Wednesday 26 March 2014

Mr. Jack

A French take on Jack the Ripper




Name: Mr. Jack (2006)

Publisher: Hurrican Games

Designer: Bruno Cathala & Ludovic Maublanc

Players: 2

Age: 9+ according to the box, but this game is really quite hard - I think you need to be older to get the hang of this

Time to play: 30 mins+

Price Range (AUD): $48 to $80 - I got mine for about $32 (but I got it a year ago and now prices are, for some reason, quite inflated)

Availability:  Last time I checked, reasonably available online but some sources, including the publisher of the game itself, suggest that the game is quite "rare".

Genres
  • Deduction
  • Bluffing/Hidden Identity
  • Two Player
  • Murder mystery (Whodunnit) and Jack the Ripper theme

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.25+* out of 10. (Good to Great - See my Rating Scale)

This used to be* one of my favourite 2 player games - it is actually quite a well-designed game and probably does not receive the attention or appreciation it deserves.

There are two roles: An Inspector/Detective (who has to guess/determine who Jack the Ripper is out of 8 suspects) and Mr. Jack (who must prevent the Inspector from finding Jack). The deduction required from being the Inspector is quite fascinating and the constant mental duels with Mr.Jack can make for a very tense game.

Playing as Mr.Jack is quite hard as he must, on one hand, not draw too much attention to who Jack is and, on the other hand, spread the suspicion evenly amongst all suspects; the player playing "Jack" will definitely lose more often than not if both players are beginners (that said, even if both players are experienced - I still think Jack will probably lose more than the Inspector). This is because if Jack even makes one mistake (such as leaving Jack exposed or vulnerable on the Inspector's turn) the game can potentially be over in a flash. In contrast, if the Inspector makes a mistake, it is often not fatal. There is thus a larger margin of error afforded to the Detective.

The game is better explained in the Rules but basically it involves both Jack and the Inspector separating the 8 suspects into "bright" and "dark" areas; then the Inspector will ask Jack at the end of each round whether he is "seen" (in a bright area or seen by someone else) or "unseen" (in a dark area or away from the gaze of other suspects). There is a bit of artificiality in this in that both Jack and the Inspector control the suspects, despite the odd fact that Jack IS one of the suspects.

The best games are those games where one player's victory literally comes down to the wire - for example, coming down to a 50/50 guess. Overall I think this is a great game - at first I thought it was an excellent game, but there are some frustrating moments where Jack can't actually do much to reduce the number of suspects that are ruled out.

* July and September 2014: Reduced from 8.55+. Sure, it's a unique game in that it provides lots of tension and fun and is certainly up there in the two-player genre of games. There is also ample scope for bluffing in this game, which is fantastic. But there is only so much in your control if you are Jack for reasons given above. To that extent, it's not as strategic as one might think. A player might find this game frustrating more than anything else if they are Jack - but I suppose that's what keeps this game fun as it makes the game challenging for one player. I don't think I have the heart to score this anything higher than 7.25.


The Good:
  • Great who-dunnit-game (hence, whilst not quite fitting in the category of mafia, has plenty of hidden identity mechanics behind it)
  • Tense and solid conflict
  • Deduction skills put to the test
  • Plays a bit like a mild variant of chess,  but with a minor to medium degree of chance (because the turn order of suspects in the game is randomized)
  • Tremendous fun for two players who enjoy deduction and bluffing games
  • Considerable strategy, especially with predicting/deciding which characters to move and use (based on their turn orders)
The Bad:
  • Not suitable for people who don't like undue pressure or stress
  • Probably cannot be played too many times in a row - each game requires a large dose of strenuous, logical and strategic thinking (hence, multiple games can seriously detract from one's energy supply)
  • The game heavily favours the Inspector over Jack - if Jack makes one bad move, the game can be over in a flash. If the Inspector makes a bad move, they can still win as the Inspector has a larger margin of error. Hence, whilst not so much being a disadvantage of the game, it probably means that Mr.Jack should be the more experienced player (but if both players are of equal playing experience, it might detract from the fun of the player who plays as Jack - unless they don't mind a steep learning curve)
  • There is obviously a limitation to how fun a two-player game can be (I prefer medium to larger group games but as I've already said, this is an excellent two player game)
  • Luck plays a considerable role here - sometimes Jack is almost (but not quite) fated to lose (or at least he is heavily disadvantaged) if a certain order of suspects/characters is dealt (see rules)

What makes this game fun? 

Trying to figure out which one of the 8 suspects is Jack the Ripper in the Whitechapel district, via an epic head-to-head battle makes for a great gaming experience for two.








- 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)

I don't intend to demonstrate turn-by-turn what happens in this game - I just want to present an overview of the basic game mechanics to give readers a flavour for what is involved.

Note that, before you start your first game, you'll have to manually assign the stickers to the coloured tokens - the game tells you which faces go with which colour.

The game board is set up like this (as helpfully demonstrated by the game manual):

Exhibit A: Set-up. This is from the perspective of the Inspector. Jack presumably, but doesn't need to, sit opposite. As you can see at the top of the picture, Mr. Jack takes 1 red Alibi card. This is the identity of Jack the Ripper.
All characters (round tokens) start like this at the beginning of every game.
Sewer holes: Characters can, at the cost of 1 move, appear where any other man hole covers are open (rather than closed - see top right and bottom left corners of the board where there exist closed man holes covered by moveable manhole covers - Jeremy Burt's power)
Escape Routes/Exits: There are 4 corners from which Jack can escape from: Top Left and Right; Bottom Left and Right. However, the top right and bottom left are blocked off by police barriers, which can only be moved by Inspector Lestrade.
Determining who Jack the Ripper is

Someone nominates to be Jack the Ripper (aka Mr. Jack or simply Jack). The player playing as Mr.Jack takes one red alibi card from this deck below:


This alibi card received is the identity of who Jack the Ripper is.

Aim: The Inspector's aim is to, before the end of the 8th turn, CATCH this person that Jack has taken as their identtiy. It is not enough to know who Jack the Ripper is - the Inspector must CATCH the person by using one of the suspects to move on TOP OF Jack.

Aim of Jack:

1) Jack's aim is to not be caught by the end of the 8 turns OR
2) To escape from the district but only if their character is UNSEEN (see below)
3) To cause the Inspector to make the wrong accusation/arrest (the Inspector only has one shot at doing this right - if the Inspector gets it wrong, Jack wins)

The rest of the Alibi cards are placed to one side (as in Exhibit A above) - they represent all the innocent suspects who are NOT Jack. From now on, they must ONLY BE LOOKED AT when SHERLOCK"S POWER IS USED.

Characters/Suspects

You must also become familiar with all the special abilities and movements of all the suspects. By selecting the respective suspect cards below (according to "Turn Order" - see below), the character tokens may be moved around the board and their special abilities activated.

Note that, everyone except for Miss Stealthy can walk 1-3 spaces (or hexagons) [and note also that when ending your move you can't land on someone else's token, unless you are making an arrest].

From left to right above:
  • Sherlock Holmes: After moving, draw 1 card from the remaining Alibi cards. Keep it without telling Jack. (Helps to eliminate suspects)
  • Sergeant Goodley: Before or after moving, can blow his whistle to move 1, 2 or 3 players for a combined total of up to 3 spaces. (Ie. Move 1 suspect 3 times OR Move 3 suspects 1 time each OR move 2 suspects 1/2 times each accordingly)
  • Miss Stealthy: She can walk through buildings and her movement range is 1-4 spaces
  • John H. Watson: After moving, he can shine his light in any direction, making characters who would otherwise be unseen, seen. His token has an arrow that you have to rotate in the right direction.



From left to right above:
  • Sir William Gull: Instead of moving normally, he may swap places with someone
  • Jeremy Bert: Before or after moving, he can move manhole covers, hence blocking the exit
  • Inspector Lestrade: Before or after moving, he can move police barriers, which dictates which exits Jack can't escape from
  • John Smith: Before or after moving, he can move lights around to anywhere he wants.

Turn Order

What happens is, there are 8 turns in total.

Every 2 turns , the 8 suspect cards are shuffled and a group of 4 suspects is randomly distributed. This group of 4 is used for the first of the two turns (eg. Turn 1 - Sherlock, Goodley, Stealthy and Watson as above).

The other group of 4 is put to one side to be used for the second of the two turns (eg.  Turn 2)

After this is done for the first 2 turns, shuffle the cards and repeat the process until 8 turns are completed.

On Odd numbered turns, the Detective gets FIRST CHOICE as to which suspect card to use. Once a card is chosen, that suspect CANNOT BE USED ANYMORE until 2 turns later (it is turned face down after the suspect is moved/used). Then Jack gets to choose the NEXT TWO SUSPECTS to move. Then the Detective gets to move/use the LAST suspect.

So for example, if I was the Detective, I could pick Goodley first, then Jack might pick Stealthy and Watson to move/use, then I would be forced into choosing Sherlock for my last move of the turn.

On Even numbered turns, the reverse happens: Jack gets FIRST CHOICE, the Detective gets to choose the NEXT TWO SUSPECTS and then the Detective gets the LAST suspect.



The Concept of Being Seen or Unseen

You may ask: Why move suspects at all?

The whole point of this game is for the Inspector to separate the suspects into two distinct groups as evenly as possible: Those that are seen or those that are unseen. At the end of each turn the inspector asks Jack: ARE YOU SEEN OR UNSEEN? By splitting the group in such a manner, the Inspector can confirm that some suspects are not Jack the Ripper.

Conversely, Jack is trying to clump all the suspects into the same group (dark/light) so that Jack the Ripper is indiscernible from the main crowd.

What does being seen mean?

Being seen is defined three ways. A suspect is seen if:

1) They are adjacent or standing next to a light/lamp tile (that is, they are on a hexagon whose side is shared with the corresponding side of the lamp tile)

2) They are standing next to the another suspect (intuitively, because each suspect sees the other)

3) They are standing in the path of Watson's lamp (which can be turned to face a particular direciton at the end of Watson's move) - note that houses or fences etc block this light path.

For example, in the picture below, this is the starting position of Smith and Bert - who are both SEEN according to Rule 1:



In another example, if you refer back to Exhibit A you will see that Miss Stealthy and Sergeant Goodley were both unseen at the start of the board (in fact, there are 4 seen and 4 unseen at the start of the game for balance). If, after being moved, they are positioned like below, they both become seen due to Rule #2.

Ie. Stealthy is seen because she is adjacent to Goodley and Bert; whilst Goodley is seen because he is adjacent to Stealthy.



At the start of the game Jack starts off as being SEEN as depicted by this card:


If Jack is ever unseen at the end of a turn, the card is flipped over like so and he may escape the next turn (remember, Jack can only escape if he is unseen):



Importantly, at the end of each turn, the Inspector asks Jack if he is seen or unseen.

As a final example - suppose this was the situation at the end of a turn:



Once asked whether he was seen or unseen, suppose Jack says "Seen".

That means that all the suspects who are unseen are no longer suspects - they cannot be Jack the Ripper as they are not "Seen".

Hence the Inspector would flip over Sherlock and Watson like in the below picture to their dull/white sides to indicate that they aren't Jack the Ripper.

This makes the Inspector's job a bit easier - narrowing the number of suspects by 2.



The Inspector may at any stage attempt an arrest but obviously if they do it at the start they only have a 1 in 8 chance of getting it right. To arrest they simply need to move another suspect's token on top of another suspect (when activating that suspect by selecting the relevant character card as talked about in "Turn Order" above). If the Inspector gets it right, he/she wins.

If wrong, the Inspector loses. There can only be one arrest/accusation so the Inspector needs to get it right on the first go.


Friday 21 March 2014

Gemblo Deluxe

Blokus' long-lost sister, separated at birth and living on the other side of the world..


Korean box, but there is an English version that looks and is otherwise (apart from language) exactly the same


Green Board Games Edition - considerably cheaper (About $35 at the time of writing which is about 30% to 60% less than the Deluxe Edition as ordered from Korea?), but the pieces don't look as good though


Name: Gemblo Deluxe (2005 - though the game cover on mine says "Since 2003")

Publisher: Gemblo, Inc - but there many others though out there including the Green Board Games Edition

Version: I am reviewing the DELUXE version - which looks much prettier and jewel-like than its normal-version counterpart.

Notable RelativeBlokus

Designer: Justin Oh

Players: 1(?!) to 6

Age: 6+

Time to play: 30 minutes, apparently

Price Range (AUD): $54.59 to $93.39 (including the mini-expansion - but I ordered this by "slowboat" which takes about 1-2 months to deliver. The speed of delivery can change the price obviously)

Availability:  Quite hard to find unless you speak Korean and can navigate Korean websites. Believe it or not, I had to email Justin Oh himself to buy this game...

Genres
  • Abstract
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Puzzle

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

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

There is an ongoing "debate" as to whether Gemblo copied its game mechanics from Blokus. It is undisputed that Blokus was released first in 2000, but, if my memory of the debate serves me well, Gemblo's owners claim that their game was developed independently of the success of Blokus.

Irrespective of which game came first, I like this better than Blokus simply because it caters for more people: it plays especially well with 6 people. It may seem like a cop-out reason but the ability to play with more people is quite important to me. However, the comparison does not stop there - as you will see, I think Blokus is better for 4 people.

As alluded to above, the gameplay is generally similar to Blokus - instead of pieces needing to be placed "corner to corner" (as in Blokus), pieces must be placed "one line away" from each other [see the rules below]. Players again share the same goal of placing as many of their pieces as they can on the board and, like Blokus again, this means they must take into account spatial considerations and decide whether to expand their territory or to focus on blocking opponents.

In that general strategic sense, I think both games are similar. However, that being said, I am not well-versed enough in mathematics or spatial geometry for me to appreciate the subtle differences in tactics that may be present from using a board made up of hexagons (rather than squares as in Blokus) and, correspondingly, hexagonal pieces. On gut instinct though, it would seem that such differences could make a heck of a difference to the overall spatial strategyI can imagine though that some people will prefer the "simplicity" of Blokus' corner-to-corner rule.

There is also a particular awkwardness with the various markings on the board - the board has different "starting positions" and "playing areas" for different numbers of players and admittedly it is difficult to distinguish between the markings and to tell where to put your pieces on.

In particular, 3 or 4 player games may, perhaps, produce some difficulties. (Hence, 4 players may prefer to play Blokus) There are special rules for a 5-player game which look quite interesting.

That being said I think the 6-player and 5-player variant is quite good as the whole board is used and there is no room for confusion.

* September 2014: Reduced from 7.1. As Gemblo and Blokus are similar games, it wouldn't be right to rate Gemblo too much higher than Blokus.


The Good:
  • Light and friendly game, yet has considerable strategic depth (just like Blokus)
  • A lot of people have commented on the aesthetic appeal of this game because of the colourful and crystal-like components
  • Plays more people than Blokus
  • Fundamentally the same as Blokus with slight variations
The Bad:
  • Markings on board are hard to see when trying to determine the outer boundaries of games with less than 5 players. Hence may play awkwardly with players less than 5
  • The "clear coloured" game pieces are almost impossible to see on the game-board
  • Massive box and board - hard to store!!! (it's also an awkward shape)

What makes this game fun? 

This game contains everything that is fun about Blokus and adds the ability to play 2 extra players, but in a slightly varied strategic setting. For existing Blokus players, it perhaps would serve as a variant to the game, but may not necessarily be a total placement, depending on your view of things.




- 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 bundle of 18 game pieces (8 "five-blocks"; 5 "four-blocks"; 3 "three-blocks"; 1 "two-block" and 1 "one-block). They choose from these following colours:



Pieces get placed on this board:

You might be able to just barely make out the markings on the board - they show you the board area and where to start for different numbers of players. It's not my intention to go through all of the various starting positions and board sizes (this is already well covered in the instructions manual). It suffices to say that the game board can be confusing if you play with anything less than 5 players (note that there are special rules for 5 players - it involves using up the whole board though, so that is fine in terms of minimising confusion with boundaries)

I'll be dealing with the 6 player version

Starting Positions

Everyone places a piece at each VERTEX/POINT of the Hexagon - this intuitively makes sense because there are 6 vertices and plays just like Blokus.



Then, after everyone has had their turn (placing a piece on the vertex), on your second turn you must place a piece ONE LINE AWAY from your existing piece. For example you could do this:

Green places their piece - it is "one line away" (lines refer to the sides of the small hexagons that scatter the board)

If we fast forward the game, we can see that the game might look something like this:

As you can see all respective coloured pieces are one "line" away from their own pieces

If it is Green's turn, Green can do this:


Adjacent to other colours: Hence, just like in Blokus, it is fine to be adjacent or "touching" or "not being one line away" from DIFFERENT coloured pieces, so long as your OWN COLOURED PIECES are one line away from each other (as above).

Illegal move: However, when pieces are "one line away" from each other, the line itself CANNOT PASS THROUGH another coloured piece. For example this addition of the 5 block "l" shape is illegal:

Illegal - the line that separates the two green pieces cannot pass through the purple piece.
However, the line CAN pass BETWEEN two different coloured pieces like so:



Here, the Green 5 line piece has been legitimately placed - there still exists a line "outside" or "in-between" the pink and blue pieces (as a borderline of sorts).

Scoring: You win if you have the least number of hexagons (I am assuming smaller hexagon shapes that comprise the block, rather than entire pieces/blocks). If there is a tie there are special rules to resolve the tie which I can't understand because they are in Korean. However, it seems as though certain shapes are worth a higher penalty than others.

Other quirks

The game has solo puzzles for you to perform, by way of a book that shows you pictures you can create and the pieces you need to do it.


The game also has a mini-expansion. Mine came as part of the deal. Various power-up cards can be played that let you do things that you wouldn't normally be allowed to do.




Wednesday 19 March 2014

Ticket to Ride

An American (cult?) favourite. Prepare for some serious railway congestion.




Name: Ticket to Ride (2004)

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Expansions: There are plenty of Map Collections available (Asia; India and Switzerland; 'Nederlands'; Africa). Other variations include Ticket to Ride: Europe or Ticket to Ride: Marklin

Notable Honours: Spiel des Jahres 2004 (Game of the Year 2004)

Designer: Alan R Moon

Players: 2 to 5

Age: 8+

Time to play: About 45+ minutes

Price Range (AUD): $57.99 to $82

Availability:  Quite a popular title (relatively speaking) and widely available online. However, at the time of writing, I gather that it's not popular enough to be mainstream and appear in department stores.

Genres

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

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

This is quite a good game; at first I didn't really appreciate the mechanics but after a while I realised that the gameplay is pretty clean and incorporates the "build your own train empire" theme quite well.

Players compete to create train routes all across the USA (at least in the original edition - there are other other regions available, depending on the Map Collection you purchase) and thus there is from the outset a competition for space and area control. Which train routes you want to secure will also partly come down to luck (as is invariably the case when you play with cards) - you draw a set of designated destination cards and train cards that you use to create routes.

This game will have you quietly scheming and panicking at the same time as you try to predict which parts of the map your friends want to occupy (whilst you worry about whether you will be able to secure that spot you want in a couple turn's time....). The conflict is often this: whether you should begin securing routes NOW (and forego the opportunity of stockpiling cards) or whether you should continue drawing the cards you need in the long-term. This conflict is especially the case when you play with a 5 player group - space always feels congested to the point of claustrophobia.

The game is also apparently a good illustration of the Travelling Salesman Problem - which, from my limited understanding, involves figuring out the shortest possible route that passes through a given set of cities only once, and returns to the origin city.

* July and August 2014: Increased from 7.85. The reason being, I think this is a great game that builds up plenty of tension between people but in a relaxed atmosphere. Often the issue is whether to hoard/stock up on cards or to claim routes that are key to your plan. Not getting a key route, or getting it a turn later than normal, can really mess things up and add lots of strategy/panic to this game. I consider this, along with Las Vegas, to be good games to use as a standard yardstick when deciding whether to give a game a score of 8+/10.

The Good:
  • Tense yet friendly battle for limited area and space
  • The series will appeal to fans who like and enjoy geography (as I do)
  • Simple and easy-to-learn gameplay
The Bad:
  • Counting scores can be annoying - when we play we usually count our score at the end
  • Minor complaint: I kind of wish the trains would stick to the board - that would have been much cooler if there were indentations or grooves to put the trains in.

What makes this game fun? 

Building your train empire whilst trying to nullify the efforts of your competitors brings a strong railway tycoon feel to the game. However the game is very light and relatively simple. It isn't exactly punishing but that doesn't mean it's completely devoid of strategy either - it has just the right balance, at times, offering that competitive edge.





- 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 deck is prepared like this for everyone to access (5 cards face up - you can do it in a straight line - and the rest face down in a draw pile):



Everyone also gets 4 "Train Cards", randomly dealt, as their starting hand.

Everyone gets their own set of 45 train cars from this selection in the box:



The board looks like this:



At the start of the game, everyone gets dealt 3 Destination Tickets. Each player looks at them secretly and decides which ones they wish to keep - they must keep at least two, but they can keep them all if they want to. The game is all about completing these routes you are given on the board.

This is an example of some of the Destination Tickets - the shorter routes (eg. Kansas City to Houston) score less points but are usually easier to finish (less risky).

The longer routes score more points but are harder to complete. If you complete the route, for example, San Fran to Atlanta, you get the points stated (17 points). If you fail to complete the routes you LOSE that amount of stated points on the card.

On your turn you may choose ONE action:

1) Draw 2 cards
2) Claim a route
3) Draw 3 more Destination Ticket and choose to keep at least 1 of them.


1) Drawing cards


If the above was the starting deck, and if it was my turn to draw, I could either:

a) Take the wildcard and END my turn [special rule - because wildcards are valuable so you should only take 1]

b) Take one face-up card that is NOT a wildcard, replace the card drawn, and then DRAW ANOTHER ONE (either again from the face-up cards, or from the unseen draw pile)

c) Take an unseen card from the draw pile and then DRAW ANOTHER ONE (either again from the unseen draw pile, or from the face-up cards, so long as it isn't a wildcard)

So for example:
For example here I take the Pink card...

...then I replace it from the draw pile with the Orange (random)...

...I decide I don't like any of these colours so I draw from the deck. Note that, you cannot take the wildcard on your second draw - you can only take a face up wildcard on your first turn....

However, if in my unseen draw, I am lucky enough to draw a wildcard, I get to keep it - as it happens here. 


2) Claiming Routes

To claim routes, you must have a sufficient number of MATCHING COLOURED CARDS.

For example, below, suppose I had this hand after two turns. It is now the third turn. I have spent two turns collecting 2 pink cards each turn for a total of 4 pink cards to add to my starting hand of 1 Wild, 2 Green and 1 Pink.



So I could claim a Pink route between 5 to 6 blocks long or a Green route between 3 to 4 blocks long (because of my wild card - if I didn't have my wildcard I would only be able to claim a route 5 blocks long because of my 5 Pink Cards)

So here is what would happen. I choose to claim that Pink Route between San Francisco and Portland 5 blocks long as below. 

Note: When you claim a route, you must claim ALL OF IT - you cannot put down for example 3 cards to secure 3 out of 5 blocks - you must commit to all of it.

Note that, here,the Portland-San Francisco route is 5 train blocks long - hence you need 5 pink coloured cards because the route blocks are coloured PINK.

Note, in contrast, that the route from Portland to Seattle is only 1 train block long - and is grey in colour. Hence you only need ONE card of ANY colour to complete that route (as grey means any colour can be used)

So for example, I'd then place 5 of my trains to cover that route (here, 4 Pink, and 1 Wildcard = 5 Pink).

Note that some routes are double routes (eg. from Portland to San Fran or Seattle to Portland, where there are two tracks - there is also a Green Track as you can see that also requires 5 train blocks) - but the same player cannot claim both of the double routes. One player claims one, and another player claims the other route. Hence here, the Black player CANNOT claim the green route from Portland to San Francisco because Black already has that route.

In games with 3 players or less the double routes should be treated as single routes just to make the gameplay a little harder given that there is already so much space available on the board.

Scoring and End Game

The game starts to end when one player only has 0, 1 or 2 trains left at the end of their turn. Everyone, including the player who only had 0-2 trains left, gets one final turn.

Then the scores are counted in the following manner:

1) Decide who has the longest route - this is measured by the number of train pieces (not routes) placed on the board in a continuous unbroken straight line. Whoever has the longest gets 10 points.

2) Score Destination Ticket points - players reveal their routes and everyone checks to see that they have completed those routes by joining their trains from one city to another (the shape or length doesn't matter - as long as that connection exists between the two cities).

For example, if the route was from Dallas to Nashville, you could have a route from Dallas to Little Rock (2 Grey) and then from Little Rock to Nashville (3 White trains). This is sufficient to make out the Destination Ticket.

Or you could have taken the longer route (for example, if you were blocked): Dallas to Houston to New Orleans to Atlanta to Nashville. This still counts as the Destination Ticket being satisfied.

If they did complete those Destination Ticket goals, they get those points stated on the Ticket. If not, subtract those points.

3) Score points for each route (ie. a connection made from one city to a NEIGHBOURING CITY - eg. San Francisco to Portland above [which has a route length of 5] or Portland to Seattle [which has a route length of only 1]), according to this system based on route length:

1 Train Block = 1 Point 
2 Train Blocks = 2 Points
3 Train Blocks = 4 Points
4 Train Blocks = 7 Points
5 Train Blocks = 10 Points
6 Train Blocks = 15 Points


So for example, in the above picture, I would get 10 points for putting down a route that is 5 carriages long (Portland to Seattle)



Saturday 15 March 2014

Pick-a-pig

A cute card game that demands the power of observation.



Name: Pick-a-pig (2012 - first published as Formissimo)

Publisher: Gryphon Games; Jolly Thinkers

Expansions/Counterparts: Pick-a-dog or Pick-a-polar bear has largely the same themes and can be combined with Pick-a-pig to accomodate more players (apparently up to 8)

Designer: Torsten Landsvogt

Players: 1 to 5 (but you can buy Pick-a-dog or Pick-a-polar bear to increase the numbers)

Age: 8+

Time to play: About 15+

Price Range (AUD): $12.80 to $46. (Real price should be about < $15 without shipping - the box is tiny)

Availability: Unsure - it seems quite unheard of and I only see it online (such as on eBay or Fishpond for example); but many online sites sell it for quite a dear price.

Genres
  • Card
  • Party?
  • Random/Chaotic
  • Pattern Recognition
  • Dexterity

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

6.15 out of 10. (Alright - somewhat interesting for a while - See my Rating Scale)

This is a deviously simple game. Cards are arranged in a 5 x 6 formation.

Each player receives a starting card face down. The card has a picture of a pig/dog/polar bear with random characteristics/features.

From then on, players must pick a sequence of cards in such a way that the next card selected always has only ONCE difference as compared to the prior card.

My main concern is that the game's replay value is quite lacking - it also takes quite a long time to check to see if EVERYONE has observed the rules correctly at the end of each round (see the Rules section to understand what I mean). The novelty of picking up cards will wear out after a while and I don't think the game has sufficient "meat" for it to be considered to be a decent game.


The Good:
  • Novel, interesting
  • Cute graphics and pictures
  • Fast-paced action
The Bad:
  • Limited replay value - unless you REALLY like this kind of thing
  • Takes too long to count scores and check if each player is right -- perhaps one of those few times where too much accountability is required

What makes this game fun? 

This is an enjoyable game, even if only for a short while. Testing the sharpness of your observation skills and your reflexes in a mildly competitive environment makes for some interesting games - it is a good game to try once or twice (or more, if you are into this kind of thing).





- 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)

Set-up is quite simple.

5 rows of 6 cards are dealt face up like so:



Everyone gets a "captain" or "starting card" FACE DOWN.

Then (perhaps after a countdown) everyone reveals their starting cards. The chaotic rush begins.

From then on, EVERY player (at the same time as everyone else) must follow the following steps:

1) Pick a card that contains an image that is only ONE (and only ONE) difference away OR has no difference at all as compared to the starting card.

You will note that there are only 5 attributes that can be differentiated:
- Colour of pig (dark or light)
- Whether pig has one arm/two arms
- Size of pig (big or small)
- Wearing Sunglasses or not
- Holding Popcorn or not

2) Then pick a card that is only one difference away or has no difference at all to the card picked in Step 1)

3) Repeat Step 2) infinitely until there are no more cards left for you to pick without violating Rule 2).

Go quickly - the more cards you pick up whilst observing the above rules, the more points you will get.

Example

Suppose this was your starting card


Looking at the above set-up, you would have to pick a pig that is exactly the same as this or has one difference (for example, a dark big pig with two arms or a dark big pig wearing sunglasses with 1 arm).

You place the newly selected card on top of this starting card, and every other card selected from then on goes on top of this pile.

This is an example of the choices that could be made:

First, you pick the pig 2 from the left and 3 from the bottom (has two arms, rather than one arm - rest of the features are all the same):



Then you pick the pig diagonally adjacent to that pig, as it's exactly the same card:



Then you pick the one directly on the right, as that card only has one additional feature of wearing sunglasses as compared to the card you just picked up:


And this continues...




Thus far, you have collected all these cards (and you can keep going if you want to - but note that you aren't allowed to spread them out in a row like this - you only do this at the end of the round; I am just showing you this to help you understand the game):

Figure A: Picked in order from left to right so far: Notice the next card on the right is always ONE DIFFERENCE AWAY from the card on the left. This is the whole idea of the game


Stopping, Checking and Scoring - Accountability

4) When you are confident that no other cards exist that match the above rules, yell STOP. Everyone must stop picking cards. Everyone now checks to see if the person who yelled "stop" truly had no more cards left to choose - if correct, they get an extra card as a bonus. If wrong (ie. if you called out stop when you had more cards to collect), you lose all your cards!!!

5) Then all players must be "checked" to see that they have picked up their cards in the right sequence [ie. their sequence of cards must observe rules 1) to 3)]. IF YOU HAVE EVEN ONE CARD OUT OF ORDER YOU LOSE ALL YOUR CARDS - hence this, together with Rule 4), is quite a punishing rule (it forces players to consider whether they should opt for inaccuracy with speed or slowness but certain points).

For example in this sequence the last card selected is WRONG - there are TWO differences. Popcorn AND two arms rather than one arm. This player loses all their cards and scores zero points

6) If a player has indeed picked up their cards in the right order (as in Figure A above), then they score 1 point for each card they have in their hand. In Figure A, if that was the end of the round that person would get 6 points (if they called stop, they get 7 points)


Sunday 9 March 2014

Las Vegas

The quintessential gambler's game, except without real money.



Name: Las Vegas (2012)

Publisher: Ravensburger

Future Expansions: Las Vegas Plus is coming out soon, and it seems pretty cool (Las Vegas Lights was its pending title) - it adds more players, special cards and "large" dice worth two normal dice.

Notable Honours: Spiel des Jahres 2012 nominated (Game of the Year 2012 nominated)

DesignerRĂ¼diger Dorn

Players: 2 to 5

Age: 8+

Time to play: About 30-45+ minutes

Price Range (AUD): $29.95 to $70

Availability: Quite hard to find. Going online (eg. eBay) or through a hobbyist game shop might be your best bet.

Genres
  • Party
  • Dice-rolling
  • Push-your-luck

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

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

This is a go-to game of sorts for me: so far, everyone I've shown it to has either liked it or were quite interested with its general gameplay. Thus, from my experience, it carries quite a rare distinction for being well-liked.

Basically in this game everyone rolls a set of 8 dice and a bidding war ensues: After you roll, you group like or matching dice together (eg. three 1's, two 4's etc). You use MATCHING dice to bid for certain amounts of money laid out on the table in a manner that corresponds to the numerical values of the dice (see Rules for clarification).  Whoever gets the most cash over 4 rounds wins.

There is some degree of strategy here but it is quite minimal - however, because each player gets to roll their remaining dice so many times, there is still plenty of decision-making to do.

It's often the case that if you can quietly claim the smaller amounts of money on the table (without attracting too much attention) this can work to your benefit whilst everyone squabbles over the large sums; alternatively, you can choose to go all-out and compete for the large sums that you know EVERYONE will be targeting - which is a risky endeavour because you may end up losing everything.

The best part of this game though is the idea that everyone could get NOTHING. If your bid ties with someone else's bid, both of you get NOTHING.

This is a good game if you're after some lively fun in a party-like atmosphere.


The Good:
  • Bidding war brings out funny tensions amongst players
  • Novelty of rolling 8 dice
  • Genuinely feels like a legitimate casino game, without the high stakes of using real money
  • Mild strategy that is attractive and appeals to most
The Bad:
  • Some people don't like "gambling games" - on the premise that it could very easily be turned into a drinking or a real gambling game (which is a fair enough point except for the fact that you don't need to play that way - it depends who you hang out with)
  • Novelty may wear off after a while
  • Wish you could play more players, but the expansion will solve this
  • However, it may take some time between turns for people new to this or people who are generally indecisive.

What makes this game fun? 

The element of chance inherent in rolling dice coupled with the heavy bidding wars over sums of money makes for an interesting atmosphere.






- 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 gets 8 dice of the same colour from this selection:

The card on the left is the "star player" card.
The boards that store dice are in the middle
Dice selection on the right


You set up the board like this.

Note that it does not matter which note is covering another note - the higher value is always the top prize; second highest is second prize etc
(Eg. Here at the '4' slot 20k is covering the 50k but that doesn't matter - the top prize is 50k - unless you feel like changing the rules to make it an interesting fight for second spot!)


Note: The money was randomly distributed here, but what you do is you keep dealing cash until you reach at least $50,000 for each number panel/board.

For clarification:

1's contain: 40k, 20k
2's: 90k
3's: 80k

4's: 50k, 20k
5's: 40k, 30k, 20k
6's: 70k, 20k

Note 1: You win money by having the most number of dice on a particular panel (see below)

Note 2: When winning money, players only win the money with the greatest value - they don't win all the money there. 

So for example, the winner of the "5's" only wins the 40k, NOT 90k in total (40k + 30k + 20k). 

Instead, the Runner-up of the "5's" will win the 30k, and 3rd place will win the 20k.


Rolling dice

Someone is selected to be the "star player" - this means they roll first this round.

So suppose White rolls this set of 8 dice like so:



White must then GROUP the dice into MATCHING numbers like so:



White has grouped together:

  • Three 1's
  • Two 6's
  • A Lone 3
  • A Lone 5
  • A Lone 6
Now, of the dice White has, White must choose a numerical value and place ALL dice of that numerical value onto the matching dice board.

Hence, White could place her Three 1's to bid for the 40k (she can't place Two 1's - she must place all three). However, this would be a waste of dice for such a relatively low sum of money.

A good (and dice-efficient) move might be to place a Lone 3 to bid for the 80k (and hope to roll more 3's on future rolls)

However, here, White places her Two 6's to bid for the 70k - which is a reasonable move:



Then it is Red's turn to roll. 

Red does the same thing as White and groups numbers together (I won't show his roll here). 

But suppose Red only has a Lone "6" die and decides to put it on like so:



If the game finished like this, White would receive the 70k and Red receives the 20k at the end of this round.

However, let's introduce Green into the mix - Suppose after rolling, Green gets Two 6's. She decides to put down her dice like so:



In this case, if the game ended now, Green and White are TIED. Hence, they both get NOTHING. Red gets the 70k instead.

[And so, assume the other two colours Black and Blue have rolled and they have, rather wisely (choosing to stay out of the fray)  placed their dice on other numbers on the board.]

It is White's turn to roll again, followed by Red, followed by Green.
  • White rolls only One "6" and places it on. 
  • Red then rolls. Unfortunately, Red rolls no "6"s at all. 
  • Green Rolls Two 6's. 
Again, Black and Blue have decided to stay out of this - they've placed their dice on other parts of the board which I won't show.

Then the bidding war would look like this:



Hence, if the game ended here, Red again wins the 70k and the other two (White and Green) will get nothing.

What happens next:

The pattern continues: Everyone keeps rolling their remaining dice in turn order, observing the above rule about choosing ALL dice of the same numerical value chosen, until no one has dice left.

Then the monies are distributed around according to who won. This is the end of Round 1.

So for this particular board, if this was the end of the round:



Here White is first: White gets 70k
Green is second: Green gets 20k
There is no third place in this particular board: Red gets zero.

You do the same thing for each board (the 5's, the 4's, the 3's etc)

____

Future Rounds:

And then for Round 2 the whole process is repeated (clear the boards; re-fill the boards with monies up to at least 50k; the next person becomes the "star player"; everyone rolls dice in turn order until no one has dice left)

Whoever has the most amount of money, after say, 4 rounds (or however many you want) is the winner.

Variants

If you're playing with less than 5 players, you can choose to use White as neutral dice (everyone receives a certain amount of White dice that they roll together with their normal dice). These neutral dice act like an extra player except if the neutral dice wins, no one gets the money (it can be useful to stop other players from winning).