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