Series: Great Games for Kids Part 2

Reef is a 2018 release from Next Move Games designed by Emerson Matsuuchi. This is the first game in my collection by Emerson, and I was quickly impressed by the quality of components and the brief, but well organized rule book. With the help of my kids we were able to punch, sort and ready to play in under 30 minutes, which is a great start for a family game, especially with younger children.

Reef is designed for 2-4 players, ages 8+ and plays in 30-45 minutes. As of this writing it’s rated 7.3 on Board Game Geek. Before we get into the game play, I played this with my wife and 2 kids (8 & 10) in approx 30 minutes. My 8 year old struggled with some of the strategy, but with a little assistance, she caught on quickly. My son is a seasoned board game veteran and had no issues picking this up. On issue was that my kids are easily distracted, but with the colorful stacking reef pieces, they were able to stay focused until it was their turn again without getting bored or wandering away.

Reef – 4 Player Setup in progress

Game Play

Reef is played in a series of round as the individuals collect and play cards allowing them to gain pieces to expands their reef and build patterns that match the cards to score points. Each turn is pretty quick, the play either plays a card from their hard, scoring points (if applicable) and gaining pieces to expand their reef, or drawing a card from the middle to assist in planning for future turns. This continues until one of the 4 colored reef tokens are gone or the cards in the middle run out. The player with the highest points wins.

Initial Impressions / House Ruling

Probably the most confusing part of this game is planing and matching the patterns. Some are simple (2 next to each other, 3 in a row, etc.) where others require an additional criteria of height, that can need some additional explanation. Other than that, it’s pretty straight forward, I like ability to build over your reef to create new patterns, and collecting multiple cards in an effort to score multiple times for the patterns.

Each player starts with 2 cards, but most of the first few rounds were spent burning cards for the right pieces to build their reef, or collecting cards from the middle. This could be sped up by drafting a starting hand of 4 cards to help speed up the process, but would probably need to be balanced by reducing component counts or some other adjustment to bring it back into balance. This will be tested out in our next round of the game.

Final Thoughts

With a low cost (Approx $28) and a quick play time, this will stay on the shelf for awhile. It’s currently ranked #601 overall, #22 in Abstract games and #103 for family games. It has high reputability, though as the kids get older i could see selling it off in search of something with a little more weight to it. There is no real punishing mechanism (a small one for card choice) that could make it a little more interesting for adults, but for now it’ll settle in on the kids shelf.

What it teaches kids –
– Pattern Matching
– Planning Ahead
– Counting (Points Tracking)
– Light Strategy with the ability to take cards that others may be trying to match on.

Here’s how the ratings came in for the first round –
Me: 4/5 – “Quality components, colorful artwork, looking forward to playing again.”
The Girl: 5/5 – “It helps kids that are little count”
The Boy: 4/5 – “I think it’s a really game and it takes some strategy, but it’s not the best game I’ve ever played”

Pickup Reef on Amazon
Learn more about Reef on Board Game Geek

Series: Great Games for Kids Part 1

If you’re a child of the 80’s like me, the games in the picture above may or may not bring back fond memories of childhood. But as an board game enthusiast, and a proud member of the cult of the new, the idea of playing any of those games with my kids is horrifying. There are simply too many games that have been created over the last 30 years to go back to the old Milton & Bradley ages.

I’ve been wanting to write a series of great games for kids for sometime. One of the things I love about board gaming is that it’s a great way to get the whole family together. The second thing I love is that it’s a break from technology, for the most part. So in this series I’m going to do some quick articles about games that are great for kids, what they teach kids, and how to trick them into learning when they’re not in school :).

Pick #1 – Animal Upon Animal (Tier auf Tier)

Animal Upon Animal

Animal Upon Animal was one of the first games I purchased when they were young, it’s a simple stacking game, which is great way for kids in preschool to practice their fine motor skills, but at they get a little older it can quickly turn into a simple strategy game of setting traps, making other players place the more difficult pieces, etc.

The game play is simple, each player starts with an identical set of animals, with an alligator as the foundation for the tower they are about to build. Each player takes a turn rolling the die which tells them how many to place, or if they can be placed in front or behind the main stack, or if they can give a piece to another player to place. The first player to run out of pieces wins. If the stack falls while placing a piece, they take all the pieces that fell, although when playing with young kids, this could be a good place to start a new game instead.

It’s a very simple introduction game for kids before the tween years. Animal Upon Animal is made by the German company Haba, who has a huge catalog of child friendly games. This game can be found in most game shops, amazon, and sometimes in big box stores depending on where you are.

Why it’s great for kids –
1.) Helps to develop fine motor skills
2.) Improves hand/eye coordination
3.) Introduction to strategy
4.) Teaches to play well with others.
5.) Good Sportsmanship

Animal Upon Animal by Haba on Amazon

A few notes on Citadel Paints

Walking into most shops, you’re more than likely to come across a miniature area and paints. The most common of which are Citadel paints from Games Workshop. When I first started painting 6 years ago, this was the brand I moved up to from the standard Hobby Lobby acrylics, and they worked fantastically and were my go to until I found MSP paints, but that’s another story.

I stopped using Citadel paints for one simple reason, they have a tendency to apply too heavy, dry uneven, and dry glossy. And that last one is a deal breaker for me. I have impaired vision, and the matte finish I get from MSP along with an even coat is why I switched. But there are a few products that I’ve started to use recently and I’ve been in love with.

Killer Doll primed in Corax White

Corax White Basecoat – I’ve been using Corax White Basecoat as a primer for my miniatures for a few weeks and I love it. It dries really quick, and applies super evenly. It’s a pricey step up from the Testor’s primer I’ve been using, but it’s worth the upgrade.

Robo-Pup after Varnishing

Minitorum Varnish– I’ve been using Testor’s Dullcoat to finish my miniatures for years. Applying a final finish gives the model an even finish (either glossy or matte) and it gives it a layer of protection from scratching the paint. I’ve been happy with the Testor’s product, but I picked up Citadel’s when it was on sale at a local shop and I’ve been very happy with it so far. My only issue is that is seems to interact with MSP paints while drying. But as long as you don’t touch while wet, it’s good.

There has been a few others that I wanted to put in as honorable mentions, and those are the white cap layers and the newer texture line. The texture line is great for creating your own bases, but I found it fun as a way of adding rust or metal spots while working on my Robo-pup shown above. Their white cap layers go on heavy and are great for covering metallic items (I used both their silver and bronze on the pup in different stages.)

For more information, stop by your local shop and talk to them about painting. A good store will tell you what works best on your given project, and if they don’t have the answer, check out Citadel’s website –
https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Painting-Modelling .

Review: Keyforge

Keyforge has been a massive card playing game that hit the market late last year (2018). With the entry cost relatively low (~$10 for a deck), it’s an appealing competitive card playing game to play with friends and family. This is the second game from Fantasy Flight games using their randomized game creation logic, the first being Discover: Lands Unknown. Fantasy Flight has developed a system to create 100% unique decks, including the name of the deck. There is card reuse, but no 2 decks are ever the same. Pretty cool right?

Now I’m sure you’re thinking, this is just another play to get in the Magic the Gathering market and try to gain a foothold. I thought the same thing, but while it does share some similarities (Creatures, Events, Actions, etc.) the beauty of this game is that it takes out one of the things I dislike about Magic, the deck building. I don’t have the time, money, nor energy to research a deck and purchase cards to make a competitive deck for Magic. Don’t get me wrong, I like Magic, but to be good at it takes a commitment. Whereas with Keyforge, you buy a deck and you’re up and running.

The premise of the game is relatively simple, you are fighting against an opposing faction to gather Aember, with which you can use to forge keys. The first player to forge 3 keys wins. Sounds pretty easy right? Well that’s where the random deck generation comes into play. Some decks focus on field control (getting creatures into play to prevent Aember gathering through the reaping action), Aember control (Either generating Aember or stealing it), or general shenanigans (discarding, locking up Aember, etc.) Every deck plays different, and to be good, you need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your deck.

One of the questions I hear from people when I’m either playing with someone else or when introducing the game is how they balance the decks. What keeps a card to be OP and have a guaranteed winner? Fantasy Flight implemented a chains mechanism, a way of punishing the player who puts a powerful card into the field. This causes the player to draw fewer cards, and in a game where the cards in your hand can make or break you, it’s a pretty big punishment for a few rounds. And from what I’ve seen, it balances things out.

Now that I’ve run you through the essentials, there is one more area to cover, which I personally think it’s pretty cool, Houses. Each deck will have cards from 3 different factions or houses. On your turn, you can only choose one faction to play and use cards for that turn. This requires a whole set of strategic steps to get your hand and field of play ready to really have an effective turn. And while you’re waiting for your opponent to play, your plan can change quickly. You may be gearing up for a super effective turn, but your opponent may have wiped out most of the creatures from that house and probably stole the Aember you were planning to forge a key.

I know much of that can sound frustrating, but from my experience, much of the game will play out based on the draw, and no 2 games play out the same way. I’ve played against my son, my brother and a friend from work and every game is nail-biting to the end.

Sold on the game but want to know what’s next? Want to get into the action and start playing? Unfortunately, as of this writing, decks are hard to come by. I’ve hit up my usual shops as well as a few out of town shops while traveling and was unable to find a deck. You could turn to eBay, where the 4 Horsemen deck is selling for a decent amount ($45 at last check). But I would encourage you to find a Keyforge tournament night at your local shop. If they don’t have decks, more than likely someone will be happy to lend one to you to get a feel. Also, there is a starter set that can sometimes be tracked down with has markers, 2 unique decks and 2 starter learning decks. I had the pleasure to compete in a tournament in Arlington, TX a few weeks ago and it was a blast. The strangest thing I find with this game is whether you win or lose, it’s still a match. Which is a unique thing in table top gaming. There have been may matches against a coworker where we spend 15-20 minutes discussing thee game and the strength and weaknesses of a deck.

All in all. A great game, a familiar mechanic, but a truly unique experience.

Review: Downforce

Downforce is a family-style racing board game from Restoration Games in 2017. It’s been out for sometime, but recently became a favorite around our house when I played it with some friends a few weeks ago. Looking at the box, initial impressions were that it was a copycat of Formula D (a fantastic racing game), but this game carries the racing theme from more of the owner’s perspective.

Players receive a set of cards that depict the movement of specific cars by color and how many spaces they move. This is the main mechanism for getting the cars around the track, but they are also used for bidding of the cars and drivers that you will own and race throughout the game. The initial tense round of bidding gets the game started off on the right foot. Do you pay more for a car you have the cards for to get it to the end or try to bid low and see if you can get a weaker car, and hope it finishes better than your hand would lead you to believe. Once all the cars have been purchased, players take turns playing cards and moving the cars around the track, but this isn’t simply just dragging cars around the track, but a strategic play of blocking, cutting off other cars, or sprinting your car off into the distance, but weakening your position later in the race.

At 3 points of the race, players bid on which car they think will win. Picking the right car early is more rewarding, but even picking a car in to the top 3 will pay out in the end of the game. Once the cars finish, you get points based on where your car finishes, plus the money for the cars you bet on, and then subtract the amount paid for your cars. The final total is your points for the game. Sounds simple enough right? Too simple maybe? For me, this is what makes this game great. It can be explained in a few minutes, but some of the more strategic nuances can take a few games to pick up on. But as a family racing game, it’s checks all the boxes for me. My 7 and 9 year old picked up on it quickly, and a game can be played in 30-60 minutes, which is great for short attention spans.

Downforce is available through the regular boardgame shops and Amazon, but also can be found at Barnes and Noble and Target.

Getting tired of the maps that come with the base set? The expansion adds 2 new maps with a new hazardous terrain feature to change things up.

Watch it Played before to see the game in action –

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