Mensa Mind Games entries 2009 with comments
Dean Howard
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These games were entered in Mensa Mind Games 2009.

The five winners are listed first, followed by the others, more or less in the order they were chosen in the end-of weekend giveaway, except that I grouped the solitaire games at the end.

"Games for gamers" did better than usual this year, given that players/judges had to evaluate 30 games each in about 30 hours, which favors social and filler games, with some room for entry-level Euros.

I'll continue adding comments from time to time. Please add yours, but please stay on topic and limit your comments to these games. There are plenty of other threads to discuss the validity of the Mind Games format, or of Mensa in general.

-- Dean
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1. Board Game: Marrakech [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:929]
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Very good tile-laying game using 1x2 pieces of fabric to simulate a rug market. Move the buyer, pay another player if you land in an area of his color, then place a piece of your carpet, possibly on top of others. When all rug/tiles have been place, the winner is the merchant with the most money plus exposed carpet.

Marrakech has nice pieces, clear rules, and it plays well at a moderate depth level. It's a deserving winner, and a good gateway to introduce people to "gamers' games".
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2. Board Game: Cornerstone [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:2359]
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3-D strategy game, with a little dexterity required. Build and climb a tower using blocks made of 1-6 cubes. (Roll dice for a choice of two pieces to play.)
Pieces are made of cubes that alternate between a player's color and a neutral color. Pieces must be placed so colors alternate in a 3-D checkerboard pattern. After placing, move a meeple up the tower without jumping more than one level up or down, or using a square of an opponent's color.
To win, be at the highest level when all blocks have been played, or when the tower collapses. The player who causes the collapse cannot win. (The pieces are stable enough that I expect games to end by collapses less than half the time.)
It's not highly strategic, but it's challenging to visually plan ahead and to manage your collection of unused blocks.
Vote totals are not announced, but Cornerstone was probably the game mentioned most often as a likely winner. It may not be a "gateway game" but it's a sure-fire attention getter at your local game night or coffee house.
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3. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:29] [Average Rating:7.79 Unranked]
Dean Howard
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No need to describe this. I'm just glad it won.
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4. Board Game: Stratum [Average Rating:6.01 Unranked]
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Fill a hexagonal grid with hexagons in 1x4 chains. When there's no more room, start a new layer, but pieces may not overlap empty spaces from a lower level. Repeat until no more pieces can be placed. Winner is the player with the most hexagons uncovered.
For 2-4 players, recommended as best with 3.
Very nice wooden equipment, elegant mechanic, easy to learn and understand. Plays very quickly - maybe too quickly for a game with such nice bits.
 
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5. Board Game: Tic-Tac-Ku [Average Rating:6.64 Unranked]
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Tic-Tac-Ku is in the queue...
Place balls in a 3x3 grid of tic-tac-toe boards, with a clever restriction: If the previous play was in (for example) the upper left space on an individual board, the next play must be somewhere in the board at the upper left. Whoever gets 3-in-a-row on the most boards wins the game.

After playing one game and observing a couple of others, I think it has better strategy and tactics than most N-in-a-row games.

One minor rule addition is necessary: Making the first play in the exact center should not be allowed. This is the simplest way to keep the first player from going there, then making the next eight plays in other center squares, while the opponent has to play in the eight outer spaces of the middle board. This strategy sacrifices one board but gives you a huge head start on the other eight.

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6. Board Game: Triviathon [Average Rating:6.11 Overall Rank:7674]
Dean Howard
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Placeholder for Triviathon
Trivia game (obviously). Most rounds you have a choice of four questions whose answers will be 0, 1, 2, or 3. You choose a question, and advance that many spaces along the track. Other sets of questions have colors as answers, resulting in the same kind of movement.

Players (up to 12) are given randomized roles like The Cheater, The Cheerleader, etc., and occasionally have to do things like shouting "Triviathon is the greatest game in the world," or going back one space (and possibly entering an infinite loop if they decline and advance one space the next turn).

The system of questions is a nice novelty. If you like trivia but dislike silliness, you may enjoy this game by omitting the extra rules.

According to http://www.indy.com/posts/super-bowl-ad-winners-capitalize-o... the designers are financing Triviathon with money they won by creating a Super Bowl ad.
 
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7. Board Game: FlashWordz [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
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Letters on double-sided cards. You see one side of your cards, your opponents see the other. On your turn you have two actions of moving, swapping, and turning cards around. Scoring a word (4 letter minimum, from a 6-card rack) counts as an action. If you need both actions to make a word it may not be there on your next turn.

It's an interesting game (if you like word games) but not very well produced. The plastic cards and wooden racks seem like prototypes.
I hope this sells well enough to produce a higher quality edition. If it does, I hope they correct the letter values. With the G worth 4, the X should be more than 5, and the Q should be much more than 6 (and probably changed to a combined "Qu").
 
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8. Board Game: CrossWise [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:6388]
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Place 6 tiles each of 6 shapes in a square grid. One player (or team of two) scores the rows, the other scores the columns. Get points when the lines in your direction have two or more of the same shape, although the highest score is for 6 different.

There are 24 special tiles (Move 1 Tile, Swap 2 Tiles, and Play 2 Tiles on your next turn) which is probably too many. It was common to have a hand of three specials and only one shape tile.

Crosswise is a pleasant short game with nice colorful tiles. It's not deep, but with enough strategy to enjoy occasionally.
 
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9. Board Game: One Up [Average Rating:6.41 Unranked]
Dean Howard
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This is the second of five well-made entries from Family Games, Inc. It's a 4-in-a-row game with 4 sets of colored rings around ball bearings. The board is a 4x4 grid with an empty space horizontally adjacent to each corner. With fewer than 4 players, one or two colors are neutral.

Each player makes one horizontal move of any piece in the first round, two moves in the second round, etc. The first player to get four in a row or occupy all of the "access corners" wins. (There is a variant that allow jumping from one access square to another.)

Naturally the object is to get close to a winning arrangement as mobility increases without missing opponents' threats. You can't do much the first two turns, but it becomes interesting at turn 3 or 4, and probably will be over by turn 6.
One Up could be a highly strategic game on the edge-of-victory turns if you check all possible moves, but it's probably more enjoyable as a light-to-medium filler.
Strategically speaking, it's best as a 2-player game. With more, it's too hard to plan ahead and to avoid enabling an opponent. When I played with four, on the fourth turn someone made a play that allowed either of the following players to win.
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10. Board Game: Flibbix [Average Rating:4.86 Unranked]
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Do-it-yourself roll-and-move. Connect a couple dozen 2-sided tiles magnetically into a track of any shape, add start and finish tiles, and start rolling. Tiles say things like "Draw a card", "Zap an opponent back 5 spaces", or "Swap Start and Finish". Some tiles cause other tiles to flip, so the track changes frequently.
Before playing, players can choose some rules (which player goes first, what happens when you land on another player) and decide what happens when a "custom" tile or card appears.
Obviously mindless, but likely to be a hit with kids - ages 7 and up according to the designers.
For what it's worth, it has an early rating of 6.00 - one rating each of 10, 6, and 2.
 
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11. Board Game: Element [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:6399]
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Complicated abstract/territorial game. 2 players move their sorcerer (shaped like a chess queen) on an 11x11 board while placing glass stones that represent wind (aids movement), fire (red stones spread to other squares), water (flows in a line when 2 or more are in a row), and earth (resists the powers of the other stones). The object is to trap your opponent's sorcerer by surrounding it with stones.

Each turn you roll 4 dice to see what combination of stones and movement you're allowed. There's a somewhat arbitrary cyclical replacement rule. In addition to the special powers, an earth stone can replace a water stone, which can replace fire, which can replace wind, which can replace earth.

I was only slightly impressed after playing it once and observing one other game. Fire seems to be the most useful offensively by far, with wind good for defense. Flowing water may not be valuable enough to spend times lining up the stones, and the earth stones that block your opponent's fire also block your movement.
On the other hand, Element may need more playing to discover strategies. I won't be shocked to see it earn higher ratings from people who have played it more.
 
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12. Board Game: Consensus [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:7334]
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Draw ten "noun" cards and place them on the board face up. Draw an adjective card. Vote on the noun that best fits the adjective. Everyone who voted for the most popular noun advances one space.

Can you say "Apples To Apples"? Yes, but don't say it too loudly. The object is almost the same, but it's fun in its own way, and with no judges it plays differently, and faster. For some reason there was almost always a noun that at least came close to the adjective. Maybe their collection of words is somehow less diverse than in "Apples".

Consensus is officially for 3 to 8 players, but I can't imagine playing with only 3. It's better with more players. More than 8 could play if you improvised additional voting cards.
 
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13. Board Game: Say Anything [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:522]
Dean Howard
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This is a "What will they choose" game. One player reads a question, such as "What super power would I like to have?" or "What was the best animated movie?" The others write answers they think the reader would choose. The reader makes a silent selection, then the others use chips to show what choice they expect. Players score for guessing the reader's choice, and the reader scores the total of those points. The player who wrote the chosen answer scores an additional point.

I think Say Anything is above average as a party game, but as with most party games, it's a matter of taste. If you like this kind of thing, then this is the kind of thing you'll like.
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14. Board Game: Sprocket [Average Rating:6.29 Unranked]
Dean Howard
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The board is a grind of sliding tiles, each with two 90-degree arcs and 4 peg holes. Both players (there are variations for 3 and 4) have 32 stackable pegs called "lugs", half of which start in the holes in the tiles. The object is to place all of your unused lugs by strategic sliding.

On each turn, remove a tile from the grid, optionally rotate it, then slide it back into an edge where you can recreate the square grid. If the arcs form a new circle, a "gear" is formed. Your can now put one of your unused lugs on top of one already placed. If the stacks in the new gear are not the same height, both players add lugs on top of there own until height are equal. For example, if the gear had one stack of two, two of your singles and one of your opponent's, he or she places one lug, you place two in the gear and one elsewhere.

It has no obvious flaws, but I didn't replay it because there were so many other abstracts this year that made better first impressions. All I can say now is that I'd need to play more to decide if I like it.
 
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15. Board Game: Telepathy [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:7006]
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Logical deduction game for two players or teams of two, using boards with 18x18 grids of symbols in 9 shapes and 9 colors. Each turn you select a square, and your opponent replies yes if the row, column, color, or shape matches their "secret square". Keep track of what you've learned with a dry-erase marker.

When you know the your opponent's secret square, announce your final guess. Win if you're right, lose if you're wrong. (You don't win if you choose the secret square by chance in an ordinary turn.)

How much you like this game will depend on how much you like logic problems. I enjoyed it once, but wouldn't play it repeatedly.

The board is OK but a little busy, which is hard to avoid with 324 symbols.
 
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16. Board Game: Baffle Gab [Average Rating:5.05 Unranked]
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Draw five cards with the kind of words you see on a high-school vocabulary test. You have 90 seconds to write a story using as many as possible, with bonuses for using all in once sentence or re-using the higher-valued words.

There's supposed to be a bluff/challenge mechanic when someone doesn't know the meaning of a word. Our play-testers all had high SAT scores, so it just became a creative sentence-building game with little variation in our scores.

It probably has some educational value for students with less-developed vocabularies. Ironically, as they learn new words they'll be making the kind of run-on sentences that lead to low grades for grammar.
 
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17. Board Game: Auf die Schätze, fertig, los! [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:3433]
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This was entered under the English title Treasure-Ready-Go!

While a sand timer runs, draw cards and do what they say: stack small blocks, pick up an animal block, roll a die until a symbol comes up, turn over chips to find matching symbols, etc. Don't let time run out, or you'll lose all your points for that turn.

Good game for young kids. It probably came close to the top five.
 
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18. Board Game: Funny Business [Average Rating:6.83 Unranked]
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Think up creative names for a merger of two businesses, like "The Chocolate Chuckle" for a caterer and comedy club, or "Deliver Us From Evil" for a mail-order catalog business and church. The business names are on large cards (about 5x8 inches) with about 20 business-related words to provide ideas. In one game, we created our own expansion by using advertising slogans as well as names.
Everyone votes on which name they prefer, with the winning entry scoring two points and everyone who voted on it scoring one point.
Naturally this is in the large extended family of fictionary/Balderdash variants. I enjoyed it more than most because of the wordplay.
 
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19. Board Game: The Chain Game [Average Rating:5.22 Overall Rank:9126]
Dean Howard
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Make chains of 2-3 word phrases, quickly. Someone reads a card with a phrase like "chain gang". Each player has 5 seconds to say another phrase using one of the same words, as chain gang, daisy chain, daisy wheel, wheel of fortune. The game comes with a bicycle-style horn, which a timekeeper sounds when someone can't keep the chain going. That player loses a paper-clip-like chain link. The winner has the most links when any player has none left.
Some people liked it a lot, but it's too repetitious for me.
 
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20. Board Game: Quadrago [Average Rating:6.46 Unranked]
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Try to get 4 balls in a row on a 4x4 grid of needles. As in Score Four, balls drop to the lowest point on a needle, and 4 in a row wins in any direction, including 3-D diagonals. The 4 needles in the center are on a disk you can rotate after moving, which can create unexpected winning patterns.
The place-and-rotate mechanism worked better in Pentago, a 2006 Mind Games winner from the same company.
 
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21. Board Game: Ninja Versus Ninja [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:2598]
Dean Howard
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Each player has 6 Ninjas arrayed near one end of a 6x19 board, with three neutral rows in the middle. The "dice" are two figures with head and feet extending from cubes with 1-4 on the sides. Move one Ninja the sum of the dice. If you move out of your half, you start a "quest". If you return in 3 turns, you score point for the deepest row your reached in your opponent's turf. You may not return, because a Ninja is eliminated if another lands on it by exact count.
Win by scoring 7 quest points or eliminating all enemy ninja.

The game has cute Munchkin-style art. There's room for some backgammon-ish strategy in moving where your opponent needs the same numbers in different places, but just rolling high numbers counts for too much. Out Of The Box produces a lot of good simple games, but unless you get a kick out of the theme, this isn't one of their best.
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22. Board Game: Captain Clueless: Lost in the Caribbean [Average Rating:6.18 Overall Rank:5709]
Dean Howard
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One player wears a blindfold and draws a path on a map of the Caribbean. Another player gives directions using a limited word count. When the sand timer runs out, or you hit land or a mermaid, your turn ends and a teammate draws on your next turn. Be the first team to reach three cities (using fewer words at each step) and return to your home port.
 
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23. Board Game: Battle of the Pyramids [Average Rating:5.57 Unranked]
Dean Howard
United States
Oakland
California
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Chinese Checkers meets Stratego? Each player has 9 pyramids with a small number at the back. The object is to get 7 from to the other side of a wide grid of diamond-shaped spaces. End spaces are colored. If a piece is lined up with an end space of its color, it can move any number of spaces, instead of one at a time.
When two pieces are adjacent and a player chooses to attack, the lower piece goes back to a starting space of the owner's choice. Also, each player has two bombs. When a bomb-carrying piece is involved in an attack, the other piece is eliminated, as is the bomb.
Pieces that reach the end return to a designated space on the home row, and block that space, which may lead to endgame problems. If you're ahead but your last piece has a low rank, your opponent can create a virtual stalemate by staying between you and his back row. I haven't played enough to decide if that's a flaw, or something you can avoid by planning ahead.

 
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24. Board Game: Inversé [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:7642]
Dean Howard
United States
Oakland
California
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Two players have matching sets of five blocks of widely different dimensions and colors. Take turns placing pieces on a board. Pieces of the same color or height may not touch. (The latter rule means pieces can sometimes be placed on end but not flat, or vice versa.) Whoever places the last piece wins.
Inverse is an attractive and challenging variation on the place-the-last-piece theme. I'm just not inclined to spend $30 for a game that lasts 5 turns. It would have more play value if they would add more pieces, or design more games using the same pieces.
 
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25. Board Game: Reels & Deals: The Movie-Making Card Game [Average Rating:6.17 Unranked]
Dean Howard
United States
Oakland
California
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Movie-themed card game. Draw Script cards and collect the Talent cards (e.g. Director, 1 Star Actor, 2 Actresses) needed to release a movie from the script. Hire talent from your hand of cards or buy (sometimes in a "bidding war") and sell from the "Talent Agency" in the middle of the table. Play until someone releases two movies, including a "feature". Other players get one more turn at the end, which adds some good balance.
Actors and directors are very-thinly-disguised Hollywood stars, with point values that vary based on who else is cast, or for being in a comedy, drama, or action flick. "Producer" cards are actions that can earn money or interfere with someone else's plans. "Enhancements" make a script more valuable or easier to release.
R&D has won some mainstream awards, including the Games 100, and is "almost" an excellent game. The biggest problem is the effect of bad luck. If you don't draw a director you can't complete anything, and you're likely to be outbid at the Talent Agency by someone with more money. There seem to be too many Producer and Enhancement cards, but that may just be how the cards came out in two games.
Play money is not included, so you'll need pencil and paper. I'd like to see a fancier edition with "reel money", playing mats for the studios and talent agency, and a scoreboard, but that may be more than a one-game company can afford.
 
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