GAMER'S NOTEBOOK

Same notebook; different gamer. Inside Pitch is very much 'The Life and Opinions of Michael Siggins, Gent.' and so I have no intention of trying to do a replacement for that. It is not even as though I know what an Inside Pitch is. (And no, you may not explain it to me).However, like Mr Pooter, I do not see why I can not have a diary. The magazine obviously needs a section for the news, the bits and pieces and the general chat. This seems as good a way of providing it as any; so it and the title both stay. Keeping it also helps to emphasise the fact that I do not wish to changethe format of the magazine. Nor do I wish to change the range of the boardgames covered. It is unlikely that two gamers will have quite the same tastes, but mine and Mike's seem to be very similar. The only differences that I have observed are that I don't share Mike's reservations about long games or his interest in sports replay ones. All that this is likely to mean in practice is that the editor will be checking out the new 18xx games for himself and hoping that someone else will deal with Lambourne and the like; with Mike it would have been the other way round. You also will not be getting anything from me personally on wargames.

As a military strategist I come some way behind Jubilation T. Cornpone and he, as those old enough to remember Li'l Abner may recall, was last seen sweeping up behind the opposing general's horse. If anyone else wants to write about such games, fine, but they have never been central to Sumo and I don't see that changing. The best advice I have for anyone with a serious interest in this area is to see if Charles Vasey is looking for subscribers for Perfidious Albion. Charles is far and away the best analyst/reviewer of wargames that I have ever read and it would be a brave person who tried to compete. Sumo never has and doesn't intend to start, though we shall continue to look at the less serious wargames and at the multi-player stuff. Aanother good place to look for 'proper' wargames, i.e. the sort that set out to be historical simulations, is Berg's Review of Games. I haven't seen this one, but, as Mike Clifford's article shows, it gets the thumbs up from those who have.

So no change of policy on the boardgames and wargames fronts. However, while I am in the chair there will be a change with computers and computer games. I own a computer and I bought several of the recommended games, but I am afraid that they don't really succeed in engaging my attention. I can see why other people like them, but given a few hours to fill I'd sooner read a book. It is also the case that the newsagents are full of magazines on computer games and so those who do like such games have lots of sources of information and opinions. Computer games do not need fan magazines like Sumo; boardgames do. That means that the only reason for including them here is that they are of interest to the editor. They are to Mike; they aren't to me.

As most of you will know by now, the confusion surrounding the future of Avalon Hill was sorted out by the editorial in volume 29,2 of The General. The story carried in Sumo had been correct; the indignant denials subsequently put out by the Company had had the status of the statements that Finance Ministers issue on the day before they devalue their currencies. The position is that Avalon Hill have several boardgame projects in the pipeline. These will be completed; thereafter, things are less clear --- and at this stage in a publishing schedule you could hardly expect them to be anything else. They are not closing the door on boardgames, but a much greater proportion of their effort than previously will be devoted to the computer variety. I think it is sad that that is how the market has gone, but Avalon Hill have the sales figures in front of them and so their judgement has to be respected. A defunct company is no use to anybody. And even if the worst did come to the worst and they were to produce no more boardgames after the present batch, gratitude for the pleasure they have given us in the past should still be enough to make us wish them well for the future.

However, the General editorial gives the impression that the worst won't come to the worst and I am inclined to be optimistic. When Games International turned itself into Strategy Plus they made brave noises about continuing to cover boardgames, but the promises were never likely to be kept, because there is a bottom line which says that a magazine has limited space and if it tries to reach two different markets it will end up pleasing neither. But for a games company that isn't true. The expertise that Avalon Hill are taking into the computer games market is in the design of strategy games, games which have substance beyond mere complication. Since this is an area where the existing computer games companies are weak, there is a good chance that Avalon Hill will thrive. And if they do, then boardgames form a natural part of their range. Technology has a long way to go before it produces a better format for a social game than players sitting round a table on which are board and pieces. It follows that the two types of game can be complementary: computer games for solitaire gamers and boardgames for the social variety. I also believe that it will continue to be the case that boardgames provide many of the ideas for the best computer strategy games (the Microprose games Railroad Tycoon, Civilization and Master of Orion all have obvious Avalon Hill inspirations). That being the case, a design company should find that the two types of game are complementary.

Of the announced and recently released games from Avalon Hill, four are of interest to Sumo: Guerilla, Maharajah, Colonial Diplomacy and Geronimo. Guerilla is covered by both Mikes this issue. I haven't seen it as yet but intend to, as it sounds like a goodie. Maharajah and Geronimo are also marked down for purchase. Maharajah was being played at the Summer Conventions in the States and so if it isn't here yet it soon will be. It is an Indian version of Britannia and most of the early verdicts are favourable. Early word also has it that yellow has little chance, but I seem to recall similar flip judgements being made about the colours in Britannia. Mark Green's statistics showed those to be wrong and I am sure that this one will be also. Avalon Hill playtesters get things right much more often than not and I'd back them against people playing for the first time at a convention.

Geronimo is from Richard Berg and is from the same stable as Blackbeard. The latter sits unplayed on my shelves, and I haven't had much luck with other games from Richard. However, he is a good designer and our tastes must come together sooner or later. The clincher here is the subject matter. I grew up in the fifties and my childhood comic was a thing called the Eagle. From the Eagle we learned that people from Venus were green and led by a large-headed and evil little guy who zipped around on a tea tray. We were also told the story of the American West and we were told it from both sides. Majority views never concerned me much and so it is fairly typical that, having read both sides, I came to the conclusion that the Indians had been in the right. So, while the other kids cheered for Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and Wild Bill Hicock, I was rooting for Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. It made the movies a bit frustrating, but some things you just have to live with. Now that opinion has swung around and my guys are getting top billing the game is a must purchase. Even though I know that it will contain rules with names like 3.4.12.

Colonial Diplomacy is a Diplomacy variant and pre-release copies were being played at AvalonCon. From reports it would seem to be little more than the standard game played on a different map. Diplomacy is not a good FTF game, save possibly at conventions where those eliminated early can go and play something else, and my group rightly refuse even to consider it. I also have, for postal play, a folder full of Diplomacy variants, many of them much more innovative than this seems to be. They also didn't cost me upwards of twenty quid. Pass. Those who feel differently should look out for the official release which is scheduled for early November.

One of the developments on my gaming horizon since the last Sumo has been the discovery of the Internet. I have known for some time that I could reach it from the computer in my office, but without something specific to go looking for the incentive to take time out to investigate wasn't there. The mention of rec.games.board changed that and access turned out to be much simpler than I expected. So now I take five minutes out each lunchtime for a quick browse. The format is that anyone who has anything to say posts a message, rather as they would on a standard noticeboard.

Then those who wish to join in post follow-ups. Some of it can be mind-numbingly tedious, like the long, long debate on the ethics of alliances in multi-player games, but everything is labelled with its subject matter and so you just skip past the stuff that doesn't interest you. Someone else who has been following the discussions on the Net has been Mark Bassett and he sent Mike an account of one of the more important threads of the past few weeks, the one launched by Steve Jackson when he sought feedback on his plans for Illuminati. Mark takes up the story.

Mark Bassett: Alfonzo Smith reported in the last Sumo that Steve Jackson Games are discontinuing Illuminati, and moving it into trading card format. A few weeks later Steve Jackson announced this fact himself on Usenet, and asked gamers to provide him with their reactions to the new design. From what we have seen so far the new game, called `Illuminati, the New World Order', will look something like this:

The theme of the game remains the same, each player represents one Illuminati group which tries to build up a winning network of other secret and not-so-secret groups, such as the Oil companies, the Mafia, Hollywood Liberals, or the Trekkies. Each group is represented by a card with one or more arrows printed around its border, and the cards join up arrow to arrow to form a network centred around the player's Illuminati card.

As in the original game each Illuminati has powers and a winning condition unique to itself, plus there are winning conditions that anyone can try to achieve. There are nine Illuminati groups in total, the addition to the original set being the `Adepts of Hermes', who are specialists in occult magic.

Alongside the group cards there are what are now called `Plot' cards; these allow players to take special actions during the game. They play a role similar to the event cards in the original Illuminati, but there are much more of them. Players will typically hold five plot cards at any one time.

A big change in the New World Order is that money no longer plays a role in the game! Groups that had high income have had their power boosted to compensate, or given some special ability to make up for their loss. The Illuminati group `Gnomes of Zurich', whose special winning condition involved amassing loads of money, have had to be redesigned, and now have a special ability making them good at taking over Corporate groups and Banks.

In the original game money was used when one group attempted to take over another; the attacking player could bolster his Power by spending money to bribe members of the targeted group, and the defender could similarly spend money to bolster their Resistance. Other players could chip in on whichever side they preferred (or wanted to be seen to pretend to prefer). This `bidding war' is still present in the new game, but now employs Global Power, which is `similar to the old Transferable Power, but better' according to SJ.

The reason for the change is to speed up the game, and apparently it now plays a lot faster than before. The play testers report that a four player game now takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete (though this isn't just due to the dropping of the money rules, obviously).

How does the move into trading card format affect the game? For a start there are now 400 cards in the set, plus the Illuminati. They will be divided into common, rare and something in-between categories, much as in Magic. Starter packs will contain two sets of 55 cards each. SJ recommends 45 cards per player for a good game, so it should be possible to start playing right away. Booster sets will be available, as for Magic, and like that game every booster set contains at least one rare card.

Each player will play with their own pack. There will be no ante such as is found in Magic. Your can have up to five Plot cards in your hand at once, but all the groups in your pack are available at any time. If your pack includes a duplicate of someone else's Illuminati it counts as an agent deep in their organisation, and can be used to make life difficult for them. Steve Jackson plans to sell small sets of blank cards so that users can create their own variants.

That's about all that's known for now, though no doubt more will become available over the next few weeks. Despite several requests Steve Jackson hasn't released a summary of the rules for the New World Order, and I can see his point, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Steve Jackson has promised that this will be a production for gamers first, and an item for collectors second, and the size of the starter packs ( as big as the original Illuminati game plus expansions ) bears this out. He also intends that the game will not permit the creation of `monster' packs that are guaranteed to win, but rather the exploration of different styles of play, e.g. a Bavarian Illuminati/Government/Violent pack vs. a UFO Illuminati/Weird/Criminal one.

The interesting point is how well the business of trading cards sits alongside the playing of the game. I have doubts about this, and wonder if traders and players may end up as two completely different sets of buyers. The key difference between Magic and Illuminati from the trading point of view, is that in Magic duplicates of a card can prove useful whereas, and we haven't had the definitive word from Steve Jackson on this yet, there doesn't seem to be any way of exploiting duplicates of an Illuminati group. So whereas in Magic you could conceivably swap, say, 6 of the common `Plague rats' for one rare card, there is no analogous trade to be made in the New World Order.

Net subscribers have also expressed concern over the fact that it's hard to introduce people to a trading card game - if they're not already collecting it how do you have a game with them? Fortunately we don't have to worry for long over these issues; Steve Jackson has promised he will devise a `common pack' variant for the new game, that will play much like the older game; and future print runs will provide a complete set of cards for those who want to play, not trade, with game components. This won't be available with the first print run though, which will be starter and booster packs only.

I think this venture is very interesting, not just because I'm a big fan of the original game, and member of several real Illuminati groups, but because you rarely get a chance to see a game designer take a second bite at the cherry in this way. If Steve Jackson stays true to his promise to make this a game first, and a collectable second, you should get some very interesting material for Sumo's design column out of the changes between the two versions of the game."

In an early September message on the Internet, Steve Jackson was talking of a release date in early December. He has also made it clear that there will be a "game in a box" version aimed at boardgamers, so that those of us who have no intention of getting caught up in this collecting craze can still play the game. Incidentally, a few weeks ago I finally got to see some of these Magic: The Gathering cards. The local Virgin (name of Fiona) had them pinned up in a display case, just along from the computer games. I am even more mystified than I was before: the things aren't even good to look at.

The other big story of the Summer has been the impending flood of 18xx games. As a long time fan of the system I am drooling in anticipation over these, but at the same time I find the burst of activity curious. It is twenty years since 1829 was first published and eight since Avalon Hill launched 1830. So why is it, after all these years, that we are suddenly up to our armpits? Presumably the trigger was 1835, but I still don't understand. I'd be interested in people's theories. Meanwhile, here is the menu about to be set before us:

1825: This is Hartland Trefoil's replacement for 1829 and it is going to be produced in an assortment of bits: three stand alone games and up to eight extension kits. The three games are Southern Britain, the Midlands and North Britain. Each of these take 2-3 hours to play and they can be put together to produce bigger and longer games, should that be your taste. The extension kits will add extra track, trains and twiddly bits. The first release will be Southern Britain (inevitably!) and will have a UK price of 18.25. The release is imminent and will probably have happened by the time you read this. If you can't wait until your local shop has stocks, try writing direct to Hartland Trefoil at 5 Chapel Lane, Blisworth, Northampton NN7 3BU, England.

That information came from a phone call to Frances Tresham, who was also good enough to send me a press release about the licensing deal Hartland has struck with Mayfair and about 1856 & 1870 --- the two imminent releases from Mayfair. The deal grants the two companies the right to sell each other's products in their respective home countries and I would hope that the implication of that was that gamers on both sides of the Atlantic would find it easier to get hold of all three games.

The game descriptions from the press release:

1856 --- Railways of Upper Canada:

The characteristic features of `1856' are an ingenious blend of freely available loans, a rule that allows a company to start once it has sold the same number of shares as the train currently on offer and the requirement that a specific destination has to be reached before a company receives payment of the second half of its fully subscribed share capital. The relaxed financial system allows many small companies to form quickly but the destination requirement ensures that they either stay small or, with astute planning, establish a viable system. Players therefore have to balance the merits of quick profits at the expense of long term debt, which usually leads to the companies concerned being taken over by the Canadian Government, or of planning from the start to build a railway empire that will remain profitable to the finish."

1870 --- Railways of the Mississippi Basin:

1830' players know all about the rogues who buy and sell shares simply to drive their price down. This can happen in `1870' but an ingenious mechanism allows the president of a strong company to take advantage of the shares that are dumped by buying them into the company. In the short term this supports the share price but it has long term attractions because the dividend paid on these shares goes to the company itself. The company has a further option, that of reissueing any shares that it holds at a price within a specified range. Such shares are available to all players but the president has the first option to buy. It depends on many factors as to whether this becomes a worthwhile option for the president to exercise and the right decision can be crucial. There is also a target destination for each company but in `1870' the implementation is quite different and it may be advantageous to delay connection until a sufficiently powerful train is available to make the resulting Ceremonial Run."

Prototypes of both games were being played at Summer Conventions in both Britain and the US and the buzz is very positive, especially for 1856. 2038 is from TimJim and takes the system into Space. As far as I can gather, the economic side of the game is retained, but there is no direct equivalent of the track building. A pity that: I rather like the idea of a points failure at jump gate 5. What takes its place is a system of mining concessions. As with the two Mayfair games, 2038 has the blessing of Hartland, has been doing the convention round in prototype form and has been getting good notices.

Those are the professional releases, but the amateurs have also been active. About a year ago Mike mentioned Federico Vellani's 1839: the game of Italian railways. Federico was hoping to get the game published professionally but has now given up on that and settled for the game kit route. I haven't yet seen the complete game, but I have seen the rules and they look fascinating. I suspect that it is a long game, but the rules would seem to indicate that it is the most innovative of all the new arrivals. Federico has also produced 1850: the game of Sicilian Railways. This is a smaller game --- 2-4 players and 3-4 hours --- and is about the railway system that Sicily could have had if King Ferdinand had not decided that two donkeys and the Mafia were all that the island needed and had not shown the door to the English businessmen who wanted to build him a railway system. Federico's address is 28 v. S.G.~del Cantone, 41100 Modena, Italy and he is charging 45000 lire for 1839 and 30000 lire for 1850. These prices include postage to European countries. I have sent for both and shall tell you more once they arrive.

Another who has decided to give the 18xx system a home slant is Leonhard Orgler, an Austrian friend of Ferdinand de Cassan. He wrote to Mike asking if Sumo would be interested in seeing his game, Mike passed the letter on to me and I wrote to say yes please. The year this time is 1837 and the setting is the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As with the others, I'll tell you more as soon as I know more. Finally, there is the other 1839, the Dutch one. This was also on view at ManorCon and, I think, at Origins. Beyond that all I know is what Erwin Broens wrote in the last Sumo letter column: the game exists and we can't have a copy. If your friends change their minds on that one, Erwin, let me know. I am quite happy to purchase a copy and if they let me do so, it will get reviewed.

As I said, I am drooling, but at the same time I can't help but wonder if the feast won't prove too much to be digestible. At present, if you count the two versions of 1829 as separate games, I have five 18xx games. They have arrived one at a time over a period of twenty years and all are on my 10+ list. Now, within the space of a few months, those five are going to become a dozen or more. How will it be possible to find time to play them all?

I bought Aristo on the strength of Mike's comments last time. "Lord Bruce of Aberdeen": how could I pass up a game which had Aberdeen in it? I was conned. What I failed to realise was that "Lord Bruce of Aberdeen" was just Bruce Wilson lying about his village upbringing. I admit that in a game as silly as this one calling yourself Lord Bruce of Elgin sets up a lot of jokes about marbles, but he should have toughed it out. I should explain at this point that Bruce is a member of Mike's game playing group. He is also a long time close friend of two of my lot --- he and Rod MacBeath having been chasing each other's units round hexagonal grids ever since their school days. The link is very useful to me, because it often results in early news of games that are worth investigating. For example, it was Rod that told me that Bruce had told him that Lords of The Sierra Madre delivered triple orgasms and that I should get a copy pronto. (We decided later that the reaction must be temperature dependent: our fault for living at the same latitude as the middle of Hudson Bay.) But I digress; I set out to tell you about Aristo.

As Mike told you last time, the setting is the court of the Sun King and the object is to scheme your way to a position of wealth and influence, particularly wealth. Scheming in this instance has a fair amount to do with holding the right cards and making the right die rolls, but there is also plenty of scope for negotiation with the other players and so the real thing gets a look in as well. The game can take up to eight players. When we played we had six and I suspect that this is one case where more means better. For your money you get a stout box, a board which serves to record your influence with the king and queen, a large deck of cards and some coloured pawns. At over 35 this is dear, but it is very nicely produced and you can't escape the fact that small print runs of colourful, nicely produced items don't come cheap. It is also the case that what really counts is how much fun rather than how much cardboard.

Each player is a courtier of randomly determined sex and randomly determined faction (pro-Dutch, pro-English, pro Spanish). These three nations are also the candidates for the nationality of the Queen, as well as being the ones with whom war is likely to break out. Courtiers have an influence level (which rises and falls with events) with each of the King and the Queen and these determine how likely you are to get your hands on the all-important titles and jobs. It is a question of playing a card to gain the right to ask the monarch and then rolling against your influence level to determine if the answer is favourable. Card play also generates events such as wars, hunting accidents, becoming the King's mistress or the Queen's lover, being found out and disgraced for the same, and so on. This is not a deep game, neither is it particularly skilful, but it is the noisiest game we have played in months and that is not a bad sign. The rules tell you to enter into the spirit by addressing all the other players by character name and title, an instruction that suggests that the designer views his game more seriously than we did; as unruly Brits we took the alternative option of `Allo `Allo accents, sneering and scoffing. Whatever turns you on. I got my copy from Eamon Bloomfield, Games Corner, 76 High Street, Watton, Thetford, Norfolk, IP25 6AH, England. (tel 0953 883007)

One of the good features of Aristo is that it can handle 6-8 players without producing so much waiting for your turn that every one starts to fidget. Another recent discovery has the same virtue, but at about 35 less. It is called Class Struggle and, though I have never seen the game Career Poker, I believe it to be similar to that, as both are based on the same traditional Chinese card game. I found this on the Net in a discussion on games for more than 6 players. For every 4 players you need one deck of playing cards with jokers and if it comes to a choice opt for more cards rather than less. Invent labels for a social order --- we had seven players and went for king, queen, three members of the middle orders and two peasants (one with a cow and one without). Make an initial assignment of players to ranks and deal out the cards as evenly as possible, with any extra ones going to the lower orders. Cards rank 2, A, K, Q, down to 3. Jokers are wild but when played alone rank between the 2 and the ace. The object of each hand is to get rid of all your cards. The first one to do so becomes king for the next round, the second queen, and so on.

The lowest peasant leads to the first trick, with play going clockwise round the table as each player either plays or passes. To lead means to lay face up in front of you either any number of the same card (three twos, four kings, etc) or a run of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. (2) To play means to lay from your hand the same number of cards as the previous player but of a higher rank. So if they have played a three card run 8/9/10, you need a three card run starting with something higher than an 8. Naturals rank higher than sets with jokers: so 7-7-7 beats 7-7-joker. 3) To pass means not to play any cards. Passing does not prevent you from playing later in the same round.

When everybody passes in turn, the player who played last is deemed to have won the round and gets to lead to the next one. This continues until someone is out of cards. When this happens the job of leading passes to the player on their left. At the end of each hand the new ranks are assigned and there is a fresh deal. At this point the king can demand from the lowest peasant that they exchange up to four cards, with the cards given up by the peasant being their highest ranked ones. The queen can then make a similar demand for an exchange of up to three cards with the next lowest peasant. The only danger in this exercise of royal privilege is that if after these exchanges any one peasant has more than half of the threes being used, there is a revolt, with the entire social order being reversed and a new deal.

You are supposed to sit in ranking order, with the king in the best chair, the queen on his right, and so on round, but we couldn't be bothered with that. We did however follow the other instruction which was to ham it up and exercise the privileges of rank --- it is, for example, unthinkable for royalty to pour its own drinks.

The traditional game doesn't have a scoring system. We prefer games that do and so we followed a suggestion that Brian Walker made in his Games International review of Career Poker. With seven players, we awarded scores of 1100, 1000, 700, 600, 500, 200 and 100 for each hand and we made the king and queen pay 100 in compensation for each card they took from a peasant. We then played 5000 up. This gave nice tight scores and a game of about the right length. It is a game of some skill and the wailing that goes on when somebody realises that they have just lost the cow adds a lot to the fun.

In last issue's letter column Mark Bassett acclaimed Cul de Sac as "brilliant", this issue Mike Taylor and Michael Simpson both endorse the opinion and in between time Sumo HQ received a letter from a reader who had made his own copy using the description in G&P Mark 1 but who needed some help with the rules. It is curious that this should have happened to a game that was produced twenty years ago by a small company that didn't last, but the raves are correct and so this seems like a good time to let the rest of you in on the story, especially as this is another game that you could easily make for yourself. Cul de Sac is a maze creation plus race game. It is for two players and is played on a 14x11 squared board, with the players sitting opposite each other at the two short edges. Each player has two pawns and 18 walls, 9 in each of two colours (dark green and light green in the original). The walls are two squares long and in the course of the game will be placed on the lines between squares to produce a maze which the pawns must run through. The square in row 4 column 4, and its three equivalents in the other corners is given a distinguishing mark; the other squares are unmarked. The marked squares are the start/finish squares in the race. At the beginning of the game the walls are all off board and each player has their two pawns on the two marked squares closest to them. The object is to get one of your pawns on to one of the two marked squares on your opponent's side of the board. In your turn you move one of your pawns and place a blocking wall. The light coloured walls are placed east-west and the dark coloured ones north-south. A move is two squares, which may be counted backwards, forwards or sideways, but not diagonally. However, a piece is allowed to turn a corner in the course of its two moves. (So, one square forwards and one square sideways is OK). A piece is allowed to move just one square when its way is blocked by another piece or if it is only one square away from the finish. A piece can jump over another piece which is next to it at the start of the turn, the jump taking it the two squares that are its movement allowance. A piece may not jump over a wall. Walls once placed stay in position for the rest of the game. Walls may not cross each other and it is illegal to place a wall in a position which blocks off either of your opponent's pawns from either of their potential finishing squares. Pieces on your start squares do not prevent your opponent from finishing. First player to get a piece home wins. This is a fascinating and devious little game, with that "no blocking" rule being the cause of tactics that only become apparent after you have played a game or two.

Finally in the notebook is a piece of unfinished business from last issue's letter column: Mike Oakes's problem with Pony Express. I don't have copies of Alan's original tracks, but I can give you some rule fixes. The first is to revert to Alan's original movement rules. In these there was no automatic movement. So any move (other than a catch-up or a colour bonus) requires a die roll. The comments that Alan sent to Mike do not make it clear whether or not the colour bonus is affected by the die roll and so you will need a house rule on this before you start. (We opted for the colour bonus being automatic). The second change we made was to adopt the Derek Carver/Eamon Bloomfield betting amendments. With these there are five rounds of betting. In each you bet 3 chips, which may either be all on one horse or split between two. We also adopted their rule on horse ownership. This says that on a player's turn they may, if they do not already own a horse, claim any one that is still unowned. Once all the cards have been assigned and all players own a horse, the remaining horses are given owners as per the standard rules. The final change is another reversion to Alan's original intention and that is that when horses are assigned to tracks, the favourite gets first choice and so on down the line. The tie breakers for this assignment procedure are most chips followed by highest total value of cards. These rule changes do not lift the game to the level of Airlines, Elfenroads or Santa Fe but they do give you a game which is much superior to the version put out by Abacus.

Next issue will be dominated by Essen and the plan is to post it to you in early January. Contributors should treat the deadline with moderate seriousness. I can cope with some stuff arriving a week or two late but not if everything does. As for what is likely to feature apart from Essen, it depends what people come up with, but one thing I would definitely be interested in is reviews of Colorado and Tracks to Telluride. These are two "designer turned publisher" games that have appeared in the States in the last few months. They have the same theme as Silverton and both sound as though they could be interesting. So if any of the North American readership knows them and is willing to write reviews for us, please contact me.

We begin the reviews with a couple of games that get further endorsements from Mike in his guest spot as armchair critic.

Stuart Dagger

On to the review of Plague & Pestilence.

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