Design by Reiner Knizia
Published by Ravensburger
2-4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website.
Remember the days of Euphrat & Tigris, Amun-Re, Taj Mahal and Stephensons Rocket? These were vintage Knizia designs, games that had great depth and required detailed strategic planning and tough decision making. Ahh, those were the days. Sadly, they seem to be long gone, as Herr Knizia now seems content to appeal to a wider market by designing lighter, family fare. Start 11, the board game version of the card game Elfer Raus!, falls squarely into this “lighter, family fare” category.
The challenge in Start 11 is to be the first to play all of your domino-like tiles to the board. Tiles are numbered 1 – 20 in four different colors (red, orange, green and blue), but the numbers 3, 7, 13 and 17 are actually gray “wild cards.” The tiles are light plastic and slightly smaller than standard domino tiles. Each player begins with 15 tiles (more if playing with less than four players), which are placed in their multi-tiered, Scrabble-like tile holder.
Players take turns playing tiles to the board, hoping to be the first to deplete their supply. The large board provides space for all of the dominoes to be placed. These spaces are divided into four separate rows, one for each color. Three columns (1, 11 and 20) are highlighted, which indicates that these tiles can be placed in violation of the normal placement rules. Further, there are bridges wherein two tiles in parallel rows touch, creating an adjacency, which is important when placing tiles.
The main rule when placing a tile is that it must be adjacent to a previously placed tile. Rows are not considered adjacent except at the bridges mentioned above. The only exception to this placement rule is the “11”, which can be placed without regard to adjacency.
A player must place one tile on his turn, and he may play up to two more tiles. Incidentally, the start player is the one who can first play an “11”, a rule that gave the game its name. Tiles must be placed on the appropriate space (for example, the green “4” must be placed on the green “4” space). The only exception is the wild tiles, which must be placed on the matching number, but may be placed on any of the four rows. Further, as mentioned above, once a tile is placed in one of the three highlighted columns, any tile with that same number can be played in the respective row, regardless of adjacency. So, once a player places a “1”, all other “1” spaces become playable. These rules help make placement easier and prevents the game from locking-up too often.
If a player cannot play a tile, he must draw a tile from the bag, playing it if able or placing it into his rack if unable to play it. The player must do this up to three times before his turn ends. If the tile is able to be played, he may then play up to two more tiles as normal. It seems wise to keep your options open by trying to keep one playable tile in your rack between turns. Otherwise you may be forced to draw tiles, thereby possibly adding more tiles to your rack. Since the goal is to deplete your tiles first, adding new tiles to the rack is generally not advisable.
Four of the “bridge” spaces mentioned above have an additional special function: the first player to place a tile on the bridge draws a tile from the bag and immediately places it on the appropriate space on the board, even if it violates the normal placement rules. This may open new spaces on the board, making legal placements easier. Again, this helps prevent situations wherein multiple players cannot legally play tiles.
If a player places two adjacent tiles within one number row on a turn, he can pass a tile to his leftmost opponent. This is a nifty move that can allow a player to pass on an undesirable tile.
The game follows this placement sequence until one player has placed all tiles from his rack. If playing just one match, this player is the winner. If playing multiple matches, all other players must tally the value of the tiles remaining in their racks, making note of this on an un-supplied notepad. After an agreed-upon number of matches, the player with the least number of points is victorious.
The game includes eight symbol tiles which are only used when playing with the official variant. These tiles may be placed on matching symbols at the end of each of the rows, which immediately allows the player to place any tile onto the board without adhering to the normal placement restrictions. Of course, a symbol tile may only be placed if the adjacent number tile has been placed, so they can be a bit more difficult to place. Failure to place a symbol tile will cost the player 11 points at game's end, so get them played when you can!
Start 11 is a light, painless affair that serves as a nice, pleasant family game. It is very similar in feel and tactics as Knizia's Rondo, which was surprisingly fairly well received in gaming circles. One of my fellow gamers—who won the game—commented that he made no actual decisions during the game. If he could play tiles, he did. While I do believe there are some decisions, they are mostly easy and non-taxing. There is nothing here that will ignite a fire of strategic passion. It is akin to dominoes in that it is light fun that doesn't tax one's brain power. There is certainly a market for such games, and Start 11 will likely fare reasonably in that market. Gamers, however, will likely find little here to be of interest.