Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review -- INPUT


Sometimes you can get real lucky games wise by visiting a thrift store. On one such excursion the game Input sat on the shelf. It was a game unknown before that chance encounter, but for a buck, how could one not take a chance.Well the dollar proved to be a very good investment in this case.Input was released in 1984 by Milton Bradley, a company well-known in the board game world. The creator of the game is uncredited, and that's too bad, because this game is rather ingenious, and someone should be able to take a bow for coming up with the idea.Input is a game that is designed to look like a computer game, yet of course it is a board game. In that respect they do a nice job, albeit in that sort of '80's style'. The game board is molded plastic, of descent weight, so it will last. The board is made to mimic 'the look' of a computer, well a computer that you might see on the original Star Trek TV show at least.The game mechanics is basically tile placement, with each player – it is a two-player only game -- having an identical set of pieces. The pieces are 'pre-programmed' with the move pattern the piece can make one put into play.Again the idea is to give a computer feel where each piece moves across the grid in an irregular, yet set pattern.The goal is to plan out when to introduce your pieces, in lieu of a move, and then to move the pieces in play. Each piece can move a number of times in its set circuit before playing off the board, at which time a player can re-introduce it.Along the course of moves you want to land on a space already occupied by your opponent's piece, thereby removing it from the game.This is a straight abstract strategy game, which in some respects is more limited than say chess, because each piece has finite movement, in a pre-designed pattern that has it circuiting onto, around, and back off the board.At the same time there is a freshness to the game because the piece movement is totally unique to the game of Input.The pieces are plastic, with the movement pattern a stick on decal, that on the thrift store buy, was curling on a couple of the pieces. And, sadly one was missing, which meant fashioning a piece to play. That wasn't a huge problem, although the game mechanic does have a player moving a piece from his home area to a staging area, where up to three pieces are stacked waiting to be played. You do not know what pieces a player has in the stack, adding a touch of mystery to the game. The homemade piece is a giveaway in the stack.Still, the game is complicated enough that one would need to play a lot before that little bit of information would make a huge game difference.This isn't among the true elite of abstract strategy games, but the neat mechanics make it one worth exploring. If you ever see a copy it's certainly recommended as a game to grab. Lots of depth to explore, yet with rules quickly learned, and understood.A game to pull out for some fun with any willing opponent.

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



In the past this column covered the classic card game of cribbage, will still remains one of the best time-passing games for two, three, or four players.However, even classic games can sometimes get to the point you want a little change of pace, especially considering you can pass away an afternoon playing dozens of hands of cribbage.In the case of cribbage there are a few ways to spice up the game just a bit if you are looking for something just a bit different.One of the options is Chicago Cribbage. Released in 2007 by Outset Media, Chicago Cribbage is really two decks of cards used together to create the game. One deck is the regular 52-cards we are all familiar with. Those cards are used to play cribbage just the way you would normally.Where Chicago Cribbage offers up the twist is with the second deck. Each player is dealt seven cards, and can play one on a hand to affect how that hand plays out. For example, if your hand is really bad, play a card that calls for a 'deal again', or you might chance passing off your poor hand by playing the 'trade hands' card. In most cases only one player can play a particular card on a turn, so you don't end up re-dealing a hand three times, or simply passing a hand back-and-forth.The exception to the general rule of only one player playing a particular card is the 'cut again' card.How many times have you played a game of cribbage and lamented the card that is cut? Well with Chicago Cribbage twice per game you can change that luck.The card choices also include 'no fifteens' where no points are scored on a 15 for the round, and 'reverse counting' which forces your opponents to peg backwards, which depending on the hand can really change momentum.While card games in general are rather random, there are strategic choices to cribbage. Generally, Chicago Cribbage adds to the randomness, while at the same time, adds a few more major decisions, as to when you pull out a certain specialty card to affect the game. Another choice for cribbage fans is to pull out Crib Wars, copyrighted back in 1997 by Robert Prettie and Norman Auckland. The game is actually just a revised board for cribbage play, albeit one which is patented in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.The board has a number of specially marketed pegging holes. For example, if you end pegging particular points on a red hole, you are fast-tracked 20 spaces along the board. Land in a green zone you get to take a short-cut path where you need to peg only 20-points, instead of the regular path which require 40.Blue 'time trap' areas force a player down a longer alternate route area.The penalty box, once landed upon, forces a player, or team to fold their hand, which has different results depending on how many players are involved. If it's three-handed, the player who hit the penalty box sits out three hands.The lay out of the board is far longer than the usual 121 pegged in normal cribbage, so this game takes some additional time to play.To the credit of the company, the first 121 points along the board are free of the quirky new rules, so you can use the board for regular cribbage too.Neither of these games will ever replace cribbage which is beautifully ideal as it is, but they do provide a chance to occasionally throw a few more twists of fate, and a few more laughs into the game.For something totally off-the-wall, combine the two games. Then if you figure your hand might land you in the penalty box you could force a re-deal and see if that saves you. It would extend the game to an afternoon of wackiness, but you'd still be essentially playing cribbage, so it would still be a great time.

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



Few, no make that no, game interests me overall than chess. The basic game most of us are at least generally familiar with is a classic, and it has spawned so many interesting chess variants, and other games borrowing elements from its design, that it remains a game I admire greatly.That said, there is no reason game designers can't improve on, or makes changes so, that new chess variants don't hold charms of their own.Enter Jeff Knight who created Plunder Chess in 1988.Plunder Chess is a game that is immediately familiar in as much as the piece array is that of western chess, and the pieces move in the same, well-understood fashion.So what makes Plunder Chess different? Well Knight has added an element to the game that is reminiscent of Shogi (Japanese Chess). In Shogi captured pieces can be brought back into play on the side of the captor.Knight has added some of that flavour to western chess, albeit in a distinctly different way.In Plunder Chess when a piece captures another piece, it essentially captures the movement of the piece taken, which it can use once on some subsequent move.The simple mechanic adds a whole new dimension to the game. A rook which captures a knight can suddenly attack with a knight's jump on a subsequent move. With each capture the abilities of pieces grow, and the resulting strategies for both offence and defence change.A knight that can move as a queen adds a different dimension to the game, even if the queen move can only be used once.To his credit, designer Knight has come up with a simple, and ingenious way to track what pieces have enhanced powers.There are a set of collars, each representing the standard chess pieces, so for example two bishop collars. If a knight captures a bishop, you simply slip a collar over the knight piece, and it is easy to see it has enhanced movement potential, and what that movement is. The method works easily, with little disruption to the game.Once the enhanced move is used, the collar is removed.The game, since it uses a standard chess set and board, also facilitates playing basic chess, so when purchasing this set, it is in essence a two-for-one proposition.In terms of pieces, the design is sort of nouveau in nature, with the pieces tall, and slender, to facilitate the collars. The unique look is most noticeable on the knight.The weight of the pieces is good.The pieces can be purchased with, or without a board, again a nice option since many will have suitable board options.In terms of chess variants Plunder Chess is easy to pick up since there are no new pieces, or unique moves introduced, yet the 'plunder' mechanic adds a new feel to an old game, adding many new options to the game's strategy. The combination of familiarity, and new games options make this one a winner.A simple concept pulled off smoothly to create a compelling chess variant very much worth picking up.

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

Review -- QYSHINSU


If you ever want a game to impress you just by the way it looks coming out of the box Qyshinsu is for you.And, the really good news it keeps impressing as you delve into the rules, and actually start playing the game too.Qyshinsu has the 'look' of an old game, with a sort of 'Japanese flavour'. You soon get the feel that this game has to be from the era of great games like Go. Surprise though, this game is actually brand new. The brainchild of game developer, and publisher, R.A. Frederickson, Qyshinsu was released only last year. Kudos to Frederickson for being able to develop a game which has such a beautifully ancient feel to it.Now let's get back to the look of the game as it comes out of the package. The board is a simple designed circle, made of wood, and marked out in a pie pattern, The wood is beautifully stained a dark brown, which enhances the idea of an older game.The game pieces are wooden as well, almost always a plus for a game since wood adds character. The pieces here are smoothly created, and are marked nicely to differentiate the pieces. A nice velveteen bag is provided to hold the pieces, which is a classy touch.Then there is the rulebook, which can only be described as lavish. Again the design has a sort of 'old parchment' the whole idea of the game. However, the real joy of this rule set is that they are basically explained through a story. The rule set is written as though you are reading the diary of a young novice Qyshinsu player who has sought out a master of the game to learn.The 'master's voice' has a very 'Zen-like, near spiritual' approach to telling of the rules of the game. Again here one gets the idea the game could be as old and revered as Go, although it isn't quite in that league since Go may be the greatest game ever created.The game play comes down to controlling the board so as to prevent your opponent from carrying out a move on their turn thereby winning the game.Each player, it is a two-player game, has 12 pieces, two each of pieces numbered one to five, and two more which are termed 'old stones'.The first player places a piece, as an example, a three stone. The opponent must then place a stone exactly three spaces away from initial stone. In subsequent moves players may either place, or remove one of their stones in accordance with the previous move. So if a player lays a four stone, the opponent may place, or remove a stone exactly four spaces away. To add to the consideration, while each player has two of each piece, only two pieces of any stone may be on the board at a given time. So if each player has a three-stone in play, they cannot place a third one on the board.The 'old stone' has a slightly different mechanic which adds a level of strategy in terms of board manipulation.The game goes back-and-forth until someone cannot make the required move.It is interesting how a game tends to evolve, with the board soon becoming quite crowded, then ebbing back to fewer pieces, as players begin pulling pieces.One who has an aptitude for quick math might have an edge here, since you are constantly thinking about what move will mean an opponent can't respond, and that comes down to doing some mental calculations. The rules suggest pausing to think through moves, and that is clearly a wise suggestion.The game looks amazing, has the best rulebook out there is terms of its unique flavour, and the game has a simple elegance.This is a game that has everything going for it, and it should long be enjoyed once added to a collection.

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



Brainstonz is an interesting game, the way it takes a very old concept in gaming, and really gives it a nice twist. It is also a game that when it comes to production quality, excels.So let's start with the mechanics of this game designed by Philippe Trudel. This is really a modernization of the age-old game tic-tac-toe. The idea is in that respect extremely simple, in this case get four of your stones in-a-row before your opponent does.We've all played tic-tac-toe, so the goal is easily familiar.However, in this version, published by the Canadian firm McWiz Games, there is a neat twist.The four-by-four board has a series of symbols on each of the 16 squares created. There are two of each symbol in what appears a pretty random pattern on the board. Yet these symbols are an interesting aspect of the game.On a turn a player places two stones onto the board (after the first player's first turn on which they are allowed to place only one to help offset the first player's usual advantage in such games). If on a turn you end so that you place a stone in a way that you cover two matching symbols on the board, you can remove an opponent's stone. It can be an important tool in thwarting an opponent's plan to get their four in-a-row, although at times to match symbols you are placing stones that don't help you achieve the game's ultimate goal.It is interesting how you can get so focused on using the removal mechanic you miss simple moves like simply completing your four by the placement of your next two stones. A bit of caution, don't move to quick. Take a second look at what the game board position and mechanics allow.Now let's talk production values for a bit.Some games are tagged with the label 'coffee table games' the reasoning being that they look good enough that you are proud to have them on display almost as pieces of art. Brainstonz wears the label well.The game board is a box of wood, with the symbols having a sort of hieroglyphic look that really does look like an art piece. The pieces are polished stones, the black nice flat ones and the white more rounded. The stones can stores on two tray areas to the sides of the board, so the game is always ready to go. The game board, being a box, also has a storage tray, which allows the stones to be tucked away inside the board. The storage area is huge compared to the 16 stones. If one was handy they'd likely line the tray with some felt and that would add even more aesthetic detail to the game.With the nice detail and materials the game is a bit pricey for what the game itself offers, so I tend to think this will be one often given as a gift. Any gamer would be happy to have it, and it looks so nice it is a great gift idea.Now it should be noted as a tic-tac-toe variant in style, this game isn't overly deep in terms of tactics, but then again it plays quickly, and you can knock off a few quick games as a break pretty easily (we've all done that a few times using pen and paper I am sure).So understand what Brainstonz is, a simple game that looks great. You can set it on the desk in the office and it looks classy. On the coffee table it's just unique enough to have visitors asking what it is, and quick enough to teach that you can have the questioner playing the game in a hurry. Enough to make it worth a look that's for sure, and you will enjoy a game or three on occasion.

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