Thursday, April 16, 2009



People are generally familiar with Chinese Checkers, the marble jumping game we all have played at one time or another, usually in our youth.
Well Gute Nachbarn is a game which at least reminds of that old marble jumper, but Gute offers a bit more in terms of strategy.
The game was developed by Alex Randolph, a rather prolific designer of games, back in 1986. While not widely known, it is a game which deserves to be.
In terms of game mechanics, Gute Nachbarn plays out rather simple, and thus can be taught in a matter of minutes.
The game board is a hexagon, with four spaces per side, actually depressions on the board into which a marble seats comfortably.
The game board begins with each space occupied by a marble. There is one silver marble, four white, and eight each of red, yellow, blue and green. These marbles are randomly seated onto the board, meaning you can randomly grab out of a bag and place, or simply roll the marbles onto the board letting them stop where they will. The randomness means that each game starts out with a different pattern, which certainly helps keep interest in the game.
From there it's a case of marble moves.
Players take their turns moving the silver marble to an adjacent non-empty hole and capturing the marble which is contained in that hole.
The key is that not all marbles on the board have the same value. The white ones, of which there are only four, are each worth 10-points.
The remaining marbles are scored in a rather unique fashion, using a system which really ups the strategic significance of the game.
Red, blue, yellow and green stones are worth the square of their number, so as an example, if you capture three red stones, you get nine points; if you capture four green stones, you get 16 points, and so on.
The game ends when the silver marble can no longer move to capture. There are times when you can make a move which isolates the silver marble before the board is clear, a wise move if you are doing the math and know you are in the lead. It will get to the point your opponents may hide their marbles just to keep the running score a bit harder to determine.
Adding a little more flavour to the scoring is the way the game counts points if more than two players are in the game. It is a game where up to six can play.
In a game with three or more players, the final score of every player determined by adding their personal score for marbles captured, to the sum of the marbles captured by the player to the right. The mechanism means that you have to be aware of what other players are doing, and it makes it harder to simply work to wreck someone's else's chances. Very ingenious.
It is the unique multi-player scoring which gives Gute Nachbarn its name, meaning 'Good Neighbour'.
This game has enough strategy to keep players interested, yet is simple enough that even a casual gamer can quickly learn, and grasp the concepts at play. The scoring system is fun, and adds an additional element to the game.
It really works well for two players, or a small group. Highly recommended if you get a chance to play this one.

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

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