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Early American Chrononauts
The Chrononauts card game prequel is much the same as its predecessor with the time cards covering the period from the founding of the colonies to well past the Civil War. A major addition is a new type of card, the gadget. These are similar to artifacts, which still exist, but each of these also provides some game warping ability. While they provide more choices in the turn, they are sometimes so powerful that their owner tends to collect most if not all of them. This is not so much a problem in the runaway leader sense as collecting three artifacts still seems the easiest way to win, but it can mean that this player's turn starts to become very complicated and long, increasing downtime for others. This game can apparently be combined with its predecessor to cover all of American history, but so far I have not dared. Thinking more about the system, it seems a shame we never pay much attention to the thematic changes in the timeline, but it's unclear whether the fault is the game's or our own. [6-player Games] [Looney Labs]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Card game with five suits of twelve cards each (skeletons, wizards, elves, goblins, soldiers) plus two wild cards and eight special cards (earthquake, opportunity, prosper, time warp). Each participant gets to lay out cards twice per round. A play is a single special card or a set of cards all from the same suit. Players receive points equal to the number of cards laid down multiplied by the number of cards of that suit on the table. Only the first player discards, except when an earthquake is played. The prosper card gives extra points, the time warp extra turns, the opportunity extra cards. Has some strategy depending on whether one is in the lead or at the back, but much of the game seems to be fairly obvious and much of the success based on luck of the draw. At least it finishes quickly. Theming seems gratuitously oriented to Wizards of the Coast's fantasy card games business.
Easy Come, Easy Go
Reiner Knizia dice game similar to Knights in structure, but wisely restricted to at most four players. This means that games are short, a vital requirement in this genre. In addition, the various different targets towards which one rolls are just the right distance apart. That is, some aim to achieve a configuration, e.g. three of a kind or two-pair while others aim for totals, e.g. above 17 or below 3. Over the course of several rolls the dice frequently point to multiple possibilities which means the player is constantly reconsidering options. This game appears to be a good bridge for the Yahtzee / Bunco set to get to a vehicle that's a bit more intelligent. So how about having this ready the next time you're winding down at your local watering hole? The publisher has thoughtfully provided a sturdy box and stain-resistant cards – good job Out of the Box! – so there should be no excuse. [Frequently Played]
Easy School
One of the signatures of the current gaming age has recently become apparent. It was visible in To Court the King and this is another instance: the marriage of two unexpected mechanisms. This time a press-your-luck game has been hitched to a "take that." Of course there are cards – 110 in all – which show scenes of students cheating at school in various ways such as bribing the teacher, hacking their grades, hiring a nerd, etc. There are also wild cards and stress cards, the most common type. The most frequently taken action is to draw cards one at a time until a voluntary stop or receipt of too many stress cards, which also causes loss of cards. On the other hand, should a player begin with a diversified set and no stress, he may bank one of each type, though giving others who are also without stress a chance to bank a single card. Finally, a player having stress can give these cards to others who must thereby each lose a card. This is a catch-up mechanism that leads to much speculation about which player has the most points in his covered stack. For despite the need to collect in variety during the game, at the end points are awarded for collecting large sets of the same cards according to the triangular numbers scheme. Production-wise, the cards are a bit flimsy, which added to the fact of their being so many, makes them difficult to shuffle well. The artwork for this Italian game is after the style of Japanese comic books. More could have been done to differentiate the various card types and make them more readily distinguishable, especially at the corners. The mechanisms here actually combine successfully, but the use of cards tempers the luck portion of press-your-luck. There are only so many of each card type that can appear, which means that the wild swings of luck that can provide so much excitement in dice games are just not there. This is press-your-luck made safe and reasonable when what's wanted is insanity.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Michele Mura; Red Glove/Abacus; 2007; 3-5
ebay Electronic Talking Auction Game [American edition]
Auction game run by a talking gadget. Players take turns to bid on one of three items (cards) in limited time using bid cards, attempting to collect items in sets of three to gain double value. To simulate that singular ebay experience of not being able to get the bid in at the last minute, the length of each item's auction is unpredictable. Each item has an apparent value showing during auction time and hidden on the other side, a true value which tends to either double, match or halve the apparent one. There are also two types of special cards that come up to auction: a display case that behaves as a wild card for completing sets and a gift card that forces another player to give its owner an item of the giver's choice. The time allotted for making bids is limited, but not terrible and after the first couple tries players will almost always get their bids in on time, although amid a feeling of controlled frenzy. Ambient noise is a larger problem as the device has a limited volume, probably limiting sites to quiet, home situations. There are plenty of tactical considerations such as how high to bid and whether it is better to try seriously for an item or simply to force an opponent to spend more in order to have the advantage later. One upside, or downside, depending on perspective, is that very little of the large deck is actually used. Viewed as a risk management issue, this makes matters more challenging, but from a perspective of balance, may tilt it in favor of those who happen to win what will only later be revealed as the best items. Fortunately the game length, a rather strictly enforced thirty minutes, is correct for a setup of this type. In fact, despite being a promotional vehicle, this is reminiscent of German set collecting efforts and deserves repeated plays. Even though this item seems to have been remaindered, it's a good example of what Hasbro could be doing, perhaps with a better tie-in subject, but unfortunately usually does not. The physical presentation is one downside as the cards are rather flimsy, the base board too thin and the card holders ill-formed, both for fitting onto other parts and for the job of comfortably holding the cards. Batteries not included.
Ebbe & Flut
Card game for two situated on a beach in which the land fights the sea for dominance. Fascinating mechanism permits advancing one's own cards and forcing the retreat or elimination of the opponent's. Brilliant match of theme and mechanism as well. The English version of the rules are not that great, particularly the rule which seems to suggest that a player moves his opponent's card. This is simply a poor translation and not the intention. Also features solitaire format.
Edel, Stein und Reich
Card game re-make of Basari. The dice and board are gone, the players' stalls being dealt from a deck. The three choices are now gems, points or a randomly turned up event card conferring extra benefits. Bidding and negotiations are the same. If the proffered event card is not to taste, the winning player may instead opt to take the unknown from the top of the deck. A fifth player is supported by a variant which creates a fourth category, that of being allowed to take any jewel from the supply. This option is not if too many others choose it, so it is a good way for a player in the lead to make a conservative play. Other advantages of this edition are elimination of the perfect strategy problem and a much smaller package. On the other hand, more randomness is introduced by the event cards. For example, one gives a large bonus for having the most jewels in a category. A player who dominates all categories could easily score 60 points, especially if no opponent realizes he has it. At the very least, the full list of cards should be made available to all prior to play. Speaking of cards, they have been arranged such that those having the highest points values also have the best collections of jewels. This is probably meant to provide players with dilemmas. This can become a problem unfortunately as there are too few cards for averages to even out; one or two players might end up drawing the good cards all of the time. It isn't a huge problem, but it would probably have been better had each card been of about equivalent worth, i.e. cards having low jewel values should be leveled off with high points values and vice-versa. Overall, the resulting mix of features may be slightly less elegant, but at least the attractive jewel pieces are identical between editions. An Edelstein is a precious stone, but edel also means noble and Stein can mean jewel, while Reich can mean riches.
Reinhard Staupe
Unjustly ignored multi-player game posited on a square grid. Players take most turns playing one of their tiles, after which a takeover attempt may be made on an opponent's adjoining holdings. This is resolved via a back-and-forth auction which starts at a minimum price commensurate with the property's value. As the attacking player's property is also part of the spoils, there is something for the defender to gain as well. This system runs counter to the usual, wherein one learns to always acquire as much as possible. Here that would be a major error since not having sufficient funds can leave one seriously vulnerable to losing it again, potentially at a lower price. It may even leave the owner unable to pursue the other kind of turn: property upgrade. Upgrades are difficult enough already as it takes at least two turns for the resulting income increase to cover the cost, but at least defense is somewhat enhanced as the minimum bid is increased. Play requires some luck as one needs to draw useful tiles, but as agglomerations grow it becomes ever easier to find a way to move in next door. If the skill in the game is in finding the balance between property and cash as well as detecting opponent vulnerability in this respect, the strategy is in whether to operate mostly by takeover or to quietly build off in a corner. The board is just large enough to permit the latter. Cards and artwork are attractive, even generous – this probably could have been done with far fewer cards and tiles. Only the theme is a poor fit. Most of all it is surprising how many machinations can transpire on a simple grid.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High
Edison & Co.
Another one of those games which players seem to love to hate. In this case perhaps the marketing and box cover are somewhat at fault as they lead many to think it is a race game, which it certainly is not. It does feature four very interesting pewter "invented vehicles" however. Probably best played as a partnership game where there is at least a little bit more control. [analysis] [Two vs. Two Games]
Important game in the 18XX series, which look like train games but are actually more in the vein of stock market manipulation. This series was begun with Francis Tresham's 1829 (not described here). Usually perusing game rules is a joy, but this game strikes so prosaically as to be sleep inducing. Attempting to play has the same result. While some like the relative lack of randomness and fine-turned decisionmaking, the entire series is unbearably dry.
Einfach Genial (Ingenious)
Tile-laying pure abstract by Reiner Knizia for up to four players. Not having played any Knizia titles in a while, it was pleasant to realize that certain kinds of problems which have plagued a lot of my playings recently, e.g. kingmaking, overemphasis on luck of the draw et al., would be entirely absent here. Thankfully too, "Simply Brilliant" puts the situation clearly in the middle of the table where it can be clearly seen rather than on upside down cards in front of other players as in
Puerto Rico, San Juan, Goa or St. Petersburg. The board is a hex map and each player has a rack of six tiles, playing one per turn. Points are gained for creating long lines in the same color. Such games are deceptively difficult to design as play becomes processional, each player merely extending the chain to gain one more point than the latest opponent. No one will forego the points until forced to by bad luck of the draw or running out of board space. So inventors need to find clever ways to end chains. In Schlangennest and Die Schlangen von Delhi, the tiles become snakes so there is a convenient terminator, the head. Knizia has a different solution: a double width tile containing two different colors. This may be even better for two reasons: (1) a player can use the same tile to terminate or not as he chooses and (2) even if he does terminate he may well join or start another series with the tile's other half. In addition, the double size creates a lot of other interesting play choices as the piece can be rotated to match up in many more relationships than a single hex piece could. Beyond this ingenious idea, there are other attractions. Scoring is as in Euphrat & Tigris – although public – meaning that the color in which a player achieves fewest points is the most important. So players often must choose between a lot of points in a color where they are already prolific versus scoring fewer points in a color that's lagging. The former may be especially indicated if 18 points is achievable as that gives an extra turn, the latter if it appears a large color group may shortly be closed out. A final aspect is an understanding of the opponents' needs. Strategically, it appears that diversity may be more useful for victory than extra turns. This game's plastic pieces, board and rack are pleasant to handle and the colors thoughtfully provided in varying shapes for the color blind. This fast-playing and accessible production should appeal to fans of pure abstracts and tile-laying games and extend considerably beyond. [Two vs. Two Games] [Frequently Played] [Holiday List 2004]
MLMM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos/Fantasy Flight; 2004; 1-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Einfach Genial - ReiseEdition für Zwei (Ingenious: Travel Edition)
The travel edition of the above has some important differences. As expected, the package is much smaller, arriving in the 8x8x1.5" Kosmos two-player series box. The number of pieces is reduced from 120 to 57 (three of each two-color tile and two of each mono-color). The board is also reduced, from eight spaces per board edge down to six. Unfortunately the number of players is also down to two, ending the possibility of four-player team play. It's fairly ideal for two now, play being sharpened and shorter to complete. If one prefers the more controlled action of head-to-head play this is fine, but making two. vs. two work is somewhat difficult. It could perhaps be accomplished though via the following measures: (1) one team does not get to use the built-in racks, but will have to hold the small pieces in hand; (2) scoring pegs can go past the midline if necessary, but place one team's scoring pegs in rows not corresponding to the indicated row so as to avoid confusion with those of the other team; (3) pieces may be placed around the board's outside edge. Physically the board is nicely crafted plastic with raised forms to hold the small tiles in place. The peg scoring track is rather small, but usable, though the track numbers, only being raised plastic of the same color as the background, are rather too difficult to read. The solo rules are not included, but once one knows them, this can be played as well.
MLMM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos/Fantasy Flight; 2006; 1-2 [Buy it at Amazon]
Elasund: the First City
Multi-player game by Klaus Teuber is somewhat in the mold of his classic The Settlers of Catan. Once again a roll of two dice determines production, which results now in either gold cards and/or in other randomly-drawn ones to be collected in sets. Placing new buildings in the square-grid city is a multi-turn process, since first a player must claim a property and only later build thereon. Larger buildings need multiple claims. The ultimate goal is creation of victory point buildings, which take up space, yet often do not produce anything. One alternate means of scoring is building next to the outer windmill spaces, which give points from progress on a track. Another is building part of the cathedral which costs a lot and appears in a random space, but does build right away. A "7" roll generates a pirate which is a bit like the Catan robber-baron, but the main catch-up mechanism is to build over someone else. Usually one can see this coming and try to counter it if sufficient resources are available; seesaw struggles can last a few turns. Although some buildings can be immediately re-located, it can seem pretty hard to lose one that can't when a lot of resources where spent to achieve it and/or positions on good numbers like 6 or 8 are no longer available. Of course one could try the approach of covering every single number instead. There could even be minor kingmaking issues, though it's expensive to seriously target someone deliberately and the endgame concludes so quickly that it's difficult for such moves to sufficiently develop. That this mechanism makes for a game less friendly than Settlers is certain; whether it nevertheless works depends on individual taste. A more solid objection is the downtime between the turns, which are more complex than The Settlers of Catan, but include nothing for the inactive players to do, the trading phase being absent. Production is of the usual Kosmos high standard. The cathedral placement system is a clever minor feature, not really seen before. Overall this probably works best for those who want a Catan which is a little more in the American style.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
Electric Football
Two-player action game for children depicts the American game. Players set their eleven plastic figures along the scrimmage line and turn on the device which vibrates to cause the pieces to move. Player decisions cease at this point as each watches the ball carrier with opposite hopes. Later variants include a quarterback with a moveable arm that can throw a ball – a small textile bit – which if it hits a receiver – a very hit-and-miss affair – is considered to be a complete pass. Play is quite exciting with all the noise and movement, but quite disappointing in terms of actually being able to accomplish anything. Video games should be more popular for almost everyone. [Periodic Table of Board Games]
Elefant im Porzellanladen, Der (Bull in a China Shop)
Michael Schacht card game successor to his hit Coloretto. The crazy topic of this one follows the proverbial expression "bull in a china
shop", but here the bovine is replaced with an elephant. A bit of whimsy's always welcome, but there's a game of tough decisionmaking here too. Each turn one must either draft a new piece of porcelain or have an elephant to lunch, that is, destroy certain types of one's china. As china may be done at most twice in a row, the elephants will be over often. Each only breaks certain types so timing their visits is the main challenge. All of this is lifted above the ordinary by a Yahtzee-like scoring system whereby a player must pick a category (one of lowest card in each color, highest card in each color, all of a color, all cards) when the scoring card pops up. Lookahead is an important ability and it may take a few rounds to recognize when it's necessary to endure a small pain in order to avoid a much worse one. Overall it's amusing fun, but disasters are quite possible and will probably turn off some players. At least it's light and quick, if not quite a Coloretto.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Card game about the five elements known in Ancient Greece really has no connection to its theme, but mechanisms aplenty to make up for it. The English version of the instructions are particularly difficult to understand, so here comes a more thorough than usual recounting of them. The five color cards, representing the elements, are arranged in a line, one end of which is considered "high" by placing the box there. Then players are dealt eleven cards each and take turns placing one card each face down next to one of the elements. The cards played need not match the ones they are laid next to. If there are fewer than five players, the elements not spoken for get cards from the deck. The cards are now turned face up. What you now have are five pairs of cards. These are sorted, keeping the pairs intact, from highest to lowest. If there are any ties, the pair that started out closer to the box, remains so. Now begin the contests. Each turned up card is a victory point card and will be contested in its own round, starting with the lowest and ending with the highest. Contests are somewhat like Taj Mahal, but based on a modified form of Poker. On the first two rounds, players play, face up, one card each, or pass on playing. On the last round, they play two cards or pass. At the end, the highest card combination wins the victory point card. The highest possible hand is a four-of-a-kind with, e.g., four 9's being worth more than four 8's, etc. Ties in rank are won by the element color which is closest to the box. The next highest hand is four cards of the same color. Ties between colors are resolved as above with ties within a color going to the hand with the highest individual hand. The rest of the hands proceed as you would expect: three-of-a-kind, three colors, two-of-a-kind, two colors, single card. Note that unlike Poker, cards of an unlike color do not invalidate what you may be thinking of as a flush – they are simply ignored. No new cards are dealt until after the last victory point card has been rewarded. At that time, points are recorded on paper, players may make additional discards and a new round begins. There should be one for each player in the game. What becomes interesting is that the power order of the elements, the number of victory points available for the round and which card one can best live without in the limited hand are very intimately related. This single decision is by far the most interesting, closely followed by those around deciding how to divide up the hand into the best combinations and which victory point cards to target. Unfortunately, it doesn't work quite so miraculously as it sounds. Probably the designer needed to go even further with his ideas because with such a limited hand, the color order only rarely makes much of a difference and the vagaries of the draw and distribution mean it is hard to plan meaningfully. Here we see the Knizia's genius in having players draft cards in Taj Mahal, so that they can formulate plans, get some idea of what others' plans are and adjust accordingly. Still this should work as sort of a lite version for those who like this Pokerish feel. Might work better if players were allowed to draw eleven cards instead of drawing up to eleven, as this would enhance long term card saving.
Marcel-André Casasola-Merkle; Adlung; 1997 [Buy it at Adlung]
Invented by Robert Abbott in 1956 and subsequently published in Scientific American. Perhaps the predecessor to games such as Das Regeln Wir Schon, Fluxx and Democrazy where the rules themselves are unclear. One player takes the role of the dealer ("god"), thinks up a rule and succeeding players try to get rid of cards, which only succeeds if they fit the rule. In this version of "Blind Men and the Elephant", players score by avoiding mistakes while the dealer wants to carefully craft a rule such that only one player is able to guess it. The result is quite an unusual beast: a party-style game that rewards very close analysis. Highly recommended, with the right audience, however, as abuses are difficult to legislate against, e.g. a rule which states "all cards played by Sophie are legal." Later variant called New Eleusis adds the role of the "prophet" who is rewarded for correctly predicting application of the rule. The Eleusinian Mysteries, the most important of all the ritual celebrations among the Ancient Greeks, were held annually at Eleusis in honor of Demeter and Persephone, earth goddesses of grain and the harvest. The ceremonies were secret and exactly what they were is still not known. The inventor explains that the title is in analogy to the initiates at the Mysteries, each in turn becoming a member of the cult as he discovers the secret rule. [Robert Abbott]
Doris Matthäus-illustrated game by Alan Moon. Players take turns playing transportation tiles on roads between twenty destinations. Then all try to travel along these roads if they hold the matching cards. Whoever visits the most destinations and arrives closest at a secret destination wins. What could have been an interesting setup ends up having a negative cast as it is more important to watch other players and destroy their plans than to develop one's own. A subsequent expansion kit, Elfengold, does nothing to improve this. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
Alan R. Moon
Alan Moon game seems something like an Olympics competition for wizards. Players try to advance their wizards up a hierarchy by rolling the highest dice. The biggest decisions are whether to keep the dice one has or to re-roll and hope for better. There is also the possibility of making deals with other players for mutual benefit. I have heard vaguely of variants to this game which make the decisions a bit tougher and more interesting.
Alan R. Moon
Elixir (Mixtur)
Party game of collecting cards needed to cast spells, which have some warping effect on game play. First to complete all of his spells wins. From a strategic perspective, there is a large amount of luck of the draw, but the real reason to play this game is the hilarious conditions required by the spells, especially the one point variety, which are often reminiscent of the moons in the game Cosmic Encounter. Players may be forced to say phrases like "Well I'll be a monkey's uncle" whenever speaking or sing a song to avoid penalties. If you don't like games like Democrazy or Fluxx best to avoid this one. Also, some spell cards seem a bit unbalancing, e.g. one forbidding its victim from playing any spells for three entire turns a lifetime. Such rules also violate the useful German game convention that no game state must be tracked in one's head. Although I have not yet tried them, some feel that the first of three expansion kits, Alambic, improves matters, the other two being Mandragore and Alchimie. There is a lot of text on the cards, so be sure to get an edition in your language of choice (Mixtur being the German title). Mayfair's English edition and the second French edition cover up the nude fairies. Not connected with the game of the same name by TSR which is not described here. [6-player Games]
Fantasy game of stealing dragon treasure without being caught is reminiscent of Tutanchamun in that pawns move ever forward and of Cartagena in that the total number of pawns in the same space determines how far the pawn must move. Turns go quickly as at most two pawns may be moved. At the end of it an available gold or gem card is collected. While gems can be collected in sets for a nice bonus, it's gold which is more intrinsically valuable, and which can be used to bribe the dragon. This comes into play when a move ends on the dragon's current space, upon which it jumps 1-3 spaces and should it land on anyone, causes a forfeit of a gold card or removal as dinner. So there is sort of skating close to disaster sub-game and the chance to play nasty tricks on the opponents. In fact, while it could be argued that bold vs. timid constitute distinct strategic possibilities, or jewels vs. gold, most of the time plays are tactical with some degree of lookahead and risk management participating. Fortunately, those unable to find sufficient challenge will not be detained more than thirty minutes. At first there tends to be a "just one more" quality; it is eventually destroyed when one has been mistreated by luck too many times. It's unfortunate too that the turn order is so unbalancing; the player who goes last and wins should consider this especially wonderful. In a nice gesture, a lately resurgent Abacus supplies printed rules in German, English and French.
Empire Builder (North American Rails)
The 1980 granddaddy of the system and flagship game of the Mayfair line has been published in several editions including one titled North American Rails. The system consists of rendering an area as a series of dots which players connect to build track. They then run a train over the track in order to pick up and deliver on contracts that are dealt from a card deck. Subtleties including drawing the most efficient route considering both current and future needs, the issue of being locked out of crucial cities, the most efficient route to travel and whether it is better to dump all current demands and start fresh with new ones. Probably the best of series in a generic sense, later editions have seemed to make Canadian track building more and more valuable. May have been partly inspired by Railway Rivals of 1973 and may in turn have inspired the German game of the year of two years later, Auf Achse. Others in Mayfair's series include British Rails, Eurorails, Australian Rails, Nippon Rails, Iron Dragon, India Rails, and China Rails. See also Italian Rails, exclusively available at this site. [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [errata] [variant] [chart]
Empyrean, Inc.
In Latin the empyreus was the highest extent of the heavens, the abode of the gods. It has been appropriated for this science fiction card game of trading and set collection, the race being to collect the required number of cards of the same type. Players have planets which each turn produce cards which have both a general and a specific type. These can be traded, used to purchase more planets, to buy "take that!" cards or to build a collection. Cards may also be taken by an opponent under a taxation rule no doubt intended as a catch-up mechanism. So far so good, but an important fact has been missed. Card trading games work because players have different goals and both participants gain by giving up something they don't need in return for that which they do. But here the players are likely collecting the same thing, either for a collection or to buy the same planet. That this is devastating to the design's center is evident when one sees players not even being willing to state which cards they want as giving up such information may be deadly to their plans, especially considering the special cards, which some being rather powerful, are hardly balanced. Added to these problems is the tiresome yet constant draw-play-draw cycle which fills up plenty of time, but never excites with much sense of planning or fulfillment, especially if someone is going to take an important card at random. Indeed, it appears the best approach is just to play as many cards as possible every turn. The system is also very fragile because very strong action cards may be directed at anyone, not only the leader. A vindictive player can easily ruin everything for a player who isn't even the one likely to win. While this is an improvement on the usual Take That! card game, this is not likely to find many replays. Art by Studio Foglio. Inventor uncredited, but website registered to Greg Moody: [Versal Technologies]
En Garde
Quick, sharp back-and-forth fencing battle not only rewards strategy, but feels like the real thing. Knizia got this one published with the help of the German Fencing Association!
Entdecker (Land in Zicht!)
Klaus Teuber game of discovering a world of hidden tiles is not all that thematic, but does resemble in some sense constructing a giant puzzle. Important is determining what is island and what water. Does not seem to work very well as published, but is better with one of the variants floating about on the Internet. The best audience is a tile-laying fan. Title means "The Discoverers". Land in Zicht! is the title of the Dutch edition. Succeeded by Die Neuen Entdecker.
Dutch for "Duckweed", this is a strange game about a frog, a duck, a pelican and a fish. This colorful, silly theme on top of a heavy mathematical mechanism make for a bizarre combination, but the game kind of grows on you. The really fun bit is landing on other animals – if your wheel is stronger than theirs, you get to toss them across the board as far as you like. If you are weaker, it tosses you, which affects your wheel value. Intriguing! although the tossing fun is perhaps a bit of a trap. Victory in the game probably actually comes from a careful, plodding, and mostly "toss-less" plan.
Abstract for two made of all wood components. The goal is to surround and thus entrap opposing pieces with walls and one's own pieces. Pieces are generally nicely made although some walls don't seem to fit properly in slots. There is possibly some advantage to being first player?
Personal Rating: 5
Rich Gowell; Gowell Games-1999; 2; 30; 8+
Erbtante, Die
Card game whose background story is told with such verve and humor that one cannot help but speculate whether it has some basis in truth! For several paragraphs it details the situation of the elderly Aunt Mary who wishes to leave her descendants with nice heirlooms but not too nice, and yet on the other hand might marry a suitor (based on a "ticking clock" mechanism) and thus not care one whit. Thus is established the two separate victory situations with which the players must contend, although if the cards do not fall so as to leave the issue in doubt, the game tension is greatly reduced. Still it is a subtle and interesting auction situation with fixed funds and a limited ability for the revolving auctioneer to get "first dibs" on new items.
Had a hand helping develop this, but not the main hand and not all ended up my way so there should be at least some kind of balance in my perspective.
Mystery Rummy 1: Jack the Ripper, though quite good, advertises itself as supporting up to four players, but everyone only plays it in a twosome. Some of the same applies here. Themed around mountain building and erosion, it's half a Take That! card game and half Cassino. A player's mountain is represented by a column of cards, each of which depicts a single rock type. But a cards also contains a second function, an action, in one of three types: weathering (which places one or more rocks in erodible position), hillslope (which actually erodes them into the river) and fluvial (which if the player can produce matching hand cards claims them from the river into the player's delta or personal points pile). Points are also awarded for the height of one's mountain. But the point of playing the first two types of card is not only to knock down another's mountain; in addition for each card affected, one places a hand card under one's own mountain, sometimes even clearing the hand. This part of the system feels like it's not quite fully developed yet because replenishment cards are divided into three decks and one chooses them with care. But when most or all of the hand is uploaded into the mountain, all of that planning simply goes out the window. As should be apparent, there is a great deal of throughput of cards; probably too much. To have a more measured approach, perhaps only weathering should increase the mountain and perhaps only hillsloping should replenish the hand. As it is, probably more (than the ninety available) cards should have been provided. On the other hand that would have rapidly come into a tableprint issue, which would already be the case actually, had not the cards been the smallest set for a pure card game since the obscure Mini-T tennis game: 2"x3.5". This enables a very handy package as the cards are just enclosed by a clear plastic container. Their sharp corners don't make for easy shuffling, however. Extras include advanced rules in the form of special powers printed on some of the cards. Some of these take place only at upload time while others are on all the time. These are clearly very advanced since they tend to make turns take too long and it can be quite difficult for other players to see which ones are currently on. There can also be too many for even the owner to keep track of them all. When there are more than three players, it seems to finish far too quickly, even with a complete second round (since so many cards tend to be in play already). But with just two, there is more time to draw the cards needed. There is only one other attacking you so there is less chaos. You don't get into the dilapidated situation where one person weathers you and the next hillslopes you. The game seems to develop naturally into a situation of one player concentrating on mountain building, the other on delta retrieval. If only the decisionmaking involved more dilemmas and challenging considerations. But post-publication, the designer experiments yet with ways to file down the rough edges and this may need to be re-reviewed at some later date. Games on geology are rare, possibly non-existent, and so this is at least a boon to geology fans, which is never clearer than in the victory tiebreaker, i.e. needing to answer a trivia question about the hardness of a rock type.
MMMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
John Douglass; Sierra Madre Games; 2009; 2-5
Escape from Colditz
Very thematic British game about prisoners attempting to escape a World War II German prison. Players first try to collect equipment to help in the attempt and then when the time is right, make a run for it and hope not only that the German guards player doesn't catch them, but also that the other players don't get in their way! Each escape route is quite different which makes things even more interesting. The early game can be a bit boring for the guards player as his movements are very restricted.
Escape from Elba
Players are Napoleon-wannabes in an insane asylum, who move from room to room fighting other "Napoleons". Losers in such an encounter gain from their experience, increasing strength by one and rae randomly teleported somewhere else. The winner, collects a card from the losing player, or the draw stack. The cards have letters that can be used to form one of six words that permit escape from the asylum. As with many games from Cheapass, not much strategy here, but can be amusing if players enter into the spirit of things, declaring "I'm Napoleon!" and so on. The idea for this game was apparently suggested by the 1992 novel The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys (pseudonym of Pierre Ryckmans), later made into a film called The Emperor's New Clothes starring Ian "Bilbo" Holm.
James Ernest; Cheapass Games-1999; 3-6; 60
It's not exactly clear where Eschnapur is, sometimes looking like South America and sometimes like Asia, but wherever it is, Indiana Jones might be right at home there. The name has been used in three different German films, e.g. Der Tiger von Eschnapur, a Fritz Lang adventure film which seems to be set in Bengal. This game by the designer of Basari has some of the same feeling, especially the feeling of lots going on plus nice graphics and components. Lightning does not seem to have struck twice, however, and there seems to be a great deal going on here without much real effect. For example, the cards which permit a player to reveal a treasure seem pointless as most games seem to readily allow one to be opened every turn. The game might play just as well, not to mention faster, by just allowing players to find whichever treasure they want. Especially since there is no indication anyway of its variable worth beforehand. There is plenty of chaos as luck of the draw can be major influence in the card bidding, which is a big part of the game. A sizeable golden Buddha figure allows the last player to double his victory points and is a nice feature for allowing catch-up. Strategically, the treasures do not seem to give enough points to be worth picking them up and one can win by simply concentrating on acquisition of bidding cards. This is problematic since without anyone picking up treasures the game will never end. Probably a fix is needed either the treasures should be substantially increased in value, or the game end if no one takes a treasure over an entire round, or both.
Reinhard Staupe
Eselsrennen (Bunny Zick Zack)
Doris and Frank game of donkey racing. Both sides of the board are used, depending on the number of players. Very innovative movement system has the identity and direction of the next Esel to move depending on the last one's move. Players have the vantage points of bettors, trying to help along the results shown on their prediction cards. A very satisfying blend of lookahead and bluff adorned with the usual wonderful graphics.
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1989; 2-4
Trick-taking card game for four players in fixed partnerships using the top twenty-four cards sometimes adding a joker. Of interest is the way in which the players go around seeing who is willing to take on the role of starting a game with the given trump suit. Often game, which is only to ten or eleven points, is dictated by luck of the draw. [Two vs. Two Games]
Euphrat & Tigris (Tigris & Euphrates, Eufraat & Tigris)
The first of Knizia's tile laying games, this one about waxing and waning ancient city states. Features a fascinatingly high number of viable options every turn, yet never quite enough actions to do everything you want. Nice artwork (with some complaint about the black tiles which never bothers anyone after the third playing) and matching of theme to game system. Appeals to those who like a more detailed sort of game. A Deutscher Spielepreis Winner. Fans of the game may enjoy learning more about the background from the novel Between the Rivers. There is relatively little difference in physical quality between the German and American editions and text in the game is quite minimal, so the decision basically comes down to price and one's taste in art, which differs quite a lot. Note on the American edition: the ambiguous river square actually does not count as a river. The Complete Tigris and Euphrates with Reiner Knizia (video) [variant]
Euphrat & Tigris: Wettstreit der Könige (Euphrat & Tigris: the Card Game)
Going in I had high hopes that this game might be just as fun as its predecessor, the much admired Euphrat & Tigris, if not more so. This could be very handy since I own the original German production in the big box which greatly discourages me from carrying it games meetings. What I found was a game that starts with 8 proto-kingdoms, all arranged in a line. Players add cards and leaders to these, pretty much as in the original,, though leaders now sit on cards rather than next to them. Monuments and conflicts are pretty much as before. External conflict with an adjacent kingdom is possible once a minimum size has been achieved. Treasures are also still present. The hand size is expanded slightly to compensate for the greater difficulty in making four-in-a-row monuments (which are now "boats" actually). Deciding when and how to merge is still an important facet. But somehow not all the fun of the original was able to fit into the smaller box. It's no longer possible to make the odd, ambiguous play or to threaten one merger while in fact working toward a different one. There are far fewer places to creatively break up kingdoms as well. I'm still somewhat surprised in fact that the kingdoms are arranged linearly and not in a ring in which opposite sides could be joined. While nothing here is seriously amiss, it feels that this game came about more from a desire to have a follow-on than on its own merits. Rather than replace the original, it makes one long to play it instead. On the other hand, the original was not, by any means, an easy act to follow.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
[Buy it at Amazon]
Europa 1945-2030
Negotiation game about the spread of the European Union. The game flows fairly predictably and depends mostly on which players want to make deals with which? But whom is best to make a deal with? Are player scores public or not? The rules are silent, but either way is problematic as public scores encourage too much analysis and private scores to giving away the game. In many ways feels more like a pro-EU propaganda vehicle than a game. [6-player Games]
Europatour (10 Days in Europe)
if no image probably out of print
Moon/Weissblum spinoff of Racko. Instead of numbers, players must manipulate their racks of cards to order European nations in adjacency order to create a kind of tour. Innovations are generic ship cards which can stand in for dotted lines on the map that connect two nations by sea and planes which can connect two countries having the same color. Since the plane must also have this color, they are more difficult to use. The single discard pile has been expanded to five to reflect the greater difficult of achieving connectivity. This really needs to be played more than once to fully appreciate because the usual first experience is complete bewilderment. The initial random draw often creates a hand that seems utterly impossible. But with practice, players will find that matters are almost never as dire as they seem. Of course it is possible that sometimes someone gets a quite lucky draw and can finish very quickly, but as the game has used so little time, it's just as good to start a new one again. Just as in Racko, strategy revolves around careful attention to what the opponents are drawing and discarding to avoid making any dangerous discards. An additional consideration is that countries like Germany and Russia with a large number of neighbors are good for just about everyone which usually means they are never discarded. In the Schmidt edition the jolly map is rendered on both sides, one employing the German country names, the other the native. Both map and cards show the country outline and a stereotypical visual joke on the nation. Beware of the following glitches: (1) the Belorussia card mysteriously also has the native name of Albania on it; (2) some ship lines, such as the one between Finland and Estonia are difficult to see and (3) some of the plane card colors are not exact matches to the country colors (the bottom of the plane card is the closest match – Aaron Weissblum indicated that this is supposed to be improved in subsequent editions). The Out of the Box version has neither these issues nor these features, but does offer nice wooden racks. Cards are of a thick cardboard. Overall a light game with a "just one more quality," enjoyable by children as well as adults. In fact, considering all the new countries in Europe, this can even be geographically educational as long as someone points out that places like Scotland are not (yet?) standalone nations. If this is successful, versions for the American states (cars for boats) and the African nations will probably appear next. (Later update: yes, in fact 10 Days in the USA and 10 Days in Africa have been subsequently published.) [Tourist Games] [Frequently Played] [Top Ten Gateways] [Holiday List 2003]

Alan R. Moon/Aaron Weissblum; Schmidt/Out of the Box; 2003; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
The Empire Builder system game set in Europe is one of the best of the series, even if rails drawn to Scandinavia tend to be fairly rare and deliveries to and from Spain often seem to be an unbalancing game breaker. Innovations are ferries and Alpine dots. Four is probably the ideal maximum number of players. [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [variant] [chart]
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Evil Genius
box cover
This is essentially a take that! card game, but one that reduces the pain cards to almost nothing and implements a rudimentary technology tree. We are mad scientists racing to achieve the mysterious goal of twenty-three victory points (were the inventors of 23 inspired by this?). In hands of four cards, players can hold ingredients, lesser experiments and actions. Similar to the later-appearing Uruk, they can add an ingredient to their display when they can acquire a pair in their hands. The prime method of acquiring these, besides luck of the draw, is trade with others, only the current player being able to initiate deals. Getting three to five of the right combination of the four types of ingredients uses them up to place a lesser experiment, which gives a rule-breaking special power. Some of these are quite nice, including one that permits taking a card from the discard pile (whether any card or only the one on top the rules do not say) and some that make playing ingredients easier. Each lesser experiment type, of which there are several copies, gives rise to a single greater experiment which is gained by turning in the lesser one plus several more ingredients. Greater experiments give no abilities, only points, thus creating an effective catchup mechanism. Probably three greater experiments or two of the difficult ones are required to win. A nice innovation is the special ingredient, duct tape. Acting as a double wild card, it matches with any other ingredient for pairing purposes, but then that other ingredient is not put into the display – the duct tape is, where it again serves as a wild card. Of course this is a good joke (at least in America; not sure if it translates elsewhere) on the ubiquity of duct tape as well. Players are usually at least somewhat involved during play because of the trading aspect, and the small hand size basically forces that. There seem to be two different strategies. Either one collects a lot of ingredients without any experiment in mind and then finds an experiment that fits or one gets and holds an experiment and works toward solving it. It may be though that the first one is a bit too good. But if everyone does this, there is cause to worry about the possibility of the game breaking as too many cards go into displays and no experiments are purchased. But this game is too repetitive anyway and without particularly interesting decisions. This might be okay, but it goes on for an hour and a half whereas the interest it offers would indicate a third of that. The action cards don't do a whole lot so they seem mainly a waste of time; often the person who draws them wishes they would get something else because it takes up a slot in the hand and there is reluctance to play it since it might just be countered by an opponent having the reflection card which makes the effect rebound on the player. This is probably thematically correct for the superhero comic book genre from which it comes though. The cartoon artwork is monochrome, probably an artifact of its print and play format. Some cards have mispellings and there are some rules ambiguities with respect to the card combinations. Overall, this mostly neglects current gaming technology; it would have been novel a couple of decades ago, but no longer. [PrintNPlay games]
MMLL4 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 4)
Craig O'Brien; web-published-2002; 3-5; 90
A Philippe Keyaerts design which does for evolution games what his previous outing Vinci did for empire building games. Abstracted out is all but the flavor of a true evolution situation. (Certainly it's no American Megafauna.) The shared element with Vinci is a very nicely-invented auction system to purchase capabilities which are then used to compete on the board under very simple rules. Tends to be fairly tactical as there is not that much time to get very strategic. There are also fairly important chaos factors in terms of which cards get drawn and in resolving cards such as the Deluge. A variant which reduces the number of items up for auction to one less than the number of players seems a good idea and to go with this, playing the game for two more turns than indicated results in a worthwhile experience about an hour long. Perhaps those who dislike the chaos will omit the cards altogether. Adding features to one's dinosaurs is a cute graphical exercise; unfortunately the same skill was not employed in the difficult-to-use weather and mutation points tracks. [chart] [Periodic Table of Board Games] [What's the best evolution game?]
Expedition (Terra-X, National Geographic Expedition)
Challenging Wolfgang Kramer game about the worldwide tours of three archaeological expeditions. Lookahead ability is an important skill in this one, as is the ability to figure out what your opponents are trying to do. This successor to Wildlife Adventure turns that children's outing into one of adult strategy. Nice for six which is often a difficult number. Curious however that in many games I have never seen anyone use the feature by which they can spend to trade in a mission card, unless playing under the Variant A rules, which reduce somewhat the wild branching possibilities. Unfortunate that the cards describing the various archaeological sites are not more interesting. Also known as Terra-X, a German television tie-in. For an interesting variant, you can use a copy of this game to play a satisfying TransAmerica – just hand out chips to count the scores. |·| National Geographic Expedition: The new English edition is the same apart from physical factors. The advantage is that the site cards are more detailed, only to be expected from the prestigious National Geographic. The travel vouchers are now easy-to-handle, thick cardboard rather than paper money. Some disadvantages are that the chips are now cardboard that blends in too easily with the now more colorful and busy board. I suppose it's possible to get used to this, but a more serious deficiency is the lack of extra chips which in the German version can be used to show who is playing which color and to mark the neutrals. Neutrally, some sites have been re-named, having little effect on play. By the way, Variant A has long since been my favorite way to play. [6-player Games] [translation] [variant]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8
Rummy-like card game about collecting various types of train cars. There are a few games that seem to match very well to gaming groups such that they transcend status of games and their playing becomes more than just a game, but a true special experience. For some mysterious reason, this is the case with this game for us, especially the four-handed partnership version. To play this game is not just a matter of trying to gauge the opponent's hand or figure out what your partner is trying to tell you, but to recount all of the bizarre hands and experiences one has ever had playing this game, often at three in the morning. Unjustly panned as a game about set collection, it is actually about rather detailed hand management. [errata] [summary cards] [Tourist Games] [Two vs. Two Games] [Take That! Card Games] [6-player Games] [Frequently Played] A
Extinction [Sinauer]
Obscure package with an educational bent includes instructions for several different games, but only the main one seems to hold any interest. Players represent a species on the island of Darwinia, a colorful hex map depicting six different terrain types. Card draws determine six secret attributes: reproductive rate, attack, defense, habitat, mobility and environmental resistance. The engine of play is the good old spinner which tells the player which two actions he may perform on his turn, e.g. mutate, migrate, attack, reproduce, experience an environmental disaster. The animals themselves are represented by innumerable small dice, the number of visible pips indicating the population size. Mutation is a matter of discarding one to four cards and drawing their replacements. Migration means moving a certain number of pieces depending on their mobility level. Some have no mobility at all, but are able to reproduce in three different habitats. Those with the most mobility can reproduce only in one. The reproduction rate determines how many more population may be placed in and around an occupied hex. There are disasters which eliminate players having more than four pips in a hex, but this is otherwise valuable as it permits moving in on a hex with fewer individuals and removing them. Another way to do this is predation, a matter of having an attack ability like strength, speed or nocturnal which the defender does not. At first it seems like matters will never come to a conclusion as fortunes wax and wane, but after a couple of hours there will probably be a tipping point that gives someone complete dominance. It's an interesting system and fairly clean, but awfully random. It's entirely possible to never reproduce even once, as just one example. There's also a disappointing randomness in the nature of mutation; it would be preferable to see at least some rhyme or reason to it. There also seems to be strangely mixed message in terms of theme. Significant evolution occurs over a period of a million years or more, yet random events include very transient ones such as airport construction and water pollution. Still, this might be a good vehicle for a retrofitting. The spinner could be replaced by a Puerto Rico-style variable phase order that would help things a great deal. If more sense were added to mutations, one would almost be there, having only to deal with the long downtime that occurs waiting for others to handle all of their many dice.
Invented by Gary Sinauer for Sinauer Associates, 1968?, 1970, 1971; re-published by Carolina Biological Supply Company, 1978. The 1978 edition changed the reproductive attribute cards from a fixed litter size to a multiple of the number of creatures in an area.
Karl-Heinz Schmiel's game about being the editor of a newspaper up against a deadline features uncertain leadership and tight-integration similar to his Die Macher and Attila. Laying out stories is resolved as tile placement and probably inspired the later Die Fürsten von Florenz. Layout is very graphically-pleasing. Unorthodox enough that few will win this their first time playing. A surprising and interesting strategy is to start conflicts very early in the game. This permits finding out the check distributions of all the other players, building up a strong check hand for when it is important later and finally, gives time for others to commit to their stories so that one can operate with more data. What seems most important are the Main stories in the headlines area. Since this part of scoring is doubled, it probably should receive the most attention, though it's so easy to get distracted by other issues when one is engaging in ten different contests at once. There are a lot of jokes on the tiles that need German knowledge to appreciate, but that text is totally unnecessary for play of the game. Highly recommended.
Reiner Knizia dice game feels somewhat similar to Can't Stop, particularly in the importance of the dice and the question of how far to push your luck. Quick and full of all the tension of gambling, even if highly dependent on luck of the dice. Seems to be best with about four players.
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