Note: My full review of Seismic will appear in Knucklebones Magazine
Carcassonne in California. Well, sort of. You see, players are supervisors of road crews constructing roadways around San Andreas, California. Sadly, they are either blissfully unaware of the massive fault line that runs beneath the city, or worse, they just don’t care. At any moment the earth can shake, sometimes violently, causing roads to buckle and crumble. This does have the ancillary benefit of keeping the road crews employed, so perhaps they really don’t mind the quakes after all!
Seismic is yet another tile-laying game. Most tiles depict section of roadway, with 13 depicting intersections. These intersection tiles are quite valuable, as they serve as a terminus for a section of highway and trigger scoring. Herein lies one of the major problems I have with the game, as the player who is fortunate to draw a sizeable number of these tiles has a tremendous advantage.
There are also six “quake” tiles, with a magnitude ranging from 1 – 6. The greater the magnitude, the more sections of roadway potentially destroyed. Before beginning the game, all six quake tiles are mixed with six random tiles, and half of these are removed from the game without revealing their face. Thus, no one can be sure just how many quakes will occur, which does add a level of tension to the game. Unfortunately, quakes shake things up, so-to-speak, and if too few appear, the game can be quite dull. I recommend discarding fewer tiles, which will allow more quakes to occur.
Game play is exceedingly simple. Each turn, a player chooses a tile and plays it to the board. Roadways and grasslands must match; no dead-ends allowed … assuming, of course, you are not counting the road crew employees! Ala Carcassonne, the active player has the choice of placing one of his road crew markers onto a roadway depicted on the tile just played. If there is already a road crew marker on a connected section of highway, a marker cannot be placed. One of the tactics is to merge sections of highway so as to maneuver your markers into larger sections of highways, possibly usurping control of those sections from your opponents. This is virtually identical to the tactics present in Carcassonne.
When a quake tile is drawn, the board is examined to determine which side of the San Andreas tile has the most tiles extending from it in a straight line. A number of tiles in this line equal to the magnitude of the quake are removed, beginning with the tile next to San Andreas and extending outwards.
The game ends once the final tile is placed. Incomplete highways to do trigger points. All completed highways are examined, and points are awarded to the player with the most crew markers on that section of highway. The player with the most points rises to the level of company Vice President and wins the game.
While the theme of Seismic is novel and fun, I have some problems with the game. As mentioned, quakes add spice to the game, but it is quite possible they will be rare. In the two games played this evening, one game had two quakes, and my game had only one quake. That was disappointing, and made for a very dull game. The second concern I have is that the player drawing the most intersection tiles has a large degree of control over the termination of a road section. This often means that player will be the beneficiary of scoring. If quakes are scarce, there is nothing players can do to disrupt this.
There doesn’t appear to be any deep strategies or clever tactics to be employed. The game is quite vanilla. One of our players declared that it would be an interesting game to use in order to teach others how to play Carcassonne … but who needs that? Carcassonne is easy enough to learn as is. Standing on its own, Seismic is a light, tile-laying game that is likely suitable for families with young children. Most adults and gamers will likely find it a bit bland.
Game 1: Characterized by only two earthquakes.
Finals: Gail 120, Russell 81, Alison 67, Rhonda 59
Ratings: Russell 7, Rhonda 7, Gail 6.5, Alison 6
Game 2: Only one quake appeared. Jim was fortunate to draw a sizeable majority of intersection tiles, which proved unbeatable.
Finals: Jim 81, Greg 50, Kevin 34, Jared 28
Ratings: Greg 5, Jared 5, Kevin 5, Jim 4