Update – We’re both back!

So as you’re all aware from Dave’s updates, I’ve been out and about in Europe for the last month or so with a friend. But I’m back now and we’re ready to get the blog back on schedule(ish) for the rest of the summer!

However, whilst on our travels, Rosie and I have come across, and played, many a game. Some that we’ve already reviewed, like Cripple Mr Onion. But other (more interesting games) that we found in hostels we stayed in, such as Pandemic! (Turns out we’re terrible at this game, we’re just too good at destroying all of humanity…) So below are a few photos of the game related things that we did:

This was waiting for us (by my bed) in the hostel in Stockholm, the first city we visited, because we’re both terrible at maths, we didn’t play it.

 

For some reason, it won't let me turn it the right way up...
For some reason, it won’t let me turn it the right way up…

In between Mathable and the next photo we also managed to play English Scrabble with a German Scrabble set. Needless to say scoring was interesting. Unfortunately, we forgot to take photos. ūüė¶

Switzerland appears to have been the best country for board games in the hostels, most of the other places had chess, Copenhagen did have a few other interesting-looking games, but they were mostly in Danish, which neither of us could speak or read.

We found this in the hostel in Zurich:

PANDEMIC! It's a race to save humanity
PANDEMIC! It’s a race to save humanity

We freaked out a few people sharing the common area with us for the five hours that we spent playing this. Apparently we were taking saving the world from four deadly diseases far too seriously…

Also in Zurich I wanted to get this for Dave:

Because it's just beautiful, as chess sets go
Because it’s just beautiful, as chess sets go

But it was a little out of my price range. He got a bar of Toblerone instead.

From Zurich we headed to Bern, and in Bern we found (but didn’t get a photo of) a giant Nine Men’s Morris set, an outdoor one, like the chess sets they have in schools and parks. It was awesome. But we also managed to play Mastermind in Bern, albeit, with a set that was missing a few pieces…

Slightly makeshift game of Mastermind
Slightly makeshift game of Mastermind

Once again, we apologize for the slightly hiatus in posts, but we’re hoping to be back on track, spamming you all with geeky board game reviews within the next few days!

Board Game Cakes – Scrabble

. . . 7 Hours Later We Have An Interesting-Looking Cake

A while ago Dave and I decided that it might be fun to branch out a little into Board Game-related other things, so behold, Scrabble-cake!

My first attempt at a Scrabble-cake. The next one'll look less odd.
My first attempt at a Scrabble-cake. The next one’ll look less odd.

So anyone that knows me will know that I do a lot of baking, the weirder the cake, the better. A while ago I had an idea for a really cool cake to make Dave for his next birthday; unfortunately this idea came about three weeks¬†after his most recent birthday. The only plus side is¬†that I’ve now got the better part of a year in which to make it a few times and discover the most practical way to go about it. Which I didn’t have with this cake.

The idea for Board Game cakes came from a¬†“hey, why don’t we choose a Board Game of the Year, at the end of every blog-year?” idea (different to calendar years, but similar to academic years because the blog started at some point last September). And turned into “I could totally make a cake that was the board of the game we choose!” Then, back at the end of March, it was my friend’s birthday, and her favourite game of all time is¬†Scrabble, the official post for which is also now up.¬†So I set myself the task of making her a Scrabble-cake.

The above photo is the end result of my first (and currently only) attempt at such a thing. The game represented there is one we’d actually played a week or so before. I do also realize that there’s some dubious words on there, as far as the real rules for¬†Scrabble¬†go. But we’ve always had a more flexible approach to it than most.

Things You Will Need/Whatever It Was I Used:

I made a fairly standard (albeit huge) chocolate cake for this, because a) chocolate cake is awesome and, b) I needed something relatively solid to squidge lots of icing onto.

The Cake Recipe:

This chocolate cake is amazing, super-simple, and takes next-to-no time to make, but I need you to keep in mind when looking at the amount of each ingredient you’ll need that I’m giving you the double-dose that I used for this cake, so it’ll turn out pretty big.

You will need:

  • 250g Soft Butter
  • 2 teaspoons of Vanilla Essence
  • 550g Caster Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 400g Self-Raising Flour
  • 100g Cocoa Powder
  • 320ml Water

Method (I love this method):

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, beat on low speed with electric mixer (or on standard speed if doing this by hand) until all ingredients are combined. Increase speed to medium (or beat faster until your arm wants to fall off) for about three minutes or until the mixture is smooth and has changed to a lighter colour. Spread into a large square tin (pre-greased, of course). Bake on 180 degrees Celsius until cooked when poked. Stand the cake for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

My favourite thing about this recipe is that the method essentially just tells you to bash everything together in a bowl, stick it in a tin, and shove it in the oven; after seeing so many complicated, lengthy cake recipes, this one makes me very happy.

Making the Scrabbly-Bit:

The Things I Used:
  • A large pack of roll-out white icing
  • 2 thin bladed sharp knives
  • 1 bottle of green food colouring
  • 1 sterilized pin (but if you can get icing pens, or have a steady enough hand to substitute a clean paintbrush, I highly recommend it)
  • 1 small paper square template
How I Went About It:

First, after the cake had cooled a bit (I didn’t let it cool completely, which I should’ve, because I’m impatient and wanted to get on with things), I completely covered it with a big square of the roll out icing, this was to provide a surface on which to recreate the Scrabble board, although it wasn’t as flat as I would’ve like. So your basic cake, before you start anything complicated, should look like this:

My Scrabble-cake-board
My Scrabble-cake-board

Making the tiles and putting letters on them was the hardest bit, and, on reflection, there were probably better ways to go about it. I briefly considered making all 100 Scrabble letter tiles, before realizing that we hadn’t used all 100 (although we weren’t far off it) in the game. So instead, I got up the photo of the game and counted how many tiles I needed. I then rolled out a whole kitchen-tables worth of icing, and started cutting out tiny squares. After many hours of painstakingly trying to keep the squares actually square as I cut them out, I’d achieved this:

My blank Scrabble tiles
My blank Scrabble tiles, not perfect, but not bad

The next step was to actually make them into letters; I did this by using a bowl of green food colouring (because we didn’t have any black or blue, and yellow and pink are crap colours for this kind of thing) and a pin. I used to tip of the pin to etch the letters and their point value into each tile, and then tipped the pin with food colouring, to make them visible. I decided the easiest way to prevent mistakes was to make the game one word at a time, starting from the top left-hand corner, which I did. This is the photo of the game that I was working from:

This game was played on our travel-Scrabble board, rather than the (much nicer) board, that features in our actual Scrabble post.
This game was played on our travel-Scrabble board, rather than the (much nicer) board, that features in our actual Scrabble post.

My recreation of this game looked like this (before I put it on the cake):

The game.
The game.

Now all that was left was for me to transfer this, to the cake. A part of me still thinks that this should’ve been a simple job, but because the cake wasn’t all that flat across the top, it became much harder than it initially appeared….

Initially, I moved the tiles onto the cake without fixing them down in any way to make sure they all fit, and to space them out properly. Prior to cutting out the tiles I had done the maths of measuring the width of the cake and then working out from that the dimensions that each tile needed to be, to ensure that I could fit them all on and keep it accurate to a real Scrabble board (albeit with a¬†lot of artistic license), so I shouldn’t really have needed to put them on loose first, I could’ve just stuck them straight down. Buuuut, my maths skills are not the best; I have been known to not be able to count to five in the past, so I second-guessed myself, and made everything take that much longer by checking it was all okay.

After I’d done this I managed to convince myself that I had got it more or less right, and stuck the tiles down. For this I used jam of some description that I found in the fridge, warmed in the microwave. I spread a little of this on the back of each tile, and then fixed it to the cake. However, I warmed it slightly too much, and some of the tiles closer to the edges of the board started sliding, which was irritating, because I then had to hold them until the jam set a bit.

Once I’d got through this, the cake looked like this:

A somewhat jammy, almost finished cake!
A somewhat jammy, almost finished cake!
Finishing The Cake!

I realize that at this point the cake still doesn’t look an awful lot like a Scrabble board, and in the finished photo, it doesn’t hugely either, because I took a lot of artistic license at this point, in the interest of being able to go to bed. My sister, Ruth, had suggested that using Magic Stars would be a really nice way of putting the double/triple word/letter scores onto the cake, without having to write anything onto it, so I did that. And that was all I did. After that I decided that the cake was finished, and went to bed.

Things I’ll Do Differently Next Time:

  1. BUY ICING PENS. Seriously, these would’ve made my life much, much easier, using a pin to create the letter tiles was unbelievably awkward, and so easy to mess up.
  2. Use sugar paste instead of jam to stick the tiles down, although I’d probably still have the problem of them sliding a bit, the stuff is at least the same colour as the icing, so the mistakes are less noticeable.
  3. Try harder to make the cake come out flat/chop the lumpy bit off before starting to ice it. This would’ve made my life much easier if I had been working onto a flat surface, rather than one that was curved.
  4. Draw on the board. Next time, I’m definitely going to draw out the actual Scrabble board onto the cake, and recreate a game onto that.

All that said, this cake was awesomely fun to make, and it was so big that Rachel and I managed to feed around 40 people with it! So I’m definitely doing this again. And there will also be more themed-cake posts in the future. If you try making this, please let me know how it turns out, and send photos, I’d love any kind of feedback!

Scrabble

3 - 5

Number of Players: 2 – 4

Year of Publication: 1948

Creator(s): Alfred Mosher Butts (designer) and C. Leslie Crandall and Michael Graves (artists)

Mostly just because.
Mostly just because.

 Scrabble With A Dyslexic!

The word "dyslexic" is hard for dyslexics...
The word “dyslexic” is hard for dyslexics…

Scrabble is one of the classics of classics. There’s a high chance that you’ve played this game at some point in your life, or, failing that, have seen a copy floating around in your grandparents house that they like to get out at Christmas and encourage everyone to play together. Either way, it’s a fun game to play, especially on teams, and especially especially if there are dyslexics around.

What’s In The Box:

The stuff.
The stuff.
  1. 1 Game Board
  2. 4 Tile Racks
  3. 1 Bag containing 100 Letter Tiles
  4. 1 Pencil and Score Sheet
  5. The Chambers Dictionary (not actually included in the box, or used by anyone I’ve ever met when playing this game)

Playing The Game:

Objective: To have scored the most points by the time one player plays their last tile and there are none remaining in the draw bag.

To determine who plays first each player takes one tile at random from the draw bag, the player with the letter closest to the start of the alphabet is the starting player. From them play proceeds clockwise around the board. All of these tiles are then returned to the bag, and new tiles are drawn. In play order players draw 7 tiles and place them on their tile rack, keeping them out of the sight of the other players.

Once all players have their tiles, player one places a word on the board. All words must be at least two letters long and the first player places their first word across the red Double Word space in the middle of the board. After the first word has been played other players can lay words; new words must either be played through other words, crossword style, or be added on to the end of a word already on the board, for instance by adding an “S”. All words played must be real words, and names (of both places and people) and foreign languages are not considered legitimate words.

Dave was being artistic. Or something.
I don’t really know what was going on with this picture. I assume artistic license has something to do with it…

So you can kind of see what the opening words of a game might look like, even though the angle of that photo is weird as. Once a player has played a word, they then draw the same number of new tiles at random from the Draw Bag as they placed on the board. This can be interesting, because there’s no knowing which letters you’re going to be blessed with next. You can end up with a rack that only contains vowels, or consonants. Which is often not a huge amount of use.

However, there is a rule that allows a player to forfeit a turn to change all of their tiles, to do this the player must wait until it’s their turn, and then exchange their whole rack for fresh tiles from the Draw Bag. Play then immediately passes to ¬†the next player. This is a good rule that can allow you do something about getting rid of a rack that looks like this:

Had I chosen to do so, that rule would've allowed me to replace these tiles with new ones from the Draw Bag
Had I chosen to do so, that rule would’ve allowed me to replace these tiles with new ones from the Draw Bag

Play continues in this way, with one player keeping track of score until one player plays their last tile after the Draw Bag has been emptied. To score a player has to take into account both the value of the letter tiles played (the number on the bottom right hand corner of the tile), and whether or not the word has been played over any double/triple word/letter score tiles on the board. If it has then you must increase the score of that word for that player accordingly. If a player plays a word that changes a word already on the board, for example playing a word that starts with “S” and adding the required S onto the end of a word already existing on the board, the player adds up to total for the word they have changed,¬†as well as the word they played, to be the score for that turn.

A generally accepted method of keeping score is to draw out columns on your score sheet with the initial or name of each player at the top of a column, you then keep a running total going in the columns so you can see exactly where each player’s at throughout the game, like this:

Our score sheet.
Our score sheet. As per the norm, I lost.

Strategy:

The best kind of strategy for this game is to look out for the bonus point spaces on the board, because there’s no point in making an absolutely fantastic word that lets you play lots of your letters but doesn’t get you any extra points if it then creates easy access to a double/triple word/letter tile that another player can use to score some ridiculous amount of points. Other than that this is really a “be as imaginative as possible” kind of game, where the weirder the words you play are, the better the game gets.

History and Interesting Things:

  1. The game was invented by an American out-of-work architect called Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938. He created the game by combining features of anagrams and crosswords.
  2. It was originally called LEXIKO and then CRISS CROSS WORDS before becoming Scrabble.
  3. Although everyone thinks of this game as a word game, it’s actually fundamentally a number game, to create the game a series of painstaking letter-frequency calculations were needed to determine how many times each letter should appear in the game.
  4. The game was rejected by many games manufacturers, until Butts met James Brunot who loved the game.
  5. Between Butts and Brunot they refined the rules of the game and came up with the name¬†Scrabble¬†which means “to grope frantically”.
  6. The game was trade marked in 1948.
  7. To produce the game the Brunot’s rented an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut, where, asissted by friends, they turned out 12 games an hour, stamping letters onto the wooden tiles one by one.
  8. As with many games the game lost money in its first year, but, over a few years, the game steadily grew in popularity, until the president of MACYS came across the game on holiday and ordered some for his store. Soon after this it became a must-have, and Brunot realized that they could no longer produce the games fast enough to meet demand. They licensed Selchow & Righter to produce the game until, in 1972, they purchased the trademark from Brunot.
  9. Selchow & Righter were bought by COLECO in 1986, but when they declared bankruptcy in 1989 the trademark was bought by Hasbro, the largest games manufacturer in America.
  10. The game is now found in one in every three American houses.

To Conclude:

A very good game, although only rated 3 out of 5, this isn’t a reflection on how much I like the game, more of a reflection on how accessible it is for everyone. For instance, although it’s a great game for everyone in that it can be very fun and silly, it’s an unbelievably challenging game for anyone with literacy difficulties, as well as occasionally being very frustrating due to the random selection of tiles. That said, it’s a game everyone should play a few times, even if it’s just to discover that your friends know words that they didn’t know they knew so you can argue over whether or not they’re allowed on the board.

 

Update – May 2014

So this month we’re going to do something that might be considered a little boring… We hope you agree that it’s not, but this month is Classic Games Month! Obviously we’ll try to put give fun and interesting take on them and it should be good as we have just ordered a video camera… So (hopefully) our first fun video will go up this month, depending on time. We tried to think of the most monolithic and iconic games we could think of. Here’s what we came up with:

All the games for this month!
All the games for this month!

Games for May: ‚Äď Classic¬†Games

Monday the 5th – Monopoly

Monday the 12th – Clue

Monday the 19th – Scrabble

Monday the 26th – Battleships

Other Things to Note:

  • As you may have noticed the site structure has change just a little, with the Games We Have and Games We Want pages now being subcategories of the Games We… page. On top of that there’s the new Games We’ve Made page, which is very small at the moment but will get bigger soon.
  • This is because we’ve published the rules to a card game we’ve invented called Crush the Crown!¬†Check it out and let us know what you think.
  • Also we FINALLY have a video camera (it arrived today, so I’m super excited) so expect cool videos soon.
  • Lastly we’re going to the UK Board Games Expo at the end of this month so expect some awesome posts about that.

Word Games!

2 - 5

Number of Players: 2-4

Year of Publication: 1981

Creator(s): Elliot Rudell (Designer) and artists are unknown

These are definitely not my brother’s forte, what with him being very dyslexic and all. However, I like them enough that they warrant their own post, even if it is going to be pretty short (and sadly without any pictures). I was considering writing about Scrabble, but then I realized two things; A) That’s boring by itself and, B) We have acquired a much more interesting word game recently that I can write about. SO, I shall only be writing about Scrabble in conjunction with Up Words!

I had no idea of the existence of this game until a friend of ours took it upon herself to make us a copy using squares of foam to write letters on, and brought it to our house. For this we, (or at least I) am very grateful. I have since learnt that the game was developed by an American, with the aim of helping people to improve their English.

Now, rules and such:

As with Scrabble, each player takes seven tiles at random to begin. Player one then places a two-or-more letter word at the centre of the board. It is advisable to have a pad handy for keeping score, and a dictionary, if you’re the type who likes to challenge people about the words they make. Personally, I think it’s more interesting to play without a dictionary as you then test each others knowledge of the actual words as well as their spelling ability. Words must read either right to left, left to right, top to bottom or bottom to top. They cannot read diagonally. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles to change the word, but the height cannot reach above 5 tiles high. When words are built on top of other words at least one tiles from the original word must remain uncovered, and words cannot be created by adding letters such as “S” to the end.

Points:

Points are counted per word made, rather than per tile, as in Scrabble. If only one level of tiles is used for the whole word, each tiles is worth two points, i.e. the word “back” would be worth 8 points. If a tile is placed on top of another tile to change a word then all tiles, including the one that has been covered up, are worth one point, i.e. the word “flap” has a “C” placed over it, so it becomes “clap” and the word is worth 5 points. Two bonus points are given for a single-stack word using the “Qu” tile and you receive 2 bonus points if you use all 7 of your tiles in the same turn. Multiple word scores are counted separately, including repeated tiles.

Illegal Words:

Words are considered “illegal” for the following reasons:

  • If it is misspelled
  • If it is a proper pronoun, for example, someone’s name
  • If it is foreign
  • If it includes a symbol or apostrophe

Winning the Game:

A winner is declared when either the tiles run out, or there are no more available moves. Five points are deducted for any remaining tiles and the person with the highest score, wins.

This has been a very short post, I hope you’ll forgive me for it, it’s more like a filler-post this week. We’ve fallen behind a bit due to a deficit of time in which to play any game that takes longer than half an hour. Hopefully though we’re a little better organised now and can start putting up some more in-depth posts!
I read about the rules for Up Words here.