So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Gaming Pit Stop - Reviewing Daytona 500

Many of my readers probably watched the Daytona 500 race this past weekend.  (Okay, the crossover between NASCAR fans and my readers probably isn't overwhelming.)  I didn't.  But, I did get to play Daytona 500 a couple of weeks ago.  I enjoyed it, and would gladly play it again; it's a keeper.  But there are some issues...

Daytona 500
Daytona 500 is an odd little game.  Published by Milton Bradley in 1990, many would suspect that it has little for gamers.  However, it really has some strategy, probably because the designer is actually very accomplished.  Most would think it's really about NASCAR racing, and it is - sort of.  A lot of people would assume it's a family game.  On that, they would be right.

Milton Bradley (MB) has produced a whole lot of games over the years, most of which are viewed better through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia than the magnifying glass of gameplay.  MB is known for such childhood wonders as Ants in the Pants and The Game of Life.  They published iconic games such as Axis and Allies, Scotland Yard and HeroquestDaytona 500 falls closer to the iconic set.  The designer was Wolfgang Kramer, who was Germany's first full-time professional game-designer. He has nearly 200 games to his name, many of which have made it across the Atlantic.  Daytona 500 is one of his best known.

Kramer designed several games around auto racing, and this game is arguably his best.  But it's not purely a racing game.  It's more of a race team investment game.

Each player starts with $300,000 and a hand of cards which will move the race cars around the track.  Based on the cards in hand, players will bid on the cars with which they expect to be able to win a race.  The second phase is the actual race.  Players play cards in their hands to move their car around the track, which is shaped like the track at Daytona.  The race consists of one lap.  The catch is that playing a card, in general, does not move just your car, but also moves other cars.  The turns narrow the playable spaces on the board, and can squeeze cars so they cannot move their full amount.  The result is that the timing of card play creates some great strategic decisions.  (Ones, in fact, that I didn't master at all!)  Each player is awarded money for how they finish in the race.  These two phases are repeated three times, and the winner of the game is the person at the end who has the highest cash total.  In theory, one could win the game without ever winning an actual race.

The curves make everyone jockey for position.
The auction process is what starts to move this away from a family game, though for casual play amongst adults it would be fine.  I am not sure at what age children would have the understanding of risks and rewards that is required by the auction phase.  At a minimum, they would have to be old enough to understand the relative value of money.  That said, I suspect kids too young for the auction phase would enjoy it as a straight forward racing game, performing the second phase by itself just one time. 

The only drawback to Daytona 500 is that it feels a little slow.  Most games with auctions tend to bog down during the auction phase.  This is no different.  At the same time, the racing phase feels a little slow, too.  The cards encourage counting spaces, which slows the game down a little, making it feel a little less like a race.  It is hard to pick a card too far in advance, since the previous player can change the board pretty drastically

And there is one more drawback to this game...

Top Race is a a very similar game to Dayton 500.
Daytona 500 is out of print, as one can imagine.  On eBay, it goes for a pretty penny.  As I type, there is a copy for sale for $125.00, and a new-in-shrink copy for auction starting at $39.99.  The auction will probably approach $100.00 USD before it is sold.  Going over that amount is likely.

So, do I recommend this or not? Yes, but with reservations.  If you are a die-hard NASCAR fan, this is a great game.  It may be worth the price on eBay.  I would also say that it is a possible thrift store find - that's how I got my copy - and I would definitely pick it up then.  (You could always sell it on eBay!)  Otherwise, there is an alternative game to fill that race car passion: Top RaceTop Race is a very similar racing game by Kramer, which is still in print and reasonably priced.

It's Your Move!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Let the Wookie Win..."

Yesterday our 1st grade niece was over for a Girl's Day with my wife. The day quickly moved from arts and crafts to boardgames, primarily consisting of Rebound. However, Uncle Frank, yours truly, was invited for a game of Clue. I was truly honored. Then came the dilemma. Before she became the schools librarian/media-specialist, my wife watched children in my home. Most of the kids couldn't handle playing a game unless they won...

Would this be a similar situation? I really don't want to ruin their Girl's Day - should I let our niece win to keep the peace? What would you do? I am a firm believer in playing to win regardless of the age of your opponent. Throwing the game isn't very satisfying for you as the adult. Worse, most of the time kids can smell a rat. That doesn't mean that I bring my "A" game, but I certainly don't give the game away, either. It's about respect and honesty, in both directions, and there are right ways to win and lose with a child.

Respecting the adult.  To a child, the adults in their lives are the ones who bring order and safety.  As an adult, you and I are supposed to win at games - at least games of strategy and skill.  I have lost exactly two games of chess in six years of coaching the grade school chess club.  Both were in situations where I was playing multiple kids at a time.  The kids know how tough it is to beat me.  Because I rarely lose, the kids respect my ability to teach them the game.

Respecting the child.  When an adult consistently lets a child win, they are also consistently saying they don't believe the child can win.  It doesn't take long for the child to figure out what is going on and to start to believe the same thing.  It's counter-intuitive, but letting them win all the time makes them believe they are losers. 

Aiming to be better.  It might sound trite, but letting a child win all the time means they have nothing to shoot for.  The child cannot get better in a way they can measure.  Now, combine that with the last point, and you have a confidence bomb:  I am a loser and I cannot get better.

Having said all of this, there is a middle road.  It has to do with making the right choices when playing a game with a child.  Here are some ideas:

Pick the right game.  There are games that children can win, even when the adult is trying their hardest.  Games that are largely random are good examples.  This is what has made Candyland such a huge seller.  (In fact, I can't imagine what "try your hardest" would mean with such a game!)  Adults will win a little more often, because they will make better choices than children (even though choices are few and far between).  Some dexterity games are good choices once the child is starting to master fine motor skills.  My hands just aren't steady enough to play Operation anymore.  This does mean that you might be a couple years off from playing Settlers of Catan, though.

Teach the game.  In my chess club, everyone understands that I can win against any of them.  They also understand that, if they play me, they will get instruction they would miss out on otherwise.  When I am playing them, I am helping them think through the position in front of them.  They can lose better when they know why they lost, and how to avoid it next time.  So do I, actually.

Cooperative games.  These two ideas can come together best in a cooperative game with a mixed group of adults and children.  A game like Forbidden Island puts the children in a position of not losing against adults.  The children might lose against the game, but they do so with the adults they are playing with.  This not only allows the adults to help the little ones and teach strategy, but also model good sportsmanship when losing.

With our niece, it worked out well.  Even as a first grader, she had no problems with the rules of Clue.  She did have a little trouble with the logic and strategy involved in playing.  She made a "suggestion" in the Lounge, and I showed her that I had the card for the Lounge.  A few minutes later, she did it again.  I could have showed her the candlestick this time, but that would have been bad play on my part.  Instead, after showing her the Lounge again, I pointed out that she didn't learn any new information, and why.  Of course, she went to do it a third time, but this time I reminded her that I was just going to show her the Lounge again.  (That gave some additional information to my wife, but she was good enough to ignore it.)  I ended up winning, though I think only because I went before my wife.  She had the game solved too.  Our niece was fine with losing, and I honestly think it's because she knows why she lost. She didn't pick Clue again, and I don't blame her.  The next game was another round of Rebound.  I played, and she beat me fair and square.  It was a better choice.

The day ended well; she didn't want to go home.  So all of the games we played must have been a fun experience.  Of course, she also painted and helped fix dinner, so it was an all around good day.

It's Your Move!