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- X -
Card game about setting up sites on the Worldwide Web. Features nicely-made cards for a independent production. Not bad, although I think I liked their previous effort, Konzern, just a bit better. Caveat: each time I play the first player seems to win so I have some concern about play balance. Strategically, it is important initially not to spend too much time setting up extensive websites. Instead, just put up the simplest possible website and concentrate on attracting users, which can never be taken away from you in contrast to public demand which is very fickle. [Fanfor]
Xe Queo!
Two-player Alex Randolph abstract reminiscent of Geister, the shared elements being the number of players, a gridded board and the element of bluff. Perhaps this genre should be called Randolphian as few seem to combine intuition and abstract thinking in quite the same way. (TransAmerica may be a counter-example.) Here the bluff is set when each player secretly chooses which pawn he wishes to reach the goal. Then players take turns moving pieces, always closer to the goal, after the rules of Checkers until one reaches the goal. If this is the moving player's pawn, he wins the point unless it is also the opponent's pawn. A player faced with an unstoppable pawn that he feels the other has chosen may declare "Xe Queo!" After the laughter dies down, this player wins if his guess proves correct. These simple rules provide plenty of psychology and scope for mind games which will be appreciated by master strategists, but probably not a great many others. In this one, Randolph was creating for himself and his fellow inventors.
Alex Randolph; 1998
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
Game ostensibly about share control of various companies plays more like a race game. On a turn one may either, in effect, try to advance down the track or try shooting an arrow and see if it hits any competitor. Somewhat similar to Konzern, a later effort by the same designer/publisher, although seemingly with fewer strategic options. What tends to happen is that one or two players will manage to get a useful three dice roll that sets them well ahead of their fellows while the others, not getting such rolls, make virtually no progress at all. What is left for these players then is either to try to accrue some companies of their own, but this usually won't work because there is no way to cause another's banked income to be reversed. Instead all of the other players really need to band together to destroy all of the leaders's income sources, a difficult trick, and even then it will take several turns to reverse the deficit. As a result, one or more players can find, through no fault of their own, that they are virtually out of the game, even from the very beginning. Good points are that turns are short as options are suitably restricted by the dice results and also there are some interesting strategies around transferring shares to less profitable companies and then generating free extra shares as a result of the takeover. The sudden death variant from the Game Cabinet is recommended to help avoid kingmaking. [Fanfor]
X-Pasch Deluxe
Expansion kit adds a second deck and three more cards of hand size to accommodate it. The new cards come in ten different varieties and feature a number of wilder options. One type triples income for three turns in a row, another doubles indefinitely, a manager improves income and permits share adjustments, a headhunter can steal a manager, there is a card to adjust a die roll by one, another permits rolling a fourth die and yet another permits merging two companies. Overall result seems to be that individual companies become even more valuable and knocking them out even more important, thus accentuating the difficulties described above. The expansion is probably only of interest if for some reason you have already played the basic game over five times. If you are going to use it, continue to use the variant just as before. [Fanfor]

- Y -
Dice-rolling game in which each player attempts to fit results into one of several different buckets to achieve a maximum score. The game plays more as a multi-player solitaire game and has a very high luck factor. Becomes slightly better with the Triple Yahtzee version in which players have three different scoring columns to fill up before the game is scored. A
Yeti Slalom
Child's game of racing amidst the snowballs hurled by Yeti! Each player controls a different undifferentiated species of racers -- kangaroos, crocodiles, beavers, etc. Movement is kept very simple: each turn one of one's four racers can be moved one space on the multi-lane track. On the sidelines are various yeti representations. Players hold the ability to activate various of these as cards in hand. Snowball throws are resolved by die roll with limited re-rolls available. Racers have differing point values, both for being hit by a yeti, removing them from the race, or as a multiplier to the quality of their finish. There is not much that is novel here, but play is elegant, moves quickly and offers tension-and-release via the die rolls. Good play turns on finding safter paths based on one's own cards and in not getting caught in crossfire. There is plenty of "dethrone the leader" behavior. Presentation is well-handled, starring many cute character illustrations. This funny game made funnier by a preposterous theme would appeal to just about everyone, did not the luck of just a few dice play such an enormous role.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
The fifth in Kris Burm's Gipf line of two-player abstracts -- the last of which was Dvonn -- finds the series still going strong. Play continues to be simply explained while the multitudinous options are only mastered with difficulty. Players jump pieces, flipping them over, but also leave behind a piece in the start space, reminding of Cabale, but here the goal is to create a line of five. Doing this three times wins, but on each success the player loses a mover and all five pieces, providing an elegant catch-up mechanism. Fans of abstracts should be in heaven while those who want a theme and not so many options will be very tempted. [Holiday List 2003]
You've Been Sentenced!
(Note: a complimentary copy of this game was received for purposes of review.) Word and party game in which players are given ten random cards which try to be formed into a coherent sentence. Cards are pentagonal with each side showing a different word. The words are related though. For example, they might be five of the personal pronouns. Or, more commonly, different forms of the same word, e.g. "beguile", "beguiles", "beguiled", "beguiling", "beguiled by". At first this is quite a difficult task, but after a few tries players should be able to get something reasonable completed after the one-minute timer elapses. What's learned is an expectation of the other words on a card without having to actually read them. I tend to start by casting for a good noun to be the main actor of the sentence, then finding a believable verb to go with it, and on from there. Sentences are frequently hilarious, but are supposed to also be both grammatically correct and sensible. To enforce this, as in Scrabble, any other player can object to a sentence. Then follows an impromptu trial with this player acting as prosecutor and the sentence maker as defender. The ultimate verdict thumbs up or down is provided by the uninvolved players. This whole subsystem doesn't quite work. Typical of American games, it's brutally binary. Either a player is given full credit – which could go as high as a quarter of the points needed to win – or she gets absolutely nothing, except being branded either a cheat or an idiot. For this reason very few want to object at all, removing this subsystem altogether and permitting slacker and slacker sentences to boot. It would have been much better had every sentence received some minimum score and those which are coherent got an extra bonus worth around half the minimum score, thus engendering a happy rather than a negative feeling. (Also there is no downside for an accuser who is deemed incorrect, which could result in games getting too slow.) As it is, the system works directly against the purposes of the party game which is to get people who may not know each other well to loosen up. Instead, either backbiting and recrimination or an uneasy feeling of things not being right tends to overwhelm the fun. In physical terms, there is a generous set of 540 cards, unusual since most vendors include fewer and try to sell expansion kits instead. More cost cutting could have been done by making the cards double-sided, but it wasn't. The insert is very well designed and includes space for a pencil and scoring pad, though like 99% of all games the cards still slip out when it's turned sideways. The box itself is cute, but annoying as its shape is pentagonal and so does not fit with other games in the box, bag or shelf. Strangely, the timer seems to clog frequently; does this have something to do with its red sand? Without a different rules set, this is suitable for word extremists playing in a family or close friends setting, but lags considerably behind other party games in wider ones. [Party Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Don McNeill et al.; McNeill Designs; 2005; 3-10; ages 8+
Players proceed along a spiral in a game much like Tutanchamun. In this one however, movement is controlled by a simultaneous deck of cards held by each player, reminiscent of Raj. This 10-minute game seems to greatly favor the first player and in addition, once one is forced to take negative points, there seems to be a tendency to be forced to take more negative points.
Stefan Dorra;
Game of semi-blind allocations in a fantasy setting. In the tradition of Aladdin's Dragons, up to 4 make 2 allocations per round, one of public value, one hidden. Allocations go into one of 4 main areas, or a marketplace. Main areas each contain three discrete areas that give distinct advantages, as does the whole. Market manipulations affect the current prices of jewels, which are the main prizes, others being points and special effect cards (which are known in advance). Victory points are the ultimate goal. The main path to getting there is achieving either the majority or second place in most of the 4 types of jewels. It is rather doubtful that any alternate strategy can win. There are a surprisingly large number of pieces -- 11 cylinders per player -- and many, many Chiclet-y, ceramic-y jewel pieces in six colors. The board comes in gaudy green, yellow and orange, but is a bit disappointing in its symmetry. Rather than each main area having its own visual character, it appears the artist just used Illustrator to rotate the same buildings 90 degrees three times. This long-feeling game features 4 game turns and 4 rounds within each. Three would have sufficed in each case. There are many decisions to make, nearly all of them tactical. Some cards are strongly contested only to have them not matter at all in the final reckoning. Perhaps it's that there have been too many blind bidding games recently, but somehow this fails to excite. The attempt to soften the inherent blind bidding problems (falling too far behind, kingmaking, etc.) does not add another feature sufficient to cure it. I suppose the market was an attempt, but really the market doesn't matter all that much in the final analysis. If there is anyone who likes blind bidding, this is for them. Beyond that, theme is not grasped strongly enough to appeal to fantasy fans. Tacticians and parakeets would comprise the rest of the audience.
The fourth game from Ystari is, for this reviewer at least, their most successful so far. In a Silk Road setting players score points by occupying complete sets in the marketplace as well as buying advantage-conferring buildings. The surprising engine of all this activity? Dice. Using a clever mechanism reminiscent of Knizia's Swap, a large number of the cubes are rolled and placed on a scale, sorted into up to six categories according to their pips. Each category confers a different capability: four to place markets and one each to earn the two currencies in the game, gold and camels. Players take turns drafting from a category, usually starting with those having the most dice as they provide more of whatever the category offers. A player who doesn't like any of the remaining offerings can instead draw an action card -- which appear balanced -- or move the supervisor. The latter is the main way to attack others since the market at which he stops is lost to its owner, but at least the offended player receives compensation by being placed on the caravan trick, earning some points at the end of each round. We have not seen the supervisor used much at all, but even so this mechanism must only have been intended for compensation and not viable as a main strategy. But because of htis rule the game probably varies a lot from group to group. Advantage-conferring buildings simply enhance the abilities already present, e.g. enhanced gold or camel earnings, enhanced market points, enhanced placement, etc. These are not limited -- each player may buy all six if able. There's a good deal of luck here, in dice and in cards, but drafting and placement are fairly easy, turns are fast and it generally finishes before interest does. Production is good; artwork is attractive; both are free of the complaints that troubled Ys and there are many cute little wooden camels.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Yukon Company
Dirk Henn resource management game ostensibly about buying and selling supplies in Alaska and northwest Canada. The connection to theme is passable and the dilemmas involved in using the same set of cards for four different purposes challenging. Tracking what all of the other players are up to is an important ability. Feels like just a tiny bit more control would help as so often it seems that one cannot come close enough to what one wants to do, even if spending a lot of money on extra cards. Perhaps an open card draft variant would do the trick. A variant which tied the market prices to the laws of supply and demand would be welcome as well. In terms of winning, a a conservative strategy of buying small quantities and selling them for large prices doesn't really work out as it's too difficult to fiddle all of the event, destination and sell card. It works much better to always have a big supply of goods, even if some of them are not purchased at the ideal price, because then one only need fiddle one of the event, destination and sell card. This strategy also saves a lot of money on card purchasing, which can be a major drag on profits. One should really be selling three to four products each turn in order to stay in the game. In order to make matters last exactly the right amount of time, little over an hour, rather than all night, we replace all four of the Midnight Sun cards after each turn. The rule which reads "At that rolling of the dice at least on[e] die has to show a 4 minimum and one die a 3 maximum" may be a bit confusing and I would re-word it as "For this dice roll, at least one die must be in the range 4-6 and at least one other die in the range 1-3."
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele

- Z -
Game very abstractly about apple farming and sales is blessed by clear, understandable rules and elegant play. Difficult to win on one's first play. Players should keep in mind that they are unlikely to use all of their quarrel cards and should play accordingly. Play seems a bit too straitjacketed to be continually interesting – more cards at start or more card drafting options might have helped. Subsequent similar games such as Stimmt So! and Showmanager have shown the way here. Very large and nicely-made apple figure is a nice touch for the parakeet crowd. Title is a play on words referring to an apple, but is also an idiomatic expression best translated as "bone of contention".
Zauberberg (Ravensburger)
Title means "magic mountain", but has nothing to do with rollercoasters, being a game of Potter-like kobold wizards attempting to reach the summit. The plastic and cardboard "mountain" is nicely made with four levels, in play festooned with tiles, glass markers and thimble-like playing pieces. Players hold three numbered cards (hand size later expandable), one of which specifies which numbered token to move, the other two specifying the distance to move by either adding or subtracting them together. Tiles are flipped up to reveal some kind of magical effect and later flipped back down again, bringing in a memory element. Despite the nice presentation and some interesting ideas, there is little strategy, the winner probably being the one who draws the most wild cards. Really only of interest for those in the 8-10 age category, although the attractive components suggest that devising a more sophisticated variant might be a worthwhile endeavor.
Card game for up to 7 about collecting ingredients for a "Magic Cocktail" locks on to the card trading portion of the classic game Civilization and runs with it straight to a land of wild fantasy. Gone are the calamities and added are four wild cards. Also added is a trading termination mechanism that the original probably should have had: as soon as three traders declare they're done, trading is over. This makes trading fast, furious and familiar to players of Pit. Re-supply of cards is fixed at five completely random ones which removes some of the interesting contextual information available in the original. Although there is plenty of chaos, since there is no hand limit, there are possibly two competing strategies, one to try to jump ahead early and stay there, the other to deliberately come in last place for the first five turns and after that try to make up all of the ground. [Holiday List 2002]
Delightfully simple and maddeningly interesting card game as only Knizia can do them. Something like playing multi-player Gin Rummy. Seems to work best with at least four players as it ensures both a fuller card selection and more churning of the draft pool. Playable with a Circus Flohcati deck.
Third in the series of Kris Burm abstracts (following Gipf and Tamsk with which it may also be played as a meta-game) is a pleasing combination of hopping over pieces à la Checkers with a gradually dwindling board. Goal is to collect the pieces, nicely-made spheres, either two in three kinds or a specific number of one type. Seems to work well as a light, fast abstract; players who need a theme are advised to look elsewhere, to Cabale or Siesta if an abstract is demanded. [Holiday List 2002] [Frequently Played]
Zheng Fen
Card game from China is in the family of climbing games which includes The Great Dalmuti, Corporate Shuffle, Zoff im Zoo, and others. It is probably the public domain basis of the commercial game Tichu. This realization has some quirky rules. Since in communist society everyone is supposed to be equal, cards are not dealt as this would make the dealer subservient. Instead they are drawn from the top of the deck by each player. An illustration of the inefficiencies of communism! It's more confusing, but this game is a good way to find out if your group would enjoy Tichu and its more attractively illustrated cards.
Zirkus Flohcati (Circus Flohcati)
Another simple Knizia card game with continuous interesting tactical decisions and a cute theme about a flea circus. A bit like playing against the deck as the last player bidding in RA. [6-player Games] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners] [shop]
Dice-rolling game in which players sequentially roll seven dice trying to both match their color slots and arrange all of the dice in pips sequence. After the first three rolls, the other players get to wager whether the roller will score more than fifty points in the process. If the roller does this, the bettors will receive half this many points; otherwise they each lose twenty. As one might imagine, there is plenty of inherent luck of the dice in this process, but is somewhat saved by the potential ploy of the roller arranging things such that he makes exactly fifty, thereby costing the bettors twenty. Conversely he may prefer to maximize his own points, depending on who is betting on him. Strategically, always attempt to roll first those dice whose colors have not yet been allocated as they may still be placed so as to score a bonus. Controversial is which die should be rolled first.
Zoff im Zoo (Frank's Zoo)
Another in the family of climbing games which includes Corporate Shuffle, The Great Dalmuti, Tichu, Zheng Fen and others. Here the cards are cutely-depicted zoo animals, reminiscent of the children's book The King, the Mice and the Cheese. Rule innovations include introduction of a loop in the power structure (mice can defeat elephants) cards which can act either on their own or as a wild card (mosquitoes), collection of certain cards (lions and the ever-present Doris and Frank hedgehogs) and rules for changing partnerships and point sharing. Often baffling to figure out due to the vagaries of card distribution in the non-trick-taking version while there seems to be a greater tendency to create a huge pile when lions and hedgehogs are counted. With Tichu, seems one of the best of the climbing genre, and supports seven to boot. Not all editions include the special rules for three players which specify that two of each type of card are removed from the deck save the lion, elephant and mouse which lose only one and the chameleon which is not removed. This variant is played until only a single player achieves nineteen points. [Two vs. Two Games] [6-player Games] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1999; 2-7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Zoff in Buffalo
A simpler version of the designer's Vino. Even though Zoff appeared first, designer Christwart Conrad has told me that it was designed second. Here the ostensible theme is cow herding, but as in Vino play revolves around blind selection of two areas for placement and then attempting to earn free placements by coming in first, second or third place in the area, and especially the latter placements. Bluffing and psychology are the primary skills. Those willing to eschew detailed planning may prefer this version to Vino as the second half selling portion is wholly absent while others may miss the extra dimension. Certainly this cattle drive moves along much more rapidly. While Vino's presentation tends to the elegant and formal, here the cartoonish cow tiles lend a silly colorfulness to the proceedings. Other "inside baseball" nuggets on this one are that the publisher/artist created the artistic looking pastures while the designer requested that the original Teutonic ones be added back on after seeing a pre-press version. The title doesn't make that much sense, but was chosen for assonance.
With this title Michael Schacht adds a second half to his hit card game Coloretto. By changing cards to tiles and adding player mats he has made it more of a board game as well. The collectible items are now various zoo animals which a player distributes to the differently-sized discrete areas of his zoo. Of course each area may house only a single species, but there are other considerations as well. The goal is to either (a) fill the areas completely or (b) fill the area to all but one or (c) fill install a vending machine in the area. Players may swap animals between locations to better configure their zoos and via the introduction of money tokens, buy tiles from other players' castoffs. All of this works pretty well and does not overstay its welcome. The second half may be a tad bit static as directions will have been set with not as much room for maneuvering. Production is above average with wooden tile carriers representing animal hauling trucks. Animals included are silly monkeys, pandas, camels, kangaroos, flamingoes, zebras and leopards. There is probably nothing new here for those who don't care for Coloretto, but plenty for most and accessible to those aged as low as 8 as well. This is the 2007 Spiel des Jahres winner and has already had three expansions (see below). [Spiel des Jahres Winner]

Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Michael Schacht; Abacus; 2007
[Buy it at Amazon]
Zooloretto XXL
if no image probably out of print
Here's something that's somewhat new: an expansion for two different games, namely Zooloretto, of course, and also Aquaretto. What's added are one more animal tile of each type, plus twelve "supplies" tiles. When acquired, the latter are not actually placed in the zoo/aquarium, but one such is needed for each animal type. Scoring more than needed confers a victory point bonus while a deficit incurs penalty points. While nothing is amiss here, this expansion really doesn't add or change enough to justify its existence except for 'retto diehards, should any exist.
Michael Schacht; Abacus/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-5
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Zoosim (O Zoo le Mio)
Corné van Moorsel game of zookeepers competing to offer the best attractions. They do this by a series of sealed bids on zoo tiles which in Knizian tradition come up in random jumbles. Actually players want to offer not only the largest collections in the various categories of animals, but also the tiles with the most trees (best parks) and to construct loops from the path ways, which apparently trap the visitors at least long enough to force them to use the concession stands. What gets challenging is that some of these goals are contradictory. At the same time, tiles contain multiple colors so other players may be bidding against you, but for a completely different purpose. Nevertheless this still must be anticipated. But as it is is straightforward enough there is no real downside. Nor are the frequent auctions as they can be completed quite quickly. The only possible complaint is that it can be a bit difficult to distinguish who is leading in what race, both because the (cute) figures obscure the illustrations and because the red and orange shades are rather similar. I have used a set which, following the suggestion of Michael Green, featured pieces painted to match the attractions and found matters much easier. In terms of strategy, there may be some advantage in bidding high early because every tile does give back income, but once everyone realizes this, at what point does high become too high? It's a great topic in that it's not relying on an overused historical theme, but a part of modern life that for many evokes pleasant memories. With nice artwork, auctions, tile placement and a good theme, Cwali demonstrates how a small publisher can really show the way. Update: Produced in an even nicer edition by Zoch and Rio Grande in 2003. [Holiday List 2003]
[Buy it at Amazon]
Zum Kuckuck! (Land Unter)
Stefan Dorra card game very reminiscent of 6 Nimmt!. Players simultaneously choose cards from their hands and reveal to see who will take the two prize cards that have been turned up to start the round. In weird mechanics, the high card will take the second highest-valued prize card while the second highest played card will take the high prize card. Now whoever has the highest prize card showing in the moment loses a point. If one loses enough points, one is out of the round. After the hand, everyone passes their hand to the next player at left, giving every player a chance to see what can be made of it, which at least removes some of the variance of luck of the draw. More card games should consider adopting this idea. Strategically, it is dangerous to take a very high card, e.g. 10-12, as then one tends to get behind the 8-ball and must become desperate to cover this with a new card. Best to avoid taking any card unless forced to and when this occurs, try to use the highest cards to do so. Sometimes it appears that it isn't necessary to do much of anything but avoid since someone is sitting on a very high prize card, but this can be deceiving: keep in mind that such a player is the one trying hardest to cover this card. Worth a play or two. Ostensible theme is about cuckoo birds but the title is also a German idiom used when things go bad or wrong. Re-published as Land Unter, whose cards, busied up for the MTV generation, depict a steely modern world in which one is trying to save a pigman from drowning. The reference is to Germany's annual Spring rain inundation. [Holiday List 2002]
Stefan Dorra;
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