Buzzworthiness: Equinox

Thanks to Asmadi Games for providing a review copy of Equinox.

Today’s review is an abstract game about the eternal struggle between light and darkness.  It’s called

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Equinox was designed by Jason Boomer and has been published by Asmadi Games.  It’s a two-player abstract that takes 25 minutes to play.  One person is white, the other is black, and you take turns placing tiles on the board to try and score the most points.

The game comes with 48 hexagonal tiles, a cloth bag, and 40 yellow beads that serve as point tokens.  In the beginning, place the stone tile in the center of the playing area and put the other 47 tiles in the bag.  Mix them up, then draw out seven to form the initial pool.  After seeing the initial pool, the second player chooses which color they want to be.

On your turn, you take two of the tiles from the pool (the first player only takes one tile on the very first turn of the game).  You then place your tiles, one at a time, then resolve their effects.  You can place the tiles either side up – they are identical on both sides, but you may have a strategic reason for placing it on the opposite side.  You then replace tiles you took with new tiles from the bag, placing a point token on each new tile (clearing off the tokens from old tiles).  If you take a tile with a point token, your opponent gets it since they didn’t have a chance to play that tile.

Each tile does something different based on their color:

  • RED allows you to flip other tiles immediately.  For example, Day tells you to flip it and all neighbors to white, while Night tells you to flip it and all neighbors to black.  The Mace allows you to flip tiles in a triangular pattern from the Mace, Spear allows you to flip three tiles in a straight line, Dart allows you to flip a tile that is exactly two spaces away, and Arrow allows you to flip a tile that is four or more spaces away.
  • YELLOW has other immediate effects.  For example, Key will swap positions with any other tile on the board, Map will allow you to choose the next two positions your opponent will place in, Speed lets you draw another tile from the bag and play it, and Famine allows your opponent to only play one tile on the next turn.
  • PURPLE has continuous effects that begin as soon as they are placed.  For example, Shield protects itself and its neighbors from red effects, Cloak protects itself and neighbors from yellow effects, Sheep must have more white neighbors than black, Crow must have more black neighbors than white, and no tile can be placed next to Poison.
  • BLUE tiles are resolved in sequential order at the end of the game.  For example, the Tower tile will get three point tokens, War gives tokens to neighboring red tiles,  the Thief will steal tokens from neighbors, Peace will remove red tiles, and Vortex will remove itself and all neighbors from the game.

Once all tiles have been placed, and all blue effects have been resolved, you count up the tiles showing your color plus all point tokens you have collected.  The player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: The bits in this game are really nice.  The tiles are made of solid cardboard, and are illustrated with some blocky pictures representing what the tiles are. At first, I didn’t really think much of the art, and then I realized they were constellations, which made it a bit more cool.  I also want to compliment the graphic design team on the logo – Equinox is here written as an ambigram, and reads the same way when you flip it upside down.  Ambigrams are awesome, and high marks for including one here.

The glass beads used to track points are lightweight, yellow, and flat on the bottom so they sit well on the cards.  The bag included in the game is velvet, and maybe a little small for what it is – your hand will go in easily enough, but with all 49 tiles in there, it’s hard to really mix up the tiles.  You also have to fold it up to get it in the box, which is just big enough to hold everything.

Overall, the components are really good.  There’s not a ton of them, but everything is of really nice construction.

THEME: Equinox is about light versus dark, but the theme isn’t really important.  It’s a frame for what is essentially an abstract.  That said, all the names of titles work thematically with what they do.  Also, every tile that is good for one side has an opposite that is good for the other side – Day and Night, Sheep and Crow, Candle and Shadow, Rooster and Wolf, Snow and Ink.

MECHANICS: This is a tile-placement game, and where you place everything has a huge impact on the rest of the game.  The differing abilities of each tile means that each placement will cause something new to happen.  The different abilities seem pretty well balanced – even the best tiles have a counter somewhere else in the game.  As you place, there’s an area control aspect as you are trying to get the most of your color out, but you have to be aware that your tiles will probably flip.  This means you’re placing mostly to get the immediate benefit, rather than long-term.  You want to control the blue tiles at the end of the game, but the others are more expendable.

The flow of this game is pretty good.  There’s a tile draft at the beginning of each turn as you choose which two tiles you’re going to play.  This can be an agonizing decision, particularly if there’s nothing out there you especially want to play (blue tiles in the early game are often avoided since they don’t do anything until the end).  But you can often find some pretty nice combos – use Death to remove a tile from the game, then drop Night right where it was to turn all those supposedly safe white tiles to black.

The new tile penalty is also an interesting aspect of the game that really helps to mitigate the luck factor.  You can take a tile that just came out, but you’re going to have to give your opponent a point for doing so.  This is kind of the opposite of something like Puerto Rico, where points are put on a tile that hasn’t been taken in a while to entice people to take it.  Here, it’s used as a discouraging factor.  Still, it may be worth it to give your opponent a point.  It’s a very clever mechanism in the game.

Finally, I really like the resolution of the blue tiles.  It happens sequentially, starting with zero and moving up to 90, and provides kind of a climax to the game as you see what happens to the board.  First, the snow and ink become white and black.  Then, Tower, Loyalty, Betrayal and Freedom collect points.  Coin also gets a point, but starts giving coins to neighbors, as does War.  Then Theft steals points from neighbors.  Disease and all of its neighbors flip.  Peace removes all red neighbors.  Vortex blows up part of the board.  It’s a final scoring that keeps you involved.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Equinox is very much a game of tactics.  You can try to position yourself in order to gain the most from blue tiles down the road, but the game state is constantly going to be changing.  It becomes a bit of a puzzle to figure out the optimal move as you look at your seven options.  While luck will determine what tiles are available, you still get the opportunity to a) choose what to use, and b) choose how to use it.  Timing is important as you try to bring out tiles that will give you the most benefit at the right time.  You also need to determine whether it’s worth it to give your opponent a point so you can get that tile that just came out.  As I said, the decisions you make are mostly tactical – your whole move could be completely shot after your opponent’s next move.  The most long-term planning you need is placing out the blue tiles, but it’s difficult to weigh how to play them since, as I said, everything will change.

ACCESSIBILITY: The rules here are not hard to learn.  However, the sheer amount of options you have can be fairly overwhelming to new players.  I’d probably put this in the next step category – it’s definitely got some advanced strategy, but it’s accessible enough that it can be learned by relatively inexperienced gamers.

REPLAYABILITY: The replay factor here is pretty high.  There are 47 different tiles that will be used throughout the game.  These will always come out in different configurations and will be placed in different positions, so you’ll never have the same game twice.  Since you use all tiles every game, I imagine that it would be possible to figure out good combos to look for, but I don’t think that’s a limiting factor.

SCALABILITY: This game is for two only.  As far as I know, no one has come up with a way to increase player count.  I suppose you could play in teams.

FOOTPRINT: Equinox comes in a relatively small rectangular box  Everything fits in there, but you have to fold up the bag pretty small to get it in.  The tiles come prepunched, so they were able to give a box with as little air as possible.  With all the tiles laid out, you do need a little table space, but it’s not bad.

LEGACY: I just reviewed Sellswords a couple of weeks ago, which has a very similar concept to Equinox.  I don’t think the two are the same game at all, but I do want to comment on a few of the similarities and differences.  Both are tactical two-player games where you are trying to flip existing tiles to your side.  Both have a tile draft (though the draft in Sellswords is done at the beginning of each round rather than every turn in Equinox).  Both have tiles with special abilities.  Sellswords has two scorings where you get points based on your majority in certain rows and columns.  Equinox only has a final scoring based on how many tiles you have overall plus tokens you have collected.  Sellswords compares numbers to see if tiles flip, Equinox flips based on the tile’s abilities.  Sellswords has large square cards for tiles, Equinox has smaller cardboard hexagons.

I bring all this up because I think the two games might scratch the same itch, despite being mostly different games.  If I was forced to choose one of them, I’d probably go with Equinox – I think it works a little better.  But both are good games.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I like Equinox quite a bit.  There’s a lot to think about, and all the tiles work well together.  If you like tile-lying, or abstract games, or special abilities, this is a game I’d recommend checking out.

Thanks again to Asmadi Games for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!


*Programming note: I’m going on my annual Christmas hiatus, so you’ll be seeing less frequent posts for the rest of the year.  Next week will be my 50th review for the year, and then you’ll see my Post-Holiday Gift Guide and Kickstarter Blitz #12 coming up around Christmas.  I’ll be back to full-time in January.

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