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Buy it at Amazon
The creator of this card play and drafting affair also invented Traders of Carthage. But here we have moved far forward from antiquity, in fact all the way to the recycling efforts of the modern era, as the strange title tries to convey. A turn consists of laying off cards in only one of four suits to the appropriate pile. Should the total thus accumulated there exceed three, the corresponding topmost victory point chip (or card, depending on edition) is taken. Chips increase in value as the game proceeds except for a "-2" thrown in to keep life interesting. But a chip doesn't count at all unless a player has taken at least two in the color. Whenever a chip is taken, a player also takes all the garbage
that has piled up since the last time one was taken and herein lies the rub, for any time the handsize exceeds five, the player must dump off the excess as unprocessed waste, each such card a penalty point. This is both fast-moving and full of difficult decisions. It is playable in at least two different ways: either to minimize penalties or to maximize scoring chips. Both appear equally viable and it's a fun challenge to try to never receive a penalty, though rather rare. The luck of the draw can sometimes be unfair, but duration is short enough that it shouldn't really be bothersome. The unusual, modern theme, though not deep, is a welcome contrast to all of the medieval and colonial ones that have predominated of late. The artwork, depicting glass bottles and other recyclables, is nothing to get too excited about, but is quite functional while the cards are of good quality.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Susumu Kawasaki; Kawasaki Factory/Japon Brand/Z-Man Games; 2003; 2-5
Players should imagine being a wealthy ancient Egyptian family dynasty seeking wealth from riverfront property which requires knowledge of the extent of the all-important Nile flood (the Ancient Egyptians learned how to do this by every Spring measuring the river levels in far south Nubia), monuments to self and praise for endeavors in the arts and sciences. The suns may well represent favors of Pharaoh or the god Ra which must be cashed in and are then doled out again. A bit too random for my taste. Has been criticized for having some tendency toward kingmaking which may have some validity. I would have preferred cards to tiles in this game – the illustrations could have been even nicer and a card deck easier to handle. Apparently is a distillation of a much more flavorful design that took four hours to play – I might have preferred that one and regret its loss to us. Overall however, Knizia appears to have created a worthy successor to Medici which is at once tightly-integrated, thoughtful and very accessible. Traumfabrik is a later outing in a similar system, but not as much as is Razzia, a small package card game version which shifts the action to the gangster world of the 1930's. (An earlier Razzia ceded its title – apparently – when it changed its theme to chickens.) Play of the new version is almost identical to the original, the main change being the disappearance of the penalty titles. This release proves they were not strictly necessary and a less "gamey" version is thus created. The new artwork is rather good, despite being restricted to the small cards which lowered the price and increase portability. This version can probably be played on plane or train and should be a welcome development for those caught out when the 1999 hit sold out so fast. The theme seems more remote than ever, however. [Holiday List 2004] [Ancient Egypt games]
Race for the Galaxy
While Cuba and Agricola are descendants of Puerto Rico, this one, along with San Juan, is one of its spin-offs. As in the latter, play ends upon a player managing to buy twelve cards using the economic engine he has built throughout the game. The driver is the choice of various roles, but this departs from the Caribbean model. Rather than each player choosing a different role, and thereby creating a variable phase order, they each secretly and simultaneously pick a role from identical hands and then those are conducted in invariant order, by everyone. A greater level of guesswork/intuition is thereby engendered. As to roles themselves they are similar in effect to those of San Juan, – there is buying, selling, building, drawing (called exploring), etc. – but under different names because of course the theme has been teleported to outer space. Thus players are either taking over or establishing trade with planets as well as deploying all manner of space equipment. The other important change is the rather larger number of different card types. At the same time, there are fewer of each type. The result is that play has more variability and probably more replayability, but at the cost, sometimes, of disappointment if one cannot draw the cards wanted from the outset. Of course this could befall back in San Juan as well, only it was less likely. The card drawing ability is rather liberal to help prevent it from happening. The large number of types makes this more challenging to learn as well. Associated with this is the challenge of understanding the iconic language used on the cards, which requires more than one playing to become clear, particularly with the high point cards. The hard science fiction theme may be a turn-off to some types of players as well. So game aims for a something of a niche existence, but for those comfortable there it is very enticing indeed with high utilization of theme and plenty of replay value in the various possible approaches. Indeed, so many are the various cards that one wants to play over and over again simply to find out what they all are and try them out. This can be a bit problematic for fairness if some are more experienced with the card set than others, but on the other hand, playing with our betters can be the best teacher. The only real knock is the unevocative title which is not at all memorable and oh, perhaps a smaller box. At the time of this writing, an expansion kit under the name Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm is planned, which is to accommodate an extra player. Perhaps then the extra box size will come in handy. [Frequently Played]
HHMH7 (Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Thomas Lehmann; 2007; Abacus/Rio Grande/Ystari; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium
At first glance the second expansion kit for Race for the Galaxy appears to finally deliver on the all the military overtones of the original. Rebel bases? Military takeovers? Surely there's some inter-player combat hiding here somewhere, right? Some chance to really hit the leader the way you've wanted. Well, it has finally arrived. Among the new materials are three new start world cards, enough action cards for a sixth player, forty-one regular cards, military player tracks plus cubes to place on them, and five goal tiles. The latter are probably the most useful in changing up the usual game flow, the best reason to get an expansion in this case. Three of them are onetime goals – first to get eight cards, four goods or three uplifts – while the remaining two are ongoing contests – most rebel military worlds and explore power cards. As to the military conflict, expectations may be frustrated. The most important point is that only players with military takeover capability need ever worry about it. Those who do not are immune. Beyond that, combat usually does not play that much a role. Players who do engage in takeovers tend to stay on that path; they did so already, but now there's even more incentive to do so. Combat is a matter of comparing the difference between takeover strengths and the amount of gain is limited by the amount of the difference, so even when it happens what's taken away is not of overwhelming value. Indeed, typicaly no combat occurs until near the end of play and even then when a minor planet is taken, the "victim" is at the same time playing an even better one from the hand, with the result that both players actually gain. Combat could have been implemented in a much more chaotic way and no doubt some were hoping for this, but that would have been too great a departure from this system of careful planning and simply not fit. There's a lot of good stuff here, but probably most don't need this expansion. The system has so many unique cards that it takes many playings to wear out their welcome. But if you're one of the few for whom this has happened, this is an excellent bet. [6-player Games]
HHMH7 (Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Thomas Lehmann; Abacus-2009/Rio Grande-2009/Ystari-2009; 1-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Racko (Rack-o)
Simple card game first published by Milton Bradley in 1956 as Racko seems to be named after the style of the Marx Brothers and also seems to have inspired the titles of later simple card games Uno and Skipbo. In this one, each player receives a plastic rack with ten slots for cards which are dealt in randomly. Players substitute in cards from the draw or discard piles trying to achieve strictly ascending order. First to do so wins. The flavor is something like Gin Rummy, especially with just two players which may be the best way to play, although four racks are provided. Players can raise their level of play by carefully noting what the opponents discard, and from where in the rack. Figuring out what the downstream player probably needs should greatly help in deciding what to discard. Players who like the any of the above-mentioned card games should like this one as well. Super Racko appears to be a later expansion of the same idea.
Radar Search
Two player gadget game consists of a stand-up board which really must be seen, as at the Gamepile website, to be fully appreciated. One player controls two ships attempting to traverse the board while the other a helicopter trying to catch them. The helicopter gets a radar fix on them only every other turn. Radar is on the honor system, but apprehending is not since when caught, the two pieces being stuck into the board will connect to complete a circuit which gives off a loud buzzing sound. Actually, it is possible to cheat in this as well as the helicopter player, if quiet and fast, may secretly try various holes until success is achieved. Bluff and mind games which should be amusing for several plays.
Trick-taking game based on Oh Hell, but using a proprietary deck with additional cards including jokers whose value may be set arbitrarily, cards to remove the trump, cards to change the trump and cards which add or subtract five points. While the basic game is already random enough – consider how difficult it is to predict one's tricks when only holding one or two cards – with six different suits and values from 1 to 15, this version takes the game to a whole new level of chaos. Although this version supposedly accepts up to eight players, players will probably be happier sticking with the original. [English Rules]
Rail Baron (Boxcars)
Players race around the historical tracks of America trying to earn the most money. Structurally there are two halves, each probably aobut twice as long as needed for the level of decisionmaking. The first part is concerned with fulfilling randomly-determined contracts and railroad acquisition. Owning track permits cheap travel while running on other's lines – which, akin to Monopoly, is often required – profits an opponent. Contracts continue in the second half with track fees doubled until finally someone achieves the victory amount. Of interest is the design of one's network as questions of connectivity, diversity and cost contend with one another. But the experience is very much ride your own waves with little concern for the plans of others apart from the rather anomalous jump-the-leader feature at the end. In fact the main task could be done much better by a computer, even if not in the days of this game's invention (1974). Finding the cheapest, most efficient route is made even harder by the lack of any on-board indication of which track is owned by whom – a communications design nightmare for beginners. To tedium and difficulty add annoyance as most every turn players must pay some trivial amount. It would have been much better to just force players to keep some minimum reserve and get about the same effect. Halve the costs of the railroads and the victory condition if it's still desired to try this antique engine that was no doubt inspired in its time. Most will find more obstacles than they care to clear. [6-player Games]
Rails Through the Rockies (Rocky Mountain Rails)
Railroad game on that most popular of railroading topics, construction of rails in Colorado. Others on this topic include Silverton and Tracks to Telluride (Colorado Rails). The emphasis here is on finding the fastest and most profitable route to Grand Junction, with the mining being far more abstract than in Silverton. It is more involved however than Tracks Through Telluride as players must worry about the details of track types, passes and tunnels. In addition there is an events deck which has a large effect on play. As there are really only about three good ways through the mountains, this is the optimal number of players. There are possibilities for strategy, but is mostly about opportunism. [chart] [Italian Rails]
Railway Rivals (Dampfross)
Railroad game invented in 1973 by a schoolteacher for purposes of teaching principles of geography. It does that and makes for a rather satisfying game besides. A hex map shows a region on which players draw track in order to link cities and thus generate income. Then when all cities have been linked come the races. Two cards are drawn and whichever player or team of players can deliver a cargo from one to the other fastest earns money. To figure out who is fastest, a race is run with movement via dice, but having the most efficient track helps considerably. Supported by a large number of map variants including those set in: American Southwest Bavaria, China (largest), Fidschi Islands, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Isle of Man (smallest), Kentucky/Tennessee, Russia, Spain, Tolkien's Middle-Earth. For more, see here. Called Dampfross ("Steam Horse") in its German edition. A possible inspiration for the Empire Builder series. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games] [Periodic Table of Board Games]
David G. Watts; Rostherne Games/Games Workshop/Alga; 1973; 2-6; also Laurin/Schmidt; 1983; 2-6
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Railway Rivals: China Map
This expansion map is made effectively large by use of many small hexes. Each player begins at a different seaport. In addition to the cities there are six border areas which are also destinations: Vietnam, Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, Western China and one which may be a rules issue: any seaport. That is, if the other end of the route also comes up a seaport, is that invalid because of being too close or is it permissible as long as the other city is at least six spaces from a connected seaport that can be used? Players may wish to discuss their interpretation before play. Strategically, the map is busier than it looks in the northeast; a player who can control it alone should do well. Actually, because of the map's large size, it probably works best with a full table of six players, at least if having a lot of close races is a goal. The map's features are clear and its plastic coating works well.
David G. Watts; Rostherne Games; 1987; 2-6
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Railway Rivals: Kentucky-Tennessee Map
Each player begins at either Nashville or Lexington. As usual there are six border areas. The critical axis seems to be east-west, primarily due to the difficult-to-crack Appalachian mountain hexes in the east. The map seems to offer plenty of opportunities for about five people, but seems too cramped for more than that. This is a paper on hard board map which works fairly well with the original crayons; erasure is clean though some colors have difficulty leaving marks.
David G. Watts; Rostherne Games; 1987; 2-8
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Railways of the World: The Card Game
if no image probably out of print
First there was Railroad Tycoon, a board game by Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover, which after some changes gave way to Railways of the World by the same worthies, which in turn gave way to this one, losing the board along the way. In that sense this card game is what would happen if Ticket to Ride met Age of Steam. Cards come in basically two types: straight tracks which traverse the card lengthwise and cities which sit at the center of a cross of track. Against this wholly square alignment is the hexagonal starting space from which all track building issues. But in terms of the layout that's okay because the rules permit stacking track cards and also curving their direction to avoid obstacles. Cities come in various levels and the better the city the more track the player needs to play it, which happens all in one turn. Thus collecting cards to be able to play a city is a long-term plan and the hand size is thirteen to accommodate. Building to a city scores points based on its difficulty and at the end more points are given, but to the player who has the most track connected to each city. As in Age of Steam cities both produce and consume goods, those produced appearing via random draw from a bag. Each city consumes products in particular colors as shown on the card. In addition to the cards mentioned before there are also wild cards which serve either purpose, but can instead be played standalone as engines, which determine how fast a player's train moves when making deliveries. A player takes only one of the above actions per turn so there tends to be strong dynamic of setting up opportunities that opponents may take before the player can. Replenishing cards is via draft, but taking a wild card disallows the usual second draw. But no such prohibition applies if one draws it at random from the stack. There is some ability to address bad luck by discarding a card to draw a new one or replenish a good, but is of questionable value since it does use up a player's one action. Play ends when the deck or bag is exhausted or a player builds the maximum number of cities, and this comes much faster than one expects, at least the first time. The presentation is functional, if a bit drab. At least the colors of the cards are supplemented by symbols for the color blind, though nothing is done for the cubes side. There are forty-eight cute little plastic locomotive pieces to admire. The instructions are complete, but at times confusingly written, particularly in the area of placing a city. There's a fair amount of randomness here, both in the bag and card draws, which could be frustrating, but at least it's short so if it happens it doesn't linger. This isn't really the introductory game that its card game form might suggest, but more a shorter version of its predecessors that retains the same complexity. It's really not bad, but exists in today's crowded field of many railroading games where many will prefer the geography of a board and others simpler affairs like Ticket to Ride.
MMMM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
James Eastham & Steve Ellis; Eagle Games-2010; 2-4; 30; 8+ Amazon
Not to be confused with the next entry, this card game hails from Japan and is the fifth by this inventor. In a setup reminiscent of
Lamarckian Poker players bid cards to claim those on the table with their bids adding to what can be claimed. These bids are done sequentially and, if several of a kind or a straight, may constitute more than one card, the best set taking the best prize which goes into the personal score pile. The trick is that each must play the same type of pattern as the starting player (shades of Tichu) or resort to just a single card. There are sixty cards numbered 1-6, most of which are dealt out at the start. It might be kind of annoying for some that the card number is only printed on two corners of each card, in case one tends to riff right rather than left. Artistically it's nice that when cards 1 through 6 are laid out they form a nice rainbow. The card artwork showing the countryside beneath a rainbow and the large numbers in different rainbow colors are well done. The instructions deserve praise too for presenting the first page in a novel comic book form that makes learning, or remembering the rules, very easy. This is a game which is really too short as it's over before it can really develop interest. Despite that, is not interesting enough for the amount of time. Too much, it seems, depends on luck of the draw, though it might work okay for introducing some game concepts to kids.
LLMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Mito Sazuki; Grimpeur-2010/Japon Brand-2010; 2-6; 15; 8+ [Shop]
Alan Moon-designed game of building rainbows, actually placing counters on a grid to form connected chains. Tacked on is another sub-game about building the best Rummy-like hand. There is a not a great deal going on here, luck of the draw plays a large role and apart from nice illustrations on the counters there is not much to recommend visually, but it affords some tactics in a light and quick setting. Four players is probably optimal.
Personal Rating: 6
Alan R. Moon; White Wind-1995; 3-5; 30; 8+ [Shop]
Card game which is a descendant of an Indian folk game and another title, Hol's der Geier. Characteristic of games of this type are that each player begins with an identical hand and each simultaneously chooses a card with which to compete, the winner taking the spoils. Strategically, one usually wins this type of game by not trying to be too greedy. If you calculate the amount it takes to win a majority of the points and simply make sure you take small point values which sum to that total and over which most players will not fight very hard, you will do well. This system has been used and adapted for many other games, Montgolfière and Sky Runner being examples.
Alex Randolph; 1995
Raja: Palastbau in Indien (Maharaja: Palace Building in India)
A Kiesling and Kramer (just to reverse the usual order) game which, like Knizia's Taj Mahal, is about palace building in Mughal India. Are there a lot of documentaries on this topic in Germany? The design team has moved from Ravensburger to new publisher Phalanx, but the high (low?) level of depth remains. Players represent princes and their architects vying to build as many palaces as possible. Obstacles are geographical – being in the right place at the right time – monetary and the fact that a player has only two actions per turn. These are simultaneously selected via a fancy spinner. There are a wide number of choices including stealing another's role, which confer special advantages in the tradition of Verräter and Puerto Rico. Naturally this may sabotage his plan completely. In fact the number of choices a player can make is probably too large given the simultaneous premise. That planning can be reduced to a near-meaningless guessing game leads directly to the second problem: it is very difficult for trailing players to cooperate on how to stop a leader and there is no other catch-up mechanism. This can even lead to the situation, unusual for a Kramer game, that a player can be proven the winner turns before the game is supposed to be over. Raja is that uncommon combination of the tactical outing in a heavy format, the primary example of which may be something as unexpected as Titan. Fans of this and of guessing games like Aladdin's Dragons may enjoy this even more intense realization, but it seems most others will compare it more to Verrat and feel disappointed, which is unfortunate given its lavish production including a beautiful map and glass pieces.
Rapa Nui
if no image probably out of print
On Easter Island, or as the natives call it, Rapa Nui, players begin with one lumberjack and three hunter-gatherers who specialize, each player having a slightly different set of staples they can gather. A player turn is playing one or more of three hand cards and then drafting to replace from the bottom of four columns of four cards each. After drafting, the last card revealed (a random one if the column was thus exhausted) indicates a competition in that category, each player getting matching scoring cards in the hunter-gatherer type or wood in case of a lumberjack or straight up points in the case of a priest. There are, of course, also Moai cards depicting the famous giant stone heads made on the island; playing one of these costs seven wood (reminding of the theory that Easter Islanders killed their civilization via unwise overuse of wood) and forces each player to sacrifice a scoring card, the activating player getting to place his face down and also use another one from the supply. At the end of play all of these scoring cards are revealed; player copies of the most frequently chosen card are worth 4 each, the second most chosen 3 each, etc. Although the system seems susceptible to problems in certain configurations – in a three-player game, two may very well cooperate to raise what is in effect a stock price of a commodity, leaving the third out in the cold – it is also fairly harmless and does not overstay its welcome. This system works well, but was cleaner when it was called King's Breakfast, though this one's support for two-player situation is an improvement. There appear to be strategic considerations in terms of what to specialize in, but likely these will be dwarfed by which cards are available on one's turn. The artwork, as is usual from this publisher, is attractively realized. That this one, coming from the teacher who invented Carcassonne, has a mild educational flavor may attract. Along these lines, lists of other games about Easter Island or other places are also available.
MMMM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede; Kosmos-2011; 2-4; 40
Rasende Roboter (Ricochet Robot)
Actually a puzzle about programming a set of robots to achieve a goal in the most efficient way. As a game it is almost in the party genre as players can easily jump in or drop out. There isn't much in the way of strategy. [6-player Games]
Alex Randolph; 1999
Rattenscharf (Rat Hot, Dschunke: Das Legespiel)
Two player tile-layer by Michael Schacht, whose German title would have been more accurately and sensibly translated "Sharp as a Rat". Players draw tripartite tiles at random, playing them to connect identical images of their own color and inhibit same by the opponent. Tiles may be stacked atop one another. If you're very good you can even engineer 4-point plays in which both illustrations on a tile score. Such planning is occasionally disrupted by the appearance of one's rat tiles for if ever 3 of these are visible, the owner loses immediately. So the player is entertained constantly by multiple conflicting goals: short-term points, long-term points, inhibiting opponent points, covering rats, making opponent rats hard to cover. (No tile may overlap another directly, but must partly cover at least two.) All is so nicely balanced that most of these goals can be accomplished, but just barely. Turns should move along speedily, but beware opponents who eschew intelligence in their placement and fall back on brute force tryings of every, last, possibility. Then you're in for a long and boring time. Thematically, the idea is that the players are storing food as efficiently as possible. In the metaphorical sense the suggestion that problems can just be boarded over and ignored certainly has resonance in modern life and public policy. But this is a good example of a marginally themed game good enough not to need one. The color blind may not be happy here since even though the green food and the red food come in different packages and so are distinguishable, these are poor color choices when it comes to the rats. Otherwise, recommended for all audiences. [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
MMHM8 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8)
Dschunke: Das Legespiel: This earlier web-published version featured similar tiles, but slightly different rules. There was no concept of the knockout; instead all scoring was only at the end where each combination scored according to the triangular numbers scheme and each visible rat deducted one from the score. It's probably too difficult to play this set using the later rules because some of the tiles contain double rats of the same color.
box cover
Rattus rattus being the scientific name for the common black rat, this Norwegian-invented game takes a look at the Black Plague outbreaks in Europe from 1347 and onward. The map shows a Europe divided into just twelve regions having names like Hispania, Germania, etc. These are randomly seeded with face down rat tokens. Players then start the board by placing two pairs of cubes, representing people, into any two regions. A turn consists of choosing a role card, placing cubes into a region equal to the number of rat tokens there and moving the plague pawn to an adjacent region. Role cards have names like king, knight, merchant, monk, peasant and witch and each provides its chooser, only, with a special ability. Examples of the abilities include being able to move pieces, rats, or the plague pawn, add more cubes than usual, examine hidden rat tokens or move pieces to a palace area where they are always safe. The plague pawn causes more rats to appear in its region and also in adjoining regions up to a maximum of three. After every player has had a turn, the rats in the plague region are revealed and depending on their indications, cubes in that region and cubes belonging to players holding particular roles are lost. There are also often special losses for the players having the majority of cubes in a region. All of this continues until there are no more rat tokens to place or a player empties his supply of cubes. At that point the player having the most cubes in play wins. The map and components are attractively made. There is a weird, glossy finish to the board, made perhaps, in China, but it, the large cubes and plague pawn are easy to use. What's also well done here are the rules by which the rats and plague strike and spread. They keep the game from breaking down one way or the other and yet are elegantly implemented. What's less admirable is that the theme really makes no sense as who are these people represented by cubes coming into Europe? And what of the millions already living there? The roles are only slightly better in this regard. Then too, the "reveal rat tokens" mechanism can strike rather randomly and unfairly. This sits uncomfortably beside the seemingly strategic role cards and can easily render their functions meaningless. In other words, your genius plan vis-à-vis card strategy may well be rendered useless by the vicissitudes of random draw. In addition the rules are not well written, frequently depending too strongly on examples alone to illustrate rules. Still, this is apparently fairly popular as there have already been two expansion kits. Rattus: Pied Piper (2010) adds the role cards crusader, courier, soldier, mayor, emperor, pied piper, serf, queen, wizard, baker, nun, bishop, while Rattus: Africanus (2011) adds northern Africa to the map. What then is the appeal? Perhaps it is the relatively short play time and the effectiveness of the illusion of control, especially among play groups having unequal skill where large doses of luck are more welcome.
MLHH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Åse & Henrik Berg; HUCH! & friends-2010/White Goblin-2010/Z-Man Games-2010; 2-4; 45 Amazon
Raubritter (Robber Knights)
Rüdiger Dorn tile laying game for up to four. The next time he is interviewed the inventor simply must be asked why he is so taken with the idea of placement by adjacent squares, which appears here as it also did in Traders of Genoa, Goa, and others. In this one each player works through his own set of tiles, which have been programmed into several sub-decks. The player has a limited hand size à la Samurai and as in that game often wants to delay doing much until a good opportunity is available, e.g. a scoring opportunity which cannot be undone. Tiles come in three basic types: places to score points (municipalities), obstacles (lakes, mountains, forests) and places generating pieces (castles). Pieces are moved exactly once and attempt to cover point tiles in a straight line from their source, preferably over-topping other player tokens. The problem, however, is how to keep one's own tokens from being subsequently covered, which is where blocking terrain and stacking limits come in. As the board fills up, there are more opportunities to hide by using the board edge as a barrier; this is a game decidedly to the advantage of the patient participant. But it makes a mistake with first timers, however, whose first instinct is to immediately use their blocking terrain – it appears useless after all. In reality, these are some of the more valuable tiles and really deserve to be saved for a judicious opportunity. The game's instructions rather than this review really ought to be the ones helping players realize this. Now seems a good time to mention Friedemann Friese. Not because he has anything to do with this became, but because he and his 2F-Spiele show great courage in choosing themes, often modern ones, which avoid the trite old topics like pirates, ancient Egypt and here, for the one millionth time, medieval Europe. Not only has it outworn its welcome, but it in no way fits, the reasons why being safely left with the reader. Meanwhile and ironically, this is not far from a diceless version of Indus. Overall the system is reasonable and seems like it ought to be more fun than it turns out to be, perhaps a consequence of its intermittent nature. Unless perhaps in two-player mode, every turn is an opportunistic one and it's hard to plan for much more than one turn in advance. There may be a slight advantage to being the last player as well. Tacticians should be the main audience, but even they may be left unexcited by the somewhat static nature of this.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Razzia (Hick Hack in Gackelwack, Pick Picknic)
Card game set in Prohibition-era American city. Players have a nebulous identity as they control both police and gamblers who each turn visit favorite nightspots such as the Cotton Club, Havana Club and Jazzhouse. Reminiscent of Adel Verpflichtet, in that cards are simultaneously revealed and some (police) may catch others. If there are multiple contenders, they may attempt to settle matters via negotiation, but if this should fail, dice are resorted to. Title translates to "Raid". Republished in 2001 as Hick Hack in Gackelwack and transferred to a barnyard setting (chickens getting grain and avoiding foxes) with typically-attractive illustrations by Doris Matthäus. Main changes include cash tiles being replaced by different colored cubes and "-2" chicken cards which allow the player to steal a single low value grain, but deduct points from any nosy foxes. Both versions make for an interesting bluff and mind games experience that does not overstay its welcome, even if occasionally unfair if one draws mostly low cards or not the cards one wants. One of those games for children that adults can enjoy without strain, it would seem to make an ideal product for English-language release. [Holiday List 2002] [6-player Games] [Top Ten Gateways] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Stefan Dorra; Ravensburger/Zoch; 1992/2001; 3-8/2-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Ready to Take Off
Light card game consists of using jet aircraft cards (why?) to bid for airline routes, which are just numbers on other cards. The routes have intrinsic values, but the main points are achieved by collection of matching sets, each route naming three cities. There is nothing very compelling here; For Sale is a more engaging light auctioner, and less dependent on luck. Often simply referred to as "Take Off".
Really Nasty Horseracing Game, The
Both wagering and horse ownership concern players over six races. Nastiness enters mostly in the form of "take that!" cards which can fell a horse in a single blow. Lesser ploys involve stopping in front of an opponent although the only effect is to force an unfavorable lane around the turn. Movement is by die roll – only a "6" permits a move to the inside. There are bonus spaces permitting a double move if the horse is of sufficient quality, each player fielding an identical stable. Each race pays the owners for win, place and show, but the secret wagers only pay off on a win. An obvious tactic is to bet on someone else's longshot and be prepared to hobble one's own horse should it turn out the accidental leader. Despite its old-style mechanics, this product of 1989 still works surprisingly well. Part of this must be the no-nonsense treatment of catastrophes. Rather than be slowly crippled by a thousand cuts, horses either race at full speed or not at all. This ensures fast races, full of anxiety and excitement with no time for boredom. While the events can cruelly dash hopes, at least they are balanced and not numerous. A good example of a chaotic game that works, this is considerably more fun than the overwrought Win, Place, and Show. Another reason for this is no doubt the large, fully-modeled horse-and-jockeys. The instructions contain ambiguities which will have to be decided by play. What ensues if a horse is blocked on the outside lane is not explained nor is it clear whether moving to the outside costs movement pips or not. [6-player Games]
Dexterity game for two where each controls four marbles locked in round plastic jackets. As in Horseshoes, they take turns pushing the marbles down a plastic alley where they bounce off an A-frame of two rubberbands and double back along a parallel alley. The goal is to land in a location with a high score – the alley is demarcated 10-20-50-100 – or knock the opponent into the Pit. A newer version features green and purple jackets rather than the more traditional red and blue, higher point zones and tilt area. Amusing for children, but ultimately tiring.
Reef Encounter
Multi-player game of coral and shrimp existence on a reef by Richard Breese. There are echoes of his Keydom in that players compete in a certain way (here to consume the most), but someone can always move the goalposts (which ones are worth the most). Even the rules of which corals dominate which can be reversed. There's also a lot of use of side effects, which can make learning the rules harder as completely separate sub-games get artificially linked together. For example, use of a shrimp permits guaranteeing a particular dominance rule. Guaranteeing a dominance rule reverses other, unrelated dominance rules. As you may have gathered, amidst all of this domination, there's an almost war game feel with players able to predate one another's holdings, although this is ameliorated by the fact that eventually the player will consume his entire position himself. Meanwhile it gives rise to the interesting sub-game of how to position one's coral on a square grid with obstacles. One's shrimp can only protect orthogonally adjacent corals so the question is "how can everything be positioned to maximize protection?". Or, should the goal be to maximize consumption of others' corals and defensive position be hanged? A good memory for what players have drafted won't hurt. The presentation (by Ludofact) is quite high, much better than the typical independent production. Topic and play are innovative. Its complexity is a bit much for the casual player, but most of those who can handle more should enjoy this, the largest lingering doubts being in the area of luck of the draw and in the longish, solitairish turns. 'Tis a quiet, thoughtful game for those who can appreciate such. One irony: with all the epics he made, who would have thought that the game with a title taking off on a Richard Burton movie would choose Brief Encounter? Second edition: The new edition is much the same, but with slicker graphics. Sometimes they are a bit too slick; features like the holes in the reef are so mildly depicted that players may forget they exist. The passage of a year revealed that the game in general has not aged well. What one can do seems entirely tactical and subject to chance as one must draft among items which are often almost all useless, and even if they are not, may well be rendered so by the large changes which will occur before one's next turn. Like Mall World it truly tends to defy analysis. Meanwhile it still suffers from poorly outlined options and the thousand cuts of many rules exceptions.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
Reibach & Co. (Get the Goods)
Alan Moon card game in which players try to collect sets and score points at random intervals provided by scoring cards. This otherwise enjoyable game of groupthink is unfortunately marred by original rules which don't quite work. Thus, players must agree beforehand on which of several rules variant sets to employ. Title is a bit of a pun as einen Reibach machen means "to make a killing".
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 8
Alan Moon & Mick Ado; 1996; F.X. Schmid; 2-5
Reise zum Mittelpunkt der Erde, Die (Journey to the Center of the Earth)
if no image probably out of print
This realization of the Jules Verne classic is a game in three parts, both visually and in terms of its systems. Part one is the descent of three adventurers. As in Expedition, no one controls any single color – a player can activate any during his turn by playing a matching color card for each move across the square grid. This volcanic interior contains both obstacles and prize spaces. Traversing the former or earning the reward of the latter requires play of the corresponding equipment cards, e.g. rope, compass, lantern, etc. The compass, pickaxe and hardtack, can also confer extra movement abilities. Prizes come in the form of relic cards – drawn at random to provide victory points as parts of various set collection sub-games – and water tokens (blue glass pieces) which prevent the loss of relics at the end of this stage. A player who cannot or will not move an explorer instead drafts cards of either type; person cards are always face down, but three equipment cards are always face up on offer. Part two begins whena player earns the bonus points moving an explorer to the edge of the lake. At this point all three explorers are fitted into a raft and travel together. As the lake is also studded with obstacles and rewards, play is much the same except that upon landing on an award space, not just the active, but all players can reveal matching tools to claim relics. But in addition, each lake movement triggers revelation of a random lake card against which either the current or all players discard matching cards to either avoid a penalty or obtain a reward. This stage is substantially faster than the first, but still longer than the next which is very quick indeed. In part three the travelers are still together, now emerging from a different volcano. They move a random number of spaces upward and dependig on the ending space must produce explorer cards of the matching color or lose relics. Players then compare scores which until now have been entirely hidden except for the number of cards held. Graphically this is a fine production with the estimable Franz Vohwinkel up to his usual high standard. The only complaint might be that the edges of two types of equipment cards are a little too similar. The explorers are identical plastic figures, apart from their colors, which fit securely into a nice plastic raft. Curiously, complexity and the level of luck seem to match that of that other recent Verne vehicle, Around the World in 80 Days, i.e. this is probably not one for the strong fans of this inventor's Goa. Although it doesn't go as far as assigning variable explorer abilities, it does make a run at theme and perhaps more significantly, there is no way to target an opponent, or even be sure who is leading. This might easily appeal to those wanting to avoid direct conflict in their gaming.
Rüdiger Dorn; Kosmos/Mayfair; 2008; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Res Publica
Reiner Knizia card game centers around trading and set collection. The innovative mechanism is that the player wishes to arrange a trade, but may only state either what he wants or what he wishes to give away, but not both. This makes for some interesting considerations, but does not seem to work very well at the top end of the number of players where things become very static and slow.
Rescue Heroes Pet Rescue
Fisher-Price (Mattel) game intended for ages 3+ is a re-working of Snakes and Ladders transported to the scene of a burning building. Players work their way up from the ground floor by rolling to move. Upon landing on a tile, they flip it over to reveal which animal they have rescued. Ladders move the landing player up very fast while ropes drop them down. The game ends when the first player reaches the waiting helicopter on the roof. Whoever has the most animals at this time wins and automatically rescues all the rest of the animals. It is difficult even for adult players to tell what the direction of travel is since the only indications are the ascending numbers printed very small in the spaces. Arrows would have helped a lot unless the idea is to teach counting. The standup plastic figures fall down quite easily and are thus wholly unsuitable to their role as player markers. Noting that there is a whole line of collectible Rescue Heroes figures, this game appears to be nothing more than a cheap attempt to give them something to do and thereby enhance sales of further such figures. [Fisher-Price]
Resistance, The
box cover
Strategy games that employ the team vs. team concept intrigue as they're rather rare. Curiously, apart from party games like Pictionary, these usually feature the concept of one or more traitors or villains whose identity as members of a different team is hidden. Examples include Shadows Over Camelot, Saboteur, Castle of the Devil and Battlestar Galactica. But probably the closest analogy is to Werewolf as this inclines to its rather simple format, though not nearly as much. The theme is a group of revolutionaries ostensibly attempting to solve missions. However, at least one and maybe more are instead secretly trying to sabotage them. First players vote on the rotating leader's proposal of which players to send on the current mission, which may lead to more proposals until one passes. Then the chosen players each submit a face down card indicating whether they are working for or against the mission. The cards are mixed and revealed. Three solved missions means a win for the larger team; failure to do this in the predetermined number of rounds means a win for the spies. What's good here are that everyone plays the entire time – no moderator needed and no player elimination. It's not without its frustrations, however. In one playing this reviewer happened to learn the identities of both of the spies because there were only three players in the mission and he himself wasn't a spy. Well and good, but so much for the fun of deduction. Not only that, getting the other players to believe the truth just learned proved very difficult, even if ultimately successful. One idea for doing so was to predict what the spies would do, i.e. that they would choose one another to include in missions when the leader. This put a lot of pressure on the spies as they did not want to thus confirm the accusation. Thus they instead picked the least experienced player and hoped to mislead the rest. This was only a six-player outing and it may reveal a significant point: that this works best with at least seven. On the other hand, this task of advocacy may for some players simply part of or even the majority of the fun. The rules writing can be a bit vague at times. Thematically this isn't particularly strong either. Time and place are vague; there's never any point of paying attention to exactly what the mission is or any chance that it can go wrong for a random, i.e. non-player reason. The sort of dark-feeling artwork is merely window dressing. Probably, even though there is a theme, it's so light that this should really be classified a party game. Another nice thing is that it's a party game that supports ten players using a fairly small package. [Party Games]
LMMM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Don Eskridge; Indie Boards and Cards-2009/Heidelberger Spieleverlag-2009/Wargames Club-2009/Hobby Japan-2009; 5-10 Amazon
Fairly light and a bit like Fossil. In the first half the tables get "seated" player by player orthogonally and in the second half they get "served" in the same way, but in the backwards direction. Very important to gauge what the player to your left will do, indeed to gauge what everyone will do before it is your turn next. Game can end much earlier than expected if players are not careful or even one desires it. Probably there is too much individual control to satisfy most players – perhaps further development could have made this a very interesting game. [6-player Games] [more]
Rette Sich Wer Kann (Seenot im Rettungsboot; Lifeboats)
Very psychological game has won itself a unique reputation by forcing players to deliberately ruin the hopes of others based on nothing at all. Called "Save Yourself If You Can", "Every Man for Himself" or just "The Leaky Lifeboat Game", the theme is a number of boats trying to reach shore while each turn a number of occupants get left behind. Must be played with the right group otherwise these continuous opportunities for spite and malice can have unfortunate results.
Seenot im Rettungsboot (Lifeboats). The 2006 edition is a good reproduction of the original – the boats and pawns seem nearly identical. Cards have replaced the more fancy voting dials, but they were somewhat fragile anyway. The instructions for the English edition are well-translated and illustrated in full color. The only quibble might be that the sequence of phases is a bit unnatural and so it would have helped to print it on the board, in iconic form at least, if letters are so abhorrent, as they everywhere seem to be these days (why is that?). [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 4
Walter Müller's Spielewerkstatt;
Rette Sich Wer Kann [Crocodile Pool Party]
Morbidly weird two-player game of crocodiles turning up in a hotel swimming pool and devouring not just the guests, but each other. I can't imagine how inventor Rudi Hoffmann and/or publisher Kosmos came up with this topic, but it does illustrate Hoffmann's continuing love of the grid. Here it contributes to a special kind of game math as each croc can move a different number of spaces in orthogonal steps, usually with just one turn permitted. A lot of time can be spent understanding the resulting geography and what it takes to move to a position where one can strike, preferably at multiple targets in a classic Chess fork. It is also a bit reminiscent of the inventor's Tally Ho, but there are fewer pieces and more analysis. It's also not quite as good thematically – that crocodiles are eating other, fully-grown crocodiles is bothersome. Also annoying is the fact that the box quality is less than the previous games in the Kosmos two-player series, probably an artifact of worsening economies. Other than that, this works fairly well as a short, analytical jaunt.
Rudi Hoffman;
Revenge in Rome
One-time use mystery party game is nicely done with plenty of scope for role-playing if the players are willing to get into the spirit of things. Revelations about the characters will cause plenty of fun and need for improvisation. [Party Games]
Reversi (Annex, Annexation, Othello)
Traditional game which began as Annexation or Annex, a Game of Reverses in 1870 in England arrived in the United States as Reversi in 1888 via McLoughlin Bros. Becoming popular again in the 1950's, in 1976 it was marketed by Gabriel as Othello (following Shakespeare's play apparently because the game featured pieces in black and white). A two-player abstract with black and white pieces on a grid, it is likely a descendant of Go. Here, however, there is a white side and a black side to each token, the object being to outflank the opponent by having one's disks on both ends of a row. This flips the opponent's disks to the acting player's color. If flavorless and lacking in variety, there is certainly strategy, albeit a bit shallow for the taste of the experienced game player. [10 Most Famous Board Games]
Revolte in Rom (Roma)
Another of the two-player card games which, like Lost Cities, Schotten-Totten and Ballon Cup are fought out over a line drawn between the players. Locations are numbered 1-6, against which each player can play a single card. On a turn a player rolls three dice and can activate cards at these locations. In addition, two other locations permit drawing cards or money, and in proportion to the number of pips showing (hint: place your most useful cards on the lower numbers). So the system is neat and simple, but gets intriguing due to the wide variety of cards and the powers they offer. But the cards show only icons to hint as to their meanings so at first there is plenty of rules referencing (make a photocopy), but on the positive side there is a nice thematic connection with the meaning of each. Gladiators, legions and assassins attack; fora and other biuldings provide victory points, etc. The many special powers interact, sometimes in surprising ways, and many games will pass before they are all explored. Then there is the puzzle about how to position against the opponent. Amid all these positive features there is also the problem that the game can fall off the rails awfully fast. A player may have too deadly a forum combination or maybe the first player is able to blitz the other too hard on turn one and keep him from ever getting into it, or maybe it's just good lucky dice rolling or card drawing, but don't be surprised at a sudden victory as they are common. On the other hand, it's easy to just set up a new game. This offers a lot of variety for fans of quick games who don't mind a high degree of asymmetry. On the whole it is probably has more straightforward fun than Hera and Zeus if less bluffing and planning. This game was followed on by Arena: Roma II, which is both a successor and an expansion. [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Stefan Feld; Queen; 2005; 2 [Buy it at Amazon]
Reiner Knizia tile-laying game set amidst the curves and castles of the Rhine River. Handsomely produced by Parker Europe, it seems to be a game whose charms and subtleties are not revealed until after several plays. Two basic strategies seem to be either to get as many dukes on the board as possible or to try to make as large a duchy as possible and with it swallow the duchies of competitors. Three-player games tend to favor the former and five-player outings the latter. There appear to be some interesting tactics as well in the Archbishop and in two players managing to alternately buy out one another's duchy. As in many Knizia games, the player forms strategies based on a risk-management analysis of a variety of events which may occur and then decides whether to take an opportunity when it presents itself. Likewise for preventing possible future opponent opportunities. Production-wise, instead of cards, I would have preferred tiles kept in a bag because of the frequency with which reshuffling occurs.
Stefan Dorra-designed light game very loosely based on the safecracking activities in the classic film of the same name. Players continually "sabotage" their opponents by playing cards of the same suit, but lower. But if no one does so, the player collects chips equal to that number. As with the designer's For Sale the result is an interesting, short outing. Similarity with the author's Land Unter is probably even more pronounced. A good memory for which cards have been played is a definite asset.
Stefan Dorra; Winning Moves Deutschland;
Rigatoni Intriganti
Oliver Igelhaut and small publisher Glücksritter game about noodle-making employs as tokens actual pasta shells! Interesting idea which permits players to choose from one of four different victory conditions may be a bit problematic since a player lucky enough to be different from the rest stands to benefit. Situation is very unstable and victory achievable without players even noticing. Players must be very alert or it can all be over in as few as just three turns. Players frequently need to subsume their own goals in order to play defense, but this is problematic as on top of the natural reluctance, it is not clear just how much defense is needed. Also features diplomacy and negotiation rules for takeover attempts which work much like those in Cosmic Encounter. Event card handling is nicely handled as a player can draw as many as desired, but four cards in the deck are disasters. A house rule which assigns each victory condition to one of the aces in a standard deck and then secretly dealing out the aces might make the situation more fair. It just might be that this game is very successful if played a number of times by the same group to bring out the nuances that a casual first outing does not reveal.
Road to Canterbury, The
if no image probably out of print
The inventor has moved past a previous obsession evident in Bridge Troll and Trollhalla and onto a very good one: the medieval collection of tales by Chaucer, a seeming good topic, but not one that anyone has realized since Hazard. This one is basically a card game, the unique cross-shaped board formed by a central square having four flaps, barely being needed. The narrative centers on just one of the stories, "The Pardoner's Tale", all players being pardoners. Chaucer does not seem to have liked the disreputable pardoners very much, depicting them as people who abuse their authority and grow wealthy by selling fake relics and keeping the money for themselves rather than donating it to the Church. Thus players inflict themselves on seven non-player travelers making the pilgrimage to Canterbury by first inducing them to sin, represented by playing cards each representing one of the seven deadly sins to a character. Later play of a pardon card matching the character's sins earns money depending on how deeply into that sin the character has gone. As a side effect, a token goes on that character. But there is also the possibility of things going too far. When the character acquires seven sins or a randomly-drawn death card, death is the result and whoever pardoned most earns even more money. Should there be a tie, a good and interesting rule is that the player having the most sins in hand takes precedence, giving players a significant tradeoff in composing the hand, especially since sins are probably the least valuable type of card in general. In addition one board flap depicts the actual road to Canterbury – imagine that – and at each death there is an evaluation, the most pardoning player or players being able to put markers on that station on the route to earn even more, the value going up as the group gets closer to their goal. As a side effect, each sin played permits putting a token in the corresponding sin space. Getting a marker in all seven spaces is a very valuable accomplishment, the first player earning twenty, the second ten and the third five. There are also relic cards which have humorous names and wild, rule-breaking effects. First time players beware; you have no idea what they can do, or that some are quite a bit better than others. The production and artwork, including the work of Hieronymous Bosch in the center square is distinctive and not much like other games – in other words, great. It also does not last overlong, even with three. But that hits the first problem: it can only support two or to three players, limiting the number of situations in which it can be played, and how many games like this can a collection stand? It's a game of putting out pickings for others and then being first to scoop them back up, in some cases the decision being who is willing to sell out first. But this ends up feeling like not much more than play-a-card-draw-a-card. The decisions are that obvious. And then way too much of it is luck of the draw, as by no fault of one's own one can spend a whole game trying to get that elusive card needed to finish the seven deadly sins series. Worse, the same applies to getting the right sin or the right pardon or the right relic. This is true even though three of each type are available for drafting, as is the top of the deck. As a consequence it's not watching paint dry, but comes a close second. Probably all this stems from trying too hard to fit its theme, but even there reach exceeded grasp. The sin and pardon cards dully display only those words, so we never feel any sense of story about how a pardoner tempted the poor sinner or what they sold to "save" them. The relic cards do only a very little bit, and it's likely one shouldn't draft these cards anyway. There is a little bit here, but to find sustained interest it needed to have substantially more. It should also be asked why the deadly sin Lust is being rendered Luxury. Using this archaic term obscures rather than clarifies its meaning; is this just to avoid offending someone? The instructions also state "Please note that the game parodies the corruption of religion. It is not intended as a parody of religion itself, or of any particular religion." Is this really necessary? If the game makers think that our common state of reason has departed so far that we cannot discern this, why are they even bothering to publish a game at all, for who would have the degree of rationality needed to play one? In any case, be rational and play something more interesting than this one. [Tourist Games]
LHML5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5)
Alf Seegert; Gryphon Games-2011; 2-3; 60 Amazon
Road to the White House
Multi-player game about the US presidential election feels similar to the earlier Campaign Trail by another publisher. The historical fact that only the two major parties can elect a president is here avoided by making the game mainly about the primaries with the general election being playable as a variant. As before, the emphasis is on the road the candidates must travel, success in a state depending on time spent there. One major change is that the "must move full distance rolled" rule is gone. Instead, the candidate and his surrogates move only one segment, the length of the segment getting longer as dice pips increase. Candidates have very detailed characteristics and issues play a role. Events pop up whenever a "1" is rolled on the four-sided dice, but often have no effect at all if they match no player's issues – an annoying interruption of play in that case. But even more than in the previous version, the emphasis is not on playing a game, but on simulating the experience of the manager of a national political campaign. At this, it succeeds very well, perhaps too well for there are so many numbers, modifiers to numbers and even modifiers to modifiers to numbers that it seems rather unfair for the players not to have the spreadsheets that their real life counterparts enjoy. Instead all each has is a single sheet of paper that doesn't even show the states in order of most to least electoral votes. By the way, this is only the basic game. The advanced adds roll-your-own candidates and a schedule of primaries for those who want to guarantee a nervous breakdown. What was true of its predecessor is even more true here: it would be better played via e-mail. There are a few quibbles to point out should the inventor of the next "road" game be reading. Rules like the one which prevents use of a priority flight out of size 1 city are exceptions which really don't add anything, but do annoy and subject Fun to the death of a thousand cuts. There are rules ambiguities as well, e.g. can a candidate debate a surrogate (i.e. flunky)? can a surrogate's presence be extended? etc. Actually, the whole idea of surrogates seems rather dated, their degree of influence in these days of instant and pervasive media rather muted . A better approach might be more of a state machine, each candidate having a rating in each state which fluctuates based on events and activities. The support of the governor in a particular state is probably the more major influence these days. The component quality is generally fine, but the pawns are too large for the board spaces on which they travel as they manage to completely obscure exactly what the player most needs to read. Some translucent chips (Bingo style), perhaps with crosshairs drawn on, would have worked much better.
Roads and Boats
Sort of a Sim City meets board game with apparently almost no interaction, but is absorbing simply trying to figure out the best way to remove all the bottlenecks from your production and optimize one's layout. This is the kind of game that would be good for several hours of solitaire. It also appears though that this one too would be susceptible to a player doing something "weird" and sort of "ruining" the game thereby. [Jeroen Doumen] [Splotter]
Robin Hood
Card game by Amigo about forming "straights" and "triplets", using them to claim treasure cards. Randomness of a card deck and a limited ability to draft create some interest, but it seems to go on rather indecisively about twice as long as it should. Theme falls down as well whenever the Merry Men steal from one another, i.e. most of the time.
Very simple game in which up to four players attempt to be the first to reach the moon via play of cards to move rockets along a path. It is mostly a guessing game in which one tries to play high cards which however differ from the cards played by the others. Luck plays a crucial role.
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Roll Through the Ages
Just when we might sigh over the end of recent spate of dice games, here comes another. Lately some titles such as The Settlers of Catan and Ingenious, after establishing a big success, have appeared in travel editions. Bucking the trend, this one's first edition is in travel form already. In a tight box are seven wooden dice, four peg boards and a couple dozen pegs in various colors. It's a pity that amid all this wood there are none of the pencils needed to mark up the score sheets. But on the other hand, where would they fit? The idea here is that, much as in the purchasing part of Civilization, one is making progress on interrelated technologies. A player begins with three cities which permits rolling three dice. Each has six different outcomes, viz. food, workers, food or workers, money, goods, or two goods with a disaster. Workers can be used to build monuments, which earn victory points, or more cities. Food is needed to avoid losing points for not feeding workers. Each goods result adds another type received on the turn. Goods want to be collected in the same types to earn values that increase at better than linear rates. Along with money, these can be turned in to purchase new technologies like medicine, coinage, engineering, etc. Disasters cause varying effects depending on the number received. A single is no penalty at all; a double loses two points; but a triple causes opponents to each lose three points. Overshoot that though and you will lose four points or if overshooting by two, all goods. Apart from the fact that only the first builder of a monument receives full points, this triple result is one of the ways players interact and can work on a leader. It is preventable via medicine, but another is the religion technology. A third is by refusing to trade goods with them. That the trading rules are only optional is a mind boggling publisher mis-step as otherwise other player turns are staggeringly dull. (Imagine Catan with no trading.) This is because there is very little planning one can do without knowing how the next set of dice will come to rest. The publisher has also let us down somewhat in production quality. Not only are the commodities icons practically impossible to dope out from their pegboard illustrations, but the dice are unattractive enough that there have been not a few posts on German websites discussing how they can be improved whether by paint, sharpie, etching, etc. Then there is the matter of theme. One of the most interesting features of Civilization was how to position population, where to build cities, how many, when, etc. Here all of that is reduced to a few dice rolls as if completely meaningless. If that's the conclusion, perhaps the publisher should have considered a different theme as well. At least there are different strategic paths one can take – add dice capacity; attempt a quick finish with monuments; or any of a variety of choices in the technologies. But sometimes the proviso "dice permitting" needs to be added as it can be more a matter of the strategy choosing you than otherwise. At least it does not use up a lot of time. If you do try, begin with the trading rules immediately. Opinions expressed on this site are solely those of the author.
Matt Leacock; Gryphon Games/Fred Distribution; 2009; 1-4
MLLH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Very much a roll and move game with almost no decisionmaking. Published in Taiwan, Republic of China. [rules]
Rotten Romans
if no image probably out of print
Do you ever wonder if game publishers consider the openings they give to reviewers in choosing their game and company names? It's really quite a toss-up whether the "horrible" in the title or the "sophisticated" in the company name is the easier writeoff. Fortunately the former doesn't apply here, however much the production suggests otherwise. This tie-in to the Horrible Histories series of popular history books borrows the Escape from Colditz system. As in that one, the game is basically divided into two halves. First, the players, representing slaves trying to escape death in the arena, first roll dice to move to various spots on the board to collect equipment to help in the attempt. Then when the time is right, they make a run for it. The first time this happens triggers the movement of Roman soldiers who attempt to apprehend and return them to captivity. Instead of segregated roles as before, now each player also plays the soldiers, operating them to catch their fellow players. There are also a large number of cards which arise from rolling a "1" on the dice. Some are events that fire immediately, while others are keepers to be used in particular situations or locations. A tiny minority of these actually come into play, but that may be a good thing as they might otherwise dominate matters. Apart from a few ambiguities, these cards, which also include historical nuggets making them worth reading on their own, are well done, but the map, pieces and instructions are another matter. The board is covered with millions of circular spaces to regulate movement. They are made to look nice, but unfortunately are often difficult to discern against the board's multi-colored background. It's difficult to tell what's meant to be adjacent and in some cases there are puzzling irregularities. When only one side of a room has a circle impinging into it, some players will interpret that as the sole entry door while others won't. But these are manageable compared to the problem of the oversized standup cardboard pieces in plastic bases. Not only are the bases fifty percent larger than the spaces they stand in, the pieces are so large that they block a serious amount of the surrounding densely-packed area. It's easy to miss things or make mistakes as a consequence. In this area, it's a godsend if players can substitute some small cubes or the sailor pieces from Vasco da Gama which fit perfectly. As for the instructions, they are are well-organized, but crammed into so small a booklet that they leave some questions rather vague. Movement with the two dice is probably supposed to be Backgammon-style with each die remaining integral, but it's not entirely clear. Purple spaces are mentioned as special, but does that also imply a movement limitation? It's as if the special case is cited, but not the general rule. There are similar questions about which part of the map is in the amphitheater, or in Rome, or not, and whether and when soldiers can go into these areas, the number of items a player can hold, whether someone can carry more than one weapon which seems just unfair, etc. These production issues are significant, but if they can be broken through there's a fun, highly thematic game to be unearthed. The uncertainty of the dice can generate a lot of tension as well. One fun situation saw two escapees being chased by a series of soldiers. The soldiers kept getting defeated, but new ones continued to issue from the barracks. Meanwhile the prisoners kept passing one another, the trailing one thus running interference for the leading one. This turned out to be quite an amusing race for several turns, and one which had a number of interesting possible outcomes. There's also interesting decisionmaking in the first half. One needs to be close to an exit or safe area in case a fellow prisoner decides to make a run for it, but on the other hand, wants to go and grab as many items as possible, two rather contradictory goals. [Ancient Rome Games]
MHMM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Mike Siggins & Terry Deary; Sophisticated Games-2008; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon UK]
Royal Turf
Re-release of Knizia's Turf Horse Racing with a few changes, most of which sculpt the release into a more sharply-defined game. Each horse has a different rating and all wagers are laid before the starting gun. Players take turns rolling a die, cross-referencing the iconic result with the horses's speed for that image and moving the unmoved horse of their choice. Payouts are divided among bettors on the top three with a penalty for betting on last place. A special bonus is paid for the first horse to reach the eighteenth space. Payouts for the last race are doubled, which is perhaps too much as too often one's performance in the last race renders the first two meaningless. While amusing for a few plays, there is too much luck, particularly in being the player who first gets to select from all of the horses as they approach the finish line, to sustain continued interest. On the other hand, because there is very little interaction with the components, is a good one to play while eating. Comes with a variant for face-down and bluff wagering; either approach seems to offer the same level of interest. Physically, the plastic horse figures are a bit light and easily jostled from position. Not enough payout notes are provided, but resolving the last place penalty first may help a little. Favoriten, which came four years after the original of this one features similar systems. [Holiday List 2002] [6-player Games]
Rückkehr der Helden, Die (Return of the Heroes)
Multi-player board game with a fantasy quest setting. Not since Wizards has there been such an attractive, enticing modular fantasy board and this one, being fabulous, exceeds the previous standard by a lot. Actual play is rather fun as well, although as with any game interested in building a narrative, it may require a few hours. Each player receives a character differentiated by varying levels of melee, missile and magical powers. Players choose among the many board paths, along the way stopping to improve their abilities. This is handled in a brilliantly elegant way. With more experience comes the ability to roll more "to-hit" dice. But the characters never overpower the game because rather than add up the dice, they simply are getting more choices about which ones they will use. As in Wizards, players may accept tasks as they encounter them, later fulfilling them for a reward. There are also valuable artifacts to be found (none more fun than the magic broom which sometimes doesn't work right and can take you rather out of your way). Propulsion to the narrative is provided by an overarching quest that each player receives at the outset and when that is completed, a monster called The Nameless must then be destroyed to provide a sole winner. (I like to think of the monster as a visible manifestation of the player's inner demons.) Monsters come in varying strengths so there are no sure things. There is (wisely) no inter-player combat either, but they can certainly hinder one another, for example by placing a difficult monster in what they hope will be another's way. The handling of combat is interesting yet uncomplicated, a far cry from the prosaic dice rolling of a Runebound. There is randomness and sometimes players can feel put in a sort of "penalty box" for too long, but in general it seems to play about the right role. Overall this is first for fans of theme, but I suspect even others will prefer it to Talisman, and moreover some will enjoy it. There is even a "beat the clock" solitaire scenario. Now it seems all we need are more boards and characters.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Lutz Stepponat; Pegasus; 2003; 1-4 [Buy it at Amazon] [Buy it at Amazon]
Multi-player abstract in three dimensions. At first glance its multi-cube pieces remind of Pueblo, but the closer inspiration turns out to be Blokus. Two main elements are shared with the latter: all of a player's pieces belong to him – none are neutral – and the ability to place depends on touching a previously played piece. Thus, many tactics revolve around excluding opponents entirely from large areas. Victory points are granted only at the end and only for blocks visible from the top view. Those not generally in favor of abstracts will appreciate that at least turns proceed quickly. The wooden pieces supplied by this small publisher are not bad, but are the third most appealing of the games here mentioned. It does Blokus one better at least in providing a wide range of boards and special rules (mostly about limiting height) to go with each. Overall, this is mainly going to be appreciated by fans of tactical games as that is what wins; getting good seems to be mostly a matter of repeated play to get used to several clichés of placement. [Murmel]
Rummy variant invented in Israel and realized with plastic tiles and screens. There are no discards. A turn is either a draw or a play. Melds are not owned but shared in common. Points are scored solely based on going out first and receiving the value of what is left in others' hands. The tiles are equivalent to a double deck of cards with two jokers added. No "around the corner", i.e. adjacency of "1" and "13" is permitted. Players still attempt to construct melds of several cards of the same rank or sequences all in the same suit. Key to the game is seeing how to make complex re-alignments of the outstanding tiles so as to maximize one's own tile use without giving too much advantage to others. Makes for a challenging enterprise. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Amazon] [Amazon]
Traditional card game which seems to be based on Conquian, played since the 1880's in Latin America using the forty card Spanish deck. The main activity is resolving the entire hand into nothing but melds and layoffs matching other player melds – in this sense it is a very neat game – and clearing the hand before the opponent can, forcing them to take negative points for any "messes" they have not yet cleaned up. It has had many, many derivatives and variants, both commercial and traditional. One of the most popular of the latter is 500 Rum, which resolves at 500 points and permits picking up more than one discard at a time. The most interesting dilemmas are when to pick up discards which simultaneously improves the hand but reveals information and how quickly to meld cards, which defends against a big penalty, but permits others to layoff as well as discard more intelligently. With two such good ideas in one game, it is little surprise in retrospect that this innocuous looking little game has spawned so many imitators.
Rummy Royal
Card game for 2-8 published by Whitman/Western Publishing of the USA in 1965. Includes a deck of ordinary cards, a large play mat and one hundred poker chips in red, white and blue. The mat depicts a number of card images onto which players may play the matching cards, one chip placed on each image. Within each game there are a number of sub-games. First, players may place bets on whether they will receive a particular Ace in the deal. Following this, a hand of five-card Poker is played. Then, a hand of a climbing type game is played: the first player lays his lowest black card and succeeding players must build on it by playing cards of the same suit in ascending order. As players place their cards, if they meet the combinations showed on the board they win the chips in those spaces. The first player to get rid of all his cards wins a bonus. Unclaimed chips are left on the board for the next round. Very little strategy here.
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