Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review -- MASTER


Dice can be truly evil little cubes at times as most boardgamers can attest.
Anytime a game has the roll of the dice as an integral part of the game's mechanics, Lady Luck becomes the determining factor in the outcome of many games. Just when you think victory is assured, the dice can go cold as a January blizzard, and suddenly the sure victory becomes a disheartening defeat.
Of course the reverse is true. You can be in a position where all looks lost, and then the happy faces of a comeback start showing up every time you roll the dice.
While dice are by nature, creatures of pure luck, there are a few games out there which use dice in creative ways, where they become game pieces, without the players actually rolling them, which takes the luck aspect out of the equation. Such games, while few and far between, are worth a look at for gamers, and one of the more interesting options is the game Master.
Master dates back to 1985, and so far I have not seen a reference to who created the game, which is too bad since it is a quite innovative approach to gaming. The game was published by Jeux Inspiro, which I suspect is a Canadian company with the French wording. It does appear Master may have been the company's only release.
Master is an abstract strategy game, with each player having 16 six-sided dice as playing pieces, plus two Master pieces. The goal of the game is to capture your opponents two Masters.
The two Masters have limited movement, going only two spaces diagonally, as a bishop in chess.
The dice are more mobile. Twelve of the dice start in one row, with the top side showing a one. The remaining four dice are on the second rank with the Masters. They start the game with a two on the top face.
The dice move horizontally, or vertically as a rook in chess, moving by the number of squares on the upper face.
And, that's where the strategy, and ingenuity of Master comes into play. After each move a player may rotate any one of his dice to a new top face. A piece which moved only one space can suddenly strike up to six spaces, depending on what a player decides to do.
The game really becomes much more a battlefield simulation than even chess in the sense battles are always in a state of constant change, and the continuing ability to alter how far a piece moves mimics the uncertainty of battle very well.
The game also has a sense of urgency because you are never really sure what an opponent's long range plans are, or how they will choose to defend when you attack. The depth of the game is certainly there, but again with more of a battlefield confusion, and less of the well-understood elegance of a game like chess.
At the same time the innovative use of dice makes this game one to search out. It's a mind-bending workout at times, but well worth the effort to master.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 9, 2008 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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