Monday, January 3, 2011

Google and Games

T’was the week after Christmas and all through the house,
You could make out the footsteps of even a mouse.

Why is it so quiet in the Savage household? Everyone has come down with a bad case of Android fever. Son #2 is listening to MP3s and Facebooking. Son #3 is playing something on his gameboy emulator. And Mom is downloading Disney wallpaper, adding ringtones, and updating contacts. Yep, New cell phones for Christmas.

This post isn’t actually about cell phones, but just as a side note, I think back to how Microsoft became a a powerhouse by controlling the operating systems of computers, with Apple a distant—but still powerful—second. I think we are seeing the same thing with Google.

Microsoft’s power came in the form of controlling what people created: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, e-mails, etc. If you made it, you almost had to use their products.

Google has done the same thing, but with the world of consuming. Think about it. You voice search for restaurants, read reviews on your phone, watch a youtube video of someone who went there, call to make a reservation, use Google Maps to guide you to the location, and actually see a picture of what the place looks like as you arrive at your destination. All without ever leaving Google. All with the chance to offer you ever more customized ads, coupons, etc, throughout the process.

We’ve gone from a point where technology was all about making something to where we spend most of our time using technology to consume: read, watch, find, research, and listen. And with their massive digital library of books and documents, Google stands to get even more powerful. Amazon and Apple are big players in the digital consumption age, but I suspect they will end up playing second fiddle to Google.

Sorry, I got sidetracked. What I actually wanted to blog about was  what I got for Christmas. Every year when people ask me what I want for Christmas, the answer is almost always, “Games!” I really love cool games. And Santa was good this year. I’m going to tell you about three games. Two that have been out for a couple of years, and one that’s been around for a long time, but is making a big comeback.I thought The Game of Things was new this year, but looks like it may have been out since about 2008. Still, from what I can see, it’s really become popular in the last year or so.

The idea is so simple, you wonder why no one came up with it before. Basically, one player draws a card and reads it to the group. The card will say something like, “Things you should never do with chocolate.” Then everyone writes down their own answer. Answers in our admittedly off-the-wall group would be anything from put it in your ears, or store it in your underwear, to put it in the toilet and pretend . . . well you get the idea. Then you take turns guessing who wrote what. The best thing about the game is that everyone plays every turn, and I’ve never heard so much laughter during any game.

This is a game that is best played with at least five players. We actually played with about ten of us at one point. It was fun, but just took too long to give everyone a turn. On the other hand, if you have fewer than five players it doesn’t work very well. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids much younger than ten, unless there are several of them playing, as part of the game is guessing who wrote what.

When we first took this Pandemic out of the box, it looked like another Risk type of board game. You have the usual world map, different colored markers, cards, etc. The big difference here, is that instead of trying to kill each other, all of the players cooperate to save the world from a world wide . . . you guessed it, pandemic.

I like this game for several reason. First, it’s cool to play a game where all of you are cooperating against a single opponent. Kind of fun to help each other instead of trying to trash each other. Either you all succeed in finding cures for four rampant diseases, or you all fail together.

The second fun thing is that it’s really kind of educational to see how a disease can spread, and quickly get out of control. (Okay, maybe I just have a sick idea of fun, but it is educational, while not being boring.)

The only drawback is that you can’t have any more than four players unless you have the expansion. The good news is that you can have an enjoyable game with as few as two players. It took us about thirty-five minutes to play. (Yeah, we , uh, actually did not manage to save the world. Sorry about that.) I would guess that with experienced players most games would take under an hour to complete.


Of all the games we played over the last week, I think Acquire may be my favorite. This game is actually older than me. It kind of fell off the radar for a while, and had a few changes. But now it’s back to it original form, and, from what I heard at the game store, bigger than ever.

When you first look at the board, it seems incredibly boring.

It’s essentially just a big grid of numbers and letters. Even when we began reading the rules, it didn’t seem all that cool. Basically you build hotel chains, buy and sell stock, and watch as one hotel gobbles up another.

But once you start playing, it become so engrossing I couldn’t tear myself away. The idea is that you start with a certain amount of money. You draw tiles that match the grids on the board. Once two adjoining tile are laid down, you can place a hotel on them. Every time a tile is added to the hotel, it become worth more. Eventually one hotel connects with another hotel, and as long as the smaller hotel is less than 11 tiles big, it gets acquired.

Where the real strategy (and fun) comes in is buying and selling stock. If you are a majority (most shares) or minority (second most shares) shareholder in a hotel that is acquired, you get cash. You can then sell your stock in that hotel, trade it for stock in the bigger hotel, or keep it in hopes that the hotel chain will be placed back on the board again. You use your cash to buy additional stock in other hotels.

The challenge is that you need cash flow to keep buying more hotel stock, but there is a limited number of shares in any given hotel. And ultimately the players with the most stock in the hotels that survive cash out big. As soon as you finish a game, you start to think of other strategies and want to play again. Really fun game with lots of different ways to approach it.

You can have from three to six players and games take anywhere from one to two hours. Because so much of this game involves strategic thinking, I think players younger than twelve or so would have a hard time competing or enjoying the game.

So that’s what we’ve been playing here. How about you?   


Marny said...

We got a game called Gang of Four. It'l kind of like a cross between Rich Man Poor Man and poker. We've had a lot of fun playing it. Our fall-back game is Settlers of Catan, which we've loved for years.

Magenta said...

That Game of Things sounds hilarious! On New Year's Eve we played a game kind of like that, Apples-to-Apples. Now that was a barrel of laughs. XD

Pandemic has an interesting objective. I haven't heard of many board games in which players work together instead of being opponents. That's cool.

I know an online game that deals with stocks, real estate and increasing financial knowledge. It's called Cashflow. Check it out, if you're interested. ^_^

Juliana said...

Pandemic is my current favorite! Love it, love it, love it!

Acquire has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It has gone through several revolutions and styles and I think we have at least three different variations. The only problem with Acquire is that it's easy to tell who is going to win, very early on. Once you are out, you really are stuck out of the game until the bitter end. Still fun, though.

If you want other suggestions, try checking out the Spiel des Jahres every year. That's where we have found most of our favorites. Good stuff! I'd be happy to loan you any games we have. And we have lots. :)

Annie said...

Our kids got the "Trek to Zion" from their Aunts for Christmas, and it was a lot of fun. It took a while to play, seems like a couple of hours, but that was with 5 players. We loved the huge gameboard, the plastic wagons that we could move around, and the scorekeeping by using the numbers around the board. Very easy to keep track of by each player, even with the youngest player only 6 years old.

Our old standby's are anything with -opoly. We play Monopoly (of course), Farmopoly, Mormonopoly, and Sonomopoly (a local version). Our games will go on for weeks! We just put our pieces, money, property cards, etc. in a baggie with our name and position on the board noted on a piece of paper.

Thanks for sharing your games with us!

Julie Belnap said...

Though board games are excellent, my family is more video game centric. My mom and I are all for strategy role-play games like Fire Emblem, sister #2 is for easy action games with iconic faces, and the littlest one likes creative and contemporary games like Animal Crossing or the My Sims games. I think video games are awesome.