Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review -- SUMMUN


All right, packaging is a huge thing in boardgames.
To start with the package helps attract interest whether on a store shelf, or at a gaming convention.
More importantly, you rely on packaging to properly store your games. There are two basic types that work reasonably. For small games, a drawstring bag is great. You can toss several in a drawer, and you’re good.
The second is a good sturdy cardboard box which can easily hold the game components. Game boxes stack and store on a shelf pretty well.
Get away from those basic concepts in packaging, you end up with a game that doesn’t store easily.
There in lies the first flaw you see with the recently released Summun game.
The box itself is a sort of soft, see through plastic, the kind you might use as a temporary fix on a broken window. In a stack of games, the word that comes to mind is crushed.
The game itself is plastic, and the board combines with a couple of molded trays, to become the storage unit for the game pieces.
The first time I pulled the contraption apart one of the plastic flanges that guides the pieces together snapped. Now I might not be the most careful guy in the world, but in a lifetime of gaming, this system is not going to stand up to the abuse most gamers will inflict.
A good boardgame should be a purchase for a lifetime. Summum will require finding alternate packaging at some point in that lifetime.
You have been warned, so on to the game itself.
Summum comes from The Magi Games and sadly the creator is not credited. The company is in the Netherlands so the website is in Dutch but here it is for a look at the game at least;
Summum is an abstract strategy game for two players, played on a grided board that is latticed with bars in a virtual kaleidoscope of colours (six in total). The colours are an integral part of the game.
The players take turns placing pieces on the board trying to form one of three patterns, which are clearly identified on the single page of instructions. The simplest of the patterns is worth one point, but is also the base structure for the two patterns which are worth bigger points.
So when a player does manage the simplest pattern, the opponent is faced with the decision whether to block its progression to a higher value design, or to work on a pattern of their own to score points.
The decision is made trickier because you score not only based on the pattern, but you also add points for the colour of the rectangle on which the last piece of the pattern is placed. Points range from one to six, based on the six aforementioned colours.
The first piece always goes on the central point of the board, which may tend to limit options over repeated play. I am not sure leaving the decision of where the first piece is laid would detract from the game, and would create additional strategies.
Each piece added has to touch at least one other piece.
The game ends when both players have played their last piece.
There are little plastic kings which are used as markers to track the score.
The game rules are simple to follow, with pattern recognition at the heart of the game. The use of the coloured stripes as a scoring mechanic are interesting, and does mean players have to weigh some moves based on points they can give, or take during a game.
A solid game that may not be a favourite, but fun enough for a few games. Just wish it would store better.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PALAGO


Palago is one of those games that has been of interest for some time.
Well, that is only partially correct. It is really a situation where I have become interested in games created by Cameron Browne. Our paths crossed on the excellent Board Game Geek website (, and we actually corresponded there on occasion.
From there we became friends on Facebook, so the connection remains.
As an aside that is one of the amazing things about the electronic world we now life in, we can connect with people that in the past would have only been a name on a game box. That connection, at least for me, makes certain games a more personal experience. The opportunity to correspond with someone like John Yianni creator of the modern classic is akin to writing back-and-forth with the unknown creator of chess. It’s a rare honour.
While Palago isn’t maybe as ‘classic’ as Hive, when you are talking tile laying games, there aren’t many which come to mind as better.
Like the best tile laying games, Palago works with simple, easily understood rules.
The goal is likewise simple. Players strive to form closed groups of their colour.
A two-player game; blue and white share a common pool of 48 hexagonal arch tiles. Each tile contains a white arch and a blue arch, and may be placed in one of three ways so the corner colours are the same for each rotation.
White starts by placing two touching tiles. From there players take turns adding two tiles so the edge colours match neighbouring tiles.
The game is won by the player who forms a surrounded island of their colour containing at least one arch. If a move forms winning groups for both players, then the mover loses.
Published by Tantrix Games Ltd. who also produced Trax which has been reviewed here previously, the published version of Palago comes with a selection on solitaire puzzles where you are trying to create certain ‘creature designs’ outlined in the rulebook, by using a set number of tiles.
Rules also exist for playing Palago with three to five players, a system which adds the element of dice and point scoring. The unique dice are included.
The ability to take a game which was initially a two-player one, and expand it to multiplayer, or have the option to explore the concept solitaire is quite brilliant. Each facet of the game offers something unique, from brain burning solitaire puzzles, to the influence of dice with more than three players.
The pieces are bakelite, so they should last.
The game fits in a nice, small drawstring bag, so it’s easily taken with you.
Add up all the features, and you get a winner. Mr Browne has done an excellent job on Palago, and I for one look forward to more of his games making it into production with a fine game company such as Tantrix Games Ltd. who knows how to produce high quality games. Check them out at

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review -- ROMAN TAXI


Roman Taxi is one of those light, fun games that has some initial attraction, but likely won’t hold your interest for a lot of repeat play.
The game is based on the idea players being Roman chariot taxi drivers. You pick up passengers, and get them to their destination to score points. The most points naturally wins.
There are passenger cards with assigned destinations, and travel cards which affect movement and event cards which impact the game in some fashion, most often scoring additional points. With three decks of cards influencing the game, the card draw becomes paramount in this game. As a result you have quite limited control over game play. You simply draw a card and do what it allows.
The game has a social aspect, allowing two to five players, but game play is rather restrictive.
The game board, while well made, is rather busy in its design. A road system of small, brightly coloured squares is at times a bit much, although it does have a sort of 1970’s appeal.
The small squares though are a problem in that the player tokens are too big for the squares. That just seems like a detail production should have been able to handle.
Therein lies the problem with Roman Taxi. Everything about the game seems to promise a fun game, but somehow falls just a little short of achieving the level of expectation.
The limited game play options, draw a card, move, wait for your turn again, can make multi-player games drag on, without a feeling of impacting the outcome past drawing cards. Even in Monopoly, the world’s most boring game in my opinion, at least offers decisions on what properties to buy, when to build houses, or to wheel and deal a title trade.
If Roman Taxi had just a few ways to change one’s fate, it would be better.
The basic idea of competing cabs, with the pasted on Roman theme is intriguing, but there are just far too many better games out there to suggest this one should take up shelf space, and that is where it will likely end up since it will rarely see the gaming table.
The game was designed by the team of Dan Tibbles, Jeremy Holcomb, Joseph Huber (II), and Stephen McLaughlin. It is a new game being released only this year from Bucephalus Games.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review -- DVONN


There is nothing better than getting back to the wonderful games created by Kris Burm, the genius behind the outstanding gipf series of games.
The set of six games is possibly the best set of games created this decade, and easily the best collection of abstract strategy games created by a single mind.
In the past I have had the pleasure of reviewing Zertz, Gipf, Yinsh, and Tzaar, all of which were amazing games.
This week we are back to look at Dvonn, which Burm created and launched in 2001, which makes it one of the earliest games in the series, although certainly no less great than the other games on the list.
Like all games in the series Dvonn is a two-player, perfect information abstract. It pits the two players in a head-to-head battle of strategy based on skill, rather than dice rolls or the random draw of a card. For me that is the ultimate in a game, although it is not for everyone, so be forewarned.
Dvonn, again like all games in the series comes in a nice, compact box. All the boxes are the same size, so they store nicely, and you will want to keep them handy since they are all likely to become favourites.
The components are excellent as usual. The pieces, stackable rings in three colours, are high quality plastic, and the board as good as pressed boards get.
The game is played on an elongated hexagonal board, with 23 white, 23 black and three red pieces. The red pieces are integral to the game and are called the Dvonn pieces,
The board in Dvonn begins empty. The players take turns adding pieces to the board grid, starting with the Dvonns, then working from the cache of their own colour.
Once all the pieces are placed, the game turns into stacking game.
Players take turns stacking pieces on top of each other.
The movement of pieces is what is the intriguing aspect of Dvonn. A single piece may be moved one space in any direction, a stack of two pieces may moved two spaces, and so on. A stack must always be moved as a whole and a move must always end on top of another piece or stack. When moving, a stack can move across both empty and occupied spaces as long as the move ends on an occupied spot to create a stack.
If a stack gets too tall, it can limit its movement options since it can’t move in a straight line the needed number of spaces.
The second defining mechanic of the game is that all pieces, or stacks must stay in contact with at least one of the red Dvonn pieces. Pieces, or stacks which lose contact with a Dvonn piece are removed from the board. The game ends when no more moves can be made. The players put the stacks they control on top of each other and the one with the highest stack is the winner.
Like all games in the gipf series the rules are pretty straight forward, yet the depth of game play is high.
The fact the game board starts empty, with randomized piece placement, also creates a different game each time, requiring its own strategic approach, which keeps the game fresh.
Like all gipf games I have played, Dvonn is a must own. A great game.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov.25, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Dwarven Dig

Do you like the idea of crawling through a mine in search of treasure?
If you answered yes, then Dwarven Dig is a game you will want to check out.
Dwarven Dig is for two-to-six players, and is best described as an exploration game, in a fantasy genre.
The box top description gives a rather concise vision of the flavour of Dwarven Dig stating it “is the fast-paced, hard-hitting, cave-smashing game of dwarves on the hunt for treasure. With the wise, grit-generating elder, the savvy engineer, the hell-raising miner and the stout warrior, can you lead your team safely through the perils of the mountain to retrieve the treasure before your opponents do the same? Play defensively or go on the attack to directly thwart the other teams, and never play the same game twice due to the game board's tile construction system. Face the mountain if you dare!”
The game was created by Anthony J. Gallela and Japji Khalsa, and was first released in 2003. The most recent edition is from Bucephalus Games.
To start, a word about the components; they are very good.
The board is modular, coming on good-sized hexagonal pieces which can be configured in various patterns to keep game-play fresh. This is an element a lot of games could utilize to good effect.
The game comes with little plastic dwarves in a number of colours as the game pieces. For a game of this style the miniatures have surprising details. There are four separate poses; warrior, miner, elder and engineer.
Glass beads as the booty is a nice touch.
And, the player reference cards are on thick cardboard, so they’ll take some handling.
There is a considerable set up phase, laying out the board, and getting ready to play. From there the game has a bit of a learning curve too. The instructions are quite extensive for a game that is supposed to play in about 45-minutes. Don’t expect that to happen, at least as you learn this one.
The game is broken in phases; dig, battle, willpower and grit, so there is a level of complexity to how the game unfolds too.
The game has three win conditions, which is generally a positive.
A player that can get their party to a cave entrance in possession of a treasure marker wins. You can also be the last player with dwarves still alive. In a case where dwarves die simultaneously to end a game, the player with the most grit tokens wins.
You might see a pattern in the win conditions. The likelihood of failure ending in dwarven death is pretty high here. Be prepared to fail. It’s a part of most games, but the chances are higher here.
Overall, the game has a solid dungeon crawl feel to it. The game is challenging, but anyone seems to have a fair shot at winning at any time.
Not one for casual gamers, but those dedicated to learning this one should find in an enjoyable gaming experience.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov.18, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Easter Island

When it comes to games in general, and abstract strategy games in particular, I tend to be rather a stickler for good quality game components.
Board games, at least in my mind, should last, and great games should be something dads teach sons and those sons teach their daughters and so on. I would like to think the crokinole board I constantly beat my son on today, is the same one his son plays on (likely beating his dad too).
Ditto by Omega chess set and several others.
So as an abstract fan I was rather excited to get a chance to play Easter Island.
The game was released first in 2006, and was created by the team of Odet L´Homer and Roberto Fraga, and was immediately intriguing if for no other reason than the cool theme tied to the game’s namesake Easter Island.
Easter Island is in the South Pacific, and is famous for the giant stone statues found there. The island’s inhabitants long ago disappeared without a trace except for the giant Moai. The stone monoliths are a modern conundrum, being so massive that it is difficult to imagine their creations without access to modern tools and machinery. Their creation is the stuff of myth, legend and much conjecture. (As a side note the 1994 movie Rapa Nui is highly recommended regarding Easter Island lore).
This game continues the speculation of what exactly was the purpose of the giant facial statues. The game creators speculated the statues were beam weapons created by two wizards. These wizards used the statues in a giant game, with the island itself as the board.
The board as you might now expect is a gridded representation of the island. It is a good quality cardboard-style playing surface.
Each player in this two-player game, becomes one of the wizards.
There are two types of playing pieces. One is small plastic representations of the Moai. Those pieces are rather neat, and functional being made of plastic.
There are also sun tokens. These are simply cardboard disks. The likelihood of loss and damage to these pieces grows substantially (the biggest disappointment here), so be careful in preserving them.
On a given turn a player has five actions they may take, from placing an additional statue on the board (each player has seven, with four starting on the game board at the beginning of a match), to moving a piece on the board, to placing a sun token, or directing a sun ray through one of your pieces to destroy an opponent’s statue.
If you are relegated to only one statue on the board, you lose.
The game has some intriguing rules. A statue is destroyed if hit from the front, or back, but redirects the ray if hit from the side. However, if there is no target for the redirected ray, then the last statue hit is lost.
The game is certainly one of recognizing combination patterns, and geometric configurations. It is likely a good pool player might grasp Easter Island rather quickly.
The rule set is different enough from most abstract to make this one a refreshing experience, and there is certainly enough strategic possibilities to explore to keep players interested for many games.
If you like brain-burning work-outs this is so the game to explore.
Highly recommended in terms of game play.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov.11, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- RIOMINO


There is something highly satisfying about playing a game with a handful of dice, when the roll of those dice plays a limited role in whether you win or lose.
Some people love the randomness of dice in a game. I tend to look at the rolling of dice as a crutch to enable people to get lucky and win over skill. Or, it might be simply that dice hate me.
RioMino though is an abstract strategy game which does afford each player perfect information, in as much as they know what the opponent has to work with.
The six-sided dice are the playing pieces for RioMino, which is really the game Tashkent Dice renamed. Tashkent Dice were the creation of Kris Burm, the genius behind the outstanding gipf series of games, so there is pedigree here. Burm created the dice game in 1997, envisioning it as something played on a 3X3 grid. Professional Tashkent expanded the play area to 5X5 and upped the dice pool to 25.
With RioMino from Smart Games, you actually get a range of ‘board’ options.
So let’s start with the dice in the Smart Games edition. They look great. They have good size, and are black. The pips are yellow, red, or blue, with each face split into two, so you get a one/black, one/two, one/three, two/blank, two/one etc.
Smart Games has created a sort of tiered learning system for the game.
The starter level has each player working with only six dice, junior you get eight, expert nine, and master 10.
Each game comes with a corresponding board, with a different lay out.
The two players roll their assigned dice, and whatever they get as a result are the play pieces for that game.
A single additional die is rolled by the starting player, who sets it in the middle of the board. You then take turns playing pieces adjacent to those already in play. If you can do so within the confines of the board grid, you lose.
It is essentially a tile laying game, using dice.
Ultimately, you even throw out the boards. All 25 dice are used at the so-called wizard level. Each player gets 12, with the 25th dice rolled and placed to start the game. The difference is the first dice played no longer has to be the centre piece. In Wizard the play area is allowed to build differently with each game, the only constraint is no column or row can extend beyond five dice.
With the five play area options, and the difference created each game by the initial roll of the dice, RioMino has solid replay value.
The game is also extremely fast, even at the wizard level, so the draw to play ‘just one more’ is pretty high.
Players are going to gravitate to the wizard level rather quickly, so the portability factor is another huge plus. The dice go in a drawstring bag, and away you go.
Add the sharp looking dice, and a rule set you can impart on a new player in a matter of minutes, and you find RioMino is pretty much a clear cut hit.
This is an easy to play, quick, nice looking, portable game, which requites skill to win, but doesn’t bog down a casual player with too much thinking.
Overall, a great solid little game.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Nov. 4, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Word On The Street

Word games are something most of us have played at one time, or another, whether it’s the old pen-and-paper Hangman’s Noose, or the classic Scrabble or more recent Boggle.
Word games are great in that they are educational in regards to expanding vocabulary and of course working the brain a bit at the same time you’re having fun.
A new game which enters the fray in terms of games of the genre is Word on the Street. This is a brand new game, created by Jack Degnan and released by Out of The Box this year.
As you might expect Word on the Street is all about creating words.
The game comes with 17 plastic letter tiles which are placed alphabetically down the center of the board. Vowels are missing, as are j, q, x, and z.
The game can be played with two to eight people, with players divided into two teams which take turns thinking of words which fit their category card.
The cards cover categories such as ‘a string instrument’, ‘the last name of a comedian’ or ‘a type of pepper’. Teams must come up with words which fit the card from the words available on the board. A 30-second sand timer is turned when the category card is flipped, and you must agree to a word and move the letters before time runs out. Of course that is where the challenge comes from, working under the pressure of the falling sand.
Letters contained in the chosen word are pulled one lane closer to the edge of the board, and eventually are slid all the way off, scoring that team a point.
On the other team's turn, for their category word they try to use and slide the remaining letters to their side of the board, while keeping in mind any letters that the opposing team have moved dangerously close to their edge. This is of course a major strategy of the game. You need to be able to pull your opponent's letters back across the board, so you are always looking for words which incorporate the most ‘at-risk’ letters.
The game essentially is a tug-of-war scenario with players trying to get letters dragged to their side to score points, while opponents are trying to drag them back their way.
The categories are quite diverse, and certainly several are rather challenging for ‘classical composers’ to ‘a mushroom’ -- really how many different types of mushroom does the average person know?
The cards are where the game could naturally see an expansion, simply adding new categories for players to have to deal with.
The letter tiles are heavy molded plastic, so they will last, and the board is typical heavy cardboard.
The box gets high marks, as everything has a molded spot so components store nicely.
If you are a fan of word games, there’s no reason not to like this one. It has a different enough approach to searching out words to be fresh, yet is simple enough to learn quickly.
That said, if exploring your vocabulary isn’t your cup of tea in terms of board games, then this is one to pass on.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 28 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review -- TRAX


You have to love a game which fits in a handy little pouch about six inches square, making it a perfect ‘take it where you go’ game.
That is Trax. The package isn’t much larger than the walkman-style CD players you saw people wearing a few years back before the world went higher tech with mp3 players.
Trax is a tile-laying game that I suppose has its roots in dominoes in the sense it has that sort of ‘feel’ although the pieces here are geometric shapes, not numbers.
Trax is a two player abstract strategy game of loops and lines which will be explained later.
Each piece is identical, so Trax is a perfect information game. You know exactly what piece your opponent has, because they all match.
There is a different design on each side of the pieces, with straights on one side and curves on the other. One straight and one curve is in red and the other in white.
Each player is assigned one of the colours in this two-player game.
Trax is a game which truly excels in terms of simplicity and convenience.
The tiles are bakelite so they have excellent durability, and are easily cleaned. So if you take the game to the coffee shop and they get sticky from the caramel bun, no problem.
The tiles are also the board in the case of Trax. The game can be played on any flat surface.
The rules of Trax are also very simple. On their turn a player places a tile, or at times multiple tiles, adjacent to those already in play so the colours of the tracks match. The objective is to get a loop or line of your colour while attempting to stop your opponent with their colour. Adding depth to the game is a forced play rule which allows, or may require, multiple tiles to be played in a turn
Trax is not a newcomer to the gaming world. In fact, it’s almost into the area where you would term it a classic, having been created in 1980 by David Smith.
The game is in some respects a forerunner of several games using similar tile-laying mechanics, including Tantrix and Palago which also come from Tantrix Games Ltd.
Trax is one of those games which is nearly a must have for anyone liking board games. The quality, portability and simplicity all rate extremely high marks.
That it is an abstract strategy game which makes you think is a bonus, but it doesn’t come across as being as involved strategically as say chess, which is good in the sense chess-like games scare many casual game players away.
Just an outstanding little game which begs to be enjoyed.
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review -- Playbook Football


It’s fall. The Canadian Football League is heading down the stretch to the playoffs, and that American league is going too.
It is a time of year when sports fans talk gridiron, and we all become armchair quarterbacks wanting to manage our own teams on the field.
There are of course several board games which look to mimic the game of football, and this time of year is a good one to bring those out on cool crisp autumn evenings.
If you aren't immediately impressed with Playbook Football the minute you slip it from the box, it would be quite frankly shocking.
There are times when games seem over-produced in terms of their components, and Playbook Football from Bucephalus Games would fit that description. The playing field is a heavy wooden board nearly half an inch thick. My first reaction to the board was that it had the look, and feel of a game which might have been produced in the 1920s when wood was the primary material, and there was attention to detail and quality.
The two halves of the board go together to sandwich the other game components between them for storage. A butterfly hinge and fastener would have made the system handier, but the cardboard box is sturdy, so it should last if cared for.
The components inside the playing field are well-made as well, with a wooden football that is moved down a track on the field to mark where the play is, and plastic markers which are used to mark what’s going on in terms of play, and of course dice, which are pretty much a given in this type of game.
The overall look of Playbook Football once it is set-up is of an heirloom game, although it is a recent addition to the world of football board games, having been released only last year (2008).
There are also cards which are part of the game which was designed by Kevin Barrett.
The cards are where players find the plays for the game. “With Playbook Football, you call every play and plan every drive. Offense and Defense are two sides of the same coin, and that currency funds your campaign to the end zone. You will use the Blitz and Nickel defenses to stop your opponent’s passes and runs. The Quarterback Sneak will be your sneaky weapon for two-point conversions and 4th-and 1 calls - just as in real professional football!,” states the company’s website at “The play cards in Playbook Football are the product of months of research and intensive number-crunching. 10 full seasons of professional football statistics were analyzed and distilled down into the probabilities and results contained on these cards.”
Apparently Bucephalus Games is also actively looking to acquire the rights to do theme decks based on particular teams, presumably those in the National Football League. If they can make such arrangements it would be a plus as players could look to recreate the offenses and defences of their favourite teams. It would also add more diversity to the gaming system.
When it comes to game play, simplicity really sits at the heart of Playbook Football, with instructions fitting on a couple of pages. Many sports sims get bogged down on detail. This one keeps things pretty straight forward.
There are a selection of offensive and defensive plays. Each player selects a play, and those are revealed at the same time.
Then it’s dice time with each player rolling a 10-sided and a 12-sided die. Initially the result of the two 10-sided dice are added and if they add up to six or 16, then a penalty is called.
If there is no penalty on the play, the offensive players 10-sided die and the sum of the two 12-sided dice are used on the offensive card to resolve the play. The defensive play selection may influence the play by shifting the 10-sided dice result.
There are special cards for field goals, short punts, long punts, onside kicks, kickoff returns, punt returns and the aforementioned penalties.
It’s pretty straight forward, select plays, roll dice, and battle up and down the field based on the charts. A game gets played in under an hour.
Not the deepest football sim, but being quick, simple, and so well made still make this a great way to feed the desire to coach.
Certainly a nice football board game option for fans of the real game.
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- Warp 6


Warp 6 is an interesting little game coming to the public from the small games publisher Pair-of-Dice. I say interesting because of how the game is put together in terms of mechanics, and how the game actually plays.
Starting with the components of this 2002 release, it is one where the elements are really simplicity at work.
The playing surface is a screen printed cloth which looks like a large men’s handkerchief, or small table cloth. It’s simple, but works well. I do wonder how well it might wash should the cloth get dirty. If it washes well that would be a huge plus especially since the game really does transport well for taking camping, to the park, or coffee shop. The cloth is at least black, with the play area screened in white.
As you can imagine the ‘board’ folds into a rather small package for storage, or transport.
The game pieces are equally simple, a handful of dice. In a two-player game each combatant gets nine dice, four four-sided, three six-sided and two eight-sided dice. When three players hook up in Warp 6, each player gets six dice, one less of each type.
That’s it as far as game components.
From there, game designers Brian Tivol, Greg Lam, and Luke Weisman developed a rather simple, yet potentially deep game.
Each player initially roll their handful of dice, with the person with the highest number going first. That person places any one of their dice on the first node of the spiral designed game board course. The second player goes next, and so on until all the dice are played.
The number on the dice indicated how many spots it can move on a turn as it progresses around the spiral course.
In the two-player game the goal is to get six dice to the centre of the board, three players only need to race four to the centre.
Like most race games, there is more to it than simply moving the dice.
When you move a dice, and it lands on another dice, the moving dice gets to ‘warp’ down to the next ring of the spiral course. If it lands on another dice at that point, it warps again, allowing for a chain of ‘warps’ which of course gives the game its name. By warping, you speed your movement to the centre.
Adding an element of luck to the mix, a dice that does warp is re-rolled, giving it a new number.
Instead of making a move, a player can adjust the number of a single dice up, or down one number.
The rules fit on two sides of an 8X11 page, and include some visual examples, which speaks to the simplicity of the game too.
Warp 6 is still very much an abstract strategy game even with the ability to change a dice number, because players see all the pieces, so they have perfect information. It’s a nice use of the dice rolling mechanics without it really influencing the game with dumb luck. If that dice roll really bothers you, it could be house-ruled out of the game easily too.
The strategy of Warp 6 comes in with attempting to set up chains of ‘warps’ for your pieces, or making moves to break chains before an opponent can make the jumps.
The small element of luck which is added by the roll of a warping dice is really a nice little twist to things.
This is a great little game which shines based on simplicity, portability, and that is plays two and three players equally well. You just can’t go wrong with this little gem.
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Oct.7, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, October 2, 2009

Review -- DRAGONS


Recently it’s been newer games which have attracted attention in this column, but this week it’s time to look back on a game that came out several years ago.
The exact date is seemingly lost, at least to sources I am aware of, including on the game box itself. Dragons though is a Canadian produced game, coming from Chieftain Products Inc., an Ontario-based company which produced a number of games.
As is often the case with games of the era coming from companies which had a catalogue of products, the game designer of Dragons is not listed, and is probably a fact lost to all but the creator and his/or her close friends. Too bad that at the time the genius of designers was often left uncredited.
In the case of Dragons the design builds off one of the simplest games out there, the often played pen and paper game Xs and Os, or Tic Tac Toe if you prefer.
So what is there exactly to Dragons?
Well to start with the game name is really just pasted on. I wish there was more to connect the game to the idea of dragons, but there isn’t much here in that regard. The box has a couple of nice dragons in gold, but when you get inside, they are no where to be found. Having some flying dragons around the edge of the simple cardboard play area, or on the actual pieces would have immensely improved the aesthetics of the game.
As it is, the components are function, but very plain.
The game is played on a 5x5 square board. The board is further marked out into quadrant play areas of 3x3 in each corner. The quadrants represent the different seasons, as signified by very simple art in each corner, a snowflake for winter, flower for spring etc.
The goal of the game is to get a row of three stacks of counters placed in one of the seasons.
The game pieces are in white and green, and are very well made, albeit in plastic. They have a slight concave surface that helps hold stacks in place nicely.
Players alternate placing their respective counters on empty squares until such time as somebody gets three in a row in a season (or overlapping seasons). When a player achieves a row, all other pieces in the involved seasons are removed, and the player's removed pieces are stacked onto the last played piece of his color. The opponent’s piece goes back into his off-board supply for later use.
Since you have a finite supply of pieces, 15, you need to make sure your stacks do not get too large, because when you run out of pieces to play, you use up a turn reclaiming a non-critical stack from the board.
The first stack a player forms will of necessity be at least three high. After that shrewd placement can keep subsequent stacks at two pieces in height since stacks can be part of three-in-a-row, and only single pieces are removed to form new stacks.
First person to get three stacks within one season wins.
There is certainly more here than the old pen and paper game we all played as kids, but it is also still has Tic Tac Toe at its heart, so it’s not overly deep. That said, because Dragons is based off a game which everyone knows, it’s a relatively simple learning curve.
Certainly a game worth grabbing if you see it, partly because it is Canadian. It would rank a bit higher too if they had really pushed the Dragons theme once inside the box.
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 30, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- KACHINA


It is always fun to experience a game when it is brand new. There is a sense you are in on the ground floor or a gaming experience.
There is also some trepidation since you don't know if the game will be a good investment or not. It's pretty easy to find out information on chess because it's been around forever. A game such as Kachina, released just this year by Bucephalus Games on the other hand is an unknown.
Well folks, fear not in the case of Kachina. The game created by Scott Caputo may not be around hundred of years after its release the way chess is, but in the here and now it's a darned fine game.
Let's start with the theme Caputo has used for this tile-laying game.
Kachina's are spirits in the teachings of the Hopi tribe of the southwest United States. The Hopi are also known for their bright artistic work.
So, each tile in this game represents one of eight Kachinas, or spirits, and is differentiated by some really stunning artwork, albeit in miniatures since the heavy cardboard pieces are only about 1.5 inches square. I particularly like the art for the warrior, eagle and ogre.
It was the amazing art which initially drew my attention to Kachina when I first learned of the game online, and the connection to the Hopi culture was an added attraction too.
Some games are all glitz and no playability though.
Kachina avoids that pitfall rather nicely as well.
As stated it is a tile laying game. The game consists of 60-tiles of eight different types. Six of the tile types have unique powers, which means when you place them they have some additional affect on the game in terms of where it cam be places, of how many points you may score. Each tile has a point value as well. That is a nice touch in as much as it lends a level of strategy to the game.
There are some handy player reference cards to help keep the special powers of certain Kachinas close at-hand.
The tiles are shuffled -- yes it would have been nice to include a cloth drawstring bag to hold the tiles and allow for easy random draws – and each player is given five tiles.
The game allows for two to five players, which is nice.
That you get five tiles to start, and replenish as you go along is a major plus for Kachina. That allows that each time your turns comes around you actually have some options. With certain tiles have certain powers, you need to determine when it is best to use that tile. It sort of feels like the decision of when to use your trump card in various card games.
The tiles are played out in a pattern which ends up looking a lot like a Scrabble array, or crossword puzzle. The game develops over rows and columns, with no single line allowed to be longer than seven tiles.
As you add a piece you score points for the row, or column, and sometimes both.
The game plays rather quickly, which is a bonus too.
Certainly the game is ripe for expansion. There are undoubtedly lots of other Kachinas which could be added to the mix with other abilities to impact the game. There is probably options to offer up spirits from other tribes as well, which could create some conflict mechanisms too.
The potential for expansion is good because it will keep the game fresh, much as have the creators of Carcassonne, maybe the best of the genre has gone through several expansions.
As is, Kachina though has a lot going for it. Pleasing to look at, simple game play with some level of strategy beyond the dumb luck of drawing a single tile. A definite winner.
-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 23, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, September 18, 2009



You live in Saskatchewan where a hill with a covering of snow -- which can happen anywhere from late September to mid May, as we saw this spring – attracts a bunch of kids and their toboggans. It's a childhood activity, a near rite of passage, a coming of age sort of thing. That's why the kids can usually convince mom and dad to take a few runs down the hill without too much argument.
Of course as a kid, you often dream of speeding up the old sled, and cartoons of course do that with all manner of rocket engines and imagination.
So when you see the board game Toboggans of Doom from Bucephalus Games, there is an immediate interest, not to mention the attraction of the game box which shows a Sasquatch swinging a club at a sledder. Come on, how cool is that?
The 2008 game release looks good on the outside. And, once you crack the box on the two-to-four player game you get a pretty good idea what the game is all about.
To start with the main components are a bunch of well-made, glassy, cardboard tiles, which of course influence the game as they are played. There is a meteor shower, fireworks array, portable hole, avalanche, the frightening ex-girlfriend and of course the Sasquatch to name a few. Yes it sounds like the Acme catalog from Looney Tunes is alive and well.
The cards are basically divided into two categories, obstacles, and sled upgrades. One helps you, one disadvantages your opponents.
The next big thing you notice in the box is a bag of dice, the standard array of four, six, eight, 10, 12 and 20-sided ones. So, yes you guessed it, the luck of the dice is a huge influence on the game. Randomness reigns supreme here. Generally a personal turn-off, let's face it when you are talking about a game which is essentially a fantastical race down a mountain on a toboggan dodging shark attacks, and Viking opera singers.
The Obstacle cards are shuffled and laid out face-down in three columns of 10. They essentially make up the run. An obstacle is turned face up, and through the roll of dice again, you have to clear it.
You score points as you progress down the hill.
Upgrade cards are purchased depending on the roll of dice and how that corresponds to the upgrade 'cost'.
As you can see rolling dice and the randomness of the race down obstacle cards create a lot of uncontrollable mayhem.
A game lasts only three rounds, so it plays rather quickly, although getting to the bottom is a monumental task given the luck involved and only three rounds to survive.
The game has replay in the sense the run varies each time, but the lustre wears a bit quickly. Yes it's kind of cool getting past the Sasquatch the first time, but you soon realize there is no skill at all. It's kind of like pushing the button on a VLT, you have zero control.
Good premise, solid components, but game play just isn't as fulfilling as a serious board gamer may seek. That said, a fun once in a while game where no one has to think, and there are some laughs and chuckles along the way.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 16, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review -- TZAAR


If you have been reading the gaming reviews over the past year or so, then the gipf series of abstract games will be familiar, since half of the series of six games released over the last decade have been covered here.
You are also likely familiar with the name Kris Burm, the creator of all six games. There are other game creators with a longer list of games to their credit, but in terms of abstract strategy games Burm truly stands at the head of the class.
That is not to say the six games in the series are the best games of the genre. In fact, they are not in my opinion. That said however, when I sit down to list the Top-25 abstracts of all time, Burm creations show up rather often. Zertz, which ranked number seven when I did the list, is in my estimation the best of the group, although I will admit to liking it because it is familiar in the sense of reminding of Chinese Checkers. Yinsh, reviewed here only a few weeks ago is arguable as good, although it was number 10, when I did the list, which admittedly could use a ranking update. Gipf, the first of the series, and today's game Tzaar the most recent creation, both rank in the Top-25 as well.
Tzaar is a game designed, as most abstract strategy games are, for two players, and is rated eight and up in terms of age. The game is supposed to play in about 15-minutes, but good abstract players usually slow that in the sense you want to study moves, which is the key to winning such games.
Each player has 30 pieces, divided in three types; six Tzaars, nine Tzarras and 15 Totts. Yes the names are a bit funky, but that's part of gaming. The three types of pieces have a connection which is central to the game, they cannot exist without each other. The aim is rather straight forward, and like the best games, there are multiple win conditions, either to make the opponent run out of one of the three types of pieces or to put him in a position in which he cannot capture anymore.
With the exception of the first player's first move, you have two actions on each turn. The first action has to be to capture an opponent's piece. The second action can be to capture another opponent piece, or to move one piece of yours onto another. The stack created can only then be captured by a stack of equal, or greater height.
There is the big decision each turn whether to reduce the opponent's pieces, or to strengthen your own position by building stacks. This is a simple mechanic, but one which adds considerable depth to the game.
The rather simple to grasp win conditions and game mechanics make Tzaar a great game to introduce people to abstracts, and that is a good thing. Chess for example, while wonderful, has a rather steep learning curve. This one does not.
At the same time though, there are tough decisions, a forward planning required to be successful. You have to think to win.
Like all the gipf series games I have experienced so far, the board and pieces are great quality, and the rulebook clear and thorough.
A nice addition to learning this game is that Burm himself has an instructional video online at Check it out.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 9, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada



The first caveat on this review is simple; if you don't like rolling dice to determine the outcome of a game, then move on right now.
Elementalis is pure and simple a dice fest.
The game has players rolling dice, and if they succeed in achieving certain results, they can choose to roll again. The second roll can gain a player more 'mana' towards victory, although certain poor rolls can have the player losing that which he earned with roll one.
On the second roll certain results can again lead a player to a point where he can roll a third time.
In that regard Elementalis holds much in common with other dice push games, where you can risk what you have to gainer better results; Cosmic Wimpout and Can't Stop being two games of that type.
At least in terms of dice the set comes with neat looking dice with emblems for the four elements, water, air, earth and fire rather than simply the numbers you usually see on dice.
If that was it, this game would be rather uninteresting, but designer Robert C. Kalajian Jr., has done a nice job of incorporating some other features which at least add to this game for two to four players.
Players take on the role of wizards; in the basic game either elementalist, harmonists or purist. Each mage type had an effect on what certain dice roles mean to that player. This feature at least creates a situation where players are not all rolling dice to achieve the same results.
Players also chose what elements their wizard is looking for.
The ultimate goal of the game is to accumulate the mana by the end of six rounds, the mana accumulating by good dice rolls.
There is however, some ability to combat the pure luck of rolling dice. As a wizard you can cast spells, using mana you have already gained. The spells, each of the four elements have a short spell list to draw from, generally improve your chances as you roll dice, or work to thwart an opponent's roll.
As you might expect to cast a fire spell, you must have the required fire mana.
While the spells are useful, they have to be managed wisely, since they deplete your mana reserve, which is the key to ultimate victory.
The game has some nice features with the mage selections and spell casting which allow this game to step a bit above the average dice fest which is so luck driven as to be rather boring.
It helps too that the creator, who released the original game in 2006, has stayed interested in the game by releasing three expansions, one in 2007, and two in 2008. The expansions allow for additional mage type selections, and one of the three expands the game to allow for five players.
The mage types are not all balanced, and that is all right, since it allows new players to be handed the more powerful types as a way of balancing the game against experienced players.
It will be interesting to see if Kalajian has more ideas to come. Perhaps one day new dice with an added mana type or two? Eight-sided dice would make that possible.
However, as is, Elementalis is a nice filler-style game. It is not overly deep, but has enough options, and fun to make it worthwhile.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept. 2, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SIX


Six is one of those games which really impresses on several levels.
To begin with it comes in a nice, small, cube-shaped box that is sturdy, and ideal for taking over to a bud's for a night of gaming, or down to the coffee shop to play a few games. That is a huge plus, and it stores well too.
Inside the wooden pieces, and yes wood is also a nice touch in terms of game pieces, are stored in a simple cloth bag, with an easy pull-string to keep the pieces safe. Another fine touch for Six.
The game pieces are hexagonal; shaped, with a set of red and a set of black. There is no board, with the pieces creating the play area as they are added to the the game. That means you can play Six on any flat surface, which is another plus.
The rulebook is well laid out, and has a number of coloured examples, so picking up how to play is very simple. Of course the rules are pretty basic too, which is good as well.
While a simple rule set, there is still some definite depth to this two-player abstract strategy game which was designed by Steffan Muhlhauser. To begin with, Six has three objectives with achieving any one of them creating a win.
To win you must either end up with six of your pieces in a straight line, or six pieces in a triangular shape, or have six pieces in a ring shape. Having multiple win conditions adds much to a strategic game, and is one of the nicest features of Six.
The game is played in what are two distinct phases. To begin with players take turns adding one piece of the their colour to the ever growing 'board' until all 38 pieces are played, or someone has achieved a winning position.
Once all the pieces are placed without a win, play continues with players again alternating as they move a previously placed piece of their colour. A player cannot move a piece that would leave the configuration split into more than one connected group. Play continues until someone wins.
Advanced rules allow players to move a piece that would split the configuration, with all the pieces in the smaller group removed from the game. The advanced rules then add another win condition, or more correctly a loss condition. If a player is left with fewer than six pieces they lose.
While the advanced rules add to how one must approach the game, a loss by simply being isolated with fewer than six pieces is less satisfying in terms of game play.
Released initially in 2003, and available through Fox Mind Games, Six plays quickly, has great components, simple rules, and transports and stores easily. In terms of what you want in a game, at least a two-player abstract, it's hard to find fault with Six when you add up the positives.
That said, like most games where you are looking to create a pattern, the first player has an advantage if they play perfectly against someone of comparable skill. And, while there are different ways to win, the strategy is not as deep as the best abstracts; Arimaa, Terrace, Chess and the like.
Still, this is a game accessible to all, and one well worth having in a collection.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 26, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review -- YINSH


If you are a fan of abstract strategy games, and that is of course my favoured boardgames genre, then you probably recognize that we are in a Renaissance era in terms of development right now.
While abstracts, such as chess, Shogi, Go, Othello and Camelot are lasting classics, for much of the 1900s developers didn't exactly create a bunch of notable abstracts. In fact, truly great abstracts between 1900 and 1999 were a rather scarey thing.
The last decade though that has changed with games such as Hive, Arimaa, and Navia Drapt coming along to impress.
Among the leaders of the resurgence of abstract is Kris Burm, a game designer who in terms of abstract strategy games at least, has to be considered a genius. Burm is of course the man behind the Gipf series of games, six abstracts released over the last decade, or so, and each one becoming an instant classic. This is a set of games that should still be popular a century from now, as long as they manage to keep the games in print so new gamers can easily access them. As a side note, that is the Achilles Heel of most game's in terms of longevity. They go out-of-print, making it difficult to sustain growth because new players can't easily buy them. As an example, I think of Terrace, an abstract gem, which is no longer in print.
But, I digress.
This is a week to sing the praises of one of Burma's great Gipf series games; Yinsh, released in 2003.
Let's start with a look at the components. There are basally pieces which remind of checkers. They are black on one side, and white on the other, and like in Othello, the pieces will get flipped back and forth throughout the game.
Each player also has five rings, which are crucial to game play.
All the pieces are in good quality plastic, and the folding pressed cardboard game board, while not particularly exciting in terms of graphics, or decoration, is very functional.
It all stores in a nice sized box identical to others in the Gipf series, which makes for an appealing collection on a shelf.
The rules of the game are quick to grasp too, with a rule book which is well laid out, detailed, and in multiple languages.
The game has elements of Othello, in the flipping of pieces, and several five-in-a-row games, since that is the short-term goal of the game. As a player you need to get five-in-a-row of your colour, which allows you to remove one of your rings from the board. Be the first to remove three rings and you win.
The board starts empty, and players take turns placing their five rings.
The rings are then moved on a turn. You place a marker where the ring is, and then move it in a straight line to a vacant spot on the board. In the move you can jump over other pieces (no rings) on the board, but then stop in the next vacant spot. The pieces jumped are flipped, which of course can help you establish a needed five-in-a-row, or it can help thwart the opponent's plans.
The game gets more interesting in the sense that as you remove rings, which are the key to victory, it also lessens the options you have, since only rings move. Pieces, once placed stay in the same spot throughout the game, but they can be flipped repeatedly.
What Burm has done is take some classic game features, think again of Othello and various five-in-a-row games, and added some innovative twists with the movement of rings, and the diminishing resource base on the way to victory to create a game which transcends the aforementioned root games.
This is a definite must for lovers of soon to be classic, two-player abstract game.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 19, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- CONHEX


All right, I admit it, I am a total sucker for board games made of wood. There is something about a game fashioned out of wood that speaks of an older time, when there was some pride in producing a game that would last, that looked great, that was a pleasure to own.
So many games today are plastic and cardboard. They come across as cheap, no matter how good the game plays.
That is why I drooled over Gerhards Spiel und Design's version of Conhex when it arrived.
The board is beautifully rendered in wood, a heavy, nicely grained wood, that has a beveled bottom so that it looks absolutely amazing on the table come game time.
The pieces, of which there are both glass marbles, and wooden rectangular pieces. The wood pieces are stained a rich walnut brown, the other a tan.
The game even comes with two wooden dishes to hold the pieces as you play.
The quality of components with this version of Conhex are A+. It is an heirloom game in terms of the quality, meaning it should be something your great, great grandchildren cherish.
The game itself was created in 2002 by Michael Antonow, who really brought together a few different concepts in this two-player, abstract strategy game.
The basic premise has a player taking control of certain areas of the board in order to ultimately connect two sides of the boards with their pieces. Each player has a predetermined goal as to what sides they are seeking to connect.
Several abstracts have a similar goal, but Conhex has a slightly different mechanic at work by really combining two phases of game play.
The board is a pattern of non-regular hexagons with a few non-hexagonal polygons, which are referred to as cells in Conhex. Players alternate turns placing pieces of their own color marbles on a vertex on these geometric shaped area. A player can claim a cell after placing marbles on at least half the vertices of that space, at which time he marks the space by placing one of the rectangular wooden pieces. So as an example if a cell has six vertices (points) where marbles can be placed, a player must be the first to occupy at least three to claim the cell.
Once placed marbles and cell markers are not moved during the game.
The result of the mechanics is interesting, since players are really focusing on a number of small confrontations for control of certain cells, while always looking to further their efforts in terms of ultimately connecting their two sides before the opponent does.
The depth of strategy really comes in placing marbles at points which influence at least two, if not three cells. By so doing, even as an opponent moves to block your effort in one cell, you can gain advantage in an alternate cell which was influenced by the initial placement.
The game strategy is further influenced by the fact cells around the outer board have only three vertices, so are easy to gain control over than those that have six. The middle cell has five vertices for marble placement.
The rule set is simple, easy to teach, and aided by being visually easy to interpret, so getting a new player into this game is a breeze.
There are many decisions to make each turn in regards to moving to gain control of a cell, or to try and block the opponent, set against whether you want to try to use the outer areas because you can gain control more quickly, or go the inner route where each placement can influence multiple cells.
In spite of the choices to be made, Conhex plays rather quickly, in most cases under30-minutes.
The component quality, clear, concise rule set, abstract game nature, and quick play all combine to make this a true board game gem.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 12, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ART OF WAR


Sometimes the most interesting games are those which the creator self produces. In such cases it may not be the game is one of the most notable in terms of play, but there is such dedication to seeing the game produced in such instances you have to appreciate it on that level alone.
Art of War is one of those games.
Creator Nils Zilch has to be credited with the way he uses bits and pieces I am sure he picks up at the local craft store. That isn't to say the pieces aren't functional, because they work well, but it tells you the effort that has to go into creating each game.
The board itself has been marked using a wood burning set, and has a sort of country-creation charm to it.
The overall effect of the board and pieces is of a game you might find at an artisan's fair. That gives it a neat appeal.
By the name you have probably gathered this is a war game. That it is, and one which is basically a pure strategy game to boot, in that the lone die in the game has a limited impact. Instead players must use strategy to create victory.
Of course when it comes to 'battling', attempting to capture a territory, the die does come into play.
Zilch has thrown another wrinkle into things though in terms of dealing with the luck of the die. There is a karma chip in the game. One player randomly starts the game in control of the chip. At any time you may pass the chip to an opponent to change the result of a die roll. So each time a die is rolled, the chip can move around the table to influence the result.
One great aspect of the game is that it is scalable, allowing for two, three, four or six players. Not a lot of strategy games have that flexibility.
There are three actual types of pieces. Each player has a single monarch pieces. If that piece is captured during a game, you lose.
There are 25 civilian pieces per player. Civilian pieces are what allow a player to generate more pieces on the board. Each civilian piece in play is worth one point in terms of producing new pieces. If a player chooses to use his turn to build up his forces he simply adds up the number of civilian pieces, and then can in essence purchase more pieces, at a cost of one for civilians and two for military pieces.
Each player has 32 military pieces available to them, and as you might expect as they move around the board, they are the units which do battle.
From there the game is a pretty straight forward territorial battle, with players expanding their territory by capture.
Once you are in control of a hexagon on the board, you must maintain a presence there, so you cannot simply abandon the area.
The game also comes with eight 'General' cards. Each General has a specific special ability which of course impacts some aspect of game play. Players randomly select a card which is kept hidden until such time a player opts to use the special ability, at which time the card is revealed, and that General's ability can be further utilized.
The General cards are a simple way of adding a bit of a 'wild card' aspect to the game, and to keeping things fresh. With eight choices, the game play can be quite different from game-to-game based on the cards.
The battles come down to a fairly basic mechanic of who has the greatest number, with some impact by the dice. That aspect of the game isn't particularly deep, or exciting.
Where the game has its greatest merit is in the continual choice each turn of whether you move forces to expand territory and do battle, or do you produce new forces, which is essentially building your resource base for future expansion.
Mix in the general cards which are a nice twist, and the karma chip for a little luck control, and game play is at least interesting enough to warrant some games. Add the aesthetics of the self-produced game, and Art of War has its charms.
Check the game out at


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Aug. 5, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- HIBERNIA


It's rather clichéd to suggested good things come in small packages, yet the old saying fits so nicely in terms of the war game Hibernia.
The box is small, and the game components are too, which is both a plus and a minus, bit in the end you end up with a generally positive feel out of a small, light war game which is not weighed down by historic detail, but rather follows the same general gaming vein as Risk, a game we are almost all familiar with.
The game components are small wooden cubes which come in four colours. The colours chosen contrast well, so knowing whose pieces are whose is easy. The pieces, while small, are easy to grasp, so moving them around the map detailed board is not difficult.
The small size though means this is a game that you don't want small children around at all.
A simple six-sided die is included, with each side a colour, again straight forward and functional.
The board is small too; only 7 X 10 inches. It has descent thickness, and sort of an antique map look in terms of graphics. The map depicts Ireland in the Iron Age.
The board in my box doesn't lay completely flat, which is not good with such small play pieces to keep in place, but a few hours under some heavy books should address the situation.
The small size of the whole game makes it a nice one to take with you, since room is not an issue to play Hibernia, although a picnic table would be out if there was a breeze. The game plays with three, or four players.
Creator Eric B. Vogel, who released the game only this year. It is self-produced, which really makes the game 'feel' more interesting.
As for mechanics, Vogel uses a few nice elements.
The die roll for example actually adds some randomness to the game that isn't bad. Roll blue, green, red or yellow allows the active player to play into an area matching that colour. Black rolled is like a wild card allowing you to go into any area.
A player gets a second move on their turn which is essentially a free 'black roll” so you get to combine some strategic moves in a chain of events sort of way.
You score points along a soring track by holding countries of the colours along the track. So if a player has red, blue, blue, yellow in front of them on the track, they have to hold those colors to advance.
Battles are not highly strategic though. Place two pieces into a county occupied by an opposing force and you win that area.
If forces are equal at the end of a player turn, both are eliminated and the area becomes vacant for future conquest. Of course this means players will look to eliminate opponent's from certain colours to slow their advancement along the win track.
In some respects the game has a sort of race-theme feel, with the war game aspect less dramatic in terms of game play.
Of course the rule set is on an 8X11 sheet, including examples, so you can appreciate you don't get bogged down in a lot of detail.
Still, as a light little war game, that is so economical in terms of size, it's hard not to like Hibernia.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 29, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review -- ARONDA


If you appreciate fine quality games then you are going to love Aronda.
The first thing that catches your attention with Aronda is the wonderful quality of the components in this game from Gerhards Spiel und Design, a firm out of Germany.
The quality starts with the board, made of nicely grained wood. The pay area is cut int the board, so it will last forever. And the board has a nice bevel design so that it becomes a true gaming show piece. It would look outstanding on any desk or coffee table,m a definite plus in luring new people to try a game.
The game pieces are wood too. There is something about a game that avoids modern plastics which just screams classic, and you get that here. The pieces, in nicely painted dark blue and red, come with a nice cloth bag for storage too.
In terms of components, Aronda is as good as it gets.
As a game, Aronda is an abstract strategy one, meaning that winning relies on skill, not imposed luck. As an abstract game it is limited to two players, which is good since you need only one friend to drop in to play, although in a group setting the game is less playable since no one wants to just be a spectator.
The game was created and released in 2007 by designers Jens-Peter Schliemann and Michail Antonow. The pair created a game with some rather unique mechanics. The idea Antonow began with was one of conquering from the outside. You win a field through control of a majority of adjacent fields.
On your turn you get to place two 'placement pieces' on any empty outer ring, or any field which is connected to the outer ring by fields already captured. It sounds complicated, but it's not. It really just goes back to having to work from the outside ring of the circular play area toward the centre.
There are three distinct types of fields, two, three and four pierce ones. In order to control a given field you must have the designated number of placement pieces in place. At that point you get to place a possession piece, indicating that is your field.
The intricacy of the game comes from the fact that each time you take control of a field, it may set up a chain reaction where you can claim additional fields.
For example if you have possession of two fields, adjacent to an uncontrolled two-piece fold, you may claim it as yours, and that possession may then lead to other captures. One example illustrated in the rules shows one placement leading to the capture of eight fields.
There is a fine amount of balance in seeing how certain placements can set up extensive chain reactions to your benefit.
Equally important are seeing the instances where you must move to block your opponent before he gets to set off a big chain of events in their favour.
The game ends when all 25 fields are owned, with the winner being the one controlling the majority.
Ties are not possible, and that is a major attribute of the game.
The game plays quickly, but with definite depth requiring visualization of what certain placements can mean in terms of board domination.
With the outstanding quality of the components and the rather unique chain reaction mechanic, this is a game you will enjoy for years. A family gaming heirloom to be passed on to future generations.
Take a look at this great game at


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 22, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PACRU


For anyone who reads these reviews regularly it is probably pretty obvious that I prefer abstract strategy games above all others.
Of course there is a wide range, in terms of depth and quality, within the realm of abstract strategy games.
Some, such as chess, or Camelot are classic. Some such as Hive and Zertz are modern phenomenons.
Then there is a game such as Pacru, the 2004 creation from Mike Wellman. The game is sadly not widely known, yet it is perhaps as deep, interesting, and satisfying as any abstract game ever made.
Wellman has actually created three games using the same board and pieces. Shacru is created to have been created in 2004 as well, and Azacru in 2005. The three games are closely related. In many ways Shacru is sort of an entry level game to get a feel for the unique movement Wellman uses. Azacru takes it up a level. The rules suggest Shacru for players five and up, Azacru for seven and up.
Then you finally get to Pacru which is the true gem of a game. It is the one which clearly incorporates all the best ideas Wellman had in terms of game play. Pacru is suggested for ages nine and up.
Pacru uses a board consisting of a nine equal quid areas, each with nine spots for playing pieces. The board in nicely made, being typical of better checker, chess and similar pressed cardboard playing surfaces.
The pieces are wood, brightly coloured to easily differentiate on a board which will become filled with pieces as the game progresses.
There are two types of pieces, small markers which are simply cylindrical pieces, and chevrons, which have a nice triangular shape.
The game centers on the interaction between pieces and their position on the board. The board starts with neutral tiles in each position and as the game progresses you replace the tiles with your own colour by moving across borders.
The game starts with each player have their chevron pieces on the board, three in a three or four player game, and four in the two player lay out.
The game does allow for three and four player action, but like most abstract strategy games, I suggest two players are likely best, since that tends to be the strength of the genre, two players going head-to-head in a battle of wits.
The chevrons move in one of three directions, easily identified by the shape of the piece.
Where the depth of the game comes from is the wide variety of special actions which are available to players. There are six of these actions in Pacru, and understanding the impact of each, in combination with what the opponent may be planning makes this game deep and dramatic.
For example, when you move a chevron from one of the nine space grids to another, you can place a marker on an empty spot in the new field.
In the end, there are two conditions. You can eliminate your opponent's chevrons, or you can have reached the target number in terms of placing markers, which in the two player game is 42.
The rule set is a tad overly complicated. It can take a couple of read overs, and then you go, ah that is simpler than it reads, which means that younger players may face a road block if they are not being taught by a veteran player. The easiest way to learn is to play for free at
This is an absolute classic which deserves more players, and is a guaranteed winner for players taking the plunge.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 15, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Friday, July 10, 2009



If you like puzzles, and you like games devoid of imposed luck, DaVinci's Challenge is just the ticket.
Paul Micarelli created the game, and it emerged from Briarpatch in 2005, so you know it was a game that was developed to cash in on the interest in The DaVinci Code book, and follow-up movie.
In most cases I would suggest avoiding games that are tied in to some momentary popular culture curiosity, but this one has managed to be a rather entertaining game, even if the theme is pasted on to ride the wave of the aforementioned nook and movie.
What helps take this game farther is the fact the creator has found a way to make an interesting game on the DaVinci Code idea of secret patterns, without having to layer on a bunch of random card draws, or dice rolls. Too often when theme gets pasted on, it's imposed by cards that have zero to do with anything except to create a false atmosphere of the tie-in that is trying to be achieved.
DaVinci's Challenge keeps things amazingly simple in terms of game play. Each player, or team, you can play two person teams, has an equal set of pieces. There are triangles and sort of squashed ovals. The pieces match the two pattern designs on the nicely laid out board. Made of plastic, the pieces still look very nice, and work well, although be warned, if you lose one, it will make it hard to play the game since generally most pieces are used before finishing up a game.
Each player places a piece on the board, their choice of either star, or oval. In placing pieces, players are attempting to complete one of nine different patterns which score points.
Some patterns, such as the triangle and diamond need only three pieces to achieve, and are worth only one point in terms of scoring.
More complicated patterns are worth greater points. A gem takes four pieces, and is worth five points, the star takes six, but is worth 10 points, with circles and flowers worth 25 each.
While it looks as though the key is going after the larger designs for the big points, it is possible to double up on points with a single piece placement. For example, you can at times lay a single piece that could complete a triangle, gem and hourglass all at the same time, creating a 16-point score.
Initially, you will tend to concentrate on creating your own scoring chances, but as you get into a few games, it become rather apparent you have to expend at least as much effort watching your opponent and moving to block their big scoring opportunities.
With more plays you will also realize you need to work at creating what are best described as double scoring chances. If a player moves to block one, you have an alternate place you can lay a piece on your turn to still score.
This is pattern recognition on an ever changing board, and in some cases, in particular the pyramid, can be difficult to recognize.
The pieces, in black and white, are easily differentiated though, so that helps.
After a couple of plays, your eyes can be a bit strained, since concentration is a must.
While I couldn't play four, or five games of DaVinci's Challenge is a single sitting, it is a good change of pace, which avoids false luck, and focuses on seeing patterns as they emerge, something not seen in a lot of games.
Overall, entertaining, if not outstanding.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 8, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- YETISBURG: Titanic Battles in History Vol. I

YETISBURG: Titanic Battles in History Vol. I

Oh how I wanted to like this game.
Yetisburg: Titanic Battles in History Vol. I was a game which sent all the right signals when I first came across it. It was a card game loosely based on the American Civil War, and that is something I've always held an interest in.
The game also pastes a neat fantasy theme over the Civil War aspect, adding the idea that both sides in the conflict have Yetis in the army, not to mention mastodons as artillery units. Corny, sure, but it sounds like a lot of fun too.
So the game arrives, and the art on the cards is fantastic. Clean designs, with a style that is very much caricature in nature.
Then a few flaws start to emerge.
There is a set of markers to punch out. Generally no big deal, but these are some kind of pressed paper, and if not very careful punching them out, they would start to expand and come apart. If they ever got a tad bit of moisture they'd probably puff up like popcorn, and even repeated play could cause these to fray a lot.
So then you have the cards and pieces, and find they no longer fit into the box. That is a major annoyance for several reasons. One the box is great in that it has two snarling Yetis on it, one in grey and the other in a blue uniform. To toss the box is a shame.
Boxes also store far better than a game stuck in a sandwich baggie.
A better design here would have been a huge plus. It doesn't affect game play, but it does nothing to endear one to the game either.
Next is game play. Designers Joshua J. Frost and Mike Selinker have kept this 2008 release from Titanic Games pretty simple. In fact, the game may be a tad too simple for its own good.
Players essentially line up their forces (a selection of their cards), and do battle across an imaginary battle line.
Now I have read enough books on the Civil War, and watched enough documentaries, to recognize the battle field was a terribly random place. Muskets were not the most reliable of weapons, and the battlefield was often a place of chaos. Yetisburg captures that in the sense of a lot of randomness. For example, it's the luck of the draw which direction among the three forward shooting arcs a soldier actually fires.
It's also random who among your forces actually attacks on a given turn too.
The problem is while the mechanics reflect the vagaries of a Civil War battle, there isn't a real sense of drama to it. So suddenly randomness becomes simply randomness.
Players have very limited control over game play, with limited opportunities to make decisions which ultimately impact the game.
Granted, there is humour in a Yeti rushing through its own line, bashing friendly soldiers as it goes. There is humour in a mastodon blowing up and wiping out friendly soldiers with 'chunks of flying meat.
However, it's an element of humour which fades with a few plays. A joke loses its punch once you've heard it a few times.
If you get a chance to play this one, do indulge. It's good to experience a few times. Just hope someone else has bought it, otherwise you are left having to find a place to store a game in a bag, since you will play it rarely.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 1, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada



I am not sure if any board game in the world has inspired more game developers to try to improve on, change, twist and alter than has chess.
It is likely a combination of factors, ranging from the sheer age of chess, it has been around for centuries, to the fact it is so widely available with sets on store shelves from specialty gaming shops to many corner convenience stores. As a result of chess' age, and availability, people are generally aware of, and have at least some general knowledge of the game. That has inspired change.
In some cases the evolution of chess has been dramatic, with a variety of new pieces added. In other cases the shape or size of the board has changed. It is the latter category where Beyond Chess fits.
Created in 2006 by game designer David Crockett, Beyond Chess works on a rather simple premise, chess becomes a different game if the board on which it is played changes. In this case Crockett has come up with a system where the board is not a static configuration, but rather changes not only each game, but changes with each move.
The mechanics is brilliantly simple really. The designer took the traditional 64 square board we are all familiar with, and made it modular. Each of the 64 squares is an individual piece.
Initially the pieces are laid out to look like a normal board, although there are options in the rule book to create some alternate starting patterns too.
The pieces are a standard chess array, and they are placed in their traditional spots to begin play.
From there play begins with each player moving a piece as they normally would, and after their move they get a second move, this time sliding a single game board piece one square in any direction.
Only vacant squares can be moved, with the exception of moving a square with one's own pawn on it. That special combination move is termed Gereting, and constitutes both your piece and square shift for the turn.
Board squares can only move to open areas, (no stacking squares), and they must stay in contact with the rest of the board by at least a corner connection, so you cannot completely isolate a square to make it unaccessible.
While you cannot isolate a piece from the rest of the board, it is possible to move squares in such a way that a playing piece is immobilized, and thus not able to move. Of course a player can also work to shift the board back to release that piece as the game progresses too.
Beyond Chess creates a couple of unique aspects to the game of chess. To begin with you have to begin to look to strategies within the ability to move the board pieces, calculating what you want to do with the mechanics, and anticipating what the opponent is up to in terms of creating the lay of the land so to speak.
At the same time, regular chess strategies are out the window here for the most part because the game board movement makes them obsolete.
In many instances long term planning is very difficult in the environment of Beyond Chess based on the increased variables. That results is a game which is more reactive in nature. You have to rely on short term planning, one, two, maybe three moves ahead at most, yet maintain the flexibility to alter that plan should things change from what you anticipated.
The game is much more move and respond in nature, than traditional chess which can be rather methodical in nature given the extensive written material out there on set strategic approaches.
You can purchase extra board pieces too, allowing you to play a game such as Omega Chess (on a 10X10 board) adding on the Beyond Chess board mechanic. That is a nice touch, and one I will have to look into since I do enjoy larger board variants.
The pieces, both chessmen and board sections, are well-made, and they come with a serviceable nylon carry bag, and a storage box that is a moderate size. All are nice touches.
Overall, Beyond Chess adds something to the game of chess, making it a fresh experience. It will never completely replace the original, but it is a rather ingenious way to mix things up on occasion.
Check it out at


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 24, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review -- GIPF


The Gipf Project is one of the most successful, no make it the most successful, game projects ever in terms of creating winning and popular abstract strategy games.
The idea had creator Kris Burm creating six games over a period of years, all with a commonality of 'feel', yet each able to stand on its own as well.
It was somewhat unfortunate that the first game in the series was also named Gipf. At times the game seems to get lost behind the overall project. Or, perhaps because it was the first of the six games, it is seen as somehow lesser in nature. Either way, that does a disservice to Gipf the game, which offers its own unique challenges and interesting twists which make it a fine game.
Gipf, which was created in 1997, is one of those games, which like many abstract strategy games, works because of the simplicity of design. The simplicity makes Gipf easy to learn, but like the best of the genre, not easy to master, as clichéd as that many sound.
Gipf comes with three rule sets, basic, standard and tournament, which is something I must say I disagree with. Multiple rulesets in my mind simply muddy the waters. In this case I really can't fathom why you would start with the basic game since it really is a watered-down rule set, which leaves out the central 'Gipf' piece. Simply go to the standard rules and start there.
As a game, Gipf is about making connections. Each player starts with a pool of 18 pieces, out of which you begin by making three stacks of two, which creates the “Gipf' piece. These pieces start on fixed positions of a board with 37 inter-connected spots.
From there players take turns placing a piece just outside the actual game board area, and then sliding it onto the board. Each spot around the board provides two options in terms of where a piece enters play after the slide.
The goal is to create a line of four pieces of your colour. Once you do that, those pieces are removed from the board going back into your reserve. However, the beauty of the game comes in that each opponent's piece which directly extends your line of four are also removed, not only from the board, but the game.
The goal then becomes one of running your opponent out of pieces to win the game.
The exception to the rule is that you do not have to remove your Gipf piece if it is part of a line of four. That allows you to keep those pieces on the board, which is almost always an advantage. You can of course capture your opponent's Gipf pieces.
If you do chose to remove your own Gipf piece, it reverts to two single pieces in your reserve.
The game plays smoothly, although the better players will of course wish to review and analyze the positions of the pieces. In extreme cases you may need to place a time limit, although reasonably this game is not so incredibly deep that over thinking is a huge problem.
The tournament rules allow players to create as many Gipf as they want, instead of the standard three. And they are entered onto the board like any other pieces, rather than starting on set spots. Both add a level of strategy that makes sense at a tournament level.
Like all games in the Gipf Project, the boards are nice, the pieces well made, with a nice tactile feel, and the rulebook is thorough, with good illustration, and several languages.
The game stores in a nice moderate size box standard to the series, which makes the collection look good on the shelf too.
The first of the series, but certainly not one to be overlooked. Very well done on all levels.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 17, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review - KASL


Sometimes the best ideas mean taking something and making it better.
In some respects that is what happened with the creation of Kasl from Canadian game designer Marc Baudoin.
When you first pull Kasl, from Magma Editions, out of the box, you can't help but be reminded of Risk, a game which more people have played, and is widely known as sort of an entry level war game.
Kasl is certainly the same genre, with the same basic premise in that you start with territories on the board. Each turn you add to your forces on the table based on what territories and forces you already have, then you move those forces to capture area from your opponents.
However, Kasl adds a few neat new twists to the mix, which at least in my mind add immensely to game making is superior to the aforementioned Risk.
To begin with Kasl has a finite time limit imposed on the game. Too often these sort of territorial games can bog down toward the end as two superpowers are left trying to gain an edge. The near stalemate can be a bore for the players still involved, and is even worse for those who have been literally wiped off the map.
Kasl, which accommodates up to four players, is limited to only eight rounds, and then points are awarded to determine a winner based on territory and forces.
The good thing about the eight round limit is that it will be a rarity a player is actually wiped out before the game ends, keeping everyone active in the game.
The second mechanic which really sets Kasl apart is the introduction of the possibility of the plague beginning to ravage the lands.
Each turn a random roll is made, and the plague can gain a foothold, not so unlike it might have happened with disease in the Middle Ages. The later in the game, the higher the probability plague starts. If it does start, a territory is selected at random, and the forces there are obliterated.
The next turn there is a chance plague spreads to one, or all neighbouring territories.
While the spreading disease can devastate a force, and it is insanely random, so too would be the occurrence of real disease out breaks. It just works.
Kasl also diversifies the force list for players, giving players more options in terms of both attack and defence. Choice is a good thing.
With infantry, archers, cavalry, war machines and lords, each with some advantage in terms of play, for example cavalry easily defeat infantry, and a war machine is a huge benefit capturing a city, there are a lot of decisions to be made along the way.
The game also has a good system in terms of developing strongholds. Each player starts with a single fortified city. Over time you can build additional cities, or grow the ones you have, first to a fortress and then to a castle. The additions help in terms of force recruitment each turn.
The additional choices a player has, the fun black plague idea, and the set time limit make this a winner in terms of game play.
The board is serviceable, if a bit bright in terms of colour choice. The pieces are wood, and that just adds to the aesthetics in terms of recommending this game highly.
Simply a great entry-level war game which anyone can learn rather easily. Check it out.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 10, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Saturday, June 6, 2009



So you are a baseball fan. You and a bud have settled down to watch your favourite team on the tube, and there's a rain delay.
Your options are some silly craziest moments in sports fill-in, or a re-run of some television show that wasn't that good the first time around.
So you go looking for an option as to how to kill the time until the tarps come off the infield. If you are lucky you have Harry's Grand Slam Baseball to pull out and fill the time.
Harry's GSB was actually create by Harry Obst (somewhat obvious eh!), back in 1962. Now this is a card game, so the chances of having the game from nearly 50-years ago is rather slim. If you do have a copy, lucky you.
For the rest of though all is not lost. Out of the Box has reissued Harry's GSB through its Heirloom Games Series.
The new issue has kept the rule set of the original game, and most importantly the art work on the cards. And packaged it all in a nice presentation tin rather than a cardboard box, which is a very nice touch.
Now back to the art for a moment. The cards have art drawn pictures of baseball players in various game poses. The art is simple, with a highly nostalgic feel given the lens of time looking back nearly five decades now.
The game also comes with a rather quaint folding scoreboard, that actually stands like an outfield fence, and allows players to keep score. While there would be simpler ways to keep score, this so adds to the 'old game' feel.
In terms of rules, Harry's GSB keeps things insanely simple, yet they work perfectly in terms of simulating a baseball game.
Each player is dealt only three cards from a small deck. Each card has an action, ranging from batting actions such as home run, single, or steal, to defensive options such as strikeout and walk.
Players take turns playing their cards, with the player at bat of course wanting to use cards which create base runners and scores, while the player on defence looks to strikeout the side. However, with only three cards, there are times you have to lay a strikeout card when batting, and at times when on defence the cards will force you to give up a hit.
When you have played the three cards, you replenish your hand from the draw pile.
There are special cards too which add another realistic aspect to the game. If you draw a pinch hitter / relief pitcher card, you play it face down, then draw an additional card that is laid beside the special card. At any time you can use the card instead of one in your hand, giving you an unseen option which may work out, or may not, just as a real pinch hitter or relief pitcher.
There is limited strategy here. With only three cards in hand you don't have a lot of options. Yet as the game plays out you see that it does mimic baseball rather well.
It is hard to have a big inning on offence, you can't pull enough good cards at the sane time the opponent gets a bad hand, but at the end of the game scores are usually close, with extra innings a definite possibility.
If you are looking for a deep and detailed baseball simulation then Harry's GSB is not the ticket, but as a fun, quick game to fill in some time during that rain delay, it's perfect, and the nostalgic 'feel' simply adds to the fun.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 3, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada