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Subject: Not bad for traditional family gamers. rss

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John Lopez
United States
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Get off my lawn!
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Stack Gammon takes several classic (and when I say classic, I mean ancient) mechanics and makes them work well enough that I could see this game being well received in the home of a family that enjoys abstracted Parcheesi style games. Despite borrowing many rules from backgammon, this has more in common with the Parcheesi family of games in feel. There is nothing here for a modern eurogamer to become excited over and if you are going to play this game, I would recommend some alterations to the end game to speed play.

The basic idea is a simple race game. Each player starts with a number of pieces off the board at the beginning of the game. Players roll the dice and bring these pieces on board, racing for the end space at the center of the spiral. Reaching this space requires an exact die to use for movement. The first player to reach the center with their last piece wins.

Despite the "gammon" name, all players are entering the board at the same locations and moving the same direction around the track. However, most of the remainder of the movement and piece stacking rules are borrowed from backgammon.

Each turn a player rolls two dice and uses each die independently. Like backgammon, if you roll a "2,3" and the spaces two and three spaces ahead are both blocked, you may not move, even if the space 5 ahead is not blocked. Also like backgammon, doubles (such as "2,2") allow you to move four times ("2,2,2,2") obeying the same rules for blocking. Each such movement is independent of the others, thus you may move the same piece four times (if you rolled doubles) or four separate pieces.

How does a space become blocked? This also was borrowed from backgammon: the moving player may stack his own pieces in a space, and any such space with two or more of a player's pieces prevents any other players from using the space for movement. Further borrowing from backgammon, a single piece alone does *not* block the space. In fact, if such a piece is landed upon, it is returned to the starting area for that player. Specifically it is returned to the numbered start space (see below) for that player that equals the die result that was used to move to that space.

Despite those rules borrowed from backgammon, the game takes on its own flavor due to the way that pieces enter the board and the fact they are moving in the same direction towards the same goal. Each players starting area (which is not on the track proper, but is simply a staging area) is composed of numbered spaces 1-6. In a two player game, each starting space has two pieces. In the four player game, each starting space has one piece. For the three player game, each space has one piece, and two extra pieces that are assigned by the player to the starting spaces. Thus, there are always 24 pieces used divided between the number of players.

These pieces in the starting areas are somewhat similar to pieces in backgammon that are resting on the bar. When a player rolls a die, if they have a piece on the matching numbered starting space, they must bring it into play the corresponding number of spaces along the spiral path (which are numbered for convenience). The movement rules above apply: if the space being entered is occupied by a single piece of an opponents, it is returned to their starting area. If it is blocked, that die may not be used, although if the other die's number was not blocked, it may be used normally. Unlike backgammon, you may move pieces on the board while they are in the starting area, only blocked entries prevent that die result from being used.

With everyone moving in the same direction and from the same entry location, stacks of two or more pieces are critical to forward progress. Any lone pieces will be mercilessly returned to the start areas. Thus the early game sees pieces popping onto the board and popping right back off as others land upon them, and then some solid stacks form. These stacks tend to move as units once formed (to avoid giving up the progress they have made) but sometimes breaking them up is inevitable. In those cases the lone piece charges as far forward as possible, trying to reach the safety of the final space. The opening and mid game are actually quite entertaining as pieces are carefully maneuvered towards the end, while a chaotic swirl of pieces continue to re-enter at the start.

However, once most of your pieces are off the board, it becomes impossible to keep your few remaining pieces in any stacks: you are at the mercy of the dice. The end game becomes a series of sprints for home, with frequent setbacks as a lucky opponent sends you home. Having a piece in the starting area during the end game is painful as the pieces *only* leave the start area when the matching die roll is made. Unlike the early game, when there are pieces on most of your start spaces and when there are not you have plenty of pieces to choose to move, the end game can result in multiple useless rolls as you hope for that 11 in 36 chance to bring your piece into play.

It is here that I found the game fell down a bit, but it actually still acceptable because each player has their own dice and it moves quickly. Each player rolls, sighs at missing the result and the next player is already throwing dice and doing the same. A few die rolls later and someone is flying along the board. However, it is a bit of a shame that the earlier chaos is reduced to hoping for a lucky roll. The end game is quick though: once someone makes a clean break for it, the game ends soon there after.

Overall I would say this isn't a game I would sit down with the majority of the BGG crowd to play. However, it reminds me of other simple roll and move games that are considered family classics, and I believe people with those simpler expectations might find the addition of backgammon like movement and blocking rules improves the classic genre.

Family gamer with young kids: 6. This isn't something I would seek out with my usual group, but it works great with younger kids. More importantly, it is a game I would happily play with those younger kids, landing on their single pieces until those little light bulbs turn on.

Gamer's rating: 4. This isn't painful, but backgammon's rules being borrowed actually makes one want to play actual backgammon instead. It does have the advantage of supporting three or four players and fun until the end game settles in.

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