Monday, January 2, 2017

GJJ Games Reviews - Race for the Treasure - by Peaceable Kingdom

Race to the Treasure
Designer: Gina Manola
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
1-4p | 20m | 5+
GJJ Games Reviews - Race to the Treasure - by Peaceable Kingdom

Game Overview:
I was contacted by Peaceable Kingdom to review several of their children's games, and since I have two kids who really enjoy games, I said sure.  Peaceable Kingdom is known for producing casual, family friendly cooperative games designed to introduce even the youngest gamers to some common board game mechanics.  Race to the Treasure is the first game that I've played.

Race to the Treasure is aimed at ages five and up and only takes a few minutes to play, perfect for those short attention spans.  Since it's cooperative, it can be played with any number of players, even solo.

I do have to preface this review with a disclaimer though.  My youngest son, who I played this with, is 7.5 years old, so he's likely at the extreme upper end of the appropriate age range.  I also have to say that he was playing Caverns at age 5, won the first round of a Splendor tournament at 6, and regularly beats me at all sorts of games now.  I know that's not typical for a 7 year old (and yes, I'm very proud), but we agreed to keep an open mind and consider how Race to the Treasure would play with younger kids who aren't experienced gamers already.  Also, I'm adding in the Educational category for this since it is aimed at introducing cooperative mechanics to younger kids.

Components & Packaging:
One thing that Peaceable Kingdom prides itself on is that all of the games published are eco-friendly.  Cardboard components are from ecologically responsible material, inks are all soy based, wooden components are all from sustainable sources, and even the plastics used in their games are corn based.  The games don't even come shrink wrapped.  What this means is that you can buy Peaceable Kingdom games confident that they are not damaging the world for your kids.  Isn't that all warm and fuzzy feeling?
Eco-friendly games are an important part of the Peaceable Kingdom business model.
Despite the environmentally friendly production methods, the components and packaging are generally top notch.  You'd never notice the difference.  This is great and I hope more companies follow their example.

In Race to the Treasure the components are pretty basic.  The game contains a game board, 37 tiles (27 paths and 10 Ogres), two dice, three key tokens, one Ogre Snacks token, and a small envelope to hold the components.  There is also a cardboard insert to keep the envelope of components under so they don't get squashed by the board.  Overall, the quality is great, but I do wish the tiles were a bit thicker.  They're only a bit thicker than standard playing cards.  It would be great if they were a few millimeters thick, like Carcassonne tiles.
The only thing I wish is that the path and Ogre tiles were a bit thicker.
Score: 8/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Since this is a game geared at young kids, the rules and setup are super simple.  To set up the game simply lay out the board, mix all the tiles up, face down, and place the Key and Ogre Snack tokens on the board.  This is the most complicated part of setup.  It requires rolling the two dice, one with letters and one with numbers, and then placing the tiles on the corresponding space in the forest grid.  This is repeated for each of the five tiles.  
All set up and ready to play.
Gameplay is even simpler.  Players take turns drawing and playing one tile.  If it is an Ogre it goes on the Ogre track.  If it is a Path it gets placed in the forest grid so that it connects to an existing path (except for the first one, which starts the path in the top left corner of the board).

The object of the game is to acquire three of the four keys and get to the treasure (in the bottom right corner of the board) before the Ogre reaches the treasure.  If you get to the treasure first you win, but if the Ogre makes it to the treasure first you lose.  Along the way there is one Ogre Snack token.  When you get this it'll let you remove one Ogre tile from the Ogre track.  It's as simple as that.

There are a few scenarios that aren't covered in the rules (which are printed inside the lid).  There's no ruling on what happens if you get the Ogre Snacks before there are any Ogres. I assume you hold on to the snack until you need it.  The rules also don't tell what happens if your path leads you off the game board, or what happens if your path doubles back on itself.  Ideally you'll be able to plan to avoid these situations, but since it's all just random tile draws there's a real possibility that your only options will lead you into a dead end.  That's something adults can easily house rule, but this is a kid's game and I can easily see a younger kid getting frustrated.
All the rules are printed on the box lid, so they can't be lost easily.
Score: 9/10 x2

I honestly wasn't very thrilled with the gameplay, and neither was my son.  Like I said though, he's both at the upper age range and he's already an experienced gamer, o he's not necessarily the intended audience.  But even for younger players and non-gamers, I don't feel that the game would be super engaging.

Race to the Treasure does offer a bit more than games like Candyland or Snakes and Ladders (both of which are completely devoid of choices), but only marginally so.  Race to the Treasure is almost completely determined by random tile draws.  The only real decision comes from deciding which tokens to attempt to acquire first, and if you should take the time to go for the Ogre Snacks or not.  But regardless of what you choose to try, you're still at the mercy of the tiles you draw, and if you don't draw the tile you need, there's nothing you can do.  You just have to watch the path lead you away and hope you can get back where you need to go before you draw too many Ogre tiles.
Draw a tile, place a tile is all you need to do, but where you place the tile isn't much of a choice usually.
I'd love to see some simple choices for the kids to make, even if it's just something as simple as choosing to not play the path tile that was just drawn.  Too often it felt like the game was playing itself.  I believe that good games offer players choices at many different points.  Granted, in a kid's game you don't want too many or too difficult choices, but there should always be a choice between two options.  In Race to the Treasure, if you draw a straight path, you have no choice.  If you draw a path that doesn't go where you need of to go, you have no choice.  The game plays you, and only gives you a choice occasionally.  Even for younger players I feel there should be a bit more.

Score: 5/10 x2

Race to the Treasure doesn't teach math or history, science or geography, or even reading.  You don't need to know any words to be able to play and only need to recognize a few letters and numbers to set up the game.  But that doesn't mean the game is not educational.

Race to the Treasure teaches a few very important concepts though.  Chief among them is cooperation.  This is a concept that is important in not only many more grownup games, but in life in general.  Players are working together toward a common goal.  

Race to the Treasure also teaches how to take turns as well as how to be a good winner and accept loss.  These are common in many kids games, but the cooperative nature of Race to the Treasure means that all players experience the joy of winning or the frustration of defeat together.  Since there is not a separate winner and loser it is a good opportunity for older players to teach younger players about how to appropriately handle these emotions.  I suppose the random chance in the game helps with this though, since you really have very little control of whether you win or lose, so even the most experienced gamers are going to win some and lose some.
Here we lost because we drew an Ogre before we drew the tiles we needed.
Looking back at this picture, I think we actually could have won, but just weren't paying attention...
One thing that Race to the Treasure does not teach, which many other cooperative games do, is teamwork.  This may seem odd in a cooperative game, but it boils down to the simplicity of Race to the Treasure.  To have teamwork you need to have multiple players all working on separate parts of a whole.  In Race to the Treasure there is only one thing to do: build the path.  This cuts out the team aspect that is prevalent in other cooperative games.  This game plays identically with one player or twenty.  Teamwork may be something to introduce to a slightly older audience, but it is obviously lacking here.

Score: 6/10 x1

I honestly don't see Race to the Treasure having much staying power.  It'll likely be fun the first time you play, and as an adult you may enjoy playing with your kid the next time or two as well, but you'll likely grow tired of the lack of control and choice very quickly.  It won't be long before you look forward to this game as much as Candyland or Cooties.

The good news is that Race to the Treasure is simple enough that even young kids can pull it out and play on their own, or with their friends.  But if you are looking for something that will be engaging for the whole family, even after multiple plays, Race to the Treasure isn't your game.  

I introduced my son to Forbidden Island when he was four.  Some of the options and choices were a bit much for him at the time, but he loved the theme and excitement.  So we took our time and talked through the pros and cons of each choice.  Gradually he learned how the actions worked and the ramifications of his choices.  Now he plays and makes his own decisions, usually good ones.  And all the while he was getting beat by better players because we all won or lost together.  What's more, after three years, I still enjoy and even look forward to a game of Forbidden Island.  I even play it with just adults at times.  But Forbidden Island isn't really a game that a five year old can play without older players helping out.

So for Race to the Treasure it won't have much replayability, at least not enthusiastically.  For kids it'll really depend on the kid.  I can see this being a game that some really enjoy and pull out every chance they get.  But some will likely get bored with the lack of real choices, too.  You'll probably know your own kids better.  If they like games, but also like watching the same cartoon over and over, then they may like Race to the Treasure.  However, if your kids like trying all sorts of new experiences, Race to the Treasure likely won't hold their interest for very long.

Score: 5/10 x1

General Fun:
So, did I have fun playing Race to the Treasure?  A bit.  The game itself wasn't very engaging, but I did enjoy the time spent with my son.  I can see this being an enjoyable way for parents to spend time playing something super simple and fast with their kids.  However, I think I'd recommend a much younger age.  I think a large number of three year olds could play and most four year olds should have no problem, especially if they're interested in games.  As the kids grow older the fun will wear off quickly.  And unlike games like Forbidden Island, there's no way the game will entertain just adults or even slightly older kids.
He did have fun, but then wanted to move on to a more complex game.
Score: 6/10 x2

Overall Value:
Fortunately Race to the Treasure is inexpensive.  It is readily available for only $16, so even if it only gets played a few times you aren't out a whole lot.  Race to the Treasure would make a great gift since it promotes family togetherness looks great, has very nice components, and has a nice, earth friendly production method.

Score: 7/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I think for the right audience, Race to the Treasure is a great option. But it's not a game for gamer families.  If your kids are showing a huge interest in your massive game collection, then there are likely more engaging titles to introduce them to.  But if you are a family just looking for some alternatives to the typical big box store Hasbro titles that everyone is conditioned to believe are the only games for kids, then Race to the Treasure is a great alternative.
This is a gorgeous game for kids!
I do think there is room for improvement though.  A tad bit more choice here, some clarification in the rules there, and thicker tiles all around would really make the game soar.  However, if you go in knowing what to expect, you won't be disappointed.  You're getting a high quality, eco-friendly, simple cooperative game for the youngest of players to enjoy with their older family members, or to play on their own.  This won't become your next family game night staple, but it will provide several hours of entertainment while fostering some very important basic skills.  All for the price of a single DVD.

Overall Score: 65/100

Want another opinion?  Race for the Treasure was also reviewed by Dane on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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