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Subject: Pipe Laying for Fun (not much profit though) rss

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Gene Warren
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Introduction:

The Very Clever Pipe Game , or VCPG for short, was designed (and oh so modestly named) by James Ernest and published by Cheapass Games. The VCPG is a tile (card) laying abstract strategy game for 2-4 players with an (loosely) estimated playing time of 30 minutes. Cheapass doesn't specify a target age, but I can't see anyone older than 7 having a problem grasping the mechanics. Part of Cheapass's hip pocket line, the VCPG retails for a whopping $4.00.

The theme is basically defined by its mechanics, which involves connecting pipes (and as an option for 2 and mandatory in a 3-4 player game, the underlying steel & stone floors) of a particular color. Any theme present isn't so much pasted on as essentially nonexistent, which suits this particular game just fine. The VCPG isn't going to make you feel like you're a Napoleonic general commanding his troops or a flock of fish-mad penguins, but I guess if you really need a theme you can imagine yourselves as renegade pipe fitters (and masons?) battling for supremacy in a twisted labyrinth of their own making. Happy now?


Components:

Like most Cheapass games, the VCPG ships with a very minimal set of components, in this case a deck of 48 small rectangular cards. That's it. There used to be a version with 120 cards, but they downsized. However unlike most Cheapass games, the VCPG only needs what's in the bag – i.e the 48 cards. They are printed with decent-looking grayscale CG pictures of black and white pipes running over light and dark floors, and while on relatively flimsy card stock (the same as the majority of the hip pocket line) are good for the price. The small deck size also makes the VCPG extremely portable, fully living up to the “hip pocket” moniker. The rules are printed on a small fold-out sheet of paper, clearly cover three game variants and provide examples with pictures.


Setup & Gameplay:

The setup for the VCPG consists of picking a variant, shuffling the deck and picking what colors you're going to play. Also you will need to have an area on which to lay out your pipes, but given the small number and size of the cards, as well as the fact that you will be picking them up off the table as you score, this does not need to be very large and should be agreed upon by the players beforehand. As the VCPG is played on an imaginary, infinite grid, you could make the game take up as large a space as you want – but if you find yourself taking the crosstown bus between moves I doubt you're going to get a lot of repeat plays. Usually people agree to confine it to a relatively local area, like the kitchen table or living room floor.

Gameplay consists of drawing a hand of 9 cards and trying to play a card so that your pipes (or floors) connect to ones of the same color (cards do not have to be played touching other cards), and trying to cap off continuous pipe networks of their color, creating a set which is then collected off the table and scored. Note that a set cannot be scored if it has any open outlets, they must all be capped. A single card is drawn at the end of the turn, and play continues until the deck and player's hands are exhausted, so every single card has been played. The player who collected the greatest number of cards wins. Absent a lot of analysis paralysis-prone players, games can easily come in under the 30 minute mark.

While analysis paralysis could be a problem, it shouldn't be excessive given the relatively light nature of the game and the relative ease with which you can see your available options (except perhaps for the above crosstown bus scenario). Although I suppose you could play this as multi-player solitaire by building completely separate pipe networks, the VCPG will usually involve a lot of player interaction. Since both color pipes run across the same cards, this will probably take the form of A) stealing large chunks of your opponents pipe networks and B) adding more outlets to the massive network they are trying to score, giving you more time to execute option A.


Conclusion:


The VCPG is a great option for anyone (with at least one friend) looking to spend no more on a light, highly portable abstract strategy game than on a gallon of premium unleaded. People who crave lots of colorful components or need to feel like they're part of some epic tale involving wizards, Nazis and crocodile pool parties should look elsewhere (or take massive doses of their preferred hallucinogen) before playing the Very Clever Pipe Game.
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