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Name der Rose, Der (The Name of the Rose)
board
In games like In the Year of the Dragon, Notre Dame and Roma this inventor has shown an uncommon interest in the underlying themes of his works. The original novel by Umberto Eco, and subsequent film, are enticing inspirations for a logical deduction game with plenty of atmosphere: a medieval Italian monastery, a murdered monk and a Holmesian detective with assistant trying to determine which of many suspects did it. In fact, it has already been made as a game at least once, though without the author's approval. This is a different sort of game, however. Here each player takes on the role of a particular monk who is also a suspect. But only the player knows which of the monks he is playing and any monk may be moved by anyone. The main activity – achieved via cardplay – that teleports monks, detective and assistant to various locations around the monastery, is to stick suspicion on the various characters. By the end, the player having the least attached odium probably wins. There are some bonuses for being able to predict exactly which character each other player is, but this tends to be negligible as players generally score about the same amounts. Physically, the production quality is good with largish pawns and a large, illustrated board. Unfortunately there are some communication design issues. It's rather difficult to quickly find locations as they all look too similar to one another, especially for those viewing the board upside down. Also it's probably a good idea to take notes during play, but nothing is provided. Play can be frustratingly repetitive; you plant suspicion on someone, someone else plants it on you, and so on ad finitum, with play never really developing in any new ways, even though there are special "scorings" at the end of each round. Ending the round is a nice advantage for someone, but that privilege generally just goes to the player lucky enough to draw a high-numbered card. The design is at cross purposes as well. In terms of the deduction aspect, the more players the better, but in terms of downtime, fewer would be preferable. Because what players can do depends on where the monks are, and their latest scores, there is only so much planning that can be done when it is not one's turn, leading to waiting more desultory than it should be. A five-player outing can last two hours or more, rather much for this simple situation. Players interested by this topic should stay with Mystery of the Abbey.
LMMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Stefan Feld; Ravensburger/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Nanuuk
Nearly-abstract game by Günter Cornett depicts Inuit hunters after fish, seals, whales and walrus. The winner is the player who brings in the biggest haul, but complications arise because each time a hunter moves he creates cracks in the ice which cannot be crossed, unless he can earn a kayak. Also available are huskies and sledges to move faster. Also to contend with are polar bears which deprive a hunter of his harpoon, but allow displacing the bear so as to disprupt another's plans. As there is no luck, a game which rewards careful planning and estimation of others' plans. Finishes in less than thirty minutes. Designed for four, but works well as a tough two-player contest also. Less interesting for three. Four player partnership game is a very accessible and interesting challenge for team play. Includes nice wooden pieces, especially the polar bears and a booklet of background information on the life of the Inuit. Has appeared in two editions – the above refers to the second edition. I wrote nearly-abstract, but if you get a chance, see the dramatic movie Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, where even the ice cracks form a dramatic element. [Two vs. Two Games]
Günter Cornett; Bambus; 1998; 2-4
Nascar Champions
Auto-racing game by Milton Bradley (a Hasbro label) meant for ages 8 and up. Players compete in two races trying to get their own car, and those in which they acquire an investment, over the checkered line earliest. Movement is via dice rolling, each die having the same number for each car. It may be impossible to move one's own car on some turns or to sometimes move it more than once. Blocking is possible and some rolls yield chance cards which cause special effects, generally in favor of the drawer, although some cards clearly help the last place car. Strategy is usually fairly obvious and the secret investment cards offer only a little room for bluffing, but the rules are clean, play is fast and components decent.
Nautilus
Games of discovery and exploration are a difficult proposition. Some, like Age of Exploration solve the basic problem by putting in plain sight what can be found – the problem then is managing resources to reach and exploit it. While this approach can make for a viable game, it can work against the player who wants to feel he is sailing into the unknown willing to be surprised by what is out there. This then leads to the tile flipping sort of game where one sets out and only upon arrival makes a discovery. Not all tiles are of equal value or else there would be no winner unless the game is only about who can collect the most, in which case interest in the identities of the tiles themselves plummets quickly. But if some are more valuable than others, luck in finding these good tiles is often going to outweigh skill of play. So making a fair game while preserving the discovery aspect appears to be an impossible task. Thus I was very curious how Brigitte and Wolfgang Ditt would approach it in this exploration of the undersea world. What they have actually done is create two games in one. There is a game of finding objects in a solo submersible with all of the already cited attendant problems. Then there is a game of buying, placing and moving about in research and habitation stations. As each has doors on only three of four sides and there are two types of doors, a thoughtful connectivity game begins to develop. Only begins because it feels that this particular game could have been developed even further (but probably there was no room considering the amount of "space" required for the other game) and even form a challenging standalone competition. A player's final score then is based on multiplying together his scores in the two games, meaning that to win he needs to be lucky as well as good. As the two games appeal to two different types of players, it's difficult to say who will like this one except that parakeets will find a great deal to love in this glorious Franz Vohwinkel and Kosmos plastic bits effort. Beyond these, the game looks to fans of experience games to savor its pleasures, even though the station mechanics seem somewhat unthematic. It doesn't feel right that so much should depend on ability to walk about a station, but there does seem to be a good joke on those obsessive scientists who once they enter a lab become so fascinated they never leave. The two games are a solution, but for master strategists is probably still not ideal, not that any game so far is. (Reiner Knizia's Africa may come closer.) I suppose anyway that those concerned with a fair game can consider they have a moral victory if they dominate the station game and who knows what will happen under the sea as the results can vary so widely. Yes, ameliorating factors such as the hidden victory goals have been built it, but they don't necessarily help as it's entirely possible to never even find any of these items. Perhaps it would help if sonar weren't so expensive to use. Kudos to the communications design: there are no serious language dependencies apart from the instructions. An interesting tidbit: this was originally a space game, but Kosmos' prior publication of another space game, Die Sternenfahrer von Catan, caused the change of topic for market saturation reasons.
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Navegador
if no image probably out of print
For some reason the sea explorations of Spain and Portugal have been popular lately, Vasco da Gama and Magister Navis constituting other examples. The 500-year anniversary of da Gama's voyages may have inspired a traveling exhibition or television documentary that in turn has inspired all this. This one is a rondel game by the inventor of the mechanism, though not published by the usual source. It may be the best though, not only rondel but also on the voyages and colonization theme. Possible activities include sailing, establishing colonies, recruiting , buying ships, selling plantation produce, refining produce, buying royal privileges and building factories, shipyards or cathedrals with a lot of coopetitive elements. For example, selling produce makes the price go down, but makes the refining income for it rise. Or, the player who explores a new region likely gives another player the first chance to colonize it. Almost everything confers victory points, but the main source is one's specialized work on the five column privilege board. This gives rise then to individual strategies such as building factories, building cathedrals or acquiring privileges. While all of this is great, there are caveats for some. This is a complex, heavy affair which will probably last two hours or more, at least at first, with many sweat-inducing decisions. It's one in which money tends to be tight at the start, but becomes plentiful later. The value of discovered colonies, randomly-determined, varies by a factor of nearly four which is perhaps too much for a game of this length. It can also be rather confusing the first couple of times since some things are paid for with ships, some with workers, some with money and sometimes instead one actually receives money for doing it, e.g. with the privileges. The whole way that the market changes when selling and refining will definitely take getting used to. There is also the suspicion that the different strategic approaches are not balanced, but this will take more playings to ascertain. Thematically, though this is probably the best rondel game so far. The presentation, employing an effective color scheme is quite good. Tactically, an ideal start is probably to explore Africa, get a lucky discovery value, then use the cash earned to buy an extra worker and thus be the first to get a cathedral, perhaps with help of a refinery or two. Once achieving this one can regularly buy two workers at a time, cheap.
HHMM7 (Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Mac Gerdts; PD-Verlag-2010/Rio Grande-2010; 2-5; 120 Amazon
Néfertiti (Nofretete, Nefertiti)
if no image probably out of print
The sculpture of Nefertiti, which some say represents the most beautiful woman the world has known, resides these days in Berlin, having been bought by German excavators. Of course, just like the Trojan treasure, the Amber room and the Parthenon frieze (aka the Elgin marbles), the country of origin is asking to have it back. But just as with the Ishtar Gate and Euphrat & Tigris, this situation seems to be good for game fans as its presence in Europe may have helped inspire a new game. This one is essentially an auction affair with a set collection outcome, but the auctions are done in a rather unusual way. The board depicts four pairs of "markets", but only one of each pair is available at a time. A market typically shows ten increasingly-numbered locations on which player pawns may stand. A turn consists of a player claiming sole ownership of such a location and possibly triggering the market if its conditions have been met. Each one has a different condition, e.g. pawns total over a particular number, three pawns in a line, the number of pawns is greater than a die roll, etc., and when it occurs the player on the top numbered location can pay that amount to buy any pair of cards associated with the market or the card at the top which comes with a seal. The money is paid into the market and so succeeding players have the option of either buying a remaining card or taking half the money in the market. Then this half of the market closes and one half of another fully-closed market opens, creating a series of openings and closings throughout play that remind of a Chinese puzzle box. All of this promising variety in the auctions falls down somewhat in the set collection component as it's just the old idea of trying to collect the most cards possible of the same type. If others hold cards of the type, each of yours loses value. There is some novelty in the seals which permit players to purchase various special ability cards which do things like let players force card trades, turn them in early for greater value or perform other tricks. The theme suggests players are representatives of Pharaoh acquiring collections for his queen. But it comes out much more in the artwork – full of attractive Egyptian styles and motifs – than the mechanisms. There is also a nice cardboard ankh piece which is not strictly necessary for play, but actually tends to help flow as it conveniently remembers the last player at a time (market closure) when a great many things are going on. The most interesting decisions here are figuring out where others are likely to place, when to place for acquiring cards and when for money and what an item is worth. Play is considerably different with only three as there is much more likelihood of multiple players holding the same types and of auctions triggering due to someone running out of pawns. But in both players need to consider when to acquire cards just to spoil another's monopoly. In general this is a bad idea as it hurts only the two players involved to the advantage of others, but does make sense in a few skewed situations. On the other hand, there's fragility since some may not take this point of view and delight in unfair and possibly biased easy spoiling. [Ancient Egypt Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Thomas Cauet, Jacques Bariot & Guillaume Montiage; Matagot/Heidelberger Spieleverlag/Rio Grande; 2008; 3-4
[Buy it at Amazon]
Neue Spiele im alten Rom (New Games in Old Rome): The Catiline Conspiracy
Knizia seems to be a bit out of his depth in this, his only logical deduction game. Mainly it seems to be a matter of having luck in asking the right questions to the right players earliest. One wrinkle is that speculation is given a greater chance, but only to a very minimal extent. Black Vienna is more satisfying for this type of game. B L
Neue Spiele im alten Rom (New Games in Old Rome): Circus Maximus (Rome: Circus Maximus)
Knizia's very elegant chariot racing game is nonetheless fairly true to its topic. Each player runs three teams in a once around. Each has cards numbered 1 through 5 and allocates up to three per team. The cards represent the number of spaces a team moves in a straight line. As a chariot is not allowed to pass through another, one must usually swing wide to pass which requires more use of cards. To compensate it is necessary to come in to force the same penalty on those following, perhaps forming a wall with other teams to force the issue. There is some guesswork too in looking at what cards others have remaining and what their moves are likely to be. Is there a slight advantage for the player who gets to set up in front and move first? Really more of a tactical exercise than a strategic one, but short enough to not overstay its welcome. The version in the GMT three pack Rome features specialized wood blocks with illustrated stickers.
Neue Spiele im alten Rom (New Games in Old Rome): Hannibal versus Rome (Rome: Hannibal versus Rome)
Knizia game for two is the most abstract of all of the many games on this topic (Second Punic War). There is no real hidden information and it is mostly a matter of opportunistic tactics, but it is surprising how interesting this game of maneuver can be. Each player begins with slightly different forces, but with an identical set of cards which are used to resolve combat by simultaneous choose and compare. Engrossing for a few plays.
Neue Spiele im alten Rom (New Games in Old Rome): Imperium (Rome: Imperium)
Secret allocation game for up to five in which players try to dominate the empire. Actually the theme doesn't fit very well. Players each have an identical set of cards as in Raj and once again it is good strategy to try not to be overly ambitious, but this tends to happen as the last scored provinces are the most valuable. Interesting for a play or two, but highly unpredictable depending on the thought processes of the players. New edition published as part of GMT's Rome three-pack adds three special cards: (i) a one-time chance to score the next province as well, (ii) a one-time chance to re-select cards after seeing what everyone else chooses and (iii) a chance to double one of the other allocations. In addition, a region winner can keep a token in the location for the next time around and earn extra points if also triumphant in a physically (vice chronologically) adjacent region. These are good innovations and the physical presentation is nicer, but the basic nature of the matter remains the same.
Neue Spiele im alten Rom (New Games in Old Rome): Seven Hills of Rome
Knizia card game for two. There is no map, the fight for the seven hills is represented by seven cards à la Schotten-Totten. Players compete for them by allocating cards from identical decks something like in Raj. The tricky issue is that cards are secret until both sides have allocated to the same hill in which case these cards become visible. Lacks flavor, but interesting for a play or two. Variants are also provided.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Complica (Complica)
Early abstract for two from Reiner Knizia needs a lot of lookahead ability. Players fill up four rows with chips and whoever can first line up four in a row wins.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Dubito
Early Knizia-designed card game for up to four which is quite similar to Lost Cities without discards. Highly recommended, especially if one adds a single discard pile, from which subsequent players may draw cards. A little surprising that it so far has only appeared in a book. A possible explanation of the title is that In Italian, the word "subito" means "at once, immediately!", a useful term for foreigners to know when demanding the bill at restaurants in Italy by the way. So I think Dubito was meant as sort of a double pun, since it is similar to Italian "dubitare" or "to doubt", as in the game you don't want to do anything immediately, but instead are in considerable doubt as to what is the right thing to do.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Goldrausch (Goldrausch)
Early Knizia card allocation game ostensibly about Old West mining. The usual difficult dilemmas are there and it is a fun way to pass time, if a bit chaotic.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Kanzler
Knizia card bluffing game. The system is similar to the card bidding and bluffing part of the later Taj Mahal. Here players are trying to get their party elected in four different states of Germany as well as to win the Chancellorship. Not without interest, but perhaps a bit too subject to luck of the deal.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Kartenjagd
Early Knizia card game seems to be an early version of his Ohio but here the goal is to play the highest rather than the lowest card. Ohio is likely the better version.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Mr. President (Catena)
Early Knizia card game is of the Raj type in which each player has the same deck. In this it is also similar to his Tor and Hannibal versus Rome. Here even the geography of the board has been mostly removed although not so far as that of Raj. Would have been more interesting if the same system had not been used in so many different titles.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Sono (Prisma)
Knizia card game in which players essentially try to form the best poker hands in a square, one player working from top to bottom and the other from side to side. Challenging and requiring a fair amount of thought.
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Swap (Um Speis und Trank)
Knizia dice game is a very simple version of a market. Four types of items are on offer and while their ranking value is constant, their relative value changes because each is determined by a die. When dice get re-rolled, the values change, so sometimes it is best to trade up and at others to trade down. A rule which permits each type to participate only once in a trade further restricts options. Players must navigate between having the most value vs. always having at least one of each type lest a really useful opportunity arise. The game is won when the first player manages to double his original stake. Quick and yet with interesting tactical decisions. Works best using the Sway Swap variant which offers slightly finer control. Later published as the separate game Um Speis und Trank.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Neue Taktikspiele mit Würfeln und Karten: Turmbau zu Babel
Early Knizia card game is of the Raj type in which each player has the same deck. Here the cards are played in hopes of erecting the Tower of Babel. Would be more interesting if the same system had not been used in so many different titles.
Neuen Entdecker, Die
Apparently unhappy with the original Entdecker, Kosmos and Klaus Teuber decided to have another go with "The New Discoverers", in the process incorporating a form of some of the more popular home-grown variants (open tiles). While production has become bigger and better, it is nevertheless still more a tile-laying than an exploration game. The new and curiously flat native huts containing hidden prizes add a lot of chaos; strategists will want to cut their value in half. Those who have the older game may like to swap it for the new, but owning both is not warranted. Despite the title and atmosphere, really won't work as an experience game and is best saved for fans of tricky tile-laying. Between the two versions of this game there also appeared the similar El Caballero, which has less luck and more emphasis on defensive play. A
Neuland
The "house that Jack built"-style game appears to be a popular trope of late and this is a minimalist treatment of the idea. Not much more than a nod is given to its vaguely medieval theme. Its plain, cardboard bits are nothing to e-mail home about either. But you will find two rather clever innovations in this compact package. The first is baked into the board itself. As players operate under action point restrictions that are increased by distance, it was important to keep distances low lest play become too long/difficult. On the other hand there is the need to pack a lot of items into the space and for the same reason. These conflicting goals were solved by fashioning the cardboard items in such a shape that three of them neatly fit into each hexagon. The second bit of cleverness is the handling of unused actions. Other games, e.g. Mexica, give players with unused action points a compensation token to be used later. In this "New Land" what obtains instead is a circular track. Each point used advances the player's pawn on the track. Players who use fewer are more likely to have their turn again sooner, sometimes immediately following their own (but then often not for a while after). It's quite a clever subsystem, one that will challenge, frustrate and delight. The game itself may be best played by computer and thus best appreciated by logisticians. The only problem is that this group also tends to like a nicer looking game to add luster to their collection, although perhaps the low price and footprint of this package are adequate compensations. The artistic-minded and intuitives will find less here to interest them at present, even if there is much to admire from a design point of view. [Eggertspiele]
New England
Moon/Weissblum auction and tile placement venture set in the historic American northeast. Players represent early families expanding their holdings. Two innovations provide some new ways to approach play. The first is that the current player decides how many tiles to draw from the bag, where there is a side consequence that the missing number will be made up with cards. Judging what is best considering everyone's holdings is a tricky problem. Once the items have appeared, a second problem is deciding how much to spend acquiring them. In this new auction system, each player chooses a unique amount from 1 to 12 which will determine the order of choice and placement as well as the cost of each of the two actions. As the most frequent activities are turning over one's tiles, expanding one's tiles or placing something on one's tiles, the board seems to change verrry gradually during play. Actually, what's changing are that developments are being closed off (at least in the endgame), victory points cards are being used up and races are being won, but all so placidly that it almost sinks beneath notice. Playing well, besides the usual evaluation skill, is often a matter of timing and order. It may look great to fill up one's tiles and score a lot of points, but if you haven't also held back a bit and placed more tiles, you'll soon find yourself being outstripped by opponents as you no longer have enough space for ships, barns and pilgrims. Speaking of these, the theme is really only apparent to readers of the instructions. To others it is just a matter of bidding and placing with the reason each item behaves the way it does appearing rather arbitrary. Overall, this is a sophisticated game of making small gains over a long period to eventually triumph, but some may find it a bit drab both visually and in terms of the rate of change. Probably fans of the previous Moon title, Wongar, will also appreciate this one.
Alan R. Moon
New England Railways
This edition of the system first introduced in Lancashire Railways seems better realized. There appear to be more vital links to consider during play. Moves right along and there are some interesting purchasing and shipping decisions to make. An interesting game balancing mechanism called "inflation" tends to keep leaders in check. Strategically, taking an early loan is usually a good idea. Later, deciding how much of a loan to take is a major question. Usually, taking enough to be assured of buying a card is a good idea. The next in this series is Volldampf. [6-player Games]
Martin Wallace; Winsome; 2000
New Orleans Big Band
German game on a very American theme, assembling jazz bands. The rather large board is a gridded representation of New Orleans. Face down cards are laid out and players spend their very quick turns moving their pawn and claiming cards. This very simple activity sounds almost childish, but actually has interesting dimensions as it's a challenge to gauge what others will do and what is the best move to minimize the number of turns in which you are unable to collect cards. Perhaps another game will do more with this one day. Anyway, the cards received are either musicians, specials or events. A lot of the events can be rather negative, such as lose a turn, and this is one aspect which can be rather unfair should a player be unlucky enough to draw a lot of them. Musicians are classed by instrument(s) played and to score a player needs to have an artist in each of five categories. Each one is rated for ability which will eventually tell whose band is best, and victorious. But it is not simply a matter of collecting all of the best. That would be much too easy. No, these artistes turn out to be a bunch of diva personalities. Virtually every one of them has some kind of condition attached to his participation. Some snobs won't play unless someone else in the band is rated at least 75 or more while glory hounds won't play unless everyone else is worth less than 25. Because having two such musicians in your band spells doom, there are frequent trading rounds, probably run something like the baseball trade meetings. The negotiations get both amusing and convoluted as all the strange conditions start to emerge. Also thrown into the mix are the specials like the Golden Trumpet which can augment the value of its player or, best of all, cards that remove the conditions of a difficult drummer. This may sound like a lot of negotiation, but those who dislike the mechanism shouldn't fear this because the details are mostly already dictated by the cards. This simple and light hearted game might get repetitive if played too often, especially if the cards become too well known, but has a fascinatingly different look and feel which should make it worth returning to from time to time. If only it had the ability for players to create their own cards or a way for the cards to be substantially different each time, it could be a real winner. Maybe someday a computer implementation or computer-aided device will do this job, always making sure that a decent mix of performers is available.
New York
Nice, light Sid Sackson game about expanding Manhattan holdings orthogonally by play of cards. Elegant system seems underappreciated by many. Previously published in more primitive form as Property in A Gamut of Games.
Niagara
Pick-up-and-deliver game for up to 5 which has nothing to do with the Marilyn Monroe classic That shares its name. It doesn't seem to have much to do with the upstate New York waterfall either as I really don't recall hearing about any lucrative gem ferrying business there. But this is interesting and innovative enough in itself that such considerations don't matter. The high quality board features a double layer which permits creation of a central track: the river. Placed within and filling up the width of the course are clear plastic discs: the water. These discs demarcate the movement of player boats as they travel about (powered by a Raj-like system), picking up, stealing and delivering jewels. All is well upon the river, except that after each round the discs are pushed so that a number equal to the lowest movement rate fall off the edge (not good if your boat is on one of them). What's fascinating here is the fork just before the falls, which has been cleverly designed so that discs alternate between moving left and moving right. But not always! Maybe 1 in 10 will unexpectedly follow their immediate predecessor and if so, watch out! There is a definite push-your-luck element to good play. It's good that one can tell in advance which way the disc currently at the fork – Goat Island in real life – will go, so no memorization is required. I have no idea whether this system was easy or difficult to devise and would love to know if it is based on some theory of physics, but as an extremely simple alternative to getting randomness from dice or cards, I find it brilliant. This game really shows publisher Zoch at their best, producing games that straddle the worlds of both strategy and clever action. Component quality being top-notch, the only downsides here might be fragility – can it withstand a player who only wants to maliciously sink everyone's boat? – and replayability, i.e. is there enough in the system to bring it out again and again? On the other hand, this is definitely a showy crowd pleaser that will be great for large gatherings as well as being accessible to the not-yet-addicted game player. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Holiday List 2004]
Nicht die Bohne!
A card game about avoiding taking certain bean cards has a title "not the beans" which could also be construed as a bit of self-deprecating humor by publisher Amigo on their own ubiquitous and oft-expanded Bohnanza. Will Kosmos be publishing Nicht die Siedler soon? This game of very elegant mechanics has very little to do with trading as in the canonical Bohnanza series, but instead is mostly a matter of lookahead, not to mention luck of the draw. There is considerable ability to sink the positions of others by forcing an unwelcome card. At least as interesting as anything in the original series, if not more so. A good choice when a quick game for six players is required.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Horst-Rainer Rösner; Amigo; 1999 3-6
Nichts als Ärger!
This deck of cards is an innovative idea and an unusual product: an expansion not just for a game by a different company, but in fact for a whole set of games by many companies. It modifies any version of the simple race game known various as Pachisi, Aggravation, Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht, etc. similar to the way that Cosmic Encounter layers a number of special abilities onto a basic mechanism. The cartoon artwork of the cards is cleverly done and very humorous, as is the entire experience. As is typical with systems of this type, there are a few ambiguities so the players need to keep in mind that the main purpose is pure fun. There some pretty wild effects too, e.g. players changing sides in the middle of play. Indeed, sometimes it seems a miracle if any piece reaches at the goal in the normal way. The cards are accompanied by extra rules for improving play even if the cards are not used, mostly to help ensure that everyone has at least one piece in play and that they stay in play. The only real problem here is that the cards contain significant text untelligible to readers without German. [translation] [cards translation]
Nimms Leich
Card game version of Liar's Dice using cards depicting five different Goldsieber card game titles instead of dice. The Goldsieber promotional game, different than the later Nimm's Leich by the same company, is cute and quick, if not particularly satisfying as too often luck and memory play an overlarge role.
Nine Men's Morris (Mill, The Mill Game)
Traditional abstract already found in Ancient Egypt is a game for two in which players seek to place and move tokens to form three in a row thus giving permission to remove one of the other player's token, but not one which is part of a three-in-a-row. Interesting challenge, but difficult for a player to catch up once falling behind.
1960: The Making of the President
if no image probably out of print
This look at the Nixon-Kennedy election is reminiscent of one of the designer's previous works, Twilight Struggle. The map shows a control box for each of the fifty states which are grouped into four regions. Cubes are employed (rather than chits) to indicate control. Also available for control are media for the four regions as well as three global issues. As before players alternate playing cards, choosing either event or the operations points which permits adding cubes. Each player is limited by a candidate pawn which dictates where operations may occur. Movements within a region are easy, but changing to another region more costly. When a player attempts to affect a state that the opponent controls, placement is not direct. Instead, the cubes randomly come out of a bag (which is added to each turn), the player hoping that those of his color appear. Probably even more than in Twilight Struggle, a foreknowledge of the cards is vital. Certain cards, such as one that permits changing about five southern states at one blow if the media conditions are right, can suddenly overturn the game. An awful lot depends on when the cards appear – saving them rarely being an option – and they are not separated into epochs as in Twilight Struggle. On the other hand the cards are quite fun and include plenty of historical nuggets. The three issues are presented as value-free with the game taking no position on right or wrong, the goal being simply to have put in more effort on it. Like most election games, it's a numerical challenge to know which side is winning, or even how close the race is. A computer with a spreadsheet to summarize all this data could be of great utility here. At minimum some Poker chips to help count up all the 537 votes (normally 535 but two extra votes were temporarily added due to the recent additions of Alaska and Hawaii) can be very useful. While many playings of Twilight Struggle can terminate early, this one always goes the full 90-120 minutes – the election can never happen before November. Between the two games, probably Twilight Struggle has larger accessibility, strategic possibilities and scope for action. On the other hand, this one for many will have the more interesting topic and is probably the most intriguing of any American election game tried thus far (cf. Road to the White House, Campaign Trail, Mr. President, Landslide). Let's hope that using these components other elections can be represented using expansion kits.
Jason Matthews & Christian Leonhard; Z-Man Games; 2007; 2
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Ninety-Nine
Trick-taking card game a bit similar to Oh Hell featuring the rare quality of playing well with three. The cleverest bit is the way in which the amount of the prediction is based on the suits of the cards used. Has a tendency to often have one hand completely visible to all players which may not be to everyone's taste. Also, luck of the draw can be a significant factor in playing to a total as low as 100 points. To get around this problem use the original rules which provide that nine hands are played.
Nippon Rails
The Empire Builder system game set in Japan is very tight. Best for two players unless you don't mind running on others' track constantly. System innovations are volcanoes and a long tunnel. [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [chart] [variant] [chart]
Njet!
Trick-taking card game in which the players decide the rules before play begins by negating various possibilities, hence the title. Fascinating in the way that the players thus negotiate to create rules which are ideal for no one, but are somewhat acceptable to all. Sort of an instructional guide to the way Congress operates. The conceit is that we are all soldiers at some Siberian outpost in Soviet Russia and the cards are delightfully illustrated with trompe l'oeil marks of being dirtied and taped up. Unfortunately there are some slight problems at the end which are addressed by this variant. Subsequently re-published in an omnibus edition of several card games called Mu and Lots More. See that review for comments on the revised version. [Two vs. Two Games]
Stefan Dorra; [Buy it at Amazon]
Nodwick
Frank Branham turnless trading card game related to Pit, Zaubercocktail and Wheedle. This realization is both less pure and more strategic. Players collect components to build six different body parts, which in turn comprise a henchman. Play continues until a majority of the players have completed this task upon which all score points both for the quality and speed. The only downside is that most of the time no one has or is willing to trade the cards one wants. The only remedy, reminiscent of Tamsk, is a sand timer which flips from player to player to earn a deck draw. Thus frantic activity and luck of the draw tend to overbalance strategy or tactics. There can be added physical difficulty if one accumulates more cards than hands can comfortably hold. Overall, it has retained the idea of trading more than Wheedle has, but players must accept a lot of physical fiddling. Whether you like the artwork probably depends on your feelings about the original comic book on which it is based. [Jolly Roger Games]
Notre Dame
Multi-player game for Alea from the inventor of Roma and Rum and Pirates. Nominally about contesting for prestige in 15th century Paris, the theme is not very important to play, but at least it's something more than the usual generic medieval – and there is a at least sort of a hunchback (the beggar king). The game is best understood via two main features. The first is card passing similar to that found in Die Sieben Weisen and Fairy Tale in which the player draws three cards – from his own identical deck – and passes two to the left. Of the two he receives, he again passes one of them on to the left. The cards themselves, of which only two are played, correspond to districts on the player's individual board. Here the idea of positive reinforcement is at work so that the more one plays in a district, the more one earns there, cubes being used to "remember" the previous plays. There are also ways to change the "memories". There are various approaches one can take, such as the coach game which permits moving a coach around the boards to claim point tiles, the game of claiming points by putting cubes into the cathedral, etc. Some, such as the hotel, seem weaker than others, probably because of the limits of integer rewards. There can also be difficulties in following a desired stategy if the cards don't arrive right – it's more a matter of playing the cards opportunistically (and keep an eye on the focus of the player to your right to see what you may get). Resources are fairly spartan in this rather numerical world so that so that even if one happened to get the cards to invest in the same thing in each of nine turns it's probably not feasible – necessities like coin and influence tokens will probably run out. After a turn each player bribes one of three randomly-drawn officials receive some benefit. These cards also contain varying numbers of rats, the totality of which invade each player's district. This is a bit different than the usual approach of having each player be affected only by the number of rats associated with the card he has chosen. In any case, avoiding a surfeit of rats is another player preoccupation. As in games like Fossil and Emerald, there is a certain fragility here since an inexperienced player might pass a too-valuable card instead of eating it. Also, while it's like other German games in length and complexity, it is rather less forgiving. There isn't much of the usual safety net. If things go poorly, it's possible to pretty much fall out of the running by the end game, though scores are secret to hide the fact. On the positive side, the game looks good, features challenging dilemmas and can move along with little downtime. Against all expectation, it even works well for two. Caveat: the German edition specifies that if gold runs out it is taken from the player who has the most while the American edition omits this.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Stefan Feld; Alea; 2007; 1-6
Nur Peanuts
"Only Peanuts" is "only" a dice game in the same way that Monopoly is. But here the player has a choice of which dice to use, either a three-sided (don't ask me how), a six-sided whose value is reduced by 1, or two of the latter. The goal is to end on a high-value space and one can keep rolling to achieve it, but there is a catch: to re-roll one must pay the property's value to the owner. After each player has had a shot, the high finisher is paid by the others the difference between their properties and his, unless they have managed to reside on their own, in which case it's free. Then the round winner purchases another property and it repeats. There are interesting decisions in this press-your-luck affair, e.g. which dice to wield, how much to press, whether to buy cheap or expensively, but there can also be runaway leaders. Just as in Monopoly, a player blessed with early success is better situated for more success while those lacking property are likely to be slowly whipsawed into holdings worth only, well, peanuts. At least the game ends when the first, rather than the penultimate player goes flat. Can't Stop or Exxtra are probably fairer choices in this genre, but for the malicious-minded, both lack something this one does not: the opportunity to land on the opponent's perfect space and oust him from it.


- O -

Oase (Oasis)
Moon & Weissblum auction and placement game is nominally set in Mongolia. The way some of these games work reminds me of those areas of mathematics like imaginary numbers and dimensions beyond four that were discovered before any real life concrete examples were known. Just as with string theory, perhaps one day a real life equivalent for this system will also be found. Until then, it seems closest to some of the potlatch rituals of the American northwest in which individuals give away as much as they can and attain status in return. Here the giveaways are cards conferring various placement abilities, gained by a simplified version of that used in Andromeda. When someone takes your cards, you receive their position in the turn order. There's plenty to consider here: which cards are you willing to leave for opponents? what choices can you force because a player may not choose his own? how important is it to go early next time (would be interesting if there were a one-turn lookahead on this)? etc. One type of prize is the ability to place in one of four different categories, the general aim being a large, orthogonally connected group. These are scored only at the end by multiplying with the other type of prize, a multiplier which is not placed. This system has already been seen in New England, but works better here because the areas are far more constrained, with important bottlenecks available to someone who merely wishes to block. Graphics have been attractively realized by Vohwinkel with only a minor communication issue on the visibility of grassland areas. The wooden camel pieces demonstrate once again that plastic is not required for great figures and Schmidt Spiele has been in the forefront on this (e.g. Cairo). Boiling Andromeda and New England down to their essences succeeds better than either of the predecessors and this should appeal to most players. The only complaint might be that it can get a little repetitive and probably goes on a bit too long. Fewer spaces to shave off fifteen minutes would not be wrong. It would also reduce the somewhat onerous scoring – when they exceed 100 a scoring pad works better than a track. Of course, this varies depending on the number of players and play feels quite a bit different with three as compared to five, particularly in the auction phase.
Alan R. Moon
Octi
Two-player abstract on a chess-like board with plenty of options due to players being able to equip, i.e. program, their pieces during play. Similar to Ploy (not described here), but the programming takes matters one step further. For players who like two-player abstracts, probably one of the best in the category. Board comes rolled up and does not unroll well. [Two vs. Two Games]
Octo
Dice game originally published in 1990 and more recently in the book Dice Games Properly Explained is of the type Reiner Knizia calls "jeopardy games" in which the player may roll again, but at the risk of losing everything already gained. Some of its relations are Fill or Bust (Volle Lotte), Can't Stop and Knizia's own Exxtra. Very simple and probably finishing in ten minutes, it has a few interesting decisions, but not as many facets as most of the above. Suitable as an easygoing closer after a long evening of games. The book's full statistical discussion of the various decisions is interesting material for analytical types. A A A A
Odins Raben (Odin's Ravens)
Two player card game posits players as Hunin and Munin, raven familiars of the Norse god Odin. Each player has an identical deck and begins with a randomly-determined subset. The race course consists of a series of double-ended tiles, each possibly showing a different terrain. Advancement is a matter of playing a card matching the terrain. If unable to usefully play up to the limit of three cards, extras may be salted away in an "auxiliary hand" (on the table) for later use. In addition cards may be used to acquire matching Magic Way cards, the player winning this "race" earning extra points. Moreover, there are special action cards permitting players to break the usual rules. Apart from Cape Horn, inventor Thorsten Gimmler is more known for his games for children and there is certainly nothing very complicated here. At the same time, feeling somewhat shackled by one's cards, there can be a lack of tension and excitement as well. Physical quality is good, artwork average. Overall an average entry in the Kosmos series. Be sure to get the post-publication errata.
Oh Hell
Trick-taking card game in which players must predict the number of tricks they will take. With each hand the number of cards in hand is reduced by one. Challenging game with rather a lot of luck in the latter hands has inspired a whole raft of imitators including Rage, Wizard, Ninety-Nine, Wimmüln, Double, Volltreffer, Canyon and Grand Canyon. The original game is also known by a number of other names including Blackout, Elevator, l'Ascenseur, Bust, Boerenbridge and 10 op en neer, sometimes with variations in the rules. [6-player Games]
Oh Pharao! (Oh Pharaoh)
board
Instrinsically a take that! card game, in this one the "thats" are well muted in both effect and number. Cards are numbered 1-9 with fewer of each type as the rank ascends, there being thirteen 1s, but only three 9s. There are also three jokers which can serve as any rank. Players use cards to construct pyramids in which rank increases by one at each level and number of cards decreases at each level, e.g. a pyramid could be formed of three 1s, two 2s and one 3. At the start of each turn the player can decide to turn in the pyramid for scoring, earning points (on paper) equal to the total of the ranks multiplied by the number of levels. One reason would be the possibility of an opponent using a thief (five of the ninety cards) to steal a pyramid card, reducing the pyramid value and forcing any no longer supported cards back into the owner's hand. Note that the deck also includes two tax collectors who steal a random hand card and three pharaohs who can cancel either of the above two. The second method players can use to catch up to a leader is to trade cards with one another and not the leader. A common problem with this sort of game is that it can become too much of the same thing for too long. Often the solution is to just cut matters short, but here another solution is applied: the three part arc. Each time a pyramid is scored, a token is moved along a track. A third of the way along, a new rule comes into play: a player may have more than one pyramid working at a time. With two-thirds progress, scoring a pyramid is not possible unless it has at least three levels. These simple variations cause subtle changes in decisionmaking and work well to keep matters fresh. The final twist is that the ending is a matter of some surprise caused by inserting a special card into the deck once the end of the track is reached. There's not a great deal of strategy as at the end of the day one has to play the cards one has drawn, but there is a definite level of decisionmaking. Theme may or may not be present, depending on one's imagination. The production is well realized, with clear board and cards and rather amusing cartoon illustrations. But the real story is that the "take that!" trope has been successfully brought into the modern level of good gaming and the trick has been pulled off with a minimum of twistage, though no doubt a lot of testing to get everything balanced just right. Advanced players: pay close attention to the use of wild cards, which if out can be "borrowed" from others by swapping with the card they represent (as in Cafe International), but then be played to represent something else entirely. [Ancient Egypt Games]
Thilo Hutzler; Kosmos/Uberplay; 2004; 3-4 [Buy it at Amazon.de]
LMMM7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Ohio
Reiner Knizia card game of the climbing variety, except that here one wants to play cards lower than the opponents. The ostensible theme is about collecting electoral votes. The fact that every player begins with an identical hand makes it not a bad game of group think. Seems to be a more developed version of Kartenjagd.
Old Maid
Not really a game as players have no real options in this exercise in cards.
Old Pacific, The
Simple auto racing game made "to order" by a museum features interesting background material but does not really offer any strategic or even possibilities. [more]
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Old Town
Do you realize that Germans love the American Old West? Maybe it's the wide open spaces that are so different from forested (and crowded) Germany or maybe it's that in childhood they all read the Wild West novels of famed adventure author Karl May. Whatever the reason, this is a love that continues in this archaeologically-themed game of rediscovering a lost western town. This one appears to have invented the anti-deduction game (followed by
Who Stole Ed's Pants? a year later) in which players "discover" facts not by sourcing cards until the absent one is deduced, but by playing them, which adds to the set of known facts until there is only one possible solution. Thematically players are trying to recover the layout of the town, i.e. which buildings, e.g. hotel, smithy, bank, saloon, were where. Clue cards represent newspaper articles, land registry records and old traditions which boil down to statements such as "The bank was on Dalton Rd" or "The church was visible from the cemetery". Some cards don't specify the building, but leave it up to the player to apply to any building desired. There are 18 different buildings, but only 16 spaces. Each also comes with five markers used to indicate possible building locations. Some cards describe four possible locations, some eight. For balance, players receive an equal number of each type of card and then draft buildings based on these, it being advantageous of course to work on buildings for which one has cards. The general idea is that as claims are made, markers are placed out to represent them. But as further claims are made, some markers represent speculations proven false because the new claim makes them impossible. These markers represent knowledge gained and therefore are claimed by the player who eliminated them to count as points. One slightly problematic rule is that at the end of any player's turn anyone can shout "STOP" and take any markers that the current player has failed to realize he can eliminate. Something like this rule is certainly necessary to ensure that players keep on top of the current state of knowledge, but it can be a problem if more than one player shouts at the same time or if a player claims he wasn't really finished, etc. Although not a huge problem, it might be better if the task were just left to the next player to have a turn. On the other hand, if too much knowledge were to be built on bad information it might be too difficult to unwind the errors. This appears to be a handmade production, but even so there is nothing really to object to in component quality. One could wish the simple artwork were more attractive, but as with many such indie productions it has its own charm. Helpfully each card shows a miniature version of the map making it easy to see what the card claims, the texts of which appears in both English and German. The map and what is adjacent and so on can be a little confusing at first. The real challenge, though, is as it should be, figuring out how to play well, which card play gives the most bang for the buck and which building to draft next. This should be great fun for archaeology fans as well. A curious artifact of the "make as needed" approach of this publisher is that from time to time the game's rules are revised, but without any apparent notice or versioning. Some players have noticed, however, and have been seeking out different copies to see just how the game has evolved. Just imagine: a game about archaeology has spawned an archaeological investigation of itself. It doesn't get cooler than that. It's amusing also that this publisher's name and logo are based on the 1970s Clackers toy in which two acrylic balls suspended on strings were struck together. This toy no longer exists because eventually the balls would break and tended to shoot plastic shards into eyes.
MHMM8 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8)
Stephan Riedel; Clicker-2000; 1-4; 45
Olé!
Card game of the climbing games type, reminiscent of Crazy Eights or Uno. Here not only is the rank of the card important, but also the color since one color will be stronger than another, which can be a mindbending consideration at first. Innovative idea lets the cards be rotated 180 degrees to provide the complete reverse color relationship. Rules are worded as painfully as possible. Instead, players should simply keep in mind the mantra "beat the number or beat the color." Plays well and is one of few that can actually accommodate eight players, but sometimes suffers a bit from bad luck in the draw. Be sure to play a whole series of rounds to try to address this a bit. [6-player Games]
Oltremare: Merchants of Venice
if no image probably out of print
Uwe Rosenberg probably doesn't know what to feel about this game. For a while now he has been trying to translate the basic mechanism of the simple and award-winning Bohnanza to a more complex board game, but with mixed results at best (La Isla Bohnità, Bean Trader). Now along comes Emanuele Ornella whose "Overseas" has achieved just that quite nicely. I think he should feel flattered, however, as it shows the mechanism he invented is one of the great ones, worthy of being used again and again. Actually, this too is mostly a card game with but a small puzzle map to hold pieces and chits to collect, but even so it adds considerably to the thematic feeling. In addition to trading and collecting cards as in Bohnanza, players must also cope with side effects printed on these same cards, such as requirements about hand size, the number of cards which must be played on the next turn, number claimed by pirates, amount of income and other matters. It's a byzantine task trying to arrange everything perfectly – impossible really. At best players can only pick the poison that seems to hurt least. The game is not exactly science as luck of the draw plays a role, but navigating the conflicting goals can be a lot of fun in a "managing the inbox as best you can" sort of way. There are a couple of caveats. One is that even though this is a trading game, individual turns usually take longer than in, say, Settlers of Catan and less of it is spent interacting with others. I suspect this can be reduced, by the way, at minimal cost by having players delay drawing new cards until the very end of their turns. But more generally, you may wish to keep the number of players to three or fewer. This small package game is no longer as simple as Bohnanza or Settlers of Catan and so is too much for a general audience, but its varied goals and vicissitudes should offer a feeling of fun that appeals to just about all players of more complicated games. Games of the Italian Renaissance] [Buy it at Amazon]
Olympia 2000 (v. Chr.)
Card game about ancient Olympics is a light and quick affair of mostly-blind bidding, but there are interesting strategic possibilities in controlling which competitions are held and which will never be. Plenty of humor is involved in the various levels of athletes, some heroic, others pathetic.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Stefan Dorra; Hans-im-Glück; 1994; 3-5
Opera
if no image, probably out of print
The soaring melodies of Verdi. The famous leitmotifs of Wagner. The classic arias of Puccini. Right? Wrong. This is a game on the business of opera, for what else could it be. Sort of unthematically players represent aristocratic families who build opera houses in the European capitals and put on operas in them. The most important precursor is Puerto Rico which provides not only the ideas of role selection (architect, impresario, maestro, critic, etc.) and variable phase order, but also the ability to "sell" operas to the emperor, which is reminds of the Trader. Another significant influence is Tinners Trail and its idea (borrowed in turn from Thebes) of using actions until one is no longer the one with the most remaining. The quantity here is named the budget point which players bid for simultaneously. This isn't really an apt analogy thematically, but works well and interestingly enough as a mechanism. Always bidding high tends to give the most flexibility, but if one can bid to reach exactly the amount one will uses, there is a monetary reward. Maybe the size of the reward should have been increased though as it almost always seems better to get the flexibility. Constructing opera houses is represented by buying large cardboard tiles that count either as main or additional halls. These are all labeled by city and tend to be divided up in different sizes in each. Play itself is divided into three ages – Baroque, Classical and Romantic – and there are two composers for each: Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi and Wagner. Despite this they are nevertheless represented as co-eval. Their works are represented by matching-colored chips, not naming any of them. Money is present and very important, but the goal is the acquisition of victory points which is achieved by building opera houses, getting opera in every hall, employing the great maestro and having the critic in one's town. The production is nicely realized, including many tiles, usable ducats (though the supply can run short) and player screens. There is a completely different set of opera houses for each number of players. The artwork is attractively realized. The instructions are ultimately usable, but could have done a better job in organizing and explaining. The small details of the various roles are inelegant and thus difficult to remember. The solution for both of these problems is to download the FAQ and player aides one can find on-line. It takes about two hours for this fat lady to sing. Any two of strategy, theme or tactics should have had more of a role. It's difficult to pursue an individual strategy; everyone needs to buy lots of opera houses, get the operas of the most popular composers in them and get critical acclaim. More could have been done thematically as well. The composers could have represented six different individuals during each age. Opera titles could have been printed on the tiles. There is no representation of the various opera stars. Etc. In terms of tactics, there isn't even much ability to plan a big play. What there is, is plenty of evaluation, deciding how much each option is worth and what is the most valuable thing to do at any given moment. If this alone can make a game for you, and you're already an opera fan, this must be one you've been looking for. Quick suggestion: a player is only supposed to participate in three roles a turn, an inelegant limitation requiring the players to track game state. Thus a suggestion for tracking it: after a player has used his first role, flip over his disk; after the second, place one of the black cylinders under it; after the third, place the black cylinder over it.
LMLH6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Hans van Tol; Huch & Friends; 2009; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon.de]
Operation
Dexterity game for children in which one tries to successfully remove various body parts from the board without touching the edge and thereby setting off an electric buzzer. Of passing interest.
Oregon
if no image probably out of print
Ah, the Oregon Trail, the path of the wagon train to the West. Just think of that trip in the covered wagon sans map or GPS. Every day there's a new challenge: rivers, mountains, rattlesnakes, grizzlies, buffalo, hailstorms, floods, Indians – circle the wagons! Alas, this is not that game. Apparently the message is that all of that bor-ing! and instead we're to focus on settlements. Digging mines and building ports and churches and post offices, now that's what gets our Wild West juices flowing. Right? Right?? Ah well, let's have a look at this tile-layer anyway. The map is a square grid with groups of rows and columns labeled, not with helpful numbers or letters which would have made them easy to find, but with icons so that they're not. Each coordinate corresponds to a card type which controls where a player can place one of his wooden farmer pieces. Or if he has a building card a corresponding building tile may be placed instead, with certain restrictions – the harbor goes near water, etc. The idea in placing is to complement the surroundings. A new farmer scores based on the number of and types of adjacent buildings. A church offers a variable return depending on the number of farmers bordering it. Mines offer either coal or gold tokens which have random values à la Lost Valley. On the other hand, new buildings seek to complement existing farmers, either the player's own or sometimes all of them. In addition there are a couple of "trick plays" around the joker tile that enables any location and the take-an-extra-turn tile that can only be accomplished through use of particular buildings. Effective use of these often gives the edge that leads to victory. The overall system requires some time to learn how to exploit well as good opportunities can be tricky to spot and understanding what opponents will both take from you and leave to you requires experience. There is a fair degree of randomness in the card draws, though at least locations and buildings are divided into different decks and the player can choose the hand mix, though at four cards the hand is small. Some planning is possible, but probably not more than a turn's worth, especially as opponents tend to radically change the situation between turns. Opportunism is the rule of the day. There is some feeling here of Hacienda, but probably less planning than in that one. Graphically the cards and components are attractive in this Franz Vohwinkel effort; it is mainly the communication design which is bothersome. Besides the aforementioned issue of the icons, some of the buildings tend to resemble one another rather too much as well. For this reason it's ironic that it is on this of all games that Vohwinkel, one of the premier artists in the field, is honored on the box side. Well at least the meeples, which look more like cowboys with their oversided hats, are fun. They contribute at least a little bit to the theme even if the rules do not. This odd little system with its little tricks and techniques is certainly quirky and might appeal to some as a less lucky Carcassonne alternative, but for most probably does not break enough new ground to really engage interest.
Ase & Henrik Berg; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande; 2007; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Orient Express
Deduction game whose topic is, after the Agatha Christie story, murder on the famous luxury train traveling to Istanbul. Consists of a number of pre-programmed cases which players must solve by visiting various persons and locations and reading various paragraphs to extract clues and record their implications on their deduction sheets. There is even the possibility of jumping off the train at certain stations and sending a telegram. It is also possible to interrograte one's fellow detectives. Ends when someone takes a chance and tries to solve it or the train arrives in Istanbul, a rate which is variable. Very atmospheric and enjoyable. At least two expansion kits offer more cases. [6-player Games]
LMLL7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7)
Jeff Smets; Just Games-1985; 1-6; 60
Ostindien Company
Game about clipper ships racing back to Europe with valuable exotic goods. Players have secret interests in various ships and play cards to move them. Nice theme and not entirely without strategy, but rather repetitive. This variant attempts to address this. Not to be confused with the rare and apparently more ambitious Ostindiska Kompaniet (not discussed here). [analysis] [variant]
Ostrakon
(Following describes the basic game.) Party game of that type, like True Colors, which is designed to let players open up and reveal something of themselves. On a turn one player is given a general topic like Science or Paris or Delay, from which he must formulate an either-or question. Then each player simultaneously reveals his vote in response, including the querent, whose vote constitutes his guess of what the majority will answer. If correct, he receives points equal to the number of minority votes cast. This rule neatly captures the goal of the game, asking a question on which the audience is evenly divided, which reminds of another successful party game, Barbarossa, in which players must sculpt mysterious figures which must be neither too hard nor too difficult to guess. Presentation is attractive and fits into an admirably small package. This would be easy to carry in a pocket and break out after, say, a dinner party. Even the scoring track is made up of cards and there is a rather clever system for choosing questions. Thematically it rides on the ancient Greek practice of deciding popular questions by writing one's decision on a pottery fragment, by which unpopular figures were ostractized. Overall this is an outstanding example of its type, even if it lacks the elements to get strategy fans to cross over. [Party Games] [amazon.com]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
daVinci Games
Outburst
Party game in which players must try to shout out the top ten answers for a category, similar to the television program "Family Feud", but more raucous. Hasbro has also released revised editions Outburst II and Ultimate Outburst. [Party Games] [amazon.com]
Outpost
Each player directs a colony on a new mining planet, all racing to attain seventy-five technology points and thus acquire exclusive rights. Initially, production is limited and players have the dilemma of whether to acquire more production or more technology or some of both. The clever mechanism is that production cards vary in value, e.g. ore cards range from one to five and water cards range from four to ten, meaning that yields are only partly predictable, which can upset planning. A further consideration is that no change is giving for purchases, altering acquisition strategy in a challenging way. Fairly free of chaos, it is in the empire-building category that fans of, say, Civilization, enjoy. One downside is that it can be difficult for trailing players to catch up; this is exacerbated by the fact that games often last three hours. Experienced players always seem to use the official Expert Game rules (version 1.32). [6-player Games]
Overthrone
Card game set in France around the period of Dumas' The Three Musketeers novel. Although an intriguing concept, more dictated by luck of the draw than strategy, particularly concerning certain unbalancing cards. The rules are rather skimpy, even on such fundamental details as what constitutes a suit. Artwork is mediocre, at least to my taste. While designer Frank DiLorenzo and co. deserve praise for undertaking this project, it is hoped that future efforts will improve. R&R Games A
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