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Game Buzz: Mottainai

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m kind of a Carl Chudyk fanboy.  Well, he’s got a new one funding on Kickstarter right now:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Mottainai is a game that will be published by Asmadi Gamesm, designed by Carl Chudyk.  It’s a 2-5 player game that draws much of its inspiration from Chudyk’s 2005 game, Glory to Rome.  Mottainai is a Japanese word that means “don’t waste” and “every little thing has a soul.”  As I mentioned, the game is currently Kickstarting, and has well surpassed its $5,000 goal.

Mottainai comes with 1-2 decks of cards, depending on if you get the Mini or Deluxe version (a difference of $12 versus $20).  One deck is needed for 2-3 player games, two decks are needed for 4-5 player games.  There are also temple mats for each player.  (What?!? Mats in a Chudyk game?!?  Preposterous!!!)  At the start of the game, each player is dealt five cards.  Each player then draws a card and discards it to the center of the table, called The Floor.  The person whose card is closest alphabetically to A goes first.

Your turn has three phases: morning, noon, and night.  You’ll do all three before it is the next player’s turn.

In the MORNING, if you have more than five cards in hand, discard down to five.  Perform any “In the morning effects” on your works, then discard the task card you have from the previous turn (this stuff is, of course, skipped on the first turn as it does not apply).  The last thing you do in the morning is play a card in the task slot on your temple mat.  You can choose to skip this, in which case you’ll be taking a Prayer action later.

At NOON, you will then perform each task on an opponent’s temple mat in clockwise order from yourself, and finally perform your own task.  Here are the tasks, with references to the corresponding Glory to Rome terminology in parentheses:

  • Clerk: Take a card from your Craft Bench (stockpile) and add it to Sales (vault).  You need a matching type of Works to cover them, however – one paper work covers one paper sale, one stone work covers two stone sales, one cloth covers two cloth sales, one clay covers three clay sales, and one metal covers three metal sales.
  • Monk: Take a card from the Floor (pool) and add it to your Helpers (patrons).  These Helpers will give you an extra action during the matching Task.  Works can cover these Helpers, making them doubly effective.
  • Tailor: Return any number of cards from your hand, then draw enough cards so that your hand will be back up to five.  Drawn cards do NOT go to your hand, however – they go to your waiting area.
  • Potter: Take a card from the Floor and put it in your Craft Bench.
  • Smith: Complete a work (building) from your hand, using materials of the same type from your hand to support.  Unlike Glory to Rome, the materials you use are not spent – you just show that you have them.  Paper works just need the card itself, stone and cloth works need the card plus one from your hand, while clay and metal works need the card plus two more from your hand.

You can replace any action with a Craft action.  This is like the Smith task, but you use cards from your Craft Bench rather than your hand.  Again, you don’t spend them.  The card you craft must match the type of the card in your Task area.

You can also choose to take the Prayer action, either because you didn’t play a Task or because you want to do something different.  This allows you to just draw one card, again going to your waiting area.  You don’t get to do this if an opponent left their Task blank, you just skip them.

At NIGHT, you do any Night effects from your works, then finally pick up the cards from the Waiting Area.

The game ends when someone builds their fifth work, or when the last card is drawn from the deck.  You then add up your points – points from Works, and points from covered Sales.  You also get backorder points – the most sales of each type (covered or uncovered) gets the owner points from cards of that type left in your hand.  To explain that further, if you have the most metal sales, then you can score three points per metal card in your hand.  If you have the most paper sales, you score one point per paper card in your hand.  The player with the most points is the winner.

This is really a stripped down version of Glory to Rome that makes it more of a turn-based game than it was before.  Other players still get to do your tasks, but now it’s in more of an Impulse style – you get to do the actions of the other player, but instead of everyone doing them on the same turn you chose them, you wait until your turn.  So you always have to be mindful of how you’re helping others when you choose a task.

The game also seems much smaller.  This is partly because it is, but some work has obviously been done to make it into a tighter, quicker game.  This is evident from the card count as well as the limits on how long it goes.  It’s interesting that cards from your hand don’t have to be spent in order to build – that takes away one of the decisions from Glory to Rome, but adds its own unique spin on things.

Will this game replace Glory to Rome?  It may in some circles.  With GTR out of print right now, this may give people the same flavor in a different package.  And it may work well for people who want the feel of GTR in a shorter package.  It remains to be seen, and I’m looking forward to checking it out when it is released.  Check out the Kickstarter if you’re interested, and thanks for reading!

LINKS:

Usually on this blog, I talk about new games that I’m excited about.  I don’t talk about old games very often, unless I’m reviewing them.  But what about the old games I haven’t played?  So, today, I’ll be talking about the six games in the GIPF project, which were all published between 1997 and 2007.  This is a series of 2-player abstract games that were designed by Kris Burm, somewhat related by a series of potentials (expansion pieces – I’ll get more into those at the end).  As of this posting, I have only played one of the six in person – ZÈRTZ – but have played all six on Boardspace.net, which is a great site for learning all kinds of obscure abstract games (as well as a few other notable titles like Euphoria and Tammany Hall).  So, with that knowledge, here we go.

image by BGG user LordT

image by BGG user LordT

GIPF is the first game of the series, and was obviously the project’s namesake.  It was published in 1997, and is a game about creating four in a row.  The game is played on a hexagonal grid of intersecting lines.  Each side has five dots, and these dots are the entry spaces for your pieces.  Each player has 18 pieces in reserve.  The first player begins the game by adding a GIPF piece to one of the dots.  A GIPF piece is simply two pieces stacked on top of each other, like a King in Checkers.  Once you’ve placed it, you push it in one space so that it sits on an intersection.  Your opponent then does the same with their own GIPF piece.

Play then proceeds with players alternating turns, each adding one piece to a dot then pushing it onto the board.  You can continue to place GIPF pieces for as long as you like, but as soon as you start introducing single pieces, you may never ever again place another GIPF piece.  It’s recommended that you use 3-4 GIPF pieces in a game.

As you add pieces to the board, you will be pushing other pieces out of the way and into different positions.  Any piece can move all other pieces in a line unless one piece is hitting the opposite edge.  This is the only way to move pieces – once on the board, you don’t touch them again until it’s time to remove them.  If you create four in a row with your pieces, you must remove all single pieces in the line, and may choose whether or not to remove any GIPF pieces.  If you do remove a GIPF piece, it splits and becomes single pieces because, as I said, you can’t place any more GIPF piece after the first few.

Additionally, you may remove any and all pieces that are an extension of your line.  If you look at the cover image, you see that Black has created four in a row with a white GIPF piece at the end.  Black may now capture that GIPF piece.  If you end up removing any of your own pieces in this way, they go back into your reserve, but captured opposing pieces are not returned to their owner.  If your opponent cannot place another piece because he’s out, or if all of their GIPF pieces are removed from the board, you win.

GIPF is a really deep game.  You have to think in a ton of directions at once, and because your opponent can move your pieces just as easily as you can, you have to try to think several moves ahead.  It’s also got a serious hand management aspect as you really have to keep an idea on your stash – playing online really proved to me that those pieces disappear quickly if you’re not careful.  This is a really good one.

image by BGG user Purple

image by BGG user Purple

ZÈRTZ was released in 1999, and, as I mentioned, is the only one I’ve played face-to-face.  The game comes with 37 rings that are used to build a hexagonal board.  There are also 6 white marbles, 8 gray marbles, and 10 black marbles.  On your turn, you may either place a marble on the board or capture a marble.  To place a marble, choose any of them (there are no player pieces), and put it on top of one of the rings.  When you do this, you must remove one of the empty rings from the edge of the board.  This results in a shrinking board.  To capture a marble, jump a marble over an adjacent marble.  There must be an empty ring on the other side to do this.  If there is a legal jump on the board, you must take it – you may not instead place a new marble.  You may be able to perform multiple jumps in one move.  The winner is the first person to capture 4 white marbles, 5 gray marbles, 6 black marbles, or 3 marbles of each color.

This game is a lot like Checkers, but so much more interesting and so much deeper.  One of the most striking things about it is that no one has their own pieces, you can both place and move any piece.  That in itself is a lot to get your head around – I’m always placing a piece, forgetting that my opponent can now use it however they wish.  The other fascinating thing here is that the board disappears as you play.  This forces confrontations.  You’re constantly having to look several moves in the future, trying to set up a small jump for your opponent that will result in a big jump for you.  It’s a really good game, and one that makes my head hurt.

image by BGG user zombie god

image by BGG user zombiegod

DVONN was released in 2001, and is a game all about stacking pieces.  It’s played on an elongated hexagonal board that can fit 49 pieces.  Pieces in this game are flat white discs that kind of look like Life Savers – 23 white, 23 black, and 3 red DVONN pieces.  To set up the game, players alternate putting pieces on the board.  The white player begins by placing a DVONN piece, then the black player places one, then the white player places the last one.  The black player begins laying down one of their pieces, and players alternate from there.  Once all spaces are filled, the game begins.

On your turn, you move one of your single pieces or stacks.  The color of the top disc indicates who owns a stack, and the height of the stack indicates how far it may move.  A single piece therefore can move only one space, while a stack of three can move three spaces.  The color of the discs in the stack don’t matter at all.  You can even make a DVONN piece a part of the stack.  Movement can cross gaps, but cannot land on them.  If, through moving, a connection to any of the DVONN pieces is broken, all pieces that are no longer connected to a DVONN piece are removed from the board.  If one player can no longer make a legal move, the other player continues until they can no longer make a legal move.  The player then stack all stacks they control, and the player who has the tallest stack is the winner.

This game differs from the first two games in the series in that the game technically begins with all the pieces on the board.  Setup is a part of the game as players alternate placement, but a lot of it (at least for me the complete newbie) is just random placement.  It’s once you get to the play that the game becomes interesting.  It plays pretty quickly, and you have to again keep your eye down the road to see what your opponent might do and how you can make them suffer for it.  The stacking is interesting, and I like that your final score compares the height of your stacks.  That’s always a fun way to score.

image by BGG user samoan_jo

image by BGG user samoan_jo

YINSH was released in 2003, and is the highest rated of all the GIPF Project games on BGG.  The game comes with ten rings (5 black and 5 white), and 51 markers that are black on one side and white on the other.  In the beginning, players take turns placing their five rings on the board, which is a series of diagonally intersecting lines.  Once this is complete, the game begins.  On your turn, put a marker of your color inside one of your rings, then move that ring as far as you wish in a straight line.  If you cross over any pieces, you flip them over.  You may cross gaps like this, but you may not cross other rings.  When you have a complete line of five markers in a row that are all your color, you remove them.  You then remove one of your rings from the board, thus weakening yourself.  The first player to collect three rings is the winner.

As I think ZÈRTZ is kind of a riff on Checkers, I think YINSH really owes a lot to Reversi/Othello.  It has the same sort of jumping over pieces to flip them to a new color mechanism in play.  However, here you’re trying to make five in a row rather than fill the board.  It forces you to bend your mind in unnatural directions as you try to wrap your head around the possibilities.  Scoring your rings is the point of the game, but it also is a detriment to you as you now have fewer pieces to work with, which makes for a very interesting dynamic.

image by BGG user Haffner

image by BGG user Haffner

PÜNCT came out in 2005, and was originally billed as the final game for the GIPF Project.  Oddly enough, it came out two years after the premiere of MTV’s Punk’d, but I don’t think the two are related.  The board in this game is in a hexagon shape, though all the spaces are holes.  Each player gets 18 pieces that have three dots, one of which is the PÜNCT (main dot).  They are in triangle, straight, and angled shapes.  You also get a single dot, known as your PÜNCT piece.

Players take turns either placing a piece or moving a piece.  You may place anywhere on the board, though not in the central hex (the basic game allows you to do this after the first turn).  Each piece will take up three spaces on the board.  To move, use your single PÜNCT piece to mark where the PÜNCT dot was on the piece you’re moving.  You may move your piece in a straight line in any direction from that spot.  In other words, the PÜNCT must be on the same line, but the piece can be oriented any way you wish from there.  The single PÜNCT is then removed.  You may move your piece on top of another piece when moving.  Your PÜNCT must be on top of one of your pieces, but the other two dots could be on another piece – they just can’t be over air, unless you create a bridge.  Pieces on the bottom cannot be moved.

The winner of this game is the first person to connect two sides of the board with their pieces.  Or, if that doesn’t happen, the player who controls the most of the central hex is declared the winner.

This game requires much more spatial reasoning than any of the others.  You not only have to think about how you can get to the other side, but how you need to set yourself up to block your opponent as well.  It’s definitely a brain burner, and I’m not sure I like it as much as the others.  I see it is the lowest ranked of the games in the series, so I guess I’m not alone.  It just doesn’t feel like it fits with the other games very well.  Still, a definite intellectual exercise.

image by BGG user ArtEmiSa64

image by BGG user ArtEmiSa64

TZAAR was released in 2007 as the actual final game in the GIPF project, replacing TAMSK (which is the next game I’ll be talking about).  The board is a hexagonal grid of intersecting lines, though with a hole in the middle.  Each player gets 30 pieces – 6 Tzaars (with two rings), 9 Tzaaras (with one ring), and 15 Totts (solid pieces).  The pieces are set out on the board so that there is one piece on each intersection of lines – this can be done randomly or accordingly to a preset layout.

You get two moves per turn (with the exception of the very first turn, which is only one move).  For your first move, you must capture a piece.  Pick up one piece and move it on top of an adjacent opposing piece, or an opposing piece in a straight line from your position (only crossing empty spaces).  There is no difference between Tzaars, Tzaaras, and Totts – any piece can capture any piece.  For the second move, you can either capture a piece or make one of your pieces stronger.  Move one of your pieces (or stacks) in a straight line to land on top of another of your pieces.  This makes your piece taller, and can now only be captured by a piece that is of the same height or taller.  You can choose to pass your second move, but you always MUST make that first capture.

The game can end in two ways.  If you have succeeded in capturing all pieces of one type, you win.  Also, if you have created a situation where your opponent cannot make their first move forced capture, you also win.

This game has some wonky rules, but once you get your head around it, it’s not too difficult.  It basically boils down to wanting to eliminate all of your opponent’s pieces of one type, and you have to be careful that you don’t weaken yourself in the meantime.  Everytime you create a stack, you take the pieces on the bottom out of play, meaning that they count against you.  So you’re making yourself weaker as you make your pieces stronger.  It’s a cool dynamic, and it works pretty well.  I also have to mention that this is the only game of the GIPF project I’ve been able to win on Boardspace.net.

image by BGG user Fawkes

image by BGG user Fawkes

TAMSK is the red-headed stepchild of the series.  The game came out in 1998, and was the second game in the series.  However, it never really clicked, and it was dumped in favor of TZAAR.  The game comes with a plastic hexagonal board, 6 3-minute sand timers (three red and three black), a 15-second neutral timer, 64 rings, and 2 ring holders.  Each player starts with 32 rings, and there’s a 3-minute timer in each corner of the board.  On your turn, you move a timer to an adjacent space, flipping it over as it moves.  You then drop a ring over the timer.  Spaces on the board can only have 1-4 rings, depending on the height of the space, and you may not move your timer to a space that has the maximum number of rings.  If a timer runs out before you move it, it is lost.  It remains on the board, you just can’t move it anymore.  The 15-second timer can be used to force your opponent to hurry up and make their move.  When no more moves can be made, the game is over, and the player with the fewest rings remaining is the winner.

I have not played this game – there’s no online implementation.  It would probably be tough to pull off.  However, I think it’s a really cool concept to have timers as game pieces, which adds some serious time pressure to the proceedings.  It’s not a tough game to understand, but probably pretty stressful as you try to keep your eyes on all the timers, and sometimes you may be forced to make a suboptimal move just because a timer is about to die.  This sounds like a very cool game, but I can definitely see why it was removed from the GIPF series – it’s absolutely NOTHING like the other games, in look or feel.

image by BGG user zefquaavius

image by BGG user zefquaavius

Before I wrap up, I want to talk a little bit about the potentials.  These are pieces released over three expansions between 2001 and 2006 that are to be used in a game of GIPF and connect the six games.  You need to agree before a game of GIPF begins which potentials will be used.  A potential is introduced in the a game of GIPF stacked on top of a regular piece.  They aren’t GIPF pieces, but are referred to as loaded pieces.  So you have to introduce you GIPF pieces to the board, then your loaded pieces, then your regular pieces.  Loaded pieces can stay on the board like a GIPF piece when a row of four is removed unless the entire row is loaded and/or GIPF pieces.  The picture above shows the GIPF pieces, then TAMSK, ZÈRTZ, DVONN, PÜNCT, and YINSH potentials.  There’s no TZAAR potential, you’re just meant to use the TAMSK potential as the TZAAR potential.  Here are the abilities:

  • TAMSK (6 per player, set #1): When a loaded piece is pushed into the center spot of the board, you get an extra move.  Remove the TAMSK potential and push it onto the board as an extra single piece.  It no longer has its power.
  • ZÈRTZ (6 per player, set #2): You can use this to jump over other pieces.  It jumps from the top of its basic piece over an adjacent piece or pieces to the first vacant spot.  This counts as a move, and can be used to capture a row, though the potential is now considered a single piece and must be removed from the captured row.
  • DVONN (6 per player, set #2): You can use this to jump onto an opponent’s piece.  It can jump onto a single piece, a piece loaded with a DVONN potential, or one of your pieces that your opponent has jumped on with their DVONN piece.  This can only be done once, but now the stack counts as yours.  If your DVONN piece must later be removed, pieces below it stay on the board.
  • PÜNCT (6 per player, set #3): You can use this to jump onto an opponent’s PÜNCT potential, or a PÜNCT potential on top of one of yours, or on top of an opposing GIPF piece.  Using it against an opposing PÜNCT piece neutralizes it, but again, the pieces underneath stay if your potential is removed.  When you jump on a GIPF piece, you remove your PÜNCT piece and either place a single piece on top of it or a GIPF piece.  In either case, it is now yours until the your pieces are removed.
  • YINSH (6 per player, set #3): Take the YINSH piece off the loaded piece and move it as far down a line as you want.  You can’t jump with a YINSH piece.

So you can use any of these you want.  You can also further link the games.  When you want to use a potential, an opponent can challenge you to the associated game.  For example, if you try to use the PÜNCT potential to create a new GIPF piece, your opponent says, “Let’s go play PÜNCT.”  Then, if you win or tie, you can use the potential.  If your opponent wins, you lose the potential.  That’s probably a really long way to play the game, but there it is.

OK, so here’s some overall thoughts about the GIPF series, and what I think sets it apart other than the incomprehensible titles.

  • The series gets high marks for being unique.  None of the games in the series feels anything like any of the others.  They all have their own personality, and don’t feel derivative.  Even the ones that I feel are riffs on other games succeed in creating their own experience that is all their own.
  • These games are gorgeous.  The covers are really nice, but the games themselves are marvels of minimal game design.  The boards are very simple, and the pieces are well constructed.  I don’t use the word elegance very often, but I think these games really embody it, both in component design and clarity of rules.
  • Speaking of clarity of rules, these games are all fairly simple to pick up.  The clunkiest rule set, I’d say, is probably PÜNCT, just because there are so many little things to keep track of.  But still, it’s not that tough to pick up, and that ease of learning may make people think these games are easy.  They’re not – these are high strategy game.
  • If I had to point to one design feature that I’d say was common to all the games, I’d probably say that they all involve some form of weakening yourself for the good of the game.  With GIPF, you have to remove your pieces whenever you create four in a row.  In ZÈRTZ, you have to set up a jump for your opponent in order to set up a good jump for yourself.  With DVONN, you have to create stacks, but the higher a stack is, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to move it.  In YINSH, when you score, you remove one of your five rings from the board.  For PÜNCT, in order to build a higher level, you have to stack on top of your own piece as well as an opponent you’re trying to neutralize.  And in TZAAR, you neutralize another piece in order to make one piece stronger.  It makes for some tense decisions in all of them.

So there’s my overview.  Hopefully, you’re inspired to check these games out.  Head over to Boardspace.net and try them out, or better yet, find someone who has them and play along!  And if you have played these, let me know what you think.  Thanks for reading!

Today’s review is of a party game:

image by BGG user domcrap

image by BGG user domcrap

Say Anything was first published in 2008 by North Star Games.  The game was designed by Dominic Crapuchettes and Satish Pillalamarri, is for 3-8 players, and takes around 30 minutes to play.  This is a party game where you will ask a question about what your friends your opinion is on a topic, then you pick the best answer, and everyone else tries to predict what you’ll say.

The game comes with a score board, eight answer boards, 16 answer tokens, eight dry erase pens, 80 question cards (each with five questions), and the Select-O-Matic 5000 (which is a dial).  Each player takes a board, a pen, and two tokens, and you’re ready to play.

When it is your turn, draw the top question card.  Like so:

SAC

image by BGG user domcrap

Choose one of the five options.  Let’s say it’s my turn, so I ask the question, “In my opinion, what’s the best movie sequel of all time?”  Then the other five players pick up their pens and write an answer down on a card.  You can really say anything here, just don’t write down what someone has already taken.  Let’s say I’m playing with five other people, and they come back with the following answers:

  • Player A says Ghostbusters 2
  • Player B says The Godfather, part II
  • Player C says Back to the Future II
  • Player D says Toy Story 2
  • Player E says The Empire Strikes Back

Now my job is to choose which one of these is my favorite answer.  For the record, my actual answer is not among these, but that’s irrelevant at this point.  I take the Select-O-Matic 5000 and use the dial to indicate the color matching my favorite answer.  I then put the Select-O-Matic down, and all other players try to guess which is my favorite using their answer tokens.  Player A knows that Ghostbusters is my all-time favorite movie, and puts both answer tokens on that option.  Player B thinks The Godfather part II is better than the original, so he puts one token on that one, but hedges his bets a little and also puts one on The Empire Strikes Back.  Player C doesn’t really think I’d say Back to the Future, so she puts one on Toy Story 2 and one on The Empire Strikes Back.  Player D knows I’m a Pixar nut, but also knows I frequently cite Empire as the reason George Lucas should keep his direction out of Star Wars, so he splits his bet.  Player E decides that I’ll probably say The Godfather part II, wishes she had thought of it, and puts both of her tokens on that one.

Now I reveal the Select-O-Matic 5000, and everyone sees that I said…Toy Story 2!  A spirited debate follows, in which I patiently explain that of the given options, I think Toy Story 2 is the best.  It has a great story, really charming characters, and is good as, if not better than the original.  Ghostbusters 2 is a bad movie sorry Player A.  The Godfather part II is frequently cited as being better than the original, but I think it’s not even close – the Robert de Niro scenes save it for me, but the rest of it is kind of painful.  I have a higher opinion of BTTF 2 now than I did back in the day, but it’s still not as good as the original.  The Empire Strikes Back IS the best of the Star Wars Saga, but I just think Toy Story 2 is better overall, if perhaps not as iconic.  And, for the record, my choice would have been The Dark Knight as I think it’s the single best superhero movie ever made, and the performances by Heath Ledger AND Aaron Eckhart stand out as some of the best of their careers.

But I digress.  Scoring works like this – as the active player, I score one point per token on the answer I chose, up to a maximum of three.  Players C and D each put one token on Toy Story 2, so I get two points.  Then the player who wrote the correct answer gets one point – that would be Player D.  Then each token on the correct answer scores their owner one point.  So, at the end of this round, I have two points, Player D has two points, Player C has one point, and everyone else has zero.

The game continues for a maximum of 12 rounds, and ends when everyone has had an equal number of turns as the judge – 3 with 3-4 players, 2 with 5-6, and 1 with 7-8.  The player who has scored the most points is the winner.

COMPONENTS: This game has some pretty nice quality components.  The dry erase boards included are all good quality and don’t stain, which is very nice.  The dry erase markers unfortunately leave a lot to be desired, but it’s very easy to go to your local office supply store and gets some higher quality markers to replace them.  Also, you can get them in player colors.

The answer tokens are nice, each with a different illustration that represents the color, which helps tie things together for people who might be color blind.  The cards are well laid out and pretty good quality.  The Select-O-Matic 5000 is a nicely laid out dial and stays together pretty well.  The only thing you need that is not present in the box is some way to wipe off the boards, but you can easily do that with your finger or a tissue.

The components here are fairly minimal, which is OK for a party game, and highly functional, which is great.

THEME: No theme here, sorry.  It’s a party game, not hardcore Amerithrash.

MECHANICS: The only real mechanism in play here is a kind of betting system where you’re trying to pick the correct answers.  However, it’s betting without anything to lose, though you can go all in by putting both tokens on one answer.  Scoring is limited in the game so you can never score more than three points at a time.  This helps to keep the judge from running away with it on an easy question.

I do want to mention that we house rule that certain answers are not going to be legal in certain situations.  For example, when playing with church friends, I stipulate that religious answers should be left out.  If the question were “What’s the best book ever written?”, the Bible would be the quick and easy answer that would be the obvious choice.  I want people to think more, so we just always state the house rule.  I guess that goes against the title of the game, but it works for us.

STRATEGY LEVEL: It’s a party game, so there’s not really strategy.  Knowing your opponents helps, and you can try to play the metagame of guessing based on who you think MIGHT know the answer.  This is important to the experience.  The designers did put some work into leaving out the subjective aspects of games like Apples to Apples.  Rather than the judge being the last word, and possibly influenced by standing in the game rather than the answer, the judge has to pick and scoring happens based on how people think he picked.  It not only makes the game a cleaner experience, it also adds a new level of depth.

ACCESSIBILITY: This game is extremely easy to pick up.  As a party game, I think this is excellent as a bait style game – set it up, play a few raucous rounds, then move on to something with a little more depth to it as a gateway.  The age range is stated as 13 and up, but I think this game can be enjoyed by all ages.  Some of the questions can go in some risqué directions if you’re not careful (as in the fifth question on the example card), just know your audience.

REPLAYABILITY: There are 400 total questions on the 80 cards included in the box.  These cards will always be drawn by new people, so the replayability factor of this game is extremely high.  Plus, there’s nothing that prevents you from making up your own questions.

SCALABILITY: Say Anything plays with 3-8, but I wouldn’t play with less than 5.  3-4 makes it a little too easy to figure out the judge’s answer.  I think 6 is the sweet spot since you only get one turn as judge with 7-8, but it does play very well with larger numbers.  With extra boards and tokens, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t play with more players and as many rounds as you want.  Just don’t let it go TOO long – as much as I like the game, I think it’s a perfect length the way it is, and am pretty sure it would outlive its welcome the longer it goes.

INTERACTION: Very high.  Lots of discussion about your choices will ensue with every question.  A good party game needs to be interactive, and this definitely is.

FOOTPRINT: This is a small game that doesn’t take up much space.  You don’t even really need a table for this, which makes it ideal for pulling out at a party.

LEGACY: I don’t like party games.  I think they last longer than they’re fun anymore, and that they usually aren’t games.  Say Anything succeeds at bucking both of those trends – it is balanced out to the perfect length, and succeeds in having a great scoring system to make it a very good game.  The easiest comparison to make is Apples to Apples, and Say Anything blows that game completely out of the water.  It’s not as subjective, and it’s not as limiting – you can say anything rather than be stuck with the cards you draw.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is my favorite party game, and one I think you should seek out and try.  On my Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale, this is one of the few party games that gets a solid

Yeah

Thanks for reading!

I haven’t talked about this on the blog yet, but on or around July 14th, my wife and I will be welcoming our first child to the world (it’s a girl!).  Today is her baby shower, and one of the things I’ve been doing as a soon-to-be-gamer dad is putting some kid friendly games on our registry.  So this is going to be a different kind of post, perhaps with limited appeal – I’m not looking at the new hotness or reviewing anything, just wanted to mention a few of the games I’ve been looking at.  These are all published by German company HABA.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

First Orchard is a game from 2009 that was designed by Anneliese Farkaschovsky.  It’s part of HABA’s My Very First Games line, and is for ages 2 and up.  It’s a cooperative game for 1-4 players.  The game comes with four green apples, four red apples, four yellow pears, and four blue plums.  There’s also a six-sided die, a five space raven track, a wooden raven, and a basket for collecting fruit.

Gameplay is very simple.  On your turn, roll the die.  If you roll a color, collect the matching fruit and put it in the basket.  If you roll the basket, move one fruit of your choice to the basket.  If you roll the raven, move it one space down the track.  If the raven reaches the end of the track before you collect all of the fruit, you lose.  If you get all the fruit first, you win!

This looks like a great game for little kids.  Ridiculously simple, sure, but I’m not looking for her to be playing Mage Knight right out of the gate (have to give her a couple of years to work up to that).  The pieces look great, and it’s cooperative, so you learn social skills as well as color recognition and counting.  Definitely on the wishlist!

image from HABA USA website

image from HABA USA website

Sailor Ahoy! (2011) is another cooperative game in the My Very First Games line, this one designed by Haru Bartel.  Again, it’s for 1-4 players ages 2 and up.  In this one, you take turns controlling a sailor racing across the board to collect all the pieces of his boat before it sails off without him.

At the start of the game, the board is constructed out of six large puzzle pieces.  You then scatter the five pieces of the boat around the board in indicated locations and place the boat itself at the start of the water track.  The sailor’s head is placed on the start space of the board.  On your turn, roll a die, then move forward to the indicated color (red or yellow).  If you roll a sailor, everyone yells “SAILOR AHOY!” and claps.  If you roll the boat, it moves forward one space.  If you manage to make it to the finish line, having collected all five pieces, you win.  If the boat sails off the edge of the board, it has left you behind and you lose.

Again, a cooperative game about rolling a die and color matching.  This one has fewer colors than First Orchard, but what I like is that you build the ship as you go.  In fact, HABA does say that this can be played as a game, or just used as a toy – the board is a puzzle with a full picture on the opposite side, and you can have fun building the boat too.  The pieces look great, and this is one I’d love to get.

image by BGG user muka

image by BGG user muka

Socken Zocken (2004) is a game by Michael Schacht of all people.  This one is for ages 4 and up, and is for 2-6 players.  It’s actually called Lucky Sock Dip in English, but Socken Zocken is just more fun to say.  The game comes with 48 wooden socks and 13 clothespins.  Oh, and a Sock Monster.  To play, you just dump all the socks out in a pile, say go, and start looking for matching socks.  The first person to come up with five socks wins the round and gets a clothes pin.  The first person to three clothes pins wins the game.

This is a game about observation and speed, so it’s probably more suited for older children.  But still, this is a cool looking game that would be fun to have in the collection when she gets older.  Wooden socks, clothes pins, AND a Sock Monster?  Sign me up.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Rhino Hero (2011) was designed by Scott Frisco and Steven Strumpf.  It’s for 2-5 players ages 5 and up.  It’s a dexterity game that looks like Jenga, but fun.  The game comes with 31 roof cards, a foundation, and 28 walls, as well as Super Rhino.  Each player is dealt five roof cards (7 in a two-player game).  On your turn, you build walls on the floor of the building according to the markings on the roof card (or foundation) below.  You then place a roof card on top of the walls.

But wait!  There are symbols on the roof cards.  You could reverse direction, cause someone to lose a turn, cause someone to draw another roof card, allow you to place a second roof, or even make the next player move Super Rhino to the new floor.  The game ends when one player plays their last roof card (they win) OR when one player knocks the tower over (the player with the fewest roof cards wins) OR when the walls run out (everyone wins).

This game looks really cool, a good stacking game with a fun theme.  It’s not wood, except for the Super Rhino, and might be a little frustrating with the luck of the draw on card powers.  Nothing like a little take that in a kid’s game, right?  But there’s no reason you can’t just ignore them (except for Super Rhino).  Again, for older kids, but one that would probably be fun for all.

image by BGG user kaylex

image by BGG user kaylex

Animal Upon Animal (2005) is one of the most popular games HABA has.  Designed by Klaus Miltenberger, this 2-4 player game is for ages 4 and up.  It’s also the one on this list that I’ve actually played, and it’s one I like a lot.  There are 29 animal pieces in the game – one crocodile, then a set of seven other animals for each player (monkey, penguin, sheep, lizard, hedgehog, snake, and toucan).  There’s also a die that will be rolled before each turn to determine what you have to do.  One dot means place one animal on the stack (the crocodile is the base).  Two dots mean place two animals.  The crocodile means place an animal right next to the crocodile’s tail or mouth, thus increasing the base size.  The hand means you give a piece to another player and THEY must place it.  The question mark means the other players decide why you must place.

If the stack collapses during your placement, your turn is over and you take 1-2 of the fallen animals back into your supply (even if you didn’t place them).  Other fallen animals are removed from the game.  When someone successfully gets rid of their last animal, they win.

This game is awesome.  The animal pieces are super cool, and this is a game that, while it may not be appreciated by a baby, would still be appreciated for its toy value.  So this is top of my list for kid games I want.  For baby, of course.

I have a feeling HABA is going to be a good friend for the next few years.  With all the junk on shelves in stores right now, it’s good that there’s a company that creates some high quality stuff that I want my daughter to play.  Hopefully this will lead to a lifetime of gaming goodness…time will tell.  Thanks for reading!

LINK:

Time for a review of a small game that has been a big success in the deckbuilding genre:

image by BGG user KlydeFrog

image by BGG user KlydeFrog

Star Realms is a two-player science-fiction card game designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle that is published by White Wizard Games.  The game is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, and officially published in 2014.  The game is all about spaceship combat, with the goal of bringing your opponent’s authority (health) to zero.

Star Realms comes with an 80-card trade deck, 16 Scout cards, 4 Viper cards, 10 Explorer cards, and 18 double-sided Authority cards.  Each player begins with a personal deck of 8 Scouts and 2 Vipers, from which they draw five cards (the first player draws only three on the first turn).  The Explorers are kept in a pile to the side, and the trade deck is shuffled with five cards dealt out into a trade row.  Each player begins with 50 authority, or some other number depending on the length of game they wish to play.

Standard deckbuilding procedure follows – play cards from your hand to buy new cards and attack your opponent.  Cards sometimes generate a trade value which can be used to purchase cards from the trade row, and you can buy as many as you can afford.  These include ships and bases, with the difference being that ships are played then discarded at the end of the turn, while bases remain in play until destroyed.  Cards can also generate combat, which is used to attack your opponent and reduce his authority.  Some of the bases must be destroyed before you can attack a player, and you must be able to fully destroy a base before you can attack it.

Some cards have a little trash can item on them.  This means that if you trash the card, you will get an additional one-time bonus, but you lose the card forever.  Sometimes, it’s worth it.  There’s also often an ally effect – if you have played more than one card from a particular faction, ally effects will trigger once during the round, making each card more powerful.  Bases count as allies.

I should talk about the factions here.  There are four:

  • Trade Federation (blue): These cards are usually concerned with making money and defending you by increasing your authority.
  • Blobs (green): These cards tend to generate lots of combat and remove cards from the trade row.
  • Star Empire (yellow): These cards tend to allow you to draw more cards and make your opponent discard.
  • Machine Cult (red): These cards are best for helping you thin your deck and giving lots of strong bases.

As you build your deck, you’ll most likely have a mix of all of these factions, but finding the right balance is a key to success.

The game continues until one player has been reduced to zero (or less) authority.  The other player wins.

COMPONENTS: This is a small $15 card game, and for that price, what you get is fantastic.  It’s really just 128 cards in a tuck box.  Though, I should say that the box is pretty awful – mine ripped the first time I tried to open it.  It holds all the cards, but it’s not really made for use.  The art on the cards is very nice, and the text is easy to read so you know exactly what everything does.  There are symbols for gaining authority, trade, and combat, but other than that, everything is spelled out.

The Authority cards that are used to track your authority take some getting used to.  You begin with a 20, two 10s, a 5, and 5 1s.  But the 20 is on the back side of another 10, and the 1s all have 5s on their back.  So if you lose two authority, you can discard two of the 1s to get down to 48.  But let’s say you lose four next time to go down to 44.  Flip the 5 over so it’s a 1.  Bingo.  Then you lose 5 to go down to 39.  Flip the 20 to a 10, then take a 1 back, flipping it to its 5 side.  And so on.  It’s easy to get lost – you may just want to find some other way to track authority.  Like poker chips.  Or something.

Overall, what you get for the price is very nice.  But you can easily get sucked in to accessorizing, as demonstrated in this comic from Tiny Wooden Pieces:

TWP

You of course do not need all of that stuff to enjoy this game.

THEME: This feels like fairly generic sci-fi to me.  Some work clearly went into the factions and making them work within a theme.  But overall, it doesn’t really feel that immersive to me.  At least, not in the original set.  From what I understand, more story lines and scenarios are introduced in expansions.  And, if you get the app, there’s a campaign mode that works you through a storyline.  Still, to me, I never feel like I’m really engaging in space combat, just collecting cards that can reduce my opponent’s health quicker than they can reduce mine.

MECHANICS: This is a deckbuilding more in the tradition of Ascension than Dominion.  In fact, designer Robert Dougherty has done a lot of work on the Ascension system, designing several expansions.  The games share the central row where you buy random cards, as opposed to having separate decks for all cards you can possibly purchase.  One of the issues I have with Ascension is that there are some cards in certain factions that are clearly better than others, and if they come out when you can’t afford them, or for an opponent, you’re pretty much done.  This game combats that problem by rewarding you handsomely for using the same factions, so even the cheap cards can be back breakers.  As a result, there are a lot of cards in the game that feel really overpowered, and part of the fun is putting together a combo that will cause a ton of damage in one shot.  I was playing around on the app recently, playing against the Easy AI and seeing how big of a combo I could create.  I was way ahead – I had well over 50 authority to the computer’s 4, so I was toying with it, not killing it off and just seeing what kind of combos I could create.  I ended up being able to do 81 damage in one shot, which was pretty cool.

The ally effects of the cards goes a long way to making these combos so powerful.  If you have a bunch of cards in the same faction, they’ll be able to play off each other and really hurt your opponent.  So there’s incentive to specialize, but there are also a bunch of other cards that you just want.  There’s a red base I always try to get that counts as an ally for ALL factions, which can be a killer.  Though I will say that I have gotten it and still lost.  That brings me back around to the point that there are plenty of cards that seem overpowered, but when every card is overpowered, none of them are.  As in the games of Carl Chudyk, one card that is a killer in one game can be a complete dud in the next.

Overall, the game is fairly easy to learn.  Once you get a grasp on how the ally abilities work, you can pretty much figure everything out from there, especially if you already know how DBGs work.  The funkiest part of the game is trying to figure out the authority cards, but I’d just suggest using some other form of score calculation – an app, a piece of paper, poker chips, something.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The biggest strategy point in this game is trying to figure out which cards to buy when.  Are you going to be reacting to what your opponent does, or trying to build a strong faction deck, or spreading yourself out and getting the most powerful cards available?  Once the cards are in your deck, decisions are limited.  It doesn’t really matter what order you play them because ally effects trigger whenever another card of that type is played, no matter at what point in the turn.  You’ll need to decide how to apply damage, and some of the cards (bases and ships) give you a choice of an effect.  There’s also the decision about what cards to scrap in order to thin your deck out a little, as well as when to trash cards with the trash can icon.  So while the cards you receive determine what can be done on a turn, there are still opportunities to make choices and try to optimize your turn.

ACCESSIBILITY: I’d call this a gateway game.  It’s very easy to learn, and very quick to play.  It’s probably a pretty good intro to deckbuilding in the Ascension style, and has the potential to bring in people who like the science fiction theme.

SCALABILITY: This game is for only two players, but you can play more with multiple sets.  I have not done this, so I can’t speak to how it works, but I think the two-player version is just fine for when you need something really fast to play.

REPLAYABILITY: I’m actually quite surprised at how replayable this game is.  With only 80 cards that you use in every game (plus Scouts, Vipers, and Explorers), it seems to me that the game would be limited in its replay value.  But the cards combo in such interesting ways, I haven’t gotten tired of it yet.  Expansions provide scenarios and extra challenges that would further increase the replay value.

INTERACTION: Because this is a game about combat and not just building your own point-producing engine, there is high interaction here.  You not only have to build up your fleet, you also have to react to what your opponent is getting and prepare yourself accordingly.  I often say I’m all about that base when building my deck, but sometimes it’s just not possible, and you have to be willing to adapt your strategy if your opponent is pursuing the same options.

FOOTPRINT: This is a small game.  It fits in a single tuck box, and doesn’t take much room on the table – just space for the trade row and any bases you might bring out in front of you.  I’d say a smallish table would be fine for the game, but you will want some sort of playing surface.

LEGACY: This being a DBG, I have to look at it in the pantheon of other deckbuilders.  I’ve compared this to Ascension several times, and I do think this is a better game than Ascension.  It doesn’t have the card support (yet), but I think the factions are better balanced, and it’s a whole lot quicker.  It’s not on the level of Dominion for me, but that’s not as fair of a comparison because they are two completely different styles of game – one is points based, the other is combat based.  But still Dominion has more strategy for me, and I’d probably continue to pick that over Star Realms.  But I do have to give Star Realms props for being incredibly quick in play, set up, AND clean up, which all is an advantage over Dominion.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is a very good game.  It’s fast, and it’s fun.  It’s not incredibly deep, but it is a really good experience for the value.  On my Yeah-Meh-Bleah scale, I give it a

Yeah

Thanks for reading!

Often on this blog, I’ll criticize a game for a lack of theme.  But honestly, I don’t need a theme – I mostly get annoyed when a theme is present that is completely disconnected with the gameplay (Knizia, I’m looking at you).  Abstract strategy games don’t generally rely on theme, but focus on long-term strategic planning.  Many abstracts have no luck, and those that do generally have low levels of luck.  They also tend to have relatively simple rules, and tend to be a battle of wits and skill.  So, without further ado, here are eleven abstract games that you should check out.


image by BGG user IronMoss

image by BGG user IronMoss

Blokus (2000, Bernard Tavitian) is a game about getting rid of all of your pieces.  The board a 20×20 grid of squares, and each player has their own set of 21 Tetris-style pieces, each made up of 1-5 squares.  I believe every possible combination of those squares is represented.  Players take turns placing one of their pieces on the board.  Your first piece goes directly in a corner, and every subsequent piece must touch your other pieces ONLY by the corner.  You can touch opposing pieces however you want, but you can’t overlap.  If you ever can’t play, your game is over.  When everyone is out, you score.  Each remaining square you have left is 1 point, and you want the lowest score to win.

Blokus is a very visually striking game because the pieces are a nice translucent plastic.  It’s very simple to play, and is a perfect information game where all of your pieces are available for the entire game and everyone knows what you have left.  There are a lot of strategic decisions to be made in placement, and the game is highly accessible for all ages.  It’s for 2-4 players, but I’d say don’t play with less than 4 (unless you have the travel version, which is made for 2 only).  In fact, I think it’s one of the best abstract options out there for exactly four players.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The Duke (2013, Jeremy Holcomb/Stephen McLaughlin) is a two-player game that plays a lot like Chess, but with some luck and changing abilities.  The game is played on a 6×6 grid of squares, and the pieces are wooden tiles that are drawn from a bag.  You begin with your Duke and two Footmen on the board, and on your turn may use a piece or draw a new one.  New pieces must be placed adjacent to your Duke.  To use a piece, you simply select one then follow the instructions printed on it.  Each piece has a 5×5 grid printed on it with symbols that tell you if the piece can move, jump, slide, or attack.  When you have used a piece, you flip it over.  The opposite side has a new set of instructions to use next time you use the piece.  The object of the game is to capture your opponent’s Duke – the person who does is the winner.

The Duke is a game that plays like Chess – individual powers of different pieces, capturing a piece for victory, a sort-of militaristic theme – but that takes the concept in entirely new directions with random draw of pieces, variable powers, and just in general more that you can do.  Chess has zero luck, and people have dedicated their lives to studying its intricacies.  The Duke has some luck, and thus will be much more difficult to “solve”.  I also find it to be more fun because I don’t feel like I’m going to get creamed by someone with more experience.  I might, but I always feel like I have a chance.  This is probably my favorite of the games on this list.

image by BGG user MasqGames

image by BGG user MasqGames

Epigo (2011, Chris Gosselin/Chris Kreuter) is an abstract game that features programmed movement as you try to push your opponent off the board.  It’s played on an 8×8 grid with three squares removed from each corner.  Both players have tiles numbered from 1 to 7 that are placed on the board.  You also have seven orders in hand, also numbered.  Each round, you will choose three Orders and orient them in the way you want the corresponding pieces to move – if you want 6 to go left, orient the tile with the 6 pointing left.  You then reveal each in turn, and the higher number goes first.  If both numbers revealed are equal, they cancel each other out.  You can push a single opposing tile, or through multiple tiles if you have more in the line.  If a player has three tiles go off the edge of the board, their opponent wins.

I often refer to this game as an abstract version of RoboRally.  I love programmed movement games to begin with, and this one is really fun, simple, and has a lot of variants included in the box.  Unfortunately, support for the game seems to have dwindled a lot since its release, and I don’t know if it’s currently in print.  There are a few copies available, but your best bet might be the iOS app.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Hey, That’s My Fish! (2003, Günter Cornett/Alvydas Jakeliunas) is an abstract that has a theme, albeit a very light one.  You are penguins trying to collect the most fish by moving around ever disappearing ice floes.  The board consists of 60 hexagonal tiles, each with 1-3 fish.  Players have 4-3-2 penguins (with 2-3-4 players), and take turns placing them on various tiles that only have one fish.  Once all penguins are placed, you may move one on your turn.  It can move as far as you want it to in any direction from its hexagonal ice floe, but cannot cross holes that are created on the board.  Holes are created when you leave a tile – it goes into your supply to add to your score.  When no penguin can move any more, the game ends and players add up their fish.  The one who collected the most wins.

The theme in this game is probably the one of the strongest on this list – it makes sense that penguins would take fish with them when they leave a tile, and would probably leave a hole in the ice where they pulled them out.  The game could easily be played on hexes with dots on them and a pawn to move around, but the theme here makes the game more accessible by giving people a visual purpose for playing.  This is a game that works well for 2-4 players, and is great for both kids and adults.

image by BGG user Astinex

image by BGG user Astinex

Hive (2001, John Yianni) is a small two-player abstract game with no board.  It also has a theme – bugs – but the theme here is not as strong as Hey That’s My Fish!  In Hive, each player has 3 ants, 3 grasshoppers, 2 beetles, 2 spiders, and a queen bee on hexagonal tiles.  On your turn, you can add a bug to the hive, but you must always touch only bugs of your color when you place (exception: the first turn).  Whenever you move a bug, you must always keep the hive in one piece.  Moreover, each bug has its own movement rules.  The queen can only move one space at a time (a space is defined as along an edge of another piece).  The spider moves exactly three spaces every time.  The beetle can only move one space, but can climb on top of other pieces, essentially locking them down.  The grasshopper can hop in a straight line over a line of bugs.  The ant can move anywhere it wants to along the perimeter of the hive.  The object of the game is to completely surround your opponent’s queen.  As soon as that is accomplished, you win.

Hive is a brilliant quick abstract game that has the feel of a Chess match in a much more compact package.  Because of the Bakelite pieces, it’s the most portable game I own.  You can literally play this game anywhere (and people have).  It’s easy to learn, and it a good strategic experience to boot.  This one is a must-play for abstract fans.

image by BGG user CapAp

image by BGG user CapAp

Ingenious (2004, Reiner Knizia) is a pure abstract game of matching colors on hexagonal dominoes.  Each of the 2-4 players has a rack of six dominoes, as well as a personal scoreboard.  The game is played on a grid of hexes of variable size, depending on the number of players.  On your turn, you simply place one of your dominoes on the board, then score it.  Count the number of identical colored symbols radiating out from each side of the domino, then score that number for that color.  End your turn by drawing a new one.  If the score for any of your colors reaches 18, you have an Ingenious, and you get another placement before drawing back up to six.  When no further placements can be made, the game is over.  Your score is the score of your lowest scoring color, and the high score wins.

This is a really good abstract game that proves Knizia does NOT NEED TO SLAP A THEME ON EVERYTHING.  It’s got a good building aspect with interesting, if somewhat convoluted, scoring.  The “low score is your score” thing is a Knizia trademark, having been used here and in Tigris & Euphrates.  It’s fairly easy to understand once you get going, and is just in general a good game.

image by BGG user Sentieiro

image by BGG user Sentieiro

Kamisado (2008, Peter Burley) is a game I like to refer to as Checkers with colors.  It doesn’t really play anything like Checkers – the only similarity is that both are played on an 8×8 grid.  In Kamisado, the squares of this grid are made up of eight different colors, one per row and column.  Both players have a piece matching each color that begin the game on the row closest to their controlling player.  For the first turn, a player may move their piece any number of squares in a single direction.  You must stop when you run into another piece or the edge of the board.  The square you land on determines the color your opponent must move, and the square they land on determines which piece you must move.  If a player successfully gets a piece to the opposite side of the board, they win the round.  That piece becomes a sumo – it can’t move as far, but now can push pieces if they’re right in front of it.  Matches can last anywhere from 1-15 rounds, and the player who wins the most is the ultimate champion.

This is a great game that I’ve never played anywhere but online at Yucata.de.  The strategy here is really all about looking ahead and trying to trap your opponent into being forced to allow you to win while not falling into the same trap your opponent is plotting.  Like most abstracts, it’s incredibly easy to learn, but there’s a great depth of choices present.

Qwirkle - image by BGG user Toulose

Qwirkle – image by BGG user Toulose

Qwirkle (2006, Susan McKinley Ross) is a game that is all about matching colors or shapes, but not both.  Each of the 2-4 players has a hand of six wooden tiles, and each tile shows one of six shapes in one of six colors (there’s three of each combination in the game).  On your turn, you can place as many as you wish in a line, following one of two placement rules – all tiles in the line must be of the same shape but different colors, or all tiles in the line must be of the same color but different shapes.  When adding tiles, you either add on to an existing line following the rule it uses, or add on to a single tile, thereby establishing the rule for that line.  Once you have placed, you score one point per tile in the line you just created.  With clever placement, it’s possible to create more than one line at once.  If you manage to complete a line with all six possible tiles, you have scored a Qwirkle and get double points for that line (12 instead of 6).  When one player has played all of their tiles, they get a bonus five points, and the player who has scored the most is the winner.

Qwirkle won the Spiel des Jahres in 2011, which is almost unheard of for pure abstract games.  But it’s easy to see why – it’s a very well designed game with lots of strategic choices for the gamers and immense educational value for children, as well as easy accessibility for people who don’t play a lot of games.  It gets compared to Scrabble a lot, since you end up creating a pattern that looks like a colorful crossword, but Qwirkle really is its own thing.  It’s a great game, and a great abstract.

image by BGG user nello

image by BGG user nello

Six (2003, Steffen Mühlhäuser) might just be the simplest abstract game on this list.  It’s for two players, one red and one black.  On your turn, you place a hexagon of your color down so that it touches at least one other hexagon.  Your goal is to make a particular shape with six of these hexes – either a line of six, or a triangle, or encircling one other piece.  When you run out of pieces to place, you pick your pieces up off the board and move them.  This might disconnect other pieces from the main grid, and those pieces are lost.  The first player to make one of the three shapes is the winner.

This game is ridiculously easy to learn.  You’re trying to make one of three shapes – go.  It’s very minimal, and really quite pretty to look at when it’s all laid out.  This is an abstract where there is absolutely no luck, so it really is skill versus skill.  This is one of my favorites, and one I really wish I had on my shelf.  Someday.

image by BGG user hoje

image by BGG user hoje

Völuspá (2012, Scott Caputo) is another abstract with a theme, this one surrounding Norse mythology (the original version, Kachina, had a Native American mythology theme).  Each player has a hand of five tiles, and on your turn you play one of them.  As in Qwirkle, you will be creating lines, but here, each piece you play has a special power.  Loki (#1) turns all adjacent tiles to value zero.  Valkyrie (#2) scores a line when the other end is also a Valkyrie, regardless of values in between.  Skadi (#3) can be exchanged for another tile already on the board, taking its place in the line.  Fenrir (#4) has a value of 4 times the number of Fenrirs in the line.  Dragon (#5) can be placed on top of another tile to negate it.  Troll (#6) cannot be placed next to, except with another troll.  Thor (#7) and Odin (#8) have no special abilities, but are very strong in values.  After placing your tile, if it was the highest valued in the line, you score one point per tile in the line.  You can create multiple lines in this way, scoring each.  Once all tiles have been played, the player with the highest score is the winner.

This is very much an abstract game, but I think the theme here is really well tied in to the mechanics.  Still, it does come down to a numbers game.  The tile identities are mostly tied into helping you remember what each tile does, kind of like Hive.  And it looks a little like Qwirkle in that you’re creating a kind of crossword, but it plays very differently.  I enjoy it very much – I need to do a review of this one sometime.

image by BGG user Purple

image by BGG user Purple

ZÈRTZ (1999, Kris Burm) is the third game in the so-called GIPF project, a series of six two-player abstract games that were all designed by Burm and can be integrated using some expansion rules.  ZÈRTZ is also the only one in the series I’ve actually played face-to-face, so consider it a stand-in for the whole series.  In this one, you have a bunch of rings set up in a hexagon (using 37 or 48, depending on the level of the game).  On your turn, you can place a marble or capture one.  If you place a marble, choose a color (white, gray, or black), and put it on one of the rings.  When you do this, you must also remove one of the empty rings on the edge of the play area.  If you can capture a marble, however, you must do that instead.  Jump over a marble with another as long as they are adjacent and the next space is empty.  If you can set up multiple jumps in a turn, all the better.  Any marble can capture any marble, but you win if you collect three of each color, four white, five gray, or six black marbles.

The games in the GIPF project are well known for practically being works of art in their beauty.  Plus, they’re really good abstracts.  I like ZÈRTZ because it eschews the traditional format of a game where each player has their own color piece.  Here, neither player owns a color, and in fact will probably be trying to get a mix in order to prevent the other player from gaining a minority.  Plus, the adding of marbles as the board shrinks adds a really interesting aspect to this game.  So I can wholeheartedly recommend ZÈRTZ, though I’d also love to play GIPF, DVONN, PÜNCT, YINSH, TZAAR, and TAMSK (which is not officially a part of the GIPF project, though it was originally and got replaced by TZAAR).


You may be asking yourself, “What about Go?”  To my shame, I still haven’t played it.  “What about Chess?”  I think I’ve offered enough alternatives to Chess that I don’t need to answer that question.  “What about Checkers?”  OK, now you’re just being ridiculous.  “What about…”  You know what?  There are a lot of great abstracts out there, and I haven’t even scratched the surface here.  Tell me some of your favorites, and if you don’t really play abstracts, I hope I’ve given you some ideas for games to try out.  Thank for reading!

I’ve played Magic: The Gathering once.  It was OK – I’m sure there’s a lot more depth to it once you get past just using a starter deck.  I’ve also played around with Hearthstone and SolForge on the iPad, but I’ve never given either game any money, so I’ve just been using pretty basic stuff there too.  So I wouldn’t say I’m deep into CCG culture.  However, I am really excited by the prospect of

image by BGG user tehero22

image by BGG user tehero22

Millennium Blades is a game currently funding on Kickstarter, designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and published by Level 99 Games.  It’s a 2-5 player game that takes two hours to play.  The basic concept of the game is that the most popular collectible card game in the world is Millennium Blades, and you are a player, entering tournaments and trying to achieve the best ranking.  That’s right – it’s a board game about playing a collectible card game, which means this is probably the most meta game EVER.

The game comes with 5 player boards, 2 central market boards, 6 starting decks of 9 cards each, one core set of 108 cards, 10 expansion sets of 12 cards each, 8 premium sets of 12 cards each, 6 master sets of 12 cards each, 2 bronze promo sets of 6 cards each, 2 silver promo sets of 6 cards each, 2 gold promo sets of 6 cards each, and 5 pro player promo sets of 6 cards each.  For those counting, that’s 516 cards, and that’s just what’s printed in the rules.  I’m guessing more are coming with stretch goals.  Additionally, there are Millennium Dollar Money Wads for cash, but I’m unclear on what that means.  And I think there are probably some other markers that aren’t listed right now.

From the look of things, you’re going to need a very large table for this game.  I know their last big project, Argent: The Consortium, took up a lot of table real estate, and with all the stuff here, plan on a big table.  To create the store deck, you’ll shuffle together the core set, five expansion sets, four premium sets, and three master sets.  That’s a 252-card deck you’re shuffling there – good luck with that.  Two sets of bronze and silver promos are set aside, as well as one gold promo set.  One of each type of set goes in the card fusion area of the store board.  Each player gets a player board, a starting deck, three core cards, three sell markers, and five friendship cards.  Optionally, each player an get 20 Millennium Dollars and a booster pack, but that’s if you skip the Pre-Release tournament.

Millennium Blades is played over a series of rounds.  Each round has two phases – Deckbuilding and Tournament.  New players are encouraged to start with a pre-release tournament to get familiar with how cards work before entering deckbuilding.  For purposes of this overview, I’ll start with Deckbuilding.

image by BGG user jayahre

image by BGG user jayahre

At the start of Deckbuilding, you get 30 dollars and a booster pack.  Booster packs are created by discarding the top card of the store deck, then drawing cards until you’ve reached a total cost of at least 21.  The top nine cards of the store deck are placed face down on the store board.  You reveal a new elemental metagame card, which will give you some bonuses if you incorporate a certain element into your deck.  You then set a timer (not included) for seven minutes, and it’s time to go.

Deckbuilding is performed in real time.  There are no turns, and there are a number of things you can do.  You can buy a pack from the store by paying the cost of a face down card and picking it up and replacing it from the store deck.  You can buy the top card of the store deck.  This single card is referred to as a pack, but that’s a little misleading.  Thematically, it’s like you’re buying a sealed pack of fifteen cards in a general theme, but it’s full of commons and one rare card.  Commons are not present in this game – only rare or better.  The card you get could be a single, or it could be a deck box that will give you another scoring opportunity if you include it.  It could also be an accessory that further enhances or protects your deck.  Cards that you get go into your “binder” for now – you don’t actually have a binder, this is just what your card group is called.

If you don’t like the card you drew, or you already have a copy of it for your deck (you can only have one copy per card), you can sell it to the aftermarket.  This is placed face up with your sell marker on it.  You get the cost of the card back, but now others can see it and can possibly buy it, paying the bank.  If you have no more sell markers, you can’t sell.  You get them back if someone buys the card.  You cannot buy it back yourself.

Another opportunity to get rid of unwanted cards is known as card fusion.  You trash a number of cards from your hand and take the top bronze, silver, or gold promo card depending on how many you threw out.  Put a sell marker on the pile to indicate that you have done this – you can’t use more than one card fusion of each type per round, and you can’t do it at all if you’re out of sell markers.

You are welcome to trade with other players directly without using the aftermarket.  Trades must be in equal values – I can’t give you a 3 for a 5, but I can give you a 2 and a 3 for a 5.  If the trade is going to be more beneficial to the other player, you can ask for a friendship card as part of the trade.  These are worth extra VPs at the end of the game.

As this plays out, you will be adding cards to your deck, collection, or binder.  Binder cards are just ones you have in reserve but won’t be using in this game.  Your deck can hold eight singles, one deck box, and two accessories.  You can only play six singles during the tournament, so the other two slots are for safety cards to use in case of attack.  Your collection consists of 2-8 cards, each one having at least one symbol in common with all others, and each one having a different star rating than all others.  These cards are removed from the game at the end of the round, and score 2-21 points for you depending on how many cards there were.

When the seven minutes runs out, each player gets a new booster pack, a type meta card is revealed, and another seven minute timer is set.  When this timer expires, set another three minute timer.  The aftermarket is now not accepting any new cards for sale, but you can still buy and trade.  There is a note in the rules that the timers are flexible, and if someone is scrambling to finish something up at the end of regulation, you can bend a little to give them a little extra time.  However, if someone wants to take extra time to do something they didn’t even start (like build a collection), don’t give it to them.  The rules say it’s important not to let people fix their mistakes.

image by BGG user jayahre

image by BGG user jayahre

After deckbuilding is the tournament phase.  If you’re playing the pre-release tournament, you’re playing with your starter deck.  Tournaments are turn-based.  Your player boards get flipped over to show the tournament side, which gives you your six card slots, as well as a place for your deck box and accessories.  Binder cards move to the side, deck cards go to your hand, and collection cards have already been removed and scored.  Whoever placed highest in the previous tournament goes first, or whoever most recently opened a booster pack.  Or random.  Whatever.

On your turn, you may take an action and must play a single.  This can be done in any order.  Actions are usually present on accessories, but other cards may have actions as well.  If you do the action, flip the corresponding card face down.  To play a single, just move the card from your hand to the leftmost open space on your mat.  These cards can have a number of effects that trigger at various times – when you play them, when you flip them, throughout the tournament, as long as it’s the top card (rightmost face up card), at the end of the tournament, and in reaction to certain conditions being met.  Throughout the tournament, you’ll be collecting Ranking Points that simulate how well you’re doing.

There is a possibility of being forced to flip cards by other players’ effects.  There’s also the possibility of clashing.  If involved in a clash, look at your top card, then draw the top card of the store deck.  Add the star rating of each, and the higher total wins, gaining the specified reward.  If there’s a tie, no one wins.  Revealed cards are put in the aftermarket.

When no player is able to play further turns due to being out of cards or having a full tableau, the tournament ends.  The highest ranking total wins the tournament, and gains maximum points, which changes from tournament to tournament – first place gets 7 points in the pre-release, 21 in the first tournament, 28 in the second tournament, and 42 in the final tournament.  By comparison, fifth place gets 2 in the pre-release, 6 in the first, 8 in the second, and 12 in the fourth.  Additionally, for the first and second tournaments, a bronze or silver promo pack is revealed, and players in finishing order get to draft one of those cards as a prize.

After the third tournament (including the pre-release if you played it), the game is over.  Players add up their VPs from tournaments, collections, friendship cards from other players, and remaining money (1 VP per $4).  The player with the most points wins.

image by BGG user jayahre

image by BGG user jayahre

It’s difficult to my thoughts together for this one because there is so much going on, and there’s only so much I can say without being able to study the cards.  I think the theme here is fantastic – I’ve long been a proponent of the idea of making a game about playing a game, and this one looks like it has been really well constructed.  The various card combos are going to make or break this game, but as it’s been in development for a few years, I’m sure it has been playtested like crazy.  I like that it’s a combination real-time/turn-based game, and I also like that the real-time aspect is less intense and pressured than, say, Galaxy Trucker or Space Alert.  The timer is more there to make sure you’re not taking all day for that phase than to see who how fast you can go, and I think that’s welcome to the genre.

Overall, I think this game looks awesome, and I’m glad to see it doing so well.  It’s a very fresh idea, and I think it will appeal to CCGers and non-CCGers alike – CCGers will recognize the tropes of their part of the hobby, while non-CCGers will have a chance to see what it’s all about without investing all that time and money into acquiring enough cards to make a good deck.  If you want to get in on the ground floor, head over to the Kickstarter page (linked at the bottom of this post) and pledge.  A game will cost you $50, and they have pledge levels all the way up to $1500.  Thanks for reading!

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