Games: Bing-Oh! Travel

I bought an inexpensive Bingo game for my son Al when he was in kindergarten, partly to have another game (besides Candyland and Snakes and Ladders) that he could understand. Mostly I bought it to motivate him to learn his numbers, which it may or may not have helped with.

The main problem we encountered (besides his wanting to get Bingo on the master card that shows all numbers called) was that it used a spinner to select the numbers. A spinner with sixty numbers means very tiny wedges for each number, and often the spinner lands on the line in between. Or it lands on a number previously called (which can’t happen with the more expensive “cage” type Bingo).

The other problem with traditional Bingo, even the “cage” style, is that there’s nothing much to do except wait for numbers to be called. Pure luck, and lots of waiting. (Have I mentioned that Al has a short attention span?) So when I saw Bing-Oh! Travel in the store, I decided it would be a great alternative.

It’s somewhat like traditional Bingo. You have a card with letters across the top, and numbers, and you have to place chips on the squares that are called, and you need to get a line of chips filled horizontally or vertically or diagonally. But Growing Tree Toys has added in some interesting twists to the familiar game.

To begin with, the card is a six-by-six grid instead of five-by-five. I’m not sure if that’s to avoid having a center spot, to use more chips, or because they need to have columns for the six letters in BINGOH (to set it apart more from regular Bingo). The cards are all different, but not from having different numbers printed on them. Squares aren’t called by either a spinner or a cage full of numbers, but by two dice.

One die has the letters B, I, N, G, O, and H. (Oh, duh – that’s why there are six letters and six columns.) The other has numbers 1 through 6. These correspond to the rows and columns on the cards, so if you roll a G4, players put a chip in column G, row 4. This means that the chips on each player’s card are in the same places, so they are likely to be hoping for the same square to be called so they can yell Bing-Oh! But the other differences between the cards ensure that play gets a bit more complicated than that.

There are free spaces. Well, there are on some cards. One card I played had four free spaces, another had none; most have one, two, or three. These function just like the free space in the center in regular Bingo. But then there are special spaces, that have to take a particular action when you put a chip on that space (whether you rolled the dice that turn or not – which by the way you do take turns doing). Roll again is nice. So is place an additional chip anywhere you like on the card.

Most of them have to do with doing something to your opponent. Taking away some of his chips, for instance. In regular Bingo, chips are unlimited. In Bing-Oh, you only get twenty-five (they’re different colors so you can tell your chips from those of your opponent). Taking someone else’s chips means he has fewer left to cover squares on his board. Another possibility is to put a roadblock on his card. This means you put one of your own chips on a square on his card, and it acts as a “dead spot” that keeps him from getting Bing-Oh along the line where your chip is.

There are even more challenging ones. How about only being able to get a Bingo that is vertical? Or putting that same requirement on your opponent instead? One makes you clear your entire card and get a new card – right in the middle of the round. (That happened to me on two cards in a row in one round tonight!) Another has you switch cards with an opponent, with all the chips still in place – but as each player now has a card with an opponents chips on it, they serve as roadblocks to the person now using the card.

There are others, too – it takes several minutes to read through the rules. There are stars on the sides of the dice showing the B, 1, and 6. If you roll a star, you get to steal one of the opponent’s chips. (Two stars gets you three chips.) I didn’t realize when we started how significant stealing chips would be, but when you run out of chips you can’t fill in squares on your board. (Do you know how frustrating it is to have the square called that would get you a Bing-Oh but you have no chip to put there?)

Winning the game, by the way, isn’t by getting a Bing-Oh. That’s just the end of a round. A Bing-Oh gets you five points, but having some of an opponent’s chips either on your board or in your chip pile also gets you one point per chip. To win you have to accumulate twenty points – and we’ve played round after round without getting to that point. Eventually we put the game away and get ready for bed.

It wasn’t only the time that made us stop, however. There is the matter of frustration with a game where both of us have used up our chips and neither of us has a Bing-Oh. There doesn’t seem to be any provision in the rules for this possibility, and this failure on the part of the game creators seemed downright criminal to Al. I called an end to the round as a draw, and he called an end to the game.

Tonight I decided we would have to make up some house rules. When there are no chips left to steal from an opponent’s pile, and you’ve used up all your own chips, I decided that rolling a star on the dice would let you take one of your own chips off your card to reuse. That seemed to fix that, but then we found more situations the rules do not address. For instance, one way to put a roadblock is by roll of the dice. But what if the square indicated by the dice is already occupied? Does that chip stay, or does the roadblock replace it? Al decided that the roadblock chip goes on top of the other chip.

What if the space where you put your chip says “roll again” but it wasn’t your turn? Can you roll again if you didn’t roll the first time? What if a space on my card says that I have to get a Bing-Oh horizontally, but a space on my opponent’s card says I have to get it vertically? Do we go by which space got filled first, or last? Or does it mean I can’t get a Bing-Oh at all this round?

I’ve wondered whether more players than just the two of us would alleviate some of these issues. After all, the game started out being made for up to six players. I got the travel version because it’s what I found in the store – I didn’t even know there was a non-travel version. (Besides, travel games are handy for travel – and Al does get bored easily with nothing to do.) The travel version is limited to two or three players, which usually is no problem because it’s just the two of us.

But in spite of these frustrations, it is a fun game, certainly more entertaining than regular Bingo. Sometimes Al was laughing so hard he could barely roll the dice. (Or he dropped them on one of the cards and scattered all the chips – another hazard to watch out for.) Even though we haven’t finished a game, we’ve certainly had some fun.


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