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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

While summer may be near its end, it's not too late to take a vacation and go on an island getaway. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Rated E) you travel to a remote island where you meet fellow island visitors and enjoy some fun and relaxation. There are many activities and events to join in throughout the time there and lots of friendly fun villagers to visit. I've been enjoying my time fishing in the lakes, rivers and oceans on my island and visiting the fellow villagers and island visitors.

Available on Nintendo Switch.



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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

The Dragon Quest series of games launched 35 years ago on the Famicom system (the Japanese name for the original Nintendo Entertainment System). Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age launched in 2018 for Playstation 4 and Nintendo 3DS, but if you have a Gamepass subscription through either Windows or Xbox, the game was released as a free download in December 2020. If you don't have a Gamepass subscription, it is still available for purchase for all systems. The definitive edition adds some options that enhance replay ability.

You play as the Luminary, a reincarnation of a famous hero of Erdrea. On your 16th birthday you are tasked to set out on a quest to free the world from a coming darkness. Along the way, you'll meet various characters who will join your party. Each character has a distinctive look and personality and no two are the same.

You can build up your heroes by assigning skill points you get when leveling up. Each character has a skill tree where you can customize their abilities and spells. At the beginning, you'll want to focus on one particular skill, whether that be weapons or magic, and then build out as the game progresses. There is also a neat "mini-game", called the Fun-Sized Forge, where you can craft your own weapons and armor using various supplies you find in the world and recipe books you come across in your journeys.

The game is a traditional RPG and the storyline is laid out in a linear fashion, with plenty of side quests to keep you immersed in the world. Combat is turn-based and harkens back to the original RPGs that came out for the NES in the 80's. Combat can get repetitive, but there is a way to set it up so that the computer takes over and does the combat for you, otherwise there is a lot of button mashing to get through combat. I found myself letting the computer control for routine fights but then reestablished control for boss fights.

One nice thing about combat in this game is that you can avoid it, as you can see the enemies as you travel throughout Erdrea. This gives you the option to either engage them or avoid them, unlike a traditional RPG where you run into enemies at random.

A nice feature is that when you come back to the game, the game gives you a brief recap of your progress in the current chapter of the story so that you can refresh your memory as to what the heck you were doing the last time you played.

Even after you finish the main story, you can continue playing as there is more story to go. This also gives you an opportunity to go back and complete any side quests you skipped as you were working your way through the main story. The side quests flesh out the world of Erdrea and its many cultures, many of which are styled around actual Earth cultures.

The game's graphics and sound are superb, but the orchestral score can get repetitive. However, it works well enough that you often don't notice it. The voice acting is top-notch. It is easy to get so immersed in the story that you actually feel for the characters. There is even the ability to switch on a 2D mode that harkens back to the original style of 16-bit RPG graphics should you want to relive your childhood.

My take is that this game alone is worth the monthly Gamepass subscription and well worth the download. With options available to increase the difficulty or add new "flavor" to the game, this makes replay ability a high mark for this game.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is available for checkout on Playstation 4.



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Boss Monster

Boss Monster: the dungeon building card game puts you in the shoes of a 16-bit video game villain looking to put the hurt on wandering adventurers. The game uses cards to build your lair, enticing adventurers to come in and try and defeat you. If the adventurer does not make it to your lair's final battle, you score a soul point. If the adventurer makes it, you gain a wound and may soon be out of the game.

Play is fast and fun, with games averaging between 20-30 minutes. Boss Monster (2014) is a great card game for those that enjoy platform video games or reverse dungeons.


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Gloomhaven

Gloomhaven is a cooperative board game set in a fantasy world. Players take on the role of adventurers as they set off on quests defending the land or searching out treasure. Gloomhaven's story format makes each time you play unique while building on the last time you played. You will have the opportunity during play to equip new items and buy special resources to make your character unique to your style of play.

Gloomhaven is good for players who enjoy Dungeons and Dragons or those who have interest in roleplaying games, but are still not sure about where to begin. The game will guide your path with story and flavor text, and give you a feel for how to get started with other roleplaying games.


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Ghost of Tsushima

This beautiful PS4 game takes place in 13th century Japan during the first Mongol Invasion. The graphics do justice to the open countryside and forests that the Last of the Samurai must travel as they seek to rescue their lord and repel the Mongols.

The plot centers around Jin Sakai and his trials trying to stick to the Samurai code of honor while also knowing that to save Japan he must succeed at any cost. Tradition and need to win at any cost fight in his soul as he travels the island protecting the citizens of Tsushima.

The two items that make this game stand out are first the gameplay, which forces the player to take deliberate action during fights. Button mashing will not get the player very far to their goal. The second is the use of the Bushido code to drive elements of the game. There are places throughout the countryside where you can stop and compose Haiku based on the natural world's beauty.

Overall, the game is aesthetically appealing and well-plotted to entertain and drive gameplay. Ghost of Tsushima (2020, rated M) is a must-play for fans of Kurosawa films and the Okami game.


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Spotlight: Reading Skills Board Games

The board game collection is expanding with games designed to help beginning readers with skills like sight words, multiple meanings, spelling, and more. These games are great for parents to play with kids to encourage reading skills and vocabulary. Each game has a unique way of making learning fun.

  • Word on the Street Jr.: A game of tug a war with letters that encourage kids to think creatively and spell bigger and bigger words to earn more points toward winning.
  • Multiple Meanings Around the World: Encourages kids to learn homonyms for common words they will run across while reading and writing.
  • Tower of Sight Words lv 1-2-3: A series of games that operates like Jenga but encourages the reading of sight words before pieces can be pulled.
  • My First Bananagrams: Teaches lower case letters to children and spelling. Also encourages reading and spelling growth with premade letter blends.
  • Spelligator: Word building game that teaches phonemic awareness, letter patterns, and positioning. It covers different letter combinations, including consonants, vowels, digraphs, and blends.
  • After Words: A creative thinking and vocabulary building game for kids who have most of the basics down. The game creates limits to inspire kids to use a larger vocabulary.
  • Classwords the vocabulary game grade 3: Based on common core vocabulary standards for 3rd grade, the game motivates kids to practice and learn the key words needed read and write at the 3rd grade level.


Games are a great way to teach kids new skills while keeping their interest by making the learning fun. They also provide a break from regular memorization and worksheets. Check out a few.


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Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition

If you love the original Cards Against Humanity, you will enjoy this family-friendly edition of the game. If you are new to Cards Against Humanity, the Family Edition is a great game to start with. This version is easily playable with family and friends and is a great way to spend an hour or two just making each other laugh.

The game is played by one person selecting a card with a statement and the other players filling in blanks in the statement with their cards. The first player reads all the cards out loud and gives a point to the one they like best.

What I like about this game is you can be silly, and there are a plethora of card combinations, so every game is unique. Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition (2020) is also a game that is great for parties since players can easily drop in and out of the game.


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Patchwork

Spending time at home is the new normal but being bored does not have to be. Try one of our many board games such as Patchwork (2018). It is a two-player game where players compete for swatches or pieces to complete their quilt. Players try to cover the most space on their game boards with Tetris style pieces while collecting buttons. The player who has the most buttons and most covered space in the end wins.

The two things I like best about this game is that it only takes 20 minutes to play and that it is designed for two players. If you already enjoy buttons, also try Love Letteranother game designed with two players in mind.


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Mystery Manor: Hidden Objects

Looking for an escape that will keep you focused?  Check out Mystery Manor: Hidden Objects, a fun game where you play the detective helping the residents of the manor find the owner, Mister X.  You'll investigate cases and search for hidden objects to clear up the crime.

There are many rooms full of hidden objects and dark secrets, plus multiple ways to explore any room, whether it be silhouettes, word, jumble, or a single item at a time.  There are side games, mini games, daily tasks, and prizes.  You can even join other players in a guild to accomplish tasks and receive prizes.

Download the game for free from the app store (Apple or Google) and start playing today.


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Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Do you have Animal Crossing: New Horizons FOMO? Fear not! Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is free from the App Store (Google or Apple). Join all your favorite villagers for the ultimate virtual camping trip. It's the same cute, colorful game you'd expect, without Tom Nook shaking you down for bells all the time. This version of the classic game has seasonal events that make logging in a treat. Go fishing, catch bugs, pick fruit, and decorate your very own campsite. The best part? You get to choose which villagers you host.


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