Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is it too early to teach my kids that sometimes life blows and you just have to suck it up?

I give a customary warning whenever my kids and I break open a game of Survive. "This is a terrible, terrible game. Bad things will happen to you when you play this, so I don't want to hear any whinging, or crying, or anyone shouting 'That's not fair! Waaaahhhhhhhh!!!'. We are just playing a game to have fun. Does everybody understand?"

"Yes, daddy," they chorus absently as they pick out their meeples. As usual, they aren't heeding the full import of my warning. This was a cruel, cruel game, designed by the twisted mind of a deranged psychopath with an obviously traumatic childhood. As a parent who inflicts this game on his kids, I muse to myself, what does that make me?

By the first half of the game, the number of my surviving meeples is being rapidly diminished by my 6 year old daughter who takes particular delight in dumping her father's meeples into the sea, and my 4 year old son whose grasp of game strategy consists of doing whatever his sister tells him to do. My meeples are being eaten by sharks, hounded by whales, and swallowed whole by ravenous Sea Serpents no matter how desperately they try to swim or row to the safe islands. I guide them along hoping against hope that the luck in this merciless game would finally turn towards me.

And then, expectedly, it happens. A hungry Sea Serpent emerges next to one of my daughter's boats full of her meeples and tears into the fragile craft, devouring everything and everyone on board. Immediately, an enraged wail bursts from my daughter. "Why did you do THAT!?" I glance up at her and on her face, I see The Look.

Are you a parent? If so, you'd know the Look I'm talking about. It's the Look they get when their ice-cream drops out of their cone when they try to take the first bite. The Look they get when one of their siblings pushes past them to use the toilet first. The quivering lower lip, eyes welling up with tears, corners of her mouth dropping faster than one of daddy's meeples into the churning sea.

A full-on break-down was going to happen and internally, I braced for the crash landing and mentally prepared the 'You kids must be tired, so let's get to bed.' speech.

And then, unexpectedly, it happens. Taking a deep breath, my daughter brushes away her tears with both hands. Then she looks around and asks in a much calmer voice. "Whose turn is it?"

In the next turn, a boat-load of my helpless meeples is flung into the water by a rampaging whale guided by a 4 year old boy happily urged on by his sister. In my mind, I could hear the screams of flailing meeples as the black dorsal fins close in, but in my heart, I was brimming with pride, satisfied that whatever that had just happened was worth the wooden lives of countless daddy meeples in this game and all the games to come.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Tragic Love Triangles and Dinosaur Valleys

I recently found an old adventure game called Key to the Kingdom from an op shop. After perusing the rules, I mentally marked it off as a brainless roll-and-move adventure game with cool bits. Then one day, my son (aged 4) pointed it out in the game closet and wanted to give it a go. So we did with my daughter Jojo (aged 6) and to my surprise, we had a great time rolling dice and laughing at the random encounters. It was then when I decided that if we're going to play roll-and-move adventure games with cool bits, we might as well play one of the best ones out there, namely Talisman.

It's been years since I last played Talisman, and after bringing home a new 4th Ed copy from CanCon, I broke it out for the kids to play. I regulated the game which meant that I rolled for the monsters and read out the adventure cards. Jojo played the Prophetess while Evan played the Dwarf.

Jojo started out by visting the farmlands (Fields) and defeating monsters and spirits that were plaguing the area. She tried but was unsuccessful in landing on the Hermit to get the Talisman. Instead, she found a handsome Guide (who she announced was her boyfriend) and then a kind Wizard who gave her an Invisibility Spell which she used to get past the Sentinel to get into the middle-region. Hilariously, she drew another identical Guide card; it was obvious that this was the twin brother of the first Guide, and that they were both enraptured by the Prophetess's beauty, forming a love triangle. Jojo called them her 'boy-boys' and we had some fun over how they kept trying to out-do each other to impress her.

After some wandering, she visited the Warlock and when asked to give up one of her Guide followers to complete his Quest, she hardly batted an eye-lid ("That's okay, I've still got another one!") and handed over one of her fawning Guides to earn her Talisman. Heedless of the danger, she went to the Portal of Power with low Craft and miraculously managed to get through. However, she got lost in the Mines and ended up back in the Tavern. Later, she picked up an 'Immobility' spell (from the same Wizard) and used it to get past the Sentinel again. Much better prepared this time, she entered the Portal of Power, got through the Mines, mercilessly fed her last Guide to the Vampires at the Tower, fought the Pit Fiends, and made it to the Crown of Command to win the game. (Played with the Sudden Death variant where the player who reaches the Crown first wins).

Evan tried early to force his way past the Sentinel, but was knocked away for his troubles. Stressing that he "needed more Strength", he managed to increase his Strength in a variety of ways; once from the Enchantress, once from a Magic Stream; once by handing in some encounter cards, etc. He landed on the Hermit who gave him his Talisman, and finally fought past the Sentinel with the help of "Psionic Blast(?)" spell that adds his Craft value to his Strength. He headed straight for the Portal of Power, got through and got lost in the Crypt, ending up at the Warlock's Cave.

His next personal mission was to "visit the Valley with the dinosaurs" (the Hidden Valley has drawings of little dinosaurs in it) and he achieved this. In the Hidden Valley, he encountered a Hobgoblin with a pet Ape (or was it an Ape with a pet Hobgoblin? We couldn't decide.) and managed to defeat them in a close battle that gave him a Gold as a reward. He was just making his way to the Portal of Power when Jojo reached the Crown space. Evan was distraught that he didn't manage to get to the Crown space as well, but he was mollified when we told him that since Jojo is now Queen, she'll make him the General in charge of all the soldiers.

The Queen and her brother The General
Some notes from our first play:

  1. Story-telling is a must. Part of the fun was dramatically revealing encounters as they turn up and figuring out how events came about. Rather than just draw an Adventure Card to reveal a Witch and roll the die to determine what happens, Evan walked his dwarf through the path in the Woods till he came to the strange throne carved out from a tree-trunk (as depicted on the board). After sitting down on it to rest, an ugly Witch came out the trees screeching that it was her chair. However, after seeing how strong the Dwarf was, the Witch decides to give him a gift instead.
  2. It was difficult to explain what 'Neutral' meant. The kids understood Good and Bad (Evil), but Neutral was a new concept to them. Simply saying that Neutral means 'sometimes Good and sometimes Evil' didn't help. On hindsight, perhaps demonstrating via an imaginary scale where Good is on one end, and Evil is on the other and Neutral is right in the middle might have been a better idea. Anyway, Evan was disturbed by the fact that his Dwarf was Neutral, so in the end we made his Dwarf a Good Dwarf by giving him the Good Alignment card.
  3. The kids were surprisingly very co-operative to each other. When Jojo pulled out a new Spell card (Acquisition) that allowed her to steal an item from Evan, she expressed that she didn't want to hurt Evan; she wanted to help him. So I allowed her to ditch that Spell to draw another one. And there was a time when Evan found the Unicorn, and said that he'll pass it to his sister when they next meet because she loves Unicorns. As a parent, I'm happy that they're demonstrating brother-sister care for each other. As a gamer...? Ah well, I'm sure some cut-throat-ness will turn up in time.