Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Gulo Gulo" by Rio Grande Games

(Originally published in the Missoulian of Missoula, MT on 12/11/05)

This past Thanksgiving, my partner Annie and I visited family in Fort Worth, Texas. My parents, brothers, sister, and their families came from all over to celebrate both Turkey Day and my grandmother’s 90th birthday.

Traditionally in the Read family, little to no energy goes into planning. It is a small miracle that we made it to Fort Worth at all. After a lifetime of invisible itineraries, no one comes to expect anything. It is in this regard that Annie and I took the family completely by surprise.

We, of course, brought games. We brought so many games that at one point during packing I wondered where my clothes would fit. Thankfully, our efforts were rewarded.

Finding a game that will work well with kids is a difficult task, though. On top of that, we were playing in a crowd that was composed mainly of adults. Annie and I introduced several games to this crowd of unlikely participants, and we hit the jackpot with a game we’d never played in a large group before. The surprise favorite was "Gulo Gulo."

Designed by Wolfgang Kramer, Jurgen P. K. Grunau, and Hans Raggan and distributed by Rio Grande Games, "Gulo Gulo" is a simple dexterity game involving luck, skill, and a baby gulo.

In this brightly colored game, a baby gulo, or wolverine, is eating all the eggs. It’s up to the adult gulos to retrieve him. Two to six players assume the roles of the adult gulos and must follow a path of stepping stones to reach the baby.

The path consists of tiles which are laid face down, forming a long trail. Off to the side, a small wooden nest is filled with eggs of all colors, and an egg alarm (a top-heavy stick) is placed upright in the nest, supported by the surrounding eggs.

In order to move forward, players must choose a tile, flip it over, match the color on the tile to an egg in the nest, and remove that egg without toppling the egg alarm. Once an egg is safely removed, the successful player moves to the flipped tile. Be careful! If the egg alarm falls for any reason or if the wrong egg comes out of the nest, players are penalized by having to move backward to a tile of the same color. And this could be a long way back.

Once you reach the end, you must find the baby gulo amidst a stack of other colored tiles and extract a special purple egg from the nest to win the game.

Kids and adults rallied behind "Gulo Gulo." Sideline players waited with anticipation to see whether the egg alarm would fall. Every round was filled with healthy tension. It was also funny to see adults and their big hands flounder in the egg nest while little kids succeeded with their tiny fingers. In many cases, parents and grandparents teamed up with their kids or grandkids for the added fun and extra competitive edge.

It was nice to have the family, all four generations of us, together in one place for the first time in about ten years. It was nice to see my grandmother so healthy and strong. I also consider myself fortunate that Annie was part of this family get together, quite possibly the last of its kind. And of course, it didn’t hurt having a little bit of that Texas heat.

But perhaps what was nicest of all was what my grandmother saw: a large group of her children, some of them small and many of them grown-up, laughing, talking, and playing together in her home. I could see it in her face. She was happy.

Cost: $37.95
Players: 2 to 6
Age: 5 and up
Time to play: 30 to 45 minutes
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 8
Additional Comments: The "physical challenge" of this game keeps everyone interested. Young children can get especially enthralled with it. Thumbs up.

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