Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2.6: You guessed it, Dexterity Games!

Does anyone out there have children?  I have two daughters, and this week my oldest has decided that she's going to take her naps at the end of the day, and then keep us up until midnight.  The end of the day is when I usually write, so that has caused me a few difficulties--beyond the fact that I've been perpetually tired for the last week.  I'm not complaining, but...okay, I am complaining.  I can't wait until my daughter is a teenager, I really need to keep a log I'll call "What you did," and as she complains about whatever horrible parent-thing I do, I'll allow her to check off one comparable item.  I'm certain I'll still owe her after she's moved out.

As I mentioned in my last post, while I do enjoy many types of games, Speed games and Dexterity games have a special draw for me.  A dexterity game is a game in which play requires some kind of physical manipulation of the pieces.  This can be stacking blocks, flicking pieces, etc.  This can be turn-based, which is what I'd call a pure-dexterity game (such as the mass market classic, Jenga), and can include a more real-time manipulation of the pieces, which we'll call an Action-dexterity game (something along the lines of Foosball would fit in this category).

You might be surprised to hear that a dexterity game was made into an epic war game.  It's a personal favorite of mine, a game of heroes, daring attacks, sabotage, and willing sacrifice for your cause.  A game who's deep theme and elaborate conflict resolution system can be pared down to two sentences. 

Insects.  And Tiddly-winks.
Yes, you heard me correctly.  X-Bugs was published in 2001 by Steve Jackson Games/Nexus, and was recently republished as Micro-mutants:  Evolution.  While I do have both copies of the game (or multiple copies...of both versions, we'll just skip talking about that), we'll discuss the X-bugs version. 

X-Bugs was designed by Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi and published in many countries by many publishers.  In the US there were four different boxes for the game, each box containing two armies and supporting two players.  The boxes could be combined; though there were only four different armies, each army came in two colors, so up to eight people could play. 

The idea is simple--you want to destroy your opponent's three bases, large stationary chips which are placed at the beginning of the game.  To acheive that end, you have an array of different insects at your disposal, determined by which army you are playing.  On the whole, you attack by flipping a "soldier" (a la Tiddly-winks) and landing on top of your opponent's soldiers or bases, removing them from the game. You roll three dice at the beginning of each turn, and this determines which pieces you can flick, but where you move them is up to you.  Or perhaps not, if you're really bad at Tiddly-winks.

That seems simple enough, except that each army has several different types of soldiers, each with different powers--some of which are determined by which side the wink is laying on (the wink being the little plastic chip--I suppose that's the source of the name Tiddly-winks, though the act of "tiddling a wink" sounds a little dirty).  Some of the soldiers can be flicked twice, some can't be attacked when on their "hidden" side, some take an attacker down with them if their stinger side is up.  Added to this, several little "resource" winks are dropped onto the table at the game's beginning, and these are used to upgrade bases, making them stronger, but also providing bonuses to certain pieces. 

I picked this game up several years ago for a few dollars; my friends and I have teased it as "Super Tiddly-Winks," but despite this, I really enjoy this game.  There is enough luck that it could be anyone's game, but there's enough skill and flicking technique to be learned that an experienced player or someone who has a natural knack for dexterity games (feel free to read that as "someone as awesome as me") could expect to fare better than inexperienced opponents.

Alright, I have to talk about Spinball.  Spinball was designed by Aaron Weissblum and supports two players.  We played with this game a little at BGG.con this past year, and it was very, very fun.  There is one problem, completely unintentional and unknown to me until I did a little research on this game--and I'm going to come out and say this right now.  There were between 50 and 100 of these produced around 2001.  They sold for $150 then, and there are no more in production; the creator doesn't even have one.  If you want one, you have to either murder someone that owns one (or I suppose you could just buy it off of them), or make one yourself.  Keep in mind that this is someone else's intellectual property, so any laws you may break by making your own board are all on you--I take no responsibility for your law-breaking ways.

Spinball is played on a rectangular board with rails on the long edges.  There is a small bumper in the middle of the board parallel to the short edges, and on each side of this bumper there is a hole slightly larger than a ping-pong ball.  Players stand opposite each other on the short edges, and attempt to shoot a ping-pong ball into the hole--but they are aiming for the hole on the opposite side of the bumper.  To aid in this, each player has a yoke-like ball holder and a launcher that has wedge-shaped piece of rubbery silicone.  By pressing down on the top of the ball, you are able to put backspin on it, and by positioning your holder and/or banking off the side walls, it is possible to get the ball to go into the hole.  I assure you, it is possible, and damn does it feel good when you do.

All you have to do is score 5 points, but you can opt to forgo scoring to place a metal blocker in the hopes of messing up your opponent.  Jackie and I didn't play a full game, but we did take several dozen shots, some of which skirted around the hole, and I believe both of us actually made one shot each. 

And how could I cover dexterity games without talking about Cheese?  Okay, in truth, I really, really could have, and I would hardly call this a dexterity game.  While at BGG.con this past year, I glanced through the 2009 Essen release table, and found this foam rectangle that looked like Swiss cheese with a little nibble on one corner; I couldn't help but check it out of the library.  We hadn't walked 100 feet before I'd finished reading the rules, and after laughing and giving our table a ten-second demo, it went straight back to the library.  If you're familiar with press-your-luck dice game Pass the Pigs, this game is quite similar.  The goal is to score 12 points by flicking the cheese block into the air, the side it lands on determining how many points you get--if it lands nibble-side down on the broad face, you get one point; the long edge is three points, and the short edge is 9 points.  You can always choose to flick the cheese again in the hopes of scoring more points, but if it lands on the broad side with the nibble facing up, the turn ends and no points are gained.  Strangely, this game was designed by Michael Sohre, the guy who has designed more than one gorgeous, even art-quality, games such as Fire (see photo on right). 


Alright, this one is late, but only by a day.  Still trying to find a normal writing schedule this year, especially for other projects I'm working on.  One bit of gaming goodness this week, I completed a trade with someone from BGG, and am now the happy owner of Agricola.  In case you're wondering, it's a really awesome game.  About farming.

I'm also looking at Agricola and a few other games I own, and have to admit that it's the first time I've been tempted to make tuck-boxes.  I already exhibit gamer-OCD in having to sort and store the game pieces in small zip-lock baggies, and this appears to be just another step down that spiral.

Photos borrowed from

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