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Roland Siegers abstract is played on a hex grid where the scores get higher as one goes toward the center. One must move a pawn in a straight line, then stop, drop either one or two "babies", and then move in a straight line in another direction. Then, one picks up the babies and can make multiple jumps à la Checkers over any other pieces next to it (that have spaces on the other side) in order to capture those pieces. Then you can drop one wall anywhere to try to stop others from jumping over you. Game ends when someone can't move. Score for pieces taken (minor) and for hexes held at the end (major). More interesting than I thought it would be as there are possibilities for blocking and walling off, the ability to unravel the board slowly by jumping and removing pieces and the dilemma of whether to jump or try to settle in for points. Appears to be the abstract created for players who don't really care for abstracts – every bit as good as Siesta, probably better. There is a rule missing from the English (Rio Grande) translation of the rules: blockades can only be placed on the thick lines of the board. I actually prefer with my own variant: omit the blocking pieces. This provides a slightly longer and more fluid experience. Part of Goldsieber's "Royal" series.
Caballero, El
Tile-placement game with a thematic relationship to El Grande. The ostensible theme is exploration of a new world, but the feeling simply isn't there as it is more about lookahead and placing tiles so as to lock out one's opponents. Requires quite a lot of analysis and tends to be played quietly. Serious players should skip the basic rules even on first try as only the advanced version is satisfying enough. Considerable defensive play and cooperation may be needed if one player takes a lead. Fans of abstracts will probably appreciate this one most. Seems to work equally well with two, three or four.
Caesar [Gamesmiths]
Players compete to build up legions, gold and aqueducts. Each turn is a five-way bluff. The excitement of their being five different strategies to try out is not borne out in practice as it is too chaotic. Rules later revised in re-published version by Prism Games.
Caesar & Cleopatra
Finely-tuned two-player card game. Many who find two-player situations uninteresting will like this one, as well as games like Lost Cities and Schotten-Totten, probably because the inherent randomness of the card deck is in effect a third player with whom one must contend. Note for any whose memories may have been blown out by undergraduate work: it plays a significant role here. One strategy, especially for Cleopatra, who goes first, is to blitz the opposition by playing two cards every turn, attempting to constantly stay in front of Caesar. [Ancient Egypt games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Café International
Light tile placement game. Each player is a maitre'd attempting to seat the perfect table. Customers (tiles) each have a nationality and a gender while each table has a required nationality. However, the seat between two tables may be occupied by either nationality. In addition, each table must be gender balanced. Each turn a player must make a scoring play or else take negative points by seating someone at the bar. A bit too influenced by luck of the draw for serious play, but it is colorful and goes quickly with enough possibilities for lookahead and analysis to be worth an attempt. In particular, there is also the question of whether one should try to complete tables quickly in order to score points in a hurry or to do so slowly and hope to evade the negative points of the bar. Fascinating in the way that possibilities expand geometrically. [Spiel des Jahres Winner]
Rudi Hoffman;
Café International - Kartenspiel
The card game version of the above limits the café to just five tables, which when full are removed along with all four patrons and replaced with a table having a new flag. The bar is abstracted and now each party abandoned there costs exactly two points. It is not clear from the rules whether a player's cards are public or private. The former would provide more scope for strategy which is even more absent here than in the original game. In exchange, it can be argued that the cozy setting offers more tactical options. In fact it seems that players who liked the original don't care for this one, while those who disliked the original find this version more fun. Another factor not present in the original is the constant and sometimes annoying need to add up a lot of points. Use of Poker chips really helps here. The main appeal, besides the colorful flags and personalities, is in deciding when to play a card and when to dare to save it for a very big play. The biggest problem, especially with only two players, are boring turns of drawing one unplayable card after another during which the player has no decision at all. With five players it's never necessary to park anyone at the bar, but far less consideration of whether to save up a big hand. It might be worthwhile checking to see whether these components could be laid out to form a random board and the old rules used, thus transforming this set into a handy traveling version of the original (sans the important jokers though).
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Rudi Hoffman; Amigo-2001; 2-5 [Buy it at]
Children's game set in Ancient Egypt. Players roll a die to move their tall, wooden felucca down the central Nile. Where it stops, they place on it either three small cubes, one large cube or a die and attempt to flick them into a scoring zone, possibly knocking out others, reminiscent of Shuffleboard. If a player gets sufficient cubes in a zone, they can be stacked up into a structure to gain extra points. The large cube is worth three of the smaller ones and the die worth whichever of its faces is showing. Difficulty is added because the choice of flicking finger is taken from the player and given to the die. Not entirely without strategy because the player has a choice of areas which have different values and various states of occupation, but overall this is not something which will sustain interest for adults. [Ancient Egypt games] [Holiday List 2002]
Michael Schacht game of interior decorating. No, really. Similar to Zooloretto, players draft tiles to place into the chic apartments they're designing. Apartments are represented by large, open grids, each having a different single starting square already "decorated" (reminiscent of the starting card in Coloretto). Tiles are various floor plans, some of which include extra features like a billiards table and even, whimsically, a dog. Creating particular types of arrangements brings visitors; having multiple visitors at the same time brings points. Beyond that, players try to finish as much of the "pad" as possible and to be the first to meet certain special arrangements. The very clever feature differentiating this from Zooloretto is in the drafting system. On a turn a player make either buy a tile or take a gold piece, the latter being worth five purchasing units. When purchasing, the price in units is always equal to the number of not taken gold pieces (which is reset to four each round). So timing is a very big deal. Once one has played a bit and learned the system, there's a bit of the feeling of being played than of playing as one tends to go along with the obvious decision. But there's fun in learning to get to that point and even beyond there is still the occasional tough call. Paying close attention to what others are doing is a big deal – fortunately it's not difficult to analyze. The materials are attractive presented and play rollicks along at a healthy pace. Pick this up if in frequent need of something challenging that is at the same time not overly taxing. Would probably work pretty well as a gateway game.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Michael Schacht; Abacus; 2006; 2-5
California Wine Quiz, Napa Valley Edition
Trivia game comes in one of two types of wooden box, the larger of which can also accommodate up to two wine bottles. Players roll the die to move their pawns (four corks with ends painted in different colors) through a serpentine path in which each space is the logo of a Napa Valley winery, seventy-four in all. Each space directs the questioner to a page of questions supplied by that winery and the first unused question is asked. They come in two types, general, e.g. "The world oinos is Greek for _______", which are worth 25 points and specific, e.g. "What architect designed the Robert Mondavi winery at Oakville?" which are worth 50 points. Bonus lot spaces provide 25 extra points. All players finish and the highest score at the end wins. Only real value is educational. Invented by Michael Hat and published in 1985 by Michael Hat Productions, 1433 Main St., Escalon, California. [Party Games]
if no image probably out of print
Multi-player majority control game, with dice. The time: 400 AD. The place: Wales (Cambria, being the Latin form of the Welsh Cymru). The storyline is the invasion of Cambria by the Irish as the Romans depart, a magnification of a small part of the game Britannia, actually. The map shows a network of roads and strongholds. Each of the latter is assigned a number from 2 to 6 which exactly corresponds with the number of roads issuing from it. A player rolls two dice and places one of his cubes on a road next to a stronghold matching one of the results. Rolling a 1 permits moving the Roman legion pawn to oust another's cube. Rolling doubles permits replacing an opponent's cube. There are also ship numbers which permit a player to store up a die roll so as to use it later. The aim of all this maneuvering is to own the majority of roads around a site when they are all occupied – there is some similarity to Kahuna here. In addition, the higher valued items also give points for the second-placed player. There seem to be a couple of strategic paths. One involves going for the high valued markers while the other aims to collect a lot of the lower-valued but easier markers around the periphery. Probably the best approach, if others permit it, is one of slow migration in which the same piece is useful in claiming multiple strongholds. Just how often to play positively and how often negatively is just one of the deliciously difficult decisions. Like a lot of self-publications, this one's physical components make some concessions, but mostly the box, which reminds of something a shirt might come in. The rest is reasonable though with a small mounted board, plastic cubes and wooden chips with pre-affixed stickers. The artwork is a little utilitarian; using numbers rather than dice face images probably would have worked just fine and looked less gamey. The instructions are so simple that they're contained on just two sides of a single sheet. This is an easygoing, accessible system with a good level of decisionmaking along the way, despite a fair amount of luck. But with playing time around just twenty minutes, even if the dice are unkind it's quickly over. A home-brewed two player variant seems to work okay as well. Just give each player one extra cube. Update: Since then an official variant which is also fun, using a dummy player, has been published. Try not to let the dummy win. If this game is ever re-published, it might be interesting to move it to a Crusades setting – haven't been many crusaders lately. Then each player might be a member of a team that combines their score. A player can't win unless his team does, but only one player on the team can be the true winner... [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8
Eric Vogel; Vainglorious Games; 2008; 3-5

A complimentary copy of this game was received for purposes of review.
Campaign Trail
Multi-player game about the US presidential election. The historical fact that only the two major parties can elect a president is here ignored to permit more players. The title's emphasis on the "trail" is à propos as players must travel around the country, their success in garnering electoral votes in a state depending directly on how much time they spend there. Candidates have characteristics and issues play a role. There are event cards. This is a game which, especially with more than two players, is probably better played via e-mail. To understand at all the electoral totals of fifty states, and what it is most profitable to do next really needs a spreadsheet. Face-to-face, one makes only fuzzy guesses at the best move without really knowing if they are right until the very end, at which point it will still not be very clear. Works well as an experience, however. A later reworking of the topic is Road to the White House.
Fun tower-building and wagering card game a bit like Grand National Derby. Should be an excellent game for introducing non-gamers.
Canal Grande
Card game version of San Marco for two focuses attention on the "divorce game", players alternately taking the roles of the divider and the decider. The philosophical question of which role is more powerful reaches practical dimensions as it must frequently be decided whether to take a better set and the divider role or take up a lesser set plus three free cards. Play is challenging and full of intuition as by close observation one tries to determine what the opponent is holding. There are perhaps too many Traitor cards which permit stealing from the opponent. One now and then is desireable for upsetting too careful plans, but if they clump a single player can receive undeserved advantage. Card artwork is attractive, but beware of the two districts colored very similarly. Rules are presented in four languages. Available from the publisher is a Four-player partnership variant by the original inventors. This requires two game sets and plays it mainly by the book, the only real change being that partners both play to the contest. It's somewhat disappointing that no more interesting partner interactions, such as those claiming cards being able to decide how to divide them, were added. Moreover, the much larger deck of district cards can now skew so broadly that maybe one side monopolizes a given color, easily giving the single color victory condition (which has not been made harder). Games of the Italian Renaissance] [Two vs. Two Games]
Alan R. Moon
Canal Mania
Ragnar Brothers game of building canals and delivering products in Britain. Canal digging is based on play of drafted cards a bit like Ticket to Ride and performed by hexagonal tile placement which is reminiscent of Age of Steam, as is its goods delivery mechanism. Cards come in four basic types – stretch, lock, aqueduct, tunnel – and in a thematically as well as mechanically brilliant rule, the varying terrain is simulated by not permitting any two consecutive tiles to be of the same type. On the other hand, building is eased by the availability of five engineer cards, each of which helps in a different way. A player can swap an engineer for another that will remind veterans of Iron Dragon. It's clever too the way that routes are carefully prescribed, but with just enough freedom to give players some choices in how they want to plan their routes, especially with respect to reaching other cities. It's a trifle inelegant when one canal overlaps another, but then again this only happens a couple times a game. A player's action choices – more choices! – are made challenging by breaking the turn into three parts and providing different options for each. This has the wise result that nearly all turns will feature mainly building or mainly drafting, but not both, keeping waiting time from going on too long. An entire four-player playing can complete in 90 minutes. Non-Britons may be surprised to find a map so riven with canals, but in fact it's true and I've even been able to experience some of them myself, barging for two days and nights aboard the Quercus, a 60-foot narrowboat – highly recommended. Further thematic Goodness comes from the named engineer cards, complete with photo and dates. Strategically, because one can only transport one good a turn, one wants to put a large number of owned waterways together. Another possibility is to make most of one's canals isolated from others' as then goods must eventually be delivered only over one's own canals. A lesser approach is to provide key links which others must utilize frequently. The end game provides a mechanism whereby goods (cubes) may be relocated, thus providing a punish-the-leader mechanism. As with other games, players need to carefully observe not just the current score, but also the scoring potential. As always, look like a leader at your own peril. Maybe the most astounding novelty is that the Ragnar Bros. have abandoned their usual tea towel in favor of an honest-to-goodness hardbacked board in brilliant colors. All of the production is quite sturdy and attractive, though the failure to provide adequate cheat sheets is a communication designs failure. Happily the aftermarket can provide these at least. Overall this anti-train game is a most worthy addition to the genre, if a bit too demanding for the less gamey.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8
Although Kosmos place this in the Catan series, the link is rather tenuous. But considering how very many Catan products there already are, this may very well be a good thing. Candamir appears to be a medieval place with no fantastic elements beyond some mild potions. Dangers are limited to snakes, wolves and bears - oh my! But there is a definite first person or role-playing feeling here as each player takes a particular character, in either male or female version, who has distinct special abilities as well as ratings for charisma, agility, prowess (swordsmanship might be a better term) and strength. Each character receives a movement benefit in a particular terrain: plains, forest, river or icy mountains. They all begin at board center and take a look at any two face down prize tokens. Having seen what can be gained, a player claims one of them with a disk and marches toward it. Before each step a player draws a card which shows what would be encountered by moving one space in any of the four directions. It could be an animal in which case the player makes a "to hit" roll against the relevant rating. Success yields some resources (wood, ore, pelts) while failure may cost some health, upon which a player's speed depends. Also findable are three types of herbs which can be used to create healing potions, augment die rolls or invite others to a drunken party causing them to lose health. There are also question mark symbols which permit players to meet one of the more difficult and also more lucrative challenges available from a separate deck. With these cards, besides the benefits conferred, collection of them is part of a majority control contest. When a player's quest is complete, he is instantly transported back to the start and spends his next turn cashing in his gains. Herbs are usually turned into potions while materials buy spaces on the score board. Each space is a point in one of three categories. Controlling a category also confers a point. Gaining experience points offers one of the most interesting decisions: which attribute should be improved? If one wants to compete over cards, charisma is a very good idea; otherwise one doesn't need any as it has no other use. With the other attributes, it appears a diversified approach is the best bet, but a heroic level in one stat to the detriment of the others is a worthy experiment. It's too bad that encounters weren't tied more closely to environments – say bears mainly in the woods, wolves mainly in the mountains, etc; instead anything can be found anywhere. Still, the various encounters, the development of experience and the short paragraphs on the cards provide a nice feeling of story. More could have been done in this area, but what exists is pleasantly most of the way there. Decisionmaking is not especially acute, randomness is on the higher side even if matters are mostly balanced and duration can stretch to ninety minutes or more. Interaction does not take the form of attacking other players, but in securing assets before others can. Trading items is also part of the game. Presentation is attractive with some very distinctive wooden pawns. In a nice offering players can enhance theme using the Kosmos-supplied on-line character editor. Overall this is an easygoing system for anyone who would escape for a while to an adventure in a past world. [Frequently Played] See one of my characters.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Klaus Teuber; Kosmos/Mayfair; 2004; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Can't Stop
Sid Sackson dice-rolling game. There is a large luck component, but still a surprising amount of interesting decisionmaking as well and sessions usually do not last long enough for the luck factor to become irritating. The original is themeless, a German remake with the same title layers on a theme about mountain climbing with wooden pieces, which is cute, but the packaging with this version is a bit oversized for the components – would have been better as a tube game.
Canasta Caliente
Card game based on the popular game Canasta from Uruguay in the 1950's. The rules are much the same as the traditional game, but because the rules specify so many special powers for otherwise ordinary cards, a specialized deck is a very good idea for those who already like Canasta, which has at least some strategy. The included "hot" (caliente) card additions are recommended to enhance this, but omit the Bonus cards as they're pure luck of the draw. Strategically, it's important to avoid going over 3000 points unless about to win. If one does go into this limbo where it is very difficult to open, it might be a good idea to lose enough points to score negatively to go slightly below this level. [summary] [Two vs. Two Games] [6-player Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Candy Land Game
Classic example of a game which allows absolutely no decisionmaking at all as players must simply follow the instructions from the drawn card. No wonder even children quickly grow bored. Although tempting children with notions of candy treats seems quite a stoop, at least a few game basics can be learned such as color differentiation, the concept of turns and playing by the rules. First published just after World War II, it seems a desperate attempt to escape the many horrors of the preceding period.
Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum-designed game about apartment (insula) construction in Ancient Rome. Actually the connection with the theme is extremely slight. Instead the emphasis is on operating within a series of conflicting constraints. Slightly reminiscent of Manhattan, where one can build depends on having the right card. One must also have the right cards to put a roof up and to get more building materials. At the same time, these same cards also contain a number which provides the secondary purpose: as funds for three simultaneous auctions at the end of each of the four rounds. These auctions provide fountains, amphitheaters and temples – the height of the connection to theme – which either increase the point value of a district or provide more cards. Points are granted not strictly on height, but on total number of blocks per district, with height serving as tie-breaker. I think what most like to see in a game is a wide variety of options with the main problem being to choose which one of the many positive ones is best. Here, there are many constraints, more and more as the game goes on, so that there is almost nothing positive one can do and one is choosing from a number of not particularly helpful opportunities. Similar situations tend to develop in other Moon games such as Elfenland, yet some still seem to like it. (Perhaps what they enjoy is the need to thoroughly penetrate the minds of others?) The end effect in Capitol means that probably the best strategy is to try lying low in unimportant districts, try to make them valuable in the mid-game and hope that no one else has a chance to enter them by the end. One can sometimes help this by staging a mock contest for a valuable area which can drag in all the other players to a ruinous trap. As a useful benchmark, I have won the game, albeit by a single point, never being able to draw a single extra card. A disturbing thought is that a player with an excellent memory can have a marked advantage since unlike in La Città cards are not shuffled before being drafted. Perhaps the most innovative feature is a graphical one, the scoring track being made from four sliding, demarcated pillars, although using Arabic rather than Roman numerals must be on at least some level a cop out. Would have been nice had the board artwork been more grand and attractive.
Alan R. Moon
Abstract which is part of Goldsieber's "Royal" series. Has enormous wooden pieces – perhaps two inch diameter by one inch height. There are 6 spots on the board and 4 types of pieces. On your turn you move 1 piece from off the board onto the board and then may move 1 other piece already on the board to someplace else. You are trying to create stacks which match a pattern that you drew beforehand. Game ends when there are 5 stacks of 4, which is the maximum height. Seems rather random to me and not much strategy. In particular, do not play with three as two players will share goals an inevitably work together to the detriment of the third.
Captain Park's Imaginary Polar Expedition
Satire of the world of Lost Cities in which explorers never journey anywhere, but instead hang about London collecting artifacts and practicing not being seen. Months later, the "explorer" returns to the club and announces his successful (sham) expedition. Mechanically, the movement system is similar to that of Kill Dr. Lucky, the main difference being that here the players try to avoid Captain Park and drive him onto others, which is usually a huge disaster for the victim. The fact that a player can have his plans and chances, not merely disrupted, but completely devastated is the main negative here. As this can be a big problem for some game groups, choose opponents from those who won't mind. It is probably also a good idea to keep the number of players down to three or four as Chaos increases rapidly after that (and our friend Planning flies out the window). The satirical humor and obscure references that are hallmark to this publisher are there and players will miss a lot of the fun if they fail to read their cards aloud when played. Unfortunately, the acme of snazzy artwork reached in the company's earlier U.S. Patent No. 1 has not been attained as there is too little of both verve and variety, the same drab African mask already inspiring boredom. Because players need to make some tricky calculations about what an opponent is up to, quite a lot of arithmetic, not really a good fit for the average non-gamer. It can be just a tad long as well. The best match is probably with your usual hardcore gaming friends, but in a more jovial setting like a pub or restaurant.
Carabande (Pitch Car)
Action game in which players using their fingers to flick wooden disks along a track in simulation of car racing. Most of us invented such games on our own when we were about five years old which is about the right age group for this game. Even if playing it as a lark, it is unfortunate and surprising in such a simple game that there are many situations not covered by the rules. [6-player Games]
Caravans of Ahldarahd
Multi-player game of auctions and path control. In an unusual setup, each player is assigned a board upon which to build his empire, but one other player at a time may also build on the same board. While each board is different, all feature the same commodities sources. The way to achieve the most points is to control the supply of the same items on several boards, implying a monopoly. The means of control is via pre-printed trade routes. Just as in Kahuna, playing 2 cards matching either end of a route is good enough to get control if vacant. Otherwise, an opponent can be dislodged, again by the method of Kahuna, i.e. taking control of the majority the routes into the place eliminates any unfriendly controls. Despite the promising sounds of all this, the overall feeling is of an insufficiently developed design. Players need lots of cards – at least a pair to just begin to do anything – but cards only appear in quantities of one per player per turn, and possibly not even that. Even worse, these must be bid upon with money which is almost as scarce. The result is many turns of virtually nothing to do. Having to intensely study small boards on the other side of the table is a communication design problem too, only slightly ameliorated by the mini-maps on the Right of Passage cards. There is at least one rules ambiguity as well, e.g. whether a Right of Passage can be alienated by anyone or only by its owner. Different rules sections seem to suggest different answers. There is a slight chance that this plays much better than it seems if one just knew what the intentions were. As it is, there is plenty of "That can't be right – let me try reading the instructions" during play. Artwork seems a bit pedestrian though there are a lot of tiles, plastic chips and glass stones. This really is not recommended for anyone but tinkerers. Next time, it would behoove Blind Luck Studios to find a fictional name which, like "Ys" or "Catan", is short and memorable. A game's title is part of its marketing after all.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High
Each player is a sheikh ruling a desert kingdom. He sends his caravans to oases and caravanserais to exchange his wares with the other sheikhs, and controls a group of raiders attacking opposers' caravans. The winner is the first to get all the goods listed on the treasure card that he was initially dealt. May be a bit susceptible to kingmaking and possibly a bit unfair if a particular player does not care to cooperate. Limited to either 6 or 8 players. Suggested variant: Make up 4 cards for each player, each colored accordingly and label them 1, 2, 3 and Raider. Then take all 24 (or 32) cards and shuffle. During movement, turn up cards one by one. As each is turned up, the corresponding caravan or raider moves. This eliminates the need for writing orders. [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [rules]
Tile-placement game by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede reminiscent of El Caballero is also similar to pipe-laying games such as Linie 1/Streetcar in that roads are constructed. Set in a medieval French town, presentation is quite pleasant as is the play: challenging and yet not overly taxing. Because of the turn-over-the-random-tile mechanism, may be chaotic for some serious strategists. A nice streamlining is to let the player draw his tile just after placing one, thus providing a chance to think about the next placement during others' turns. One of the more popular offerings from Essen 2000. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Frequently Played] [Top Ten Gateways] [Holiday List 2002] [Buy it at Amazon]
Carcassonne - Der Fluss (Carcassonne - The River)
Promotional expansion kit from an idea by fan Rudolf Ross includes twelve new tiles depicting a river which runs through the town. These tiles form their own set and are played prior to the regular game. The expansion does not have a huge effect on play, mostly seeming to vary the usual starting plays a bit. As such its attractive appearance makes a worthy and helpful addition for addicts of the original. At the time of this writing, is being bundled with the newer editions of the base offering.
Carcassonne - Die Burg (Carcassonne: The Castle)
A pet project for my own design prototypes has been find ways to incorporate the "boiler plate" surrounding games into actual play. What can be assumed about the environment? Tables? Chairs? Alas, Reiner Knizia has now published one of these ideas by making the scoring track part of actual play. This takes the form of bonus chits distributed around the track and granted to the player who first lands on them by exact count. At first this seems backwards since it tends to benefit the points leader, but I suppose the theory is that the other player is at work on larger projects which will eventually yield more points. But the main innovation here is to enclose play within a pre-set area, the castle walls. Besides ensuring that play never wanders off the table, this tends to constrain options and force players to help the other more than usual. To what extent this was a problem in previous versions must be left to those who, unlike me, have dozens of two-player playings under their belts. But enclosure also permits another wrinkle: one player earns points for the largest vacant space remaining. (There are not enough tiles to finish the interior and besides, some may be unplayable). Production in this version is up to the usual excellent standard for the series. This project's two conflicting questions are whether Knizia would stay true to the original and whether it would be innovative enough for those already owning the previous versions. The answers are that fidelity has been maintained admirably well, but apart from series completists, it's difficult to imagine where the continuing audience will come from. The aforementioned very competitive tête-à-tête players? Someone who wants to set up a crazy scenario on an enormous table combining the central castle with the previous editions growing on the outside? One last note: fields scoring is implemented using the easier method of Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers rather than that of the original. [Holiday List 2003] [Buy it at Amazon]
Carcassonne - Die Erweiterung (Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals)
Expansion by the original designer designed to support a sixth player includes a new set of pawns and eighteen more tiles including new combinations and features. There are tiles which have structures on three sides. There are two cathedrals (an all city tile) which triple points if their city is completed, but nullify the city if not. There are several taverns which double their road if completed, but nullify it if not. There are monasteries with roads in two directions. There are roads which travel into city sections. And there are other new combinations of city, road and monastery. Also included is one extra large piece per player, representing a double piece. This is a nice idea, but the new piece is rather easily mistaken for the others – more variability would have helped although the problem probably goes away after a few playings. Another visual problem is that some tiles have small additional illustrations that have no effect on play, but appear as if they should. Some expansion set tile backs seem to differ from the original, so it may be a good idea to draw them from a bag. Overall the expansion does no real harm and increases variability for frequent players. On the other hand, one doesn't find any great new ideas and it is somehow a bit disappointing that the cathedral is almost always used to destroy someone else's chances (not that a small town like Carcassonne would ever site a cathedral anyway). One possible problem now is that use of both expansions can sometimes exceed the table size. [Buy it at Amazon]
Carcassonne: Die Händler und Baumeister (Carcassonne: Traders and Builders)
This third expansion to the original Carcassonne is a creation of its original inventor, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. Additions include cute wooden pig pieces which increase the value of fields, builder pieces which confer a double turn when an addition is made to his road or city and twenty-four more tiles including a number of city pieces containing one of three different commodities (wine, grain and cloth). Completing a city earns the player a chit to match each icon which creates a set collection contest to be scored at the conclusion. Other new tiles include a bridge which sections off fields while continuing the road and a monastery with three roads. With this expansion, and especially in combination with the earlier ones, it becomes much more sophisticated than previously. Those who found the earlier versions insufficiently challenging owe themselves another look as publisher Hans-im-Glück has decided to swim upstream against the recent prevailing wisdom of simplifying every design. Those who found the original already sufficient may want to avoid the complications of this one, or adopt them only partly. Note: for optimal planning in play, everyone should be handed a summary of all available tiles beforehand. [Buy it at Amazon]
Carcassonne: Die Jäger und Sammler (Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers)
An entirely separate game transports the original Carcassonne system to the prehistoric world of fish, huts, aurochs, wooly mammoths and sabertooth tigers. Now roads have become rivers, farms – hunting grounds and cities – forests. Monasteries have disappeared while mushrooms replace city shields. The new hut piece tries to collect as many fish as possible from an entire river system including the lakes (which replace intersections). A new tactical option are tigers, each of which cancels an antelope in its hunting area while a new cooperative option is to finish another player's forest, thereby earning an immediate extra turn using a valuable special tile. Artistically this may be a bit more cartoonish than the predecessor, but there is really nothing to object to unless it be that the tiger looks more like a modern feline one rather the wholly unrelated smilodon, which may not even have had stripes. By the way, most sources feel that this predator did target bison and mammoth, even though not permitted to do so in the game. So there's a variant for the (pre)historically minded among you, a group who should be pleased by this year's Essen, which turned out to be the undeclared year of the prehistoric game. Others are Trias (Triassic), Abenteuer Menschheit (The Human Adventure), Am Rande des Gletschers (At the Glacier's Edge) and Höhlengrölen (Cave Rave). Whether you want this one depends most on whether this is your favorite game of all time or whether you have not yet gotten around to picking up the original. If either happens to be true, it's probably worth your while; otherwise, it likely won't be one of the fittest that survives on your game shelf. [Holiday List 2002]
Carcassonne: Die Stadt (Carcassonne: The City)
This spinoff from the medieval Carcassonne must depict a later historical period as gone are the open fields and lakes and rivers. Now we have an enclosing wall, markets and residential blocks. Correspondingly, we find a great departure in the rules as well. Now the only connection that must be preserved between two adjacent tiles is a roadway. One is free to cut off both markets and residential areas. The latter of these are scored similar to the original's farmers, but the former are scored in a new way, by multiplying number of tiles by the number of market types (up to three are possible). The enclosing city wall also plays a scoring role. The tiles having been divided into three stacks, once the second stack is reached, each player takes a turn placing a wall after each scoring (i.e. whenever a road or market is finished). It's allowed to place a meeple atop one's wall to claim the row or column before it, which will score only at the end and based on the number of special buildings found on the row. In addition, the player triggering all of this may place one of his three towers at either end of the wall, scoring points for the number of wall segments between it and the next tower (or if no tower, the city gate which begins the wall). The magpie element here is large. First, it comes in a real wooden box which seals with a metal clasp. Then all the walls, towers and gate are nicely-made wood. There are even two shorter wall pieces which are only needed if the gate is placed in an unusual position. Apparently to match the wood, the tiles are not very brightly colored, but mostly kind of a deep tan with whitish roads and a small splashes of color here and there for the markets. Another nice aspect of the production is that the concept of a starting tile has been eliminated, freeing the players of the hassle of searching for it or taking care to reclaim and store it specially after each playing. This seems to work less and less well as more players are added. By four, the best thing to do is simply generate a scoring event every turn. Sure one gives away a point to someone, but this will possibly permit a nice placement of a wall guard as well as place a tower which will likely garner many more. This makes a mockery of the tile-placement portion of the game. Plus it runs the game to its end before anyone can score significant points with board development. The wall game itself is rather ordinary and wouldn't be enough of a game had it to stand alone. The "restaurant with a view" syndrome applies here – the view is so great that it was decided that the game play could be merely okay. One minor and foolish quibble is that usually play will end before the city is entirely enclosed, which when so much attention has been paid to aesthetics, just seems wrong somehow. The details of the various scoring methods are just on the edge of being complicated enough that one would want a player aide to consult during play – some will want it while others will be able to remember them all.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande Games; 2004; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Carcassonne Mayflower (New World: A Carcassonne Game)
if no image probably out of print
The world of Carcassonne continues to grow, this time not with an expansion or re-packaging, but a new standalone. Now we've reached the shores of the new world, at least thematically, but can a reconfiguration of familiar mechanics provide any sort of advantage? Or is this just more of the same? One innovation is the integration of the score board with the player tiles. One of its long edges, representing the American east coast including some roads and named cities, forms the beginning edge of play. Roads, cities, farms (the new name for monasteries) and open land (which scores based not on the number of cities served, but on the number of animal icons reached, as is familiar to players of Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers. About forty points are usually earned by this method.) But the real twist here are the two surveyor figures which begin on the coast and advance west one column each time a scoring occurs. Should a scoring piece be in the same column as a surveyor, four extra points are earned, making timing a delicate matter, especially when multiple items are scored right after one another. But just as importantly, if not more so, any figures caught east of both surveyors are turned to their owners' supplies. The effect is to created a better version of the game when there are just two players as now players contest not just the opponent, but the game system as well. Moreover, playing the original for two often devolves into intense battles over the same cities or roads. (While hardcores can enjoy this sort of thing, many Carcassonne players are new to the hobby and do not.) These nasty, often stalemated conflicts are now much less frequent as first, there isn't time for the spadework and second, one or both players tend to fall off such a feature before it can complete. Physically, all is well done and attractive though the animal icons would have been clearer with a bit more size. Perhaps having heard of the colonial flintlock they are hiding? The new figures are in the usual colors but feature large hats. Are they early cowboys? The instructions are clear, but noticeably reticent. Topics such as the order of scoring (active player's choice), what to do if the surveyors run out of territory (they do not move) and whether tiles can be placed north or south of the board line (they can) really should have been addressed. Overall though, this is Carcassonne with a useful twist. It should go on your radar as either a gift or ify ou often play with two and/or as an introductory game. One last thought: something resembling the Great Lakes, Mississippi River or Rocky Mountains might have been expected here, but do not appear. Of course these might be waiting in reserve as a possible expansion. [Frequently Played]
MMHH8 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 8)
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Carcassonne: Neues Land (Carcassonne: The Discovery; Carcassonne: Nieuwland; Carcassonne: Overzee)
It seems that as fast as we collect games in the Carcassonne series, the Carcassonne series is collecting designers. Even the august Reiner Knizia has participated. This latest comes from Leo Colovini (still best known for Carolus Magnus) and here his thematically-spartan approach has married up to good effect with the Carcassonne family. The fundamental system of drawing and placing a single tile in a turn continues, of course, though now the topic is discovering new lands, so both land and sea participate. What's changed is that there are now really only three ways of scoring and all are rather similar, quite a refreshing improvement really as elegance makes it simple. Meanwhile the real challenges – what to invest in and where to place – are just as good as ever. The other improvement, maybe even better, is that a marker is no longer required to stay on a feature until it completes. Instead it may bail out early, albeit for fewer points, but possibly still scoring at least something. So there are even more interesting decisions to make. This lets the publisher get away with making fewer markers as well. The artwork displays a cool tone – whites, light blues and pale greens – which is satisfying as ever. But Hans-im-Glück rarely goes wrong in this area. Both uncomplicated and yet offering even more decisionmaking, this should be that rare win for beginners and advanced alike. Thematically, the idea of exploration is probably even easier to accept than that of town construction.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
[Buy it at Amazon]
Popular favorite by Parker Bros. since 1957 has gone through several modernizations over the decades to reflect the changing workplace. Ecology replaced Farming, for example. Innovative victory conditions allow the player to choose them, within limits, and they are secret until achieved. The basic mechanism is roll-and-move, but strategy is introduced by the acquisition of movement cards which may be used instead. Of course, there is further strategy in lashing one's career choices to the victory conditions. Perhaps most lacking is any feeling of tension or anxiety. Cards and cash come far too easily to ever feel in difficulty. At the same time, no one has any idea how close the opponents are to achieving a win, so there is a definite lack of urgency. Morever, it is pretty difficult to do anything to hurt the chances of anyone who may be leading. The victory conditions idea remains the single most interesting facet and one which has not really been exploited since.
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Invented June 11, 2011, this game entered the funding site in the week of September 16-22. By the second of October it had far surpassed its $5000 goal with 814 backers pledging a total of $34,436. Published late in the year, it is essentially a take that! card game that adds dice. The title does not refer to the pre-Lenten festival as in Inkognito, but to American amusement parks as in Scream Machine. There are 110 cards, each player beginning with the base rides (Ferris wheel, carousel, roller coaster, swings, bumper cars). Players must acquire the four types of parts cards: lights, materials, banners, seats, for 4 of them (3 for a short game). (Who knew that it could be so tricky to order some wood and signs?) It turns out that the base cards are not strictly necessary since the parts cards are already tied to specific rides. On a turn three dice are rolled exactly once and unless the result is a triplet, the player uses two of them. A boardlet tells what each result does. Helpfully the choices get better as the numbers go up so generally the two higher rolls are picked. There isn't really any tension between the available choices and all of them relate to cards, i.e. draw a deck card, draw the top discard, swap hand cards, steal a hand card, swap played cards, steal a played card. Players each have three ticket chits which can be used to stop a planned action or increment/decrement a die roll. There are six wild cards which help rides get completed more quickly, but completing a natural set gives one of these tickets back and more importantly, makes it inviolable. In a curious rule, instead of rolling dice, a player having a terrible hand may discard a wild and any number of hand cards to draw the same number from the deck. So a player who has already had bad luck drawing now has to go further into the hole by giving up a turn and a wild, just to try to recover, which is by no means guaranteed. For a 2011 game, the levels of decisionmaking and innovation are surprisingly low while the doses of luck rather heavy. The materials are all right, though not that memorable. The cards appear to be photographs overlaid by a tint; they are not identified. There is a problem in the communication design in that one is unable to look across the table and easily distinguish which cards opponents have. The instructions should have covered exceptional situations better. A four-player team variant does not appear to add any wrinkles of interest. It does have a nice, compact box. Playing this was a rush to just finish it, so little did players like it. That it exists at all represents a triumph of marketing over sense. It's hard to say who can enjoy this. Although otherwise it might work for younger kids, the nastiness and occasional subjectivity involved in stealing cards probably make it problematic for even that group. [Take that! card games]
LLLL3 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 3)
Cherilyn Joy Lee Kirkman; Dice Hate Me Games-2011; 2-4; 30
Carolus Magnus
Near abstract theoretically connected to the competition of the sons of Charlemagne. Innovative system of competition over to have the most in five colors of tokens. Tokens are used to control territories. For many the dice add too large an element of luck and you may prefer one of several Internet-suggested variants on this matter. Ever-changing board, as territories are removed, is an intriguing feature. Seems best for two as the three-player situation fosters kingmaking situations and the four-player partnership scenario offers less decisionmaking. [Two vs. Two Games] [Winning Moves Deutschland]

Turn-less game which is more of a real time puzzle. On a tiny round board sit five horse head figures in various colors. Each player's hand cards show three horses in different orders. If a player can swap positions of two horses or move one horse from the front of the line to the end (or vice versa) so as to make an arrangement of three matching one of his cards, he scores that card. That's the whole game. There is no waiting. If you see a move that you can do, you do it, unless of course someone else is currently executing. To do this quickly is the key, which is not that easy. And then someone goes ahead and changes the pattern before you can – d'oh! It's really a skill or way of thinking which must be learned. On the other hand, one wishes for more "game" here. Still, this likely has its uses, for example with young ones who lack the patience needed for contests of a more involved variety. The small packaging makes this an easy one to tote along at least. (Did you know that "tote" is thought to originally a West African word? Gives new context to that phrase "tote that barge" from Showboat.)
LLLL6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Max Gerchambeau; Asmodée; 2006; 2-4; 7+
Multi-player game in which players attempt to be the first to escape their six prisoners to a waiting boat. Movement is based on the positions of all of the pieces on the board which greatly rewards planning and understanding of the likely activities of the other players. At the same time the rule details are so light that the game is quite pleasureable. "Jamaica" variant with hidden cards is more chaotic while the "Tortuga" version with open hands and draw pile more analytical. [Pirate Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal rating: 7
Leo Colovini; Winning Moves Deutschland; 2000; 2-5
Cartagena II
Not an expansion or a re-work, but a sequel to Cartagena in which the escapees are arrived at a small island. (Apparently they have since re-grouped as once again each player receives the same number of pieces.) Now they are attempting to cross a small island to another waiting boat which is to take them to a larger island, at the end of which is a pirate haven. The basic mechanism is as before: a symbol-bearing card is played to advance a piece to the next vacant matching space. But there are two main innovations, or maybe three. One is the "cup half full" approach which has players moving opponent pieces forward to get more cards rather than moving their own backwards. Not only does this feel – but only feel – less self-defeating, it reduces overall game time. A related rule limits players to just three actions per turn, reducing downtime between turns. And there is a new action: moving the boat from one island to the other. Even when having more meeples in it than others makes this a free action, this is a delicious dilemma as one may be helping others and yet it may be possible to get someone else to do the work. Memory and drafting issues are avoided in this version. The artwork this time is brighter, befitting the outdoor setting, and slightly more cartoonish. The wooden meeples are functionally perfect, but not all that satisifying. It seems strange that the escapees should have so soon recovered their cocked pirate hats. With two satisfying races under their belts already, what will the pirates be doing in part three? [Pirate Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal rating: 7
Leo Colovini; Winning Moves Deutschland; 2006; 2-5
Ca$h'n Gun$ (Cash and Guns)
This is a very light depiction of gangster-style shakedowns. Each player has a pointing device, which, guess what, just happens to be in the shape of a life-sized foam pistol, and an identical set of cards which say whether it actually goes off. Apparently these guns fail quite often as most cards have no effect, but two of them say "bang!" and one even says it three times. Some randomly-drawn cash cards are laid out and players simultaneously pick targets. At this point players are trying to stay active and thus in for a share of the loot. But, if one expects to be shot, it's a good idea to refuse a share and remain safe as being on the receiving end of three or more shooting cards results in elimination from play. Of course, the player gaining the most money at the end of the cards wins. As can probably be guessed, this works best when there is a full set of six playera and accompanied by role-playing, including plenty of threats, assertions and denials. Bluffing and guessing who is likely to do what round out this mostly psychological effort. In games as in film, whenever violence is introduced the stakes and interest levels are raised, so I expect just about everyone should find this a source of at least occasional amusement, even if analysis and other elements are absent. And if one should get bored, the original game includes variants in the form of secret powers cards and advanced rules to support a policeman. There are also, at the time of this writing, an expansion kit, Ca$h'n Gun$ - les Yakuzas, and the forthcoming sequel Ca$h'n Gun$: Live. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal rating: 6
Ludovic Maublanc; Asmodee; 2005; 4-6
Casino (Cassino)
Card game of the "fishing" variety where cards are played to claim others lying face up on the table. Evidently it borrows some of its ideas from Mah Jongg as it uses the term "chow" from that game. It's descendant Mü & Mehr: Safarü, adopting as it does an animal theme, seems less complicated and more fun.
Castle of Magic
Fantasy game reminiscent of several others. It has the three concentric rings layout of Talisman, the hidden victory conditions of Careers, and the unknown solution of Clue which must be solved by deduction. While the concept sounds appealing, in practice there is so much luck involved in all of the hidden information and in learning the needed ritual spell that replay is not rewarded. Moreover, players can waste a lot of time repetitively resetting game state.
Castle Quest
Form of Monopoly set in a fantasy castle. [more]
Game of allocations with antecedents in Keydom, Keythedral and Ys, but entirely without random elements. Instead, as in Die Macher, unpredictability is provided by the opponents' choices. In particular, selection of an ability-conferring space precludes anyone else choosing it that turn. Spaces can confer money, or cubes, which are useful for constructing buildings which cover spaces. The ability to build itself is conferred by yet another building and there are several levels of these, the highest of which can confer a quarter to a third of one's final points. Other buildings confer intangibles such as a higher place in the turn order or the chance to contribute to the castle which confers both points and a special bonus. Bonuses are construed as five tracks, thereby allowing players to either diversify or go for the juicier rewards offered by depth. The track permitting construction at a discount appears especially useful, if one knows how to use it. Finally there's also a building permitting moving the marker which controls which buildings are active. Opponents can mitigate this somewhat, with money. This is a game which ideally requires a great deal of understanding of what opponents intend to do, a tricky business as often they know not themselves. More annoying is the fact that there is no requirement to actually use the building one chooses, yet it's quite cheap to do so. This leads to spoiling plays which can ruin another's chances in a major way, e.g. covering that ability to contruct the highest level buildings. This can have kingmaking consequences as well. The medieval theme doesn't feel very true to life, although all is nicely illustrated. The internationalized communication design is particularly thorough. Game length feels a bit excessive, especially with the maximum five players. The main rewarded skills are tactics and logistical planning. It's possible to try for a strategy, but one must be prepared to ditch it depending on circumstances. Title comes from the name of a French town, which is not far away from Carcassonne.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
William Attia; 2005; Ystari Games/Rio Grande; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Caylus Magna Carta
The cleverly-titled card game version of Caylus is kind of a natural product since even in the original the main object of interest, the path of opportunities, is constructed of cards. Which is of course once again the case here. Similarly there is also once again a provost whose progress on the path determines which cards generate their benefits for players and which do not. Each player has his own set of cards, which are shuffled into a deck at start and the player only given a small set of them to use. Acquiring more requires use of coins (which once again basically represent actions). The five tracks are here absent, but there are three stacks of victory point chips, from which players may buy. These start with the most valuable and finish with the least valuable, a curious reversal from the approach taken by most games, but it seems to work nevertheless. Play seems to proceed faster than in the parent game, but there is also more chaos, particularly when the wanted deck cards are not found. Drawing only cards of a type that others have already deployed is even worse. Overall this is more close to the original than most spinoffs, the result being that it's a shorter outing for those who are already Caylus fans. For the rest, this is no relief.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
William Attia; 2007; Ystari Games/Rio Grande; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Chang Cheng
Tile placement game about constructing the Great Wall of China. The player area shows places for sections of the Wall. On either side of the wall areas are demarcated: within, positive points, but without, negative ones, whose values are hidden as well. A turn consists of placing two tower pieces or a tower piece and a card. It is a rule, and a clever one, that if two pieces are placed they must be in different areas, but if wall and card, they must be in the same area. Each player begins with the same number of cards which he keeps hidden as they are played face down. When an area has become completely protected by walls, any cards it has acquired are revealed and points awarded to the player who has majority control there. Each player has a couple of special pieces, one which is double wide and also there is the tower which guarantees to its owner the future ownership of at least one adjacent space. When the entire length of the wall is complete, players lose points for the negative barbarian areas where they have majority control. That these negative outer areas do not exactly match, but slightly overlap the positive inner areas keeps decisionmaking interesting. Moreover, this game is a textbook case in how to maximize replayablity. The playing area is formed from several separate boards, either side of which can be used. Both the positive and the negative area values are determined randomly via chits, those on the positive side being weighted for size, as is proper. At certain points in play additional boards can be added and at either side. Finally there are several special cards, one of which can be randomly chosen before play, to add an extra way of scoring. Production wise, the plastic walls and tower pieces are very nicely done, a real pleasure to handle. The boards are well made, but their illustrations a bit uninspiring, sparse and sort of like a kids' game from an earlier era. The thick cards are elongated with fully rounded corners appropriate for the setting. Overall this is one of those challenging games with few rules which is easy to access and which finishes in a pleasing amount of time. In terms of playing well, one first wants to scout to find out where the best point differentials (how much positive is left after the negative is deducted) and then concentrate on those areas since winning everything is impossible. Don't wait long to play the double piece since it can be locked out, but play the tower so as to force your own dominance. One's cancellation card is best played where opposition cards appear and others in one's most vital areas. "Chang Cheng", by the way, is the name for the wall.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Walter Obert; TENKIGAMES/Z-Man; 2007; 2-4
Card game somewhat similar to Casino and Lamarckian Poker. The idea is to play a card to the center of the table and use the cards already there to make change. By avoiding an exact match, a player receives change whose value exceeds that of the card placed down. This game is severely hampered by bad luck of the draw. Packaged along with Boneyard.
Change: Boneyard
One of the card games in the Change package. Akin to Lamarckian Poker, but here cards on the table are acquired via a bidding process with a special rule: all tied players lose out. Quick game with more appeal than Change itself and almost as interesting as Lamarckian Poker.
Change Horses
if no image probably out of print
Everything about this game just seems odd. First, the inventor, Bruce Whitehill, is better known as a game collector and games historian. Second, this small horseracing game by an American is published by the German firm Eggert, who usually make large system/logistical games. Third, contrary to most racing games, the point is to make one's horse run as poorly as possible. Fourth, with most racing games the more players the better, but here it's just the opposite. Fifth, only horses whose colors have appeared on an odd number of cards actually move. These cards, each show a pair of colors and every round each player chooses two from their pre=selected set of three (probably the most interesting decisionmaking in the game). Since a color that appears an even number of times doesn't move at all, being able to play last is quite valuable. To determine this, players bid out of their one-time supply of carrot cards, the player doing the worst usually spending the most to take the last position, unless players are bluffing. Each player also holds two special action cards which permit one-time unusual activities such as changing out one's secret horse (providing the name of the game), moving horses backwards, etc. Is it just the carrot cards that make one think of Hare and Tortoise, or is there a general green, retro look to all of it? The finely-painted ceramic horses contribute as well. They're quite nice by the way, though a bit easy to accidentally break at the ankles. The final odd thing about the game is that it only looks like a horse racing game; it plays much more like a card game. All of these factors may leave most first time players bemused, even bewildered. But really, this is not that dissimilar from the popular Great Balloon Race or Heimlich & Co. The important factor may just be to consider it as such, and also not to have too many players. Five are far too many, for one reason because it quickly becomes much too obvious which horse is not in play, and because that horse is of no interest to swap for. Rather, try keeping the number of players to three and this just might hit the spot if bluffing is your cup of tea. But another resemblance is to Edison & Co. and it may just be that this one will share its generally unfortunate reception.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Bruce Whitehill; Eggert/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Traditional party word game thought to have originated in sixteenth century France. It is mentioned in Jane Austen's novel Emma. Turning it into a packaged board game is not really necessary. The obvious inspiration for games such as Password and Taboo.
Cheesy Gonzola
The second, more elaborate expansion for Chateau Roquefort enables a fifth player, adding another tower, tiles and a sombrero-wearing mouse who is immune to traps, the hat is too large to let him fall you see. Use of this piece is very helpful and he tends to allow the victory to come sooner, if this is of interest, though even the longest game shouldn't last more than half an hour. But this must be unique for how many expansions actually shorten rather than lengthen? Once again the expansion doesn't seem to harm anything and brings in variety for frequent players. The sub-title "Der Käseschreck von Appenzell" translates to something like "The Cheese Shock from Appenzell".
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Jens-Peter Schliemann & Bernhard Weber; Zoch/Rio Grande; 2007; 2-4
Collection game in which players successively claim pieces leading to the top of a pyramid. It is about predicting what others will do, but this task is rendered rather impossible due to the fact of unknown Law tiles which exist in the pyramid. A rather light game with nicely made scarabs, it appears that some of the random setups may be unbalancing. Because of this very high level of chaos, not really recommendable for serious play. [Ancient Egypt games]
Chez Geek
Satirical card game about young adult life. Reminiscent of Illuminati, players try to build up enough card holdings before them to win while drawn cards have all kinds of strange effects on holdings. While somewhat amusing the first time around, not particularly innovative at this point. Also luck of the draw plays a large part and recordkeeping is somewhat difficult — players need to mentally track the game state. Other games on a similar theme are Landlord and Get Out (not described here). [Take That! Card Games] [Steve Jackson Games]
Trick-taking card game for three based on the traditional Italian one known either as Calabresella or Terziglio. There don't really appear to be any changes from the traditional rules apart from multiplying out the point awards to avoid fractions, addition of five special cards to indicate the current bid and variants for two and four players. Unusual features are lack of trumps, a four card widow and the card order which runs 3-2-A-K-C-F-7-6-5-4, the first two of which tend to enhance the role of luck while the last is just plain confusing. This is a not so great game that you could have played with ordinary cards anyway. Even the illustrations are not as nice as traditional Italian cards one could buy, and not as usable, since they fail to sufficiently differentiate the suit colors and most players are unused to distinguishing them based on shapes alone. Title means "I call" and is the name of lowest bid, one that allows calling for a specific card from an opponent's hand.
China Rails
This latest Empire Builder (crayon rails) game takes the series to China. Main cities are Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Xi An. As in Australia Rails, there is a large area of the map – the entire west – that need never be visited. In fact, the southwest (Yunnan, Sichuan, Tibet) is such an extreme tangle of rivers and mountains, including alpine (the Himalaya) that it should probably never be traversed, or only rarely, as is the case with Scandinavia in Eurorails. But a great improvement is that unlike the previous games, there seem to be no cards in which all three loads feature destinations which are far afield, which are often totally useless to the player, especially in the early going, whose only real effect is to delay completing the game. Some things have been learned over the years, apparently. There are also a great many desert dots in the north, both east and west, which are sometimes worth using if one can get enough loads. The situation with Taiwan is unusual. There are several ferries and a player must connect to at least one of them to win. But the island comprises so few dots that all of its track is pre-drawn and there are special rules for loading and unloading. The boxed production is the same as for previous editions, jade being a new load type. Coordinates on the six part puzzle board make finding the cities easier, though similarities in some of the names may confuse. The same old low quality paper money is still provided, but never used here as Poker chips are so much nicer to handle. The pawns and crayons get replaced (by metal trains and grease pencils) as well. It's 2009: when is Mayfair going to start upgrading these materials? This design may have sat on a shelf for quite a few years as it completely omits the city of Shenzhen, a very important production center in the PRC of today. But everything works and in general this is a worthy addition to the series, probably best for two to three players. The biggest puzzle is another one that only Mayfair can answer: with board games being so popular in Korea, why hasn't a version set in that country appeared yet? [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [6-player Games] [analysis] [variant] [chart] [Frequently Played]
LHMH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Michael Dreiling; Mayfair; 2007; 2-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Two-player limited release by Günter Cornett. Bambus (Bamboo) Games have been publishing for years, but ironically this is their first title set in China. Although the theme does not contribute a great deal, it gives the raison d'être for an unusual randomization method. Instead of rolling a die, a player tosses three rectangles of wood, each side of which features a different quantity. This is reminiscent of one method of calculating the ancient I Ching. It's also better than a die because it alters the usual probabilities as well as making it much simpler to reduce the range of results for the end game. Play itself transpires on a hexagonal grid board where every point is loaded with a face down gold piece. On a turn a player either reveals an uninterrupted straight line of pieces or turns one face down. Each space is simultaneously part of a blue line (the river) and also a brown land (the hills). When either type of group is cleared, the player controlling that terrain type cashes in. At first it seems the main skill is simply one of discernment – discovering the best place to flip tokens to help oneself. But continued play reveals also an intuitive counterpart to this practical activity, one of imagining the opponent's next move and planning to take advantage of it. A somewhat contradictory philosophy recognizes that each move requires a different-sized roll and each move can be designed to allow a player something good to do with as many rolls as possible. In short, despite the importance of the randomness, there are multiple strategic approaches and many options each turn. Physically, the board is a leatherette roll-up map, the pieces 81 wooden discs with stickers applied. The sturdy box is the green, standard one used in several Bambus games. Unfortunately this title appeared in a small print run and mysteriously has not yet been picked up for any larger publisher's two-player series. It's their loss as this is one of those rare games with few rules which can be appreciated by initiate and sophisticate alike.
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Günter Cornett; Bambus;; 2004; 2
Negotiation game about acquiring property and building up businesses in New York's old Chinatown owes something to Metropolis. Gorgeously illustrated and easy to play. Players must be very careful to watch players lucky enough to build a profitable enterprise on the first two turns however as they usually manage to win. It is nice if everyone agrees to embargo such players, but usually someone gives in because failing to trade with them hurts their own fortunes too seriously. It has been observed on that the Chinese writing on the business tiles uses simplified characters devised in mainland China only in the 1950s and that the historic center of New York's Chinatown is the corner of Mott and Pell streets, neither of which are shown.
Chinesische Mauer, Die
Sid Sackson abstract published by Piatnik. Large cardboard tiles exhibit criss-crossing paths in different colors. Players take turns choosing and placing any available tile with the twin goals of extending the length of one's own path and having the paths reach all four sides of the eventual total structure. What's especially tricky is that the exact locations of the corners aren't generally known until play is nearly over. Of course there is always that other goal, trying to cut off opponent paths, but as almost every tile contains every color, this tends to be difficult. Presentation with tiles showing primary colors on white is rather drab. It seems that the later Pompeji, which borrowed some of its ideas and added a more of a theme may be the more enjoyable experience. Title means "The Chinese Wall".
if no image probably out of print
click for larger view
We really don't see enough games on Mexico and the fascinating Aztec civilization so it's exciting when the rare new one appears, especially one that isn't focused on war. More games on the topic of chocolate are also welcome and it's entirely proper here since even if they were not the inventors of chocolate, it was very important in Aztec culture. Surprisingly, they drank it cold and without sweeteners. Not every good idea arrives fully formed. Such may also be the case with this game. The mechanisms here boast an impressive lineage: Teuber's Adel Verpflichtet plus Randolph's Raj. There are six areas of the board and players hold twelve cards ranked 0-12. They assign a pair of cards to each area, more or less secretly – there are actually three methods, the one to use determined depending on the color of the scoring track space the lead player occupies – and the player having the highest value in each area gets the most advantage, the others less so. The last placed in an area may get a penalty. All seemed okay at first, but the trouble is that two of the six areas appear to be much better than the others: one gives +1 on all future card bidding totals; the other adds a card to the hand. These two tools are all one needs to implement a rich-get-richer scheme. In another a strange rule: each player chooses one card to place face down on the board at the start which is never used during play, but will count that many victory points at the end. Whoever plays the highest gets three extra points. Wouldn't everyone always just use their highest card? Thematically, the game appears to be interested, but during play one never thinks one thought about Aztec culture, only about which card values are best for each location. This is a real throwback type of game, but regrettably one that should be thrown back. The search for a great game on chocolate, or the Aztecs, goes on.
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Günter Burkhardt; Huch-2010; 3-5; 45; 8+
This multi-player card game is typical of many American games of its period: akin to a movie with one good starring idea surrounded by drab supporting sets and players. The good, starring idea is to represent significant historical events via cards. These come in two versions, one side showing the actual historical event – "Lincoln Assassinated" – the other the alternate – "Lincoln only wounded". When such a card is flipped over, history is altered by also flipping the other cards showing the same icon. This can cause paradoxes – e.g. Andrew Johnson is impeached when he never became president – so these are marked paradox and can be fixed by playing an appropriate card – "Lincoln impeached". But if there are too many paradoxes all players lose. Each player has a different secret mission involving arrangement of specific events in a particular way. All of this is well done, but the rest is not only ordinary, but poorly integrated. The basic turn is "draw a card - play a card", a game-slowing idea without purpose as everyone must wait while the drawer reads the new card and re-evaluates the rest of his hand. On top of this, too many cards are so specialized that they cannot be played most of the time and very often a turn is just spent drawing and discarding. Admittedly it's quick, but hardly edifying. Many of the cards are artifacts from the past, e.g. the Mona Lisa, which are needed as each player has a second, hidden way to win – collection of a particular set. But usually that's all one need do – simply draw and play them. This part is not exactly a game of skill and unsurprisingly seems to be the most common way to win. It's de rigeur to have artifact retrieval in a time travel game (cf. Time Pirates), but here it has nothing to do with the rest of play. The card artwork is ordinary, though their communication design is pretty good, except for the need to keep flipping the cards over (and to know what is on their opposite sides, which tends to tip opponents off about what you are doing). It might have been worth keeping all the data on one side of the card and simply rotating them to indicate their status. Or imagine larger, square cards which could distinguish four statuses. The cards do have a lot of nice thematic information however and the design of the various events and alternate realities must have been a labor of love. It's just too bad that the same kind of ingenuity wasn't put into the game play. As a two-player game this works somewhat, but tends to be better with more as otherwise it can degenerate into long sequences of simply reversing the other's move. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6 [Looney Labs]
if no image, probably out of print
There may be no greater testament to the success of Blokus than that it has taken away so many sales that Hasbro found it necessary to make a cheapo production somewhat like it. The games unaware parent or grandparent goes to Target or Toys 'R Us, sees two similar games and so buys the cheaper one, right? The shared element is that pieces are placed so as to touch the last piece placed, but now the meaning of "last piece" is the piece placed by the right hand opponent. The board is not divided by a square grid, but by stars and circles, similar to the Winning Moves logo. Points are not given for getting rid of all of one's pieces, but for having majority control of a shape when it is completed, and for being the completer. This can lead to cooperative efforts where two players help each other at the expense of the others, though too much of this can give away the victory if players are insufficiently careful. (Or maybe it's a feature, a way of quickly ending a game you're not enjoying.) There are exceptional cases that come up, such as a piece being entirely surrounded or playing one of the marginal pieces at the edge. It's good to see that these were realized and well-handled in the short instructions. Pieces are in red, yellow and garishly contrasting green and purple and points are easily tracked via plastic pegs that move along a personal scoring track. The plastic inlaid board with wells for pieces at the four corners works well enough, but in color and shape looks and feels rather repulsive, as if intended for two year olds. The wells are rather pointless since what's needed is to lay the pieces out to make plain what's available, not hide them in the well. The well lacks a cover so it's no good for storing the pieces after play either. Of course, this being Hasbro, no resealable plastic baggies are provided. But the most significant problem is the board design. Not every space is part of a pattern. What this means is that often a player falls into a rut where every turn the only choice is either to help someone else to score or to make a play that will never generate any score. Why wasn't the board designed so as to ensure every play could help a player to advance? This should always apply, but even more so in a game for children. Be an aware parent: avoid this cynical effort. Kids deserve better.
LLMM4 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4)
Philip Orbanes; Hasbro/Winning Moves Deutschland-2009; 2-4; 8+ [Buy it at Amazon if you must]
Citadelles (Ohne Furcht und Adel, Citadels)
Game set in medieval times. It hearkens back to Verräter and even further back to Hoax in that players adopt the guises of different archetypal characters on each round. But unlike the former game, here the goal is not combat, but building up a position in a manner similar to games such as Groo, Wucherer, and Chez Geek. Many tactical possibilities and interesting decision points make for an amusing ride. I would like to suggest a simple variant: as each player turns up his character card, he places before him an ordinary playing card of the same number. On the next turn, this is the order in which characters are chosen, except for the king who still chooses first. The designer's site gives other variants and an additional character appears at Pöppelkiste. Title is a pun on Ohne Furcht und Tadel, a German phrase meaning "Without Fear or Reproach", which means "Without Fear or Nobility". Generally I am not a particular fan of designer Bruno Faidutti's favorite type of game, the fast, tactical outing, but in this one he makes a powerful case for how much fun such a game can be. [6-player Games]
Suppose Carcassonne and Take It Easy had a child. That each player had to place the same tile and tried to build his own city. That's this game. The cities are modern and up to four features can appear on them: attractions, parks, sites and cafes. There are a variety of goals and because the instructions contain many variants and on-line supplements even more, there are many, many ways to count the score. In any case, players place a from a limited number of tourist pawns to decide which areas they think will become the most valuable. One of the most interesting things to do is create large water areas which give a lot of points to tourists placed on cafes that overlook them. Play tends to be very easy, but decisions remain challenging as one tries to play the odds on what will be coming next. It can be played with children using the easier scoring methods and more complex for those who want it. The tiles are simply, yet appealingly illustrated. Interest is added by giving each player tiles showing landmarks of a different city, one of New York, Paris, London or Berlin. Other games by this inventor at this time are Wadi and TWRS (not reviewed here). [Frequently Played] [Top Ten Gateways] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners]
MMMH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Martyn F.; Emma Games-2008; 1-4
Città, La
Longer game for up to five players is (vaguely) set in Renaissance Italy. The graphics are nicely ornamental and the plastic citizen figures which come in two genders are nicely realized. The game is about creating city-states with better and better features in order to draw in citizens. In terms of functionality, the graphics are passable, although they could be improved a lot. I have some concern about possible bad luck with the drafting mechanism. Those cards that permit early knowledge of this year's fad never seem to be around by the time it's my turn, for example. The biggest buildings can also be hard to come by. Some concern too about the fact that much is determined by the first couple of conflicts. The outcome of these seems to snowball in the same direction for both winner and loser as there doesn't seem to be much chance to catch up later. Also, beware the pre-programmed setups. There are cities in the middle that just seem certain to get devoured. Play-wise, drafting is preferable to being dealt a hand, but even this may can be too chaotic for master strategists. With respect to theme, drafting a cathedral for example doesn't seem to make much sense. If a ruler of a city-state wanted a cathedral, he probably just built one. Both the hospital and the bath house seem wrong for the time period. Perhaps this was designed for the modern era and later translated to Renaissance Italy? Despite these difficulties, appears to offer considerable interest. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Game of tribes forming villages in prehistoric times. A mythic, colorful land is populated by nice wooden hut pieces in five colors, one per territory. Each player secretly controls a color, but on his turn is allowed to move any huts from one territory to another. The goal is to form a village by isolating a group. Then all of the participating colors score points based on the number of tribes present. More points can be gained if it is in the currently favorable terrain type while villages formed in the unfavorable type are destroyed. Destruction is the fate too, of lone members if, as in Attila, a village including all five colors is formed. A player also receives personal points for forming a village. The system is rather easily explained and should be fairly fast moving. Figuring out the identities of the opponents can be deucedly difficult, at least for me. Matters become less strategic and more reactive as the number of players increases from two to four. As there is almost no luck apart from the initial setup which is hard to characterize in any case, this should appeal to fans of themeless abstracts while feeling a bit too dry for others. Inventor Leo Colovini is good friends with longtime inventor Alex Randolph; in some respects this feels like it could have been invented by the latter back in the 1960's. It even has a one-word name, in English no less, just like all of those old 3M titles, so maybe it's meant as homage.
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (Kleopatra und die Baumeister, Cleopatra e la Società degli Architetti)
Multi-player board game in which each represents an architect working on the same ancient Egyptian structure. Each turn they either build a sub-structure or draft from one of three sets of cards. These cards are the building materials used for to make the above structures, plus the ever-popular special cards which permit rule-breaking opportunities. An interesting small innovation is that half the drafted cards are unknown. Another is that players get to decide where new cards are placed in the draft pool. The main restrictions on cards are the corruption symbols and the hand size of 10 – exceeding it is allowed, but incurs more corruption points, points that are tracked via counters deposited into a pyramid "piggy bank" à la the American edition of Tutanchamun. Unlike modern American baseball and politics, the most corrupt player automatically loses, even should he have the most points from building. From time to time there may be a blind auction and the high bidder is reprieved 3 points, but all the rest both pay and take on more. Structures come in several types and each requires several cards – a rather daunting array to grasp at first. Fortunately a few will be finished rather quickly, taking them off the menu. Timing matters greatly with many of the structures. Although usually one wants to build quickly before the item runs out, some confer more points if someone else has first built something else. One of the games is an entire sub-game of placing mosaic tiles that could have been published separately. Ancient Egypt is presented rather remarkably, employing the box bottom as a raised dais and many, large plastic pieces such as obelisks, walls, sphinxes, etc. These are pretty spectacular for the world of board games, though not very satisfying as actual art, of course. The point rather is that one can even begin to think in such terms. Overall this one is just a bit more difficult to learn than it ought – the menu is too long and the specials too varied – but one can start out playing by simply drafting to fill the hand and buying whatever the cards permit. Often choosing them is blind chance anyway as their identities may all be hidden. The memory factor with the cards and especially with the corruption levels is annoying, but are easily solved by use of open holdings. Worse is the blind bidding feature, though some playings won't see it, and this is the true skill demanded by the game: knowing what a bid is worth. This gives experienced players rather an edge in play, by the way. More a collection of systems than an elegant whole, its main innovation is its use of plastic and cardboard rather than in its systems. On the other hand, the systems it does have are almost entirely unobjectionable. Tacticians and logisticians should comprise the main audience. [Ancient Egypt games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
One of two re-makes of Santa Fe, this one set in the Pacific and using wooden pieces on a rather large board. Players take turns extending clipper routes, maximizing visits to their own islands while minimizing those of others, and taking advantage of short term cash opporunities on the way. The simple system of the original has been rendered more complex in several ways. The "2X" cards which permit double moves and profits may now be used every single turn, so long as the player is able to pay. Newly available are "3X" and "5X" cards. And there is even the ability, as in Expedition, to change the ports one is targeting. The ports themselves are not all dealt out at the start as in that game, nor are they acquired randomly and secretly as in Santa Fe. Instead, about half are dictated to the player at the start of play and the rest chosen by the player during its course. The result feels like the original after a serious dose of steroids. In fact, there are so many options and potential opponent actions to consider that play can often grind down to a near halt in analysis. As a result, no one will be any good at this the first time – at least one play is required to get a good idea of what can happen and what it takes to win. And in no way should this be considered something for beginners; players should all be of similar experience levels in fact, as it is fairly easy to to unintentionally become a kingmaker. If these caveats are observed, should prove an interesting challenge for the experienced gamer, with a fair amount of replayability as the board features many islands with many possible paths to take, many of which will remain unvisited. There is even one clipper line which only sometimes comes into play, which can also alter the outcome significantly. Some may miss, as I do, the original's challenge of how quickly to reveal one's intentions, a feature shared with Streetcar. The physical design is artistically attractive, but sometimes at the expense of communication as the light blue lines and circles on the dark blue board are too muted to be easily detected. Players will have to spend time going over board features in advance to avoid mistakes such as the one I made in not realizing that there are four rather than just two port spaces at Australia. The sequence of play has enough details that five of the handy player information cards should have been included, not just two, while the lack of a scoring track makes the end of game point tally an unnecessarily onerous undertaking. The South Seas setting, not being much exploited in board games so far, is quite welcome, although a more geographically-true placement of islands would have been appreciated. Players are posited as Japan, USA, Great Britain, France and Germany, but all emerge from the eastern Pacific which seems completely the reverse of the historical reality.
Alan R. Moon
This is a card game of drafting and tower building. Available to the players for drafting are tower parts in three types: bases, tops and clocks. Each turn all one does is play a card and draft a new one. Simple? Yes, but complications set in with the tower building rules. Each tower must include a clock. Towers are topped by flags in various colors. A new top must be placed exactly one level higher than the last tower anyone has built using the same color top. Finally there are the cats and mice which are artfully added to many of the various cards. To score the most points a tower won't have any animals at all, which is difficult to do, but if there are animals, a tower infested with mice should at least have a cat or suffer a points penalty. Play is fast and easy, duration is short and the artwork quite personal and attractive, but often the decisions are too obvious. Even worse, it's quite possible to be victimized by the order in which cards come out, sometimes in a subtle way. For example, the base pieces come either in singles or doubles; if a player requires a single and nothing but doubles are ever up on his turn, he is left helpless. That the cats and mice do not look more distinct is a communication design problem. If one is to try this, "the fewer the players the better" applies. While meant for children as young as age eight, and the simplicity is appropriate, the potential imbalance is not.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Aaron Weissblum & Alan R. Moon; Jolly Roger Games; 2004; 2-4
Cloud 9
Aaron Weissblum press-your-luck game for up to six. We are all going up in a balloon, taking turns piloting to reach higher and higher levels. This job requires producing hand cards to match the results on a variable number of dice. Each new level confers more points, which a player can claim by parachuting out. This may be a good idea as failure to ascend means none of the remaining occupants get anything. But bailing out too early risks losing any extra points that might be available. Part of the decision depends on relative point scores, part is probabilistic – some dice results don't require cards at all – and some can involve bluffing as players inevitably make declarations about their hands. Actually I wouldn't mind if hands were public, especially as players are required to use cards if they have them and maybe an unscrupulous player wouldn't. While the mechanism is easy to explain and remember, the cheerful ballooning theme isn't a particularly good fit. I wonder if anyone ever considered mountaineering as it seems far more apt (except that it was already used in the German edition of Can't Stop). At times nobody can make much progress and so the overall contest may last a little long, but at least every player needs to decide something on every turn. While Can't Stop and Exxtra are still to be preferred in this category, this offers a third alternative for changing the pace as well as a good vehicle for introducing strategy concepts to those who seldom play. [Balloon Aviation Games] [6-player Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Cluedo (Clue)
Originally Cluedo in its original British version, a pun on the Latin word for games, ludo. This deduction game which may have been preceded by a game played with traditional cards and called The King of Hearts Has Five Sons was published in Britain in 1948 and must by now be considered a classic. After all, how many board games have had an entire film made of them? Another measure of its penetration of popular consciousness is its use as a setting for a short story in the book The Barnum Museum in which Miss Scarlett attempts to seduce Colonel Mustard. The game has the reputation of being mostly for children, but actually with correct and thorough use of the recordkeeping card, it can be quite stimulating. This page sponsored by Colonel Mustard which is a celebration of all things Clue deserves special recognition. The edition titled Clue, the Sherlock Holmes Game which however has nothing to do with anything Holmesian must be filed under "what were they thinking?".
The 2002 American edition changes the artwork and a few other things. The major rules change is to have players roll two dice rather than just one. This helps quite a lot and mostly removes the situation of players being at the mercy of low die rolls, although there can now be more variability in results and overall pips could be more skewed. To match this good idea, however, is a bad one. The new tracking sheets only offer four columns, rather than six, showing that the producers of the game fail to understand how their own game is played. Perhaps not everyone does so, but many of us use one column per player, meaning there is a problem for six-player games. The new artwork is in an attractive 1930's Expressionist style as may be seen here. Unfortunately though, the cards are split into three parts and so the art cannot be as large as it used to be. It also might have been nice if the weapon cards were more distinguished from the room cards. [6-player Games] [10 Most Famous Board Games] [Miss Scarlett over the years] [Buy it at Amazon (Hasbro)] [Buy it at Amazon (Parker)]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Anthony E. Pratt; Waddingtons/Parker/Hasbro; 1948; 3-6
Clue Jr.
The simplified version of Clue has a lighter theme and is really only suitable for children.
Clue: The Card Game
Clue has failed. That must be the premise here as whoever killed Mr. Boddy in the original has not been caught, but in fact escaped. It is up to the players determine by what means (limousine, seaplane, hot air balloon, etc.) and to what landmark (Lincoln Memorial, Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, etc.) because everyone knows that when criminals leave, landmarks are the first place they think of. (What? Is it a North by Northwest kind of thing? I may be mad, but I'm mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.) Cards are distributed as in the original, but instead of a board, there are location tiles, each player holding one. Instead of a die there are action cards. The player holds two and plays one each turn. Many of these are suggestion cards which operate pretty much the same as a suggestion in the original game (without, however, dragging the suggested to the location). Others permit new ways of getting information from others such as asking for all cards of a named category, e.g. region of the country that a landmark is in. The Snoop type of card
offers the feature of two-player participation; the active player gives the card face down to another who shows the evidence without anyone else seeing it or even knowing what the question was. The cards appear to be well-balanced and the player will always have something reasonable to do. The logical deduction works as well as it ever does and this system eliminates the original's annoying potential for unfair die rolls. However, a slight rules alteration should be made to reduce downtime. Players should start the game with one extra card and instead of drawing at the start of the turn, replenish at the end. It's also a little disappointing that more wasn't done with the locations as there is no network at all. Instead one can just move to any one of them as if they are all equidistant. Aesthetically the full color cards are not bad. The two-deck plastic tray and small package are also appreciated. Overall this is a reasonable, if not very ambitious, redo of a retro title. As a logical deduction game it does not exceed Black Vienna, Code 777, Sleuth or Inkognito, but may successfully recall the flavor of a one-beloved title.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Philip Orbanes; Winning Moves USA; 2002; 3-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Clue: The Great Museum Caper
A complete departure from previous Clue games, this one is set in an art gallery and features one player competing against all of the others. A bit like Scotland Yard it features "invisible movement" with the thief player recording all of his moves on paper rather than on the board. The detectives have the use of motion sensors and cameras to help them. The game is fun in concept, but in reality usually doesn't work since it's far too easy for the thief to get away. Since he gets to move every time the detectives move, for the most part, all he need do to win is make sure he cannot be reached by the next detective to move, which is generally trivial to accomplish.
This logical deduction game is one of those that appears too simple to carry interest, but intriguing features surface during play. Each player begins with an ordered, secret code formed by
randomly drawn, stand-up plastic pieces in black and white. These large items come in black and white with a unique number imprinted directly on each (no stickers) and have only a slight tendency to fall over. The game is one of attack and defense as tile by tile one tries to guess all the opponent codes while preserving one's own code unguessed. Each correct guess permits either another guess or adding a newly-drawn tile to one's own code. An incorrect guess forces revelation of the new tile. So here comes a strategic question: is it better to draw a tile of the color which is already mostly known in order to make a better attack or is it better to take the other color to shore up defenses? As in Cluedo, one also makes deductions based on what opponents ask, even when the suggestion is wrong. So this brings in another tactical element as it's even possible to deliberately mislead by suggesting tiles one held by oneself. The advanced game includes two wild card tiles to force deeper thinking. It is some distasteful that the final outcome may only depend on a 50-50% guess, but with no real downtime, the thinking without respite of this rather short game should appeal to just about anyone. It certainly wakes up the mind and has a strong "just one more" quality as well. [Holiday List 2004]
Code 777
Logical deduction game by Alex Randolph based on a Robert Abbott idea. Like the old Poker variant, Indian, each player has three tiles, but can't see them! Only the others' are visible. These tiles are numbered 1 through 7 and also have a color attribute, neatly described as a pyramid on the note-taking sheet. A player's turn consists of drawing one of twenty-one question cards, announcing it and then answering from his point of view. Examples would be, "how many tile sets add up to more than 12?" or "how many pairs of numbers do you see?" etc. From this information the others can make some deductions about what their own tiles must be. As the questions pile up, combining their results together creates a mental decision tree that eventually gives the answer, a stimulating and satisfying endeavor. The player who first manages to guess the tiles three times wins. The fact that guesses can occur out of turn – at any time – means there can also be some tactics. Divining that a given question may be very helpful for a player who is close might cause one to make an early educated guess, even with imperfect information. Lacking much of a theme, some may find this a bit dry, but my only regret is that I never encountered it years ago when it first appeared as now it is almost impossible to find. Nor are these comments likely to help matters so unless you intend re-printing it, please forget everything you have read here.
Alex Randolph; Jumbo-1986;2-4
Colorado County
Abstract game with thin theme. Although not bad – studying the card deck before play might make it better – I don't find the rules particularly well written, and apparently the German rules are no better. Also, it seems difficult to stop a leader. We had one player build up very strongly around the 8-point lake and manage to get most of the scoring bonuses. Might discover more on a second playing.
Reinhard Staupe
Light card game of collecting chameleons by Michael Schacht and Abacusspiele. Players take turns making very simple decisions. There are a number of cards to play on in a mutual tableau and one can either draw a card and add to one or simply take one. The goal is set collection and avoidance of having too many different colors. Wild cards and +2 bonus cards add variety. Reminiscent of quite a few other risk management games, this really boils down the classic German-style game dilemma to its essence. Recommended as an entry or less taxing experience which is considerably more enjoyable than, say, Knights, for which expansion cards are included. Both English and German rules are included, but the latter contain an extra set-up rule: each player begins with a card of a different color. Title is a neologism somewhat reminiscent of the 1960's era 3M line. [Frequently Played] [Top Ten Gateways] [Holiday List 2003] [Buy it at Amazon]
Coloretto Amazonas
Michael Schacht card game for two to four. While entirely different from Coloretto, it shares the features of set collection and simplicity. Here the objects of desire are animals from the Amazon rain forest, depicted quite attractively in brilliant color. Players have a small hand and on a turn either play a card to its category in their own collection or in that of an opponent. A collection's goal is that every card in it be unique and the first to collect one of each in a category receives points. Playing a duplicate in a category either discards both the cards or forces the player to dump one from an adjacent category. The rather interesting idea that a card could be either beneficial or malevolent depending on when and where it is used turns out a little disappointing in practice. In fact, occasionally one's only meager option is to help an opponent. Moreover, the high difficulty sets seem overly valuable compared to the others. While there is nothing seriously amiss here, there could be more excitement. It feels as if just one more clever idea was needed. Certainly, there's not as much fun as with its Coloretto predecessor. Two may well be the best number of players in order that all have a fair chance.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
Coloretto: Die Extrakarten
This Coloretto expansion kit consists of just ten cards. Eight of them are shuffled into a deck and one turned up before the game to substantially alter play, yet always in an intriguing way. For example, one specifies that whenever you take a "+2" points cards you give it to the player to your left. Now during placement you're trying to figure on what the player to your right wants. In taking, you're trying to get out earlier and hope that the player to your right gets forced to take one or more of the extra points cards. Another such card specifies that sets of three now count only two points for scoring. At first the player becomes driven to score more than three in positive categories, but then the other shoe drops: if a non-scoring group achieves only three, it's no longer so bad! The basic game, though always fun and intriguing, is a simple one and it's marvelous how dramatically it's transformed with so little fuss. Over the years one starts to get the idea of the incremental way in which this inventor works, making small changes and additions which always improve until eventually arriving at something truly wonderful. Classify this as one of those essential expansions that someday will be re-published as part of the original package.
MLHH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu-2004; 3-5; 8+
Anyone who's ever suffered through Monopoly knows roll-and-move, but much less common is this game's main mechanism: tile-and-move. Released in 1991 to anticipate the 1992 quincentennial, the game has players attempting to duplicate the trip across an Atlantic hexagonal grid, touching America and then returning to Europe. On a turn they first place a couple of tiles and them move on them. Being able to also travel over others' tiles permits moving even faster – a cooperative aspect. Having wrecks or fleet-in-irons tiles in the path slows movement way down – a competitive aspect. Starting on certain types of tiles or being in last place confers more movement points – a smart play aspect. Maybe a third of the spaces can only be covered by specific matching tiles while the remainder can take any type. This mix seems to work well – movement is neither too difficult nor too easy. Players tend to work together in pairs or trios to help one another, but, as in many race games, also to stop the leader, particularly at game end for the latter. On the return trip, it's permitted to place a second tile over an existing one so that mostly filled board continues to offer surprises. Critical during this time are the hurricane tiles which permit relocating a board tile and the Columbus tiles which act as wild cards. Turns tend to move quickly so that even with six players it can be completed in an hour or less – in fact, he More players the better. Trying to do the best you can with the tiles you've been dealt and the board situation faced is such a pleasant challenge that it's hard to imagine who would dislike this one. The sculpted ship pieces are larger than expected as well. One quibble is that there's a slight memory requirement: it's necessary to remember one's starting space. But the remaining challenge is to publishers: which one will rescue this now seventeen year old game frmo obscurity?
LMHL7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7)
Wolfgang Kramer; 1991; Ravensburger; 2-6
game set up
This Italian game has some good ideas, but is out of control, at least from a German game perspective, though less so from an American one. We are in twelfth century northern Italy; the players are Florence, Lucca, Siena, Milan and Bologna. It's fun that they are variably powered, having fixed positions in the turn order, starting resources and resource income. But these become less and less important as play continues and other income sources are found. As in Domaine, the deck is programmed into four sequential parts. Cards are dealt out into columns and usually a player's turn consists of placing one of his three pawns to assert a claim to one of them. Assert, but not claim, because claiming must be done on a subsequent turn. But in the meantime one's pawns may be dislodged by anyone willing to place their own pawn in the same location and spend just one more gold cube. The victim pawn can move to a different column, but only by spending a pilgrim cube, if he happens to have one. This is a considerable design problem as the player thus often loses at minor cost to others one of his most valuable resources: an action. Effectively this is an attack and if a player happens to fall victim to it too often, he ends up collecting little to nothing, ends up being prepared for the war that breaks out at the end of each sub-deck and quickly falls out of any chance in the game at all. When a player does not place a pawn he may collect cards. With these he can build one structure – they come in four types corresponding to production of the four resource types – and also one wall level (using the back side of any type of card). Cards come numbered one to four and higher numbered ones must be used to build higher levels unless the player is willing to pay extra in economic cubes. A third alternative to taking cards is taking income which provides cubes based on what has been built since the last taking (tracked using other cards) as well as default income. When the wars come, players have in effect a blind bid in which they assign some military cubes to their wall cards and others to general defense which is of help to all players. Failure to provide sufficient protection means taking on negative victory points. Since players having more victory points must defend at a higher level than those with fewer, this must be intended to be a catchup mechanism. As such its effectiveness is questionable as often those who have gained the lead also have superior walls and military cubes and are easily able to maintain their holdings. If they contribute the most to the general defense, they even get an extra victory points reward. Moreover, negative victory points can be bought off, which the richer players have an easier time doing as well. In effect then, play ends up being dominated by the "rich get richer" syndrome. Moreover, as in any multi-player game permitting unrestricted attacks, late game kingmaking is also possible. As usual, this type of problem can be solved by restricting the number of players to two, but that still leaves the runaway leader problem. At least the production is attractive, including player screens that don't seem to fall over and a convenient map that permits easy calculation of the general defense totals and winner. Games of the Italian Renaissance] [Buy it at]
MHMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Acchittocca; TENKIGAMES/Huch & Friends; 2008; 2-5
Con Game, The
A game about games. Players represent game companies trying to compte for distributors, manage cash-flow and succeed at game publishing. There is a great deal of humor as the publishable titles are puns on existing games. Somewhat subject to luck of the draw. [6-player Games] [actions] [summary]
Mostly card game of dominating Renaissance Italia. Essentially too fragile a situation as one player can too easily win without all the opponents concentrating carefully on stopping him. This means it can only really be effective in a known group all of whom play at the same level. Second edition preserves all components, reduces victory requirements and playing time, but does not address the other situation. Games of the Italian Renaissance] [6-player Games]
Connect Four (Score Four)
Abstract for two akin to Tic-Tac-Toe is a good mind-bender, but rather dry. Repeated play seems to fall into very regular patterns. The later Knizia game Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Complica is quite similar.
Game of buy, sell and auction. Players can invest in machines which produce one of five different products. They then price these, but depend on others to purchase them. Purchasing magically teleports these items to the buying player's warehouses, where they are re-priced and may be purchased and hauled away by anyone, including the original producer. Hauled because they must be picked up by a player's container ship. The ship then goes to the auction area where any can bid on the products, which then go into their scoring pile. All of this is regulated by an action points system. The only complex part is the secret scoring card each player holds, indicating which of the products they value more highly than others. The very simplicity of the system raised suspicions immediately. If a good game could result from such simple ideas, why wasn't it invented long ago? Unfortunately play did not reassure. In fact this is another of those fragile systems which requires that it be played in a particular way. For example, the system limits the number of loans a player can take. If one is mortgaged up to the eyeballs and others do not buy one's products, it becomes impossible to make the interest payments. In this case the player will lose two victory point products per turn and is destined to lose. But this is not just a situation where a single player can get into trouble by bad play. In fact, purchasing is simply not sufficiently motivated. If players do not buy from one another enough, the game breaks down not just for one, but for everyone. Generally overproduced physically, including ambitious container ships which seem to have come out rather roughly with easily noticeable flaws.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 4
Franz-Benno Delonge & Thomas Ewert; 2007; Valley Games; 3-5
Originally this pencil-and-paper game was called Tu-Tee and copyrighted by the mysterious "J.H.W." in 1927. It was described in Leisure magazine in 1934 as Cootie and finally commercially published by Herb Schaper in 1948 and by Milton Bradley in 1949. The history of the game described in the book Design and Sell Toys, Games & Crafts is most likely a fiction. The game for children is a race to construct a plastic bug, the players rolling a die to see which piece they get to add.
Corner the Market
Multi-player business-oriented game of luck with strategic and tactical aspects for up to six is reminiscent of Craps, but not the same as the game published by Whitman back in 1938. With some inspiration from Monopoly, the long, hard board is demarcated by a number of color-differentiated spaces around the edge, here representing different stock market segments. The player begins the turn by moving a large and very nicely-made bull figure. Where the bull goes prosperity follows and the lucky owner of shares where it stops receives a doubling of his holdings. If the entire segment is owned by one player, then all of the holdings in the segment are doubled. Then the player collects ten per cent interest for cash on hand, may buy any company on the board (usually where one has shares and trying to control an entire segment), buy shares in any company and finally sell shares in any company. One good reason to cash out may be that it is time for the nicely-made bear figure to move (once every few turns). The bear brings ill-fortune and all stock holdings are lost where he lands. By the way, guessing the progress of both the bull and the bear can be tricky as they take an extra move whenever doubles are rolled. Victory is achieved by being the first to purchase the four very expensive banks at the corners of the map. Players usually buy unowned companies and banks, but may buy out others by paying twice the price. This tends to lead to interesting spoiling plays where one player buys a property before another who really needs it is able to do so. While the board art is uninspiring, the cash is at least colorful and the plastic pieces in the form of round saucers, and three-dimensional I, V and X tokens are quite nice. While there is no direct reflection of stock market realities, anyone who has followed the markets in the year 2000 will readily recognize the chaotic feelings here induced by bear and bull. Variant rules which increase the initial stake to $500 and reduce the cost of the banks to $500 are probably good ideas lest things go on too long.
Nigel Cochrane; ProActive Games-1999; 2-6; 120
Corporate Shuffle
Game with a theme drawn from the Dilbert comic strip is another in the family of climbing games which includes The Great Dalmuti, Zoff im Zoo and others. This game is typically higher priced than others of its types with little more to offer except that each card has a unique and humorous Dilbert cartoon. Perhaps then it offers some amusement when one is waiting to take one's turn.
Recycled version of Banana Republic removing the memory element and adding more bluff is at the end of the day more entertaining. Most useful way to employ the Hit Man appears to be as a deterrent, placing him openly as the first card on the most valuable contract.
One effective way to create a fun game is to revisit a traditional classic. Big Top did this for Fan Tan, Bosworth for Chess, and in this one Leo Colovini has done it for the ever popular Gin Rummy. The cards have become pirates in many pastel colors and now up to four players are supported. Like Der Dreizehnte Holzwurm, there are two basic and quite different strategies. The seemingly safer one is to be risk-averse, avoiding holding cards that cause a big loss if someone else goes out, and possibly gong out yourself, sticking opponents with larger penalties. Judging the right time to do this is a trickly business, becoming harder as the number of players increases. This player's other task is to beware players following the other strategy: "Give me the RISK!" Such a player seeks to complete a perfect hand before anyone else can go out and if he can manage that, wins not just the hand, but the several-handed game. So I think a lot of players should find this an amusing pastime, although some of the rules feel just a bit more complicated than necessary, i.e. too many details to remember. A help card may be a good idea, at least for the first few outings. The cards from Piatnik are somewhat thin.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Cosmic Eidex
Trick-taking card game based on the Swiss Jass, designed by Urs Hostettler. The science fiction setting is apropos as the idea of individual player powers has been magnificently stolen from Cosmic Encounter. Just as in that game, there can be some problems when the special powers break the rules in conflicting ways, but these seem quite minimal. Meanwhile, players will find endless fascination in seeing how different powers interact. The fact that the number of players is limited to exactly three is not so bad as there are not so many good games for that number in the first place. Some cards are a bit difficult to read, in particular the "7" sometimes being hard to distinguish from the "Ace", but the illustrations are certainly a lot of fun. I use a slight pregame variant: instead of dealing each player just one power, I like to deal each three and let them choose which one they like best. The word "Eidex" is a takeoff on the German word "Eidechse" meaning "lizard", plenty of which are featured in the green suit.
Cosmic Wimpout
Very simple dice game of the jeopardy type akin to Fill or Bust (Volle Lotte), Can't Stop, Exxtra and Octo. To "wimp out" is to fail to achieve a scoring roll. Employs specialized dice. Incredible as it may sound, there is probably even less decisionmaking than in any of the above.
Crazy Eights
Classic card game of the climbing type is probably too random with too few choices to be of sustained interest.
Crazy Race
This game for up to five was designed by Michael Gewalt and published by FX Schmid in 1994. Unrelated to the 2001 Michael Schacht game of the same name (amazingly there are two German games with this same English title), its most crazy aspect is that players have no wish to come in first in any race. Instead they are given secret goal cards indicating which placement to achieve in each of three overlapping heats. Each gained grants a victory point and in a clever design choice, another point is granted for each other player who had the same goal, thus establishing a kind of difficulty rating for the goal. As is always the case in race games, players are going to interfere with one another. Here it's done by playing cards which modify individual path segments. Normally a segment requires 4 movement points, but a card can change this from 0 to 8. The number of points available is achieved by the player rolling a pair of dice. The resulting range of 2 to 12 is quite a bit of variance over the relatively short course so just a few rolls can make a big difference, sometimes generally swamping whatever fine calculations players have made in their card play. One wonders if the game maker ever knew or tried averaging dice. Instead they thought up a way to make it even more crazy, that is, by adding optional action cards with wild effects. How crazy can a game get before it becomes Candy Land Game? However crazy though, this has the great virtue of ending in about twenty minutes, even with five players. Materials are cute, with wooden pawns and a decent board and cards. Noteworthy are a number of mysterious board illustrations open to player interpretation. What can be the meaning of a snake and a shoe? And there is a hedgehog – can this be an early Doris Matthäus work? Overall, this probably works best as a vehicle for adults and children to enjoy together and even then not taken at all seriously.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Credit Mobilier
Multi-player trains and stocks affair. As in Shark, several dice control what the player may do on each turn. These include buying stocks in a rolled color, laying track of a rolled color or moving pawns of rolled color. Some of these activities put money in a company's account while others pay it out. Payouts are round robin fashion so that a player having more shares than others receives more, but only if there is enough to go around. Unless we had a rule wrong, this appears to be one of those games whose fun depends on it being played in a certain way. In our case, since shares always cost just one, we all ended up owning about equal numbers of shares of every company for why would anyone want to miss out any profits? There seemed little point in acquiring an overwhelming share advantage because no opponent would ever permit a large payout to build up. As a result, events proceeded in desultory fashion with no dramatic events until they ended with all final scores within one point of one another. On top of the disappointing play, the board is a drab, barely recognizable map of the United States which just holds a simple grid. Just as there is no attempt to model rising and falling share prices, there is no attempt to depict actual cities even though such would be easy to realize and trains try to drive into the Pacific for some reason. Overall, not recommended despite the attractive original premise of doing Shark one better.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Traditional card game of long standing is mostly for two although variants for three and four exist. Mostly a matter of counting, both the current point total and what cards have been played. One of the more interesting ones for just two players.
Croak and croak and croak until you croak. That's the way of it in this 1999 move-and-capture game by Asmodee. The protagonists are 36 plastic frogs rendered in four colors. They hop around an 8x8 grid which is made different each time by being formed of face down cards whose effects only become known when landed upon. Especially important are toadstool spaces which permit a frog to move more than the usual one hop a turn and the mosquito spaces which permit another of one's frogs to move during the same turn. By sedulous use of such cards a player can often unexpectedly sneak up and land on an opponent's princess frog, thereby taking it, and him, out of the game. Until that happens though, if the princess manages to land on a male frog, a new frog appears, giving the player another piece. Cards and pieces are of excellent quality while the cardboard markers are adequate. The small package is an excellent use of space. There are no language dependencies apart from the instructions. The elimination aspect means that this really only works for two players, but on the plus side, children 8 and above should have no trouble here. In fact it probably makes for a good analytical challenge, though after a while the fact that success can depend so much on the flips of just a few cards can become annoying. Oh, the title. That's the croaking sound you're to make each time a frog is moved though aren't those supposed to be reserved for toads?
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Action game of flicking wooden disks with the purpose of placing them in a central region and knocking out those of opponents. According to its official page this game was invented in Canada around the same time as the telephone and naturally has even older ancestors. The game has a strong "just one more" quality and although I don't normally find much interest in dexterity challenges, this one has caught my fancy in part since I seem able to play it well without much training (if only I don't think too hard before striking). But there are other attractions: the requirement to hit an opponent in the area provides room for quite a number of tactical ploys that go beyond mere flicking skill. The extra points for hitting the hole in the center adds another dilemma. The option for partnership play adds even more fun. Overall most should find this among the best of its type with interest extending beyond the usual audience.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Eckhardt Reiner Elton Wettlaufer; 1876; public domain; 2-4
This is a tile-layer whose spooky presentation is a real achievement featuring barren-trees-on-a-gray-day card artwork by Patrick LaMontagne and wooden crow pieces of deepest black. It plays a little too. Players take turns placing a single tile and their personal shiny bit before end of round scoring. Cards come in four types: trees with crows (place crows on it), empty tree, trinket (to which crows will flock to score), trash (block crows from reaching shiny objects) and cemetery (crows here score double as somewhere Poe nods approvingly). After playing the tile a player places his shiny object attempting to attract crows, getting a random bonus token if on an empty tree. Then all the birds fly, being crows, in straight lines to the nearest shiny objects. Sounds simple, but it's not always easy to see at first where each will go, considering that there are blocks and gaps and four directions to consider, not to mention that players whose turns following yours can manipulate matters considerably. Each crow gained by one's object scores a point, two if on a cemetery. Then if six or more flock together, two fly off and the rest scatter in a spiral pattern. There are also tokens which confer mild special powers and also a few untried variant rules. There is much clever design here, but for the players it's more an opportunistic game than a planning one, being more in the American school than the German one, especially with the take-that chits. There's a measure of kingmaking as well, and as such is probably ultimately enjoyable only in the two-player situation. It would have been nice to see this more developed, e.g. what if each had multiple shiny bits and left them out after a round and they continued to work? If you hanker for more games on crows and their cousins the ravens, see
"Something to crow about".
LMHM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Tyler Sigman; Valley Games-2010; 2-4; 45 [Shop]
Crude (McMulti)
Game about oil production produced by an American but much better known in its later German incarnation McMulti, which has the advantage of an incredible number of attractive blue and black plastic pieces. Each player controls a six by six grid on which he is prospecting for oil, refining crude or selling fuel. Dice are rolled to determine which of his and his neighbors' squares operate on a given turn, i.e. a mechanism somewhat similar to Die Siedler von Catan. Various events occur from time to time to change the economy and have a serious effect on prices. What's especially interesting are the different strategies that can be taken. For example, does one emphasize drilling or is it better to buy crude on the market and have selling depots ready? One could envision starting only with gas stations, for example. But the best strategy is probably the one that no one else is using. There only seem to be two problems. A minor one is the unreality of selling equipment during the endgame, but it does improve gamesmanship so one can live with it. More serious is the chaos induced by the rapidly-changing events. Players who want more of a fair challenge are advised to adopt a variant to reduce this somewhat. In addition, the main problem is that as in Die Siedler one player may through luck take the lead, but here there is no mechanism akin to the Robber to check the player in the lead as the events are not tuned to do this – in fact they sometimes help the leader. Overall pleasant however. [analysis]
We are in the post-European era of the island, its economic life. There are its resources of wood, water and stone, its produce – sugar, tobacco and citrus – and their processed forms – cigars and rum. Players use individual gridded boards – optionally all the same or all slightly different – each square of which produces either a resource or a form of produce. The fundamental idea is that a player choose a location and all squares in the same row and column can produce. Resources are mostly used to purchase buildings which come in about four varieties: converting something to victory points, converting something to money, converting produce to products and other, which includes the abilities to manipulate shipping and parliament. Each player also has an identical set of cards, each of which performs a different function, i.e. harvest, operate buildings, buy a building, ship or buy and sell in the marketplace. Ships are represented by randomly-drawn cards, each of which demands five particular items in three types. Full ships sail. Otherwise the longer a ship has waited, the more points placing an item on it is worth. Parliament is represented by four decks of cards each with a different theme: monetary tax, produce tax, ownership and other, which includes a variety of different laws. At the end of each turn there is a blind auction (in which all bids are lost) for control of parliament, which means that winning bidder can bring in two new proposed laws, the other proposals being removed. The row-and-column rule, which applies to buildings as well as the harvest, is something new and rather challenging. One never feels happy about the location to choose as some rather useful capability must always be omitted and a clear best answer is not easy to come by. The same feeling applies to choosing which buildings to purchase. At first it feels like there might be some killer strategy to pursue, but multiple plays show this to be illusory. The reason is that the randomness of the ship and parliament decks introduce such variability that the best approach is to keep one's eyes open and constantly looking for opportunities. Say you've decided to start out with the idea of being a tobacco processor, exporting cigars. That might work well for a while, but then someone gets the lighthouse and soon there is no more cigar demand. At that point the winning play is to get a building which gives points for cigars without shipping them. Now all is well, but then a law is passed giving a lot of points for cash in the bank. Now what's needed is a cigar shop (strangely called a cigar cafe in the English edition) or to sell cigars on the open market if profitable. Only a willingness to make quick course changes can ensure victory. The good news is that the systems make such plays available. On the other hand this is not a game where one chooses a strategic path and watches it develop, only trimming the direction from time to time. Rather, it is very much a matter of seizing opportunities and being able to evaluate relatively small differences in points. For these reasons, play becomes more interesting as the number of players increases; there is more contention, surprise and challenge. Production and artwork are quite attractive, the buildings being formed from largish tiles. Communication design is effective, although there is considerable text on the law cards. The board seems a bit of a work by committee. Really it's rather larger than necessary, only really needing to contain the market, but at the same time it's too small as well as despite a lot of unused space, there's not enough to place the available buildings there. Probably what little attempt there was to depict the buildings should have been pulled in favor of a clearer points track. The golf course "building" was an amusing, whimsical touch. Michael Rieneck is previously known for his Around the World in 80 Days and, with Stefan Stadler, Pillars of the Earth.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Michael Rieneck & Stefan Stadler; Eggert-Spiele; 2007; 2-5
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