Wednesday 30 July 2014

Coloretto

A set-collecting card game where everyone starts with no cards in their hand...
...in fact, at no stage of this game do you actually hold onto cards for more than a couple of seconds!
Mine is the 10 year anniversary special edition as depicted here


Name: Coloretto (2003)

Designer: Michael Schacht

Publisher: AbacusSpiele

Random Fact: Supposedly the concept and game mechanics of Coloretto were used by Schacht to create Zooloretto, which won the German Game of the Year 2007

Players: 2 to 5

Age: 8+

Time to play: 30 minutes or less if everyone plays quickly.

Price Range (AUD): $19.95 to $32. I got my copy, the 10 year anniversary edition, for $18.50.

Availability: Quite widely available on eBay and online stores but I'm not sure if they would be in physical hobby stores (they probably would be).

Genres
  • Set collection
  • Card 
  • Push-your-luck

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

6.65+* out of 10. (Decent, especially if you just want a quick thrill - See my Rating Scale)

This is one of those games that has a good novel idea. The real shame though is that it is let down by the fact that its overall gameplay relies too much on random chance. But isn't that the case for all card games you ask? Probably.

The basic premise of the game is that there are a few empty piles. On your turn, you can choose to either draw a card and place it onto any one of the piles OR TAKE one of the piles. You have no other options and all players are faced with the same decision. There are certain colours of cards that you'll want to collect (as you'll specialise in certain colours), and others that you want to avoid. Hence, eventually, some piles will have "good and bad" cards that will produce some kind of "analysis-paralysis" to your decision-making as you become unsure of whether you want to take the pile or not. This is quite an interesting concept and there is some level of strategy to this. "Contaminating" the piles with cards of different colours to cause distress to your opponents can be quite fun.

However, the main problem with this game is that there is too much room for luck. If you are the first player in that round, and there so happens to be a +2 bonus card, or a card that you want on its own (uncontaminated by other cards that you wouldn't want), you would probably just take that card straight away. There is hardly any decision to be made or strategy to invoke. In that sense, even though the same can be said for any card game, it really is the case that you are extremely at the mercy of the shuffling of cards and turn order (especially when you play with 4 or 5 players - depending on what happens, you may not have many viable or strategic options left).

Otherwise, there is some kind of strategy to this game. You do have to manage the colours that you want whilst keeping a close eye on what your opponents have. Forcing other players to take cards they DON'T want is all part of the fun.

* September 2014: Reduced marginally from 6.7. The game itself isn't too much better than 6.5 so I have adjusted this accordingly. It has a few quirks about it that make it a bit different, but that's about it.

The Good:
  • Fast gameplay - can play many sessions
  • Portable 
  • Some degree of strategy - can aim to screw people up or prioritse on your set
  • If you just want quick fun and don't care much about strategy, this game can be quite good
  • Pretty unique/novel idea/gameplay - interesting novelty of having to gather all your cards from scratch and not needing to hold onto your cards
  • Push your luck mechanic - "Should I stay safe and just take 1 card at a time or should I push for more points, even if I might get a bad card?" - "Should I take the contaminated pile?"
  • It's quite fun trying to meddle or stuff your opponents up by giving them colours they don't want (so that they earn negative points)

The Bad:
  • Luck of the draw - much depends on turn order and shuffling (of course, there is still some strategy to this game and, most obviously, I could say this of any card game but this applies quite significantly to this game) 
  • Following on from the above, if everyone decides to take piles early, options become limited if you are the last person in play. Nonetheless, it is still a game about risk and reward.
  • Replayable if your group enjoys fast card games with some limited strategy but if you desire a little bit more meat and substance in a game you may get bored of it after a while!

What makes this game fun? 

Try it if you'd like to play a quick push-your-luck game with some limited degree of strategy.





- 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 general aim of the game is to specialise in up to three colours and collect as many cards as possible for each of those colours you specialise in.


Set-up

Everyone gets a summary card that looks like this:

Score or Summary Card.
This tells you how many points you get for a certain number of cards you've collected for one colour type.
For example, 5 of a kind in one colour (eg. 5 blue) will net you 15 points
However, you only earn POSITIVE points for your top 3 colours - you earn negative points for your 4th colours and beyond (see below)
Then place as many "row cards" as there are players (this card shows a bunch of 3 rectangular cards on it; in the original edition, the row card also has a lamp/light icon at the top border of the card).

They look like this:

The bottom three cards are the row cards; the top bunch represents the deck.
This is a 3 player game so we use 3 row cards.
Each row card shows 3 card symbols on it, which depicts the maximum number of cards that can be placed onto each row card or what I call "cannister".

Each player takes one card of a different colour and places it face up in front of them - this is one of the three colours they will want to collect.

Place the last round card into the bottom 16 cards of the supply pile of cards (by dealing 16 cards, shuffling and then putting the rest of the deck on top of this).

Last round card - I think I've placed it upside down though hahaha!
It symbolises the last round to be played.

Gameplay

On a player's turn they must choose one of two actions:

1) DRAW and PLACE a card onto a row pile;
  • Each row pile can only hold a maximum of (ie. up to) 3 cards.
OR

2) Take a card row or "cannister" if it has at least 1 card in it. If you take a card row, you are out of this round - that is, you can no longer take any more turns this round.

So for example, if you are the last person left (ie. everyone has taken a card row pile except you), you can choose to keep drawing up to a maximum of 3 cards or you can take the card row pile at any time so long as it has at least 1 card in it.

The card row piles are emptied and the next round continues until the last round card is drawn. The player who last took a row card or pile of cards the previous round gets to go first this next round.

Example

For example, suppose that this is a three player game. At the start of the game, the three piles are empty.

Player A must draw a card as none of the piles have at least 1 card on them:

Player A decides to place the +2 card on the first pile.

It is Player B's turn now. Player B can decide to take the card row pile with the +2 card straight away, but decides not to and draws a new card like so:


Player B draws a green. Player B decides to play it in the middle pile (perhaps to prevent someone else from taking the Green in addition to the +2 points)

Then, two more turns elapse: Player C draws a wildcard, places it on the pile on the right and then Player A draws a Yellow card:



Player B decides to not draw this time. B will now take the middle pile, as she wants to collect green (since her starting card happens to be green, let's say) and does not mind collecting yellow.

Player B takes the middle pile, and the row card or "cannister" as I call it gets turned over to show that it has been exhausted and no one can take from it anymore (at least, for this round)

Player B is now out of the round. It's Player C's turn and will then be A's turn shortly. Both have the same options: take a pile or draw a card and place it onto a card row pile. C may very well decide just to take the wild card for example right after B's turn.

When all players have taken a pile, the round ends and a new one begins.

The player who last took a row card or pile of cards gets to go first this next round.

Scoring and End

The game ends when the last round card is drawn - when this occurs, all players separate their top 3 colours (by quantity): These cards will score POSITIVE points according to the summary card.

Every other colour scores NEGATIVE points according to the summary card. This is the case even if 2 or more colours are tied - so one of the tied colours might score positive points whilst the other scores negatively.

For example, suppose this is someone's collection at the end of the round:


Here, this player has:

  • 7 green cards
  • 3 brown cards + 1 wild card (this card can be used on any colour you like - it can freely be switched even in the scoring phase) = 4 brown cards
  • 3 yellow cards
  • 2 blue cards
  • 1 + 2 card


The green cards would score +21 points, as 6 cards or more will score a maximum of 21 points. Having 7 or more cards of one colour type does not give you additional points.

4 Brown nets 10 points
3 yellow nets 6 points

However, the 2 blue cards represent a 4th colour - this will be scored negatively = -3 points
The +2 card is always worth 2 points each.

Hence the total score would be 21 + 10 + 6 - 3 + 2 = 36 points

Bonus Stuff in the 10 year Anniversary Edition (I don't know if the same content appears in the normal edition)

The 10 year anniversary edition also provides row cards for 2-player games (they have a green background in the 10-year edition).

In this two player-variant, the left row card or cannister will hold 1 card; the middle 2 cards; the right 3 cards


Furthermore, if you flip over the brown summary card, you can try the violet-coloured summary card. This presents an alternate and perhaps more challenging scoring mechanism in which 3 cards is the optimal number and nets you 8 points; but every card after that gives you less points.(4 cards gives 7 points; 5 cards 6; 6 cards 5). This can certainly mix up play and provide for an interesting experience.



There is also a golden joker card like so: 



Like the multi-coloured joker above, this card is also a wildcard but the catch is this: if you pick it up from a pile, you must blindly draw one card from the deck and add it to your collection - a risk probably worth taking unless your 4th colour is looking dangerous!!

Friday 25 July 2014

Dominion

A deck-building game that is (allegedly) often compared with Magic: The Gathering.



As a point of note, I actually tend to avoid "card-collection" games as they require too much investment and time. However, there are always exceptions to rules; Dominion is a fairly good one and has much strategic depth for a group of 3 to 4. You don't need to collect all the cards from the expansions to enjoy this game; the base game will do.

Name: Dominion (2008)

Expansions: There are plenty, each containing around 150, 350 or 500 cards to supplement the original.

Dominion: Intrigue

  • The exception is Dominion: Intrigue, which is a standalone game. However, if used with the original game, it can play up to 6 players, which isn't always desirable.
  • Each expansion is based on a different theme and gives cooler cards with more powers.
  • There is also a Base Cards "replacement" pack that has 250 cards that gives you all the basic treasure, victory and curse cards.


Awards: 2009 Spiel des Jahres (German game of the Year); 2009 Mensa Select; 2009 Golden Geek Award (Game of the Year and Card Game of the Year)...

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Illustrators: Matthias Catrein amongst others

Players: 2 to 4 but plays more with expansions such as Dominion: Intrigue (which allows for up to 6 players - but this arguably slows the game down considerably and wouldn't be fun for non-gamers)

Age: 13+

Time to play: Apparently at least 30 minutes+. Can take much longer if playing with new people who aren't good at deciding.

Price Range (AUD):  Quite expensive given that it's only a set of 500 cards!! 

Cheapest copy is about $49 (pick-up; there is a site that sells it for about $44 now as I write this, but this is not including shipping and it's on sale). On average, if you order it online the price will be between $62 to $79 including shipping. You are basically paying for shipping the weight of a regular-European sized box that acts as a storage box for all the cards. But the box is useful as the sections that hold all the cards are labelled. Still not really worth it though because of the expensive shipping if you ask me, at least for us here in Australia.

Availability: As it's quite well known, it should be in established hobby game stores and online.


Genres
  • Card
  • Card-collecting
  • Strategy
  • "Empire-building"
  • Deck-builder
  • Resource management
  • "Make your deck as efficient as possible"

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.4+* out of 10. (Good, can be great if you play with the right group - See my Rating Scale)

This is a pretty nice game. The only problem I have with it is that you often get this effect where "everyone is doing their own thing" and it becomes quite hard to follow what everyone is doing on their turn - especially in the more advanced stages of the game where everyone has powerful decks of cards. In other words, there is little to no accountability in terms of checking whether a player, on their turn, is strictly adhering to the rules of the game. But, to be fair, this isn't so much of a problem if everyone is conscientious and doesn't mind being a little more attentive to what someone is doing on their turn.

A little context might help you understand my concern with this game. This game is a deck-builder in which everyone builds their own deck of cards (which represents their respective dominion or kingdom). That is, all players vie for the best cards from a common pool of cards available to everyone. On your turn you draw 5 cards from your deck. You then play whatever you can (action cards, or coin/treasure cards to buy better cards), discard the rest of your hand, add the newly purchased card into your deck, and draw more cards. This procedure can be hard to follow at first but you will get the hang of. Soon, the cards you've just acquired form part of your deck and your deck becomes even more powerful.

The other smaller problem I have is that the game can take a long time between turns as each person tries to decide what they do with their deck of cards - this becomes quite apparent towards the mid-to-late game where everyone has purchased powerful cards that give them extra actions and money. It is hard to track what everyone is doing without taking up a whole lot of time and discussion. However, if you play with the right group of people (those who know the rules very well and don't mind waiting for each player to take their turn - either because they are patient or because they take interest in other people's turns), this game can be quite fun. It also helps to have played this many times before so that everyone is familiar with all the cards and their abilities.

On the upside, there is quite a nice dimension of strategy to this game. If you go for cheap victory cards too early, you will clog up your deck as they are pretty much worthless in terms of helping you obtain more (and the better) victory cards. If you try to make your deck too efficient (by obtaining gold coins and powerful action cards), you may narrowly miss out on the best victory cards if you get your timing wrong.

The tension as each player tries to get the best combination of cards makes for a good game. There are also different combinations of cards that may prove to be effective.

* September 2014: Personally I think this game may deserve a higher score, but I feel that the nature of this game (deck-building) is such that people won't necessarily latch onto the game. Thus giving such a score may be deceiving, to say the least. There is just so much strategy waiting to be explored, especially if you play the game with different combinations of cards.

The Good:
  • Interesting gameplay and strategic depth - there are a numerous array of strategies you can undertake: be aggressive; stock up gold; maximise certain combinations of cards.
  • Cool concept of building your own empire or dominion with a deck of cards and trying to make it as efficient as possible
  • Good game for 3-4+ friends who want a solid and deep game to kill time (much like The Settlers of Catan except without the beautiful artwork/landscape)
  • The theme of being a monarch seeking to conquer lands is also pretty interesting but not felt that strongly - you can only feel so much of the imagination from a set of cards!
  • Customisable games - you can choose which cards your group will be vying for

The Bad:
  • It's hard for everyone to know all the cards and their effects at the start of the game - obviously experienced players will know which cards are better than others
  • Rules may be somewhat tricky to grapple for those new to games (I wouldn't recommend showing this to non-gamers)
  • "Everyone does their own thing" --> on a player's turn it can be hard to keep up with what people are doing, especially with counting how many actions and buys they have left. Counting actions, even out loud (as the game recommends), is confusing for me.

What makes this game fun? 

If you like the idea of a deck-builder game, where each player vies with others over a common pool of resources and tries to make their deck the most powerful, 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)

This is what's inside the box:

Cards with card trays

The label down the middle is very helpful as it shows you which cards belong where


The goal of the game is to have the most number of victory points in your deck when the game ends.
The game ends when:
  • the supply pile of Province cards (worth 6 victory points each) is empty OR 
  • any 3 piles of cards are empty in the supply area.

Setup

Starting deck: Everyone gets a personal starting deck of cards of 7 Copper coins and 3 estate (victory) cards - this represents their dominion. This is shuffled and everyone draws 5 cards.

The left pile is the starting deck. The 5 cards next to that are the hand drawn by this player - 3 coppers and 2 estates (the player can keep their hand a secret). Not shown by this picture, to the right, is the player's discard pile (which is empty at the moment).
Supply area: All 3 treasure piles (Copper, Silver, Gold); 3 victory card piles (Estate, Duchy and Province); 1 curse pile; as well as the trash pile card are placed in the middle where everyone can access it.
  • If you are playing a 2 player game, each of the 3 victory card piles must have 8 cards
  • If you are playing a 3 or 4 player game, each of the 3 piles must have 12 cards
  • Use 10 curse cards for a 2 player game; 20 curse cards for a 3 player game; and 30 curse cards for 4 players [but if you use the default set up the game offers, you don't need the curse cards - the witch  card isn't used in the default set up]
Top Row: Copper, Silver, Gold
Middle Row: Estate, Duchy, Province
Last row: Curse, Trash
This forms one half of the supply area; the other half are the kingdom cards (as shown below)

The game recommends that you start with these 10 sets of Kingdom Cards, which are to be placed in the supply area alongside the treasure and victory piles (You can change these cards for others when you become more experienced with the game):
  • Cellar
  • Mort
  • Village
  • Workshop
  • Woodcutter
  • Smithy
  • Remodel
  • Militia
  • Market
  • Mine


One way you can set up the kingdom card piles. I have deviated slightly from what the rulebook says but it doesn't really matter (at least not for the original game as far as I'm aware - so long as everyone can see the pool of cards)

Gameplay - 3 phases

Before I explain gameplay, it's important to remember, as I've said in an above picture, that everyone has their own deck and personal "discard area". The discard area is on your far right - it is used to put not only cards you have played (including Action cards and Treasure cards) BUT ALSO cards that you have just purchased.

Gameplay has 3 phases:

1. Action phase
  • At the start of the game you will have no action cards so this phase won't exist
  • Play ONE action card, unless the action card lets you perform more actions.
  • Action cards are Kingdom cards that say "Action" on the bottom of it
  • Once the action phase finishes, you can't play any more action cards until your next turn.

2. Buy/Purchase phase
  • You can buy anything from the supply, so long as you have enough money to buy it. 
  • You can play as many treasure cards (not action cards) in your hand of 5 to do this.
  • Some cards give you more buying power
  • The newly purchased card goes into your personal discard pile (the right side below). 
  • All the cards you played to purchase the card also go into your discard pile (again, on the right side below).
  • Note that estate/victory cards can be used to purchase things. How this works is that they can be permanently trashed/destroyed for a one-off purchase, if you use the Remodel card which lets you trash a card to get something worth 2 gold more. Estate cards are worth their cost (in the bottom left corner). Hence, if something costed 4 gold, but you didn't have enough gold to pay, you can still get the card worth 4 gold by trashing one of your estates (worth 2 gold, + 2 because upgraded). 
For example here, remember the starting hand of 3 coppers and 2 estates?

Suppose this player pays 3 coppers to purchase the Workshop card.
What happens is that the 3 coppers are placed on the right, which is your discard pile (representing payment for it).
Then the workshop card is placed on the right as well (as you just purchased it)

3. Clean-up phase
  • The remainder of your hand (unused or unplayed cards) also goes into your discard pile.
  • You now draw 5 more cards from your deck
  • If you have no more cards left to draw, shuffle your personal discard pile to form a new deck, and draw from that.
Following on from the above example, the remainder of this player's hand (the 2 estate cards) gets discarded as well.
5 more cards get drawn from the deck on the left to make his hand.
The right discard pile can be reshuffled now to make a new deck, to be placed on the left. This deck now includes the newly purchased card.

Cards

I won't bother explaining the effect of every card as that would be ridiculous - there's just too many to explain.

But here are the Smithy and Remodel cards just to give you an idea - you can see they each cost 4 gold coins (the number on the bottom).

The Smithy card allows a player to draw 3 more cards. The Remodel card allows a player to get rid of (trash) a useless card and upgrade it to something worth 2 more than the trashed card.




Tuesday 15 July 2014

Tichu

A classic partnership game that resembles a Chinese fusion of Big 2, Spades, and to a limited extent, Bridge and Poker. It is supposedly derived from a Chinese climbing game called Zhēng Shàngyóu (争上游) which literally means "Struggling Upstream".

This review is dedicated to Jack and Roy, who both seemed to enjoy the game.
(For once, Jack enjoys a game that doesn't involve rolling dice!!)

One of the covers of Tichu - other versions include Rio Grande


Metal Tin Edition by AbacusSpiele


Name: Tichu (1991)

Introduction and Background Story (a tribute of sorts to Chinese Culture)

An interesting (but likely fictional) narrative is found in one version of the rules. It humorously makes Tichu look like a forbidden game:

"We thank Mr. Chuang, tour guide for the German speaking department in Nanjing, for everything. He is highly recommended as a guide, for he knows everything: length of bridges, the meaning of Buddha, the number of trucks in the province.
On request, he also knows the meaning of bridges, number of Buddhas, and length of the trucks.  
He can tell you about the statue with 5 goats and a hill and 38 warriors that is the symbol for the city. Perhaps, the statue has 3 goats and 58 warriors, but, in any case, there are more warriors than goats.  
And truthfully said: the statue could also be the symbol for Guanschou or Wuhan. But, in Nanjing there are over 1000 Buddha temples; definitely, this area has its symbols. Yes, Mr. Chuang is a wonderful tour guide. He throws his Nanjing in the Yangtse and takes us into an unknown world of rock concerts, psychiatric clinics, and private meetings with magicians.  
But with the game he does not speak so easily. Of course, he knows it. He knows everything. But, about this game, that the people play in all the parks and all the meeting places, he will say nothing. It is not politically correct. He leads us away from the groups playing this game, saying this game cannot be explained. 
Tichu cannot be explained!* 
*If we had believed that, there would be no rules for the game. We finally brought Mr. Chuang around. In a back room of a souvenir shop near a Confucius Temple, he gathered players for a game of Tichu. First, we were only allowed to watch. Then, we played, and the Chinese experts gave us good advice on playing the game. - This was a great introduction to the game. We strongly recommend this method of learning the game."

Clearly this is a tongue-and-cheek origins story for the game. Even the sides of the tin box have nonsensical characters such as "This package doesn't contain a refrigerator" and (apparently on the red box version, which I don't have) "These characters have no meaning":

"This box/package doesn't contain a refrigerator" 
"包装不装着冰箱"

Bāozhuāng bù zhuāngzhe bīngxiāng
Translation courtesy of Roy
From my understanding, whilst there is a tinge of familiarity about Tichu with the Chinese people, I am told that it is still significantly different to the traditional card games that they know.

Publisher: My version is from AbacusSpiele and Fata Morgana as theirs is a special metal tin box edition. Other publishers include Rio Grande games or Playhouse.

Designer: Urst Hostettler

Players: Usuallly 2 OR 4, but there is a variant called Tientsin that plays 6 players. According to Wikipedia and the rules, there is yet another variant for 5-12 players called Grand Seigneur. A three player variant is possible called Threechu. However, Tichu purists apparently insist that it is a game that should only be played by 4.

Age: 12+

Time to play: Can take a while but if you want to overcome this you can change the scoring system or points required for victory - approx 60 minutes

Price Range (AUD):  $17 to $30. Anything above $20 is overpriced. I bought my metal tin edition for about $18 - even that was pushing it. After all it's just a deck of cards!!! It would be nice to see a simple version on the market for $10 or less.

Availability: Quite widely available online. I haven't seen it in hobby shops. You can use a standard deck of playing cards if you can find distinguishable jokers to use for the 4 special cards. After all, Tichu's components just involve a standard 52-deck of cards + 4 special cards (see below).


Genres
  • Partnership
  • Teams
  • Card
  • Classic
  • "Climbing game" - next player must be higher than the last
  • Big 2
  • "Sheddding game" - be the first to get rid of all of your cards

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

8.65* out of 10. (Excellent - See my Rating Scale)

This game combines the best aspects of Big 2 with the team elements of Bridge and Spades. It therefore makes for quite a fun and engaging partnership game that is nowhere near as hard or complicated as Contract Bridge.

To understand the game you should take a look at the rules below. Apart from that, I would say that this game is deep enough for there to be lingered interest but not too simple for people to question its replayability. Some amount of teamwork and strategy is necessary. In particular, "covering" your partner when they call Small Tichu or Grand Tichu (or, if you are the opponents, destroying the caller's chances of obtaining Tichu) is one of the highlights of the game.

Scoring is a "first to 1000 points" scenario. Some enjoy this because it gives an opportunity for one team to catch up plus it ensures that the most "consistent" team wins (if there ever is such a thing in a game of cards where luck is a dominant, but of course, not a decisive factor). On the other hand, people may find this tedious as it involves pen and paper. If you don't like contract bridge, you may still like this game; although, I do think that if you enjoy trick-taking games like Hearts, Spades, 500 or Bridge, chances are you will like this game a lot.

Interestingly, this game draws a distinction between finishing first (which awards points if you or your partner calls Small Tichu or Grand Tichu) on the one hand, and scoring points from tricks (which awards points based on how many 5's, 10's or King's you collect). It is sometimes the case where these two goals are at odds with each other. This makes the use of the Dragon and Phoenix particularly fascinating as those cards give players the ability to finish quickly but at the cost of awarding your opponents with more points (in the case of the Dragon) or awarding yourself with the Phoenix (which gives you negative points). 

See the rules for a better understanding of this.

*19/7/14: Revised from 8.0. After many replays I've realised how great this game is. This is a gem of a game that turns an already-accessible classic into something quite extraordinary. The bidding mechanic, scoring system and special cards really add a great partnership flavour to Big 2. There is much luck of course, but the excitement + tension is quite palpable, making for a great card game.

The Good:
  • Partnership games are always fun and add a competitive edge; in particular, covering for one another when your partner bids Small or Grand Tichu can provide a cool challenge
  • Compact and portable game
  • Some aspects of the game are intuitive and easy to explain if you've already played Big 2/Poker - eg. two of a kind, full-house. But some combinations like "ascending steps" may not be so well-known (pairs in ascending order eg. 223344)
  • This game is truly ingeniously thought of - the new rules and cards superimposed on top of Big 2 are simple enough for them to be understood, yet complex enough to add layers of strategic depth and excitement to the game. Of course, luck still plays a huge part though.
  • Good game if you enjoy a heated contest between two teams

The Bad:
  • Obviously the cards you get are luck-based
  • Some aspects of the game may be hard to explain at first, especially when it comes to scoring with the special cards and when talking about the bonus of 200 points if two partners are able to finish before any of their opponents finish. But this added depth to the rules gives this game a wholesome flavour and feel - it's not too complicated.
  • Not everyone enjoys scoring by pen and paper - this is a natural consequence of a 'first to 1000 points' system
  • If you were never a fan of trick-taking games, you probably wouldn't enjoy this game. 

What makes this game fun? 

If you like Big 2 and/or Spades/Bridge, and don't mind (or enjoy) "team" or "partnership" games, then you should really give this 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)

This is what I keep in the tin can:

German Rules; underneath that are English Rules I printed out and then the deck of 56 cards
The deck and 4 special cards look like this:

From right to left, surrounding the deck:
The Mahjong ('1')
The Blue Dog
The Dragon
The Phoenix

Here are what the suits look like. We have Black Swords, Red Stars, Blue Pagodas and Green Jade.

Each Jack, Queen and King of each suit looks different; notice how the King of Stars looks like Mao Ze Dong

Rules for the standard 4-player game, in dot point form:
  • Partners sit opposite to each other.
  • There are 52 + 4 special cards in total. Of the 52 cards, there are 4 suits (Jade, Sword, Pagoda, Star) each from 2 to Ace (13 x 4).
Bidding Tichu
  • Grand Tichu: At the start each player draws 8 cards then STOPS and thinks about whether they want to call Grand Tichu. This is a bet or wager of sorts that they (and only them - not their partner) will be the FIRST person to put down all their cards. If you win the bet, you get 200 points. Lose the bet and you lose 200 points.
Whether or not someone calls Grand Tichu, the remaining 6 cards are then drawn

Now, at any time before playing their first card (hence even after others have played and even after cards have been passed as explained below), a player may call "Small Tichu". This works in exactly the same way as Grand Tichu except the value at stake is 100 points as you have a better chance of doing it, having seen all your cards (Win the bet = 100 points. Lost the bet = - 100 points). 
  • Please note that all 4 people can potentially bid Small Tichu or Grand Tichu - but why anyone would do that is beyond me! (Although, perhaps a partner might bid Tichu after their partner did to mitigate the loss, if they knew their partner wasn't going to make their bid.) 
  • Hence just because 1 person bids Tichu of any sort doesn't mean no one else can.

Passing of cards
  • Now each player passes 1 card to every other player. Hence 3 cards in total are passed. Usually you would pass a favourable card to your partner (especially if they have just called Small Tichu or Grand Tichu) and 1 lousy card each to your opponents.

Playing
Whoever owns the Mah Jong (Big 1) leads. 
  • The leader need not play the Mah Jong, and they may use the 1 in a straight
  • Making a Wish: The leader can, if they want, make a wish at the start (but only at the start). The wish can be a numerical value from 2 to Ace. Whoever has the card wished for must play it IF THEY CAN in a given combination led, even if it ruins their gameplan (see below on combinations and"Special Cards").
  • See Phoenix below for further rules on the Mah Jong

When it is your turn to play you can play any one of the following combinations:

  • Single
  • Pair
  • Triple
  • Straight that is at least 5 cards in length
  • Full-house (Triple- Double)
  • Ascending Steps - which is a card combination such as 2233 or JJQQKKAA (pairs in ascending order)
Whatever combination is played, the player to the right of the person who just played that combination MUST FOLLOW THAT COMBINATION. So if a triple is played by the leader, everyone must play triples.

The exception is if you have a bomb. Bombs are the most powerful combination that can be played at any time, even out of turn. They include:
  • A quadruple (eg. 7777) or;
  • A straight flush of at least 5 cards (eg. 56789 all of Swords)
Whoever plays a combination that can't be ousted (meaning all 3 players pass) wins that "trick" - which is all the cards that have been played. That person now has the right to lead whatever they like.


Special Cards 

Mah Jong - the leader and the wishmaker. You can pass the Mah Jong too if you want.

Mah Jong: As stated above it determines who goes first, and the card itself can be used as part of a straight or played as a single. It need not be played first - it can be saved for later.

  • Also grants the owner of the Mah Jong a wish. The wish is stated when the Mah Jong card is played (which, as I mentioned above, need not necessarily be played straight away). They may, if they want to, name a value from 2 to Ace and someone else, must fulfil the wish if they can play the combination led. The wish remains until it is fulfilled. This rule is a bit trust-based because it relies on everyone complying with the rule. There doesn't appear to be a penalty for getting it wrong.
  • For example, if the leader calls 9 as their wish and plays 555 (triple 5), and the next person playing has only 1 '9', they don't need to play their 9 as they can't play triple 9.
  • The Phoenix as a standalone card (ie, if played as a single) cannot fulfil a wish [see below].


Dragon - win the trick and give your opponents 25 points! Very confusing at first but fun and interesting when you think about it.

Dragon: This is the HIGHEST single card. It can only be played as a single and is never part of any other combo. It ALWAYS beats any other single, even the Phoenix.

  • The Dragon by itself is worth +25 points!
  • TWIST/CRAZY RULE: If you win the trick with the Dragon, as a sacrifice for having such a powerful card (it helps you win earlier and get rid of all your cards, which can be critical when calling Small or Grand Tichu), the trick you won gets given to the opponent of your choice. However you still retain the lead.

Phoenix - win the trick and get -25 points, like the Dragon, what a double-edged sword.
Phoenix:

  • IF played as a single it always beats the last played card by 1/2 a point. Therefore if the last card was an Ace, when the Phoenix is played it operates as an A.5
  • Can also be used as a wildcard in any combination.
  • If the MahJong leader wishes for a number, the Phoenix has to be played if it would allow another card to be played. Eg. if a 3 is wished for and you have 3456 and the Phoenix, you'd have to play 3456Ph. 
  • However, the Phoenix can never be used to fulfil a wish as a single card. So if a 3 is wished for and you have no 3's, you do not need to play the Phoenix if you have it.
  • TWIST/CRAZY RULE: If you win the trick and the Phoenix is in it, it's worth -25 points.

My favourite card out of all - give your partner a helping hand and a free lead.

Blue Dog: This is probably the coolest card in the game. If you are already in the lead and play the Blue Dog, it gives your partner the lead for free. Hence it basically skips your opponent's turns.


Scoring

Everyone looks at the tricks they won.

Tricks that contain:

  • 5's are worth 5 points per 5.
  • 10's and King's are worth 10 point per 10 or King
  • Dragon is worth +25
  • Phoenix is worth -25
Hence, under basic scoring, There are (5x4) + (20 x 4) + 25 - 25 = 100 points up for grabs between the two teams.

In addition to that basic scoring, there are points (and penalties) for calling Tichu:
  • Finishing first when you called Small Tichu or Grand Tichu results in an additional +100 or +200 points respectively.
  • Failing to meet Small Tichu or Grand Tichu results in a loss of 100 or 200 points respectively.

But there is a special rule that overrides everything else.

SPECIAL RULE: If two partners put down all of their cards first BEFORE their opponents finish, they automatically get +200 points and no additional scoring* is counted.

  • So if Roy and Nimalan are on the same team and Roy finishes first, followed by Nimalan, meaning that they finish before Jack and Hari (who are on the other team), Roy and Nimo get 200 points. That is the end of scoring. Points from tricks and calling tichu, whether or not they benefit any team, are not counted [This is my reading of the Abacusspiele and Fata Morgana rules*]. 
  • In other words, the team that didn't finish first gets 0 points.
*However, I am informed that many groups prefer to play a more punishing version of the game, whereby if the two partners of one team finish first and second respectively, the scoring for Tichu still applies. Feel free to play this if you want, although I am not sure the express words of the rules specify this to be the case. Of course, it may well be the case that the designers of the game did not intend my interpretation of the rules above.

The first team to reach 1000 points wins. If more than 1 team reaches 1000 points, whoever exceeds 1000 more wins.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Concept

I wouldn't be surprised if this won the Spiel Des Jahres 2014 this upcoming week (the winner is to be announced in approximately two days on July the 14th, German time*).

It's probably my "new" favourite (family) party game - as my friend Nimo says all this game really is is "charades without the embarrassment."


* UPDATE as at 14 July 2014: Camel Up won the Game of the Year 2014. It's a little disappointing for Concept but as I haven't tried Camel Up I can't comment on this...

Name: Concept (2013)

Publisher: Repos Production (but just like most games there are other publishers out there like Asmodee)

Designer: Gaëtan Beaujannot and Alain Rivollet

Players: 2 to infinite really; the box says 4 to 12+, though you may need to have more sets of symbol/legend sheets and the main board has to be visible by everyone.

Age: 8+

Time to play: As long or as short as you want but the box says 40 mins+

Price Range (AUD):  $47.95 to $70+. Quite overpriced to be honest, given the components.

Availability: Online mainly at the time of writing, as it's a new game. But you should start to see it in hobby stores over the next year.

Awards: Spiel des Jahres 2014 Nominee, at the time of writing; in my view though, even without playing the other two nominees, it probably deserves to win because of its flexibility and wide appeal.


Genres
  • Family
  • Creativity
  • Party
  • Communicate a message

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.6+*  out of 10. (Great to potentially Excellent when everyone becomes familiar with the game - See my Rating Scale)

This is a really fun and challenging game. Players are tasked with the problem of how to communicate a concept or message to a group of people. In that sense, we are already familiar with this as we've played games like Taboo or Charades. However this one takes a new twist.

The game designer has provided a board with symbols that represent basic things or features (eg. a figure of an old man means "Old, Ancient or Past"). One person, or a team of them, must try to explain or convey a particular concept or idea to people using these symbols. This is done by placing markers and cubes of different colours - green markers stand for the main concept whilst the other colours demonstrate sub-concepts relating to the main concept. Cubes of a certain colour are used to explain or add more meaning to the related concept. See Rules below for a better idea.

Tom Vasel from The Dice Tower recently did a review on this game and remarked that he thought Concept was more of an activity than a game. In some ways, I understand what he means. When I played this with my family and friends, we didn't strictly adhere to the rules provided by the game. We just kept playing on and on and on and made up words or ideas for people to guess rather than relying on the cards provided by the game. In that sense, it does feel like an activity because there is so much scope and freedom for players to choose from.

I'd highly recommend to anyone that they try this game out as it's accessible to most people. Kids may have a hard time expressing ideas though. The only real downside with this game is that the symbols are hard to understand at first and the game doesn't help because it doesn't provide many symbol sheets for people to look at. You will spend most of the game looking at what the symbols mean. A few practice rounds will overcome this though.

However, before I get carried away with this self-imposed hype, I'll reserve any conclusive judgement on this game as I'll need to play this more before I can have a firm grasp of how good it actually is. But at this stage in time, I think it's a real winner.

*July and September 2014: I've had time to consider my rating. I've lowered it from 9+ to 7.6+. The score of 9+ was really inflated by my personal bias; please do note that I absolutely love this game and I play it a lot with my sister. But this rating is not about what I like, but me being as objective as possible when reviewing the game. Usually my sister and I play to our heart's content by randomly making up words to guess - this is because we are quite familiar with the symbols on the game board (and we have the time, and willpower, to persevere with the game). However, when introducing the game to a new group of people, it can be quite difficult for people to become familiar with the symbols in a short space of time (especially if they are impatient and want to jump straight into the game). Therein lies its downfall - making use of the symbols provided is not immediately intuitive in that sense and the learning curve, whilst not steep, is a significant obstacle. Furthermore, if you set a time limit for people to guess the word/concept, it makes the game quite hard. If you don't mind giving people unlimited time, it can be an interesting game. This moderate learning curve prevents me from giving it a score of 8 and above; accessibility to the masses is a very important criterion.

The Good:
  • Rules are simple to explain 
  • Different and adjustable levels of challenge; starts off simple but can be VERY challenging. The inherent beauty of this game lies in the difficulty of communicating simple messages/concepts/words to your friends without speaking (but you can nod if they are on the right track) and with a fixed set of symbols that carry a particular meaning. 
  • The sky is the limit - you can make up your own words to guess
  • Replay value is immense
  • Creativity is widespread in this game, though you are limited by the symbols on the board

The Bad:
  • Your group will need to grasp and be familiar with the symbols on the board - which are provided by way of a legend/symbol chart but there's not enough to go around in a very large group. You'll have to play a few simple rounds to become familiar with the symbols but after this initial difficulty, it's all good
  • Of course, there are some words that can't really be communicated if they are inherently complicated - but it all depends on the group you play with and their level of knowledge and whether you share the same interests. However simple to moderate ideas work well.
  • Game's scoring system may not appeal to some - but this is easily overcome with your own custom scoring.
  • On one view, the number of symbols is quite limited (even though the board is big). You may have a hard time conveying ideas for some of the harder words. Patience for learning the symbols is definitely a must.
  • Requires some creative/imaginative minds.
  • As my friend Nimalan suggested, it would have been cool if the gameboard also had words written down (rather than just pictures) for players to refer to (however, this could be a bad idea because one could just point to the word instead).

What makes this game fun? 

If you enjoy a great party game that requires not only a large amount of creative thinking (and open-mindedness I suppose) plus an ability to communicate ideas to people give this game a shot.






- 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)

Setup and Gameplay is simple.

This is what is in the box:

Top row = Concept Markers that correlate to the coloured cubes in the bottom right corner
Cards are on the right; points tokens are on the left.
You can see what I mean now when I say the price is a bit expensive

One of the only downsides of this game is that there are only two legend or symbols sheets that translate the meaning of the symbols. I won't show the whole sheet but here is some of what is shown:

Part of the symbol board - everyone can look at these to guess/demonstrate concepts

Placing cubes/markers and making people guess

The aim of this game is to guess a word or concept.

You do this by placing markers and cubes on the game board, part of which looks like this:

Part of the game board with many symbols - these match the symbols on the symbols legend

Markers and Cubes




The Green Question Mark Marker is always the MAIN CONCEPT.

For example, if the word to be guessed was "Physics" the Green Marker would arguably be placed on the Science symbol above as it is primarily thought of as a science.

Green cubes, which are cubes that relate to the green marker, add further meaning or describe the main concept.

Then other-coloured Concept markers (the exclamation marks) are placed to illustrate SUB-CONCEPTS. Their respective coloured cubes add further meaning or describe those sub concepts.


An example (as provided by the instructions book)

Suppose the thing to be guess was Eiffel Tower. This is a suggested solution


  • The main concept is "Building/Construction/City" {as the Eiffel Tower is primarily thought of as a building}
  • The sub-concept is where it is located {France}, so we put a Red Exclamation Marker on the "Location/Country/Flag" symbol.




Then we add further meaning to this by describing each of the symbols (note that you may choose the order in which you do this for emphasis - and you can be creative with the way you stack cubes):


  • Here, we want our guessers to know that the building (the main concept) is made of metal so place green cubes on the symbol that represents metal. This is what I mean by adding meaning to the main concept




  • Then we add more meaning to the "Location/Country/Flag" symbol (the one with the Red Exclamation Marker) by placing red cubes on the colours red, blue and white to demonstrate the French Flag. You can even do it in the order of France's flag colour (left to right) for greater effect:
  • Thus people now know that the Building (the main concept - green marker) is in France (the sub-concept - the red marker)
  • Of course you don't need to use the red marker for the sub-concept - you could choose another coloured marker. The Green marker is always the main concept though, or what the concept/word is primarily thought of.





This is what the final game board looks like:

Green tells us "A Metal Building/City/Construction"
Red tells us "Red, Blue and White Country/Flag/Location"

Scoring

You can make up your own custom scoring. I like to play it in a never-ending mode, with each player taking turns to put up concepts to guess. We play the guesser scores 1 point and the person who places the cubes also gets 1 point. You could also split up into teams.

Teams: The game proposes a team system for those who are putting the cubes on the board, which is a bit hard. What happens is two people randomly partner up with each other, they draw a card and find a word they like, and then put cubes/markers on the board for people to guess. If a person from the crowd guesses their word correctly they get 2 points whereas each member of the team only gets 1. This is a bit of a silly scoring system because it creates an incentive for a team member, who may be trailing someone else who is guessing the concept, to make the person in the lead not guess their word correctly - or vice versa, where the person in the lead doesn't want anyone to guess their word correctly. On the other hand this may create more strategy for veterans of the game who will have to place their cubes in such a way that only certain players understand what they mean.

Friday 11 July 2014

World Cup Observations 21: Semi-finals Round-up and Final Guesses

This time, more memories of what I did rather than observations.
Now banned in Brazil they say
http://wwos.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8871966


Brazil v Germany

  • I remember waking up at 6am, but I was unable to get out of bed for 10 minutes because it was so cold.
  • However, I was glad I did.
  • When I finally got out, I saw my mum watching the television and Germany was in the lead by 1-0. I was ecstatic.
  • And then something crazy happened - 4 goals were scored in something like 5 minutes.
  • Total Brazillian mental meltdown - it seemed like everything was being played in slow-motion and the Germans were just literally strolling the ball through the a park. I really don't know what happened. Was it really that bad without Thiago Silva and with Dante instead?
  • Even though I guessed Germany would win, I had no idea that was coming - who did?
  • Someone has joked on twitter that the soft drink 7-up is now banned in Brazil.
  • Only positive is that Oscar scored a consolation to not make it 7-0



Netherlands v Argentina

  • I think I woke up late for this one too.
  • Contrasting emotions and match.
  • I was so disappointed. I left at about the 70-minute mark for work; and even as I got to work, extra-time was still ticking. 
  • I was greeted with a colleague coming from next door to inform me that the Netherlands had just missed the first penalty (Vlaar).
  • Then, shortly after that, I read a match update that Netherlands had missed yet another penalty. I was shaking my head. 
  • Then, whilst I was walking down the corridor, someone broke the news to me that it was official: Argentina had just scraped through.
  • I was surprised that the Netherlands didn't sub Krul back on - I wonder what the reason for that was? In any case it probably wouldn't have made a difference because of their poor penalty misses.
  • Serves me right for going with "my heart".
  • But it makes sense if you think of Argentina and Netherlands being frightened by the Brazil-Germany match and not wanting to concede like that.


Final Guesses



Brazil v Netherlands

  • I have always though of third-placed matches as a bit of a farce; it's essentially a dead rubber.
  • Nonetheless, I expect the Brazillians to regroup against a rallied Netherlands. 
  • If I were the coach, I'd give more playing time to any unused bench
  • 2-1 Netherlands.
  • There was a good comment that suggested the winner of the 3rd vs 4th place spot should qualify automatically for the next World Cup finals. Perhaps the Winner and Runner-up should also automatically qualify. It would obviously make the 3rd place fight more competitive. In some ways this reminds me of the Europa league - I am so glad that they changed the rules to stipulate that the winner of that competition from the 2015-16 season onwards will qualify for the Champions League.


Germany v Argentina

  • I really want Germany to win because I am a bit annoyed that Argentina beat the Dutch
  • Germany's last trophy was in 1990 whilst the Argentinian's last trophy was 1986 so both have had to wait a fair bit, but it is all relative I suppose given that you can only have so many winners with a competition held every 4 years.
  • Interestingly, each team lost to the other to grab their respective title in 1986 and 1990.
  • Argentina will play well because they want to win on Brazilian soil. They won't be so easy to get through and will be tough opponents for Germany.
  • I kind of want Messi to do well but yeah...overall I hope the Germans win
  • However, I expect Germany to prevail in a classic encounter, 2-1.
  • Germany has to be careful though. A rampaging victory can actually be fatal (it produces overconfidence) as was demonstrated by Australia's crushing victory over Uzbekistan and subsequent loss to Japan in the final in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Obviously the standard was different but the principle still applies here.


Tuesday 8 July 2014

World Cup Observations 20: Semi-finals guessing

These are more random guesses or perhaps they are really the triumph of hope over expectation. I can't be bothered analysing the teams but I will say some basic thoughts about each match.


Brazil v Germany
  • Neymar out; Thiago Silva out; Brazil under pressure to win at home (though arguably, they have less pressure now) BUT they will want to avenge Neymar's loss.
  • Germany look the more consistent.
  • Perhaps I am just biased against Brazil (as evidenced from my very wrong prediction that Colombia would beat them) - I've been wanting them to lose since day one of the tournament. At the same time, they haven't completely impressed though. 
  • I will say Germany to win 1-0

Netherlands v Argentina
  • Argentina seem to have composed defence in the last two matches (? - I can't really say if I know that because I didn't really watch their matches. This is superficially going off their scorelines)
  • Netherlands have good attack, even if most hit the bar or missed in the last match. 
  • Argentina obviously have Messi and a potentially lethal Higuain, but di Maria is apparently out
  • My heart says Netherlands, but my mind says Argentina. I stick with my heart
  • 1-1 penalties, NED to win. 

Monday 7 July 2014

World Cup Observations 19: Quarterfinals Round-up

Brazil v Colombia
  • My worst fears came true; Colombia were simply match-frightened against their larger, heavily-favoured and seeded opponents.
  • Colombia played horribly, just like how Arsenal plays against larger teams like Manchester United. Every team has a bogey team (Colombia had only scored in 2 out of something like 9 encounters with Brazil - I didn't know that coming into the match, otherwise I should have changed my opinion if I did)
  • Colombia only seemed to threaten after they scored the penalty
  • My guess of Colombia winning was clearly very misconceived - I gave them too much credit. 
  • This match is a good example of how a competitor who makes a fairytale run can suddenly lose not only their confidence and but also all their strong points when facing a top seed. Everything at the very top level comes down to mental fortitude/strength and some degree of "luck" (which, ironically, I don't really believe in to be honest). On the other hand, perhaps Colombia just had an easy draw and had not yet faced a top-quality opponent. Could be a mixture of both
  • James Rodríguez was the star player of Colombia though, but he still didn't play as well as he could have. When it mattered most he made some semi-poor decisions; however, I am quite clearly adjudging him against the very high standard he demonstrated to us in previous matches (hence such criticism probably would not have arisen had I not known what he had done in the previous matches).


Germany v France
  • Woke up at 2am and watched the first-half. 
  • For some reason I had the feeling that nothing would happen after this so I went to sleep; sure enough when I woke up for Brazil-Colombia, the score had remained 1-0. A fluke of a guess really; either that or I was just really sleepy.
  • Slow tempo match for me, with France quite disappointing
  • A friend of mine pointed out to me that in both the matches played that day, all goals were scored by defenders


Argentina v Belgium
  • Didn't watch this one as I was too tired from the previous day's matches. Coincidentally (unintentionally) I woke up to drink some water and realised the match was still on. I turned on the TV and the match had about 15 minutes left on the clock
  • Belgium looked desperate nd frantic at the time I turned the TV on
  • I can't really say anything else
  • Perhaps Argentina have the best chance of winning now as their defence appears to be quite good? But I hope I'm wrong.


Netherlands v Costa Rica
  • I was yet again proven wrong - the match that I thought would be the easiest for the heavily-favoured team was in fact the closest contested match
  • I cannot believe Costa Rica held the Netherlands to a goalless draw
  • Robben with his dribbling antics was quite effective, and for some reason Netherlands did not make use of their chances
  • HOWEVER Navas the Costa Rican goalkeeper kept Costa Rica in the match!! What great goalkeeping.
  • Costa Rica had a chance to take all the glory; if only they had one Tim Cahill spearheading their attack!!

If I'm not mistaken, in all knockout stage matches thus far, the favoured team (as measured by the betting agencies) always won.