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Ta Yü
Abstract tile-layer and connectivity game of river construction named after the legendary Chinese hero who saved the Realm of the Middle Kingdom from flood by creating a multitude of rivers to divert the torrent to a distant sea. A pricey package, but the very high quality components are suitable for museum display, or your coffee table when guests come over. Quite enjoyable for those who find fun in something like Streetcar and makes a very nice outing for competing couples. The rules are few and not difficult, so it can even work well for your non-gameplaying friends. Seems to work best with the "save one tile" variant and in four-player mode where half the fun is figuring out what
your partner is doing. Has seen three editions so far. The first featured white tiles with blue color while a subsequent "lava" one featured garish red tiles with white imprint. There was also the Kosmos non-edition which consisted of the original blue version wiith the addition of a sticker reading "Sonderedition" (special edition). Wolfgang Lüdtke of Kosmos has stated that it was a one-time five thousand piece edition whose only difference was that the price was reduced from 40 to 20 Euros. A [Two vs. Two Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Niek Neuwahl; Kosmos/Rio Grande-1999/Goliath; 2-4; 8+
Table Skittles (Skittle-Bowl)
Action game in which one uses a ball attached to the top of pole by a chain to knock over ten pins. Of limited strategy, but high fun factor as pins crash and fall about. [images]
Clearly intended as a party word game, is essentially a juiced-up version of Password. Here instead of the give-a-clue, guess-an-answer sequence, the clue giver speaks rapid fire within a time limit as do the answerers, the only limitation being five words on the clue card which may not be used. Also similar to the old Pyramid game show. Exciting fun, but can pale once players get too familiar with the cards. As with most party games, loosely-defined rules can cause a problem, especially with respect to what is and is not a legal clue. For example, if "pencil" and related forms of the word are forbidden, is "pen" excluded? [Two vs. Two Games] [Party Games] [Buy it at]
Tabula - The Roman Game
Recreation of the ancient Roman version of what is today better known as Backgammon and in ancient times also sometimes known as Alea. The look of the board and components do not seem to be trying to be replicate the ancient game except with respect to the rules, the main difference being that both players' pieces must roll to enter the board, akin to Pachisi, and also that both players pieces start and end at the same space. The net result is probably generally more hits and possibly more influence of luck. Tokens are nicely-tactile flattened glass marbles.
Tactic Blue
This is a collection of six pure abstracts, all employing the same pieces and boards. Considering the titles, I wonder that it wasn't called "Abstract A" or even "Go With Your A Game". Included are a colored, double sided folding board – one featuring a traditional square grid, the other a triangular grid – and 100 round pieces in two colors, all inside a somewhat flimsy blue box. Overall the set is great for fans of pure abstracts and those enjoying fast, elegant two-player games. Those who play looking for a theme can, of course, move on; the rest may like to read about the individual games, below. [Bambus]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6

Abande, by Dieter Stein. In this stacking game, players seek to stack over one another, but must ensure that all pieces remain chained together. To avoid being stacked on, players thus keep extending the chain until the end of the board is reached, at which point the chain tends to roll itself back up again. The win is difficult to plan here due to a very clever scoring rule: only stacks adjacent to an opposing stack count.
Accasta, by Dieter Stein. This stacking game offers features most closely resembling a theme. A player's forces are arrayed in his castle and the winner is the first to deposit three of his stacks in the opposing castle. There is some of the same nervousness as in Draughts/Checkers where no one wants to advance very much for fear of capture and so only do so when a re-capture plan is in place. This can be taken to the level of re-re-capture as lookahead becomes considerable. Apart from Checkers 100, this is probably the most traditional feeling game in the set.
Alva, by Alvydas Jakeliunas, originator of Hey! That's My Fish!. This is a jumping game (as is Draughts/Checkers), but the board starts empty. On a turn a player either must jump if able, or, failing that, places a piece. A single jump can leap over multiple pieces in line, rather than just one as in Checkers, However, jumping over exactly two is not allowed. Much of the game centers around either blocking jumps or forcing the opponent to make one, which even though it loses a piece, leaves him in a position where you can take more. Because of the depth of the lookahead and need to imagine the changed situation, this is probably the most complex game in the set, and may be too much for many of the more casual players.
Attangle, by Dieter Stein. In this stacking game players must move two stacks at a time so as to converge on an opposing stack. Acquiring three stacks of five wins. The tricky part here is imagining how the board will look right after a capture and positioning in such a way that the opponent cannot immediately re-capture. Finished stacks remain on the board so the geography is ever changing. With its quickly reversing situations, this is probably the most visceral one in the set.
Attraktion, by Jaroslaw Cichocki. Each checker placed on a the square grid attracts all other pieces in its rank and file one space twoard it. By such means a player wins when one of his pieces is surrounded by four opposing ones. This is one of those games where the strange way of looking at the board forces so much focus that when your opponent casually announces that she has won, you can only look up and say, "Really? Where?" The idea of a game that partly plays itself – here the magnetic power – has always appealed to me and is my favorite "high concept" in this set. There are also interesting strategic possibilities. For example, a player can scatter pieces widely, making it very difficult to get four together. The opponent then needs to counter by grabbing choice central real estate. This can lead to a number of tricky decisions, especially on the large board.
Checkers 100, Traditional. To be supplied later. By the way, many of the rules to these games are on-line if one wants to first try them out.
Tadsch Mahal (Taj Mahal)
A Knizia "large" game, but as always the flow is very smooth. Sort of like a combination of Knizia's Kanzler (which features a similar card play mechanism) with his Imperium. Also reminiscent of his Attacke. Players bid and bluff with cards giving something of a Poker feel. With the results they either try to collect sets of tiles from the board or build connectivity on the board. There are at least three good strategies to pursue, possibly more. Seems to be more fun than RA, less absorbing than Euphrat & Tigris. Of some concern is the tendency that a player who stumbles in the early going often seems stuck in a rut and unable to recover. Also it permits a single player who feels vindictive to largely ruin matters for another. It remains arguable whether the severe penalty for losing a contest is a design flaw or a mere matter for strategy. Set in India by the publisher even though it was originally designed to represent the consolidation following the Norman Conquest of England. The original theme probably would have worked better, but the artistic quality of Hans im Glück is, as usual, not to be denied – overall they are best in category really. And, there is more than one reality. When this game was being published, there had already been far too many recent ones set in medieval Europe – a visit to India was a most refreshing change of scene. A Deutscher Spielepreis winner. A
Once I had a game prototype called "Magna Graecia", but when I showed it to my friend Ed, Ed said "I don't play any games with titles I can't pronounce." Well, Magna Grecia did go on to be published. Unfortunately it wasn't mine and I haven't learned whether Ed bought it, but even if he did, I can only imagine his reaction to the courageous title of this one! In fact it means "the Land of the Four Quarters" in Quechua and the topic is a new one, the expansion of the Inca empire from its center at Cuzco. Players accomplish this by discovering randomly distributed tribes and absorbing them into the greater whole. In addition, they build roads via crayon to enable further expansion as well as cities, temples, garrisons and terraces to get more points. These activities are kept unpredictable via "take that!" cards (some beneficial) which, innovatively are played between two players, something not seen since Plague & Pestilence. The basic problem with all games of this sort is the potential for unfairness in the random distribution. The game partly understands this and attempts to make each tribe internally balanced. If it has a high labor value – labor is the money of the game – it gives low points, or vice-versa. And the better the tribe, the more resources it requires. This is fine, but fails to consider the wider problem that points and money are hardly equal. In the first half, just as in Puerto Rico, money is all important, but points much less so. The design compounds this error by forcing the player with the most points to actually hand over some of his money to the player with the least, ignoring the likely reality that this victim may have been forced into the situation by the nature of the tribes placed around his position and, moreover, may be starving for money. This poor soul will never manage to acquire the necessary infrastructure to win and is consequently doomed to endure over an hour of pointless activity. Positions which begin squeezed against the narrow end of the map appear particularly vulnerable to this. There is also a very unbalancing card – it destroys all of a player's roads in uncontrolled areas, which is often devastating to trailing players, just the ones who need such roads. It's possible to lose ten roads this way, which are only re-built at a rate of two a turn. The rules say to warn players of this, but what good does it do – the player's only choice is his type of demise. First timers are not likely to understand the full implications of the warning anyway. The cards might be better omitted lest the "I'm never playing this again" phenomenon result. On the other hand, the card permitting road building off the printed tracks is inspired fun. But another quibble is that there are probably too many building types – too little differentiates them. Terraces seem too minor to justify the action needed to construct them unless one is blessed with an enhancing event. Maybe this whole subsystem and its many green, transparent pieces – from the stained glass industry? – should have been omitted. There are similar pieces in red and yellow for cities and garrisons as well as trapezoidal wood pieces for temples. Tribes are stickers waiting to be applied to plastic chips. The heavy paper board is attractive and the cardboard sturdy and fully erasable. The corrugated box is very sturdy, if unusual. There are a few communication design issues here and there – mostly around how roads connect and what is enclosed in which areas – and the whole map is cramped, but all can be coped with. There is sometimes some unwelcome downtime when players take a long time to make sure they understand all that is happening on the map. Overall this is a valiant effort on a number of fronts, but seems to depend on a fair tribe distribution – here's an area where a computer could really help a board game – as well as being played in a certain kind of way to make a good contest. So would-be empire builders should know this is rather hit-and-miss. You might have five enthralling sessions, but the sixth could be such a blowout that you'll wonder whatever persuaded you to like it. If it happens, you won't mind so much if you're intrinsically interested in the Inca exploits, i.e. you already know how to pronounce "Tahuantinsuyu". Later re-published by Z-Man as Inca Empire. [Hangman Games]
Take It Away
Sid Sackson abstract for up to four involves collecting unowned stones of differing values by jumping them in Halma fashion over one another. Tricky is visualizing how the board will appear for your opponent after you have finished your turn. Not bad, but the ending which resembles a game of "chicken" may be uncomfortable. Partnership rules also available. [Two vs. Two Games] A Gamut of Games (1992, chapter 4, page 142)
Take It to the Limit
This is a re-development of Take It Easy, the multi-player solitaire game. As before, players are each building on their own boards, but now the boards are larger, include other areas and there is also a secondary board. There are many more tiles (64 per set), each has four different colors on it and also contains either sun and moon icons. Plus there are bonus tiles. Also, there is now no longer just one way to play, but a number of different variants. While all of this is probably manna from heaven for aficianadoes who have played the original to death, "Over the Limit" would, for many, be a more appropriate title. At some point of complexity, contingency planning ceases to be fun for human beings and enters the domain of the computer. Several of the scenarios would appear to have found this point. [6-player Games]
Peter Burley; Burley Games; 2006; 1-6
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Take Off!
Racing plastic aircraft around the world on a very large laminated world map with popular air routes in different colors criss-crossing between cities. Players roll dice to determine which route colors their two aircraft can use each turn. Of interest for adults and children alike, there is some strategy in deciding whether it is better to take any forward movement one can get or to take a slower route but one which provides a better chance of moving on the next turn. [Resource Games]
This game comes as a reminder that that one of my favorite sorts of games is sadly disappearing from the scene. "Educational" is the wrong term for them as it puts one in mind of those trivia and word games wholly devoid of any play features. Games like this one from 1996 that combine play value with something you can learn offer considerably more than that. In this case the topic is music, in particular, reading music. Cards come in two main types: musical notes (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth) and staves used to end measures. There are also three treble clefs and three time signatures: 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4. These two items are used to begin the three lines to which players take turns playing a card at a time. Or if they do not want to play a card, draw a card. Points are granted for finishing a measure by playing a note of the right remaining size which also permits the player to get rid of a stave card. They are also granted for either matching the prior note or playing one which is a harmonious chord change (i.e. a fourth or a fifth). Players get negative points for each note card in hand when the first player gets rid of all his cards, two for each unused stave. There is certainly a lot of luck of the draw here, but also some calculation of whether opponents are trying most to go out or to score a lot of points. But regardless of this, as a free bonus, after you have understood the rules you have also learned something not only about how to read music, but how composition is done and how many recent games can say that? The only one that comes recently to mind is the rather obscure Astromagie. You will even learn that German musical notation does not precisely use the notes A - G familiar to the English-speaking world, but instead substitute H for B, a letter taken advantage of by composer Robert Schumann in embedding secret codes in his music. For example, in his Carnaval series he continually uses A-flat, C and B which in German spell AsCH, the home of Ernestine von Fricken, his girlfriend at that time. Now there's an original way to send a love letter! Later expanded by Taktvoll Bass-Schlüssel (Base Clef – was it really designed by Klaus Teuber as Luding suggests?) and Taktvoll Punktierte (Dotted Notes, including hemidemisemiquavers?). Title means tactful, but Takt is also the term used to mean musical time.
Tal der Abenteuer
"Adventure Valley" is Reiner Knizia's re-make of his small game Honeybears. This edition is much more ambitious, featuring a full-sized board and considerably more cards. There are also multitudinous paths to follow (through a valley) rather than just one. But as before, the key concept is that a card played moves a piece of the corresponding color forward, but one's score results from one's card values in a color multiplied by that color's board progress. Thus, apart from some wild cards, players face the dilemma of having to discard the very cards one values in order to get advances. Clearly this means cooperation from other players is helpful. Also helpful is a new wrinkle, also used in Knizia's Keltis: players gain special benefits by ending on various random tiles scattered about the board. Some confer extra movement to any piece, have other special effects or grant jewel pieces which form their own majority control sub-game. Once a piece reaches the goal on the front side of the board, the concluding half of the game is completed on the other side. The illustrations are nicely realized. The variability from the two board sides and random tiles is generous. The jewel pieces are made with mirror glass which under light can be rather blinding. Between tiles and wild cards, there is perhaps too much luck for adults, but these features make this otherwise good game suitable for play by children or families. Once again, Hasbro demonstrates its limited vision and class by publishing this only in Europe. [Ancient Egypt games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Reiner Knizia; 2006; Parker Brothers; 2-4
Tal der Könige
"Valley of the Kings" has the pyramid building activities of the ancient Egyptians as its theme. The presentation is nice, but for its price, one would expect a more lavish treatment. The wooden blocks for example do not at all resemble pyramid blocks. Some of the features of play do not recommend themselves either. Bidding for bricks is done blind with losers still requiring to pay. When it comes to building, players write their orders, which may include stealing blocks from others. This can degenerate into rather ridiculous situations in which A steals from B only to have B simultaneously stealing from A. Meanwhile C being the only one actually building is winning the game of course.
Tales of the Arabian Nights (Geschichten aus 1001 Nacht, Le Jeu de Mille et Une Nuits)
Four paragraph games in one in which players encounter a wide variety of characters from the A Thousand Nights and a Night tales as you collect treasures and gain status traveling across Central Asia by encountering various individuals and places in a large programmed adventure book. Win the game when you become the Sultan. Geschichten aus 1001 Nacht is the German version (French Le Jeu de Mille et Une Nuits) which adds a few more adventures. [more] [6-player Games] [Party Games] [notes] [status effects] [escaping statuses] [skills] [Silk Road games]
MHML9 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 9)
Eric Goldberg; West End Games/Edition Erlkönig/Z-Man Games; 1985/2000/2009; 1-6
Second in the series of Kris Burm abstracts (following Gipf and preceding Zèrtz with which it may also be played as a meta-game) is a game of surround and isolate combined with timed action. In a unique and interesting development, the pieces themselves are sand timers (some players have reported variance in their timers so you may wish to compare them to ensure that neither color has
an advantage), which greatly affect what one decides to move. Plastic rings dropped around the timers land on the plastic board with a satisfying clatter and it is always guaranteed to end in rather short order. Although timing may seem onerous at first, if players first play without the feature, they will soon realize that one quickly becomes accustomed and a whole new strategic dimension is added as a mostly full timer should not be flipped lest it become mostly empty. There is something rather Zen-like in the way that game often ends, neither player able to do anything but watch the sands of time slowly settle, the last of which will determine the victory. There may be an advantage to the first player, but it appears slight. More interesting than Zèrtz on the whole and a good addition to your collection is you like the idea of having a rather unusual game around. On the other hand, those who don't find abstracts fun probably won't find any special relief here. [Buy it at Amazon]
Tante Tarantel
This lighter offering from Doris and Frank pertains to a tarantula trying to prevent bugs escaping its webs. Note that in real life tarantulas don't make webs. Here the players are the bugs trying to cross the web while the spider is a "non-player" unpredictably controlled only by the dice. The board is quite nice and the play elegantly simple and yet fun, including rules for "pushing" other bugs. Mostly satisfying, although there is perhaps too much freedom for the spider since it is not that difficult for it to eat nearly all of the bugs very early, throwing the game into rather an odd state. Regrettable that this one wasn't picked up by a major publisher and the plain pawns turned into cute plastic bugs.
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Doris&Frank; 1991; 3-5
Card game similar to Cassino but with more interesting card types and powers. Lacks the theme elements of Mü & Mehr: Safarü, however. A
Tarot (French Tarot)
One of the earliest trick-taking card games. Probably best for four so that it is not too easy for the contractor to easy to dispatch the divided opponents. Besides, having to work with a partner makes things more challenging. It needs a special deck of cards, some of which are beautifully-illustrated. It is best to play with a set of cards which are designed for playing rather than those intended for divination as the latter lack corner markings and double-endedness which make them inconvenient. As making a hand depends on having enough cards called "bouts" in one's hand, throw-ins (i.e. wasted deals) are perhaps a bit too frequent. Scoring can be a bit arcane at first as well. [Periodic Table of Board Games]
if no image probably out of print
The latest of the big party games is a real winner. The proof for me was that when over the holidays I brought a copy to my non-gaming siblings and their families, not only did we end up playing past 1 AM, they also played it again without me the very next night. This one is a combination of the traditional telephone game you played in school (each person in class whispers a phrase to the next and everyone laughs at how much by the end it has changed) and Pictionary. All that's really been done here is to systematize things a bit and provide erasable pens and booklets and phrases that make it easier to do. In short, each player has a booklet, gets a random phrase from a card, and draws a picture of it which is followed by a written guess which is followed by another picture and so on. Then each player shows his booklet and what happened, generating huge guffaws in any audience. Thus it's really three games: drawing, guessing and making jokes in the commentary. The first two can be great fun, but the third may be the best one of all. Certainly the ability to draw well is not required and an inability will likely generate even more humor. But this is so much fun that most don't seem to bother with scoring at all (and it seems a bit unfair by the way that one can get a point merely for writing the original phrase), or with the sand timer either. Crazy results like "meditation helmet" and "shower ninja" are some of the funnier results in our playings so far; one really should take photos to memorialize the drawings that go with some of these crazy guesses. There are a few downsides, none of them major. Erasing cloths are provided and they get dirty very fast, but at least are black; the same can't be said unfortunately for your hostess' white tablecloth. The pens can also get ruined fairly easily by pressing too hard and seem to dry out early. We got one pen that was dead on arrival. Fortunately the publisher seems willing to replace bad pens. Maybe a wet-erase system would address some of these problems? Some of the phrases are considerably easier than others; compare for example the easy "castle" with the considerably more difficult "hide and seek". This brings up another issue: many of the phrases are pop culture references that those not in America over the past four decades (the young and immigrants) may not get. It's hard to blame the game for this since pop culture references add to the fun, but it can be a problem since the person drawing the phrase may not realize that a downstream player won't get it and thus it won't be possible to toss the card and draw another. The publisher might consider a "pop culture neutral" expansion. The issue of running out of phrases will no doubt be addressed by expansion packs down the line. Packaging is nicely realized and compact. Pick this one up for a guaranteed hit at your next party game night. It works fine with four, but the more the better. [Party Games]
LLLL8 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 8)
uncredited; USAopoly-2009; 4-8 [Buy it at Amazon]
Ten Days in the USA
Moon/Weissblum spinoff of Europatour, itself having been spun from Racko. Now the setting moves to the fifty United States sans DC, Puerto Rico or Guam. Ships are gone, but planes remain and of course are the only ways to reach Alaska and Hawaii. The number of discard piles is reduced to three and the car has arrived as a new way to connect two non-adjacent states. The map is a very nice size, but surprisingly bland – just the states without adornment. One could almost use any wall map. Where are the funny state stereotypes we might have expected, the New York apple with a bite missing, the Idaho potato looking like Mr. Potato Head, etc? The tile holders are quite nice, being made from wood and coming in two parts. This version may be a bit fairer than its predecessor as the map is a bit more regular, though I sure enjoy drawing Missouri with its eight neighbors and rarely see it discarded. But on the whole the wackier, more colorful and more educational quixotic original is to be preferred. [Tourist Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
Alan R. Moon
Terra Nova
No sooner do I write (in the review of Die Dolmengötter) that pure abstracts employing majority control are rare than along comes another one! As in Die Dolmengötter, players move pawns around to section off territories, having three action points per turn to move and/or place walls on the hexagonal grid. When a section is closed, points are scored by the majority player only, but all pawns in the region are removed. Finishing an area can be difficult, however, since as soon as players surmise a region will be closed they tend to stand in the gap, preventing completion. This tends to cause creation of yet smaller sub-regions. Playing well in a four-player game seems to indicate scoring about 12 points per pawn or more. Saving pawns for the end is usually a very good idea (just as in Die Dolmengötter) though this will depend on what others are doing. A good design idea here is that the map is divided into various terrains so that areas containing 3 terrains pay only 1 point per hex, but those with only a single one pay 3 per. The best feature though is the way players are all forced to constantly re-adjust to a common situation which thus is always revising itself, often in unpredictable ways. There is no real luck, not even due to the player order, thought it pays some to target the player to the left and avoid the one to the right. There is little thematic feeling either, and like most abstracts it's also often very quiet and somewhat slow as players have a lot to think about on their turns. Production is of good quality, especially the collection of thick wooden hexagons. Also supports a two-player version (untried).
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Terrazzo & Terrazzino
The board and pieces of this abstract tile-laying game are made entirely of wood. Each tile is subdivided into five areas in up to four colors: the four corners and a central area. A player's turn consists of drawing two tiles at random and attaching them to existing tiles such that at least one of its corners matches that of another tile. By completely enclosing an area of the same color in sufficient size, the player scores points corresponding to the size. It is possible to score more than one area at a time. In addition, creation of closed corridor areas which are free of tiles also score according to size. The main skill is spatial in nature, being able to realize where the maximum points are. Beyond this, players must evaluate how good an opportunity is being left for the next player who may or may not be able to capitalize depending on the draw. Included are variant rules which specify drawing tiles sequentially rather than simultaneously and another which gives extra points for creation of symmetrical patterns. The pieces appear to be made of plywood with color nicely applied to one side. The reverse sides are irregular which means someone might be able to cheat by memorizing the back side. Poobably it's best to draw tiles from a bag. Tiles which have more that one area colored black are a bit difficult to use as there is no line demarcating between the areas; it can be done once one is accustomed. Only lasting about thirty minutes, this lacks the edginess of an Ingenious, but should work well as a family game which parents and children can play together, with luck playing a fairly large role, but requiring some thought as well.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Clemens Helldörfer; Werksiedlung Kandern; 2004; 2-5
Texas (Rosenkönig)
Dirk Henn-designed four-player partnership game of placing and reversing tiles with a view to creating the largest area. Lookahead and ability to divine your partner's intent are rewarded in this elegant game later transported to a War of the Roses theme. Strategically, rather than waiting until one is forced to use the special judge/knight ability, it often seems to be a good idea to employ it proactively in the mid-game, even if the location does not show immediate benefit but it appears that it eventually might. In any case, you will very likely have massively ruined your opponents' plans. May also be played somewhat less-satisfyingly by two. The original Texas shows all the signs of the indie production that it is, but is nevertheless an attractive and quite usable production. Coming in box similar to, but smaller than, other db-Spiele games, it features a laminated board bearing an outline of the lone star state. Illustrated, monochrome laminated chits show yellow farmers on one side, green ranchers on the other. The moving piece is a largish black pawn while larger gray tiles depicting the scales of justice permit chit flips. The monochrome cards have compass illustrations and actually display better their meanings and are clearer about their orientation than those in the Rosenkönig edition. This one comes in the handy-sized Kosmos "Spiele für Zwei" (Games for Two) series box and uses stamped wood pieces, laid over a board so nicely illustrated that first time players often naively ask if it's okay to place a piece "in the water". The moving piece is a yellow crown. The main cards show swords pointed in the various directions while the rest show mounted knights. This edition does not actually include the rules for four, but the variant is easily described. Partners sit at opposite sides and begin with two knights each. Each also starts with three movement cards, which is the hand limit. The rest is the same, except that the partners are not to discuss their play. [Two vs. Two Games] [Frequently Played] [Top Ten Gateways]
MLHH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 8)
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele/Kosmos; 1993?/1999; 2, 4 [Buy it at]
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Texas & Pacific
game in play
click for larger version
This is another in the historical railroads series that began with Wabash Cannonball. A new element are brown ranch cubes that increase the connecting railroad's income slightly, but also give income to other players who can then claim the ranches. The other novelty is the black Texas & Pacific railroad which does not start up until a sufficient number of ranches have appeared and starts from the middle of the map. Unlike other railroads, it is permitted to place every last one of its cubes (whereas others can only place three) at a go. This permits a player to prepare and really go for it by building out all the way west to El Paso, as happened in one playing and constituted quite a coup (see photo). Yet it was not a killing blow as other players discovered sufficient flexibility in the system to find ways to respond to such a move and equalize. Offering such possibilities for drama and give and take may just raise this one above the other offerings in the series. Of course, until it is picked up by another publisher, players need to tolerate the barebones graphics that typify Winsome. In addition there is at least one ambiguity regarding what happens if nobody has enough money to bid on a stock, yet this is only action type permissible.
MMHH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Harry Wu; Winsome-2010; 2-6; 60 [Shop]
Players attempt to duplicate on their own displays an alchemical formula which they are collaborating to create on the master display. Theophrastus (1493-1541), more commonly known as Paracelsus, dabbled in alchemy but is better known as a doctor, in fact the first to prescribe mercury for syphilis. The central mechanism, regulated by action points and card play mechanics, is fairly original, even though one wishes for more control. Instead, the vagaries of card draws can mean a player is unable to fairly compete. Still, different strategic possibilities are available. One can play cards secretly or, more rapidly, face up where they can be affected by others. One can try for high fidelity or simply play a lot of cards and hope good accidents will happen. And then there is the choice between working on one's own display versus revealing/destroying that of others. The gradually increasing point totals available for each successive round have been judiciously handled. On the other hand, while some attempt has been made to balance the deck, those special cards that allow swapping out one card for another of the same type are hard to play, not very useful and take up valuable hand space. Sure, a player could draw a bunch of new cards and thus discard them, but why should the player be forced to give up valuable card playing opportunties just because the system has not treated him fairly? I would happily entertain a variant permitting them to be replaced by a new card from the top of the deck without action point cost. Another unfortunate situation is the dead time-creating mechanism in which a player picks up an entire deck, look through all of the cards, and chooses a favorite. Fortunately, this has been assigned such a high price that it only rarely seems useful. A unique component is a small pewter mortar-and-pestle. It might have been better however if this part of the budget had been put into the card artwork which is not particularly well realized. There are communication design problems too as the indicated spaces for laying cards are too small. Worse, many of the specials use the exact same layout as common cards, forcing players to pay close attention to their bottom halves, always the most inconvenient part of a card to read. Full credit should be given for the list of allowed player actions on the display, but the international audience could have been included if the English text were replaced with pictorial versions. While the theme works, it is paper thin and several at our table questioned the lack of any disasters/explosions which result from mixture of the wrong volatile ingredients, a popular signature of this genre. Overall, should appeal to cardplay/hand management fans, but the random factors will probably cause adult players to lose interest after a few outings.
Through the Ages
if no image probably out of print
Or "Through Two Ages" as it's sometimes called since usually time does not permit playing all three of those provided. This is an attempt to create a
Civilization-style game in small(er) form. Omitting any notion of a map, it gives each player a personal board; the main one offers five tracks: victory points, science points, income levels for each of these and military might. It also holds a long line of cards which model the appearance of new ideas and personalities. Players begin with four actions which are used to draft these and to play them as well as perform personal board actions. Tracks there include population, workers, resource production, food production, science production and military. These tracks are thoroughly developed so that population markers become workers which in turn become producers, but as the population track is cleared, not only does it take more and more food to create a worker, more food must be paid each turn to maintain the civilization and more happiness must be provided to avoid problems. Production pieces are similar; as their spaces get exposed – representing the economy getting out of balance – increasing levels of corruption result. Players also begin with two military options per turn and regularly get event cards, many of which have a military emphasis. Some represent new territory, the player able to mount the most might being able to conquer it and reap the benefits. There are other cards permitting direct attacks on others in order to take various possessions such as points, science or territories, but at no point will any player really conquer another. All may sound well so far, but what may not be clear is the large amount of luck involved. The queue of cards to draft is long, but costs increase from one to two to three actions or, in the case of wonder cards, even more as one looks deeper. This causes problems because good play depends on following a program and building on cards already played. But too often those few cards one needs cost three the first time around and by the next are irretrievably gone, the game itself always eating a few between player turns. There's also plenty of luck in the military events. A player may try to take a military approach, though curiously more often it seems to be thrust upon one just based on which cards happen to be available to draft early, but if unable to regularly draw those cards necessary to make attacks, the opponents will just discard them out of play while all the world's armies sit around idle. Or, conversely, the player with the military may get all of the cards and thereby those who haven't developed this ability get attacked every turn and fall into a rut from which they cannot escape. There are only a few government cards as well, but as one of the few ways to get more options they're very important; being able to aquire one at not too great an expense can make a big difference. It's also true that some cards are always valuable to take while others are almost never useful. All of this randomness is not intrinsically wrong, but becomes problematic when combined with the overall play length and downtime. Player turns tend to be fairly long – longer as play continues – and there is little to do during another's. For this reason three should be the maximum number of players, perhaps two; even so the "short game" will probably take three hours and the full perhaps up to five. In terms of presentation, the small box is welcome and there are not a few wooden bits in several colors. There are some errors such as an incorrect starting marker on the religion space and the production and science colors are too similar. The larger disaster though are the scoring track spaces which are smaller than its cubes. As play goes on there are a great number of little rules and details here and there; this means that something like the Tesla card which affects other players more than its owner is a bad idea; most likely it will be forgotten amid all the other chrome rules which must be recalled. Rules errors and forgetting whether all the necessary tracks have been updated are common in this heavyweight affair which despite offering good ideas, feels insufficiently developed. Perhaps one day a streamlined version can be created that preserves the best of it without these downsides. Maybe then too we can also get the map that a game of this type deserves.
HMLM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; High: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Vlada Chvátil; Czech Board Games-2006/Eagle Games-2007; 2-4 [Amazon]
Thurn und Taxis
Karen and Andreas (Puerto Rico) Seyfarth game of card drafting and route placement for two to four. Like most of the best games, this is one of simple rules, but tricky decisionmaking. Turns consist of just three phases: (1) draft a city card; (2) play a city card that expands the current route; (3) possibly declare a route complete, place corresponding markers and collect rewards. The most interesting design decision is that once per turn any one of these stages may be improved, i.e. two cards may be drawn or two may be played or the route may be credited as two longer than it is. This credit is important as a major component of one's final score is the longest route ever completed (up to 7), though this must be worked up to, i.e. first at least a 3, then a 4, etc. Accomplishing 7 is one way to end the game, but a lot of points are also available by completing routes of lengths 5-7 as well as filling up each of the regions. These points are first come-first serve and though there are multiple awards, they gradually decline in value. This rather easygoing system proves for a variety of approaches: (1) don't think about regions, just try to get out as fast as possible; (2) concentrate on maximizing points for route lengths; (3) maximize points for regions; (4) some combination of any or all of the above. Impinging on all of this are tactical considerations. You can see what opponents are drafting and building. Do you want to steer clear of them so that your picks are not disturbed or operate in the same area and possibly disrupt their plans? It's also possible to take entertaining gambles by drafting two non-adjacent cards on the route you want, hoping to pick up the joining link on the next turn. Because there are six cards to draw from, plus the deck, and the ability to clear the draft pool if desired, luck of the draw does not feel particularly onerous. The theme fits okay, though it seems more likely that to be realistic one should be building always outward from an existing base. More information on the history is available at this Wikipedia entry. There are some interesting city choices like Budweis and Pilsen, presumably to excite fans of pilsners and Budweiser. There's also one city in Poland on offer, but its region isn't worth any points. Is this the latest form of a Polish joke? Overall this is an unpretentious effort that I wouldn't want to spoil for you by raising expectations too high, but I think most will enjoy it – even on the first try as the system tends to be forgiving, even if you just want to build up long routes and not pay much attention to the rest. Then the ability to keep trying various approaches should keep you coming back. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Frequently Played]
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Thurn und Taxis – Alle Wege führen nach Rom (All Roads Lead to Rome Thurn und Taxis Expansion)
It's appropriate that this Thurn and Taxis kit goes to Rome, where the pope lives, as this expansion forgives your sins. What sins could those be? I think you know. You've committed them, surely. Those times you've placed houses and inefficiently left half your route unplaced. Or those times you've tried to complete a certain color and fallen one short. If you've been annoyed by that, this expansion kit is here to help. Part one is a new board depicting the Alps and Italy down to Rome. It's kind of accurate to actual geography. At the top each player distributes face down chits numbered 1 through 5. These are assumed to be riding on the adjacent and rather distinctive wooden coach pawns, which are colored to match the five regions on the main board. Now whenever anyone fails to place a house, the player moves the coach for that region toward Rome. The paths are constructed so that there are both slow and fast ways to arrive there. A player aims to make sure his high point chits reach the bottom, but at the right time for if an opponent's chit of the same type arrives later, the first arriving is discarded and does not count. It's quite possible that some coaches do not arrive at all so this can be a tricky business. But at least now all of the cards on a route count for something. Part two of the expansion is tied into the specialist helpers, those who give the extra card draw, the clearing of the draft pool, the extra card play or the extra length of the route. Each time a player gets the help of one of these he takes a corresponding chit. When the supply of a chit type is exhausted, all players must turn in a set, ideally one of all four types, which permits placing a house anywhere on the board. Turning in three chits grants a victory point while turning in two gives a card draw. Now there is an easy way to place that last, hard to find city for a particular region and pick up its scoring chit. Of the two, part two is the more interesting and useful, but it does trigger more pool clearing than usual, creating greater chaos which might be annoying for some. The Rome board is often a matter of mere busywork, being both a rather hazy situation as well as not affecting scoring a great deal. Still, the expansion can have the virtue of reinvigorating play somewhat by changing up all the usual old parameters and considerations. This is a kit probably more for those who were not the game's biggest fans, but liked it somewhat and wanted more of a tactical element from it.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Karen & Andreas Seyfarth; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Thurn und Taxis: Glanz und Gloria (Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory
if no image probably out of print
This is billed as a Thurn and Taxis expansion, but it isn't really: it's a spinoff, a translation to another geography and a set of variant rules but the original game does not participate, with the minor but important exception of supplying its wooden bits. The original map covered southern Germany and neighboring lands; this one covers areas around Holland, Saxony and Prussia. Play is fundamentally the same with a few variations. Whereas before cards were always played to the current route, now they can instead be played face down and treated as a horse. The reason is that each card in a route now also requires a horse card (though the starting carriage provides a two-horse credit). This rule makes for an easy way to deal with being unable to play a card and even use up cards that opponents want for the purpose. The map includes four free cities – Bremen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Lübeck – which are not part of any neighboring country and are not considered countries themselves. But they have a similar restriction in that a route may only place a station in one of them. They also confer a benefit however as bonus tiles are claimed for placing stations there. Finally, the carriage cards and the helper who extends route lengths is not used. However, most of these variations can be undone and this map can be played using the original rules as well. Surprisingly, there seem to be no rules for combining the two maps, which do share territory at their edges, and playing a grand scenario, which could potentially support twice as many players. If you live in the areas shown, this might be fun to have. If you have played the original over, say, thirty times, you're probably ready for this. But most won't need it. In fact these could have been variant rules published on the web, but instead an entire new game has been created, which should have been playable on its own except for a few cheap wooden bits. This has hardly been the proudest moment for its original publisher and the rest associated with the creation of this product. [Vote for the next review]
MLHM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; High: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Karen & Andreas Seyfarth; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande-2007; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Tic Tac Toe
As the outcome is always a stalemate with proper play, questionable whether it is a game. [Periodic Table of Board Games]
if no image probably out of print
Card game of the climbing family is based on the Chinese game Zheng Fen is difficult to penetrate, but very rewarding once one does so. For example, the pre-game card passing seems merely an unnecessary bit of randomness, but with a card passing convention can become more interesting. The same goes for some of the special cards such as the Dog and the Mah Jongg which at first seem to be rather pointless additions. The decisionmaking around the many different ways to configure the hand make it more sophisticated than Frank's Zoo. The tactic with the Dragon is to give it to the opponent whom you think will be the last one still holding cards. If you are successful at this, you should receive the Dragon back at the end. If you or your partner declare Tichu and either of you has the Dog, you should give the Dog to your partner so that both know about it. Try never to play on your partner's play, well, almost never. There are many other strategic considerations, e.g. to reserve Aces as a winner on single cards, too numerous to list here. The most important talent is to rapidly identify the best combinations in one's initial hand. [analysis] [rules summary cards] [translation] [Two vs. Two Games] [Frequently Played] [Top Ten Gateways] [6-player Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 10
Urs Hostettler; Fata Morgana/Abacus; 1991; 3-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
Ticket to Ride (Zug um Zug, Les Aventuriers du Rail)
In this Alan Moon effort players connect up track segments per randomly-drawn goal cards. They receive even more points for simply building the segements, longer spans paying off disproportionately better. The right to build depends on owning a sufficient number of matching color cards, some of which are drafted on each non-building turn. About half the segments – mostly the shorter ones – are "wild", i.e. can be built using any single color. Something of a "catch-up" mechanism is provided in the ability to draw extra goal cards, but it's weakened as the draw wastes a turn and because uncompleted goals are penalized so it may end up hurting more than helping. Negative plays such as competing for another's color of interest or even building his track, thus precluding him, are available remedies, but it may be that those lucky enough to draw good cards from the outset are unfairly rewarded. To some extent this is the multiple goal structure of TransAmerica combined with the occasional selfishness of Streetcar. The shared element is the need to intuit what others are attempting and which paths a successful track would take. Having this ability is probably the ticket to enjoyment in this one. While it mostly clicks along just fine, older hands will probably wish it had headed in a more original direction.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Alan R. Moon [Buy it at Amazon]
Ticket to Ride Europe (Zug um Zug Europa, Les Aventuriers du Rail Europe)
The new incarnation of Ticket to Ride, again by Alan Moon, takes a ride to a new continent, but much else. There are two signficant additions. One is the ability to buy, with victory points, a station house which permits the one of one opponent track. The second adds randomness to track building – randomness in card acquisition apparently not being enough – so that building certain "tunnel" segments requires drawing cards which can add extra expenses. So this edition sticks pretty close to the original and will neither disappoint that game's fans nor awaken the interest of dissenters. For those trying to choose one of these for the first time, familiarity with the geography is probably the overriding factor and after that it depends on whether you prefer your trains more elegant or with bells and whistles added. Ticket to Ride Märklin (below) is the third entry in this series. [Spiel des Jahres Winner]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Alan R. Moon
Ticket to Ride Märklin (Zug um Zug Märklin, Les Aventuriers du Rail Märklin)
The third design of this game employs a map of Germany and ties into the toy trains of German manufacturer, Märklin. (Note to Moritz: please cover the pronunciation of this one on a future podcast). This version adds passengers which each player may only use thrice. They are placed on segment completion turns and may subsequently move, once, along the player's entire route from that city, picking up special point tokens along the way. As each city only has a few of these tokens, this version has a greater incentive to get routes played earlier. There's another reason too: there are more single-player routes, many of them difficult to detour around when missed. The upshot is that runaway leaders can occur much more easily. The tie-in causes some problems too – confusion mostly – since cards which have the same function carry different illustrations in order to showcase more of the manufacturers product. Those who want a meaner game will find it here, but why, when it will depend on luck of the draw anyway?
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Alan R. Moon
Game of archaeologists exploring the ancient Mayan jungle at Tikal (in modern Guatemala). The by-now familiar action points system dictates what each player may do in a turn and can sometimes cause an excess of downtime if players are overly zealous in analyzing their options. The board expands by placement of hexagonal tiles which are either drawn from a deck in the basic version of the game or auctioned in the advanced version. The latter actually makes for a better game as skill is enhanced and luck minimized. It does not actually add as much time as one might think since the time one spends thinking about where to place a drawn tile is already considered during the first auction. The appearance of the game is wonderful. Strategically, it appears wisest to avoid major back-and-forth battles with other players; instead, try to carve out a private area and fill it with good tiles. Being the first to "excavate" the only level 10 and level 9 pyramids is a good idea however. Having extra workers available in a central area for when the scoring tile appears and then grabbing points opportunistically can be a workable strategy as well. Torres, also by designers Kramer and Kiesling, is a similar system in some ways, particularly the action points and the possibility of capitalizing on what others have done before you. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Deutscher Spielepreis Winner]
In an interview, Wolfgang Kramer gave variant rules for those wishing to speed up play:
Provide a one-minute sand timer and 4x6 chips (in the four player colors). Each player receives the six chips in his color. As soon as the active player places his tile, the timer is started. If a player runs out of time, he turns in a chip and flips it again for another minute, etc. At the end of the game, any remaining chips are worth three points.
Timber Tom
This game of hiking by a French inventor is mainly in the Anglo-American school. Players all begin in the center of a large map, race to reach peaks in two to four corners and then return before the others. Available to help are two helicopter rides from heli-pads that are somewhat conveniently placed – though not ideal – bridges, canoes and re-supply stations. Supplies are needed to operate on the peaks and can also be jettisoned to get extra speed. Axes and a chainsaw are used to cut through trees. These appear as if by magic in front of one during others' turns. They will require either a detour or using up a cutting tool. There are also random event cards which get drawn in non-wooded areas. Mostly these don't do too much – even a helicopter crash has fairly minor results – but the three keeper cards are pretty good. (Each player can apparently only use one of these, leaving open what happens if someone draws two.) The big story here though is that this is not a conventional flat board, but a peg board which physically provides five different elevations. The result is a gorgeous and very inviting display. The plastic prospector figures have pegs instead of bases. The player displays are also well made with wells to hold plastic gold sacks, supplies and thick cardboard resource cards. Trees are also plastic, mounted on pegs, and come in their own sub-box. The entire package is one box to hold the board under which goes a box bottom filled with foam and cutouts to hold the various bits. These two are combined together to fit into a closed sleeve. Also included is a special 3-4-5 die with tree icons imprinted on the 4. The communication design is pretty good too as it's generally clear which dots are in which terrain. In the manufacturing process some holes seem not to get punched, but it's usually clear and fixable. Some care is needed in using the board, however, and as a result this is probably not for kids. There are also enough little rules catches that less experienced game players should stay away anyway. On the player displays it would have been handier had one column shown the heli-flights and the others the heli-radios rather than hiding the latter behind the former, but this is easily managed. The instructions are mostly clear. The playing experience is leavened by most of these physical elements, but as is often the case with physical innovations, somewhat let down by the rules of play. Forcing the players to move an exact number of spaces and end exactly on certain spaces generates ennui, for both current player and opponents. It can also cause some strange wanderings where you don't go directly at a target, not because trees rise up to meet you, but because it would cause an overshoot. The other issue is that being able to place one to four trees per player turn permits a fair amount of kingmaking. There are also some odd board areas where because of the layering there are dots missing from the square grid. In these places it's possible to skip a space and thus go faster than usual, an advantage for the experienced player who knows where all of these are. Without this special board, would this be anything special at all? No. But on the other hand, there it is, and if you respond to great bits, this can make up for a lot.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Marco Bing; PYXI; 2008; 2-4
Timbuktu (Tombouctou)
Nicely-presented nearly abstract game by Dirk Henn about desert caravans proceeding to Timbuktu. While it is true that there are some not particularly onerous memory elements, deduction (seeing two "5" cards eliminates the possibility that any other rows have thieves on space "5") and observation of the activities of opponents play just as important a role. When one adds in the concept of bluffing so as to misinform, it really becomes just too much fun.
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele
Time Pirates
While the setting is not much like Time Bandits – a dreamy film which would seem to appeal to gamers – they do share the idea of going back into history to collect and then sell artifacts for big profits. In this Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum design players acquire points which are then used in competitions to score bonus points. A bit reminiscent of Murphy in the way players move about the board and of RA and many others such as Moon's own Reibach & Co. in the way that tile draws from a bag spell out an uncertain end to the rounds. There is a definite ability to ruin the chances of others by setting the time police on them. As in Andromeda, the chaos factor appears to be a bit higher than many of the games of its type, but there is definitely a feeling of fun. Not without decisionmaking either as one must decide whether to get scoring markers early before the round ends or hold out hoping for a larger-sized marker. Unfortunately, as with several other Moon games, there are several different versions of the rules swirling about. I much prefer the one which grants the player three actions for being willing to draw from the bag. However, this makes it even more imperative that there be fewer than five players. [Holiday List 2004] [Pirate Games] [6-player Games]
Alan R. Moon
Time's Up!
Party game of guessing the names of celebrities, the first time fully-described, the second time described by one word with gestures and the third only through gestures. The mind stretching part is to think up gestures that uniquely identify famous names, but it must be admitted that memory plays an important role. Of about the same interest as most party games in which the point is to get players to escape their inhibitions and display some truly ridiculous behaviors. Known as Celebrities prior to publication. [Party Games] [Two vs. Two Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Tin Soldiers
Trick-taking card game, the tins being those of corn, tomatoes and other kitchen comestibles. Wrinkles are (1) cannon cards which serve no function other than to cancel one other card played; (2) à la Stratego the lowest card can win if it is played on the highest; (3) players have three unknown cards that can be played at any time; and (4) taking a "3" permits examination of one of someone's unknown cards. Cards have point values à la or Der Flaschenteufel to provide scoring plus unplayed unknowns are worth double. This may be one of those trick-takers which appeal to those who do not normally like the form because aficianadoes will find this system entirely too murky for more than one reason. First, there is no telling what kind of unknowns one has and what should be done with them; second, there is no telling what others will be doing with theirs; third, there are so many ways to avoid following suit that there is no deducing anything about anyone's hand; and fourth, play of a random unknown can have such a large effect in either direction that it mostly renders pointless any strategy which preceded it. That said, if the admittedly cute illustrations please you, the four player partnership version must be the most scientific. Now your plays have a greater chance of making sense, the flag card set collection subsystem has a better chance of working and the cannons are more useful as they can preserve a win for your partner. This is another noble attempt from R&R Games, but more is hoped for in future. Unusual packaging puts everything into a metal canister of a style usually used in the United States to sell bandages. [Two vs. Two Games]
Tinners' Trail
Martin Wallace continues to plumb British history with this game of tin and copper mining in Devon and Cornwall. He also departs his heretofore Warfrog label to create the first publication in the new Treefrog line. No reason has been given, but it seems very unlikely that any publisher or game with "war" in the title will ever win the huge prize that is the Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year) award. Not that this one is nlikely to do so anyway. The map depicting the southern peninsula is divided into areas, about half of which are seeded, by rolling special dice, with cubes representing copper, tin and water. This is a nice feature in that every playing will differ, some boards being more challenging than others. The number of water cubes indicates the cost to mine a single cube; each turn spent mining adds another such cube. Players also use actions to add technological developments like pumps, port facilities, adits, special workers, etc. which do things like reduce the amount of water, increase the number of cubes or increase the removal rate. These are all free in terms of cash, but using a system similar to that of Thebes, have action costs that put player pawns further down a track so that others may get multiple turns ahead of them. It's also possible to prospect in the vacant areas of the board, using the dice to determine what's available. In any case, obtaining a mine is always via an auction. Since adits span a pair of areas, it's a good idea to gain adjacent ones, at least as long as the limited number of adits hold out. There is a lot of determination of exactly what items are worth here and some strategic variability, e.g. in what to acquire and how much to prospect. But there is also a great deal of luck as the market has no feedback loop but changes from turn to turn based entirely on dice rolls. If, say, on turn two a player manages to acquire a great number of commodities, sells them at the maximum prices and then prices fall to the bottom and never recover, then pretty much the entire second half will have been played in vain. This may make some thematic sense, but others choices really don't, such as the fact that earned money doesn't count for itself, but must be spent to obtain nebulous VP awards (which is a competition). These awards don't even have any thematic representation, e.g. baronetcy, yacht, and so on, which could have been easily done. This is a knock against it winning the game of the year as does the fact that this is still more a railroad-style game than anything else. But for fans of that genre, some of the deficits in theme may be a turnoff. Another problem is the limited player range which must be either three or four. The wooden bits including tall mine and worker pieces are nicely made and even an unnecessary pawn showing the auction site is included (it's just as easy to lay a mine piece down until the purchase is complete). It would have been good if more water cubes had been included as these are constantly running out. (Use the blue player's cubes when necessary.) The map is attractive in a stark sort of way, but the money track, requiring a base 20 orientation is going to be confusing for many to use. There would have been space for a long track or if this was objectionable for some reason, let's have base 10 please. If you're good at putting a price on anything and don't mind some large helpings of luck despite a playing time over an hour, give this a try. BBC article on how the pasties of the game are part of Cornish economics in 2012
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
Martin Wallace; Treefrog Games; 2008; 3-4
Uwe Rosenberg-designed card game in which player players attempt to collect cards in series. Cards depict coins having values from 1 to 19 – it is far from clear how they connect to the title. In an innovative mechanism, a player draws a card from the deck or from another player's completed series. If it is numerically adjacent to another card, the player may take another turn. But cards taken from another's series are first flipped over to reveal a new value, which will be at most two values away from the showing value. Completion of a series confers a victory point card which are granted in gradually declining values. Although pleasant, like some other games by the same designer, apart from some rather minor considerations of what cards others are seeking, seems to play itself. May work better with a maximum of three players.
Uwe Rosenberg; 2000
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The 1980s and even the early '90s saw a type of German game that seems to have been lost today. Surprisingly its essential qualities are difficult to pin down. It's the old story of "I can't define it, but know it when I see it." Probably though, this elusive quality revolves around simple instructions, a good relationship with theme, healthy doses of luck and an innovative mechanism or two. Either this combination has become hard to find or the interest has all gone in other (perhaps heavier) directions for this one sails in as a refreshing return to yesteryear. This, the inventor's first, has been termed a logical deduction game, but really "reverse deduction" would be more apt. The players do not strive to deduce from acquired facts, but create facts which are commonly deduced in public. The board, a highly stylized rendering of the Caribbean island is overlaid with a hex grid demarcating various terrain types, e.g. beach, forest, lagoon, mountains, etc. Four treasures are sought and each player contributing to a discovery will share in the findings. Players do this on their turns by playing a card against a treasure that helps clarify where it may be. This may be something like "not in a mountain", "on a beach", "within one of a forest", etc. When eventually the only possible space has been determined it only remains for a player to drive his jeep over to that location and claim the treasure. Driving is more inventive than one might think. It doesn't go by a strict count of spaces, but instead a jeep pays one point (of its three) to drive as far as it likes within the same type of terrain, but also pays one of its three movement points whenever the terrain type is changed. Treasure distribution is also handled in novel fashion. Each player draws a treasure card for each card he played into a treasure and then turns them in for shuffling. The top card is revealed and the most recent contributing player either takes it or gives the next player the chance to do so. This continues, each player discarding a credit each time he takes a treasure. But also in the deck are two curses. Whenever one turns up any player still in the distribution must give up either a treasure or an amulet and all the rest of these treasures are discarded, so just as in Diamant waiting too long can be dangerous. But what about these amulets? To help replayability, the puzzle board can be assembled in different ways. In addition, there are stand up plastic figures in the form of 4 huts, 3 palm trees and 3 statues, which also participate in clues. The statues have the additional effect that on each turn they rotate sixty degrees and then pieces are placed where their gaze meets the ocean. Players may drive around, pick these up and later employ them as above, or to re-open a previously disqualified treasure space, play another clue card or take an additional three moves (without, however, picking up more amulets). Amulets can sometimes be real situation savers for times when it seems no one can nail down a treasure's final location or when a player finds that not one of the clue cards in hand can serve any useful purpose. There is additionally a rule permitting swapping out all of one's cards. Trying to figure out what all of one's cards might do with each of the four treasures can take some time and this can create some downtime, even frustration, occasionally, but for the most part tends to be acceptable. Playings usually complete in an hour. Physical presentation is quite good with unusual outer clamps securing the puzzle board together. The standup figures are well and attractively made and the artwork outstanding. Artist Victor Boden deserves a lot of credit also for coming up with a beautiful variation on the usual rectangular board. The cards employ iconic language without text that works well enough after getting used to it. There is fair amount of luck of the draw in the treasures, but the design elements are inventive, the tropical island setting enticing and solving the challenges both fun and absorbing. Players interested in this sort of system might also check out a precursor called Old Town.
MMMM8 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 8)
Bruce Allen; Zoch-2009/Rio Grande-2009; 2-4; 60 [Amazon]
Tom Tube
Two player tile placement and movement game in an outer space setting. Turns are very simple as a player either (a) moves or (b) draws and places a single tile. Tiles are rhombus-shaped and contain paths usable by the player, the opponent, or both. The goal is to retrieve two of one's own items from across the board, plus as many of the randomly-appearing cubes as possible and return home first. As in Lost Valley, isolation of a triangular opening permits placement of a special piece, which is here even more important as the triangles come from one's own supply and tend to be very helpful connections. At its best there is tantalizing choice between taking a tile and moving, reminiscent of Quoridor. Part of taking a tile includes having a plan for each type you might draw. Part of moving includes where the opponent is and if you were both to start moving now, where he will end up and what he can grab unless you get there first. This creates a series of little sub-games and the advantage tends to shift back and forth as new tiles appear and their order makes games different every time. Occasionally things don't go so well since if a player can luckily draw a number of straight or simply very appropriate path'ed tiles he can be very hard to stop. It should be noted that pawns block one another too so that is another tactical consideration. Collected cubes afford special movement abilities like moving on the opponent's tube or even a short jaunt without any tube at all. If not careful, an astronaut can wide up lost in space! Overall it's that rara avis: a German science fiction game and a good one at that, at least most of the time. If you play, make time to do so a few times since even though the instructions are easy, learning how to use all of your options and play well is not. [Kronberger Spiele]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Tonga Bonga
Game set in the South Seas has some intriguing mechanisms. Players first decide how much they are willing to spend to attract sailors for their ships. Then they supply sailors of randomly-determined quality for these contracts and here players have a conflict of interest between making money and not speeding up their competitors too much. Unfortunately the end game is thus fraught with kingmaking phenomena. Its brilliant ideas still not fully exploited, this realization can only be recommended for children.
Stefan Dorra;
Game of the Polynesian dispersal across the south seas for two to six. Finely sculpted wooden ships are placed on the beach spaces of hexagonal tiles. When a beach group is filled, a new tile is drawn and the ships either sail to a new island or are destroyed, their chances being proportionally helped as more players are involved. The winner is usually the one who has managed to spread to the most islands, but exclusivity may be a useful alternate approach. The island names follow the real ones so it feels somewhat thematic, although there is no difference in player abilities. The tiles are nicely made, not true hexagons, but artistically curved and yet still able to fit together. The artwork is appealing with minor communication design problems – the slightly too large ship foot print can obscure the beach and the beach launch points can be hard to distinguish. Like any "turn up the tile and see what you get" game, the vagaries of luck can ultimately become a frustration, but this one does inspire repeat plays just because the turns are so short and rules so simple. The fill-up-the-beach mechanism from first time inventor Thomas Rauscher is fairly innovative too, or at least hasn't been used much lately. War game players may enjoy this more than other society games because the probability measurement aspect is also important here. [6-player Games]
Too Many Cooks
It's strange to realize, but only in 2002 did Reiner Knizia, creator of so many games, publish his first trick-taking card game (unless there were some in his book Kartenspiele im Wilden Westen). This one shares a title with another game published in 2001 and the kitchen events topic with Tin Soldiers. As we might expect from a non-trick-taking designer, the tricks are rather unusual. Although suit is still followed as normal (usually), taking the trick has nothing to do with relative card strengths, but only with having the cards add up to ten or more. Players try to collect as many cards from the suit they have bid before the hand and to avoid some other suit or type of card, usually the chili peppers (others being mushrooms, onions and peas). The chili pepper suit does not share the same distribution as the others and also has the side effect, when played, that for the rest of the trick following suit is not required. The game consists of five hands during which each player will bid one of the four different suits or the fifth possibility, taking no tricks: "No soup today" (shades of Seinfeld). Because one's forced bid may have no bearing on the actual state of the hand, Too Many Cooks probably will not gain a strong following with trick-taking fans, but should be pleasant enough for many who don't normally go in for this sort of thing. It seems this is the publisher's target audience since not even the usual pen and paper are required: little discs containing stars are provided to track the score instead. The attractive graphic design is loud and cute, but some cards may be easy to confuse at first. Some icon indicating their special meanings really should have been added to the chili pepper and bouillon cards as in the heat of haute cuisine they are too easy to forget. Also, players are forced to fan their cards in only one way as the index number is not provided on both sides. But except for the too large packaging, this is the best entry I have seen from R&R Games to date.
Top Car Races
Auto racing game for children of ages 4+ is in the form of a gigantic twelve-page book, each spread of which shows a different race track. Four nicely-made plastic cars are provided, but beware the detachable wheels which could get lost or swallowed. The form of the race is roll-and-move, but instead of a die a built-in electronic spinner lights up and makes sounds. Most of the race courses have spaces which, when a car ends on them, causes something to happen, i.e. move back, move forward, lose a turn, etc. This requires that at least one player be able to read. The courses are dramatically illustrated and at least there is plenty of excitement, even if no skill. It could be of value in getting young players interested in reading.
Knizia game for two players depicts a soccer match. Each player has an identical set of cards à la Raj and tries to correctly outguess one another to score goals. Amusing for a few plays, a game probably lasts all of five minutes.
Game about medieval Spain from the same team that produced Tikal. Title means "Towers" in Spanish. Pretty much a gamer's game with plenty of lookahead requirement and nearly without chaos, apart from that introduced by the other players that is. Has an uncommon three-dimensional element as players hop up levels to be the greatest knight in their castles. I have usually played using the basic rules but giving each player their own color cards as a shuffled deck. Cards are chosen by drawing the top three off the deck, selecting one of them, and placing the remaining two at the top or the bottom of the deck as the player prefers. A good game apart from two possible pitfalls: (1) the analysis inherent in the action point system (also found in Tikal) means that some players can spend twenty minutes taking their turn; (2) theme and game actions are not well matched. Java by the same design team is a third entry in this series. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] A
Total Depth
Subtitled "An Oil Man's Game", explores the world of oil drilling. As in Monopoly, players roll dice to move around the outside board edge. Other similarities include an extra turn when doubles are rolled, two decks of cards ("Production" and "Exploration"), income tax, income upon passing the start space and even incorporation of the unofficial "Free Parking" variant, here called the Slush Fund. Different is an interior board path and an elevated 6x6 drilling board. Landing on an outer board space usually offers the chance to lease a plot on the drilling board if not already leased. Travel on the interior board, possible only by landing exactly on its entrance or possession of a plastic permit token (obtained by landing on other spaces), permits drilling once one has a drilling company. This is very much a costly hit-and-miss affair, especially when drilling without any other proven oil fields nearby. But if the player does not go bankrupt, eventually his plots should be populated with a lot of black plastic pegs indicating gushers rather than the yellow ones which signify dry holes. Then each time a player passes the start, he is paid based on the number of barrels he is pumping. Unlike Monopoly, the idea is not to drive others into bankruptcy, but to be the first to reach one million dollars. Some of the rules are a big obliquely-worded. The intention is that each roll for drilling costs $5,000 for example, but this is not explained where one would expect. How to use the drilling completion sheets is not very well explained either, but the idea is to keep a running total of all production on the righthand columns. Drilling may occur anytime the player ends a turn on the interior track. The Production deck seems to get exhausted very quickly, but the Exploration deck is hardly ever touched. A nice rule with these cards by the way is the ability to bury some types of cards back in the deck if not to the drawer's liking. Other cards are incredibly devastating however, e.g. one which causes a player to lose his entire drilling company, something which is incredibly difficult and expensive to acquire. In fact, while there is a good atmosphere of real drilling situations, there is so much chaos in the dice, cards and spinner that many players will feel their skills are not properly rewarded. A good idea is the Audit space which requires the player to reveal his cash data. A nice touch is a space reading "Blow Out - Call Red", an inside reference to real-life oil firefighter Red Adair. this 1984 game for 2-5
unknown; Orc Production Corp.-1984; 2-5; 120; 12+
Parker Bros. game published 1979 uses magnetism, which seems strangely underutilized in games. The plastic gameboard has a white border surrounding a grid on which move cone-shaped clear acrylic pawns. Inside the pawns are metal disks, colored white on one side and red on the other. When a pawn is moved the tokens across the game board the disks flip over due to magnets attached below the board. These were re-arrangeable between games. The aim is to align four pawns in a row in your color. While fun to see the discs flipping up and down, a rather flavorless abstract. Requires a good memory.
Seminal card game invented 1906 was good enough to get patent no. 836532 on behalf of the Wallie Dorr Company. It was purchased by Parker Brothers and published more or less continuously, with modernizations in artwork and terminology over the years, until 1975. The property was subsequently acquired by Hasbro along with the rest of the Parker line. This was really the progenitor for all of the later "take that" card games in which players have holdings and play "event" cards to try to ruin those of others. The thats of this game are rather mild, probably because players are trying to build up their holdings at the same time and combination with strong events would have been unworkable. Even so, the deck distribution seems to be overheavy with disasters and sometimes players seem to spend most of their time doing nothing but waiting for the right card. A French adaptation, Milles Bornes, added the tactic of holding the safety (Coup Fourré) card until a judicious moment. There have been many, many imitators, including a recent one by by Hasbro called On-line (not described here). [Take That! Card Games]
Tracks to Telluride
Railroad game set in 19th century Colorado features an unusual board construction mechanism, apparently patented: four sheets are joined each at one corner and rotated out to fully display. Crayons are used to draw narrow- and standard-gage track on the hex map. Income is acquired by contracting mines and by first entry into cities. Interaction is provided in the form of lawyers, whose injunctions can stop opponents from blasting their way through difficult mountain passes. This is the biggest issue as a player who is lucky and gets through his pass quickly can be hard to stop. Also, if players gang up on someone with their lawyers they can prevent him, seemingly forever, from getting through the pass. Some players don't mind this; others find it unfair and very annoying. The untried Advanced Tracks to Telluride possibly addresses this, but is said to lengthen duration to six hours. Otherwise plays well and lasts about the right amount of time. [another review]
Personal Rating: 6
John Bohrer; Winsome Games-1994; 2-6
Traders of Carthage
This is technically a board game, but featuring one of the smallest boards you'll ever see. All it shows are six movement spaces from Alexandria to Carthage along the southern Mediterranean Sea, the last two spaces indicating pirates. Ships are moved by players spending their hand cards to buy other cards of the same type which have been laid out as a purchasing pool. A player not buying instead draws from the deck to get more purchasing power. Purchased cards become holdings that pay off if the ship of their color reaches the goal first, but cards matching a ship in pirate waters at that time are lost instead. Successfully selling a ship earns a chip in that color, making that good more valuable at the end – thematically this can stand for developing a specialty in a particular commodity. Points are determined by multiplying the number of cards sold by that of the highest value sold (2, 3 or 5). And this is the whole game apart from some minor ameliorations such as the ability to remove a card from the purchase pool and the ability to use a hand card of the same color to save a pirate-threatened one. But while play is simple, decisionmaking is complex as one must consider specialization vs. opportunism, buying vs. leaving it for the next player and looking ahead to see what others will do. And yet it tends to move right along with not too much downtime, packing in a high number of difficult choices in a short amount of time. Production is adequate, including square-cut cards and wooden pieces. At the time of this writing it seems that new licensees will bring out more elaborate versions to the market soon.
The 2008 Z-Man Games edition is well-realized, preserving all the existing rules and changing the graphics from the cartoonish to the rustically beautiful. The latter are undeniably attractive without overshadowing the original, which also felt fine given the light nature of play for this card game. The only complaint about the new version might be that the appearance of the board is a bit dark. Possibly the intent was to depict a sea captain's aged map, but it's more as if seen through a gauze that won't wipe away. Physical card quality and size are noticeably improved. [Buy it at Amazon]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Susumu Kawasaki; Kawasaki Factory; 2006; 2 - 4
Trailer Park Gods
Card game involves Greek gods trying to attract worshippers in modern trailer parks. Akin to Nuclear War and Plague & Pestilence. in the sense that players use cards to build up their holdings and reduce those of others. The theme is not very attractive, the black-and-white card art definitely not so, and the rules do not permit a balanced game. Instead, a player who is already in the lead is rewarded with more cards and thus the rules actually encourage runaway leaders. [Take That! Card Games]
First game in the TRAiNSPORT series covers Austria and bordering regions. Players build track to complete valuable contracts and be the first to reach the monetary goal. Uses crayons on a laminated board to show which track has been built. Challenging decisions on which provinces to build and how quickly abound. A little bit subject to luck of the draw and one's position with respect to the start player, in general a rather satisfying experience. The lack of pawns means it should be easy to play on a train! Otherwise, players ought to blow up the map to a larger size and issue cubes to use rather than drawing. Otherwise, keeping track of the number on has built can be a major drag. Update: This was actually done for the 2007 edition. [Winsome]
TRAiNSPORT: Switzerland
Second in the series is not really different apart from a different map which is a bit more expensive to build on due to more mountains. A good source of variety for fans of the original. [Winsome]
Trios of Russian mafia roam six cars of a Trans-Siberian train, legitimately selling at various stops, but also squeezing for rubles, committing thefts and even murdering one another. Player compartments begin stocked with various commodities – electronics, tools, jewelry, etc. – each of which has a different fixed price at each major station, thereby concentrating player attention on different wares for each stop. This is one of those systems where one needs to be in six places at once – to protect, squeeze, steal or sell – but has only three operatives. While one is away, others will play until one can get back an try to salvage matters. If contesting players happen to both be present, the matter is resolved by blind bidding using victory points. The catch-up mechanism gives the losing bidder the difference in the bid. Because an item once protected can still be stolen or squeezed many more times, accurately evaluating its worth is very difficult. Even worse, if both players manage it and come up with the same number, they both lose because neither gets it and both have to go to the dining car. This gets kind of humorous if there's a tie in a duel to the death. One can imagine the conversation: "Hey! you just tried to kill me! ... Dinner?" The dining car, by the way, is the linking car in the middle of the train, but isn't particularly well presented, imagining the train as a horseshoe. Communication design is rather poor in general – commodities are confusingly given player colors – and the English instructions for the Winsome edition are even worse because they twice fail to establish the general rule before going into confusing examples. This edition also uses some unique components: 35 metal washers adorned with color stickers. So, while there are some interesting beginnings here, chiefly around positioning, there is so much randomness – besides the bidding, turn order is determined randomly, on the spot – and lack of strategy that this really cannot be recommended. The closest area of interest might be for players who just want a wild and wicked ride. But for others, just consider this: each turn one has only 2 actions, but very frequently one doesn't even want to use them all. This is a far cry from the many far richer systems in which there are many options to take and one must choose only the best subset.
Traumfabrik (Fabrik der Träume)
Reiner Knizia-designed game about Hollywood movie producing (title is "Dream Factory") is another in the system which produced Medici and RA. Here the main innovation is the "communist" monetary system in which all of the other players share equally in the coin given up by the player winning the acution. The system begins to wear out its welcome as what strikes most forcibly, now more than ever, is the chaos of the clumping of the lots and the significant inability of the player to do anything about them (except perhaps keep the number of players down to three). Side notes: all of the directors and stars are dead (with the exception of "guest star" Reiner Knizia, his first actual appearance in a game as far as I know). This fact probably does not help the theme for many players who may not remember directors such as Michael Curtiz. The theme is not that strong in the first place as players tend to only be concerned with packing bins rather than thinking about the actual people that the tiles represent.
Travel Buff
Not about naturism, but a Trivia game based on the idea of worldwide travel includes questions on the world's geography and similar data. Board is a large circle which players traverse by rolling a die to pass through various regions, getting a question about that locale. As in Trivial Pursuit, players must accumulate points in diversity. It is possible to choose the difficulty level, and thus the payoff, of questions, but sometimes the levels seem inappropriately chosen. Unfortunately marred by too many giveaways of cash which permit avoiding questions. Will disappoint both strategists and trivia masters alike. [Party Games] [Tourist Games]
Knizia card game about the fashion world resembles his Modern Art stripped way down. Playing cards featuring parodic names of famous haute couturists, players must decide whether to join the current trend or buck it and thus start their own. Played over several hands, is very simple to explain and understand and yet intriguing to play, at least in part because of the need to size up the playing styles of the opponents, surprisingly more important here than in many other games. At the same time, one feels there is one further development twist missing which would have made it truly addictive. Certainly, numerous variants suggest themselves, e.g.: not re-dealing but saving hand cards after each hand, removing the value 3 cards in five-player games, devising a special rule for what happens when a supermodel (doubler) card makes the total exceed the goal (perhaps it is never attainable for the rest of the round?), having players all secretly choose their card at the same time, having "Out" cards also affect cards in the hand, having "Out" cards terminate a designer for the rest of the hand, etc. A good bet for introducing non-gamers to the hobby. Rated for ages eight and up.
Card game of the climbing type. The theme sounds just like that of Dino. Each player runs a science team, travelling to the past to steal dinosaur eggs, taking care to return to the present before meteorites strike the earth, which ends the game. On each turn, the players choose to play high cards to collect eggs or low cards to be able to direct future collecting efforts. The winner will be the player who collects the most points in dinosaur eggs in the twelve rounds of the game. A mix of trick-taking, card counting and bluff. As in most games of the climbing type, a good memory for what cards have been played is an essential ingredient to success.
"Triassic", which I jokingly like to call "Dinosaurs on Holiday", depicts in an abstract way the events of the Triassic Epoch, the time when, simultaneously the first dinosaurs appeared and the world continent, Pangaea, began to split up, eventually to form the still-moving continents we know today. There are really two games going on, one of continents, represented by small hexagon tiles, splitting up and another of dinosaurs trying to dominate as many of these continents as possible. The rules by which the super-continent gradually fritters away are amazingly elegant and usable. In addition, everything else like the length, scoring, allowed actions and their costs is very cleverly adjusted. Because of the random, modular setup, will be different every time and it takes several times before all the possible tricks and strategies are discerned. Some players may feel a little lack of control due to the cards which force the type of tile which must drift, but this is probably necessary to keep the game moving and make matters just a little bit predictable. Those whose taste runs toward abstracts and fans of Doris & Frank Games will probably like this one more than most. Two-player version, quite a donnybrook, is mostly concerned with carving out and dominating the largest continent. With artwork by Doris Mätthaus this is a publisher to watch. [Gecko Games]

Tribun (Tribune)
This is another of the pawn placement games, of which Pillars of the Earth may be the best known recent example. The setting is the late Roman republic, as players represent leading nobles attempting to dominate the state. Pawns are used to claim monies, laurels and the right to contest one of the seven categories, but mostly to claim cards. These cards – representing patricians, plebeians, senators, vestal virgins, gladiators, etc. – are used in card bidding wars to establish who is tops in each category, which confers a benefit each turn as long as the position is held, as well as a special bonus at the time it is claimed. Cards come in various values, the range of which is kindly indicated on the cards themselves. They are acquired in a variety of ways. Some are straight purchases. Some are unknown at first and, only when revealed, purchased via blind auction. Some offer the chance to be purchased at par value or provide that value in gold instead. Some are purchased in sequential fashion, each player taking a card from the face down group after the higher bidders have chosen. Many require spending money in addition to the pawn. Besides that already shown in the various card acquisition methods, there is also versatility in the various game victory conditions, different ones being available depending on the number of players and desired game length. The victory conditions are not that strong thematically as usually they seem to just require a hodgepodge of various levels, but the categories themselves nicely provide the sorts of things one would expect: legions from gladiators and so on. Domination of both patricians and plebeians is useful, or, alternatively, senators and vestals. What's nice about the victory conditions is that they don't provide a complete recipe of what must be achieved, but allow the player to choose the most attainable subset. There are quite a few cards and bits and all are beautifully produced and illustrated. The cards are of the long, thin variety previously seen in Caesar & Cleopatra. The only complaint might be that some text is a bit small. Good play is all about evaluation, both of various options and about what the opponents are going to choose next. There is also a critical blind auction each turn which determines which category is safe from being contested. Although the pawn placement mechanism is getting a bit too popular and blind bidding is never a favorite, this shows that both, in the right context can be a hit. Overall it's a very satisfying result that may well be the best of Essen 2007 so far tested. The back page of the instructions includes a variety of variants. At least two useful ones are those which provide that on turn one only two cards may be used for contests and that discards are face down. Also, the best number of players is probably more three than five. [Buy it at Amazon]
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 8
Karl-Heinz Schmiel; Heidelberger Spieleverlag/Fantasy Flight; 2007; 2-5
Trick-taking card game by Alan Moon. Features a card drafting system before actual card play begins. The bidding system seems unbalanced as a player with an unlucky deck stack can wind up having no purchases due to no fault of his own. Card play itself seems to overly reward high bidding.
Alan R. Moon
This trick-taking card game by David Parlett uses the standard 52-card pack. Somewhat akin to Hearts with each player secretly choosing his own "pain suit" after examining his hand, it could also be called Sticheln without trumps. As in the inventor's Ninety-Nine, pre-game declarations to earn extra points are available. You may choose your pain suit randomly, say, or make a double or nothing wager. It's also possible to score a lot by taking every trick. All works quite well overall, diagnosis of the hand being a particular challenge. There's also plenty of tactical decisionmaking as players go void in various suits and dangers mount on all sides. The removal of the trump concept makes it slightly less confusing than Sticheln, but it can be just as "evil". Related to Bugami. [Rules]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Tri-ominoes (Triomino)
Dominoes variant uses triangular pieces with three sides to match with. A bit frustrating in that the publisher's choice of which pieces exist and which do not seems illogical. Not every combination exists. Luck of the draw can be too large a factor as well — tiles which are identical on all three sides can be very difficult to play.
Trivial Pursuit
Very popular trivia game has appeared by now in many general and specialized editions. Even immortalized by the televison program Seinfeld. Rumor has it that a question about Ronald Reagan from the Canadian designers was removed in the US edition. Are some of the answers intentionally wrong for copyright purposes? [6-player Games] [Party Games] [10 Most Famous Board Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Trolley Car
My own card game would probably be considered to be of the "climbing" or "eights" variety. My goals were for it to be fast and fun, with plenty of options (hence the large hand size) but with some dilemmas such as the fact that the card one gambles with is the very type of card one could use to help one's cause as well as dissonance between getting rid of a card versus helping an opponent. [rules]
Game for children is similar to Sorry, but featured the cute Pop-o-matic gadget which permitted dice to be used in the game without the possibility of it being swallowed. Basically another in the Pachisi family.
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Vote the Next Review
Named after the northern
French city, this is worker placement with a difference: the workers are rolled dice. Life in the 13th through 17th centuries is depicted, each player's dice representing a nebulous collection of citizens. Players earn points by doing things like working on the cathedral and working against unfortunate events. Dice come in four colors representing military, religion, civilian and enemies. There are a number of different areas into which players allocate dice, each of them operating by different rules. Kudos to the art design for creating a central area to store unused dice so that everyone can clear see the potentials. Players also acquire a number of activity cards – in twenty-seven types – each providing a different special benefit. At times it becomes difficult to keep them all in mind and forgetting to use one of more of one's advantages is not uncommon. This is all rather long and complicated, and made longer because it's difficult to plan much while not playing. It's also very evaluative with big plays not easy to come by; more often players can only get a few points here and there. There's definitely a chance to, in effect, attack others, however, by buying their dice, often paying far less than they are worth. Not only in this are fixed prices in the game rather off – the value of having workers in particular areas is rather overrated as well since if one is going last it's not unusual for all of your dice to have been purchased away from you. The trouble is that players are thus rewarded for abusing the chances of the last player, who is not necessarily the leader, just because they happen to have the dice they want instead of hitting the leader as they otherwise would. The system is not very elegant, being filled with all kinds of little exceptions and gotchas. Usually this should be for thematic reasons, but if it's the case here, they're not brought out enough to be noticeable. Instead one just obsesses over which dice can be purchased. The communication design exhibits similar problems, often generating confusion. It's also possible to run out of money pieces; shockingly the rules giving no instructions about what to do about in this situation. It's also unfair in that there's a great advantage in going first, yet in no configuration of players does each participant receive the same number of chances to do this.
MMLH5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Sebastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges & Alain Orban; Pearl-2010/Z-Man-2010; 2-4; 90 [] []
True Colors
Party game in which players cast secret ballots regarding their fellow players, often on humorous topics. Players score points based on guessing correctly about how the voting went for them, whether they received all, some or none of the votes. Points are
higher for all and none, so eccentrics may have some advantage! Humorous as long as there are unused cards or new players. Can be good for mixing purposes. [Party Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Trump, Tricks, Game! (Auf der Pirsch; Jagen, Troeven en Slagen!)
Trick-taking card game by Günter Burkhardt, creator of Kupferkessel Co. and also the trick-taker, Volltreffer. This one features a 52-card deck of four suits and so could theoretically be played with ordinary cards except that the 6, 7, 8 and 9 cards contain varying amounts of footprints. At the end of the hand each player sums these prints and multiplies them by the number of different suits he has them in to score. Then, surprise, the cards taken in trick form the new hand – no re-shuffling needed! A special rule prevents uneven hand sizes by simply limiting the number of tricks each player may take. This leads to some unusual plays since tricks without points should be strenuously ducked, quality rather than quantity being the goal. Dilemmas are created when the player must choose between points and future trumps as the next round's trump suit is always known. As a
result, one turn's weak hand often becomes the next round's strong one. If plans go correctly, one should have the ideal hand for the last hand where tricks are no longer limited and points are given for taking cards in the bear and boar suits, less so for those of wolf and mouflon (mouflon?! even in such a simple game there maybe something to learn, if mouflon is a new word for you.) The last round wisely tends to be the one which yields the most points. The game is usually quick, though it has a slight memory element beyond the usual trick-taker (which suits does one yet need to take?). Production and artwork are quite good, the animals being presented in bust form. Some may find there is too much luck for whoever has drawn the most protected 7 cards (each of which has three hoof prints), but this should not be common. This is a good addition for trick-taking fans seeking a little variety.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7
This abstract tile-placer supports up to eight on a board of thirty-six squares. Each tile has eight entrances/exits connected to the paths which cross a tile in various ways. A turn consists of placing one of your tiles adjacent to your current position and then moving your pawn along the new path until it ends. If this path bridges to other tiles, the trip can be a long one and if it ends off the board, the player is eliminated. The biggest surprise here is the way that so many of the advances of the past few decades are ignored. It cares so little about a balanced start that players are allowed to set up wherever they like, including next to one another. By this means both players, but especially the second to place, can have a profoundly negative effect on the other.s chances. Regular starting positions and switchback start orders have been around for decades, so why not use them here? It.s similar with tile draws. Perfectly symmetric tiles are the worst to get as they offer no choice in their orientation. Given that, probably some better method than random draw should probably have been devised for their distribution. It would have been nice too had more strategic aspects been put in. As it is now, all a player can do is try to avoid others, unless a coup can be delivered, and head for the empty part of the board. But one thing it does well is finish quickly so that even eliminated players need not wait long. In fact there tends to be "one more time" feeling. This probably works best for those wanting a light outing with a lot of luck, i.e. mixed groups, children, those who seldom play, etc. Reiner Knizia's later take using the same system is called Indigo. [6-player Games] [Top 10 Games for 7 or More Beginners] [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5 [shop]
For this 2-4 player game, veteran designer Marco "Medici" Donadoni performed research into the history of Pachisi and traced its surprising origin back to the ancient, mysterious Etruscans. More importantly, he unearthed the many original rules which have been lost over the centuries. Some, like the fact that two dice are always rolled rather than one, are not so surprising. That doubles permits rolling an extra die is only a little more so. That there was no need to roll a "6" to enter – this has always seemed, like Monopoly's Free Parking, a later, ill-advised variant. But more interestingly, it also turns out that the modern strike rules are but a watered-down subset of the real ones. We all know that a single pawn cannot hit a pair, but it turns out that a pair of tokens moving together may take out a pair or less, but not more, and so on. Research also turned up the previously lost terrain of the board, which featured places of power in which a pawn's strength is doubled or even tripled – the latter being a dilemma since they must be vacated on the following turn. All of these are favorable recoveries, but the most vivifying of all are the special powers which up to two players may decide to adopt during the course of play: Tuchulcha and Lasa. The former – sort of an Etruscan Fury with the face of a vulture, the ears of a donkey, wings and snaky locks – allows the player's pawns to never be hit, to roll four dice choosing the best three and win if he can prevent all players from reaching the goal. Lasa – sort of an attendant or nymph in the Etruscan pantheon – never lands on an opposing pawn and tries to instead land on the portals at the four corners of the board before anyone else can win. Despite their vastly different goals, the roles appear well-balanced and generate special tactical considerations, e.g. it is probably a bad idea to knock out Tuchulcha before Lasa since only the former can strike the latter. Okay, time to come clean: my story of re-discovery is only a story, but nevertheless is one that feels true. This is a fun and challenging experience, quite a cut above Pachisi and especially in full four-player mode. It plays more quickly as well. Three-player outings with one less role are less exciting and suffer from a different board with a confusing path while the two-player version seems to need more going on. With neutral pieces to move, decisions are less difficult. The (Italian) presesentation is quite good, including fancy pawns representing Etruscan priests. Extensive background material is included as well. The English instructions could have used one more proofread by a native speaker and one wishes for more disquisition of exceptional situations, but you will manage. I would suggest one variant. Because life can be difficult for the player to the right of Tuchulcha if he declares very early, I would suggest that this player be given the first right of refusal for Lasa. Recommended for game and non-game fans alike. [summary] [Holiday List 2004] [daVinci Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Horse racing via card play which probably works best for about six players for downtime reasons, although even with eight catching a hedge is uncommon if players show the smallest amount of caution. Simple rules make no great demands. A little long for winding down, probably best for fans of the racing genre. Expansion tracks based on real life ones have also been published. The review in Counter magazine seems to permit more lane changes than the rules allow. [6-player Games]
Turmbau zu Babel, Der (Tower of Babel)
Multi-player Reiner Knizia game about building the 7 (here, 8) ancient wonders of the world. Its mechanisms remind of several other Knizia efforts, but the picture is becoming too tangled to cover here. However, we can say it is not related to Knizia's previous effort using the same title. Apparently, along with ancient Egypt (Tutanchamun, RA and Amun-Re), he just loves the topic. In terms of actual play, what's most interesting are the three ways of scoring, all quite different. One holds various "build" cards and receives points by having their offer refused by the current builder. But points are also received for having been one of the primary contributors when a wonder is completed. Finally, the completing contractor receives a token which scores in a set collection end game. The path of least resistance is to participate in all three of these sub-games, but their widely disparate natures suggests that probably one of them is a more reliable path to victory than others (see Basari). This is a research job that few will require much inducement to undertake. And why should they? Play moves along briskly and everyone is always involved, without decisions being easy at all. While the packaging is quite a bit larger than necessary – this could have been a card game, I can understand the desire to create large illustrations of the wonders in all their glory. The artwork is monumentally cold, all whites, grays and pale blues, and reminiscent of 1930's Expressionism. The only complaint revolves around fairness in the card draws as getting a lot of the same type seems especially powerful. Although theme fans have only the art to entice them, most should enjoy this, especially if viewed as the light, quick and fun vehicle it really is, which the presentation belies. [Ancient Egypt games] [6-player Games]
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Unusual collection game by Knizia offers a level of elegance which has rarely been matched. Line up the tiles in any order you like. On your turn you can move your token as far forward as you like. There are so few rules I initially wondered if it was even a game. Some of its ideas seemingly picked up in Fossil five years later. Can have a bit of a kingmaker problem. [Ancient Egypt games] [Periodic Table of Board Games]
12 Caesars
Card game in which players conduct a series of blind auctions for one of the twelve Caesars named in Suetonius' famous books of the same name. Each Caesar has a different point value based on his chronological order. There are also bonus points gained for gaining a series. There is no attention to theme whatever. Cards are rather flimsy. With blind bidding and luck of the draw, there is little to no stategy. [6-player Games]
20 Questions
Re-packaging of a traditional pastime. Normally the game is played by having one person think of an object and the other(s) asking up to twenty questions which can be answered yes or no to figure out what it is, the object being to ask the fewest possible questions. Here the game is reduced to cards which contain the name of a person and twenty clues about them. Diverting, but really only playable once. [Party Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
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2010 Election, The
This print'n'play simulation of the 2010 British parliamentary elections – think Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nicholas Clegg – makes for a brilliantly evocative experience game. The primary mechanism, area control, is not usually a favorite of this site, but it works well in this two-player situation, which is also shaped by constraints which change over the course of its many (short) phases. The succession of placement (and removal) phases demonstrates a deep understanding of the various forces that affect British voting, but also permits them to be applied in ways very accessible for the players. What's clever is that at the same time it serves the typical national election night experience of waiting up all night, watching the ebbs and flows in the returns, trying to predict outcomes and at last savoring the successes and surprises of the final results. As a game there appears to be a slight imbalance in favor of the Tories, but in our games Labour have also won. In addition, while the Liberal Democrats appear in the game as a virtual player, we created a variant that had them played by a human being and decreed that if they could do better than they did in the real election, they would be declared the winner instead. This was not at all difficult to implement and indeed the Liberal Democrats have also won a playing. Most print'n'play efforts have areas where improvements could be made and this is no exception. There are places where the instructions could be made more clear and, speaking as a non-Briton, some rules assume a knowledge of British politics or geography that may not be there. One example, but not the only one, is the mention of the Parti Falangist counter which is mentioned as an optional rule, but never really explained. It's also unfortunate, but this is what happens in a simulation, that Britain contains so many identical election districts. More variety in districts would probably make the decisionmaking more interesting. Or perhaps there might have been cards in hand that give players special effects in certain districts. In terms of presentation, the map is very functional and yet pleasing, but might have included some player aides, e.g. so that players know which districts are home turf for which parties. (Again the assumption seems to be that only Brits would be interested in the game, but its not true.) A road map showing what happens in each phase for each player would also have been good to have, practically necessary for a fair game, really. There are a great number of chits to be cut out for this game, fortunately none double-sided. If you have them, it would be completely feasible to use cubes in several different colors, which would make for a more satisfying experience. At least the version I have played includes chits for parties which no longer exist; presumably other scenarios applying the same system to other historic elections are going to be created. In terms of strategy, usually it's a matter of deciding whether to concentrate one's forces or spread them out, and tactically how to be as efficient as possible, reinforcing probable success and knowing when to opt out of a doubtful situation. The treatment of media success is sort of a Rock-Paper-Scissors situation which is fun to figure out as well. There is also a fair amount of randomness, particularly with the small parties, as their presence is drawn from a bag. Dice play a role as well. Overall this is an insightful, yet relatively simple to play simulation of its topic and one which can probably please many, but especially so for the political junkies among us. Counter art by Mike Siggins. [2010 Election road map]
MHML8 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 8)
Charles Vasey; self-published-2010; 2(3); 60
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For some it's not unusual that the chief fun in a game is figuring out how to play it successfully. But once that it accomplished, and if there is only one way, how much fun remains? This specimen of Amigo's annual card game is a shedding game reminiscent of The Great Dalmuti. The cards the players try to get rid of consist of one 1, two 2s and three of everything else up to 23. Before play begins players discard three. Whoever is dealt the 1 plays first. From there they take turns playing cards all of the same rank which are equal to or higher than the last played. In the latter case, if the distance is more than one, the player takes one chip for each intervening number. Or a player may pass and take a chip. Or pass, take two chips and force the next player to play. A player may also check out by laying down the remaining hand and taking a chip for every card in it. Play is over two rounds. During this entire period players may expend from a very limited supply special chips that permit playing cards differing from the current rank by up to five, including in the lower direction. Each chip taken counts a minus point and each special chip two positive ones, the highest score winning. Because of the discarded cards and those randomly discarded before play, this fortunately never has too much to do with memorization of which cards have already fallen. Much of this sort of plays itself, even the decision whether to force an opponent play, which should basically only occur if the opponnent passed last time and the situation has not changed. The most significant and intriguing activity is figuring out how to discard. Should one drop duplicates or cards which are too close to other cards? This may be spoiling it (in which case stop reading now), but the answer is neither. Instead the best approach is to discard cards of every other rank because having been able to play, say, a 10, likely that the pile will have moved on past 11 before it's your turn again. Which of many cards to discard should begin with the second rank after a long gap. For example, if the hand looks something like ... 4, 5, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 13 ... the 11, and 13s look like a good bet to drop since the living will be scarce in the period between 5 and 10 and the lowest card possible should be retained. This one plays best with four; with fewer there are too many cards out of play. Having huge gaps in the hand and not knowing whether anyone else has those cards in play either makes things quite difficult. It's too bad also that this simple game does not permit five or even six players in the same way as a No Thanks or Foppen, which probably could have been done by just including more cards. In sum this is okay, but not up to the standards of a Stich-Meister or a Byzanz. [English translation]
LLMM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Christoph Behre; Amigo-2011; 2-4; 25; 8+ Amazon
Twilight (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde)
Trick-taking card game for partners. Each team represents a pagan cult, worshippers of either Sun or Moon. Cards represent priests, souls to collect, and temples. If one wishes, a player may demand that another player at the table play a card for him. Definitely innovative, but it can be difficult to become accustomed to this rule. 2003 Update: re-released as Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in 2002 with very attractive artwork by Carsten Fuhrmann. Now the cards depict Jekyll/Hyde, friends and locations. The card notation is cleaner as well, although to my eyes still not perfect as designations such as "F4" connote a code whereas what one really wants is to read that the rank of the card is F and its point value 4. Ideally the F would appear in one corner and the 4 in the other. Of course with play one quickly becomes accustomed. The same must be said of the game in general. Whereas at first it appears very difficult, with experience it becomes a delightful endeavor to try to guess from their plays the nature of each player's hand, not to mention trying to fake out the opponents. Strongly recommended for expert trick takers. [Two vs. Two Games] [Holiday List 2003] [Bambus]
Twisted Fish
if no image probably out of print
(Note: a complimentary copy of this game was received for purposes of review.) Let's redo Go Fish! Not exactly a promising proposition, is it. On the other hand, unlikelier re-makes have proven worthwhile, e.g. Tuchulcha, so why not? Besides the rubber duck, what do we have here? There are eighty-one cards, sixty-five of them showing various undersea creatures (shrimp, starfish, jellyfish, whale, hammerhead, blowfish, barnacle, crab, dogfish, clownfish, flying fish, eel card shark) in five suits. The rest are special "take that!" cards, reference cards and replacements. There are two ways of playing this sort of game: one is the Go Fish! style where one simply requests a rank and receives all of the cards of this rank, the other is the method used by Authors in which it's necessary to specify the exact card and receive only only that. Unfortunately it's the latter method that's in use here and the unnecessary delays it introduces are only increased by adding a fifth suit. This extra number of cards also ruins the game for two as there are far too many cards to comfortably hold. But what about that duck? What's it doing in a game about fish? There is no discussion in the rules, but from reading online it appears that the idea is, just for fun, to place it in front of a player who has four of a fish, but not the fifth, for they are a sitting duck. The artwork showing anthropomorphized fish is cartoonish and certainly colorful, but rather simplistic and not as attractive, say, as compared to the work of Doris. This doesn't work well for children either. There are too many cards to hold and the younger ones won't be able to read the text of the special cards. Not everyone will agree, but Go Fish can actually be an enjoyable outing for kids and adults alike. Unfortunately, this attempt has failed to improve its basic premise. It's not sick and twisted, but merely twisted, and that not in the right direction.
Martin Uniacke & Jody Fedele; McNeill Designs; 2006; 3-6
LLLM3 (Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 3) [Buy it at Amazon]
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Apart from Grass, is there any game that better typifies the 1960's? This classic party game was published in 1966. The reason for most of its popularity is now past. Back when it wasn't cool to feel up members of the appropriate sex in public, a game helped make it okay, but nowadays it seems anything goes. [Party Games] [Buy it at Amazon]
Tycoon: the Real Estate Game
By Wolfgang Kramer and Horst-Rainer Rösner. Players are building and profiting from hotels and factories in nine of the most capitalistic cities of the world. In each, there is an ongoing contest have the most hotels. At the same time, there is a worldwide contest to have factories in the most developed cities. Finally, profits are earned by diversifying into as many cities as possible. Thus there is more than one strategic path to take and as players may only take one action a turn, there are many dilemmas, including what others are planning. There is not a great deal of chance apart from the airline tickets which control where a player may move. Strategically, it is unorthodox, but for the first two turns of the game it is probably wisest to take two small loans. If only the box didn't have such a large shelfprint, this game would probably be brought out more.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Horst-Rainer Rösner & Wolfgang Kramer; 1998; Jumbo; 2-4

El Capitan is the 2007 re-make which re-sets the action in the Renaissance Mediterranean. Rule changes are slight. One permitting the first placer in a city to start in the second space helps out in the early stages of few-player games. Disallowing taking a loan as the first action injects players right into the board and eliminates a boring beginning. But the headline here is that the new ship has foundered both graphically and thematically. The great trading cities of the period were the Italian ports Genoa and Venice, so why is the title in Spanish? And why does it refer only to the person who gets the ship from place to place rather than the duke or doge who is deciding the investments? And what's the rationale for building towers in ports? At least it's a Renaissance topic – hardly any games have been done on that. Not. Production-wise, wooden bits have replaced plastic, but Mike Doyle's communication design leaves much to be desired. Unbelievably, a decorative, calligraphic typeface depicts the all-important city names, which are practically indistinguishable from one another, especially for the players forced to read them upside-down. A graphical guide meant to help is so small and dark as to be no help at all. In fact everything is quite dark, puzzlingly out of step with a rather cheerful system which includes plenty of cooperation. The "picture post cards" featured for each port, the best art in the package, are unfortunately too small to really be appreciated. Including the too-large box of the first edition, this decent design has been twice betrayed now but sub-par production. It's a fair guess that in the next decade it will have a third chance – let's hope it's the charm it deserves. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Horst-Rainer R&osner & Wolfgang Kramer; 2007; Pro Ludo/Ystari/Z-Man; 2-5
221B Baker Street
if no image probably out of print
While not the earliest Sherlock Holmes game, it is one of the classics and no doubt the one longest in print, even pre-dating the famous Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective by six years. Encountering it is a bit of a surprise. The aforementioned game is all about reading and analyzing long stories told by characters and experts. On the other hand classic logical deductioners like Clue are bare bones exemplars of process of elimination. This is neither. But there are similarities. Each playing is a specific case having a background that is read out before play begins, specifying vicim, circumstances, situation, etc. Players still traverse the map to reach locations like the museum, park or hotel where they pick up clue cards that lead them to the shared booklet from which they read a paragraph to learn information. But the clues are of quite a different nature. To repeat the example from the instructions, a single clue might read
Killer Clue (four parts)
I. A wise bird that hoots
This informs the player that there are three other clues about the identity of the perpetrator that are yet to be found. Here are the rest:
II. The alphabet letter after W
III. The opposite of "east"
IV. The season after summer
Now think about that a moment, noting that the clues are ordered. If the meaning is not apparent, then perhaps encountering the suspect name "Alex Westfall" will make it so. It's this sort of puzzle-y clue in which the game revels and undoubtedly the source of its enduring popularity, despite its creators' lack of interest in the other game mechanisms. The process of gaining clues remains the simple roll-and-move, old and unfair. To flavor it up a bit, each player has two cards, each of which may be used once. One is used to lock a clue so that no other player may see it, the other a key that removes the lock. There are also a few special spaces. The carriage house lets a player instantly cab it to any location on the board while Scotland Yard and the locksmith permit recovering used lock and key cards, respectively. But that's about for this bare bones system. The initial game includes twenty cases and so of course may only be played twenty times before needing expansion kits to provide new challenges. It's sort of too bad that the clever portion of this game is married to such a prosaic and out of date one, but this can still work, especially for lovers of crosswords and other such puzzles. Orient Express is a later example in similar style. [Sherlock Holmes games] [6-player Games] [Frequently Played]
LMLL6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Antler Productions; John N. Hansen Co.-1975; 2-6; 90 minutes Amazon
Word game with cards, a re-development of the numeric game, Take 6. As in its predecessor, each player simultaneously reveals a card – containing a single letter – and tries to add it to one of the existing card rows with the proviso that he be able to say a word which contains the fragment in question. If unable to do so, he must "eat" one of the rows. Since just as in Boggle or Scrabble the dictionary is in effect part of the rule book, there can be occasional problems disputing what is and isn't a word, but balanced against this can be the fun of citing a word where opponents thought it impossible. At the very least the mind is stretched to see words in a new way. As play is not timed like Boggle, yet not long like Scrabble, it fairly earns its space on the game shelf. Moreover, there are tactics available as well since a player facing problematic words can play a card late in the alphabet hoping words will have cleared before this turn. The typewriter theme – remember that ancient artifact? – is nicely reflected by cards which look like the typing of an old machine on worn paper. But don't play with people unwilling to conclude their word searches in a reasonable amount of time. In that case a timer may be a good idea after all. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
Tyranno Ex
Memory-based game of somewhat abstract evolution.
Martin Wallace design about the ancient settlement of the entire Mediterranean littoral. Players don't control a single empire, but attempt to dominate all four. In their hands are nicely-sculpted plastic ships, cardboard city tiles and cards in four suits which permit the movement and construction of the above. The crucial dynamic is that each space can only hold one city, which can be built if the ships of only one player are there. Since a space lacking a city can only hold two ships, either a player manages to secure the city before another's ship can arrive, or, the area tends to hold both ships for the duration, the city going unbuilt. Since moving to a location requires cards of the location's color and building a city requires even more cards of this color, the composition of the ten cards one receives each turn is very important, perhaps even too important, although it can be improved somewhat by trade with others or with the deck. While the first impression is one of trade, expansion and conflict, the overall feeling is of an almost-pure abstract with many blocking moves, particularly in the second half when players no longer trust one another enough to trade any more cards. Very often the player feels helpless about being able to make any progress at all and becomes resigned to the more limited goal of creating stalemates hampering others. In our first playing, all four empires were located in the extreme east (despite the adjacency rule). This created a very skewed playing in which two empires could make no progress whatever and tended to make matters rather unfair for two of the players, as well as make half the cards in the deck useless for all for the entire second half. While not a normal situation, the fact that it could happen at all tends to indicate that more development was needed. One separation from reality is the complete absence of combat, which historically did occur, and here maybe would have helped to break up the many dead-locked situations. Another is that all the empires are supposed to be based on the Phoenicians, whereas in reality the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and others ought to have been explicitly mentioned. Or, the theme could have been transferred to the mysterious "Sea Peoples" of an earlier era who settled in a variety of areas as far dispersed as Palestine and Tuscany. It's difficult to say what audience this game should find as military game fans will find it too bloodless while abstract fans may find too much luck of the draw. With this entry in Kosmos' "Games for Many" series, one perceives a lesser success rate than in the "Games for Two", probably reflecting the greater difficulties inherent in development for multiple players. [Games Featuring Phoenicians]
Martin Wallace
A trick-taking card game which feels overcomplicated by too many rules. It would be much better if the card selection were eliminated and the pre-game bidding minimized. Also, although five are allowed to play individually, it probably works much better as a 4-player partnership game. Similar to Twilight's rules for asking another player to play a card on your behalf, here the twist is that you get to choose which card from your hand another will play. [Two vs. Two Games]
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