I was listening today to Ben from Five Games For Doomsday interview Matt Kindt,the comic book artist behind Mind MGMT, a game we enjoyed at BGG Con. Matt talked about his early pre-BGG gaming experiences playing the official The Mad Magazine Game from the 70s. The discussion brought back fond memories of playing the game many years ago, with my brother and his friends.
Memories are slippery little devils that through the haze of time can fool you into thinking bad experiences were good. I know I cannot fool you into thinking The Mad Magazine Game was a very well designed game. But my teenaged brain loved the IP, and it at least kept us laughing through the first two or three games.
I am as happy as Patin’s proverbial duck anytime I find IP games that play great, but as any serious gamer knows, good games and interesting IPs do not always swim in the same crawfish pond. For Family Game Night reviews, I am willing to be a little bit more lenient on the mechanics of an IP game, especially if the property excites the little ones in our family about playing.
Between me and my nephew, Jerod, who streams with me on Twitch, we’ve got a stable of kids and grand bugs that we can play a lot of family sized games. Both sets of kids love Disney movies and the Harry Potter movies alike, and that’s why I got a little juiced up when The OP reached out about two new games in their catalog.
The first is called Harry Potter: Mischief In Diagon Alley, and the story is that players are at their first day of school at Hogwarts but need their school supplies. Every good wizarding student needs an owl and a quidditch broom, I guess, although at my very public high school in southern Louisiana, we didn’t have much use for wands.
Harry Potter: Mischief In Diagon Alley game is dead simple to play, and the game includes three different ways to play the game. The one that my grand bugs liked the most involved a simple collection mechanic. The story goes that it’s our first day at Hogwarts, and we all show up at Diagon Alley to get our supplies. Oh no! Someone has disturbed the now familiar stores and left all of their wares spread out all over the place. Brooms are in the owl store! Frogs are in Olver’s wand shoppe! You get the picture.
Our job is to help our assigned store owner straighten up the place. I kept having to help the frog owner, because my grand bugs refused to play as anything but the owl, wand, spell book, or broom helper. I guess moving from the country to a college town will do that to your progeny.
How did we clean up our stores? Easy. We rolled three dice and followed their instructions. One die told us to take one, two or three items. Another die told us which supply would be involved. And the final die told us where the stuff was going or coming from. The goal? Move all of your store’s items back to the store from the other players’ boards (or the center cobblestone board), all while getting rid of all of the items that don’t belong in your story.
The game is frenetic. Dice are rolled and re-rolled with abandon. Just as soon as you start to make a dent in the ready supply of brooms on your board, someone dumps three more. First player to do it gets some coins, and everybody else subtracts the items that aren’t supposed to be there, versus the number of items they were supposed to collect. It’s that easy.
I was a little worried that my five and seven year old would not be able to handle the real time aspect of rolling and re-rolling dice to get the items. But this was not a problem at all. We played the first few rounds one roll and one player at a time, until they had a handle on the sometimes confusing rule that you give up stuff you don’t want and take stuff you do. (Yes, that easy sounding rule is harder than it looks in real time). Once they had it down, we were able to play as fast as they could, with me consciously rolling at the same pace as my youngest.
This is not the type of game I would bring to Gumbo Game Night at Anubis. Winning simply relies on the luck of the dice. You are completely dependent on the rolls as to when you get or give the school supplies away. But, for families, the mechanics are perfect. I really enjoyed watching them stare at the dice rolls, and have to think through the elements that showed up. They had to process concepts like left, right and center — and yes, I had to remind them a couple of times — and process numbers and locations. The more we played, the faster they got, and that development was fun to watch.
As for the setting, while it did not really feel like a Harry Potter movie because it is not that kind of game, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much they got into the spirit of the game. They HAD to take turns being the starting player, who gets to call out a very familiar spell command to start the game. They HAD to take turns playing as a member of each Hogwart’s House and each different shoppe (well, except for the poor frog shoppe owner.) They cackled endlessly when they were able to stick Pop-Pop with three brooms or wands or whatever they knew I didn’t need. And they talked incessantly about the supplies they would need if they every attended Wizarding School.
Thumbs up for the setting, because the thick and chunky cardboard pieces represented in their minds all of the things they saw their favorite movie characters use. While the kids talk about the shoppes, the adults can have fun (especially if there are two in the game) trying to spike each other’s boards by always choosing the other adult whenever a wild symbol on the dice gives you the chance.
We were also sent Disney Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas Merry Madness game, and we played that one, too. They are essentially the exact same game, with different components (Christmas presents instead of school supplies) and use the same three variants. The focus on that one is getting rid of all of the presents on your board, but you can play the exact same mechanics if you choose.
As a long time Disney fan, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never actually seen Nightmare Before Christmas — I know, I know — but the littles one have, and I think they enjoy switching up the themes every once in a while.
Whether I liked these game matters not, really, because they are definitely staying in the collection, especially the Hogwarts version. The grand bugs have wanted to play “that Harry Potter game” every night since it arrived. I’m not the kind of person that watches the same movie over and over again, but if you have kids, you know that viewing the same IP repeatedly is not a problem for most kids.
If your family likes the Harry Potter movies, don’t go into this game thinking it will recreate any of those experiences, but the combination of the use of symbols well known from the movies, the frenetic dice rolling and the educational aspect of learning “L-R-C”, locations and collection all make Harry Potter Mischief In Diagon Alley a game we can recommend for families.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo
A complimentary copy of both games were provided by the publisher.