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Babel
This Uwe Rosenberg entry (with Hagen Dorgathen) in Kosmos' two-player line joins games such as Lost Cities and Tally Ho!. But if the first is a race and the second a "back-and-forth", this is a full out boxing match with plenty of knockdowns and recoveries before it is over. In fact the options of the offense are so strong it is almost as if the players are eggshells armed with hammers. Precariously then, they race to build a minimum number of towers on five sites (artificially tied to Persians, Sumerians, Hittites, etc.). Each of these has a special power as if this were a GMT game (see Galaxy: The Dark Ages, Ivanhoe, Battleline). Most players will probably find that luck of the draw has too much influence although some report relief from a variant which permits any pair of cards to stand in for a card of the discarder's choice. Kosmos' typical attractive presentation continues here, including two unusual marker stones.
Uwe Rosenberg; 2000
Babuschka
Early 80's-era Ravensburger game designed by American Alan M. Newman. Building on the concept of Halma (Chinese Checkers), adds the wrinkle that pieces may not travel backwards. In addition, the pawns which are nicely-made top halves of Russian babushka nesting dolls in three sizes may cover one another, preventing the smaller ones from moving. Interesting for the same reasons as Halma, but probably too many playings are going to be decided a bit prosaically by one player having one of his small pieces trapped until too late. Four-player version appears to be more interesting than two. Three is disallowed.
Backgammon (Tric Trac)
Classic abstract apparently dates back five thousand years to Mesopotamia. May share a common ancestor with Pachisi. Probably related to the Egyptian game Sennet (not described here) and spread everywhere by Roman legionaries. Popularity surged in the United States during the 1970's and continues today as it is of interest for gamblers. The inclusion of luck via the dice has probably made this one more accessible to a wide audience, even though there is still plenty of interesting and difficult decisionmaking as well. Tric Trac is the name in French and Russian. [10 Most Famous Board Games]
Bagh Chal (Tigo)
board
"Tigers Moving", the national game of Nepal, is a two-player pure abstract, but an above average one. For one, there are dramatic assymmetries in powers and numbers. There are twenty goat pieces, but only four tigers. Tigers can capture by hopping over, as in Checkers which the goats can never do. Instead they win by hemming in the tigers so thoroughly that they are unable to move. The board is a 25x25 grid which more usefully can be thought of as an inner and an outer board (draw the board as a circle to see this more clearly). The outer ring has considerably more
connectivity than the inner as diagonal lines are much more common there. Play comprises two halves, the first featuring goat placements from off-board with tigers trying to capture when possible and position when not, the second with both sides moving. The tiger side is a more reactive one, but does have some positioning considerations, particularly as the tiger player wants to avoid being bunched into a tight group which is easily immobilized. As goats can be eaten, relatively more care and attention to detail are needed on this side. It's particularly important not to get so wrapped up in long term plans that a capture is accidentally given away. More could be said about the goats strategy, but this review will leave that fun of discovery to the players. But for a vague tip, consider that the goats player's actual goal is creating vacant spots on the board which the tigers cannot reach. The best locations for these tend to be the spaces which are along the edge and adjacent to the corner. Although played perfectly this one may ultimately favor the goats, this is a fair game with the number of five goats being eaten a balancing point (likely if the tigers could capture more than five goats the latter could never force a victory anyway). The tigers and goats make for a compelling thematic backdrop. The fact that there are very few rules and playing time is short makes this suitable even for children. A Tibetan version changes the goats to cows (yaks?) and the tigers to leopards, and has only twenty-four of the first yet only two of the latter.
Traditional; Public Domain/Pressman; c. 1000; 2
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Bakschisch
The very exotic sounding name of designer Kara Ben Hering is a red herring indeed as it is actually the pseudonym of Klaus Teuber and friends who have here designed a blind bidding game reminiscent of Adel Verpflichtet, but set in the old Middle East. In particular, players are attempting to bribe their way through a palace until they can finally reach the caliph. Simple system moves right along and works quite well as a light outing, much as with Razzia, although not nearly as flexible in number of players (four is really required). Ensure that players are alert at all times as it takes all the efforts of the other three to foil someone poised to win. Features unique swirly pawns and very snazzy gold-colored plastic coins.
Balderdash
Word game is actually a traditional pastime called "The Dictionary Game" features players trying to invent anonymous believable definitions and scoring points for the number of other players guessing wrong. The commercial presentation is quite an improvement as a large number of dictionaries were consulted and many obscure words obtained, often having humorous definitions in the first place, making the game even more difficult as well as fun. Also called Call my Bluff, Dictionary, Dictionary Definitions Game, Fictionary Dictionary. Followed up by separate game Beyond Balderdash. [6-player Games] [Party Games] [amazon.com]
Bali
if no image, probably out of print
Despite admirable success with its Games for Two series, Kosmos somehow never managed to achieve the same with its "Spiele für Viele" or "Games for Many" and it was discontinued after just a few titles. It's hard to say why, exactly, as they did employ some of the top designers, including Klaus Teuber, of course, and here, Uwe Rosenberg, now renowned for Agricola and Le Havre. The packaging for the series was always in the same-sized smallish box and the board size and components necessarily limited to fit. Perhaps this was part of the problem. While players tolerate miniature for two, with more we tend to expect a sprawling canvas on which to play out the experience. Many may have felt cheated. Another problem, unique for English speakers, is that a lot of these games never got English editions and the free translations available for them were so problematic that it's doubtful they were played correctly. This may have been true here. But with a new translation, this has turned out to be not half as bad as English-speaking reviewers averred. After all, even though it is a small-package effort, there are certainly some unique mechanisms here. The game is set on the Indonesian island which gained fame after the opening of South Pacific. There is no real board, but four large squares, each depicting a different island, around the edges of which each player owns a face down hand of cards. At any given time only one island is active and when that changes, players lay down that island's hand and pick up the hand at the new venue. The goal is to rule the islands, which in practice means getting the most points in power symbols and demon masks. To do it there are several types of cards: Warriors attack other players, weakening their hands at this island by forcing them to disperse cards to other islands. Scholars exchange cards with those at other islands. Artists take new cards from the deck. Priests and Princes are used for power symbol competitions. Dalangs change the location to a different island, which can also trigger scoring. These card plays are not atomic operations, but ones in which all players interact. After the current player initiates the action, opponents may also play cards of the same type to either counter or participate in the action, depending on what it is. Admirable elements here are difficult decisionmaking about what cards to play and in what order, bluffing, estimating opponent strength and deciding when to play for oneself and when to play for the team trying to stop a leader. Downsides are that this really only works well for four and there is some memory element with respect to one's other three hands. Production is rather attractive, if not big. The islands and cards are well done and the dalang is a unique three-dimensional cardboard figure on horses and chariot. Duration is only about an hour. There's a lot to like in this somwehat overlooked gem; if you've stayed away because of the reviews and like what you've read here, it might be time to give this one a try. Other games in this series were Eden, Gnadenlos and Zaubercocktail. [translation]
MMHM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Uwe Rosenberg; Kosmos; 2001; 3-4
Ballonrennen
British game about delivering the mail via hot air balloon. Fairly nice balloon pawns with moving parts permit the balloon to fly at one of three different altitudes. Nice plastic bits represent ballast which is released to gain altitude. Gameplay is more problematic as wind shifts are so sudden and unpredictable as to throw most planning over the side of the basket. Worse, it's not difficult to get into a situation where the player is unable to do anything useful for several turns running. [Balloon Aviation Games]
Ballot Bots
This card game of collecting votes is a bit reminiscent of Drahtseilakt as well as Fiji, though significantly different from each. Each card combines two numbers, one representing votes, the other unique. One player, being designated the spotlight, must make several associations. That is, there are several rule cards, one of which will apply to the highest card played, one to the lowest, and the rest to the positions in between. Then players select cards which are simultaneously revealed and the rules are applied. The spotlight player has had the tricky task of figuring out what his hand may best enable him to do while the others must similarly figure out what he is intending and how best to either fit in or work against. Rule cards include directives such as "take the card on offer", "take an opponent's card", "become the spotlight player", "take a played card and discard all the rest", etc. It's a very tricky business, actually, made more complex by the fact that one wants not just votes, but also diversity of card colors. In addition there is a bonus for the collector of the most zero vote cards. Theme is more or less an afterthought here, even though cards have labels and pictures corresponding to various voter demographics: liberals, conservatives, undecideds, etc. The artwork is cartoonish, deliberately primitive and somewhat robotic looking. Overall this game is a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing: an innocent-seeming card game which turns out to be one for serious game players. Likely most will not grasp all its possibilities on the first outing, but those who persist with it – and have a good memory for cards played – will find rich tactical possibilities. Play only requires twenty or so minutes as well.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Stephen Glenn & Mike Petty; Robot Martini; 2007; 3-4
Ballon Cup (Balloon Cup)
Two player game of various ballooning competitions. The layout reminds of Lost Cities, but actual play is considerably more tactical as players can lay cards on either side of the middle line. In addition, prizes are being taken all the time in the form of quite small wood cubes. Collect enough cubes in a color and win one of the trophies, each of which has a different value. The decisionmaking is the opposite of Lost Cities where often one doesn't want to do anything apart from get more cards. Here it is more usual to want to do many things, but only one is permitted. The important skill is to evaluate which is most important, often based on whatever can be deduced about the opponent's goals and hand. It's also refreshing that both low and high cards are useful, greatly lessening the possibility of losing due to poor luck of the draw. Unfortunately the theme is very thin; apparently Stephen Glenn's original one of a piñata party was not familiar enough for the German market. But the artwork is attractive enough and the final result makes for one of the better entries in the Kosmos series. [Holiday List 2003]
[Buy it at Amazon]
Balmy Balloonists
Game of strategy on the topic of racing balloons around the world. Objectivity about one's own design becomes quite difficult after having been so close to it for so long. What we attempted to do was create a game which remains true to its adventurous, colorful and light topic. In terms of the mechanics, it is a racing game in which players compete by playing cards. However, they do not play cards in trick-taking fashion as in Canyon. As far as we can tell in no other game does cardplay simply select the lane of travel; usually cards vary the rate of speed. Here, the speed is given by the lane which is an indirection with which players must cope, made more challenging by obstacles. Moreover, the lane selection mechanism is further twisted by being not absolute, but relative. Further planning is introduced by the fact that lane changes are tied to specific altitudes, and the number and degree to which altitude can be changed is limited by supplies. Usually this should provide for a fair game, although in the rare case that a player draws exactly the cards needed throughout the game (which ones they are will vary from game to game), the ability of other players to trigger events or play contrary winds is available to stop him. With cooperative play, it has been demonstrated that an apparently sure winner sitting on the goal line can be stopped and another player several spaces back overtake him. At the same time, such negative play is limited by the event pawn mechanism so that a targeted player still has his fair chance to win. (Use of advantage cards to take valuable cards into the hand is another balancing mechanism.) Overall, we feel that no other game is quite like it. Few other games feature such a refreshingly rich mixture of mechanisms, which offer opportunities for tactics and long-term strategic planning, but still include a degree of unpredictability with which players must cope. [Balloon Aviation Games] [Two vs. Two Games] [6-player Games] [more]
Baltimore and Ohio
Aren't all recent games from Winsome the same, really? Isn't there a – what would you call it, the Wabash? maybe the Harry Wu? – system where there's a hex map dotted with cities, where tracks are built using cubes and on each turn a player either holds an auction and builds or simply builds? Aren't they all pretty much like this? Even Age of Schemes appears to meet these criteria, though it's on the Silk Road where notionally there are no railroads. Well, no, not entirely at any rate. This entry in the "Historic Railroads System" family has no auction at all, so there's a significant difference right there. Much however is also the same. It is a hex map dotted with cities and tracks are built based on stock holding and cubes denote them. A couple of additions though also differentiate. There are six technology levels. Tied to these are significant parameters such as the amount of track a railroad can build on a turn and the cost per capital equipment card the player holds. Capital equipment appears to represent trains and rolling stock, perhaps also engine technology and facilities. These are stacked face up from the lowest technology to the highest and it is actually their purchase that drives the technology track; when all the cards of one technology have been purchased the next purchase triggers an advance, increasing the maintenance cost for all equipment. The cost for equipment is printed on the cards and appears to have been chosen with care: the first card of a new technology always being rather high and then declining to the end. This makes timing of purchases quite an important feature of play. Timing is also important when it comes to board positions. Initially only two railroads are allowed in most cities, making planning vital. There are plenty of opportunities for trouble as railroads can be cut off. The Pennsylvania railroad has its primary cities protected, but New York's are not, though at the same time the New York railroad cannot go elsewhere before going to those cities, leading to potential dangerous positions for the railroad. (This would probably not be seen in a German-style game.) There are also valuable coal fields in western Pennsylvania (the map stretches from Maine to Richmond, Chicago to St. Louis) that are quite profitable, but don't even need equipment to exploit. Another difference is that payouts differ from city to city, but also depend on the technology level printed on a scale in each city (a few of these even go down as technology improves). As is often the case, players act as themselves when buying stocks, and act as railroad presidents when buying track. Getting more money into a railroad is usually a matter of buying more of its stock, or of not paying dividends, which however has the drawback that the stock's price will not increase, thus sacrificing the long term for the short. If a railroad starts losing profitability or too many shares are sold its stock price plummets – probably because it has been cut off on the map – and it can become an albatross around its president's neck. To improve its stock price a railroad should always try to be more profitable than it was on its previous turn. This game cynically permits players to manipulate this process by changing which cities the railroad serves. How realistic this is I cannot answer. Another thematic oddity is that each railroad in a city is paid the same regardless of the number of railroads there. Apparently there is no competition? Perhaps the rationale is that the growing population makes this moot. The production is the usual functional, but artistically disappointing Winsome standard. Perhaps the most annoying is that every space is white, but many have different terrain costs. Players would get the big picture much more quickly if the colors of the hexes reflected their costs, which must anyway be based on mountains and other special terrain. There's also quite a lot of arithmetic. Calculating products like 19x7 is quite common – a calculator might be a good idea, even more so for end of game stock tabulation. There is a great deal of fiddling with cash and payouts and the package doesn't even provide any paper money. Beware if you've brought this on a trip and not taken the Poker chips! But the numbers get so large that even an ordinary three color set of chips are not going to handle it. But back to all of this paying out; it leads to the game's two worst sins: downtime and overall length. The latter easily stretches well over five hours. Because turns are taken mostly as railroad presidents, there can be an awful lot of downtime waiting for others to complete their turns, especially when one controls only a single railroad. Curiously, by the way, although the rules would seem to permit it, fights for control over railroads seem pretty rare here. That's probably because the initial stock purchase usually permits buying a full 50% which gives control as long as the owner wants it. Other player stakes tend to be just one or two shares so as to be in on a potentially fast growing stock. This has apparently been released in a very small print run – under one hundred it is said – and that is appropriate as the audience for something this long, this unpretty and with this large a tableprint must be quite small. By the way, reducing players to a minimum may not help the time issue either as the actor in a turn are for the most part the railroads, not the players. On the other hand, buying and selling stock is done by the players, so adding more players does make matters worse.
MMMH4 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 4)
Eddie Robbins; Winsome Games; 2009; 3-6
Bamboleo
if no image probably out of print
A definite entry in the "games you should try at least once in your life" is this party vehicle, accessible to just about anyone aged 6+ and having a somewhat steady hand. A wooden disk the size of a medium pizza is loaded up with a great number of variously-shaped wooden pieces and precariously balanced atop a pole topped by a corked sphere which permits the disk to tilt at some fairly wild angles. Players take turns carefully removing one piece at a time hoping to not be the one who makes it all topple down. Various approaches are available. One could play defensively by always seeking to remove the likeliest safest piece (not always easily identified) or offensively by taking a piece that maximizes instability for the next player. These also tend to correspond to the dilemma between the safe piece which is a point or trying to take a risky piece which might have to be abandoned mid-draw if things become too unstable. Finally, many playings will end in a satisfying crash that provides a fun laugh for all participants. [Party Games]
Jacques Zeimet; Zoch; 1996; 2-7
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Banana Republic
As in Junta, the topic is corrupt politicians. Players allocate their bribes and hit men cards to projects of varying values in secret, but each placement gives a chance to see what others have placed there. There is a definite memory element that may put off those players burned out by undergraduate work. A good concept, however, which is further refined in Corruption.
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1993; 2-5
Banditos
Michael Schacht card game of desperadoes seeking to rob banks in six Wild West cities, e.g. Santa Fe, Tucson, Tombstone, etc. Reminiscent of Kardinal & König: Das Kartenspiel in its lookahead nature, the main problem in robbing these banks is not breaking in, unlocking the safe or even security guards, but making the trip to the town in the first place. Each destination has four milestones represented by cards randomly distributed to the players. On his turn a player either plays such a card to advance the trip, places the card face up in front of himself or offers to pay for the right to place another's such card. The offer mechanism is innovative in that only one offer per turn may be made and if the seller does not accept, the deal doesn't go down. Buyers can ensure a deal however by paying the full price. The main reason to do this is to enable the fourth card to be played, which gives the player the bank's full value. On the other hand, this player may end up netting less than half the proceeds because of the payments to necessary to get there. The other dilemma is that the round ends when any player has no cards which means not all banks get visited. Figuring out when this is likely to happen is important in cutting costs. The card illustrations are very cute and go along with the light level of play. Some mental energy can be applied here, but one can imagine adding some form of card trading or other mechanisms to make this more desireable for strategists. Otherwise, were the theme less sinister, could probably work for a child audience.
Banque Fatale
Stefan Dorra game of shares and auctions. Each turn a share in either one or two companies is sold via blind auction. The innovative wrinkle is that the money bid comes in different types, all completely equal in terms of value, but completely different in terms of side effect. In this market, each bidding chip corresponds to a company and only the firm receiving the most bids will climb. Others drop at least one level or all the way to the bottom if not chips of its color are bid, a banque fatale indeed. Players take turns drafting back the spent chips and then the current player may sell a share. So players have several conflicting goals. Of course they want to spend a lot to ensure buying shares, but at the same time don't want to contribute to propping up others' share values. They would like to bid a lot of their own colors, but not so many as to have no chips left with which to avoid the big plunge on future turns. Finally, when on a selling turn, they want to avoid having their high value stock increase in price because then it may not be sold, but on the other hand if it should peak, they receive a nice dividend. In addition, players need to avoid the problems of being either the only person in a stock or, conversely, acquiring a stock which everyone else also has. It's all rather challenging and counter-intuitive, especially as it's so difficult to keep a stock's price stable, much less make it rise. One strategic idea that seems to work is to hoard the chips of a stock held by everyone but you, if you can afford it, that is. The entire playing, like the designer's For Sale, lasts a mere 20-30 minutes, but ineffably is not quite as exciting. On the other hand, when compared to the latter, so few games are. Perhaps there is too much a feeling of helplessness? On the other hand, if you've been playing just a bit too much For Sale or others of its type, as a welcome change of pace, you can bank on this one.
Stefan Dorra;
Barbarossa
Unusual mix of party and society game was, according to inventor Klaus Teuber, inspired by the Riddle-Master Trilogy of books (The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire and Harpist in the Wind) by Patricia A. McKillip in which wizards are devoted to the creation of riddles and riddle solving tournaments. In an interview he stated As you know there are moments when you close a book really sad that it's over. After finishing the last page, you often feel like you've lost a friend – to be somewhat melodramatic. So I was looking for a way to keep the book alive a little longer. Creating a game seemed the perfect solution. In this game, I was looking for a way to make riddles, to experiment with shapes and to let the players express their own creativity with clay. So players write down the titles of their sculptures which must be guessed by opponents in a way akin to Twenty Questions. But it's not really about sculpting ability since a sliding schedule of point awards tends to ensure that any figure which is either too easy or too difficult is penalized (i.e. there are penalties for being guessed very early or very late). More likely in most games the winner will be the best analyzer/guesser and, perhaps surprisingly, the one making best use of his free movement points. One doesn't want to use them up too early and be locked out of a glorious scoring opportunity and yet there is no point in saving them if one is about to be scooped. There's some strategy too in the word game sense as one may sculpt a book yet call it a "volume" or "tome". This light, colorful game is a category mixer that actually works and especially so for those who value both analytical thinking and creativity. On the other hand, those who don't like other word games or who take their playing too seriously ought to stay away as there are too may ways to wreck its balance by not playing in the right spirit. If your initial strategic thoughts are to deliberately sculpt something about which you know little so that you can't answer questions about it usefully, or to sculpt something so badly that its own mother wouldn't recognize it, this means you. The Alan Moon house rule forbidding creation of blobs and the Richard Vickery house rule further penalizing bad sculpture at the end game are advisable. Title means "red beard". [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games] [Party Games] [Holiday List 2002] [amazon.com]
Basari
The setting is a Middle Eastern bazaar. Players travel around the board landing on various stalls. On each turn the players may try to take the jewels pictured on the stall, take the number of Victory points listed on the stall, or roll the dice and move that amount forward. The player also subtracts the number rolled from '6' and gets that difference in victory points. The main feature is that each player secretly bids for which action he wishes to take by use of simultaneously-revealed tiles. If two players bid for the same action, they must negotiate a deal in jewels to see which one gets to execute it. Nice, light game of guessing and limited negotiation. If you want to try it out, I have managed to win by a small margin with the strategy of choosing victory points on every single opportunity. But if you do, you probably don't want to announce this ahead of time.
Reinhard Staupe
Bas-ket
Game for 2 children by Cadaco features an enclosed case trapped inside of which are a facsimile basketball which is flipped by two sets of paddles into an opposing basket. The winner is the one with the most points when the timer expires. Features only very mild amusement as there is no strategy at all, only skill.
Battleboard
Amusing "gadget game" with a medieval castle theme. The plastic board has a vertical cardboard separator so that players cannot see the opponent's plastic king and knight pieces. Pieces sit in holes which are connected via a conduit to the symmetrical position on the other side of the board. Players attempt to be the first to have two pieces reach the wall, the king reaching it permitting retrieval of a lost piece. Pieces are lost when on each turn an opponent places an air plunger in a hole on his side of the board and presses down. If there is a piece in the hole on the other side, it will fly up into the air a foot or so and be claimed by a convenient well on the plunger's side of the wall. Mostly a game of bluff without much strategy, nevertheless has a high fun factor.
Battleline
Adaptation of the Reiner Knizia game Schotten-Totten by GMT for the American wargaming set, complete with transforming the cards into Rodger MacGowan-rendered ancient warrior types and additional special effects cards. While the presentation makes matters seem more serious, the artwork actually comes off rather bland, lifeless and, surprisingly, unnecessarily small. Play itself is virtually the same with the special cards being mostly an outlet for the desperate. In any case they can be mostly nullified if one player simply refrains from using them, which is probably for the best as the original is very appealing without this additional gimmickry. The probable long-term effect of this offering will probably be simply to open even more eyes of traditional war game players to the possibilities of German-style games.
Battleship
A 1932 booklet claims that the game originated with soldiers in Russia during the First World War. It was first published by the Starex Novelty Co. in 1931 as Salvo, again in 1932 by Strategy Games Co. as an air game called Wings, then by the Strathmore Co. in 1933 as Combat, the Battleship Game. Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy, the same game by Parker Bros. came a decade later. It competed with the Maurice L. Freedman Co. version called Warfare Naval Combat and one by Transogram called Convoy. In 1961 Ideal published a version again called Salvo. It has since appeared in many other titles versions in many countries. Basically it is a game of guessing the locations of ships on the opponent's hidden grid, a pure process of elimination which doesn't have much strategy. Adults who get roped into this one can add a minimal level of strategy by using the "Salvo" variants which appear in some editions. A
Battleship Express
Do you sometimes get the feeling that Hasbro is a kind of Jekyll and Hyde company? On the one hand there's the good side, people who truly love good games and are trying to create them, even on the Death Star. And then there are the bean counter levels that know nothing of games, but only understand protecting trademarks and namespaces. So what happens? Endless iterations of Risk, Axis & Allies, Monopoly and all the rest. But since the beaners won't, or can't, understand the games, when it comes to actual content, apparently anything goes. Meanwhile, here's Reiner Knizia who's been busy the past few years re-doing oldies such as Pit. A perfect match, or it would be, if only Hasbro dared to do much above the least common denominator. This revisit of Battleship changes the process of elimination game into yet another of the dice games that are swamping the marketplace of late. There is a basic and an advanced version, the latter being still so basic that no one over age six ought to look at the former. Each player controls an identical set of ships – battleship, carrier, destroyer, submarine, patrol boat – in a line. On a turn a ship is picked to bring to the front so that it can fire, and also expose itself to the enemy. On the defensive side, each ship requires a different number of hits to sink while on the offensive, each fires in a different way, using different numbers of dice and re-rolls and also scoring the results differently. Each of the special plastic dice show all of the five ship dice on their faces and an explosion icon on the sixth face. Destroying an opponent's ship claims it for the active player; the game concludes upon completion of the race to be the first to collect four. Though there's some excitment from the rolling of the dice to see what happens, there are few real tactics or strategy, and of course the theme is quite minimal. There is possibly some evaluation of probabilities, but it's minimal. The ships illustrations on shiny cardboard are bland and the cardboard not even in the shape of ships. The dice use stickers which may come off eventually. The best part of all actually is the handy-sized, black plastic cylinder that serves as the game's container, and that doesn't include just the components. At least duration should be under twenty minutes.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4
Reiner Knizia; Hasbro; 2008; 2-4
Battlestar Galactica
if no image probably out of print
Historically, tie-in games like this one based on the American science fiction television series, are almost never good, simply because they don't have to be; folks will buy it anyway just because they like show. But if there were ever to be a good tie-in game, what would it look like? Crafted by long time Fantasy Flight contributor, Corey Konieczka (Warrior Knights, Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones, Starcraft, Tide of Iron, etc.), this one tells a story similar to Shadows Over Camelot, in which a team tries to work together on a difficult task amid enemy attacks and the sabotaging efforts of some of their number. A large board depicts a mother ship with a variety of locations therein and surrounded by a lot of empty space divided into six sectors. Off to the side are other places to visit. On a turn a player gets to move to virtually any space and then takes an action, either the one printed on the board or plays a card. After that an event card is drawn that usually means bad news for the team unless they can overcome it. Sometimes it's a matter of the player choosing which of two evils can best be borne, but usually it's a matter of players anonymously contributing cards to a common pot and then seeing if their total exceeds the required value. This is the main area where traitors can commit sabotage as only cards of the appropriate colors help; others detract. The fact that some cards in the pot are drawn randomly means that often traitors can get away with nefarious activities without detection. Negative effects include losses to the team's four main necessaries: food, fuel, morale and people, each of which is represented by an unnecessarily fancy dial attached to the board, or losses to ship systems or its associated ships due to enemy attack. The hidden identity system is made more interesting by dealing out cards not only at the start of play, but also at the midpoint so that someone who is not a traitor at the outset may become one later. Some characters even receive more than two cards, giving a greater chance. There is also a sort of half traitor, called a sympathizer; he might also be called a contrarian as he is loyal to the team when things are going badly, but betrays them when all is well. What's good too, and unlike Shadows Over Camelot, is that being a traitor, even a declared one, is that there are still challenging decisions and reasonable actions to take, even if it is still a tad less exciting than being part of the team. On the other hand, expert traitors/manipulators from Shadows Over Camelot may ask "where's the challenge in just anonymously laying off some cards?" While all of the above is mainly praise, there are problems too, chief of which is that players draw cards at the starts of their turns and everyone else must wait in boredom while they are read. As a result, even a four person playing can stretch to over three hours. There is a lot of text everywhere, much of it too small and too often upside down for half the table. Even worse, despite all this text too much of it remains in the rules and not on the board. Why aren't the combat tables printed there? Why aren't the rather involved rules for traitor activities printed on a card instead of only in the booklet? And there are spaces indicated for some of the card draw piles, but none for discards. At this rate the board might as well have been dispensed with altogether and only the ship shown. Friendly and enemy ships are represented by little gray plastic pieces, admittedly in eight different varieties, that really don't add that much and would probably have been more colorful and evocative as cardboard tiles. The stand up character pieces in clear plastic stands are quite nice, but the papery character sheets are too flimsy. Despite the problems, this is one tie-in that, while not all the way there, gets things substantially right. In addition, for the most part this is a the-more-the-merrier game; having more players (and for the traitors some fellow team members) makes it more fun and, since each player makes the board elements progress, not adding as much time as usual. But do move card drawing to the end of the turn in any case. [6-player Games]
Corey Konieczka; Fantasy Flight; 2008; 3-6
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Battling Tops
The board is a mildly sloped plastic bowl with four launching stations. Players wind strings around the stems of differently-named plastic tops. Attached to the other end of the string is a plastic handgrip which attaches to the top. Simultaneously all players pull back on the grip which spins the tops and launches them onto the board. The last top still spinning when the others have falled wins. An action game with almost no player control, although players may attempt different launching techniques, it can sometimes be amusing because a top when dying will sometimes swerve wildly and take out several competitors. Tops are individually-named, thus encouraging tournaments and ascribing of personalities.
Bayon
Adlung card game about sending out explorers to the five continents is reminiscent of Source of the Nile because of the concomitant need for fundraising. But this is a far, far less complicated endeavor. The "undiscovered" continents hide their secrets in card decks to which players commit funds and an exploration team in order to claim. Tragically, every expedition claims one of the differently abled explorers, but at least the success provides a lot of funding. Players can scout out continents before trying if they like and interact in three ways: exploiting a card before an opponent can do so, putting a customs block in their path or buying one of their explorers out from under them. There are interesting strategic considerations – do you go for a lot of quick small expeditions or a few big ones? – as well as considerable reaction to the moves of others. Artwork is a fairly standard version of what one can find in collectible card games these days, but does not fully exploit the feeling of the time it attempts to reflect. The character naming, e.g. "Lara Craft", is too feeble an attempt at parody; it should have been either much stronger or played straight. So the mechanisms, quite clean, tend to carry more of the thematic load. But the overall is pleasing, for armchair explorers especially. The title is the name of a historic temple in Cambodia. A chart showing the possible values of each continent card would be a valuable play aid for serious competitors.
Wolfgang Werner; Adlung; 2002; 2-4 [Buy it at Adlung]
Bazaar
Sid Sackson game about a Middle Eastern bazaar. Has no real travel or desert, but is an abstract rendering of the barter and trading that goes on, and in particular, the process of continual "through-trading" to get what it is that you ultimately want. Contrary to most games which are "haul in as much as you can", here one is actually penalized for having too much unused material. Points are collected based on the number of remaining gems the player has each time a card is claimed, the fewer the better. Thus a player needs to be efficient not in the sense of earning a lot of gems, but in making only necessary trades. It is Chess-like in the sense that a player must traverse a decision tree of possible trades which lead to more possible trades and so on. This game could be played very well by a computer, particularly if the optional rule that prohibits rolling the die except when no trade is possible were employed. Later published as a different game under the same title and thus called Bazaar II. A third version appeared as Samarkand. [6-player Games] [more]
Beast, La
Trick-taking card game by Avid Press of New York, 1992, but said to be based on a traditional Italian card game. The game comes in a wooden box which includes a deck of cards and play money meant to represent beans. The style of play is after Ramsli, but with several features lacking. Here, if the turned up trump is not of interest to anyone, the hand is thrown in without trying any alternatives, wasting time. During play, it is illegal not to play trump (slough) if unable to follow suit, reducing decisionmaking. The order of cards, A-3-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-2 is arbitrary and nonsensical. The game is supposed to be about collecting beans, but instead of reinforcing this theme, the game provides ordinary play money which has nothing to do with that except for the blandly printed word "bean". Cards are rendered in color after the Tarot deck including cup, gold, sword and club artwork is functional but rather crude. Players would be better off providing their own cards and beans. [6-player Games] L
Beim Zeus
Game about auctioning island properties and building Greek temples owes a lot to Metropolis. Presentation is very nice including a wheel gadget that permits in-the-fist style auctions. The rules themselves are quite a hurdle however and figuring out what was intended a game in itself. It appears that the idea is that every property is meant to be auctioned off though the rules never state how the deck is to be reconstituted. The timing of the "god stone" is not well explained either. The sequence of play does not mention the income phase, nor is the game nice enough to print it on the board, but instead there are silly rules about penalizing players should they happen to forget to take their income. In terms of actual play, income is so minimal as to have almost no effect on the outcome so why players are forced to waste time with this phase is mysterious. There are some nice features in terms of figuring out the groupthink about which types of temples will be built most, but the fact that temples come in only three varieties makes it a bit prosaic. One longs for the greater variety of buildings in a game like Metropolis or Big City. The auction is of the "blind double winner" variety which is not the best for a tight game as it leads to reckless overspending and at times incredible bargains.
Beowulf: die Legende (Beowulf: the Legend)
Multi-player Reiner Knizia game in which players represent the Nordic hero's companions who nevertheless also compete for fame and glory. The unusual L-shaped board displays the significant events in the epic tale via a labeled, serpentine track. (The artist, John Howe of Lord of the Rings fame, probably hasn't heard of Kurt Vonnegut's Palm Sunday in which the author proposes the interesting idea that the action of any story can be represented as a line graph – unfortunate as it might have been interesting to use here.) Winning each story event requires cards of up to two types that are known in advance, but win or lose, each player will receive something – in the case of the last placed player, usually a negative something. But no player can be entirely knocked out. Probably the most innovative and controversial element is the ability to gamble by drawing cards in the round-the-table bidding that reminds of Taj Mahal; when one is out of cards this is the only option short of resigning and taking the lowest place still available. But it has the downside that if cards of the right type are not taken, the player takes a slight wound – a mere scratch really, but accumulate enough of them and lose points at the end. Deciding if and when to risk drawing cards – I have seen some have success drawing on the very first round even when holding some of the appropriate cards – is one of the more interesting decisions. Another is how many to spend on a current challenge and how many to save. There is clearly a psychological element as one tries to gauge opponent strengths from their bidding style, usually one of assured (overbidding), timid (bidding to match) or desperate (gambling). The artwork is as beautifully realized as one would expect. The board includes a round, separable piece in the centier which is useful for displaying the event's booty. There is no need for player pawns, but curiously the Beowulf piece is not gloriously elaborate. Despite its planning aspects, success feels overly dominated by luck in drawing cards and although the presentation takes a sip of flavor, theme fans are not likely to find enough to please them either. Such a game might otherwise be okay as a gateway for those new to the hobby, but the gambling element seems to run counter to the "planning is important in these games" message one wants to deliver. Expert tacticians, especially those into the fantasy genre, are the most likely to be pleased here, if anyone.
MLMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos/Fantasy Flight; 2005; 2-5
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Bethump'd With Words
Trivia game for the dictionary set. Questions come in many areas including word origins, Shakespeare's usage, homophones, eponyms and not a few others – I suspect most will learn something they never knew before. A player doesn't get to choose this question type, however – it is provided for him via roll of the die, which gives one of six difficulty levels, an issue also unfortunately out of the player's purview. A successful answer permits moving a number of spaces equal to or less than the level, the goal being to eventually land on all the letters in a pre-determined word. There are some spaces that permit "teleporting" across the board. Landing on another pawn lets you teleport it across the board. As far as the question cards themselves, the creators could have been more careful in their formulation, onerous though this task must have been, for they do not always seem fair for their levels. For example, some level 4 cards seem considerably more difficult than some level 6 cards. Other cards are factually wrong, such as a "euphemism" card intimating that Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of Panama. Either the Bush invasion of the isthmian state or Reagan's daring takeover of Grenada must have been intended. It is suggestive that many of the euphemism cards seem to be about Reagan ... Overall, with home fixing of some cards this will be okay for language mavens and fans, but the strategy aspects, while not the worst seen in a party game, could certainly be improved. [Party Games] [amazon.com]
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Cooperative game of horrors found in an abandoned house. Along the lines of the typical horror movie plot, players represent variably-powered characters left stranded at a mysterious mansion. They reveal rooms in the tri-level by turning up tiles which offer items, events, omens, traps and ability enhancements. As more omens appear, it becomes ever more likely that a dice roll will trigger the horror-filled second half of the contest. Now one of the players – generally the one least equipped to fight the menace – becomes possessed by the lurking evil and seeks to destroy the other characters. This player leaves the room to read one handbook while the rest read another – both have only partial information about what the other can do. Particularly hidden is exactly what the good characters need do to destroy the menace. Everything here seems to work pretty well, although it should be noted that these comments are based on use of the revised handbooks published at the Avalon Hill website. Characters are rated for Might, Speed, Knowledge and (borrowing from Call of Cthulhu), Sanity, the current levels being indicated by plastic sliders mounted on the edges of the heavy cardboard cards. Progression up and down the scale is not linear, but tailored for the particular character, and for balance. The opposite side shows a different character so there are plenty to choose from. Resolving "to hit" rolls is kept simple as rolling the number of dice equal to one's ability, trying to exceed a total. The dice show only values 0-3 which greatly simplifies the counting. The scenarios are both balanced and full of story value. With 50 available, it will take quite some time to repeat any. Artwork is suitably dark while the communication design is mostly good, though some icons are hard to see in certain rooms, especially those with tiled floors. There are too many cardboard bits if anything – one would have thought more generic, re-usable ones sufficient. There are nice, painted figures for the characters, but they are a bit fragile and did not receive a special insert to protect them as was done for Shadows Over Camelot. This is a thematic delight and obvious labor of love. Many will enjoy the group planning and strategizing to destroy the menace as well. On the other hand there is plenty of randomness and many early turns can be boring as players race around to enhance abilities. Too, this bit of game state needs to be memorized as each player can do it only once, something not seen in 99% of all German games. It's too bad there is no way to get hints about what the menace will be, and who, so as to be able to try to plan for it. Overall, it remains a worthy entry for most players. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Beyond Balderdash
Follow-on to Balderdash widens the scope to include people, initials, movies, and dates. This should help level the playing ground in some groups as well as add some nice variety. [6-player Games] [Party Games]
[Buy it at Amazon]
Biàn Sè Lóng
This currently popular Chinese card game employs traditional cards and is a Crazy Eights variant. Modifications are few: (1) If you do not play a card you must burn one by placting it in a deck face down before you. These count against you at the end, according to rank. (2) After playing or burning a card, a new one is always drawn. (3) When you play a card which matches the rank of the previous one, you may change the suit to any color you like. (4) The wild card rank is Jack rather than 8 (a trivial change – might be more fun to use a Tichu deck and designate the special cards as wild). (5) Aces have the value (in terms of penalty points) of 1. This version tends to give players more options and the requirement of burning a card (similar to playing a patron at the bar in Café International Kartenspiel) makes decisionmaking acutely challenging. At the same time players are constantly getting information on others' hands from the relative point values they are playing. Mandarin title means "Chameleon".
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Big Boggle
Essentially the same as Boggle, but featuring a larger grid. Perhaps a bit less strategic since it is easier to form words, but helpful if one has a lot of players. [Buy it at amazon.com]
Big Boss
Wolfgang Kramer game of building and merging automobile manufacturing companies owes much to Acquire. New features of interest include a linear rather than grid board and three-dimensional stacking ability. Luck of the draw seems to play an important role, although ameliorated by the requirement to spend for extra cards. Groupthink is thus probably just as important. The very large plastic pieces fit nicely into the slotted board but unfortunately are opaque and thus make it difficult to see the important numbers they cover. Tall towers also tend to make it difficult to view parts of the board – may be best to play it on a low coffee table. Parodic names of real automobile companies add humor. While less dry than Acquire, not as much fun as Shark. [6-player Games]
Big Cheese, The
Cheapass Games production of a very simple dice and auction concept is cynically set in an environment of corporate greed. Project managers bid employees to get projects and make money upon completion. But in real life, wouldn't the winning project manager be the one who bids the fewest rather than the most employees? Maybe more time should have been spent finding a theme for this one. Although the tension between wanting to spend in the auction, but then having to wait longer to take advantage is there, any strategy is eventually obliterated by the vagaries of just a few die rolls. So skimpy are the rules that they are printed on just one side (as are the cards). This obsession with cheapness leads to a rules ambiguity. I believe the intent was for reclaimed tokens to return to their usual owner, not the one who won the most recent auction. Not only is the art unprofessional, it is unattractive. This might have worked as a quick game to play in a restaurant, but the large number of not-supplied components – ten tokens per player and several polyhedric dice (a single six-sider can stand in unsatisfactorily) – precludes even that humble role. Remembering to remove the tokens at the end of each turn can be tricky too – "did I pull one off this turn or not?" – which suggests that a system which lined up cards in order where they can reach completion one by one might have been a more workable system. Overall, not recommended, but would welcome the basic mechanism in the context of a full-fledged, multi-mechanism board game.
Big City
Game of city planning owes a lot to Sid Sackson's Metropolis, as do a lot of others about city building. Placement on city blocks is based on cards drawn from decks of specific neighborhoods. In addition there is the possibility of placing new neighborhoods and also a trolley line. All that seems to be missing is a baseball stadium. Plastic pieces are very nicely made and a new box is fun to open since just like a box of chocolates one discovers layer after layer of nice surprises. The course of play is a bit odd in that much of the game is not unleashed until the city hall is placed, but it may be that no one sees a particular benefit in placing it. Probably someone should monopolize a neighborhood in order to place it in safety. In general, understanding the consequences of one's actions takes experience and a few completed games. Because the board may change so much between turns, I recommend not more than three players so that planning is adequately rewarded. In general a nice experience with lookahead ability greatly rewarded. Negotiation fans will find a variant which permits card trading for their use. Apparently the rule which permits the streetcar line to branch was added only for the English edition; I think I prefer going without it.
Big Idea, The
Something of a party as well as a strategy game. Players put together an adjective with a noun to create a new invention, e.g. "Mentholated Cat" and try to get other players to invest in the new idea with hopes of it paying off. Initially there is no way to choose which one to invest in, so players tend to do it based on whatever they find most humorous. Later on as investments pay off players will tend to invest in projects not those of the leader. Probably pales after most of the jokes have been found, but with expansion kits would be an excellent entry in the hard-to-find "mindless but fun" category. Plays more easily if coins rather than a scoring sheet is used. Similar to Apples to Apples.
Big Points
if no image, probably out of print
This second published game from the Ditts impressively diverges from the first, the undersea exploration game Nautilus. This one's clear inspiration is Knizia's Tutanchamun, but even so it twists matters in its own direction. Once again a number of pieces are laid out randomly in a chain along which pawns will move, toward a stepped goal. In this one a player may move forward any pawn, but its destination is limited to the next piece matching its color, upon which the player takes either of the pieces adjacent to the pawn's position. There are also black and white pieces, which do not match any pawns. Black ones may be spent to perform a double move, which may be backwards. White ones give extra points in proportion to the number of colors the player has collected. But how are points earned in general? When a pawn has no further piece to move toward, it is moved up the ramp to the highest empty space. The highest has a value of four, the lowest zero, and these amounts are point multipliers for the pieces players have managed to take in hand. It should be apparent that this is a highly integrated affair and one in which there is the constant dilemma of moving to take a valuable piece, but on the other hand, giving someone else a valuable move or even giving a color that an opponent has more of a high valuation. Yet the rules are also very simple and play times tend to be short enough that there's often desire for a repeat play, which will most likely go entirely differently. The one concern might be that some setups are unfair, especially with the full number of players, or that a kingmaking situation could occur, but the short duration and easy repeatability help with that. The pieces are nicely-painted wood while the steps are fancy cardboard. Everything is functional and even though to date it has been published only in Germany (despite the deceivingly English title), there are no texts apart from the instructions. This fine game of groupthink, foresight and evaluation is recommended as an easy to learn yet rewarding exercise for just about all types.
LLHH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Wolfgang & Brigitte Ditt; Schmidt-2008; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon.de]
Big Shot
Alex Randolph game (2001) of auctions and area dominance, set in the American metropolis of the 1920's. The field of play is a group of city lots worth varying numbers of points and flanked by "doubling" parks at the corners. Each turn players bid on a random group of cubes, the winner being able to place them freely. When a lot has reached seven cubes, its majority winner is awarded the lot, but in a delightful rule, on a tie a player only having a single cube wins instead. Also innovative is the funding system: players can take one fixed size loan per turn, but only if otherwise unable to bid and each at 10% higher interest. Bidding just to take a loan is common and is associated with the game's endgame issue. Bidding here is essentially an attack in other guise and the fact that a player can bid freely – even on cubes of no practical benefit – means an out of the running player can often decide the winner. It's unfortunate because otherwise this moves well and gives rise to stimulating bidding, funding and placement decisions. A case of "too good to be true" apparently. This could perhaps still be enjoyed by a friendly group who can trust one another to refrain from kingmaking.
Alex Randolph; 2001
Big Top
Adaptation of the traditional card game, Fan Tan, is based on an interesting idea. In the original, the main tactic is to not play a card which is early in sequence to thus prevent opponents from playing their higher cards. Inventor Ray Mulford must have noticed that this is rather all-or-nothing. What if the game permitted a middle ground? So here, under a strict system of rules, players can offer points if someone would just play the card they need. And, to make things more interesting, the game changes the number of suits from four to eight. Finally, before the hand, players must place weighted wagers on which suits they think they will manage to complete. In effect this simple-looking game becomes a subject for rigorous cost-benefit analysis! But to shine as such it requires that all players approach it in this analytical way. On the other hand, its appearance and simple rules will probably most likely appeal first to those who take games more casually. But players should be thinking about things like which should have priority, getting payouts or letting others have payouts? If you have purposely buried a card, when is the ideal time to bring it out, if ever? Solutions probably depend on which tack your opponents are choosing. The cards are decently made, as are the charts. Markers are rather flimsy. The artwork is stylistic, individual and interesting enough that it deserves to have been better served. Had the captions that give factoids on the history of the circus been omitted, the illustrations would be much easier to appreciate. This from a reviewer who usually prefers text over art. The cards are also only usable in one orientation The biggest problem of all, however, is the incomprehensibility of the instructions, which are so unhelpful that I have taken the unusual step of preparing a rewrite. This is a simple game, but so many of the good ones are. It's better with more players – up to six are accommodated – and many of its decisions are subtle ones of close measurement. Its circus theme has nothing to do with play, but it is a cheery one. Another good game on this topic is Feuerschlucker. Advanced Primate Entertainment
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Billabong
Somewhat unusual kangaroo race game featuring players racing around on a grid with a central lake (billabong). Efficient forward movement is accomplished via long distance jumps over other pieces. The game is thus more in the abstract vein with considerable lookahead ability essential to good play. Franjos
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Bist du Sicher?


click on images for larger versions

In these days of the 2010s, it's a commonplace that apart from the efflorescence of 3M Games like
Acquire (1962), there are few society games from the pre-1993 period still worth playing. Yet from time to time an outlier is unearthed that still has the power to surprise us, and in a good way. One such from the early nineties was Columbus. Astron is another; it hails from the hoary mid-fifties. Splitting the time difference is this one with a punning title that means "Are you safe?" in the insurance ad sense, but which can also be interpreted "Are you sure (that you're doing the right thing?)" in the game play sense. Acquiring insurance is indeed the subject here and maybe it was originally meant as a promotional game for an insurance company, but considering that bad things can happen to players, maybe no company would want to be associated with that. Each player has a board on which tiles in four different categories – family, luxuries, investments and hobbies – are to be collected, by drawing from the bag. The double trick is that the number to be drawn is determined by die roll and that there are not a few negative events – accidents, fires, burglaries, illnesses, etc. A roll of 4 or more gives a choice of whether to risk drawing that many tiles or taking the amount in cash instead, cash that can be used to buy insurance in twelve different categories corresponding to the above events. This means that if hit by such an event, the player gets paid; otherwise a large debt is incurred, which must be paid off before the player can win. Another little decision to make is whether to save enough money to buy the family plan comprehensive insurance, which, though costing 20, is a bargain compared to the 26 one would pay to get each of its four policies individually. There are also a few good events in the form of monetary windfalls; these are a double advantage as not only do they help, but they take the place of something which might be negative. Possibly considered as a catch-up mechanism, it's not clear if these were really necessary or even good for the design. The other important rule is that since no player is likely to draw exactly the advantages needed, any duplicates are purchaseable by others (at a cost of six). Although the plastic insert, designed to be used like a banker's tray is quite clever, the tiles in this era were rather thin and cheaply made and illustrated. The small cards are okay and look a little better as well. Talents needed for this game are noticing what has already been drawn (similar to the very dissimilar Empires of the Middle Ages) and from this data forming a good idea of how dangerous drawing a lot of tiles might be as well as assessing how well one is doing and taking risks accordingly, i.e. small if in the lead, but large when trailing badly. So even though this is quite random, this risk-taking can be quite exhilarating and for schadenfreude fans, it's not bad seeing someone else draw a particularly nasty event either. Players of Sticheln will understand.
LHMH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Rudi Hoffmann; Spear's Games-1971; 2-4; 60 [Shop]
Black Box
Two player game of logical deduction refers not to aircraft flight recorders, but rather the idea of shining rays of light into a two-dimensional box to figure out where four or five items are located. The box is represented as a grid set up by one player while the other declares where he would shine the light. The setter gives one of the following responses: (1) the light hit an item directly and was absorbed; (2) the light encountered an item in a one off row and was thus reflected ninety degrees away from it and came out elsewhere; (3) the light could not go anywhere and was reflected back out. From such information the player tries to figure out the locations of all the items in a few moves as possible. It's a very absorbing problem for the active player, but as in Mastermind or Eleusis there is no decisionmaking for the setter during the actual game. There is potentially some fun in the setup if the opponent is known since some setups are more deceptive than others (for example, multiple reflections are possible). But overall is probably best played as a solitaire computer exercise as is offered at http://www.brettspielwelt.de. The Eric Solomon creation is rather ingenious in the way it has taken care of the problem of consistency of results regardless of where a light is shined. By the way, should work well in atypical settings like on a plane or over email as the players don't necessarily have to be co-located.
Franjos
Black Spy
Alan Moon trick-taking card game akin to Hearts but with special spy cards thrown in. Worthwhile.
Alan R. Moon
Black Vienna
In a logical game akin to Sleuth, players must deduce the identities of three spies represented by lettered cards which have been removed from the deck. The rest of the cards are dealt to the players who record them on their note sheets. There are other cards which each list three letters. Three of these are dealt out to the middle of the table. The first player chooses any one of them and presents it to another player who must check his own cards and answer (by placing chips on the card) whether he holds 0, 1, 2 or all 3 of these cards. Furious scribbling on the note sheets. The questioned player now has a turn. A new card is dealt to the table and he may now ask a question of someone. If any question receives an answer of zero, it may be re-used. Game ends when someone guesses the solution correctly. Of course each player gets at most one guess. It's quite challenging to figure out the best question to ask, and of whom. Probably less subject to luck than Sleuth. There is some fragility here. If players are not careful and accidentally give a wrong response it often ruins the entire game for everyone (though it's sometimes recoverable). A good tip is, enforce the rule that whenever a player responds to a card, he must pick up his cards and view them when determining the response. Experience teaches that this helps to avoid most of the problems. Players who only consult their note sheets to make this response make errors far more frequently than otherwise. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find, but not difficult to create for oneself.
Update of July 10, 2008: There is now a nice free online version which, of course takes care of the accidental wrong response problem. Be careful however as there is a serious bug. If the person creating the game does not choose himself as player 1 and then immediately after creating the game goes at his cards, he instead gets to see all of the cards of player 1, quite an unfair advantage. [6-player Games]
Blackjack (21, Vingt-et-Un)
Traditional gambling card game in which the player draws cards trying to get closer to twenty-one points than the banker. It was probably invented in France around 1700 from games like Chemin de fer and French Ferme. It appears to be related to Baccarat, which has more cachet, being the game of James Bond. But Blackjack made its name in the 19th-century Western saloon. Because it had a tough job competing there against Poker and Craps, houses started offering special 10-1 payouts if a player got a black Jack and an Ace of Spades as the first two cards. The game's popularity is probably based on its simple rules and rapidly repeated sense of disappointment or exhilaration. As the game goes on, players who can count in some way which cards are no longer available can gain valuable information about the now assymmetric deck and intelligently adjust the sizes of their wagers. In Britain, Black Jack is another name for Crazy Eights.
Bleeding Sherwood
Card game somewhat similar to Condottiere in which players bid on randomly-turned up point cards. Connection with Robin Hood theme is quite thin. As success seems mostly based on luck of the draw, probably not worth the time.
Blindes Huhn
Trick-taking card game with a rather unique feature in the genre: programmed hands. Once players arrange the order of their cards, they may only choose to play from either the left or the right ends. Rules and scoring are quite simple to understand – the only objective is to avoid taking as much as possible the chicken cards which count for various amounts of negative points. Really needs to have several hands played to be appreciated, first to even out the luck of card distribution (having too many high cards and too few egg cards are both bad), and second to develop an idea about how others are programming their hands and figure out ways to program against them. Sometimes people ask, "what's a game having high strategy and low tactics?" Since one's options are entirely designed from the start and are not really changeable, this is an example. The only problem is that some may feel there isn't enough information to design properly. Personally I find that the simple approach of ordering the hand in ascending order can be very successful. Then just routinely duck every trick with the highest possible card unless one is sure it has no chicks in it. Of course this may need to be changed if everyone also follows the same principle. Many players find the unusual absence of tactics too frustrating. Cards are very plain, though the few chicken cards do bear cute, cartoonish illustrations and the numbers conveniently appear in all four corners. Most subsequent games have learned not to use difficult-to-read decorative typefaces for important information such as numbers. Title translates to "Blind Chicken" and may derive from the German expression "even a blind chicken finds a kernel once in a while", the equivalent of the American proverb of squirrel and acorn.
Michael Schacht; Berliner Spielkarten; 1997; 3-6
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Blitz und Donner (Hera and Zeus)
Two-player card game by Richard Borg posits the thunder vs. the lightning in a Greek mythology setting. Reminiscent of both Stratego and Magic: the Gathering, a challenging exercise with many different ways to win, or lose, bad luck with the draw being one of them, but not all that commonly. Perhaps the American designer is the reason for a lot more feeling of combat than in the typical German game. Short enough that there is a tendency to try "just one more" over and over again.
Blokus
Light, themeless abstract played out on a grid. A player has a number of oddly shaped pieces which must be fit onto the grid, the trouble being that three others are trying to do the same. The first approach for many may be to try to play as in the old video game Breakout, streaking for the opposite board edge. But since all one needs to connect is a diagonal corner, good play is really something more subtle. In fact, the strategy should be to access to all still open parts of the board and the main tactic to overlap the corners of the opponents' pieces. These pieces are nicely made translucent plastic which have the arresting quality that when jostled against each other sound like breaking glass. I must confess that when we were exhibiting at Essen 2000, Sekkoia was also there, in the very next booth and while we nodded a daily greeting to inventor Bernard Tavitian, we never did get around to trying this, his game. Part of it was the busyness of the show, but part also that it looked more like something for children than anything we wanted to try. But two years later it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres Award and even more recently, requested more than once of me. This impressive slow build makes me wonder whether this game doesn't yet have a great future. In its favor are attractive appearance and simple instructions that should extend the audience to children and grandparents who don't want to bother with lots of details, even if it may be rather dry for those of us seeking more of a storytelling element.
Blue Moon City
Reiner Knizia's light (gateway) game in a fantasy setting is a thematic follow-on to his two-player Blue Moon. If the games he has been making the past few years are more mined out of this vein than of that preferred by the hard core, it needn't be a negative, and just might be a noble service. Just think how many more people could grow up loving games if their first impressions weren't formed from tired, broken down horses like Risk and Monopoly. Even if Hasbro is blocking this goal in the USA, perhaps it can at least be realized in other geos. This game – Blue Moon City, not the ambitious one Reiner is playing – posits the ruins of a nearly dead fantasy world on a grid of large squares. Players move pawns around the board, spending cards according to what the area needs. Completing a demand provides points for all who participated, and especially the one who contributed the most. These points are used to buy the victory point markers – which are in limited supply and get even more expense over time – that eventually provide the victory. There isn't a great deal that feels new here as players are dealing with customary issues of timing, and efficiency. What's good for the newbie is that complexity isn't particularly high and that final scores often end up pretty close, making everyone feel they had a chance to win. For the more experienced player, probably the most interesting feature is in the hand management. There's a lot of ability to discard, making tricky questions out of how much and which cards to dump. On the other side, a single card may be played in more than one way and in various combinations – which to choose is also non-obvious, which is a feature, though it may slow play at times.
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos; 2006; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
The Boardgamegeek Game
if no image, probably out of print
This one shares with Key Harvest, probably this inventor's most similar effort, the idea of players operating in two separate modes. Here they represent named game publishers (R&D, Eggert, Queen, Ystari, Treefrog or Hans-im-Glück), but also game buyers trying to assemble a complete collection. The board shows six game shops represented by 3x3 grids. Turns are taken to place into these face down tiles that represent named games. Tiles are numbered as well, each shop accepting only two or three numbers. When placement is finished, each player rolls three dice to determine in which shop they are placed; they will buy one game each. Players are not committed to these locations, but may pay victory points to either move to adjacent shops or re-roll. When all of this activity has ceased, the available games are finally revealed and players take turns moving a die to a vacant game tile in the shop. They do not pay for the chosen games – in terms of money they only represent publishers – but are paid by the bank when their games sell. Those not sold move to a lower priced row or off to the charity bin, where they may still be picked up. A possibly annoying possibility here is that a player unable to claim any game may thus instead claim his own, thus denying the possibility of its collection by the player desperately seeking it, a rather gamey move without much thematic meaning. It can also be rather annoying as a full collection of a particular game rank is worth thirty points, but falling short by even one is worth only the rank multiplied by the count. This form of scoring tends to dominate by far that achieved by sales, but is difficult to track during play. A rule requiring players to reveal a set as it's completed might make for a more compelling and intense match. The production is well realized. Besides the eighteen dice, there are workable screens and tiles showing the fronts of our favorite games. Best of all is the incredibly busy and yet rather attractive game board featuring yet more game box illustrations, altogether reminding something of a German Wunderkammer. Festooned around the edge are portraits of some of the most popular game characters while the box features a thousand user images from the boardgamegeek.com website. (What a job collecting all of those must have been!) There's an challenging pricing subsystem here: where is the best place to sell an item to make money, or is it better to make them hard to find? On the buying side, trying to find a wanted game can be as maddening as in real life and it's necessary to do a certain amount of tracking and guessing about the intentions of others in the same shop. How much to spend on moving dice is less an issue than is guessing where they are best placed. This is mostly an easygoing affair of about an hour or a bit more with a fair amount of luck and decent challenges. Game collectors and anyone having their image on the box will want this (clever marketing there), but it's good enough for just about anyone to enjoy, though some may find the balance of control and randomness tilted too far toward the latter. For purely amusement purposes, everyone should check out the unique method for determining the starting player; clearly it is the gamiest set of rules ever devised.
MMHM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Richard Breese; R&D Games; 2009; 3-6 [Shop]
Boggle
Game of forming words from a randomly-determined grid of letters. Simultaneously a game of knowledge, skill and strategy, the latter being a matter of whether one should try for many short words or a few very long ones. It doesn't hurt to know something about one's opponents. [amazon.com]
Bohnanza
Card game of trading various types of humorous beans. The Bohnanza Erweiterungs-Set merely adds more bean types and permits more players. A simple game which may be useful for introducing those new to games, it is difficult to sustain interest with so few strategic decisions. Additionally, the earlier in the round one is, the more success. Analysis of the math in Bohnanza [variant] [Holiday List 2002] [6-player Games] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners]
Uwe Rosenberg; 1997 [Buy it at Amazon]
Bohnanza - La Isla Bohnità
Expansion kit which adds ships and pirates. Unless its charms are extremely well-hidden, this expansion really doesn't add anything useful to the game.
Uwe Rosenberg; 1998
Bohn Hansa (Bean Trader)
Move and trade game by Uwe Rosenberg is set in the Baltic sea, but concerns, what else?, various types of beans. Akin to Empire Builder, players gradually acquire contracts which must be satisfied by delivering the indicated beans to the demanding city. Rosenberg, the master of hand management has again come up with something innovative by tying each board movement to play of the next card. This mechanism permits a very clean solution for the problems of how to periodically charge a tax, to getting new contracts and to force players to deliver on a contract in timely fashion. He allows players to manipulate the system a bit themselves by permanently turning in cards, with some downside, if they want. There is also a light amount of negotiation as players may trade beans with one another which works well as sources for beans are well spread yet demands are urgently pending. There is also the possibility of negotiating a "teleportation" move on another's turn which also helps quite a lot. The system by which new products appear and experience price fluctuations is also quite elegant, yet permitting player manipulation as they can often decide after they purchase how much the price will increase. The cartoonish look, as with all the Bohn series is wonderful, presenting a very inviting world. There is some difficulty communications-wise in that the bean tokens are colored differently than their beans. For example, there are Green Beans, but the main color on their tile is not green and green is the color of some other type. So when a player says he wants to trade green, it can be confusing which one he means. Players will need to agree in advance to use either the bean names or the tile colors. The only other problem is unfortunately a large one: victory may have nothing to do with skilled play. With wagon space of up to eight beans, it is far too easy for a player to draw a contract card demanding beans he already has and in a city where he already is and gain an instant score at virtually no cost. This can happen in Empire Builder as well, but at least there the game's many contracts tend to even out matters. Here the total number of contracts is so small that even one such event can really dwarf everything else. This will eventually temper the enthusiasm of skilled players, but all factors seem to point to enjoyment for younger players and situations where skill levels are unequal. At the time of this writing, just before the announcement of the Spiel des Jahres, it would not surprise me to see this go far in that award. [Traveling Merchant Games]
Uwe Rosenberg; 2003
Bolide
Ever since interviewing this game's inventor, I have been anxious try out his first game (a second on sail racing, has followed), especially as it was said to improve on Tacara, which I have seen, but never managed to try. Unlike Formula De which controls movement with dice or Lunatix Loop which permits speed changes in increments, but leaves direction entirely up to the player, this game forces speed and direction to be based on speed and direction of the previous turn. To accomplish this, a move on the square grid moves forward x spaces, say, and to the left or right, y spaces. After this a pawn is placed x spaces ahead and y spaces to the left or right of the car's ending position. This reflects the speed and direction of the car and so on the next turn, the new ending position must be within two spaces of this pawn. By this game of racing hopscotch the car proceeds twice around the circuit. This vector-based or inertial technique is not new to games, having been used in the aforementioned TaCaRa, the German game Simulator, Star Fist, Triplanetary and also an old game called Racetrack. While entirely logical, it is challenging and fun to learn, some practice being needed to find the best line of progress and avoidances of the sharp braking rules. Once everyone is up to speed on how to do this, however, it turns out that everyone wants to pass through the same spaces, necessitating passing attempts, or "attacks". In stark contrast to the movement system, these are resolved using one of the hoariest and least stimulating mechanisms known: rolling a die on a lookup table. And on this table, even worse than the fact that the trailing car may fail to pass, there's a fair chance it will spin out and thus be seriously out of contention. There are other complaints, many in the area of components. The small plastic cars ought to have been flat instead of ramp-shaped as it's sometimes necessary to stack more than one dobber on top of them, which is nearly impossible to balance. Small chips should have been provided for under the cars as well to speed up resetting the dobber and avoiding errors. There should have been markers to indicate draft as otherwise game state must be memorized – such would help with resetting the dobber after a draft as well. Players must also remember game state when it comes to resolving ties in movement order. An off track chart with separate markers might have been a good way to indicate this. The track puzzle boards have fared better as they are large, well made and double-sided, to offer a second course. At the time of this writing there is also one expansion pack offering two more tracks, which almost fit in the original box without removing the insert. Tracks have varying degrees of length and difficulty, but the bad news is that either games tend to run prohibitively long or extra measures, such as the twenty second sand timer must be used to hurry players along. Timing may or may not reduce downtime considering that in this case there will be more crashes which need more time to handle. Overall this asks a great deal of its players and so is really only appropriate for hardcore auto race fans. It would have benefited from closer study of the advances in game technolog of the past decade. Situations like attacks could be handled via mechanisms like card set collection, revolving attack cards à la Eketorp or in any number of other ways. Even if one feels that such situations in real life are essentially random, in a game players deserve something less prosaic.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Bonkers
Game of the roll and move variety for ages 8 and above, but leavened by card placement rules which actually define movement on the board. With less randomness from the dice and luck of the draw, this might turn out to be quite an interesting abstract.
Bonnie and Clyde
if no image probably out of print
The latest Mystery Rummy card game, the first since Mystery Rummy: Al Capone, is technically not one at all since this excellent series has finally found a better home, with real game publishers and everything, but it is still very much of the same nature. This time the gimmick is the narrow board on which ten locations depict various events in the couple's notorious career. Hidden at each location is either an ordinary card or the Bonnie or the Clyde card, each of the latter being worth considerable
points. Players are FBI agents trying to track the down the pair by playing melds and layoffs which move a wooden card back and forth on the board. Playing cards permits examining the board cards or even taking them if the car position matches, so there is also an element of making deductions based on opponent activities. There's a little complication over when one gets to look, and at what, and when one gets to take, but it sinks in after a couple of hands. The most difficult issues are with the communication design. There are fifteen of the special Agent Hinton cards; these don't describe the three different options available when playing the card. But these are not too hard. Worse is that the various card groups are not differentiated in appearance, unlike the previous editions which featured a wide variety of different colors. Players now need to spend extra time looking around the board, or probably outright asking, exactly which sets have already been started, trying not to give away what they're holding in the process. Artistically, the situation is better. Each board space features texts describing the event in question. The car is of good size, though strangely orange rather than black. Within each set of cards, the picture is slightly varied so that if they are all assembled they can be used to create an animated version of what happened, which is very nice indeed. These high quality cards feature a satisfying finish as well. The game works well for more than two players as well, with the sweetest spot probably being at three. [background]
MMHM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Mike Fitzgerald; Abacus/Rio Grande; 2009; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Bootleggers
Multi-player game for up to six that feels like someone played Puerto Rico and thought, hey, let's make our own game, but instead of hauling crops to Spain, we'll sell beer to speakeasies! To the design's credit, apart from hauling, most of Puerto Rico has disappeared, apart from the telltale rule that unshipped creates are lost (and a warehouse card that solves this). Whatever the genesis, this is also a region influence game for speakeasy control, a negotiation game when one player has truck capacity and another more crates than he can ship and also a game where blind bidding is used to determine drafting for "take that!" cards. The mix of mechanisms is novel, as is the topic, but a few decisions have gone off the road as well. Some cards are disproportionately powerful, e.g. the ones that permit shutting down a speakeasy entirely. A player may have just taken it over for the first time, investing a great deal to do so and end up losing it the next, perhaps losing not just the battle, but the war. Perhaps they were the wrong target for the card in the first place, but the rules do nothing to prohibit badly-aimed attacks. Choose your opponents with care. In blind bidding of course there is unfairness, the more so here as player hands are dealt randomly, albeit from three different decks. Victory is really achieved by control of speakeasies, which once dominated can be very difficult to wrest away. There are some draconian rules for catching up – the top producer doesn't produce at all for a turn – but these usually misfire, and tragically so, for being the top producer is more likely a sign of trying to catch up. True leaders are those with the most money and/or speakeasy control and don't need all that production. So, incredibly, the last place player is pushed even further behind. There's also something of a rich-get-richer syndrome as only players earning a lot can afford to buy the expensive extra influence in a timely fashion. Meanwhile the randomness of the production dice can run the hopes of anyone. Downtime can be an issue due to negotiations if they run on, but this part is usually fairly straightforward. Whare are worse are the cards which mix flavor and rule text and thus require a lot of reading time. Elapsed time should be two hours, but can easily stretch to three. Timing-wise, though, things are well managed as production and speakeasy opening seem to work in lockstep with barely a sign of the intention. Presentation is of a high standard otherwise, including a large board, plastic bootleggers in six colors, plastic trucks, cubes and player mats. This should work best for fans of theme who don't mind a long outing; others are recommended to approach with caution. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low
Bosworth
Chess-like game for up to four with much smaller board and fewer pieces. Probably only of interest to the limited number of Chess fans who nevertheless find it too complex. Players are knocked out of the game before it is over and there is a kingmaking aspect.
Brass
This Martin Wallace effort, set mainly in the English north of the Industrial Revolution, is neither a war game nor a German-style game, but probably closest to a railroad game. It is also a technologies game with sharp edges and a steep learning curve. Play is divided into two eras. Both see players building industrial facilities – textile mills, iron and coal mines, ports, shipyards – but in the first half connect them together via canals (for a similar topic see Canal Mania) whereas by the second it's exclusively by rail. In general players need to extend their holdings out from where they already are, but if they happen to have the right card, may also build in a disconnected place. There are lots of economic interdependencies built into the system. A textile mill needs a port. Building track needs coal, as do iron mines, etc. Though there are neutral facilities to satisfy some of this demand, there can be strong economic and points incentives for players to build to supply the current demand. Only when a facility has served its purpose – textiles shipped, mine depleted, port received shipment, etc. – can then its tile be flipped over and its printed value scored. Which brings up the point, is this more a tactical or a strategic game. Well, the answer is yes. While it's important, even required, to be alive to the board opportunites which suddenly appear, the technology rules make it also important to have an overall strategic approach. Each type of industry comes in a number of levels, which go as high as four. Before one can use an industry at the next level though, all of the tiles at the lower levels must either be deployed on the board or "developed". The latter means spending an action (and some iron) just to remove two tiles from play. It's a new and rather weird way to handle things (a suggestion on a better way to have done it below), but this is the way research and development are represented. The upshot is that one doesn't have enough actions to develop on all axes; it's necessary to pick one, preferably one that others have not chosen and specialize on it. Herein lies the game's chief attraction. What's the best strategy to pick and what's the best way to implement it. Not since Civilization have such questions seemed so opaque and worthy of analysis. It gets especially tricky because each technology gain is not a clear cut win. Although each new level increases in victory point value, each also increases in cost and reduces in the amount of income provided. Here something should be said about the economic system as well. When an industry pays off, it doesn't provide the player with cash; instead, it increases the income level. When a player needs to take a loan – would it be a Martin Wallace game without taking loans early and often? – this decreases the income level depending on the amount of loan taken. Unorthodox, yes, but it does reduce by a lot the fiddling with money, here represented by chips in silver and gold, which is confusing because actually the gold ones are worth less. Other communication design problems are in the not always clear typefaces used on the tiles and the fact of black printing on a purple background, never a good idea. The money track is similarly too difficult to read and unfortunately drawn in a confusing serpentine pattern. On the other hand the artwork is enjoyable, both the vignettes on the board and that depicted on the cards. It would have been nicer had the location cards actually shown a small map with all of the links and other locations. The map also shows a strange canal passing through the sea (?) near Liverpool which is a complete disaster as it is only meaningful for one very special rule of no consequence. That the whole thing was not omitted can probably only be explained as an attempt to be thematic, but why when so much else is not. For example, coal has to be transported over rails, but not iron. More significantly, why do installations and railroad provide victory points at all? Historically all they really did was provide brass (aka money). Of course it's because the game wants to make things more difficult for the players, make them worry about cash crunches and taking loans, but the whole thing is very artificial. The fact that the whole game can come crashing to an early halt if players don't create enough coal and iron isn't proof of anything either, except maybe that the incentives for doing those things are not high enough. Each player must deal with an enormous number of tiles as well, all of which must be sorted and stacked. It would have been much easier to represent each player's technology levels with cubes on a printed track. Since square tiles can be rotated it's possible for them to show four different orientations which when placed could correspond to the technology level. Then a whole bunch of components could be saved and these savings passed on to the consumer. Each player's technology status would be much clearer as well. But this is a game that seems to revel in misleading players. There are many paths to take that at the outset look good, but are really false leads. One could concentrate on having a big income, but that would be a big mistake. An income should only be so large as to avoid having to waste an action (the most valuable resource) taking a loan during the second half. Or one might think that developing some in each area is a good idea – almost always certainly it's not. Building track on the other hand, which seems like it's meant mainly for connectivity, can prove surprisingly lucrative, especially if it can also manage to deny others' connectivity. This game is not easy to learn to play well and also not easy to learn in the first place as the instructions are written rather confusingly. Combined with about a three-hour duration, the fact that it can only accommodate three or four players and that downtime can be considerable as it's hard to plan when the board changes so fast, the faint of heart are warned away from this one. Fans of theme and strategy may find too many tactics intruding as well. The ideal way to play this one, by the way, would be by e-mail where there would be no waiting for others and yet plenty of time to fully analyze the right moves to make during one's own turn. The fact of no dice rolling or player interrupts would fit well with this mode also.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Martin Wallace; Warfrog; 3-4; 2007
Breaking Away
British bicycle racing game is fairly mathematical in a way reminiscent of Hare and Tortoise. Essentially about predicting what others will do. For this reason, try to keep the number of players down so that this is actually possible. [Cycle Racing Games] [6-player Games]
John Harrington; Fiendish Games; 1991; 2-9
Personal Rating: 6
Bridge
Famous bidding and trick-taking card game based on Whist (not described here) was invented in the 1920's and has undergone many changes and variants since. It has penetrated the public consciousness in ways few other games have, columns on proper play even being published in daily newspapers. As a result it should generally be easy to find opponents. The chief downsides are the many bidding conventions which the newcomer must memorize, and that in every hand one player does not get to do anything. Trick-taking games with one of the hands fully open are not to my taste either. On the other hand, some players prefer this extra information because it offers more strategic hints for the best way to play the hand. [Two vs. Two Games]
British Rails
The Empire Builder system is set in a UK so crowded that it should probably be limited to two players. Deliveries to and from Scotland, access to which is extremely limited, often seem to be an unbalancing game breaker. Revised 2002 edition attempts to correct this by providing many more east-west routes, e.g. Lead from hard to reach Dolgellau, and never before seen special event cards which give bonuses for deliveries to little visited regions like Cornwall. Whether this fully succeeds will require more playings, but it certainly works out better than the original. [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [variant] [chart]
Broker (Das Börsenspiel, Il gioco della borsa)
Stock market game in which players buy and sell stocks, affecting market prices with cards dealt out at the start of the game. So fragile that without hardly noticing a player can be knocked out of the game entirely long before it is through.
Brücken von Shangrila, Die (The Bridges of Shangri-la)
Multi-player abstract by Leo Colovini is another in his characteristic style. Although there is an ostensible theme of monks and their traveling students who manage to destroy any bridge just by crossing it, the feeling is definitely that of the pure abstract. What's good is that turns tend to pass quickly as in each a player may only do one of three things: add a monk, add a student to a monk or perform a student migration, whose strength depends on comparison of the counters at the source location with that of the destination. Strategies, e.g always augment masters, play defense or place students whetere the most others are, but will most likely lose by ignoring the tactical needs of each situation. This part becomes as problematic as a multi-player game of Chess since it's very difficult to discern what others are planning as well as whether on their turn they will make the move that is optimal for them, even if one clearly exists. It's likely that as with Raja, table talk should be given free rein so that players can help one another not to miss any important moves. Of course, many players dislike table talk as it can engender coercion so the design is in something of a dilemma. Maybe it should just be played by e-mail so that there will be plenty of time to consider all possibilities. While it might be interesting to play a couple dozen times to see if some best appoach exists, more likely the solution differs each time, depending on what players do, being rather Go-like in that sense. Presentation is generally attractive with several wooden high arch bridges comprising the highlight. I think this should appeal mainly to tactical experts and to that subset of strategists willing to toss theme in favor of a spare, clean system. These tend to also be fans of Xe Queo!, Clans and most other Colovini efforts.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Burg Appenzell (Chateau Roquefort)
if no image probably out of print
Just as with their Gulo Gulo and their award-winning Niagara the publisher Zoch continues to find the cute and clever action mechanisms which have become their special niche in the games world. This approach doesn't always work, but when it does it is because the surrounding game is at least as interesting as the mechanism, which is the certainly the case here. First the gimmick. The rather deep bottom of the box is holds the board, thus providing a false floor. The board itself is formed by two layers of tiles, the upper one being upside down, and some of the lower being holes. At the four corners are plastic towers from which issue plastic mouse pieces. Each player controls several of these and uses their action points to scamper around and reveal tiles. But the novel activity is to take an out of play tile and use it to push in on a bottom row and column, causing the corresponding tile on the other side to fall out and re-arranging the tiles hidden below, possibly leading to a mouse falling through the floor as well, which takes it out of play until it can scramble back up a tower again (reminiscent of Master Labyrinth and Stay Alive). But that is just a fun goal. The real one is to expose and reach two tiles showing the same type of cheese, in which case the player obtains a piece of it. Having pieces of four different types wins. Thematically the idea is that the mice are running around the decaying castle of a deceased cheese baron, hence the prevalence of both cheese and decayed flooring. Appenzeller is the name of a cheese that has been made in the historic and monastic St. Gall area of Switzerland for over seven hundred years. There isn't much strategy here, but plenty of tactics with some memory elements. This is a good candidate for a game that can work for both adults and children (down to about age six) alike.
Jens-Peter Schliemann & Bernhard Weber; Zoch/Rio Grande; 2007; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Burg Appenzell Erweiterung
This is a very simple expansion for the above Chateau Roquefort whose humorous sub-title, "Völlig mausgeflippt", is difficult to translate, but "totally flipped its mousing lid" might give some idea. The entire expansion, a giveaway in Spielbox magazine and at the Essen Fair, consists of just two new tiles with corresponding instructions. They are double-sided so the possible effects are secret passage, tomcat, a cheesy sock and gears. From the names alone it's probably not difficult to guess what the effects are. This expansion doesn't seem to harm anything and brings in variety for frequent players.
Jens-Peter Schliemann & Bernhard Weber; Zoch/Rio Grande; 2007; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Burgen von Burgund, Die (The Castles of Burgundy)
Stefan Feld's
Roma has been a great hit hereabouts and otherwhere, even spawning a new version called as Arena II. The basic idea there, that dice rolls are assigned to special ability cards, plus the ability to acquire new special abilities, is one to conjure with. But how could this idea be expanded to make a multi-player game out of a head-to-head affair? Perhaps it was that thought that started the development of this one, but if so it has wandered somewhat to become a different incarnation. Here each player owns a board of hexagons divided into regions by color with each hexagon given a number in the range 1-6. On a central board are six numbered areas which have been randomly populated with four hex tiles each. To start a round each player rolls two dice. A die can be used to move a tile from the correspondingly-numbered central board area to the storage area of one's own board, having a capacity of three. From there, it can be placed so long as the tile and area match in color and the number on the board matches the number on one of the dice. There is one other restriction: networked expansion, i.e. each new tile has to go adjacent to an already placed one. If the dice are not cooperative with one's plans, it's allowed to expend a "worker" – a resource which players have at the start and can acquire two at any time just by burning a die – to change a result up or down by one (wrapping around between 6 and 1 is permitted). Each time a colored area is completed, points are earned, the number varying inversely with the game turn. Each tile color reflects a different thematic idea. Greens show varying numbers of domestic animals, e.g. sheep, pigs and chickens. Each time one of these is added to animals of the same type score points equal to all of the animals. Blue tiles are ships which permit claiming a product; three types may be held at once and they may be sold at any time. Each ship placed also puts one further ahead in the turn order. Yellow tiles represent knowledge and each gives some unique ability, often greatly enhancing the usual scoring. This is the long-term scoring plan, akin to the monuments of Ra. Beige tiles are buildings that give special abilities such as getting more workers or more beige buildings, etc. Gray tiles are mines that each provide one income at the end of the game turn, money tending to be rather scarce. Each pair of coins can be used to purchase black-backed tiles which are randomly placed out on the central board and have the whole variety of different tiles on their fronts. Players don't have the ability to affect others all that much; basically it's only by taking a tile another may have
wanted that one notices what others are doing. This isn't always a problem, but can be if on the last turn – the longest one of all – someone has a lead that can in no way be overcome. At least it does offer different strategic paths, based on the colors, and it's not clear if any are better than others; it may be enticing to try to find out. Of course mixed strategies and taking critical tiles to sabotage another's plans are possible. There are some presentation problems here. The tiles are without text, containing only icons, and as with the original Roma some of these are rather difficult to figure out. The help sheet is not easy to use either. In addition, some of the tile colors, particularly the light green and yellow are too similar while the beige are too bland. Consequently in toto there is a washed out look that just fails to excite. Thematically players are supposed to be aristocrats (though the title means castles) in medieval Burgundy, but one doesn't ever really feel this. In at least a four-player setting it's easy to go over two hours which is much too long and too much downtime for this amount of dice and tile draw randomness. Downtime is exacerbated when it's difficult to plan; here an opponent might just take the very tiles you had your eyes on.
HLMH5 (Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Stefan Feld; Alea-2011; 2-4; 90-120 [Amazon.de]
Burn Rate
Card game on the "dot com" business decline of the late 1990's follows the host of others inspired by one now nearly forty years old, Nuclear War. The mechanism of a gradually dwindling score, in this case representing corporate funding being burned away, is probably more aptly situated here than anywhere. Players draft employees in four fields (colors): Sales, Finance, Human Resources and Development, hoping to find the few whose skill values are higher than their costs. Meanwhile they play cards on one another such as the "bad hire" and the "bad idea". The latter often force hiring of very expensive contractors until a "release" card can be used to discard the entire project. There are also "financing" cards players can use to try to shore up their losses. But cards cannot be played willy-nilly; positive cards can only be played if the corresponding employee is good enough and negative cards only if the opposing employee incompetent enough. The course of play is smooth with some interesting decisions to make, mostly around hand management, as on each turn a player may only play cards or discard them, not both. Also debateable is the number of cards to play/discard, with players sometimes wanting to play cards which slightly hurt just to be able to draw more new ones. Comes in a handy, compact box containing full-color cards illustrated as in Sunday comic strips. For those familiar with the topic, there are a number of humorous allusions to now-failed on-line companies and this game may find a more ready audience among such types. For others, and maybe even for them, the challenges, situations and humor seem to become repetitive when it is about half over. Perhaps a variant reducing the starting funds would improve matters. Vagaries of bad luck, especially the inability to draw the cards necessary to fire an incompetent vice-president and hire a good replacement, may make a player quite vulnerable for quite a spell and can be frustrating. A better method of showing the score, e.g. open money holdings or a score track, would have helped in dramatizing the current standings, which are more important to always know than in most card games. One other curious fact about the system: finance and development always do good things while sales and human resources nearly always do harm. Perhaps we can guess what kind of day job the inventor has?
Update: Played again in 2010, i.e. almost a decade after the initial release and fascinatingly almost all of the then bad ideas have now turned out rather successful. Never has "ahead of time" been more aptly illustrated. [Take That! Card Games]
LHMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Rich Koehler; Cool Studio; 2002; 2-4
Bus
Players compete to haul the most passengers across a city. Somewhat reminiscent of another game of Dutch origin, Smart, in that passengers arrive on the outskirts and players have to figure out how to get them. Similar also in that players can specialize in one thing or another, but not all at once. A good game which is not quite there. The "stopping time" mechanism adds too much uncertainty to the game and thus detracts from planning and anyway, the penalty of an action and a victory point for playing it is too costly. If there ever were a good reason to use this feature, it would be because the other players are playing extremely badly, in which case why bother? The turn ordering is also problematic – sharing the same problem with second edition Die Macher. Instead of only the first player position being biddable, all four positions should be biddable instead of the turn proceeding in clockwise order. Otherwise, whoever buys the top position has an unintended consequence on the rest of play and meanwhile it is unfair that the rest of the players may not even be able to bid for position at all. Can be unbearably slow with five players or if they are overly analytical. Decorating the board and scoring track with popular game names and images is a cute touch. [variant] [Jeroen Doumen] [Splotter]
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Buzzword
Party game of the guess-the-word-within-a-limited-time-period variety, akin to Taboo and others. The new twist here is that the word is already known, but the teammates must hear pre-printed clues and respond with the corresponding expression including the word. Any expression not guessed can be essayed by the other team. The cards are fairly well balanced, each including mostly easy answers plus one or two obscure stumpers. Beyond the frantic play value, it's amazing to discover just how many different everyday expressions one does not know. On the other hand, there oddly appear to be just a few too many ABBA song lyrics, at least for our table – not one could we guess. There's an easy-to-use scoring technique of turning cards up or down to indicate which items are guessed correctly. Although it offers less scope for creativity than others, this is a worthy entry for its type that with its many cards should provide many hours of a challenge and amusement. [Party Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7 [amazon.com]
Byzanz
board
This is one of those twenty-minute card games that like R-Eco and Traders of Carthage never overstays its welcome. Players hold cards ranked 0 to 4 and with these bid on increasingly smaller odd lots of further cards, each player only permitted to buy one lot per round. All of the cards used to purchase and one of those from those purchased are put aside for the second part of the round in which the player who bought last now drafts all of the cards of a single suit. Then the rest draft in reverse purchasing order. In the final part of the round, players discard groups of three cards of the same suit (there are six of them), keeping the high card as their score. The zero cards are wild, or three of them may be turned in together to score five points. The card art by the renowned Doris Matthäus depicts various types of Middle Eastern products and is up to her usual very high standard. Although there is no English edition, the rules are simple and translations are available on-line. The game features the dilemma of how much to bid as well as different ways to approach it: what sets to break up, what to expect in the draft, what to leave for others in the draft, etc. At the same time it need not be overly taxing. This is one of those lighter affairs that can be enjoyed by the very experienced and the newcomer alike. [6-player Games]
Emanuele Ornella; Amigo; 2008; 3-6
MMMM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7) [Buy it at Amazon.de] [Shop]
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