Monday, 21 April 2014

Ingenious

"A team is only as strong as its weakest member."

A game for the genuine all-rounder, the Jack of all trades...

2010 Red Box Edition - the one I have

The 2004 Edition




Name: Ingenious (2004)

Publisher: Fantasy Flight but Kosmos also does it. My version was published by Esdevium Games.

Alternate Names/Versions:

The version I am reviewing is the one that comes in the standard square box, which is quite large. It comes with a large board as well as plastic tiles and trays for each player to store their tiles on. Some may now refer to this as a "deluxe" version, but the reality is that this ought be considered the normal version - it is only said to be "deluxe" now that the Mass Market Edition has been released (see below).

Smaller Editions

The Ingenious Mass Market Edition comes with smaller/flimsier cardboard, rather than plastic, components and board; thus it is significantly cheaper by about $15 to $20. Hence, if you are not particularly fussed about quality then this is definitely a good option.

As a sidenote, it seems to me that there is perhaps a trend these days for companies to shrink the size of board game boxes to help consumers/purchasers conserve shelf space. Whilst this is a good enough reason for taking that step, don't let that reason alone fool you. These companies aren't completely altruistic: selling smaller board games substantially reduces shipping/transport/logistical costs for them and would therefore, presumably, increase their profit margins as well.

There is also an Ingenious: Travel Edition, which apparently only plays two players, but apart from that I am unsure how this compares with the Mass Market Edition.



"Simply Ingenious" is another small-scale version (and hence substantially cheaper by about $15 to $20). I don't know what the components are like though so I would guess, but am not sure, that it is similar to the Mass Market Edition discussed above.

"Simply Ingenious" - the box looks tiny


Alternate Name: Ingenious is also known as Mensa Connections in the UK, which is a product that seems to be endorsed by Mensa, the high-IQ society, in its store.

Mensa Connections

Spin-offs

There is also Ingenious Challenges, which appears to be a separate spin-off of sorts to the original game. It contains 3 challenges: a card, a tile and a dice challenge. Thus it doesn't seem like you need the original game to play it. Read here for more details.

At the time of writing it looks like this game costs $30 to $40 in the market, a price that already includes shipping.


Designer: Reiner Knizia

Players: 1(!) to 4

Age: 10+

Time to play: 30 to 45 minutes

Price Range (AUD): $35 to $60, but one website sells it for $100 (which is absurd) - I got mine for $27 because my box was damaged (a good deal because the components were otherwise fine).

Availability: Widespread in online stores, but it may be quite difficult to tell the difference between the mass market edition and the "big-box" edition.

Genres
  • Puzzle
  • Abstract
  • Strategy

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.2* out of 10. (Decent - See my Rating Scale)

This game focuses on a unique concept that revolves around balance and equality.

Players attempt to score points in each of their 6 colours/symbols. Players are NOT rewarded for maximising points for one or two colours only: instead, there is an incentive to ensure that all colours are scored as equally as possible. Hence, scoring highly in one colour/symbol, but doing poorly in the others will probably mean that you will lose. No one (colour) gets left behind!

Overall, I feel that this is an interesting abstract strategy game that works well in the family environment. There is of course a moderate degree of luck as one has to draw tiles, but the rules do try to ensure there is fairness by allowing you to redraw all your tiles if you don't have tiles of your lowest scoring colour. Hence, I wouldn't classify this as a pure abstract game - it suffices to say that it plays like an abstract game that caters well for the family.

That is all I have to say in this summary - to better understand this game, check out the rules (in particular, the "Winning" Section).

* 28 July 2014: Reduced from 7.35. I have made the range of 7.2 to 7.25 a benchmark of sorts - it's a score that represents a game that has some different mechanic/feature about it that makes the game special. Ingenious, in the context of an accessible family game, probably fits that bill given its concept of "no one gets left behind!"

The Good:
  • People who enjoy pattern-matching will like this game
  • The board has quite a good lay-out: there are distinctly shaded areas that tell you the outer limits of gameplay for different numbers of players - contrast this to Gemblo where it is hard to see which areas should be used for different numbers of players.
  • Has quite an interesting gameplay idea: "We are only as strong as the weakest member on our team." That is, whoever has the "the most amount of points in their weakest colour" wins (see below rules under "Winning" for a better explanation). This has been done before though: Knizia has merely re-used this concept from his (famous and by far more hardcore) game Tigris and Euphrates, except this time he has incorporated it into a less complicated family game. This concept alone is probably what separates it from other abstract games 
  • Relatively easy to explain and learn, but occasionally I have found that some people do not understand the main premise of the game that well.

The Bad:
  • Randomised tile drawing and the fact that not everyone starts off with the same pieces makes for a luck-based game, to some extent - which can work both ways in terms of enjoyment and strategy.
  • By reason of the above, it is not something I would consider to be a pure abstract game (compared with BlokusGemblo or Chess where everyone starts with the same pieces)
  • Lacks any real theme - but that is the nature of the beast when it comes to abstract games

What makes this game fun? 

The aims of leaving no one (colour) behind and striving for balance makes for an interesting and easily accessible game for the family.






- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -









Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

Everyone receives a score board with 6 pegs (1 for each colour/symbol).
And everyone also receives a tile rack with 6 tiles on it.


Tile rack with 6 tiles.
Tiles are drawn from a bag

The game board looks like this:

The board demonstrates different degrees of shading to highlight which parts are used for 2-4 player games:
The completely white tiles are for the two player game.
The slightly shaded tiles just outside the two-player board are the outer limit of  thethree player game
The whole board is used for a 4 player game.

Aim and Turn structure

Players try to score points by "symbol-matching."

What happens is, on your turn, you:

1) Place a tile on the board and then
2) Draw a tile to refresh your hand back up to 6 tiles.

Placing tiles

Usually a tile is placed such that as many of the SAME symbols are touching each other in a straight line.

However this is strictly speaking not a requirement - you can place a tile that completely fails to match any of the symbols (which can be used for blocking purposes - to stop other people from scoring in a colour they need)

Scoring Points

You receive a point for every matching symbol that is "connected in a straight line" to the symbols you just placed down. A straight line is defined as any of the imaginary 6 lines that emanate from each side of a given hexagon. For the purposes of scoring, you do not count symbols on the tile just placed down.

Example 1


For example, I have just placed the tile with a red star and the orange hexagon. I receive 1 point in red because there is 1 red star connected in a straight line to the red star of the tile I just placed down. The straight line I speak of is the imaginary line that is north-west of the red star of the tile I just placed.

Hence I score myself 1 red point on my score track:


Example 2

If this is the situation:



Suppose that Player B placed this piece (1 red and 1 green) in the gap above.

Player B places a tile

Then, B would score 4 Red points (2 + 1 + 1)
And B would also score 4 Green points (2 + 2)

To clarify how I got 4 points for Red:

2 points from the 2 red stars to the left of the tile placed by B (they are connected in a straight line to the tile originally placed);

1 point from the red star connected to the straight line diagonally south-west of the red star of the tile placed by B (this straight line hits an orange hexagon - which means that even if there were red stars beyond the orange hexagon, they would not be counted as part of the score as they are not "connected" to the tile originally placed - essentially this means that the orange hexagon halts any straight-line connection to other red stars beyond it).

The other 1 point being the red star connected to the straight line south-east of the red star of the tile just placed by B. This imaginary straight line hits a blank space (situated between a red star and a green circle) which obviously does not score any points.

Add these points together to get 4 points.

This is how B would score their progress:



Winning

The game ends when there are no places available on the board for a tile to be placed.

The winner is the person who has the highest score in their weakest colour. Therefore there is an incentive to score all colours as equally as possible.

For example, suppose this was B's score at the end of the game:

Player B's scoreboard at the end of the game

B's weakest colour is Orange as it is the lowest-scoring colour.

Thus B's final score is 8. 

In a sense, B could have spent less time on increasing points in Red and Purple to increase Orange instead - this is because, for the purposes of winning, it doesn't really matter how extreme B's first and second placed colours are (what matters is that all your colours are equally scored highly).

Thus, if Player C had every single colour on 9 points they would still beat B's score (because their lowest scoring colour is all colours - which is 9 points). Hence, this demonstrates that carefully working every colour equally is more meaningful than pursuing extreme values of other colours (as Player B did with Purple and Red)


Special Rules

Changing all tiles: After you have placed a tile, if you have no tiles of your weakest or lowest-scoring colour, you may replace your whole hand immediately (but only after revealing your hand to the other players). This ensures that you aren't stuck with a losing hand if you have no tiles in your weakest colour.

Free turn: If you score 18 in a particular colour, you get to take another free turn (that is, before refreshing your hand, you can play another tile for free)

Automatic win: If you score 18 in all colours, you automatically win.

Also included in the game is a solo and team variant of the rules.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hey, That's My Fish!

One of the only games I own whose title not only contains a comma but is also, in substance, both an exclamation and an objection.




Name: Hey, That's My Fish! (2003)

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Versions: This version, compared to the (now out of print, if I'm not mistaken) Mayfair edition, is smaller in terms of box size and the components are a lot more 'cheapskate'.

The Mayfair 'deluxe' edition I speak of was apparently bigger and had larger cartoon-like plastic penguins. Just last year I was ready to order it from an online retailer only to be told that their supplier no longer stocked it - however, that was probably for the better as the deluxe version was 5x the price of the normal version and that would not have been worth it in my opinion.



I suspect they discontinued the deluxe edition in favour of the much more compact and smaller current edition,  which would sell for cheaper and (probably) generate more sales.


Designer: Alvydas Jakeliunas and G√ľnter Cornett

Players: 2 to 4

Age: 8+

Time to play: 15 to 30 minutes. But be warned: relatively speaking, it can be frustrating to set up unless your friends give you a hand. But I suppose it isn't too bad.

Price Range (AUD): $15 to $25 (given how small the game is, anything over say 20 is quite expensive)

Availability:  Can be found online and in hobby stores.

Genres
  • Puzzle
  • Abstract
  • Strategy
  • Area-control game
  • Kids?

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

6.4* out of 10. (Alright, could be Decent - See my Rating Scale)

This looks like a kid's game - and it certainly could be. The theme of the game seems innocent enough: players position and move penguins to try and catch as many fish as they can from a sinking island of ice.

However therein lies part of the deception: the underlying strategy behind the game can be quite deep even for experienced adult players of the abstract strategy genre.

For example,  the positioning and timing of your penguins' moves is critical. Blocking also plays an essential role, especially with cornering opponents and limiting their space.

Overall, I think that whilst this makes for an interesting experience to someone who has never played the game, or even this genre, before (particularly because of the novelty of a disappearing game board as more and more ice blocks vanish from the board!), it will largely only appeal in the long-term to abstract strategy enthusiasts.

* September 2014: On second thoughts, whilst it is an interesting abstract game, there is only so much interactivity that is involved here in this game. I think it makes for a good past-time, perhaps even a "deeper filler" but it lacks that x-factor that makes a game decent or good. Therefore, on that basis, reduced from 6.5 to 6.4


The Good:
  • Quite strategic and has some amount of depth (can also be a bad thing if you don't like this!)
  • Variable gameboard set-up creates new scenarios each time your play, especially because you can toggle the positions of the quantities of fish and also the shape and size of the board.
  • Novelty of a shrinking game board!
  • Easy rules to explain 
  • Quick game
  • Pretty cool arctic theme

The Bad:
  • For such a small game, it takes forever to set up the game board as you need to put all the hexagons together
  • Not necessarily likeable or replayable for those not into abstract strategy games

What makes this game fun? 

If you like the idea of a quick area-control game that focuses on limiting the options of your opponent, whilst maximising your dominance with the right position-plays, then you should give this game a go. The shrinking game board also makes things interesting.






- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -









Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

The game comes with 60 cardboard ice floe tiles which you can use to set up the game board in any shape you like (though the game recommends a rectangular shape).

Notice there are 10 tiles with 3 fish (worth 3 points each - they are the most valuable);
20 tiles with two fish (worth 2 points each) and
30 tiles with 1 fish (worth 1 point each)

Here are all the playing pieces that come with the game:

In a 4 player game each player only gets 2 pieces/penguins of their colour;
In a 3 player game, each player gets 3 pieces;
In a 2 player game, each player gets 4 pieces

Now I'm going to demonstrate what happens in a two player game. Putting aside strategy, there is no real difference in gameplay apart from the number of starting pieces and the number of turns one has to wait before it arrives back at your turn.

Set-up

Each player puts their pieces, one at a time, anywhere on the board.

So Green might put its piece here:

Then Yellow places its piece here:


If this continues on this is what the board might look like:


How to move

On each turn, players MUST move one penguin only in one direction.

Penguins must obey the following rules:

  • Penguins must move in a straight line in any of the six directions available from their hexagon. They may not change directions halfway through their movement on that turn (of course, they can change directions on the next turn movement) - they have to keep moving in the same direction. 
  • Penguins can move as many or as little spaces/hexagons as they want so long as they maintain their movement in the same straight line direction.
  • Penguins must not move over gaps 
  • Penguins are impeded (ie. stopped in their tracks) by other penguins (for example, in the below picture Green moves the south-west penguin horizontally to the right all the way until it is adjacent to the yellow penguin - this is the furthest it can go)

Scoring: The ice floe tile that was under the penguin BEFORE IT MOVED will now belong to the player that moved that penguin. The number of fish on the ice floe dictates how valuable it is - the more fish, the more points. Hence you only score points after you move a penguin. 

You will want to secure higher-valued fish by moving your penguin onto those tiles - but you won't be able to score them until the next turn (and only if you move that particular penguin)!

Examples


In this example below, the Yellow penguin (that was adjacent to the Green penguin that was just moved by the Green player above) has now moved to the north east corner and hence, the Yellow player can now take the ice floe tile with 3 fish on it. This is worth 3 points.

Yellow may move that same penguin again to obtain the 1 fish tile it ends the turn on, but only on the next turn.

Yellow just moved the yellow penguin - taking the ice floe tile worth 3 points and leaving a massive gap in the bottom-middle of the board.


If we fast forward the game after some turns have been played, it might look like this:



Notice how the north east corner has been created into an isolated island. Yellow will basically be guaranteed points from those ice floe tiles (as no one else is on it) but it will not be able to cross back into the 'mainland' and neither will any other penguin be able to access that isolated island.

Whoever has the most points, after all moves have been exhausted and no one else can move any more of their penguins, wins.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Ricochet Robots

Robot madness - a game for the visually, creatively and, mathematically, gifted.

Hari's favourite game thus far.

This review is dedicated to my friend Hari Raja, who, since high school, has never ceased to impress me with his sheer intelligence. Such intelligence includes, but is not limited to:

  • playing "mind chess"; 
  • working out creative solutions to difficult Extension 2 HSC Mathematics questions in his head (there was a stage where he refused to use working-out paper);
  • his IT prowess;
  • being generally intelligent otherwise; and
  • utterly thrashing us in games of Ricochet Robots.




Name: Ricochet Robots (1999)

Versions: This is the 2013 edition which includes the additional 5th Silver Robot (the original version only contains the yellow, blue, green and red robots). It can be viewed as a luxury or "Deluxe" edition.

It also includes 8 double-sided board pieces (incorporating old and new boards released over the years, I suppose), 4 of which are needed to make a complete board. Thus, the number of board variations that can be created is fairly large.

The other versions work fine but may not have the silver robot or have as many game boards.

Publisher: Abacusspiele (also Z-Man Games)

Warning: A disappointing feature of this game is that some of the boards do not align well in the 'middle corners' when you punch them out of their cardboard.

Designer: Alex Randolph

Players: 1 to Infinity (literally - as many people as you can surround the table with. However, this game could accommodate an infinite amount of people if an online version of it was created)

Age: 10+

Time to play: 30 mins+ (Possibly longer if this is your first time)

Price Range (AUD): $56.95 to $107 (I got mine for $46 but prices have risen since then)

Availability:  Can be found online and some hobby game shops. It isn't that widespread.

Genres
  • Puzzle
  • Abstract
  • Classic of sorts
  • "Games like chess, but not quite as intense as chess"

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.5* out of 10. (Great, arguably one of the best games the Abstract/Puzzle genre has to offer - See my Rating Scale)

If you don't like puzzle or abstract games, run away now.

This game is all about manoeuvring robots to reach a particular goal. Robots do not have brakes and travel in a straight line - they only stop when they hit an object (a wall or another robot).

Players must "bid" the number of moves they think they need to reach the goal. The person who makes the lowest bid AND successfully demonstrates the solution wins a point.

With the right (and willing) group, the suspense and tension as everyone desperately tries to find a solution to the given puzzle makes for a competitive and fun game. What I also like about this game is that it can play as many people as you want (within reason of course - your friends have to be able to fit in the room and be able to properly see the game obviously).

However, this game isn't for everyone - especially those who don't like computing solutions in their head. Put another way, I find it very hard to see the average person enjoying this game. In that sense, I believe this game discriminates against the majority of people because it would seem to only attract a certain breed of people: those who enjoy maths competitions and engaging in challenges that test the outer limits of their brainpower.

[As a sidenote, when our group played this game with Hari he virtually won almost every single round. Hari was consistent with finding solutions to the puzzles regardless of how complex or simple they were; however, for the rest of us mere mortals, we could only demonstrate flashes of momentary brilliance and were thus only able to win every now and then.]

* July, August and September 2014: Revised down from 8.7+. I admire whoever designed this game because of its elegance and clean rules, and the mental challenge it provides to a group of gamers. However, it's not a game I would play every single time nor is it a game that everyone would look forward to. I still consider it to be arguably one of the best abstract games you can play given a certain group of people, but that group of people may be hard to come by. I think it's "accessible" to everyone in the sense that almost everyone can appreciate the beauty of this game (especially playing with experts) - but whether they can actually feel competitive is a completely different thing. But it's certainly not accessible to everyone in the ordinary meaning of the phrase due to its difficulty and the inherent abstract nature of the game.

The Good:
  • Easy to explain, simple gameplay 
  • If played with the right people, can result in intense games
  • Unique in that it's one of the only games I have experienced where there can quite often be a DEAFENING silence (not otherwise required by the game) as everyone scrambles desperately to think of a solution to the puzzle.
  • The bidding system makes for a competitive and interesting game
  • Can play HEAPS of people (as long as they can fit around the board and see everything properly). I find this to be a unique feature because it is very rare that an abstract strategy game can field so many players (especially considering that many abstract games are usually 2 player)
The Bad:
  • People who don't like puzzles won't appreciate this game
  • Some of the puzzles can be quite hard and complex
  • Requires some degree of perseverance and, in some senses, a mind that is good at visualising solutions
  • May be perceived to be an anti-social game (given the long pauses of silence mentioned above)
  • Hard to find a group that may enjoy this game and continuously replay it, especially if they aren't that good at it.

What makes this game fun? 

The thrill of working out the solution to a puzzle before your competitors do makes this game quite enjoyable.






- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -









Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

Join 4 pieces of the game board together (ensuring there is 1 of every colour in the centre out of green, red, yellow and blue).

You can place the timer in an easily accessible location. I prefer to place it in the middle of the board.

Place the robots in ANY POSITION THAT DOES NOT HAVE A SYMBOL (literally anywhere on the board that doesn't have a coloured symbol).

Hence, this is how the board might look like at the start.




Now, after placing the robots, make sure you place the corresponding coloured starting square under its respective robot (see below).

To make things easy to explain, I have placed the robots like so:

Robots have been RANDOMLY placed on the board.

Note that each robot has a coloured square underneath it that matches their colour - this is to mark their starting location

Next, shuffle all the tokens face down and someone randomly turns one over:


Now, whichever token that has been turned over is NOW THE GOAL.

The COLOUR of the symbol dictates which coloured robot must go onto the goal.

Here, because the symbol is green, it means the Green Robot must go to the Green Shield/Hexagon/Star symbol.

Bidding Moves

EVERYONE must now think of how many moves they will require to get the Green robot to that goal location.

A move is defined as:

- A continuous movement made by any given robot in a straight line , until it hits an object (such as a wall or another robot)

- When counting moves, all moves of robots must be counted - hence all robots can be moved and they can be moved in any order, so long as they move in a continuous straight line (not diagonally) from their starting point to an obstacle. See below for clarification.

Bidding Moves

When a player has found a solution, they yell out their bid (which I will call the "First Bid" or the "Original Bid"). Once they yell out their bid, the timer is turned upside down. Everyone else now has roughly 1 minute to make their bid before the timer runs out.

ANYONE (including the original bidder) can choose to beat the Original Bid during this 1 minute duration and anyone (EXCEPT for the original bidder) may bid higher than the Original Bid.

After the time runs out, if the person who bid the Original Bid fails to complete the puzzle in that number of moves, the player who bid the next lowest number of moves (or the next player who called the same bid the next fastest) gets to complete it. This continues until someone has completed the puzzle.

Example

In the above example, Hari calls "SIX". The timer is turned over. Everyone now has 1 minute to make a bid.

Hari cannot bid above Six during this time, but can choose to go to five if he wants to. He chooses not to because he can't find a solution lower than six moves.

However, during the 1-minute period, Andre calls "FIVE"; David calls "SIX". Jack calls "SEVEN".

Thus, the turn order will go like this:

1) Andre
2) Hari
3) David (because Hari called Six first - hence there is a small advantage to being the First bidder; but it doesn't prevent someone like Andre from calling a lower bid than the First Bid)
4) Jack

Because his bid is the lowest, Andre goes first. However, after demonstrating his solution, he fails to get the green robot to the target destination in 5 moves (he miscalculated).

NOTE/CHALLENGE: The optimum solution IS IN FACT FIVE MOVES, however - can you see it below? (Credit: Hari Raja)

The robots are then placed back onto their starting positions.

"Six Moves"

Because his bid is the next lowest, Hari then demonstrates his moves like so:

Move 1: Move Blue from its starting position (blue square) to the left until it hits the wall (remember only walls and other robots stop robots from moving).

Move 2: Move Yellow up one space until it is stopped by the Blue Robot.

Move 3: Move Green to the right until it hits Yellow

Move 4: Move Green up until it hits the wall

Move 5: Move Red down one square so it hits the wall

Move 6: Move Green onto the Green Star/Shield Symbol

6 moves! Hari gets the Green Star token and scores 1 point


Now, the starting positions/squares are now SHIFTED to reflect the NEW positions the robots have taken like so:


This ensures that, for the next round, if someone fails to demonstrate their solution in the number of moves stated in their bid, we can remember the starting positions of the robots.

Then, a new token is flipped, and the same process repeats itself (Bidding and demonstrating the answer by moving the robots) until all the tokens are gone.

Winning: Whoever scores the most points (tokens) wins



Monday, 7 April 2014

Animal Upon Animal (Tier auf Tier)

An animated and wobbly stacking game - designed for kids, but still fun for the young at heart.


Original cover


What I would call an impossible stack as depicted on the back cover: I have never seen a stack built that high with adult players - so how did these kids do it?!



Name: Animal Upon Animal (aka Tier auf Tier) (2005)

Different Versions:

Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge (2010) (which looks more interesting than the original - I don't own this though)

Balancing Bridge, as advertised by Haba on the back of the box (at the time of writing, on Amazon.com, this version costs approximately $59 including shipping for this version of the game).

Because I already have the original I wouldn't go for this (well, I might in the future, but it's definitely not a priority given what the new games I could obtain for the same amount of money). However, in hindsight, if I had known this version existed, I would probably pay the extra dollars to get this version.

However, it probably doesn't matter too much - the graphics do look nice though.


Animal Upon Animal: Rotate

The Rotate version seems to incorporate a spinning element - which makes the game considerably harder (play a piece and spin the wheel once? and I read that you also have to make an animal noise - if you want to play it that way..)


Publisher: Haba

Designer: Klaus Miltenberger

Players: 2 to 4

Age: 4+

Time to play: 15 minutes

Price Range (AUD): $32 to $65. The lower end of the range I just game is more reasonable but it's still slightly pricey. The pieces are made from good wood though and are coloured well.

Availability:  Not commonplace but it exists online - just like most games, shipping can make this game unreasonably expensive.

Genres
  • Dexterity
  • Kids
  • Stacking

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

6.5+* out of 10. (Decent - See my Rating Scale)

Stack all your animal pieces without collapsing the stack. That is essentially all there is to this game.

I think though that this game suffers from being slightly too easy from the perspective of an adult - It is quite easy to get rid of all the pieces in your hand with a few lucky rolls of the die (I will explain this in the Rules section below, but basically the die tells you what action to perform, such as: how many animals to put on the stack; giving pieces to other players; letting the whole group decide what piece you should put; and expanding the base). As such, there isn't too much competition in this game. Your group may have a good laugh though playing it - and that's basically it.

Just to mix up the rules a bit, I could see the merits of playing this game as a cooperative exercise - for example, getting everyone to build the highest and most stable stack possible - that would be much much harder and an interesting challenge.

And I can see that the expanded versions of the game (as listed above) might provide more of a challenge and have a higher fun factor.

However this is still a decent game to play, even if you are not-so-young anymore.

*27 July 2014: Revised down from 6.8+. It's more of a kids game rather than offering any substantial difficulty or challenge to teenagers or adults. - the dexterity required in this game isn't so substantial. The figures are cute and colourful though.

The Good:
  • Simplistic, clean fun for all (but more for kids than adults!!)
  • Quick filler game
  • Good for kids and open-minded/curious adults
  • Great and solid wooden components
The Bad:
  • Best to play on a stable surface - playing on carpet produces shaky results
  • May not be suitable for adults who might "look down upon kids' games" - although the game is still fairly fun.
  • Perhaps too easy for adults!! Especially if you roll the crocodile and hand symbols too often (see below)
  • Not something you would continuously replay

What makes this game fun? 

Balancing dexterity-type games are generally quite fun - here the added element of rolling dice to place lively animal characters makes for an enjoyable treat.








- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -









Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

The Crocodile is placed in the middle. This is the starting base from which all play originates from.

Each player receives 7 animals: A toucan, a sheep, a frill-necked lizard (if I'm not mistaken), a porcupine, a monkey, a snake and a penguin.

Crocodile in the foreground - this is the base from which everything is stacked upon.
Each players' playing pieces in background.


Players must stack up their animals ON the crocodile UNLESS they roll the crocodile icon (see below).

A player's turn goes like this: they roll the die and perform the action of the dice. And then they pass on the die to the next player who then does the same thing and so on.

First person to get rid of all their pieces wins.

Die Actions

So, for example, if a player rolled a symbol with two dots, this means they must place two animals onto the crocodile like below:

A two is rolled. Notice the one on the side - that means the same thing except only 1 piece must be placed by the rolling player.

If the crocodile symbol is rolled, it means the player can EXPAND THE BASE by placing a piece NEXT TO the crocodile (hence, other animals, from now on, can be placed on the newly placed piece). For example, a player could simply place a sheep next to the crocodile like so:


Other Symbols

The Question Mark means that the other players, by consensus (or majority I suppose - up to you), get to decide which piece you have to put onto the stack

The Hand symbol means that you can GIVE a piece to someone else and they must put it on immediately - this, along with the Crocodile symbol is therefore, from the perspective of wanting to win the game, the best thing to roll as you don't have to do anything (but, from another point of view, I feel it makes the game too easy sometimes to win, depending on your luck - hence arguably ruining the fun of the game)

What happens if the pieces fall?

If, in the process of placing a piece, only one piece falls, then the player who caused the stack to fall must take back the piece that fell.

If, two or more pieces fall, then irrespective of the number of pieces that fell (to make sure the game isn't too cruel to someone), the player who caused the stack to fall must only take back two pieces (rather than everything that fell!!!).

If no one caused the stack to fall and it just fell by itself then no one is punished.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Lost Cities

Rumour has it that this is the ultimate couple's game

A "Daring Adventure for Two"



Name: Lost Cities (1999)

Publisher: Kosmos/ Rio Grande

Designer: Reiner Knizia (famous designer of Ingenious, Tigris and Euphrates, Keltis etc)

Relatives: Keltis (aka Lost Cities: The Board Game)

Players: 2

Age: 13+  according to the box guidelines, probably because of the counting/scoring involved. (However, take these guidelines with a pinch of salt: Sometimes they can be accurate but at other times they don't always seem to be accurate - for example, I find it hard to believe that Mr. Jack can play ages 9+; if that were the case then Lost Cities might arguably be 7+ on that basis.)

Time to play: 20-40 minutes

Price Range (AUD): $28.90 to $42.77 (it's just a deck of cards and a simple board - not worth over $30 in my opinion)

Availability:  Quite widely available online, but is not famous enough to find its way into department stores

Genres
  • Hand Management
  • Cards
  • Cult Classic
  • Gateway?
  • Set Collection
  • Push Your Luck

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

6.8* out of 10. (Decent, can be quite interesting - See my Rating Scale)

This is one of those games that will have a bigger impact on you if you are relatively new to card games. When I first played it I really loved the game but over time the concept became a bit repetitive as luck plays a heavy role in this game.

Players compete for the most points by going on expeditions. There are 5 expeditions. However, there is a bit of business involved - once you "commit" to an expedition, you incur a fixed start-up cost, namely, 20 points. 

To score the most points on an expedition, you need to play the same-coloured cards in ascending (but they need not be in consecutive) order.

However, you need to collect the same-coloured cards before you can do that - which depends both on how you draw from the deck and what cards your opponent decides to discard (thus, there is lots of luck involved). You must be confident that the sum of the numerical values of the same coloured cards is sufficient to go beyond your 20-point start up, allowing you to profit for that particular expedition. [see Rules, and last picture, for more clarity]

The issue and main tension of the game is this: if you go on too many expeditions, your points will be diluted and you will probably make an overall loss; however if you go on too few you are taking the risk that you will  not be able to collect the exact cards you need the right time (which may force you to discard them and give them to your opponent!). Investment cards also double, triple and quadruple the risk.

The other pressure point is that you must decide if you should discard certain coloured cards - if you do perhaps your opponents might steal them to start their own successful expedition.

The fun in this game is the unpredictable and vulnerable nature each player finds themselves in - it is often the case that at the beginning of the game players are unsure if they should commit to certain expeditions or whether they should wait it out until they collect better cards. There is also the added conflict of not knowing what cards your opponent wants too.

September 2014: Increased from 6.5. I severely underrated this game; the tension it creates is just nice and subtle enough for it to be enjoyable. In particular, the start of the game is intense as you aren't sure of what you should do next. The colour and art of the cards is quite nice.

The Good:
  • Might come across to people as a loose version of Solitaire, but with higher stakes - arguably, games which incorporate a popular and familiar concept but with added modifications/twists will readily appeal to people
  • Simple gameplay
  • Interesting risk-taking choices posed to players in a friendly environment
  • Novel concept of going on adventurous expeditions has a real explorer feel to it - nice theme and graphics on the cards themselves as well
  • Colour and artwork on cards is quite lovely - higher-valued cards have the "bigger picture" of the expedition.
The Bad:
  • Highly dictated by luck - obviously, being a card game
  • Counting scores can be a nuisance and people who don't really like basic arithmetic (adding up, subtracting, multiplying) might be turned off by this aspect of the game.
  • Not much meat to the game after a few plays - probably low replay value. But, nonetheless, it can be fun

What makes this game fun? 

The mixture of uncertainty and risk (in a pseudo Solitaire-style format) coupled with the aim of maximising profits makes for an interesting competition for two players.







- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -









Rules & Components (Photos courtesy of my mum, Joanne)

This is the game board:

Each rectangular piece corresponds with an expedition - players place their cards below that rectangular piece to start an expedition

From left to right:
Yellow: Egypt
Blue: Underwater (Atlantis?)
White/Black: Snowy/Mountain Buddha
Green: South American (Chichen Itza?)
Red: Weird Stonehenge?

These rectangular pieces also serve as the "Discard" pile for each of the respective expeditions. The top-most card in the deck can be accessed by both players. See last picture for an example as to what this means.
Cards (Numbered and Investment):
Miscellaneous examples of numbered cards used in the game - each colour matches the colour on the board above

Investment cards that correspond to a particular expedition - They increase the risk and reward of the expeditions.
1 Investment card DOUBLES the reward/loss; 2 Investment cards stacked on top of each other TRIPLE the reward/loss;  3 cards Quadruple the reward/loss.

Importantly, they may only be played BEFORE numbered cards are put down - ie. they cannot be played even after 1 numbered card is put down. Hence, if you wanted to quadruple your investment, you'd have to play all 3 before going on the expedition (ie before playing numbered cards).

Set-up

Each player gets 8 cards, and there is a draw deck arranged (on the right in this picture below) like so:



On their turn, players do 2 actions: Play a card and then pick up a card.

When players play a card, they have two options as to how they may play it:
1a. Play 1 card BELOW the board to start or continue an expedition [investment cards must always be played first and they cannot be added later - then numbers must be played in ascending order] or
1b. Play 1 card ON TOP OF the board to DISCARD CARDS (thus making the cards accessible to everyone).

When players pick up a card they also have two options as to how they may pick up a card:
2a. Pick 1 card from the DRAW DECK or
2b. Pick 1 card from the DISCARDED cards

This will become clearer.

For example, if it was the bottom player's turn, they could start off by playing 1 investment card for the White expedition (below the board, underneath the rectangular area representing the White expedition) and then draw a card:



If we skip forward a few turns later, this is what the bottom player's expeditions may look like:


I have only showed the bottom player's side of the board; note that the top player also has their own expeditions going on their side.

Things you should note:

1) Cards played must be in ascending order but they need not be consecutive - hence, just like above, for the White Expedition you can skip  the'4' and '5' cards if you didn't have them to play but it may be more worth it to wait until you get the right white cards.

1b) Bonus points: Having more consecutive cards for a particular expedition not only scores you more points -- it is important to bear in mind that the more consecutive cards you have, the more likely it is you'll be able to receive the fixed 20-point bonus for expeditions that have 8 or more cards (which includes investment cards).

2) Scoring Example: The White expedition has two investment cards: This triples the profit/loss of the investment. This is how you calculate the score of the White expedition:

Add up the numbers (2 + 3 + 6 + 7 + 10 = 28)
Subtract the fixed investment cost, which is always 20 (28 - 20 = 8)
Triple the profit = 8 x 3 = 24 = the score for the White Expedition

However, if we pretend that the "10" card was not played for the White Expedition, then this is what would happen:

Add up the numbers (2 + 3 + 6 + 7 = 18)
Subtract the fixed investment cost, which is always 20 (18 - 20 = -2)
Triple the loss = -2 x 3 = -6

SO you can see that investment cards are ALWAYS a double-edged sword - they amplify your losses and rewards. (They do not amplify the fixed point bonus though - the fixed bonus is added on after the multiplying occurs.)

3) Note also that the score for the Yellow expedition is 0 (5+7+8 - 20 = 0)

4) Picking up discarded cards: The bottom player may at any time, after playing their card, pick up the 9 from the Yellow discard pile (and hence, they may pick up the top-most card from any discard pile - so long as there are cards there). If there are more cards under the Yellow 9, they may pick them up as well on subsequent turns (so long as their opponent does not pick it up before them!). Only the top-most card should be seen in the discard pile.


End of Game

The game ends when the draw pile runs out. Hence, sometimes players may procrastinate by continually drawing from discard piles.

Add up all the scores for each expedition for each player - highest score wins.