Spotlight on Games
1001 Nights of Gaming
- X -
Back to A
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,
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.
- Xe Queo!
Two-player Alex Randolph abstract reminiscent of
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.
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
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
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
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.
- 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
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,
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.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
[Buy it at Amazon]
Don McNeill et al.;
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.
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
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
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."
- 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
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
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
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
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
Third in the series of Kris Burm abstracts (following
with which it may also be played
as a meta-game) is a pleasing combination
of hopping over pieces à la
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
if an abstract is demanded.
[Holiday List 2002]
- Zheng Fen
Card game from China is in the family of climbing games which
The Great Dalmuti,
Zoff im Zoo,
It is probably the public domain basis of the commercial game
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
[Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners]
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
The Great Dalmuti,
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]
[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
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
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
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
Here's something that's somewhat new: an expansion for two
different games, namely
of course, and also
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]
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