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Bluffing game set in a casino. Players take turns adding money to various tables, then place their three characters face down. As in Royal Turf, one of them is only a bluff. The other two are a doubler and a cheater. Then each player moves his pawn up to four spaces clockwise. Only tables having a pawn pay out. Cheaters steal from doublers, but do not get paid if there are no unfriendly pawns at their table. There is a semblance of control with three or four players, but matters become quite difficult to analyze when it gets to six. There is some advantage to going last because everyone's activities are visible before one must choose and even though this privilege rotates each round, if it can be used to gain a big lead on round one a win can be had by keeping all profits down in subsequent rounds. But otherwise there's not much here for master strategists. Fans of the many tactics of Citadels will probably also like this comparatively stripped down Faidutti-Colovini effort. Being more abstract yet simpler, it probably fits even better for an inexperienced crowd than for the hardcore.

if no image probably out of print
It's strange that the same inventor has just been praised in the last review, but then no one can hit a home run every time. This pick-up-and-deliver affair is set in a fantasy world, but without any fantastic elements. More correctly it could be called imaginary medieval. Certainly the idea that there are gems all about the countryside just waiting to be grabbed up is positively dreamy. But let's suppose that they are actually buried in the earth and no one has bothered to look there before. Actually, it's not easy to grab them; for each type of different jewel one needs to have the right kind of equipment card, e.g. horse, shovel, pick, hammer and chisel (as we drift further from any sense of theme). Players also want to pick up commission cards which specify the type of jewel wanted and to where they must be delivered. The way in which these are distributed is perhaps the most interesting facet here. The cards are stacked on wooden holders around the board which have two faces, permitting the cards to be turned like pages in a book. A visiting player can either take a card on offer or turn a page, paying each time, until something desireable is found. Movement is different as well; one can move as far as desired, but traversing a city burns a provision. (Sometimes it seems like the theme has actually been designed to work against the mechanics.) So players travel about picking up equipment, demands and jewels and silver, which is available at the mine where they replenish up to six pieces. Delivering on a contract gets one of the tiles of the same color which have been arranged in a circle of stacks. If that color's stack is empty, the player grabs from the next available one. This can be kind of a dirty pool since players tend to specialize in a particular color and then the one who happens to finish his color first starts grabbing the color another player is working on. It's hardly a catch-up mechanism and since these are worth quite a few points, borders on a rich-get-richer syndrome. Beyond this, good play seems to mainly be about identifying an efficient circular path and then repetitively following it, somewhat mindlessly. The player happening on the best one is the likely winner unless someone should disrupt it, but as the old question goes, "who bells the cat?". It has been suggested that there are various strategies based on what one is collecting, but in reality the decision tends to be rather overwhelmed by the coincidence of the board arrangement. All of which is kind of too bad because Franz Vohwinkel has done his usual bang-up job with the artwork and there are plenty of nice bits. The instructions are clear and well-written, though as time goes on it would be better for these booklets to stop using two-column format. As more and more gets read on-line, having to scroll down and up and back down again just to read a single page gets a little irritating. [Traveling Merchant Games]
LLMH5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Michael Schacht; Abacus-2009; 3-5; 8+ [Buy it at Amazon]

Vampir (Vampire)
Knizia card game of collecting matching cards drawn from the Count Dracula tale. Not a bad little game. Bad luck in the draw, especially concerning wild cards may irritate, but it plays quickly and there are at least two different strategies to try.

Vanished Planet
Cooperative game for up to six who attempt to restore a shockingly vanished Earth. On a hexagonal map players pilot their ships to claim production points and meet mission goals. The resources yielded are used to purchase from a myriad of building options. Meanwhile, each turn evil spreads outward one hex level per round, oblierating all in its path. If it reaches the outermost edge all the homeworlds are destroyed and the players have lost. This is only prevented if a sufficient number of mission points have been achieved. These missions are the first problematic point as some are simply too difficult. For this reason a player must draw another one, wasting a precious turn and is still without guarantee that the new one is feasible. On such vagaries of chance does game success often depend. There is a purchasing system which in the original game is presented in a manner far too complicated to use. This is addressed by post-production game aids, but seems to show a lack of blindtesting or learning from its lessons. In contrast with games by Days of Wonder or the recent Siena, which deploy too little useful information on the board, this one probably provides too much, tending to detract from the aesthetics. Next time at least the pronunciation guides and the URL can be omitted I think. Cooperative games without the tension added by truly differing positions, e.g. a traitor, are not for me. But for fans of this category, at least there are the science fiction theme (is it getting rarer?) and back story to enjoy as well as a palpable sense of tension as the evil enemy visibly increases. And although the rules do notp rovide for it, it's very easy to conduct turns simultaneously which keeps duration down. [Vanished Planet]
LHMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)

Vasco da Gama
Another place your agent affair (cf. Pillars of the Earth), a mechanism which despite being only a few years old has worn out its welcome surprisingly quickly, this time from Italians. Thematically it doesn't seem to know its history. Players are supposed to represent rival captains under the command of the title character and heading for various ports on the route to India, but actually the practice during all of the commands of the Portuguese admiral and later viceroy was to have but a single expedition. Player choices are to hire crew and captain, pick ships and launch them. Of course these things need to be done in the right order, unfortunately limiting the strategic options, which is somewhat compensated for by the larger, more difficult to fill ships paying off at a better rate. The main innovation is the unpredictability of costs to take actions. A cost point on the track is determined by revealing a card. Then players take turns placing on various positions, acting earlier costing more, of course. Only after all are placed is another card revealed which adjusts the price up to three spaces in either direction. Probably meant as a catch-up mechanism, it can result either in absolute glory or utter disaster, which, either way, is probably way too much of the outcome to load onto a single card turn. Especially so when a playing lasts ninety minutes or more.
MLMH5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Paolo Mori; What's Your Game-2009/Rio Grande-2009; 2-4

Vegas Showdown
Game of casino development. Surprisingly, unlike the real world, players need have no concern whether customers will actually arrive. Instead, the rule is, "if you build it, they will come". Also surprisingly, certain casino features are limited in their supply. Just because the opposition have built a fancy sports lounge doesn't mean you get to do so as well. These items are both limited and also doled out via – you guessed it – auctions. In this case the auction style is that previously used by Evo, Amun-Re and since by League of Six (probably all originally inspired by real life charity silent auctions?). Some casino features are available every turn while fancier ones only appear via cards (which also generate a special event). Unlike in other games employing this feature, cash is very tight here and often items are not bid upon at all as their minimum prices – which decrement each turn – cannot be met by anyone. Frequently the big decision is not what to buy, but whether it's better to buy or save money. What's being purchased are cardboard tiles in three shapes and sizes and having doors at particular edges. Players attempt to fit all of these into their personal casinso displays, not only in the designated areas, but to fill up certain areas and also to create a continuous end to end path via open doorways. It can be sort of a game of Tetris to manage it all, but it need not become tricky unless the player wants to do it that way. It does appear possible the play the entire game without ever employing a re-arrangement action, but these are fortunately available if one makes a mistake or wants to reconsider. The card events could have used more work as often they are meaningless if they appear at the wrong time, unless of course one doesn't like random events in which case this is not a bug, but a feature. There is an income mechanism which deserves notice. Players are tracking two quantities, base income and number of visitors (so they do come into it a little bit) and each turn receive funds equal to the lesser of the two. So the idea is clearly to always acquire features which improve the lesser number. Rigorously playing by this principle will soon make you the richest player at the table, but, cleverly, anyone doing this isn't doing well at all in terms of points. Players need to manage the trick task of navigating a middle path and picking the best times to deviate from the pure income path. This is made more challenging by the existence of pre-requisite tracks. One needs to first have a lounge to have the right to place a fancy lounge, and so on, up to four levels. Unfortunately, the high level of ingenuity of these systems is matched up with uninspiring components. Although they are clear and functional, they're also rather bland, especially considering that the topic is the excitement of Sin City casinos. On top of this, some of the main board auction tracks are too close to the item stacks, making it difficult for half the table to see what's going on. Clear red marker chips, shaped track tokens and an insert resembling a real gaming area are nice touches, but why put so much effort into these minor items and ignore the titles that are at the heart of the experience? The player mats are paper as well. Played briskly, this can complete in about ninety minutes and the variable appearance order for the auction items should make this worth at least several plays. The mystery of which player is actually leading at any going time – since there are so many ways to score points – is a challenge to solve as well. [multi-multi auction games]
MMMH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal rating: 6)
Henry Stern; Hasbro Avalon Hill-2005; 3-5

This Doris- and Frank-designed game by Hexagames is set in the mob world of Sicily. In reality it is a matter of wooden cubes dominating an area in which the crucial strategy is to tie the number of cubes with the player to your immediate right. Beyond this it is mostly a matter of luck not to be in one of the devastated areas. Nice and clean but ultimately not very rewarding. Be sure to find an Internet version of the English rules as those provided must be one of the top ten worst ever. [Periodic Table of Board Games]
Frank Nestel & Doris Matthäus; Hexagames/TST-Enterprises-1991; 3-5

Maybe it's the many canals? The intertwining peelings of land and water? Or maybe the well-defined neighborhoods. Whatever the reason, Venice must be a strongly thematic place as it has inspired many German-style games, including Inkognito, Venezia, San Marco, Doge, Die Sälen der Venedig and others. So seductive is it that the American game designer Alex Randolph even made it his adopted home. This one is by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, who when he is not burnishing Carcassonne, has also created Die Fugger, Downfall of Pompeii, Mesopotamia, Dragonriders, Anasazi and Krone & Schwert. Here he presents an intertwining of elements seen elsewhere, but not in this combination. There is card drafting similar to Web of Power. There is points tracking similar to Canyon. Big City could have inspired the card-collection-in-order-to-build system. And, as friend Andrew points out, like so many German-style games, it deliberately makes your life hard. You say your ideal sequence would be (1) get cards, (2) clear space and (3) build? Too bad, it's just the reverse. You would like to draw from the pile before drafting a discard? Sorry, you can't. These are positive features of course, at least mostly. There are some interesting wrinkles to go with them too. By first discarding one can get three deck cards instead of the usual one, but only if the discard doesn't match any of the existing types (there are four types in all). There's a cooperative aspect too – multiple players' cards can go into a single building, the player contributing the most getting the main points, the rest only half. Generally these numbers are large enough that a strategy of only being a secondary builder will fail. The scoring track itself is more than ordinary in two ways. First, it uses the Ursuppe idea that no two scoring pieces (here gondolas) can occupy the same space. Players clearing swamp tokens from the board receive these tokens which show 0-2 gold on the reverse side. Any five gold that they spend advances them a space. So one wants to wait until in last place and then spend to reach exactly each of the more advanced players, in this way earning free moves equal to the number of players minus one. After that it may be a good idea to play a big point building to hamper others' abilities to do the same. The second way that the track comes into play is that if one's gondola is adjacent to the district where construction occurs, the builder draws at random a higher-valued treasure. Thematically, there's less here than in Carcassonne – for what do the gondola's position and the gold values represent? Otherwise, it's similar in complexity and level of luck. Player choices are mostly of a tactical nature. Sometimes luck of the draw and of the discards combine to keep for too long a player in a frustrating rut, while there is little players can do to hamper a leader. Good players can probably devise ingenious ways to deploy the one-point buildings, however. A special nominal player is created for the two-player version. As there are many successful city building games, this is a tough category to take on.
LMMH6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede; Amigo-2007; 2-5

Still another point of view on Venice, this time a modern, unusual one, that of pigeons "targeting" hapless tourists. Players secretly allocate their pigeons to the Venetian districts trying to score points by achieving majorities. This reminds of El Grande as does the multi-stage mechanism by which more pigeons become available to allocate. Central to this competition is a square grid representing the Piazza San Marco. Players allocate pigeons to the empty squares of their choice and then, via a sturdy, dual spinner, two tourists and a pigeon hunter appear in random locations. Players now move their pieces using either the king's move from Chess or the jumping moves of Halma. The goal is to arrive adjacent to or, especially, atop a tourist. Each such provides new pigeons for the nest, from which they may later depart for either the home area on the main board or the allocation supply. In addition, reminiscent of Go, a flanking pair of pigeons removes an opponent's to the graveyard. This whole plaza sub-game, despite being paradoxically relegated to a small portion of the board, is really the center of interest. Not only does it feel akin to the real life flocking of birds, it combines features that result in a challenging set of decisions. How many pigeons are needed to ensure a good re-stocking of the nest? What are the best positions to ensure access? In particular, in what ways can the pigeons of others be used for jumping without also providing jumping opportunities in return? How important is it to get points vs. denying them to others or indeed removing them? All of these are fun problems to solve intrinsically, but unfortunately this is significantly undercut because by mid-game little of it matters. By then the player doesn't care about re-stocking because nothing is available anyway. He also doesn't care about eliminating others either. Indeed, he hopes others will eliminate him as only by having the most in the graveyard can he get some out. Well, to be fair there is another way which is by use of one of the event cards, subject of another guessing game subsystem. But since simultaneous card choices cancel out one of them, it can take a long time, as can the game in general, much longer than one feels it ought for the level of strategy involved. Surprisingly, considering the frivolous topic, this turns out to be a system analysis game of moving pieces quickly through the various stages, but with so much randomness that it will be difficult to find many players to like all of it as a piece, even if many would enjoy some of the parts. Despite inherently good ideas, apparently no strong developer made a decision about what this should be and it remains neither fish or fowl. The inventor usually makes games for children; at the time of this writing his only other title for adults is Im Zeichen des Kreuzes. Event cards have significant German-only text.

Venture (Wirtschaftswunder, Die Bosse)
Sid Sackson card game from 1968, originally part of the 3M line, is thematically about constructing horizontal monopolies, mechanically a double set collection game (as is For Sale). At the end of each turn players draw two money cards, some of which have high values, while those of low value become considerably more valuable if collected in sets. These money cards are used to purchase industry cards, each of which has a color and from one to five (out of a possible six) letters. These industries are grouped so that they contain at most one of each color and share at least one letter. Some of the money cards are Proxy Fights which permit buying a card from another player. Others are surprise scoring cards which is the earliest use of the idea that I know of; it was later much exploited by Alan Moon and others in games like Airlines, Union Pacific, Reibach & Co., and Stimmt So!. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the complex decisionmaking that occurs when the player pays to more efficiently and safely re-group and re-order his holdings. This subsystem could really make for a game all by itself and surprisingly has not been employed very much since; the only exceptions which come to mind are American Megafauna and the solitaire game Spider. One caveat: the industries do not come in all possible combinations. This makes the game rather difficult for the first time player to win as he may wait forever for a card which simply does not exist. It would therefore be a good thing if players were presented with a summary of cards before play. Another oddity is the scoring, which rewards the player more for quantity of cards collected than quality, even though quality is more difficult. The game has had a hard time making its way probably because of its mixed message; the dry topic fails to match the fair amount of chaos and opportunity for mayhem. Had the topic been pirates, it would probably have found a huge audience; instead it reached the $4 bargain bin. Perhaps someone will republish one day. Play this with an experienced group as common defense against a leader is a necessary feature. It's also best with at least four players as otherwise the pool does not churn quickly enough to be interesting. Update: Matt Crawford writes "The game Summit (1961) also has this mechanism. There's a deck of event cards – each player gets one per turn – and four of them are Scoring cards." [cards summary]

Verflixxt! (That's Life)
Simple race and collection game for 2-6 players controlling multiple pawns, one of which must each turn be moved the amount showing on a die roll. The "board" is composed of a path of tiles, some conferring points, some removing them and some reversing the sign of the negative ones, i.e. a -10 becomes a +10, making the -10 a valuable property if a corresponding tan tile can be secured, a tricky business. Being the last to vacate a tile is the way to collect it, but here one contends not only with other pawns, but also with non-player "guards", the moving of which is an alternative to moving one's pawn. (Lest moving guards take over play, it is only permitted where a pawn also stands.) Good play, as in Around the World in 80 Days, should consist of being out in front or hanging in the back, but never being stuck in the middle. There is a lot of "finding other things to do" in order to avoid abandoning a tile to others or, when finally forced to do so anyway, of choosing the least harmful alternative. Very good players can estimate the likelihood of the latter in advance and attempt to avoid a cascade of problems. But however good or bad a player may be, it cannot be denied that the very large role played by just a few die rolls can easily upset the fate one deserves. That one's choices are challenging yet often in the end meaningless is similar to a game I like actually, namely Halali!, but this one lacks the twin saving graces of theme and extended puzzle-solving. Instead results a frustration akin to that of cruel Backgammon, raising hopes only to dash them. As the disappearing board and concept of guards are fun and intriguing, it's really too bad. Possibly a variant employing movement cards rather than dice would help, if it can avoid being too slow and calculative, that is. Looking further out, this simple system might someday work quite well in the context of a larger game. The German title, when spelled with just one "x", means "cursed!" or "confound it!" [6-player Games]
MLHM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)

Game about modern art posits the player as an art dealer/critic/paparazzo trying to make as much money as possible. It ventures into realms beyond Modern Art as players not only sell paintings, but publish critiques and scandals. A very nicely-realized and often humorous presentation accompanies the usual clean mechanics from designer Klaus Teuber. For most players, probably a near miss. The game can run a little bit long for what is happening and in some games one player's chances may be ruined from the start if he is dealt paintings whose value everyone else is content to destroy. A modification that would help would be that at the start of the game all place their starting three cards under the board until played and are permitted to disown them at the end if never played. The variants mentioned at the Game Cabinet about losing Might cards seem to be a good idea as well.

Players represent conspiring trios of viziers attempting to overthrow the Sultan. Each player has three vizier figures, one short, one fat and one tall – a three-part dial is used to program movement of the wooden figures either to a city to acquire a power card or to a courtier position of rank 1 to 12. The winner is the first player able to acquire all six types of cards and the position immediately to the right of the Sultan. Extra wrinkles are that each turn all of the courtier positions are rotated clockwise and that the 1 (lowest) position allows the holder to steal a card from a player holding two of a kind. The current holder of the highest total positions gets to move first, important since when traveling to positions the rule is first-come, first-served. Players employ another dial to vote each turn, adding up their courtier positions to choose a victim who is thrown into prison. Escape is only possible if a clemency card can be acquired – otherwise, after three turns the vizier is removed from play. Despite the two-minute (timer included) interval for discussion and negotiation, players often only succeed in stalemating one another as the tried-and-true location mechanism from Adel Verpflichtet is here deflated since viziers who arrive at the same city have no interaction apart from neutralizing one another. Players are thus reduced to random guessing. At the same time, there is a strong need to play defense by leaving viziers in the city where they can vote away the leading player. Yet staying in the city does not help lagging players to catch up, so deciding when it is safe to leave the job to others is extremely difficult to make. This mix of high randomness with the need for a high level of expertise is likely to make the game unpalatable for novice and expert alike. Fans of bluffing games with this kind of theme will probably prefer Basari. Strategically, since only players holding at least four cards can be imprisoned, it may be possible to try remaining at three and simply attempting to send as many opponents as possible to prison. But this possibility is weakened by the rule preventing direct movement from position to position. Title means "Treachery".

"Board" game played entirely with cards, the title means "Traitor". At the start of each turn players secretly choose roles to play and then resolve a combat via card play. Winning confers points, but at the end so does collection of certain cards as well as points given for choosing two of the roles, one of which is is the Traitor. Surprisingly good game for such limited components. Strategically, playing the Strategist role is usually the best idea. Meuterer is a subsequent game of the same type by the same team.
Marcel-André Casasola-Merkle; Adlung-1998; 3-4 [Buy it at Adlung]

Victory & Honor
Unusual four-player partnership trick-taking game with a Civil War theme. Each player has before them a placard, divided into left, right and center. On a turn a card may fill any of these positions and this position determines which player goes next: left to the player on the left, right to the player on the right and center to the partner. The corresponding areas on each placard together constitute a trick which is not resolved until all positions have been filled. There are four suits, one of which is the trump suit, identified as the last suit introduced. There are cards such as cavalry scouts and artillery that have special effects; that of the latter is to bombard its closest neighbor out of existence regardless of type. Scoring is also unusual, each player receiving points by multiplying the number of generals (the highest value cards) taken by the number of cards in the same suit (reminiscent of Twilight). Because of the many considerations involved in three ongoing tricks and the side effects on trump and next player selection, play is considerably more deliberate than in other such games. The fact that there are more than the usual number of rules and exceptions doesn't help with the downtime either. A further issue is that unless a player's hand is quite skewed – in which case it's a good idea to work for the long suit to become trump – many plays don't have much rhyme or reason. It's simply impossible to tell whether a given play will be better than another. On the other hand it can be fun to try and find meaning anyway. Apparently the topic was originally Napoleonics, but switched to the War of Secession because public domain photos were cheaper than commissioning artwork. I wonder about the sense of that because there are so many starving artists about – you would think some would work for very little just to get their work seen. Possibly it's just an issue of there being no good way of publishers and artists finding another? Someone invent a website please. In any case, the photos work fine as well and the re-theming doesn't hurt the game. In fact the photos lead to a new sub-game: guessing the identities of the various generals pictured in the photos. [Two vs. Two Games]
LLML6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Ty Douds; Jolly Roger-2004; 4

Viking Fury
This project must have been a labor of love for the two guys who made it as the Ragnar Brothers have even given themselves viking names. And it should come as no surprise: vikings also play a prominent role in a previous effort: History of the World. Here we have another example of that paradox that has somehow crossed my table a lot lately: a game about war that is not a war game (other examples being Tahuantinsuyu and Im Zeichen des Kreuzes). There is a lot of history in it though – thumbnail history at least – as players can "go a-viking" to all the places the real ones did and even do some things, like conquer Antioch or Constantinople, that their historical counterparts never dreamed of. They also raid, trade and even reach North America, although absent any special exploration rules. But at no time do they really fight one another, even though real vikings sometimes did that too. Rather players content themselves with play of "take that!" cards – each showing a different rune – in order to affect one another. Beyond that, Europe is treated something like a large department store, the players competing in a ginormous shopping spree. It's not even an empire-building game really. If it were, money earned from trading would be plowed back into bigger and better expeditions. It must have been that gold was no object back in those days as players simply sail out fully loaded again and again. But it's a spree with restrictions. Before a land can be "settled" – a euphemism for conquest – it helps if some viking has already traded there and also any prizes in the land must have been raided. As it's unlikely a player could do all these things in a single expedition – settling has a high rate of failure – what happens is that players enable one another. So a lot of one's success centers around timing, accurate forecasts of others' plans and being open to opportunity. Approaching it for the first time be aware that many of the points are in settlement, but these are the hardest to access. So it's likely players will each have similar amounts of these and victory will go to whomever performed best in the other areas. For example, there are the Saga cards which provide 10 points each to the player who has the most in category, one of Norway, Sweden or Denmark. These cards list tasks to be completed similar to a railroad game and are probably Viking Fury's most innovative feature. Their completion elegantly drives transitions into successive epochs, more difficult sagas and ultimately the timing of the finale. They also have a lot of effect on play decisions as it really behooves a player to concentrate on a single area of the map. A playing lasts two hours or more with some feeling of downtime when there are more than three players. Physically, the "towel" format map from Kings & Castles is back, but looking better than ever, in fact somewhat resembling the infamous Vinland Map. Some may be thrown off because the water is depicted as lighter than the land, but for the vikings the water is where the action was so it makes sense. One gets used to it. More serious objections are the unbalanced Rune cards – "Odin" seems very powerful for example – and that there are probably not enough die rolls. A player who goes on a lucky streak can get too wide an advantage. There can be a fair amount of luck in being at the right place at the right time too, e.g. near Constantinople when its Saga card comes comes up. So Viking Fury limits somewhat its audience from the outset. It also attempts to simultaneously satisfy theme, strategy and fun. Hooray for the Ragnar Bros! So few games even try. But some of the balance issues probably mean this will just be an occasional play for strategists yet should be a big hit for fans of theme and excitement.

Villa Paletti
This stacking dexterity game for up to four won the Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year) award for Zoch and Canadian inventor Bill Payne in 2002. The basic conceit is the fairy tale about how boxes are stacked to reach the moon. When you run out of boxes, you know what to do, right? Simply remove the one from the bottom and add it to the top . Here players own pillars in various shapes which support up to five levels of platforms, if you can get that high. After the third level, players begin to track who has the most points that high . the various shapes having varied values. When further addition becomes impossible, or it all comes crashing down, the last points leader wins. While this sounds like a pure dexterity exercise, the awards jury must have seen it as more than that, and rightly so. Although removing a pillar can be a test of calm nerves, deciding where to re-place it is a strategic matter. How close should you locate to others? Closer to the center would be good so as not to upset the platform, but closer to the edge may be easier to remove later. Most of all, how can you avoid being the sole support for a side as this means your post will never be moved again. There.s also strategy in placement of a new platform as you try to make your pieces easy to pull and others. impossible. The fact that positional choices permit a practically infinite number of non-discrete options is a rather refreshing change from the usual strategy vehicle. On the other hand, lack of real theme and significant difference from playing to playing may cause it to pale for the experienced player. So see this one as a bridge between the experienced and the not, and one which may lead to other, more intricate games. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [Frequently Played]
MLML6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
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The 2010 Essen games show featured no fewer than four wine games. Nor is this the last, or even the last about Portuguese wines as Vintage looms on the horizon. The inventor of this one has confessed that Die Macher is one of his favorite games and it's a fair call that these layers upon layers, upon layers, of mechanisms make this the Die Macher of wine games. Originality? A little. Choosing one's turn option is a matter of jumping within a nine-space grid. Jumping more than one space away or into another's space costs extra. Unfortunately one of the options can provide a "wine expert" tile which negates this cost, prosaically undercutting this challenging mechanism. You will have been told that there are only fourteen options per game, but that's only technically true. Fairly soon in it's also possible to burn a wine (thematic fail) and thus enlist the help of one of three wine mavens who permit executing another option, or at least a partial version of same. The other slightly original mechanism is a victory point matrix. Make a wine good enough to place in it and you receive immediately the victory points displayed for that row. But at the end players also receives majority control points for the columns. Beyond this, players do the expected things: plant grapes in several regions (each of which offering a different special benefit), add wineries, cellars or workers to improve quality, recruit the aforementioned experts, visit the bank, sell wine for money, sell wine for victory points (thematic question mark) or visit the wine fair which not only enables the mavens, but also enters the player's wine in the wine competition subsystem. This is the sole area to feature a catch-up mechanism as the later a player enters, the more intermediate points can be earned, and presumably a better chance at winning the thrice-awarded fair points, which unfortunately do not reset between fairs. Other thematic issues include the thematically-mysterious cubes which are produced for taking various actions. These increase wine values for the associated region. Interesting because they can be used by anyone having grapes in the region, the question is what they represent. Reputation? If so, why do they disappear after use? Why removing tokens from the sale track produces such cubes baffles as well. Luck is not absent. Each region produces wine in red and white varieties and a player's estate (the player board sports four of these) takes only one or the other; only the top of the stack is available and it can be painful when your color isn't there. Luck is also present in the periodic weather/trend tiles that appear and can even cause a weak vineyard not to produce at all. Finally there is the luck of which experts are visible at the top of their four stacks as only these can be drafted. Then for a different style of luck throw in a little blind bidding for the wine fair prize. Graphically this is a rather attractive, if quite busy affair. The communication design is mostly there with just about everything being fairly clear pictorially. Playing an entire game correctly – not normally an issue – can be a challenge, at least at first, just because there are so many side effects to remember for each action. The components are well done, including plastic wine barrels for all players. In terms of large strategy there isn't a great deal. While it's true you could start out getting all estates planted or maybe doing just one and going for maximum quality on it in order to get lots of money, by the end the player boards will all have been planted out and look fairly similar. The special abilities of the regions are only usable once per player and so do not play a major role. There might have been a strategy to make a lot of money, but this has been undercut by drastically limiting the money track. A player needs to return to the bank too often to remove money (merely to avoid wasting it) to make this work. The entirety probably last three hours or more and is probably best for three or less. Depending on the situation, the fourth player can be in bad shape because there are often only three good options at the start and not only will he be forced to pay extra, he won't be able to secure going first in the next round by visiting the fair early either. Meanwhile someone else probably will do so and this hapless vintner might even end up paying again for the privilege. Despite all these disadvantages a measly 1 extra monetary unit is his only starting compensation. It should be noted that money is fairly tight and just like many American-school games Lords of the Sierra Madre comes to mind) there isn't much of a safety net. Spend too much and have a couple of bad weather turns and it can all go irretrievably and unwinnably south. Is this worth replaying? Yes, and for two main reasons: (1) you are keen to make cost/benefit analyses and (2) to gain virtuosity. There is probably a rhythm to be found between options and activities with the mavens (each of which alternates between two possibilities) and figuring out how to do this with maximum efficiency while other players occasionally stumble into the way makes a worthy challenge. Pronunciation should be something like veen·yohs (from the American English point of view).
MMMH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Vital Laderda; What's Your Game-2010; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]

Game about wine grape growing in Italy by Christwart Conrad who also designed Pfeffersäcke and the somewhat similar Zoff in Buffalo. Chaos-free, apart from the initial draw, and only weakly connected to the theme (most particularly with regard to the vineyards given away by the government), it is essentially an "impure abstract" in which lookahead and understanding of the groupthink are strongly rewarded. Victories are satisfying as it is not easy to see how to win. The small purple balls resembling grapes look nice, but tend to roll off the table rather easily. Apparently, by the way, the theme in this one was always about wine, but was previously set in Germany rather than Italy. The regions and grape varieties are a little bit off, but probably only the true wine connoisseur will notice.

Virus & Co.
Card game featuring a mix of bidding, bluff and "take that!" as players avoid being the first to take 12 or more points of virus, which becomes easier if they take injections, but anyone who takes three injections is overdosed and suffers exactly the fate he hoped to avoid. On a turn, a player drafts a virus or injection to give to another. This player either contracts it or pays (takes) a strength 1 pill to pass it to someone else (not the player who communicated it to him). If the latter, the next player must pay 2, etc. The costs spiral up quickly so players will often find themselves simply taking the virus themselves in the first place, which at least grants some free pills. A third option is to play a Risk card, face down on another player, who may either accept it or pay to give it to someone else. At the end of the round, players score positive points for remaining pills and negative ones for their viruses. Scores often seem to hover around zero. The Risk cards, about half good and half bad, offer a number of interesting options including some which give point rewards for predicting who will lose the round. These help in establishing logical targets for your plays as does the humorous Herr Doktor card which forces every player to call him "Sir" or else fork over a tablet. The strike-at-will quality of the game is somewhat tempered by the fact that normally one can only hit the player to the immediate left or right, unless the especially virulent, but weaker viruses turn up. Still there may be some unwarranted attacks so players should be all of one mind on whether or not behavior is to be logical or arbitrarily mean-spirited. There is German text only on the Risk cards and as these are all dealt at the beginning and played only once, they are not a major problem if players are given translation sheets. Both the illustrations of germs and the rules writing are funny and cute. With its self-important doctor, emphasis on getting as many pills as possible and ever-communicative diseases, Virus & Co. has caught the gestalt of modern health care. It will catch you too if you have at least four players – the more the merrier – and can appreciate a lighter game which really is something different. Wanting to see more of the interaction of the Risk cards, few of which come out in a round, should make you return for replays as well. There are a few rules ambiguities. We can't be sure, but we played that the next round is started by the player left of the last player and also that each round begins by resetting all of the tablets. Update: On this last, a recent post by the publisher states that tablets are not reset, which seems unfair. [card translations] [Take That! Card Games]

Visjes (Ocean)
Rather unique-looking game about fishing. Fish are represented by three different types of shells. There are rules for growing fish beds and boats must harvest in a straight line. Along the way there are also viruses and waves to worry about. Almost an abstract in its features, but with plenty of flavor. The game play holds plenty of interest as well, except perhaps for the wave which possibly introduces more randomness than some players might like. Seasim is the 2004 realization, now only for two players, reversing the direction of Isi to Morisi. The system is mostly the same; changes in board layout, set-up and scoring comprise the main differences. On the other hand the graphical presentation is much improved with a colorful puzzle map. The shells have been replaced with wooden fish in three hues. Sharks are cardboard cut-outs that cleverly fit around the type of fish each preys upon. Play continues to be just as fun without the extra players and perhaps is improved as a decent amount of prediction replaces the wild-ass guessing which could previously obtain. I continue to enjoy these rare systems featuring a non-player phenomenon – here the independent growth of fish populations – as players do their best to react. Some may find the fiddliness of this maintenance tedious or too exacting, however – it does require some organization. Other than that, however, like Corné's previously effort, Zoosim, this works well and should be fun for casual and experienced players alike. [Cwali]

Viva Pamplona!
Players allocate random dice to run their pawns in Spain's famous bullish event, receiving Courage Points for demonstrating the most bravery (lunacy?) before the crowd. Rules for pushing and "embarrassing" others' pawns as well as slippery tomato fields provide interesting tactical options. A rather large (not to mention unpredictable) bull figure adds a lot of fun, as does a nicely-illustrated board. Light fun for six or even more. [6-player Games]

One of a kind sailing and collection game by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga. The 17th century Dutch East Indies trade forms the background, beautifully conveyed by an antique map which graces the board. This same geography is rendered more abstractly on four smaller boards suitable for drawing on with the enclosed marker. Each small board corresponds to a different ship. On this ship's turn its current caption attempts to draw a path to a port offering goods without first crossing land. "Attempts" because he or she is doing this blind! Hang with me a minute now, those of you who are muttering "damn party game" and ready to click onto the next review. It's really not so bad like you may be thinking. This is by no means a party game actually and if you tried it on a group who only play such games, it would probably fail. Instead, when you are drawing, you will find the other players on your ship, each of whom can give one command word per sailor, are busy designing rather scientfic methods to solve the challenge. Where should the ship turn to pass through a complex archipelago? Should a "north" mean turn completely north or just veer to, say, the northeast? Is there to be a "stop" command or does the captain need to wing that? With each runaground, the ship loses a sailor and thus a command word so player must sometimes become especially ingenious. Always layered onto this is the possibility that advising players may disagree on the destination and so deliberately mislead – a bad landing appoints a new captain – so you can see there is plenty of scope for tactics. The rest of the system revolves around usually straightforward negotiation on how the recovered goods are distributed, sailing back to Holland and attempting to fulfill various contract cards. On turns when no contract is filled, all of the players are penalized by the amount of the oldest card, so it may be that there is no winner. In fact, this is a likely outcome for the first few games as players learn how to play and avoid the Scurvy penalty for remaining too long at sea. After that they can try out the advanced game which introduces auctions to let players set values on aspects like who is on a ship. Splotter Spellen really shows here the value of the smaller independent publisher who can dare a creation this unusual and at the same time make it work quite well. For when you close your eyes and draw into the unknown it is a strange, uncertain feeling, probably exactly like that experienced by those early mariners in those days of uncertain weather, maps and waters. And at voyage end, those sailing lines look remarkably similar to historical sailing logs as well. Any true fan of theme should be well pleased by the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie [United East India Company]. [Jeroen Doumen] [Splotter]

Voleurs de Bagdad, Les (The Thieves of Bagdad, Die Diebe von Bagdad)
Set in medieval Baghdad, the board shows the five principal city districts: the Souk (market), Port, Bazaar, Kasbah, and Palace. Each player represents a legendary thief, e.g. Ali Baba, Scheherazade, Sindbad, etc. who has a unique vice or predilection, as is indicated by the types of trade item cards each likes to collect. Players also control thugs who go about robbing shops which is the source of income. Then they may trade gem, surprise and trade cards amongst themselves à la Civilization. Then they purchase pawns, any of Caravaneers, Merchants (can expel Caravaneers), Traders (can expel Merchants), Assassins (can assassinate), and gems (sapphires, emeralds, rubies, diamonds and fakes). Pawns are moved so as to maximize profit and hamper those of others. Players may attempt also to move the Grand Vizier, although others may frustrate this. The game ends when the Grand Vizier reaches the Palace. The players reveal their cards. The winner is the one who has satisfied his private victory conditions. If no one has the right gems, the winner is the one holding the greatest value of gems. The game is slightly troubling because of the lack of control induced by hidden victory conditions, especially when playing without the full complement of six. Suggest that each player have a list of the possible victory conditions beforehand so as to better guess whether anyone is poised to win or not. Initiative passing scheme is clever, but it seems far too easy to rob jewels and no way to defend against it. The Vizier with the proper card can be moved the entire distance in one go, so there is no reliable way to delay the outcome either. Thus much of the game's outcome will depend on which player is lucky enough to draw exactly the jewels he needs just by happenstance. Strategically, it appears that for the most part the assassins are a waste of time and it is best to simply saturate with cheap operatives the area from which one needs jewels and to trade cards generously. Presentation-wise, while the jewels and card illustrations are quite nice, the board artwork, despite apparent good intentions, fails on both practical and aesthetic grounds while the cloth sacks provided are not really large enough. Published in an English edition as The Thieves of Bagdad, in German as Die Diebe von Bagdad.

Third outing in the Railways series, after Lancashire Railways and New England Railways is set in Germany and given a German makeover by the folks at TM-Spiele (which seems to act like Kosmos' import house) as well. The basic system of moving cubes over railway segments is all still present, but there is a different take on economics and track building. In particular, the map is now subdivided into regions and each segment a part of one of them. This permits the design to do away with the system of track cards popping up randomly and replace it with one of simply having region cards appear. These cards are still auctioned, but players build any tracks they like anywhere within the regions. Several birds have been killed with one stone as this tends to create more fair, logical, thematic and strategic building than before. Certainly it should never anymore happen that a useless track not connected to anything appears out of nowhere. In other changes, the somewhat fiddly "inflation system" is gone, the replacement "catch-up" mechanism being a free "take that" card to whoever is in last place (rare is the Wallace game that does not offer a chance to inflict some mayhem). In a nice further touch, players who cannot move any useful merchandise also receive such cards, which feel correctly balanced and useful. The loan system is now such that they are never paid back, which feels weird, but works since they cost victory points at the end, and is more elegant. Unfortunately the potential for a kingmaker situation is still present. The minor complaints about the previous outings also still hold true: cubes which start in the color of their destination and the namelessness of cubes still hold true, but at least the presentation, with hardback board, is quite a bit nicer than the others in the series, the only possible objection coming from non-German readers since the action cards comprise plain German text without graphics to help their understanding. Since the map is different, those already enjoying the first two will probably want this one as well. For those getting into this series for the first time – railroading fans will be interested – although more expensive, the system improvements make for a much better game. Title means "Full Steam". Age of Steam is a later follow-on in this series. [6-player Games]
Martin Wallace

Volle Hütte!
Stefan Dorra game of bar owners competing to earn the most from patrons. In this inventor's MarraCash once the patrons go in they never come out, but here they hop from pub to pub, always in search of something new whether it be billiards, dining, dancing or Fussball. The most appealing attraction is the dilemma of which player to pull patrons from as it's only when they leave a pub that its owner gets paid. This also opens up slots for the owner to play cards bringing in new patrons. Thus one way to win is a constant flow of customers in and out, but a second way is by use of the cards whose payoffs vary directly with the number of patrons at the moment of play. This system also leads to dilemmas in composing the pub. Is it better to have one of everything or would it be preferable, for example, to own all four of the dance rooms? It's a bit unfortunate that the drafting mechanism is a too limited to allow very much experimentation in this area. It's too bad too that sometimes play, constrained by luck of the draw, seems a little beyond one's control. This grows with the dilemma of public money and its analysis paralysis vs. private and not knowing what's best to do. A different kind of confusion stems from vaguely written instructions which leave some important matters such as the number of patrons to transfer unclear. Components, artwork and unique pawns are nicely realized although the indoor dining tiles look too similar to the bar tiles at first glance. A good effort which might have been great, or considering how many reprints are being done these days (September 2003), may yet be great. Title means literally "Full Hut", but a better idiomatic translation is what every pub owner is looking for, a full house. As a design note, it can be mentioned that the ability to choose when the payout occurs feels better than having it pop up randomly as in, for example, Union Pacific. But such a system depends on holdings dominance shifting far more quickly than it does in the latter game.
Personal Rating; 6
Stefan Dorra; ASS-1997; 3-5; 45

Volle Wolle [Wool Rules]
if no image probably out of print
Just when it looked like the latest run of dice games had played itself out, here comes another one, this time from an Italian inventor, Alessandro Zucchini. He has at least five titles to his credit since 2005, the best known one probably being Walhalla (Amigo, 2006, no English version so far). This one is a bidding affair in which players roll to collect cards. Usually such affairs have only a few cards which players fight over and steal, e.g. Knights; Easy Come, Easy Go or Pickomino, but here there are lots and lots of cards, forming a set collection sub-game. The start of each round reveals several cards and players set their dice targets in a simultaneous blind auction. The bidder begins by trying to equal or exceed his total on three dice, one eight-sider, one ten-sider and one twelve-sider. Success permits claiming cards – the earlier the better – else the player registers one die and re-rolls the rest. Absolute failure earns a chip which can be added to the total on some future turn or scored as a point at the end. Then the next highest bidder gets to roll to claim remaining cards, and so on. The lowest bidder automatically gets whatever remains which is sometimes not good as there are negative cards present. Deciding exactly how much to bid is tricky as it must factor in not only the positive and negative card values, but also the various bonuses and extra pips opponents have available. Some lots have different values for different players, for example card types which don't score unless present in sets of three. There are are dog cards which one wants to avoid having the most of. There is also the useful bone card which transfers from player to player when certain cards are taken. Players are supposed to use rely on memory about what has already been taken, which can be somewhat annoying, but in practice is not too bad. The cute artwork of "Full of Wool" shows various sheep, the bad ones in black. Players indicate their bids by attaching a small, clamp-style clothespin to the edge of a card with numbers running around it. The entire package is in the same sized, small, very convenient box used by Pick Picknick. Perhaps what this game does best is keep turns short yet interesting, because most of the players are waiting to see what they will be able to claim or thinking about which order to put cards on their stack, all of which keps the game short and interesting as well. While this game accepts up to six, probably it's much better with four. The two-player version works fine.
LLMH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Alessandro Zucchini; Zoch/Rio Grande-2007; 2-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
[Buy it at]

Card game in three "acts". In Act I players draft cards, spending victory points to do so, the costs being roughly equivalent to worth although bargains are sometimes possible. In Act II players meld with these cards to score points and in Act III, play a trick-taking game trying to get closest to the magic score of 66 without going over. Somewhat akin to Pisa and Was Sticht in the establishment of the hand, but here the mechanics are cleaner, faster and not complicated by having to also set the rules for play. Negotiating rules works out in a short game like Njet!, but becomes overly lengthy when combined with drafting. Trying to hit an exact score duplicates all the maddening fun of Oh Hell. The title means "Bull's-eye". [rules translation]

Vom Kap Bis Kairo
"From the Cape to Cairo" is a card game of building a railroad from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo. As the instructions explain, although Europe, Asia and the Americas have been crossed by railroad, by 1900 the length of Africa had yet to be spanned. So the race to be the first to complete crossing of eight terrain cards is on. The dual-use cards show terrain to cross as well as helpful tracks, the interesting dilemma being that a track-heavy terrain will help construction for "right now", but will cost more later. Players write bids on paper for the ordering of drafting new terrains. Then they try to cross the immediate terrain by use of a combination of helpful tracks, turned up cards and money. Players facing a river at the moment another completes a terrain receive a bonus track for later use (neatly employing the card back). Completing a terrain provides some money back. Challenging decisions are how much to bid, which terrains to claim and which to leave for others and whether to build quickly or wait to do it more cheaply. Artwork is decent. It would be nice to see this re-done with better written English rules and coins rather than pencil and paper. Overall, works well, especially for such a small package, and should especially appeal to train fans crossing over into games. Update: those interested in this topic will enjoy Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (2003) by famed travel author Paul Theroux. [Ancient Egypt games]
LMMH7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Günter Burkhardt; Adlung-2001; 2-4 [Buy it at Adlung]
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