Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review -- FLUXX


Every once in a while you just want some really mindless fun at the gaming table. It can't get much more mindless, or much more fun, at least for a game, or two, than the card game Fluxx.
Designed by Andrew and Kristin Looney, and first released in 1997, Fluxx garnered some attention when it was awarded a Mensa Select Award for 1999. Now before you think that means the game is high brow, or complicated, or even requires a great deal of thinking, that is not the case. The Mensa recognition was probably based far more on the innovative game design than on how the game plays.
The basic game of Fluxx revolves around four card types, rules, actions, goals and keepers.
Keepers are just that, cards which a player lays out in front of them, with the hopes of collecting the cards necessary too satisfy the goal card conditions.
So for example, if the goal is bread and jam, you need to have both the bread and the jam keeper.
The trick though is that there are numerous goal cards, and when a player lays out a new goal, the old one goes bye bye. So collecting the winning cards is very much luck.
Then there are the rules. To begin with each player is dealt three cards. On your turn you draw one from the stack, and play one. Sounds simple enough. However, there are a number of rule cards in the deck too, and as those cards are played the rules change. For example is someone plays the rule card 'draw four' players then draw four cards, while still playing one.
The next player might then play the rule card 'play all' leaving players drawing four cards and playing them all each turn.
And finally just to add a further twist to the growing madness, there are the action cards, so a player might plop down an action allowing them to take another card.
So imagine a player drawing eight cards, and having to play them all. The rules and goals can go through significant changes even within a single players turn.
It's all good old random madness, which usually has a player stumbling into a win more than creating a strategy to come out on top.
The game is recommended for two to six players, but since the strong point is the fun social aspect of twisting the rules on your fellow players, the more the merrier is the rule here.
Since the game is so random, it holds its charm for a couple of games on occasion, but doesn't really have the over and over re-playability in one sitting of say cribbage, or Magic The Gathering, other card games previously reviewed here.
That said for a little game night warm-up, or wind down Fluxx is a good fit.
As is the case the original Fluxx spawned a number of variants, including Eco Fluxx, Christian Fluxx, Zombie Fluxx and Monty Python Fluxx.
The zombie version adds creepers to the weirdness, zombie infested cards that can help you win, or lose depending on the rules at the moment. It's a nice twist, but if you have the basic I wouldn't suggest buying the zombie version too.
Monty Python is just weird enough on its own merits to fit Fluxx madness to the 'T', so the variant is one to look for if you are a Python fan.
Fluxx is ultimately a fun little filler game worth picking up and playing on occasion, but too much of it at one sitting can get kind of ho-hum in a hurry.

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



Few games can hold the claim that they were the foundation for an entire genre of games, but that is one claim Magic:The Gathering can proudly make.
For those unfamiliar with MtG, it is a collectible card game. A CCG is a game in which packages of randomly inserted cards are present, so that when you buy a pack you are never sure which cards you may be getting. From the cards you then proceed to build a customized deck using whichever cards you choose.
The idea of CCG was really in it infancy when MtG first hit the shelves back in 1993. Now there may have been a CCG, or two published before Richard Garfield's classic arrived on the scene, but this was the gem which created the buzz about CCGs. In the wake of MtG's arrival, literally dozens, actually nearly 300 CCGs were born. Most were little more than cash grabbing flash in the pans, a few found some level of following to last a year, or two, one has remained a constant for more than 15 years, and that in the granddaddy MtG.
So what gives MtG its staying power? It's charisma?
Well the premise is so simple, so compelling, few have matched it. The idea has each player taking on the role of a wizard. The deck of cards he builds is essentially the spells at his disposal, and the resources from which he can cast his spells. The idea works on the premise of the idea of two spell casters weaving their magic in battle.
The spell casters can summon creatures to do battle on his behalf, throw sorceries like fireballs, or offer up instant spells that counter an opponent's card playing.
To cast the spells though the caster must have access to mana, energy drawn from land cards which are also part of the custom deck one builds.
There are five colours of land and magic, black which focuses on creatures such as skeletons and vampires, the forest oriented green, white is the magic of the plains and healing, blue of water and air, and red of fire and stone.
Through the colours players can really develop decks which fit their own strategic leanings, white to maintain life, red to cast tons of direct damage, green to hurl huge forest creatures into the fray.
When the game arrived on the scene, it offered up a couple hundred cards from which players generally construct a deck of 40 to 60 cards. No single card can appear more than four times in a standard deck. Right from the outset a player had huge options.
Those options have grown to monstrous proportions as MtG has released expansions year, after year, usually at least three sets a year, adding hundreds of new cards, with new abilities and power. Today thousands of cards have been released.
The earliest cards are now rare, and pricey. A single card such as a first edition Black Lotus can sell into the four figures. The cards have traditionally been released as commons, uncommons and rares, so certain cards are automatically harder to pull from a card pack, and thus generally pricier.
However new players need not be deterred since Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the game sanction numerous tournament styles, including one focusing on only recent card series releases, allowing players to jump in without having to buy the older cards.
The game also allows for variant play, including partners, three-against-three, and massive free-for-alls with many players.
Of all the CCGs, this is by far the best overall game on a number of levels -- the gold standard of the genre.

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



All right it might have been a dead giveaway when you realize this game is related to the kid's game Sorry, but Sorry Sliders is lacking when it comes to holding the attention of an adult gamer.
Released in 2008 by Parker Brothers, Sorry Sliders has created some buzz in the gaming community, in part because it seems to have been short-printed in the United States, and that always makes a game more wanted.
Actually, if anyone went looking for this one and didn't find it, they shouldn't be too disappointed, unless of course it was bought with younger kids in mind.
The premise of Sorry Sliders is pretty neat, although the neatness fades rather quickly. The game has players sliding pieces, nice plastic molded pieces that have a weighted sphere in the base that allows them to slide at a target area. Of course you can knock opponents pieces around, which is the tie to the old Sorry mechanic of sending an opponent's piece back if it was landed on.
This game owes much to games such as shuffleboard and crokinole, although pales compared to either. Then again Sorry Sliders is about 30 bucks and crokinole 150 and shuffleboards even more, so you are getting something of a bargain here.
Sorry Sliders professes to offer four games in one, and it does include four centre 'target' areas, but ultimately the games are really just variations on the basic theme, which is scoring points depending on where your piece lies at the end of the round. The closer to the centre the greater the score achieved, which reminds a bit of curling.
For each piece scoring you get to move a scoring piece along a track. Be the first to bare off the four scoring pegs, by exact count, and you win.
The game can be played by two, three, or four players. Having tried all three options, the game plays fine by whichever number of players are involved, although with four the field gets more chaotic since there can be up to 16 pieces in play at the end of a round.
The rules can be grasped in a matter of seconds, especially so if you have curled, played crokinole or shuffleboard.
There is a level of skill required with this game, but it's so simplistic in nature that it's hard to envision anyone taking the time to actually hone those skills to any great level.
In fact, the game is so simple it's the kind you might drag out on occasion to play with non-gamers, but serious board game fans will likely quickly opt for other games to play.
Now the evaluation will likely change if you have younger children. This game would likely catch the younger mind more, and it is easily accessible for anyone, so kids could be competitive with mom and dad, unlike a lot of games that parents usually have an advantage at unless they rely totally on luck which is used to even the playing field for younger players. This one is pure skill, but skills younger players can master.
For families, Sorry Sliders might be a good fit. For adults, a few plays will last months, and then this one will be a real dust collector.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan. 21, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- TERRACE


Have you ever looked at a game and thought to yourself it was one you might like, then put off buying. Then over the weeks and months you keep coming back to it, giving it second, third and fourth looks, yet always seeming to pass it by.
That was the case with Terrace for me. It was always an abstract strategy game that had my interest, but it was ages before I took the plunge and bought a copy.
Boy, am I glad I finally put the game on the top of my want list.
As I look back I'm really not sure why I kept turning from the game, unless it was that the usual set you see available for this 1992 release is the neon orange and green set that frankly is a little gaudy for my tastes. I tend to look at the best abstracts as games that are classier, like a nice chess set, and the neon colours were a turn off.
That said the neon version gave Terrace a level of notoriety in the gaming world as it was used as a prop in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where it was seen being playing in 10-Forward, the lounge area of the Enterprise.
Fortunately, Terrace was also produced in a classic black and white design, and when one of those finally came up on eBay, and from Alberta to boot, I threw in a bid.
When the game arrived I was immediately impressed with the components. The board is large, and made of a injection molded plastic. It's not a cheap plastic either. It is a board that should withstand the tests of time, and being plastic its ideal for a game over coffee since a spill simply wipes away without harming anything.
The pieces, each player in the two-player version gets 16 pieces, are also high quality plastic. The pieces are in the shapes of little domes, which are aesthetically very nice. The 16 pieces are divided into sets of four of different sizes. While each piece has the same movement pattern, size does not matter here. A piece captures any piece of equal, or smaller size. So the biggest domes are most powerful.
That said, one of the small pieces has the mark of a 'T' being the Terrace piece. If the piece is captured, you lose. By contrast if you can successfully maneuver your Terrace piece across the board to the opposite diagonal corner from where it started, you win.
Interestingly, Terrace does allow one to capture their own pieces as a way to set themselves up for a better board position. Few games offer the sacrifice mechanic, so that is a nice touch which adds to the possibilities of the game.
The other compelling feature of this game is the board, which is designed in a terrace fashion. As a result you are not just moving pieces around the board, but up and down levels, giving strategy a sort of three-dimensional aspect.
Pieces may only capture from a terrace one tier higher, in a move jumping down a level, so high ground is a definite plus.
The simple move down is straight down, while a capture is done diagonally down. Climbing up a level can be done straight up, or diagonally up.
On a particular terrace, pieces may move to any open space, as long as they do not have to jump over an opponent's piece. They can leap frog their own pieces though.
While it might sound a little complicated, once you look at the illustrations on the one panel instruction guide, it all comes together quite naturally.
Overall Anton Dresden and Buzz Siler created a great game which deserves more recognition. The rules are unique, the components of high enough quality that it is an heirloom game which will last for generations, and the play deep and challenging. The game was the 1992 Mensa Select award winner.
The set comes with pieces for a four-player game, each player gets six pieces, and a smaller travel edition was also made for this one.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan. 14, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada