Thursday, December 27, 2012

King's Blood

On December 9, our buddy DM came over to visit and to play. The full Risk Legacy crew was not in attendance, so we decided to play a game we own but hadn't cracked open yet - King's Blood.

My girl and I discovered King's Blood on one of our earliest forays to Fan Expo Canada. In the games room, a company called Steve Jackson Games had people available to teach guests how to play some of their games. King's Blood was one of the card games we played. My daughter was naturally drawn to it because of the manga-esque illustrations on the cards. The only bad part was that we couldn't buy the game there and then. (They've changed this system since then - smart move.)

Trying to locate a copy of this game to buy became more difficult than we anticipated. Every game store we phoned said that the company was no longer making King's Blood. We searched and searched and finally, last fall while the kids were involved in a Ryerson University project on gaming, we wandered into a game store downtown and found a dusty copy on a low-lying shelf. What luck!

For some reason, it took us a year to finally get around to playing the game. We didn't remember our tutorial from years past, so we resorted to reading the instruction manual. There certainly is an art to writing clear directions. We were a bit fuzzy on the rules, even after reading the instructions, but we muddled through.

The aim of the game is to build dynasties and your goal is to get rid of all your cards. Characters could only marry if they shared the same colour / philosophy. Here are some photos of our game play.

Peek at my hand while we play

This is a pretty long dynasty!
An usurper! Thank goodness!
We may try the game again sometime but it's not on our Top 10 list of favourites. We hope to see DM some time before the end of 2012 to play some different games - we'll see if our schedules match.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Game Haul

The long awaited Christmas 2012 season is here (for us, it begins with Christmas Day - December 25 - and technically ends on the Feast of the Epiphany in January). Our kids received lots of gifts and many of those presents were games. Here's a list of the game-related items that are new to our house:

  • the Nintendo Wii U game console system (with Nintendoland game)
  • Super Mario Brothers U game
  • Kirby's Dreamland Collection (thanks Grandma & Pop Pop D!)
  • Wreck It Ralph for the Wii (thanks Auntie Angela & Uncle Robin!)
  • Labyrinth & 
  • Uno Roboto board games (thanks Chuch!)
  • Lego Heroica board game &
  • Adventure Time DS game (thanks Grandma M!)
  • Tiny Ray &
  • Bad Piggies &
  • Coco Loco &
  • Angry Birds Star Wars iPad app games
Giving games made it much easier to shop for my kids: one game could work for both children (depending on the title, of course) and by mentioning only specific titles to relatives and friends, it was less likely that the kids would receive duplicate gifts. Despite the long list, no one went over-budget with their purchases.  (The Wii U console was the biggest item.) I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cross-media products related to games (such as the Angry Birds K-nex toys, plush Kirby, or the Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts that my son and daughter unwrapped). The blog posts over the next few days will probably relate to some of these new toys.

Getting games is a popular thing - on Boxing Day, EB Games was packed to the gills with people when hubby tried to go in to get another Wiimote that had the proper motion sensor system. I read somewhere on Twitter that 70 000 new users joined Minecraft (new Christmas gift accounts?). I hope our crazy, consumerist culture will be happy with what we have for now (I'm not a big fan of Boxing Week shopping and my fear of crowds is only part of the reason) and we can appreciate what we've got, especially when we realize that many others don't get a fraction of what we get. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Super-Game Saturday

My husband and I were keen to do some whole-family fun-time things with our kids this past weekend (understandable considering that some families south of the border won't get to do that sort of thing with their children after the tragedy on Friday) so we had a game-playing marathon. Here are some photos and highlights:

Game 1: Lego Heroica

The boy really likes playing this game because of the jewels. It's exactly like that old game Mastermind where you must guess your opponent's hidden pattern before they determine yours. The boy won, despite the fact that my husband had used our personality traits to correctly deduce our patterns. For instance, my treasure chest uses a pattern (yellow, red, red, yellow) because I don't like peeking over and over at my pattern to say if someone's right and I like symmetry. Hubby knew the boy had a white peg because he'd want a diamond in his collection.

Game 2: Labyrinth

This is another of the boy's favourite games. He has very good visual-spatial sense. However, by a fluke of the tiles, I won this game and the girl came in second place. We play the version where you can see all your cards at once and plot accordingly; this makes the game faster. We received an anniversary version of this game from my husband's aunt in Maryland as a Christmas gift this year. I think the boy might be sad to learn it's not the electronic version. It's worth having two sets.

Game 3: Blokus

I was shocked when the boy agreed to play Blokus with us. I really love this game and, all modesty aside, I'm pretty good at it. I was yellow, hubby was green, daughter was red and son was blue. I have a very particular play style - I set out all my pieces in two rows (one with all the 5-square pieces, and one with all the 4-square or lower pieces) and then I try to use up all my 5-square pieces as quickly as I can, by spreading quickly and aggressively across the board. My son played in a very different way - hubby called it "zen". He didn't organize his pieces. He actually spent a lot of time assembling his off-board pieces into large blocks of squares. The second piece he played in the whole game was a 3-square piece, one that I'd never play so early in the game.

Because I'm known as the strongest Blokus player in the house, my family spent a great deal of time trying to destroy me and block every single pathway I'd create. Despite their efforts, I was doing pretty well - all I had left near the end was my straight 5-square line, my straight 4-square line, and my straight 3-square line. Blokus counts the number of square in the pieces you have remaining that's left off the board - the smallest number determines the winner. With 12 squares, I thought I had the game in the bag - until my son's bizarre method of play turned to his advantage and he was able to place just one more piece on the board.

You can count - even though these were 5-square pieces, he only had two remaining, and with 10 squares, he won the game. He was pretty proud of his accomplishment, and I learned that my strategy for playing Blokus isn't the only one people can use to win the game.

We also played our Nerf sword game. My son and I were a bit disappointed that the girl did not want to start the fight by providing a cheesy action-movie line prior to attack, so we ganged up on her. We also acted out great mortality scenes when we were defeated. It was fun to play as a family and I hope we get to do it again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A creative solution to a "Sticky" Mario problem

My son recently earned the chance to get the video game Super Mario Sticker Star. He was delighted to get it, as he hasn't had any new games for a while. There was only one problem ...

The boy recently lost the privilege to watch YouTube videos unsupervised because he would not self-regulate his viewing habits. There are many fan-made videos that use language that we'd prefer for him not to hear regularly; his filter isn't as fine-tuned as his sister's, so we didn't want this language influencing his speech habits. There are also some crude and rude visual humour that we'd like him to avoid as well. The initial arrangement was that he was to switch to a different video if he heard or saw any objectionable content, but he has been skipping that step, so he was limited to watching videos on YouTube only when supervised by a parent. This put a serious crimp in his viewing time.

He became stuck on a certain part of his new game, Super Mario Sticker Star, but he was prohibited from searching for videos alone. He could ask us to watch alongside him, but neither Mom nor Dad like spending hours watching YouTube.

He came up with a pretty respectable solution to his dilemma: he'd watch the game walk-throughs with the sound off. Since it's just a game-walk-through, all the visuals come from the video game and not from the video producers, so there was no mature content for us to worry about. Not bad, eh?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Maple Story and WoW

My daughter has recently gotten into Maple Story. She and her father had a really cute conversation comparing their experiences on their MMOs regarding quests. Her dad commiserated with her when she bemoaned the tasks that involved collecting a large number of items. He then relayed how annoying it was to collect items that drop randomly:

"I'd rather kill 20 wolf than have to give him 10 wolf pelts - in the end I have to kill twice as many to get the pelts!"

Then they discussed spawn rates - Maple Story has a higher spawn rate than World of Warcraft typically does, except for when a new expansion comes out. I guess MMOs have a lot in common with each other.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Virtual Party & A Social Faux-Pas

Last Saturday I organized my mother's 76th surprise birthday party. After it was over, my kids and I attended another soiree, a virtual pool party hosted by Gumby on our GamingEdus Minecraft server. I've attended versions of virtual parties before - one year, I rang in the New Year in 4 different time zones while celebrating via a combination of Skype and Yahoo IM with my friends I met from the Twilight Lexicon. This was a little different. It's Minecraft - lots of things are different. Gumby_Blockhead showed us his absolutely gorgeous new pool in the survival area and we took a tour, swam, and goofed around together. Then, the party goers traveled to the nether to visit Phisagrim's Magma Cafe.

Phisa checks out Gumby_Blockhead's pool

Have you ever become a little overexcited and done something kinda silly and socially awkward at a party? Well, this happened to poor Phisagrim. He was so delighted to have all these people in his restaurant that he went a bit overboard. He flew over the guests' heads and dumped oodles and oodles of potions on top of them. Some of the players had never been in creative mode prior to this encounter, so it was unsettling and confusing for them. Participants handled it in various ways. Some joked. Some asked for it to stop via chat. Others left the location.

The Magma Cafe visitors during the potion assault

Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst thing to do at a party. My now-deceased uncle once attended a party in his youth and got so drunk that he poured a bottle of alcohol over a soon-to-be ordained priest, "baptizing" him with a rather racist declaration. However, when Phisagrim realized what he had done, he was mortified. He said he was a horrible person and was totally aghast at his actions. Terragrim and Liragrim talked to him and persuaded him to go back online and say sorry through chat. Only two players were left online by this time, but Yo graciously accepted Phisagrim's apology and Gumby promised to pass the word along to his family members. Phisa then wrote an email to our system admin, Praxismaxis, to send regrets to other players.

Afterwards, I wondered if we should have just let him hide his head in shame for a bit, done nothing, and pretended it never happened. I mean, when players pull stupid stunts while in-game, rarely do they make a point of giving a "mea culpa" to the group.  Were we enforcing a social norm that doesn't exist in game? I prefer to think that confessing when you've done something wrong is a noble and brave thing to do, even if there's "no harm, no foul". We don't want to be jerks (even unintentional jerks) online or IRL.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gaming Bonanza with Wreck It Ralph Explained

I just posted three screen shots of me playing the three games mentioned in the recent Disney film, "Wreck It Ralph". I've seen this film twice already and loved it both times. Most people are already familiar with the basic plot of the movie, so I won't reiterate it here. Besides the many real-life video games and game characters that have cameos in this film, there are three games invented specifically for the movie's story:
  1. Fix It Felix Jr.
  2. Hero's Duty
  3. Sugar Rush
Disney is a clever marketing machine and they created versions of these games to play, both for free online and a purchasable version for the Wii. I tried out all three free online games for fun. Here's some of what I discovered about the games and myself.

A) I'm an old-timer at heart
The game I played the best and enjoyed the most was Fix It Felix Jr., an homage to old games like Donkey Kong. It was the only game that would run on my school computers because the other two needed a special plug-in. The graphics on Felix were appropriately simple. The game isn't easy - dodging Ralph's bricks and the geese can be tricky, especially when there are obstacles to prevent you from taking the most direct route to fix the windows. Felix reminded me of some of the games I used to enjoy playing as a kid on my old Vic 20 computer (with tapes!), such as Froggee.

B) I have terrible visual-spatial sense
Although I made it to level 10 in the story mode of Hero's Duty, shooting isn't a talent of mine. Despite the convenience of having my reticule turn into a red triangle when the cy-bugs were in my sight lines, I often missed the menaces because it was dark and my aim stunk. I'd occasionally lose track of my weapon completely (and had to wave the mouse around wildly to find it again). I think I enjoy watching someone else play these kinds of games more than I do running the controls myself. (Side note: sometimes when young people talk about playing certain games, they count watching other players perform as "playing" themselves. I can't recall where I heard or read that, but I should follow up on it.)

C) The controls make a difference
I've played racing games before, especially Mario Kart, and I'm definitely not a pro. On the Rainbow Road track, I can barely finish, and only if I use the accelerator just enough to power the car forward slightly so I can creep slowly along the path. In Sugar Rush, the racing game, I actually did even worse than I usually do in Mario Kart, and I want to blame my controls, like many poor players do. (Look up the Simpsons clip where Homer and Bart play a boxing video game and you'll know exactly what I mean.) I had to use the arrow keys for steering and speed, so my hands were all on top of each other. I'd love to borrow the Wii version of Sugar Rush to see if I'm any better at it.

D) You can like the aesthetics without being talented at the game
When my daughter heard that there was an actual Sugar Rush game you could play, she rushed down to the computer to try. She's been trying to teach herself all the Japanese words to the song from the film and doing well. However, she didn't do so well playing the game - like mother, like daughter, in this respect. However, the game itself (as well as the sountrack) are gorgeous. Maybe I'm now starting to understand why my son spends SO much time watching play-throughs of games he never intends to play!

E) Even a movie about video games scorns badges and achievements
SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT - Major plot revelations below!
Wreck It Ralph originally believes that for him to become a good guy and earn the respect and admiration of the other characters in his game, he needs to obtain a medal. He "earns" one from a different video game, Hero's Duty, but loses it in Sugar Rush. Vanellope seizes his medal and uses it as payment to enter her in the race she's been barred from participating in for a variety of reasons. Vanellope and Ralph work together to have her get a car and win the race (initially so Ralph can get his medal back), and as they work together, Ralph grows to care for her. Even when Ralph smashes Vanellope's car, it is in a mistaken believe that this move will save her life. Ralph gets his medal back but his temporary defection from his own game does not bring him the accolades he seeks. He's got the medal but he's all alone. He eventually learns that a good guy isn't made by the medals he earns, but by his deeds and his compassion for his fellow characters. In the very last line of the movie, Ralph is talking with his fellow video game bad guys at their support group, and Ralph says (with thanks to Rotten Tomatoes for the quote search feature):

Turns out I don't need a medal to tell me I'm a good guy. Because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?
I teared up when I heard that final line.The "medal" that means the most to him, the one he gazes at as he makes the ultimate sacrifice, is the cookie one that Vanellope makes as a thank you for all he's done teaching her to drive, creating her vehicle, and believing in her. I was thinking about this message both in terms of gamification (kids will love to learn if we make badges!) and in terms of education itself (what does an "A+" really give you?). It's the things that are difficult to measure that mean the most - that's a pretty deep and surprising lesson from a movie about video games. The irony may be lost on many of us, as playing all three of these online games offered me rewards for my performance (high score board / unlocked achievements / etc.) but that's what I got out of playing these games and reflecting on a really great movie.

Gaming Bonanza with Wreck It Ralph Pt 3