Available On: PC (Steam), Switch
Shovel Knight was one of the most popular and well-received indie games of the last several years, lovingly ripping off NES-era pixels and gameplay.
With fun abilities, excellent level designs, and a charming art style, I’m declaring Kunai the Shovel Knight of 2020, though Kunai shoulders the much more expansive (and oft-overused) genre of metroidvania, and not without some significant growing pains. Read More
Publisher: Larva Games
Game Length: 15-30 minutes
Even hardcore “gamer’s game” tabletop publishers like Petersen Games see the value in exploring the lucrative market of kid-friendly games. The Tooth Fairy Game is their first release under their new Larva Games imprint. It packs four different kid-focused games into one box, along with over 100 colorful plastic teeth.
The teeth and bag components are delightful, and the four games increase in complexity to allow for a wider range of age and skill, though we found them all underwhelming.
The Tooth Hurts
The first game, That’s My Tooth, simply asks each player to pull teeth from their bag in the hopes of getting five of their color first. There’s zero strategy (like the card game War) but easy to play with much younger kids. Pulling Teeth is almost the same game but with multiple bags to choose from, and a die roll for the number. These games provide the barest of introductions to set collection, but younger kids will get a kick out of collecting small plastic teeth.
Lie Through Your Teeth is when things get a bit more interesting. It’s basically Liar’s Dice but using numbers and colors of teeth. Players start with a random assortment of teeth in their bag, then bluff on how many and what kind of teeth everyone has collectively.
Unlike Liar’s Dice, winners gain teeth when they win (rather than losers losing dice), giving the winners of each round more and more information. This makes it harder for other players to catch up and can quickly become frustrating. Bluffing is a hard enough concept for children to grasp without piling on the challenge of a runaway leader.
Finally there’s Treasure Teeth, which is a secret bidding game using teeth as currency. A roll of a dice determines the max bid, up to double the roll. Everyone divides their teeth into two hands in the hope of getting their biggest bid randomly selected in a winner-take-all. There’s a bit of strategy with how much to bid, and the risk and reward in dividing the teeth.
Treasure Teeth is a noble attempt to simplify poker-style treasure pots and antes into a game for younger kids, but, like the Liar’s Dice-inspired Treasure Teeth, is also not a genre that lends itself to being kid-friendly in the first place.
The Tooth Fairy Game has an age recommendation of 6+. The four included games gradually scale in complexity, allowing for even younger kids to play the easier games, which amount to little more than pulling colorful teeth from bags.
While I love the the huge amount of colorful teeth and cloth bags, none of the four games do anything meaningful with the theme. The teeth could just as easily be anything else, like buttons, cubes, or coins.
Including four games of increasing complexity is a brilliant method of producing a kids game, allowing one game box to grow along with the kids. But introducing two very kid-unfriendly genres, bluffing and betting, results in dissatisfying half-measures.
Find The Tooth Fairy Game at Petersen Games Website.
Publisher: Big Potato Games
Game Length: 20 mins
The category was “movies with superheroes.” My wife and I locked eyes from across the table, hands poised over the buzzer. What followed was a hilariously heated exchange as we realized the incredible amount of superhero films we’ve seen together.
The Blockbuster Party Game combines multiple social party game modes within a delightfully nostalgic package, hearkening back to those 90s days of Friday night runs to the VHS tape emporium, Blockbuster Video.
Be Kind, Please Rewind
In the Blockbuster Party Game, players divide into two teams. Gameplay is divided into two halves, with the first half featuring a head-to-head match between two players on opposing teams. A card is drawn from a deck of 60 category cards, such as “movies set during Christmas,” or “movies by Steven Spielberg.” Both players call out answers while hitting the buzzer to impose a 15-second timer on their opponent, until one of them is stumped.
In the second half of the game, the winner of the head-to-head match draws six cards from a different deck of 200 movie cards, selects three, and gives the other three to the losing player. Both players choose which of their three cards to put in each of the three spots on the board for their team to guess. Depending on the spot that was chosen, the players then take turns using a single word, a single quote, or attempting to act out a scene in the hopes their team guesses each film.
The 200-card movie deck contains a rich assortment of popular films, spread among eight different genres, from Horror and Animation to All-Time Classics. Even if you’re not a cinephile, there’s a solid chance you’ve at least heard of movies like Groundhog Day, Rambo, and Forest Gump. The game ends when one team acquires at least one of each genre movie card by correctly guessing the movie.
For a light party game, there remains a decent level of strategy as players decide which movies and which categories they want to assign them. For Home Alone I could shout “KEVIN!” as my one word clue, or use the classic quote, “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” The Act It category often becomes the throw-away section, however, as we found it challenging to pantomime any scene of a film within a 30-second window for all three categories. We quickly realized how many action films are just Dude Shooting Gun.
The Blockbuster Party Game has a 12+ age rating. The gameplay isn’t tactically complex nor does it contain any objectionable material (unless you count R-rated movie titles). The age rating is due to the decades of movie knowledge that’s recommended, at least on a surface level, to fully enjoy the game.
The party game goes all-in with the Blockbuster theme, featuring a foldable parking lot board with attachable Blockbuster sign, and VHS tapes as movie cards. The entire package is contained within a rectangular plastic shell, exactly like a VHS box that I’d rent stacks of throughout the 90s. The Blockbuster Party Game effectively balances head-to-head movie trivia with the social enjoyment of remembering, quoting, acting, and referencing popular movies, the perfect party game for nostalgic 80s and 90s kids of a bygone era.
Find The Blockbuster Party Game at Target.
Players: 2-3 (the full game supports up to 6)
Game Length: 40-60 minutes
The second stand-alone expansion to excellent asymmetrical card game Disney Villainous, Evil Comes Prepared, finally adds Scar as a playable villain, along with dark-horse picks Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove and Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective. Scar is mildly disappointing but the others make up for it with unique and interesting play styles, proving that Villainous continues to host an impressive pantheon of Disney favorites.
Circle of Life
By now you should already be familiar with how Disney Villainous plays. Each player selects a Disney villain, which comes with their own deck of villain cards, a fate deck of meddling heroes, a player board with four locations, and a stylized 3D token. Each turn players move their token to a location, performing the limited actions at that location, such as playing cards, gaining power, and vanquishing heroes. Villains can also draw from their opponents’ fate decks to place heroes on their board, partially covering up their actions and thwarting their plans.
Part of the genius of Villainous is its asynchronous gameplay. Each villain has a unique victory condition, as well as their own unique card decks and player boards. No two villains play alike, though with the second expansion Evil Comes Prepared adding the 10th, 11th, and 12th villains to the game, we’re beginning to see some overlaps.
Surprisingly Scar is the weakest of the new additions in Evil Comes Prepared. Scar’s goal is to defeat 15 strength worth of heroes. Eliminating heroes is something most villains do anyway, though Scar has to defeat Mufasa before any defeated heroes count toward his goal. Defeating heroes doesn’t make for an interesting nor engaging goal, and most of Scar’s strength comes from playing a bunch of nameless hyena cards. I also question the theme, as Scar’s goal in The Lion King was to usurp Mufasa and take over the pride lands, not hunt down and kill all the heroes.
Professor Ratigan is much more interesting, featuring a two-in-one goal that changes if his initial plans are thwarted. As in the film, Ratigan’s goal is to replace the queen with a robotic version. The card costs a ton of power, however, which means Ratigan needs to play items and allies that reduce its cost. Once the card is played it needs to be carefully moved from one side of the board to the other. If Basil comes into play, the card is discarded, and Ratigan goes into a rage, physically flipping his goal over to defeating Basil. It’s a brilliant callback to the climax of the film, and often reflects the same playful frustration the Ratigan player is feeling.
Of the three new villains Yzma is the most radically different. Her setup involves separating the fate deck into four different stacks, with each stack at a single location. Yzma needs to spend her time locating Kuzco, then defeating him with Kronk. I’m less familiar with The Emperor’s New Groove than other Disney animated films, but Yzma has to make sure Kronk stays under her control, creating an interesting dynamic while trying to defeat Kuzco. Fating the Yzma player can be a bit of a pain, however, as you have to look through the full stack of cards at a location, and don’t want to give away Kuzco if you find him.
Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared has a recommended age of 10+. The gameplay is complex enough to make it more suitable for older kids, teens, and adult Disneyphiles.
Scar, clearly the marquee new addition, is unfortunately one of the weaker villains of them all, though Ratigan and Yzma provide interesting new ideas and gameplay opportunities. Evil Comes Prepared can coast on how good Villainous plays and the still-excellent production quality of the cards, boards, and tokens (Evil Comes Prepared definitely has the best tokens), but at this point we probably have all the villains we need.
Find Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared at Target.
Game Length: 60 minutes
Brody: I used to hate the water…
Hooper: I can’t imagine why.
Building upon the success of last year’s Jurassic Park Danger board game, Ravensburger returns with another movie license in the Jaws board game (available exclusively at Target). Released in 1975, Jaws is often considered the original summer blockbuster, as a trio of men on the vacation destination of Amity Island try to keep a man-eating shark from, well, man-eating, first by trying to close the beaches, then by getting on a boat and hunting the shark themselves.
The Jaws game brilliantly captures both halves of the film in a unique two act structure, culminating in an exciting finale where the shark player rips apart a sinking boat while other players desperately try to fend it off.
A Bigger Boat
As in Jurassic Park Danger, players are divided up into two teams, the humans and the shark. The three human characters of Brody, Hooper, and Quint are always present, making the 2 and 3-player game a little more challenging for the human player but also maintaining a proper balance when playing with fewer than four.
In act one the human team controls the three characters on Amity Island. Each turn they have a set number of actions with which to rescue swimmers (spawned from event cards drawn each round), gather motion sensing barrels, close beaches, and try to locate the shark. The shark player, meanwhile uses a hidden notepad to track their movement and eating habits.
Act one results in an excellent game of cat and mouse as the humans try to locate the shark player using their various abilities, like Brody’s binoculars and Hooper’s fish finder, while minimizing losses.
The first act ends when the shark has eaten nine swimmers, or if Quint manages to tag the shark with two of his barrels. Depending on how many swimmers the shark ate, act two swings in favor of either the shark (more ability cards) or the humans (more gear cards). The board is flipped and boat tiles are added to represent Quint’s boat from the film, the Orca.
If act one is a subtle detective game with some light strategy, act two is a full-on tactical strategy warfare with hit points and dice rolls. The shark resurfaces by choosing from several different Resurface cards, and the humans have to predict where it’ll appear, targeting the space with spears, flares, and pistols. The shark player rips apart chunks of the boat, flipping tiles or eliminating them entirely, and possibly dumping humans into the water where it can start whittling down their hit points.
I’ve played both extremes of act one, with the shark player eating the maximum number of swimmers (and thus gaining the biggest hand advantage going into act two) and the humans tagging the shark almost immediately, with the opposite swing in momentum. However, the card advantage from act one doesn’t grant an automatic win. In both instances the final turn of act two came down to a nail-biting thriller, with a 1 hit point shark nimbly trying to avoid becoming sushi while the surviving humans cling to the last shreds of a sinking boat.
We ran into a few rules questions when it came to act two’s constantly changing battlefield and adjacency conundrums. And it’s a bummer that the movie license doesn’t appear to include the actors’ likenesses, but that doesn’t take away from the fantastic gameplay.
The Jaws Board Game has an age recommendation of 12+. Both acts require tactical planning and strategy, and in the case of the human players, coordination of their actions and attacks. The shark player needs to keep careful, honest track of what they do each round throughout act one.
The subject matter is another factor, as the shark player is eating people in act one, and both sides are trying to kill one another in act two. Humorously the original film is rated PG, but would garner at least a strong PG-13 rating (which wasn’t invented until 1984) if not an R rating today.
I was very impressed to find the solution to whether or not to adapt a Jaws game from the ship or the island was “Why not both?” The two act gameplay structure creates a memorable mini campaign as both sides earn their powers from how well they handle act one. Alternatively you can play each act as a separate game mode if you’re short on time. Both sides play completely differently and the action is fun and tense throughout both acts. Even more than Jurassic Park Danger, the Jaws board game is a triumphant of great game design and an excellent use of the source material.