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My 2011 in Review: Family Games

Ender Wiggins
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This is the second-last installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. The featured category this time round is Family Games, and there are some terrific ones here! I wouldn't be able to pick between Eruption, Pastiche, or Flash Point: Fire Rescue, which for me were the best three of the new family games I had opportunity to learn over the last year, but games like Pergamon and Finca are not far behind! Of the family games you learned this year, what was your favourite?

Eruption



Eruption is a wonderful 2011 release from Stratus Games that really hits the mark for the family game context.

In this fantastic tile-laying game for 2-6 players, players are trying to protect their villages from lava flow by building walls, placing lava tiles, and performing action cards. One of the highlights is the `burn-meter' mechanic which measures village temperature to determine the winner. The hotter your village, the bigger the trouble you're in! Can you place lava tiles so that the heat starts to pressure your neighbour more than you? And will your walls hold up against the flow? There's some dice-rolling, but it's well done and only helps enhance the game for what it is.

This game targets the family market, and succeeds admirably. The theme is fantastic, and there's a real sense of tension as you watch the temperature in your village begin to climb. The volcano theme is one that has been explored before (e.g. in games like The Downfall of Pompeii and the classic Fireball Island), but it’s certainly not an old and tired theme that we’ve seen too often, and Eruption does bring something new to the table in how it executes it. There's some take-that elements, but surprisingly it doesn't feel overly nasty, and this is helped by the fact that there's some wonderful catch-up mechanisms built into the game's design that help players who are behind and keep scores quite even. Great looking and quality components help round out a complete package. One of the the best family games to emerge in the past year, and families with older children will love it.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Does Any One Else Smell Burnt Toast?


Pastiche



Pastiche is a relatively new release designed by Sean D. MacDonald. It's a wonderfully themed gateway style game for 2-4 players about mixing colours to re-create famous paintings. It's gorgeously produced with stunning components, and is an outstanding family game that has proven very accessible, by offering relatively straight forward game-play without sacrificing a high fun factor or meaningful decisions. The game has an intriguing mix of various mechanics, among them being: tile placement, set collection, trading, and hand management.

The basic concept is that players must place hex tiles which feature dabs of colours, and depending on how these hexes are placed adjacent to existing hexes, new colours will be created. Through careful hex placement and trading, players must try to acquire the colours needed to complete commissions for famous paintings. Each of these `commission cards' is a quality and thick tile featuring a well-known artistic work, beautifully reproduced. It looks fantastic, and the mechanics mesh quite well with the theme.

Pastiche is intended to be family friendly, and it has the right mix of ingredients to be a successful gateway game. It has already been chosen as a 2011 Mensa Select winner, and I can see it being nominated for other industry awards, especially after the release of a new-and-improved international edition that's scheduled to appear shortly.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A work of art in every respect, and the ideal family or gateway game


Flash Point: Fire Rescue



Cooperative games have been the rage over the last few years, and with Flash Point: Fire Rescue, designer Kevin Lanzing has come up with a theme that is ideal for this type of game. Players must work together as firefighters to rescue victims from a housefire, before too many victims are lost or the house collapses.

Placed randomly on the board will be three "Points of Interest", and although there are a couple of blank `false alarm' tokens to keep things interesting, the majority of these will be the 10 victims of which the firefighting team must safely bring 7 out of the house to win. There's some obvious parallels with Pandemic, such as the action point system that allows players to perform numerous actions on their turn, e.g. movement, extinguishing smoke or fire, and even chopping down walls. But instead of using cards to randomize the spread of disease, dice are rolled to determine the spread of fire, resulting in less of a puzzle feel and arguably more tension and theme. If you're not careful, an explosion can happen which can create havoc in all directions.

Flash Point is is proving to be a fantastic cooperative game, with a rich theme and tense-game play - ideal elements for families. The rulebook comes with a set of "Family" rules, but there are also advanced rules for experienced players which add firefighters with unique abilities, and give a higher role to the use of emergency vehicles (fire truck and ambulance), so you can ratchet up the level of difficulty should you wish more complex rules. Overall this is an outstanding product, and although hardcore gamers might perhaps find it to be somewhat lighter in feel to Pandemic, families are just going to love the theme and game-play.

Want to know more? See a pictorial report: mb A Tale of One Family and Three House Fires (a pictorial report of three games with the Family rules)


Finca



A finca is Spanish term referring to a piece of rural/agricultural land typically with an cottage or similar building, often used as a holiday home. In the game Finca, this theme brings players to the island of Mallorca, where they're growing and delivering fruit.

The primary mechanic of the game is a rondel, represented in the game by a thematic windmill, on which players will place their farmers to collect fruit. By advancing your farmers on the rondel, there's opportunity to maximize your production of oranges, lemons, figs, almonds, grapes, and olives, and to collect the donkey tokens which you'll need to deliver your fruit to the Mallorcan fincas. In so doing there are also ways to get bonus points by making deliveries of different sizes, and getting majorities with fruits in certain locations, so careful tactical play will be rewarded.

Finca was a Spiel des Jahres Nominee 2009 and has been nominated for and won several other awards, and it's not hard to see why. The light farming theme is very accessible, and the simple pick-up-and-deliver mechanism integrated with a rondel is easy to grasp and yet gives opportunities for clever play, despite some luck. Arguably best with 2 or 3 players, it's a highly elegant and easy to learn game, with lovely components, giving it strong potential as a popular gateway game.

Want to know more? See a full review: mb Is your donkey in my orchard again? (A pictorial review)


Pergamon



Stefan Dorra has the enviable reputation of having designed one of the greatest and arguably most popular fillers of the modern era, For Sale. In his 2011 release Pergamon, he teams up with the designer of Finca, Ralf zur Linde, to bring us into the world of archaeologists and ancient artifacts. In this 2-4 player game, you take on the role of a nineteenth century archaeologist excavating the site of the Greek city of Pergamon.

The game board consists of several main areas, which correspond to the different elements of game-play. First you'll place your archaeologist figure on the research funds track to determine how much funding you might receive and also indicate which galleries in which you can conduct your excavations. The goal of the game is to first amass the research funds necessary to excavate artifacts from the excavation site in Pergamon, then collect and piece them together as part of a collection, and finally to exhibit these finds at the Museum in order to attract the most visitors (which serve as victory points in this game). The more impressive the exhibits you put on, the more people will come to see them, and the more points you will earn. To accomplish this, you'll try to maximize the research funds you earn, so that you can dig up fragments of vases, jugs, masks, and bracelets from deeper layers, and thus piece together older and more precious artifacts that compromise a more valuable collection.

There's a lot to like about Pergamon, including the well produced components, the engaging theme, and the straight forward gameplay. The complexity is probably on par with the family friendly Finca, and the result is a very pleasing and accessible game that's rich in theme despite being a real euro. The theme especially meshes well with the mechanics, and the notions of digging for artifacts, piecing them together and displaying them in a museum to draw crowds all works very intuitively and smoothly. All in all, this is a well designed light-medium euro with terrific components. I dig it!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Yes we dig it! - the new and richly themed archaeology game from the designer of For Sale


Rattus



Can you survive the Black Death? Rattus is a quick-playing strongly tactical and interactive light euro that first appeared in early 2010, and has seen a number of expansions already in the short time afterwards. It's very suitable for families, easy to learn, and fun to play, with an interesting theme, and good components.

In the game you are transported back in time to 1347, the year that the Black Death struck Western Europe with a vengeance. Players place cubes of their colour - representing their population - on a map of Europe. Each turn you place cubes and move the plague marker into a region, and which indicates the Plague striking, thus forcing cubes to be removed depending on the symbols on the `rat tokens' that are turned up. The idea is to have the most cubes on the board by the game end. But wait - we're not done yet, because there's also opportunity to take character cards which give you special abilities, although along with their rewards comes a greater risk of being hit by the plague.

The game-play features a real battle for survival, so there's real tension as you try to manipulate events to ensure that your population survives. It's quickly changing and highly tactical, and often comes down to a tight contest that relies a lot on the other players to keep the apparent leaders in check. While the base game works well enough, it is generally agreed that it has some limited replayability for gamers without an expansion. Meet Rattus: Pied Piper, which most gamers would consider it essential if you want to extend the life of the original game. Taken together, the base game and the expansion are a wonderful and immensely replayable family package. It's not going to be for everyone, but if you are the target market and are looking for a quick-playing and interactive euro that's easy to learn and fun to play, has an interesting theme and good components, Rattus is certainly a good choice.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A plague on all your houses, and a blight upon gamers everywhere
And the expansion? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: An absolutely essential expansion that extends the life of the original dramatically


Join the discussion: What is the best family game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?

Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games
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