shadows in the forest

Shadows in the Forest Review

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Ever play a board game in the dark? The 1980s kids game from Germany called Waldschattenspiel was designed for night-time playing. It featured an open-flame candle moving around a 3-dimensional board, while other players tried to hide in the shadows. Thinkfun’s recent remake, Shadows in the Forest, officially brings the game to the US with a richer theme and a more kid-friendly LED lantern.

Shadows in the Forest is an unusual and unique board game where players must tactically remain in darkness, while giggling at avoiding the dreaded light.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Shadows in the Forest can technically support any number of players, with one player playing as the lantern-controlling Seeker, and everyone else playing as the Shadowlings on a team. Every round the Seeker rolls a dice and move the lantern that number of spaces through different routes on the board.

The Shadowlings aren’t beholden to any such movement restrictions – but they have to remain in the shadows. A number of cardboard trees and rocks have to be assembled each time you open the box. They provide proper hiding places for the Shadowlings. If all the Shadowlings can reach one Hiding Place together, those players win.

shadows in the forest

At the same time, the Seeker player is trying to bathe each one in light. Hitting a Shadowling freezes it, and the Shadowling loses its little plastic mask, unable to move until another Shadowling can safely reach it. The Seekers job is to collect all the masks and freeze all the Shadowlings.

It’s basically an elaborate game of freeze tag. Despite the simplicity it’s a lot of fun, causing a raucous amount of laughing and giggling, even with adults.

Playing with lights and shadows is a novel concept, and easy enough that anyone can jump in and play within seconds.

Blinded by the Light

The original Waldschattenspiel featured dwarves. Shadows in the Forest re-themes the figures, replacing them with cute shadowy blobs called Shadowlings. With their masks on they look like something from a Miyazaki film. They’re all plastic, including the removable white masks, but high quality.

As a nice touch the dice is glow in the dark and rechargeable if you stick it next to a light source. The LED lantern does the job perfectly without worrying about your kids literally playing with fire.

The game comes with six Shadowlings, and it’s up to the players how many they want to play with. It’s a nice way to create a range of difficulty challenges, with three being the easiest and six being very difficult.

Darkness isn’t just a feature, it’s pretty much a requirement, and the darker the better. Playing in an dimly lit area or not-yet dark time of day is less than ideal, resulting in arguments over whether nor not a Shadowling passed through the light. The board isn’t large but it can be tricky to see exactly where the light ends and the shadows begin at the edge of the lantern’s light.

shadows in the forest

The Rating

The box recommends Ages 8+ though younger kids can quickly grasp the simple rules and join in, particularly as the Seeker.

The Takeaway

By using light and shadows as a fun form of freeze tag, Shadows in the Forest is both simplistic and clever. As a rules-lite game with no firm timer it feels casual and light-hearted, though this can cause problems among kids as Shadowling movement mostly requires the honor system to stay in shadow. The game is uniquely limited by its surroundings; perfect for sleep-overs and basements, and provides a fun experience that’s guaranteed to be different than any family game you’ve played before.

Shadows in the Forest is available at Amazon now, and in Target stores in August.

jurassic park danger

Jurassic Park Danger! Review

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Game publisher Ravensburger is celebrating Jurassic Park’s 25th anniversary with Jurassic Park Danger!, an adventure strategy game that pits the heroes (and victims) of the first film against the rampaging dinosaurs on Isla Nublar.

By melding together fun board game mechanics from Euro-style games, Jurassic Park Danger! is far more compelling and rewarding than many family games found in the Target gaming aisle. Its dedication to the source material is immensely rewarding for fans of the 1993 film – but be prepared for the dinosaurs to come out on top more often than not.

Man Creates Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs Eat Man

Jurassic Park Danger! is both cooperative and competitive. It’s designed for 2-5 players. One player always takes the role of the rampaging dinosaurs on the island – specifically a dilophosaurus, velociprator, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Each dinosaur is represented by wonderful little dino-meeples with printed pictures.

The other players each play one of ten color-coded characters from the film, including Dr. Alan Grant, Dr. Ian Malcolm, Dr. Ellie Sattler, and park owner John Hammond. Every player (including the dinosaur player) gets their own character mat and deck of cards.

The island board isn’t quite a faithful recreation of the park. Instead it’s randomly constructed every game through the modular hexagonal inner pieces, not unlike The Settlers of Catan. This randomizes the locations of cliffs, electric fences, dinosaur spawn points, and some of the objectives. To maintain a semblance of balance, the main objectives are always placed at the cardinal directions of the island, with human players always starting in the middle.

The human players’ goals are to active three locations, such as the control center, then escape off the island via the helicopter. If the humans can collectively get three characters off the island, they win.

jurassic park danger

At the same time, each character has their own specific goals, listed on their character mats. Like everything else, they’re drawn from the film. Ray Arnold, for example, must go to the maintenance shed location to earn his goal token before he can escape (hopefully a better fate than in the movie). These goals help add an interesting wrinkle to players’ plans – particularly when a character dies.

Clever Girl

The dinosaur players’ goal is to eliminate three human characters. Crucially, Jurassic Park Danger! works around player elimination by letting the humans play a new character with a fresh deck of cards. In fact, the manual very plainly states on the first page that there’s a good chance the character you start with won’t survive to make it off the island!

The low odds of survival is due to the card playing and health mechanic. Every round every player selects a card and places it face down on their sheet. The dinosaur player always goes first, revealing their movement capabilities and attempting to maneuver and ambush as many humans as possible. When a dinosaur enters a human space, the dinosaur attacks, and the human has to permanently lose a card. That’s bad news for humans, because they need to play those cards to get around the island.

The humans all have similar cards in their hands: Run, Climb, Sneak, and Distract. Running, climbing and sneaking offer different means of traveling around the map, but you’ll need to roll a dice to accomplish some of them.

jurassic park dangerI like that all the characters vary slightly, and aren’t just a simple aesthetic change. Tim, Hammond’s grandson, is slightly better at sneaking but not so great at climbing, for example.

Additionally, each character has special ability cards they can deploy. Lex’s I’m a Hacker card let’s her reroll a dice. Nedry can turn a single electric fence off or on, while Grant can rescue a nearby character by moving them into his space.

Playing multiple characters with different goals and abilities makes the game far more challenging for human players than the dinosaur player. Humans must also coordinate their actions to accomplish as much as they can while they’re still alive.

It’s far easier for the dinosaur player to use their unique abilities – like the dilophosaurus spit – to spread their attacks, block paths, and generally wear down the humans.

While it’s fun to watch both sides sneak around and out maneuver each other, it’s less enjoyable to lose your human character simply because you slowly ran out of cards to play. The balance feels particularly painful with less human players, as you have far fewer options to survive the onslaught of attacks. In half a dozen plays I’ve never seen the human players win, though they have come close.

The Rating

Jurassic Park Danger! is recommended for Ages 10+. Since movement is tied to card choice, and humans start with a full hand of all 10 cards, every single choice is strategic and tactical. Characters are eliminated, but players are not.

While Jurassic Park Danger! is suitable for families, it’s also aimed squarely at nostalgic fans of the original film.

The Takeaway

I count Jurassic Park as one of my all-time favorite films, and Jurassic Park Danger! absolutely nails the themes, style, and story beats remarkably well. The randomized board setup and ten characters provide a wealth of replay value, and the wooden meeples and card-playing strategy reflect the game’s Eurogame roots rather than a mass-market family game. I didn’t think I’d ever see a solid board game adaptation using the original Jurassic Park license, but life finds a way.

pax unplugged

PAX Unplugged Officially Returns With a New Date

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When PAX Unplugged was announced last year, some where skeptical that it was a one-off event. Put those fears to rest, as Penny Arcade and ReedPOP have officially announced PAX Unplugged 2018. Badges will go on sale May 17.

“I know we’re biased, but we really did have a blast at Unplugged last year and we’re really excited to come back,” states the official announcement. “Not just come back, but we’re growing the scope of the show considerably. Don’t worry, it’ll still be focused on tabletop gaming, but parts of the building will be opening up to us this year and we should have a bit more room to stretch our legs and smooth out some of the wrinkles.

PAX Unplugged 2018 will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA. Last year it took place the weekend before Thanksgiving, but this year the dates have been shifted two weeks later, taking place Nov 30 – Dec 2. That should hopefully ease the chaos of traveling around the holidays. Not to mention another big board gaming convention, BGG Con, that took place at the same time last year.

Like other PAX shows, PAX Unplugged features an exhibit hall stuffed with vendors, develoeprs, and publishers, discussion panels, musical performances, and tournaments. All other PAX events focus on video games and the gaming industry, with a light sprinkling of tabletop. Unplugged focuses exclusively on tabletop games, board games, and RPGs, from a massive freeplay area with lending library to a dedicated area for painting minatures.

PAX Unplugged also includes a special family room area with kid-friendly games. The final day of the expo, Sunday, is designated Kids Day. Kids Day will provide an extra emphasis on family-friendly games, as well as offering reduced single-day Kids Day Badges for the Under 12 crowd. The Kids Day Badge still provides full access to the event.

PAX Unplugged 2018 badges will go on sale at 12 pm Pacific/3 pm Eastern on May 17. You can sign up for Twitter notifications when registration opens.

ink monsters

Ink Monsters Review

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Publisher: Albino Dragon
Players: 2-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Age: 6+

Card games can be tricky for younger kids. It can be challenging to hold very many cards in tiny hands, and privately manage their own resources.

Ink Monsters alleviates these issues by providing a streamlined set collection card game, themed around drawing kid-friendly monsters. The enchanting artwork and simple iconography helps sell the light-hearted experience, though end game scoring quickly grows complex and unwieldy.

Monsters, Ink

Ink Monsters is made up of two decks of cards: 48 monster cards and 57 action cards. In each of the three rounds, 12 monsters are randomly drawn into a circle. A magic pen card is place on the outer ring, indicating the next monster that will be drafted. Each round players play from their hand of three ability cards to rotate and move the pen to a more desirable monster before they select it. At the end of three rounds, the most victory points wins.

ink monstersEach monster has a point value, ranging from -5 to +5, as well as several trait icons, such as clothes, arms, and teeth. Monsters also come in five different colors, and almost all of them have either a once per round ability, or offer bonus (or negative!) points depending on the other Monsters you’ve drafted.

Once you start collecting monsters you have to start paying attention to their associated icons and powers, which can be challenging for younger kids who just want to pick their favorite-looking monsters.

I wouldn’t blame them; the card artwork is exceptional. These monsters would feel right at home within the world of Disney-Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. But what really matters are the icons and abilities each monster possesses.

For example, Alex gives you the ability to move the magic pen clockwise one to three spaces, essentially giving you a fourth card in your hand of ability cards. Lisa grants +1 point for each different colored monster you’ve collected. George lets you draw an additional monster from the deck. But that could be a blessing or a curse.

Some monsters are worth negative points, or have negative bonuses. Cary is worth 0 points, but his ‘bonus’ is that each other monster you own with hair scores -1 at the end of the game.

Juggling all these collection bonuses together becomes a bit too unfriendly with less players and younger kids, which is our typical family situation. The game doesn’t scale for the number of players, so less players equals more monsters per player. That means sifting through a dozen or more traits, bonuses, and abilities by the end of the game.

End game scoring is likewise a complete nightmare with that many monsters. It’s way more difficult than I would expect from a game aimed at 6+ kids. Thankfully Albino Dragon has released a free scoring app on iOS and Android that does all of the work for you. It’s a solid app and almost a necessity to determine final scores.

Pen is Mightier

The key to producing a great game for the under eight crowd is to minimize text. Ink Monsters comes close to succeeding but falls short with the abilities. The trait icons are easily identifiable, and all the action cards include a large visual aid indicating the action, such as a turned arrow and a +1.

Yet we still had to explain what most cards do with our six year old, and play with open hands to help her make a decision. Repeated plays helped, but there’s still just a bit too much going on. I would recommended the age closer to 8+.

ink monsters

On the flip side the game scales well for older kids and more players. Collecting less monsters lets you focus on specific strategies, such as monsters with hair and monsters who are pink and purple. There are also not a lot of cruel gotcha tactics. Instead players will often be left with really bad choices toward the end of each round. But there are enough negative-point monsters that everyone will have a few bad eggs in their collection.

Ink Monsters is a fun but flawed card game for kids. The artwork is absolutely amazing and every single monster card is unique, leading to an impressive replay factor that plays fairly quickly. But the gameplay is a bit too complex for what it offers, with too many overlapping traits, icons, and powers that players have to keep up with. With the amount of text involved I would at least bump the age to 8+, and I would absolutely recommend the free scoring app as practically a requirement to get through the complex end-game scoring.

family-friendly board games

Save Up to 40% on Amazon’s Tabletop Day Sale

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Deal Alert! In honor of the upcoming annual International Tabletop Day this Saturday, April 28, Amazon is hosting an all-day sale on many tabletop board games. The sale ends at midnight.

There’s a nice assortment of easy kid games, intuitive family games, complex eurogames, and party games.

For kid-friendly games for the under 10 crowd, check out Enchanted Forest, Outfoxed, and Ravensburger Labyrinth.

If you have age 8+ kids and like to play games with the family, you’ll be interested in King of Tokyo, Forbidden Island (and Forbidden Desert), Castle Panic, The Quest for El DoradoCarcassonne, and Kingdomino (and Queendomino).

If you and your partner are looking for great two player games, look no further than 7 Wonders: Duel. If you do want to look a bit further, check out The Castles of Burgundy, and Caverna: Cave vs Cave.

For light-hearted party games see Dixit, Werewords, and the various Werewolf games.

Finally if your whole gaming group is looking to expand their collection you’ll find lots of great choices: Terraforming Mars, Photosynthesis, 7 Wonders, Arcadia Quest, Dead of Winter, and Five Tribes.

Many of these games are at historic low prices. On the flip side many of the best deals are already selling out, and seeing an instant price hike from third party Amazon sellers. Terraforming Mars was the best deal of the bunch at $35 (50% off), but it has since jumped up to $44 (36% off). It’s a similar story with Palace of Mad King Ludwig and Photosynthesis.

Note that the sale discount is taken off the standard retail MSRP. Amazon’s board game prices are very rarely listed at MSRP to begin with, so the actual sale prices are less impressive than they appear. Use price checking websites such as CamelCamelCamel to determine where these sale prices fall in relation to previous sales and price drops and get the best game for your buck.

The Amazon Tabletop Day sale ends tonight.