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Subject: A great game for church kids? rss

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Tom Bigwood
United States
Golden Valley
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The Setting
Since my wife organizes our church's Wednesday night dinners and classes, I somehow "volunteered" to lead the children's time. There are two girls, age 11, who come every week and a few others that show up from time to time. Last year, we spent each week reading and learning about charity and mission opportunities around the world. This year, my planning time has been short since my wife and I had our second child in the spring. (You can read an account of that day here if you like. This means I'm mostly flying by the seat of my pants. I saw Ark on BGG a few weeks before and realized I had the perfect excuse to add a game to my small collection.

The Cast
Me - An aspiring game evangelist. I only really get to play card games/board games once or twice a month if I'm lucky, so I'm always looking for new places and times to play.
Bookworm - A very bright fifth grader who reads at a 78th grade level and speaks Spanish as a second language. A budding geek if there ever was one.
Drummer - Another bright fifth grader. A tamagochi addict and also speaks Spanish as a second language.

The Game
The game is pretty simple in concept, but surprisingly complex when actually played. After playing through the game a couple times with my wife, I decided to take out the special and shy animals and play without pets or climate rules. It was hard enough to balance the ship, place carnivores/herbivores/omnivores, remember the slow/heavy rules, and keep score. We started the night by reading and talking about the basics of the story of Noah in the Bible. I set up the game and explained the basic rules by laying out the initial four cards and showing how a fifth card could fit in various cabins.
With the girls somewhat clear on the game, we dove in. In a reversal of their usual roles, Drummer caught on very quickly while Bookworm struggled a bit to remember the "place a card, balance the ark, score" routine. Even with the game simplified, we still made our share of mistakes and had to backtrack a few times to reset the ark. I jumped out to an early lead in two of four categories--heavy and useful animals. My quick start meant I had to draw cards and open cabins sooner, though, and the girls quickly made up ground. Drummer concentrated on playing useful animals and moved to a big lead in that category. Bookworm took over both the slow and supplies categories while absolutely refusing to open new cabins. I got a bit greedy and opened more cabins. In the end, Bookworm's patient appproach won out slimmest of margins. (I contributed to my own demise by pointing out that she could gain points by playing a single heavy animal to take second in a category that Drummer had not played anything on.)

The game only took about 40 minutes, so we started to play a second game, this time adding the climate rules. We played fast, but only made it about halfway before our time was up.

The Verdict
Ark is a good game but not great game. It occupies a tough middle ground. It's too complex to be a casual game and too simple to be a heavy game. Between the placement rules and the eight special animals, there's a lot to remember. The game got considerably better for me after the fourth playing. That's too much time invested for a game that seems like it should just be casual fun. The games that I love are either simple at heart and gain replayability from the player interactions or are hour-burners like Supremacy or Axis and Allies. But the main thing is that the girls and I still had some fun and it kept us from making cotton ball sheep for at least one more week.
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