Short Reviews

Cloak & Dagger (Eye Spy, £8) is a weird game and another not-too- great advert for the British games industry. You get a flimsy box that is near-impossible to store or keep in one piece, a load of envelopes and some cards with spy-related symbols. I'm pretty sure the idea is to track down all the pieces of a secret document using Cluedo-style deduction. Unfortunately, the rules are so opaque that I am unable to review it because no-one was sure if they were playing the correct way. We put it away after ten minutes of blank looks and desperate laughter. It's popular in Germany by all accounts. Perhaps they would let me know how it works in English. A review would be appreciated, otherwise I'd avoid this one chaps.

Fishy (White Wind, £20-£25, reviewed by Mike Clifford). Fishy was one of the two games launched at the Spiel '91 show by Alan Moon's new company, White Wind. Alan is best known for his recent offering for Abacus Spiel, Airlines, which has found a large body of supporters who appreciate the simple mechanics and excellent component quality.

Sensibly, White Wind has followed this dictum. Fishy comes with a mounted playing board, laminated play cards, and six sets of wooden 'fish' playing pieces. There are three variants in Fishy, but these comments pertain to what will probably be the most popular concept, 'Fish in the Barrel'. The rule book, incidentally, is in both German and English.

Players are given a matching set of cards and playing pieces, plus two cat cards. A turn is resolved by playing two cards, which are revealed simultaneously by all participants. The cards have varying values, which match the track on the board. If a player has placed a card of a unique value, ie no one else has used the same card, two fish pieces are played on this level. If two players play the same card, one fish is placed by each. If three or more players play the same card, they cancel each other out. There are two additional cards of 'lowest 3' and 'lowest 4' value, and if these are played without competition, the player may place three or four fish on the lower scoring sections of the track. The cat cards cancel any chosen opponent's card, and are then discarded. The game ends when one player has placed all of his fish in the barrel. Points are then totalled (five for each fish in the top barrel section, then four, etc).

Play action is fast, the bluff and counter-bluff is great fun, and the game looks good, with a high production standard. Recommended, but at £20-25 a tad expensive, even if the game is a numbered limited edition. Currently available from the usual suppliers.

Looping (Piatnik, £8-10) is a very simple but clever and entertaining card game and is not to be confused with the new Ravensburger game of the same name which concerns roller coasters. The theme of this one is aerobatics and each card shows a side on view of a climbing, diving or looping aircraft, hence the name. You take-off by laying the start card and then each player plays cards in a linked sequence. Each card indicates where it can connect to the previous card (using the smoke trails as a guide) and shows a trick that earns a number of points depending on its difficulty.

The idea is to play a number of cards, gaining and losing altitude as required, and negotiate each trick by rolling a die and claim the points for a successful run. If you fail any part of the sequence you score nothing, so there is a calculated risk as to how many cards you lay at once. The game ends (thereby freezing the points) when the plane is brought back in to land, logically at the same altitude from which it took off. The visual appeal is high as the plane performs vertical dives, barrel rolls and so on and the cards are attractively done.

The overall feel is rather like Dominos crossed with Ace of Aces, but this hardly matters. For at least the first couple of games, the interest is high and the fun is to sneer as another player tries a highly complex manoeuvre covering half the table and to laugh when he fails on the first loop. The only problems with Looping are that the game needs a large table to accommodate high and long flights, otherwise you have to keep shifting the cards, and that I really can't see much extended play value in it. Anyway, not at all bad and a neat idea.

The Baseball Card Game (SLJ Games, £6-7) is a surprisingly advanced set of rules for matching off draft or realistic teams drawn from your baseball card collection (not supplied). Needless to say I'll keep this short as it will only interest about three readers. Predictably, you select two teams as desired, be they your 1991 Topps or your Mickey Mantle rookie set. Assign them positions, fill out the gamecards and play your first pitcher-batter duel as follows: compare ERA and Batting Average, read off a number and modify it by a d10 roll - a result between strikeout and home run is generated. If extra bases are shown, check again against the batter's slugging rating. Log the results and move on. A game takes around fifteen minutes. Not bad, occasionally good fun but not exactly one for the stats fans. That's enough obscurity (Ed.).

Iron Horse (Excalibre, £11 Reviewed by Stuart Dagger). This was a speculative purchase, prompted by the fact that I am a sucker for railway games. It turned out to be a family card game, pleasant enough, but not a must purchase, even for families, and certainly not the undiscovered gem that I was gambling on. The equipment consists of two decks of cards - a yellow one of trains and carriages and a blue one of cargoes, destinations and random events.

At the start each player receives enough yellow cards to form either a goods or passenger train. Thereafter turns consist of drawing a blue card. If it is a cargo that will go on your train, you load it. If it is a destination, you compute a number which represents how far you have travelled, multiply this by the value of the cargo you are carrying and and log this as your score for the trip. You then discard your existing cargo and start collecting again. The end of a trip also gives you further yellow cards, so that after a time you acquire more trains and thereby increase your earning capacity.

The game works, and its mechanisms are neatly constructed, but in the end it is another of those games that runs on auto-pilot. You shuffle the cards at the start and then have little to do but watch as the game just about plays itself. The decisions you are called upon to take are few and rarely other than obvious. The game equipment is strictly functional - black printing on the sort of card you buy at a local stationers, rather than the colourful graphics and proper playing cards that give Express a lift.

Vendetta (Hexagames, £20-25) is an odd little game, not least because it is one of three games with the same name recently released. Designed by Doris & Frank of Dicke Kartoffeln fame, this is one of Hexagames big releases for 1991. Vendetta is certainly overproduced for what it is and the price is correspondingly high, a trend I am beginning to worry about more than anything. Well, not quite true. What I really worry about is that I have lost a scalpel somewhere in my room and I know it is out there lurking in a book or a magazine, waiting to slice and dice.

Anyway, Vendetta is a game of controlling territories in a small Sicilian village. The godfather has died and everyone is out to establish themselves as the new big cheese. The board, divided into thirteen squares, depicts the village in some style. Onto this are placed numerous gangsters (wooden cubes) representing each player's forces. In turn, players get the chance to place reinforcements to obtain a majority in an area in readiness for the upcoming battles. These are triggered once per round by turning cards corresponding to a numbered area - if the area is contested at that point, the majority holder wins (no dice or anything) and the loser is swept into the box. This is all repeated eleven times and then the two last cards are turned to select Vendetta locations - these areas are cleared of all gangsters. This latter is rather akin to a tactical nuke and can really cut your manpower down in a hurry - I'm pretty sure it is possible to use skill to avert these, but there is a lot of luck involved.

At the end of every full turn, each player will be holding a number of areas and if he has achieved the target for the number playing, he has won the game. If not, he amasses a cumulative score which will end the game in about 40 minutes or so. The game's tactics boil down to a bit of memory work to remember which areas have been contested thus far, working out which areas to contest and with how many and avoiding the deadly vendetta zones. It sounds basic enough, and is, but it is a game that rewards consistently good play and it is also well balanced. The real complaint is that you get a lot of 'Is that it?' syndrome, especially when you open the big box to find a lot of air. I wonder quite why it was not put out in a small box for half the price and also quite why I paid what I did for it. Oh well, it could have been a duff game as well. As it is, I quite liked it.

On to the review of Magazines or back to the review of The Return of Heavyweight Champ.

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