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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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#NaGaDeMon: The End

And so it comes to its conclusion. Around the world, hundreds of book publishing companies quiver in fear as they await the onslaught of manuscripts from wannabe authors. Bathroom sinks across the country are strewn with the remains of  moustaches as top lips see the sun for the first time in weeks. And on tables everywhere (well, perhaps not everywhere) people who would never normally have dreamed of creating their own game now have something that’s hopefully playable sitting before them. NaGaDeMon 2011 is now finished. So how was it for you?

I’ve got to say I’m pretty happy with my effort, Pocket Universe. It’s been quite the challenge coming up with a game from nothing, getting it built and – probably most important – making sure that it works. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, have a look at the Sprocket Games page here on the site – it’s really rather good. It’s not just me saying that, however! It was really important for me to get as many people as possible to try it so I was very pleased when so many people came forward to playtest it, especially those who weren’t afraid to let me know exactly what they thought of it…

So, the game works and – according to people who’ve played it – it’s actually fun! So what happens next? Well, there’s a couple of options. First, it can stay on the shelf (or here on the site, anyway). Second, I can try to get it published which is easier said than done – however, it’s certainly a possibility. One of the great things about doing Little Metal Dog is that I get to speak to a wide range of people in the industry and several have expressed interest in checking it out, so it’s just a matter of seeing what happens with that. Should nothing come from it, the final step is to self-publish – a big step, admittedly, but one that I’d be more than willing to take.

Before that happens though, I need to decide whether or not Pocket Universe is truly complete. It’s certainly finished, but do I want to add more to it? There’s a couple of things that could be put into the game that would improve it further – perhaps giving the players the option of different ships that will bestow different powers, cargo capacities, that kind of thing?  While it won’t break the game – I’m happy with how it is – it could be interesting to give gamers more things to do in the Pocket Universe. It’s something to think about anyway. For now though, I’m calling my NaGaDeMon adventure a success. Roll on next November, hey?

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Up In The Sky – Airlines Europe review

I get a lot of people contacting me looking for answers to questions they have about games. This is quite a scary thing, simply because I never looked to set myself up as some all-knowing authority on games – I’m just someone who loves to play and talk about them. However, the questions come in, and I do my best to respond. One that comes up pretty frequently is this old classic (or something like it):

“I’ve just got back into board games but don’t really know what to get – do you have any suggestions?”

Our thoughts immediately go to the Holy Trinity: Carcassonne, Catan and Ticket to Ride. Great games, easy to pick up, that show off our hobby well. There are others that could be given the title of gateway games, but it’s always those three that come out in a single breath. Now though? Now it’s time to add a fourth to the list. Perhaps the planets have aligned, maybe the gods deemed it time, but I reckon Alan R. Moon has succeeded in creating the Fourth Gateway, and it’s called Airlines: Europe.

It was a long time in the making, it has to be said. This was originally a more complex (and dare I say it, less fun) stocks and shares game simply called Airlines. Released in 1990, it was well received but it seems the designer wasn’t happy – much tinkering was performed and a new version of the game themed around railroads came out in 1999, the well respected Union Pacific. Evidently Mr Moon still had some issues with the game and continued to refine and streamline, eventually coming up with what will hopefully be the final iteration: Abacusspiele‘s latest release, Airlines Europe. Taking elements from both of the earlier titles, I honestly think he’s come up with a winner.

Players are investors throwing money into the airline industry, purchasing licenses to fly between cities. By picking up these routes across Europe, the value of the companies in the game increases. Shares in these companies are procured throughout the game and when one of the three scoring cards appear, points are doled out. After the third scoring round, the winner – as is so often the way – is whoever has the most points. While this may appear to be a rather simple game, like all the best, it hides deep strategies and the possibility of being really mean to your opposition.

You’ve got four options per turn as you bid to become the lord (or lady) of the skies. First, you can spend some of your money to invest in a company or two. Each route is marked with a bunch of numbers – these signify how much it will cost you to put a plane there and how many points up the investment track that company will move. If you choose to do this, you can only go for the smallest number on a route AND it must be linked back to the company’s home city (shown by a little plastic dome of the same colour). You are limited though – even if you have the cash, you are allowed only a maximum of two new routes per turn. When you’re done you get to take a share card from the five available face-up (which is called the Market) and put that in your hand. Option two is all about getting those share cards to the table – only ones that are in front of you count for scoring, remember! You may place two cards of differing colours (or as many as you like of the same) down, each card netting you 2M Euros (yes, it’s set in the middle-ish 20th Century, but the game uses Euros, deal with it). If you can get a decent set of one colour down, you can make yourself a nice pile of cash! Very useful indeed in a game where large sums of money are hard to come by.

Some of the shares available in the game - with a few nods to the games industry.

Third choice involves a separate company – Air Abacus. This is a company that is not represented only by shares and can net you an awful lot of points if you manage to get your hands on some. Trading in any share at all from either your hand or the piles in front of you will net you a single Air Abacus card, while any three will get you two. While they have no representation on the board, they are valuable things to own and should not be underestimated. Abacus shares need to be played to the table in the same way as normal shares and also get you the same 2M Euros per card played. Last of all, if you’re in need of money, you can top up your funds by taking 8 Euros from the bank. This will invariably happen a lot more than you’d expect – cash is hard to come by in Airlines Europe!

Each company is designated a colour and represented by a handful of share cards and a bunch of dinky planes. Some are plentiful (Air Amigos has sixteen of each) while others get scarce quickly (White Wings, for example, has only seven) so players must balance collecting the share cards while boosting the value of the companies by purchasing routes. One thing to remember is that the you actually don’t own the planes you place at all – this game is all about making the companies you’re investing in as lucrative as possible… Every time a company has a route purchased for it, their marker moves along the investment track showing how many points an investment is potentially worth. This track is split into sections, each one labelled with points values, as you can see below.

Whoever has the most shares in Rio Grande (Blue) gets 10 points when scoring rolls round. Next highest gets 5, then 3, 2 and 1. Even a small amount of shares can get some good points!

So why is Airlines Europe so good? Why do I think it could be the next Great Gateway Game? Simply because it hits so many bases. Primarily, despite the fact it looks initially daunting, it’s incredibly easy to get to grips with. With over a hundred little planes in a variety of colours, it may appear cute, but spread them across a board with stacks of share cards piled up everywhere and things potentially take a turn for the terrifying. Take a step back. Breathe. Remember, there’s only four things you can do, so choose one and do it.

Those early games will generally take the same pattern, all players racing to get planes down all over the board, focusing only on what shares they have and attempting to bump up the value. But then you start looking around the table – and this is where the second great thing about the game comes in. With more plays comes more understanding, and with more understanding comes more opportunities to cut down your opponents. You’ll be sneaking in, paying that little bit extra to cut off a route that will trap a company’s planes that someone on the other side of the table was really pushing. You’ll realise when you should dump a pile of stock that you thought would be lucrative but may well be better off exchanged for Abacus shares. You’ll react to the strategies of others, concentrating on a small range of shares as they play the odds getting one or two of everything (or vice versa). This is a game that encourages multiple plays, that will reward observation. In the same way that great Carcassonne players realise that it’s not a game about building towns and roads, but actually about trapping your opponents early, Airlines Europe will see the devious, the cutthroat, the downright nasty players who are willing to risk everything come out (more often than not) as victors.

Nearly finished, but that board still has plenty of space...

Slightly less important, but still something to consider, is the production quality. Abacusspiele have made a lovely looking game which put me in mind of something Days of Wonder may have produced. There’s something incredibly satisfying seeing the board covered in a rainbow of planes at the end of a game – Airlines Europe is a beauty, pretty enough to pull in the attention of the uninitiated. Never underestimate a good looking game! There’s also the fact it can be played in less than an hour, hitting that magical mark of being substantial but not overstaying its welcome.

It’s still early days to say whether Airlines Europe will truly make the leap that other gateways have managed to do, but I believe that it’s good enough to do so. That path of learning I mentioned, starting with simple games that race to a finish developing into deeper, more strategic affairs… it reminds me so much of games like Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride, games that would (and do) appeal to a wide audience, if only we can get that audience to see them. I strongly encourage you to check out Airlines Europe – after all, Alan R. Moon’s spent over twenty years getting it perfect! It would be impolite to not try it out at least once…

Airlines Europe was published in 2011 by Abacusspiele (and is being handled by Rio Grande Games in the States) and was – of course – designed by Alan R. Moon. Between two and five can play (two requires slightly modified rules), though I think it works best with four. It’ll cost you around £30 in the UK, and around $35-40 in the US. Seriously, try it out. You shan’t regret it.


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