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Pachisi (Ludo, Parcheesi)
Traditional game of India invented over 1200 years ago is a race powered by dice with the ability to send players back to start by landing on them. Some may not realize that the original four-handed partnership game requires a good deal of skill, at least as much as Backgammon at any rate. As for the more modern realizations such as the European Ludo (1896 title from the Latin word for game) or the American Parcheesi: The India Game little remains apart from some minor strategic and tactical appeal, perhaps a good vehicle for introduction of strategic concepts. Introduced to the United States under the Parcheesi title by Selchow & Righter c. 1867 and trademarked in 1874, one of the very first trademarks in US gaming history. Has been published under many other titles including Home, India, Pollyanna and others, including many in other languages. [Two vs. Two Games] A
Pacific Northwest Rails
Very enjoyable strategic railroading game is neither in the Empire Builder nor the 18XX series. Set in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. [Italian Rails] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [more] [errata]
Palais Royale (Royal Palace)
if no image probably out of print
After King's Breakfast and Louis XIV this is at least the third game to place the French King Louis XIV at its center. This is more like the latter though, a massively logistical affair which one could imagine being published by Alea as well. Aptly named, the palace board is the center of the action here. Actually it's not a board at all, but nine modules representing palace rooms randomly placed in a three by three arrangement. Players have over dozen wooden pieces shaped like a head and shoulders – courtiers – which they place into these rooms, each of which provides a different effect. In the beginning they only have two in the room which permits bringing in new courtiers (the parade ground) and two in the one which permits moving courtiers (the stairway). Thus on the first turn two pieces are brought on and up to two (orthogonal) movements may be made. Other room functions include the place where new courtiers enter, gaining money, gaining the king's favor, gaining the favor of the king's mistress, buying cards, recruiting noblemen and winning tiebreakers. The latter becomes important because for many of the rooms if a player has the majority of coutiers there, an extra benefit is gained and if there is a tie, the player having more in the tiebreaker room wins it. The eventual point of all this activity is to be found on the other board, on which a couple dozen or more noble tiles have been randomly placed (omitting seven to keep things different from playing to playing). These generally have four costs, three of which require removing courtiers from rooms – king's favor,
mistress' favor, recruiting room – plus coins. This monetary cost keeps changing during play, being decremented each time a neighboring tile is removed. The benefit of these tiles is mainly victory points, but some also provide extra benefits such as an extra favor per turn, extra cash, extra moves, extra recruitment, diagonal movement or being able to pull courtiers out of the reserve pool. There is a sub-game in collecting tiles as well. When a player takes a tile lying at one of the four edges, the player replaces it with a courtier. At the end of play six points are given to the player having the most courtiers at each edge, two for second place. These points are fairly minor, but could make the difference when the score is close. A more important feature are the special ability cards which can be quite powerful, for example giving a dozen extra moves, for just the cost of a courtier and whatever it took to get it into the cards room. Thus the cards are some of the best deals available and it will be difficult to win without partaking in them. On the other hand, the balance of the deck is quite variable, some cards being a waste of time. It's true that to ameliorate this it's not necessary to buy a card if it's not good enough, but on the other hand, drawing too many poor cards is in effect just as bad as it wastes time and resources. This degree of randomness is a little out of place in such a serious system affair, but probably difficult to avoid because the value of each attribute will vary a lot depending on the palace setup. If, say, money happens to be right next to the board entrance all players will have plenty of it all the time and money cards will be practically worthless. Probably the solution should have been to find a way to get the cards – which are important for throwing a monkey wrench into plans and making things a little less predictable – into player hands by a different method than random draw. This might also have helped with another problem with the cards, that the first time player doesn't know what's in the deck and thus must decide whether a drawn card is worth keeping without having any idea of what the other possibilities are. As it is, owners of the game ought to print out a list of all the cards and present a copy to each player. There are other practical difficulties. Buying a tile usually means counting up the non-obvious monetary cost and spending in the four areas plus puting a pawn replacing the tile with a courtier if it was on an edge. These are really too many things going on at once and frequently one or more will be forgotten. Inventors really ought to keep the number of simultaneous activities down to three. Imagine in this one how tricky it becomes if buying two or even three tiles at once, especially since the previously purchased tiles likely affect the costs of the subsequent ones. A terribly confusing artwork problem is that while each board edge counts for points, the way the numbers are shown it looks like only the top and bottom edges do. It's also tricky that play ends when the number of tiles is down to twelve or less, something very easy not to notice. Probably an equivalent, but easier to track method could have been found. Because there are so many moving pieces, and costs, turn take backs seem frequent in this one and it can be be slow waiting for others' turns. For this reason it's probably best with three or less. Thematically there's not that much there, though it's fun that the king's mistress has so much say over things. Overall, this has a feeling which was later done better by Hansa Teutonica. Its Belgian inventor has since gone on to do Carson City as well as help with Troyes and Tournay.
MLHH5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Xavier Georges; Hans-im-Glück-2008/Rio Grande-2008; 2-4; 60 Amazon
This card game by Michael Rieneck (Around the World in 80 Days, Cuba and, with Stefan Stadler, Pillars of the Earth) has an intriguing title meaning "palace buzz" or "palace whisperings", suggesting various intrigues. Unfortunately no such feeling emerges during play where one will only ever hold six cards, some of them in hand, some in personal display. There are no restrictions on the hand contents, but each card in the display must be unique. If it is ever a player's turn and he is unable to play a differing card, the hand is over and all others score a point. As there are only seven card types, this is the most likely ending to a hand, though it can also end with a sole victory if a player manages to get six different card types out (this should maybe end the game immediately). But there are two other features working. One is that many cards are colored – playing such hands the turn to the player whose color it is; otherwise it goes to the player with the fewest cards showing. The other is that most cards have special powers, including abilities like picking up a card, exchanging one or more with an opponent, showing one's hand (not exactly a power in this case) or even suppressing a particular type of power. There is also the Jester who, unlike in Princes of Florence, does nothing at all. There's not a great deal of strategy here, nor is there much thematic connection with the card powers. Mostly one tries to avoid getting caught in an illegal situation by keeping the hand diversified and not so far out in the lead as to become a target. It is sometimes possible to try to go out on one's own, but it's dangerous and rare. There are plenty of tactical possibilities such as forcing another player to play and then giving him a hand of nothing but cards he has already played. If you have enough such cards for his whole hand, it's game over right there. The artwork is cartoonish and a bit uneven, as if worked on by more than one hand. Iconic language is used to describe each card's powers, but it's not so easy to pick up. Most players seem to rely on the tiny script font of the player aide cards. The real problem is that the game is both too long and too short. An individual hand goes too quickly for the situation to really develop, but unlike a trick-taking game where every hand must be diagnosed and played accordingly, here every hand is pretty much alike, and very subject to change. Thus, the game's requirement to repeat six hands or more is far too many. The other problem is that not having a regular turn order means a player can have a long, uncertain wait.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Michael Rieneck; Adlung; 2007; 3-5 [Buy it at Adlung]
Multi-player Reiner Knizia auction game of skyscraper building, Renaissance Italy-style. I believe this is the latest in what I think of as his "bid on odd lots" series and for me, the most successful. This is fundamentally because, compared with Medici, RA and Traumfabrik, the player feels more in control of his own fate. The storeys one hopes to add to his towers are not all acutioned, but can often be purchased outright. And even when there are auctions, players can readily discern what future auctions will be and where new tiles will appear. It's similar with the distribution of funds. If you need more, just reveal funds cards and draft a pair for yourself. The rest are taken by other players. Scoring is very intuitive as one just wants to build a lot of high towers that are also aesthetically pleasing. Extra height and matching building styles have the same importance, but accomplishing both is best of course. This boosts theme as well, although the idea of bidding for building additions makes little sense under scrutiny. Play moves right along, keeping everyone involved. The small package presentation is attractive, including small boards which are not strictly necessary. The artwork leaves some doors and windows – crucial to scoring – somewhat ambiguous, but this may be intentional, considering the ways that in the past Knizia has tried to discourage analysis paralysis, e.g. the screens in Tigris & Euphrates and Samurai. Fans of theme may not be excited, but just about everyone should be able to appreciate this at some level, for some probably topping their list of what to play for quite a while. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High
In 1992, three years before Streetcar, Piatnik had already published a game in which the board was built in the first half so that pawns could navigate it in the second. In this one, the topic is the mafia protection racket, but the goal is essentially the same: visit all of your locations, and visit them the most quickly, or so I think, but more about that anon. In this one, players needn't worry about luck of the draw as they may use any of the available tiles. The six different offerings depict various roof arrangements, important because roofs (structures) block movement and because each new tile's roof must touch an existing roof. Anyone who leaves no free roofs gives his left hand neighbor a free choice. In the second half, players race around according to a fixed schedule, gaining more movement points with each success. This activity generates victory points too, equal to the number of movement points not used on that turn. This is where the instructions show the lack of a strong editor as there are significant ambiguities. In particular, it's not clear whether and to what extent players can deliberately noodle around in order to maximize their points. Can they toggle ten times between the same two spaces for example? If so, what is the point of the police pieces that players use to delay others? Then there are the lesser ambiguities. How are the polizia supposed to work on the fast autostradi that encircle the board? And may they be placed in the starting plaza while player pawns are yet to start there? But the delaying tactics are the main problem. Are players really supposed to procrastinate as much as possible? If so, why do the police exist? And why do players who complete the cource receive only an insufficient three points per turn while waiting for others to finish? Only its inventor can tell us for sure, but I rather suspect Walter Ziser intended that players always follow the shortest route and there's no rule to enforce it because the one-time inventor never dreamed anyone would do otherwise! The end result is a lovely mess: great innovation with lousy execution – this no doubt accrued to Streetcar's benefit three years down the road. But apart from some doubts about the abuses the polices enable, this one could probably be just as excellent with a bit of tinkering.
Knizia game depicting a Silk Road bazaar subject to the whims of sudden news and the tax man, it actually has the feeling of a modern stock market. Prices go up and up and up until someone decides that their price point has been reached and then watch them fall like a stone with everyone in a headlong rush to sell off their inventory while it's still worth something. The tracking mechanism is reminiscent of that employed by McMulti. Players sometimes complain of too little control, but this may be the point. To be fair, some have also complained that the game too much resembles an accounting exercise, and perhaps this is true as the game winds down, but the tension and decision of reaching that climactic decision point in the game, which can occur a bit too early, will be more than worth it for many players. Strategically, consider that the cards one knows cannot be played are at least as important as those which can be. Cover displays Reiner Knizia's middle initial which with some displeasure he noted to this site the publisher was not supposed to do. The Silk Road Foundation offers a fascinating article on Palmyra's history. This game was later re-published as Buy Low Sell High.
Small game by Friedemann Friese and Wolfgang Panning seems to catch the paint drippings of Knizia's Modern Art from the previous year. Instead of art dealers, players represent middlemen buying celebrity photos from those pesky paparazzi and re-selling them to magazines. Once again players have hands of cards (photos) that they put up for auction, always trying to figure out how many other cards in the same series are in play. They get some help in this as before play everyone gets to see the hand of the player to the right. This is just one of the unusual rules in play as the auction treatment is also rather unorthodox. They are conducted in two rounds, the first to set the price and the second to decide who will buy. Moreover, not just the starting price, but also the minimum bid increment increases as more photos in the series appear and become more valuable. The rotating auctioneer, who chooses what to sell not from his hand but from three cards placed by previous auction winners, gets paid only half the auction price and so it's usually necessary to eke out additional funds by selling a photo or two to Stunk (logo similar to the famous German Stern), which pays immediately instead of only at the end. Success, besides depending on gathering information based on the way others play, seems to require the particular trick of winning the auction just before one is to be auctioneer and thus being able to auction a valuable card on one's own turn. In terms of information, there seems to be a problem shared with Vernissage that if a player receives cards that no one else has (only a few from the large deck are dealt), he operates at a distinct disadvantage. Although the more limited nature of the bidding permits escape from the fragility of Modern Art, there is something a bit rote about the decisionmaking and the best part of the experience may be the hilarious satirical photos which expose their unnamed celebrity targets – politicians, tennis stars, fashion plates, opera divas, wives of soccer stars et al. – in all sorts of scandalous positions.
Paris Paris
Michael Schacht invention about the busing of tour groups in the French capital. Employing the popular drafting mechanism, players each take turns choosing from a random set of stops. Cleverly, the one not chosen is the one scored, or if no one there, its closest neighbor. But each stop also comprises one or more routes. If stops on a route have not been chosen twice, then the route is actually run and everyone with stops on it receives points, getting more if they have additional stops adjoining them. This means there are a number of ways to look at the strategy: connectivity vs. ubiquity, short term vs. long term, and, since it's possible to remove other's pieces, offensively or defensively. Since the details are simple, it can also be played either lightly or intensely. The map appears to be a fairly accurate rendition of the city and a unique cardboard bus piece facilitates making the run. Apart from the rules writing which at least in their English form can be maddeningly imprecise, it's difficult to say much against this one, unless it's that there is a fair dose of luck around the order in which items are drawn from the bag and one's place in the turn order when each happens, but as length is only about thirty minutes, there is not much cause for complaint. Recommended for anyone who likes a short dose of thoughtful fun, but ultimately not fair enough for master strategists, even in the generally more tolerable two-player version. [Tourist Games] [Holiday List 2003]
Michael Schacht; Abacus/Rio Grande; 2003; 2-4; 8+
if no image probably out of print
Buy it at Amazon
Colors are fun. That seems to be the premise here. Perhaps you can yet remember when you first learned that mixing blue and yellow make green. And perhaps later were surprised to learn in a physics or computer graphics course that optically red and green combine to make yellow. This knowledge you gained in the first instance will help here. But there's another angle too, that of famous paintings, many of which are accurately represented here. You collect paints in various colors in order to paint one of the famous masterpieces in your hand, each of which requires a specific combination of colors. All's good so far, but does it stay on the easel. Collecting paint is a matter of each turn playing a single hexagonal tile to the growing central area. Tiles feature only the primary colors, one per corner. After the tile is played, corners where the tile meets other tiles yield paint cards for the player. A red and a red yield another red, a red and a yellow an orange and something more difficult like blue-yellow-yellow yet another color. There's a strong element here of not leaving a good position for the next player, i.e. one where it's possible to touch more than two tiles as these are virtually always better than other locations. Otherwise, only three colors being available, this phase is fairly rote. From there you are also permitted to make swaps, not only with other players, but also with the game according to the rules displayed on the big board, which also permits mixings. Some are non-intuitive such as requiring three primaries of the same color to achieve black or white. Ironically the most difficult color of all, requiring six cards, is real life's simple gray. Eventually one has enough paint in hand to turn them in to claim a painting, each of which has some value based on difficulty. Play ends when someone achieves 35 points or more. Here is one problem as it seems unfair in such a system that not everyone have the same number of turns. We are left with a dilemma in this area as the printed rules don't stipulate that, but an on-line post by the designer states just that. On the other hand, this might be just as problematic as the new strategy would probably be to reach only 34 points and then go over the line by as big a margin as possible, probably adding 15-20 minutes of playing time. It's great that so many actual paintings are included, though sticklers should be warned that the listed paints for each correspond only loosely. There is also a rule giving bonus points for having more than one painting by the same artist. This is almost totally a matter of luck, probably put in to get the players paying attention to the artist names and also to prevent results from all being close to ties, but seeming rather gratuitous and unfair otherwise. But there's the bigger problem that in general the pace seems too slow, both in the sense of downtime with four players and also in the number of milestones reached. Even though overall playing is three-quarters of an hour or so, it would have been better if players finished more paintings more quickly to get more of a sense of progress and accomplishment. Maybe what we see here is a game whose bits were ripe before all of its systems were. All of the bits are well made, but the lack of a tile rack is regrettable since players need to hold both several cards, three tiles and at least one of the paintings all at once when planning a turn. It's good that the publisher has announced that a new edition will include at least an easel to hold the painting. While they're at it they should at least re-design the paint combinations board to group colors more logically and speed finding what one needs. It would also be a good idea to re-name "bisque" to something more likely to have been used in the Renaissance. Can anyone really see Leonardo ordering up a supply of bisque anywhere but at a trattoria? By the way, other artists include Botticelli, El Greco, Raphael, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Manet, Monet, Bazille, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and Marc, to name the most famous.
MMLM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Sean D. MacDonald; Gryphon Games-2011/Pegasus-2011; 2-4
Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean
Merchant travel and trade for up to six from the Z-Man. Some things in this ancient Greek setting – production, trade – are done as they are in Catan, but there is nothing here that is not Zeus (and his whims). After trade and before production players may also sail to non-player destinations and perform further swaps. Virtually all phases are simultaneous, including construction of the various advantage-conferring building and two named "wonders" which are the pinnacle of their efforts. Wonders confer more advantages, as do philosophy cards, the fruits of the all-important academy, which, however, is deceptively labeled as just another building. One could even neglect its erection in favor of something else and thereby lose the chance and lose out too on the fourth tiebreaker to victory. Tiebreakers are critical because often several players progress at the same rate and will otherwise finish at the same time. Those who have fallen out of the race often have no reason to blame themselves, however, as most likely their holdings have been wiped out by one or more of the vicious hazard cards drawn every sailing phase. Although the cards affect all players and some like pirates can eventually be defended against or negated – note: only by a player who is already doing well – others such as storm can cause loss of an entire ship holding up to six cards, which could represent anywhere from half to all of the player's production. Card victims can probably forget any building for the turn. Thematically such events are correct, of course, but the system does not seem to sufficiently compensate in terms of game. One attempt at this is the archon power, voted by the players, which, depending on the events drawn, may sometimes be useful. Another is that construction of some wonders requires giving wares to any other player, who ought to be the last placed one. Even so these measures are often not enough, especially considering that a trailing player cannot afford extra ships and is likely to put all in one, greatly tempting a repeat disaster. Even so, all of this would not be so bad were the game to conclude its business in a timely fashion, but instead it lingers on for two, sometimes three hours, forcing unfortunates to go through the motions without the slightest chance of winning. This is despite the fact that all but two trading phases are basically meaningless as no one wants to trade. A shorter scenario is available, but it has a balance problem since event and harbor cards are designed for particular factions and not all of them are used in this case. Other caveats include the large, messy table print created by such a huge number of cards – every single thing a player builds or acquires must be laid out as a full-sized card. There's a small, basically unnecessary board too, which takes up more space than the mere six card decks which would really be required. There's a certain inelegance of design as well, especially in all the different ways that the normal rules become altered. The four event cards per year apply not just in their own season, but in every season. Then each minor building confers some minor effect which must be remembered. Add to these the effects of the wonders, the philosophies and the harbor cards and you get a sprawling jumble of effects that are beyond anyone to master, or even want to try. This really feels like overdevelopment under horror of a vacuum – at the very least it is neither clean nor spare. Its best features are probably its bows to theme and use of simultaneous phases and if anyone can enjoy this, it will be deep-thinking tactical artistes who will appreciate the extent to which theme is addressed and look for clever ways to exploit the many card combinations. But most others will turn away, and eventually even they. By the way, on our last try we used clear plastic chips to mark player holdings and this made some issues considerably easier, though sacrificing the illustrations of Stephen Walsh, who also worked on the American edition of Tigris & Euphrates. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Pass the Pigs
Variant on a dice-rolling game in which instead of generating pips on dice, the landing position of rolled rubber pig figures is considered. Of not much strategy and limited replay value.
Word game of synonyms rewards a large vocabulary. Ingenious printing of clue cards makes them illegible until inserted into a special sleeve with a colored window. Light amusement for those who love words, though not much strategy. Published by Milton Bradley and based on the television game show in the United States in the 1960's. A "magical" feature of the game for children was that the clue cards were printed such that they only became visible when viewed through the film window of the plastic sleeves. [Two vs. Two Games] [Party Games]
Past Lives
Mostly random game of advancing on a board via dice collecting treasures. The conceit of the game is that each player is trying to advance to a higher state in the sense of the Indian theologies. The look of the game is nice, but play doesn't leave much to the imagination. Most interesting feature is for students of histories who may enjoy perusing the biographies and considering whether or not the relative rankings are appropriate.
Patrizier (Patrician)
This tower-building game attempts to evoke the construction competitions of Renaissance Tuscany, but the strong association is Manhattan. Just as in that game one plays a card and then places one or two pieces atop a multi-player tower, the goal being to have the most pieces in it and, if tied, be above the competition. The board is divided into ten named cities, each of which offers two tower locations. Each card indicates in which city a tower must be placed. After placement one draws the randomly-drawn face-up card that is in that city. Thus success is a matter of finding in a hand of three cards a play-and-draw combination in which both are worthwhile. In addition, each card has a secondary symbol. Some are just figureheads which form part of a set collection game that only applies at the end of play. Others can be more valuable as they confer an immediate extra power, the best of which is to relocate one tower piece in a different city. Physically, the board and cards are well designed: clear, practical and attractive. The wooden tower pieces are unique; they resemble wrinkles, stack quite satisfyingly and there are a generous 149 of them. Turns tend to go quickly and a playing could complete in as few as twenty minutes if all play fast. This idea of the thing done affecting the future action has been done quite a bit before, by Knizia, by Schacht and also in Kupferkessel Co. The same goes for the majority control and stacking mechanisms. But that was the past. Today one needs to ask, what else is on offer? Inventor Michael Schacht has delivered the "what else" before and then some, so indications are that it must be the publisher who here either trimmed out parts of the design or encouraged blanding it out. While that's probably fine for those new to the hobby, if anyone at Amigo ever wonders why the cognoscenti prefer Alea and Hans-im-Glück, they need look no further than efforts like this. Moreover, any success it has again demonstrates the truth that players are more willing to accept randomness from a deck of cards than a roll of the dice, even though either can be equally cruel. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Michael Schacht; Amigo/Mayfair; 2007; 2-5
As inventors seek new gaming concepts, they have inevitably turned to more complex mechanisms, often with the downside of creating longer and more tedious games. Frequently such affairs require players to manage a series of bottlenecks and balance a variety of conflicting demands. Situated in ancient Greece and the Aegean, this is a civilization-builder that wants to reduce all of that toil and trouble and yet still present some juicy dilemmas. A nice start is that each player begins with a variable power in the form of a named city-state tile, e.g. Argos, Arkadia, Pylos. Each has unique starting materials and forms of income. On either side of this players will each turn build on with newly-revealed building and landscape tiles which are auctioned off. These provide things like wheat, wood, stone, money, settlers (which leads to more income), victory points and sometimes a special ability. Tiles carry minimum costs to ensure nobody lucks into a windfall. Players unable to bid or who are knocked out of the auction earn money instead. Adding lands carries the restriction that a new land must have at least one resource in common with the last one. Buildings have thematic names and lands definite characters such as forests, fields, etc., evinced from the illustrations. There are a series of disasters like earthquake, drought, plague, etc., each of which will trigger once per game. The imminence of each is discerned by the two diaster chips drawn each turn; three of a particular type triggers the event. Similarly there are also tiles requiring players to feed their people or lose those who go unfed. Victory requires a balancing act between gaining people and valuable tiles; one's lower total between the two provides the final score. Play proceeds for about eight turns without necessity to count them; the game simply runs out of tiles. In the event of fewer than five players, instead of reducing the number of tiles on auction each turn, the system cleverly adds supplementary tiles which can be acquired sans auction at a higher fixed cost. This independently-produced, visually-appealing, short and generally balanced affair should appeal to a wide audience. At the time of this writing there is also an expansion, Peloponnes Erweiterung, which enables a sixth player as well as provides other tiles, including those depicting the sea and which permit fishing to gain more food.
Update: The 2011 edition features revised rules and adjusted earthquake tiles, no gold coins, larger format rules and a slightly larger box. [multi-multi auction games]
MMLH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Bernd Eisenstein; Irongames-2009; 1-5 Amazon
People's Choice, The
Blind bid auction game on the US presidency. Included are 43 president cards, from first to worst. Each has a party affiliation and several other attributes such as family, personal, legacy, etc., each of which is also color coded in red, white or blue. Other cards are then revealed which show the colors the voters seek in the current election. Players then each secretly choose one of their politicians to run, possibly committing one of their starting coins to help. Players add the coin to the number of ways their candidate matches the popular taste to determine the election winner. Three wins takes the game. Not only is there not much technique to play – possibly keeping a good variety of candidates being an exception – but players must also perform an annoying amount of confusing pattern matching. So there is little to recommend here as a game, but I'm reminded of a book of the presidents that I had as a child, a book which inspired me to learn a lot about the presidents. Even today I can still recite their exact order by heart. It occurs to me that these cards can serve exactly the same purpose, being orderable and dealable, perhaps even more so. I have little doubt that all the facts on the cards will help to do this. Another little side benefit are the player screens, illustrated to look like the White House. These must the largest and most elaborate screens seen to date and would be very nice to appropriate for other games like Keydom where they are too flimsy.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium
Perry Rhodan: Die Kosmische Hanse
if no image probably out of print
This pickup-and-deliver game based on the long running series of science fiction books is a new entry in Kosmos two-player series, now re-vivified after not having much to recommend for a few years. There is no board per se, but a solar system display consisting of a large sun platter and six smaller, distinct planets (the back story of each is described in the rules book). Over these the players pilot their ships, represented by illustrated cardboard in plastic stands. Solar gravity is simulated by letting ships count each planet as a movement point when traveling toward the sun, but on the way out forcing them to also count the spaces between the planets. Speed is determined by roll of the die, but a result of one means that the die is rolled again and the new result added on. Arrayed at each planet are cards showing other planets. By dropping down to the planet a ship loads one type into its hold. When they are delivered to the planet showing the player receives points on the spiral track shown on the sun disk and the cards are flipped over. If their reverse sides are the same, they are removed from play. Otherwise they represent new cards to be shipped. By this elegant mechanism cards gradually disappear until eventually passenger cards from the hand become a surer means of income. Other hand cards in the player's individual deck are of the one-time use variety, two of which can be played per turn. Still others are permanent, offering various advantages such as extra holds, the ability to load without landing, an increased re-draw rate, special movement abilities, etc. These begin cheap, but later cost points equal to the number of such cards already purchased. Choosing which ones are the most useful is a challenging dilemma made more challenging by the fact that the card one wants may take a while to appear. The number of such cards played is also the re-draw rate. The physical production is attractive, but the passenger cards show their planets too low on the card and the victory point markers are slightly too large for the track. But the amount of time to play is right. Interaction is not major, but players do compete over the same loads and may also play cards to cancel the opponent's cards. Overall this should appeal to just about anyone as long as reading a lot of cards is not minded. For this reason it's helpful to have a version in a language one understands and very disappointing that there will apparently be no English edition. Perhaps the owners of the book rights require an additional fee that proved an obstacle and no help in America where Rhodan is less know, but then, the title could always have been changed to Flash Gordon or similar. It's disappointing too that it seems there will be no expansion that could create a planetary geography more interesting than a simple line, an Auf Achse in space if you will. Updated of January 2009: The first bit of good news is that there is now a three-player variant from the inventor and it works quite well. The only issue might be there the can be a bit of kingmaking, mainly in the use of cards. The more important good news is that an English edition will be coming after all, from Z-Man Games. Let's hope that it includes the three-player variant and changes the icons at the corners of the planet cards to show the planet icons rather than pictures of the passengers. [variants] [Frequently Played] [Buy it at]
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Heinrich Glumpler; Kosmos; 2007; 2
Mike Fitzgerald invention that ties in to the popular (originally German) PfEfferminZ (peppermint) candy. Although a play mat is provided to organize matters, this is a card game, basically of the "take that!" variety. In their two-action turns players draft candy dispenser cards which specify a diverse list of candy cards required to fill them. Once filled, the dispenser is kept for points in the race to twenty-five. Players may interfere with one another by playing candy cards to match the top showing cards of opponents and thus remove them. A completely-cleared dispenser discards it. Thus the dilemmas are what size dispenser to claim, where to play candy cards among one's own dispensers and when to instead keep someone else from winning. Which works better, a few big point dispensers or many small ones? Eventually it becomes impossible to stop everyone and victory occurs, almost as if by accident. The card illustrations are delicious and make one hunger for the candy. Nor do matters last longer than appropriate for theme and mechanics. But this is certainly no meaty endeavor and those who need a hearty meal will not be happy with mere peppermint candy. Rare dispenser cards which provide special powers are only available in random booster packs which is the largest objection to the product. In contradistinction to other collectible card games, at least these cards provide no special benefit to their owner, but are part of the common milieu. If you want this, it doesn't turn up in game stores, but check your local candy store. It's surprising that there isn't a stronger product tie-in such as selling cards with dispensers or finding a coupon for buying a dispenser in the game. PEZ fans may enjoy this book on the product's long history: Collector's Guide to Pez. (2003)
Pfeffersäcke (Medieval Merchant)
Game for up to six set in medieval Europe, mostly Germany. Apparently originally about trains, it seems like the best thematic fit would actually be an expanding airline. In any case, the theme is not particularly important as it plays mostly like an abstract. There is almost no luck apart from the initial deal of start cities and even this means little in comparison to the large effect on play of other player actions. Key is a keen understanding of the mysterious long-term plans by the midpoint. By time matters are three-quarters finished, these plans are obvious, but it is too late to do anything about it. Turns are short with only a couple actions being allowed, so usually moves along fairly well. Distinct strategies are also possible. Should a player work hardest to be in all the provinces or work harder to be first in the most cities? A monetary stategy may also be a possibility. The German title means "pepper sacks" and is a somewhat derogatory term for the wealthy medieval spice merchants. Designer Christwart Conrad earlier created Vino, featuring similar complexity, which ended up being published later. [6-player Games]
Picknick Panik (Picknick Panik Deluxe)
The onslaught of bugs inevitable to any picnic form the backdrop of this card game. Inventive packaging – an illustrated cloth bag – and attractive artwork grace this entry in the Yun Games line. The theme is not particularly strong as players represent both the spiders, ants and flies as well as the humans trying to do them in via boots, swatters and spray. While there are some intriguing mechanics, particularly the chance to divert a bug attack by matching the card, there is much that is automatic. Morever, replenishment changes the hand so frequently that there is really no long-term planning. Tactical ploys are mostly limited to decisions of how many cards to play at a time which offers a degree of interest, but bad luck in drawing can prove devastating. The deluxe version subsitutes wooden pieces for the cards. [translation] [Holiday List 2003]
Enjoyable party game for large groups. One player must draw a picture of the word given to him while the rest of the team guesses the word in a limited timespan. Good drawing skills are definitely rewarded as well as players who know one another well. Objects are easy, but some words, e.g. "wide", can prove quite challenging and stimulating to creativity. [Two vs. Two Games] [6-player Games] [Party Games] [10 Most Famous Board Games] []
Pingvinas (Packeis am Pol; Hey! That's My Fish!)
Near abstract for two to four is ostensibly about penguins ("pingvinas" in Lithuanian) collecting fish on the pack ice about the pole. It wasn't designed that way, but this could be considered a version of Nanuuk with fewer rules. The "board" is a play area formed by an arbitrary grouping of hexagons, each of which shows a varying number of fish. A player moves one of his penguins to claim a tile, but the trick is that the tile is not claimed upon arrival, but on departure. This simple alteration from the usual approach makes a world of difference as it permits opponents to have some say in the consequences of the move. In particular, by blocking and/or removing adjacent tiles, penguins can strand others on tiny islands where they are unable to score any more fish. Playing well is far trickier than it looks and it appears that everyone's second game
is far better than their first. Perhaps most interesting is the challenge of figuring out which area might be large by the end – keeping one's options open – and which tiny. There is a special edition using wooden hexagons, but even the ordinary version is quite handsome with stand-up, inscribed wooden penguins that remind a little of the old Tennessee Tuxedo cartoon character. As the rules are so simply explained, the duration so short and the play decisions so inobvious, it's very difficult to say "no" to the game. Lack of thematic feeling and a sometimes feeling of fleeting nastiness would be the only possible quibbles. The ability to look ahead, as in most abstracts, is the chief necessary talent to win. Strategically, I have come to favor a "keep options open" approach. This means that initial placements and later movements all follow the idea that the next move has several different possibilities. This not only keeps the opponents guessing, but permits rapid response to more developments. In choose these positions, I also look for a locations that on the next move can provide effective blocks to the opposition in at least two locations. Co-inventor/publisher Günter Cornett discusses the game in an interview on this site. Also available at Brettspielwelt (as Packeis am Pol).
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Alvydas Jakeliunas/Günter Cornett; Bambus;; 2005; 2-4
Trick-taking card game played in many variations. In Double Pinochle, before the trick-taking game, players score points for any melds that they can show. This tends to enhance the role of luck of the draw.
Piraten Poker
Michael Schacht-designed card game is a rather simple matter of players making three consecutive secret bids over three treasures before replenishing their hands. Ideally a player would like to win all three bids, but as this is almost always impossible, it becomes mostly a matter of luck of the draw. [Pirate Games] [Periodic Table of Board Games]
Piratenbillard (Cannonball Capture)
Action game for up to four played on a raised linen platform overlaid with a wooden grid. Players use wooden mallets strike under painted balls, attempting to reach the opposite edge – which scores a point – or into the space of another – thereby capturing it. Strategy is hard to find, so dominant is the skill factor. Compared to other action games, this one offers great subtlety and patience which decay as the game goes on, but in the attractive mallet offers a fun tool for all artistes to master. While generally credited to Reinhold Wittig and Abacus, an American company is selling it under the title Cannonball Capture. It's unclear whether there is prior art in this regard or whether Wittig and Abacus are being shamelessly knocked off. [Pirate Games]
Trick-taking game akin to Njet! and Tzuris in which the cards used and the very rules of the game are "negotiated" among the players before play begins. A nice idea, but flawed in that high cards are more useful than low for bidding. Would have been preferable if the cards which are numbered 1-13 were instead numbered -6 to 6 and the absolute values used for bidding purposes. Also, there is a lot of tiring preparation just to play an 8-card hand (five-player version). Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Raucous trading game invented in 1903 by George S. Parker (founder of Parker Bros.) probably comes closest to the feel of being a traditional stock trader, an occupation being quickly replaced by computers. Lots of nonstop and quick fun for a large group. [6-player Games]
Auto racing game for up to six. This is also the number of gears to choose from, cars being able to shift up by two or down by three each turn. Each additional gear allows rolling another six-sided die. The dice are special, having 50 kph on five sides with a blank on the sixth. Players may also choose to do what we call "turbo", allowing addition of 50 or 100 kph depending on gear. The number of 50's achieved is the number of spaces the car moves with tire penalties for exceeding the ratings of the curves. One side of the die has the 50 circled which causes use of a fuel point unless the player finishes on a curve. Separable cardboard track segments in a wide variety of curves and straights are assembled in puzzle fashion to replicate various famous tracks around the world. The detail with which this is done reflects a characteristic Italian sense of style and attention to artistic detail. Cars are small, nicely-made plastic. The dashboard displays are well-made from thick cardboard; plastic pawns are used to note statuses. Overall, deceptively simple, but actually quite a worthy entry in an overpopulated field. It does make a difference how one comes in and out of the turns. Moreover, there are multiple valid driving styles. Players who take the turns too fast may well get in the lead, but will be forced to make a pitstop to repair tires while others may attempt to complete three laps avoiding the pit altogether. The speed and fuel variabilities introduced by the dice are not dramatic, but just enough to upset a too-careful plan. On top of all this, it is easy for players to design their own tracks. One problem is that the English rules are not the best, in the case of the drafting rules an entire paragraph is missing, but various support on the web (B) is available. Overall, recommended for racing fans and particularly for those who've found most auto racing games a bit too divorced from reality.
Traditional gambling card game has endless variations. Unfairly discriminated against because of the gambling element, played with minimal and equal starting stakes it can serve as simply a challenging card game played with the traditional 52-card deck. Sometimes jokers are added as wild cards and also other cards, especially 2's (called deuces) can serve as wild cards as well. Suits are important, but none takes precedence. Usually played by 3 to 7, but sometimes more or fewer, they are dealt hands which are usually reduced to 5 cards or less. Betting and sometimes bluffing are followed by a "showdown" in which all hands are fully revealed, the one with the best combination being the winner. Likely invented by Chinese around 900 A.D., possibly using dominoes. On New Year's Eve, 969, the chronicles record that the Emperor Mu-tsung played "domino cards" with his wife. Another possible origin is the Persian game called As Nas. The 5-player game requires a special deck of 25 cards with 5 suits and is dated to the 17th century. French people who settled in New Orleans played Poque, a card game involving bluffing and betting. Poker traveled up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and west via wagon and train. Many modifications such as stud poker, the draw, and the straight became popular were introduced during the Civil War period. The joker was introduced as a wild card in 1875. Although in 1910, Nevada made it a crime to bet, the Attorney General of California ruled that as the game was based on skill, it could not be prevented by anti-gambling measures. Nevada was to reverse itself only in 1931. The lore of the games in Old West saloons is by now legendary. Over the years, "Dealer's Choice" has become the most popular way as each dealer gets to choose the variant which will be used, thus adding his or her own personal creativity to the proceedings.
Having recently looked at Scripts & Scribes and now this one makes it seem that self-publishing a small package card game and promoting it on has become a new trend to observe. While it's unlikely any of these will prove hits, it's a reasonable way for game creators to get notice and feedback. The conceit of this one is that the king has died and potential successors are vying for support among four groups called peasants, guilds, merchants and clergy. The primary driver of play is the simultaneous option selection mechanism familiar from games such as Adel Verpflichtet and Basari. Here the two possibilities are either to gain supporters in the currently showing group or to draw/play cards. The one clever idea is that the number of actions one gets varies directly with the number of players who did not choose the same option. One clever idea can certainly be enough to make a fine game, but here the "star" is sadly let down by all the supporting cast, sets, costumes, etc. The cards one gets are mostly of the "take that!" variety which would be bad enough, but even worse, many of them will often be more harmful to the player than helpful, or merely neutral, making questionable whether cardplay should ever be chosen at all. But this is not the only indication of underdevelopment. Victory requires having thirteen pieces including at least one from each group. In one playing, the single clergy card happened to be at the bottom of the deck, meaning that no one had acquired a rare clergy piece before then. More than one player had more than the required thirteen pieces and no one had been able to draw the right card(s) to reduce them. This meant that whichever eligible player happened to go first on that round – a privilege which is simply passed to the left – would win. This unedifying ending raises the question whether it is truly the game being played, or is it the player. On the other hand, playings with many players may turn into endless battles which no one can win. Cards and artwork are of good quality, but unfortunately the brown and yellow cards look too similar. They are distinguishable when placed side by side, but much less so when only one is being regarded, which is quite often. Similarly, the cards often refer to the group names, but do not mention the relevant color, which can be difficult to remember as the pieces are unlabeled. The pieces themselves, being stackable plastic, are of nice quality, but as their shapes do not directly relate to the theme, it's not clear that they're much of a win over simple cubes. Meanwhile the $19 (+6) price has probably been increased to compensate. Without signficant alterations this limited press run deserves to remain just that, limited.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4
John Clowdus; Small Box Games; 2007; 2-5
It's the 70's again; no, not the 1970's, but the 070's and Vesuvius is about to erupt all over the ancient Roman town of Pompeii. Players erect new buildings (lay cards) in a 7x7 grid trying to score as many points as possible. Not allowed to place a card of the same symbol or color next its match, they nevertheless seek to locate them in the same row and/or column to score the most points, while hoping to get rid of all cards before the appearance of the two volcano cards, salted somewhere into the lower part of the deck. Each player also has one joker (statue) card and an interrupt card which allows taking the turn right after any player, once. While this card initially caused misgivings because the only way to resolve players simultaneously wishing to use it is in real-time competition, in practice it is not much of a problem since players' three-card hands usually have different needs. The cards can be a bit difficult to decipher, but maybe this was supposed to be part of the challenge. One does get used to them after a bit and the city comes to look quite nice as it builds up. Deciding what to play is usually more a matter of finding the only play which scores points rather than choosing between several point-scoring options – to change this, it might be better if the hand size were increased (perhaps to 5 or 6?). This might increase the amount that players need to worry about the subsequent plays of others as well. Otherwise, there is a strong solitaire feeling, the result being only an average tile-laying experience. [Frequently Played]
Pony Express
Alan Moon design is really two games in one, the first a betting game on racing horses (the pony express theme being rather inapt), the second a more mechanical, Can't Stop-like affair of using dice to race them. During the betting phase, players take turns placing bets of prescribed values in decreasing amounts on any of seven horses. At the same time they also play a card on the horse which will become part of that horse's hand, not to mention, using a rather ingenious deux ex machina, changing the odds rating for that horse. In the deck are two special "Move Up" cards which in the race can be used to permit the horse to move up to catch it's nearest leader, but in the betting can have a devasting effect on the odds calculation. Players take control of horses by virtue of the fact of having a plurality of bets on them. Some players may control several horses and others none at all. Ties are resolved by having the horse operated by a decent random decent algorithm which will probably fail in most cases. A horse always moves one segment forward (there are nineteen in all), but may move an additional one forward if the color of the card played matches that of the current segment. It may also move forward further if an optional ten-sided die roll is equal to or less than the card number. If this works, yet one more die roll may be tried for the same reward. The risk is great however as a failed die roll means no movement at all. When three horses have arrived, their owners are paid a bonus and then all bettors are paid based on the size of their bets and the horses' odds, the payoffs being reduced for second- and third-place showings. Overall generally pleasing, if a bit confusing to learn. There may be a bit too much luck of the draw and of the dice for some. Strategically, getting one's favorite to the longest odds with yellow cards appears to be the best approach, especially since this horse gets to move before any of the others. The variant which permits horse owners to choose their favorite lane based on the horse's hand is recommended as otherwise players may feel there is too little planning and control.
Alan R. Moon
Pool Position
Multi-player game of tourists lounging around a posh pool in Italy. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs, i.e. we, are selling prime chaise longue positions – naturally the nearer the pool the higher our bribe will be. Our audacity is limited by action points, distributed in the following novel way: each player simultaneously reveals a random card from his identical deck, à la Raj. But it is not one's own card that gives the action points, but the next lower one played that round, with a wraparound occurring at th bottom. Meanwhile, on the board itself a player may either place his towel marker, or, for the same cost, re-place another's, tossing the latter's into the pool! Easy decision, right? Sure, except that each row and column of towels is overseen by a different pool attendant, each named Luigi. With each toss Luigi moves closer and eventually will prevent tossing in his rank or file altogether. When enough Luigis have done so, play ends. This brainchild of Thorsten Gimmler, more recently responsible for (Geschenkt, Odin's Ravens, and Cape Horn) is probably a little too random to earn large number of replays, but has a fun feeling and is certainly worth trying out. Possibly it can even be improved by the simple variant of having each player actively choose which card to use, thus affording many mind games. Add to that some Paris Paris-like compensation for unplayed cards or tossed towels and this could be quite good indeed.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Portobello Market
The inventor's previous publication, Die Dolmengötter, was a pure abstract with an overlaid theme and this one is no different. Now the setting is the famous London antiques district in Notting Hill, which also figures prominently in the Lovejoy detective novels. The board is composed of a series of triangles in various sizes, their contents being stalls for shops. Where a triangle joins one or more other triangles there is a plaza. Players have clock markers labeled 2, 3 and 4. On a turn a player flips one of these over and places wooden shop pieces equal to the number. The trick is that the shops must go into the triangle where the bobby figure is currently standing. The bobby may be moved, but possibly at the cost of some victory points, points which may go to another player if two or more of his stalls are o'erleaped. Also possible is to draw a customer out of the cloth bag. These are meeples in three different colors representing customers who are posh, middling or indigent and which are placed in a plaza. When a row of shops is full and customers stand at either end, the row is scored for all present, the richer the customers, the better the payoff. In addition, players may use up their 2 and 4 clocks by placing them in the middle of a triangle for further scoring. Every year these days it seems there are at least a few of these multi-player luck-free, lookahead games. Their fans know what they like and probably the rest can take them or leave them. While this one is right in their wheelhouse, there is nothing here to particularly recommend it to the rest. Certainly not thematically. The illustrated board and wooden pieces are quite well realized, however.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating:5
Thomas Odenhoven; Schmidt Spiele; 2007; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Portrayal (Identik)
There are party games like
Pictionary that are about drawing and there are others like that like Taboo are about describing, but it's unusual to have both combined. Here one player looks at a whimsical, even crazy drawing and tries to describe it in just ninety seconds as all the while the others are drawing it. After time expires each player hands his drawing to another for grading. Only at that time only does anyone find out ten sentences that come along with the picture and describe items which must appear in each rendition. Each satisfactory element is worth a point and one, determined randomly via ten-sided die, is worth a triple score. The describer is scored too, being penalized for each item that nobody managed to draw. The sketches are generally humorous, e.g. two thieves carrying away a mansion on their backs while a little girl smokes a pipe in the street or an alligator tennis player wearing a human shirt, etc. While all of this seems good at first, it turns out that usefully describing a picture so that it can be drawn quickly may just be too difficult a task for most people; imagining what details the illustrators need to know first and which to save for last is too far from intuitive; as a consequence the process of drawing can get frustratingly unbearable by the third or fourth attempt. In addition this feels underdeveloped; the various picture features should probably be rated for difficulty, not just all left as equal. Finally, having another player grade the pictures is kind of dissatisfying because the drawers don't really get to find out what they did well and what they didn't – the descriptions no longer being available by the time they get their pictures back. At least this complaint is fixable by the consumer. The rather large box includes quite a generous number of pictures, drawing pads and pencils along with die and an unusual timer. All in all this tends to only work well with very select groups. Chances are that those looking for a drawing game will be much happier with Telestrations. Also published as Identik. [Party Games]
LLLL5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5)
William Jacobson & Amanda Kohout; Braincog, Inc.-2010/Asmodee-2010; 2005; 3-10
Apart from the recently reviewed Leinen Los, games on boat racing do not rapidly spring to mind. Of course there are some sail racing gamesAuf Kurs, Regatta and Race the Wind – but they are concerned with wind changes and are thus a boat of a different color. Actually, there doesn't seem to be a good reason for this one to be about boats either – cars might have served – except maybe for the sake of variety, always a worthy goal. The key innovations here are the "three-sided dice". Well, they really have more than three sides, but two are so rounded that only the sides bearing 1 through 3 can possibly appear. The detailed, hard plastic boats race around buoys on a large, hexagonal map. Initially each rolls only one die to move a number of spaces, which is also saved for the next turn. The only alteration of direction allowed is one sixty degree change in direction at the start of the turn. On each subsequent turn another die may be added, or at most one may be subtracted, plus an existing ones may be re-rolled. The main problem is that the board is littered with islands to avoid. Running into one gives damage points in the amount of one per overrun, four of which sink the boat. The instructions also specify that a boat must avoid a crash if at all possible, meaning that it might be forced to turn off course considerably, often an even worse result. Having fallen behind there is not much of a catch-up mechanism, except to hope that the leaders make mistakes, but being leaders they can afford to be conservative and should be able to do so. It is thus up to laggards to take risks, pushing matters hoping to get exactly the right roll to get back into contention without crashing. Doing this is rendered even more difficult by the fact that leading boats tend to be obstacles which must not be landed on. The maps can be re-arranged in different patterns and are two sided, one more difficult than the other. In addition, each of the three races in a match is different and very likely different with each playing as well. The board also holds a scoring track, nicely represented as a river or canal. Buoy markers are of assembled cardboard, clever, but tending to fall apart if not glued. Most of the decisions here are tactical, even obvious, being maining a matter of counting. Still, one can decide whether to go for a tight line (shorter but with less speed out of the turn) or a loose one and one can also decide the importance of saving a "1" die, eminently useful in avoiding collisions. There is perhaps one major decision in each race, i.e. when to take a big gamble which may easily go very wrong and lead to disaster. But somehow this game earns more fun than it seems to deserve, the why being something of a mystery. Of course like most race games it is very good thematically, but perhaps it's just the schadenfreude of seeing others' boats totally mess up that provides extra pleasure? From a design perspective, there's a lot here to admire. By utilizing dice with a very small range and drastically limiting turning, Corné has elegantly modelled an inertial structure that more complicated affairs (cf. Bolide) could learn from. At the time of this writing, a Powerboats 2 expansion has been announced, which apparently adds seven tiles, presumably new obstacles to avoid. [6-player Games]
LHMM7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Corné van Moorsel; Cwali; 2008; 2-6; 8+
Premiere (Showmanager, Atlantic Star)
Game of impresarios putting on stage shows. There is a great fun factor in the parodic names of the shows and actors and in particular casting total mismatches. Fun is enhanced by having each player they read out their cast in the best Broadway promoter fashion as they launch a new show. This nicely clean system is good for three to six. Although there are healthy doses of luck and memory, there is some strategy as well. In particular, try to delay putting on your first show until you can find out what show will be in the most lucrative location. Once that is set, you can put all your energy into making that show your best one and probably win the game. Usually it is okay to put on a lousy show in the worst location, or if one happens to put on a good one there early, feel free to borrow from it heavily in order to put on excellent ones elsewhere. Premiere is the original edition with flavor locations set in Germany. Showmanager provided worldwide locations, including the little-known Troisdorf, home of the publisher. The Atlantic Star edition changed the venue to cruise ships and made a minor rule change: it is permitted to have two performer cards left over at the end. [6-player Games]
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele
Der Prestel Schlossgarten
Somewhat bizarre game of castle garden construction has a very inviting appearance, but is betrayed by poor rules editing and underdevelopment that limit balance and enjoyment. Prestel published its first game in 1998, another in each of 2000 and 2002, then followed with four more, of which this is one, in 2004. It appears to be inventor Ulf Siebert's third publication. Players begin by randomly placing variously-valued square tiles to form a "board". As one most often acquires the tiles nearest their starting position, it can be unfair when these tiles are low valued. Then each locates his king, builder and gardener pieces and takes a positioning card. At the start of each turn another card is drawn – another problem as it adds downtime. We immediately changed this rule so that two cards are always held and a replacement drawn at turn's end. In any case the player must reveal one of these cards and then use up to 5 movement points to position their figures to match the card. As the cards can be oriented in any of the four cardinal directions and since opposing figures can be used as stand-ins, this can take quite a bit of time, especially if one wants to find the absolutely best move. Usually we tended to just take the first or second we could find. But at least most positions are achievable since diagonal movement, jumping and bumping are all permitted. Once this is done, the player flips an unowned tile adjacent to one of his workers and may claim it if he can replace it with one of his own constructions, which come in sizes 1, 2 and 3. Most frequently a player chooses to replace not only this tile, but also an opponent's previous construction at the same time. A few points are left ambiguous, but apparently this is the way it was meant to work. The contest ends when someone reaches 21 points without even guaranteeing the same number of turns for each player, so clearly the earlier one goes, the beter. The box and tiles are beautifully rendered and it's very inviting to open up and start playing. The artist has done his or her job amazingly well, bu the editor must have been very rushed or not known his job to leave matters in this state. Recommended only for tinkerers who want to create their own game with these handsome components.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Preußische Ostbahn (German Railways)
It's not uncommon these days to see a German game carrying an English title, but here we have the rarer case of an American publisher coming out with a German one. "Prussian Eastern Railway" is another of those auction a stock or build track for a railroad in which you hold shares games, this time set in Germany. As a railroad reaches more cities, it provides more income per share. When two railroads join one another dividends are paid. Each railroad offers a different attribute. Some don't pay extra to enter cities, some build track cheaply, some get extra income, some can only build two per turn while the title railroad can build four per turn. A new wrinkle in this series of games has been introduced to address any rich-get-richer problem. Now in addition to railroads, players are also ranked by income. To start each turn a player places into any cup a number of cubes equal to his rank. These are then drawn out randomly to determine who has a turn, and when. This helps the problem, but unfortunately does not go far enough, meanwhile introducing other issues. For even though one gets more turns, this is not always helpful if the leaders hold significantly more funds. Any worthwhile stock that can be put up is also quickly gobbled up by these same leaders. Currently the only tactic that trailing players can employ is to cautiously bid up leaders, hoping to trick them into spending more than they should and then not bid one another up, a task that's very difficult to accomplish both fairly and effectively. The other issue with drawing is that it can lead to long periods of downtime for some players, which in any game is pretty much the antithesis of fun. The best approach in all of the games of this series is actually one of restraint. One should generally avoid buying a stock in the initial buying round, or least avoid paying more than just the amount needed to raise income by the minimum amount. Instead, just let others run railroads, then buy into whichever ones have become the most successful, the key being to retain enough buying power so as to be able to outbid others. After that, one should buy into whatever stocks the last-placed player is holding because that player is most likely to get the turns needed to expand his railroads. From this it should be apparent that the chief two talents needed to play well are evaluating the worth of stocks and deciding the ideal railroad to put up for sale. The presentation, as usual for the Winsome line, are typically dodgy, but functional. Hills, for example, are denoted by bright blue dots; is that intuitive to anyone? Was a brown triangle so much more difficult to place there? Track is represented by cubes in several different colors which are placed on the shiny paper map. In addition the instructions are a bit unclear in places. In particular it is important to note that even if more than two railroads join at the same time (quite common in Berlin), still only one dividend is paid. Despite the difficulties and the difficulty of keeping everyone in contention all the way to the end, the decisions are difficult to make and there is some tactical decisionmaking on the board. An experienced group, perhaps totaling not more than three can make this work. Also available is an expansion called Preußische Ostbahn: Berlin-Stettiner Expansion, a paragraph or so of rules plus a half dozen cubes. If available there is no reason not to include it; it is mainly used to complicate play in the all-important Berlin, in particularly having a strong ability to cut off other railroads. This has since been re-published as German Railways (Queen), possibly having rules changes.
LMMH6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Harry Wu; Winsome Games-2008; 3-5; 90 [Shop]
Princes of the Renaissance
Martin Wallace multi-player game and negotiation treads where Junta has marched before. An even closer predecessor is Putsch as there also players take turns sequentially rather than simultaneously and there is the same concern with each country's status, here treated similar to a stock price. Following previous criticsm of Attila, should this be called "Lorenzo the Stockbroker"? This part hearkens back to the designer's 1630something, but solves one of its main problems – getting stuck with a weak country – by letting players gradually get into up to three countries during the course of the contest. Most of the aforementioned titles are found in the Military Games section, but you are reading about this one here under Society Games because the effects of war are amazingly minimal. Players must win auctions to control one of the combatants and even a loss never destroys an army card. The only effects are winning a victory laurel – part of a set collection game – and the changed city-state status levels. A nice feature are the many illustrated historical personality cards available for auction à la Lords of the Sierra Madre. Here they have dual roles: besides conferring some minor game advantage, they also constitute a share in the city to which they belong. The latter reason means these items have minimum costs which feel a bit too high compared to the average income. Players may feel their options a bit too constrained. Also troubling is the apparent dominance of the military approach. This is exacerbated by there being so few die rolls, which can increase the chances of a win by lucky rolling. Since this is a negotiation game, that opponents could pool money and influence to stop a leader, but it seems difficult since after the sharing that may not be all that much to share back. This is another "board game" with an unnecessary board (see St. Petersburg). Geography is depicted, but has absolutely no effect on play. The theme is further obscured by the fact that anyone can control any city at any time. Warfrog continues to be plagued with communication design problems with more symbols being needed on tiles and at least one having a copy-paste error. Not surprisingly for a venture of this complexity there is a fair amount of errata again too. With many auctions and negotiations, a playing can last a few hours, limiting its general appeal, the likely audience probably being fans of multi-player war games and for them this is certainly preferable to Diplomacy or Macchiavelli, but for master strategists, negotiation and tactics have replaced the more enjoyable planning that was featured in the designer's Empires of the Ancient World and Liberté. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Martin Wallace
Die Prinzen von Machu Picchu (The Princes of Machu Picchu)
if no image probably out of print
For those tired of the artificial feeling of a rondel game (Antike, Hamburgum, Navegador, and to some extent Glen More being examples of the genre) what if the rondel no longer looked like one? What if instead it were an area map of the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu? But just the same, each player has one pawn and by moving into an area, activates it. There are other variations from the usual rondel pattern too. Since the map has two dimensions it's not required to only move in a clockwise direction, but also possible to go laterally or backwards. On the other hand, there are five spaces which produce goods (corn, llamas, cacao, textiles or ceramics) which only activate once per turn. In addition there are two re-usable places to purchase assistants for one of three temples and the temples themselves, which tend to use up llamas or other goods. The point of this activity is to move a player's other pawn around the twenty-space Inca trail (a real life place, and in a way, another rondel), a complete circuit of which grants a player a random draw of three victory point cards, after which two must be discarded. Also re-usable are two locations permitting establishing workers in the five production areas. These mean that whenever anyone visits such an area, one gets production of the items just by paying a minimum amount. In the central plaza there is also a simple market where players may buy and sell products, corn being used as the equivalent of money. Not moving at all allows the player to claim a moon disk conferring some extra item or trail progress. When three are drawn the round ends. The end of play is uncertain: if the players hire all the temple assistants before the ninth turn the Inca are considered to have been sufficiently devoted to the gods and there is a sudden ending. Each victory card shows a combination of a two products and/or temples. The player scores by multiplying the number of such card images by the corresponding workers. However, if the players were insufficiently devoted and play ends normally, Pizzaro and co. are considered to have arrived to conquer the empire and Now the previously meaningless gold amounts on the victory cards are considered, the player having the most receives a score multiplier of three, the second most gold getting doubled, and so on. The large box comes with a great many brightly colored wooden pieces, the four product types not being seen elsewhere. The llamas are even stand up figures. The map is roomy enough to accommodate them all, but can be somewhat confusing to figure out, particularly as the adjacencies are difficult to discern. Perhaps this is meant as an additional challenge for the players. More problematic is that it tends to be rather confusing to remember which temple places are for hiring assistants and which for making sacrifices; there are double-side cards in English and German to aid memory. The map is also double-sided to support both English and German. The randomness of the victory cards can be rather frustrating if one never manages to draw more of whatever project has been started. They might better be termed lottery tickets. For this reason, as well as of downtime and just downright feeling of making progress, it's best to keep the number of players down, way down. Otherwise one just doesn't even get enough cards to put any sense into planning. Another imbalance is that not all commodities appear to be created equal. Because it's needed so often, even on others' turns, corn is rather important and because they permit teleportation and sacrifices, so are llamas. If then, one happens to draw these particular types of victory cards – there are the same number of each type in the deck – simply concentrate on these items which are already more intrinsically valuable than others. That win-win doesn't seem quite fair to others, even if the two places to gain corn and llamas are slightly more difficult to reach. All of these imbalances might have been more acceptable if play didn't require so much time. The added attention to theme, while admirable, does not go far enough to compensate either.
MMMH5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Mac Gerdts; PD-Verlag-2008/Rio Grande-2008; 2-5; 120 Amazon
Principe, Il
Board game of the Italian Renaissance by Emanuele (Oltremare) Ornella. For those who know Marchands d'Empire/Himalaya, there is a bit of the same feeling here, sans the programmed movement aspect. Each turn players are dealt a number of cards which they use in combination to fulfill publically available "contracts". This grants certain advantages, in particular the ability to place pieces on the north Italian map where an area dominance sub-game is underway. It is here that most victory points are earned. The most novel feature of the entire affair is that just after receiving cards, each player tosses in two. These are all collected together, divided into lots and auctioned off. The entire process has challenging decisionmaking and dilemmas, though it seems that the subsequent phases might yet be improved to make it hold even more interest. As to the rest, the area dominance game is so friendly with respect to ties and second places that the whole contest seems to lose significance, or can turn on very small factors. The contract fulfillment phase has the annoying feature in common with the bad Empire Builder "open contracts" variant wherein anyone can fill any contract card. In this way a player can rather easily and yet completely unknowingly ruin entirely the day of someone else who was depending on doing the exact same thing. Finally, the design has been canted so that upon conclusion of every contract six or seven discrete game functions must be performed – at which point any pretense to elegance has sailed out the window. Recommended for logistics experts, if any. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High
Privateer (Pirateer)
Abstract with ostensible theme of up to four pirates fighting over treasure. Player pieces travel on a grid using dice to move as in Backgammon. Of some interest, probably best as a two player game, but with less replay value than Backgammon. Questionable marketing techniques of the publisher on the newsgroups leave a bad taste in the mouth for many cognoscenti. Later published in slightly different form as Pirateer. [Pirate Games]
Pro Draft
Got this game of drafting a gridiron football team with excitement as there were cards showing actual football stars like Larry Csonka, but this was a very long time ago, back when it first came out. Seemed then that there was too much luck of the draw. Even worse, there was the ability to trade one's worst player for another player's best. It didn't get played anymore after that.
LMMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
unknown; Parker Brothers-1974; 3-4; 30
Word game of guessing what word other players have hidden behind their displays is something of a multiplayer Hangman. There are limited tactical possibilities, but mostly of interest for word fans and vocabulary building.
Programmer's Nightmare
Players use cards representing computer instructions, in this innovative game, to create something resembling a computer program, but with the important difference that they have controlling interests in particular cards, i.e. whether, when the program counter reaches them, the instructions execute or not. Various wild effects make matters entertainingly unpredictable, but long term strategy is still possible. Downsides are the rather simple presentation, ambiguities in some of the cards and above all, that some players are eliminated (when they run out of bits or life points) quite some time before the end. [6-player Games]
Tom Jolly; Jolly Games-1998; 2-6
The design-graphics-publishing team responsible for Tikal, Torres, Java and Mexica return to North America, paying a visit to the homes of the Hopi and Zuni. It is also something of a return to Torres in the high level of abstraction as players are essentially solving a puzzle in building the eponymous pueblo from pieces which are three-dimensional rectangles, joined at a right angle at one end. Players hold both neutral pieces and those of their own color, placing them so as to minimize the visibility of the latter, by the end producing a complicated, conglomerate structure. This is a good illustration of "path-dependency", the general concept that the end result derives less from any wise overall design at the outset, but more from the tugs and tweaks that happen along the way. The idea applies well to the body of law produced by Congress and many other situations. A game unexpectedly similar to this is Streetcar, as the course of playing can be mapped to its two stages, first the building, then the final scoring. (It's true that Pueblo has scoring during the building phase which Streetcar does not, but on the other hand the expertness of the latter's building contributes more in the long term.) I'm not sure if we will hear all of the complaining about the end game for this one that we have heard for Streetcar, however. On the good side, the rules are very easy to understand and there are not many of them. There is no secret information to worry about and nothing to bid on or worry about how much to value. The downside is that the experience is disappointingly tactical as the pueblo changes so quickly that there is relatively little long-term planning available. For those who might enjoy it, forcing opponents to take a bunch of points all in one go offers a higher-than-average nastiness factor. Andreas Seyfarth, inventor of Puerto Rico, has written "A game shall be fun and be based on a storyline - if possible." I don't think he would find much of the latter here. Moreover, the blocks do not much resemble an actual pueblo, either. [Holiday List 2002]
Puerto Rico
Invented by Andreas Seyfarth, creator of Waldmeister and Manhattan, it is a game of Caribbean colonization similar in scope and style to Princes of Florence and Traders of Genoa, also published by Alea. All of these games feature a wide variety of options and multiple strategic paths, words near and dear to the heart of the sophisticated game player. In fact, so typical and impressive are these games that it becomes necessary to coin the term "Alea-style" and heap praise on Stefan Brück, their publisher. Just as in Princes of Florence (and Waldmeister), the player operates on his own tableau, here divided into town and country. For the country he drafts plantations of up to five different types and in the city, mills to process their output or other buildings, which confer some special advantage not normally allowed. Selling crops confers cash to buy more buildings while sending them back to Spain gives victory points. Points are also granted for buildings at the end. Although the special rules for filling ships and satisfying the demands of trade are interesting, probably the most novel feature is the drafting of player functions. These are seven hardback cards, each of which performs a different function. Each player will draft one of them in turn, but all players will then perform the function, with the drafter getting a minor bonus. Absent but not missed is all the negotiation from Traders of Genoa (which suggests that the latter's systems might have been flipped over so that there was normally no negotiation and that it come into play only when it mattered enough that the active player was willing to pay for the privilege). Functions which are not chosen receive a bonus coin à la Vinci to make them more attractive the next time around. There appears to be a lot of strategy to learn, but a few thoughts can be offered. Buying several quarries early along with a hospice can be effective for a strategy of collecting buildings quickly. Quarries may be the nearest thing to the jester in Princes of Florence. Players not buying a hospice should probably try for a hacienda. When deciding what crops to grow, the workings of the ship and the trader make it wise to avoid what your right hand neighbor grows and to strongly consider growing what your left hand neighbor does. Corn is good because it doesn't require processing, but Indigo may be undervalued. Perhaps obviously, the large buildings can be quite valuable. The graphic design is wonderfully evocative, although more color-coding of the buildings would have helped as they are remotely stored on personal displays. The theme works well, although it would have been more intuitive to craft the functions as events rather than occupations. For example, "New Settlers Arrive" would have worked better than the mere "Settler". The American edition renames the "overseer" as the "Craftsman". Overall, should strongly appeal to the fans of the other recent Alea offerings. It feels slightly less complicated than Princes of Florence and those bothered by having to study so closely the activities and holdings of opponents will enjoy this more as it is not so important and there is nothing hidden apart from the victory points. Of course, it may still be over-complicated for the inexperienced. The only thing which may keep it from being a classic along the lines of Die Siedler von Catan, Euphrat & Tigris, and Carcassonne may be that all of these are wide open enough in their designs that every game tends to be very different – this is much less the case here. Surprising that while everything else pretty much scales for different numbers of players, the Trader does not. Four may be the ideal size. Expanded by Treasure Chest. [design analysis] [variant] [Periodic Table of Board Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 9
Andreas Seyfarth; Alea-2002/Rio Grande-2002; 3-5 (2)
[Buy it at Amazon]
Very involved negotiation card game set in banana republics. Overwhelmed by a bewildering number of options for the players and too much importance given to the luck of the draw.
Pyramiden des Jaguar, Die
Two-player card game features a deck numbered 1 to 40. On a turn a player offers the opponent two hand cards: the opponent takes one, then the player, the other. These must be located in the owners' pyramids in strict ascending sequence. The problem is how much space to leave between cards; the goal is to offer two cards where one has space and the opponent does not. Should this happen, the opponent overlays a card and marks it with a wooden jaguar head piece. This means that the player gets to advance on the track and depending on where he lands, possibly perform a special action, e.g. remove a card from hand, remove a card from board, etc. The pyramids hold only a few cards, meaning the strategic opportunities are less than elsewhere, but is probably suitable for those seeking a very light two-player game with a feeling akin to Racko. One can probably do better with something like Flowerpower in this vein. "The Pyramids of the Jaguar" is a re-make of Pacal, which as far as I can determine, lacked the scoring track and started the game with the pyramids filled. Both versions are set in the Mayan empire at its height.

- Q -
Trick-taking card game about various kinds of quacks — bloodletters, accupuncturists, electro-shockists, pill pushers etc. — trying to cure the most patients without in the process killing them. This is reflected in a challenging problem of trying to have the highest total of cards played, but not exceeding the printed value on the patient. Mostly a matter of luck of the draw, although almost compensated for by the very humorous card art and descriptions of different types of patients.
Queen's Necklace
Card game of pre-Revolution France by Brunos Faidutti and Cathala is also the topic of a decent film (with Hilary Swank, Adrien Brody and Christopher Walken) based on the Alexandre Dumas, père, novel. The story connection is not particularly strong even though all of the elements are there, attractively-illustrated to boot. Instead it's a game of jewel acquisition in four varieties and then maximizing profits on the sale. The spine of play is the ability to draft cards worth a total value of up to ten points. Each card has a cost which declines each time it is not taken until it eventually disappears altogether. (This dial interface is nicely handled by use of small golden rings.) Just as
in Citadels, cards confer a number of special powers forcing players to consider a wide variety of possible eventualities. There is much to consider, almost all tactical in nature. In something unusual for its acquisition type, the rate can be very irregular. One player may build up a huge lead while another is held scoreless for the game. But so huge are the possible gains that no lead is safe – there is really no sure way to guarantee or lock down anything. It's another good tactical outing for those who enjoyed Citadels, perhaps slightly less exciting without the roles. Some male players may need to see if they can pass their masculinity check as included is a necklace which play of the corresponding card dictates must be donned. [Days of Wonder]
Evolutionary card game by the designers of Cosmic Encounter is very accessible, not very historical and rather subject to luck of the draw. Also published were Quirks Expansion Kit 1 and Quirks Expansion Kit 2, both of which simply add more cards to the deck.
Abstract for up to five players is of the "disappearing board" type. Each turn a player's pawn hops one space and then removes an unoccupied piece of the board. Pawns unable to move are out of the game. The last player surviving wins. Quick and not without interest, but highly dependent on the skills and whims of other players.
Quo Vadis
Reiner Knizia's first big one is a negotiation game about machinations in the public life of Ancient Rome. Those familiar with the cursus honorum (course of honor) actually pursued by Roman magistrates will readily recognize it in the board. At first glance appears to be a no-holds-barred negotiation outing – and therefore prone to long delays and boring interludes – but actually plays better than it à priori seems. In fact negotiation is pretty much limited to the first half, after which it shifts gears into becoming an interesting match in lookahead and outguess. Features nice plastic pawn figures representing the acanthus. Title is Latin for "Where are you going?" – probably deriving from the famous novel and film of the same name.

if no image probably out of print
Buy it at Amazon
Board-less tile-placement game. The number 6 pervades play as tiles each have two traits that come in a variety of that number, a shape and a color. The hand size is also six. Players add up to six of their tiles to a single row or column so long as one row trait is all the same and the other trait all different, e.g. after finishing, the row might be all blue, but each tile a different shape, or, each the same shape, but all in different colors. Often the smart play is to create a row parallel to an existing one which gives points for both the row and the resulting columns. Scoring is simple, giving a point for each tile in a resulting row/column. Another good play is to complete a row of six which gives double points. Physically the chunky wooden tiles in bright colors and interesting patterns – circles, squares, diamonds, "propellers", etc. – are very satisfying, especially as they can stand on edge on their own. This is sometimes compared to Scrabble, which has some basis, though not for a verbal person who is more charged by the search through his vocabulary for a word that works. This is Scrabble for those who dislike spelling perhaps. Although playing defense has a role here, it is much less territorial and therefore less competitive than the somewhat similar Ingenious. Indeed, this can be reasonably played by children as young as, you guessed it, 6. Scheduled to be expanded in 2009 by Qwirkle Cubes which converts the pieces to cubes that can be rolled like dice to obtain differing values.
Susan McKinley Ross; MindWare-2006; 2-4
MLMM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
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