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Ulysses
Game in which the bored Olympian gods direct the path of the hapless Homeric hero hither and thither across the Mediterranean Sea. As in Expedition, a player holds secret destination cards and tries to get the ship to visit each of the corresponding ports. Success depends on a combination of bluff and card management. The current player proposes the next destination and then any wishing to dispute it may play objection cards to propose a new one. Then begins a game of "chicken" in which players must continue to play objection cards or drop to determine the ship's eventual next port. But this is not all. On a turn a player may use cards to build more and more of the nicely-made wooden temples. Each of these expands the number of cards drawn in a new turn, but also makes other activities, such as curing plagues or swapping in new goal cards, more expensive. There seem to be multiple approaches, whether it be a quick win attempt, a huge temple buildup or some sort of control of the plague locations. The best advice is probably "know thy opponent" as what works with some is not guaranteed to work with others. The Italian sense of style is evident in the beautifully made board and cards although it's surprising to find a vase rather than a box on the Pandora cards. On the other hand, would they have had boxes in Ancient Greece? Players who enjoy the bluffing of a Heimlich & Co. and the card duels of a Taj Mahal ought to enjoy this one also. One caveat: although permitted by the instructions, do not attempt with more than four players as then the objections can be piled so high that no one can get anywhere and the endgame becomes a long and frustrating experience. [summary]
Um Krone und Kragen (To Court the King)
Dice game set in a royal court in days of yore. Players begin rolling just three dice, attempting to achieve one of the combinations found on a largish number of cards in the central pool. Achieving a combination, which is generally not difficult, grants a special capability, permanently either adding a die to the player's supply or giving some special ability to manipulate dice results. There are certain difficulties, the main one being that the publisher has not supported the design with much gusto. Not only the cards, but also the player aids are too small. Consequently the icons and text are too small, making figuring out what one has and can do rather difficult at a glance. But some of the modes of play can be confusing too, at least at first, especially those which provide a pre-set result that can later be re-rolled. Such systems may exclude some of the usual dice game audience. On the other hand, the decisionmaking is mostly mechanical rather than strategic. Programming a competent computer opponent would not be difficult. This game is another in a long line of attempts to improve on Yahtzee (of which Easy Come, Easy Go, because it can move fast enough to hold the excitement is probably still the best). Alternatively, you could see it as a version of Outpost, stripped way, way down. Marrying together mechanisms that were not meant for one another can be intriguing, but combining dice and a technology tree has not yielded an exceptional result this time.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Thomas Lehmann; Amigo/Rio Grande; 2006; 2-5
Uncle Happy's Train Game
The Empire Builder system is here simplified almost to the point of unrecognizability. The board is a map of the United States. Each player get three state cards and spins the spinner trying to connect states with crayon lines. Connecting two states for which you have cards gets a new card. Connecting five states gets the win. Not much of a game except for having something to play with small children. [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games]
Uncle Wiggily
Pleasant game for children has wonderful atmosphere and is full of fun words like rheumatism, Skeezix and Pipsiwah, but typically not much skill and a lot of luck. However, not bad for the game technology of the year it was invented, 1916. The game board was changed in 1923, 1949 and 1955. It remained in the Milton Bradley catalog until 1966 when the franchise passed to Parker Brothers. The object in this one is to be the first to reach Dr. Possum's office. Based on the character of Uncle Wiggily Longears who first appeared 1910 in Uncle Wiggily's Story Book by Howard Roger Garis (1872-1961).
... und Tschüss!
Card game in which players bid for points on the table using dealt starting cards. The lowest bidder is eliminated each round, which is a bit of drag for players no longer in play, but the game usually goes fairly quickly so this is not serious. There is strategy and bluff in choosing to drop out early with low cards. Rule which gives the overall winner of each round the ability to improve his hand by discarding feels backward. A bit subject to luck of the draw, but worth a try or three as a very quick filler.
Martin Wallace
Union Pacific
The re-issue of Airlines adapted to railroads. Nicer components, better handling of the deck, the use of cash rather than a scorecard, better graphics and more play options are all great additions to the system. Unfortunately, the idea of flipping tokens to sabotage a route has been lost and the board largely become useless because one can almost always expand any line. Moreover, the Union Pacific stock adopts an undue degree of importance. Post-publication rule changes also introduce problems because not all players will have heard of them, requiring a pre-game discussion session. Better to backport the new ideas from this game and play Airlines. [6-player Games] [variant]
Alan R. Moon
Uno
Simple card game of the climbing family has some strategic elements. Essentially the same as Crazy Eights except that the Wild cards are not ranked and some of them force the next player to draw four cards. In addition, there are cards to reverse and skip the current player order.
Uno Attack! represents another salvo in Mattel's campaign to entice every man, woman and child on earth to play some form of Uno. I can see the staff meeting now... (dissolve to flashback)
Marketing Dweeb 1: "Can you believe it? Some people think card games are insufferably boring!"
Game Design Weenie 1: "You don't say."
Marketing Dweeb 2: "Whatever can we do?"
Game Design Weenie 2: "How about we put the cards in a shoe -"
Game Design Weenie 1: "yeah, and make them come shooting out!"
Marketing Dweeb 1: "Can they fly into your soup, your face and all over the floor?"
Game Design Weenie 1: "Sure, but check with Legal ..."
I have to admit it can be rather funny, in the schadenfreude sort of way, when someone is down to just a few cards, or even one, and then he pushes the "draw" button and suddenly a dozen more are spewed at him. To make up for this large number, by the way, sometimes no cards are emitted at all. There are also now wild cards which force all opponents to draw, cards which let you dump all cards of that color and cards which let you swap hands with another's. These latter don't seem well thought out as it's rather unfair to play it and then take a larger hand if it's one of your last cards. There is also a problem with the shooter itself as cards don't emit unless stored upside down. So your new cards come out with everybody able to see them. (Experienced players learn to position their open hand right in front of the chute.) The target group for this game will never read this, but if you are considering it as a gift for such a person, this might not be bad as a gateway as long as you can avoid getting stuck too long in the gate. Otherwise, this is even more random than the already random basic game.
Urland
A Doris & Frank successor to Ursuppe in theme only, probably one of the greatest successes from Essen 2001. Perhaps in response to complaints that every Ursuppe turn was more or less the same, now one has at least three or four different types of turns. There is the turn in which one chooses the island of competition, after that the turn one spends only planning, after that the turn in which one goes last and has a very good chance of knowing what the land of competition will be and finally the neutral turn. As in the predecessor there are still gene cards which permit players to "break" the normal rules, but now the game is one of regional dominance rather than of feeding. In addition, in deciding to breed more fish (which will later walk onto land), one usually helps other players as well as oneself. There seem to be curiously few gene cards, but there is already precedent for an expansion kit. What many players may not realize and what designers will most admire is just how clean all the rules have been kept, how just by details like the clever ordering of the phases, the handling of the scoring track, etc., many extra and niggly rules, e.g. what to do about ties, have been very neatly avoided. Recommended for all strategists. [What's the best evolution game?]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 2001; 3-5
Ursuppe (Primordial Soup)
Amoeba feed, excrete and evolve, somewhat abstractly. Very pliable game system with large number of strategic paths. Can suffer from kingmaker problems, particularly with respect to the "Struggle for Survival" card. Is also often the case that one crucial decision in the game makes all of the difference. [What's the best evolution game?] [variant]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1997; 3-4
Ursuppe Erweiterungssatz: Frisch abgeschmeckt (Primordial Soup: Freshly Spiced)
The kit which expands Ursuppe from four to six players also adds a large number of new gene cards, some quite interesting, others a bit frivolous. As you expected, the resulting game is a bit wilder and longer, but players should have fun for a long time trying out various gene combinations. [6-player Games]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1995; 3-6
Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation
"Cradle of Civilization", ostensibly set in the ancient Sumerian city Uruk connects to it tenuously at best. Really this card game is about collecting invention cards, using cards to generate the resources to play them and to build towns/cities. A player begins with just one face up level I card containing three cubes and that's it. When those are gone there will need to be other cube producers operating. A turn consists of three actions which can include (1) drafting one of three face up cards (which have been shuffled into the deck in increasing levels of sophistication and power), (2) discarding cards matching inventions others have played to get matching color cubes, (3) building a village or city by spending the cubes required by the current epoch card, (4) taking resources produced by an invention card or executing its special function, or (5) discarding a number of identical cards equal to their level in order to play one of them as an invention. The third is quite difficult to do at level III and above so any pair of same color cards can also act as as a wild card. Players may only have five inventions going at a time and each new one can only exceed the previous highest level by one. Salted into the deck are also gods and disaster cards, the former giving a benefit to the most deserving player and the latter dealing trouble to the least. The nice thing is that only every other card has the effect, meaning that players get some warning before they happen, usually. Who's deserving? It depends on the card. Some are auctions, others a catchup mechanism as they favor the player with the smallest population. Some auctions are card auctions; others feature blind bidding of cubes, but it's not too bad as the losers get their bids back and often player holdings are inequal enough that the result is a foregone conclusion anyway. The ancient invention cards are grouped into different colors. Blue – cistern, water wheel, ship, well, canal, pipe, aqueduct – has an aquatic theme while red is architectural. Others, like yellow, are puzzling to pin down: earthenware, kiln, axe, lighthouse, lyre, coinage and cog wheel. Strategic options mainly revolve around cards at the third (of four) levels. The Water Clock permits an extra invention. The Scale awards points for cards that others won't see. The Lyre permits playing an extra invention after play ends. The Pipe gets extra cubes whenever the leading player gets them. The ending usually appears startlingly quickly, but the good news is that this is the rare game about civilization that doesn't last as long as one. It's fun trying to manage the bottlenecks; evaluation is important, but so is recognizing and seizing opportunities. There's not a great deal players can do to one another, no declarations of war for example, but in the auctions and drafting there is enough to have a definite influence. The artwork is sort of grade school history book, but it works with the theme. Only interpreting the icons may sometimes be cause for vexation. Also available is a limited edition expansion (untried) which supports to six players, but it only provides extra pieces; a second copy of the original is also needed.
MMHH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Hanno & Wilfried Kuhn; DDD Verlag-2008; 2-4 [Shop]
Utopia
if no image probably out of print
Germans are too smart to get hung up on it, but Americans are wont to argue whether games should be designed starting with theme or starting with mechanism. But are these two approaches the only ones? Have you ever considered a game designed first from aesthetics? This just might be what we have here. Perhaps someone said, let us create a really cool-looking game with several colorful islands onto which players build some very nice plastic monuments and wonders derived from five civilizations (Chinese, Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Mayan). You may be laughing, but this is just the feeling conveyed. One factor in its support is the ostensible theme: the ruler of mythical Utopia has invited ambassadors from of all of these places and the players represent officials welcoming them in and encouraging them in constructions according to the styles of their native lands. What actually happens is that a number of tokens representing foreign princes are drawn from a bag. These are doubly-coded, once for the island on which they must go and once for their nationality. Players take turns replacing one of these with a token of their own having the same nationality and placing it on the appropriate island. After this they receive cards which they use to perform various actions with their tokens of matching nationalities. Having a token of each nationality on an island permits creation of its wonder. The owner receives some points every time a player builds a monument on the same island, something achieved by having three tokens of the same nationality in the same location. Points are also awarded for causing tokens to enter or leave a building of their nationality. Finally, points are given at the end of each round according to a schedule, five for each monument of one of the nationalities, four for another, three for a third, and so on, all the way down to one. This is very nice for those players who managed to pick up tokens of and build the buildings of the highly-valued nationality and it's possible to open up a big lead. It is possible to change the schedule and make the top scoring type score only one, but it requires one trailing player to "take one for the team" and burn up resources to do it for the benefit of all of them. It's not really good to do it, but not doing it is even worse. The real problem is that a two-player game mechanism has been fitted into a multi-player game. Having failed to diagnose this, the inventors (who also invented Khronos), at least realized that some catch-up mechanisms were needed; three are provided. First, turn order is based on the number of points (though possibly this should be reversed). Second, a player unhappy with the choice of princes may instead pull one from the bag and as a side effect also give a free placement to another player, presumably another trailing one. Third, when it comes to cards, the leading player must discard two, the last place player none and those in the middle just one. While good ideas, if the board has become too full and the prince or card draws are insufficiently cooperative, all of these valiant efforts may not be enough. But just look at those beautiful bits. There are forty monument pieces, four wonders and five nicely sculpted officials in different colors. The board, tokens and pieces are very attractively illustrated as well. On the other hand, all of this artistry does somewhat work against the communication design. There's no easy way to associate the prince types with their monument types. This can be solved by taking one example of each and placing them together in plain view, but it's unfortunate that color or some other method wasn't employed to make this clearer. The cards are not always so easy to match up with tokens or buildings either. And once the buildings start populating the board, it becomes difficult to see the counters which hide behind them. This mostly opportunistic affair with a high price tag should appeal mainly to tacticians as well as parakeets/collectors. It probably also works better as a two-player affair than many multi-player vehicles.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Ludovic Vialla & Arnaud Urbon; Matagot/Rio Grande; 2007; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon] On to V - Main
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