Icehouse newb to "Starship Captain" in three days
Martin Ralya
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I just got back from a trip to Moosonee, Canada which included a nice chunk of time playing Icehouse games with my dad -- the first time either of us had played any pyramid games. An Icehouse kit seemed like a good solution to wanting to play games without packing much stuff, and it was.

Sifting through Icehouse games to figure out which ones to play (and to decide what components I needed to own and bring) piqued my interest in a big way. My initial experience was mixed -- I loved 2/11, hated 1/11, and the rest fell somewhere in between -- but a lot of fun overall. Reading others' impressions has been useful to me, so I thought I'd share my own impressions here.

The kit I brought with me consisted of a Plano 2360 tackle box, inside which were six full stashes, 60 glass beads in three colors, and the cloth Volcano board from the current edition of Treehouse, plus a 17" vinyl chess board. That plus printed-out rules (as internet access was spotty), which are all free, allowed me to play all 11 of these games but didn't take up too much space in my luggage.

Notably absent but on my to-play list are Homeworlds (which we didn't get a chance to try) and Pikemen (I forgot to print the rules before the trip).

The title of this GeekList is a reference to the Looney Labs designation for a player who has tried at least 10 Icehouse games and ranked those games -- a "Starship Captain." A "stash" is a a set of five large, five medium, and five small pyramids of the same color.
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1. Board Game: Pylon [Average Rating:6.88 Unranked]
Martin Ralya
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This was a surprise hit for me, a fantastic short abstract where almost every decision is interesting and difficult, there's a lot going on, and the rules footprint is small. I love both stages, and every play has revealed more about why both stages matter.

I can't think of anything I'd change about Pylon. It's incredibly elegant, it's quick, it's got quite a bit of depth, and it makes perfect use of the Icehouse pyramids with no fussiness.

My rating: 8 (2 stashes, chess board)
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2. Board Game: Volcano [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:2869]
Martin Ralya
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This was the game that really sold me on building an Icehouse kit, and it delivered on my expectations -- it's a great game. I like the puzzle quality, which reminds me of Kingdom Builder (another game I love), and even though turns can run long they don't feel long: I spend my "downtime" in deep thought, pondering my next move and coming up with contengency plans.

There's a lot of depth here, and I can see how in time I'll get better at creating long chains of non-erupting moves. I also enjoy the need to balance scoring well with assessing when to race to end the game (or stop your opponent from ending it). It's got a great depth:rules footprint ratio, too. Just a fantastic little game overall.

Setup is a bit fiddly, but the game looks fantastic when it's ready to play; it's certainly not a hardship.

My rating: 8 (5 stashes plus 5 opaque small pyramids, Volcano board)
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3. Board Game: Ambush [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
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Ambush is a clever game, and at the moment it's my favorite Icehouse title that uses Martian Coasters. I like the capture mechanic more than the one in Quicksand, which is otherwise a fairly similar game. It's full of hard decisions, which I almost always like in a game, and those decisions are interesting. It's got a small rules footprint but packs a lot into each game.

My rating: 7 (2 stashes, Martian Coasters)
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4. Board Game: Zendo [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:710]
Martin Ralya
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Zendo was one of the games that, just from reading the rules, convinced me it would be worth owning an Icehouse kit -- and it doesn't disappoint.

Two-player, simple: You could argue that when played this way Zendo is a puzzle or an activity rather than a game, but whatever it is it's fun. This mode makes me excited to try it with scoring. Just cracking the puzzle as the student is fun, as is coming up with counter-examples as the master.

It makes me feel dumb, but in a fun way -- for example, the rule "No green pieces" took me a table full of koans to figure out, even though in retrospect it was obvious.

My rating: 7 (4 stashes, 60 beads)
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5. Board Game: Martian Chess [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:5509]
Martin Ralya
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Two-player: I enjoyed my first play and would like to play again, but it didn't blow me away. The control mechanic is clever and -- a plus for me -- it doesn't feel much like chess. Pretty solid overall.

My rating: 6 (For two players it needs 2 stashes, chess board)
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6. Board Game: Quicksand [Average Rating:7.04 Unranked]
Martin Ralya
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For a short abstract Quicksand is decent, but I prefer Ambush -- which is very similar -- as well as many others in this weight class. It's mostly tactical, which isn't a huge plus for me, though there's also some strategy.

It feels a hair or two too simple, like it needs another layer in order to be a really interesting game.

My rating: 5 (2 stashes, Martian Coasters)
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7. Board Game: Stack Control [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Martin Ralya
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I expected to like this a lot more than I did. Setup and tear-down are a bit too lengthy for what it is, although the core mechanic is clever.

It's just okay; I'm not sure what it would need to be better, though.

My rating: 5 (5 stashes, chess board)
 
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8. Board Game: Folio [Average Rating:5.60 Unranked]
Martin Ralya
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Folio is cute filler, but there's not much here and it's over very quickly. Those aren't bad things, but there are a lot of more interesting short abstracts out there -- I can't imagine wanting to play Folio again when Hive is available, for example.

The central gimmick, the virtual board, doesn't feel important. Most decisions are obvious, and the game feels pretty linear.

My rating: 4 (4 stashes, chess board)
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9. Board Game: Synapse-Ice [Average Rating:6.53 Unranked]
Martin Ralya
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This sounded more interesting than it turned out to be. Maybe I just can't see far enough ahead and it's actually got some hidden depth to it, but it seems incredibly light and isn't fun to play -- like a short exercise rather than a game.

My rating: 4 (2 stashes, chess board)
 
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10. Board Game: Shapeshifter Wars [Average Rating:4.00 Unranked]
Martin Ralya
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I hate chess, and this feels too much like chess for me to really enjoy it. It feels clumsy, too, as you often have to manipulate stacks of pyramids with a small on the bottom nested inside a large; that's just sloppy. The board being 5x5 keeps it short and light, but makes it too light for my tastes; there just isn't much there.

Although it's not a bad game -- the core concept is clever -- there are many, many other abstracts in the same weight class I'd pick over Shapeshifter Wars.

My rating: 4 (4 stashes, Volcano board)
 
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11. Board Game: Pentamid [Average Rating:5.66 Unranked]
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This is the first Icehouse game I've played that I would never willingly play again.

It sounded fun on paper, what with a small board and the potential for lots of interesting decisions -- a knife fight in a phone booth game, I thought -- but in play it devolves into a sluggish stalemate that takes way too long. And while it's busy taking way too long, you don't get to make more than the occasional interesting decision; most decisions are obvious, boring, and do nothing to meaningfully change the game state.

It feels like a game you try not to lose, slowly, rather than one you try to win. I'm not opposed to that sort of game (In the Year of the Dragon is a great try-not-to-lose game, in a way), but I'm opposed to this one.

My rating: 2 (2 stashes, Volcano board)
 
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