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Subject: Tactical, Snack-Sized Fun! rss

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Mark Casiglio
United States
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Falcon 2018 September 28, 29, 30 in Stamford, CT
Recess! was designed by BGG's own Morgan Dontanville. I admit it was this connection that brought the game to my attention in the first place; otherwise I'm not sure I would have given it a second glance. The title and the cover art seem to suggest a kids game, but the actual game play is much more thoughtful. And it’s quick! The game is played over 30 timed one-minute turns (as long as your typical recess), so even accounting for set-up time and put-away this game will never be much more than a half-hour.

Think of it as a lengthy filler, or very quick game … and ultimately I think Recess! overcomes some component issues to be engaging, and a bit more hefty than your typical snack-sized game.

The Parts
- Four game boards printed on thin but sturdy cardboard. Each board is divided into a 6x6 grid and featuring a series of one or two square obstacles depicted as typical playground equipment and rendered in a crayon-ish, childlike style. The boards are modular, meaning that the "field of battle" can change with each game, however I'm not sure this affects the overall game play that much.

- 2 L-shaped "entrances"; one for boys, one for girls made of the same material as the boards. These are the starting points and are designed to wrap around opposite corners when the modular board is assembled.

- 2 "safety squares"; these represent the starting places for the nuns, and also a safety zone that is free of combat.

- 1 nearly useless sand timer (more on this, later)

- 50 yellow wooden "coins". These pieces are nice and perfectly usable, but when I found players starting to refer to them as "gold" or "gold pieces" I took them out of the game and replaced them with actual nickels from my coin jar. This always gets a laugh when people play and it seems to keep with the theme better. In retrospect, I'd have liked some kind of counter that actually looked similar to modern money, but this is a really minor quibble. The wooden coins are fine. I might even just spray paint them silver if I want my nickels back.

- 20 catholic schoolboy and girl meeples; ten of each in five different colors. Enough for each player to have two. The difference between the boy and girl meeples is that the schoolgirl meeples don't have a space at the bottom separating the 'legs' (they're wearing skirts ... get it?). My first impression was that this might not be enough of a visual difference and that players would get confused during the game, however this has not happened in my experience.

- 2 Nuns. These black figures are more abstract and monolith-like, somewhat similar to the Robber in Settlers of Catan than an actual nun.

- 1 turn clock, made of the same stock as the board. In addition to marking out the 30 turns, the clock depicts two rambunctious kids and an angry nun swinging a ruler, menacingly. It's this ruler that serves as the clock's hand and this thing never fails to crack me up every time I look at it. This is one of my favorite components in the game box.

- 1 set of rules written in four languages (English, German, French, Spanish). The rules are only one page long, but in a typeface so small you might go blind. Fortunately I'm already there, anyway. There are also no diagrams but for the most part they're not needed; but due to the absence of a diagram we set the board up wrong the first time we played it. I can see where non-gamers might have struggled more.

The Game
The object of the game is to maneuver your boy and girl meeples around the playground, out of sight of the nuns and to beat up other meeples for their lunch money (one coin); or to go get the nuns and tattle on opposing players, thus sending their meeples to detention (think "time out"). There's also a "push your luck" aspect; do you risk detention by continuing to extort coins? Or do you just dash and grab but get away with less?

And ... if you can get one of your boy meeples and one of your girl meeples on the same square and out of sight of the nuns, you get to steal a kiss, collect two coins from each of the other players, and end the game.

At this point (or at the end of 30 turns), the player with the most coins is the winner.

The game plays for (or up to) 30 sixty-second turns; that's it. If you have five players that means they're getting six turns each! This also means there could be an issue in a four-player game where two players get one fewer turn than the others. The game's emphasis is more on the 'fun' than on the tactical combat ... but if this is an issue for the players I'd just say extend the four-player game to 32 rounds to give everyone an even shot.

The modular board is set up with four boards connecting (in any direction) into a larger 12x12 square. The "field of combat" is different each way you face the boards, but I'm not sure this has any real impact on the game play. The two entrances are placed outside of opposite corners of the combined game board, with one safety zone placed inside the game board connecting to each entrance. The nuns start on each of the two safety zones, thus ensuring no 'combat' during the first round or two.

The brilliance and challenge of this game is in the "3, 2, 1, Nun" mechanism. Each turn a player has 60 seconds to maneuver three of his meeples (which only move orthogonally) - the first must move three spaces, the second must move two and the third can only move one. In that order. (the fourth doesn't move). Then, the player must move a nun. Nuns can move any number of spaces either diagonally or orthogonally (think of a queen in chess). What's also brilliant is the use of "3, 2, 1, Nun" as a mnemonic device, which makes this game's system fairly easy to teach.

Moving your meeple onto a square with a meeple of another player means you've knocked him (or her) down and you get to take a coin ... but you better break it off before a nun sees you (moves into line of sight), or another player tattles because then your meeple goes into detention for a round. You can also move a nun onto another meeple's space and "shove" that child in any direction (either giving your meeple an extra boost, or disrupting the plans of another player).

Line of sight is a key concept in this game. You can't steal anyone's money, nor can you sneak a kiss if you are in any nun's line of sight. Her line of sight is a straight line in any direction that she can move (orthogonally or diagonally), however it is blocked by any of the obstacles on the board. Even if it's a swing set. I thought this concept would be too foreign/complex for non-gamers, but that hasn't been the case so far.

My biggest bugaboo with the game play has to be the sand timer. We only used it in our first play, and too many times a turn would finish after 10, 15 seconds ... meaning that we then had to sit and wait and watch for the timer to catch up with us before the next player could make a move. This really disrupted the fun, rapid-fire feel of the game and before our first play was over we'd dumped the timer in favor of someone's digital watch.

Morgan addressed this in another thread wherein he also threw out some sensible suggestions. My suggestion; if you get this game and play it infrequently, just use somebody's digital watch. If it's something that's going to come out more often, invest in a cheap Radio Shak stopwatch (or wait for a promotional one ... they seem to be given out at all kinds of functions as giveaways) and keep that in the box.

Recess! fills a niche unlike any game I’ve come across … it’s essentially a quick, multi-player tactical combat game and without any dice-rolling or player elimination. It’s quick enough to be filler, but still very engaging and fun. It’s not just a “pass the time” kind of game. The theme is strongly supported through the components, and the movement and ‘combat’ are engaging and challenging enough to help you forget that the system is fairly abstract.

One very neat plus is that the game is tactical enough to scratch the itch of most of my combat-gaming friends, yet the theme is friendly and funny enough that their non-combat wives and girlfriends like to play, too. And guaranteed, the game will elicit a howl and a cheer from a mixed-gender group the first time a girl-meeple knocks down a boy meeple and steals his lunch money.

I do have some minor issues with the components, but they haven’t been a stumbling block to enjoying this game. And while it’s something a little bit more than filler, Recess! isn’t the kind of game that’ll provoke you into calling your buddies together specifically to play it … but I have found that when we’re looking for a quick game in between it’s one of the first they’ll suggest.
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