R&D Games, about £15
Designed by Richard Breese
2-4 Players, 1 Hour
Reviewed by Dave Farquhar
Chamelequin is described on the box as 'a game of skill and everchanging colours'; a reasonably accurate summary. The board is a striking 8x8 grid of large coloured squares. These alternate, with one row being green and yellow, the next red and blue. The effect of this was illustrated by Alastair (age 1 ) sobbing his heart out when I wouldn't let him play on it. The plastic pieces comprise circular bases, from which a stem protrudes, and large numbers of coloured 'polo shaped' rings. The object of the game is to be the survivor.
The initial set up is achieved by the players alternately placing one of their pieces on the board, at the same time dropping a coloured ring onto the stem. The basic principle is that the uppermost ring will always be the same colour as the square the piece occupies. This continues until all have been placed; ten each if two player, otherwise eight.
Player turns then continue, with one piece being moved each turn. This may be done in one of two ways: by moving one square and adding a ring or by removing rings and moving up to three squares. The former option is the standard move, and in this way stacks of up to four rings may be built up. Each time the colour ring selected matches the square moved to. The latter option is generally an attacking move. The top ring is removed, and the ring thus revealed shows the colour square which is then moved to. This process may be continued, until only one is left, at which point the move must stop as the last ring may never be removed. Any enemy pieces encountered during this move are eliminated from play. It is theoretically possible to capture three enemy pieces in one turn.
White captures two black pieces by moving as follows: Firstly, white moves horizontally onto the blue square by removing the red counter to reveal a blue counter. Secondly, white moves vertically onto the yellow square by removing the blue counter to reveal the yellow counter, here white captures the first black piece. Then thirdly, white continues by moving diagonally onto the red square containing the second black piece. White must then stop as the bottom red counter is now revealed, and may not be removed.
This is quite a clever system. The game starts with positional decisions, as any unoccupied spaces may be chosen... do you want to keep all your pieces together? Do you want equal numbers of each colour? Which is safer, the centre or the corners? The next stage is a gradual strengthening of pieces. Again there are a number of conflicting decisions. Do you want a spread of medium strength pieces, or a few powerful 'queens'? It is usually possible to attack from the beginning, and losses mount up early. However, once this initial stage is over the game becomes a lot more 'canny'. It can be very difficult, even with a large majority of pieces, to capture powerful pieces. If you take an early lead, your opponent is concentrating his or her efforts on just a few pieces, while yours are spread wider. Chamelequin reminds me at this stage of a swarm of destroyers attempting to sink a battleship. The battleship is outnumbered, but can usually strike first at anything which gets too close. The disadvantage of attacking though, is that the action of taking an opponent requires the removal of rings, thus weakening your piece.
I have found that the two player game usually starts quite fast, with high casualties, but then becomes a battle of wits, with a tricky end game. I would quite like to try this with a chess clock. One thing which particularly complicates the finish, is that the remaining pieces often consist of dissimilar colour combinations eg. my rings may be red/yellow, while my opponent's are blue/green. This makes it impossible for either to take the other until some rings are changed.
The three and four player games utilise the same rules as the two player, but feel very different. The four player version starts with 32 pieces occupying only 64 squares, and these tend to be thinned out fairly rapidly. With each player having three opponents there are often a multitude of choices. The game is not however necessarily won by the strongest player. Loose alliances tend to form, and there is very little a player can do if three of his pieces are targeted in one turn.
In conclusion, the two player game is one of headache inducing pure skill. I had not expected the multi player version to work, but it proved to be a lot of fun, although not to be taken too seriously. The only warning I would give is that I am not sure whether most games would end in a quasi-stalemate. I have played Chamelequin half a dozen times, and most have had a protracted finish. It may just be a weakness in my play, but I gave it to another group of players to try, and their limited experience was the same (though there is a rule to prevent the stalemate going on too long). However, bearing that in mind Chamelequin is unusual, attractive and I recommend you give it a try.
On to the review of Zankapfel or back to the review of World Cup Tournament Football Game.
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