Kids Gaming by an Old Grognard

Gulo Gulo Box
Courtesy BGG?

Although I have been a wargamer since 1979, it was not until the mid-2000s that I started into family gaming. At the time the youngest RockyMountainNavy spawn was just born and the oldest was 8 years old. We made some great purchases; games that are still favorites like Gulo Gulo or Chicken Cha Cha Cha or The Magic Labyrinth. As the RMN Kids grew up, we (logically) moved away from children’s games.

(Of minor interest, Gulo Gulo was the subject of one of my first-ever posts on this blog…waaaay back in 2007.)

This year, Mrs. RMN has started tutoring English to young kids. She is also a strong believer in tabletop games as great teaching tools. This means the rest of the RMN family is occasionally called upon to play a game with the youngsters. Currently, there are two main students, a kindergarten and 4th grader. Playing with these kids means we have pulled out the older games listed above but also means we we are on the lookout for new games too.

As a result, the RMN Household has been adding children’s games to our collection. This past year saw us add Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier which is really a reskinned version of the Board Game Geek #4 Children’s Game Ghostfightin’ Treasure Hunters. More recently, Ice Cool has entered the collection, and other family games that are well suited for kids, like Kingdomino, are getting played too. As a matter of fact, when I checked my BGG collection this morning I discovered that we actually have five of the top 25 Children’s Games. Similarly, we have 11 of the Top 100 Family Games. Not too bad for an Old Grognard!

Playing Ice Cool from Brain Games Publishing



Being a Cool Kid – Playing #IceCool from @BrainGames_int

Ice Cool from Brain Games Publishing is the 2017 Kinderspiel Des Jahres winner. This is a simple dexterity (flicking) game of little penguins skating around a school. One player is “the catcher” – or hall monitor – while the others are “runners” – or students skating through the school. Every round, the Runners are trying to get through doorways and collect fish (scoring cards) while the Hall Monitor tries to take their hall pass away. A game ends after a number of rounds equal to the number of players and after each player has been the hall monitor once. Ice Cool is an excellent game that is equally fun for kids and adults.

Courtesy Brain Games Publishing

The most innovative feature of Ice Cool is the “box-in-a-box” format. The game box is actually four boxes, each slightly smaller than the other, that are connected to make the game board. This gives the game a 3D effect of halls and walls. The players must flick their penguins which are plastic weighted tokens that fly around or through or even over the rooms, doors, and walls. Very simple and direct; perfect in fact for the 6+ crowd the game is marketed towards.

Courtesy Brain Games Publishing

I bought Ice Cool because Mrs. RockyMountainNavy is teaching young kids English these days and often asks the RMN Boys (or myself) to play a game with the kids at the end of their lesson. She is a strong believer in the teaching power of tabletop games, especially the social aspects (communicate with others, take your turn, follow the rules) that video gaming so often lacks. This weekend, the RMN Boys and myself took the game for a test play. Ice Cool plays fast (20 min or less) and is fun. Flicking the penguins does take some finesse and patience; more than some youngsters may have. The same 3D walls that make the game look good can block bigger hands and make flicking difficult. There are rules allowing one to move the penguin away from the walls which may be enough.

Don’t let those (minor) negative points fool you; Ice Cool is a very fun family game. At first, we set up the game like we normally do on the dining table with all of us sitting around. Almost immediately we pushed back the chairs and found ourselves constantly moving around the table, treating the game box more like a pool table as we constantly jockeyed to get that perfect angle for our shot. There were many laughs and good natured ribbing to be had.

Ice Cool will be a fun family filler game in the RMN Household and will be used with Mrs. RMN’s students with great effect. It is almost impossible not to enjoy this fun flick-em-up game with such a cute theme and simple game play.

Featured image courtesy Brain Games Publishing.


Is this a wargame? – or – A grognard’s foggy thoughts on #FogofWar (@StrongholdGames, 2016)

Fog of War by Stronghold Games (2016) is marketed as a “two-player grand strategic game covering the European theater of World War II.” On its surface, Fog of War looks to be a “wargame” but, to this old grognard, I am unsure it really is.

The BoardGameGeek wiki glossary defines wargame as,

n. A game in which players put military units or military-type units in direct or indirect conflict with each other. The goal of these games is typically annihilation of opponents and/or the attainment of certain strategic conditions. These types of games will often have high thematic content and a varying degree of abstraction. (See also miniatures game). Wargames are subdivided into three general scales: Strategic, Operational and Tactical. (See also simulation)

By this definition, Fog of War qualifies as a wargame as it has military units (cards) in direct conflict and victory is through the attainment of strategic conditions (control of various provinces).

But I disagree.

Fog of War is superficially a wargame, but at its heart it is a game of Bluffing. BoardGameGeek defines bluffing as, “Bluffing games encourage players to use deception to achieve their aims. All Bluffing games have an element of hidden information in them.” Now, I recognize that wargames often have an element of Bluffing in them, but it is not the core mechanic as in Fog of War.

To be fair, Fog of War is not marketed as a wargame. Let’s look at how Stronghold Games describes Fog of War:

The game does not have units that move around a map; instead the game focuses on the planning and intelligence aspects of the war. Each player has a deck of cards that represent the army, navy, and other assets of their nations. A map shows the 28 land and sea provinces over which the players are battling.

You defend a province by placing cards face down on the map. If you wish to attack a province, you must plan an “operation” to do so by creating one on your operation wheel. The wheel is a unique way of forcing players to commit to operations in advance, while giving opportunities for intelligence gathering and bluffing. An operation consists of a province card that shows the target of the operation, plus one or more cards to conduct the attack. All of these cards are placed face down, so your opponent does not know the target of the operation or the strength of the cards that are taking part. Each turn, the dial on the operation wheel is rotated by one position. This controls when an operation can be launched and any attack or defense bonuses that apply.

In addition to combat forces for attack or defense, you may also spend Intel tokens to look at your opponent’s operations and defenses.

Operations Wheel (Courtesy BGG)

Hopefully, you see that the core mechanic of the game is focused on the Operations Wheel where players secretly plan attacks. Defense of provinces and attacks on the Operations Wheel are secret but players can use Intelligence Operations to try to discern the defense or attack plans. The use of deception and hidden information, and not military conflict, is at the heart of Fog of War.


But does that make it a bad game?

BGG User TimSmith wrote a long review of Fog of War where he praises the game. In a final assessment he declares:

This game is an absolute must for every wargame designer with any interest in the theory of war, in Clausewitz and SunZi, or the works of Michael Howard, Michael Handel and Edward Luttwak. Even the deans and doyens of our discipline will find that FoW deepens their conceptual insight into some of the non-obvious causal factors that govern war, not just in the military sphere such as attrition versus maneuver, but in the wider context of strategic interaction described by game and decision theory.

For similar reasons, it is a must for all grognards interested in studying warfare through simulation modeling. It might prompt one to contemplate how incomplete the standard wargame framework is, and perhaps to introspect into whether we have been sufficiently aware of this.

FoW is a great addition to the repertoire of those who enjoy stimulating, challenging strategy games. For all its Boogy-Woogie Bugle Boy artwork, it’s a cerebral game. The Anglo-Allies cannot blame the dice if they get booted off the continent!

And finally, for any wargame coach or teacher who uses wargames to teach history or strategy, this game offers a highly valuable and unique insight into the challenges historical figures face in committing their nations and forces to great endeavors during conflict. The game conveys a sense of plunging into the unknown that few games can match.

I know Tim (professionally) and have great respect for his opinion. I can see many of his points, but I personally think he gets a bit carried away. Fog of War demonstrates the role of planning and intelligence in war – STOP! When I keep this (narrow?) perspective I find great enjoyment in playing Fog of War. It is when I try to “read more into the game” that I find my enjoyment dropping off as I (sub?) consciously start questioning design assumptions and doubting the design. For instance, combat is resolved through a straight comparison of attack versus defense strength. The attacker automatically wins if they have a ration of 2:1 or better, seemingly ignoring the historical maxim that 3:1 odds are needed to assure victory. I think I see the design assumption behind the 2:1 decision (driven by a limited number of cards in the game) but as a grognard I found myself doubting the “validity” of the game.

Fog of War is a good game and I am glad to have added it to my collection, but it is best enjoyed with a narrower set of expectations than I started with. As a long time grognard, Fog of War challenged my definition of a wargame, but as a gamer I can enjoy the Bluffing in a military conflict setting.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.


The Simplicity of #1812TheInvasionofCanada (@Academy_Games, 2012)

This weekend the RockyMountainNavy Game Night featured 1812: The Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012). This title is actually the first in the Birth of America-series but was the last to land on the RMN gaming table. 1812 is probably the simplest, least refined game of the series but that same simplicity creates a fast-playing, easy-to-learn gaming experience that delivers a wonderful historical feel that immerses players in the game.

The core mechanics of 1812 are the same as all Birth of America-series games. The usual Reinforcements – Movement – Battle – Draw Cards sequence is there. In 1812, Reinforcements enter at designated Muster Points. This limitation immediately forces players to consider how to flow forces into battles. Movement is done with the usual Movement Cards of which some are movement, some are Events, and of course one is the Treaty Card (combination movement/event). Battles have a subtle asymmetric character about them through the use of special Battle Dice that have different results depending upon the type of unit fighting. In one difference from the usual game series rules, the first “attack” rolls depend upon where the battle takes place with the Home Territory owner getting the first roll. In terms of rules complexity, I consider 1812the least complicated of the series. This makes it very easy to learn and quick-to-play.

Victory in 1812 is through simple majority area control. The game ends at the end of Round 8 or at the end of any round when one side has played all their Treaty Cards.

Unlike other Birth of America titles, 1812 can be played with up to five players (rather than the standard four). The “fifth” faction in this title is the Native Americans. As much as I appreciate the designers stretching the title for five players, in this case I doubt the real enjoyment the Native American player would get in a full game with (very) limited reinforcements and small forces. Native Americans appear in 1775: Rebellion (as a “neutral” faction that can be controlled by either side) and in 1754: The Conquest of America where they are represented again as a “neutral” faction that can be allied with and (using the Native American Expansion) as a source of asymmetric powers and alternate victory conditions.  In 1812, the Native Americans are a sort of “special forces” but are definitely an adjunct force but not a major power.

A major source of enjoyment when playing 1812 is simply looking at the game. The beautiful box art is supported by a map that is evocative of the era and card art that is exceptionally detailed. Just looking at the game immerses the players in the period and helps with the narrative experience.

U%u3KDqDRQKzsGLnzbhsmQOur first game ended in a tie after Round 4 when the Americans had played all their Treaty Cards. Both sides controlled one enemy Homeland Territory. In very typical fashion, the game came down to the last battle roll in the final battle. In this case, the British Regulars were able to defeat a mixed American Regular-Militia army and take the one territory they needed to tie the game. Total playing time for our first game was a very fast 55 minutes. This is partially because all four players (myself and all three RockyMountainNavy Boys) are familiar with the rules.

1812: The Invasion of Canada may be the “simplest” of the Birth of America-series but that does not mean it will end up not getting played. Rather, the many positive attributes of the game (familiar rules, beautiful artwork, thematic play) means it will land on the gaming table often.

Feature image courtesy Academy Games.

A RockyMountainNavy Royal Wedding – Variant play of #Queendomino (@BlueOrangeGames)


OK, I admit it, Queendomino is growing on me over time. My first impression was maybe less than stellar, but I can see how I was expecting something different and not quite accepting (at the time) what I got. Today I admit that Queendomino is a popular game in the RockyMountainNavy household and shows no signs of going away soon. This weekend, we played the Royal Wedding variant and experienced yet another way the game is challenging and fun.

In the Royal Wedding variant, 3-4 players use the entire domino set from both Queendomino and Kingdomino to create 7×7 territories. The variant is very simple using only the tiles but none of the extra rules in Queendomino, making it a ‘larger version” of Kingdomino. Sounds easy, yes? A no-new-rules, simple build-a-grid version of Kingdomino.

Kingdomino 2-player 7×7. Close to what we were doing (

After playing our first Royal Wedding game (3-player) we all found our heads hurting. Hurting because we spent nearly 45 minutes thinking, and thinking very hard! As simple as it sounds, creating a 7×7 grid is a real challenge. Placing your current tile, planning ahead for the next one, and hoping to create a grid that can take whatever the future throws at you sounds easy but can also easily lead to Analysis Paralysis.

But the journey is worth it. The game result is huge territories, large scores and extreme satisfaction. Far from being a royal pain, Queendomino Royal Wedding is royal fun!

Thoughts on Native Alliances in #1754Conquest from @Academy_Games


In my first impression of 1754 Conquest – The French and Indian War (Academy Games, 2017) I touched on how much the game is like the others in the Birth of America/Birth of Europe-series. I discussed how 1754 Conquest adds new rules for reinforcements (Harbors and Muster Areas) and Forts. There are two other different rules that help set 1754 Conquest apart from other games in the series. The rules are Native Americans and the optional Native Alliance Expansion which we played with.

In all the Birth of America/Europe-series, there are four factions each of which draw their Turn Cube during a Round. In 1754 Conquest, there is a fifth “faction;” Native Americans. When the Native American Turn Cube is drawn, reinforcements are placed on the board. There is a clever mechanic using the spot on the Turn Order Track that helps determine which Native American area gets the reinforcements. Rules are included for when Native American are allied with a faction and how they act in battle.


The 1754 Conquest Native Alliance Expansion is a deck of 15 cards. During Setup, each faction draws a single card. The card will either have an Native American area that, if controlled at game end, scores extra Victory Points or a special Native American ability that the faction can use. For instance, in the image above if the Algonquin Alliance card is drawn, when the game ends with the faction in control of those Native American home areas gains extra Victory Points. Other cards are special abilities for the factions, such as the Mingo Alliance card (pictured above) that negates the Fort Die if present.

These simple changes and expansion make 1754 Conquest extremely thematic. Not only are the major contested areas the Native American lands (as was historically the case) but the importance of alliances with the Native Americans cannot be understated both in history and the game. Academy Games (rightly) boosts that, “This expansion exemplifies the impact that the Six Nations had on the French and Indian War!” For the full experience of 1754 Conquest, the expansion is essential. Adding this expansion should be a no-brainer as there is little-to-no rules overhead and seamless integration with the existing game system.

In our first game, two of the factions (British & French Regulars) drew Area Alliance cards. The British Colonials drew the Ojibwa Alliance power (ability to cross the Great Lakes) while the French-Canadiens had the Mingo Alliance power (nullifies Forts). In the end game scoring, neither side gained extra points (failure to have Native American units in the areas). During the game, the Colonials were able to use the Ojibwa Alliance to cross the Great Lakes and take some French territory (although the “invasion” was later turned back). The French-Canadian faction should of used the Mingo Alliance in one battle but we all forgot (to our later disgruntlement as it may have made the difference in the battle and possibly even the final scoring). On balance the Native Alliance cards added an interesting element of gameplay with little rules overhead but with great thematic impact.

In many ways the Native Americans in 1754 Conquest exemplify what I love about the entire Birth of America-series and 878 Vikings. The games are great for 3-4 players, feature easy-to-learn and easy-to-play rules, and hit so many thematic elements that they teach without being preachy. 1754 Conquest, and it close cousins 1775 Rebellion, 1812 Invasion, and 878 Vikings are the epitome of family wargames that are fun to play and educational.

#FirstImpressions – #1754Conquest by @Academy_Games

On the table for this weekend’s RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night was a full 4-player game of 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War (Academy Games, 2017). I usually do a “first impressions” post after playing a game for the first time and I guess this posting is no real exception. Well, except that since 1754 Conquest is part of the Birth of America-series and we have previously played 1775 Rebellion and 878 Vikings, we actually have a great familiarity with the basic game system. So this is more of a “ongoing thoughts” after the first play of another game in the series. Bottom Line: 1754 Conquest is a great family wargame and beautiful on the table.

Like other games in the Birth of America/Europe-series, 1754 Conquest is team-play, strategic-level of conflict, lite-rules wargame. The core gameplay is the same; Reinforcements, Movement/Event Card play, Battles, and End Turn. 1754 Conquest introduces several advanced rules (that are changes from 1775 Rebellion and 1812 Invasion) including Strategic Forts, Muster Areas, and Harbors. The later two determine where reinforcements arrive (British and French Regulars enter at Harbors, British Colonials and French-Canadiens enter at Muster Points). The Fort Rule thematically captures the important roll of forts in this war.


Beyond the familiar gameplay, another part of 1754 Conquest that captures my attention (literally) is the fantastic art. I recently listened to a podcast (can’t find it now) that talked to Steve Paschal, the artist who did the cover of 1754 Conquest. Mr. Paschal has done lots of work for Academy Games, and his work is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The cover of 1754 Conquest is by far my favorite because I think it captures so much of the spirit of the game. Not only is the cover nice, but all the components nicely compliment each other and make the game extremely beautiful to lay out on the table and adds immensely to the joy of play.

Playing games, and especially wargames, has an important role in the education of the RockyMountainNavy Boys. When playing 878 Vikings, I discovered just how much the Oldest RMN Boy loved Viking history, and how much the Youngest RMN wants to learn. Personally, I have a love of early American colonial history and the French & Indian War and American Revolution are amongst my favorite periods of history to study. So this time we did something a bit different and I read aloud from the Historical Notes at the back of the rulebook. The Boys were fascinated learning about George Washington’s role in the war, and were awed when they realized that their mother’s favorite movie, The Last of the Mohicans, is on the board (Fort William Henry). When I got to the section labeled The French Plan, Youngest RMN Boy stopped me and suggested we not read further until after the game so they could explore the situation for themselves. To say I was proud is an understatement!

The game ended after Round 4 with the British having played both their Treaty Cards. The result was a very narrow victory for the British, 6-5. Total playtime was a very short 70 minutes, which is very fast for us in a first-play of a new game. Again, 1754 Conquest is not a truly “new” game to us, and the fact we have familiarity with the core game mechanics meant the introduction of the new rules did not slow down our learning of the game.

1754 Conquest is less complex than 878 Vikings due to the absence of Invasion and Leader rules. It is more complex than 1775 Rebellion given the different reinforcement rules and forts. But in no way can I say that 1754 Conquest is better than or lesser than either of those other games. 1754 Conquest is superior in what it delivers; an easy to learn, simple to play, team wargame that captures the feel of the French & Indian War period. Additionally, it is a beautiful game!