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I regret nothing!

Your Humble Blogger has been playing a lot of Sorry! lately. Mostly, the games have been two-person affairs with YHB and the Youngest Member, who is nearly five now and understands board games without being able to really choose and implement any complicated strategy. I have found that Sorry! (the game of sweet revenge) is almost ideal for adult-and-child play, because the game is designed to help the last-place person catch up.

The next bit will be obvious to people familiar with the game, but I want to go over it anyway: almost all the special cards (that is, the cards that do something other than move a piece n spaces forward) are tilted to help the player in last much more than the player in first. The Sorry! card itself, of course, is effectively a lose-a-turn card for a player doing well enough to get his last piece out of Start. The 4 is really only bad for someone whose only move is to back out of the safety zone. Also, once your last piece is in the safety zone, the high-value cards are lose-a-turn cards for you (but extremely valuable for a player who is on the last lap. Even the 7 card that is so wonderful in the middle game is not helpful on the last piece. All of those combine to make unlikely that the player who gets out to an early lead will win before the other player(s) at least get very close to victory themselves.

Game-players may well be thinking that it sounds terrible. If you use whatever strategy is available to you to gain a significant lead, you are punished; if I play poorly and fall behind, I am rewarded. This is true. Sorry! is not a good strategy game, even when compared to other board games (such as Careers, obviously, or Monopoly). It does, though, have strategy choices, unlike the Uncle Wiggly Game or Hi, Ho Cherry-O, or (shudder) Candyland. It’s an intermediate game, which is exactly what is needed. Pretty soon, the Youngest Member be on to Careers and whatnot. Or we can start doing the hand-of-cards version, I suppose, which I have never tried.

Anyway, I wasn’t actually going to write about game-playing with five-year-olds, but if GRs have any suggestions for board games that would work with a precocious kid and an adult (or a card game for that matter—he seems too young for Gin, if you know what I mean, but perhaps ready for Casino), I’d love to hear them. Mostly I was wondering what people’s take is on this balance of making it possible for an early trailer to catch up and versus rewarding good play. It has always seemed to me that games that allow one player to dominate the whole game are low MFQ, and even more than that, games that frequently have one player essentially eliminated early in the game are low MFQ. On the other hand, Sorry! (the game of sweet revenge) clearly goes too far in that direction (for adults who are at least a trifle serious about strategy). What medium-length games that get the balance right for grupps? What medium-length games have a clever way of avoiding the problem altogether?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


For what it's worth, this game player (and sometime designer) thinks that what you describe in Sorry! is a strength: rewards diminish the closer you get to sealing up victory. (Another game that has this quality is, coincidentally enough, Gin.)

To explain: imagine the opposite, that rewards increase the closer you get to victory. This is the runaway leader situation, which can mean that a game is "over" long before the formalities have dragged out to the end. Multi-player games with increasing rewards can sometimes balance this with mechanics that allow the pack to band together against the leader -- but many people report that this pattern of ganging up on whoever's ahead is itself a bummer, in that it takes the fun out of doing well. I don't play a lot of wargames, but I notice that there's a trend in popular wargames of having surprise effects (in the form of a hand of cards, say) that shake up the underlying structure of compounding rewards.

Back to your question at hand, though: a really excellent game for a game-playing-five-year-old would be Hey, That's My Fish -- I can confirm this via play with an actual five-year-old, as well as a bit of warm-up-play with my four-year-old.

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