Tavener's Treasure Trove
This column is quite topical… or it was when I started writing it. At the beginning of June, I learned that Sid Sackson was recovering from a serious operation. Sid Sackson is one of the best, and most prolific, games designers around. His games range from light games like Mouse Trap to more substantial offerings, like Acquire and Focus, and he has also written a few books on games, like "A Gamut Of Games" - which is recommended reading for absolutely everyone! In this column, I'd like to share with you a few of my favourites. Best wishes for Sid Sackson can be passed on through Robin King; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acquire (3M and others)
Acquire is about creating and merging hotel chains, in order to amass the most wealth by the end of the game. Play is based around a 12x9 grid and a set of tiles - one tile for each space on the grid. Players are dealt a hand of tiles, and each turn consists of playing a tile, and possibly buying shares; if a tile is placed to as to create a 'chain' - two or more adjacent tiles - then this becomes a hotel chain. The player placing the tile chooses one of the hotel companies that is not in use, and places the appropriate marker on the board; they also gain one share in the company for starting the company. Only a limited number of shares may be bought each turn, and there is no way of selling shares in a normal turn. Instead, when a merger happens - i.e., a player joins two hotel chains together, the top two share holders in the smaller company get dividends, then all players with shares in that company get to either (a) trade in their shares 2:1 for shares in the larger (now much larger) company, cash in their shares, or hold onto them, hoping that the hotel company will be re-started later. Payouts and share prices are based on the number of tiles in the hotel chain at the time of the merger. Anyway, money quickly becomes tight during the course of the game, so it is important to be part of the mergers when they happen, to free up valuable cash… however, it is also important to keep shares in the larger companies, because they pay out big-time at the end of the game. All in all, there are lots of difficult decisions, and you can make opportunities for yourself through skilful tile play, making Acquire one of the few financial games that I actually enjoy.
Bazaar (3M and others)
Bazaar is a rather unusual, and rather abstract, trading game, where players exchange tokens in 5 colours to 'buy' cards. Each game, a couple of charts are chosen at random; each chart shows a number of exchanges that a player can perform on their turn (e.g. white « green + blue). A number of cards, each showing 5 tokens, are dealt face up, and the game begins. Each turn, a player may roll a die and take a token of the colour indicated, or make one of the exchanges shown on the charts. At the end of their turn, a player may choose to buy a card, if they have the tokens matching those on the card. If they do so, their score for the card is determined by how few tokens they have left after the purchase, so efficient exchanges are rewarded. A clever game, which will give your brain a bit of a workout, without forcing you to think too hard.
Can't Stop (Parker, Franjos)
Can't Stop is probably Sid Sackson's best game. It's a simple abstract game with a delicious element of playing the odds; the board consists of 11 columns, labelled 2-12, each of varying length more or less according to the probability of rolling each number. Each turn, a player rolls 4 dice, and splits them into two groups of 2, making two numbers between 2 and 12 (for example, 2,3,4,6 can make 5&10, 6&9, or 7&8). The player then places 'climbers' on the numbers they have chosen, and has the choice of stopping, or rolling again. On each subsequent roll, the player divides the dice as before, then may place another climber on a new number (there are only three, so after a couple of rolls, this is no longer possible), or moving a climber up the column of an existing number; if neither of these options are possible, then the player goes bust, removes the climbers, and ends their turn. If a player chooses to stop, they mark their progress, and may continue from this point in future rounds. The aim of the game is to get to the top of three columns; as soon as any player gets to the top of a column, all other markers are removed from the column, and no player may put a climber on this number again. The skill in the game comes from deciding when to stop, and when to roll again; the excitement comes in when players are racing to the top of a single column - there are times when you just can't stop, for fear of being beaten to the top of a column before your next turn. This classic was originally produced by Parker, but is now only available in a rather attractive German edition produced by Franjos.
Focus is the only abstract game ever to win the Spiel des Jahres (Can't Stop, incidentally, was runner up in the same year - 1981). It's a fairly simple stacking game for 2 or 4 (as a partnership game) players; players take turns to move pieces - or stacks of pieces - with the aim of immobilising their opponent(s). Each move, a piece/stack moves as many spaces in a straight line as the number of pieces in the stack. (Players can move just part of a stack, so that with a stack of three pieces, a player could move the top 1, 2 or 3 pieces 1, 2, or 3 spaces respectively.) Each stack is controlled by the player who owns the top piece, so the idea is to trap your opponent's pieces under your own. Additionally, no stack may be more than 5 pieces high; if a move makes a stack higher than 5 pieces, any excess pieces are removed from the bottom - friendly pieces may be brought back into play, enemy pieces are removed from the game. The game is very deep, and is played with an almost full board, so the action starts immediately. There are lots of sneaky moves available, and captured pieces can often be rescued by moving onto a stack, then moving off again with the piece that made the original capture, or by increasing the height of a stack so that the pieces at the bottom are freed. Highly recommended to anyone who likes abstract games, though not everyone's cup of tea.
Kohle, Kies & Knete (Schmidt)
In many ways, this is the ultimate in negotiation games; at the start of the game, each player is dealt an investor card, and a hand of action cards - players then take turns to be 'the boss' in a business deal marked on the board; each deal requires several investor cards in order to happen, and these can be supplied either by the boss, or by the other players. When all investors are in place, the deal happens, and there are payouts - the amount paid out is fixed, but how it is divided is decided by the boss during negotiations with the other players for the use of their investors. Although each player is dealt an investor at the start of the game, the action cards allow players to usurp the roles of the investors (for the length of a deal, or even permanently), or even usurp the role of the boss; so any player could become involved in any deal, regardless of the investors required. Action cards can be played at any time during the negotiations, and the cards fly fast and furious during the more lucrative deals. The game ends when the 16th - and last - deal is concluded, when the player with the most money wins. Lots of fun, lots of chaos, and a lot less hurt feelings than you tend to get from Intrigue or Diplomacy!