Sixes All Around

I never log my plays, but I'm religious about rating and writing a comment on everything I play. For years I've quietly kept my profile up to date, each week adding new mini reviews to the list. And with a weekly game group, those numbers add up fast! However, I've noticed that some of my older comments are a bit out of date. This blog will be an opportunity to revisit the back catalog while adding new reviews to the pile in a more visible location on the Geek.
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Bring It In (Capsule Reviews of Sleepers & Volo)

Tim Koppang
United States
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"It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy..."
"For the listener, who listens in the snow, and, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." -- Wallace Stevens
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Board Game: Sleepers

Sleepers (referring to sleeper agents in a spy ring) is a fun twist on the abstract connection game concept. There's tension, an enjoyable memory element, and a touch of randomness. All of these elements, plus a light theming, make for a charming game. It reminds me of games like Havannah, but with special powers. That may sound terrible to a traditional abstract fan, but it's really not. Despite it being less than a "pure" abstract strategy game (strictly defined as a no luck, no hidden information two-player game), Sleepers should not be missed.

The goal of the game is multifaceted. There are essentially six ways to win. Half the win conditions involve making some sort of patten on the board with your pieces (e.g., "make a line of active agents joining any two opposite sides of the board"). The other half involve forcing your opponent into a losing position, and thereby winning by default (e.g., "a player is eliminated once ten of their agents are killed"). With so many goals to keep in mind, the game is tense. You are always on the verge of success and failure. Work towards one goal, but be careful not to fall into the trap of another. The goals aren't difficult to remember, just difficult to implement (or avoid).

And then there are the pieces themselves. There are 11 different roles, each with its own special ability. Some allow you to eliminate enemies, while others allow for dramatic movement on and off the board, or from one area to another. There is even a piece that acts as a bomb, taking himself and any surrounding pieces out with him. While the special abilities are difficult to remember (because there are so many), the game comes with a helpful cheat-sheet that smoothes the learning process. Yet what makes all these pieces so fun, and so nerve-racking, is that they enter the board facedown. It's only when they are activated that they trigger their special abilities, or count towards a winning condition. This means that you'll never quite know what your opponent has in store for you. It also means that, if you're aren't paying attention, you can lose track of your own men. The catch is that, once placed, you aren't allowed to look at your own pieces until you activate them. One wrong move, and boom, you've triggered a bomb before you were ready.

Played seriously, there is a lot to remember and manage. Played casually, it's an exciting match-up between sleeper agent spy rings that feels as precarious as it does dangerous. And that's the fun of it all. No matter how you play, the theme of the game shines through, taking Sleepers outside the realm of pure abstract strategy game and into the realm of thematic cage match. For such a small package with a mere single page of rules, that's quite an accomplishment.

Rating: (8)


Board Game: Volo

For fans of abstract strategy games, Volo is Hex meets Lines of Action. I've been playing on since they added the game, and now in person with my set from NestorGames. Volo encapsulates a clever concept with capture rules that will rack your brain.

Pieces move singly or, more typically, as groups. In this way, the game is true to its design concept -- drawing inspiration from flocking birds. The goal is the bring all your separate groups together into a single flock. Of course your opponent is trying to interfere with your plans while simultaneously bringing his pieces together before you. Add to the mix some severe capture rules that often see entire groups disappear in one fell swoop (pun intended), and you have a game that plays quickly and dramatically. The tension is increased when you eventually realize that capturing your opponent's pieces isn't always the best move because, again, the goal is to bring all your pieces together. With fewer pieces on the board, it's all the easier to make that goal a reality.

It's a game of balance, and of strategy. There is room for quick turnarounds, but there is also enough room for long-term planning to satisfy any abstract fan. Played in person, this game makes me anxious in the best possible way. I am always worried that I am one move behind, or that my opponent will spot my plan before I can implement it. I highly recommend you give this one a try.

Rating: (8)
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