Barbarossa (ASS £18 - Games Unlimited). The first of what could be a rash of Plasticene (US:clay) based Pictionary-type games. The basic theme is that you make two or three models from the Plasticene supplied which have to be identified by the other players through 'Yes or No answer' questioning and clue letters. The objects have to represent single word nouns. The game penalises models that are identified too quickly or those that are virtually impossible to work out (often due to the sculptor's incompetence) and the three-tiered scoring/movement system is rather clever. However, this is a difficult game to rate. I have played it four times and have enjoyed it a lot twice and was bored silly in the others. It very much depends with whom you play the game as a certain amount of sillyness helps - getting four 'adults' to sit down and make Plasticene models is not easy. It is also important to take time to think about good objects as one game I played featured a cat, a nipple and a snake which aren't exactly difficult to spot. That said, the game played at Babbacon had some excellent objects (including a pearl, a still, an oil tanker) which made for a much better game. Has potential for maniacs.
Ausbrecher AG (Ravensburger £10 - Just Games) I forgot to review this one last time and having played it a dozen or so times now I am really beginning to see its qualities. Initially I thought there was little to it but with repeated play and three or more players it really is a little gem. The game concerns the breakout of seven prisoners who have to run down a pathway to four awaiting boats. Each counter is of a different colour and points are earned by correctly predicting in which boat each prisoner will end up. Correct predictions in the first boat earns one point, rising to four for the single man in the last boat. The prisoners are moved by rolling combinations of coloured dice of the player's choice and there is always the option of imposing a negative move on one fugitive to send him back towards the prison. The game proceeds with each player trying to get the prisoners into the boats in the desired order which may of course go against the wishes of some or all of the other players. It is here that factions build up to move, say, the red man into the first boat while another poor soul tries to stop it as he has predicted red in boat 4. The effort involved in getting four or five correct is quite impressive and to get more is a very good result. The game seems to work however you play it as one of the main drawbacks is the translated rule set which is far from clear. It is as a result a game with variable rules! I am also sure there is something in the psychology of deciding which colours go in which boats. A fine, if simple, game and one that nicely fills up half an hour or so.
Targui (Jumbo £18 - Games Unlimited). The theme is camel mounted tribes in the desert fighting over a rather nice random map of oases, mountains, dunes etc. This is a land domination game that initially seems to owe a lot to Risk but is in fact different enough to make it worth buying. Each of up to four players start in each corner of the square map and expand into areas which produce differing income which goes towards buying camels. Movement and combat is sequential and random so means planning is difficult. The other screwball is the event card pack which can supplement or decimate forces in turn. The game offers several strategic options, is fluid, deadly and exciting with the result uncertain to the very end. It also offers a clever way of varying the length of the game and has a finite length unlike Risk. The components are very nice and the art on the map sections is excellent. Quite a surprise and one that, while not by any means a classic, is a game worthy of your time.
Ave Caesar (Ravensburger £30 - Just Games) One of the new range of 1989 German games which is reputed to be a pretty duff batch. Unfortunately, Ave Caesar proves this to be the case. It covers chariot racing and while the components are good and the system is OK, it offers very little in the way of game play. It is basically a race game with blocking. That's it. Only a reasonably clever card play system saves it from turkey status. The game was played quite a bit at Babbacon and apparently subsequently in various London meets, which gives the impression that perhaps I am missing something. While playing, it certainly conveys a weird sensation of being better than it actually is. I suspect this is more likely an Emperor's New Clothes reaction on the basis that if it's German, it must be a good game. It could possibly be salvaged by grafting on some combat rules but then you may as well play Circus Maximus instead. Save those pennies and wait for something better.
New World (Pre-Production, to be published by Avalon Hill) Derek Carver's new game owes a lot to Source of the Nile and Conquistador as it portrays, in slightly simplified form, the expansion of European powers into the Americas. It is a 'big' multi-player job like many of Derek's previous efforts such as Blood Royale and Warrior Knights. Each player plays a unnamed European power who has to ship colonists to the new world. To do this, you have money to buy ships and troops which then brave the perils of the Atlantic and Cape Horn to land in one of the coastal areas. There are twenty-six areas in all which range between fertile lands and desert. Each one initially contains varying numbers of natives, cities and working or potential gold mines. The aim is, of course, to land, establish a strong base and then start killing off natives, mining gold, looting cities and fighting off your rivals in an effort to ship large amounts of gold back to Europe. Attrition, native uprisings, sometimes nasty Atlantic crossings and a rather savage combat system means that you never have enough money, colonists or troops to go round and this means one's strategies are constantly changing. The game is fluid and well balanced and it always seems possible to sneak a win (control of five zones) even if you are apparently weak. For this reason, you need to keep a constant eye on the opponents. My only complaint is that the attrition roll, if a bad one comes at the worst time, can wipe out hours of planning and effort (for everybody, admittedly) which is somewhat disheartening when you have to start all over again. That aside, and despite its length of at least four hours (but not a lot more), this game is a real winner. The scope is there for hidden natives and thus discoveries, random continents and any number of variants I should think. Excellent stuff. Perhaps a game a Sensationcon for anyone interested?
Pole Position (Piatnik £15? - Supplier not Known) Much heralded, but in the end not my cup of tea. This isn't really anything to do with motor racing per se, the theme just happens to fit this race game of planning and not inconsiderable luck. You have a team of three cars which have to get round a single lane track with various obstacles and bonus points by playing cards of different denominations. The first car past the post scores the most points etc. The kicker is that passing a car takes two movement points, not one, and as the car(s) in front might move away, this serves to screw your move neatly. I can't say much more apart from the fact that I didn't enjoy it at all - but that is a very personal view and may be just the way my brain works. Brian Walker rates it highly so it must appeal to some. Play it before you buy it.
Flying Carpet (Ravensburger £20 - Just Games) Not a new game but one I have only just got round to playing, at Babbacon in fact. Several players start in the bottom left hand corner of the board on their flying carpets and must traverse the clouds and building obstacles to land safely at the other end of the board. The carpets move by vector movement cards drawn from your hand which tend to be either up and left or down and right in direction. These moves have to be strategically combined with wind effects and the attentions of other players who land on your carpet making you miss moves or, worse, make you drop to earth courtesy of a large brick. Of course you can do the same to them. A good, fun game. It also has very probably the nicest components I've seen in any game. Recommended.
Breaking Away (John Harrington/TTYF Productions 40p) One of the recent batch of cycling games and this one has a lot going for it. Each player runs a team of four cyclists and the aim is, as usual, to get the best team result at the end of a race or stage, which includes the usual sprints. Each rider has an initial set of cards which are played one at a time to effect movement. At the end of each turn, each rider draws a replacement card of a value determined by his position in the peloton. ie. If the rider leads the group he receives a value three card, the rider behind him gets a four to simulate slipstreaming and so on cumulatively through the bunch. This rule applies to each separate group so breakaways of four riders or so find it much harder going than the main bunch. The result is a very realistic looking game where riders hang back conserving energy in the bunch, gain a few big cards and then go for it on a big attack. Sometimes other riders are able to follow, at other times lone breaks occur which are gradually pulled back as the lone rider gains only low cards. This is a clever mechanism which has a lot going for it and offers a strong basis for a more detailed system and should offer a real feast for rule tweakers (like me) now that John has done the leg work. The rules were printed in a recent TTYF and combined with a set of Homas Tour or the track and pieces from, get this, El Juego de la Vuelta Ciclista (Publijuego of Spain), it makes an excellent two hour cycling game. This latter inexpensive game from Spain has some very good components and grotty rules so the match up of Breaking Away and the parts is obvious. It is also useful if you are, like me, thinking of designing your own game. The only drawback is that there seems to be some secrecy as to exactly where the game can be obtained. Brian Walker brought his copy back from Spain and is keeping tight lipped for some reason which can only be regarded as a disservice to the games hobby, unless of course he intends to market the thing. Meanwhile, I am getting my European contacts to try to find me a few sets if anyone is interested. As for the game, I am sure there is plenty of scope for additional rules (hills, sprints, time trials, times etc) and John is running it postally for those interested. Excellent stuff and rather good value at 40p. Address as last time.
Der Aussriesser (FX Schmid £10? - Just Games) Another cycling game. This one is a card game that curiously works as a crude representation of the sport but offers so little in the way of skill that I really can't recommend it. The knack seems to be picking up as many big value cards as possible and laying them so that the other players can't keep up. The only element of strategy seems to be whether to hold onto the cards or to try and burn everyone off early. Average to poor. Buy Hol's der Geier instead.
Red Storm Rising (TSR £15 - Generally available) A game getting pretty good press from everywhere which, in the main, I have to grudgingly agree with. The scenario is the Soviet land invasion of Western Europe and uses the Platoon/Hunt for Red October style stand-up counters. The aim for the Soviet player is to grab a specific number of NATO cities while knocking the stuffing out of the land forces. The land combat is quite simple (a single d10 roll with modifiers) and quick but in the games we've played, apart from a few rare NATO counter attacks, basically sees a line of Russians slowly pushing back the brave NATO boys. This is what for me makes the very favourable reviews a bit over the top as it is not at all an exciting situation and it can be heavily luck dependent. What is excellent, and also essential for any sustained interest, is the air game which matches the two air forces on a separate display. The three types of plane (AWACS, interceptors and ground attack plus multi-role types) are secretly split between the two air sectors which makes for much double bluff and scheming. Once revealed, the fighters then battle it out for sector air superiority which, if achieved, enables the important ground attacks to go in with greater safety, though they still have to run an abstracted AA cover. Normally the air sectors are contested which makes it all a bit hairy for the A10s and the choppers. There is plenty of flavour with loads of plane types and we even get two stealth fighter 'frisbee' counters. The system works, and works well and should have applications in other games. The basic game takes about 90 minutes and the advanced game about double that. This is a massive improvement on the dross that was Red October. Yes, despite missing that rule I do stick to my guns on that one - the logic is still way off to make it anything better than an introductory game. In turn, RSR is a good game but don't get too carried away on the strength of these other reviews. Nevertheless, recommended.
Mike Siggins. 30/4/1989.
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