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