I grew up playing board games. When I was younger, it was classics like Battleship, Mastermind and Trouble that my sister and I played. Later, we graduated to Monopoly, Clue and then Risk. I can remember Risk sessions with my buddies that lasted for days. We loved that military and world-conquering strategy game like fanatics, making and signing treaties that invariably were ruthlessly broken in brazen attempts at global domination. “It’s not cheating… it’s politics,” one friend was fond of saying. But some of my best memories from childhood are of sitting around a roaring fire over the holidays — winter winds howling outside — playing games with my family. It was great bonding time. So, I decided to institute a family game night of my own when I was tasked with reviewing seven games from acclaimed comic and tabletop game publisher IDW Games.
So, IDW Games is a California-based games maker that actually began as a comic book publisher, pumping out graphic novels and titles from My Little Pony and G.I. Joe to Star Trek and 30 Days of Night. The company launched its game-focused division in 2014 with a top-selling title called Machi Koro, and has since gone on to publish a wide range of hobby and strategy games including licensed titles with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Back to The Future and more.
Pick a Card, Any Card
On our first night of family game night, we perused the titles and tried to choose something my 12-year-old and six-year-old may be interested in playing with us. We quickly discovered that these were not the Monopoly or Trouble type of board games. All of these games were card-based games, no boards. It was intimidating at first, because all of the games were designed for the 10 and up crowd. We initially looked at starting with Diamonsters, however, the back of the box says “if you and your friends love Machi Koro, you’ll go into a frenzy for Diamonsters!” So, as the kids had already had a lot of sugar and were already nearing a frenzy state, we opted to try Machi Koro first, since it was after all the game that did kick off IDW’s whole foray into games.
As soon as we started unpacking Machi Koro, my daughter said “This looks like it may be a bit like Monopoly.” And she was right. This entertaining little game features a deck of town and utility cards, dice, and some coins. It’s essentially a city-building game that’s simple, quick and involving. You’re the mayor of a town, and you build it with cards for various things like forests, wheat fields, stores and the like. On your turn, a die roll determines if you get any coins from your amenities, and you use those coins to purchase landmarks. The first to get all four landmarks wins. Although the game says it’s for 10 and up, my six-year-old enjoyed the game and even got quite good at figuring out his money and different strategies to win. It was a highly enjoyable game that my kids wanted to play again.
After the success of Machi Koro, we opted to go for frenzy and dive into Diamonsters on the next evening. This is more of a younger kids game (despite the 10 and up label), that takes place in the “Diaverse.” Here, diamonds are food, I guess, and the Diamonsters here (all five) eat the diamonds. The game comes with monster cards and some diamonds (not real of course). Each player starts with a hand of all five monsters, and you play until you have three of the same monster sitting on the table in front of you. Some monsters are more valuable than others, and on each turn you bid anonymously on an upturned card. Some monsters also eat the diamonds you need as currency, however we were a bit confused the first couple of rounds about when monsters eat the diamonds and if we were playing correctly. In the end, the kids liked it, but passed on playing subsequent rounds that evening.
Trap: Nimble Ninjas and Zany Zombies
Two of the games are basically the same game, but with different characters. The back of the box says it’s from the designer of something called “Killer Bunnies” and I can’t think of a better endorsement for my kids. The Trap! Games are basically memory games. You get a deck of cards (featuring either ninjas or zombies) and the goal is to “trap” all of these creatures in order from one to five. There are five fast rounds of play, and the winner is the person to have the highest score of trapped creatures. We found it to be a little advanced for our six-year-old, but the pre-teen liked the fast actionand the idea of trapping creatures. I have to admit the rules were a bit convoluted at first, as with any game I suppose, however we spent more time meticulously going over rules and re-reading things during our game than actually playing the game. However, the good thing is once you’ve mastered one, the other versions are the same, and you can even mix decks to further enhance the experience.
Alright! Shoelaces! There’s a lot going on in this box. It comes with cards, tiles, strings, tokens, little makers and a scoring board! Apparently a wildlife preserve is going nuts and you’ve been hired to get things in order. Once you enclose an area in one string, and lay some tiles down, you use the research string to get points by enclosing animals and land within that ‘field.” String Safari is a complex game with a fair amount of strategy, but is light-hearted and a great diversion for an evening. It’s something my younger child may grow to like thanks to the animal theme, but for now it does seem geared for older kids.
I’ve always wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons with my family. I know, it’s such a geeky thing, but I know my kids have great imaginations and would love it. However, my wife just rolls her eyes, so I was super psyched to try out Dragon’s Gold, as it forced my wife to have to enter the world of wizards, knights and of course, dragons. The game comes with a load of stuff, like a sand timer, cards galore, treasure tokens and a nifty bag to carry it all. The fun gameplay consists of using your team of dragon hunters to kill a vulnerable dragon and then vie for its loot. There are negotiations and thievery, too, so I know my old Risk buddies would love this one. And the rule book has both basic and advanced rules so you can ease into gameplay and ramp things up when you want more action. Although it wasn’t the most popular of the games we played with the overall family, I liked it the most personally, and would definitely try to get a couple of my friends into it for a rousing dragon-slaying adventure. My wife would roll her eyes all night.
Chew: Cases of the FDA
The final game we got to try out is Chew: Cases of the FDA. It’s based on the Eisner Award-winning comic series, and comes with issue #1 right in the game box. However, since the comic had “Mature Readers Only!” emblazoned across the cover, we put the kids to bed and settled in to an evening of working as Food and Drug Administration agents. This game for two to five players has you solving a mystery by following clues to a culprit. It also features a Chog, which is a cross between a chicken and a frog. And it’s your currency. It’s a bit of a weird game that my wife couldn’t get into, as I think it requires more knowledge of the source material and a few plays before it becomes fun. Maybe I’ll like it more after I read the comic.
One Big Winner
Overall, IDW puts a lot of light-hearted fun into its games. They are different, tell stories and feature relatively simple gameplay that’s also fast. Most of the games last just 30-minnutes once you get through the rulebook. However, of all the games we blasted through in our family game night marathon, Machi Koro came out as the favourite. Pretty much every night after trying out a new game, my kids would ask if we could play one game of Machi Koro before bed. Perhaps it’s because it was the first game we played, or maybe because of its city-building/Monopoly-esque allure, but everyone agrees it was a great discovery. We’ll continue to give the Trap! Series a go as well, and I’ll certainly be heading back for Dragon’s Gold with a few friends soon. If games, and especially card games, are your thing, or you’ve been wanting to institute your own family game night, give some of the IDW Games a try. You may make a great discovery too.