As a matter of fact, I AM the boss of you.
There are certain games that were originally intended for children, but which can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults with the right mindset. This includes games like Loopin’ Louie, in which the sheer silliness of the game is the primary appeal; Trötofant, which Frank Branham brought to last weekend’s Atlanta Game Fest, is an excellent example of this. Frank also brought along Burg Appenzell, which is closer to something like Hase und Igel in my mind – a game that can be satisfactorily played with children, but which also rewards thoughtful play by adults.
Components: The components (reconstructed from memory and BGG photos, so the counts may not be exact) include:
1) A large plastic base which sits inside the box bottom to form the foundation of the titular castle. There are six interlocking rows of pits in the base.
2) 34 square tiles which depict: seven different types of cheese (3 of each type), blank stone floors (10), and pits (3).
3) A semi-perforated square grid (7x7 with the corners missing). 33 of the 45 squares, in six interlocking rows above the pits in the base, are open; the remainder are closed.
4) 18 roof tiles of various sizes (2x1, 3x1, and 2x2).
5) Scoring counters (4 for each of the 7 types of cheese).
6) Mice playing pieces (4 for each player).
7) 4 cardboard “battlements” which enhance the look of the castle and keep mice from falling off their starting locations.
All of these are brightly colored, nicely illustrated, and quite sturdy. A few of the cheese icons look rather similar at first glance, which can occasionally be a problem, but a second look is usually enough to distinguish them. Storage is no problem, although since some of the components need to be stored under the plastic base, it will have to be removed and then replaced each time the game is brought out from storage – not a big deal.
Setup: The game board is set up in layers, but the process is quick and simple. The plastic base is at the bottom. 33 of the 34 square tiles are randomly arranged in those six interlocking rows across the base; the square grid sits atop those, and the roof tiles are in turn arranged atop that according to lines marked on the grid. (The images at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/images/game/28089 will make this a lot clearer than the text alone.) The last square token is set aside in a convenient location, and each player places one of their four mice in one of the corner tower spaces of the board.
Gameplay: Each turn, each player receives four action points, which can be used to do any combination of the following:
1) Lift off a roof tile adjacent to any of your mice to expose the grid and square tiles underneath. This exposes the grid below the roof; the grid spaces above the square tiles are open, revealing the contents of the tiles underneath (or, in the case of the pits, revealing the yawning chasm of the oubliettes beneath the castle).
2) Play a new mouse into any unoccupied corner tower. This is the only way to get your remaining mice into play.
3) Move a mouse one space orthogonally onto any uncovered (roofless) space.
4) Slide the extra square tile into one of the slots at the edge of the board, thus sliding all the tiles in that row over one place and pushing the last tile out the other side. The edges of the grid keep the mice themselves from moving. This can only be done once per turn.
After a player has used all four action points, any uncovered roof sections which do not have mice on them have their roofs replaced, and play passes to the next player.
The objective of all this lifting, moving, and sliding is to get mice of your color onto two matching cheese tiles at the same time. Whenever this happens, you collect the matching cheese counter, and the first person to get four different cheese counters wins. We played to five rather than four at AGF, which seems like a better choice for adult players, and the game still took no longer than 15-20 minutes.
If a mouse ever moves onto a pit (or, more likely, has a pit moved beneath it), it falls into the dungeons below the castle and is out of the game.
Tactics: At first glance, this seems like a fairly straightforward memory game; uncover the matching cheeses, remember where they are, and get your mice onto them before the other players do. However, the sliding tiles add a layer of complexity atop that simple base. You can slide a matching cheese tile under one of your own mice, slide a pit under an opponent, move cheese into a more (or less) desirable location for the future, or just add a little more uncertainty to a covered area of the board. And, just as with more complex action point games, you never seem to have quite enough points to do everything you want.
Conclusion: While it will never be mistaken for Caylus, Burg Appenzell is a fun, fast-playing, light game with a reasonable amount of tactical play and a satisfying physical play experience. Maybe I'm just a sucker for multi-level sliding game boards, but I found the physical interaction of the tiles, grid, and base very rewarding; it's like playing a dexterity game without having to be coordinated.
Gamers with kids can probably use Burg Appenzell as a stepping-stone for those youngsters who are ready to move beyond simple roll-and-move games, but who aren’t ready for full adult-level strategy just yet. It could serve as a nice introduction to concepts like defensive play, the use of action points, and the necessity to look ahead a move or two. And when the kids go to bed, it can still be a satisfying filler for adults, neither too taxing on the brain nor too fluffy. With two players, I imagine it could get very tactical indeed. Recommended.