Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review -- LA TREL


La Trel in a game which rolled out in 1994 with the tag line 'the ultimate lateral thinking board game.'
That's a pretty heady claim for any game to make, but at least la trel makes a fair attempt at fulfilling its own hype.
The game, created by Richard Morgan, really boils down to an attempt at combining elements of chess and checkers, something games often claim to do, with varying degrees of success. To Morgan's credit he has come pretty close to combining the best of both worlds here, while adding enough new elements to give players something new to deal with.
The majority of pieces here are familiar in nature. The sabre moves as a chess rook, the trident as a bishop and the warriors as queens.
However, Morgan has switched up the pawn role, here called defenders. The defender moves one space as a rook, but cannot capture, which makes its role purely defensive.
The array for each player, at least in the advanced mode of the game, also has two blockers, which move in a unique way, up to a three space fashion. They can neither capture, nor be captured, again making their role one of defence.
And, defence is a good thing here, since the offensive trio of pieces; sabre, trident and warrior, are far ranging pieces, which capture as in checkers. They can move up to a piece, capturing by jumping to an empty space on the other side. In the basic and tournament formats of the games multiple captures are possible, fully integrating that checker aspect in la trel. However, unlike most checker games, captures are not mandatory.
The multiple capture elements can make the game brutally devastating if you miss a move that opens up a multiple attack, and that is why strategic use of defenders and blockers is a must.
La Trel has a lot going for it game wise, but the designer may have tried to be a bit too all encompassing in producing this game.
To start with I believe three versions, metal, wood and plastic were available. The plastic version is nice to look at but hollow, although you can use marbles and fish weights to give them some heft and then put felt on bottom. You get the feeling a single edition, likely plastic for cost, but weighted and felted would have been a better approach right from the start.
The game rules also offer options for basic, standard and advanced, then there's a leaflet for tournament rules which actually use more basic rules than advanced which is sort of bizarre. You would anticipate tourney rules to be the ultimate rule set.
As it stands I'm not sure exactly which version of the game the designer may have deemed the one he envisioned as the true form of la trel.
The tournament rules do utilize the full array of 18 pieces, and the neat multiple capture rule, so go with this one. It seems to be the truest in capturing what the designer seems to have been attempting to do here.
While marketing wise they might have streamlined a few things with la trel, the in-game mechanics are strong in terms of offering elements of chess and checkers, with game complexity certainly up from checkers, but not quite as deep as chess, making it a perfect mid-way effort.
Definitely a game which should be more widely known than it is.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 24, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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