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Ab die Post
Light game of airplane racing does not offer a great deal of strategy apart from measuring risk appropriate to one's position in the standings. The title's reference to the delivery of mail refers to a largely irrelevant option to pick up a "mail package" during the race. Movement rate is determined by consulting a small ball shaken out of a fun plastic "mail pouch" device, similar to the movement system employed in Die Sternenfahrer von Catan. [6-player Games]
Abstract has nothing to do with mollusks, but features nice, large components which provide a very tactile experience. That must explain the popularity since in terms of strategic play there isn't much. The best idea is to defend as much as possible and one player can trivially force stalemate. Its continued re-publication (in the year 2000 it has re-appeared once again) is surprising.
Abenteuer Menschheit (The Settlers of the Stone Age)
Klaus Teuber must love sewing wholly disparate systems into a seamless whole, or so he has demonstrated in a number of his past inventions. His enhanced version of the venerable
Siedler system takes it further than ever. The topic is humanity's rise and spread, not just "Out of Africa", but also into new areas of technology and learning. As a consequence, players don't just construct new settlements, they spread their holdings across the earth and develop their abilities in construction, nutrition, conflict and art. Without losing sight of the original production system, now on offer are entirely different ways to reach victory which even including moving pieces, the nomads which race to claim valuable prizes. Here too is a borrowing from previous design Die Sternenfahrer von Catan in the form of event chips, which form part of a set collection subsystem or even permit movement of the stone age equivalent of the robber, the Sabertooth and the Neanderthal. One downside of a world representation is that unlike the original game the board layout is always the same, but it appears that there should still be plenty of replay value because of the many things to do, the randomness of the chits and the ever changing settlement locations. One knock is that the victory condition, the simple achieval of 10 points, seems rather unthematic and deflating – how about reaching a more intuitive level of civilization instead? – but at least it is true to the original system. This is one of the expansions that fans of the original will definitely want to have, even in the original German as everything important for play has been nicely internationalized. On the other hand, those who don't care for the original probably won't find anything different enough here. The racing nature of the game would seem to make it a natural for a two-player variant that perhaps Teuber or someone else will eventually provide. Strategically, first time players should look at trying to make sure they quickly reach all four areas of the earth and not neglect their production numbers. Perhaps even more importantly, bone resources are rare and their production hexes must not be ignored in the original setup. One the other hand, while the five movement point bonus seems valuable, frequently its holder does not win. By the way, some minor aspects are rather amusing in an only in Germany way, e.g. the nutritional advance of smoked meat. Title can be translated to "Humanity's Adventure". [two-player variant] [background] [Dinosaur variant]
Abenteuer Tierwelt (Wildlife Adventure)
Designed by Wolfgang Kramer with Ursula Kramer, a game about three photo expeditions searching the world for various rare and glorious examples from the animal kingdom. Although the board is nicely populated by very attractive images of the animals, feels gimmicky and for children because of the random effect cards, lack of information about each player's goals and the educational element. Kramer's re-design, Expedition, turns this concept into a more satisfying adult strategy game. The ideas of the later version can probably be successfully backported by eliminating the cards, reducing starting vouchers to three per player, giving a voucher each time a red dot is visited, placing chips at the start of the game and introducing the branch-upon-closing-a-loop rule. [6-player Games]
... aber bitte mit Sahne (Piece o' Cake)
Buy it at Amazon
The pie division scheme ("You cut the pie in two and I'll choose the piece") has appeared for years in games like Civilization, San Marco and Canal Grande so it was overdue that it appear in a game about actual pies. Included are enough cardboard wedge pieces to make five eleven-slice pies, which get created at random from eight different flavors. Each player takes a turn at revealing and slicing one into as many groupings as there are players. Then they take turns picking the groupings they want, the slicer choosing last of course. When it comes to scoring, players can have their cake and eat it too as points are given for for controlling a majority of a type as well as for consuming other pieces upon receipt of them. The overall scheme seems quite simple, but winning play can be subtle and experience has a telling effect. Pieces are largish and illustrated with several different appetizing flavors. The German title means "with cream please" and dots of whipped cream adorn several tiles to provide extra points. Short and definitely sweet, this can take the cake for hard core and easygoing players alike, or at least a piece of it. Foodies take note! Those who want to over-analyze please diet!
MMLH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Jeffrey D. Allers; Winning Moves Deutschland-2008/Rio Grande-2010; 2-5; 8+
Set collection card game for ages 8 and up is about gathering apprentice wizards in various combinations. Each wizard card has three attributes: type (wizard, witch, imp), clothing color and element (fire, earth, water). Each turn a player drafts two from a set of four cards, three of which are face down and one face up. The face down cards offer partial information, however, as their elements are also shown on the backs. The player seeks to discard a set in which for each attribute the three cards are either all the same or all different. It is possible to use one card from a previous player's set in lieu of one of them. The player then draws the top prize card from the deck corresponding to the type of combination turned in and thus gets a random prize. The first player to reach fifteen points can end the game and likely win. There are a couple of other paths. A player lucky enough to draw two special items and any other can claim an immediate win. A player to draft three special elemental cards can get a big point bonus and likely also win. This is a game of simple concepts and complicated calculations, which if you think about it, is exactly the opposite of what's wanted. Perhaps it could be of some use with the younger set as it requires organized thinking and since a game is often over in about fifteen minutes, at least in its two-player incarnation. Adding players lengthens duration linearly, however, and there is little to consider during others' turns. Theme is probably an attempt to cash in on the Harry Potter phenomenon, but doesn't fit particularly well. Illustrations are about average and some of the rules slightly ambiguous.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Roberta Barletta & Domenico Di Giorgio; 2004; daVinci games/Mayfair Games; 2-6
Perhaps the classic Sid Sackson game, originally published by 3M and often re-published both in Germany and America. An obvious inspiration for many German games as well. Many grew up with and find it one of their favorite games but I have to disagree as I find the topic of hotel chain building very dull and the waiting during others' turns quite long. I much prefer Shark, which offers a different type of chaos, for this sort of game. [6-player Games]
ad acta
Andrea Meyer game of modern bureaucratic practice. Each player heads a government office and is trying to get their pet projects completed. The problem is that their files cannot be stamped done until they pass through the other players' offices, the required path being indicated on the card itself. So a player's turn consists deciding which cards (representing files) get moved from the tops of players' "In boxes" to the tops of their "Out boxes". From there they will probably go to yet more "In boxes", unless they are completely processed, in which case the project owner will finally get some points. Getting points at all is good because often the game ends before all projects get processed, but exactly how many points are earned depends on a probably clever table which cross references the project ID and when it is completed. This table's values go up and down so it's a matter of being neither too early nor too late. Given this deterministic setup, it's a great job for a computer which could figure out everyone's optimal and probable moves and always make the best choices. But, we are nicely saved from this because every player has four special cards which can be used once per game. Each of these has extraordinary powers to, for example, force files to the top of stack or completely re-order a player's "In box", so prediction becomes much trickier. The presentation is complete with four player boards, paper clips (!) and a stamper to indicate the start player. The clips are used to track how far the project has been processed, but they can be a bit hard on the cards. A solution from Jay Tummelson which omits them is to start processing with the last player doing cards one at a time and continuing anti-clockwise. It's masterful the way an engaging game has been drawn from an entirely new and seemingly prosaic theme. The play is also challenging, the first time perhaps even a bit overwhelming. Some may find it a bit overanalytical; actually given the aforementioned special cards – a great deal of analysis is probably not worth the time in any case. But it is a sophisticated game and deserves the attention of players at that level. Title is Latin for "to file", a bit of a comedown from the Kansas state motto, ad astra per aspera or "to the stars by hard ways". [Bewitched Spiele]
Ad-Lib Crossword Cubes
Word game akin to Boggle. Letter cubes are rolled and from these the players must form words in a crossword pattern within a time limit. Each letter is rated for points à la Scrabble and there are two worthless wildcard sides. Luck of the roll can play a large part. Boggle has more strategy although this game (published 1973 by Milton Bradley and originlly by E.S. Lowe in 1963) can pretty much be used to play that one.
Adel Verpflichtet (By Hook or By Crook, By Fair Means or Foul, Noblesse Oblige, Hoity Toity)
Innnovative game about British castle owners and their competing art exhibits with nice, clean mechanics as usual by designer Klaus Teuber. Best translated as "Noblesse Oblige," also released as By Hook or by Crook by Avalon Hill. A rock-paper-scissors type of game in which players must decide which action they wish to pursue and thereby (in general) collect the best set of paintings, although being a detective who catches thieves helps a lot too. A surprising strategy of never going go the auction house is pretty much a sure winner if no one else at the table has thought of it. Update: Re-published 2004 in English as Hoity Toity (by rights Hoity-Toity) by Überplay. Curious that this game has been published so often, but never by either of Teuber's companies, Kosmos and TM-Spiele. This edition is attractively realized with large wooden pawns and support for up to six players. The point values are too small to be easily read from across the table, however. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
Advance to Boardwalk
Rather light game of rolling two ordinary dice plus one special die to place hotels on various beachfront properties, the goal being to dominate each property and therefore hold the title to it. Player with the most points in titles wins if the goal is reached or any player runs out of hotels. Event cards induce further chaos. Although interesting decisions are possible, particularly with respect to whether one concentrates or diversifies, really doesn't last long enough for these to be played out satisfactorily. Worse, a player not in contention frequently must decide which other player will be the winner. Lamentable also are missed opportunities such as attaching more significance to the four color groups, neighbor relationships, etc.
Light, exploration game by Reiner Knizia is sturdily made by Goldsieber and attractively illustrated by Vohwinkel. As in his previous designs such as Stephensons Rocket and The Merchants of Amsterdam, there are multiple ways to score, not just thematically, but in terms of mechanism. Mining depends on a number of minerals being grouped around a common center. Nomads depend on having a large open space. Animals depend on a number of them collected together. Etc. However, the complete randomness of the of the tile distribution makes strategy very difficult to form, and easily foiled. There are plenty of clever tactics and small optimizations to make, however. The result becomes a frustrating experience for the master strategist: one of wanting to do something, but being rather bored waiting for others as there is no strategy to formulate in the meantime. This one will end up being played by those who don't want too much thinking or are just starting out. Source of the Nile fans should stay away. Where that one was too heavy, this one makes the same error in the other direction. Even the oft- and unfairly-maligned Rheinländer seems to have more strategy than this one. [Holiday List 2002]
Age of Discovery
Despite its board game-style packaging, this is actually a card game for two to four. Players draft small ship cards which come in a variety of colors and send them either to trade card journeys to earn money or to exploration journeys to earn victory points, the other difference being ships sent on trade missions come back and and can be used again. The trade missions are drafted, so once taken are private. This is not the case for the expeditions, however, each of which also has a limit on the number of ships it permits. A yet further restriction is that the color of the first ship sent on an expedition determines what the color of the rest must be. The most surprising and and controversial feature of the game is its mission cards. Each player is randomly given one of the four expedition-related missions, which give extra points each time they are accomplished. These vary from placing at least one ship on as many expeditions as possible to placing all the ships of as many as possible. While at first glance this seems grossly unfair, it seems that the inventor did know what he was doing and by virtue of the varying mission point values and simple awareness of the missions on the parts of the players – it's fairly easy to deduce who holds what – it is in the end balanced. Indeed we have seen a four-player game won by the holder of the "difficult" mission (by six points). It is a rather courageous decision by the game's makers though, in that some players may look at this and be so put off that the game never gets its first playing. But even if players aren't convinced by this, it wouldn't be hard to devise a more acceptable variant. A more serious complaint can be leveled at the drafting systems, both of ships and of trading contracts. A skewed drafting pool can put a serious bottleneck into a player's plans for a couple turns and as there's no real catch-up mechanism, this can prove troubling. Aesthetics-wise, when all of the ships are laid out in their multitudes of colors it's like regatta day on your table - a dazzling site. Even better, each of the expedition cards includes a map that appears to depict an actual historical expedition. This is one of those games that requires juggling a great number of variables at the same time as well as a fair amount of number crunching. Yet it finishes fairly quickly – and includes a healthy admixture of luck – something of a rare combination, but this works about as well as any given these conditions.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Alfred Viktor Schulz; Phalanx; 2007
Age of Industry
if no image probably out of print
To say that this is similar to Brass, one of the inventor's previous efforts, is understating things. Really it's almost entirely the same game, only re-located to two new locales, one board covering Germany, the other the New England and neighboring areas as far west as the Pennsylvania coal fields. The elimination of the canal phase of the game in this version probably has more to do with their relatively lower prominence in those locales than a gameplay decision. Other map peculiarities are an absence of ships on the German board and a near total absence of coal on the New England map. About the only noticeable other change is that the cards have become more limiting, which seems unfortunate as it means that luck of the draw is increased. (On the other hand it has not been tried the other way to see what other, perhaps even more deleterious effects that might incur. Or maybe this was just done to generalize matters sufficiently to permit scenarios in other locales.) The general description of play can be read in the Brass entry, but the short summary is that for those who didn't like Brass this won't improve things; if on the other hand you loved it, think of this as two new scenarios for the same game, much as Age of Steam offers many different maps. Those who do pick up a copy would do well to also have some Poker chips on hand as the plastic chips used to record amounts spent are too small (and too fiddly).
HMHH5 (Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Martin Wallace; Treefrog Games-2010/Mayfair Games-2010; 2-5; 120 Amazon
Age of Steam
Martin Wallace railroad game grows out of his previous Volldampf, itself a descendant of Lancashire Railways. The two chief innovations are (1) tracks are no longer fixed, but created by the players (in the form of nicely made hexagonal tiles) and (2) the cards system has been integrated into the main game, each player getting to choose a different one each turn. One of these forms a further minor addition – the ability to place new cities in the American Great Lakes area which forms the setting this time. The overall result is the most complex in the series thus far. There is a lot of analysis needed even for something as simple as bidding for turn order because besides its intrinsic importance for who can build track and run goods earlier, it also greatly affects which advantage each player will choose. As any player may move any good, the fact that new track can be built anywhere creates a dizzying number of possible opponent actions traced through a bewildering maze of tracks which must be considered to make a rational decision. Previous complaints about the series: slight kingmaking, the themelessness of goods and the fact that they start in the color of their destination all still apply. Add to them a new thematic objection: player-drawn tracks mean that items usually get delivered by the longest route possible. But they are all inconsequential compared to the heavy levels of analysis required. But fail to do it and you just may hand someone a nice free advantage. On the other hand, it's equally possible to casually make a move on one's own behalf that completely ruins an opponent without even realizing it. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that there is little safety net here either – without due care it's possible to be eliminated long before the playing is over. Makes a good repast for those wanting a multi-player meal approaching the analytical levels of Chess, but will be at best an acquired taste after many plays for the rest, many of whom will never try it enough times to get there. Wily tacticians and logistical wizards should appreciate this the best.
2009 Update: A third edition has appeared under the title Steam. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High
Martin Wallace
Basically a simplified version of Pachisi has a few tactical decisions to make and may be of some interest for introducing new players.
Let 2007 be remembered as the year the children of the amazing Puerto Rico arrived. Earlier we saw the copycats (Age of Mythology) and the spinoffs (San Juan), but with this game and with Cuba we see Seyfarth's essentials developed along different axes. In Uwe Rosenberg's game about farming (whose Latin title is pronounced with emphasis on the third syllable and means farmer), there is of course also the concept of agricultural production. Each player also has a personal board. But there are far more items granting special abilities, some 300-odd in the form of occupation and minor advantage cards. Each player begins with seven of each, distributed randomly. These cards must be brought into play by choosing a particular one of the dozen or so occupations, one more of which is added each turn. These permit activities such as gathering (food, wood, clay, reeds or sheep), plowing fields, sowing fields, fencing in pastures and even having babies, which provides an extra person (activator) beyond the original two with which the player begins. The catch is that no occupation may be activated more than once per round, making going first one of the more valuable choices. Similarly valuable are having more activators and, during feeding rounds, food, an insufficiency of which earns penalty cards. Play ends after a set number of rounds with victory going to the player with the most points. These are awarded per a comprehensive schedule which considers levels of sheep, pigs, cattle, pastures, plowed fields, houses, people, etc. It's wise to have done something in each category to avoid penalties, but the big points are in maximizing particular areas. As may already be gathered there is an amazing amount of material in the box – not only cards, but also boards, cubes, disks and chits. There is also a considerable amount to read and internalize – players disliking reading card text in a game should avoid this one. And, for this reason it's critical to get an edition in a language the players comprehend unless one is prepared to spend considerable time adding translations. Thematically it's a mixed bag. The concepts of breeding and harvest work well, but it does strike oddly when one can't, for example, sow because someone else has already done so that round. This type of problem, by the way, represents the main form of interaction in the game. Because it's so difficult to tell exactly who is winning or exactly which occupation they want to choose most – often there is no single answer – the usual question the player asks is, "which of the things that I need to accomplish are more likely to be picked by someone else this turn if I don't pick it right now?" A secondary interaction comes in the form of the major advantage cards which may be purchased by anyone, but as these are similar in function, there isn't a great deal of contention over them. So while there's more interaction than in Empire Builder, there is less than in games like Neuland or Roads and Boats, i.e. rather little. Think of this as competitive puzzle solving, and one where some may have an inherent advantage due to a fortuitous combination of cards. On the other hand the cards and occupations individually appear to have been thoroughly tested and balanced to a level which is rare. The combined occupations, particularly the one conferring start player status, demonstrate particular cleverness. Very careful attention has obviously been paid to which new occupations appear and when as well. Even if a puzzle, it's a pleasant one, which doesn't overstay its welcome and which is radically different with each playing. To avoid being overwhelmed, first time players should focus on getting a few of their cards played and then performing the complementary actions that they benefit as much as possible. Many actions are rather obvious – when the pasture is full it's time to get a new pasture – and to this extent the decisions make themselves. [The Agricola Phenomenon]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Uwe Rosenberg; 2007; Lookout Games/Z-Man Games; 1-5 [Buy it at Amazon][Farmers of the Moor expansion][Animeeples] [Vegeemeeples] [Farmer Meeples]
Players compete to make the most money in this Alan Moon game of airline expansion. Rather good, especially if development can be completed by bringing in the improvements introduced in the revised version Union Pacific. For some reason the North American geography makes little sense.
Alan R. Moon; Abacus-1990; 2-6; 75
Airlines Europe
The long journey that began with
Reibach & Co., aka Get the Goods, which grew a map to become Airlines and then switched to railroads in Union Pacific has found its latest destination, but the fundamental idea remains. Each turn players have the choice whether to, with some restrictions, grow companies on the board or acquire more shares in those companies, but they can't do both. That there are many companies to choose from is just icing on the cake. Last time we were here (in UP) you could either build a track and take a stock or just play some stock. This is still pretty much the case, but now instead of there being four different track type cards, there is a new factor: money, i.e. you have to pay for various routes. In a clever arrangement, the cost is equal to the increase in the airline's value on a track which is divided into increasingly valuable segments up to a maximum of 61. Now also during scoring rounds the payout for holding the most, second most, third most, etc. shares in an airline depend on the current track segment. Helping to motivate plays are new special bonuses for four of the airlines which try to connect with particular geographic goals. The Union Pacific stock, now called Abacus Air, cannot be acquired as easily as before as now it's necessary to trade in other stocks to get it, on either a 1:1 or 3:2 basis. The blocker token in the original Airlines has not made a return, except that it is part of the expansion kit Airlines Europe: Flugverbot. The bits are plastic airplanes, which are okay, though maybe not quite as nice as the plastic trains from Union Pacific, which are so good we even like to use them in other games. But everything seems to work fine; there are quite a few different stocks and a lot can depend on luck in getting a much needed share of a valuable one having few shares outstanding. There is a bit of a thematic problem in that the value of the airline increases depending on the amount of money spent to acquire its routes because the first to acquire a route may pay only 3, the second 4 and the last 5, but should not the benefit be equal for all? After all, air routes don't require any track building. On the other hand, of course it makes play more interesting because one always tries to spend just the right amount of money to get the airline into the next higher payouts bracket, without spending any extra.
LMMH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Alan R. Moon; Abacus-2011; Rio Grande-2011; 2-6; 75 []
Al Cabohne
A standalone fourth in Uwe Rosenberg's popular "bean" series which includes Bohnanza, Bohnanza - La Isla Bohnità, and Space Beans. Curiously, this unlikely bean theme (amusing pun and sight gags help) has been so admired that totally unrelated inventors as in Nicht die Bohne and even publishers – as in High Bohn – have gotten aboard the bean bandwagon. In this card game for two (and unusually, also for one), the trading aspects have been replaced with a new dimension in the form of bean mafia who demand protection beans for their own fields. Since it may be that both players lose to this non-player, an interesting semi-cooperative situation arises, slightly reminiscent of Republic of Rome. Consequently this has become the most attractive of all the series personally, although it would be nice if the mafia were slightly stronger opponents. The rules mafia would like you to know that the current English translation does not really make clear that a player giving cards to the bean mafia from the hand, can choose any card and is not limited to the first one in line. The big rules question however is whether bean mafia can get cards from the discard pile. My best guess from the ambiguous text is that yes they do, but only when a card matching one being collected by mafia also matches the card atop the discards. [This supposition has now since been confirmed by an email exchange with Mr. Uwe Moelter of Amigo.] The dictionary mafia would also like to get in a few words here: Blaue Bohne means blue bean, but also is slang for "bullet". Puffbohne means puff bean but Puff is slang for "bordello". A Stangenbohne is a pole bean (US) or runner bean (UK), a "Stange" a stick or pole. [FAQ in German]
Uwe Rosenberg; 2000
Al Capone (Stimmt So! - Tante Emma Kauft)
Dirk Henn game originally published as Al Capone is better known under its republished title which can be translated to something like "It does so! Auntie Emma buys". Each player represents an elderly Auntie Em, investing in various worldwide enterprises. This is done using various different currencies. The goal is to gain majorities in all of the different investment types, but the real interest is in the currency drafting. In particular you want to try to draft currency so as to be able to pay by exact count and thus get a free turn. Thus there are a number of interesting decisions to make in a game which should be absorbing for quite a few replays. Seems to share the idea of surprise scoring rounds from Alan Moon games such as Airlines and Reibach & Co.
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele
Somewhat abstract game of convicts trying to escape the famous prison on the island in San Francisco Bay. The movement of the guards toward the prisoners being dependent on how fast they run is quite nice, but it is disappointing that it seems the only wise way to move forward is along the sides. Somehow it seems like moving down the middle should be an option at some time. I might like a triangular Alcatraz that is wider at the base better than this square one. Or an Alcatraz shaped like a continuous cylinder. Anyway, once one gets prisoners off "The Rock", the board position becomes weaker, a nice tradeoff. But the machinations of the endgame as everyone foils the others' plans go on too long. It may well be that like Ido, previous one by this designer, it is better with only two players.
Board game of fencing off territories is played on a grid of triangles representing the Near East and Central Asia (including a grotesquely large Caspian Sea). These are the territories conquered by the Macedonian Alexander III whose governors are portrayed by the players. They employ cards to move Alexander, laying down pieces to mark the path. When an area is completely enclosed, it becomes a province ripe for takeover. Then when anyone calls for a taxation round, points in direct relation to size are scored for all conforming provinces. It is also possible, via card play, to take over another's province, but one can't be everywhere as a player only has four governor markers. At least being taken over provides a fistful of cards and the taker may soon become the takee. It's fairly novel, the movement and "fencing" rules in particular, and has some some strategic options such as choosing whether to get all of one's governors out on the board even if in tiny provinces versus trying for a couple very large provinces and keeping spares. There might even be a radical strategy possible of creating a very large province early in the west, then waiting for Alexander to leave the area so it can no longer be cut up, then removing the protective governors so it could be frequently taxed for large profits. But for the most part play is tactical with the twin immediate concerns of what can be gotten and what will be left for the next player dominating. Given this, and that there is very little hidden information, it should not be surprising that some kingmaker situations can develop as well. Although Alexander does travel quite a bit, the theme is not very strong – players needing this should look elsewhere. It should be appreciated by those who like drier, near themeless abstracts like this team's earlier Clans. The nicely made wooden Alexander and helmet-headed governor figures show that not everything has to be plastic despite the recent trends in that direction. By the way, although not entirely clear, we decided that the rule about moving Alexander implies that he cannot be moved to another point on his current triangle and these comments reflect that inference. [summary]
Re-make of Dirk Henn's Stimmt So! translated to the Spanish castle immortalized by Washington Irving. The start-up has been slightly improved by permitting players to draft their cards. Course of the game drafting has been balanced by permitting multiple drafts if their values are low. Both of these innovations can easily be brought back into the original design. The other main difference is that the purchased items no longer just sit there, they form part of Alhambra castle. They must be added on so as to preserve a fountain view. In addition, the more the walled sides of tiles can be linked up, the more points the player can achieve. Players compete in five races for types and these items are coming up randomly and building to see the fountain becomes rather problematic and wall connections become quite difficult so the experience is one of strong constraints, in which the player eventually feels trapped. Perhaps the tile and wall selection should be somewhat relaxed. Unless one falls in love with the admittedly fun artwork, for most this probably doesn't improve on its predecessor. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele
Ali Baba
A re-issue of a British game Calamity translated to a colorful, but not particularly apt theme. Although tension is high, players often feel there is far too little control over their destiny, particularly as the number of players increase. [errata] [variant]
Alibi [Adlung]
Card game of criminal investigation in which players employ "reverse deduction" to identify the culprit, i.e. their suspicions create the reality rather than allowing them to find Truth. Is this a dark commentary on our times or what? There are forty-six entirely pictorial clue cards for attributes such as male, female, thin, fat, bald, long-haired, short-haired, bald, stripe-shirted, polka-dot shirted, solid shirted, sunglasses, gun, knife, newspaper, bag, etc. A player aid indicating how many of each type exist would be very helpful as most of the skill consists in not giving the opposition the chance to complete work on a suspect by being the sole holder of a particular attribute which can be known by closely observing the discards. Of course, it gets more tricky when this pile gets re-shuffled, as it does when someone holds a 2X card which allows playing two attribute cards on the same turn. This makes it a lot easier to get to the requisite five attributes. On the other hand, since players also get points just for holding the cards of the eventual culprit, the opposite of this scorched earth policy is also possible: just play as many likely cards as possible and hope most are included when someone else solves it (at least in playings with more than two). Obviously there can be luck of the draw issues here, but they seem mostly addressed by permitting an optional discard and replacement at the end of the turn. There are also cards which can be played on the opposition, but far fewer than in the similar Who Stole Ed's Pants?. Here there are only two types: the bribe which can discard another's suspicion card and the alibi to nix a suspect. It is unclear how inventor Markus Nikisch may be related to Joe Nikisch, long time chief at Goldsieber and Abacus, but prior to this most of his projects have been for children and like those, this one is very easygoing, not taxing either in the presentation or the rules. Those looking for something in the light and elegant category can certainly do worse as once again a German design shows the judgement not to clutter up a good idea. Although it can accept more, plays best with just three players. The card artwork has a spare but attractive style, particularly that of the suspects. It is interesting to me on both the artistic and sociological levels that whether a suspect is fat or thin has been rendered quite clearly, yet without making large exaggerations in either. Whereas rationally we may tell ourselves that obesity is a spectrum, this artist has suggested that actually there may be line somewhere that we all draw internally . [6-player Games] [Buy it at Adlung]
Alice in Wonderland Parade (Parade)
if no image probably out of print
The Japanese game industry has been showing impressive depth lately, particularly in the area of card games. This gem is reminiscent of David & Goliath, Sticheln and Der Dreizehnte Holzwurm, yet quite unlike any of them. As in Family Business or Guillotine cards are laid out in a line (a parade if you will) which has a start and an end. On a turn a player adds a card ranked 0 to 10 to the end. The card's rank tells the number of adjacent cards the player is safe from having to take. After that, all cards having the same suit or having lesser value must be taken. Taking cards is not so bad so long they are of small value or if at the end the player has the majority in that suit, in which case each costs only one penalty point. Otherwise, however, each cards costs its rank in points. The hand size is not that large, being continually replenished during play, so deciding just what to play can be quite maddening, especially when holding several medium-sized cards. Should one bite the bullet and play one of them now to get the pain over with early, or is it better to gamble and hope to outrun the problem? Given the right cards it's tempting to try to avoid taking cards at all, but at the end each player simultaneously dumps two hand cards into his scoring pile, which brings up another dilemma: which cards to save for this, and are any of those the ones you were hoping to play just now. There can be some "wave action" here in that there tends to be a safe zone around nine or ten cards and it can be that every other player does a take or an avoid. Those in the take oscillation may feel ill-treated for a while, though it tends not to last. Also, certain seats, e.g. last, tend to do rather better than others. The solution for this is to track scores and play as many hands as there are players. One suggestion might be that there seems to be no real benefit or strategy to ending the game prematurely by collecting all six colors. Perhaps it was only meant as a consolation prize. But it's possible a variant that gives a points reward for doing so would make play even more exciting. It might also have beena good idea, from a publisher perspective, to include a few special effects cards, to encourage actually buying a set rather than just playing with cards already owned. The artwork, accomplished by Yuka Saitoh, is a bit of a surprise. Coming from Japan, the expected anime or otherwise cutting edge look is not present at all. Instead it's a very attractive and classic presentation or the Alice characters, as if from the time of the books first publication. Although devoid of theme, this simple and not overlong affair is full of juicy decisions and rueful outcomes that will surely surprise and delight.
MHMM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Naoki Homma; Japon Brand-2007; 2-6
All-American Football
Very light simulation of an American football match. Teams are generic and players have control of the situation only at the playcalling level. Each secretly chooses from a series of available play disks, installs it in a spinner and spins. Then the defense sees if it managed to stop the play, which wll depend on how the defense matched up with the offense. If the defense was unsuccessful, then the offense gets to see how many yards it gained, although a turnover is always a possibility. Provides a nice experience of being a playcaller although the results are mostly luck. The "stands", represented by a stand up cardboard piece which supports time and score dials, add drama. [chart]
Alles Futsch
Card game whose title means "all gone" has ostensible theme of collection of modern art, French furniture, etc. Each card has three such items, which come in five colors. Players bid for a card and the winner scores the treasures on his personal recordkeeping card. When a player has collected three of a type, he gains 30000, but when he reaches four he must lose 20000 and when he reaches five, must lose another 10000. But when a player reaches three, he does not take any more items in that color when he buys a card. Instead he forces another player to buy it (representing a confidence scheme?) and pay him 20000, which may force that player into the four or five position on that color which will then cost him even more. In addition, each player has one color that he is not collecting. Any treasures that he buy of this color are always forced on others. Thus most of the game consists of bidding for the right to inflict nasty pain on one's opponents, the main strategy being to remember how much money each has, even though this amount is fully trackable. At some point someone goes bankrupt and then the player with the most remaining wins. Very dissatisfying, not even redeemed by attractive artwork.
Alles für die Katz (7 Safari)
Multi-player card game designed by David Parlett for ages 5 and up. The animals in the zoo have gotten loose and players must attempt to collect one of each type out of a face down tableau which represents the zoo, but must avoid collecting any cats which don't anyhow belong in the zoo. Adults should always be sure to use the Advanced Rules to ensure an interesting game. Designer feels that in addition, the senses of the 1 and 7 should be reversed in the case of the Cat cards. By the way, as a bit of "inside baseball", apparently the cats were originally black mambas. As is often the case in games designed for those under 10, skill here is generally overwhelmed by luck, but is not without a few challenging tactical decisions. Illustrations of the various zoo animals and cats are nicely realized by artist Oliver Freudenreich. Title means "Everything for the Cat" and may have an idiomatic meaning of "all for nothing" as well. 7 Safari is an English edition by Gamewright.
Alles im Eimer (The Bucket King)
Stefan Dorra designed-card game of the climbing family, which includes games like Frank's Zoo, features unusual rules for changing the lead and scoring. At the outset each player constructs a virtual pyramid of fifteen buckets colored to match the five deck suits. When a player is unable to play cards with a total larger than the previous play, he loses a bucket of the corresponding color, and all the other buckets it was supporting. But, unusually, this player is the one to lead, whereas normally the next player in series begins. While up to three cards may be played, only one is replenished, so the starting handsize of thirteen gradually dwindles. As the winner is the player with the most standing buckets when the first player has none, is mostly about mean-spiritedly doing the most damage to the downstream player(s). Unfortunately, the vagaries of card drawing are likely to undo the best of strategy and in such a case there is really nothing a player can do about it. Particularly pathetic is the situation of a player having a void suit which is led him over and over. Perhaps a variant whereby a player could turn in some kind of pair to stand in for the void card would help, but basically, this should only appeal to the members of the "take that" segment who want something rather simple. Even so, Sticheln has more to offer. The rules suggest that multiple hands be played in order to even out the luck, but it really seems to last too long (at least half an hour) to warrant such an approach. Although the cardboard buckets are formed from desireable thick cardboard and this game is part of Kosmos' Spiele für Viele boardgame series, had the buckets been made from simple cards, this could have been packaged much more handily as three decks of cards plus rules. Title means "Everything into the Bucket", but is also an idiomatic expression most similar to "everything down the tubes". The rules are ambiguous about who leads after the first player elimination in the 5-6 player version. E-mail from Kosmos specifies that the player to the left of the player who went out starts the next round. An interesting variant may be to let the player with the fewest buckets remaining start the next round. Ties could be resolved by having each place down the card or cards they wish to use with the highest total winning. (Further ties could be resolved randomly.) [Holiday List 2002]
Stefan Dorra;
This is a tile-laying, press-your-luck, majority-control game set in Hawaii's hotel development boom in the early 1960s. Hexagonal tiles show land, beach and sea in various combinations. A player draws one of the 66 tiles and if can be matched up with the tile containing his tall meeple, places it, moves his pawn there and places a lounge chair piece on the beach. Otherwise, the player's turn ends and all chairs placed on the current turn are lost. Some tiles are sure losers as they contain only sea. Others contain harbors which double the lounge chair value and others contain fish which increases the beach size value. Beaches are long spans that comprise multiple tiles. When all tiles have been drawn, players find the ten longest ones and rank them, placing a points marker of "10" on the longest, "9" on the next, etc. The player having the most lounge chairs on a beach receives its points. It's not clear that there is much decisionmaking for players to make apart from picking the likeliest point to continue a beach. Usually the decision of whether to continue or not is fairly obvious. On the other hand, there is a great deal of work to do when a tile does not match the current location. In that case the rules specify that it must be placed in the location where it would touch the most other tiles. This takes a lot of time and feels a lot like busywork, as does figuring out the various beach lengths at the end. As the number of placed tiles grows, it's easy to make mistakes as well. The tiles artwork is clear and usable, but aesthetically are a dark green that seems a bit wrong for the bright green leaves of the fiftieth state. The instructions point the reader to the publisher's website for information on how some of the tiles work, which though we become more wired every day, could be annoying in some circumstances. The lounge chairs are a cute idea, but are somewhat small. With all of the non-player determinations that need to be made, this probably would work better on a computer implementation. Plus one often feels more played than playing. On the other hand there is a leisurely feeling to play which creeps up on one. Though those who take their games quite seriously should stay away, this could work when playing skills are uneven around the table. Also, in this majority control hexagonal system one probably identifies the predecessor of Gipsy King. Strangely enough, one could probably, just by playing it over and over, get good at this just because of the constant feedback loop of learning which situations are likely to produce a successful match and which not. But this is training to the deck. Put in a different set of tiles and all would be lost. It's too bad that a way wasn't devised to give the odds of completing a match on a beach – then all players could make rational evaluations of a particular option. [Tourist Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Corné van Moorsel; Cwali; 2005; 2-5
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photo by Nello Cozzolino (click for larger view)
Experienced players tend to gain a sixth sense about new game proposals or even when just scouting (the by-now rare) game store; it becomes easy to assemble visual clues and make a summary judgement. Does it use only the primary colors? Kids game. Fighting robots or zombies on the cover? Wargameish teen fare. And so on, with numerous examples available. But how reliable is that sense, really? Is it possible to identify a likely treasure and end up disappointed? Sadly, yes. But what about the opposite: dismissing one that turns out surprisingly good? It's rarer, but still worth being careful not to do. Here, for example is one that could easily trip somebody up. "Alpine Express" is a train game of the pickup-and-deliver variety. Each player has four pawns racing to reach the top of a mountain which has three railroads operating in concentric circles around it. Each pawn must ride on each of them to reach the top, but it's difficult for these trains are chancy to get on and off. Tracks are divided into numbere areas; on a turn the player rolls a die and chooses a train to move up to the next number showing this result. (A wise rule forbids moving a train with no possible entries or exits). The current player then chooses a passenger to either enter the train (if the pawn stands next to an empty car) or exit the train (if the pawn stands next to an empty landing). Naturally the player's own pawns have priority, but often that isn't an option; picking up or sending off an opponent's pawn is required. But this isn't the only difficult decision. It's also necessary to sometimes evaluate which of one's pawns needs help more, which movement creates the most advantageous situation, what are the probabilities of being able to get on a train soon, etc. Although the theme is of going up a mountain, in fact it feels like squeezing single-file through a very narrow tube. Despite all that's going on, this can supposedly be played by ages five and above, which is questionable, but the presentation would certainly lead that way. Cute, cartoonish artwork, pawns in primary colors and blocky trains in unfinished wood just scream that. And yet it's not. Instead this is a fast and fun, albeit light, romp, that still has plenty of thinking and where the cuteness of it all not only adds to the pleasure of it, but may even inspire thoughts about how to adapt other kids toys into games.
LHLM7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Walter Müller; Walter Müller's Spielewerkstatt-2005; 2-4; 20; 5+ [Shop]
Alpha Blitz
Two word games using cards. In Alpha players score points by combining letters on the table to make words. Each turn you change one letter to either help you or thwart your opponent. Blitz is a speed game that goes to whoever can form a word first. The first is rather uninteresting, especially if there are arguments about what constitutes a word, and the second offers only momentary tactical decisions.
Am Rande des Gletschers
Set in the ice age, "At Glacier's Edge" is a "take that!" card game with twists. Reminiscent of Goldrush-City, a player turns up three hunting cards and sees what can be done. Some are events, weapons and artifacts, but more likely there will be herbs and prey to which the player can allocate his clan cards to try to collect. This is resolved via dice, but not before others play sabotage cards. Eventually the Winter event occurs and players enter a special phase, comparing their food collected to clan members waiting to be fed. This will determine whether the clan grows or shrinks. But this is also the time for the bragging rights competition that determines eventual victory. In the areas of hunting, herb collecting and shamanism (artifact collecting), each player adds a die roll to the best he has collected and the highest value scores a victory point. Probably after only two or three winters a winner will be found. Like most "take that" efforts, can be rather luck bound. The concept of going out to see what you can find is well-represented by the draw deck, but it would have been nice to give players more capability. Perhaps if there had been multiple decks this would have been possible. As it is now, one player may have all the fish nets, but never draw any fish. The fate cards are not especially well balanced and lack of success in hunts is not at all hinged with good luck in any other sphere. A player can run away with victory fairly easily as it is difficult to destroy a good position. On the other hand, the card artwork is rather nice, going for the nature book approach instead of the usual cartoons and there is plenty of opportunity for fun with things like the giant hamster and sacred pebble. In one of our games Ken was the fishnet guy as he just kept collecting net after net. As he never saw a single fish, we said he should knit them into stockings! Grant was the herb guy. He never seemed to find any meat, but tons of vegetables and partridges. We complimented our carnivorous friend on his healthy diet! Tanya kept capturing giant hamsters. Then Ken or Grant would play a Hunter's Dispute card and try to claim the kill as their own. We decided the alternate game title should be "Who Stole My Hamster?!" ;) It's an interesting idea if the inventors intended to create a party game, but disguised it in the complete framework and presentation of a card game. Get this one if you want something light in the prehistoric realm, but be prepared for more of a romp than a fine study. [summary] [Take That! Card Games] [Krimsus]
American Megafauna
if no image probably out of print
Great theme (dinosaurs and evolution), great attention to theme, very playable auction game and great experience game. Never have I learned so much from a game. The card deck makes every playing an utterly unique narrative. Completely (pre)historical. Released in a second edition September 27, 2001. Note that the components list of this edition states that there are 120 DNA tents; actually there are only 108. Third edition is 2011's Bios: Megafauna. [What's the best evolution game?] [synopsis] [summary] [DNA] [DNA, 2nd ed.] [analysis] [errata, 1st ed.] [balancing variant] [variants] [scenarios] [playback] [pbem playback] [pbem edition 2 playback] [three solitaire games] [background] [Dinosaur Games] [Evolution Games]
Philip Eklund; Sierra Madre Games-1997; Sierra Madre Games-2001; 1-4
Das Amulett
Alan Moon/Aaron Weisblum-designed game of spellcasting and jewel collection is a typical Goldsieber production, i.e. very produced. Players have a limited amount of magical ability which is allocated among spell cards that confer special advantages or "break" the normal rules. Their main function however is to provide resource cards which are used in jewel auctions – being the first to acquire the requisite number of jewels is the object of the game. Unfortunately there is a great deal of chaos. The variability in starting spells is huge and a player can end the first turn considerably behind. Theoretically it should be possible to catch up using unallocated spell points on turn two, but it can just as easily be that no useful spells appear. There is also almost no planning possible with the new spells which appear one at a time as in RA, which would be fine if as in that game almost all of the tiles eventually appeared, but here there are only very few and on them the entire game depends. Finally, the nature of the bidding restrictions – most areas can only be bid upon using one type of card – means that the ending is often an anti-climax. Still, despite all of these critiques, there is something about this double-auction system that makes one think that somewhere in there is a strategy to be forged and a triumph achieved. Maybe with repeated play it can be found, but probably that is only optimism speaking. The game artwork, reminiscent of Eschnapur, seems stark and otherworldly, but also sterile and personally does not make a strong impression. Plastic jewel pieces are large and nicely tactile. Text on cards may make play problematic for other than very determined non-German speakers. On your first playing, all spells may seem to be created more or less equal. Don't fall into this trap. Dump your cards if they don't produce significant amounts of metal. If unable to do so, at least make the minimum investment in them and attempt to win productive ones in the upcoming auction. [6-player Games]
Alan R. Moon
Reiner Knizia game, after Tutanchamun and RA, the third set in Ancient Egypt. Amun-Re or Amun-Ra was originally a Theban god – Thebes is one of the best provinces in the game – and later became "king of gods" by the New Kingdom period which is the second half of the game. Although it's getting to be a hackneyed topic, perhaps because there is a map and three-dimensional pyramids, this one seems to evoke more of the Nile culture than ever before. Reminiscent of Evo, there is a group bidding round on randomly revealed provinces, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Choices here may also be influenced by secretly held victory point cards which pay off only if a certain combination of provinces are held. Players then enhance their strategic decisions by investing in some combination of more income (farmers), pyramids which are part of both a set collection and "longest road" à la Settlers of Catan points game and in cards, which mostly provide more points potential with a few giving extra income or special bidding abilities. A simultaneous blind auction serves, as in Azteca, a dual purpose, both to reward the high bidders, but also to set the income levels of farms, caravans and temples. This phase would be more interesting in the outguessing sense that one feels in Basari if there were fewer than the four "Alter Sacrifice" cards that render most calculations useless. Or, if there were a variant so that the camel marker from the previous turn remained in place I would find this feature much more interesting. Then if the new set of sacrifices were greater (less) than the previous level, they could increase (decrease) the level by one. Another problem with the cards is that with fewer than five players, some randomly-determined provinces are not used, making it very difficult to satisfy many of the special victory conditions and weakening the cards strategy. The cards themselves are rather hit and miss in the communications design area as well. While some are intuitive, others don't manage to give their meaning clearly enough to avoid repeated lookups on the back of the rules – make extra copies available. The board spaces should have been a bit larger also to more comfortably fit the province cards. The general artwork is quite nice however; a way has even been found to make the scoring track beautiful. The first larger game from Knizia in a while is definitely one for sophisticated play. Featuring many mechanisms already seen elsewhere, it does not show dramatic innovation in its parts. Its sum should attract those who who love to figure out the value of things and are good at gauging how well each player is doing, even based only on partial information. Some may wish for more strongly defined strategic paths. Instead everyone is always involved in all the aspects, making it more of a tactical endeavor. Still, it is easy to play, but not easy to win, always an admirable quality in a game not based completely on luck. But I suspect that for many this would have been far more enticing had it appeared prior to Evo. In terms of pronunciation, the game with the title mostly likely to be confused with a National Public Radio program. [Ancient Egypt games] [multi-multi auction games]
The latest game from the wizards at Ystari is named after a Babylonian goddess. This game includes a number of subsystems, each of them reminiscent of some earlier game – maybe it should have been named after Frankenstein. There is a card drafting system, each card conferring an ability. One of these is the right to add a cube to one of three first-in, first-out majority control tracks which grant either abilities or points. Or cards can give money, goods, movement points or the right to extend a canal on the hanging gardens of Babylon sub-board. This board is depicted as a grid which begins covered with tiles. Only when water has reached a tile can it be taken, the player who takes it receiving both the items shown and an end of game bonus. But the player who provided the most water to the tile also receives a couple of points. But how does one earn the right to remove a tile? Here we come to yet another subsystem, the one at the heart of the game. This is a circular, ten-zone track (depicting Mesopotamia) around which all players move a single caravan. Depending on where it ends, a player who has the correct set of goods can purchase the advantage conferred there. Besides taking a garden tile, the main offerings are advances in one of three spheres: income, victory points or movement around the board. Of these, the last appears to be a clear advantage as not only does it allow the player to grab garden tiles more easily, but it offers the most potential for ruining the plans of others. This is an unhappy aspect of the game, by the way: often players move the camel and completely mess up others' plans without even realizing. It seems to me that if someone is going to mess me up, he should know about it! Another unhappy aspect is that only a limited number of cards are available to draft each turn, and then they are all re-shuffled. If the valuable cards, particularly goods, only show up when one is third or fourth player, these players tends to starve. Probably a way to bid to draft first should have been provided. The artwork here feels drab and impersonal. One gets the idea that Ystari is content to live and die on the strength of the design alone. Particularly disappointing is the lack of a camel figure which sould have been much more evocative and easy to find than the flat chit provided. The English instructions are well-presented except that more explanation should have been provided on the palaces. For those wondering, some of the games which may have influenced this design are Maya, Siena, Vinci, Santiago and Settlers of the Stone Age.
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Cyril Demaegd; Ystari; 2007; 2-4
An den Ufern des Nils
Tile-laying game about farming in ancient Egypt, which curiously like another game about ancient Egypt, Cheops, is mostly about looking ahead to understand intricate watch movements, one action predicting another and so on down the line until "sprok!" a random event occurs. Fortunately, these events are not nearly so dramatic and disruptive as in Cheops. This makes for a fun and challenging experience with an interesting sidelight of watching the Nile flood and recede. The title translates to "On the Banks of the Nile". [Ancient Egypt games]
if no image probably out of print
Buy it at Amazon
Set in a Blade Runner-esque future, this effort by the re-designer of Arkham Horror is four games or more, some of them even interesting. There's a follow-the-story game, a secret goals game, an interlocking puzzle game and a take-that card game. How much is too much? Is it okay to just keep stuffing bits and rules into a box or is there a limit to how much can be consumed at one sitting? To set the stage: there are five possible characters to play and, as in a movie, each has his own storyline. Though somewhat cliched – unlike a book, in a film or game always go for the cliche – all five are trying to solve a crime, which can differ with each playing. There is a bad cop trying to save his marriage, a bounty hunter, a private detective looking for missing persons, a psychic trying to protect her clones and an android subject to various programming issues. Each character has two or three sets of storyline cards. Each collects markers on its two different options, based on the character's actions. After three game turns the option having more markers determines the next plot point card. Eventually a plotline ends, usually with some number of positive or negative victory points. The texts are short, but well-written and this sub-game can almost stand alone. Then we have the secret goals game, which is all about solving a crime case. It's not a matter of deducing a randomly selected solution, but of traversing a map of "New Angeles" and the "moon colony" to pick up clue tokens. This lets the player draw a random evidence chit and place it face down on one of the suspects, one of whom he secretly wants to be guilty and one of which he secretly wants to be innocent. There are problems with this set-up one being that an unlucky player might draw the same suspect for both purposes. Another is that since there are more suspects than players, some players might have an opponent directly working against them, but others not. A third is that only with a fair amount of difficulty can players find out anything about the face down evidence tokens. Before the game is over, quite a number of the tokens will also be removed according to various rules, meaning that it's virtually impossible to penetrate the murky situation and make meaningful decisions. This degree of chaos would fly all right in a very short game, but is quite distasteful in one of six hours or more. But we get ahead of ourselves – there are two more sub-games yet. The puzzle pieces game is literally a set of interlocking puzzle pieces. Instead of drawing evidence as above, a player may draw a random puzzle piece and attach it to the starting center piece or other piece attached to it. The pieces show a conduit that travels in various directions; getting it to various places on the outer edge enhances points for various factors. Finally, the card game is one of the player trying to get and play as many of his own cards as possible. Each player has a deck of positive cards which are played by him alone – with more story elements tuned to the character. For each there is also a deck of "take that" cards which opponents play. As it's truly difficult to tell what's going on with opponents' plots and nearly impossible to tell about the suspects, players would probably almost never use this latter set of cards, except that the system forces them to do so, and that in a perniciously complicated way. Each character sheet shows a four-point scale that goes from light to dark. Playing a favorable card moves a marker toward the dark side by the number printed on the card, provided there are enough points to be able to do so. Otherwise it's necessary to play a "dark side" card to take things back to the light, provided one happens to have one of the right size in the six card hand. Or, in a major break with theme, discarding extra cards can reduce the amount the marker moves. All of this could have been handled much more reasonably by simply alternating positive and negative cards, but the larger problem is that the dark side cards can be difficult to play. Many have multiple conditions like "play only if the character enters a ritzy area on the moon colony" meaning that one must watch the opponent's every move like a hawk. Sure this is interaction, but performing boring chores like this are worse than no interaction at all. There is also a limit on the number of opponents who can play a card at the same time so even if the conditions happen to occur, it may be that someone else gets to take advantage. Worst of all, players can obtain new cards during their turns, sometimes a whole new hand. Of course they then need to stop and read every single card; meanwhile for everyone else time stops dead. When will American designers finally learn to put card drawing at the end of the turn? It's not like Lost Cities is something new and unknown. Physically it's quite a production, loaded up with oodles of cards and a fair number of special bits. The character pieces are hardback illustrations held up by quite nice clear plastic stands. The moodily dark board sports a large number of locations that are just brightly-colored enough to be offputting with blue and purple being a bit too similar. Each location shows a particular dot and players move from dot to dot via an arc-shaped piece of cardboard whose size differs depending on the character, another bit of chrome that doesn't seem to do much other than increase playing time even more. There are some in-jokes there such as a corporation called Hass-Borroid – remind you of any game publisher? In the game it's located on the moon; does this make them loony? In a nod to the John Carter of Mars series there is also a Dejah Thoris. Unbelievably, the central puzzle piece is glued to the board; one can only imagine how much that unnecessary bit of work cost. Even the instructions booklet is mostly artwork, which puzzles, as only one person will read it and then teach it to everyone else who will never see it. It starts to feel that this was meant as a gold brick, something to be acquired and admired, but not played. Because yes, it certainly is too much to gulp down. Yet one in twenty readers are no doubt going to do so anyway. If you're one of them, be sure and make things more sane by limiting the number of players to three, by not letting new cards be read until one's turn is over, by keeping the number of suspects equal to the number of players, by ignoring the annoying light-dark meter, and so on. Perhaps then this will start to approach being manageable. But it's better to join the 19 and give this a miss entirely. For even role-playing fans who are used to this kind of length and story won't be pleased simply because all of the stories here are independent of one another and not the group adventure to which they are accustomed.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Kevin Wilson & Daniel Clark; Fantasy Flight; 2008; 3-5
Fairly abstract game about colonization of fictional solar system. Unique feature is a fun "cosmic ashtray" randomizer that is placed upside down and shaken to extract a single colored wooden cube at random. The other unique feature is the card trading mechanism by which the player successively shows cards he does not want and each other player must reveal a different card that he is willing to trade for it. This trading system sometimes works quite well and at other times is out of control. Strategically, shaking the ashtray when the opportunity presents itself is usually the best thing to do. As a whole the game is more fun for the ride than for the strategies. Players who have bad luck drawing cards may be annoyed.
Alan R. Moon
Antler Island
This time the Lamonts bring us a testosterone-drenched stag party on a Scottish island. Well, maybe not the way it sounds. Here, not two, but four-legged beasts fight to be king of the hill and rut with every female in sight. You know what rut means, don't you? The opposite of being stuck in one. Actually this is very much a contingency-planning affair as well. Using a card illustrating the possible actions – move, feed, rut, grow antlers – and a set of numbered tokens players program activities and their order. It's a nice wrinkle that one of the tiles is a bluff and another permits doing its action before the next numbered one, i.e. interrupting the planned order. (Advice: this tile usually works best in the "move" slot.) While rutting gives points, a player cannot win without having won at least one combat. These depend on allocation of food tokens whose values are hidden. But there is a limit to the number of food tokens which may be burned, not to mention held. So it makes sense to convert some of them to antlers – represented by Catan-like road pieces, even if at a 2 for 1 rate, as they also help in combat. Acquisition of a pair of antlers or winning a combat confers a special advantage tile (a "wily" and that's not the coyote), some of which seem to be better than others. In particular, the one I think of as the magnet or charisma tile draws in one doe from each neighboring space. This has been absolutely instrumental in more than one victory. Sometimes a player can even use it to sneak to a win by scoring an astounding four points in one turn, giving a rather undramatic and unsatisfying conclusion. This is not really so bad in itself, but the upshot is that players really need to play in a continuously aggressive way to ensure that the game works well. Still there are some very pretty and humorous plastic stag figures – the Fragor trademark – and a tri-level board (courtesy of some cardboard risers) to move them on amid the wooden doe-meeples. It generally finishes in good time with ties going to the tallest player. Tall folk, after years of being discriminated against, at least your day has come. And as this review probably demonstrated, there's no end to the amount of innuendo you can make during play.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Apples to Apples
Amusing party game similar to The Big Idea in that it involves the humorous pairing of a noun and an adjective which have no business being paired, and a judge who decides just how appropriate (or inappropriate) it is. Like most party games, works best if played fast and mileage varies considerably depending on the nature of the players and how much energy and ability they put in to keep it amusing. At its best it can keep several players laughing for quite some time. [6-player Games] [Party Games]
This game by Bernhard Weber (Alcatraz) is an atypical combination of pure abstract and dice. Ostensibly about building aqueducts in Ancient Roman provinces, the theme here is rather weak since springs are not discovered, but placed as a during-game option. Other options are to place wooden aqueduct pieces which radiate out from springs or to take over and develop properties. These last come in four different point values, but only count if by the end water has reached them. These developments are not paid at all, but are placed via roll of a twenty-sided die as the board's 92 squares are divided into twenty districts. The trick here is that if a square doesn't have water yet, any tile may be placed, but otherwise only one's lowest value tile can be used. When a district is completed, any of its squares not having water are removed, which can create areas where tiles go to instantly die. (These are the areas which I roll, invariably.) Obviously there's a lot of luck here, but it's not without meaningful decisionmaking. Timing is an issue. When is it best to add tiles vs. controlling the direction of an aqueduct? Once the water starts flowing the wrong way, bringing it back can be tough. Judging where water is likely to go requires intuitive skill, even amid far from perfect information about what future die rolls will be. There are also the competing approaches of getting rid of low-value tiles early so as to be able to place good ones next to water vs. placing good ones where you think water is likely to flow. So there is plenty to think about even if one should not be too surprised that it all goes as awry as the best laid plans of mice and men. Artwork here is reasonable, on a mostly green board. Aqueducts are represented by blue Cata "road" pieces with glass pieces standing in for springs. Taken in the spirit of a lighthearted romp, players who enjoy an Indus or a TransAmerica may appreciate this as another short outing in the same kind of vein.
Bernhard Weber; Schmidt; 2005; 2-4
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
if no image probably out of print
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The latest standalone game in the Coloretto family can also be used as a Zooloretto expansion (not yet tried). But this one concentrates on aquatic creatures including orcas, porpoises, crocodiles, etc. Where before there were fixed-size zoo areas and somewhat inelegant rules for swapping animals between them, now there is just one large, expandable zoo area per player and it's a challenge to fit everything in without any animal group touching any other. This new task is at the right level of difficulty, i.e. easier than in Alhambra. Also added are aquarium workers in the form of meeples. These are earned for every multiple of five tiles of the same type and can earn bonus points in one of four categories: amount of money held, number of fish icons appearing on tiles, number of viewable tiles (orcas, porpoises and sea lions) grouped around the meeple or savings on penalty points incurred in the holding tank. This last – the depository for extra animals – has interesting dimensions also since the tank contents are a vertical stack, only the top tile of which can be purchased. Although the publisher could have skimped, the nice wooden truck pieces from Zooloretto have also been included here. All components, including natural wood colored meeples, are of good quality as is the artwork, although the polar bears seem to resemble less a bear and more a dog. With all of these attractive features, this one reverses the usual quality slide in sequels, instead actually exceeding its predecessor.
Michael Schacht; Abacus/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-5
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Card game which is a tile-laying game. Players try to build up conglomerations of linked cards in the color that they secretly prefer. The trouble is that certain cards permit players to exchange goals at any moment, so strategy is almost impossible here.
Arabana-Ikibiti (Kahuna)
Two player game about two wizards trying to dominate a collection of islands by placing bridges between them. The game has a theme, but will appeal strongly to players of abstracts. Plays quickly. A new version of the rules was inadvertently introduced at the Game Cabinet in the course of mistranslation of the German. These became the standard rules for the Kosmos Kahuna edition. As inventor Günter Cornett jokes, "Translation Error" was his co-designer.
Günter Cornett; Bambus;; 1997; 2
Arabana-Opodopo (Kanaloa [Tilsit])
The multi-player version of Kahuna supports two to four players on an expanded map and uses the rule originally introduced during mistranslation of its predecessor. The new game has all the fun of its predecessor and magically manages to avoid the kingmaker problems that I was sure would inevitably pop up. This is the result of clever endgame rules and by virtue of the fact that a player's options are restricted by the cards in hand. This version adds considerable material to support a variant which jazzes up the usual system with a form of variable powers. Now control of some of the islands confer the support of one of the gods – true to Hawaiian mythology – each of which provides a rule-breaking advantage, e.g. stealing cards, wild cards, faster replenishment or immediate scoring. Now players have to decide which powers are most important whether advantages or geography is more vital. With such an elegant concept, at least one of the versions should appeal to just about all players and the vanilla version especially so to abstract fans. Kosmos missed its chance on this version, so it was first published by Bambusspiele and then by Tilsit as Kanaloa, not to be confused with Kanaloa. The Tilsit production is solid and attractive with a lot of wood.
Günter Cornett; Bambus;/Tilsit; 2002; 2-4
if no image, probably out of print
It's rare that a game can make as strong a statement with its packaging as this one. Not only are all the components of this treeish (think "arbor") and made of unpainted or green wood, but even its plain brown and green cover say special, handcrafted, and very natural, production. As a dexterity game, it's more than half toy, but there are still gameish aspects. At issue is a representation of a single tree. The stability of its trunk can cleverly be customized to provide more or less stability, depending on the players' masochism. Inserted into holes in the trunk are some large branches; inserted in turn into these are leaf-bearing smaller branches. If these are not done at crazy and potentially unbalancing angles and positions, players are missing some of the fun, the goal of course being to avoid making the tree fall or have anything drop off. When this happens the players have to collect the lost pieces, which doesn't exactly help in the goal of getting rid of all of one's pieces. The comes in via the instructional card each player draws to begin a turn. These say things like "place a branch and then a leaf", "place three leaves", "move a part from to a different place in the tree" or even "tell an opponent which part to move where". Then let the amusement begin. There are even cards forcing loss of a turn, but this usually annoying mechanism is mitigated somewhat here as sometimes the tree is in such a state that one would rather not touch it anyway. There are also cards instructing to exchange leaves with the player to the right, a sort of card that has a good purpose, but is a bit of a blunt weapon. Any future edition might consider putting some player decisionmaking into this catch-up mechanism. There are tactics here, and evaluation, in particular regarding how and just how much to leave the tree in a precarious state for the next player, but without upsetting the applecart onself, and of course lots of fun and laughs. It is easily appreciated by kids and adults alike and though it dates from 1999, in these days of greater environmental awareness, makes a great Green gift. It even ends up looking like a real tree! Note that cards are only in German, but they are very simple and English translations can printed from the web.
LLMM7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Martin Arnold & Armin Müller; M+A Spiele-1999; 1-8; 6+
Arche Extra Mix (Ark Expansion)
The expansion kit for Arche Opti Mix adds twenty-one cards including new beasties like a woodworm, short-beaked echidna, rhino, porcupine, snowman (!) and even two carnivorous plants, but no new categories. This expansion seems to have both good and not so good aspects. Before it arrived one sometimes felt that the game ended too soon, before one had the chance to make enough plays. With extra cards the game tends to last a bit longer. The downside can be that the deck has a greater chance of becoming skewed, both players' hands and the draft pool becoming clogged with "shy" cards which are hard to play and prevent much progress being made. Actually, as I play this more it seems a worthy experiment to try removing at least one of the restrictions – perhaps shy – to see if there are more turns where I have a choice of which card to play rather than just scanning my hand to see which one card I can play, if any.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 2006; 3-5
Arche Opti Mix (Ark)
Card game of fitting animals into the ark (isn't it strange that a nice, short word like "ark" sees so little use except in biblical contexts?). Each card depicts a different animal as well as some of its characteristics, e.g. herbivore/carnivore, size, panicky/not panicky, etc. These tend to limit where in the ark they can be placed, e.g. no situations where an animal can eat or panic another is allowed, and so on. (I struggle to keep in mind that predators can only eat smaller animals since in American Megafauna where predators are thought to target eggs and young, it's exactly the reverse.) Yet another consideration and my favorite bit is the elegantly-handled weight situation: the ark has two sides which must remain load-balanced or else the card cannot be played. These many restrictions can also become a problem however and it's not unusual to spend one's entire turn just trying to find the single possible allowed play. So the most challenging play decision is usually not what to play, but what to draft. Unfortunately this is hard to do well as one doesn't know what cards others are holding and there aren't many choices either. An interesting variant, though turns would become much longer, might be to play with open hands and all the rest of the cards openly draftable. But it seems a light, fast game was intended, though the restrictions do sabotage this somewhat. By far the best element is the wonderful Doris Matthäus card artwork, whose well-known flair for drawing animals is in full flower. Tacticians are the most likely audience here, but it's too bad the rules cannot be simplified a bit to permit play by children, who might enjoy the art and theme. At the end of a playing I like to look at the animals that have not made it aboard and think about how different our world would be without them, and remember that we too ride on an ark, the earth, where our animal friends face danger every day. Maybe this was the real point.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 2005; 3-5
Two-player tile-layer by Michael Schacht. Players draft tiles of two types: buildings and landscapes and then place them. Each placed building is owned by the placer who seeks to surround it with landscapes that match its four different sides. Normally only a matching landscape may be placed, but if a landscape is to touch more than one building, the player has the choice of which to match. When a building is finally surrounded, it is scored based on the number of matches. Simultaneously, there is another ongoing game, that of owning the most buildings in a continuous (diagonal) row. While the concepts here are good, there isn't quite enough latitude for player decision and this ends by pretty much playing itself. It feels like publisher Queen may have been in a hurry to get its new two-player series started and took some designs which were not quite ready. One is reminded of the inventor's successful Rat Hot which in its earliest incarnations were not the model of fine-tuned quality the final version became. Still, this can serve as a gateway game in which to illustrate gaming concepts for the young or inexperienced in an environment where they can even win. Title is Greek for "architect" (archi = chief + tekton = builder).
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Arena: Revolte in Rom II (Arena: Roma II)
Those unfamiliar with the original game,
Roma, on which this is based might want to first skip ahead to the basic description before reading the immediately below. For those who know the original, this version is similar, but with all new cards. In addition, there are now seven locations rather than just six. This wasn't accomplished via a seven-sided die, but by creating a position which can be used with any die. The catch is that whatever the die result used, that much money must be spent. This tends to become the venue of one's most valuable card. By the way, the individual round location tiles are gone, replaced by a narrow strip board, assembled puzzle fashion showing the numbers. It's a great win is that the iconic language of the previous edition's cards is replaced by clear text (so long as one can read that English or German of course; there are a few typos by the way). The cheat sheet of card powers is a thing of the past. There are also far fewer context cards, such as the ones that work exclusively when there is a forum next door. On the other hand, there are many more cards that copy the power of a card next to or opposite them and this can cause confusion that has needed to be clarified on-line. This version is probably more stable than the original and tends to run off the rails less frequently and dramatically, but on the other hand still completes in an acceptable time period. In terms of production, the box is unfortunately larger and the cards feel slightly thinner that in the first version. On the other hand, if you have both you can try playing the cards of one set against the other, which works pretty well. Both of these games are often criticized for being ruled by luck, but the decisions are so delicious that it's more about the journey than the outcome, especially as it always finishes before anyone can get bored.
Basic description: Another of the two-player card games which, like
Lost Cities, Schotten-Totten and Ballon Cup are fought out over a line drawn between the players. Locations are numbered 1-6, against which each player can play a single card. On a turn a player rolls three dice and can activate cards at these locations. In addition, two other locations permit drawing cards or money, and in proportion to the number of pips showing (hint: place your most useful cards on the lower numbers). So the system is neat and simple, but gets intriguing due to the wide variety of cards and the powers they offer. But the cards show only icons to hint as to their meanings so at first there is plenty of rules referencing (make a photocopy), but on the positive side there is a nice thematic connection with the meaning of each. Gladiators, legions and assassins attack; fora and other biuldings provide victory points, etc. The many special powers interact, sometimes in surprising ways, and many games will pass before they are all explored. Then there is the puzzle about how to position against the opponent. Amid all these positive features there is also the problem that the game can fall off the rails awfully fast. A player may have too deadly a forum combination or maybe the first player is able to blitz the other too hard on turn one and keep him from ever getting into it, or maybe it's just good lucky dice rolling or card drawing, but don't be surprised at a sudden victory as they are common. On the other hand, it's easy to just set up a new game. This offers a lot of variety for fans of quick games who don't mind a high degree of asymmetry. [Frequently Played]
LMHM8 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8)
Stefan Feld; Queen Games-2009; 2; 30; 8+ [Buy it at Amazon]
Arkham Horror
if no image probably out of print
Buy it at Amazon
Multi-player board game set in a New England town in the world of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. As in Republic of Rome, players must cooperate while competing to prevent a joint loss. A little bit given to luck, but overall pleasurable if players are not too chaotic. [1st edition summary]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Charlie Krank, Richard Launius, Sandy Petersen & Lynn Willis; Chaosium; 1987; 1-8

The 2005 remake by Fantasy Flight is essentially the same experience with a few improvements to reflect changes in games technology since 1987. There are many more characters now and their differences more sharply defined. In what is my favorite new feature, their attributes are now paired on a sliding scale in which each attribute is inversely proportional to its opposite. "Speed" is paired with "Sneak" so the faster you can go, the less sneaky you can be about it. Players can adjust these a little each turn. The second best innovation are the clue tokens, useful either for improving dice results or closing gates, the main activity of the game. Collecting these valuables helps focus player activity – too often before players could feel aimless. Movement is much shorter now, also a welcome change – the tedious counting is no more. Gone too are the onerous book lookups and dice rolls for each location. Now one just draws a card. With so many improvements made, it's a wonder that more daring, wholesale alterations were not carried out. This is still a 3-4 hour outing with a lot of uninteresting repetiion as well as downtime adjusting the board state. In fact the latter takes even more time now. To keep attention all around, it's necessary to invent a house rule that all players act simultaneously – okay as they only rarely interact anyway. Even then there can be downtime as turn length varies considerably. There also appear to be some unbalanced cards in the Mythos deck which can make winning well-nigh impossible – which is never fun and certainly not in a game this long. Presentation-wise, the difference between editions is like day and night. The new one is much more lavish with illustrated standup characters, a large board and many full color cards. The board art is functional, but loses a little aesthetically, especially as the background is so dark and unevocative. Some dice are also included and players will probably want to supply a lot more as any endeavor is resolved Titan-style, i.e. by rolling lots of dice trying to achieve 5's and 6's. It would have been nice had the new edition relied more on non-probabilistic decisions, but instead it remains a resolutely American-style effort. H.P. Lovecraft fans and those who can get into the drama of fighting to save the sinking situation should be the primary audience. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Kevin Wilson & Richard Launius; Fantasy Flight/Heidelberger; 2005; 1-8
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Did you know that the Anglo-Saxon takeover drove a number of Britons to the continent where they ended up providing a name to a region of present day France: Brittany? Previously, it had been known as Armorica. This card game takes up events in the province much earlier, just after Roman conquest in about the year 100 as wealthy locals attempt to develop the province. This is a Civilization-style game in the sense that players acquire developments which enable acquisition of even more developments and yet must also service the needs of the population, in this case food. The primary mechanism is card drafting, each card containing icons which tell how far into a row a player may draft a card of that type. Some also contain one or two amphora icons; at the end of a turn a player must square matters so as to have at least as many amphorae as cards. There are two rows to draft from, each player dipping into each at most once per turn. The Gallic row is the bread-and-butter which only comes in three colors while the Roman row has the exotic stuff in six varieties. Colors are important because players are collecting cards which always add to their sequence and at the end will be separated into sets. Going from left to right, one set terminates and another begins whenever a color would repeat (color repetition also features in the inventor's previous effort, Hibernia). In addition there are majority points for collecting sheep, olives and grapes as well as a some coin cards that provide points outright. But the sets, which provide points on the triangular numbers scheme, account for most of the scoring. Still there are different ways to approach matters. One can just try to absorb as many cards as possible and/or work for the majorities or, conversely go for just a few sets, but making them all of very high quality. There are also some tricky maneuvers possible since not being able to feed the people permits removing some cards, which can thus create sets of considerably more value. The cards, reportedly produced in India, feel plastic-coated and are a pleasure to handle. The simple artwork is fairly nice as well. Some sets seem to have a little color variation in which some brown cards can look gray, but this is not a problem because there is also an identifying illustration, though not if you half-overlap the cards in order to save table space. Perhaps a small icon on the left side would be helpful for future editions. There are a couple of tiny rules problems, one an ambiguity around what counts as a scoring icon (not those in the bottom right) and the other about the use of the start card (pass it to the player to the left after a round so that he starts the next round). The only other issue would be that there is some amount of fiddling as cards are always being drafted, shifted and rows replenished; also the two decks are split into sub-decks which must be shuffled separately at the start. But overall this is a quick-playing, yet challenging and thankfully small package affair that even works well for two. Package contains instructions in English, French and German. [Frequently Played]
MMMM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Eric Vogel; Vainglorious Games-2010; 2-4

A complimentary copy of this game was received for purposes of review.
Around the World in 80 Days (In 80 Tagen um die Welt)
Multi-player race around the world game for up to six (2004). Having helped design such a game myself, I know how hard it is, but that's not the only reason I admire this very much. Rather it's that inventor Michael Rieneck (mostly known for two-player games from Kosmos, e.g. Druidenwalzer, Dracula) has taken something old: uncluttered rules and a duality of conflicting goals (getting there first vs. getting there with the lowest score) and combined them with something new: card drafting with side effects. The result is as delightful as Verne's timeless novel: accessible by old and young alike. Atop these considerations players face a decent number of planning concerns as often the card being drafted is not the one being used in the current turn, but will be needed later. As with most race games, the theme works pretty well and is here aided by attractive illustrations – in classic travel poster style – of every major stop. The only downside might be that there may be a bit too much randomness for some, and not enough of a system to crack. I suspect that anyone who still enjoys Settlers of Catan will feel the same about this one whereas those who found that, say, Goa, hit the spot perfectly may feel a bit disappointed. Strategically, you can think of this a bit like a game of golf. On each of the 10 holes you need to use no more than about 7.2 strokes. If you go above that on a particular one, you'll need to compensate accordingly elsewhere later. Keep in mind that crossing the Himalayas is about a par 10 ... [Frequently Played] [Holiday List 2004] [6-player Games]
Asian Travels
Game invented for the San Francisco Asian Art Museum accommodates 2-6 players. The player is a trader on the routes which existed at the height of the Tang Dynasty in China (c. 750 AD). He sets out from Chang An, the cosmopolitan Chinese capital. Traveling across northern China and then to Central Asia, with a lucky roll of the die he will arrive at Samarkand, an important trading center. There, glass, fruit and horses may be purchased. At Merv, the traveler must decide whether to follow the overland or sea route. Going by sea offers more opportunities, but also more danger, so is probably the course of choice for players who are too far behind. The final leg of the journey passes through the bustling port of Guangzhou (Canton) and then off to Japan and Korea where the traveler will be able to visit foreign temples and complete final trading before returning home by way of the Grand Canal. Each location includes a special paragraph of text describing what happens to the traveler there. Often they include special trading opportunities. Major trading centers have specific products which they sell and also another list which they want to purchase. Commodity holdings are shown by cards which list the differing values of these items at various locations. Includes short history and glossary of terms. Although there are small bits of strategy here and there, really only of educational interest.
The title of this unusual card game (the "g" is hard) refers to astrological magic and is published by M+A Spiele who also created the "tree game", Arbos. Players hold six cards and on their turn may play up to three or refuse by discarding one and replenishing from the stock. Cards are played to a row of 6 under strict rules. The first card played goes in column 3 and is one of the astrological signs, Aquarius, Pisces, etc. All subsequent cards must go to a column adjacent to one already containing a card. Column 2 is an element (Fire, Water, Air or Earth) while 4 is an astrological planet (Mars, Venus, Sun, Moon, etc.). Column one is another astrological sign. Columns 5 and 6 are special and must be filled in a pair: 5 holding an aspect (I, II or III) and 6 another planet, but a planet whose number matches that of column 4. Columns 5 and 6 are special in another way: they are the only columns which can hold multiple cards, the rule being that if a player holds a planet different from those already out, but having the same number, he may play it as long as he also plays an Aspect card whose level is equal to or higher than that already showing. Finally we come to scoring. When every player has refused to play a card, the last player to have played scores. He adds up the number of matches he has in columns 1-3 and multiplies by the planet number in column 4 to receive points on paper. Then the row is cleared and this player starts a new tableau. The game is rated for up to five players, but because of the limited number of options, is probably best played with fewer. There seem to be two strategic paths, one to make as many points as possible during the game, the other not to play, but instead to collect the perfect hand and thus make a huge score at the end. The crucial tactic seems to be in deciding what to discard, the probable best hand being one that includes one of each type plus extra Aspects and Planets. Overall probably not to the taste of most players. Presumably the thematic idea is that one wants to create an astral conjunction that is the most favorable (sign matching its ruling planet and elment and in trine with a compatible planet), but it's not clear that there is enough connection to theme to interest the astrology crowd either except perhaps for the aficianado who already "has everything" or for someone desiring to learn which sign is a fire sign, which a water, etc. By the way, this game seems like a good candidate for a silly "pick the starting player" rule: the player who will next celebrate a birthday. [M+A Spiele]
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Astron (Sky Lanes)
Say "neato" because it's not everyday we consider a game from 1954, much less praise it! Originally a somewhat prosaic race up into space from Britain – hence the shortened Astronaut of the title – it gained intrigue and excitement by Americans transforming it to an air race around the world the next year with new rules, even though the title did not change, to Sky Lanes, until 1958. The charming mechanism which does not seem to have any legacy at all is in the map, a paper scroll illustrating a world map inside a box with a clear plastic top. From either end of the box protrude the rods used to rotate the scroll. Atop the map grid race the metal planes. Playing a card moves a plane and maybe also the map; the intermediate goal is to end a move on one of the several airports which permits drawing a random victory points card. The other goal can be to make others land in a hazard like a storm or the Himalaya, forcing them them to draw penalty cards. These positive and negative cards are nicely balanced for a game from this period, values being 5, 10 and 15. It's far more common for something from this period to have wildly divergent values that make it much more luck-based than necessary. There are other play considerations as well. It may be good to be the leader, but there is the danger, as in Mississippi Queen, in flying too close to the forward edge of the map as it's unclear where the upcoming hazards will be and an opponent able to take advantage of that. There is even some interaction as ending on another plane pushes it a space further; there is also the potential for blocking. Having a hand of five cards helps ensure that each turn there are a couple of useful things a player can do. The map is of course made with 1950s-era graphics technology, but that just makes its piquant style look so cool today – like an antique. We have many games about history, but at nearly six decades of age, this game itself is history. It might also make a quite reasonable team game, the ideal play being one that lands both the partner and the opponent, one at an airport, the other in a hazard. The only trouble here is the game's rarity; won't someone do us a favor and re-publish it? That, as they would say back in the '50s, that would be just neato.
MMHM8 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8)
unknown; Waddingtons Games-1954/Parker Brothers-1955; 2-6; 30; 8+
Atlantic, Chicago & Pacific Rails
Railroading game played out on an abstract map of the entire USA. Although not in the 18XX series, is more in its vein as the center of interest and expertise is in management of the stock market, here represented by a matrix. Stock splits, dividends, bankruptcies and shareholder meetings are simulated. Meanwhile players move their pawns around the map's outer edge via card play or die roll. Movement by payment is here unfortunately much more limited than in the previous game in the series, Pacific Northwest Rails, with which it shares cards, chips and cash. This many-faceted system is difficult to grasp in just one play, so these comments may need later revision. Keeping this in mind, there seem to be several problems. Unlike the previous game, it seems difficult to do much to harm a leader. There is a taxation space, but only by luck alone can anyone land on it. Meanwhile, a strategy of developing a stock only on one's own does not seem to be very viable. Rather, the winner seems likely to be whoever works with one or two others on a single stock. Whichever such cooperating players are lucky enough to make the right rolls to land on this stock often enough to expand fastest will be the only ones within reach of victory. Among them, the one first able to land on the stock once more and sell it will win. There are some thematic problems, for example, a company with a high stock price can take out an infinite number of loans and never really pay any price for it. Meanwhile the company continues to make huge profits for its owners. Another thematic issue is that a stock split actually weakens a company as it then becomes not just more, but far more, vulnerable to bankruptcy. The graphics are not as functional as they might be as it is not entirely clear which cities can connect to which, and whether in both directions. The rules don't help on this, nor on giving any details about how a shareholders' vote is supposed to be conducted. Figuring out the optimal way to run trains between cities is an intended (i.e. good) non-strategic puzzle for all players to figure out, but it would have been nice if there were a number of long sticks to mark which tracks have already been used. Perhaps it would do to simply borrow some from a game like Roads and Boats. The constant exchange of money can get tiring after a while. An example turn will have a player either paying a railroad for stock or selling a train card to a railroad, then having the railroad pay to buy a station, possibly bailing out the railroad if it can't make the payment, then having the bank pay each shareholder and the railroad a dividend. On the next player, do it all over again. In addition, there are at least a couple of shareholder votes taken on each player turn. Worse, 99% of these votes are entirely perfunctory as it is obvious what everyone will choose, or, if anyone decides otherwise, in all likelihood they do not have enough votes for it to matter anyhow. Taken all together, most of the issues mentioned indicate this may have been better realized as a computer game. The nice features are the way that the stock market matrix operates and in the decisions about which companies to invest in, but most of this is already available elsewhere. Lasts about three hours. [Italian Rails] [Gandy Dancer Games]
Atlantis: Pathways of the Deep
Tie-in to a Disney movie is a half-hearted attempt to make a better game than the usual cheap attempt to cash in on a mass media phenomenon. The design takes after Streetcar in the placement of connecting path tiles and after Quoridor in that pawns also move on the path even while under construction. Also featured are three innovations: (1) the ability to move another's figure, (2) the ability to rotate a tile and (3) special effects tiles which are not placed at all, but confer special abilities, e.g. removing a tile. But all is betrayed by the abysmally skimpy instructions in which ambiguities abound and assistance with special situations such as infinite loops and deadlocks is entirely absent. Maybe the uncredited designers will reveal the proper way to play this otherwise promising effort or maybe, knowing their names wouldn't appear anyway, they just never cared. The physical design's pawns and cardboard sculpture of Atlantis are not bad, but the tiles tend to warp badly. At the end of the day really only of interest to tinkerers.
Buy it at Amazon
Two-player game by Thorsten Gimmler (Geschenkt). This time the setting, probably chosen by publisher Queen, is ancient Egypt as the followers of the sun god and their opponents wrangle over control of four temples. More interesting than this mythology is the game's numerology as it seems to be ruled by the number 4. There are four grids on which to place tokens, using cards numbered 1-4, four of which are played each turn. There are four ways to score and also four ways to win. And the winning score in this "race" is four... ty (forty). In its own simple way the overall concept is pretty mind-bending. The four scoring methods and four winning methods really make you feel the system is wide open to all kinds of possibility. Then you find out that from your large deck of cards you only get to use four randomly drawn ones each turn. Your world view just closed way down, and from a most unexpected direction. Of the four card allocations, one determines the number of opponent pieces you remove. Another – usually the most important – indicates the number of new pieces which are placed and a third the highest-numbered region in which this can occur. The final one determines the number of extra points the player earns. The values of the first- and last-mentioned cards are deducted from that of the opponent before being resolved so there is an outguessing element as well. Once per game a player may re-draw in case of particularly bad cards. The theme isn't grasped strongly at all and the main elements have been seen many times before, but the many approaches to winning and the challenge of doing one's best amid poor card draws should provide several interesting replays. There are more exciting two-player vehicles available, but this could be a good alternate for those who play this way frequently. For the first game the number of rules to memorize is just at the edge of feasibility so it's probably a good idea to provide homemade cheat sheets for the purpose. [Ancient Egypt games]
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Thorsten Gimmler; Queen-2006; 2; 30
Atta Ants
Small package game about the tiny creatures intended for ages 8 and up. Ants and spiders are represented by wooden disks, leafy food by green smashed glass. Illustrated stickers for the former would have been a nice feature, even if the buyer had to apply them. The world is formed by plastic-coated square cards and grows as events proceed. The player's ants attempt to gather the randomly-appearing food while avoiding the neutral spiders which appear and slowly move toward the most populated card. Stealing from other ants is permitted, apparently including from one's own ants so as to set up a sort of relay team. The game is elegant and thematically pleasing, but shows a bit the new status of the publisher as it does not seem to be entirely stable. The twenty-four cards vary considerably and the play experience with it. It can take a long time without much to do apart for wait for the right tile. On the other hand, in one playing with three there appeared only one spider and even though it was there from the start, it never consumed anything. Yet there was plenty of food and the result was rather processional, victory going to the first player in just ten minutes. Unless the publisher tightens up these matters, perhaps with new instructions at their website, it cannot be recommended without substantial house rules. "Atta" is the Latin name for the leaf cutter ants depicted.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Richard de Rijk; The Realm of Fantasy; 2003; 2-4
Atta Ants Expansion
This expansion set for the above adds cards showing twigs, tunnels and rocks. While twigs may be placed to install a path which speeds movement, rocks block movement. The rather rarer tunnels can be used to escape the nest quickly. This expansion does nothing to alleviate the problems experienced with the original game and may in fact make them worse. In one playing there was no winner at all as there were so many obstacles that there was barely any movement and as a result spiders ate every one of the ants. This was hardly an edifying outcome, though probably there are a few masochists who like this sort of thing.
Richard de Rijk; The Realm of Fantasy; 2004; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Atta Ants Expansion 2
This second expansion adds trees, store chambers and yellow beetles. A tree provides infinite leaves, collection of which is the point of the game. Store chambers let you store food on them rather than having to bring them back to the nest. Yellow beetles can attack the nest itself, which is normally immune. This expansion improves things slightly, but not nearly enough. Once again this is not an expansion which will change anyone's mind about the original, but merely an amplification.
Richard de Rijk; The Realm of Fantasy; 2005; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Knizia card game ostensibly about jousting, is a little bit like Kanzler, Condottiere or just the bidding portion of Taj Mahal. Features a bit of blackmailing factor in that it is the duty of someone to stop a leader, but if no one is willing, or if the person willing doesn't have what it takes, all the rest of the players lose. There appears to be a good strategy in trying to win right away before others can acquire powerful hands, especially since winning does confer the right to choose the color for the next round. Seems to be a bit dominated by luck of the draw as there are six extremely powerful wild cards. Re-released in America with differentiated suits and a few extra cards as Ivanhoe.
The obscure title refers to the 1072 name of the German town southeast of Essen, Attendorn. It has history not remarkably different from other towns in other places, but now you have the chance to re-play it and see if you can develop it better than your fellows. Priorities conflict strongly here, but the main activity is constructing new buildings. They are built from the inside out with clay and wood coming first, stone and glass last. These materials appear in random quantities each turn and as in McMulti at increasing costs as more are purchased. There are just enough building restrictions to make it thoughtful without becoming taxing. Other activities are creating meadows and luring the limited numbers of citizens and businesses from corresponding spaces on the main board to your own. The costs of the latter are fascinatingly determined by the number of same on the top of the stack in the same column (citizens) or row (coins) and thus constantly change. Gold is given in a fixed amount each turn and acts as action points which players can spend as they best see fit. At the end of five rounds points are given for quality of buildings, for having the majorities of coins and citizens, for occupying meadows and surrounding the fire reservoir. In addition there are advanced rules – to which you should switch after one playing so as to get the basic rules down solidly – which add city gates which need to be placed just so, but more excitingly six historical events – three beneficial and three not – half of which the players will encounter. To help, they have markers they can use to modify where and the extent of their effects. How can you best make the event good for yourself without in the process helping others too much? Now also particular buildings come into play as they can provide refuge from certain of them such as plundering, fire, the plague, etc. Players must consider whether to have these already built before the events or to wait and place them optimally when the event is imminent. A fair amount of time in this and other contexts needs to be spent studying others' boards. In this the communication design falls down a little as it's not as easy as it could be to spot important features, though one can get better at it. Otherwise, despite the small press nature of this, the quality of materials is good and the artwork of reasonable quality. Actually the emblem of the actual city is frequently employed. There's a minimal amount of text to translate (just a few tiles for the advanced game). Thematically the city building idea is strongly there, though it feels odd that all players are building the same buildings, yet competing for coins, citizens and building materials. Play demands a fair amount of focus, e.g. finishing a building has about four effects to remember, but this is one indie production that deserves a far wider audience. [faq] [play aide]
MMLH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Horst Rokitte;; 2-4
Build the city-states of the ancient Greeks in this board game for up to four. The usual goal, building to connect two shrines, is strangely anti-thematic. So let's turn instead to the design which is based on an interesting idea. There is a "technology tree" where every item is free as long as you place them adjacently, but you can ignore it if you prefer, but pay a little bit more. The reason you might prefer it is that you what you want might not be available – tiles being drawn at random. Actually a player works with seven different sets of trees so getting something which works is problematic. Even more difficult is figuring out how much opponents can do and how little can be done to sufficiently hinder their chances. It needs not simply studying their board positions, but also their private tableaus, probabilistic estimation of what they may still draw and the cards they hold. Fail to do this and the likely outcome is an "accidental win". All of his has serious consequences for the multi-player experience as it's easy to "blackmail" a downstream player to do dirtywork. As a result, this really becomes a two-player game wthere the interests of offense and defense automatically converge; otherwise there is risk of disappointment and recrimination. In a way it's too bad that many of us rarely play tête-à-tête as, typical for Hans-im-Glück, the physical and artistic realization are great and make for a very pleasant feeling. The core idea by inventor Marcel-André Casasola Merkle is fresh and intriguing as well. So even though it's worth playing, I wonder if the same ideas and components could have taken a direction that is not more easily played by a computer brain than a human one.
Marcel-André Casasola-Merkle; 2003;
Despite their joint tradition of presenting systems which adhere closely to their themes, here designer Karl-Heinz Schmiel and publisher Hans-im-Glück have presented one in which point of view is somewhat difficult to locate. Instead one buys "shares" of different tribes such as Huns, Vandals and Goths and then scores points if first or second when the scoring round is triggered. Otherwise interesting however with a significant make-strategy-as-you-go feeling and quite a few interesting dilemmas. Reminiscent of Web of Power and in the tight integration of the subsystems, Die Macher.
Party game of matching adjectives to nouns, reminiscent of The Big Idea and Apples to Apples. This one offers more than the usual creativity as the current player chooses the noun freely. Then each player receives either a "similar" or an "opposite" card and must accordingly choose an adjective from his four cards. They are simultaneously revealed and players compete to first slap cards they feel to be similar. Each actually similar card slapped earns the owner a point while each opposite card slapped costs a point. On the other side, slapping a similar card earns the slapper a point while slapping an opposite card costs one. There is plenty of possibility for humor and some strategy although one is always at the mercy of the cards to some extent. As the player, it seems a good idea to pick a noun as specific as possible so as to fit well with the adjective one intends to play whereas when not choosing, it's a good idea to look at the current player's card first as it will probably have the clearest relationship with the noun. Missing is the anonymity of Apples to Apples, a slight drawback since an unscrupulous player can take another down – along with himself – by intentionally slapping cards believed to be opposite. The other drawback is all this slapping which can get physically painful. For this reason, play on the on-line Brettspielwelt is much preferred in this case. [6-player Games] [Party Games] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners] [Holiday List 2003]
Marcel-André Casasola-Merkle; 2002;
Auf Achse
Spiel des Jahres-winning design by Wolfgang Kramer has players bidding on and delivering loads as truckers in Central Europe. A fairly easygoing game with suitable chaos factors and yet not without strategy. While it may remind veteran American players of Empire Builder, this group seems to enjoy the game least. They get very bothered by the fact that their trucks can be blocked by others. But a square peg doesn't fit a round hole. This is a different, more interactive game played by its own rules and to complain about it is akin to determining that an apple's taste differs from an orange. The brightly-colored rubber trucks and little plastic loads add a lot to the tactile feel of the game. One of the relatively few good ones for six players, there are actually at least two versions: one includes the city Bozen while the other does not. Later the basis for a card game version (not described here) and a children's version. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] "Auf Achse" was also the title of a seven-season German television series about truckers which premiered in 1978.
The 2007 edition institutes many changes:
  • Players start the game knowing the demand cards so generally start the first turn by loading something.
  • More than 1 truck can inhabit the same space.
  • Two dice are now rolled instead of one and the player chooses the one to use.
  • It's permitted to travel less than the full die roll at any time, not just when doing a pick-up or delivery.
  • When reaching a city by exact count, a player can either put a public card up for auction or remove one from the game.
  • Auctions are in player order.
  • There are two new paths coming out of Flensburg so no more special rules about that city are needed.
  • Rolling a 1, the block is only placed after the move, not before.
  • There are some new event cards and some have been altered.
  • The city of Bozen is once again gone.
Overall the changes greatly reduce the frustration of not being able to move, although if players want to be petty they can get into road construction wars. Sometimes this is necessary, actually, if one player is threatening to end the game early. But going for a short game win has been made a much more viable strategy now because contracts can be discarded. The new truck pieces are plastic rather than the former's rubber which is a bit disappointing, but they are still attractive, now being made to look the way German trucks do now. The load pieces are no longer plastic, but tiny wooden cubes which are just right for their purpose. Overall, this is a most pleasing set of improvements to an already very good game. [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [rules translation] [analysis] [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 9
Wolfgang Kramer; 1987-2007; FX Schmid, Schmidt; 2-6
Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb Zwei (Times Square)
if no image probably out of print
"On the Reeperbahn at Half Past One" is Reiner Knizia's two-player game of nighttime doings in the theater, nightclub, bar and disco area of Hamburg. There is also a German film, re-made several times, most popularly in 1954, called Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins. Since Times Square has been Disneyfied and no longer embodies the racy character it once had, perhaps a better English title would have been something like "Sunset Boulevard at a Quarter to Three". The linear board is marked with seventeen spaces that stretch tug-of-war style between the players. By playing cards, they aim to attract six different figures to their respective sides, either all the way to achieve an immediate victory or failing that, having the majority on their side by the end of play. Characters movements also affect those of other characters. For example, he bodyguards always remain on either side of Saucy Sue; thus moving her is a matter of first providing space between her and the near guard. Another character acts as a magnet for a third when the former is in a player's "end zone", and so on. To some extent, as in Lost Cities, it's necessary to play the hand dealt and some of the time it may well be doomed to be a losing one, but at the same time there are usually possibilities available, especially keeping in mind that just as in Palmyra, the cards in hand are not available to the opponent, which can be useful knowledge indeed. The feeling during play tends to be that of constant anxiety where one is pushing a boulder up a hill and at the same time worried about what the opponent will come up with next. Probably many playings will end not suddenly, but going the full time with victory to the player having slightly more characters on his side of the center line. Duration is usually in the 10-20 minute range. The artwork is the up to the usual Kosmos standard with nice-looking wooden pawns to handle. Players looking for a lighter duet outing with some "science" could do worse. The luck factor makes it attractive to play with children or the less experienced as well.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos/Rio Grande; 2006; 2
Auf der schwäb'schen Eisenbohn
Apart from Ticket to Ride, the world of song does not strike as a frequent source for strategy game titles in English, but in German it appears to be slightly more common, e.g. Im Wald da sind die Räuber. When "bohn" is spelled "bahn", "On the Swabian Railway" is a nineteenth century song from the German state of Württemberg composed after the railway was first completed there. Its chorus names the five train stops represented by cards in the game: Stuegert (Swabian dialect name for Stuttgart), Ulm, Biberach, Meckebeure, Durlesbach. But waitaminnit! Hold the train! Isn't this a Bohnanza-style bean trading game? 'Tis. And yet something of a train game also. Besides the train stop cards, there is also a train card and several special bean cards corresponding to those offered in the basic game. There are used like the original beans, but with a difference. Each time they are introduced into play, i.e. revealed or traded, they cause the train to move to the named station. When selling beans the station may alter the usual selling rate. Three of the stations have an extra demand for two different commodities and thus pay more. Another station demands very high quantities, but pays more for them. The final one pays out at most three coins despite the size of the set. A player having at least two coins can take over an unowned station with the consequence that anyone selling there must offer him a hand card to be planted. The owner may accept or refuse the card, but it's so far unclear from the instructions and web fora whether a refusal stops the sale or what happens to a refused card. Best guess is that the sale goes through anyway and the card is simply returned to the same place in seller's hand. It's unlikely but possible that this card would be one of the special ones; the instructions don't say whether and when this changes the station, but a reasonable idea would be that it changes the station only if accepted and only after the current transaction has completed. Another problem in the instructions is what happens if the trade pays out more coins than there are bean cards being sold. Apparently in this case the seller draws a card from the discard pile (but what if none exists?). That so many issues in the usually clear Lookout rules remain make it appear that this expansion may have had its production quite rushed. That may go for the artwork as well. The train station cards feature icons so small that they can only barely be discerned; they don't display the bean card numbers which would have been so helpful and they have background colors which do not correpond to those of the bean cards. There are two other cute new rules though, which do not correspond to the train idiom at all and so might profitably fit into other Bohnanza vehicles. One is that if no special card is included in the sold pile, at least one bean is left in the field, meaning that the player can re-start the same bean type right away (or looked at unfavorably, might be forced to do same). This may be useful due to the second new rule. At the end, the discard pile is sorted out into bean types while players examine their treasure piles. Whoever has the most of a type, gets the value of those beans as if they were sold now (though the instructions leave vague about whether that sale is if as at the final station or without applying any station). In this version there are great rewards for getting a lot of the same type of bean and players should adjust strategy accordingly. Investment in a station seems a dubious proposition, however. Overall this is an interesting and worthy-looking addition, but apparently one needs to work at a bit to get all of the rules and images clear; making your own station cards might be a good start.
MLMH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Hanno Girke; Lookout Games; 2008; 3-5
Auf Falscher Fährte
The title of this trick-taking card game means "On the Wrong Track" and here it happens in more than one way. Each player sets aside a card face down at the outset; these are gradually revealed during play. Depending on the sum of their ranks, players will discover whether they are trying to maximize or minimize the number of tricks taken. In addition, for the last few tricks the player who has taken the least gets to change the trump. While there are some interesting ideas working, all of them together seem to add up to too much influence of luck. Kudos for the graphic design of the cards which is very clear and easy to read. It seems the makers of this one were on the right track, but didn't quite get there. Actually, things might get noticeably better in the Planning Dep't. if, instead of the revelations occurring after the third, fourth and fifth tricks, they happened after the zero'th, first and second tricks.
Auf Heller und Pfennig (Reiner Knizia's Kingdoms)
Knizia tile-laying on a grid is set in a medieval marketplace in which players try to obtain the most advantageous stalls. The problem is that the best location will usually not be known until it's too late. Nicely produced as usual by Hans im Glück, there is a strong mathematical, specifically combinatoric, quality. As usual in Knizia games, the feeling of a dilemma is present, but here diluted because many activities either hurt or help multiple players equally. Perhaps it is this fact which reduces somewhat the desire for replay. Puzzling that the rules are unclear on who the first player should be for each round. The title is an idiom for sharp trading which roughly translates to "down to the last penny," a Heller being an historic coin of very little value. 2002 American re-publication transfers to a fantasy kingdom setting with lesser quality components and still not resoving the first player question.
Auf und Ab
Climbing family card game employing cards that match a 9x9 set of Dominoes. In the beginning overtaking requires use of the lower of the two numbers on the cards, but playing higher than the last lead. But if one of just a few special cards is played, then beginning with the next trick this is reversed. Now higher numbers must be used and a played card must be lower to overtake. Usually this event completely changes the nature of one's hand. A similar idea is used by Olé!, but only between hands, not during them. Here it takes some getting used to, not to mention some time to re-order the hand whenever it happens. One may have set up the perfect exit plan only to see it knocked awry. A new plan can be formed, to be sure, but how solid can it be if the cards could change yet again? All of this is different, challenging, maybe even mind-bending, but it's not clear all this activity is meaningful. It would be dramatic if flipping the cards turned a poor hand into a good one and vice-versa, but here the design of the cards just tends to mirror the existing situation. In fact the best cards are the specially-powered doubles and, of course, these never change. Thus it seems what could have been a fascinating idea winds up mostly a peculiar challenge. The title means "Up and Down" to match the theme of riding an elevator. It might make an interesting variant to still change the numbers used, but always consider the direction to be up. [Franjos]
Ausbrecher AG
Reminiscent of the famous story of Alcatraz prison escape, depicts the efforts of seven escapees to race to boats. Strangely in terms of theme, the faster the prisoner, the slower the boat, but it makes sense in terms of play as the last boat is the most valuable. Players each predict which prisoner will be in which boat and then on their turns roll two or three dice to move them forward. The winner is the one who has predicted best. There is a strong element of bluff and mind game as predictions are secret as well as some statistical analysis in choosing which dice are best to roll, particularly the one which moves an escapee backwards. Title means "Escapee".
The most recent Kieslingesque game in the series which has already produced Tikal, Java and Mexica is the first not to use an indigenous title. There has been a trend of increasing accessibility in this series and it continues here, as has the randomness, to the point where the far shore has been reached without me. Thematically players place plastic ranger pieces on the border spots of various regions, trying to either match the revealed number in the region (thus industrializing the area) or to finish occupying every border location (conserving the area). Why rangers would be doing both or whether this really has anything to do with Australian history remains a mystery, a least to me. In terms of play, one gets two actions per turn and while one's plane may fly anywhere, rangers can only be placed if one plays a card of the matching color from a hand of size two. Two scoring methods, two actions per turn, two cards in hand, two coins to play a card out of color – this number runs through the design, though cards are drafted from stacks which number four (2 times 2!). The countermix limit on rangers is more than two, but is still pretty limited. The combination of all these rules can make options feel rather constrained and I kept seeing perfect moves without having the chance to do anything about them. Then there is the odd bit: the windmill (a Green power allusion?) which travels about the board randomly and keeps play from getting too processional. Putting rangers into it also grants points, but it's far too nice to the players who happen to uncover it as they're already on the spot and able to utilize it and unfair to those who don't. It's possible to go an entire game without ever uncovering one (as I have tragically proven). One can try to work around this by playing so as to always operate near others, but the end result is a game which focuses all early attention in one area and then slowly sweeps across the board, which seems rather too limited when one considers how much more excitement might be generated in the scope the context provides. Overall, I think Australia will be best appreciated by those who play with flair, who love to plan in detail and pull off a dramatic power play because it's frequent that a single move can set off a chain reaction of scoring. But for this group I think a bit stronger grasp on theme and artwork that is more exciting than the unassuming renderings presented here would have been wiser.
Australian Rails
The Empire Builder system game set in Australia seems best for three players. Rails drawn to the north central tend to be fairly rare. Innovations are desert dots and dry lakebeds. Fans may be interested to learn that 2004 saw the first passenger train to connect Adelaide and Darwin: BBC News story. [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [variant] [chart]
Board game featuring the gradual introduction of automobile technology and receipt of its attendant benefits which delves into problems of production, sales and most importantly, obsolescence. [more]
MMMH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Martin Wallace; Treefrog Games-2009/Mayfair-2010/Lookout-2010; 3-5
Very nicely made wooden game which is a rather faithful rendering of the amusement park staple known in America as "bumper cars". Details even go down to nails in the back of the wooden cars to represent the poles which support the electric brushes in the ceiling. But here the nail supports wooden rings which indicate the car's speed. Somewhat reminiscent of Roborally as players pro-program their turn position and moves and then execute simultaneously, often with unplanned results. All of the feel of the bumper car experience is there, the crunch of the head-on hit, the domino effect of a rear hit, the devastating hit by a fast car of a slow car and the inevitable jam-ups. One feature which real bumper cars, or at least American ones, have is missing – the ability to make a turning reverse move. Not difficult to add in, it would probably provide even more fun to what is already a lighthearted romp longer on tactics than strategy. [6-player Games]
Günter Cornett; Bambus; 1999; 2-6
Action game of dropping marbles down a sloped board published in 1970. Marbles face a series of binary choices as they go down and can also get caught on holders. The goal is to trigger as many marbles falling as possible, but there is no skill in doing this, only in choosing the launch point with the best chance. The noisy, unusual type of game has a lot of fun value and instant attraction for just about anyone, but without offering anything deeper does not maintain sustained attention.
Obscure Checkers-like game published in Chicago by Faynes (their tenth game) in 1968. The nicely-made board replaces the red squares with beautiful renderings of various minerals. Checkers are nicely made from wood. Also included are a number of light amber, dark amber and black square chips as well as square playing cards each of which contain three playing card symbols. The game play is sort of like Checkers combined with Gin Rummy. The cards are dealt face down onto the black squares of the board while the checkers are placed on the mineral squares. In additional to normal Checkers moves, a player may move a checker horizontally to capture a card which is shown by placing his transparent chip on it. This also captures the exact same card on the other side of the board. By capturing these cards the players are creating runs in a Gin Rummy sense. The game ends when either player is out of checkers or no one can move. Victory is given for the highest rummy hand. All of this is probably too convoluted to be of much interest, but the Checkers can also be used for a home-brewed action game in which players take turns trying to be the first to flick their checkers against the opponent's trying to be the last with remaining checkers on the board.
Ave Caesar
Lately it's been my lot to encounter one fragile design after another. Such require being played in a particular way, not just for the player to succeed, but for it to be fun for others, sometimes even to work at all. The topic here is ancient Roman chariot racing. Each player directs one chariot, the means of locomotion being a set of cards identical to every other player's set of cards. What differs from player to player, besides board position and turn order, is the order in which these cards come out of each deck. This is important as a player has only three cards available per turn, only one of which he plays to move forward a corresponding number of spaces. The race leader may not play a 6 and a player who cannot move the amount indicated by any of his cards cannot move at all. This leads the problematic situation mentioned above. Because the track (ahistorically) sometimes narrows to just one or two spaces in width, a player can arrange to block a gap and prevent all progress from those behind, who can do nothing to prevent the game from becoming absolutely processional at this point. Despite it being generally just as penalizing to the perpetrator, it happens. To try to prevent it (and to have more position changes), there is a "pit stop" rule (here rendered as waving to Caesar), but it's insufficient in the face of a determined blocker. Beyond this, play is quite simple. There are none of the collisions, whippings or cornering problems which afflict players in other games on the topic. Play is fast, simple and thus can be as exciting as a real race ought to be, if only the players can be relied upon to be well-behaved. But if not, the fault is not with them, but with the system that enables it. Production is attractive if one want to re-invent. Later published as the auto racing game Ausgebremst, which judging by the "pit stop" rule was probably the original intention. The 1989 edition features four tracks, the 2006 only two. Q-Jet 21XX. This edition by Japon Brand transports the setting into a futuristic setting. Chariots are replaced with metal figures which represent rocket cars. (Color stickers must be applied.) The game functionality is exactly the same, however, including tracks exactly equivalent to the latest edition. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Wolfgang Riedesser; 1989-Ravensburger, 2006-Pro Ludo; 2-6
On to B - Main
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