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Da Bai Fen
This non-commercial trick-taking card game is of uncertain provenance. It apparently originated in China in the past half century. Employing the standard Poker deck, including the two Jokers, this is a fixed partnership game for four (variants permit other numbers). Like some other Chinese games, including the one which inspired Tichu, there is no dealer, but cards are distributed by players drawing one each in sequence. But now it's not Marxist affectation, but an important rule since at any time during the process a player may declare. The declarer is rewarded with the bottom six cards of the deck who then discards any six, saving the trumps and creating void suits. Speaking of trumps there are quite a lot of them. Besides the trump suit, there is the red Joker which ranks above the black Joker which outranks the Ace of the trump suit. But we're not done yet. Each team is also said to be at a particular rank, starting with deuces and increasing with each win. The four cards of the declaring team's rank are also trumps; the one matching the trump suit ranking just below the black Joker and other three in turn just below it. This means that no fewer than eighteen of the forty-eight cards are trumps, which can take some mental adjustment. Scoring a hand is similar to Tichu: kings and tens are worth 10 points each whiles fives are worth 5, with the consequence that play takes on a new dimension whenever any of these ranks becomes the trump rank. This is an uncomplicated affair whose most interesting decision is probably when to declare. Its chief drawbacks may be lack of theme, that it doesn't differentiate itself more from other games and that a complete match may require two to three hours. [Instructions]
unknown; non-commercial; unknown; 4, 6-12
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Daddy Cool
This multi-player dice game for children is set in the Arctic among a family of polar bears. Essentially this is a much-simplified version of the press-your-luck classic Can't Stop, reducing that game's multiple tracks to a single one. In addition traps have been added to the course. The course itself is represented by hexagonal tiles and the pawns by wooden polar bear figures in various colors. Special six-sided dice are used. While it can be made exciting, especially if sufficient trash talking is injected, there's really not enough here to raise the game above the kids-only level, especially when so many other such games are available.
Heinz Meister; Huch & Friends; 2004; 2-6
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Dante's Inferno
Game for up to six about descending the nine levels of hell to defeat the wayward angel Lucifer. Fancy plastic pieces always remind me of restaurants with great views. Is it in business for the view or the quality of the main event? Here each player takes six identical inch-high questing figures. More interesting are twenty-odd gray demons which come in great variety, no two the same, but their differences have absolutely no significance in play. These figures occupy square tiles in four colors forming concentric rings. Borrowing liberally from The Settlers of Catan, each is marked with a pair of numbers which, when rolled on two dice produce resources. These are tracked on the player display which à la Catan also lists the possible player actions and associated costs: move, descend, move an opponent, flip a tile, place a tile, bring on another figure. There is no robber baron, but on a roll of "7" a demon is placed at a corner and as each player gets a free demon move each turn, it will eventually encounter a player figure. The player must roll above a certain number to evade it or be flung to the non-productive corner. The creators of the game appear to have wanted this played using techniques which are not optimal if one wants to win. For example, there is a substantial body of rules around creating the lower levels, but in practice they go entirely unused as the most practical thing to do is simply build up a lot of resources, go down to Lucifer and make the roll which defeats him. If the roll fails, resources can be spent to re-roll until it succeeds. There is little that can be done to stop a leader. Sure, it's possible to get into pushing contests, moving him to other tiles, but even these tiles have about the same amount of production so it's really more a matter of hurting oneself. To really push a figure to a non-producing space is horribly expensive and cheaply remedied. Nor do the demons really play any significant role as they are easily defeated and even when successful, will probably only next target oneself. Thus this is ultimately a contest to see who is luckiest enough to get good production at the start, get all the figures on the board to ensure even better production and then go and win without any possible hindrance. By now, some Settlers of Catan critic is probably muttering, So, what's the difference? But the case won't stick as Catan offers two very important edges: strategies and trading. Are you working on roads, cities, cards or some mix of the above? That's a valid question in Catan, but wholly absent here where everyone has exactly the same path. And how good a trader are you? Even though there are trading rules in Inferno, with everyone pursuing exactly the same intermediate goals, it's almost never a good idea. Oh, add one more advantage: at least Catan sports a theme that makes some sense. Here one is purportedly rescuing souls, but this gives points in Gluttony and Lust? And these same souls are then expended to defeat Lucifer? Bits fanciers may enjoy, but this will ultimately result in feelings of helplessness and boredom. By the way, other efforts inspired by Dante's weird vision are HellRail and Inferno. [Twilight Creations]
A game which might be subtitled "We will sell no tea before its time." The board is no board at all, but a grid showing partial crates of tea in four different varieties. Varieteas, ya might say. On a turn a player moves along the rank or file – expending victory points as he goes – and claims the one he ends on, replacing the space left with a new tile from the cloth bag. Cleverly, some tiles depict not just one, but three halves, which are both a boon for their added quantity and also a curse as no partial crate may be shipped. When a player can assemble his tiles in such a way that they create all complete crates of the same color, he is ready to ship, maybe. With luck or planning he is near a port which makes it more valuable and then his crates are converted to cubes and placed on sort of shipping palette at the highest multiplier, forcing all other palettes to lower ones and the cubes of the unfortunate last player out of play. But the crucial factor is that players continue to receive points every turn on these palettes as long as they remain in position, which makes for a very tactical game. It's critical to delay one's large shipments until others have completed theirs. The result:  infinite standoff. It's unclear why such a problematic shipping mechanism was ever published, especially when others would be so easy to devise. Maybe the idea was to camouflage the problem with production, or in this case, over-production. There are nicely-illustrated tiles and screens, fancy wooden crate-hauler figures, wooden palettes and even a large scoreboard with a cutout for the palettes. There's a surplus of cubes as well and even a "demand barometer" (closed ramp containing balls which plays only a small role). Only the communication design of the scoring track is a disappointment as its serpentine form makes it hard to quickly see whether to move a marker left or right. Alas, it's all for naught anyway, unless someone can devise a variant to improve matters?
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4
Günter Burkhardt; Abacus-2007/Rio Grande-2007; 2-5
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Darwin's Finches
In this web-published vehicle players both control the evolution of the famous finches of the Galapagos as well as collect finch specimens. Played with two decks of traditional cards, the finches move and evolve from island to island, and also change positions on an evolutionary dominance ladder. On each turn players, restricted by the types of cards they're holding, must determine which is the most beneficial improvement to make. By the end they want the finch type of which they "have the most stock" to be evolutionarily-dominant as well as have it migrate as far as possible from the starting point. In effect it's similar to a stock market affair where one either acquires stock or improves a stock's value. It's a rare and interesting topic, but could use a better set of instructions, e.g. around handling of discards. Mixing evolution and collection muddles the theme a fair amount as well. Though it's very short, much depends on luck of the draw; either more plays which would tend to even out the luck or the injection of more strategy or balancing would help. Still, a good start that with more development might yet be more. [Evolution Games] [PrintNPlay Games]
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Bob Flaherty; self-2010; 2-4; 20
Daumen Drauf
"Thumbs on it" is the meaning of the slangy German title of this card bidding game for up to seven. Making use of three suits in a double deck of snake cards, players compete for a continuous trick as in T-Rex. One deck is "good" in that all of its cards are positive while in the other deck, the cards are negative, being differentiated by the addition of a fang in the snake's mouth, which the player hides from others using a thumb. The result consists almost entirely of bluff with an unwelcome admixture of memory. [Drei Magier Spiele]
David & Goliath
Trick-taking card game which is still enjoyable with up to six players. Each player tries to take no more than two of each suit which means that they score face value for those cards, otherwise they score just one point per card. Tricks are divided, the low card played taking the high card and the high card all the rest. Tricks are displayed face up after being taken which eliminates most of the memory issue (one still tries to recall who is void on what). Much of the skill is in diagnosing the initial hand and deciding what one's objectives will be for each suit. Sometimes one is better off just trying to take everything. In the middle game, one must decide whether it is better to maximize one's own score or diversify the hand in order to sink those of others. In the late game, tactical plays to sabotage an opponent's score can be quite effective. Along with Mü: Wimmüln, one of the most interesting for six. On the other hand, a bit strange for three. Graphically a bit boring as each card simply shows a larger and larger silly David-Goliath figure. As the card images are the same for every suit, being differentiated only by color, the game may pose difficulty for those with color blindness or in low light conditions. As there are six suits with cards numbered "1" to "18", owning this deck permits trying out of many other cards games needing special decks. Apparently there is a traditional Korean card game with similar rules. [6-player Games]
Reinhard Staupe
Players represent bit part actors trying to make money in Hollywood Westerns. Interesting dilemma is whether to keep trying to earn money at the lowliest roles or to take the extra time needed to try for better parts at better salaries. The correct answer probably depends on the number of players and their playing styles. Humorous names for films, scenes, lines and parts add to the atmosphere. Along with Parts Unknown, one of the better efforts thus far from this publisher, much of whose quality is in the writing. Later expansion modules add Horror, Science Fiction, Kung Fu movies and Musicals.
Deduce or Die
Remove a couple of cards, distribute the rest and let players ask one another questions to see who can first identify them. This is the basis of Clue, then Sleuth, Black Vienna and several others. Two things are new in this one played with traditional cards. First, identifying the two missing cards is not the sine qua non; it is just the beginning. The identities of the two indicate a third card held in someone's hand who must be named as the murderer. (The murderer player does not know his own identity except via the same process and has the goal of identifying the holder of the next higher murderer card.) The second is the restricted method of asking. Players take turns revealing three cards from a separate deck, use two of them to define a range and the player of his choice must reveal the number of cards he has fitting it. The challenge is to find the best possible question to ask given the constraints. Thus this is more variable than Black Vienna where the questions are always the same. On the other hand the design is so closely tied to the nature of traditional cards that it's difficult to see any way of publishing it for real. How, for example, could adding two card numbers together to determine a murderer add up in real life terms? More could have been done with the theme in other ways too. If one of the players is really supposed to be a murderer, might he not be able to take some desperate actions? The tension in Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, which also has a player as a murderer, but one who can escape, is much more palpable. But this one is resolutely only about the deduction; as such it works very well. [notes sheet]
LLMH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Larry Levy; (web-published)-2003; 3-6
Card game similar to Nomic or Das Regeln Wir Schon in which players vote to change the rules by which the game is played and won. A lot of the game is determined by luck of the deal of the possible law cards and might work better as a strategy game if all cards were face up, or if all possible cards were known to the players. As it is, qualifies more as a party game not to be taken very seriously. [6-player Games]
Dirk Henn game in which players each represent bettors at a horse track. The state of the betting is very elegantly handled via a set of non-intersecting bet cards drafted by the players. Movement of the horses is controlled by a combination of cards, one of which indicates which horses may move, the other giving their speeds. Players must consider the probable goals of their opponents as well as what opportunities they may provide to the player on the left. All the elements work very well together for players who are able to carefully watch and remember their opponents' actions. As in Metro, one sometimes wishes for a bit more control in card play. Somewhat similar to the previous Spekulation. Caveat emptor: the space numbering misses a beat between 40 and 45. [6-player Games]
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele
Desert Bazaar
Multi-player game by Mattel which nevertheless sports some German-style features. Players earn victory points by establishing tent tiles on a hexagonal grid. Each tent has a cost of three which is paid for using a combination of cards and neighboring tiles matching the colors on the tent. Groups of tents are limited to a size of seven – points are given per tent, for starting a group and for finishing a group, the last of which also returns a few of the player's limited tokens. The other main mechanism is card replenishment. For this players forego placing tents and instead roll special dice to see what they receive. Historically, Mattel has conceded the games market to rival Hasbro in favor of Barbie, so this foray is good to see. But the newness is readily apparent from the flimsy board and too thin tiles to the color dependencies which probably won't work for the color blind. The card replenishment system is exception-ridden and over-complicated in ways that are all too typically American while a lot of the time the game seems to play itself with only rare chances to do something interesting; often the most challenging decision is what type of turn to have. One can try building away from a group and then join it in order to get more points, but having a good supply of the right cards appears to be more important. There can be some analysis paralysis too as there are many tile options and the downtime is exacerbated since the previous player can consume a lot of tiles, meaning all one's planning is for nought. There can be runaway leaders and there is no good way to stop them and catch up. On the plus side the basic system is not overly complicated and the whole thing does not require a great deal of time. Some will dislike the translucent plastic domes representing the tents as they resemble cheap halves of a drug capsule, but at least they make the tiles easier to see than wooden cubes would have. Thematically, there is little reason to expect that a desert bazaar would work this way and if it's supposed to be at an oasis, why isn't it pictured? Still, for Mattel this near abstract with a large luck factor (rarely a good combination) is a decent starting effort that we'll hope presages better things to come.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 4
Devil Take the Hindmost (Formel Fun)
Originally about bicycle racing, later re-released as Formel Fun and adapted to auto racing. A bit random, but contains lots of fun in the mad scramble not to be last (and therefore eliminated from the race). Good way to wind down from more thought-intensive epics. [Cycle Racing Games]
Terry Goodchild; Fiendish Games/Lambourne Games//Franjos Games; 1991; 2-4
Personal Rating: 6
Dia de los Muertos
Partnership trick-taking card game commemorating the Mexican festival of the dead has lots of special effects and needs lots of thought around card play. For example, four cards cause partners to swap cards, another allows asking an opponent any question which must be answered truthfully, others allow drawing from an opponent's hand, etc. The result is very different from any traditional trick-taking card game, but the new synthesis may take some getting used to. In addition, it is played over three rounds and each round there are different sets of cards entering and leaving the deck. All of these things can be dealt with by a player's brain, but the jury is still out whether they are interesting problems to solve or merely busywork? More games are needed to decide. Its closest relative would probably be Twilight and whatever one thinks of that game is probably the best predictor of one's reception of this. Together they form a team of anti-trick-taking games with Mit List und Tücke as sort of a team wannabe. So far I would personally have preferred fewer Swap cards and more Ask cards. Late in the game the former are useless while the latter always seem interesting. There is also a three-player variant using a dummy hand à la Bridge. Kudos to Frank Branham for finding an utterly unique topic on which to build a game. Update: in response to the above, Frank has suggested the following variant:
Each player gets 2 chips (like small sculpted clay skulls). He uses a chip to perform an Ask action immediately before he plays a card. Same rules, but he gets to Ask before choosing his card. And the 2 Asks are for the duration of the game, not the hand.
I haven't had a chance to try this, but others have reported that it helps play considerably. [Two vs. Two Games] [Sacred Chao]
Diamant (Incan Gold)
"Diamond" is a "push your luck" game of dangerous diamond collection for up to 8 by Alan Moon and Bruno Faidutti. Over five rounds (represented by five caves) players simultaneously decide either to remain in the cave or return to camp and end their round. Those returning receive their share of diamonds found thus far plus the undivided remainder. Those remaining get to keep collecting until all have departed or until the same peril card has appeared twice, at which point anyone left inside receives nothing. (Perils in five varieties comprise half the deck, the rest being diamonds in varying quantities). Players begin with equal standing, but as they make different decisions acquire different statuses: leader, trailing or somewhere in the middle. This in turn dictates different approaches to risk, leaders tending to play it safer and vice-versa. The relationship between one's own position and that of whoever remains in the cave is also a consideration, as are the personal styles of each of the opponents. So there is plenty to think about, yet play can move quite quickly and for this reason it is rated for ages down to 8. This simple yet thought-provoking effort should find a lot of fans, especially at the lighter end of the spectrum, though it may wear out its welcome rather sooner with the number crunching set. The on-line implementation at is quite novel in that it employs music and sound effects to really set a definite mood of mystery and danger, thereby taking matters somewhat beyond the ordinary board game experience. Incan Gold is the title of the English edition. [Holiday List 2004] [6-player Games]
Alan R. Moon
Dicke Kartoffeln
Apparently originally a game about industrial development, before publication the theme was changed to farming – the title means "Fat Potatoes." Players breed worms and grow potatoes trying to be both the most profitable player or the most "green" player or both. There are three different types of potatoes which may be grown and a rather nice market simulation to control their prices. Random events also play a part. Much of the game rock-paper-scissors style outguessing of the other players. It is not true that a player can win by simply farming only worms throughout the game!
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1989; 3-5
Near abstract game of in which each player runs a science team, travelling to the past to steal dinosaur eggs. On his turn, a player may move a piece up to four fields. Unused points are used to advance the meteorite which triggers the end of the game. Players must be careful not to have left any of their researchers in the past when the meteorite strikes. The nice plastic dinosaur obstacles are placed just once at the start of the game and never move. This has the effect of either making their placement meaningless or requiring so much analysis that it tends to swamp interest in the game. And at that point, actually playing it out is probably no longer of any interest.
Discovery Island (Destination: Trésor)
Two-player game of orienteering and treasure hunting from Finland. Each player holds a hardback hexagonal map covered by a separate clear plastic film. The opponent secretly decides where he has landed. As the player trudges around the opponent reveals the terrain type encountered so it can be recorded on the film. After a half dozen moves, by matching the film to various map locations it will be clear that there is only one exact match and voila! the player has found himself, and most of the interest, in this French game. But fear not. As each terrain is encountered, a hexagonal tile of the type is flipped and some of them indicate "Lost". This means the opponent gets to maliciously displace the player's current position and the search for bearings begins anew. This is the main point, even though ostensibly this is a search for treasure, the Trésor of the title. By visiting clue points players are able to consult a rather fancy gadget which helps to narrow down which point holds the actual treasure. There is a tendency for both players to figure this out at about the same time, at which point each hopes to be the lucky one closer at that moment. This part takes rather longer than it ought and one wishes it were possible to call in a helicopter and just have them pick up the stuff. While the idea is different and the art and presentation very attractive, the parts which are fun do not last long enough while those which are not, do. Probably the map should have been designed so that the terrain types were thoroughly intermixed rather than divided into large patches each of a consistent type. Then one could really be lost for quite a long time and have an ongoing logical deduction problem to solve. The hexagonal tiles look nice, but their form serves no real purpose. They could just as easily have been cards, which would have been easier to shuffle and perhaps reduced cost. This visual experience for deduction fans might also come in handy for game masters running cross country role-playing campaigns. Perhaps expansion maps can be released one day?
Distant Seas
Subtitled "The Merchant Marine Game", this variant on the railroad type of pick-up-and-deliver excercise features a fifteen-page rule book and colored vinyl zone map of the entire world, including indication of prevailing winds for the sailing game. There are also contemporary, steamship, and sailing ship scenarios. Details of ship movement seem overly complicated, but are workable with practice. Rules specify that an event card is drawn whenever a 2,3,11 or 12 is rolled, but why not just roll one die and have one drawn on a 1 which has the same probability? As purchased ships have high resale values, there is never any reason not to buy more, and thus some tendency towards the "rich get richer" syndrome, particularly in the sailship to steamship scenario. This can lead to rather stereotyped play. Using the bidding rules may address help this somewhat. The event cards seem too drastic and should probably be omitted entirely for serious players. They are also destructive of enjoyment when, for example, a player's only ship is forced to lose not one but two turns due to some disaster. Thematically, another unsatisfactory feature is the tendency to sell off all of one's ships when the all-to-obvious end of the game is at hand. Overall, too long for the amount of chaos included, but should draw a crossover audience of nautical fans. [Traveling Merchant Games] [summary] [Distant Seas]

Balderdash, aka The Dictionary Game, is wonderful, but can be difficult to get to the table. Maybe it involves too much writing? Or folks might be insecure about their ability to sound like a dictionary? Whatever. The solution to this eludes, but at least now comes along a French game to scratch a similar itch. Included in the box are a number of thoughtful, beautiful cards illustrated by Marie Cardouat. Each player is busy examining their hand of these when the current one intones a sentence, expression, phrase or even a single word. To go with this he secretly selects a card, as does every other player. They are all revealed, their owners unknown, and voted for by secret ballot using chits. As in Barbarossa, the main player is trying to be neither too obvious nor too obscure. The most points are achieved by having only some players guess the card correctly; if all do, or none do, there is a penalty. Others attempt to both get votes for their cards and also, of course, to guess that of the main player. The scoring track is handily included as part of the game box in this nicely made production. Just don't ask why the pawns are wooden rabbits. This is without doubt a party game, but one that with a little practice players can appreciate very easily. It's also a great challenge trying to figure out a clue that will catch only some of the players while simultaneously defending against other pictures that might fit it better. For example, if using a picture of a candle, one might think of the expression "Light a candle or curse the darkness." If you say only "curse the darkness" will that succeed in catching only some of them? If completely flustered, newbies should just try for ambiguity. Try a clue like "blue" sometime, for example, which might mean the color appearing on a lot of the cards or the emotion of sadness or maybe even risqué. At the time of this writing, an expansion kit named Dixit 2 has been announced for 2010. [6-player Games] [Party Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
LLML7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7)
Jean-Louis Roubira; Asmodée; 2008; 3-6
Doctor Who
Derek Carver-designed game on the long-running British science fiction television program. Each player represents an incarnation of the Doctor (with equal abilities) attempting to recover the constituent parts to the Key to Time. Enemies like Daleks and helpful artifacts like Jelly Babies appear randomly to help or hinder. Not much strategy is available in this television tie-in to the Tom Baker era, so this one is really only of interest to children and the hardest core fans. This program would seem a good topic; unfortunately, no more challenging game has been invented. Components are acceptable.
Dog Eat Dog
Game about industrial production, profitmaking and pollution seems to pretty much play itself. Movement around a Monopoly-style board is controlled by dice roll. There seem to be hardly any interesting choices to make. The game is at its best with all six players, the final two are significantly different in "powers" than the first four. [6-player Games]
Dolce Vita
Card game about the collection of luxury items such as boats, mansions and horses needed to live the "sweet life". As in Raj each player has a set of six identical cards labeled 1-6. The treasures of varying value are laid out in seven columns. Players take turns placing their cards face up beneath columns. When each has placed five, for each column the player with the highest total takes the card at the bottom of the column, the one with the second highest total takes the card second from the bottom, and so on. What gets tricky is that one may only own one boat, horse or mansion so if one happens to have one and gets another, the old one must be traded in for the new, even if it happens to be of lesser value. Interesting though not overly exciting. Analysis-paralysis is possible as this is a game for those capable of measuring fine detail. Playing for just three rounds gives the game the right amount of length, although not exactly fair in four- and five-player games as not every player will have had the chance to act as both first and last player.
Dolmengötter, Die
Multi-player placement game ostensibly set in ancient Druidic times, but actually very abstract in feeling. Placement is of the majority control kind, but as in Australia has the wrinkle that it occurs at the edge of a territory and so may contribute to two or even three areas at once. Achieving a majority permits placing a hidden scoring token in the region which, à la Carcassonne, is only freed when the region is completed and scored. Tokens are placed by virtue of three druid pieces which move from point to point via special rules that permit the board to wrap around, virtually. Even so, play seems to focus on the center and at the end of the game that is where most of the winning player's pawns tend to be found. The fact that a piece placed at the margins also opens up a new space provides simultaneous cooperation and competition. The one-piece-per-space rule affords plenty of tactical possibility. The beginning may be tainted however as earlier players probably have a slight advantage while the end game feels unfinished, as all the many pieces on incomplete areas do not score. On the other hand, if one were to score them, infinite delay of the game is encouraged as players mostly want to wait until everyone else has moved and then grab the points. Even without such a variant some players tend to finish before others and are left with not much to do. Probably the whole issue of game flow deserves further study here. Fans of the offbeat should like this as it exists in the little visited area of intersection between majority control and luckless abstract. That most may not care for one aspect or the other will probably keep it a cult favorite. Were the board constructed from tiles there might have been more replayability, but at least a few plays are in order to learn to play well.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
if no image probably out of print
A good game is one that maintains the possibility of any player winning – or at least the feeling of it – right up to the last moment of play. Inevitably in any system though, one or more players will surge ahead while others fall behind. Ensuring that these disparities do not grow too large tends to require a catch-up mechanism. Many of these feel artificial and un-thematic while some are only halfway there like the Settlers of Catan robber-baron (the "7" result needed something special, but why is there already a robber-baron on an uninhabited island?). Best of all are those mechanisms that blend in naturally, hardly being noticed at all. Such is the case in this card game set in the medieval period. Though there is a mountain of 485 cards, each player begins with just ten: seven copper and three single victory points. A turn consists of revealing five cards at random and doing the best one can. To help, a player has two other things: the right to buy one card and the right to play one action card. Using gold then, one acquires more coins, more victory points and action cards in ten types. With names like "Village", "Cellar", "Adventurer", "Militia", "Witch", "Moat", etc., they provide special abilities such as drawing more cards, supplementing buying power, playing more cards, upgrading cards, etc. The latter three named cards, as well as some others, also affect others, such as making them reduce hand size, take victory point losses or defend against the first two. When a player's deck is exhausted a re-shuffle, now with new cards added, restores it and the process begins anew. What's nicely realized is that victory point cards, provide no extra benefit at all, but instead actually detract from the efficiency of the hand. Thus every point gained makes getting the next one just a little more difficult, permitting the opposition more of a chance to catch up. Designing one's deck, a process under some constraints, is the primary exercise here; watching it work (or not) the fun. This would bore quickly if only ten action card types were available but the fact that in toto there are a couple dozen types (with undoubted expansions to come) permits a fascinating meta-game in which the subset used is chosen randomly. Then with each playing one must diagnose the particular combination available and decide what mix is optimal. Artistically, Matthias (Guatemala Café, Hamburgum) Catrein's cards are well done, but their communication design has some flaws. The coin cards – copper, silver, gold – should have been easier to distinguish. Also there is room for larger card texts as well, at least in the English edition. The main issue here though is the large amount of fiddliness, just just in the constant requirement to shuffle, but also in setup and takedown, despite the carefully designed plastic insert that gives a different slot for each card type. (Probably a plastic baggie for each would work better.) Some folks have created wooden chip renditions to replace shuffling with bag draws, but this creates its own problems. Probably it's best to just resign oneself to the shuffling; it becomes less annoying after a few playings. The setup-takedown problem is ameliorated by playing it two or three times a sitting. Beyond this, the worst thing here is that the theme doesn't feel very strong. Oh sure it tries to connect mechanism to card name, but there's little feeling of making decisions germane to the era. On the other hand this is a highly strategic and above all logistical affair with rather reduced tactics, something not often seen, though there is the danger here that this will be over-analyzed and become not fun to play with certain individuals who have found or read about some killer strategy. Perhaps expansion kits will prevent that from happening. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Frequently Played]
Donald X. Vaccarino; Hans-im-Glück-2008/Rio Grande-2008; 2-4
HLLH8 (Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 9) [Buy it at Amazon]
Dominion: Cornucopia (Dominion: Reichte Ernte)
The cornucopia has a strong association with the fall harvest so at what point in 2011 did this expansion appear? Spring, of course. This small expansion adds thirteen types of kingdom cards plus five one-off cards. The idea of variety is the emphasis this time, seen both in cards that reward having lots of types as well as others that help increase this. This kind of flies in the face of the typical approach as often the most efficient thing to do is make a compact hand of as few cards as possible. The intention seems to be that the Tournament card be the star of the show. This is another one of those cards like the Explorer that would be most effective at the start of play, but because it requires revealing a Province to work, is a waste of space until the second half. When this is played anyone who can do so gets either a duchy or one of the abovementioned one-offs, called prize cards. Again, these do things which would be somewhat useful in the first half, but are fairly redundant by the second. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the Followers card just because it has so many effects: draw two cards and gain an estate while opponents discard down to three and gain a curse. But in our opinion the real star is the reaction card, the Horse Traders, which lets you draw another card, gives another buy and +3 in buying power. Some cards forced a bit of clarification in the general rules of when treasure cards come into play and for the first time, one, the Young Witch, is so complicated that all its rules could not fit on the card itself, but must be completed in the rules booklet. Exceptional cases have been explained in booklets before, but not the main thrust. The Jester is somewhat new, an attack giving opponents a curse if they reveal a victory card from the deck, otherwise letting the player gain a copy of whatever is revealed. There are predictable variations on earlier cards with the Farming Village continuing the whole series of village cards and the Remake that of the Remodel/Upgrade series. These repetitions threaten to be a thorn in the side of choosing card sets randomly as too many of the same thing will be, well, too much of the same. At this point the favorite here is the exotic Seaside with its fun duration cards. Prosperity's additions to treasury and victory cards make it pretty much necessary while either the original set or Intrigue are absolutely so. The Alchemy set is sort of an oddity whose potions don't quite fit in and is thus outside the mainstream of interest. But it does have something for those who want to warp the usual routine. This expansion has nothing that is particularly annoying, but also fails to add enough pop or excitement. There will always be completists who want every card every made, but that for the first time it's likely that for many this is an expansion that's just not worth the extra weight on the already overstrained Dominion shelf.
MMML6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Donald X. Vaccarino; Hans-im-Glück-2011/Rio Grande-2011; 2-4
Dominion:  Intrige (Dominion:  Intrigue)
Remember playing old Monopoly when you would sometimes pull a yellow card that would say "Bank error in your favor"? This one is a game error in your favor. As it adds new types of cards for Dominion, this ought to have been an expansion kit for that game, playable only if one owned the original. Instead the box contains not only those cards, but also all of the money and victory point cards needed to play as a standalone affair, which in fact is the only way this reviewer's several playings have been done thus far. What this means is that instead of everyone buying both boxes, in any gaming group, one friend can buy the original, another this expansion and then the two can mix them together sometimes or play just from the single box at others. To what we owe this bounty is unclear – perhaps the ongoing major economic crisis at the time of this writing? In any case, it is Lucky Day for game playing fans. As to the details of play, if choosing between the original and this for the first experience of the system, most should get the other one. The newer cards tend to be more complicated in function and involve more interaction with other cards. As a result turns tend to be longer, both in terms of analysis needed and number of cards turned over. There are also some cards which are quite useful in very specific contexts, such as toward the end of the game, but not so much at others. Unwary beginners could thus fall into a crack. One of the more interesting developments are that there are now cards which both have functions and provide victory points as well. There are interesting developments in the production too, which has maintained its high standard. Very usefully, the insert contains printed labels so that it becomes very easy to figure out where each type of card can be found or put away. It's also fun that the many card artists are now credited in small text right on the cards themselves. Overall, depending on whether you own the original or not, this is an excellent edition or addition. One note is necessary, however, as it is now claimed that six players can be supported. While the number of cards make this true, players should beware that if the number of players exceed three, downtime doldrums will dominate your Dominion. [Frequently Played]
Donald X. Vaccarino; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande-2009; 2-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
HLMH8 (Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 9)
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Dominion: Prosperity (Dominion: Blütezeit)
Kingdom cards of particular interest in this large-sized expansion include the Bishop, which lets you trash any card and receive half its value in victory points chips (thus gaining points that do not clog the hand); the City, which operates like a Village, but gets stronger as the game goes on (triggering on pile depletions); the Goons, similar to the Militia, but giving 1 VP chip for each card purchased which is great when having multiple buys; the King's Court, which is like a Throne Room that repeats an action three times; the Peddler, whose cost of 8 is lessened for each action card played when it's acquired; and the Trade Route, which gives more buying power as the game goes on. This last is a bit odd as each time a different type of victory card is purchased a coin is added to the route. As with the Pirate, when the Trade Route is played it adds that much buying power. But using it requires trashing a card. The weird thing is that you'd like to have this early in the game so that you can trash some Estates and Coppers, but on the other hand it isn't valuable until much later in the game. As a consequence you may end up using it to trash something like Duchy (shudder) in order to buy the new Colony (see below). Other new cards include the Bank, Contraband, Counting House, Expand, Forge, Grand Market, Hoard, Loan, Mint, Monument, Mountebank, Quarry, Rabble, Royal Seal, Talisman, Vault, Venture, Watchtower, and Worker's Village. But probably the most noticeable additions are a treasure card worth more than gold – Platinum which costs 9 and is worth 5 copper – and a pure victory points card worth more than a province – the Colony which costs 11 and is worth 10 points. Depletion of the Colony pile becomes a third way to end the game. These two cards are not always in use unless only the Prosperity set is being used. Otherwise, one of the ten kingdom cards in use is drawn at random and only if it is from the Prosperity set are they included. The Platinum coin can change play in interesting ways. As just one example, consider the Mine. It used to be preferable to use this card to change a Copper to a Silver rather that to make Gold from Silver because a doubling in value is superior to a 50% increase, but now that there is such a big jump from Gold to Platinum it might be better to try to make that happen as soon as possible. Also included are 8 player mats, a trade route mat, 31 nice metal victory point tokens denominated 1 and 5 which unfortunately look far too similar to one another. Players can rejoice that finally there are cards – Bank, Expand, Forge, King's Court – costing exactly 7, but will have to lament that 10 replaces it as a new limbo number which is not the exact cost of anything. Some cards like the Bank and Loan are so similar to the Coppersmith and Moneylender that you probably wouldn't ever want both in the same game. Perhaps someone should design card choosing software that prevents such an occurence. This "everything is bigger" addition to the series is certainly a worthy one, but maybe not one for all players. Maybe it's due to the extra ending condition or to complicated cards like the Forge, Goons and King's Court or perhaps just all the extra money involved, but games that use a lot of these cards just tend to take longer to complete, perhaps to the point of ennui for some. So this expansion is tending to be more for the aficianado player who plays a great deal, is tired of the existing card sets and hungry for something new. Fortunately for these players the next expansion, Cornucopia has also already appeared.
MMML9 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 9)
Donald X. Vaccarino; Hans-im-Glück-2010/Rio Grande-2010; 2-4
Dominion: Seaside
if no image probably out of print
The latest Dominion expansion kit really is just that. Unlike Dominion: Intrigue the coin and victory cards necessary to play are not included (but there is space to hold them in the box). These nautically-themed cards don't change play enough to convert those left unconquered by the original, but offer the increased interaction and extreme situations that tend to appeal to fans of the Anglo-American school of design. The most noteworthy new action card is probably the Pirate Ship which causes undefended opponents to reveal and lose coin cards. If even one such is revealed, the pirate receives a special coin token on his pirate ship boardlet. These count as coins for purchasing purposes. If no defenses are in play, this card alone can lead to some crazy games in which no player has any remaining coin and all need to be able to make purchases solely using action cards (and the pirate of course). The major new type are the orange Duration cards, which affect both the current and also the next turn. For example the Haven draws a card, permits salting one away for next turn and provides another action while the Merchant Ship adds two to buying power on both the current and next turn. Among other cards, popular early buys are the Smuggler which permits buying the same card as the previous player so long as the cost is less than seven and the Island which permits storing both it and another card outside the hand. The Treasure Map is sort of an overpriced, crazy gamble where one gets a huge award, but only if multiple copies are located in the same hand. But then this might be easier if using the Tactician which permits dumping the hand in favor of drawing twice the usual number of cards on the next round. It's a nice idea thematically in any case. Others include the Ambassador, Bazaar, Caravan, Cutpurse, Embargo, Explorer, Ghost Ship, Lookout, Native Village, Navigator, Outpost, Pearl Diver, Salvager, Sea Hag, Treasury, Warehouse and Wharf. Interestingly, there is still no card costing either one or seven. Each player now gets up to three small boards to be used with particular action cards, a generous touch. The small metallic-looking coins look cool also. This works with either or both of the first two Dominion incarnations and for better or worse is no doubt not the series' last. This game can also be tested on BrettSpielWelt, though at present only five of the seaside cards are available. [Pirate Games]
HLMH8 (Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 9)
Donald X. Vaccarino; Hans-im-Glück-2009/Rio Grande Games-2009; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Essentially a card game not without strategy, but somewhat dependent on luck of the draw. There are many, many variants, for example Mexican Train.
Michael Schacht-designed game, theoretically about 1930's Chicago mobsters taking control of various districts. The connection with theme is extremely thin – an auction card game is a better description. Interesting features are tying the number of chips one can bid to the cards held – it is not allowed to make a bid that shares the last digit. Similarly, payments are split up evenly as in Traumfabrik, except that if any players have cards matching the last digit, they receive the payment instead. Worth a few plays, although the yellow cards seem to be the best of the unequal suits to collect. It might be more interesting to create one's own deck randomly using, e.g. a Sticheln deck, and so leave it unknown which the superior suit is. It is also important to win one of the early auctions. Most players seem to be using the official variant which allows the winning bidder to exchange a card à la Tikal, and if he does so, allowing everyone else to do same. This makes matters more interesting, but does have a chance of becoming a kingmaker effect by the end. When playing the variant, keep in mind that there is no exchange on the ultimate round – exchanges always occur at the start of a round. Really needs stand-up shields to keep secret the nice quality plastic poker chips.
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu
German partnership trick-taking game using a Pinochle deck. The rules are bid for and partnerships are often unknown, being based on cards held. Unusual features are that often there are more trumps in the deck than not and that cards take on different statuses from hand to hand, but one gets used to the latter over time. Also interesting that it offers provisions for special handling of unusual hands. Players must decide when their hand is strong enough to reveal their identity and when it is better to lie low. It can also be quite challenging to decide whether a hand is strong enough to try a solo game. Ultimately an interesting game which defies easy analysis and rewards continued play to the point where one is actively using the prediction rules to gain extra points. Name means "double head" and refers to a special trick containing two Aces and two Tens. [summary] [Two vs. Two Games]
Dos Rios
"Two Rivers" by Franz-Benno Delonge is the only game known set on two branches of the amazing Amazon. Players farm three different crops on the variable hex map. Essential for a harvest is the irrigation that proximity to the river brings. Harvest events generate the money to establish farms – make enough of them and you win. But forests may also be farmed to generate dams which can be placed to re-direct the river. The simple, workable rules by which this operates are the true highlight of the game. What doesn't necessarily follow from all of the above is that this is also a game of campesinos who run about ousting one another from their lands. It's also a game of different types of harvest events which occur per draw of the tile. Although there is a four-turn warning, it's fairly moot as one often finds one's position mostly destroyed by the time the next turn rolls around. Moreover, the harvest event tiles may be a bit unbalanced as the forest harvests seem rather less useful than cash crops. Although the gorgeous Kosmos physical treatment is typical, this tactical back-and-forth nature of play is not. It can even be deflating on those turns in which a player finds all of his campesinos out of play, although matters are rarely as black as they appear. One other quibble is that in common with Raja, the game can be provably won even before all necessary turns have been completed. Overall, this is an elegant, yet highly tactical vehicle which gives a nod to the Anglo-American games paradigm. Fans of theme should be well-pleased, but master strategists may find themselves liking the river/harvest system while wishing placement and events had been handled differently. Finally: it's curious that even though most of the Amazon flows through Portuguese-speaking Brazil, the title is Spanish.
Card game of trick-taking and trick-prediction similar to Oh Hell or Wizard. Ten hands are played, one in which each player holds one card, one for two, one for three, etc. all the way up to five and then down to one again. There are two cards, the Jester and the Pope which command all the rest. The unique feature here is that the double 27-card deck is composed of bifurcated cards, one end of which shows, for example the Ace of Spades while the other shows something like the 8 of Diamonds. As players must follow suit when able, this can cancel out some of the most powerful cards, including the two specials. This interesting concept is not really permitted to flower however as luck of the distribution seems to rule here, especially with so few of the cards actually being in play. Utterly wild guessing is really the best one can do in terms of prediction. As a result, predictions of zero tricks are unduly rewarded, which can make for desultory play.
Doubles Wild
Abstract for up to four in which players attempt to make as many three-in-a-rows as possible. Luck of the dice, which control where pieces may be placed, seems to play an inordinately large role, at least for serious players.
Enginuity Games [Buy it at Amazon]
Down Under
Günter Cornett tile placement game, a re-working of his original Schlangennest ("Nest of Snakes"). The original had trouble making its way in the world after an unbelievable accident: the release at the same time of Blatz' Die Schlangen von Delhi, a game of similar type and theme. Now the theme has been transported to the exploration of Australia, complete with aboriginal-style art by Ro Sato. New subsystems have been added as well with various icons (the kangaroo, emu, platypus, rabbit and dingo) appearing on the tiles. Players want to collect sets of the first three on their single, long route, but avoid the rabbits, unless they can manage to also get a dog on the route. The trouble with achieving all of these goals is that the icons never appear on the main path by which the player is permitted to lay tiles, but on the secondary, neutral path, also found on each tile. This means that the player must somehow curve his path back to reach these, and do so before opponents. Meanwhile, one can try to litter rabbits along the way for opponents. But that's not all. There is also the game of making as long a route as possible, the need to make use of both straights and curves and avoiding running out of space. A clever rule is that while the size of the "board" is fixed, its location is not, so players have large effects by adding to length or width. For some, the reaction to this game will be that it's all too simple. For others, it will seem too complex. Both are wrong. What's true is that while there are few rules and they are easy to learn, playing well is complex and hard to achieve. The inventor has said that he could write an entire book on the topic and of that I've little doubt (maybe he should). So far I can advise only a little bit. Curving back on one's own path is very important, but it's also important to use up the straight paths, so it appears best to first travel away a tile or two before returning to cross back over one's path. I believe this game appeals most to those who go in for the shortness and elegance of the pure abstract, but the beautiful X-ray style artwork which shows not only the outer form, but also the inner, and the large tiles will help to entice others as well. The small package is a welcome relief to the game shelf too. [Frequently Played]
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Cleverly, the reverse of the tiles is used for an entirely separate game, Sturt's Stony Desert. Match that, Carcassonne! The topic now is one Charles Sturt. In the early days of the British experience in Australia they first found the land's outlines by sea, leaving the more difficult inland exploration for later. In fact the terrain looked so forbidding that they could only hope that within lay a large lake to permit easier traversal. The result must have been a curious spectacle: an expedtion setting out for the desert carrying a large boat. In the game both of the players are trying to complete an expedition, at right angles to one another. The match is played in two halves. First only tiles with relatively simple curves are played, without the need to preserve path continuity by the way, except insofar as one wants to do so. Then, if no one has yet won, the second half begins when the area is completely tiled. Now the more elaborate tiles – curves on three corners – are placed as a second layer above the existing. Here it's advisable to try for a sort of fork so that even if one path is blocked, the other remains viable. Despite the cute story, theme is not really in evidence here, but this should appeal to fans of pure abstracts like Twixt. Ultimately it probably has more to think about than the title game, actually.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Günter Cornett; Bambus; 2007; 2-4 (2)
Down with the King
Card game set in a fictional kingdom reminiscent of Georgian Britain. Shares features with Illuminati as players try to influence neutrals. Also has nifty activity tables with a wide range of flavorful results. The "advising the king" feature is also quite interesting. Unfortunately some of the events are rather too strong and a player can spend a lot of time doing nothing due to no fault of his own. In addition, it can be very difficult for anyone in the game to achieve even the means for the game's main goal, overthrow of the king, making for a game that can last hours and hours, and much longer than play of the game would dictate. The game also suffers the death of a thousand cuts as the number of exceptional rules and die modifiers are a huge impossible mass of items practically impossible to completely recall and always account for. These problems are regrettable in that the basic system is actually quite interesting from both gameplay and theme perspectives. A second "cleanup" edition, perhaps this time including a board, would be a welcome development. Post-publication articles in The General add more activity tables which give the game more variety without solving the above problems. [6-player Games] [summary] [variant]
D'r Af
Unusual auto racing game in which the goal is to drive off the edge of the table. Unfortunately I didn't find much to recommend. For example, in our five-player game, on turn one the first player, positioned on the end, before even moving forward decided to slide sideways. This bumped the car to his left, which bumped the car to its left, and so on, and so on, until every car had already taken substantial damage before any had even moved! Then, players played so many Swap tiles that hardly anyone could get anywhere, except one player who had used his "9" Cruise Control, who promptly outran every other car to the extent that the race was over by the end of turn one. I cannot believe that this is the way the game was meant to be played, or that anyone would consider this fun, but apparently it's all allowed by the rules. Roads and Boats by the same publisher is of more interest. Title is Dutch for "Off it". [Splotter]
Drachenfaust (Fist of Dragonstones)
Bruno Faidutti and Michael Schacht game of auctions in a medieval fantasy setting. Bidding is blind and has the goal of accumulating various sets of glass stones which are turned in for victory points, constituting a race to the win. Players don't bid on these dragonstones directly, but on randomly-revealed cards which yield stones or in some way confer a special power. It's a little like Citadels, but with auctions standing in for drafting, i.e. there is careful balancing of the various powers. The biggest innovation here is the use of three different currencies: one which when spent is irrevocably lost, one which returns at round's end and one which is only useful in tiebreaker auctions. In terms of downsides, there are just two. The first is that there's a lot of fragility in a blind bidding system when players have to rely on one another just to play defense. Someone may forget, fail to notice or sell out the rest in hopes of feathering his own nest. Unfortunately this engenders a lot of table talk as well as the phenomenon of victory by accident. The second concern is that bidding is all one does and by the fourth round or so this can feel rather monotonous. For this reason this system might someday work better in a larger game, one having a theme that could make better sense of the various currencies as well. (The current excuse for a theme is that players are playing a game that used to be played in the olden days.) As it is, there is little to interest any but expert tacticians, and not all of them. By the way, the bidding pieces are of wood, not the nice plastic bits of Citadels.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Drachengold (Dragon's Gold)
Game by Bruno Faidutti about fantasy adventurers killing dragons and squabbling over treasures. You have two knights, a wizard and a thief. On your turn place one of them against one of four dragons. When enough points have been accrued against a particular dragon, then all the players involved have one sand-timed minute to reach terms about dividing the treasure (modulo special abilities of the wizard and thief). If agreement cannot be achieved, you get nothing. Magic cards break the rules in various ways, including a card which, similar to the Filch of Cosmic Encounter, legalizes theft of jewels as long as you don't get caught. A set-collection mechanism (conducted secretly) determines the final winner. Although at first glance appearing to be only a negotiative party game, actually the negotiations are usually not that difficult to conclude, especially since treasure is plentiful, although one could envision an unscrupulous player causing a lot of havoc. Choose opponents accordingly. The Black Diamond can be a game winner if acquired early, because it is worth a lot, because the owner is sure about what he wants to collect and because no one wants to rob him. Rules are just two pages. Overall should be popular with the RPG crowd and negotiators with some crossover appeal for the general public. The need to memorize what jewels have been taken and the relative randomness of the treasures may lose others. [6-player Games]
This two-player game in the Kosmos series by Michael Rieneck (Around the World in 80 Days, Die Säulen der Erde) can be seen as a distillation of the main elements of Fury of Dracula, but probably it's more usefully described on its own, for reasons both of context and accuracy. Players have had some of their cards distributed randomly onto a 3x4 grid. Some cards are in effect land mines for one player or the other while others are either coffins or victims, the collection of which is the ultimate player goal. Movement and combat are resolved using cards which each feature no fewer than four functions, the other two being barrier placement and a special, rule-bending action. The cards which permit fast movement tend also to be the ones that offer the most strength, even if not needed, so there are tradeoff considerations. Observation of the opponent gives scope for bluff and deduction, but there is a lot of memory work as well. Coupled with the original uncertainty of which card is where, I suspect a lot of players will in the end just ignore all other considerations and simply start exhaustively exploring all the cards. The fact that the system is not very tight – one usually is not in danger of losing the last life point or also can usually move quite far – means that this can become a methodical processing contest with the luckiest player winning. If you do play it's probably a good idea to put out all of your strongest helpers from the start in order to put your opponent under threat and duress. Plus there is a card that lets you get one back so this might as well be the best available. The treasures should probably be placed out slowly, generally away from the opponent's current location and where he has just departed, unless of course that is what's expected. Barriers can be used to hinder a fast return to the area. Getting out as many of your cards as possible is good as it both narrows down where the opponent's treasures can be and trips him up as well. Theme is well served by the fog of uncertainty, but the grid layout is quite boring and rather detracts. Why didn't it show the great cities of Europe or at least depict more interestingly the various locations? Tiles, though smaller and less able to show a nice portrait, would have permitted more of the map to show through as well. There are only a few different card types anyway. Ah well, I suppose it depends on whether one loves cards or maps. Overall the entire system is a good one – much faster than Fury of Dracula – but it would seem a system that deserved more tuning so as to provide more strategic options and replay value. Still, it's not bad as an occasional tactical contest. Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Dragon Delta
Unusual game combining bluff and pseudo-dexterity features. Slightly reminiscent of Quoridor, in this multi-player outing players attempt to build bridges across a chain of islands and be the first to advance their pawns to the other side. Building bridges requires placing wooden discs. Moving pawns requires unoccupied bridges for them to walk on. All of these things can only occur as a result of five pre-programmed cards secretly chosen by the players in advance, à la Roborally In addition, bridges come in differing lengths and must fit to be placeable – a player may not test one out beforehand. The result is a fun-feeling although rather chaotic romp. Some matters feel insufficiently developed such as the situation when a player is on the last ramp to the goal and 99% unstoppable and yet another turn must be played out. This is similarly the case when one programs two bridges but only wishes to place one – it is so ridiculously easy to plan a misplay that the rule should have been amended to say that this card means that one has the option of placing one or two bridges in the first place. Arbitrary attacks, i.e. the card which prevents another player from executing his action, thus harming both players in comparison to the others, may be insufficiently limited as well. [6-player Games]
Not much strategy is available in this rather simple-playing movie tie-in, and perhaps no one remembers the 1981 film anymore either, even if it was of some fantasy cult-type interest. (Amazing to realize that starring as the lead apparentice wizard was Peter MacNicol, Ally McBeal's John Cage character.)
Drahtseilakt (Relationship Tightrope)
Reiner Knizia game in which players bid either high or low for cards with the eventual goal of balancing out the highs with lows to achieve a zero. Somewhat reminiscent of Zero and also Hornochsen, the latter in the way that players often try to play a card which is between two other values. Although it is possible to do poorly due more to bad luck (of the draw) than poor play, the elegant system is very pleasing and the analysis of what others will do quite challenging. The "0" card mechanism is a piece of genius in what is already a good game. Overall enjoyable if played in several hands and not too seriously. Title about tightrope walking could be translated as "high wire act".
Drake & Drake
Two player abstract with a very light veneer of competing pirate bands played out on a grid. Players earn points for occupying squares, some of which confer extra points, and earn extra points for large connected groups according to a schedule (reminiscent of Texas). Before play each player receives half the sequentially numbered cards and allocates from a sub-deck of eight each turn. These are simultaneously revealed and resolved in numerical order. Although the purpose of most cards is simply to place a piece, a few specials grant greater powers, e.g. removing an opponent's piece, flipping some as in Go, sliding a row to knock an opponent off the edge or removing a group of opponents surrounding one's own pieces. One of these cards, Falsification of Orders, appears only once and is much more powerful than any of the others as it not only cancels the opponent's specials – which would already be too much – but also permits the lucky recipient to direct the opponent's placements for the round. The only drawback to the card is that one might play it when there are no special cards to nullify. But as it doesn't really make much sense to play the specials on the first two rounds when there are but few pieces on the board and since a player must always specials in pairs, it is almost guaranteed to work on either one of rounds 3 or 4. By round 5 the game may well be over. Of course, other imbalances are quite possible and so the instructions suggest a workaround: have the players swap hands and play again, but given how much is now known, this gives the second player of the more powerful hand quite an advantage, not to mention removing the fun of surprise. The artwork is cute, but the wording on the cards in the English version leaves something to be desired, which can be overcome in time. That the pieces completely obscure important board information is a major problem. Disks in three different sizes would have worked much better. Thematically the connection to the Caribbean pirates is almost zero. If placements had to start in one corner and could only expand from there it would have felt more real, but this must have started life as a pure abstract that adopted a theme in an attempt to improve sales. Kosmos' "Spiele für Zwei" (games for two) series must be very successful as both Ravensburger and Eurogames have started their own; in this one, "Games for 2" even the card backs display the series name and logo, commerce thus intruding somewhat distastefully into the play experience. If Hera and Zeus was an attempt to make a quick and tactical version of Stratego and Tally Ho! an attempt at doing the same for Chess, this could be considered the equivalent for Go, and should appeal to the same audience, but somehow doesn't have quite the fun of either of its counterparts. [Pirate Games]
Draughts (Aracaby, Checkers, Dama, Damenspiel, La Jeu de Dames)
Abstract whose roots stretch all the way back to ancient Egypt, when possibly it was not quite so abstract. Today, versions vary and the UK and USA seem content to play on a Chess board while continental Europe prefers a ten by ten board. Other parts of the world, such as southeast Asia, even use twelve by twelve. Generally quite popular, although somehow lacking the exalted reputation of Chess, to which it is often compared, probably on the basis of the similar board even though this is not really appropriate as the games are quite different. In fact the game has federations, standard openings, "problems" and endgame philosophies much as Chess does. The listed titles are those used in British English, Polish, American English, Italian/Spanish, German and French respectively. [10 Most Famous Board Games]
Dreizehnte Holzwurm, Der
Unusual Kramer-Kiesling card game whose title means "The Thirteenth Woodworm." The title refers to the "-13" card that one must take along with the last trick, but if there a literary or other allusion beyond that I would be interested to learn about it. Somewhat reminiscent of 6 Nimmt! or Hornochsen, here the deck has been divided into five suits and players take turns laying cards onto the correct color. Gray cards are wild and may be placed on any pile. The problem is that if the absolute value (some cards are positive and some negative) of a card is less than the number of cards in the pile, the player must take the pile in hand. The game ends when the first player goes out, earning a thirty point bonus. Others earn the value of points in hand. Thus there are at least two strategies, one to try to be first out and one to maximize points in hand. The first is most available to the first player, but everyone's decision will depend first on what cards one has and second on how the other players behave. It is often feasible to switch strategies midstream. The distribution of the five public cards as well as those in players' hands keep every game quite new and different, unexpected developments being more the norm than the unusual. There can also be dramatic tension near the end as everyone expectantly waits to see who will be forced to take a big trick. It is more strategic than its cousin, 6 Nimmt!, and more variable than its other relative, Hornochsen. Cards are amusingly illustrated and show various cartoonish worms biting into things, including electrical cords. [6-player Games]
Drôles de Zèbres
The title of this game for two about directors competing within a zoo translates to "Strange Zebras" and it's a bit of an odd, or at least, surprising affair, given its external presentation. A square board is divided by a grid and also into five, irregularly-shaped areas of differing sizes. Players take turns placing one of their tiles on a vacant space in the row or column next to which a figure at the outside edge is standing. Then he moves the figure one to three spaces. Zebras are worth six points, gazelles only two. A lion flips adjacent herbivores upside down. A crocodile swaps location with a gazelle which is across one of the rivers that criss-cross the zoo. The elephant ain't affected by nobody, thank you very much. The goal is majority control of the areas, for which at the end a player receives all of the region's points. This is actually a pure abstract as there is no luck involved, but dressed up weakly with theme. A lot of playing well appears to be about grabbing the corner lots and, of course, keeping the opponent out of particularly critical spaces. There is some lookahead also since when rows fill up there are fewer choices about where to place the figure. Contrary to the jaunty, light zoo image, this is a dry, think-y affair, but maybe a useful one as a bridge between the abstract fan and others, though Hey! That's My Fish! is a likelier option for the purpose. At least there are no language-dependent components other than the instructions.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Bruno Cathala; 2004; Asmodée Editions; 2
Drunter & Drüber
Klaus Teuber voting and logical deduction game about crazy city planners. Players each have a secret type of existing building on the board grid that they are attempting to preserve so there is considerable bluff element. Player turns consist of placing nicely-illustrated tiles in three different sizes. If the tile overruns an outhouse, then this action is subject to a secret ballot vote, but most vote cards are only usable once, so there is considerable dilemma in their use. Some English translations of the rules fail to completely cover the case of ties. I suggest that if a tied vote occurs because all players used their "undecided" vote cards, the building is built, whereas if at least one real vote was cast, it is not. Amusing theme, simplicity and attractiveness of presentation are all assets, a slight tendency to more luck of the draw than one wants a drawback. Title is an oft-used expression which can be loosely translated as "under and over", but doesn't really capture the full sense of its meaning of topsy-turvy or a long, silly process. [Spiel des Jahres Winner]
Personal Rating: 6
Klaus Teuber; Hans-im-Glück; 1991; 2-4
Dry Gulch
American game with an interesting theme about building up an Old West town. The board is mostly incidental in what is at heart merely a card game. Luck of the draw in cards is what it mostly seems to be about – most of the player decisions are rather obvious and the game runs too long for this kind of thing.
Alan D. Ernstein; Hangman Games; 1999; 3-6
Dry Gulch Junction
This additive second title after Dry Gulch prompts question of what the third will be. Let's hope something better than "Dry Gulch Conjunction Junction". This time around players are concerned with three matters: drafting additional floors for buildings, placing buildings advantageously and having funds sufficient to accomplish both. Players each begin with a different deck of building cards and it's fun that each set seems to have its own, unstated personality. One seems to be in charge of the town's entertainment – saloon, bordello, etc.; another is the establishment – sheriff, city hall, and so on; and a third almost feminine with the hatmaker, shoe shop, opera, ... Players add their buildings to either side of main street, trying to locate them next to the building types that the cards name to get earn extra points. Between building rounds are two drafting rounds which permit acquisition of second and third stories. In addition these cards have a second purpose, to generate income, either the same amount for all players or, at the owning players' options', to provide income directly on a listed building. Funding for a specific building is always more lucrative, but is restricted to being used there (apart from a kickbacks rule). The example of Bang! is folllowed in using hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds to denote building compatibilities. The most clever innovation is in the drafting. The first player to forego taking a building improvement gets to choose the income card, but then must live with the last choice of improvements. This is probably the most challenging decision as that of which building to add is fundamentally dependent on available funds. In fact it sometimes develops into a no-win situation as actions are too valuable to waste, but often one would prefer not to build until an opponent does so, in order to place a building next to one with an affinity for it. There is a fair amount of randomness in the drafting process, but a runaway leader seems unlikely. In fact resolution of one playing required going to the third tiebreaker. The instructions can be a bit confusing until one gets the point of what is going on. Card artwork is cartoonish and bright and attractive. Notation could have been made clearer by putting the story points in a more visible location and labeling those having a cost of two but a value of four as "2 (+2)" instead of "2*". Duration is short and downtime kept to a minimum. On the other hand, with some of its special rules (e.g. side streets), it's more oriented toward experienced players than a general audience. Some tips for your first game: (1) build next to your start building, (2) build the Boarding House. The reasons are that extra funding for these two situations are common.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Alan D. Ernstein; Hangman Games; 2008; 2-4
Tile-style game, but with cards. The title translates to "Jungle." Some filler games are meant to be openers, some closers, and with some it doesn't matter. This one should be in the opener category as it is a maddening memory game in which one must three times cross a jungle of cards in which half the cards are hidden and changeable by other players when it is not your turn. Tactically, here are a couple tips, even if your memory is as bad as mine. Get the path cards which go in all four directions in your line of direction as much as possible. This helps to make up a lot for bad path planning. The other is that even though it may seem wasteful, just going ahead and trying to see if you can shoot through can be quite valuable in terms of making clear in your head what you need to fix in your path. The downside is that it gives the opposition free information, but hey, you just might get through the jungle that way. Anyway, this game is an opener because it cruelly tests and sharpens the memory so that you will be glad to play something less taxing afterward. Playing it as a closer just leaves you feeling helpless. I think the game makes an impressive statement about just what an effect art can have on a game. In this one, all of the jungle paths look so similar to one another, and the card backs so similar to the card fronts (in fact, it is often tricky to find out which cards one needs to flip back over), that one really does begin to get that oppressive feeling of being trapped in the jungle where every leaf, flower and path looks the same and from which you will never escape.
German doesn't have any single letter to represent the English "j" sound, so "dsch" is used instead. This title is a cognate with English "junks", referring to the old Asian trading ships, the word originating with the Javanese jon. Essentially this is an auction game with a few extra wrinkles. Best and most innovative of them is the mechanism of layering three part strips representing crates. These are placed in groups of three with each succeeding layer being laid crosswise. Each player's influence on the containing junk depends on the number of crates he has showing. So interesting is this unique mechanism that one comes to regret that it does not play a larger role. Instead, playing the starring role is the dreaded "blind auction with possibility of no return". In other words, bids are sealed, simultaneously revealed and all must pay, even if coming in second place and receiving nothing. What will it take to make this mechanism disappear from games forever? It really does nothing but defeat skillful play. Can it be consigned to games for children, please? Another unwelcome element is that of memory as players must dive into one of five decks of special cards à la The Settlers of Catan Card Game. The game slowdown that occurs while this happens is not as bad here, but there is enough card text that it may cause problems for non-German readers. The other main activity is choosing to execute special functions with the three different merchants on the five different junks, an interesting process which requires considerable lookahead and defense against the activities of others, especially the player to the left. Thematically, the economic model is a very strange one, suggesting that products such as spice, rice and fish are more fungible than money as the market presents a fixed price and the player who bids the most product is the only one who gets paid. Actually, money is never spent, only being employed as a scoring mechanism. A good idea makes holdings public at two strategic points of the game. The design does not feel "tight" – in fact, the phases in a round could probably be re-sequenced in any order without substantially affecting play – whether this is a failing or sheer brilliance I can't quite make out. The overall result is something of a mishmash of good and not so good features. Designer Michael Schacht has succeeded better with previous outings Web of Power and Kontor than in this, his first large game published by Queen. It will probably be less to the taste of sophisticated players, but may be appreciated by those less demanding, if the language issues can be surmounted. Strategically, keep in mind the 25-point bonus available for presence on all five crates. As the final winning score will be about 75, this is quite a significant component.
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu
DTM-Hockenheimring (Das Motorsportspiel)
Auto racing game with real time elements makes for a reasonable experience. Each player turn is time, beginning with the roll of three six-sided dice. The player then chooses which to use, including possibly using more than one. Only results that have a diagonal element, i.e. 2, 3 or 5, permit lane changes. Timing turns at about twenty seconds or less seems necessary if the crash rules are ever to get used. This will greatly benefit experienced players so handicaps for newer players may be a good idea. Board casts quite a large footprint and is best with at least six racers. Although pleasant, auto race game bashers will not find any special relief here, especially since once one falls behind, it can be quite difficult to catch up. [6-player Games] [Professional Motor Sports Spiele]

Durch die Wüste (Through the Desert)
Players take turns placing two camels on the board to form caravans. Each player has four or five caravans of distinct colors. You get points for placing your camels on waterholes or adjacent to oases or for surrounding territory. Additionally, the longest caravan of each color gets a bonus. The title in English is Through the Desert. There is really nothing here to do with camels, deserts, trade or adventure. The camels, deserts and oases are merely a very thin veneer for a Go-like game of surrounding territory.
Dutch Blitz (Ligretto)
Multi-player frenzied action game of being first to get rid of cards. Pretty clearly this has been inspired by the endgame portion of Double Klondike. Players begin with a few out cards, a stack of ten and a deck. The goal is to play any visible cards into the center, piling onto any stack in order. The round ends when any player has exhausted his stack of ten. The out cards may be replaced from the stack to help. The deck is only revealed three cards at a time. There may be a little bit of strategy in the order that you consult your card sources and some tactics in examining the current stacks of others, but mostly it's speed and recognition. Also published as a game for children: Ligretto Junior.
Fourth in Kris Burm's Gipf series following the flagship game, Tamsk, and Zèrtz. Like the rest, a pure abstract made with quite nice pieces, here hefty rings in black, white and red which form solid stacks. This abstract almost seems to tell the story of two tribes who first populate a valley and then enter into a war of enslavement. The two ideas are to isolate and destroy by removing pieces from connection with one of the three red pieces and to be on the top of the largest stacks. A deep game with rapidly telescoping options, the latter idea appears to be the more important one, at least for beginning players. The initial population of the board ensures that every playing is different, but in itself seems a bit boring. Perhaps this part improves with repeated play. Fans of the previous outings should continue to be pleased as although it doesn't have the innate excitement of Tamsk or quite the subtlety of Zèrtz, the gap is quite small. And it may be that much more accessible to those who have found the others too deep. Can be used to generate a potential in the original Gipf, though I've never heard of anyone playing it this way. [Holiday List 2002]
Two-player game of Chinese dynastic competition. In the basic game players begin with identical sets of cards which they re-use over the course of nine turns, allocating them among five provinces of China. Cards are then revealed and the player with the larger number places cubes equal to the amount of the difference into the province or removes an equal number of the opponent from there if some are already present. A scoring of all provinces occurs every third turn using randomly determined values chosen at the start of the game. The system is cleverly arranged so that a province which is worth a lot one round is of only minimal value the next, and vice-versa. After each round a player also draws two special cards at random, keeping one of them. These are either very strong or offer special effects. In this area I found that while I would not have minded the opponent knowing what card I kept, it would have made my game much more interesting to know his. Thus I would suggest a variant in which these cards are revealed when chosen, which should make planning in this Rock-Paper-Scissors-like system more rather than less interesting. Despite the simple system, there are several strategic paths available. One can concentrate on just a few areas or try to dominate everywhere. The game ends early if one gets too far ahead, so it's possible to try for a knockout. Another possibility is offered by the fact that cubes are limited: getting the opponent to over-commit in a couple provinces denies him sufficient options for acting in others. The game package is nicely small, but unfortunately the board tends to warp. The scoring pawn is not comfortably situated on it either and is easily disrupted. Artistically it is a little drab and the communication design could use some work too, by making the card placement areas more closely correspond to the province locations and scoring values. But this is a nice, fast game for two provided they enjoy a game of outguessing. Additional cards offer several variants, including ones the players can easily devise for themselves. [Jolly Roger Games]
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
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