Game Buzz: Montage

It seems that Kickstarter is the wave of the future in board games.  If you’ll pardon the pun, I think Alien Frontiers can be thanked for kickstarting the trend.  Since then, Eminent Domain, 1955: The War of Espionage, and Rolling Freight (among others) have successfully raised their startup capital on the site.  Up until now, it has seemed like it’s primarily smaller publishers using the service (Clever Mojo, Tasty Minstrel, and APE Games).

Montage - image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Now, a larger and more established publisher (Gryphon Games) is starting to use Kickstarter.  Their first project is Montage, a reprint of a 1973 game designed by Joli Quentin Kansil.  Montage is a partnership word game for 4 players aged 13 and up, and takes around an hour to play.  It’s a highly respected, if slightly obscure game that really turns mixes crosswords and deduction in a unique way.  From first glance, it seems like a cross between Password, Mastermind, and Scrabble – you use color coded tiles to represent letters in a secret word your partner must guess.  The game has a pretty retro look to it.  Gryphon seems to have gone with the 70s look to match the 70s game.

In the game, you get a 225 square board – in other words, it’s a 15 X 15 grid, which is the same as a standard Scrabble board.  However, instead of letter tiles, you get 240 double-sided colored chips, 48 in each of 5 colors.  The sides show the color along with either black or white lines.  There are also 50 dark brown discs, called pips.  In addition, there’s a sixty-second sand timer, a double-sided arrow, and four player reference cards.

Starting Setup Example - image from rules, available at BGG

At the start of the game, each player chooses a partner and sits across the board from them.  The brown pips are spread around the board in a pattern corresponding to one of the 25 provided patterns.  These help give the impression of a crossword puzzle.  You’ll grab a handful of the colored chips and put them around the board, covering up the circles printed in a diamond shape on the board.  Either the black or white will be face up, depending on the color of the circles on the board.  You can see how this will look in the provided example.

One team is designated to be black, while the other is white.  To determine who goes first, flip one of the leftover colored discs and see which side it lands on (black lines or white lines).  From the winning team, one player becomes the Quizzer.  The Quizzer will think of a word and give a clue, and all players will get an opportunity to think of an answer.  Players will know where the word is on the board, the direction of the word, and at least one letter of the word, represented by the colored chips – orange is ABCDZ; red is EFGHJ; purple is IKLMN; blue is OPQRS; green is TUVWXY.  Meanwhile, the clock is ticking – you have one minute.

Here’s some more detail: the Quizzer will choose where on the board the word will go.  You’ll follow basic crossword rules – the pips are the black spaces that mark the beginning and ends of words.  Words can go either left to right, right to left, top to bottom, or bottom to top.  To indicate the direction, you place the arrow adjacent to the first letter, pointing in the proper direction.  This means the arrow will be on the edge of the board, or on one of the pips.  There are a couple more rules of placement.  First, you can only play in your home zone.  Your home zone is the 5×5 section that is in the center of your side of the board.  You can start in another zone as long as at least two colored chips are already in your home zone.  If your home zone is full, you may play in either of the corner zones on your side.  If your home side is completely filled, you can play anywhere on the board.  The other rule of placement is that there must be at least one colored chip already on the board in the word you are placing.  One chip in the word is known as a singlet; two is a doublet; three is a triplet; four is a quadruplet.  You’ll note that every possible play in your home zone already has at least one chip in it (with two doublets).

OK, so the Quizzer has chosen a spot for the word and placed the pointer.  He’s chosen a word that includes a letter represented by a color chip in the proper position.  Now he gives a clue, which can be up to five words.  You can say anything, as long as there aren’t any rhymes, opposites, clues containing the answer, or more than five letters.  Let’s say the clue is “Carved wooden pole”.  You know it’s five letters, and that the first letter is green and the fifth letter in purple.  You probably have a good idea that it’s “TOTEM.”  You shout it out…and are BEATEN ABOUT THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS!  You don’t answer by shouting out, you actually indicate your willingness to guess by knocking on the table.  Any player may knock.  If no one knocks before the timer runs out, the Quizzer reveals the answer and nothing else happens.  If one person knocks, the Quizzer will call on them immediately if it is their partner.  If it is an opponent, the Quizzer may wait until a second player knocks.  If two players knock, the Quizzer immediately chooses on of them to answer.  If the partner is one of the two, the Quizzer will obviously call on them.  If it’s two opponents, the Quizzer must call on one of them.  If an opponent knocks, and then the other two players knock simultaneously, the Quizzer must call on one of the opponents to answer.

If your partner gives the correct answer, the empty spaces of the word are filled with corresponding chips with the appropriate side face up.  A correct answer by an opponent causes the spaces to be filled with chips of their type.  It’s possible that someone may come up with a word that’s correct in every sense, but it’s not the one the Quizzer had in mind.  The given answer is deemed to be the correct one…you should have been more specific.  If you’re wrong, or if you shout out the word without knocking, the other team is awarded the word.

When the opponents answer correctly, or if no one answers, the clock passes, meaning the next player to the left is the new Quizzer.  The current Quizzer keeps the clock if his team got the answer correct, and if the words was at least a doublet (two or more chips on the board).  If it was a singlet and no multiple chip answers were available in the zone, the Quizzer also keeps the clock.  If doublets (or more) were available and a singlet was used, the clock passes even if the Quizzer’s team got the answer correct.

The game ends when a team earns four zones of the board.  You earn a zone by having ten discs of your color there.  When you do, you immediately flip any other discs in that zone to your side, and fill any empty spaces with random discs on your side.  There are also tournament rules which award points based on how many zones you can win (10000 for winning all nine, with only 1000 for winning 5).

First, some thoughts about the game.  I’m not really a word game fan.  I don’t really like Scrabble – it makes my head hurt.  This one seems very different, particularly since the chips can represent five different letters.  It’s like spelling with a telephone pad.  The rules assure you that it becomes easy to remember which colors represent which letters after a while, but that’s probably a learning curve that will definitely benefit experienced players.  I kind of like the deduction element, trying to figure out what people are talking about from their clues and the “letters” on the board.  It’s also an interesting puzzle just trying to come up with those words based on what’s available.  It seems like a good partnership game, and one that is grabbing my interest.

That being said, I am concerned about the components.  This a game that is NOT going to be friendly to people who are color blind.  The black and white lines make the colors look different from each other, which may get really confusing.  The retro look of the game is also something that I think is going to turn a lot of people off.  I know it’s cool to go retro, but making your game look  like you found it in someone’s basement after thirty-eight years is probably not the best decision graphically.  The box might grab your attention with its seventies-ness, but I kind of wish they had found a better design for the chips.

At any rate, that’s Montage.  The Kickstarter campaign is going on until May 8, and they’re already about halfway to their goal of $5000.  That seems kind of low, especially compared to the goals of $20K and $18K goals set (and met) by Eminent Domain and Rolling Freight, respectively.  But, as I said, Gryphon is more of a well-established company that is probably using the system more as a way to get word out about the game.  Well, consider it out – we’ll see where it goes from there.  Thanks for reading!

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