Tag Archives: educational

Something Changed – Elemons review

ElemonsCOVER

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most games that purport to have an educational aspect are bloody awful. During my days as a teacher I saw more boxes that had been played once then chucked into cupboards than I care to remember. They always looked the same, excited kids eternally locked in the 1970s who looked delighted to be on the cover while LEARNING and PLAYING (but mainly LEARNING because you wouldn’t want to have too much fun, would you?). Such dreadful, dreadful crap.

The vast majority of them focused on maths, of course, because there’s nothing more fun than adding and subtracting. Move out into other subjects and the terrain got a lot more barren – despite delving deep into those despairing dumpsters, I don’t think I ever saw a history based game, and forget finding something scientific. Now, in an attempt to redress the balance, a new game called Elemons attempts to strike that balance between education and entertainment.

Set in a rather strange little universe where elements from the periodic table have taken sentient form, Elemons (perhaps unsurprisingly) has a bit of a Pokemon vibe about it. Strictly for two players, you both take a set of twelve cards, each one of which depicts an Elemon. Icons show its base state – either solid, liquid or gas – and how you’ll be able to transform it to a different form using either heat or cold.

Behold (some of) the Beasties!

Behold (some of) the Beasties!

The game takes inspiration from rock-paper-scissors, meaning that it’s straightforward enough for even very young players. A card in the middle of the players shows what beats what – in the case of Elemons, gas engulfs solid, solid splashes liquid, liquid disperses gas. Each turn, you’ll have three Elemon cards in your hand alongside four Temperature cards. Taking one of each and placing them face down on the table, you and your opponent reveal them at the same time…

…and here’s where you need to be paying a little bit of attention. The Temperature cards paired with the Elemon will give you a final state for this battle. For example, Boromon starts off as a solid; playing it with a card with a minimum heat value of three will turn it to a liquid, while going with a heat value of five or more makes it a gas. There’s also an X card which keeps your Elemon in its current state. Once both players have worked out what state they’ve got in front of them, you compare using the instructions of the central card and if there’s a winner, they take their opponent’s card. First to get ten cards from the other player is the winner. See? Very straightforward.

The circle of Elemental DESTRCUTION.

The circle of Elemental DESTRCUTION.

As it’s aimed at a younger audience, you’d expect it to be both graphically appealling and easy to understand. Icons are clear and easy to understand and the various Elemons look cool. In this, the first game in the proposed series, there are only twelve different characters and I would’ve liked to have seen them in different poses on the two player card decks, but hopefully when new games are released we’ll expand further into the universe. For older players, the backstory is written at the bottom of each of the cards, hopefully inspiring them to add a bit more of a storytelling element to the game.

Of course, the main thrust of any game should be that it’s fun to play and… yeah, Elemons manages to break with tradition by actually being entertaining. It’s also quite challenging at times, so even a certain cross-section of grown ups will take something from it – managing to keep track of the cards that have been played by your opponent can prove rather tricky. With children being the main target audience for Elemons, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the game stood on its merits for a gamer audience. Sure, it may not be the first game that pops into my mind when I’m looking for a two-player effort, but it’s a fine way to spend some time while bolstering your knowledge of the elements.

Elemons was designed by Eiman Munro, and was first released through Elemental Publishing in 2013. Strictly made for two players, games will normally take you between 15 and 20 minutes. To pick up a copy, head on over to the Elemons site where one will set you back £7.99. They’ll also be at this year’s UK Games Expo, so if you’re attending be sure to check them out!

 

 

 

 

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Whole Lotta History – Timeline review

Timeline COVER

Y’know, not every game out there has to be a three hour marathon, complete with a multi-volume rulebook and several thousand pieces. As we’ve seen before, simple can often be satisfying – check out something like Love Letter which provides a fantastic game experience in only sixteen cards, or my current favourite to end a night, Loopin’ Louie. An approachable game that keeps things easy can often be as enjoyable as an epic that requiresacres of table space and an IQ the size of a planet.

And with that, I present to you Timeline. I was first made aware of it a couple of Essens ago when I was sat in Dusseldorf airport with Rory and his wife Anita (of Story Cubes fame), waiting for a delayed flight home. He pulled out this little tin packed with teeny hobbit-szed cards, explained the rules to me in about thirty seconds, and boom – we were away. Now (at least in the UK) it’s been picked up by Esdevium Games and repackaged in a bid to see if it’ll be as popular here as it is in mainland Europe.

The premise is simple. The game comes with two hundred and twenty cards, each one depicting a significant event in history. From the birth of the universe through to the invention of the personal computer, this isn’t a game for the creationists amongst you… The cards are double sided, though the image shown for each of the events is the same on both of them – the only difference (and the thing that the game is built around) is the year that the event occured is shown on one side. Four cards are dealt out to each player – there are strict rules about keeping the cards with the date face down on the table – and a further one is flipped over in the centre of the table.

In turn, players must choose one of their cards and add it to the middle creating a Timeline, a series of events in chronological order. As the beginning of the game, this is rather easy – you’ll invariably end up with huge swathes of time in which to place your own cards. Once you’ve decided where it’ll go, you flip to reveal the date on the back; put yours in the correct position and it’ll stay there, reducing the amount of cards that you need to get rid of. However, if you’re incorrect, the card is discarded and you must take another from the draw pile. First to get rid of the lot wins. It’s almost alarmingly straightforward.

It’s also really quite enjoyable, a game where knowledge is useful but you’re still in with a decent chance if you have even the vaguest ability to work stuff out and make educated guesses. If you’re forever playing with the same people, week in week out, I fear that the pleasure may run thin after a while – sure, there are a load of cards in the pack but, much like Trivial Pursuit, you’ll soon get to know the answers and it’ll become a matter of who remembers previous games best. For hardcore gamers, Timeline will end up little more than a diversion… but it’s not really aimed at them, is it?

Of course not. It’s pretty much a kids game, and while not all of them will enjoy it – after all, it’s almost like you’re learning something – there’s a good amount of children out there who will have a blast with Timeline. Pit them against some grown ups and they’ll soon be hollering with pleasure as the adults screw up yet again while the youngsters throw down their final card… it’s a game where the field will level out with repeated plays and when you can finish a round in around fifteen minutes, it’s quick enough to break it out multiple times in a single session.

This new version of Timeline also comes with larger cards than the original, meaning that smaller hands will be able to handle them just fine. Sadly this means that it’s not compatible with the Asmodee release, which is a bit of a disappointment. The French company have actually released four different versions of the game since 2010 (Inventions, Discoveries, Historical Events and Diversity), but it seems that Esdevium have gone for a mix and match approach with their take on the game, grabbing elements from all four to create the English game. Still, the game is ripe for expansion – after all, it’s not like there’s a limited amount of history that they can look to in order to create new cards.

My only major downer is the packaging the game comes in. The box is IMMENSE and really pretty flimsy, crushing easily. Also, where previous Esdevium releases of this ilk (like Jungle Speed or Buzz It) have seen fit to include a fabric bag to stash everything in, the only thing that Timeline comes with is a CD-ROM of the game to play on your PC. I’d have preferred a way to chuck the box and keep the cards together, but at least bags are easy enough to come by. It would’ve been even better had they gone with the awesome little tins that the originals came in, but perhaps the desire for larger cards (and the need to hit a certain pricepoint) outweighed this. You can understand why they went down this path.

Minor production issues aside, this is a charming wee game where – gasp! – you might well actually learn something. Educational games are notorious for being utterly awful, but Timeline manages to straddle the divide between pushing knowledge and providing entertainment quite well. Like I said, it’s not a game for everyone, but given the right audience, you could be in for something of a surprise.

Timeline was originally released by Asmodee in 2010, with this English version following up through Esdevium Games in 2012. Designed by Frederic Henry with art by Nicolas Fructus, between two and eight can play with games normally taking around 15-20 minutes. Should you fancy a copy for yourself, why not see the charming folks at Gameslore who can provide you one for a mere £12.49?

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The International Language of Screaming – Kloo review

Time for a brand new guest reviewer to step up to the plate! Dear readers, please welcome the splendid Ben Douglas to the team, kicking off with… an educational game? What?

How do you make a successful educational board game? I’ll give you a Kloo

Crappy puns aside this is one of the most accomplished attempts at an “educational” game I’ve come across.  I put “educational” in quotation marks as one could argue unplugged games nearly always have an educational element to them.  From the strategic thinking and forward planning you gain from playing Chess, to the historical overview you receive from games like Memoir ’44 or 1960: The Making of the President, most games leave your brain satisfied and potentially a bit cleverer for one reason or another.

But an “educational” game is when the main focus and reason behind the game is to teach, and as soon as you put a teaching agenda in a board game it usually muscles out the fun. With Kloo this does not happen. Andrew Finan has managed to make a game where the driving force to win the game is to learn vocabulary and build sentences in a foreign language and, remarkably, he makes one the most arduous parts of learning a language genuinely fun.

(I played the Spanish version, but there’s a French deck available too.  This review is of the main rules but there are 15 other games that can be played with the same deck.)

The game consists of a deck of multicoloured cards, each with a Spanish word on them.  A player begins the game with 7 randomly dealt cards and starts his sentence with a “Red” starter card.  The aim is to then play as many cards as possible in a line.   Each colour card tells you which other colour can be played on either side of it.  Once this simple task has been done, you have a string of words.  Together they make a grammatically correct sentence.  It may be nonsensical but the grammar will always work.  Every time.  Every single time.  The first reason why this game is so clever.

You get one point for every card you play.  You then get to translate the words and every correct translation gains you one extra point.  You claim those cards into a pile in front of you and the un-translated words from your sentence go into the middle to form a “pot”.  The player picks up new cards until he has 7 again and play moves to the next person, who then has a chance before his own sentence to translate the cards in the “pot” for a bonus 3 points per correct translation.   This is by far the most effective way to gain points – learning vocabulary actually wins you the game.

Ou est le chien? Le chien est dans l'arbre!

Now for the second reason why I reckon this game is very clever: on the bottom of every card you get a “Kloo”; a translation of another word in the deck.  So the cards in your hand, and the cards you have claimed by translating, now give you numerous “Kloo’s” to help you translate the words in the “pot” for your next turn.  This leads to frantically reading and trying to memorise every “Kloo” you have so you can grab as many bonus points you can.

That’s why the game works.  The learning of vocabulary is part of the winning.  Once you find a difficult word that no one else can translate you get a buzz of excitement.  You just learnt a word no one else knows – Get In! Andrew Finan has constructed a game that is self-teaching and makes you actually WANT to learn new words.  If you hated learning vocabulary as much as me I have a feeling you will be pretty impressed. I certainly was.

So who is the game for? You’d be mistaken if you think the only place for it is a classroom.  This works at home too and would be a fantastic tool for parents to introduce their children to a language or enhance what they bring back from school.  I played it with several University students who had undertaken a beginner’s module in Spanish and they all loved it, though having played the game with these fellow non-Spanish speakers, I feel the game would work better with a Spanish-speaking mediator to verify any attempted translations.  This makes the game perfect for classrooms where you would hope the teacher could play that role.  At home, a Spanish dictionary would have to be used – it’s less ideal but does the trick.

Looking at Kloo from a teacher/parent/learner perspective, I think this game is terrific.  If you’re a hardcore gamer you’ll most probably not put this game at the top of your wish list but then you’re not really the core audience. Kloo has been designed to make learning fun and it does that with gusto.

Kloo is designed by Andrew Finan and was originally released back in 2010. It’s available from Amazon and other good online stores for around £13.  The game comes in French and Spanish versions and sixteen different rulesets can be found, along with some nice new video tutorials, at www.kloogame.com.


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