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W. Eric Martin
This review first appeared on FunandBoardgames.com.
In the 1970s, Peter Burley invented a simple, tile-laying game that played somewhat like bingo. One person would pull a hexagonal tile out of a bag, then all the players would place that same tile from their tile stash onto their personal playing board. Players repeated this process until their boards were filled, then they calculated their scores and determined a winner.
Burley sold the game to British manufacturer J. W. Spear in the 1980s, and Spear published it under the title “Hextension.” In 1993, the game was picked up by German publisher F.X. Schmid, and “Take It Easy” went on to be nominated for the German Game of the Year award. Over the next decade, Take It Easy moved to German publishing giant Ravensburger and racked up more than a half-million sales.
Despite the success, times have changed, and Burley felt the need to revise his game for a fresh audience. Where once players were advised to take it easy, now they’re challenged (or perhaps warned) to “Take It To The Limit.”
While the complexity of the new game has been elevated a few notches, the core of Take It Easy has been transplanted intact, which means that Take It To The Limit can be taught in less than five minutes. Here it goes…
Each player has an identical set of hexagonal tiles, and each tile depicts three colored bars, each of which runs from one side of the tile to the opposite side. The bars come in 12 colors, and a color always runs in the same direction; yellow, for example, runs north to south, while orange runs from the NW side of a tile to the SE side. Each color has a point value from 1 to 12 associated with it: yellow is worth 9 points, and orange 8. Different combinations of colors are depicted on 64 tiles, and each player has an identical set of 64 tiles, which differ only in background color.
In both versions of Take It To The Limit, one player (the caller) shuffles his tiles face-down, while everyone else arranges his set of tiles in some organized manner. The caller randomly draws a tile from her pile, announces the numbers on the tile (so that every other player can pull this tile from his set), then players place the tile on a playing board. The caller repeats this until a certain number of tiles have been drawn, at which point the game ends and players score.
Your goal is to place tiles so that you have continuous rows of color running from one side of the playing board to the other. If you manage to do this, you score points equal to the number of tiles in the row multiplied by the point value of the color. Make a row of five yellow tiles, for instance, and you’ll score 45 points.
The trick is that placing an off-color tile in a row makes that row worthless—and since not all the tiles will be used in a game, you can’t be assured that the colors you need to complete a row will be drawn. You’d naturally love to build a 12-point color bar across the longest row, but if the tiles aren’t drawn, you’ve earned nothing, whereas an opponent who managed to create a shorter row of 12s will score.
A few tiles also carry bonuses marked 40 or 80. If the color matches in all three rows that contain the bonus tile, you score the 40 or 80 points in addition to the points for the rows themselves; if only two of the rows containing the bonus tile are color-coordinated, you score half the listed bonus. Complete only one row or less, and you get bupkis for a bonus.
Take It To The Limit comes with two separate but related games. On the Orchid Board, you play with a smaller set of 32 tiles which has each color represented 8 times. You’ll place 22 tiles on the hexagonal portion of the board and three tiles on the large orchid in the corner. At the end of the game, you can choose to place any of these three tiles on the smaller orchids within the rows of hexes, potentially boosting your score, yet possibly wrecking an existing row.
The second game, the Nexus board, uses a large hexagonal main grid and a smaller grid called the Scrapyard. You play with all 64 tiles, and for each tile you can choose to place it on the main board or in the Scrapyard. The Scrapyard serves as a kind of escape valve—except that if you don’t score at least 60 points on it, you’ll deduct 60 points from your point total for the Nexus board.
Both games have a fun push-your-luck aspect to them. You can gamble on completing long rows for beaucoup points, or you can work on finishing shorter rows and let the points pile up in pieces. For everyone but the caller, your remaining pieces are face-up in front of you throughout the game—and the caller can just glance at someone else’s pieces—so you always know which tiles can still be drawn. Do you start a long row of 11s with a 4-5-11 tile that could be worth 55 points? Or do you use the tile to extend your 4 and 5 rows that are more of a sure thing?
Despite the possibility of players doing exactly the same thing—given the number of spaces available—players’ boards rarely look the same, even after only one or two turns. Everyone has a different risk threshold or a personal feeling for which tiles will appear this time, and the games allow you to take chances or play safe as you see fit.
The only sure thing is that everyone will be groaning in the final rounds as their hopes for a final row are dashed as the wrong tiles are pulled, one after the other. Sometimes, very rarely, fate smiles on you, and that one desired tile pops into the caller’s hand like magic.
The real appeal of Take It To The Limit, as with Take It Easy, is that you’re competing against yourself as much as other players. While you can buy multiple copies of the game and play it with dozens or even hundreds of other players just like bingo, you can also play by yourself and focus on beating your previous high score. As such, it’s rare that the game gets played only once. “Just one more game,” they say, and you can hardly protest because you’re already sweeping your own board clean to test the odds once again...
Churches should dump bingo and adopt this game
Don't you mean "Bunco"?
W. Eric Martin
Pz V wrote:
Don't you mean "Bunco"?
(You're not familiar with Bingo? Churches have held giant Bingo games for years. It's a game of chance, not skill, so anyone can play it, which makes it an ideal socializer. Check out Wikipedia -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingo_%28US%29 -- for how to play.)