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Subject: Review as Children's Game rss

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Billy McBoatface
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Viva Topo! won several awards when it was out in 2003. It is a children's game, recommended for ages 4 and up. It seems to be based on an older adult's game, "Viva Pamplona." When it was converted to a children's game, it was also rethemed...apparently the author decided that most parents won't want to buy a game for their children that features enranged farm animals trampling people to death, so instead this is about a hungry cat that eats mice.

I've played Viva Topo! with my daughter a half dozen times now, so I'll review it mostly based on how much fun we've had.

The Rules

Each player gets a number of mice which start at their home. The board is a circular track with "mouse holes" scattered around it; each mouse hole contains four pieces of cheese, with the holes farther from home having bigger pieces of cheese. There is a cat which starts on the opposite side of the track from the mice.

On their turn, players roll a special die - it has the numbers 2 through 5 as normal, but instead of 1 and 6 there are two sides with both a "1" and a cat's face. When a player rolls a number, they choose a mouse, and move it that many spaces forwards around the track. When the "1/cat" is rolled (see the picture below), the player moves a mouse 1 space, but also moves the cat! The cat starts out moving one space per roll of "1/cat", but after completing a loop of the board the cat starts moving two spaces per "1/cat". If the cat catches up to a mouse, the mouse is eaten and removed from the game, scoring no cheese for the player!

When a mouse reaches a mouse hole, the player may choose to have it jump in instead of continuing around the track. Once a mouse jumps in a hole, that mouse is out of the game...it can't jump back out later! If there is any cheese left in the hole, the player whose mouse it was gets to keep one piece. At the end of the game (once all mice are eaten, or in mouse holes), all the cheese for each player is added up, and the player who has the most cheese (not the most pieces, but the most by volume) wins!

The Bits

Viva Topo! scores well here, but is not perfect. The mice and the cat are all adorable (I especially like the way the cat is licking its chops, with its claws out on one paw, making it clear that this cute cat does not have good intentions for the mice!) The cheese looks like, well, yellow wedges of cheese. The larger pieces are clearly marked with red lines to show how many "slices" are in each piece, so in the end of the game it's easy to tally up who has the most. The board is nicely and clearly marked. The die is big and has a clear "cat" symbol on the sides that mean you move the cat. Overall, very good, except for one flaw: The mice are too tipsy, and roll too easily! Simply brushing against a mouse can knock it over and send it rolling several spaces. This is an irritating feature. Sometimes my daughter brushes a mouse by accident, sends it rolling around, then gets upset when I try to move the mouse back to where it started.

Although this is an annoyance, it is only that. The pure cuteness of the pieces still makes them excellent.

Is it fun?

My daughter (age 3+1/2) loves this game. She likes to help the mice get to safely, and gets excited when they jump into a hole and get a nice piece of cheese. She has some real ambivalence about the cat, which works out well too - moving the cat is fun for her, and she'll "meow" whenever she does, but she hates having the cat eat her mice. Since she got this game she has asked for it often. Viva Topo passes the most important test for a children's game just fine!

The difficulty level and number of decisions is just right for her: challenging, but not frustrating. For each roll, she must choose which mouse to move, and (sometimes) has a choice between staying on the track or jumping in a mouse hole. This isn't too difficult, and what I like is that the choices are sometimes obvious (when the cat is just behind your mouse, and you roll a low number, get it into the safety of a hole if possible!), but other times it gets a little more difficult to see which choice will help you the most. I'm hoping that as she keeps playing this game, she'll see more and more how strategy can help her get more cheese.

From an adult's standpoint, it's a little bit more mixed. The game is not quite fun enough for adults to play on their own, but still miles ahead of candyland and chutes and ladders. Trying to run as far as you can before the cat eats you adds real tension to the game that is missing from many children's games. There are some decisions to make as outlined above, although for an adult they usually aren't very difficult. In addition, there is the evil fun of seeing the cute mousies get eaten...just don't let your children see you cheer for the cat when their favorite mouse gets eaten!

Overall, a good game to play with your children, but don't expect anything more.

Age Level

This game probably isn't good as a first game. Candyland is easier since there are no decisions and no counting. Gulo Gulo is also a bit easier because no counting is involved, and you can play it without really making any decisions if you want. However, Viva Topo is an excellent game for teaching a child to be better at counting! The first game we played, my daughter had to really work to count out both the pips on the die and the steps her mice took, but by the sixth game, she could glance at the die, then move the mouse ahead four steps without even stopping to count! Another useful skill to learn is the scoring at the end. My daughter currently has trouble seeing the concept of "more" cheese; she'll often say at the end, "I have four pieces of cheese," then when I try to show that it is the amount of cheese (that is, a whole round of cheese from the last mouse hole is as big as two half-rounds from the third mouse hole), she gets a bit confused. That's OK: I'm just looking forward to the day when the light goes on and she realizes what I'm talking about. Overall, I think the publisher's recommendation is about right; right at 3 my daughter would probably have been too confused by the game, but now at 3+1/2 she gets most. By 4 I'm sure she'll be able to breeze through the whole thing, including scoring.

Summary

Very good children's game. Not great, not my favorite game to play with my daughter (that would be Gulo Gulo right now), but can be an awful lot of fun, and can teach some useful skills in the process.
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Paul Franzosa
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I have played this game with my children for over two years now and they still love it (two boys 9 and 6). It is a great entry into games that do require some decision making. Quite often my youngest will insist on getting one piece of cheese in each size and he will occasionaly win when he gets some early cheese and the cat moves fast!

I will also concur on the bits...wonderful wooden pieces and the mice a re so cute you get over their roly-poly ways quickly.

Thanks for the great review!
 
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