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Ramblings from the Marginalized » 2006 » December

December 2006


Games December 31st, 2006 by Tom Vasel

The theme of Tara, Seat of Kings (Surprised Stare Games Ltd., 2006 - Alan Paull) is one in which players use supporters to become Kings in different regions of Ireland. This certainly sounds interesting, but it only takes a few moments of gameplay to realize that the game's theme is simply a covering for an abstract game, as players attempt to maneuver their pieces to the top of two or more pyramids.

But it is a most fascinating abstract game. While the two-player game left me feeling a little disappointed, the three or four player game was much more interesting and involved. A tactical game with a bit of luck, some surprises, and chain reactions - those I played with demanded immediate replayings of the game, and the results were something we talked about later - an unusual occurrence for an abstract game. Tara, Seat of Kings has more behind the scenes than it first seems and is an excellent multi-player abstract strategy game.

Each player takes twenty playing pieces of their color (blue, red, white, or yellow), as well as two King pieces. A pile of "cumals" (worth three cows) is placed on the board; and each player takes two of them, placing them on the top half of their Rath card (the bottom is for prisoners). A board is a set up which contains four regions with a pyramid structure of circular spaces in each with five different ranks (five farmers, four herdsmen, three warriors, two chieftains, and one king). One region per player is selected for use of the game. A deck of cards is shuffled, and the top cards are flipped over to see who goes first (that player is given a start cube); and the first round begins.

In the first round and every odd round thereafter, the entire deck is reshuffled, and six cards are dealt to each player. Players look at their cards, choosing three of them to play in the current round, and setting three aside for the next round. Players then each take three turns, playing a card from their hand each time. On a turn, a player has four different actions that they can take:
- They can play a card, placing pieces into one region of their choice on the board. Cards show different positions on the board (farmers, herdsmen, and/or warriors) and are either fully colored or grayed out. Each fully colored place is where the player may place one of their pieces; but they must place it so that it is in the same "formation" on the card, making sure that a space is on the board for each "grayed out" spot on the card. Players must place their pieces in empty positions if possible; if impossible, they may place them anywhere in the region. If placing them on a position that contains another player's piece, they place theirs on top, holding the piece(s) underneath captive. If placing them on a position that contains one of their own pieces, they create a "fort". When placing them on a position that contains a "fort", they simply destroy the top piece of the fort but do not place a piece of their own. Players may only have one fort per region.
- They may play a Stone of Destiny card, which allows them to swap any two pieces in a region not in a King position.
- They may declare an Amnesty, discarding a card and paying four cumals to release all captives in one region, including the bottom piece of a fort.
- They may discard one card from their hand to gain two cumals.

When playing a card and placing pieces or swapping them on the board, a player may pay the cumal cost on the card to "activate" those pieces. When two pieces are adjacent in the same rank, and one of them has just been activated, they can immediately "promote" into the position above them - the player placing a new piece into that position. The promoted piece then becomes activated and can promote another piece if adjacent to another friendly piece.

After all players have played three cards, each region is checked to see if a traitor is there. Each region has a dominant player (the player with the king, or the player with the most pieces if no king). The player with the second most pieces may pay one cumal to utilize the traitor; if they pass on this option, the next player may take it, etc. If one player decides to be the traitor, they pay their one cumal then draw the top card from the deck. They may exchange one of their pieces for a piece of their opponent in the region then pay the cost on the card if they wish to activate it.

After possible traitors are dealt with in each region, income is generated. Players receive one cumal for each rank in each region that they have the majority of the positions (except of the king). Players also receive one cumal for each rank in which they have pieces in more than one region. Any region that has a new king then clears all pieces from it, with the player who has captured the king placing one of their King pieces there. This player may also place two of their pieces in the region. When clearing pieces, any captive pieces are given to the player who captured them, who places them on the captive section of their Rath cards. Players must exchange prisoners with one another if possible and may also pay cumals to release their prisoners.

After a round, the starting player chooses another player to be starting player and gives them the starting cube. Gameplay continues until one player controls two different regions with a King piece, at which point they win the game.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Medieval artwork is on all the cards, box, and tokens; although an argument broke out in my group whether or not the cumal was actually a pig. The player pieces are thick wooden tokens, and the king tokens are rather giant, showing firmly that the player has taken the kingship in that territory. The board itself shows a map of Ireland in the background, and the sports for each level in the pyramids are defined by color and symbol - it's very clear and well done - and the cards (good quality) match up nicely. Cumals come in one and five denominations - although it's pretty humorous (to me anyway) to pay for costs in the game with cows.

2.) Rules: When I played another one of Surprised Stare's games, Coppertwaddle, I mentioned that the rules were a bit difficult to figure out and that the theme was slightly obtuse. That is certainly not the case here! The eleven pages of rules are extremely clear with a lot of examples and color illustrations. There is also a page of player notes that give people an idea of what strategies to attempt. But even without the rulebook, the game itself is very intuitive, and I found that people quickly understood how the game worked when I explained it.

3.) Players and Time: With two players, players use only two regions; but once a player wins the King, the region cannot be taken back. If both players win one region, then a third region is opened up. While this made for a slightly interesting game, I found it slightly less than compelling - it was more like a race - and luck of the draw had a much greater effect. With three or four players, the traitor becomes a more interesting element of the game, and no king is ever totally immune! Most games I've been in have lasted between forty-five minutes and an hour, which also is impressive, given the amount of strategy in the game. Games tend to see-saw back and forth, keeping players in it until the end - something that many I enjoyed found delightful.

4.) Chain Reactions: As I just mentioned, players have a possibility to win the game, even if they have no kings near the end. This is a result of the "chain reactions" that occur when a player activates some pieces. It's a lot of fun to see pieces get promoted all the way up to the king. I've seen some players use their cards to take two kings simultaneously, and the traitor can often be a devastating force! At the same time, a well placed fortress can stop one of these chain reactions in its tracks; and players never can feel too secure in their kingship, or they'll lose it easily. The good side to this is that whenever players suffer a devastating loss of a kingdom, it's annoying; but it doesn't necessarily mean the end of the game, so they're down, but not out.

5.) Cumals: Or cows, or dollars, or whatever! A player may have a good position; but since kings don't rake in any money, players must make sure they control enough majorities to bring in money - since a player with a lot of cumals can really utilize action cards to activate quite a few pieces. In particular, the Stone of Destiny cards, which cost three cumals, can be a devastating force and change the entire outcome of a kingdom; and if players want to use them, they need to save their money.

6.) Limitation: Players only have twenty pieces, which initially seems like it's plenty. However, if a player spreads themselves across the board, and/or have some of their pieces captured by opponents; they may find themselves with no pieces when it comes time to activation and promotion! I've seen at least one player not able to take a kingship because they ran out of pieces - imagine their rage! But they only have themselves to blame!

7.) Luck and Fun Factor: Luck is going to play somewhat of a role in the game, if only because of the cards players draw. There were a few times where another player won; and I might have been able to stop them, if only I had the correct cards. Also, the traitor is a shot in the dark, hoping to get a card with the position you need. Still, players must work with the cards they have and can formulate a plan around them - and I think luck plays a minimal part in the game. Everyone had fun, mostly because they liked watching the chain reactions occur, and the game is very interactive and enjoyable. The theme of being king, and having traitors, is fairly well represented, even if the game has the overall feel of an abstract game.

Tara, Seat of Kings was a bit of a surprise to me; not because I enjoyed it so much, but because it went over so well with those I played it with. War gamers enjoyed it because of the direct confrontation available, and other gamers enjoyed it because of the interesting strategies the cards allowed. I personally enjoyed it a great deal and found it marvelously fun, as games stay exciting all the way up to the end, and a winner certainly can congratulate themselves on a game well played. Ireland has just gotten more interesting!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com


You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.


BoardGameGeek entry for Tara, Seat of Kings

Games December 31st, 2006 by Tom Vasel

As a geometry teacher, I keep several logic puzzles in the classroom for the students to work on when they finish their work. One of the more popular types is the puzzles in which students must get a certain amount of pieces into one area, having none left over. These puzzles, simple-looking, can be rather devilish as it is often quite difficult to put the pieces in correctly. Take it to the Limit! (Burley Games, 2006 - Peter Burley), takes this puzzle idea and puts it into a game that is both mathematical and fiendishly clever.

Take it to the Limit! is an advanced version of Mr. Burley's popular game Take it Easy! but is bigger and more interesting. It's a game of strategic tile placement, and everyone has the same chances but must make brutal and interesting decisions throughout. Working well with one to six players, this game has features of Bingo, puzzles, and tile laying games but manages to squeeze them into a very intriguing game, which will cause delight or horror in players, as the final tiles are called out.

In the main version of the game, players each take the Nexus Board, which is a hexagon shaped grid of smaller hexagons with four hexagons per side. Players also receive a smaller board called the ScrapYard, with seven hexes total. Players take a pile of sixty-four tiles - one player placing theirs face down, the rest facing them in organized piles. Each of the tiles shows three pipes crossing it - each with a number and color. There are twelve numbers - four different numbers for each of the three directions the pipes run - and there is one tile for every combination. Some of the tiles also have "40" or "80" bonus numbers on their middles. Finally, half of the tiles have a "sun" on them, and the other half has a "moon" on them.

Each turn, the "caller' (player who has placed his tiles face down) reveals one of their tiles randomly and announces the three numbers on it. Each other player finds the exact same tile, and all players simultaneously place it on their Nexus or ScrapYard boards. Players must always place tiles so that the numbers are upright but can otherwise place them wherever they want. Tiles can never be moved, and players are attempting to connect pipes of the same number from one side of the hex to the other. Once forty-four of the tiles have been placed, filling up both boards, the game ends; and players score the boards.

The Nexus board is scored thusly. Each player scores points for each row in each of the three directions that has pipes of continuous color from one side to the other. These scoring rows award points equal to the number of tiles times the number on the pipe. (Five "9" tiles award forty-five points). Players also score points for each bonus tile which is in three complete scoring rows. If only two scoring rows go through a bonus tile, it scores half points, and no points if one or none scoring rows go through the bonus tile. Players also score points for their longest Sunray or Moonbeam (tiles that have the same symbol on them), scoring ten points per tile. Finally, players must evaluate the ScrapYard - the same way as they do the main board, except only the three highest scoring rows are evaluated. However, a player scores no points for the ScrapYard, but they will lose 60 points from their entire total if they do not have a final score of sixty points in the Scrapyard. All players' scores are then compared, and the player with the highest score is the winner!

Players can alternatively use the Orchid board side. When this side is used, players only use either the Sun tiles or the Moon tiles. The game is played very similar, except that players have three tiles that they can set aside and use at the end of the game in three specially marked spaces to enhance their score.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The boards and tiles are very nicely done; and the pipes on the tiles, although differentiated by number, are also very easy to tell apart using color, making the game a bit of a visual treat when finished. A plastic insert is included with the game but is too snug to hold the tiles easily - I had to really jam them to get them into place - and finally decided that this wasn't worth it and instead will use plastic bags. The box is a rather large square one, and everything has a nice - if abstract- design.

2.) Rules: If you look at the rules, you'll see that they're basically extremely simple - the majority of the fifteen page rulebook is spent covering how to score - with a full example for illustration purposes. Really, the full illustrations helped clarify any questions we might have had and were very useful to show to new players for both versions of the game. Teaching the game to others was fairly simple, as long as I could actively show them how scores were calculated. Actual gameplay itself was fairly intuitive.

3.) Numbers: There's really no way to tell at any point who is winning. Players are usually concentrating on their own board, and unless they have calculators for brains, will only have a basic idea how well they are doing. At the end, players can gather quite a few points, and it may take a bit to score. Great for teaching math; bad for those who hate addition.

4.) Puzzle: We spent some time to see if you could get a "perfect" setup with every row scoring, and it is possible. It wasn't extremely easy, but doable; so I'm certain there are hundreds of solutions. However, players must place the tiles down in the order they are drawn; and once it is placed, a tile can never be moved. This changes the dynamics from a puzzle to a game, as players must seek the best spot to place their tiles without knowing what is coming in the future. That doesn't mean that players are completely clueless, they can see which tiles haven't been played yet and guess which ones have the greatest chance of being drawn. Near the end of the game, as the amount of spaces for tiles grows smaller, you can hear people groan and moan as they are forced to mess up scoring rows with the tiles drawn. Occasionally you'll hear an excited cheer, as the tile drawn is exactly what someone needs; but it's working with bad tiles more often than not.

5.) JunkYard: And that's the focus of the game - just where do you put your bad tiles? The JunkYard is a fascinating part of the game, as it lets you "throw away" several tiles. But even then, players can't ignore it, as losing sixty points can easily be the difference between first and second place. Players who get too caught up in the JunkYard will find that perhaps they've lost no points there; but they've wasted good tiles, and left themselves with fewer options at the end of the game. In the beginning of the game, I'm tempted to place several tiles in the JunkYard but always regret it near the end!

6.) Interaction: There really isn't any in this game, as players are seeking to fill their own board. I suppose you could play your tile in the exact same spot as another player, but eventually you'll diverge; and the better player will win. At the same time, this lack of interaction allows a person to play the game in solitaire mode, simply seeking to score the highest possible total with the tiles they draw.

7.) Choices and Fun Factor: The enjoyable part of the game is also the most agonizing part of the game - deciding which tiles to place where. At first decisions are easy, but they get harder as you go. Eventually players will be forced to ruin rows on their board, and deciding which ones to mess up, and which to attempt to complete can sometimes make one's head spin. The bonus tiles can also be lucrative but force the scoring of lower point rows - and is that worth messing up a "12" or "11" point row? The Sun and Moon beams are also something to take into consideration, and it gives a player a bit of satisfaction to see how many rows they can complete. Even people who don't normally like puzzles often enjoy the game; because laying down each individual piece is simple, and players can mess up in certain spots and still possibly win the game.

8.) Orchid: The Orchid board is a nice change of pace from the basic game (Nexus board), and I enjoy both of them; but I like the Nexus board better, if only because it has more options and uses all of the tiles. The rulebook also includes a few variants - all of which have to do with the ScrapYard, and some of them rather fascinating. Really, this is a lot of game in one box, and the replayability is quite high.

When I first looked at Take it to the Limit!, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it, but I have to say that I was thrilled with my playings. It took some puzzle-solving skills that I enjoy using and allowed them to be completed in the course of a game that anyone can enjoy. Visually very stimulating, this game combines math, logic, and a bit of hope together in an entertaining package. While its abstract nature won't appeal to everyone, the ease of play hides a great, impressive strategy game - one that works just as well with one person as it does with six.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com


You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.


BoardGameGeek entry for Take it to the Limit

Apple December 29th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

For Christmas I purchased a new 1GB iPod Shuffle for my wife to replace her existing 512MB Shuffle...

After opening it she gave the old one to my daughter and tried to get the new one setup and loaded...

It went downhill from there.

You might be wondering why I would purchase another iPod product after all the difficulty I have been having with my 30GB iPod Video.

To be honest, my wife has NEVER had a problem with her shuffle and she wanted one of the newer smaller ones. She was also being pestered by my daughter who was hell bent on "inheriting" said shuffle.

Purchasing the iPod was pain free. At the Apple store in the Danbury Fair Mall they had a special area for iPod sales. All you had to do was hand them your credit card and an email address and they gave you an iPod.

Wrapping it was also pain free as my daughter did that. She also signed the card as if the gift was only from her but hey, kids do that.

Christmas morning she opened it up and plugged it into her computer...

I know a lot of people got iPods for Christmas and the iTunes store and servers were flooded but... It took forever for her to connect and right away it wanted to update the firmware.

That may have been the biggest mistake.

After updating the firmware she encountered a horrible problem.

The new shuffle was not being recognized by the computer. It didn't always happen either!

Sometimes it would find it right away, load iTunes and work fine. Other times Windows would find it as a USB drive and iTunes would not. Even worse, there were times when iTunes would see it and then it would just vanish... even in the middle of transferring files!

I've checked the Apple Support forums but no one has an answer for this problem (though others do have this problem.)

Here is a synopsis:

1) new shuffle not being seen by computer
2) new shuffle seen by computer but not iTunes
3) new shuffle seen by computer, iTunes loads (set to load on connection) but then iTunes does not see shuffle
4) new shuffle connects properly to iTunes and then vanishes (from iTunes and windows)
5) new shuffle connects properly to iTunes and then vanishes (only from iTunes, windows still sees it)
6) new shuffle is seen by windows and then vanishes from windows

I'm going batty here!

One suggestion I did read was to enable disk use. I tried to do this but every time I get an error message (unknown error -50) and iTunes and the computer "lose" the shuffle...

I thought it might have been a bad dock but the fact that others are having the same problem leads me to believe otherwise.

Also, the new shuffle should have an amber light on while charging. The amber light only comes on when windows "sees" the shuffle. Right now it often blinks 7 times and then vanishes from Windows! How can I charge it if it's not being seen by the computer? The light stays amber while it charges and then goes green to indicate a full charge.

I have had some luck connecting with the shuffle turned on but I still can not enable disk use or restore it without iTunes kicking it out. The above problems also still occur, just not as quickly.

I don't want to drive back to the Apple store but I may just have to.

Links from the Apple Support Boards:

My Shuffle keeps disappearing
2nd Gen Shuffle won't stay connected to iTunes

UPDATE:
I have found the solution to my problem. My wife's computer had an older USB port while my laptop had a slightly newer USB version that sent a little bit more power over the bus. I went out and purchased a USB 2.0 PCI card for her and installed it. Now all of our problmes are solved!

It looks like the new shuffle needs a little bit more power over the bus to operate properly when connected to your computer. If you are having this problem AND you have USB 2.0 ports please let me know.

Games December 29th, 2006 by Tom Vasel

This is a quick update on Khet, the new name for Deflexion. Here is an breakdown of what has changed in the game.

In my review of Deflexion, I stated, "Well, there was no need for this caution, because Deflexion is an excellent abstract game; and while lasers are integral to the central game structure, the game plays like a slightly easier form of chess. At first, the concept of firing a laser to destroy enemy pieces, and seeing how many mirrors one can bounce it off of, tends to dominate play. But after (or during) a game, players suddenly realize the depth of strategy to the game. Often a game will come down to a single mistake a player has made, but I almost always hear, "Let's play it again." Perhaps the laser is a "gimmick", but it's one that works, so who cares!"

I still stand by this assessment and find that the new version is just as enjoyable. There are a few changes, and they are as follows:
- Instead of gold and silver pieces, the pieces are now red and silver. Personally, I find this makes them easier to differentiate.
- Two more obelisks have been added to each side. These not can be stacked on top of each other. When one of these stacks takes a hit, only the top obelisk is removed. These stacks can also be moved in a group, or the top one can move one space away. This takes them from being mediocre defensive pieces to a much more useful defender.
- Four more spaces - in each corner, are marked so that one of the two players cannot move there. I guess this is to counter broken strategy plays that were found in the earlier version. I never ran into these problems, and now, thanks to the new coloring, I never will.

The first expansion to the game is now out, also, which includes the Eye of Horus Beam Splitters. This is a small blister pack of two pieces - each which is identical to a Djed from the original game, except that the mirrors allow the beam to pass through AND reflect it. In game practice, this makes the beams not quite as strong (although it never really mattered), but really changed the game, since players now can possibly kill two different pieces on the board. Sometimes players can maneuver these pieces so that if an opponent kills an enemy piece, they also lose a piece from their own forces. This is a really neat expansion, and I enjoyed how there are five new scenarios included using the new pieces. The rules even explain how the mirror works - something I found slightly fascinating.

So, as much as I like Deflexion, I think one should get the newer version, since it is better looking and slightly streamlined. The expansion isn't necessary; but seriously, if you're going to be playing a LASER game, shouldn't you have every cool mirror you can get for it? Khet is in my top 100 games of all time, and for good reason - the abstractness is well designed, and it has lasers. Lasers. And now split lasers.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com


You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.


BoardGameGeek entry for Khet and Eye of Horus Beam Splitter Expansion

Games December 29th, 2006 by Tom Vasel

Interestingly enough, when you look at people's comments for Martin Wallace's games, you'll invariably find them compared to his other games - but never to games of another designer. That's because Mr. Wallace, one of the greatest game designers alive, has managed to find his own niche - a cross between war games and Eurogames, with enough "meat" to make them absolutely fascinating games, while retaining a tremendous historical flavor. Perikles (Warfrog and Fantasy Flight Games, 2006 - Martin Wallace) is the latest in this line, allowing players to recreate the Peloponnesian War.

Perhaps not Wallace's best game, Perikles is certainly a magnificent, well designed game. It has a terrific historical theme but manages to dilute it enough to make an interesting, well balanced game. Combining a clever multiplayer war game with area control and elections, Wallace has managed to capture the chaos of the Greek cities, while still maintaining the political intrigue. Let's take a look at several features of the game…

1.) Components: As with many Wallace games, there are piles of tiles and cubes in the game of many colors and sizes. All are of good quality, although I bagged them all (with the included bags) to keep them separate. The board is simple and uncluttered, looking good with a map of Greece in the background, but also having spots for all the necessary tiles. Everything fits nicely inside a sturdy, well-illustrated box.

2.) Rules: How Warfrog rules have improved from their first games - with eight full-color pages, showing all the parts of the game, and giving illustrations and examples. The rules are clearly written, and everything works together like a well-oiled machine. At the same time, this game isn't for the feeble hearted - most folks I taught the game to didn't really understand it until we played a round. It's not a family game, but rather a game for those who enjoy heavier rule sets; although once I understood it, I hesitated to call it complicated.

3.) Cities: The game revolves around six important cities of ancient Greece: Thebes, Athens, Megara, Corinth, Argos, and Sparta. During the course of a game, players are attempting to control each of these cities, which give them control of the armies in that city and also awards victory points to players. Cities are unique; and players, since they can't control them all, must decide which are the most important for them at that moment. The armies for the cities are radically different: Sparta has the largest army, Athens has the largest navy, and both have armies that dwarf those of Megara and Argos. The player who controls Sparta decides who attacks first in the military phase, and the leader of Athens goes first in the influence phase. But lest Athens and Sparta be the most logical targets for acquisition (and they certainly are tempting), they are also worth the fewest victory points; and since they will be the target of many attacks, possibly be worth extremely few or no victory points! This differentiation between the cities keeps the game extremely interesting; and while I have an affinity for Athens (for historical reasons), I certainly see the uses of other cities.

4.) Influence: Each player starts with two influence cubes in each city (three in two cities of their choice). At the beginning of the three rounds, players will take turns drawing from face up influence tiles. These influence tiles either allow a player to
- place two influence cubes in the city mentioned on the tile.
- place one influence cube in the city and propose a candidate in ANY city
- place one influence cube in the city and assassinate a cube of any color in any city (even their own color and/or even a candidate!).
Players leave these tiles that they draw face up in front of them until each player has five tiles (four in a five player game). This is one part of the game in which luck is evident; but I don't feel it is too big a deal, since players have ten tiles at any point to draw from. Seven location tiles, where battles will take place, are also shown each round; and players must pay attention to that when choosing which city to place their influence in. Now, this might sound like a typical area control game, but there is one thing that makes it different - candidates.

5.) Candidates: Some tiles allow players to propose a candidate in a city of their choice; otherwise, players take turns proposing candidates in all the cities after the influence phase is over. Players must take an influence cube of any color in a city and push it to the alpha candidate space (or beta space, if the alpha space is full). There are only ever two candidates in a city; so even if a player has the most influence in a city, they have no power without a candidate. After all cities have two candidates, each city holds an election. The candidate with the most influence cubes wins the election but must remove one cube for each influence of the opposing candidate. Both candidate cubes are also removed. The winning player then places a leader counter of their color in the box of that city, showing they control it. This is probably my favorite part of the game, because it can lead to so many interesting scenarios. A player can control a city, but their chance of controlling it on succeeding rounds is less, since they've used up their influence. However, a clever player can make sure that the candidate running against them is of a weaker faction, which means that they will then win the election with little repercussions to themselves. A player with the most influence can also position it so that other players control both candidates, saving their influence for the following round. And players can also stop a player with a lot of influence in a city by simply promoting two other candidates. All of this political maneuvering (yes, I know it's simply moving cubes around, but the simulation is obvious) is great fun and definitely points out why this game is MUCH better as a five and four player game rather than three players - which has a different feel and is not nearly as enjoyable. Rarely, in a four or five player game, do I see one person control more than two cities; and a player who controls two powerful cities (such as Athens and Sparta) does so only because of the ineptness of the other players, or because they played incredibly well.

6.) Persians: It's quite possible that one player will control no cities because of poor positioning, or perhaps even deliberately. This player is then given control of the Persian armies - which, while slightly smaller than the Spartan armies, are extremely powerful and give the player some unbridled power in the army phase. In one game, I won specifically because I controlled the Persians on my last turn; but it's a bit of a gamble, since a player will then gain no points from controlling the Greek cities.

7.) Committing Forces: Seven battles are available each turn, and players take the armies of the cities. Each tile shows the location of the battle and in which city it is occurring. Players take turns committing their forces to the different cities, starting with the players who took influence tiles that let them place two influence in cities. This is a neat rule, because those who spent their time placing influence must now show where they are battling first. When committing forces, players place army or navy tiles (with values from "1" to "4") from their forces face down on the corresponding spot at each city. There are restrictions to placing forces, which I won't go into too much detail; but suffice it to say that players can make alliances to attack or defend certain cities and must honor alliances for the entire round. Players can even sacrifice influence cubes in cities to send in additional troops. Players may wish to defend cities of other players to protect the value of that city, or as part of a deal, or simply because they want victory points for winning. Once all forces are committed at the battles, they commence.

8.) Battles: At first I thought that battles would be a complicated affair - there was a CRT (combat result table), hearkening back to the clunky Avalon Hill war game days. But this chart really did well, simply taking the odds into account, and showing the number that the player must roll higher than to win a round. Each battle is either two rounds of combat, or sometimes only a single round. In a round of combat, a player must win two battle tokens to win that round. In a two-round combat, the player who wins the first round starts with an automatic battle token on their side in the second round. The player who wins the second round wins the battle! Sometimes the final battle is at sea, other times it is on land, and players must add up the values of all defenders or attackers and their allies (I was almost reminded of Cosmic Encounter here) and then use the combat table to determine what they needed to roll on the die. Yes, here is another spot in the game in which luck plays a rather big role. But I've seen dozens of battles fought, and the player who has better odds wins "most" of the time. Battles are quick, exciting, and - I think - fairly original. The loser of each battle loses one counter as a casualty; and the winner takes the location tile, which is worth points at the end of the game. Also, if the defending side loses, the matching city must place a defeat counter on it, reducing the value of leader tokens there.

9.) Turn End: At the end of a turn, players must remove all leaders from cities, placing them on the "statue" spot. Unkilled military units are returned to their cities, and then the game goes to the next round. The game ends after three rounds, or if Athens or Sparta suffers four defeats. At that point, the game ends, and players total their score. Players receive one point for every influence marker they have on the board, the sum of location tiles that they've won, and points for each statue they have (statues are equal to the current value of the city, if any). The player with the most victory points wins the game! This is the way I like games to end, with three different and very important ways of scoring points. No player can ignore battles - if you don't win any, I doubt you can win the game. Players who put little influence on the board or have it wiped out by elections will also hurt at game's end. And having statues is very nice - especially in lucrative cities like Corinth and Thebes.

10.) Special Tiles: Each player gets one random, secret special tile that they can use once per game. These are nice tiles (i.e. "double the value of all hoplites in a battle", "move two cubes from one city to another", etc.) but aren't game breaking; and if you forget to play yours for some reason, I don't think it's the end of the world. Still, they are nice (although I'm not sure they're balanced) and give players a nice surprise move at possibly a critical point in the game.

11.) Fun Factor: For me, the game was fun because everything worked together in one nice package. Players need to have influence in cities to get leaders, thereby giving them armies, to defend their cities, so that they can get points. Once players understand the ebb and floe of the game, it's amazing how well it works. It's a game that one has to commit some brainpower to, but it's nice to see a war game that can be played in less than three hours - two hours if you're fast.

I give a high recommendation to Perikles, it really plays like no other game I own, and yet still certainly retains the flair and options that Mr. Wallace has in his games. The components are nice, the rules flow together smoothly, and the game rewards clever placement and long term strategy. Direct confrontation, negotiations, and elections are all contained in an action packed period of time. You could step back and see the cold mechanical parts of the game; but when you add in the historical trappings, it becomes a game that I will gladly play any day.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com


You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.


BoardGameGeek entry for Perikles

Games December 29th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

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Games December 28th, 2006 by Tom Vasel

To me, one of the cardinal rules of an abstract strategy game should be that the rules be as simple and clear as possible. Many times I've played games that had fairly simple rules but clouded them with obtuse game terms in an attempt to give the game a thematic flavor. This, I fear, is the biggest problem with Yang Tzee (Blue Panther LLC, 2006 - Brendan Herlihy). If you take away the theme of the game and simplify it somewhat, I think that you might have a clever and interesting game.

Yang Tzee also looks very nice, made with Blue Panther's traditional 100% wood components, having the look and feel of a medieval game. And perhaps there are some deeper strategies, but I had a difficult time getting past the strange terminology and symbols I constantly was looking up. It's an interesting game, but we found that if one player got a little lucky with a tile placement, they could run away with the victory. This two-player game works on paper but seems to lack the "fun factor" I seek in games.

The main components of the game are thing tiles with three characters on them in a column. These characters can either be symbols (sun, moon, bird, rabbit, fish, hole) or blossoms (Mum, Bamboo, Orchid, Plum). Nine of the tiles are designated as start tiles and are placed in a single row randomly on the table, forming the "Sea." The remainder of the tiles is shuffled face down into an area known as the "Sphere", and players draw six to form their hand (also known as "Rain"). Each player also has another area in front of them known as their "Stream." Players place some discs of their color next to a scoring board, and one player is chosen to go first.

On a players turn, the first thing they do is to draw one tile from the Sphere if they have less than six tiles in their Rain. They then must take one of the following two actions.
- Rain to the Sea: A player can place a tile from their hand directly into the sea. This tile must be lined up with the other tiles there - tiles have only one facing - and placed at either end. When taking this action, the player scores one point.
- Rain to the Stream. A player can place one tile from their hand face up in their Stream, with a maximum of three tiles allowed there.
- Stream to the Sea: A player can place a tile from their Stream into the sea - again, at either end. At this point, the player has the opportunity to form and collect sets.

When a player "Streams to the Sea", and a symbol on the tile they placed matches another symbol in that same row - with at least one tile but no Bamboo in between, they collect the all tiles in between the symbols, including the tiles that show the symbols. If the player matched two "hole" symbols (the most common), they make a "Spirit Match", which allows them to steal one tile from their opponent's stream, placing it in their collection. Otherwise, the player makes an "Earth Match" and scores points for each tile depending on the blossom on that tile. Bamboo tiles are worth one point, Plum tiles are worth three points, Mums are worth one point for every tile in the collection, and Orchids are worth one point - and double the total points for the collection. After scoring the set (or sets - it's possible that a several sets are formed by placing one tile), the player must make an "offering," allowing the opponent to take one tile from their Stream, adding it to their Stream instead. Once a player has collected any set, they then discard the tiles, and add one tile from the Sphere to the Sea on the same side the set(s) was collected.

Players continue playing until either the Sphere or either player's Rain/Sea is out of tiles, or one player collects the last tiles in the Sea (although they do lose ten points from the collection). The player with the most points is then wins the round. The first player to win two rounds wins the game!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The tiles, scoreboard, and box are really impressive, all completely made out of a nice quality, durable wood. The box has a removable lid and looks like an older, antique game; and the long, thin tiles are rather well done. My only problem with the tiles was that it was sometimes difficult to tell at a glance which blossom was which. I could never remember how they scored either and had to keep looking that up. The trays included hold the tiles well, and they fit snugly inside the box when storing. The scoring tile, with two wooden tokens to move up both sides to keep track of scoring, was a little unwieldy, but better than using paper and pencil, I suppose.

2.) Rules: The rules are printed on six pages of parchment and do a good job of explaining the game - although some things are out of order - I would have placed them differently (not so many "see this section of the rules"). Explaining the game isn't that difficult, as long as I leave out the murky terminology. Still, it's not a game that's easy to grasp, and it often takes an entire game before people I explain it to understand what's going on.

3.) Theme: I know that there really isn't a theme to the game, but the Rain, Stream, Sphere, and other terms only muddy the explanations. After attempting to use them, when explaining the first game, I finally just gave up and used basic terminology. Woe betide the first person to read the rules in a group, though! Keep it simple!

4.) Strategy: The game has a decent amount of strategic options, but sometimes they seem a bit obvious. Certainly a player wants to place tiles in their stream and avoid placing tiles directly from their hand, unless it sets them up for a better score. Players can also use clever means to snag a good tile from their opponent's stream, to use and score with themselves. All of this is nice, and once players figure out what in the world is going on, they have some decent options. There are two problems with this, however. The first I have already mentioned - the rather confusing methodology of gameplay and the strange terms actually make it worse, not better. The second is a large luck factor. Many times my opponent had a tile down that was about to allow them to score several large sets, and there was simply nothing I could do about it. Considering that one good scoring can swing the game either way, I found this unfortunate. There are a couple ways to stop an opponent - directly laying a tile in his path that has bamboo blocking the important rows, or by stealing their tile. But many times, neither option is available - and it is frustrating. There are only a few tiles with the really good blossoms on them; and if the opponent snags them, you simply limp out the rest of the game, attempting to catch up and knowing you never will.

5.) Fun Factor: With a more understandable theme, I think the game could have been fun; but as it is, it's a bit difficult to understand. The game isn't too long, but perhaps is just a bit lengthy for what it is. I can see that some folks will enjoy the game, and some may even like the theme; but it really wasn't one I enjoyed that much.

Yang Tzee (which will often be mispronounced by folks as a form of Yahtzee - wait and see!) is a game that has an ancient flair to it, and that includes its rather clunky theming. There are some tactics in laying down tiles and attempting to thwart your opponent, but I found that there was simply too much luck in this two-player game and not enough fun to make it worth while.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com


BoardGameGeek entry for Yang Tzee

Games December 28th, 2006 by HMTKSteve

"The king is desperate! The whole court is attending the joust, and no one is working in the castle. The king really needs a helper!" Enter Figaro (Mayfair and daVinci Games, 2006 - Reiner Knizia), the lunatic idiot working for the King. Apparently he is attempting to do all the jobs of court, and making a mess of them. This card game simulates (in the loosest possible use of that term) his ludicrous efforts.

In reality, this means that up to six players are basically playing a "take that" game, in which they attempt to stick other players with the wrath of the King. An interesting (yet ultimately dull) mechanic is used to determine this - and some odd, superfluous road pieces are included for scoring. When used with youth, this game had some real potential, but I found that it was uninspired and just nothing special with adults. I'm certainly not opposed to games in which players attempt to mess each other up with direct card play, but Figaro just didn't stand out enough to be interesting.

A bag of road pieces is mixed up, and several are drawn out at the beginning of each of the three rounds in a game (the total drawn is equal to the number of players minus one.) For example, in a six player game, we would draw fifteen road tiles and place them in three groups of five - for each of the three rounds; placing the roads in order from longest to shortest (they are all of a different size). A deck of cards is shuffled and evenly dealt to each of the players. Cards are numbered from "1" to "3" and are in one of five suits (painting - purple, cooking - orange, music - green, fighting - red, and magic - blue). There are also five "ring-around-the-rosey" cards, and five "jester" (wild) cards that are either "1" or "2" value. One player is chosen to go first (and is given a king token), and then play continues clockwise around the table.

On a player's turn, they must choose one card form their hand and play it face up in front of any player, even themselves. The first card in front of a player may be any color; after that, all cards played must be either the same color or a "wild" card. A player also has the option of playing one of the "ring-around-the-rosey" cards, which causes players to pass all face up cards in front of them to the player on their left.

Anytime a player has a total of "6" or more on the cards in front of them, the King is so irritated that he commands they take all face up cards from all players and place them in a face down stack in front of them. Play then continues, starting with that unlucky player. A player must also take all face-up cards if they have no legal card to play; players may also choose to take all face-up cards on their turn if they wish to. The round ends on the turn of a player who has no cards. This player takes the King token, and everyone counts their cards in the stack in front of them. The player with the most takes the longest road piece from the current round, placing it in front of them. The player with the second most takes the next longest piece, etc. The player with the fewest cards gets no road piece. After the third round, the player with the fewest cards can actually exchange their longest piece (if any) with the current round's shortest road piece.

After the third round, players line up their road pieces next to a castle wall token, and the player with the shortest road is the winner! (closest to the King). The King token is used to break ties.
Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Figaro is set in the same universe as "King Me!" and, thus, has the same cartoonish style of artwork. Each card is well designed with background color and suit symbol, as well as a funny picture of Figaro doing something idiotic, such as almost shooting the king with an arrow, or playing horrible music. One card even has Figaro painting the king's portrait - only it looks like Reiner Knizia! The road pieces are also nice cardboard tiles and fit easily in the included cloth bag. The king token is a cardboard counter that stands upright in a wooden base. Everything fits (rattles around) in a sturdy smallish box with more artwork of poor Figaro.

2.) Rules: There is only one sheet of rules with pictures of components included. They do a decent job explaining the rules, considering how simple the game is. When teaching the game, the concept came across as a little odd for some players but still was easy, once they got into the groove. Once players understood the game was basically a "take that" type of game, everything clicked.

3.) "Take that": There is some strategy, but I put a heavy emphasis on the word "some", as the game is essentially one of hoping that the other players don't gang up on you. A player can get extremely lucky and have some "ring-around-the-rosey" cards to shuffle off a pile of cards in front of them to someone else, but the game is about making sure the person in the lead gets a lot of cards. There is really nothing you can do if the other players decide to take you down, and I found that frustrating. Sometimes I don't mind such interaction, such as in the game Family Business, but the card laying in Figaro gave a semblance of strategy that really was disrupted by the "hurt the leader" concept.

4.) Strategy? At first, I really thought the concept of playing cards, even in front of yourself, was slightly odd. Then, I realized that it could lead to some interesting strategies. One could play a card in front of them of a color that they had seen other players play quite a bit of, hoping that there wasn't enough left to give them a total of "6" in front of them. But after many playings, this simply doesn't work. Table talk and wild cards rule the day; and players will simply play cards on whoever they feel like, following only the restrictions on the board.

5.) Last round: I've played the game several times and have yet to see the person who has the fewest cards in the third round NOT win. They get to replace their longest road with the shortest one from the third pile of roads and not take a new one. Honestly, unless there are some rather odd circumstances, this means that the player will easily win the game. So why play the first two rounds?

6.) Fun Factor: I won't deny that the game is fast enough to be fun for people seeking mindless enjoyment. However, it just wasn't really there for me. I wanted to see my strategy have an effect on gameplay, and I watched as players simply piled up cards on one person. I also found that the futile nature of the first two rounds was a bit offsetting. On the flipside, the teenagers I taught the game to had a blast, although I suspect they wouldn't miss the game if I never brought it again.

I have to wonder if Figaro would have been published if Reiner Knizia hadn't designed it. It's the sort of game that has the spark of a good idea but simply settled down to be just another slightly dull card game. I love the humorous artwork, and the idea of the game is certainly interesting; but neither these things, nor the name of the designer, are enough to make me recommend the game.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com


You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.


BoardGameGeek entry for Figaro

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