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Subject: One step forward and a few steps back - a comparison to the original rss

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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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My conversion to Boardgame Geek is now complete. I officially own a game that is done in a language I can't speak. In my defense, I didn't really have much choice. There are no US publishers planning on picking up Ubongo Extrem so I had to import it through German friends. As a huge fan of the original, I really wanted this game. When my fiancee told me she had friends coming from Germany, this seemed to be an opportune time to get my hands on the new version. Luckily for me, BGG has a great translation of the rules so I would have no problem learning how to play. The lousy exchange rate brought the game to about $40 but at least I have the original and its successor. So the important question is, was it worth the time and effort and how does it compare to the original?


Rules

Just like the original Ubongo, the goal of the game is to complete puzzles as fast as possible. 2-4 players sit down with and stack the player boards in a common pile. Nine blue gems and 9 brown gems are laid out off to the side. These are used for scoring and also to track the game rounds. 36 other gems (9 each of red, blue, green, and brown) are placed in the bag along with 4 colored tokens.

During each of the 9 rounds, players take turns drawing a board from the common pile. Each player then draws a token from the gem bag which is used to assign a color to each player for the round. The players then look at their board to see which numbered tiles they will need and take them over near their board. The timer is flipped and the round starts.

As players complete their puzzle, they shout "Ubongo!". The first player to complete his puzzle takes a blue gem and draws a random gem out of the bag. The second player takes a brown gem and draws a random gem as well. The third and fourth players simply draw a random gem each. The gems have value based on their color. Red is worth 4, blue is worth 3, green is worth 2, and brown is worth 1.

After 9 rounds, players add up their total score. The winner is the player with the highest total. In the event of a tie, there is a sudden death playoff with the winner of the extra round winning the game.


Components

The components in Ubongo Extrem are very well done.

For starters, the box is very sturdy and is more than large enough to hold everything with no problems. It features a nice plastic insert that has nice storage for the player boards as well as for the pieces and the gems. Overall, this is a great home for the game. In typical Ubongo fashion, the box is ornately decorated with vibrant colors and great artwork.



The player pieces are colored rather nicely and are easily identified thanks to the large numbers on them. The cardboard is of a good thickness which is very important because these pieces get handled quite a bit. Players have a tendency to be rough with these pieces so I'm glad that they are made of a solid material. They are coated with a slightly textured covering that allows them to move easily on the player boards.



The player boards are also made of a strong stock which is the same as the playing pieces. The boards are nicely detailed and easy to read. Each of the four corners shows the pieces of each color that will be used to complete the puzzle. The numbers are easy to read and the shapes are easy to distinguish which means players should rarely ever grab the wrong piece and if they do it will be their own fault. The graphic presentation on these boards is very nice. Like the pieces, the boards are coated with a slightly textured matte finish that reduces glare and also allows for easy movement of the pieces.



The gems are identical to the pieces in the first game but there are less colors this time due to the change in the scoring mechanism. The purple and yellow are missing this time around. Still, I love the way they look although the overall presentation of them is not nearly as nice as in the original.



The color tokens are made of the same high quality stock as the boards and the pieces. The colors match the colors of the pieces so that players can identify which color they should use each round. The back of each token has the gem values so players can be easily reminded of what their scores are.

The timer in Ubongo Extrem is much slower than in the original. I'm sure this was done to allow extra time for the more complex nature of these puzzles. If you try to use a faster timer, you'll have some serious aggravation on your hands so stick to the one that came with the game. Trust me, you'll need it.

The instruction sheet looks very nice, but alas, I don't speak German so I couldn't read it. Thankfully, there's a great translation here on the Geek.


Gameplay

If you've ever played the original Ubongo, you'll be familiar with the basic crux of the game: Complete puzzles as fast as you can. To this end, Extrem is much like it predecessor. After that however, everything changes.

The most important change, and arguably the only one that makes this game truly different from its ancestor, is the new shape of the pieces. Ubongo used square-based pieces that would remind most people of Tetris. Extrem uses hexagonal pieces in bizarre shapes. The concept of squares is fairly easy to work through but when its turned into hexagons, its a very unfamiliar feeling. The general layout of the original game boards made it much easier to visualize where pieces should go where as these oblong pieces and the strange angles of the hexes make it a much more daunting task. I would say that the easy mode of Extrem is on par with the hard version of the original Ubongo. To this end, I feel that the gameplay of Extrem is big step forward. Its more complex, but not so hard as to be impossible (on the easy level at least). Ubongo's easy level felt way to easy for me and the hard felt just about right so Extrem's easy level feels perfect for me.

While the new level of complexity and the new shapes is a brilliant new twist, everything else seems to be a step backwards.

The scoring mechanism seems to be a bit too random for a game that requires a large amount of brainwork. While there are bonuses for finishing consistently well, the fact remains that a few really lucky draws by other players can swing the game in their favor. Its not completely luck based, but I find it a bit too random. In the original, players were competing for position on the gem tracks and trying to amass a collection of like colored gems. The gems weren't worth points, but instead were only useful in a large group. Players were allowed to move around the gem track based on their performance in each puzzle. There was an extra layer of strategy because players had to plan their position on the gem track in addition to trying to collect and stop other players from collecting. In my opinion, they have the scoring systems backwards. The gem track should most definately be used in Extrem and the random draw should be used in the original. I think they probably just switched the scoring system as another way to differentiate the games, but it really was a bad move. They basically ruined one of the most interesting scoring systems around in favor of a luck based random drawing. This is a big strike against the game as far as I'm concerned.

While the scoring system bothers me, perhaps my biggest gripe is with the color selection. Each round, players draw a color token. This tells them which color they will use to solve their puzzle. Once they know what color they're using, they all grab puzzle cards and then find the corresponding pieces of their color for that puzzle. After all players have their pieces, only then does the timer flip and the round start. This to me is incredibly lame. They have taken the frantic search for the right pieces away that was present in the original game. Players basically have a chance to survey their puzzle and start working on it before the timer even starts. I think there are 2 much better ways to do this:

1. Give each player a color. That player will use that color all game long.

or

2. Players draw colors at the start of each round. They take all the pieces of that color. The timer is flipped and then players need to find the right pieces and solve the puzzle.

Option 2 is probably the better choice however it will slow down the pace of the game quite a bit. Which brings us to our next point....

The timer is much longer in this game than the predecessor. This is obviously done because of the added layer of difficulty, but its still a bit too long. The timer is about 3 minutes so if a player gets done early there's time to get up, go to the bathroom, fix a snack, read the newspaper..... This really seems to ruin the quick pace of the original game and in retrospect that pacing seems to be really important to making the original a great game.


Theme

No theme here. This is a puzzle game. I will say that if there was a theme to the Ubongo series, it would be the colors. So far both games have brought us a vibrant pallette of colors that is presented in a strong yet tasteful fashion.


Compare it to...

If you've made it this far, you know what to compare this one to.


Overall

Ubongo is a great game. Its fast and fun, yet there is an added game within the game that requires thought and choice. The pace is quick. The colors are bright. Ubongo Extrem is none of those things. Its harder, which I appreciate, but there is nothing else thats better. Everything else is a step in the wrong direction. To that end, Extrem will never match the success of the original. Like most sequels, it fails to measure up to its namesake.

I have rated Ubongo a 7.5/10. I like it enough that I would play it whenever asked and I might even suggest it. Extrem will only get a 6/10 from me. Its okay, and I would be willing to play it. But as it stands out of the box, I'll choose the original almost every time. There's too many things about the game that I just don't like. I feel these things are fixable, but as published, the original is a much better game.

Ubongo is a great game that can be used as a way to introduce new players to games and yet is tough enough to satisfy accomplished gamers. It skirts the fine line of being fun and challenging at the same time. Extrem fails to meet those same standards and as such I will choose the original almost every time. If you like the original and you feel like you really need the new game, go ahead and get it. But the original is much better and will be played and remembered far longer than its follow up.

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David Kahnt
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It's fun, it's healthy, it's good exercise. The kids will just love it. And we put a little sand inside to make the experience more pleasant.
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This game is supposed to be harder.... just tell that to Becky (my wife)... she tore through it like a knife through warm butter...

She's not human I tells ya!

... I barely got any of the puzzles...

-DK
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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
United States
Howell
Michigan
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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Its okay Dave....I still like you.
 
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Matt Buckingham
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Steve,

You could always trade it to me (since you do not like it as much as the original)!
 
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Kris Verbeeck
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You allready have it and played it
 
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Tim Seitz
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Excellent review. Answers the question we're most likely to ask.
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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
United States
Howell
Michigan
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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BrenoK wrote:
Well, from reading your review I`d guess nothing stops a fan from getting the score mechanism from the original and apply it to the Extreme version. Myself I like the set-collection variant posted on the Ubongo forums much better than the original rules...


I do my best to review the game as it stands out of the box. You could use whatever scoring system you like. My only problem with that is that I either have to keep the gems out in a neutral location or I have to make up another set of gems. I'm not really a big fan of either choice.
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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
United States
Howell
Michigan
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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BrenoK wrote:
I agree, you should rate what comes in the box.

I'm just mentioning that ubongo fans could use the old system without many problems. I imagined taking the components of the original game. If I bought this version I would probably try to fit its components inside the original box (after tossing the insert, of course) so that I'd have all the ubongo-ness I'd need in one box.


You could probably cram it all in one box. But I love game boxes! I can't bring myself to do it.
 
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Chris Johnson
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I actually prefer this version of scoring to the original by a fairly wide margin; the jockeying around for position, and the way you could be easily screwed on color availability through no fault of your own just didn't sit well.

The scoring in this is significantly better; if you do the math, consistent first place finishes are hard to beat; yes, it's possible, but not likely. If people trade finishing places on a regular basis, yes, the luck of the draw comes in to play, but it *feels* less arbitrary and screwage-laden than the scoring from Ubongo.

As to the delay between piece selection and starting to solve, if you aren't playing with people mature or trustworthy enough to *not* start mentally solving the puzzle as soon as they have their pieces, just have everyone put their hand over the center of their board before they pick their pieces, and remove them when the timer is started.

Giving each player one color of pieces for the whole game is perhaps a bit flawed, as the sets are all different (except for a few pieces in common), and I have my doubts that they are "balanced".

In regard to the timer, you might want to check it; I haven't done mine yet, but the one of someone else's set that I had a chance to test ran with an almost 30-second difference between sides; if mine is that bad, I'll be switching to an electronic timer.

This game is signifcantly more difficult (for most people) than Ubongo, especially on the 4-piece side, and I can't see it appealing to anyone who didn't like the original, and obviously not even to all of them...but I like it, and plan on playing it in preference to Ubongo whenever I have the chance.

edited for speeling [sic] and grammar
 
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Erin Sparks
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We had our first regular Ubongo game last night and switched to starting the timer AFTER picking up the pieces because one player was consistently grabbing the wrong pieces and not discovering it until the timer was done. So we'd probably prefer this version!
 
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