Tag Archives: Cthulhu Dice

Board Games for Kids’ events, 11-18 years old

What’s this all about?

Playing Cosmic Encounter at the 2014 Game Camp. Still a massive hit.

I’ve been running game camps for kids for a little under a decade now, and a big portion of what success I’ve had with them is due to adding board games to a mostly miniatures-based program. Board games, especially designer board games (or Family Board Games, or Hobby Board games, take your pick..) fill up the gaps in a program where I’m setting up some big miniatures game and need to keep kids occupied for an hour or more on one side of the room.

I’m going to start recording the board games we use at Camp to keep kids engaged and having fun, and the reasons why I choose them.  I envision this piece to be an ongoing narrative that I update on a semi-regular (quarterly) basis.  There’s just too many to try to create an all encompassing list; once I’ve compiled a few, I’ll move this up to a page tab.

Let’s get started with my FALL of 2014 Recommendations if you are looking to find games that will play well with a group of kids from about 11 to 18 years in age, with a few hours to kill here and there.  I’ll try to do another one in January 2015.


It’s no small secret that Cosmic Encounter is my favorite board game of all time.   I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there.   What was a surprise was just how readily younger kids take to this game.  There’s something about the Nomic quality of the changing Alien powers, the component mix from FFG, and the generally silly atmosphere.  I would recommend the FFG version over all others, for the artwork alone, but also the range of choices that add to the customization.  I think CE’s easy to perceive goal, plus ever-changing nature, makes it far more accessible to younger children than I gave it credit for before.



Get Bit was a charming little surprise I discovered through Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web show.  It’s a simple positional race game not unlike GMT’s earlier Formula Motor Racing (which is another great candidate for a kid’s camp, but I’d play it with Matchbox cards).    Players put their cute plastic robots in a line in the water, followed by a shark with a taste for robots.   Single number cards (from a finite hand of cards) are played that move the robots around in order.   The last robot in line gets “chomped” and loses a limb.  When he loses all limbs, he’s out.  It’s no suprise WHY kids like this– it’s all about cartoon violence, of course, but there’s also some great decision making and strategy implied in the card play.  Immensely popular.


Tsuro is another one of those great discoveries that came into my radar through the Tabletop show.  I knew it existed, and I knew that it had been out since 2006, but I had never played it.  I already had Metro by Queen Games, which reminds me of it quite a bit.  Essentially this is a path-finding puzzle style game where the players try to keep their dragons on the maze-like path built by placing tiles.   It’s simple and easy to pick up, and very visual.  The theme is a little more exciting than Metro (which is about streetcars), so I would recommend Tsuro over Metro.



It’s a little too easy to call  The Resistance “a Werewolf/Mafia variant” but people often do.   Certain elements are very similar to Werewolf, to be sure– such as the day/night turn and turn-based mechanics. However, the addition of the cards and the “going on a mission” theme really gives this humble little game a great framework that (I think) forces the players into using deductive logic much more than Werewolf ever will.  Werewolf games can devolve into silliness rather quickly– which is why I don’t recommend them that highly for younger kids, they might take accusations too seriously and have their feelings hurt.   The Resistance takes a similar riff and adds the cards and mission element on top of it, which tends to distance the younger players from the J’accuse! flavor of Werewolf.  Notes to adults: don’t even attempt to run this if you don’t have at least six committed players, and do NOT take the sixth spot yourself.  You’ll need to be in charge for the first game, anyway.

CODE 777

Code 777 is a modern reworking of Mastermind (in some respects).  It is a good design for 2-5 players, and I suspect 4 is optimal.  Each player has a Scrabble style rack with three tiles on it– tiles are a certain color and number, or have a certain symbol behind them.  The players have a grasp of certain facts– there are only so many of this tile, or so many of that tile, or so many blue tiles, etc. etc.  Cards are played with questions on them that help the players deduce their own sequences.  That’s right, their own– the tiles face outward; so the other players know only what every player except themselves are displaying.  The players can glean a lot of knowledge to make deductions with from what they see in every tile rack except their own.  Code 777 is a much older design (from 1985 at least, and maybe older) but has recently been reprinted by Stronghold Games.  This is a great game for problem solving and deductive logic; it never fails to keep kids engaged.



Room 25 is a great maze style game where the maze starts built and flipped over and gradually is revealed by the player’s tokens exploring the map through trial and (often) deadly error;  the players assume a set series of roles (six, maximum) which are quite colorful but functionally identical (sadly; I think this could be improved upon in an expansion).  The game can be played cooperatively (boo!) or semi-treacherously (yay!) where some of the players have hidden traitor roles.  The theme of the game is very similar to a series of Canadian Horror/SF films called Cube/Hypercube etc.   Players have a limited series of actions, two per turn, which either affect their own player token or the token of whomever is on the current tile with them.  Room 25’s goofy imagery and characters, the changeable map, added to a soupçon of treachery makes this game a perennial favorite with younger teenagers.



Roll through the Ages is the game that got me started on the notion of adding board games to the miniature-heavy events I was running for camp.  For some reason, over the years, I have  had my share of children who suffer from Asperger syndrome and even high functioning Austism.  These are special cases– they want to be engaged but they sometimes can’t engage at the same level as other children.  Sometimes they quickly grow bored of the main activity.  I was in such a bind several years ago and on a whim, I pulled a copy of Roll Through The Ages, which I had bought that week on an enthusiastic recommendation from Tom Vasel.  RTTA is a great game– you are really playing yourself more than an opponent, so there isn’t a lot of social interaction to stress a kid out, and lots of challenges and decisions to make as you try to score high by rolling for civilization advantages and building great works.  It’s an elegant little dice game with great chunky components.  Anyway, to get back to my story, I had an Asperegers’ kid.  He was bored and being disruptive.  I handed him Roll Through The Ages and explained very quickly how to play it.  It took him all of 5 minutes to figure it out (all of my kids are smart!).  He was entranced.  He played RTTA non-stop, for the rest of the week.  I had half a pad of score pads after he was done.  I didn’t care, he was happy as a clam and said it was his best camp that Summer.  Go figure!  It was the success of this desperate experiment in board gaming (totally unplanned, I just happened to have it with me that day) that led me to include board games as a regular part of the curriculum.


This is a catchall for games that are all somewhat thematically similar, play fast and easy, and feature a series of specialized, thematic highly colorful dice that interact with each other in a specific way.

The granddaddy is Zombie Dice, where the players are playing the roles of the Zombies in a Zombie movie, looking for brains; there is also a very similar game where the players are playing the role of the Aliens in a UFO invasion called Martian dice.   You can play a Ninja on a special mission in Ninja Dice, Re-theme Zombie Dice with Hunting Dinosaurs and you have Dino Hunt Dice, and finally play a game of re-themed Put and Take with Cthulhu Dice.   The mechanics differ from game to game, but they all are rich in theme, very colorful, very simple and resolve and play very quickly.  This kind of game handles 3-4 kids comfortably.  The up side is they are all very affordable and you can probably buy all of them if you have a large crowd of kids.  Maybe even throw a dice game tournament, who knows?


I could go on and on with this post but I think I’m going to limit these to about 8-10 at a time so I don’t feel rushed.  The games in this posting have all been played at kid’s camps and although some games have failed to garner support, these have all done pretty well since I started.  I hope you find these suggestions useful


The Williamsburg Muster 2013

The Williamsburg Muster for 2013 was held last week at the Holiday Inn Patriot in Williamsburg, VA. This is a local favorite of both mine and my son Garrett– it’s not nearly as overwhelming as the HMGS conventions can be, I know about 50% of the attendees already, and the attitude is what I like in a convention; laid back, friendly, uncomplicated and inclusive.

Sadly I never get there the day ahead of time, because I’m usually taking my son who usually has school to attend that week. So I miss all the fun stuff on Friday. We arrived around noon on Saturday after an uneventful drive down 95 and 64. Oddly enough, Gar immediately met someone HE knows (Bob Watt’s son, they are both on HS Rifle team together). They chattered for a few seconds and then Gar said “Can I have my badge? I want to go play something”. This is new. Usually Gar hangs back and doesn’t engage unless I do; I tell him to find something to get into but usually he is plays whatever I find interesting. I don’t mind, but I don’t want to get in the way of what HE thinks is fun, either. All it took was for him to discover a droog of his own age to convince him. So off they went to play GNOME WARS, which Gar took to like a duck to water.

Gar moving his new Gnomish command around

Assaulting the Fort, Gnome Wars

Gar really enjoyed Gnome Wars.. and I think it was largely due to him being involved with gamers in his peer group or younger. I think he feels constrained sometimes playing something that is likely far less fun but he might be too polite to mention it. Here’s a little in-game color commentary on the assault in progress!

Being somewhat feckless at this point, I was looking for a game to get in that was starting relatively soon. I tried Sean Conlon’s Minimech game. This is a more streamlined variant of FASA’s Battletech which scales down to 6mm.

Minimech Slide Show (Below)

Mini Mech at Williamsburg Muster 13

Sean found another guy to play and we chose equal sides– 2 heavies, 2 mediums and 2 lights.  Unlike in Battletech, the abilities of mechs on both sides are generalized; mine behaved exactly like my opponent’s, so it came down to who maneuvered what where and when.  I set up with two mediums and two heavies West of a River in the Urban area you see in the slide show above.  I tried to put my heavies on overwatch and flank with my mediums and lights.  The lights were pretty useful but deployed on the wrong side of the river (East) to do much good initially.  I got into a scrap with my opponent’s single light mech and tried circling around it with one of my lights and engaging him with the other.  He didnt’ take the bake and retreated across the bridge.  On the West bank, my mediums took some damage but kept side slipping around the enemy until we started running out of space.   I lost a mech and that had me down a bit (which is punishing from an initiative perspective– two turns of taking fire back to back can be devastating in this game).   I got a better feel for the mechanics and started taking more chances and taking advantages of the bottle neck that was growing on the Western flank.  You really have to go all out or have some form of combined attack with these mechanics– if you shoot and run, you are risking overheating (indicated by the red triangle markers in the slideshow above), which can blow you up real good.

With so few forces in the mix it’s hard to “walk off” heat build up unless you retreat into cover for a turn, which is what I did quite a bit, since I was at a numerical disadvantage most of the game.  Toward the end, MiniMech really became exciting, as the piles of flaming wrecks channeled movement and possibilities.  My light mechs made the long trek from the other side of the river and caught the enemy from behind, taking out a light mech.  We also did a number on one of his heavies.  We called the game when my opponent got boxed in and said “at this stage, I wouldn’t come out to engage you and I suspect you wouldn’t engage me either, we’re both down too far.  So we called it, giving him the nod for victory as he had more mechs at the end of the day.  MiniMech is a great little game that has all the elements of the pappa game, Battletech, but it’s a lot faster to play and concentrates totally on the fun stuff– fire, movement, and things that get all ‘splodey.  Tip of the hat to Mr. Sean Conlon for making it and running this game.  His website: Rothgar’s Workshop

Big X-Wing miniatures game in the boardgame room. I would have sat in on this if I could be two places at once!

I checked in with Gar and he was already done with Gnome Wars and working on his second game of the day, BATTLETECH.   This really surprised me quite a bit– Battletech isn’t rocket science by a long shot, but it is still dependent on a combat system that is fairly detailed and uses charts extensively. I didn’t think it would be something a young man with short attention span would like. Yet, there it was. He jumped in with both feet and professed to like it a lot. In fact, when I got done with Mini-Mech and told him I was going to go check in to our hotel and get some dinner, he blithely waved his hand and said “get me something from Wendy’s, dad, I want to finish this”. Hmmm.


Garrett pointing to his mech in the fray. I had to explain to him who the “Black Widows” were.

I didn’t see much of his game but he was very excited about it and even asked to look into getting a starter set from Catalyst Games. I said I’d consider it IF he was still interested a month from now. At 90 bucks a box, I can’t afford to have a bigger gaming dilettante than I am in the house.


Looking across the center of the battlefield.

For the evening’s entertainment I got into a generic Roman Civil War game using WAB. This was run by Clifford Creech and Bob Watts. I was the right flank of a Roman Garrison army which was legionaries and auxilia versus a polyglot of legionaries (rebels) in the center, barbarians on the right flank, and auxilia and cavalry on the left flank facing me. I had a thin streak of cavalry which would have had to fight versus a solid cohort of auxilia cavalry. That wouldn’t do. Either I would move my legionaries against his auxilia infantry and archers (not very effective) or I could use infantry offensively against the cavalry. Fortunately, the enemy cavalry advanced only a single rank towards my position. I moved my entire cohort out and then angled sharply right. Seeing the threat, the formation changed to move right and angle into the gap forming in the center. The center was developing into a big, crunchy, legion on legion battle… with my side having the edge in drilled, armored troops.

This is where the battle was being decided, the flanks.. exciting as they might be, were a sideshow. If a cavalry charge into the flank of our center units did some damage, it might actually rout some of us back at a critical moment. So, it was pretty easy to decide what to do.. Charge right in with my leading infantry unit (just barely) and attack the cavalry regiment as it wheeled away from us. That put them to rout, and they fled back into their lines.

And-a ONE

Angle Right.

And-a TWO…


Nothing gigantic for the casualties, and they rallied next turn, but the big gain was that my rapidly dressing front line of infantry was in a position to interdict ANY large cavalry movement before it could commit to trying to change the center. The rest of the battle on the right flank, was pretty much done. Our left flank was a lot of smoke and clamour as the barbarian horde being used by the rebel army had to charge because of their limitations about being in the visual presence of enemies. They charged and pretty much got ground down into a pulp.

Such Cavalry as I had to start with.

There was not much left for me to do and the center was close to done when I left. Once they launched their SUPER SECRET WEAPON on the rebel army’s butt, the battle was pretty much done!

We did take a break for the raffle, I won nothing as usual.

Check your tickets! Anyone but Walt, that is!

Sunday was pretty thin but the Muster does have their flea market on that day, so I like to stay for Sunday. I found an Orc Fleet from Uncharted Seas, painted, at a decent price. I also picked up a giant foam CTHULHU DICE game at full price, but it was silly enough for me to want it.

We decided we wanted to give Leviathans a try.. I had planned on RUNNING it as an event but had been so ill I just really didn’t feel like investing the time doing more than an out of the box effort.


Garrett and I moved some pieces around the board and took some desultory shots at each other.

French Squadron lines up a shot

Okay, I’m probably going to write a much long piece on this, so stand by for that. However, ahem, Catalyst Game Labs… listen up. You have an exciting, visual idea. You have WONDERFUL miniatures. You have EXCELLENT packaging. Your components are top-notch. You have a great, logically consistent Edwardian Science Fiction universe to play in. You’ve really done your homework… except in one area. These rules are incredibly badly written! They reference stuff that isn’t defined.. they have dense, poorly defined graphics where they choose to use them. The descriptive text really really needs work. We were confused.. and had to work through the introductory battle slowly, one step at a time. We had to guess at the designer’s intent several times. There is no one place where all this stuff is on a single piece of paper, which would have helped. I was disappointed in the rules, but not the ships. I’ll try it again, and if need be, write my own ship to ship combat game.

So that’s pretty much the show for me. I like this one… everything’s very laid back and drama free, which can be a refreshing change. The Muster is certainly my favorite semi-local non-HMGS convention at the moment. I’d like to thank all involved for working their tails off to make a great convention for whomever attended. Well done!