Barbara Dauenhauer: You probably know by now that this year's Game of the Year is Manhatten. I haven't played it yet but it was quite a success in our group. The new games of 1994 are quite good, especially the card games 6 nimmt and Olympia 2000.

SWD: Congratulations to both Andreas Seyfarth and Hans im Gluck. I think that if I had had a vote I would have given it to Auf Heller und Pfennig, but it would have been a close call. They are both excellent and Manhatten is one of the best games to have won the award. I agree too about the 1994 crop to date. So let's start the letter column with comments on these and also with the reactions to last issue's reviews.

Bob Scherer-Hoock: I don't completely agree with your review of Die Erbraffer. While my experience was similar to yours in that I have had games where the wealth shifted to one side of the board (occasionally), and where the heirlooms "clumped" together in families (frequently), these situations didn't strike me as so negative. I can think of many games where a poor draw of cards or simply poor play leaves someone so far behind that they can never catch up. this just seems to be a fact of gaming, and I'm not convinced that it's a common occurrence in Die Erbraffer. The clumping of heirlooms seems to me only to matter if much of the money has been taken out of the game through negative cards. Otherwise the money seems to balance the heirlooms quite nicely. My main gripe is the power of the New Will Discovered cards to completely thwart any planning, but, shucks, even that seems like life in that someone battling for the estate just has a better lawyer. My bottom line is that while Die Erbraffer is by no means a classic, it is still fun, and a game that I can enjoy equally with my family as well as with gamers (at least those who haven't written it off).

Having defended a family favourite, I also wanted to put in a plug for Auf Heller und Pfennig (Hans im Glück) by Reiner Knizia. This is easily my favourite new game this year. It has good player interaction, luck only so far as the tiles a player draws, wonderful tension while trying to decide when to play one of your scoring markers on the board (always fearing it may be too soon now but too late if you wait) and well-thought-out special tiles that result in sudden reversals of fortune. It has components for 2-4 players and seems to work as well as a two-player game as it does with four. Since it is basically an abstract game disguised with a board game theme, it may not appeal to some, but I think it is extremely clever, well-balanced and always in doubt until the final scoring.

Kris Gould: I would like to disagree strongly with your review of Die Erbraffer. I played it twice at Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends, and enjoyed it so much that I found a way to have someone get me a copy. Of course, I won both games, and that may have biased me significantly, but I was losing the second game until the last two rounds of card play, and I was having a blast anyway! There's always a chance to steal heirlooms and shift money around so that, until the last card is played, nobody knows for certain who will win. And the "family" bickering along the way keeps things entertaining. ("I'm afraid cousin Bertha was found mentally incompetent, so Uncle Harold will have to handle her finances from now on.") We had as much role-playing and "getting into character" in this game as in the liveliest games of Family Business. Of course, just like in Family Business, if all you care about is pushing your way to the win without paying attention to the atmosphere of the game along the way, then the game will feel pretty capricious and unsatisfying. Fortunately, most of the people I play with like to have a good time along the way, so I know we will all enjoy this game a lot.

Mike Oakes: Thanks for the tip regarding Die Erbraffer. I was in Just Games when it had arrived and asked Mark Green for his opinion about it. He hadn't played it but said that he had heard that the design was first class and was probably aimed at `Game of the Year'. Anyway I decided to retain the £5 and wait for a review in Sumo. I am glad I did!

Well, with luck we should have confused you again, Mike. One game that Mike has been enjoying recently is Road to the White House, enjoying sufficiently to send Mike a longish review. We are not printing it because the game got the full treatment back in issue 9, when it first came out. However, it is being put into Retro II as a bonus for those who get that. I feel bad about not printing it because it is a good piece of work, but with space at a premium the other material had precedence. This is why there is now the notice at the front of the magazine about contacting the editor first!

Gareth Lodge: Played Manhatten last night. What a great game! It's so simple to learn yet difficult to play well (at least it is for me). There is a high skill factor involved (I was poorly placed in all of our games, a sure sign that the game requires clever play). Player interaction is rife from the off, the game is short and the components are excellent (far, far better than the impractical components for the German Acquire. I understand that this game has won the game of the year award in Germany, and I can see why.

I liked An den Ufern des Nils a lot more than you appeared to and didn't find it dry in the least. I submit that the scope for player interaction is greater than appears at first sight, albeit it is of a very subtle type e.g.~planting seeds of a certain crop with a view to blocking out opponents at market, deliberately positioning crops to increase opponents' action points costs, and timing the market sale to maximise (or minimise) the number of counters lost from the game. These are in addition to the obvious ploys of knowing where to place the river tiles, where to take them from, and watching where other players can or cannot place theirs. In short, there is a hell of a lot going on in this game, and many things have to be taken into account when formulating your strategy.

We the People is a little gem. I haven't enjoyed a "wargame" as much since Up Front and Attack Sub. All three use card play as their central theme, albeit in different ways, and their use in We the People adds a level of excitement, both in the strategy phase and in the battles, which I think is of the highest calibre. Playing cards for resolution of combat is preferable to rolling dice and it adds to the choices available. Playing cards in the strategy phase requires careful thought not just as to which card to play but also WHEN --- timing is crucial. The game is easy to get into and reasonably short. I should say that I would not give full marks to the map, which I find awkward to analyse at a glance, but that will be overcome as I become more familiar with it.

Paul Jefferies: On the Banks of the Nile: I really enjoyed the game mechanics, particularly the ebb and flow of the river, but what let it down for me was the subject matter: growing vegetables. (SWD: Remember Dicke Kartoffeln? That aspired to vegetables but ended up being about worm farming). If there weren't already so many King Tut games around it would have far more flare if you were excavating for artefacts which you were then selling on the black market or something. Despite this, it is probably one I'll end up getting because I like the way it works so much. Fertile ground (excuse the pun) for some serious tinkering it seems to me.

Credo: I can't believe you played this four times before deciding that was enough. The subject is close to my heart, but one game settled it for me, no problem. A fantastic amount of work went into it, but it's not much of a game.

Andrew Daglish: On the Banks of the Nile seems a very good game. We play it with the waterpistols out of Gangsters. ( SWD: You don't think he is trying to wind me up do you?). You need to get your winter aubergines in early as the game is really too short to adequately express its clever ideas. People tend therefore to leave seeds on the boat rather than replanting. Time for a greater number of flooding/desert encroachment cycles would be nice, but a quick decision may lessen the problem of the game becoming predictable as it draws to a close. Should do well in Iowa and Missouri.

Alfonzo Smith: Attacke: I liked it. It takes ten minutes to play and those ten minutes are chock full of guessing, second guessing and outrage. The best card game I've been introduced to in the last two years and that very special group would include Wizard, Trumpet, Koalition, Sherlock Holmes, Karriere Poker, Cash and Musketeers.

Game of Prospecting: Yes, the game is similar to Acquire but calling it sub-Acquire is an insult. We, the Random Wargamers Club of Redondo Beach, California, find ourselves playing Prospecting more often than Acquire because the players have more options when laying nuggets (that is, tiles): How many nuggets should one place and where? Also, a six player game of prospecting is more accomodating to the players than the same number in Acquire. Both are gine games but don't give the Game of Prospecting short shrift.

Die Erbraffer: Imagine Avalon Hill's Kremlin where the rewards move and the personalities stay put. Now imagine a Kremlin-like game that doesn't quite work. I think that the game can be saved. Perhaps if everyone were given the same set of chance cards to begin the game. Maybe tinkering with the turn order might help. I would buy it if it were available in the US.

An den Ufern des Nils: The theme is uninteresting and the gameplay is uninspired. Wake me when it's over.

Rette sich wer kann: Musical Chairs: the Board Game. The fluffiest game I've played all year. Not bad, but really lightweight. It could be worse: it could take place on the Nile.

Wiz War: This game has been available in one form or another in the US since 1985. It is a fine, whimsical little multi-player activity. My favourite feature of the game is when you can't find a proper spell to cast on your opponent, simply walk up to the opponent and punch him in the nose for one point of damage!

Fast Food Franchise: It seems a lot of game designers are ripping off Acquire. This game is a throwback to the days when designers ripped off Monopoly. I have played the game once and it is not bad. The gameboard features a square track that is forty spaces square like Monopoly. Unlike Monopoly, there is a nine-by-nine grid that the track wraps around. You buy properties (in this case franchises) and place the property marker on the space where your pawn has landed. The properties may occupy several non-adjacent spaces on the gameboard. When you improve your property (similar to buying houses in the elder game) you strategically place a marker on the grid. The idea is to connect a line of markers on the grid to bankrupt opponents when they land on any of the associated properties. Interesting game done in TimJim Games' typical function over form style.

Mike Schloth: (SWD: reporting on reactions to the new games at "The Gathering" --- the mini-convention that Alan Moon organizes each year). The ErbRaffer was a hit in spite of its moderate to heavy luck-slant. It has very little to offer in the way of strategy, but I don't think it makes any claims in that area anyway. Some think that it is a better gamer's game with fewer players, but I think it's more fun with 6.

Intrigue was O.K. but the interaction you would expect in a game like this just didn't seem to be there. Banks of the Nile was also well received. Some who played it only once could take it or leave it, but those who tried it a second time began to pick up on the timing of events in the game and really enjoyed it. Last Chance was played a lot. Everyone likes making money by rolling dice and beating the big odds. I have a couple of rules questions however (How do you decide who gets to make their Last Chance roll? What is the payoff? When can you declare "Last Chance"?).

Being a sucker for card games, I was especially happy with 6 Nimmt!. Mr. W. Kramer has created himself a nice little game. I liked it so much that I called Just Games to have them send me six copies. They told me that I may not get all six as there has been a run on the game due to a favorable response at a recent Siggins' Game Session. Am I the victim of some kind of insider trading?

I also like Olympia 2000. It plays quickly (at least with 3) and the give and take between the scoring system and the selection of the next event (as the name implies they are Olympic events: discus, marathon...) can lead to tough decisions about when to use your better athletes. Unfortunately, the interaction between players is a bit slim, especially with five. Manhattan: The general impression is that it is a hit. Plenty of chances to get pissed off at your fellow players as they maliciously take-over your skyscrapers. A bit too abstract for some but it plays too fast for that to hurt much.

Auf Heller und Pfennig: Everyone but Alan (Moon) likes this game and I think he is just ticked-off at being beaten so badly. It is a bit like doing a competition Magic Square puzzle. Some would say it is too random, but you just have to watch the board to know (o.k., guess) when the odds are with you to attempt to draw a good tile or to make your big play and place one of your big money, market stands.

Knock Out: To quote Mr. Moon, "This is not what I was expecting". I'd have to agree with that. The actual fight mechanics are very simple but then this is really a more of a strategic business game than a tactical fight game. You are trying to finish the game with the most valuable property (boxer). Although this can lead to a windfall of bonus money, the real cash is made through wagers. Knowing when to "accept" another player's bet and when to let a player bet against the bank is one of the subtleties(?) of the game. If you bet against another player you are risking moving your money from your pocket directly into your opponent's pocket. However, if a bet goes unaccepted then the bank makes the payoff but will only pay half of the total winnings. Furthermore, a loss to the bank must be paid in full but it is paid to the BONUS space where it may be won back by the most successful boxer(s). It seems that the simple fight mechanics help you to keep track of what fight cards have been played which can make betting more meaningful if you pay attention. In short, I think that there is more to this game than meets the eye. Then again, when you have spent as much time translating a game as I have with Knock Out, you become biased in your opinion towards it. You don't like to think that you did all that work to unscramble less than a masterpiece.

Tim Trant: Manhatten has really got a positive response from the players at the holiday cottage (mostly relatives). There does seem to be a problem with turn order: being the first player on the last round really hurts.

SWD: I haven't been too conscious of this myself. I have only played the game with four players and suspect that this is much the best number, but if you do have four, things should balance out. Once players have realised that going last in a round is an advantage, they should start to take it into account in their "who to attack" calculations and then any imbalance ought to disappear. Has anyone else hit a problem with this?

John Evans: Die Hanse was very badly received both by gamers and non-gamers alike. If it weren't for my games shop offering some part exchange for old games I would have considered myself well burnt for the £36.95 I would have paid for it.

We do enjoy Blood Bowl (Games Workshop), which is fun, has a good skill element and is visually appealing once the figures are painted. The expansion module details leagues, so a style of multi-player interaction is available. The price of the system can mount if you get hooked on collecting the miniatures, which is easily done as they are of high quality.

SWD: It looks as though I am out on a limb with Die Hanse, but telling the world that it is wrong is an established enough hobby to go down on my CV and so I shan't be losing much sleep over the fact. As for Blood Bowl, the amount of space it occupies on on the Internet is testament to its popularity, but I admit I find it difficult to get worked up over questions such as "Do wood elves make good quarterbacks ?" There is also the question of how you get to look at such a game. Games Workshop do have a shop in Aberdeen, but all its customers seem to be boys in their early teens and I am sure that were a man of my age to set foot across the threshold the management would rightly call the police.

Martin Burroughs: Charles Vasey's Dowsizing article was excellent. It should be compulsory reading for all game designers.

Enjoyed all the Grand Prix stuff too. Don't know what you've got against Pole Position though --- it's a great game. Are you sure you're playing it right? It plays a lot better if you start with all the circular counters face down, only revealing what's underneath when someone lands on them. I liked a lot of the Formule Dé mods too. The pit rules certainly needed changing. I always thought it was quite obvious from the French rules that cars are meant to be able to pass in the pit lane: let's face it, you don't see cars in a real grand prix all queueing up to get in, losing minutes at a time! Perhaps with the 50mph limit now in place the rules should be changed to represent this as well.

Mark Bassett: The feature on Grand Prix games was excellent. Reading Charles Vasey's comments on game-designing was absorbing, and though I may well never design a game myself he sharpened my appreciation of the games I purchase.

As for the 'Grand prix Games Overview', I agree with Stuart Dagger's opinions completely, both of the sport, its suitability for gaming, and the superiority of Speed Circuit over Formula Dé, which I found a big disappointment. In fact I don't really think I'll be buying another F1 game now, Speed Circuit just "says it all" for me.

Gareth Lodge: I did enjoy the article comparing motor racing games, and as usual there will probably be as many favourites as there are games. But what I cannot understand is the popularity of Formule Dé. To my mind it is far too luck-ridden, boring, repetitive and fiddly. Also I am naturally suspicious of games that seem to require "add-ons" and the like in order to maintain interest. I admit to not liking the real thing so I cannot comment on the "realism aspect of any of the games, but I have yet to find a GAME better than Daytona 500. Yes, the system is abstract, but frankly, as one of your contributors noted, it is a nonsensical idea to attempt to recreate motor racing anyway. I would rate Daytona 500, Grand Prix, Speed Circuit and Formula One all above Formule Dé in terms of game play.

Isn't it interesting how a good game can overcome one's dislike of a particular subject? Apart from motor racing, I also hate horse racing but do like games on the subject. I suppose it could even create an interest in the real life thing, as Demarrage did for me with cycling, although nothing as yet has turned me on to motor racing, anything horsey or boxing. Have any other readers been "converted" by a game?

Alfonzo Smith: I am mystified as to how you and Messrs. Clifford and Dagger can denigrate the Avalon Hill edition of Speed Circuit in favor of Formule Dé because of the chance tables. In Speed Circuit a player will resort to die rolling whenever that player feels the time is right to take a chance and even then one usually does it late in the race when one's wear points are low. In Formule Dé a player must roll the dice every turn. The fact that the maximum and minimum one may move on any given turn is so great only adds insult to injury. Can imagine any driver applying pressure to the gas pedal not knowing if his car will go as little as half or as much as double his intended speed? Granted, Speed Circuit is not without its quirks: The inside is defined as the inside of the track with no regard as to how the track is curved. The fact one can't increase one's speed in a corner also seems bizarre. Formule Dé has the better looking tracks, for sure, but if you came to play, play Speed Circuit.

The article also implied that the 3M edition of Speed Circuit does not have chance tables. The 3M edition did have two tables: one for decelerating beyond the car's specifications and another for cornering faster than the posted limits.

SWD: Would you cut out the fan firing Alfonzo? The two Mikes prefer Formule Dé to Speed Circuit, but I was on your side! As for the tables and die rolls, I am intrigued. I bought Speed Circuit twenty years ago, before Avalon Hill took it over, and in the edition I have dice do not get a look in. With both braking and cornering there are set penalties for going over the limits: +20 and you lose a wear point; +40 two wear points; +60 you lose two wear points and spin off; +80 and you crash. Played this way the game is luck free. That is how I prefer it and how the pbm crowd over here still play it. I thought that the luck element came in when Avalon Hill republished the game, but maybe I was wrong. Was there a 3M edition later than the one I have?

Stephen Taylor: Do all your readers subsist entirely on new games? Obviously reviews of new games provide a very useful service but I for one would also welcome a few discussions/strategy expositions/suggested improvements for older established and/or forgotten games.

SWD: A natural question, but as far as the group I play with is concerned the answer is no. We play a mixture of new and old. It is just that when it comes to writing about games it is the new ones that are the natural topics, because they are the ones creating the biggest buzz. However, you are not the only one thinking along these lines.

Mark Bassett: I'd like to see articles on strategy in established games in Sumo, but I know they're quite hard to write. Also Sumo is very oriented to new games, so introducing any sort of coverage of past games would only serve to make it even bigger!

Sumo is now my exclusive buying guide for board games. Generally speaking I read about a game in one issue, wait to see the responses in next issue's letter column, and then decide whether or not to buy the game. This works very well for me, but it does mean I rarely get the chance to be one of the gaming trend-setters. For instance, I've only just purchased Rette Sich Wer Kann, and I doubt I'll have any useful comments before the next issue of Sumo has come and gone --- unless you count calling the bosun's staff the "captains Log" a useful comment. This doesn't bother me, but it does leave me marvelling about those folks who write letters saying they were "disappointed with", or "won't be playing again" some £30 or £40 pound production. And they seem to have bought and played every other new game released that month too! Still, just as long as the results get reported in Sumo, what can I say but "keep up the good work guys!".

An old game we've played a lot recently is Merchant of Venus. We came at this by a round-about route, which started with discovering the Hornblower books by C.S. Forester. That led to the purchase of both Wooden Ships and Iron Men and Enemy in Sight. Incidentally these two games conclusively prove Avalon Hill's inability to write a decent set of rules, my wife was literally aghast at the impenetrability of WS&IM. Eventually of course we boiled it down to the two basic ideas that are actually all the mechanics amounts to, but for a moment there we thought we had purchased an 18th century module for Star Fleet Battles. As for EIS, the rules begin by apologising for the lack of simulation detail in the game! What an incentive to purchasers!! Anyway we moved on from there to reading an excellent book, "The Wooden World" from Penguin, about the Georgian Navy, and then found out about the spice trade in the Indian Ocean. I then remembered that Merchant of Venus is a science-fiction simulation of that era, and there we were!

A round-about route as I said, but the destination showed it is sometimes better to arrive than travel, as we found Merchant of Venus to be an excellent game. We mostly play with two or three players,and are currently working our way through the different game levels, steadily upping the amount needed to declare a win. What's so good about the game is the way that the best strategy changes with each change in the winning criteria or number of players, it really is a different game every time. I know you prefer to experiment with games, rather than explore tactics in depth, but this is one game which really repays repeated playings.

SWD: That is what I like to see, a person who not only raises a problem but who then does something about it. Merchant of Venus wasn't on my 10+ list when I sent it in about four years ago, but it is now. When it came out the verdict seemed to be `good but not great'. However, it has stuck around in a way that some of the games that initially overshadowed it have not. In issue 2 of Games International it lost out to Buck Rogers as `game of the month'. Does anyone still play that I wonder? It didn't last long with us. So let us leave Merchant of Venus on the table as a topic for next time. What is your verdict on it six years after publication? Does it belong with the games on the list that Carl Schnurr has compiled from the `5 and 10' lists? If you do still play it, do you use the combat rules or just treat it as a trading game? And next to it on the table I'll put another game that came in fairly quietly but which is still a regular with us and that is Bus Boss. Opinions please. How does it compare with its more famous predecessor, Railway Rivals? More backing for the old and new mix comes from

Hironaro Takahashi: About 60 members of our games club voted on the 115 games played from April of last year to March of this. The `1993 Best Ranking' were

  1. Modern Art (Hans im Gluck)
  2. Metropolis (Ravensburger)
  3. Hach-hachi (Japanese traditional card game)
  4. Liar's Dice/Bluff (MB/F.X.~Schmidt)
  5. Airlines (Abacus)
  6. Ave Caesar (Ravensburger)
  7. Broadway (TSR)
  8. Indian Cucu (Variant of Coucu, the Italian card game)
  9. Railway Rivals (Rostherne)
  10. Manager (Salagames)

I think that Modern Art is a good game but not the best. I think that it was overestimated because it was a new game.

SWD: Of those, Modern Art, Metropolis, Bluff, Airlines and Railway Rivals are all favourites with my group; Manager is a case of nearly but not quite: Ave Caesar and Broadway belong to the select band of games that I didn't buy; and the two card games I have never even heard of. Are they played with a standard deck of cards. If so, how about letting us have a copy of the rules?

Also giving us a list of old favourites this time was Barry Ellis with High Bid (3M), Clue/Cluedo, Hoax (Eon), Dragonslayer (SPI), Black Monday (Salagames), Conspiracy/Sigma File, Amoeba Wars and Sleuth (both Avalon Hill) and Elfenroads (White Wind).

Simon Bracegirdle: I would like to say a word or two about World Cup Tournament Football by ADG. I acquired the game last Christmas and it has been a hit with all who have played it from my family to my football watching cronies. Inevitably a newcomer during his or her first game is somewhat bemused and makes comments of the "What on earth is going on?" variety; but come the second game when our newcomer is up to speed any such comments are replaced by grim determination as their mind wrestles with the intricacies of plotting a route to the final.

The game can be as deep or as light as the player wants to make it. The best laid plans can backfire and there is nothing to beat the joy of enjoying a smooth road to victory courtesy of one's opponent's meticulously thought out path to the final. It can also be quite fun to place a hat-trick card on a third place spot in the second round just to see the look of horror on the owner of the fancied team. I am already looking forward to updating the seedings and perhaps playing out the next world cup right from the first qualifying game --- what a sad man!

Andrew Johnson: Vernissage must surely be my favourite game at the moment, one I have played only as outlined by Mike Schloth, excepting once when we inadvertently dealt out no cards at the beginning. The result was an extremely tight game with all players wary of making any move likely to reveal their artistic interest. I tended to concentrate on building up move and money-bag cards before risking an investment in any pictures. Exhibitions were rare and play a little negative. The game ended when two artists "dropped out", the winning player having only a small cash surplus. This said, it was still tense and an interesting variation.

Although physically bright, I do not consider Vernissage to be gaudy but apt for the subject matter, my only qualm the confusion that may occur between of the small wooden markers. Excellent stuff.

In reply to Mike Oakes, I quite like Pony Express. I consider the fairly lengthy pre-race process as enjoyable as the race itself. I wonder if Mike is expecting too much from what is a rather lightweight affair anyway.

Kris Gould: Tutanchamun has become an instant hit with everyone I've played it with. It's quick, pretty to look at and has more strategy than it first appears to have. The exact use of the "wild tile" at the end of the path is still confusing (unless you like to read a lot into the rules, its only use seems to be that of a more powerful tie-breaker), but we seldom get to the end of the path anyway. The "other Egyptian game", Tal der Könige, has been much less well received. The bidding is too controlled, with everyone having exactly the same tiles to bid with every turn, and has none of the strategies of a "real" bidding game --- ("I'll bid him way up on this one so that next turn he'll be nearly broke and I can get the good stuff") --- and the rest of the game is just going through the same motions, with an occasional conflict as two people try for the same site. The endgame is even less interesting. In one game there was only one large site left, and one player had firmly stationed her two overseers there, so she just went on calmly building her winning pyramid, while the rest of us wandered around admiring the pyramids already built.

Gery McLaughlin: The regular group of folk I game with normally play through a, usually backlogged, selection of new games, mainly in the Sumo mould. Currently we're replaying games which scored highly first time past. This has given me a chance to play Modern Art and Elfenroads which I'd missed before (played on weeks I didn't go). Elfenroads raised my rating of Alan Moon even higher (Airlines was already a favourite) and Modern Art is for me little short of brilliant. It manages to pack an amazing amount into a very short game, with full marks for everything apart from the annoying counter fault.

We've also played a few games of HoTW now, mainly the Gibson's version. The AH edition, however, puts the finishing touches to the game and is definitely recommended.

Mark Buckley: I was interested to read your comments on Pax Britannica. We had a similar experience, in that the game 'fell apart' after about 1900. We also found it very difficult to see the strategies i.e. when to challenge an opponent over placement of a status marker, and as a result there was a definite lack of competitiveness. We were also playing the 5 player game, and I did wonder at the time whether it needed the extra two players as Russia and Italy.

Empires in Arms - excellent game! The rules are much less formidable than they first appear. A bit heavy on the bookkeeping side, but necessary, I think. You do need dedicated players who won't give up if they suffer a bit of a reversal, as it is always possible to come back again, and you do tend to make your own luck. The diplomatic phase is by far the most important. The last game we played, the 1805-1807 campaign game was set up in my living room for about 6 months! The highlights for me (as Spain) were defeating Napoleon and a French army twice my size in the north of Spain, and almost (but not quite) defeating a British Army, commanded by Wellington, in the south later on.

SWD: You had a game that lasted six months? You realise, do you not, that Mike regards anything over two hours as being on the long side? The trouble with Pax Britannica is that playing Britain leaves you feeling harassed and playing Russia leaves you feeling bored. It is a fascinating and original piece of design and I was very enthusiastic about it at first because of that, but after about half a dozen games I came to the regretful conclusion that there wasn't enough in it for the smaller powers to justify the long time outlay. Empire in Arms was one I passed on. Partly because I suspected that playing it would take about six months!

Bernie Beaumont: Re 1830 and Christopher Dearlove: I haven't seen his suggested play of the New York Central and it's certainly interesting. Usually this is a difficult railway (sorry, railroad) to get going, not least because it requires the yellow station tile (#57) to start, of which there are only four. A disastrous gaffe is to float the NYC when all these are tied up by other railroads, which then point blank refuse to upgrade. Other plays which may be interesting are as follows. For the Chesapeake & Ohio, build to H4 (Columbus) establish a railhead, then head for The Gulf and then Chicago. Possible expansion is by F4 (Toledo) and E5 (Detroit) giving a lovely 5 train run. If you're lucky the Pennsylvania will connect and then you can do another run to Baltimore or maybe (hope and pray) New York. The private railroad, Delaware & Hudson has an interesting attribute in that the owning Corporation can establish a railhead in this hex. Any of the railroads with plentiful railheads (Pennsylvania, Canadian Pacific or New York Central) could use this, but again you need tile #57. Placed with planing this may be a game winner, but placed badly it can be a game loosing diversion. If nothing else it can create chaos among well ordered perfect planners.

Alternatively, after two tile play suggestions, here's a money play. Some players steer well clear of the Erie with it's historical reputation for financial skulduggery. While they are busy looking out for something which may or may not happen, introduce them to the Penn. The trouble with the Pennsylvania is that, initially, it's a railroad with poor revenue. Later in the game however, it can become an excellent railroad, paying high dividends. The problem is how to benefit from this. I suggest if you own the Camden and Amboy Private railroad, offer the Penn at $67. At this price it'll probably float first time. The lower price the better, because for the first part of the game your sole objective is to depress the share price and get your once loyal sharehoIders to sell. As you know the price is going to fall the less money you have tied up in this the better and I think 30% of the stock is about right. Sell the C&A Private to the Pennsylvania for $320, ignoring shareholders groans and withhold dividends frequently. Generally appear incompetent, but all the time build track. Then the shares hit bottom, buy as many as possible - the whole company in one fell swoop if you can. Don't let someone else gain control. Then you use your track to earn money to buy trains. Take In. No dividends at all. Its imperative you have at least two good trains, one of which should be the latest model (except a diesel perhaps). Once you have good trains, pay out and bask in the envious glances. The final share price will be low. So what? you'll probably be making more in dividends per turn than the shares are worth. It's quite possible that for an investment of about $300 you'll make close to that per turn - and - BIG AND - you'll have had cash-in- hand to make other investments.

David Ward: There are a number of standard openings in the 1829 games. 1835 has a fixed opening strategy. In 1830 there are a few more than in 1829 but not as many as in 1853. The NYC option for 1830 in the last issue is very expensive and would require runs for credit in order to get a permanent train. The B&O is not always launched in the first round. In one game it did not make an appearance until the first four train was bought. Many a strange game like this has been played at the GLC club. Games where the CanPac or the B&M have been launched early. The usual plan of action is C&O, B&O, and Penn in phase 1. NYNH and Erie is phase 2. Then the NYC, CanPac, and B&M in phase 3. Planned strategies usually work only in the company of repetitive players. Try something new, it's only a game. You don't have to play to win every time. Play for fun.

SWD: Since we are on the subject of 18xx, this seems a good place to put the first letter written to me rather than to Mike.

Francis Tresham: Mayfair games of Niles, Illinois, showed two new 18xx games at this year's `Origins' convention in July. These are 1856, which is set in Upper Canada, and 1870, which depicts the central US, basically the Mississippi basin. Both of these games, and others in the series which Mayfair is developing, are produced under Hartland Trefoil Licence.

Although both games were intended for public release at Origins only prototypes were shown. Both prototypes, which were designed by Bill Dixon, have been tested by Hartland Trefoil and 1856 was approved with enthusiasm with only small modifications. 1870 didn't work too well in the form in which it was passed to Hartland and, incidentally, played at this year's Manorcon. Since then it has been vastly improved and is now every bit as good as 1856, which means very good indeed. In all cases it has proved possible to retain the designer's original concept which was an interesting and original one. Both games are aimed at the `heavy' end of the market: Bill Dixon and his hard driving team of fellow Canadians have obviously found 1830 rather tame for their liking.

Bernie Beaumont: Acquire: I play mostly three and four player sessions, but sometimes with six. As a general rule, the greater the number of players, the less amount of control you have. As a result, although you can be 'locked out' in a three player game, it's more likely to happen with a larger group. When this happens it's simply tough. If you play cards, sometimes you get a bum hand, or you may roll l's in dice games. As Acquire isn't a long game, do your best and accept it philosophically.

Paul Jefferies: Acquire: Re Brian Hughes problem with five players. I only played once with six players and the same problem arose, so I won't play it with more than four these days.

Tyranno Ex: Avalon Hill production apart (which I have not seen) I just want to state the opposite of those who mentioned it in their letters: Utterly brilliant, not that difficult to explain once you've got a grasp of it yourself, and worth every penny. Potential purchasers should consider buying it!

Michael Simpson: I can't comment on most of the recent games, but I can say a few things about some older ones. I liked Express. I haven't seen anyone mention the most unusual feature of the partnership game, that is that the two partners share their face-down loco cards and can use them to signal. The scoring of the streamliners is not as arbitrary as it seems: it reflects the way real American streamliners were organized. There is actually only one way it can be done. First the observation car and mail car each have to go at an end of the train. It is impossible to walk through the pointy end of the observation car and the post office doesn't want passengers walking through the mail car. The observation car has to go at the back end of the train to give a good view, so the mail car goes at the front. The dome car goes in the middle to make it easily accessible from the whole train. Sleeper passengers are paying more than coach passengers, so they go nearer the observation car, after the dome. Simple!

I completely agree with Mark Bassett's comment on Cul De Sac in Sumo 16-18. I've played this game more than any other.

Mike Taylor: In the recent mammoth 16-18 edition there was a mention by Mark Bassett (page 86) of the "brilliant" Lazy Days two player game of Cul de Sac being out of print. (I agree with the "brilliant" by the way). About 8-10 years ago it reappeared under the name of "Blockade" by Lakeside Games, a division of Leisure Dynamics of Minneapolis. The components were somewhat inferior to those of Lazy Days, but it was probably considerably cheaper and seemed to be available from many Woolworths and Smiths, although I have not seen it for sale in the last 4-5 years.

Strangely enough, I have came across the same game only two months ago, this time as a computer game under the name of Confound. It is credited to Pete Koziar Shareware, 3602 Cedar Drive, Baltimore MD21207 but it came to me on one of these freebie discs that you get with some magazines. Unfortunately, as with many of these give away items, the game programming play is very weak and the program can be beaten quite easily even on the so-called expert level.

Ken Tidwell: Mayfair wlll be bringing out a new game, Brickyard, in mid-September (though that date involved a certain amount of finger crossing). Basically, they've licensed the Formel Eins system from Wolfgang Kramer and Milton Bradley. The card set wlll include the infamous catch-up cards though the initial rules set wlll not use them. The board will be puzzle cut with a blimp shot of the Indianapolis Speedway with the track blacked out and the traditional Formel Eins gridwork drawn in. The game will play much more like Daytona 500 using this board since the turns are two lanes wide. (In fact, the only reason Mayfair is not using the Daytona 500 as the setting is that MB felt that the layout of the turns were proprietary! However, the plan is to offer additional tracks packaged In tubes after the fashion of Mayfair's railroad games. Many of these tracks will be along the lines of Formel Eins with the deadly single lane turns!

Powerlunch will be another mid-September release from Mayfair. The game starts out in rummy mode with players melding cards to be seated at one of several tables displayed on the board. Each card is numbered, coloured, and features a caricature of a well known (in America, at least) celebrity or historical figure. Initial melds for seating are based on number and color. Subsequent cards are melded into a table by coming up with a good explanation as to why this set of people would be having lunch together. Apparently the wilder the excuse the better as you have to get each excuse approved by a majority of the other players. Mayfair intends to market a whole series of card packs for the game - packs of sports figures, supermodels, famous philosophers, game fanzine publishers - that sort of thing. According to Lou at Mayfair, its a scream. I'm dubious but we'll have to wait and see.

SWD: I am glad to hear about Brickyard, but the other one sounds like the sort of thing I'd be prepared to go a long way to avoid.

Paul Humphries: Games that work well with 8 players: Circus Imperium, 6 Day Race, Slapshot, Metric Mile, Midnight Party, Razzia. All tried, tested and recommended. Good 2 player games: The Awful Green Things from Outer Space (classic), Bazaar, Master Labyrinth, Conquest, Vertigo, Black Box and Scotland Yard --- although this says 2-6 players, it has only ever been played once by me with more than 2 players, and it was a disaster. With 2 it's superb.

Having played Mah Jong in the past I was hesitant to get Mhing, fearing it would have a 50 page rule book like its mother, but it doesn't. It has all the flavour of Mah Jong but plays much quicker and I would endorse your recommendation wholeheartedly.

Due to reading the rules wrongly I've played this variant of Vendetta half a dozen times, but only with 5 players, it probably won't work with less. Having been dealt 2 tiles at the start, place 2 of your men on those two areas only (rather than on all areas but those two, as the rules say). Then play the rest of the rules as given. The effect of this start is that battles are fought with far fewer men and areas rarely end up with so many men of one colour that nobody has a hope of overthrowing them (a fairly common occurrence in the proper game).

We also have a 3 player variant for Screaming Eagles. Simply take one plane each and play for a specific time period. If you get shot down, you come back into play with a new, fully armed plane. The player who has lost the least number of planes when time is up is the winner. I find this more fun than the 4 player game.

Mitchell Thomashow: As an abstract game player I am delighted to see the flurry of interesting new releases. Specifically I refer to LaTrel, Pinpoint and Fibonacci. I like the purity of these games. You work with symbols, patterns and colours and arrange them accordingly. You learn them in five minutes. Because they don't require language, they are cross-cultural. Hence an interesting abstract game design is most likely to be played for a long period of time. Of the three, I prefer Fibonacci because of its unusual movement system and its extraordinary flexibility. I agree with you about the virtues of not being able to look too far ahead. With Fibonacci you can't think too far ahead tactically, but you have many strategic options. Also, the game is adaptable to variations and house rules. I think that t his is the best abstract design I have seen in a long time. Pinpoint is also very interesting, and provides strategic deth with limited long-range information. LaTrel, despite its novelty, is still too chess-like for me, and I don't like the cat and mouse endgames that often result. Nevertheless, I think it is an imaginative chess variant.

For years my wife and I have been playing a short two player game every evening as a way to unwind after relating to other people all day and as a way to connect with each other. For this purpose, we like games that are challenging, fun and deep, but not too taxing. Here are our favourites:

Marrakesh is brilliant, an intriguing blend of cardplay and backgammon. Fast moving and deep, but smooth and accessible.

Palabra is a colourful and fluid card game that rewards both word game skill and good card play. It is very fast moving, filled with surprises and delightful momentun swings.

Deal Me In is an ideal blend of luck and skill, also integrating cardplay but within a structural alignment. I think it is the best game that places cards tiles on a board.

All three of these are on our 100+ list. All are fast moving, FUN and played in forty five minutes or less.

Mark Buckley: Aristo: I got a copy a while ago from Eamon Bloomfield. We have played it once and it seemed to work quite well, although a lot of us did end up playing females at the end, since they seem harder to kill off than the males, but perhaps we just got some of the rules wrong. I heard that the inventor has a whole lot of them in his garage but refuses to sell them for less than the normal selling price.

Magic: I have given up collecting, after getting nearly a full set of the Antiquities. I was trying to get a full set of the ordinary cards, when lo and behold, the Revised Edition came out, and the card set changed, so not only could I not get the extra cards that I wanted, but there were new ones too. I guess in 6 months, when WotC need more cash, they will change the sets again. I was also less than impressed with the printing quality of the Revised Edition cards that I saw.

Chris Payne: Magic: I tend to agree with your comments and if I'd known how things were going to turn out, then I would probably not have bought any cards in the first place. The local club is playing, but the game seems to have brought out what I would term some very `sad types' who seem to have missed out the fun element in playing games and get very obsessive about the cards. I have a variety of cards and see the game as one which I can play when people come to stay, even possibly dealing the cards out at the start of a weekend and then having a league and trading sessions during a weekend of playing games.

SWD: If you are going to get involved, that seems the best way to do it, Chris, but I shall still pass --- though I am, of course, delighted at the boost that the whole business has given to the game shops, particularly the small ones, who have been having a hard time of it. In his latest newsletter Eamon Bloomfield tells how he recently sold six cards for £196. That must have been a nice addition to the day's takings. I just hope that I don't get stuck in a lift with the guy who bought them.

On to the closing credits or back to the Thoughts from the Armchair.

Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information