This year, for the first time, Gen Con began for the wife and I on Wednesday as we were able to attend trade day! We really did not know what to expect, but were very excited to be growing our experiences at the con. We networked, attended seminars, demoed games, dealt with family drama, and braced ourselves for the coming avalanche of gaming goodness!
Heather and I began the day by attending the, “Play With a Purpose” seminar, hosted by Sharp As A Tack President/Founder Jason Pine. The mission of Sharp As A Tack as stated on their Facebook page is as follows:
Sharp As A Tack IS The Play With Purpose! Our primary mission is to improve students’ academic achievement by developing their cognitive abilities and important life skills that will lead to a lifetime of successes in the classroom, in the community and within their families. This is accomplished through after-school programming, camps, events and professional development.
A secondary, yet significant mission is to help educators foster an environment that will help improve students’ self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence, as well as to provide a venue to develop interpersonal skills such as communication, cooperation, teamwork and leadership.
Noble goals to be sure, and the fact that he is trying to accomplish them through the use of games put his presentation right up our alley. Seeing how we have been doing the Family Game Days at our local library, and starting this Friday, helping out with the New Augusta Junior High Gaming Guild, we have participated in bringing the joy of gaming to the youth of our community, both for the entertainment value as well as the educational opportunities.
After explaining what it is that he does, Jason proceeded to show us what he does by getting everyone in the room to play the game Jungle Speed from Asmodee!
In Jungle Speed players flip over cards of differing colors and shapes. If a flipped card matches an opponent’s exactly in shape, not color, the two players try to be the first to grab the totem in the middle of the table and the one who fails receives all of the other player’s discards! The first player to get rid of all of his cards is the winner. However, Jungle Speed is not just about being fast, but about being right the fastest! Touching the totem when not involved in the match or in response to a trap card leaves a player on the receiving end of a pile of cards! Jason explained the surprising educational value of Jungle Speed is that it improves one’s cognitive processing speed which is not only valuable to students, but everyone. Meanwhile, the kids do not even realize that they are strengthening their minds because they are having too much fun!
Next up was another game from the wonderful people at Asmodee called Timeline. In this game players are dealt cards with events from history on them. Each turn a player may play one card into the timeline in the middle of the table trying to put in its proper place in history.. As a History buff, I can assure you these are not necessarily easy events to place in order. Sure there are well-known ones like the start of WWII, but there are also ones like: Building of the Great Wall of China, The invention of the Cartoon, and Slavery Abolished…in France. Now you may have an idea about these, but I highly doubt that any of you know the exact dates of these events, and be aware that there are many more just as hard or harder than these! Great game for learning and fun from a terrific company.
All in all, it was an excellent seminar and I would highly recommend the Sharp As A Tack program to educators and parents alike. I plan to write further about this in the future, but for those who would like to know more, here is a link to the Sharp-As-A-Tack website.
Heather and I then went down to will-call to retrieve the kid’s passes and grabbed some lunch from the Big Guy Barbecue food truck which had wisely themed its menu to attract geeks!
Afterwards, she had to depart for some day job stuff, and I was left to wait on my business partner and friend Jeff Atkins. We managed to overcome some logistical issues to get Jeff in under the gun before Trade Day badges were relocated to the regular will call area and it was off to another event.
Next on the menu was a seminar entitled, “Why Play Games” by Rebecca Anderson of Set Enterprises, Inc. We were running a little late and sadly missed the beginning of her presentation, but what we were present for was informative and entertaining. The thrust of her seminar was that games can be like exercise machines for our brains. That they provide us with opportunities to strengthen existing skills and develop some that are new or not normally our strongest suits. This is particularly true for children, but can also be helpful to adults as well. To demonstrate her points she taught us two games that her company sells: Quiddler and Set.
Quiddler is a word game similar to Scrabble, but it is played with cards and rules more like a traditional Rummy game. Points are scored by playing words made from the cards that players have in their hands, and points are accumulated until a player goes out. Scores are totaled and more hands played until a player scores enough points to win the game. Quiddler was quick and fun. It is lighter fare for sure, but it was challenging to operate with the limited number of cards one gets and there is strategy in deciding whether to go out or not if you are able.
Set was the next game that she taught us and it was a bit of a brain melter. Players must identify sets of three in the cards that are spread out in the common play area. When a player sees one, he calls out “set” and then identifies the cards that make up his set. If it is in fact a set, he removes the cards from the middle, takes them for his own, and replaces them from the draw pile. What makes Set so challenging is the fact that it is pattern recognition and shape recognition with a speed element thrown in to the mix. Many gamers excel at left brain functions like shape recognition and logical thinking, but are often less skilled at engaging the right side of the brain for pattern recognition and creativity. Elements of Set force you to engage both sides simultaneously and this can be a quite challenging, but helpful exercise. It can also be humorous to observe what sets you can see easily and what ones are practically invisible to you. Set is a wonderful game for strengthening the manner in which you use your entire brain to process information, and it is fun too!
Rebecca’s presentation was both enjoyable and educational about the value in using games to strengthen one’s brain in all areas.
For those interested in Set and Quiddler, here is the website.
After setting in on a Q&A session put on by Wizards of the Coast and discussing some business with the awesome people from Southern Hobby, Jeff and I were rejoined by Heather and we got down to demoing some games the rest of the evening.
The following games were played by various combinations of Heather, Jeff, and I:
Tapple, was taught to us by the fine ladies from Usaopoly: Heather(not the wife) and Cindy. It was quite a treat just meeting them as Heather(not the wife) was great and Cindy is one of the earliest subscribers to this site!
Tapple, itself was a very fun little family/party game. A card is selected with a category along the lines of “Things in a Garden” and players must in order name an appropriate thing and push down on the letter it begins with. This must be done before time runs out. The timer is reset by hitting the red button and the next player must do the same, but the letter that has been pushed down may not be used for the remainder of this category. Failure to come up with an adequate answer before time runs out means the player is eliminated. This process continues until only one player remains. Players can play as many rounds as they wish to determine the winner. Heather (the wife) showed a particular affinity for this game, and as you might suspect, she enjoyed it immensely.
Although we only played a few rounds, we had an absolute blast! We were joined by a nice young woman, Gina and her daughter for a round where the category was fruits. With the clock ticking down and pressure on, Gina immortalized herself in lifeingames.com lore by coming up with elderberry for the win. Elderberry!!! As such, she will forever be known as the Elderberry Queen!
For those interested in Tapple, here is the link to the usaopoly website. www.usaopoly.com
Next, Heather and I checked out a little game called Kerflip! It was being demoed by Game Salute and we were taught by a very nice volunteer whose name sadly escapes me. The premise is that letter tiles, much like those in scrabble, are dropped on to the board as pictured and players race to shout out words made from those letters. In the order that players called out their words, they proceed to turn letters that they used from their white side to their orange side which is lower scoring. Obviously it is good to be first, but it is more difficult to come up with the higher scoring words quickly. There are also a number of ways to acquire bonus cards which are kept for a blind end-game scoring. The tiles that are used are pushed into the little collection holes at the end of the playing surface which sets atop the box. Play continues until all of the tiles are used. The points are totaled with bonus tiles included and the winner is the player with the highest score.
Heather really enjoyed Kerflip and felt that she and the daughter, Katie would have fun playing it. I was not a big fan, as I felt it was a bit too loosely designed with no easily defined start to a round. Players turn over the revealed tiles, but one can be studying the tiles even as that occurs. This can lead to arguments and an overall lack of fun in my opinion. (This issue has been addressed by the designer Damon Tabb in the comments) I like the idea, and maybe I am just too competitive for my own good, but it was not for me. That being said, Kerflip easily has the most brilliant cleanup method ever designed into a game. Where the pieces are knocked off, there are channels leading to the other end of the box where a letter container can be placed. Simply tip up the box and all of the letters pour into their storage. Genius!
The last game that Heather and I tried out was a demo of Yu Gi Oh. It may seem odd that neither of us have ever played Yu Gi Oh, but she has zero ccg experience and my background is hardcore Magic the Gathering dating back to the days of Alpha. By the time Yu Gi Oh came out I had long since chosen Magic as my poison of choice and forsaking all others.
The volunteer Jonathan Albin, Director of Marketing at Konami, did a wonderful job of giving us a crash course in how to play. With my extensive Magic the Gathering experience, I felt quite confident that I understood the rules and was ready to play. As such, I suggested to Jonathan that he specifically help Heather as this was entirely new territory for her.
We played one, half-life total game, and after a few close calls I was the winner! Jonathan was a great teacher and we both enjoyed the game. I definitely felt that Yu Gi Oh was more simplistic than Magic, but overall it was a solid game. I can certainly understand how a kid encountering it before Magic would be happy to stick to Yu Gi Oh. While I have no plans to actively take up playing Yu Gi Oh, it was an interesting experience to finally play it 17 years after its release despite having shared game store table space with it for ages.
With Yu Gi Oh in the books and it starting to get late, Heather and I called it a night and headed home. Thursday the Con would start for real and we wanted to be in top form! That being said, we both agreed that Trade Day was an entirely positive experience! I have no doubt that we will continue to attend Trade Day in future. I enjoyed the seminars, the networking opportunities, swag, the awesome people that we got to meet, and most of all…an extra day of Gen Con!!!