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Ice Cream
Joe Huber's latest card game continues the journey to America's yesteryear begun with Scream Machine. But now we have left the noise and color of the carnival for a quiet Sunday in the park. Whether it's a young couple in the first pangs of love or a happy family of four, we can be sure that they're all looking forward to the same thing: that's right, the ice cream. And that's where the players come in for we are vendors of the tasty stuff. In an old style game the important issue might be location or attractiveness of display, but here it's flavor availability, as not only are ice cream gallons hard to come by, but also the customers are extremely choosy. The game proceeds in a repeated series of the same two phases. In the first, players take turns constructing orders – an interesting collaborative process – in which they seek either to create orders that only they can fill, or to stay viable in as many orders as possible. In the second phase, they take turns filling orders, probably acquiring new ice cream along the way. In both cases we're operating under imperfect information and what we're doing is contingency planning or finding the slight advantage between two mostly similar alternatives. It's sort of a game of inches in that sense, which means that the audience is limited in some ways. Tacticians won't normally be able to find the big tactical play they're looking for and evaluators may feel forced to operate in too much of a fog. The small shelfprint game has a nice production for an American game, with delicious artwork, though I find the black cherry color over-saturated. The rules are short and easy to understand, though the section about one's options is a bit succinct and deserves careful reading. Game play is generally fast and this should finish in a half hour or less.
Joseph Huber; Face 2 Face Games; 2005; 3-5
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Icehouse: DNA
Interesting abstract in the Icehouse series. Two or three players have three different sized pyramid pieces to use and exchange on a chessboard. The interesting element is that board positions may mutate. [Looney Labs]
Icehouse: Martian Chess
Mindbending Chess-like abstract in which one tries to give away rather than take pieces. Interesting how small the world has become. Time was, when someone wanted to call something "weird", one said "Chinese" as in Chinese Checkers. But these days it's necessary to go offworld and call it "Martian". Average abstract for fans of the type. [Looney Labs]
Icehouse: Zendo
Kory Heath's logical induction game based on the idea of Robert Abbott's Eleusis, but employing the Icehouse components set. One player takes the role of the master, thinks up a rule and demonstrates it with the pieces while the others try to set up other pieces and thus guess the rule. The substitution of the colorful pieces for playing cards is simultaneously more visually arresting and more concrete as now the number of conditions is finite. Speaking of conditions, it is helpful when players are presented the full list to keep in mind during play. Otherwise there is a strong tendency to dive into a deep analytical pool and ignore an otherwise simple rule. This very elegant system is almost an anti-game in its rejection of the usual tropes. Even though the thought will horrify some fans, it could also be developed further to make more of a traditional game. For example, a wider context could look at incorporating difficulty levels as a strategic concept. Perhaps the total number of conditions in a rule might be restricted, or the number could be announced, or points could be given for guessing the number, etc. More development along these lines might gain a wider audience. Otherwise, very interesting for those in search of something very outside the usual well-trod path. [Kory Heath]
Abstract game for two to four which originally appeared under the title Mondrian, rather apropos as the ever-changing board rather resembles a work by the famous modern artist. Play of the game is clean and interesting, but with four players is unfortunately marred by almost inevitable kingmaking. The two player version is slighly less interesting as it can become more of a race than anything else.
I Doubt It
Traditional card game of the climbing type. In this version, the players often must bluff when they do not have any cards of the next in sequence. Opponents must then decide when and whether to challenge this declaration, which is sometimes easy if one is holding the cards being declared, sometimes necessary if a player is about the end the game, but often difficult to know for sure, especially as the penalty, taking the stack, can be onerous.
Igel Ärgern
Delightful Doris and Frank light game has sometimes been translated as "Hedgehogs in a Hurry." Very quick turns and yet interesting decisions are the key to the fun in this one. A cornucopia of variants help keep it fresh over the long run. There is surprisingly something quite realistic as one can just see these hedgehogs wrapped into a ball trying to get past their fellows. [6-player Games]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1990; 2-6
if no image probably out of print
This game of excavating the site of ancient Troy features forty-five wooden archaeologist pieces... per player! Coming all in one bag as they do, you can have a lot of "fun" just sorting out 180 pieces. Oh wait – there's no need, actually, to separate in advance: one uses only one, two or three at a time. Their placement is driven by revelation of a random card from the player's personal deck. They go onto the paths that belong to the network depicted on the board. A network node holds some treasure markers, each in one of five colors and having a value of one to five items. The paths are composed of three to five spaces, each of which can hold one player-turn's worth of tokens. When all spaces in a path are full, the player having the majority takes the lowest count item from either end while the second-placed player takes the same from the other (so long as his value reaches at least half the first's). The goal, as in Tigris and Euphrates, is collecting complete sets in all five types. There are three additional wrinkles: (1) minor points are awarded for attaining the majority in each color; (2) each player has a secret color in which his best item is lost; (3) play can be prematurely ended, at the current player's option, after some particular items have been taken. This one seems to be getting at the same issues as this inventor's Tower of Babel. There is cooperation amid competition and one wants to time completion just right. Claim too early and the item isn't valuable enough; too late and the one wanted is gone. Complicating all of this is that one might not have drawn the right number of archaeologists for the most pressing job at hand. While the pieces are numerous, attractive and well balanced – a pleasure to use – the board, though functional, is a drab brown on brown. The cards are a bit plain as well. But it's the ideas that feel old while the them is very artificial: excavation at Troy was never conducted by competing teams and anyway, the connection with the majority control mechanism seems quite a stretch. Apparently this hasn't found any German publisher. Has it been kicking around looking for one for quite some time? It does follow on in the same vein as this publisher's previous offering, Portobello Market.
Reiner Knizia; Playroom Entertainment; 2008; 2-4
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Im Auftrag des Königs
Knights competing for the favor of King Arthur forms the back story of this Adlung card game, but its systems are redolent of the warmer climes of a Puerto Rico or a San Juan, only stripped way down. Features like variable phase order and permanent abilities cannot fit in this small package, leaving decisions around drafting in the main. Points are scored in three ways: completing quests (requiring a start quest card, items, a horse and a complete quest card); winning tourneys (blind bidding of the most weapons); and bringing a book to the judge. Which one is available for each player depends greatly on the turn order, based as it is on the current standings, which unfortunately must be recorded on paper. Although there is some variability introduced by the tourneys, much is decided by which quests are available – how much they are worth and how well they fit one's hand – when one's chance to pick one comes 'round again. Moreover, this is a game that demands players pay a lot of attention to what cards others have taken, i.e. memorization. Even if hands are left open there is a problem because then much study of others' holdings is required. There are good ideas here, but it seems they are really too large for the box they arrive in. With more cards and maybe tiles, more could have been done. Tactics and logistics are the order of the day – there is little long-term strategy. Most will prefer to stay with San Juan. Title means "On Behalf of the King." [Buy it at Adlung]
Im Jahr des Drachen (In the Year of the Dragon)
This one depicts the life of a magnate during twelve months in China around 1000 AD. The year 1002 was a year of the dragon, but perhaps it's meant more metaphorically as a year in which many things happen, though then "Year of the Rat" (as it happens, the current year at the time of this writing) might have been more appropriate had it not already been used (for a game about Vietnam). This is another in the school of scarcity, or hardship, games, of which Notre Dame is also one. In such games the player is always running out of something or having to deal with non-player threats to his fortunes. Here they are in the form of events such as drought, plague (strangely translated for the English edition as "contagion"), Mongol raid, etc., in fact one per month. The order of these is random, but all are laid out in advance so that players know exactly what's coming. Each turn, before the event, players get to take one action and draft one new worker. Actions come in seven different types and workers in nine. The action one chooses cannot be chosen by anyone else without payment of an extra fee; a drafted worker never returns to availability. These two rules provide the only real player interaction. There is a strong correspondence between actions and workers: for each action type there is a worker type that augments the effect of the action taken, varying directly with the number of such workers the player employs. But workers are not simply retained; their numbers are limited by having to be housed in palaces, which players can build and/or expand. Nor is this the end of the ways in which various design features are integrated. There are buddhist priests who provide victory points based on palace size. There are rice tokens, fireworks tokens, gold tokens and dragon tablets. Workers themselves come in two varieties, one of which is more effective, the other giving better advancement on the track which determines the turn order. Presentation is very attractive and clear with a great many components, almost to the point of making set-up and tear-down an unwelcome chore. This is the rare German game that might benefit from a counter tray. The various chits are thin and have a shiny rather than matte finish, but are quite usable. In what seems a botch there appear to be too many palace markers – however nicely they fit together to form pagodas – and too few dragon tablets, the supply of which the instructions assure are unlimited. Perhaps one should just use one to represent the other. Thematically it's a bit strange that choosing an action locks others out, as is knowing all the events in advance. Happily the latter is easily addressed by turning event tiles upside down until needed. Probably having a two-turn lookahead on this would work best. It's also difficult to play well the first time; experience teaches that some items are more valuable than others, particularly gold, while things like warriors and fireworks much less so. What disappoints most is that there is so little that can be done to hamper a leader apart from taking away the action or worker that is best for him, which might well be less than useful for oneself. This can develop into a blackmailing situation in which every player can either do what he needs to personally and thus the leader prevails or he takes one for the team, hurting the leader and also himself, to the advantage of the rest. When there are only a few players there is also a good deal more luck as the actions are grouped with several in each – the luck of how these come out can make a big difference. It's also disturbing that every playing seems to end with the victory of the first player to act. This player begins by drafting a money generator and then buys a two victory point value privilege (which for the cost of a mere six yuan will ultimately yield twenty-four points). They then always choose a high value worker and use helmets to retain the initiative every turn. The narrative feeling in this sort of game is a bit disappointing as well; rather than achieving something great the winner at the end only feels that he has managed to suffer less than others. In the world of the imagination that's not much to crow about, is it. Still there are plenty of excruciating decisions amid a simple framework, a lot of artistic flavor and plenty of strategic approaches. A near miss. Language and design note: readers with some German might have expected the title to be "Im Jahr des Drachens". The reason it isn't is that German uses a different ending to differentiate meaning with the similar word "Drachen" which means either "kite" or "quarrelsome woman". Now which designer can create a game using this meaning?
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Stefan Feld; Alea/Rio Grande; 2007; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Im Schatten des Drachen (Under the Shadow of the Dragon)
This follow-on to Return of the Heroes can cleverly be used both as a two-player standalone game or as an expansion to the original, permitting a total of six players. The artwork and feeling of play continue on at the same high level of quality and the instructions are a great improvement. It must be admitted that the original's cross-referenced two booklets, plus pontifications by the designer, the designer's friends, the publisher and interested onlookers have created quite a mishmash of the rules online, so the new single booklet is quite a welcome change. The only minor issues are related to how some of the old items, e.g. the Teleporter, work with the new boards, but these are usually not difficult. Added are nine new boards to take the alphabet up to Z, thus having a combined 5x5 board size. Some of the new ones have interesting challenges like the desert where characters lose a health each turn or the maze where they teleport around at random. Also added are three of the characters we've been awaiting: the orc, the halfling (not a hobbit due to the Tolkien estate) and the paladin (who has a useful ability to heal just about anywhere). There are also new tasks and artifacts. If the magic broom was my favorite from the original game, this one features my absolute least favorite: the camel, which speeds up movement by two, but fails on a die roll of "1". I know one is only supposed to see a "1" every six turns or so, but why does it seem like every other turn in my case? Eventually I dropped the camel off so it could frustrate someone else. Finally there's the title character, the Dragon which is the new enemy and in the combined game, represents a new way to win. There are new quests which are oriented to the dragon; completing one and then defeating the dragon ends the game just as defeating the Nameless did before; one can go either way. This is probably less exciting as a two-player game, but should at least have the virtue of being shorter. The combined version on the other hand, which could already be quite long, gets even longer as there is more distance to traverse. Five hours is certainly a possibility. But players wanting a short game should probably get the fourth product in this line, Die Gralssuche (The Search for the Grail) which is said to complete in just forty-five minutes. Unfortunately, this and the third in the line Helden in der Unterwelt (Heroes in the Underworld, which features a lot of Greek mythology) are apparently not getting English treatments, though the amount of German text on components is rather light. By the way, the German title sounds very fun; it almost rhymes. Unfortunately when it comes to this there's no way to translate. [6-player Games] [summary]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Lutz Stepponat; Pegasus; 2004; 2 (1-6) [Buy it at Amazon] [Buy it at Amazon]
Im Schatten des Kaisers (Shadow of the Emperor)
This time, Ralf Burkert, inventor of Die Magier von Pangea, has created one on the Holy Roman Empire, a most gameable topic considering the votes of the seven electors, the jockeying to control them, the family alliances, etc. Mark McLaughlin's Thirty Years War game Holy Roman Empire took on the topic two decades earlier, featuring society game elements such as auctions and voting. The game at hand omits war, but there are elements borrowed from Kremlin such as leader aging and advancement up the hierarchy as well as Aladdin's Dragons in the way that different seats confer special powers, mostly minor increments on normal abilities. The point is to earn points: by becoming an emperor, by replacing an elector, by voting for the winning emperor, by giving away daughters in marriage (which gives the recipient an extra vote) and from cards, the drafting of which is a major portion of the game. I am somewhat concerned about the balance in this phase. Ideally it would be just as good to go first as last, but the fact that cards and spaces are finite means it's rather hard to win from the fourth seat. This player needs to become emperor, but choosing last all the time may make it too difficult and if the player to his right does not bail him out, he may be out of luck, even if the score ends up fairly close. Although the challenge is mainly tactical reaction, it can go a little long if players get too involved studying their many options. There is nothing wrong here, just nothing spectacularly innovative or exciting. Actually, Die Magier von Pangea was better in that respect. This one is made for the same kinds of logistical fine tuners who enjoyed St. Petersburg or Goa.
[Buy it at Amazon]
Im Wald da sind die Räuber
if no image probably out of print
"There Are Robbers in the Woods" is the first from this publisher to go beyond mere cards. As we've come to expect, there is a distinct Anglo-American flavor to this German game. During play a map of paths through a forest formed of hexagonal tiles is slowly constructed. Each new tile tends to receive one or two tokens from the bag which the player attempts to pick up using his action points to move his wooden robber pieces and bring the tokens back to his base. But beware the watch who continually wander the woods under the control of one player or another and force players to disgorge their stolen items. Players are mainly engaged in set collection with some extra points available for special delivery of the little girl and for claiming inns in the last rounds. Most of this sounds fairly American, but a German feature are the one-use-only player tokens that permit doubling action points and stealing from an opponent's robber. While there are plenty of tactics, there's not a great deal of strategy here. One tries to create a private little area which is compact rather than elongated, but so much of that depends on the right tiles appearing. Moreover, having a steady supply of booty depends on drawing the right tiles as well. Which booty tokens are drawn out makes a big difference as well. Finally, it doesn't seem quite right that one's holdings count three times; certainly it tends to the rich-get-richer syndrome. All of the art and materials are well done; maybe more communication design could have been included to help remember the functions of the various tile types. From a design perspective, the absence of new mechanisms or combinations is noticed. It seems to work a little better with fewer than the full four players as well. is somewhat restrictive as well. The inspiration stems from the German folk song of the same name.
Mark Sienholz; Krimsus Krimskrams-Kiste; 2008; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Im Zeichen des Kreuzes
Society game on a military topic: the medieval Crusades. "In the Sign of the Cross" was the first of the Queen games to employ a "cube tower", in which battles are resolved by counting which side had the most cubes fall through its baffles. But the Crusaders do not combat one another. Rather they travel through Europe conquering non-player cities – even holy Rome!? – thereby earning troops for the final assault on a well-defended Jerusalem. The first in this race to thus succeed wins. Much has gone awry here. Although Crusaders did sack Constantinople in 1204, the wholesale conquest of Christian Europe depicted in this game really does a lot of violence to the theme. Too bad, as it would have been so easy to posit the playing area in Asia Minor and the Levant instead. Some areas of the map like Lisbon and Granada are real backwaters too and woe betide anyone left with nothing but that to conquer as from there it's a long way to the game and it will take a lot of luck to draw the movement cards which are the only engine of travel. That these are mixed in with "take that!" cards means a player can end up stranded for a long time. Cards giving extra rewards for Iberian conquest constitute a half solution, but as their owner might not begin in that area or may draw only them long after having left, it's more likely they'll never be used. On the other hand, a card which will always be used is the one that reduces a player's morale to 1. As it takes 8 or more to attack Jersualem and only 2 points can be regained per turn, this far too powerful card means the player does nothing for four rounds or more. Other cards which merely chip away at an opponent are less dramatic, but in their own way just as problematic. It makes little effect to play such a card on a very strong opponent, but they are very effective against someone whose position is barely tenable. So guess who gets hit? All of these factors make matters very fragile and it's not hard for more than one player to fall completely out of the running long before it's officially over. All of this could probably be patched, more or less, but still leave many disappointed as players hardly affect one another except via the aforementioned card play. (Tower effects tend to be mainly accidental.) Presentation is superb in this very large package of wonderful art and bits. There's a lot of excitement too in the tower drops, But it took Wallenstein to actually deliver on the promise. Unless someone has a good idea for a radical variant that is ...
Early 3M card game with no credited designer is more of a party outing. Cards representing various qualities of famous personalities, e.g. musician, author, 17th century, etc. are available. Players must think of a personality who matches a set of characteristics and then play a card which contains the first letter of their last name. An interesting idea which combines strategy and historical knowledge, ultimately it flops as a serious game due to being too unconstrained (who is famous, who is not, who belongs in which century, etc.) and to vaguely-written rules. One clarification (from r.g.b): the number of cards on the board will increase as the game goes on. Just replace the cards which were used during a player's turn. Designer unknown (uncredited in the rules). May actually have been a traditional game at some point somewhere.
In 80 Karten Um Die Welt
"Around the World in 80 Cards" is a board game race made with cards. Several years of playing games by Krimsus Krimskrams-Kiste have revealed their subtly-unique nature. The goal is simply fun without trying to force it down anyone's throat the way a party game often does. On the other hand, the humor is far gentler than the biting satire of Cheapass Games. Instead, these tiny boxes open up a basic atmosphere to which the players are free to supply the rest of the fun according to their own personalities. It's not unrelated to the kind of enjoyment one can experience in a well-run role-playing game, only with far fewer rules of course. In this Jules Verne take-off, players pilot their silly WaLaMobs (Water-Land-Mobiles) over the different terrains of the world amidst many colorful characters and ridiculous equipment, including outlandish weapons like explosive balloons and earth torpedoes. There are many incongruous possibilities such as a local guide with a goat who can nevertheless show you a shortcut across the ocean. Perfectly preposterous, but completely thematic in this steampunk setting. The mechanism is basically that of the "Take That!" card game with some extra rules for maintaining ever-declining steam pressure. It's in this area that there are just two objections. The first applies only to non-Germans who may not be able to read the many cards. This one uses much more iconic "language" than in past years, and this is a great help, but unfortunately there are still some cards which only feature text. The other problem is that sometimes it can be impossible to draw the coal cards required to increase pressure in the boiler and without this, virtually all options and movement cease. We have had success with a house rule which permits a player to discard not one but two cards during a turn. As always, the cards by Carta Mundi show artwork that is attractive and humorous. Using this game as intended, the right group can no doubt have a lot of fun. A few topics in the instructions are unclear. Email from the inventor indicates the following: (1) Turning an expended Improvement means you can keep it, maybe to use it with a "Gewichtsverlust" [Ballast Tossed] or against a "Schlechtes Material" [Inferior Materials]; (2) A Sprengballon [Exploding Balloon] can hit its owner if he is stupid enough to move it onto his own square or to move his WaLaMob on the Sprengballon's square; (3) Panzerung [Armour] only helps against weapons used against the boiler; (4) Geheimpfade [Secret Shortcut], Günstiger Weg [Favorable Path] and Umweg [Detour] could all be used to evade a Sprengballon – same for Sprungfedern [Springs]. [cards translation] Krimsus
India Rails
The Empire Builder system game set in India seems to tolerate a lot of players. Beware of skewed scale in the north-south direction in comparison with east-west. Because of the large distances involved, it is probably advisable to start each player with a Fast Freight which does not seem to change which tracks are built at all, but speeds up play by as much as an hour. [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [variant] [chart] [Buy it at Amazon]
Dutch inventors Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga (VOC) continue their overseas exploration in this multi-player game chronicling developments in the former Dutch colony which is now the fifth most populous nation. Players are entrepreneurs buying companies which produce rice or spice – later rubber, oil or TV dinners. Cities sprout up on their own even though players have some control over where. There are also shipping companies which place the ships that constitute the sole means of transport as players try to sell their wares. Ships are usable by all, but for a flat fee, but this is not too bad for the Indonesian Onassis as producers must always ship if it is at all possible, i.e. if their produce can reach an unsaturated market. Probably the most interesting play decision is the chance each turn to improve one's capabilities, albeit in one area only. Categories including the ability to act first, the number of companies one can own, the number of items one's ships can carry, the rate of expansion or the size of mergers one can make. This last leads to the second most interesting decision: when and what to merge, for, most powerfully, a player may propose merging any pair of like companies or conglomerates, regardless of their owners and auction them off to any player. There's a procedural matter here which annoys some: bidding must be in increments ("oh excrement!") of the number of installations in the merged company, so players find themselves calculating multiples of awkward factors like 7, 9 and 11, well into the hundreds. Afterwards too they need to calculate what is, say, 4/11 and what 7/11 of the final bid because payoffs are strictly proportional. I wonder that an easier solution couldn't be found, short of including a cheap calculator in every box. While no doubt the single most important consideration, the merger system has a bit of fragility, especially for new players. For example, midway through a three-player game it's possible for one player to take control, irrevocably, of every last shipping company, possibly even by accident. The trouble is that such a monopoly is so valuable that no player has enough money to make the auction winner pay all that it is worth (no deficit spending here). A player accomplishing this trick can claim victory right there, shaving an hour off the 3.5 hour playing time. There is a great deal of monetary evaluation in the auctions, in the hundreds, as one considers the probable profits and losses. In its last phases there is a lot of fiddly calculation as well, figuring out the shipping paths of many products and subtracting out the shipping costs from the profits. On the other hand it's nice to see a game on Indonesia which has been little treated so far (cf. Java), but aside from the map and product types, there isn't much thematic feel. Why do cities arise where they do? why the merger rules? why the limits on number of companies owned? There are no real world equivalents. One can't even relocate shipping after merger has rendered it redundant. By the way, there is also some trouble about initial setup – if players are not careful all the first cities can end up in the same corner of the world, a too prosaic beginning. All of this can work for those evaluation fans who don't mind a long outing. Tacticians will probably enjoy thinking up clever mergers. Others will mind the theme issues and heavy amounts of calculation involved. It's not in the category, but I somehow suspect that 18XX fans will like this, probably Age of Steam fans as well.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High [Jeroen Doumen] [Splotter Spellen]
Multi-player game of archaeological excavation of the ancient Harappan culture, which along with the Egyptians, Sumerians and Chinese, constitutes one of the first ancient flowerings, although apparently the only one lacking a written language. This is by Wolfgang Panning who also created Olé!, Kardinal, Lucky Loop, Paparazzo (with Friedemann Friese) and more than one Alhambra expansion. The nature of excavation seems to be "pick a likely spot and see if you can find something." In this sense mechanics reflect theme as players line up their tokens around the edges of the gridded board and roll a die to see on which find they land. There is choice since one has multiple pieces and because some of them permit extra rolls. Having a choice helps because features are valued variously and must be competed over. Another player may have already double-stacked a square and thus have it locked up, but on the other hand a single token may be sandwiched and thus claimed for a point. Strategy lies in noticing which die rolls will be productive for you and finding the new location that best covers the rest. With this approach one should win the majority of playings over the long run, but it's still quite easy to lose individual playings due to the vagaries of a few die rolls. Presentation is adequate with the fact that the board is somewhat difficult to decipher made worse since the features are always getting obscured by the tokens. Perhaps a larger board or smaller or translucent tokens would have helped. Multiple sub-boards permit more variety from playing to playing. Artwork could be more inspiring. Points are awarded by handing out a lot of specially shaped tiles that match the board illustrations. As all of this happens at the end of the game, it's a totally impractical conceit, but I suppose it is in keeping with a certain "treasure hunter" school of excavation with its emphasis on getting the goods. As with Tally Ho!, enjoyment requires the ability to enjoy the theme and planning aspects without being too dismayed if things don't go well, although it would be better if it finished slightly faster than it does.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Michael Schacht auction game seems to lie at the high end of a continuum that includes Kardinal & König: Das Kartenspiel, and Kardinal & König. These two employ drafting and drafting-placement respectively while the new one uses bidding, but the concept key to all is synthesis. Here industries, technologies and raw materials pop up in the random lots famous to the Knizian tradition (cf. Medici, RA et al.), but are limited to a single era, anywhere from early industrialization to modern genetics and nanotechnology. Synthesis can take many forms. Lines connect industries from era to era and holding both ends confers points. There are similar lines for technologies. Playing an industry has a base and materials cost – if you already produce the material, you save on the cost. Industries appear as one or more categories and points are won for each if the player buys and plays one of the corresponding victory point tiles. Then there are items like Bank that act like the quarry from Puerto Rico and always reduce cost. But always there is the issue of having enough money to pay for it all. Payments remind of Traumfabrik in that there is an almost-closed economy with payments going to another player, in this case the auctioneer. "Almost" because there are periodic equal fund infusions as well as small materials payments from individual to individual. The auctioneer owns a very powerful ability, that of claiming any item without paying for it, for which he pays only the small price of giving up the job. This may well be unbalancing only because a player may thus easily take an item which someone else desperately needs, regardless of whether the cause is malice or poor play. Auction fans will probably enjoy this. I am not one of them particularly, but found this more interesting than other recent auctioners Magellan (Pizarro & Co.) and Amun-Re which got a lot of acclaim, so maybe this is an auction game for non-auction fans. I can imagine replays trying various approaches such as going for all the raw materials industries – or none of them. How well would strongly focusing on technologies work? Or how about monopolizing the victory point markers which was the road to victory in one playing? There may also be a cash-hoarding approach that's viable. As always with Schacht, mechanics are very clean and intuitive. The artwork is attractive although not always functional as there are some railroads which look like connectors, but aren't. There are not real dependencies for non-German speakers apart from the item names which are anyway pictured – make a game of guessing what they are. Queen's box packaging leaves something to be desired. Thematically, players seem to represent dynastic industrial families seeking the most fame and power from era to era, which might actually exist in Europe. In terms of playing well, I offer just one tip: become expert on what others are likely to bid because one's choices as auctioneer appear critical to success and if no one bids you'll have to eat it yourself.
Game about the taxonomy of diseases includes both strategy and medical trivia. Players move a pawn around a board heavily influenced by Monopoly and all the others which have come since. Here, many of the spaces pertain to drawing disease cards which count against a player, or getting rid of them. Trivia enters in when the player is given the chance to draw a card and name any of the cause, symptoms or cure and from this another player must name the disease. There is some stimulating calculation here in guessing which of the three is most obscure. As players come around to the start of the board, they receive cash in direct proportion to the number of diseases they have. So, strategically, one doesn't want to cure diseases very much initially, but instead gain more so as to gain a lot more money and then try to cure all or most of them in one fell swoop. But there is a tradeoff since too many diseases means the player is eliminated altogether. Works best with four players or less as otherwise there is too much waiting. Players are encouraged to provide their own pawns as the ones supplied are cardboard chips which blend in to the board so well as to be nigh invisible. Earwig
This Italian negotiative card game is similar to Kremlin, as players secretly allocate values, here to eighteen notorious figures of history from Attila the Hun to the Empress Tzu. Themewise, these numbers represent how evil each character is throught to be while in game terms the players are trying to maximize the number of points they collect. The deck contains two cards for each character which are dealt out and displayed face up. Players then engage in completely free-form turn-less trading for three expirations of a sand timer. And that is basically all there is. A few special cards let players force through a refused deal, start a general card pass or make another lose seven victory points. Although the selection of characters is interesting, including a number of obscure Italians, the artwork is nowhere near the standard set by the collectible card game industry. What remains is for someone to further develop the interesting ideas of individual unknown victory conditions and trading to resolve each player's interests. More structure, mechanisms to discover part of another player's goals, etc. would be helpful additions to start. [Venice Connection]
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Infinite City
Society games are mostly limited to a small number of historical topics. If one were to count games on the Middle Ages, Romans, Renaissance and Pirates, these would constitute a substantial majority. Were the list restricted to those games which win awards or achieve the highest ratings, the percentage would rise even higher. This is not altogether bad as these are some of the more interesting topics around, but too much of anything can tire. It also indicates a certain lack of daring among publishers who seem unwilling to depart from the proven formula. That's why it's both courageous and refreshing to see now and then a game like this one which not only departs from the usual, but actually dares to a modern topic. In terms of mechanisms, this is a tile-layer, a fair bit like
Carcassonne, but having significant variations. One is that instead of being forced to play the tile drawn, players start with a hand of five from which to choose and this may even increase. The tiles are also larger, but not so much so as to run out of table space. Probably the reason for this is to better accommodate the text on the tiles, which must be legible from across the table; unfortunately they can still be difficult to read in some cases. But probably the most important difference is the jump up in complexity. For example, now there are tiles that permit picking up and moving other tiles. Others move opposing pawns to unfavorable places. Even one's hand of tiles is not safe and can be force-swapped with an opponent. Consequently it can be rather difficult to plan a great deal or set up a stable scoring arrangement, which, coupled with the larger hand size, can make turns take longer. Overall playing time is saved by a lower number of tiles. But decisionmaking and the quality of each turn can suffer as certain tiles seem to be better than others. While it may be true that given the right context all are useful, in some contexts some are really not helpful at all, and even with a five-tile hand it's quite possible to have a handful of these, which leads to a turn in which it's impossible to do anything useful or interesting. On the other hand this doesn't last a long time so the occasional instance may be tolerable. There's plenty of conflict, which might bother some, but it has more interest than is usual for games of this type because figuring out the best way to add a tile to achieve an effect is not always simple. Tile racks would have been a nice addition given the large hand size. Expanded once, in 2009, by Infinite City: Guild Hall and Salvage Yard, which appears to add six new tiles (five salvage yards and one guild hall).
LMMM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Brent Keith; Alderac Entertainment Group-2009; 2-6; 30-45; 8+ []
Logical deduction game by Alex Randolph and Leo Colovini posits masked international agents in Venice during Carnival. Each player has four pawns to move, but which one is his true identity, and the identity of his partner is secret. Thus players must land upon one another to request information and make deductions. Movement is regulated by shaking a masked figure from which various marbles show, a mechanism similar to those later adopted by Ab die Post and Die Sternenfahrer von Catan. Atmosphere is greatly enhanced by a wonderful map and plastic masked pawns (box should have said "some assembly required"). It is possible to have very good or bad luck in one's initial showing and some missions are easier than others, but there are interesting situations, particularly in trying to figure out what is going on just by observing the behavior of the pawns on the board. Frequent communications between two particular players may be a reliable indication that they are partners, or are they merely bluffing? Overall, most interesting for those who like logical deduction and strong theme. Later also done in less-dramatic (but more portable) card game version as Mini Inkognito. The 2001 edition rules suggest that a player may meet multiple agents during a single turn, which for balance and downtime reasons does not seem wise. [Two vs. Two Games]
Alex Randolph; Venice Connection/Winning Moves Deutschland; 1988 [Buy it at Amazon] [translation] [passport translation]
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A funny thing happened on the way to reviewing this card game from the inventor of
Glory to Rome. More on that anon. This one features many cards representing historical technologies and cultural developments, everything from Tool use to Monotheism (uh oh) to The Pirate Code to Evolution to the Internet and Bioengineering. Players hold some of these in hand, eventually getting them to the table in a personal display. Some permit drawing more cards, some help in scoring points and some even permit attacking others. They all contain icons, but the cards overlap one another so that only some of them are visible at a time. However, some cards permit the central innovation of the system, the "splay", which permits shifting a card in one of three directions, each direction exposing one, two or three extra icons on the card beneath it. Of course the more icons one has showing, the more ability one has. These can be especially important in actions in which other players may share if they also have cards showing the same icons. If others have as many icons as you do, they can participate in your activity, but then you get to draw an extra card as compensation. Keeping players interested during other's turns is a least one good reason this is a good thing. But now on to what happened. At an annual local gaming event in 2010 this was given not one, but two successive playings. Why? In the first one someone using the Metalworking card won so quickly that the game had barely entered half the ages. Deemed a fluke, another playing was conducted, immediately. The result was very nearly identical, except this time it happened with Agriculture. Since it seemed more than one card was way too powerful this game was sent packing. Fast forward to a year later at the same event. Someone not in the first games brought in a new copy. To humor him, it was played again. This time the end was caused by someone who could not win and was kingmaking in giving the victory to someone else. But at least this time the game actually entered all of the ages, for a much more satisfying experience. It was noticed that this version of the game was lableled 1.2. Without having the original set to check, perhaps the big problems in the original have been corrected in this version; it's not clear. So it's difficult to reach a firm conclusion as the problems encountered in the first version may or may not still be present. If they are, it's also thematically disturbing as it feels wrong that a primitive technology like Agriculture or Metalworking that opponents once could do, but now no longer can because they are so much more advanced, could cause them to lose. Certainly these issues don't speak very well for the developers/publisher who apparently did not playtest the original version sufficiently to find such issues. More testing will be needed on this one; meanwhile a general caveat should apply. The parade of over a hundred technologies is a fun one, but have become too much of a good thing if too many combinations of them prevent the game from working. A special note should be made regarding the instructions as well, which insist on being too cool. The rules are completely bare bones and most of the rules of interest, i.e. those that differ from other games, are banished to the appendix. It's truly unbelievable that the central mechanism, "splay", is mentioned in the main rules only as a move one can perform and nothing more. What splaying encompasses is only explained in its definition in the glossary, usually a section of the booklet that most players don't even read! But this removal from the context of usage makes it harder to understand as well.
MMHM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Carl Chudyk; Asmadi Games-2010/Iello-2011; 2-4; 30 [Amazon]
Abstract Milton Bradley game from 1984 for two players. Each player has six pieces which contain "programs" describing how they must move during their life on the board. These pieces try to land on opposing pieces and thus capture them. Capturing all of them gives victory. The game has an interesting idea, but successive games all seem to play the same. Perhaps if the rules had permitted faster introduction of new pieces and if there were more pieces and a larger board there would be more sustained interest. If the player could make his own programs on the spot it might be even better.
Insel der Schmuggler
"Smuggler's Island" in fact features several harbored islets as well as a central island bearing a large lighthouse. In a harbor a player's wooden boat loads a face down goods chip. The chips shows its destination and delivery value, which is correlated to distance. A player's turn begins by rolling a pair of dice. The first tells how far the boat can move, the second, how much and in which direction the lighthouse spins, direction sometimes being at the player's option. Although a few skulky spaces around the edge are immune to the beam, most travel occurs under the aegis of the beam, indicated by a yellow pie section appearing under the board transparency. Should the light encounter a ship, it stops and the active player chooses an adjacent water space into which the loaded good is tossed. Thus a player forced to ding himself can at least place it in a helpful spot. The fact that the beam stops upon encounter can be used by enterprising players to hide behind another boat. Play ends when one player has earned the winning number of points. This is a very attractively made and easy to use production. Although decisions are usually obvious, it's sometimes necessary to decide how much risk is wise, both in moving and in moving the beam. Although an adult might wish for there to be more going on, this is something that both children and adults should be able to enjoy. This is similar to and a lighter version of Bermuda Triangle (Milton Bradley, 1976 and not described here).
Anja Wrede; HABA-2004; 2-4; 6+ [Buy it at]
LHMM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
if no image probably out of print
The first time combination of this designer and publisher was greatly anticipated. The result depicts rail lines in the New York/New Haven/Hartford area around 1935, but since it's a map-less tile placement game, only vaguely so. In the beginning there are only two square start tiles placed side by side which offer six venues from which track may begin. A locomotive piece is placed on each of these. On a turn a player may add up to three tiles, pulling them from a subset of their personal supply of three as well as drafting from the shared supply of four. Station tiles may also be taken from other players. The track types are either straights or ninety-degree curves. Stations also come in two types: straight or cross-over intersections. After track is built its locomotive is moved to the end of the line. A line is completed when it contains stations having each of the four values, but has a score equal to the total track values that make up the line. These points are earned by the player having the highest value of stations on the line with other players receiving increasingly halved values. While it all sounds good, in particular the idea of sharing stations on two different lines, i.e. figuring out how to join into your line an already-placed station, in practice it can be awfully subject to luck if unable to draw any curves. Worse, rather than being constructive, the main activity is essentially negative: deliberately shutting down lines by cutting off their last avenue of progress. The claustrophobic situation of everything beginning from the same central island makes this relatively easy to do. Rules are easy to understand and duration usually short. At this time players can print and play a version of this from the inventor's site. Also has been re-done with a Venice theme as Gondoliere
(Spiele aus Timbuktu-2007). [PrintNPlay Games]
LLMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Michael Schacht; Winsome Games-2003; 3-5; 60 [Shop]
Stefan Dorra's presentation of negotiations in Renaissance Italy. Players send out their relatives to work in opponents' Palazzi, but must offer bribes (not to mention threats and pleadings) to secure placement which is entirely at the employer's whim. Whoever earns the most, and pays out the least, wins. Since player holdings are secret, shares with Modern Art the essential skill of always having a good feeling about how each player is doing, and based on remaining relatives and their professions, how well he is likely to do! Thus it is rather vulnerable to a table mixed in experience levels. There tend to be quite different approaches: some trying to keep matters balanced, others playing entirely by feeling. As these two groups never see eye to eye and since losing out is such a major event, setup seems almost intended to create argument and bad feeling. Apart from the players often not knowing what job they are applying for and the fact that bids are unfortunately public, it seems to be a good look at the sealed bid process, however.
Stefan Dorra; Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Inventors, The
Parker Brothers board game from 1974 is part of the general efflorescence of games that occurred in America during that decade. This one was not as successful as others, but did contain some interesting ideas. Players compete to create the most successful crazy invention. Came with a cute gadget mostly unnecessary for play of the game. Nice graphics and atmosphere, but no real challenge or strategy.
Iron Dragon
This Empire Builder series entry set in a fantasy world is probably the most challenging overall as it has the most features, the greatest distances and is the most demanding. The only possible objections are that as it's entirely made up, the players don't learn any geography, and that it tends to take considerably more time. There are lots of innovations here including foreman cards (elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, catmen, etc.) that help connect various types of terrains and an interesting drafting system for acquiring these cards. Also new are boats, jungle dots, teleportation, underground railways and more. Is also the most tolerant about playing with the full complement of six players. [Italian Rails] [Crayon Rails series] [Traveling Merchant Games] [6-player Games] [variant] [chart] Published for the computer as well.
Tom Wham
Iron Horse (Metro)
Pipe-connection game akin to Ta Yü and Linie 1/Streetcar. As in the former, the player has very minimal holdings to pick from when making a tile placement, which makes one feel there is very little control. It lacks the fun of Ta Yü's partnership rules and nice components as well. In addition, there are several inelegant limitations on placement. Compared to Streetcar, this game appears to more strongly reward negative placements than positive ones. Should appeal to those who get a kick out of destroying others' plans more than those who enjoy finding creative solutions to problems. Follow-on Metro edition is very smartly produced. [6-player Games]
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele [Buy it at Amazon]
Iron Road (TransAmerica)
Game for children which holds interest for adults as well. Board displays a United States map, the cities dots joined by rail line segments. Players are dealt one city card from each of the five regions and take turns placing one or two tracks trying to be the first to complete a network joining all five. There is not that much strategy in this simple game, but what there is lies in intelligent placement of the starting location, seeing how the networks of others can be used and avoiding others being able to do the same to you. Many players seem to enjoy placing at the board corners, but I find this counterproductive. It seems much better to connect to others early and have more options to develop wherever it is most needed and also to ignore that which others are likely to do on your behalf. Alert players who can detect which cities the opponents have completed and which not will find more success as will intuitive ones who can determine what track is about to be built. There is also some room for subterfuge. For example, in one game for which we happened to use the board and pieces from Expedition (as a variation), I had one more site to capture when I noticed that others seemed to be driving right to it. So, instead of placing a segment in this direction which would give me away, I instead made a useless play, connecting a city which was already connected. So by not divining my intention, opponents continued playing as they had previously and got me to my destination more quickly than I would have otherwise. Overall it's a very elegant system that moves quickly and as such, appears to be the most likely winner of the Spiel des Jahres award at the time of this writing (May 2002). Hardcore players will find the game acceptable, particularly if they like Streetcar, but may eventually wish for a touch more strategy and a little less luck. Perhaps someone can come up with a decent variant to raise the challenge a notch. [Holiday List 2002] [6-player Games] [Frequently Played]
[Buy it at Amazon]
Ironman Football
Several hour game for up to eight players about the earliest days of American professional football. As in most games by this publisher, the challenge is to survive on very limited resources. Each player runs a team which plays twelve games per season; each match includes about twenty-four dice rolls per match. Despite all of the rolling, players can enjoy the "experience" of this game which feels very real. At the end one can tell a story about the game experience in real life terms which is a feature just not there with many other games. [Simulations Workshop]
Very interesting two-player game about the build up of a countryside. In some respect something like a quick version of Railway Rivals. Players build up track to connect cities and win by being the most connected. Predecessor of the four-player Morisi. [Cwali]
Isis & Osiris
Michael Schacht-designed game set in ancient Egypt is very reminiscent of Knizia's Auf Heller und Pfennig. Each turn the player places onto a grid either a chip or a randomly-drawn scoring tile. However the tiles never multiply, only adding or subtracting points in the range -3 to +4. The system is workable enough and the components nicely made, especially the very thick tiles, but seems rather dry and mostly determined by luck of the draw. One feels the lack of a some special twist in the rules to challenge the gamer's imagination. There is also a middleweight memory elment with which to cope. Playable by as few as two. [Ancient Egypt Games]
It's Mine! (Her Damit)
Reiner Knizia set-collection card game in which ownership is determined not by auction but by who is fastest to slap a pad on the table. Although the illustrations of silly humanoid figures are nice to look at, the dexterity nature of the proceedings prevents regarding this game reminiscent of Slapjack from being taken as a serious offering. Potentially physically painful if your opponents slap hard enough. [Winning Moves Deutschland]
Re-working of the Knizia-designed Attacke varies the composition of the suits and adds a great number of special cards. As each suit now represents a different type of combat, viz. hand-to-hand, joust, broadsword, battleaxe, morningstar, the card distribution will vary accordingly. For example, the joust cards very widely while the hand-to-hand cards are all valued at 1. Other suits are somewhere in between. While some issues such as when to draw cards, the problem of running out of cards and the six unbalancing cards have been successfully addressed, there are now so many special cards that the results seem overly random. Although a card named "Ivanhoe" is included – it is basically a cancel card – there is little connection to the Scott novel and could just as appropriately have been named "Medieval Personal Combat". Would have been nice if the card drawing phase could have been moved to the end of the phase so that others need not wait while the current player reads the new card. [GMT Games]
- J -
Dice game played in taverns by the Ancient Romans – Catullus writes about it. Players take turns rolling five dice trying to obtain a five-of-a-kind. Players may build on their predecessor's results, but this game can go on for a long time. Also, can be virtually sabotaged by someone who doesn't wish to play along. More of a curiosity or light gambling game. The Venus Throw, a mystery novel about Ancient Rome, gives a good feeling about what it must have been like to play the game in dark taverns. Certainly it appears that the Roman numbering system left something to be desired as it's not easy, when one is well into the one's cups, to distinguish a IV from a VI. This goes for this edition as well.
Jam Dudel: Die Fliegenden Händler von Karthago
Michael Schacht card game for 4-8. Each player begins blind bidding with identical cards and in order to avoid elimination must not be the low bidder. This continues until finally it may come down to two, at which point the single higher card wins. This is repeated ten times to find the overall winner. What I have observed is that on round 1 the first players to drop out bid about 9. Then pretty much every round the minimum number to bid goes up by 1. This escalation tends to stop for a while at 15, but by the very last round even a 15 is not enough to stay in the early rounds. Some interesting last rounds can occur when all but one player ties and this player bid more than all the rest. So this is at least as interesting as a study in human behavior as for its play value. Sometimes it's a little boring for those who are eliminated in the first round so a variant that addded a loser's bracket competition for, say, a half point, might be useful. Overall the value is mostly in having a vehicle that works well for eight when the group doesn't want to split into two games. Obviously intuition plays a strong role while complexity does not, so it is also comfortable for the less experienced. Title means The Flying Merchants of Carthage. [More about the Jam Dudel book] [Bambus]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6
if no image, probably out of print
The creator of Yspahan and Jamaica is back with another flavorful affair, this time set in India. He seems to like camels just as much as this site does as they appear again in this card game of traveling traders. There are cards showing six different goods types (leather, spice and cloth and the more valuable silver, gold and diamonds). There are also eleven inquisitive-looking camels. Between the players are five face up cards. A turn is just one action, either drafting one of them, trading hand or camel cards for the same number, taking all of the face up camels or discarding a set of identical goods cards to claim the most valuable still available tokens of the type plus a possible bonus token if the collection is size three or larger. The values of these are random, but don't vary too much and therefore add uncertainty without sacrificing balance. At the end the player having the most camels gets five points. There are many strategies and tactics, and thus ways of playing, to discover, but as they are easy enough to find, the fun of doing so won't be removed by discussing them here. The game is so short that it is treated like a trick-taking game. Victory goes to the first to win two out of three hands and tokens are provided to track this. These are helpful if a bit superfluous. Instead, or in addition, it would have been better to provide six "stack exhausted" chips (as was wisely done in Dominion). This would solve the problem that when three stacks are empty and therefore the game is to end, but that the players fail to notice as they are concentrating so hard on card counts and making their final plays. Otherwise the production is quite nice, especially the compact packaging, which is even smaller than the Kosmos two-player series. The chips are not the thickest, but serviceable, and this permits the smaller packaging. The artwork is attractive and the communication design very good. There are no language-dependent components, the instructions are well designed and separate French, German and English booklets are included. Some male players may be thrown off by the specially-made bright pink insert, but it's entirely apropos as Jaipur, the Paris of India, is also known as the pink city (being painted that way to welcome the Prince of Wales in 1853). It's not just that they both are foreign words beginning with J that causes folks to lump this with Jambo. But this is different enough that it's worthwhile owning both. This goes so much more quickly and easily that there will be players, especially kids and more general audiences, that won't like Jambo and yet greatly appreciate this. For those who have already tried it and not liked it, a couple of variants that can be used separately or together: (1) Camels cannot be used for trading; once taken they always remain with the player; (2) turning in any set only gives the top chip plus any bonus; (3) there is no hand limit. In addition, even though it's not officially recommended for such, seems to work as a three-player game as well. [Frequently Played]
MMHH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Sébastien Pauchon; Asmodée Editions/GameWorks; 2009; 2; 8+ [Buy it at Amazon]
You've played Puerto Rico; you've played Cuba and now we're coming up on Jamaica. Can Trinidad and Tobago be far behind? Already it's quite a Caribbean islands theme night one can hold. In accord with the island's piratical past, this one is not the economic engine game the others are. Rather it's a far more freewheeling affair which even includes combat. The far-fetched idea is that ex-pirate and now Royal Governor Henry Morgan is conducting a race around the island in order to re-live old times with his pirate pals. Each player has an identical set of cards, each of which is divided into two halves, representing the two halves of the sailing day. The starting player rolls a pair of dice, assigning one to the morning, the other to the afternoon. Each player simultaneously chooses a card from the subset of his deck that he has in hand and reveals. Cards denote various activities including moving forward or backward or collecting food, gunpowder or doubloons. The amount that a player can do of each is indicated by the dice. Moving backwards should usually be avoided as this is a race and the further advanced one is when it finishes, the more points received. Acquiring items is restricted by a limited number of holds and the rule that a hold of a different type must be dumped in order to take on a new load. Landing on an opponent causes a battle which is resolved by committing gunpowder and adding to the total a roll of a special die. Many board spaces also include costs that must be paid for ending there, either doubloons (ports) or food. A player unable to pay must move backward to the first free space, many of which contain treasures of unknown value. This leads to a strategy of traveling light so as to be able to frequently move backwards. Other strategies are to race quickly ahead or to lurk about attempting to steal treasure via combat. Not all treasures are of purely monetary value; some do things such as add to combat, add an extra hold or even harm the player (cursed treasures which players try to give away by winning a combat). Thematically it's too bad that a fictional race was used as there were many historical races in nautical history, but the presentation here is extremely attractive all around. Many will want this one just for the way it looks alone. The fact that it does have strategic possibilities, albeit amid large helpings of luck along the lines of a Sindbad, will keep it off the shelf and on the table. By the way, it's also possible to play a variant where cards are chosen sequentially rather than simultaneously, which reduces the luck a little and yet feels just as fun. [Pirate Games] [6-player Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Bruno Cathala, Sébastien Pauchon & Malcolm Braff; GameWorks SàRL/Pro Ludo; 2007; 2-6
Card game by Rüdiger Dorn, part of the perennially successful Kosmos two-player series. Other firms have folded up their mano a mano series, but the Kosmos one, also the oldest one, just keeps on rolling. In Jambo [yahm bo], they have found one of the better offerings in some time. The setting is Central Africa, which is mostly gloss. While the title is Swahili for "hello", the true name of the game is card management. There is also item management as cards permit purchase of various commodity chips which are placed on limited-capacity market cards. Later players hope to acquire a card demanding these items so that they can sell for a big profit. It's possible to buy more markets as well and then there is a very wide array of special cards, some of which are re-usable, but only to a limit of 3. Deciding just what are the most useful three is one of the major challenges. Strategically, players will eventually discover a key in one's current card collection and try to tune it for the stage of the game. Early what's needed are cards that give more cards, next one needs wares and toward the end, cards that confer gold. Constantly evaluating one's current powers and deciding whether it's the right time to change them is the fascinating programming decision that pervades the experience. There are also possibilities for, akin to a collectible card game, developing a "killer strategy" based on a particular combination, although probably it's not feasible for this to go overboard. It's not enough to just have these three, however – they require action points to utilize, as does playing cards. Bedeviling dilemmas attend. Then in a nice rules, it's possible to abjure two of one's actions and thereby gain a gold – finally a rule that (potentially) encourages quicker player turns! Card illustrations are above average artisticaly and could have been a bit better on the communication side as the narrow strips of bamboo that denote the utility type of card can be difficult to detect in low light situations. Overall this should find a ready audience for just about everyone – there is even the occasional auction – except that theme fans have only the illustrations to go on. [Frequently Played]
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
James Clavell's Noble House
From the novel of the same name, set in Hong Kong's 1960's business world. Nice concept and realization apart from some logistical problems and one or two other minor difficulties. [more]
James Clavell's Tai-pan
From the novel of the same name, 1840's trading in Canton, Hong Kong, India and Europe. Players sail clipper ships from England to India where they buy up opium, from India to China where they sell the opium and pick up silk, tea and spices and then race back to England. Each clipper sailing is a race in which greater profits are realized for coming first, and realized in ways that are very sensible for the theme. Arriving in England first means one gets to sell at the highest price and then lower the prices of whatever was sold for the next clipper. But clipper speed is dependent on card play, cards which also affect prices, the faster the card, the more it lowers prices. A very nice tradeoff. Another tradeoff is deciding to skip buying opium and sailing to China directly in order to be the first to buy there. In China, it is not simply a mechanical matter, but instead one actually directs three small lorcha boats to the various Chinese ports to discover what commodities are available and at what prices. There is also a wares auction at Canton (later Hong Kong). A large number of flavorful event cards also make things interesting, although some may complain that there is too much luck in the "take that" cards. Definitely the best entry in the James Clavell series. [Pirate Games]
Jardin, Le
Web-published game about players as landscape designers trying to please a noble owner of gardens. Contact the designer to get a version of the map which will print at a large enough size to be usable. At the time of this writing is scheduled to be published in physical form as well. Play is pleasingly elegant and the game rollicks right along. Works well, but perhaps there is too limited a control with five players? Requires that players watch what others are doing very carefully and it can be a bit of a problem if not everyone is good at that. Perhaps the map could be clearer in the sense of better indicating the status on each project. Strategically, as the rules mention, the squares which are "downstream" from the already-purchased squares are very likely to sell first. rules translation
Günter Cornett;
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Apparently the imprisoned Marie Antointette at one point thought to escape with the help of a M. Jarjais, in the end decided not to and thus never claimed the thousand gold coins hidden somewhere in the Alps. Now the players will try to see deduce their location. This is sort of a deduction card game akin to Clue, but without a board. Here the three categories of cards represent the year the gold was hidden, its general location and who hid it. As in Clue one card of each category is randomly removed from play to set the answer. However, a big difference is that instead of there being one of each card, there are four (for a total of thirty-six). (There are also twenty other cards and thirty coins.) Realize that this means that a player needs to see a minimum of eight cards in a category – all four of the cards in each of the types that it is not – to know the solution. Players begin with four cards and some coins. They save one card and pass the rest. This is repeated three times before, to follow the letter of the law, players may record what they have seen. Thanks for the memories. Then players each surrender a card, face down, to which are added two cards from the deck and this entire group is auctioned off in a once-around. While the winner is busily recording information, the rest bid on three cards from the deck. Then each player gets to take an action, being able to claim either the top card of the deck or some cash. The card may backfire as some are play immediately events. Players may also swap cards and money in an unstructured trade phase. Play occurs in two halves which end when the deck does. At these times players record their best guesses as to the solution. What tends to make this not truly a deduction game is that unless players trade wildly, which so far has not been seen, it's almost certain that no one is going to see sufficient cards to deduce the solution. The winner of the game is going to be the one who guessed best, which raises the question of why take the time to play at all? It's about as good to deal out all of the cards from the start and just let players make their prognostications on that alone. What's good here are its little known story, some gorgeous artwork and the innovation of combining bidding with deduction. What's not so great are the apparent expectation that players will behave in a particular way, the inequeties in the luck of the draw and the vagueness of the instructions, in particular how to handle unusual situations that can come up with respect to the special event cards and the end of the deck. A thought for the inventor: it's easy to just designate an unstructured trade phase, but if you give that phase some structure using rules and restrictions (see examples like Domaine or Quo Vadis) players are freed from having to essentially supply the game rules themselves and it makes everything better. It's too bad; this is a French indie that seemd to have great potential, but just didn't receive the necessary development.
LMLM4 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4)
Oscar de Curbans; self-2011; 2-4; 40 [Shop]
Third in the series from the creators (including artist Franz Vohwinkel) of Tikal and Torres is the most ambitious to date. Set among the villages, rice terraces and palaces of Indonesia, players compete to place and control the most valuable tiles. Just as in Torres, it is played in three dimensions with the players racing for the high ground. But its overlapping one-hex, two-hex and three-hex pieces appear to be entirely new to gaming in general. The possibly three-hour experience can be divided into three stages: building the map, defining palaces, final scoring. This is an interesting design decision as part one could well have been replaced by a random setup process as in a game like Durch die Wüste. Actually, it's a manifesto: "we are making something for you, the hardcore strategist". All of the rest is in line with this. There is almost no luck apart from a little bit of chance in the festival cards (using an auction system reminiscent of Taj Mahal) and just as in Torres, a strong need to pay attention to what downstream neighbors can do. The system is wide open with options all over the place. Would be ideal for the proverbial deserted island as repeated play would reveal many hidden depths. The unique tile placement system no doubt builds new brain synapses as one struggles to think in a novel way. On the other hand, the end may find some players feeling tired from overanalysis of their many options, as well as from the impatience of waiting on opponents. The many options tend to weaken the theme somewhat as there is no on board "base" as one might expect. Strategically, it's probably best to save the very valuable one hex tiles and extra actions for the end as final scoring can be almost half the total. Very nicely made as usual by Ravensburger with thick tiles and brilliant colors, giving rise to a spectacular tableau as the island comes to life. Recommended for strategists who liked Torres and appreciate deep studies such as Chess and Go. More intense than Tikal and more thematic than Torres, may end up in that very strange category of being more admired than played. One question lingers: is it true that it costs an action point for a figure to change terrains because he needs to change his pants?
Dexterity game of removing and piling wooden blocks until they crash to the table. A
Jenseits von Theben
Game of the early days of archaeological excavation and exhibition. Player pawns roam Europe drafting research and other cards and then travel, as the title has it, way beyond Thebes, to Greece, Crete, Palestine, Egypt and Assyria. Rearch plus time is applied to digging which at the site is represented by drawing a number of cards from a deck which both contains a lot of blanks and has had several cards randomly removed so that no one knows exactly what it may hold – a true-to-life mechanism if ever there was one! But the best innovation is in the treatment of time. Movement between the capitals of Europe, acquisition of more knowledge and digging all require discrete numbers of weeks. But rather than players performing it week by week, they record the entire amount for the activity all in one go. In this way the player who has used the least time may get to perform several actions until such time as he has caught up. Of course, Neuland has something similar and the idea depends somewhat on the fact that players tend not to interact with one another all that much. One area in which they do, the exhibitions, can be a bit problematic as their appearance from the deck is entirely random and they may appear well before anyone can really use them. Or they appear too late. This seemingly underdeveloped part of the design can make an exhibition strategy difficult. There is also a set collector strategy involving attendance of archeological conferences. Ultimately everyone needs to dig as well, of course, for what kind of archaeology game would it otherwise be? But toward the end it's not so unlikely that none of these approaches are viable and a player may discern ruin several turns before proceedings are truly ended. But it's the theme which is the true grail here. As a member of a couple of archaeological societies and designer of a prototype on the same topic, albeit set in a different part of the world, I can say that this game is not as knowing as it could be about its subject. Exhibitions are not devised and only then archaeologists show up with things. Instead, a lot of things are found and then an exhibition is sponsored. It's also true that while there was plenty of tramping about Europe, it was not after gaining knowledge, but rather that infinitely more scarce commodity, funding. It is quite nice however that color, named renderings of the more important historical finds are to be found on the many cards. Both the art and the communication design of of top quality, especially for a small press production. My only quibble is that it would have been clearer to allow the various expedition cards to apepar where they can be picked (a smaller size might have been necessary though, or a larger map). Many games depend on tactics or evaluation. Some also depend on strategy. But very few, outside of war games, put theme first and still incorporate the challenging mechanisms of German-style games. This is rare enough that true fans of theme will forgive a few deficits in the other areas. Others will probably judge this an average find. [Ancient Egypt Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
Jewish Fluxx Expansion Card Pack
This is a seven card expansion kit for Fluxx – love it or loathe it – the additional cards rewarding Jewishness. There is a rule card with permits playing an extra card each turn if wearing a star of David or similar. Another gives rewards for knowing any word in Hebrew. Etc. Clearly this is a product just meant to reach a special audience – the bar mitzvah gift market? – and of no real interest to the general gaming public. Actually, the title almost sounds like a medical condition. "You don't look well. Is it the German measles?" "Nah, just the Jewish Fluxx. Oy vey."
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 3
Andrew Looney; Looney Labs; 2006; 2-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Jochen der Rochen
In this dexterity game for children, Jochen is the name of a Rochen, i.e. a sting-ray, who is having a birthday party. Jochen and his guests are represented by flat, wooden shapes placed randomly on a plate-sized sturdy cardboard disk. This disk is supported by a small base, which raises it a couple inches off the table. By placing a finger tip anywhere along the disk's edge, the player tilts it, scoring points for each uniquely-colored fish that falls off, but not scoring at all if any duplicates do. If the Jochen piece, which is larger, heavier and faster to fall comes down, the opponents receive points. Playing well is a tricky business as it seems nothing can be dislodged without moving nearly everything. One can get better at it though, learning that a gentle rocking motion gets results and that the finger can be an obstacle for one fish, but not more than that. There are tactics too in the way one puts the fallen fish back on the disk for the next player. As a consequence this is usually won by the slow and steady player who gets a couple fish every turn rather than the one who keeps trying for that big score. Points are represented by cardboard cake tokens so you can mystify your friends by asking to play the "fish and cake game". While nothing is intrinsically wrong here, it fails to be as exciting as the best of the dexterity set and is probably best saved for young children.
Manfred Ludwig; Zoch; 2004; 2-6
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Journey to Tianzhu, The
box board
Chinese and English game based on the Chinese national epic novel Journey to the West. Players move their monk, monkey, pigsy and Shaseng pieces from Chang An to Tianzhu (the ancient Chinese name for India) with rules similar to those of Pachisi. Pieces are plastic with colored stickers with the board made from laminated paper. Play is made more interesting by inclusion of special powers for each type of piece which can affect each other type in special ways as well as cloud paths which a player may attempt to use to evade his enemies. There are also variant rules to change the victory conditions or play of the game. The designer was also art director for the John Woo film A Better Tomorrow.
Bennie Lui; C.C. Games (of Hong Kong); 1998; 2-4
Let's get into the mind of the medieval knight tilting at the joust. What was he thinking? Ride hard and hold on tight to be sure, but what about the strategic choices? Aim for shield? the helmet? Try to divert the opposing lance with your own? Rather than "mickey mouse" all of these details, Joe Huber's web-published design – Joe has also given out a few handmade copies – distills them down to what can be elegantly represented by a few cards. Although there are antecedents in Knizia's En Garde and Tor, it's an original effort which also owes something to Rock-Paper-Scissors in its repeated contests and the mind games that go with them. Even if one doesn't find frequent replays very appealing, it will make players think. It would be nice to someday see this as a gamelet within a larger context – the Black Shield of Falworth game? – or even on the back of a cereal box where it would be a lot better than what one usually espies there. [The Games Journal]
Jumbo Grand Prix
Reiner Knizia card effort is reminiscent of his Vampire in being a Rummy-like game, this time the collecting being on the topic of autoracing. Possibilities seem a bit more constrained in this one with luck increased.
Jumpin' Java
This two-player affair is based on the mathematical game Frogs & Toads which is described, among other places, in the book Winning Ways: for your mathematical plays (volumes 1 and 2). Here the competing frogs and toads have been converted to coffee cups and saucers, two of each per player. Starting at either end of a linear path, players strive to be the first to park their items at the opposing side. However, a new wrinkle has been added to the usual proceedings with the addition of stacking rules for cups and saucers. In addition, jumping rules differ for cups as opposed to saucers. The cups and saucers are nicely-made small versions of the real things in attractive earth tones. The "board" is a clever series of round cardboard circles linked together by a cloth. All of this comes in a wooden box with a slide top which may annoy by sliding open too easily. The instructions printed on the inside lid are a bit skimpy and, while clear, should really have addressed the situation of stalemates. Probably a longer board would have added the possibilities for fun as well. Still, it's a reasonable lookahead game for two that can challenge the brain cells, at least for a while. Considering that games are so short, perhaps it would have done better as a small package card game that would be easier to take along to the coffee shop. Though as a game that a coffee shop can buy and have available for patrons, it's close to ideal.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Don Green; Gigamic/Fundex/Front Porch Classics; 2003; 2 [Buy it at Amazon]
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