We are aways deeply relieved when we discover a new, and unique children’s game. For some reason, parents tend to buy games that look like the games they played when they were children. When a new idea comes along, and when it’s this well executed, and this much fun, for people like us who care so much about kids and games, it’s something to celebrate.
Playing Where is Leo requires careful, but speedy observation. There are 28 “location cards” – made of thick cardboard, and brightly illustrated with storybook-like cartoons. There are two distinct graphic elements on each card. One shows a particular scene. The other is a thought balloon, in which an element from another scene is depicted.
To set up the game, all, except for 4 of the cards, are laid out in a circle. Face down. To start the game, all but one of the cards are turned face up. The card that is still face down is where Leo will begin his escape. As soon as that card is over, players look at the thought bubble on that card for the first clue. Then, without talking with each other, they try to find the location depicted in the thought bubble. When they discover that card, they also discover the next clue in its thought bubble. And on and on they travel, using only their eyes, until they think they’ve found the last card – the one whose thought bubble depicts a scene that is not present on any of the face up cards. That moment of very careful scrutiny can mean success or failure. Draw it out too long, and you may be right, but someone might be right before you.
As soon as a player thinks she knows which is the last card, she places a small wooden bone on that card. Other players can place their bone piece on different cards if they think that card marks the end of the trail. When all the bones are placed, or all the players acknowledge which card is truly the last, the player who has placed her wooden bone on that card wins the round.
There’s a smiling, wooden dog piece that is used to mark the beginning card, four very small wooden bones (one for each player), and 13 cardboard tokens (feeding dishes) to keep score. The first player to collect four feeding dishes wins.
Yes, the game is competitive. It’s definitely a race, and there’s no element of chance to ameliorate the intensity of the competition. But the challenge is so novel and engaging, and playing is so much fun, that losing really doesn’t have that much of a sting. Mentally traveling from card to card is a visual adventure – providing players with a deeply engaging, and challenging experience. It’s a race, but a fun one in which competition takes second place to the sheer joy of exercising skills of observation and interpretation.
Where is Leo was designed for kids from five-years-old up, by Michael Schacht with lovely, clear illustrations by Martina Leykamm and produced by Haba.