Game Buzz: Mensa Select Winners 2016, part I

An award that I hear about every year, but really haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to, is the Mensa Select award.  This award is given out annually by Mensa (the high IQ society) to five games after their Mind Games weekend, which this year was held in Chicago, IL.  What happens is the participants show up for a weekend and play submitted games for over 40 hours.  They vote on their favorites, and the top five vote getters get the Mensa Select seal.  It’s a very interesting process, and it’s one I think I’ll start following a little closer from here on out.  The winners were announced on April 17, 2016, and as I haven’t really talked about any of them on the blog (a couple in passing), this post and the next will be dedicated to looking closer at the winners.  In part one, we’ll look at the first three alphabetically, beginning with

image by BGG user Jumplion
image by BGG user Jumplion

Circular Reasoning is an abstract game for 2-4 players designed by Tomer Braff and Edward Stevenson that was published by Breaking Games.  The game is played on a circular board made up of three concentric rings and a center space.  Your goal is to get all three of your pieces (a square, a triangle, and a circle) to the center of the board.  Each piece moves a different number of spaces – the square moves four, the triangle moves three, and the circle moves two.  There is a gateway between each ring, but it moves clockwise every turn based on how many pieces are in the ring.  Two pieces cannot occupy the same space, so you have to be clever to figure out how to block, manipulate the movement of the gateways, and ultimately get your pieces to the center first.

This is the only game on the winner list that I had not heard of before hand.  Apparently, it came out of a student project, and has now won the Mensa Select award.  It seems interesting to me, and I can see how it would appeal to Mensa people – you have to think in several different directions at once to be successful.  There aren’t a lot of pieces, and the rules are quite simple, so it seems like it will be a good abstract to try out sometime.

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

Favor of the Pharaoh is a reimagining of an older game, specifically 2006’s To Court the King by Tom Lehmann.  This version, also by Lehmann, is published by Bézier Games.  FOTP is an engine building game where you are rolling dice, using those dice to gain better and better abilities (and hopefully more dice).  At the start of the game, each player will be able to roll three dice.  After rolling, you must lock at least one die, and may lock as many others as you want.  Once a die is locked, it may not be rerolled unless a power allows it.  When you have locked all of your dice, you may claim a tile.  You must have a combination on your dice that matches the requirements for the card, and then you may take it into your tableau.  It will give you a benefit from that point forward.

Whenever someone claims the Queen (7 of a kind), the final roll-off begins.  The player who claimed the Queen also claims the Pharaoh, and all other players will get a chance to try to beat that final roll.  If they do, they take the Pharaoh.  If not, they are out.  If anyone else controls the Pharaoh when it gets back to the player who took the Queen, that player will have a final roll.  Whoever controls the Pharaoh in the end is the winner.

In my mind, To Court the King was a big influence on games like Kingsburg.  It was one of the first to really take that “Yahtzee” sensibility and do something interesting with it.  The big problem with TCTK is that it’s not very variable – the roles you can influence never change.  Here, they are constantly changing from game to game.  The requirements can be changed, the roles themselves are randomly distributed – it seems that this game really refines the system and makes it more accessible.  It’s one that’s been on my radar since I first heard about it, and one I’d love to play sometime.

image by BGG user Grant
image by BGG user Grant

The Last Spike is another reissued game, this time of a 1976 game of the same title.  The game system was designed by Tom Dalgliesh and published by Columbia Games.  This is a route building train game where players are laying track, collecting payouts, and taking/buying land.  On your turn, you’ll play one of the four track blocks in your hand, paying the cost listed.  You’ll then collect payouts if you connected two of the nine cities based on how many land deeds you have for one of those cities.  Land deeds are collected/purchased in the next phase.  You end your turn by drawing a new track piece.  The game ends when Sacramento and Saint Louis are connected, and the player with the most money (after a final payout) wins.

I’m not big into train games, so I don’t really know where this one fits on the spectrum.  It seems more complicated than Ticket to Ride, and probably more along the lines of Airlines Europe/Union Pacific in terms of complexity.  Columbia Games is known for their block war-games, so it’s appropriate that this game uses blocks for track pieces.  It seems like an interesting game, and one I’d be happy to play sometime.


So there you are.  Join me again on Friday as I look at the other two winners, New York 1901 and World’s Fair 1903.  Thanks for reading!


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