Buzzworthiness: Tally Ho!

First off, I want to mark the occasion of my 365th post on this blog.  If you go back in my archives and read one post a day, I now have enough material to keep you covered for a year.  Huzzah.  On to the review!

image by BGG user yayforme
image by BGG user yayforme

Tally Ho! was originally published in 1973, from designer Rudi Hoffman.  Kosmos picked it up as part of their two-player line in 2000, and Rio Grande published it in the US.  The theme is that you are either foxes and bears trying to eat and avoid capture, or you are hunters and lumberjacks trying to capture animals and knock down trees.  It’s essentially an abstract game, but one that features asymmetrical play and quite a bit of luck.

The game comes with a board that is a 7×7 grid, as well as 48 tiles.  At the beginning of the game, these tiles are randomly placed face down on the board, leaving the center square empty.  One player is the animals, and the other is the humans.  The animals go first.

On your turn, you can either reveal a tile or move one of your pieces.  To reveal a tile, simply flip it face up, maintaining the orientation (which is important if it’s a hunter).  To move, simply take one of the pieces you control and move it according to its type.

  • Lumberjacks move one orthogonal space at a time.  They can land on tree tiles, which they collect to score two points each at the end of the game.
  • Bears also move one orthogonal space.  They can land on hunters or lumberjacks, each of which score five points at the end of the game.
  • Hunters can move as far as they want/can in one direction (horizontal or vertical).  If a fox, bear, or bird is in front of the hunters gun, the hunter can land on them to collect them.  After flipping over a hunter, you can never change its orientation.  Bears are worth 10 points, foxes are worth 5, pheasants are worth 3, and ducks are worth 2.
  • Foxes can move as far as they want/can in one direction (horizontal or vertical).  They can only capture ducks and pheasants.
  • Ducks and Pheasants can be moved by either player, but don’t capture anything.  You also can’t move a bird that has just been moved.
  • Trees don’t move.  They are trees.

You take turns until the last tile is revealed.  Once that happens, each player has five more turns remaining.  You can continue moving tiles around, but you can also try to take your pieces off the board through one of the exits located on the sides of the board.  Any of your pieces you take off will count as points for you, as if you had captured them.  After each player has had their five turns, you add up your scores.  Then, you reset the board and play one more round with each player taking the opposite side.  After the second round, whoever has the highest cumulative score wins.

COMPONENTS: There aren’t a lot of components in this game – just the tiles and the board.  The tiles are made of good quality cardboard, and the board is very well delineated, with a blind illustrated on the center square to remind you to leave it open.  The art (by Franz Vohwinkel) is pretty good – the characterizations of each creature and animal are good, though the duck on the front of the box looks a little odd to me.  There are no indicators of what each tile does on the tile, other than the picture of the character.  Not that there’s that much to remember, just thought I’d bring it up.

The only real component complaint I have is that I hate the insert.  It was obviously created for the game – there are nine compartments that are the perfect size to hold tiles.  However, they only hold the tiles if you keep the box flat.  Turn it up on its side for any reason, and you’ll be sorting all the tiles all over again.  Just get rid of it all together and put all the tiles in a bag – save yourself some hassle.  Other than that, I think the components are great.

THEME: A lot of abstract games don’t bother with a theme, and still others try to shoehorn one in that doesn’t necessarily make any sense.  I think the theme in Tally Ho! not only makes sense, but it’s kind of crucial to the enjoyment of the game.  Bears eat people, people with guns shoot bears.  Foxes eat birds, and humans can shoot foxes or birds.  Lumberjacks chop down trees, and otherwise trees don’t move (after all – they are trees).  The theme breaks down in a few places – I think bears would eat birds if they could, but not in this game; hunters in real life could turn around at least once; and it doesn’t really make sense that players can move birds wherever they want them.  However, I think the theme is very well integrated into the game.

MECHANICS: This is an asymmetric game, which means that the two sides are not the same.  You have comparable units on each team – bears and lumberjacks have one movement while hunters and foxes can move as far as they want – but they have different abilities that makes the strategy different.  The abilities feel pretty well balanced, though luck of the draw can make one side feel way overpowered.

There are two simple options that serve to move the game along – reveal or move.  Revealing has to be done in the same orientation for the sake of the hunters.  Movement is based on the individual ablities of the tiles.  There are a few mechanisms in place to keep people from getting into a loop – you can’t go back to the same place you were the previous turn, for example.

I like that the game has an endgame that is slightly different from the rest.  If you had to spend your last five turns chasing after your opponent, you may not score anything.  But the ability to rescue pieces from the board adds a little more depth to the game as you try to figure out the best way to maximize your score.  You can even prepare for it since the number of turns after the last reveal is set, and you know where all the exits are.

The last thing I want to mention is the fact that you should play two rounds with players switching sides.  This helps keep anyone from dominating with one side.  If a side proves to be dominant, you’ll have some relatively close scores.  If not, you’ll have a blowout, but you’ll also have a clear winner.  This is a good way to mitigate some of the luck and any perceived balance issues.

STRATEGY LEVEL: As I’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of luck in the game.  There’s absolutely nothing you can do if your bear ends up surrounded by trees, or if your hunters are all pointing in the wrong direction to do anything.  However, it’s kind of a puzzle trying to figure out how to work around the constraints of the game.  There is a good bit of cat and mouse going on as you chase your prey around the board, and possibly even set up some traps for your opponent.  While there is luck, it’s what you do with it that separates the winners from the losers.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a very simple game to learn and play.  The biggest complexity is remembering how each piece moves, and that isn’t too difficult.  It’s a game that a wide range of people can learn and play, and the high luck factor means that new players are going to feel like they can be competitive.

REPLAYABILITY: Tally Ho! is a game that, because of the variable set up, can be played over and over and not feel like the same experience.  The asymmetric nature of the game also helps increase the replayability.  There can be a frustration factor when the luck doesn’t go your way, but it’s a game that can be played time and again.

SCALABILITY: This is a game for only two players, so there’s no scalability there.  There’s a three player “variant” posted by a user on BGG, but it’s just a rotation of players.

FOOTPRINT: This game does not take up a lot of space.  Really, you just need a stable spot for the board, which measures 15 inches square.  You don’t really need the box to carry it around – just put the tiles in a bag and carry the board.

LEGACY: This is part of the Kosmos two-player series, and is the 27th highest ranked out of those (out of about 43).  A lot of the complaints about the game center around the amount of luck, but I find this to be a great example of how to do asymmetric play in an abstract environment.  It’s one of my favorites from the line, which admittedly I need to play more of.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I think this is a wonderful two-player game, though I think it is sadly out of print.  But never fear – you can check it out on Yucata.de, which is where I first played it.  If you don’t mind a good amount of luck in your abstract games, give it a try sometime.  I highly recommend it.  Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  1. I love the Kosmos two-player series. So many great games! I still haven’t decided whether or not to pull the trigger on a physical copy of this one. (I’m not sure if it’s OOP or between print runs. RGG can be funny that way.) So far, I have only played this one on Yucata, and after about a dozen plays, I’m not sick of it, and I’m not anywhere close to mastering the strategies needed to deal with various circumstances you can land in. As you say, you have to puzzle your way out of whatever limitations you may end up with, so every game is different.

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