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New Game Round-up: Old Games Made New — Taj Mahal, Chase, 8bit MockUp, and Kill Doctor Lucky

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• Time to look at new editions of old games in this round-up, starting with Tom Kruszewski's Chase, which is more than thirty years old. The title was first released by Blue Dolphin Games in 1985, then in an edition from TSR (pictured at right) in 1986 as part of a line of abstract strategy games. Now nestorgames has released a new edition of this two-player game, which plays as follows:

Each player starts the game with a row of nine dice on their side of the hexagonal game board, with the faces of those d6s adding up to 25. On a turn, a player moves a die as many spaces in a straight line as the value showing on the die's face. A die can't move through another piece, but it can wrap around the side of the board and it can bounce off the front or back wall at an angle to move its full distance.

If you land a die on an opponent's die, that second die is removed and the value of that die added to the lowest die on the opponent's team, keeping their pip count at 25. (If a die reaches 6, you add any remaining speed to what is now the lowest die.) If you land on one of your own dice, you bump that die one space in the same direction, possibly leading to another bump or a capture.

Instead of moving, if you have two dice next to one another, you can spend the turn adjusting their values while keeping their sum the same. If, for example, you have a 2 and 5 adjacent to one another, you can change them to 1 & 6, 3 & 4, 4 & 3, 5 & 2, or 6 & 1.

The center of the board has a chamber on it. You cannot move a die through the chamber. If you land a die on the chamber, you split the value of that die on two dice as evenly as possible. (You start the game with one spare.) Those dice emerge from the chamber on spaces adjacent to it, possibly resulting in bumps or captures.

If you knock an opponent down to only four dice, then they have a pip count below 25 and they lose the game.

I've played Chase a few times and find it fascinating. You have dozens of options to start the game, and everything is out in the open, so you're trying to set up moves or series of moves while your opponent is doing the same. The chamber is prized because it puts more dice on the board, with those dice being at lower values, which are somewhat better than high values since a high-value die can be jammed and unable to move (similar to how large stacks in DVONN can become marooned because they can jump in fewer and fewer directions).

Reiner Knizia's Taj Mahal is not quite as old as Chase, having first appeared from alea in 2000, but a new edition announced by Z-Man Games for release sometime in the second half of 2018 will be the first time this game is on the market in more than a decade.

At heart, Taj Mahal is a simple game. Over twelve rounds, players use cards in their hand to bid for control of six symbols (which represent aspects of the Indian government and culture in the 18th century). On a turn, you either increase your bid — playing cards of only a single color during a round — or you withdraw from the auction and take rewards for any symbol in which you have a majority.

That might sound easy, with the game being a series of press-your-luck-ish auctions, but almost all of the cards that people acquire can be seen, so you could try to track the holdings of each player throughout the game. What's more, each round corresponds to one of the twelve areas on the game board, and you generally place a palace in one of the available spaces in the current area for each majority that you have when you withdraw. You want to claim spaces to take the reward tokens on them or to create a chain of palaces that will score you bonus points at game's end. You want to collect trade goods, but you score more points by collecting goods of the same types. You want to win majorities for some of the symbols because then you collect a token of that symbol, and with two identical tokens you claim a special card that you'll have only until someone else collects a second token and takes it from you.

All of these considerations are boiling in the same pot, and you often never know exactly when to exit an auction because you feel like if you just play one more card, surely the other players will leave and let you win multiple majorities, but then they don't, and now all of you have spent additional cards to be in exactly the same position as last turn, and cards are precious because you typically receive only two new cards each turn and there's a bonus at the end of the game if you hold the most cards in a color, and your thoughts while playing Taj Mahal become very much like this sentence, in that they never stop swirling and you feel somewhat paralyzed by every thing being presented to you, and in the end you're possibly just making what feels like the least wrong decision and you withdraw.

Then you do it again for eleven more rounds.

Toshiki Sato's 8bit MockUp, first released by the designer's own さとーふぁみりあ (Sato Familie) brand in 2017, has been picked up for publication by IELLO under the name Les Forêts Légendaires, a.k.a. Legendary Forests. Here's an overview of the gameplay, which can accommodate any number of players as long as you have enough copies of the game on hand:

In 8bit MockUp, each player has an identical set of tiles and plays the same tile at the same time to their own tableau, connecting the landscapes on their tiles. Each player starts the game with the same starting tile in play. One player, the "Leader", shuffles their tiles face down, then removes five tiles from play without looking at them. On a turn, the Leader reveals the next tile, calls out the number on it, then everyone places that same tile somewhere in their landscape, with the adjacent edges of each pair of tiles needing to match.

When the Leader draws a tile with a red number, everyone places their piece, then starting with the player who holds the God piece (initially the Leader), everyone draws a monument tile from the center of the playing area and places it on an area in their landscape. Monuments come in three colors (while the landscapes have areas in four colors), and you use only two monuments of a color for each player in the game. After placing monuments, pass the God piece clockwise to the next player.

The game ends after everyone has placed their twenty tiles, then players score points based on the areas where they have monuments. Each non-purple edge of a tile has a half-circle on it; when two such edges are placed together, the owner of those tiles has created a "cookie" in that area. To score, you look at each area where you have a monument. If you have no half-circles in this area — that is, the area is completely enclosed — then you score 2 points for each cookie in that area. If you have any unconnected half-circles in this area, you instead score 1 point per cookie. Whoever has the most points wins!

• This last item doesn't really qualify as a new edition, but let's run with it all the same since in spirit it's a familiar game made new. In August 2018, Cheapass Games will release The Island of Doctor Lucky, a standalone game from James Ernest for 2-8 players that recreates the spirit of Kill Doctor Lucky in a warmer and exterior environment:

The hunter becomes the hunted in The Island of Doctor Lucky. In this game, you're still competing to kill the old man, but this time you picked a dangerous place to do it. Dodge hazards like the fire pit, the hunting snare, and the hammerhead crabs as you navigate the perilous regions of Isla Fortuna. Find the old man alone, and kill him with whatever you can find: the shark tooth, the elephant gun, the bad dates, or (if you must) your bare hands. Every murder attempt makes you stronger, and if you play your cards right, you can kill Doctor Lucky!

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