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Subject: Knizia's Lord of the Rings for preschoolers! rss

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Scott Starkey
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Dayton
Indiana
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Max is a 20-year-old game by "Family Pastimes" which still holds up today, and is available at several retailers. If you are about to tear your hair out over another game of Hi-Ho Cherry-O or CandyLand, then I suggest you pick up Max instead. It's usually a short game (about 15 minutes), accommodates 1-8, the rules are simple, and it's a cooperative game - leading as a natural stepping stone for young gamers into more complicated games such as "Lord of the Rings." Also, older gamers don't seem to mind the game, and it holds up nicely for my 8-year-old daughter. It's even fun to watch. The only downfall I can see, is (if you analyze the game, like I do) it is essentially a solitaire game where people take turns and make decisions on their turn. But for such a simple game, it sure does breed tension, and reminds me of the feeling of doom when Sauron marches in Knizia's Lord of the Rings.

In Max, the eponymous cat is trying to chase down the helpless woodland creatures - a mouse, bird, and squirrel - around the yard. If the creatures get to their home, the tree, they are safe. But if Max gets to a creature first, it is out of the game.

In the box you'll find a game board, a pair of dice with a green or black spot on each face, three creature tokens, a Max token, four treat tokens, and a rules sheet. The board is a little on the flimsy side (as one might expect from 1986 production). The board shows a linear track of 28 spaces. Max starts on the porch (space 1) and the creatures start with a head start on the Stump space (space 7). The four treat tokens are the resources of the players and are kept off the board until they are used.

On a player's turn (we usually start with the youngest) he or she rolls both dice, which each have an even number of green and black spots. For each black dot, the player moves Max. For each green dot, the player chooses a creature to move. Now, it would seem like moving 3 creatures ahead of Max would put the creatures at a severe disadvantage. Fortunately, the creatures have a few tricks up their sleeves. In addition to the dice moves, each creature has one "short-cut" on the board, which allows them to jump ahead four spaces. Secondly, the players have four treat tokens, which may be used before any dice roll to send Max back to the porch. However, this is a limited resource, as the players collectively only have four.

But Max is a sneaky beast himself. He has access to all of the shortcuts that the creatures have access to. However, as a predator intent on his prey, he may accidentally overshoot the shortcut if two black spots are rolled when he is in the space before the shortcut. This can be a valuable point for strategy. I've found that makes the corners between the shortcuts to be a bit of a safe haven for the two creatures who cannot use the shortcut, and a good place to hide creatures temporarily. (Max either will use the shortcut and be ahead of the two, or not use it, which slows down his overall progress. If Max ever gets to the last square ahead of the creatures (which has happened to us once) the players are not allowed to use any more treats, and can only get past Max to the tree with a double-green to scootch past him.

As Max gets close, it becomes stressful when Max gets close, and how and when to best use the dwindling cat treats. When Max is two squares away, do you risk just one more roll and hope Max won't catch you? Or do you play it safe, and send Max home? That's a REAL DECISION for young kids to make, which makes the game satisfying for them, and for me as a gaming parent. The only downside (which could be said about LotR as well) is that it is essentially multiplayer solitaire. But regardless, it is a fun and quick game, so that is even less of an issue with this game as it is with LotR.

So, I would highly recommend this game to any parent of 4-8 year-old future gamers, when you're sick of Chutes and Ladders, and want a game in which players make decisions, even if they are small ones.
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G. Gomez
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Chula Vista
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Talk about tension!

My four year old can handle one game. If he gets the creatures safely home, he'll quit while he is ahead. If he loses one or two he may cry.
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Matt Hoskins
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That was a great review Scott. Big thumbs up!
 
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Guy Riessen
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Sebastopol
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You know, even though it is less complex and has fewer decisions to make, I think it's actually a more tension filled game--partly because it is so short and you are limited in your ability to react, you never ever ever want to waste a "treat!"
 
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