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Game Ideas 2004

An annual look at what new games are available for the holiday period which finds us spending time with family and friends, most of whom are not the game hounds that many of the usual visitors to this site are.

General Board Games
Probably the biggest hit of the year has been
Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder), a simple game of expanding train routes across the USA. On your turn either draw cards or play some. Who will reach all of their cities first? . . . Another transportation-oriented vehicle recalls the wonderful works of Jules Verne: Around the World in 80 Days (Rio Grande). Here players not only race around the world, but have to do it in the least amount of time by drafting the best travel cards, each of which has a special power to go with it. The artwork features a wonderful period charm . . . A one of a kind offering, Niagara (Rio Grande) is almost an action game. Players sail up and down the river picking up and delivering, but have to watch out for the falls. The river is represented by clear plastic discs and every turn, depending on the speeds players have chosen to move, a different number of them will go over the falls . . . In Diamant (Schmidt), a light, press-your-luck game players enter dark caves looking for diamonds. The hauls can be rich, but not if the same disaster comes up twice in a row . . . Tuchulcha (daVinci) by daVinci at first feels like Pachisi, but with palpable twists. Two different players can arrange to take on special powers that change the game completely and often provide for a nail-biting conclusion . . . For players seeking a slightly more involved experience, Lost Valley (Kronberger) is a wonderful game of historical gold prospecting in the Klondike. The board is built as players go and turns are very short. Actually, it's not even so complicated except for a slightly long explanation at the start . . . [Top]

This has not been a good year for a lot of notable party games, but maybe this means that players are gravitating beyond this type? One of two worth mentioning is Cluzzle (Eagle). What is a cluzzle? It's a clay puzzle. Each player sculpts one and then the rest try to figure out what it is with the aid of yes-or-no questions. The longer it takes to guess, the more points you get, but it's tricky because if no one can guess, you get zero . . . BuyWord (Face2Face) was invented by modern games pioneer Sid Sackson and is a word game of forming crossword-like patterns. The trouble is that you have to buy your letters in advance, so you had better make sure they make a profit . . . [Top]

In contrast to the Party games, 2004 saw a great flowering of fun Card games, including a couple listed below in the Classics section. No Merci (Amigo) [also known as Geschenkt] is a card game that's over in five minutes, but oh what fun and decisionmaking ensues in the meantime as players try to collect several cards with adjacent rankings but without knowing in what order they will appear . . . Saboteur (Z-Man Games) is a cooperative game in which players attempt to build a mining tunnel to a gold source, but watch out, because one or more players are secretly traitors who only get points if this is prevented . . . In Die Weinhändler (Amigo) players are wine merchants who try to stack up similar wine bottles to score the most points. The tricky part is that players bid cards to take other cards and the next highest bidder gets the cards that this player has bid . . . Ice Cream (Face2Face) is simple, nostalgic game recalling the days when families used to take walks in parks and Dad bought everyone an ice cream cone. Be sure to have plenty of food at hand when playing this one as its yummy artwork will surely make you hungry . . . A slightly more complicated game is San Juan, (Rio Grande) a game of hand management for real strategists . . . [Top]

Two Player
Jambo (Rio Grande) is a game of trading and card play set in Africa. Beautifully-illustrated, it takes a while to get used to, but becomes a fun challenge to see who can collect enough gold first . . . A lot of two-player games are oriented toward military contests and there were two major offerings in this area in 2004. Memoir '44 (Days of Wonder) commemorates the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and is a simple plastic figures game that even those a year or two younger than 10 may enjoy . . . Saga (Überplay) is primarily a card game of overtaking your opponents' castles while they try to take over yours. There are no dice involved, just cardplay, but be sure you don't get caught not having castles at the end of play . . . [Top]

The year was not particular strong for children's games, but at least two may be recommended. Akaba (Haba), whose name reminds of the Disney feature Arabian Nights, sees players trying to navigate their flying carpets across the board. To do this they employ bellows-like devices which blow them about. This should please the 4-9 age group . . . A different kettle of fish is Piranha Pedro (Goldsieber). Pedro is stuck in the middle of the Amazon, surrounded by maneaters. By playing cards players lay stones to keep him safe and try not to be the first to let him fall into the water, but when he does, it's a funny moment for all. Probably best for those aged 8-9 and perhaps a bit younger . . . [Top]

The pure abstracts were few this year, but excellent. Ingenious (Fantasy Flight) by the renowned Reiner Knizia, is a tile laying game. Players hold colored double hexagonal tiles and place them trying to extend existing lines of the same color on the board. But the trick is that it's the color you have the lowest score in that gives your final score . . . Coda (Winning Moves USA) is a very easy to play logical deduction game from Japan. Each player has several stand up black or white plastic pieces printed with numbers. Opponents cannot see the numbers, but know that they must be in order. Basing their deductions on the tiles they hold and what the opponent has guessed, they must guess which are which. . . . [Top]

This year the classics will refer to those older good games that got re-printed or expanded. The expansion is Carcassonne: the City (Rio Grande) This is a deluxe edition of the Carcassonne series which comes in a wooden box with high quality components. Now in addition to building the town, players also add walls that go 'round it, by the end creating a medieval vision of beauty . . . A re-print is the classic Web of Power which has now been transplanted halfway across the world to China (Überplay). Once again players draft cards and place their pieces, hoping to gain the most influence and thus the most points by the end . . . The former board game RA has morphed into a card game, now called Razzia! (Amigo), a reference to the 1930's mobster world. Game play is mostly the same, but only a little simpler and more pleasant as the negative cards have been removed. The new card illustrations are very attractive . . . Finally, another excellent card game finally received an English edition. Who's the Ass? (Mayfair) is one of those games in which you try to be the first to get rid of all you cards by trumping those of others. But are you one of those players who never wins because of always drawing low cards? Then this game is for you because both high and low cards are important here . . .

Hope this has been a fun excursion and I wish you many, many happy hours of gaming pleasure! In the unlikely circumstance that none of the above are sufficiently appealing, it remains only to point to the Holiday Game List 2003 where are found several more appealing ideas. . . .