgame Challenge – Love Letter (@alderac, 2012)

IN A HOUSE FULL OF BOYS, IT IS A BIT AMAZING THAT ONE of the more popular filler games on our shelf is all about romance.

Not really.

Love Letter (AEG, 2012) is thematically about delivering letters to a princess and wooing her; the reality is this game makes Game of Thrones look like a children’s nursery. Back-stabbing and double-crossing others is the norm. The game is not about love, it’s about using your power nakedly to eliminate opponents and win the prize.

It’s delicious.

The simple 16-card game of Love Letter won the 2013 Golden Geek Award for Best Family Game / Best Party Game / Best Card Game/ Most Innovative Game. I certainly agree with the last two categories. Love Letter was the first 16-card game we played and the innovative nature astounded us. I will agree that it is a good party game…with adults. I am not so sure about the family game aspects because it is very easy for the game to devolve into a bloody power contest. Some younger players may not fully understand what is happening and get hurt.

I also appreciate that Love Letter has been rethemed. RockyMountainNavy Jr. always takes Letters to Santa to school during the holidays for a quick play around the lunch table; it’s so much fun even high schoolers can get into the game. Indeed, for my challenge I actually played a game of Love Letter: Batman with Middle RMN Boy. It’s the same mechanics of Love Letter, except with villains.

Even love can be evil…and so much fun!


Feature image courtesy AEG via BoardGameGeek

#FamilyFriday – 2019 Golden Geek #Boardgame Challenge Update – Forbidden Island (@Gamewright, 2010)

THE RECOMMENDED AGE ON THE BOX FOR FORBIDDEN ISLAND (Gamewright, 2010) is 10+. That is not an age range that I usually associate with children’s games, yet it is the category that Forbidden Island won in the 2010 Golden Geek Awards. As part of my 2019 Golden Geek Boardgame Challenge we recently played the game and took a new measure of the title.

These days Forbidden Island sits on our shelf of shame, unplayed and surpassed another cooperative game title, Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008). In some ways that is very sad as both games are by Matt Leacock, the godfather of cooperative games, and both are good at what they do. Interestingly, I see that Pandemic is rated for ages 8+, yet I don’t think anybody calls Pandemic a children’s game. So why does Forbidden Island not get more love at our gaming table?

Forbidden Island was the first cooperative game that reached the RockyMountainNavy house. It is not a bad game, but in this house a cooperative game needs to build a strong narrative for it to reach our gaming table more often. Alas, this is a weakness of Forbidden Island. Of the several cooperative games in the RMN collection, Pandemic and Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) are well regarded, and played more often, because of the highly dramatic story that plays out in the game. Other cooperative games, like Forbidden Island or Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game (Mattel, 2016) are more like puzzles with a thin story behind the game mechanics. They aren’t bad games, just not dramatic enough. For us, it is the thought (expectation?) of a great narrative that brings certain cooperative games to the table.

RockyMountainNavy Jr. recently expressed an interest in Forbidden Sky (Gamewright, 2018). The game is the third in the Forbidden Island/Desert/Sky trilogy and claims to carry the narrative of the first two games forward. Not owning or playing Forbidden Desert I cannot comment on the carried-narrative portion. Maybe, just maybe, there is something to this. The question will be is the lure of carried-narrative enought to get a new game, much less two older ones, to the gaming table?


Feature image courtesy Gamewright

#FamilyFriday – #GhostbustersProtecttheBarrier (Mattel Games, 2016)

In high school I was lucky enough to be a projectionist in a movie theater. One of the blockbuster movies of 1984 was Ghostbusters which I watched again and again not just because it was my job, but it is a good movie! Year later, I sat down with my kids and watched the movie together. We were not diassapointed.

In 2016, Ghostbusters was rebooted with an all-female cast. It carries a Tomataometer score of 73% and an audience score of only 52%. So why would I pick up a game based on that movie?

Well, price is just part of it. I was in the local Tuesday Morning store and was walking the games isle. Seeing this game, something made me pull out my smartphone and check BoardGameGeek. Turns out that Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier is a remake of the 2014 Kinderspiel des Jahres-winning cooperative Geister, Geister, Schatzsuchmeister! (or Ghost Fighting’ Treasure Hunters).

Now, my boys should be too old to play “children’s games” but the reviews on BGG mentioned advanced rules. Advanced rules that make it tough to beat. Tough to beat even for adults. So I picked up Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier and am going to give it a try. On the advanced level. Will let you all know how it turns out!

#FamilyGameFriday – Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014)

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Courtesy BGG.com

Earlier this year I picked up Patchwork from Mayfair Games. I think this was after I listened to the Heavy Cardboard podcast As I write this post, the game is the #1 Abstract, the #2 Family Game, and the #44 overall on BoardGameGeek. For a game that is so popular, I am a bit late to the party. However, I have joined the party and the family is glad I have.

At first glance, Patchwork does not look like a game this old grognard or a house full of boys would like. I mean, it’s quilting for gosh sakes! Ah, hidden under that theme is a Tetris-like puzzler with resource management ( time and money) that makes for a quick and interesting game.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I played the game several times over the Memorial Day weekend. The youngest RMN Boy even went so far as to declare Patchwork his newest “most favorite” boardgame. Even Mrs. RMN was surprised by how much the boys took to the game. Not that I should be surprised; the RMN Boys have demonstrated an ability to look past theme and enjoy good gameplay like they have for Love Letter[As as aside, the boys pulled out Love Letter at a multi-family dinner over the weekend. Fun was had by all.]

Patchwork has rightly earned itself a prominent spot on our family gaming shelf. The game demonstrates that if one is willing to look past theme there is often a good game to be played – and enjoyed – by many.

Family Friday – Qwirkle Goes Mobile

Courtesy BGG

No, this is not an iOS or Android version. Qwirkle is now available in a small travel version. I like the same black tiles but when I opened my set more than a few tiles stuck together and had to be pried apart. This resulted in chips and blemishes on the tiles. Not enough to make any single tile recognizable from the back but enough to be unsettling.

The smaller tiles have an advantage in that the area needed for play is also smaller. I also like the travel bag that maintains its shape vice the bag of the full set that never finds a good place to lay on the shelf between games.

Family Friday – Castle Panic

Courtesy BGG

First, I’d like to start with a note of thanks to Wil Wheaton and his web series Tabletop over at Geek & Sundry. I appreciate how he shows the games through play. One game that caught my attention was Castle Panic.

This game has been around for a few years (since 2009) and I am sad I missed it before. The game uses a cooperative, collapsing fortress mechanic where the players must work together to defeat the evil hordes before all the walls of the castle and keep are destroyed. Mrs. RMN has stated that she really like cooperative games, so introducing this one into the house already had her stamp of approval. The real test was to see if Little RMN would enjoy it.

First game (Little RMN, T and myself) saw us barely defeat the hordes. Victory came through teamwork; Little RMN weakened the last monster then used his Tar to hold it in place so T could finish it off. I could not have asked for a better first game; Little RMN and T working together to defeat the enemy.

The second game (Little RMN, T and G) resulted in defeat. Undaunted, they all were anxious to try again.

The next game was at the RMN grandparent’s house. Grandpa played with Little RMN and T while I assisted Grandpa and Little RMN in learning and following the mechanics of the game. In a truly dramatic ending, the last monster was inside the castle walls and one move away from destroying the last wall. T had no cards to help, and Little RMN had used the Tar to avoid defeat last turn. The only way to win was to use a Keep card but nobody had one in their hands. Having nothing useful in his hand, Grandpa discared one of his cards hoping for something better. He got a “draw two additional cards.” First card was useless, but he second was the Barbarian! With whoops and hollars all three celebrated their victory, with the most touching part coming where Little RMN hugged Grandpa and from his heart thanked him for defeating the last monster. You would of thought Grandpa had just saved the entire world.

No question about it; this game is a real family winner!