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.

family-friendly board games

9 Great Family-Friendly Board Games

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Screen time is always a concern for parents, even those of us who look at video games’ potential as a positive influence in our children’s lives. Mobile gaming alone has exploded into a multi-billion dollar industry. In this age it’s no longer a question if young people play games, it’s which ones.

At the same time we’ve seen the gradual rise of tabletop board gaming, which could viewed as a response to the prevalent amount of screen time we surrounded ourselves with. The Monopolies and Clues of yesteryear have given way to a new generation of classics in Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.

There are a lot of wonderful, deep, expensive options out there for adults. But if you’re looking for a solid modern board game for the family, we’ve got you covered right here. Here is our list of nine great kid-friendly board games you can enjoy with the whole family.

Eye Found It

family-friendly board games

Age: 4+
Players: 1-6

There’s a few different variations of Eye Found It, with the most common being Disney Eye Found It. A gigantic 6-foot board provides a visual feast of Disney movies and TV shows. The game plays like a classic roll and move, but if you hit the mouse ears, you draw a card with a symbol, and all players engage in a hidden picture adventure as you try to locate brooms, lamps, villains, and waterfalls.

It’s a simple game that doesn’t rely on reading or math (other than moving the right number of spaces), and everyone comes together to help find the hidden objects. There’s also a smaller card-only version that features the same great artwork and gameplay without the huge space requirements.

Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters

family-friendly board games

Age: 8+
Players: 2-4

The title and theme feels like kid Ghostbusters, but the board looks more like Clue, and the gameplay is purely cooperative. Every turn more ghosts appear in various rooms around the manor. Your job is to collect the scattered treasures while managing the ghosts via dice rolls.

It’s an easy game to learn but difficult to master. In fact it’s one of the more challenging cooperative games I’ve played! The components are a lot of fun, with miniatures for each of the kids, ghosts, and hauntings, and you can even slip the treasure rubies right into the kids’ backpacks as you deliver them outside the manor. A highly recommended challenge that demands teamwork and planning.

Kingdomino

family-friendly board games

Age: 8+
Players: 2-4

The most recently released game on this list is a clever take on dominoes. Instead of numbered pips, these dominoes feature glossy art of medieval countryside. The basic gameplay is similiar; draw dominoes and match the correct pieces. The challenge comes in drafting the right pieces and maximizing your score; match the same zone (swamp, pasture, etc) and your score will multiply by the number of spaces.

Younger kids will need help with the end game scoring, but can still play and enjoy the challenge of building out your own little grid map of domino pieces. It’s also cheap, compact, and plays very quickly.

Labyrinth

family-friendly board games

Age: 7+
Players: 2-4

You won’t find David Bowie and a bunch of goblin puppets here, but you will find a very clever tile-pushing, treasure-hunting adventure. The board is built using a series of tiles with different pathing. Each turn a player slides an entire row in one direction, shifting the maze as you try to gather the treasures indicated on your cards.

It’s a simple concept that can be quite perplexing for kids – in a good way. They have to plan ahead and use trial and error to succeed. Don’t be worried about the age recommendation; this is one of my five year old’s favorite games. Feel free to play around with the number of card treasures that are dealt to each player to control exactly how long you want the game to last.

The Magic Labyrinth

family-friendly board games

Age: 6+
Players: 2-4

The Magic Labyrinth features one of the neatest concepts I’ve seen in a kids game. Using magnets, the player pieces move around what looks like an empty grid. But below them are a series of walls (constructed before you play). The magnetized ball below your piece can hit these walls, stopping your movement and forcing you back to the beginning, an invisible maze!

Like the above Labyrinth the goal is to collect treasures around the board, but this one’s even easier to play with more hilarious results. As you hit walls and find the correct paths, memory becomes the most important skill. The initial set up takes a bit of time, but after that you could get away with using the same, or slightly altered invisible maze for subsequent games.

Pengolo

family-friendly board games

Age: 4+
Players: 2-4

Pengolo is a memory game that uses dice and wooden pieces rather than cards. Every turn players roll the dice to determine which colors they’re looking for, then select from the adorable wooden penguin figures to reveal the hidden eggs underneath.

It plays like a cute carnival game as you reveal the eggs, memorize the colors and build your collection. First to six eggs wins. You can also play with a much more aggressive, challenging variation with older kids, and steal from each other’s collections.

Protect the Pride Lands

family-friendly board games

Age: 4+
Players: 2-4

Usually licensed games are the bottom of the barrel, typically slapping big kid franchises on older, classic games. Protect the Pride Lands may use the Lion Guard license but it’s an all-new cooperative game, and surprisingly fantastic.

Players control both the Lion Guard and the enemy animals (hyenas, snakes, vultures), drawing cards each turn to move enemies and allies into position. The enemies try to reach Pride Rock, while the Lion Guard has to move to intercept them. You win if you can get Kion onto the last space of Pride Rock, but lose if any villain makes it there first. It’s a compelling game that utilizes time management and strategic deployment of your units, and features nice miniatures of the Lion Guard characters.

Robot Turtles

family-friendly board games

Age: 4+
Players: 2-4

Famously popular for a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, Robot Turtles is designed to teach kids how to program and code using cards. The game is highly malleable and adjustable, letting you decide where to start the players’ turtles, their ruby treasure, and the various obstacles that you can choose to use.

Each turn players decide which cards they need to use in order to move their turtle, including straight, turning, or firing a laser to melt ice blocks. The goal is to eventually work your way up to using the special programming cards, encouraging kids to use one card to represent several moves – programming their turtle’s actions with a single command. Even if you don’t think your kids have much interest in computer programming, these are still great skills to hone, and giving them complete control over their turtles is a fun variation over so many roll and move games.

Ticket to Ride

family-friendly board games

Age: 8+
Players: 2-4

Yes there’s a smaller, easier Ticket to Ride kids version available (Ticket to Ride: First Journey), but frankly the original game is completely kid-friendly. The North American map is a fantastic way to teach US geography and locations, and the gameplay is as simple as drawing cards, matching colors, and placing down those fun little train pieces.

Players need to plan out their routes from the Destination Tickets they’ve drawn. With younger kids you’ll probably want to play with open hands and give frequent reminders about which cards and colors everyone needs. You’ll probably want to hold off on playing aggressively and blocking others’ routes until you’ve officially drawn them into one of the best family games of the last decade and a half.