ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
I recently received this game for review from the publisher. Abstract games are a known passion of mine. So, since it plays quickly, I have since played a lot of this game-- me against myself, against my wife and also with our daughter and so forth.
The game it most reminds me of are the 5-in-a-row family of games such as Renju, Pente and Pentago, a sub-family of the n in a row family of games. This invites a series of questions:
*Is this a pen and ink game?
No, after a player completes a scoring pattern it is replaced by a scoring marker and the space becomes then available again for play. Additionally, the wild or joker pieces are moved after each time they are used to score.
*How does it mitigate first player advantage?
Seemingly, because in addition to the 5 in a row pattern, the game uses X or + patterns, the strength of the question would seem intensified. Yet a player has to score points equivalent to 3 such patterns to win the game. Also previously placed score markers from one player can be covered up when another player uses the same space to score.
*Can one easily cobble together a set to play with from standard games like Chess, Go, etc.? In other words, would one reasonably need/want to buy a separate set for the game?
Although the game uses an 8x8 grid, the same as a standard chessboard, the stackable scoring markers fit into a space raised at each corner in order to hold pieces in place. So, one could in theory create a set from pieces of other games, but it would not work as well.
*What makes this game different enough for others to make it worth buying potentially?
Those who are not greatly fans of abstract games, if they already own one of the games mentioned above-- Renju, Pente, Pentago or something similar-- likely would not think another game of the same family of games worth an additional purchase. To determine whether one wishes to buy this game to represent that game family in one's collection, one will need to read the remaining more detailed review. To a fan of abstracts like myself, the difference of the game's strategy and tactics and the fact that I cannot readily play the game with equipment from other games make owning a set worthwhile.
The answers to these questions let the game pass a basic mental checklist without which a positive review would be simply impossible. While I would regard my review as overall positive, one practical point makes me lose a great deal of enthusiasm for endorsing this game: the extremely poor choice of contrast. Not only are the red and orange virtually indistinguishable in some lights, it also employs a white board and transparent clear joker pieces.
2. Rules summary
The game is a pure abstract without hidden information or randomness for 2-4 players. Turns alternate with a single move in principle per turn.
The game ends in one of three ways:
1. A certain score is reached by one player, a score that varies with the number of players but essentially requires three patterns for which a player scores.
2. A player runs out of either pieces or scoring markers.
3. A player moves joker pieces after using them in a scoring pattern and in so doing forms a pattern of only joker pieces. Making such a pattern (which wins the game) is the only time a player can make a pattern while repositioning jokers.
The board starts empty except for the 5 joker pieces which are set in arbitrary positions on the board by the player who will go last in each round.
On a typical move, a player places an X shaped piece of his or her color on an unoccupied space of the board. A piece may be placed on top of a scoring marker but not on top of another piece.
If the player does not complete a pattern of 5 pieces in a row or of 5 pieces in a diagonal or orthogonal cross as pictured, then play proceeds to the next player. If a player does complete such a pattern, all pieces of his or her color but not jokers in the pattern are replaced by scoring markers of the player's color. The player then moves any or all jokers used in the pattern to any empty space(s) on the board, again only placing a single joker per space. When placing jokers in this manner, a player is forbidden to form another complete pattern with the one exception of forming a pattern entirely out of joker pieces. Doing so immediately wins the game.
If a player completes more than one pattern (which may overlap) by a given move, all his or her pieces in those patterns are replaced by scoring markers.
Also if a player fails to recognize on his or her turn that a pattern has been completed, the next player can show the pattern and replace the pieces with scoring markers just as if they were his or her own pieces.
Unfortunately pictures of the components in the BGG database and online are not available to demonstrate my case but the only imaginable complaint with the components is the marked lack of contrast.
The board is white.
Pieces come in four colors for players: yellow, red, orange and black. Plus clear/transparent pieces are included as wilds. The most obvious issue is that in most lighting, especially for those of us with poor vision, the red and orange have markedly little contrast. The game effectively becomes only a 2-3 player game because either red or orange can be used but not both. The clear on white is less of a problem but also does not contrast well. The paucity of images even on the manufacturer's website makes me think someone has realized this problem and so I hope it will be fixed in future editions.
The rules are thorough, use clear language with clarifying diagrams and cover all situations. The rules do come in a variety of languages and glancing at them, they do all seem to say the same thing as the English rules. Admittedly, I only skimmed the other languages.
The underlying game is a modern variation on a classic style of abstract game, the 5 in a row game; yes, diagonal and orthogonal cross patterns are also goals but that does not fundamentally change anything. Instead of racing to be the first player to make a pattern of 5 pieces, players must also block other players even when those players will not complete a pattern until later. Players also have to balance using the jokers against enabling someone to use them all to win. It modifies a classic game and does something different with it. That is a formula for success.
The flaw in the game is in its execution. The pieces are made to high quality standard but then someone messed up in production. The yellow is an orange-yellow, and the red is an orange-red.While the yellow can be readily distinguished from the other colors, red and orange simply lack reasonable contrast in play.The transparent pieces for the jokers on the white board are not much better. Clearly someone was going for a stylistic theme but did not think it out and test it out enough.
Thus I deem this an excellent game slightly ruined by poor color choices in production. If one is willing to repaint pieces the problem can be solved. I guess that the company has realized the problem as well in that the photos I can locate show a board covered in grit to increase contrast and three player games not using red and orange at the same time.