Friday, 31 October 2014

Mord Im Arosa

A unique audio-based filler* in a class of its own.

Not a perfect game by any means, but it certainly is unique and revolutionary enough for it to receive deserved plaudits (at least on my part).

"A thriller in the MYSTERY TOWER for 2 to 6 good noses ears." - Description on box
*A filler game is generally thought of as a game that isn't heavy but rather light and is, at times, used to bridge the gap between two longer games.

Random Trivia: My mum calls this "the pagoda game" - you can probably figure out why from the picture below. Although it doesn't really look like one.

What a 2-player game looks like when set up.

Name: Mord Im Arosa (2010)

Designer: Alessandro Zucchini

Publisher: Zoch-Verlag (they are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers because of their wacky ideas)

Players: 2 to 6 (needs at least 4 I reckon)

Age: 10+

Time to play: 30 mins, but it can take quite a long time if you follow the rules to the tee. But a simple modification to the rules, namely reducing the number of cubes players start with, can change this.

Price Range (AUD): $40 to $65 (if purchased on ebay be prepared to pay a ridiculous price). Quite an expensive game as it has to be imported from Europe.

Availability: Seemingly available online at the time of writing.

Genres
  • Audio/visual - Listening
  • Party
  • Something different/unique
  • Guessing

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.7 out of 10. (Great filler - See my Rating Scale)

The defining feature of this game is its revolutionary and effective concept of using sound as its central gameplay mechanism. I can say with some degree of confidence that Mord Im Arosa is likely to completely change your concept and definition of board games. I have yet to encounter a game that comes close to mimicking its idea and function - although, admittedly, my knowledge of games isn't fantastic.

In summary, players drop cubes down a cardboard tower and try to take note of where each cube lands based on the noise created. This is the extremely novel game mechanic that fuels the entire game. I've played this game with many people and each time people are always amazed that such a game exists. It truly is a well-thought out gimmick.

However, there are some downsides to this game. For example, the game's theme isn't entirely convincing. We are told by the game to expect a "thriller" where we must "solve" a murder mystery. However, as all players leave behind "clues" in the form of cubes, and all players are encouraged to "hide evidence" by removing their own cubes from the crime scene (by guessing which floor your cubes are on), the game in one sense does seem to suggest that all of the players are murderers. This sounds a bit surreal like Murder on the Orient Express. Or it could of course just mean everyone is suspicious and trying to prove they are innocent.

On the other hand, there is some sense to branding this as a murder mystery. Players are encouraged to pin the crime onto another player by guessing if their opponents' cubes were on a certain level. If correct, their opponent's cubes will be pinned to the level in which they were found. Players want to prevent their clues from being found on a crime scene level.

The problem with the rules is that they are at times a little clunky to explain. It might take a few goes to finally get everyone to realise that they will lose the game if more of their cubes are either on the crime scene itself, or close to the crime scene as compared to all other players (see Rules below for a better idea). It is one of those games that people will go "ohhhhh" after they play it once - indeed, it can be a bit challenging to explain the two phases of the game whilst trying to maintain everyone's patience and attention.

If you take this game to be a light-hearted filler, and if you can ignore the strange rules and slightly off-kilter theme, then it's a fantastic game that will certainly wow your friends. However, one shouldn't take this game too seriously because there isn't too much in it by way of strategy or "meat" to gameplay. All Mord Im Arosa really does is glorify that one component of our senses that is seldom (I would not say never - that would be something like taste or feel!) used in board games.

The Good:
  • An eye catcher - very different. Crowd-pleaser.
  • An innovative audio-based game.
  • Looks cool

The Bad:
  • Game drags on for too long if you let each person play with 20 cubes - but this can be easily remedied!
  • Rules are not exactly intuitive or easy to explain - but once people play once they will get the idea. Better understood after playing once - more so than other simple filler games.
  • Game's theme of a "detective murder mystery" doesn't really make total sense in terms of gameplay - which annoys me slightly.
  • A bit pricy for what you receive
  • Not for someone not into gimmicks - this game thrives on one sole gimmick.

What makes this game fun? 
If you want to try a radically different game concept, and don't mind it being a bit on the light side, give this game a go.





- 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)

See the second photo at the start of this review to see what the game looks like when set up.

Everyone receives 20 cubes of one colour of their choice (IMPORTANT: If you want a faster game, perhaps play with half the amount of cubes or toggle this to your liking)

The game is split up into two phases. Before I explain them you should know the basic principle of this game.

General Idea

The general premise of the game is to keep track of where:
  • Your cubes are in the tower
  • Your opponent's cubes are in the tower
  • And, for a short time, where the red hostage cubes are in the tower.
You do this by listening to the cubes being dropped into the tower.

The more accurate you are at predicting these three things, the more likely it is you will win.

If you make the most mistakes in identifying the above three things, and provided people 'target' you in Phase 2, you have a higher chance of losing. You will lose if you score the most negative points - you will understand if you read until the end.

This idea will be developed further.

Set up and Hostages are placed

Someone takes the 2 red victim cubes and throws them down the shaft (or top) of the tower ONE AT A TIME.



Note that, in this game, whenever cubes are thrown down the shaft, people must remain quiet and listen to detect or guess where the cubes are situated.


Then, everyone drops 2 of their own clues down the shaft.



Phase 1: Guessing where the red hostage cubes are (Establishing the "Crime Scene Floors")

Then, starting with the first player (determined by you or otherwise - the rules stipulate that the person who most recently held a knife goes first), that player must make one guess as to which level they think the red hostage cubes are.

Suppose it is Black's turn. I will explain what happens if Black guesses correctly or if Black guesses incorrectly.


If the guess is correct

Suppose Black correctly guesses Level 6 to be the level where she thinks the Red cube is.
Then she will place the red cube on the board, on level 6, to indicate that a murder has occurred there.

These red cubes on the board represent a Crime Scene Floor. As there are 2 red hostage cubes, there are a maximum of 2 Crime Scene Floors in the game.

For example, Level 6 would now be a Crime Scene Floor. These crime scene floors are critical for scoring purposes. In Phase 2, players do NOT want their cubes to be caught on a Crime Scene Floor, or near the Crime Scene Floor as this will cause them to lose points.


The cubes of other colours also present on Level 6 are immediately pinned to the board on level 6 (a bad thing as they are now permanently locked onto a Crime Scene Floor).

The black and red cubes found on Level 6 are placed on the game board

As a "penalty" to all players whose cubes were caught on this level, the same number of cubes as that originally found on the level are taken from each respective player's supply - here, 2 from black and 1 from white.



They are thrown down the shaft again, one at a time. The game recommends that you call out the colour of the cubes individually as they are each thrown down.


(If the guess is incorrect)

If you incorrectly guess a floor in this game, whether it be in Phase 1 or Phase 2, you will be penalised by way of throwing one of your cubes down the shaft at the top. This is bad because the more cubes are in the tower, the higher the chances are that someone will pin you to a Crime Scene Floor in Phase II.

For the purposes of fairness, other cubes that have been exposed on that incorrectly-guessed floor must be taken and re-thrown down the shaft so as to ensure that people don't know which floor they are on during Phase 2. This applies not only to Phase 1 but to Phase 2 as well.

Phase 1 ends as soon as both red cubes are found and pinned to the board.


Phase 2: Pin the murder to someone else or...hide your evidence

From now on in Phase 2, you can take two actions:

1) Hide/erase your evidence (defensive): This involves saying which floor you think your cubes are on by saying, for example, "I think I am (or My cubes are) on Floor X". If you are correct, you get to take back your cube.

2) Pin the murder to someone else (aggressive move): This involves saying which floor you think someone else's cubes are on. Eg. "I think Brown is on Floor Z". If you are correct, the reward is that you get to place that person's cube onto the board.

As above, if the guess/statement is incorrect, you will be penalised and 1 of your cubes must be thrown down the shaft. Other cubes found in the shaft will also be thrown down one at a time.

For example, suppose Black guesses that she is on Level 6:


This is clearly wrong, as there are only two White cubes.

Her penalty is that she must now throw down 1 Black cube. The 2 White cubes get re-thrown (one at a time), much to White's relief as White could have been pinned to Level 6 had Black said "I think White is on Level 6" (but Black didn't do this).


Note that there is a special rule for guessing the ground floor (zero) - one of your cubes must be present on the ground floor. If not, you have to pay the penalty of throwing one cube down the tower.

Scoring - the game ends when 1 player runs out of cubes.

For every one of your cubes that is:

- on a Crime scene Floor, you lose 3 points.
- on an adjacent floor to the Crime Scene Floor, you lose 2 points
- on a floor 2 or more floors away from a Crime Scene Floor, you lose 1 point.

Whoever has the most negative points loses; whoever has the least wins


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Great Dalmuti

Following my review of Guillotine, I present to you another modern classic that is published by Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro.

Here's an addictive card game set in the Middle-Ages where everything revolves around climbing up a social ladder. However, if you are already at the top, you'll need to stop those pesky peasants and conniving merchants from overthrowing you...



I'd like to thank a colleague at work, Kathleen, for introducing me to this lovely game :)

Name: The Great Dalmuti (1995)

Random Trivia: This game transforms into something infinitely better if played with furniture of varying comfort levels. See below rules for a better idea of what I am talking about.

Interestingly, the origins of this game can supposedly be traced back to the Middle Ages from games such as Zheng Shangyou, President and Daifugo. As such, it is probably wrong to classify this game as a modern classic, given its ancient roots.

Special Awards: Mensa Select - Best New Mind Game 1995

Designer: Richard Garfield

Publisher: Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast (just like Guillotine) [but there are other publishers too such as Amigo]

Players: 2 to 8 (You need at least 5 players really in my view)

Age: 8+

Time to play: Technically limitless if you choose to keep playing as many rounds as you like. However minimum time for one round is about 7-12 minutes depending on how fast you play.

Price Range (AUD): $18 to $30 (latter end of the range if factoring shipping)

Availability: Quite widely availably online but I'm unsure if it can be found in department stores.

Genres
  • Social Hierarchy
  • Card
  • Humour
  • "Practical Incentive to win"
  • Party

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

8.0* out of 10. (Great - See my Rating Scale)

I do like this game quite a lot because it is rather entertaining.

The Great Dalmuti's key distinguishing feature is its concept of climbing up in social rank - and it is this mechanic that produces some very astonishing and amusing effects. One moment you could be the ruler at the top; but all it takes is one bad hand for you to come tumbling down from grace...all the way to the bottom as a lowly peasant!

On the other hand, it is usually quite hard and rare for the lowest ranks to ascend the ladder, as those at the top have all the advantages and perks (just like in real life since "life isn't supposed to be fair" as the game's rules remind us). These benefits take the form of, firstly, taxes where peasants must give their best cards to those at the top and, secondly, the fact that the highest ranked player, The Greater Dalmuti, gets to lead first, and play then proceeds by order of rank - which can make a serious difference when you are trying to get rid of your bad cards. (You can even make a custom rule where the turn order after someone finishes goes to the highest ranked player). Therefore, this manifest imbalance between those at the bottom and those at the top makes a victory for the peasants all the sweeter - especially if, as is the case in my custom games, the peasant has the worst chair in the room, or no chair at all.

There is also some degree of tactics involved; for example, at times it is better to hoard all the cards in your hand by passing powerful plays made by your opponents and waiting for the right moment to use your powerful cards. This is especially true where you only want to climb up slowly, one rank at a time, or if you want to steady the ship and hold on to your position.

I honestly can't think of too many bad points for this game, only except for minor things like the fact that the deck is, at times, difficult to deal out given how it contains 80 cards (but that makes sense, as that is the Greater Peasant/Peon's duty/punishment); or the fact that it sometimes can be frustrating for lower-ranked players as they may require several rounds before they can escape their rank. But from my limited experience of this game, ranks can change quite rapidly and it's unlikely you will be forced to stay with the same rank after, say, 2 or 3 rounds.

* January 2015: Reduced from 8.2. Although a great game, not great enough to warrant an 8.2 - given how simplistic gameplay is (in my view)!

The Good:
  • The best part of this game is the fact that it literally gives players a practical incentive/motivation to win - lose and you will end up being the lowliest peasant (and if you play with my custom rules, you'll be forced to squat/"bow"). Win and you get all the perks and the best chair in the house.
  • Relatively easy and quick to explain, plays like Big 2 (in this sense, in terms of explaining to people, it reminds me of Tichu as these kinds of games are arguably easier to explain to those who are well-versed or have a foundation in those kinds of basic card games - which is almost everyone)
  • Compact - great travel game
  • Great game to throw out with a group of 5-8 people. 
  • Can't really think of a bad point in terms of gameplay

The Bad:
  • If you have no access to chairs of different comfort levels (or if you have no creative means to "reward" those who win or "punish" those who lose), this puts a significant (but not critical) dent on this game.
  • Just like Guillotine, flimsy packaging/box. But I suppose that is to be expected of Hasbro given that this is a relatively mainstream card game - they need to save on costs of production.
  • It sometimes feels like the deck takes a while to deal out to all players.
  • Can be frustrating for lower-ranked players, as it may take a while for them to finally win!!

What makes this game fun? 
If you like the idea of climbing the social hierarchy in a party game where all the ranks keep changing, give this game a go.





- 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)


Determining starting ranks for the first round + explanation of cards

Before you start, explain to everyone that the lower the card is, the higher ranked it is.

Also explain to everyone that there are twelve cards with the value of '12'  in the deck; 11 cards with the value of '11'; 10 10's...all the way to 2 2's and 1 1. Thus, the more powerful cards are rarer in supply. Note that Jesters, played on their own, have a face-value of 13 and are thus the 'weakest' cards when played on their own.

However, they operate as wild cards when played as a group (I will explain this below).

Take a look at the cards now:




Get everyone to randomly draw a card.

Whoever draws the lowest number (ie. the highest ranked card) is the Greater Dalmuti. Whoever draws the highest number (the lowest ranked card) is the Greater Peon (the "Greater" Peasant).

The second highest ranked card and the second lowest ranked card are the Lesser Dalmuti and Lesser Peon respectively.

Everyone else is a merchant. You can rank the merchants if you like, to make things more interesting. [and you can even give them different powers during the Taxation phase, discussed below]

In the event of a tie, have those tied players redraw a card each until their ranks can be determined conclusively..

Seating Arrangements (Very Important)

The Greater Dalmuti will sit in the most comfortable (or what is alleged to be the best) seat.

The next highest-ranked player will take the next most comfortable seat which is situated next to The Greater Dalmuti.

Then, one by one, in descending order of rank, each next highest ranked person will take the next most comfortable/best seat until we reach the Greater Peon who has the worst seat (or no seat at all).

For example, in this 5-player game I have given the Greater Dalmuti the big wooden "throne" (it's apparently called a Lover's Bench); the Lesser Dalmuti the wooden chair on the right; the Merchant the plastic stool and the two Peons will have no chair.

In the above custom game, the Lesser Peon will be standing and the Greater Peon is on their knees.

Alternatively, you could do something like this, where the merchant has a relatively smaller seat; the Lesser Peon a stool and the Greater Peon no chair (as below):


It is up to you how you want to do this. Keep in mind your audience and the fact that not everyone will like the idea of standing up, especially if they can't appreciate the humour or theme of this game.

Therefore, it may be a bit slack or mean to make the Greater Peon stand or kneel, especially since it actually is pretty hard to climb your way back up when you are the Greater Peon.

Taxation phase

Deal the whole deck out to everyone.

Taxation: The Greater Dalmuti now receives the two best cards of the Greater Peon. The Greater Peon MUST give their two best cards (if I'm not mistaken, a jester is not a 'best card' for the purposes of this phase). The Greater Dalmuti must give any two of their cards in return.

The same thing happens with respect to the Lesser Dalmuti and the Lesser Peon, but only with 1 card.


In the above example, Bottom Left is the Greater Peon and gives their best two cards to the Greater Dalmuti (at the top). Same thing happens with respect to the Lesser Peon and the Lesser Dalmuti.

The merchants to the right just watch and do nothing - which is great! But you could change this - you could for example, get the merchants to bargain for cards or only trade with certain classes of people.

Exception to taxation: Should anyone receive two jesters, a revolution may be called if they are revealed. The effect of a revolution is that no taxation occurs ("to the disappointment of the Dalmutis and the delight of the Peons", the game notes)! Thus it may be beneficial for a merchant to call a revolution as well as it means that the merchant's superiors are not advantaged (giving them the opportunity to climb up in rank).

If the Greater Peon has two jesters, a Greater Revolution may be called in which all parties exchange seats with their opposites!! (Ie. the Greater Dalmuti swaps seats with the Greater Peon etc)

Playing The Cards - (with an Example)

Cards are played in "groups" or "sets" of cards. To beat a set of cards, the set must be of a higher rank (hence, from my understanding, ties are not allowed). The same set/group of cards must be followed by the whole table until everyone passes and a new group is led.

For example, if A leads with triple 8, then everyone must now play triples.



B could then play triple 7;




C triple 4 etc etc (as above).

Suppose everyone passes C's triple 4.

Then C will get to lead whatever they like, for example, 6 x 12's (in which case, everyone must now play a group of 6 of a higher rank, such as 6 x 11's as below)


A group of six 11's beats a group of six 12's


Use of Jesters

As mentioned above, a Jester can be used to represent any number in any group or set of cards.

For example, in the above picture, the player has only 5 x 11's so cannot ordinarily play a group of 6 cards of a higher rank.

However, a Jester can act as another 11, thus completing the set of 6 and allowing them to beat the play of 6 x 12's with 6 x 11's.

Finishing and 'Going Out'

Whoever is the FIRST to get rid of all their cards has "gone out". Irrespective of their current rank in this round, they will become the Greater Dalmuti the next round! The next person to go out becomes the Lesser Dalmuti and so forth!

The last person to go out, of course, becomes the Greater Peon.

At the start of the new round, players get up and sit in their new positions or seats of "power" and a new round begins.

You could play with a custom scoring system such as what the game recommends (eg. whoever becomes the Greater Dalmuti, bar the first round, always gets points equal to the number of players in the game; and whoever becomes the Lesser Dalmuti gets the Greater Dalmuti's score less 1, etc etc).

But that is not, strictly speaking, necessary as the inherent fun in this game lies not with points but with the constant changing of positions in the hierarchy of life.





Friday, 17 October 2014

Guillotine

A wacky, and perhaps ever-so-slightly gruesome, take on the French Revolution where you win by getting "a head".

Puntastic: self-proclaimed revolutionary card game where you win by getting a head.


NOTE/WARNING: This is not a game for those who take offence to "cartoon violence" or the notion of actually guillotining people.

On one view, it could be suggested that Guillotine's designers were merely trying to portray an actual moment in history and present it in a light-hearted and digestible manner that would spark interest in that time period.

However, putting myself in the position of someone who might take offence to Guillotine, if I did know someone who was executed in that fashion or killed in a similar way, I would probably refuse to play a game that thrived upon a parody of that form of violence. The bottom line is that we do not really understand how other people feel until the event in question happens to us or until we are affected by it (much in the same way as we don't understand how cancer victims and their families feel until it actually happens to us or those we love).

In that context, I understand, respect and abstain from criticising people who object to games such as Guillotine. I also freely admit that this probably isn't the best game to play in the above context; but that being said, that doesn't make this a bad game per se in a moral sense. I still hold the view that this game can be fun and is a far cry from being anything intended to be offensive, provided that you and your group aren't sensitive to the above issues.

Name: Guillotine (1998)

I'm reviewing the English 4th Edition (2011)

Designer: Paul Peterson

Publisher: Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast

Players: 2 to 5

Age: 12+

Time to play: 30 minutes, possibly less if you choose to shorten the rounds or gameplay.

Price Range (AUD): Approx $20 to $50. I would say that even $20 is pushing it.

Availability: Seems to be widely available online at the time of writing. Surviving the test of time, it has been around for a bit.

Genres
  • Card
  • Humour
  • Reference to French Revolution (Napoleonic)
  • Modern Classic?

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

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

Guillotine is an entertaining and quick filler.

Players are rival executioners vying to accrue the most noble heads in the French Revolution (though this statement is slightly misleading as it is not the number of heads that let you win but the total number of points - heads are not equally scored). This is achieved by playing certain action cards (some more powerful than others) to manipulate the order of the line or to affect your opponents. Gameplay is inherently simple and the artwork on the cards is quite nice and classy in the Napoleonic sense. The action cards are also quite interesting, letting you perform various hilarious actions to capture as many heads as possible.

What strikes me about this game is the truly vast array of characters on show in the guillotine line. For example, to give you a taste of the categories: there are nobles popular amongst the people such as the Martyr, Innocent Victim or the Hero of the People (also called the gray cards - if you kill them you lose points); Religious figures like the Bad Nun, Heretic, Archbishop, Cardinal (which all give points); Combo cards such as the Palace Guard (each guard is worth the number of points equal to the number of PG's you have) or the Tragic Figure (worth -1 point for every gray card you have); Important people or VIPs such as the Baron, Governor, Colonel, King Louis XIV (which all give points); then there are all these random characters put in just for humour's sake such as the Unpopular Judge, Tax Collector, Land Lord, Royal Cartographer and even the "Piss Boy".

The main downside of this game is this: it is perhaps a bit too simple - not that that is a completely bad thing. But because its gameplay is almost too basic, Guillotine's replayability is certainly an issue because the game can get a little stale if you are looking for something more. There is also very little strategy involved as it entirely depends on the cards you get. Add to that the fact that some action cards are more powerful and imbalanced than others (eg. there is a card that effectively lets you collect any noble in the line you want by moving them to the front of the queue).

However, Guillotine is an interesting and entertaining game that rightfully deserves its plaudits (most notably being a 1998 Origins Award Winner for Best Traditional Card Game). A substantial chunk of the score I have awarded for Guillotine comes from its theme and colourful diversity of characters on offer for the purposes of humour. I have already mentioned at the start of this review the potential sensitivities surrounding this game in terms of its cartoon violence, and will not repeat it - of course that is something to consider as well before purchasing this game, but I can't imagine that most people would have a problem with this game.

The Good:
  • Fun, fast, easy to play and explain
  • Comes with a pop up cardboard guillotine (nothing too impressive though)
  • Wide variety of characters that line up for the Guillotine - lots of these are added for humour and many are historical (eg. Marie Antoinette, "Hero of the People", "Bishop")
  • Many different types of action cards keeps the game fresh and random

The Bad:
  • Idea of collecting heads isn't the best - and may cause offence to those who don't like the graphic idea of beheading people (but it's very rare that someone would take offence to this - given that violence, to varying extents, is employed in our games).
  • Flimsy box and packaging
  • Too simple and little strategy - all luck-based due to cards

What makes this game fun? 
The colourful array of French Revolution characters up for collection makes for an interesting game.





- 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)

Shuffle the action card deck separately to the noble deck. Each deck has a different coloured back to the other and the noble deck has two Guillotine symbols on its back.

Set up the Guillotine line by placing the Executioner/Guillotine pop-up and randomly deal a line of 12 nobles from the noble deck, starting from the Guillotine like so:



Deal 5 action cards (the white backs) to each player. Leave the two decks as draw piles.

Game Turn

On your turn, you do these actions in order:

1) (Optionally) play an action card,
2) Collect the first noble in line
3) Draw an action card (whether or not you played one)

Action and Noble/Character Cards

Just to give you a taste of what some of the cards look like up close...


These cards are action cards - for example the humorous "Fled to England" card lets one of the nobles leave the line (for example, if you are about to collect a card that makes you lose points, like the Martyr card, you can discard it from the front of the line).

"Let Them Eat Cake" is obviously a reference to Marie Antoinette - it lets you move her to the front of the line.


Blue cards = Religious
Black = Popular amongst the people
Noble cards are as above. The number of points they are worth is shown in the bottom right hand corner. The general idea is that unpopular figures in the eyes of the public are worth more points.

Example 

If I played the Public Demand card, this would allow me to bring any noble to the front of the line.



I choose Marie Antoinette as she is one of the most valuable (the other being King Louis XIV)


She is moved to the front of the line...



..and then I take her for five points!



End of Game 

It really is up to you but the game recommends you play "3 days" with a day being completed where all 12 nobles in the line are executed. When you start the next day you draw a new line of 12 nobles.

Whoever has the highest score at the end of the allocated days wins.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

"A humourously novel adventure boardgame by Martin Wallace."

What a fitting description for this lovely laugh of a game.



I'd like to thank my friends Hari, Nimalan, Roy and Jack for getting me this game for my 23rd birthday last year. It was a fine selection on the part of Hari as I quite like its novelty and the angle it takes.

Name: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork (2011)

Designer: Martin Wallace

Publisher: Mayfair Games (other publishers include IELLO or KOSMOS)

Players: 2 to 4

Age: 11+

Time to play: 60+ minutes - this is about right as the game takes a bit of time.

Price Range (AUD)$55 to about $80, with outliers even selling this for $100.

Random Trivia: Apparently you'd understand the gameplay and the cards a lot better if you read the Discworld novels. I hear that Terry Pratchett has quite the reputation for wackyness.

Availability: Available in hobby game stores and online - quite a "well-known" game.

Genres
  • Thematic - Discworld!
  • Novelty/Tribute
  • Area control
  • Card play
  • Hidden Identity and Aims

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.5 out of 10. (Great - See my Rating Scale)

I like this game because it mixes elements of wackiness and randomness with standard gameplay found in light strategy board games (area control). The artwork is also quite superb and complements the game design fairly well. I only wish that I knew more about the Discworld series as I feel that I would benefit a whole lot more from the experience.

The best part of Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, in my view, is the hidden identity that each character receives. This makes or breaks the game and converts it from being an interesting (but relatively normal game) to something quite different. All players are potentially vying for different objectives (but not necessarily, as 3 of the 7 available characters have the same aim of trying to control X number of territories). This, to some extent, adds a psychological element to the game as your opponents are trying to figure out what your real aim is. Sometimes this will prove to be obvious, but there are moments where no one knows what you are really up to. You can disguise what you do as well...

...However, one related and big downside of this game is that your actions are, to a very very large extent, affected by your hand - thus you might not even be able to carry out your hidden character's aim if you have a 'very bad hand' or if your opponents possess some really extreme or imbalanced cards. In that sense, the strategy of this game is there but is quite limited. This is one of the main reasons why I wouldn't score the game an 8, though I was tempted to do so. Not that having luck in your games can't give you an 8/10 of course (see Ticket to Ride, where drawing cards is pretty much riding on luck); rather, it is the fact that I feel that your options as a player are limited when you have to play a certain way because of the hidden identity you were given. This detracts from this game in the sense that I feel the game "could have been better". Nonetheless, I should remember that this game is meant to be for laughs only; therefore, for what it is, the game is certainly fun.

There aren't too many other real downsides to this game apart from it being a longish game and the fact that most of it comes down to luck - but this latter problem isn't really an issue if you don't mind some raw fun. Gameplay in itself is very simple - just play as many cards as you are allowed and then draw back up to 5.


The Good:
  • Everyone has a hidden aim or goal to win the game, based on their character they receive. This is a pretty cool aspect to the game as there is scope for bluffing and guesswork.
  • Not intended to be a serious game - the cards and gameplay itself is often intended to be amusing. For example there is a card called "The Peeled Nuts" which does absolutely nothing.
  • Fantastic artwork and theme
  • Comical game
  • Some degree of strategy, albeit with luck playing a huge role.

The Bad:
  • You might not like it if you don't like randomness - the game is basically comprised of a lot of luck as it depends on which cards you have (some cards are much more powerful than others!)
  • You might not appreciate this game as much if you don't know anything about the Discworld Series - indeed there seems to be a plethora of inside-jokes and references that one would only know about if you were more familiar with the characters and the storyline of Discworld.
  • Games can be drawn out if everyone chooses to neutralise each other out by preventing each other from winning

What makes this game fun? 
If you like novelty and a game that is something different with some mild strategy, you should give this game a go...especially if you are a Discworld fan.





- 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 board is set up like so, with 1 trouble marker and 1 minion of every colour in play placed on each of the following three regions: The Dolly Sisters, The Scours and The Shades.

Ensure that the "Green-bordered" deck of playing cards sits on top of the "Brown-bordered" deck of playing cards.

Everyone receives a hidden identity card, 10 coins and a hand of 5 cards.

Thus this is what a two player game looks like:

Draw pile on the bottom left; Random Event pile on the bottom right; Property cards on the top left.



Hidden Identity

One of these 7 hidden identity cards are given:



Each has a different victory condition:

1) Lord Vetinari: You win if at the beginning of your turn you have at least one minion in at least X different areas. For a 2 player game, X is 11 areas; for a 3 player game, X is 10 areas; for a 4 player game it is 9 areas.

[The game explains that, although Vetinari has disappeared, his spies could be spreading around the city, ready to pull the levers of power for their master]

2) Lord Selachii, Lord Rust and Lord de Worde all share the same aim: You win if at the beginning of your turn you control Y number of areas. Control of an area means to have more playing pieces than any other player (a playing piece being a minion or a building). Y = 7 in a two player game; Y = 5 in a 3 player game; Y = 4 in a 4 player game.

This is the standard area-control victory condition that you are likely to be dealt with.

3) Dragon King of Arms: You win if at the beginning of your turn there are 8 trouble markers on the board [as the city has fallen into chaos and the people want their king back]

4) Chrysoprase: You win if at the beginning of your turn your net worth (which is your cash + monetary cost of each building you have) is $50 or more, less $12 for any loans you have taken out. Not for a 2-player game.

5) Commander Vimes: You win if nobody else wins by the time the draw pile has exhausted

If nobody has Commander Vimes and the draw pile runs out there is an alternate scoring method which I won't go into (cash and buildings are worth points etc).

Turn play 

Turn play is very simple. You usually play 1 card and draw back up to your hand of 5. However, this is not necessarily the case as some cards let you play another card after playing it. The general rule is therefore play as many cards as you want, so long as the cards instruct you to.

Cards and Symbols

Cards have symbols on them and they tell you what to do, as shown by your player aid:

The main two actions are the place a minion symbol and the place a building symbol (on the left)

Green vs Brown Cards

Green cards are used during the first half of the game (roughly) whereas Brown cards, which are more powerful, start to appear when the draw deck has run out by about halfway.

Here are what some of the cards look like just to give you an example.

Green cards - note my favourite card, The Peeled Nuts - which do absolutely nothing

For example, if I played the Royal Mint card on my turn, I would receive $5 (because of the coin symbol with $5) and build a building (because of the building symbol). In the example below, I build on The Hippo which grants me the ability to take $2 every turn from the bank.



Examples of other Property Cards available to you:




The Brown bordered cards, generally, on average, do more powerful things:


That HELLO card is pretty crazy, as it allows you to assassinate 2 minions in regions with trouble markers (1 minion per region with a trouble marker) and build a building.

If you played The Bursar you'll notice that, because of the Sun Symbol, whilst you get to perform the action of exchanging the positions of two minions on the board, you MUST draw a random event card.

(Random Event cards look like this - they do really crazy things:)




Another Example

If I played this card...



I would pick up $2...



..Assassinate a minion of my opponent's (and take off the trouble marker, as assassinations always remove trouble)...




..And Place a minion in an adjacent region to one of my existing minions..


I have given you enough examples. The best way to enjoy and learn about the game is to play the game yourself!


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Sticheln

An interesting trick-taking game with a bit of a twist - the trump suit is every other colour apart from the one first played/led!

This is the 1995 version that plays 3 to 8 players


Components of Sticheln
I am reviewing the 1995 edition, which is apparently identical to all other versions apart from card design and number of players.

Name: Sticheln (1993)

Pronunciation (?): My friend Sean pronounces this as Stitch-lin; but perhaps it is something closer to Stitch-uh(er)-lin

Designer: Klaus Palesch

Publisher: Amigo Spiel (for the 1995 version I am reviewing) and N├╝rnberger-Spielkarten Verlag (for the 2012 German fifth edition)

Versions: The NSV German 5th edition (the more common version) only plays 3 to 6.

This is the 2012 NSV edition - it has different cards and only plays up to 6.

Players: The NSV 5th edition, shown directly above, only plays 3 to 6. The 1995 Amigo Edition plays 3 to 8.

Age: 10+

Time to play: 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how many rounds you'd like to play

Price Range (AUD): $17.95 to $32 (but at the time of writing there is a website offering a sale of the game for $15).

Availability: Whilst I wouldn't say the 5th edition of this game is rare, it doesn't seem to be a readily available game. I have checked online and it doesn't seem to be widespread. I purchased my 1995 edition not from a store but from a person who still had a new copy of the game for $25. I was willing to pay the extra amount to have the luxury of playing 8 people with the 1995 edition.

The 1993 edition I am reviewing has been out of print for some long time now.

Trivia: You can use a Sticheln pack to play many different types of games as the deck is literally just a deck of numbered cards in different colours!

I found this document on Board Game Geek that tells you what you can play, even giving you instructions as to how to set up each game - though admittedly it would be a bit hard to play games like Tichu and Lost Cities without a bit of theme and special cards (like the Dragon or Investment Cards)



Genres
  • Trick-taking
  • Cards

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.0 out of 10. (Good - See my Rating Scale)

This is game has a lot of strategy to it, and its idea is certainly intriguing, but like many games of its type, it has this problem where mere mortals such as myself struggle to find the optimum path to victory. This is not really a criticism of the game mechanics itself - more a comment that it won't appeal to every type of gamer out there, particularly those not liking difficult games.

It's one of those games that I would "love to love more" but I find myself struggling to do so because its gameplay and strategy isn't entirely straightforward (because there is a difficult learning curve of sorts). Furthermore, I feel that only people who really like trick-taking games would enjoy this game. Nonetheless, I do quite like this game, and it can be a very good game when played with the right people.

Sticheln's concept is unique in that players try to avoid a chosen "misery colour/suit" whilst trying to force other players to take tricks in their own misery colour (kind of like the classic game Hearts in that sense where one must avoid taking Hearts and the Queen of Spades, but try to give it to others). This is quite an interesting opening choice - you should choose a suit where you have enough low cards to "duck" attacks from your opponents; but at the same time you should also not pick a suit where you have too many cards such that you'll be forced to trump other tricks (thus winning them and collecting more cards of your misery colour into your hand - see rules for a better idea).

However, the true ingenuity behind this game is is its definition of a trump card: any other colour besides the one first played is the trump card. This can create all sorts of strategic dilemmas, and those cunning enough to not only remember what has been played, but anticipate what will be played (especially in the context of deciding when to play the cards of your misery colour), will be able to do well in this game.

As I said earlier, I do quite enjoy this game. Its only main drawback is the fact that - if this is can even be considered a proper "drawback" - I feel that many players, especially myself, don't really know how to play this game properly and strategically! The learning curve is steep and it will take some trial and error for the ordinary person to get the hang of the strategy behind the game. The game is a bit chaotic because you can never guess what people will do, especially if you lead or your turn order is somewhere in the middle. I also should say that I don't quite enjoy games that require a certain amount of "set-up" time - and this is one of those games, as the number of cards, numbers...and colours or suits (!) you play with depends on the number of people you are playing with.

Overall this is a different, interesting game that satisfies a niche in gaming: trick-taking.


The Good:
  • Interesting mechanic of "all other colours" being trump cards.
  • Strategic depth as you try to pin certain colours on different players, whilst avoiding your own misery colour.
  • Sort of easy to explain - to those who have played trick-taking games
  • Can be used to play other games - deck is intuitive.

The Bad:
  • Relatively difficult game in many senses - while it seems like there is a lot of strategy involved, it is quite hard to know what card to play and when one should play it as you never know what your opponents will do. In this sense, the game is subtly complex.
  • Learning by doing game
  • Annoying to set up - taking out a certain number of cards with X amount of players
  • Concept may be foreign to people who don't know what trick-taking games or games with trumps involve

What makes this game fun? 
Try this if you love trick-taking games like Bridge, Hearts or Tichu - you will find it contains a novel concept.





- 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 components are just a pack of cards as shown above - cards in Brown, Yellow, Violet, Green and Blue (with numerical values ranging from 0-18 or 0-20, depending on the colour).

Choosing a misery colour

At the start of the game, everyone puts a card face up in front of them. This represents their misery colour which is the colour they DO NOT want to take tricks in. The numerical value of a card in your misery colour, including your first misery card placed down, is = to the number of points you lose.


So in the above example, it is the start of the game: Left puts Green as their misery colour. Top Right puts Yellow; Bottom puts Brown.

Left is immediately on negative 1 point. Top right is immediately on negative 2 points.
Bottom is on zero points.

Rules

Rule #1: If everyone plays the same colour, the highest colour wins.


In this three player game, Left leads and wins with the Red 8 as everyone else put lower cards than him.

Rule #2: All other colours besides the card led is a trump card. The highest trump card wins.


Here, Left leads with the Red 8, Top/North plays a Red 6. Bottom Right plays a Yellow 1.

Bottom Right wins the trick as Yellow is a different colour to the colour first led (Red).

Example 2


Left leads with the Red 8. Top Right plays the Blue 2. As it stands, Top Right is winning.


Bottom Right plays a Brown 3 - Bottom Right wins as 3 > 2. (Bottom Right would lose an extra 3 points if Brown was their misery colour)


Rule #2b: The person who lasts plays the highest trump wins. Therefore, Bottom Right, in this above example, wins again as Bottom Right's 2 came after the first Blue 2 was played.

Rule #3: Zero is not a trump




Here, even though Bottom Right plays last with a different colour, Left wins the trick with the Red 8 as Zero is never a trump.

As you can see, there is quite a lot of strategy involved here - for example, sometimes it is in your incentive to lead with a high card (especially if it's in your misery colour) if you know that your opponents only have cards in your non-misery colours. Hence counting cards, choosing the right misery colour and observing what your opponents play are all equally important.