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Subject: Review of Razzle Dazzle rss

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Chad Ellis
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I was lucky enough to spend lunch and an afternoon at my Dad's house with Don Green, the designer of Razzle Dazzle and other games, as one of the guests. He taught us the rules and I played with one of the other guests, a professor and fellow-gamer.

General Overview:

Razzle Dazzle was designed to recreate as much of the experience of Ultimate Frisbee as possible while keeping the rules and gameplay simple, elegant and turn-based. The result is a game that is extremely easy to learn but fun to play and with plenty of strategic depth. If you like abstract strategy games, Razzle Dazzle is a winner. The only serious argument against buying it is what I call the Cheapass problem. You've already got everything you need to play, so unless you're such a huge fan that you really want the dedicated set or you like to support game designers, you don't really need to buy this one.

Rules and Setup:

The rules to Razzle Dazzle are quite straightforward, one of the signatures of Don's design philosophy:

The game is played on a 7-by-7 checkerboard. Edit: My mistake...it's a 7x8 board, with the players setting up on the short sides. Each player has five pieces that take up the middle five squares on opposite sides of the board. Each piece has a hole in the top where you can place a steel marble that represents the frisbee. At the start of the game you place the ball in your middle piece. The objective is to get the ball to one of your pieces while it is in the opponent's "end zone" (the row he's setting up in).

Players alternate turns. During your turn you may either move one piece that is not carrying the ball or you may throw. All the pieces move like Knights in Chess, including being able to ignore other pieces.

If you throw, you may move the ball from the carrying piece to a "catching" piece if you have an unobstructed horizontal, vertical or diagonal path to the catcher. (To continue the chess analogy, pieces move like Knights and throw like Queens.) However, you aren't limited to one throw. You may throw from piece A to piece B and then from piece B to piece C, and on and on, so long as for each throw you have an unobstructed path to the next catcher.

Play:

Gameplay is fun and engaging, with a nice mix of offense and defense. You can move your pieces to block your opponent's good throwing options or advance them to increase your own threats to score. Ideally, you manage to do both! At first I thought that the lack of variety of piece movement would detract from the strategy, but I don't think this is the case. You have a lot of options on your turn and can adopt a range of strategies, so I think there's plenty of replay value here.

Advanced/Tournament rules:

The basic game is very solid on its own, but the advanced rules are where it supposedly shines. I say supposedly only because I haven't had a chance to play them yet, but intuitively it looks exciting. There are basically two new rules:

1. When you pass, you flip over the piece that just passed. It can't receive the ball until it has moved at least once.
2. If your opponent moves a piece adjacent to your piece that is holding the ball, you must pass on your turn (if possible).

Both of these rules increase the options for defense and are thus likely to make the game last longer. (In particular, in the basic game you can move the ball to an advanced central square which tends to generate a lot of threats while being hard to block. In the advanced game this strategy is easy to disrupt -- you just move next to the piece with the ball and then not only must it throw, it must move before the ball can be thrown back!)

Components:

I wasn't thrilled with the components. The pieces are wood and have a nice feel, but nothing amazing...and they are a bit too close in color. Apparently (according to Green) the person in charge of developing the final product was colorblind. Instead of this leading to pieces that were easy to tell apart even for the colorblind, it seems that he developed the prototype (which had quite strongly contrasting colors) into a final version where it can be hard to tell the sides apart. In my first game, my opponent actually flipped all of his pieces over to help him tell them apart from mine!

The board is also made of wood and it seemed to me that Razzle Dazzle fell into a common pitfall of wanting high-value components (thus wood rather than board/plastic) but also wanting to keep production costs down, so the final result is mixed. It's nice enough, but nothing really special.

The Cheapass problem:

Cheapass won a lot of hearts by building a brand around the idea of only selling games, not bits -- or at least not any bits you didn't already have. A typical Cheapass game will say right on the box (or envelope) that you'll need to provide dice, pawns, coins or whathaveyou.

Razzle Dazzle can be played using any chess or checkers game. The board is just a chess/checkerboard with one edge covered. The pieces have two binary states -- they have the ball or they don't -- and so can be represented by checkers (just "king" the one with the ball) or chess pieces (pawns if you don't have the ball, a piece if you do). Even the advanced rules can be handled without difficulty. If you don't have a board at all, you can just make a 7-by-7 grid on a piece of paper and play pennies vs. nickels. Heads you've got the ball, tails you don't.

I'm not encouraging home-made versions. I'm biased, of course, but even before I started selling games I believed it was worthwhile to buy games I liked. That said, it's not always easy to pay full retail for a set of components that duplicate those you've got lying about the house. If Cheapass had made Razzle Dazzle they might have been tempted just to include the rules and tell you to supply everything else!
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