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Now is the time to start thinking about AI’s impact on xenophobia

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The relationship between AI development and xenophobia is a complicated one, to be sure. On one hand, AI’s impacts on xenophobia are themselves a mixed bag in that AI can just as readily be deployed to identify and fight xenophobic elements online as it can be used to amplify and defend them. On the other hand, xenophobic attitudes (especially when combined with strict immigration laws) can impact the speed at which AI systems are developed and deployed.

AI’s track record in fighting online racism and xenophobia has been mixed at best. It’s not just Tay and Zo, content surfacing algorithms from both Facebook and Twitter have helped usher in the era of fake news while deep learning systems have granted online trolls the ability to generate “deep fake” revenge porn. Conversely, the United Nations has been working since 2015 to develop machine learning capabilities that can identify and analyze xenophobic tweets during major events such as terrorist incidents or refugee crises to gauge global attitudes towards the peoples involved.

Even in the US justice system, automated systems from racist facial recognition tools to Wisconsin’s indecipherable Compas sentencing algorithm appear to suffer from intrinsic training bias. That’s not to say every AI developed for the judicial system is afflicted as the previous examples. IBM recently loaned out its Watson AI to help the Montgomery County Juvenile Court surface the most relevant information regarding a child’s home life and social structure in an effort to provide them the best possible care.

In some cases, AI can even be utilized to actively reinforce existing racist or xenophobic dogma. Just look at the “virtual border wall” prototype developed by Anduril Industries, the company started by former Oculus founder, Palmer Luckey. Using a variety of sensors, cameras and machine learning, the “Lattice” technology that drives the virtual wall can spot and identify moving objects at a distance. If that object happens to be a person crossing the US border, the system will alert the authorities. Andruil Industries hopes to eventually sell its technology to the American government to help facilitate the Trump administration’s handling of refugees crossing into the US.

“I predict that in the next year or two the issue [of racial bias] is only going to continue to increase in importance,” Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton and data privacy expert, told Engadget in 2017. “What has changed is the realization that these aren’t specific exceptions of racial and gender bias. It’s almost definitional that machine learning is going to pick up and perhaps amplify existing human biases. The issues are inescapable.”

At the same time, xenophobia can impact the development of AI and not just through the standard issues of learning bias or fears that AI is going to put a majority of humans out of work, resulting in widespread economic anxiety.

“We live in a world where the friction of xenophobia or the friction of anti-immigration policies actually can lead to technological advancements in an odd way,” Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University, told Engadget in July.

He points to Japan as an example. The island nation has famously strict immigration laws, as well as stringent licensing exams for roles in the healthcare and home care industries. This includes a six-month course in Japanese language and culture before applicants even step foot on Japanese soil. It also has a rapidly aging population — in fact, by 2025 virtually all of Japan’s baby boomers (those born between 1947 and 1949) will be 75 years of age or older. Currently there are only around 1.8 million qualified care workers currently living in Japan. The country would need to add at least 385,000 more such positions by the middle of the next decade to account for the increase in geriatric patients.

This combination of high demand and low supply, Nourbakhsh argues, should theoretically lead to a relaxing of licensing requirements or increases in foreign work permits. Instead, the Japanese have adopted a different tact.

“What they’re doing to try and solve that problem in many cases is put literally hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of robotics,” Nourbakhsh said. Because of restrictive immigration policies, “it becomes economically feasible to spend a huge amount of money trying to develop robots to do something that humans are actually really good at doing.”

“The sidebar challenge of that is that the very technology we’re trying to develop can actually distance the people that we’re trying to care for from social interactions,” he continued. “And we all know that social interaction is one of the things that increases the quality of life [of elderly patients] the most.” Lucky for them, Sony has just released its latest iteration of the AIBO.

We’re seeing a similar effect here in the US due to the current administration’s hardline stance against all forms of immigration and its aggressive deportation policies targeting migrant farm workers. Agricultural companies are pouring money into automation to offset their losses of human labor.

“Agriculture is indeed the industry where it is most clear that restrictions on immigration lead to the development and adoption of mechanization,” Dr. Jennifer Hunt, a professor of economics at Rutgers University, wrote to Engadget. “Michael Clemens and Ethan Lewis show that the end of the guest worker Bracero program did not raise the wages of native agricultural workers, and further show that the cause seems to be a turn to mechanization when the program ended.”

Even highly skilled workers, those in the US on H-1B visas, have not proven themselves immune to the effects, despite the benefit that they provide. “My own research finds that immigrants with college or more education [apply for and receive patents] at twice the rate of natives,” Hunt argued. “And that this does not come at the expense of native patenting. So immigrants increasing US patenting, and patenting has been shown to increase the US economic growth per capita, making Americans better off.”

Images: Getty Images

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Tech

Intel’s new laptop CPUs focus on gigabit Wi-Fi and voice commands

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Intel’s updated U-series processors are still meant for slightly beefier ultraportables, but they’ll feel faster than last year’s models thanks to that integrated gigabit Wi-Fi. And the new audio DSP could be useful if you’re juggling Cortana and Alexa at the same time. To make sure you’re getting a new U-series model, computers with these new processors will have a bright yellow “Optimized for Connectivity” printed below Intel’s logo. That’s a clunky way to differentiate them, but at least discerning buyers have something to look out for.

Intel claims the new U-series CPUs are up to 6.5X faster than a five-year-old system in 4K video encodes, when comparing the i5-8265U to the i5-8400U. In real-world figures, that means you should be able to encode 4K video in real-time (or at least, much closer to it than before). Additionally, Intel says the refreshed chips are also twice as fast in World of Tanks, when compared to a five year old machine. That’s not too surprising though, given how far the company’s integrated graphics have come.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2018 here!

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Tech

Texas company sells plans for 3D-printed guns despite ban

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Not surprisingly, that isn’t how officials interpret the ruling. Washington state Attorney General and lawsuit overseer Bob Ferguson believed the ruling still made sales illegal, and hoped the federal government would hold Wilson “accountable to that law.” Wilson said he was expecting state lawsuits and was raising funds to defend himself against them.

The question is whether or not Wilson is violating the spirit of the law, not just its letter. Both the recent ban and the 2013 restriction stemmed from concerns about distributing 3D-printed gun technology that’s both “untraceable and undetectable,” as Judge Robert Lasnik put it. That potential security risk doesn’t change with the distribution method, and proponents of the ban will likely argue that an emailed copy is just as risky as publishing the info on a public website.

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Microsoft OneDrive will use AI to make searchable video transcripts

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The company is also promising a file view for both OneDrive and the Office.com home page that will recommend relevant files based on your work habits, including who you work with and activity on files shared with you through Microsoft 365. You’ll receive intelligent sharing prompts as well. If you took photos during a meeting, for instance, the OneDrive mobile app will ask you about sharing those with others who were scheduled to attend the meeting.

The transcription combined with OneDrive’s AI-based photo searching might give Microsoft an advantage, particularly in the working world. While AI image searching isn’t new, the addition of transcripting theoretically makes it easy to search all kinds of media based on its content, not just file names.

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Tech

LG’s first Android One phone is a stripped-back G7

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The company is also using the opportunity to stuff a mid-range phone into the G7 family. The G7 Fit (below) again preserves the screen, but drops back to an older-still Snapdragon 821 and uses a less sophisticated 16MP rear camera (f/2.2 aperture instead of the G7 One’s brighter f/1.6). Some countries will get a version of the G7 Fit with 64GB of storage, though, and the rest of the design remains intact.

LG only plans to discuss availability and pricing on a local basis, so it’s not certain when these will be available. We wouldn’t count on them reaching your part of the globe, either. LG is clearly aiming at cost-conscious buyers who want the basic G7 formula, and that’s more likely to involve developing countries.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2018 here!

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Your PS4 ‘Spider-Man’ dreams will continue with a season pass

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The first narrative follows Black Cat and adds new missions, costumes, an additional enemy faction and three suits according to the PlayStation Blog. The other two packs, “Turf Wars” and “Silver Lining,” will be released in November and December, respectively. Snagging the season pass up front will set you back $24.99, or you can pick up individual episodes for $9.99 as they’re released.

Unfortunately we only have episode names to go by at this point, and neither “Turf Wars” nor “Silver Lining” give up many clues. Maybe, just maybe, one will feature Venom as a way to coincide with October’s Eddie Brock movie.

When I played the game at E3 a few months ago, I was blown away by just how good the web-swinging felt and how well Insomniac captured the series’ tone and writing. What needed work, though, was the camera. Soaring around the Manhattan skyline felt great, but once I was on the ground or in an enclosed space constantly adjusting it was a chore. Fingers crossed that Insomniac has made some tweaks or added a lock-on system for enemies since the build I played in June.

Marvel’s Spider-Man will be released exclusively on PlayStation 4 this September 7th.

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Tech

FCC funds rural broadband for more than 700,000 homes and businesses

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More than 100 winning bidders will build out infrastructure in 45 states over the next decade to connect the 713,176 homes and businesses, with the FCC providing a hair under $1.5 billion in funding following the auction (there was an initial reserve price of $5 billion). The bidding process gave weighted preference to providers that offered faster speeds, lower latency and higher data allowances, and the providers can use whichever technology they like to build out the required infrastructure as long as it meets the FCC’s standards. Meanwhile, the FCC is set to launch a $4.5 billion Mobility Fund Phase II auction with the aim of expanding 4G LTE coverage in rural areas.

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Tech

Board Game Recommendations For Ages 5 to 7

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Finding games that are the right fit for children aged 5 to 7 can be challenging. As they move into school age they can begin handling more in games.  Young children who are just learning to read or are beginning readers are often not ready for games with lots of reading or complex turns.  Attention spans still tend to be short so game duration is a relevant factor.

Some game in this age range are part of a movement in the game industry to make simpler versions of their games.  Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Stone Age have tapped into this age by creating “my first” or “junior” versions of their games.

Gamewright 

Outfoxed!

Outfoxed! is a cooperative game deduction game for players ages 5 and up and for two to four players where the players are…chickens. Chickens chasing clues to catch a fox that has absconded with a prized pot pie.  What family can resist working together to solve such a heinous crime? The game includes a special evidence scanner to rule out the different fox suspects by showing if the thief is wearing a particular object. On each players turn they declare if they will Search for Clues or Reveal Suspects. They then have three chances to roll the dice to get all three dice icons to match their choice. If they success they complete the stated action, but if not the culprit moves closer to escaping with the pie.

Too Many Monkeys

Too Many Monkeys A Totally Bananas Card Game is a playful, lively game is designed to appeal to young gamers and parents alike. It is a fast paced, simple game for ages 6 and up and for two to six players that subtly reinforces math concepts such as number sequencing and probability while still allowing kids to be silly and have fun.

Too Many Monkeys is played in a series of rounds. Players are dealt out 6 cards face down. Players draw from the discard pile or the draw pile and swap it face up with a card in the position that matches the number on the card they drew. The winner of the first round gets dealt one less card at the start of the next round. All other players have the same number as the previous round. Play continues as above with players’ hands getting smaller each round. You continue in rounds until one player is down to just one card and draws the number 1 card (with Primo asleep). When that happens, Primo is back to sleep and the game is over!

Slamwich

Slamwich is a fast-paced, silly, and energetic card flipping game reminiscent of Slapjack, War, Uno, etc. The game is recommended for ages 6 and up for two to six players. Taking turns, each player takes the top card of their deck and flips it onto a center pile. If a set of criteria is met, players race to slap the pile. The combinations are easy to understand. A Double Decker-If the flipped card is identical to the card directly underneath. A Slamwich– If two identical cards have exactly one card in between them (like a sandwich). Special cards like a Thief or a Muncher add unique criteria and help to make winning more random. If a player runs out of cards, they are out of the game. Whoever collects all of the cards wins.

Super Tooth

Super Tooth is, at its core, a matching card game for ages 6 and up for two to four players. Players collect matched sets of plant eating dinosaurs. Each turn includes a “landscape” of three cards on the play area. First, the player resolve event cards, such as the egg that lets the player bring back a card that had previously been discarded. Next, they player feed or chase away meat eaters, and then ultimately choose one type of plant eater from the board.

Super Tooth relies a little on luck, but it is important for players to choose cards carefully to build matched sets and not just random cards. Players cash in matching sets of cards for tooth tokens, and the more matching cards the more tokens they earn.  The first player with 3 tokens in a three or four player game wins, and 5 tokens in a two player game wins.

Flashlights and Fireflies

Flashlights and Fireflies is a board game version of flashlight freeze tag for  two to five players. The game plays in three quick phases per round, and the game ends when one player reaches home.  The board includes three sections; the woods, the firefly field, and the path home. Flashlights and Fireflies plays in rounds, and each round include four phases: hide, catch, shine, and sneak.  Flashlights and Fireflies is a great game for the whole family.  The game moves quickly through each round and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to play.  The age recommended is 6 and up, but since there is no reading in the game it does scale down nicely to slightly younger players.

Education Outdoors

Toasted or Roasted

Toasted or Roasted has you building the campfire and trying to toast marshmallows without them becoming roasted. It is for two to four players and is recommended for ages 6 and up.There are several objectives to complete in Toasted Or Roasted.  First, each player needs light their campfire by playing a Fire Starter card.  Once you play a Fire Starter card you flip your Firewood Disk over to the campfire side.  Then, each player needs to try and toast 3 marshmallows to win.  

Toasted or Roasted is a great light family game.  The game has minimal reading so it can easily scale down to players even younger than the recommended 6 years old. Roasting a competitor’s marshmallows is a light “take that” element.  Young players need to be able to handle it if someone “spoils” their marshmallow.

Monkeybeak Games

Hoagie

Hoagie is a fast paced game for two to five players that is recommended for ages 5 and up.  Each player is trying to build the perfect sandwich without any part getting spoiled by three oogies (pictured on the spoiled food and special action cards). Hoagie’s gameplay is very easy and takes just minutes to learn.  Each player is dealt a hand if 6 cards to start the game.  On each players turn they play a card from their hand on their sandwich or an opponent’s. Several actions with the cards can occur, but only one can occur per turn. In order to win, a player must begin their turn with a perfect sandwich, which consists of bread, meat, cheese, lettuce, and bread.

Carma Games, LLC.

Tenzi

Tenzi is a super simple dice game for two to four players ages 7 and up that is very fast-paced. This is a great icebreaker, boredom buster, or introduction to kick off a bigger game night. The game is noisy, quick, and simple. The variations within the rules make it something that has a high replay value. It’s also nice the game does a tiny bit of teaching while still being fun. We found that it’s been playable by children as young as five while still being entertaining to adults.

Iello

Tales and Games

Iello games has produced a series of games based on classic children’s stories and fairy tales. The games look like beautiful hardbound storybooks with classically illustrated covers and spines. Each game takes about 20 minutes to play through and they all have different mechanics and designs. They and are designed to be played by players ages 7 and up.

We have included them here because they have sparked interest in the classic stories that they are based on in our household. The stories released so far are:

The Three Little Pigs

Baba Yaga

The Hare and the Tortoise

The Grasshopper and the Ant

Little Red Riding Hood

The Pied Piper

Aladdin and the Magic Lamp

Brain Games

Ice Cool

Ice Cool is a flicking game about penguins in a frozen high school. Players take turns flicking their penguin pawns through the halls. The goal is to get your pawn through open doorways to catch fish  and earn points. This is more complicated because each player takes a turn as the hall monitor who’s objective is to catch the other players. Ice Cool is more fun than I expected and the kids love it. The game board designed allows for some really interesting trick shots like flicking your penguin pawn so that you have a decent spin going and having it travel in an arc through multiple doors. You can even try to send your penguin OVER walls if you like.

Thinkfun

Rush-hour Junior

Rush-hour Junior is one player, portable, colorful, and mentally wonderful for ages 5 and up. The board is small and packed with vehicles which have set directions that they can move. The goal is to move the vehicles in a particular order to get the little red car out of the traffic jam. A negative is that every piece is important. Don’t lose them! This game is great for waiting rooms or car trips as it comes with its own board and it small enough to hold in a child’s hand or lap. The junior version has 40 challenges and 15 blocking pieces

Roller Coaster Challenge

Roller Coaster Challenge is a single player STEM game focusing on engineering for ages 6.  It come with 60 challenge card in a range of difficulty.  The player sets up the posts and required pieces on the challenge card.  They then need to design a roller coaster that travels to the bottom successfully using some of the additional posts, 39 tracks.  The roller coaster is successful if the roller coaster car makes it to the end.  This was a Toy of the Year Finalist in 2018.

Laser Maze Jr.

Laser Maze Jr. is a single player logic game designed for ages 6 and up by Thinkfun. This game challenges the player to set up tokens to match a challenge card. The player then adds mirrors to the board. The objective is to reflect a laser beam so it lights up the rocket (or rockets with more difficult cards) light up. The player selects a challenge card. There are four levels of play: easy, medium, hard, super hard. The 40 numbered cards get progressively harder as they move within each level of play.

The player selects a card and inserts it under the Game Grid.  The card shows the locations of the Rocket target and Space Rock Blockers. At the bottom of the card the additional pieces needed to complete the challenge are displayed. The player then manipulates the additional pieces around the Game Grid in order to reflect the laser. The challenge is successful once the Rocket Target is lit up by the laser beam.

Haba

Rhino Hero

Rhino Hero is a competitive  3-D stacking game for ages 5 and up and is for two to five players where players are building a tower of cards and moving Rhino Hero up the tower.  This dexterity game directs players were the wall cards need to go on each turn.  Players have wall and ceiling tiles.  On their turn, the player first builds the wall in the place indicated on the ceiling tile and then place their ceiling tile.  Actions indicated on some of the ceiling tiles and those benefit the player, such as skipping the next player.  The game ends when the tower fall, a player places their last roof card, or all the walls are built.  

Rhino Hero- Super Battle

Rhino Hero- Super Battle is the sequel to Rhino Hero.  The game is for ages 5 and up and plays two to four players. This game adds three more superheros:  Giraffe Boy, Big E. and Batguin.  The walls now come in two sizes; tall and short and there is a superhero medal.  Additionally there are spider monkeys which attack. 

The gameplay has additional steps they includes: 1. Build!, 2. Spider monkey attack (place a spider monkey hanging from the floor if there is a spider monkey symbol and see if it makes the tower fall), 3. Climb the skyscraper! by using a die to determine how many floors to climb, 4. Super battle if two superheros are on the same level, 5. Superhero medal goes to the players if their super hero is the furthest up at this phase in their turn, 6. Draw another floor card.  The game ends when all or part of the tower collapses or all the floors that are playable have been used.

Monza

Monza is a racing game for ages 5 and up and plays two to six players. Movement of your race car in this game is based on rolling six color dice.  Players must utilize strategic thinking to use the colors you roll to plan the path for your car. Players can only move to a forward space and may not enter a space with an obstacle.

This game is more thoughtful than a straight roll and move because you need to plan your path based on the colors you roll. With a luck roll and good planning a player can move six spaces. Any die that do not correspond to a color ahead of the player on the board are discarded for that turn. The first player to the finish line is the winner.

Brandon the Brave

Brandon the Brave is a tile placement game for ages 5 and up for one to four players, where you are a knave desiring to be a brave knight like “Brandon the Brave”. Knaves prove their intuition and skills by completing tasks.  To do this players place field tiles and are trying to match colored crosses.  These crosses represent a location of a completed task and the color needs to match one color of the task card. As players lay tiles a jousting arena may be build. The player who places the sixth tiles completing the arena gets to place a task card in the center.  The game ends once a player completes all their task cards or all the field tiles are placed.

May Day Games 

Coconuts

Coconuts is a dexterity game for ages 7 and up for two to four players where you are launching coconuts with your monkey and trying to land them into baskets in the center.  When you land a coconut in a basket you get to place the cup on your game board.  To win you need to collect 6 baskets and stack them into a pyramid on your board, but there are not enough baskets in the center for everyone to collect.  You need to try and steal from your opponent by landing a coconut in their basket. An added component is the basket are red and yellow.  Should you land in a red basket you get to take a additional shot.

Playroom Entertainment

The Magic Labyrinth

The Magic Labyrinth is a memory and grid movement game for ages 6 and up and plays two to four players. In this game you are playing apprentices that have lost various objects, which are now in the Magic Labyrinth.  The twist is there are invisible walls!  Players must move and remember where the wall are when they or a competitor hits a wall.  A series of wooden blocks in a grid under the gameboard create the walls.  The walls are movable so the maze can be different each time you play. The pawn is magnetic and a ball sticks to it. If you hit a wall the ball falls off an rolls to one of the trays on the side and you go back to the start corner.

At the beginning of the game players draw a few lost objects tokens and place them on their corresponding picture throughout the maze.   A players landing on the space with a token they get to keep it.  A new token is then drawn out of a bag and placed on the board.  The first player to collect five objects wins.

Drei Maiger Spiele 

Enchanted Tower

Enchanted Tower is a hidden information/deduction game for ages 5 and up and is for two to four players.  The princess is captive, locked away in a tower by the wizard.  The board sits inside the box with compartment so the metal key can be hidden under the board. There are token covering the compartments. Players are either playing the wizard or the prince and they are trying to get to the key first.  At the beginning of the game the wizard hides the key in one of the compartments. The players take turns rolling specialty dice which have a player color corresponding to the pawns and number of spaces to move for each color.

The wizard (blue) has to start on a lower track and has eight extra spaces to move than the prince (red).  This advantage evens the playing field since the wizard player knows the location. When a pawn lands on the space where the key is under, it clicks against the magnet at the bottom of the pawn. Once a player finds the key, they try it in one of the six keyholes of the tower.  If the princess pops out they win.  If not the wizard hides the key again and players start over.  First to free the princess wins.

Asmodee

Catan Junior

A popular game which has been simplified for younger gamers is Catan Junior.  This is a route building  resource management game for ages 6 and up and is for two to four players.  Like the original Settlers of Catan you are collecting resources based on the numbers that  come up with each roll. These resources used to build or get Coco the Parrot cards which provide resources or the ability to build at no cost. Instead of building settlements, cities, and roads in the full version you are building pirate ships and hideouts.  The first player to build seven pirate hideouts wins.

Days of Wonder

Ticket to Ride: First Journey

Ticket to Ride: First Journey takes the formula of its predecessor and strips out several of the more complex concepts in favor of a streamlined experience that can be played by kids who are even younger! We have always said that the Ticket to Ride series was accessible to savvy kids, but this new version is even better.The map is simplified also. The game board is large, and the various cities are larger and more defined.  Each of the cities includes a colorfully illustrated image associated with it. The winner is the first person to finish six routes. This game teaches players the general flow of a game of Ticket to Ride without the burden of some of the finer details of the senior game.

Z-Man Games

My First Stone Age

My First Stone Age is another popular game simplified for younger children ages 5 and up and players two to four players. Like the original game you gather resources to build huts, but the worker placement component is not included in this simpler game. The game has large chunky high quality pieces.

On each players turn they take a forest tile from the perimeter of the board. On each tile is a resource, an image of a die, or a dog.  If a player pull a resource they move to that resource space and take one of that resource.  A die image indicates the player may move that many spaces along the path.  A dog is a wild card and can represent any resources.  If there are not any more dog tokens in the resources pile players can steal a dog from another player.  Players have a field of three huts they are trying to collect the resources to buy.  When a player purchases one with their resources, they flip over a new hut revealing the cost of the next hut. The first player to build three huts wins.

Blue Orange Games

Doodle Quest

Doodle Quest is a drawing game for one to four players ages 6 and up. In this underwater themed game players choose one of the 18 quest cards.  Each card includes drawing instructions specific to the card.  Players then draw on blank transparent sheets with dry erase markers. Once complete, each transparent sheet is placed on the quest card and is scored based on how each players doodle aligns with the picture. The player with the most points after 6 challenges is the winner. Additionally, each quest card has a beginner and advanced challenge side.

Dr. Eureka

Dr. Eureka is a logic and dexterity game for ages 6 and up and is for two to four players.  It was originally published as an 8 and up game, but in later publications changed to a 6 and up game.  In this game you are taking molecules (balls) in a test tube and need to combine colors to correspond to a challenge card.  The dexterity challenge is you can not touch the balls and cannot drop them!  The round ends when one player has their molecules match the formula exactly, and they call out “Eureka”. That player gets the cards, but players do not reset their test tubes.  The players begin the next round with the configuration the ended the previous round.

This game is great for multiple ages and skills because you can scale the rules to add challenges for more advanced players, and eliminate rules as needed.  There are also several variants that add different challenges to the game.

Peaceable Kingdom

Cauldron Quest

Cauldron Quest is a cooperative game that will fit right at home in any house full of Harry Potter fans. It is for players 6 and up and plays two to four players. Players are working together in Cauldron Quest to brew a magic potion that their kingdom needs to break a magic spell cast by an evil wizard. They do this by trying to move special barrels of ingredients from the outside of the board into the cauldron in the center. This might SOUND easy, but the evil wizard is trying to stop them by putting magic barriers in the way. Players need to get the correct three ingredients to the center before the wizard blocks all six paths.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

Make sure to keep your eyes on Engaged Family Gaming for all of the latest news and reviews you need to Get Your Family Game On!

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Tech

Family Gaming For Less! – Part 1

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We’re sharing tips for saving money as a gaming family in our newest guide! We will help you choose a gaming console, where and how to buy games, and we’ll even talk about accessories.

We’ll be paying special attention to saving money when playing on multiple systems in the same house.

That’s because finding enjoyable couch co-op games is challenging. Finding couch co-op games suitable for the entire family is an epic quest! Many games now support multiplayer exclusively online with only one player per system. Families are increasingly purchasing one console per family member. It isn’t uncommon to have a house with several Xboxes anymore.

Video game system prices have dropped in recent years but multiple gaming consoles is still an expensive proposition! Picking the right gaming platform can save thousands over the lifetime of that system.

The Game Stores

The first, and probably most important decision, is where you will by your games. There are several online platforms or “digital stores” selling games online. The games they sell don’t have discs or cartridges. They exist only as files on your computer or console. The online stores use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to control how you can use their downloaded games.

These are small details that might not seem important, but you need to know and understand them in order to stretch your budget.

Windows – Steam

Steam is an online store that sells digital games for PC, Mac, and Linux. Steam provides a guide to enable Family Sharing. This feature enables sharing your game library with up to five family members. Only one person at a time can use the library however.

Logging in to Steam kicks other users out after a few minutes. Multiplayer requires purchasing a copy of each game for each player.

Steam games are often on sale. Many games are 20% off at launch, which is appealing on its own.. There are also several Steam sales throughout the year (a Summer sale in May and a Winter Sale in January for example).

You can also buy digital games for use on the Steam platform on other sites. Websites like Humble Store and GreenManGaming sell “game keys” composed of strings of number and letters. You can use these keys to add the game to your Steam library.

The competitive marketplace keeps prices low, but purchasing 4 copies, even at 20% off, is not the most cost effective option.

Windows – GOG

An alternative to Steam is GOG. This is a service that offers DRM-free PC games. GOG games are downloaded as ZIP files or using an optional client named GOG Galaxy. The client downloads, installs, and updates games. It is possible to purchase games from GOG once and copy them to multiple computers since they are DRM free. This isn’t a perfect solution because some games require GOG Galaxy for multiplayer. If that is the case, then each player must have their own copy of the game.

Games using the Steam multiplayer system can only be sold through the Steam store. GOG has made it easy for game developers to use the GOG multiplayer system instead. Usually playing the GOG version of a game means playing with only other GOG customers. That’s fine – maybe even preferable – for family gaming. It will, however, cause frustration if you try to play with friends who own the Steam version of a game. You won’t be able to see those Steam friends!

Editor’s note: GOG used to be called Good Old Games because they focused on keeping older games playable on modern PC operating systems. They recently changed their name to GOG and I had no idea until Adrian corrected me. Just goes to show… I don’t know EVERYTHING. 😉

Nintendo eShop

The Switch is an appealing platform. The same games can be played on the TV at home or on the go. And Switch has a great library of family friendly couch co-op games. But multiple Switch consoles is a budget buster for many families. Nintendo’s DRM restricts digital games to a single console, even when online. Playing together requires that each family member own a copy of the game.

PlayStation Store and Xbox Store

Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One consoles have similar DRM policies. They allow an account to play a purchased digital game on the “primary” or “home” console. Each account picks a single, specific console as home. This can be the same console for multiple accounts. Sony and Microsoft permit the home console to change only a few times however.

Each account can simultaneously play a purchased game on the home console and any other console while online. Buying two copies of a game allows four family members to play – including multiplayer! This is known as “Game Sharing”. This works with two consoles and even four – with two copies of games. (We will be publishing an example later on that will go into detail on this.)

Buying Multiple Copies of Games

Rewards

There are easy ways to save money on games for any platform. There are free rewards programs available: Nintendo Gold Points, Sony Rewards, and Microsoft Rewards. Each offers about 1% of purchases back as points. You can then redeem points for gift cards or other rewards. Make sure to check the program details as they each have their own quirks.

For example, you earn points using Bing web search and by completing surveys in the Microsoft program. There are many rewards available, including Xbox Live and Xbox Game Pass memberships at discounted prices. Many people find they can pay for a year of both Xbox Live and Game Pass membership just by using Bing search daily.

Sales and Wishlists

Look for the weekly digital game sales on your platform of choice. Savings range from 25% to 75% off. Subscribers to PlayStation Plus often save an additional 10% on sale items. Xbox Live Gold members have a special weekly sale. Patience pays off as most games will go on sale at least once a year.

If you don’t have time to track the weekly sales you can still save. Steam, PlayStation Store, and Nintendo’s eShop for Switch all have wishlist features in their digital game stores. Steam will even email you when something on your wishlist is on sale! There are also many third party sites which offer price tracking like IsThereAnyDeal for Steam, TrueAchievements for Xbox One, and TrueTrophies for PlayStation. Each sites offers multiple notification options. These sites require an account to track your wishlist.

Saving on Digital Games

Using specific payment options can also save money.

Sony offers the Sony Card with 5X points (~5%) on entertainment purchases, including those from the PlayStation Store. The credit card company deposits points in the linked Sony Rewards account each month. This discount stacks with the rewards points earned from purchases via Sony’s digital game store. Redeem points for PlayStation gift cards.

Families may already have a Target Red credit or debit card, offering 5% off purchases at Target. This discount applies to gift cards. Target charges an additional 5% on digital gift cards delivered by email however. Saving requires a trip to the store.

Amazon offers the Amazon Prime Store credit card with 5% back on purchases at Amazon. You must be a paying Amazon Prime member to qualify. Amazon offers Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox digital gift cards delivered by email.

Remember gift cards are not subject to sales tax. And the discounted gift cards “stack” with any game sales for more savings!

Gifting Games

Gifting digital games is available on Steam and the Xbox Store. This is helpful as it allows you to maintain a single account with funds. Use this “primary” account to purchase games for the whole family and gift them to your children’s accounts. This also serves as an anti-fraud measure, because you won’t have to add a payment method to your children’s accounts.

Microsoft rewards points are also in a single account when using this approach with Xbox for faster accumulation. Microsoft parental controls also support “request to purchase” on child accounts. However, you can only gift DLC as “request to purchase” does not work. In-game currency such as Fortnite V-bucks require purchasing from the child account. In this situation you can apply a gift card to your child’s account only for the needed amount. Microsoft has said they are working to improve the process.

PlayStation and Xbox Online Services

PlayStation and Xbox require a paid membership subscription to play games online named Sony PlayStation Plus and Microsoft Xbox Live Gold. Each costs US$60 per year. Alternate subscription lengths are also available. Buying a membership for one account will enable online play for anyone logged into that player’s primary or home console. The paying account can also play online from any console while logged into the Internet.

Subscription Services

Microsoft Xbox Game Pass

Microsoft has a Netflix-style service dubbed Xbox Game Pass for US$10 per month. This offers a library of “over 100” games available for download. Game Pass games are available to anyone on the purchaser’s home console. The paying account can also play these games from any console while logged into the Internet.

With Game Pass for the family you have games everyone can play together. Microsoft has stated games they publish will remain in the library. Microsoft adds or removes other games periodically. Game Pass offers a sliding discount up to 20% to buy games in the library based on the game’s age. Game Pass games don’t include DLC but there is a 10% discount to buy it. The Game Pass discount only applies to full price games and DLC.

It is worth mentioning that not all games in Game Pass are family friendly, nor are they all multiplayer titles. Some are older Xbox 360 games that play on Xbox One but lack the high resolution and performance of newer games. There are multiple games from many genres including multiplayer family favorites Zoo Tycoon, Rocket League, and Lego Star Wars. The complete list is available here.

EA Access for Xbox

EA Access is a subscription specific to game publisher EA. It is available for US$30 per year on Xbox One only. Sports gamers can enjoy last year’s version of EA’s Madden, FIFA, hockey, and basketball games. EA also makes Battlefield, Need for Speed, and Plants vs. Zombies series which all have games included. Overall EA Access offers a smaller and older selection of games compared to Xbox Game Pass. Game Pass includes none of EA’s games.

EA Origin Access Basic and Premiere for PC

EA Origin is the PC counterpart to EA Access on Xbox. There are two levels available: Basic and Premiere. Basic is a separate PC-only subscription also for US$30 per year. The game selection is similar to EA Access on Xbox One but includes games from other publishers.

EA Origin Access Premiere is US$15 per month and adds newly EA published games immediately. This can be appealing for gamers who buy several EA titles for PC each year.

Sony PlayStation Now

PlayStation has the PlayStation Now service for US$30 for three months. This offers a library of games for PlayStation 3 plus a few for PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 4. The service streams gameplay across the Internet rather than downloading games to the console. For any multiplayer games you will need a great Internet connection to support four or even two players. Instead of streaming games over the Internet it is rumored Sony will add support for downloading Playstation 4 games to a Playstation 4 console. PlayStation families should check back in the coming months for updates.

Xbox Backward Compatibility

One budget-friendly option for families is backward compatibility on Xbox One. Simply insert a supported original Xbox or Xbox 360 game disc into the Xbox One. The console downloads a small update and the games are ready to play. The list of Backward Compatible games is available from Xbox Community Manager Major Nelson’s site.

There are several sources for inexpensive used Xbox 360 game discs. eBay, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon all sell used Xbox 360 games. This can be a cost effective way to expand your family game library. Also, digital copies of almost all backward compatible games are available in the Xbox store.

Game Sharing and Always Online

Game sharing lets you use digital game licenses on two consoles simultaneously. This is key to economical family gaming on both Microsoft and Sony’s consoles. Xbox accounts have a home console. Similarly for PlayStation accounts there is a primary console. Changing the home console is possible only a few times.

The home or primary console can always play games. The second console must be always online and connected to the Internet. If the Internet is not available then the console will not be able to play purchased digital games. If PlayStation Network or Xbox Live are down the second console will also be unable to play. This has ruined Christmas for some people.


That was a whole lot of info right? And we aren’t even close to done! Come check back for part two tomorrow!


About the Author

Adrian Luff is a lifelong video gamer with three video game obsessed boys and a very understanding wife. He is fortunate enough to have worked in the video game industry for over 20 years building online services for multiplayer gaming. He worked on servers for Battle.net used by the Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft games. He also designed the launch infrastructure for World of Warcraft. Adrian leads a team of engineers building robust systems, infrastructure, and developer tools for Twitch.tv (a division of Amazon).

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

Make sure to keep your eyes on Engaged Family Gaming for all of the latest news and reviews you need to Get Your Family Game On!

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Tech

Family Gaming For Less – Part 2

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We’re sharing tips for saving money as a gaming family in our newest guide! We will help you choose a gaming console, where and how to buy games, and we’ll even talk about accessories. Last time we talked about where to buy your games and how to save money buying them.

This time it’s all about the hardware!

Windows PC

Maintaining multiple gaming PCs can be time consuming and expensive. This may work for families with a Windows computer technician in house. When planning your gaming budget keep in mind the cost of hardware upgrades.

There are solutions to play your office computer in the family room. The Steam Link and Nvidia Shield both support this feature. There are limitations and network requirements however so investigate further if this sounds useful.

Mac

Both Steam and GOG support Mac computers. Maintaining multiple Mac computers is easier than Windows PCs for most people. Many games are not available on Mac though. Available games often run slower or with fewer graphical features.

Nintendo Switch

The Switch costs US$300 and has a strong selection of games. Many games on the Switch allow you to share its standard “Joy-Con” controllers for couch co-op multiplayer sessions. This can be awkward for large hands because the Joy-Con is physically small. The Switch Joy-Con controllers are the most expensive at US$80 MSRP. Nintendo also offers a “Pro” controller similar in design to the Xbox and PlayStation controllers. The Pro controller retails for US$70.

The Switch uses microSD cards for data storage. Smaller size microSD cards are inexpensive at 64GB for less than US$20. Prices rise significantly for the cards with the most storage. Switch physical cartridges also require microSD storage for patches. Families planning large Switch game libraries should consider the cost of digital game storage versus the convenience.

PlayStation 4

The PlayStation 4 costs US$300 and has the biggest installed base of modern consoles. It is often the best choice for multiplayer gaming outside the family. There is a limited selection of couch multiplayer games and each player must have their own US$60 MSRP controller. PlayStation 4 owners cannot play online games with players on Xbox One or Switch.

The PlayStation allows you to use a single external USB 3 hard drive to expand the internal storage. This drive can be up to 8TB in size. You cannot use a USB hub to connect the external drive. Once formatted it is only readable by the PlayStation. Moving the drive requires ejecting it from the PlayStation settings menu first. PlayStation supports copying games between the internal console and external hard drive storage.

PlayStation uploads saved games only from the primary console. This is a problem for families using multiple consoles! Accessing saved games requires multiple steps on both consoles. PlayStation limits online storage to 10GB of saved data per user.

The PlayStation 4 supports “remote play” – where a PC, Mac, Vita, or PlayStation TV can access the PlayStation in the same house or over the Internet. The feature requires a PlayStation 4 controller and free software download for PC and Mac. Local and remote players can only play the same game together. Remote Play prevents the PlayStation from playing another game.

Microsoft Xbox

Xbox One S consoles are US$300. There are limited couch multiplayer games on Xbox – similar in quantity to the PlayStation 4. The Xbox One is less popular than the PlayStation 4. This can be a problem when trying to play older multiplayer games online since there are fewer potential players. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One gamers cannot play online games together. Some specific titles do support playing with Switch, Windows PC, and mobile.

Controllers are US$60 MSRP. Microsoft offers a custom controller design option as well for US$70 where you can choose various color options to create a unique controller. This can make a fantastic gift!

Xbox also supports two unique controller options. Copilot allows two controllers to both fully control a single game. This is a great option for a younger player who needs a little help. It is also popular with gamers with disabilities. Even more exciting is the Xbox Adaptive Controller. This uses industry standard assistive devices to connect to a controller base, enabling a range of new options for gamers with disabilities.

Xbox supports attaching two external USB 3 hard drives. Each drive can be up to 8TB in size. Attaching two smaller drives is a cost effective choice as well since they are often inexpensive. Once formatted a drive is only readable by Xboxes. You can move the drive between Xboxes by unplugging the drive.

The Xbox supports moving games between drives on the same system and between Xboxes on the same network. This can save money on metered Internet connections. One Xbox can copy games to other consoles.

The Xbox synchronizes saved games to the cloud so switching between Xbox consoles is painless. Launching a game first time on a new console and it downloads the saved game. Updating saved games occurs in the background while playing. Storage for this saved game syncing is unlimited.

A free Windows 10 Xbox app allows remote play with an Xbox console at home. The Xbox can only play one game at a time however.

Mixed Platforms and Cross Play

Playing together using multiple video game platforms has limitations. Most games rely on the video game console or Steam multiplayer services. Only games with “cross play” features can play together across different systems. A “party” – a group of people like a family – playing together is often a separate consideration; not all cross play games support cross parties.

Fortnite, Rocket League, and Minecraft are the most popular games with crossplay. Rocket League plans to add cross-party play in late 2018. These games support Xbox, Switch, PC, and – excepting Rocket League – even mobile devices. Absent from any cross play is PlayStation. Sony has so far not made cross play possible according to developers.

A more limited version of cross play is Microsoft’s “Xbox Play Anywhere” and “cross platform” programs. Xbox Play Anywhere provides a license for both the Xbox and Windows 10 version of the game with a digital purchase. A single account shares the game with all users on the computer. With an Xbox and Windows 10 PC this can save money! However, the small game selection limits the usefulness of Xbox Play Anywhere.

Not all Xbox Play Anywhere titles support cross platform multiplayer. Look for these features on the game’s store page. Some examples of games with Xbox Play Anywhere and cross-play are: Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizons 3, and Ark: Survival Evolved.


That was a whole lot of info right? And we aren’t even close to done! Come check back for part three soon!!


About the Author

Adrian Luff is a lifelong video gamer with three video game obsessed boys and a very understanding wife. He is fortunate enough to have worked in the video game industry for over 20 years building online services for multiplayer gaming. He worked on servers for Battle.net used by the Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft games. He also designed the launch infrastructure for World of Warcraft. Adrian leads a team of engineers building robust systems, infrastructure, and developer tools for Twitch.tv (a division of Amazon).

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

Make sure to keep your eyes on Engaged Family Gaming for all of the latest news and reviews you need to Get Your Family Game On!

Follow us on Facebook!

Like us on Twitter!

Follow us on Instagram!

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Subscribe to our Podcast!

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