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Subject: Reviewing lesser-known gems . . . Pikemen rss

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United States
New York
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This is the second in a series of reviews for games that have fewer than 3.
I will specifically focus on how the games play, rather than components, etc.

So, what is Pikemen?

Pikemen is an abstract strategy game, scalable from 2 - 4 players, played on a chessboard with Icehouse pyramids. Players attempt to capture 12 points worth of opposing pyramids. Games last 10 - 15 minutes.

The rules to Pikemen were originally published in Playing With Pyramids.

How do I play Pikemen?

Pikemen is played on a chessboard, with each player controlling (depending on the number of players) between 9 and 15 pyramids in 3 sizes. The starting position of the pyramids is different for 2-, 3- or 4-player games, but each setup is surprisingly balanced, with players starting on equal footing.

All pyramids begin play upright, and on each turn a player may either reorient a single pyramid or move then reorient a single pyramid.

Orienting a pyramid consists of pointing it "flat" in one of the 8 diagonal or orthogonal directions, or setting an already oriented pyramid upright.

A pyramid pointing in one of the 8 directions may move any number of empty squares, possibly capture, then reorient.

A capture of an opponent's pyramid occurs when an attacker enters a square with a non-upright pyramid. A pyramid may also be captured if it is smaller than the attacker. So a 1-pip pyramid can only capture a flat pyramid, and nothing can capture an upright 3-pip pyramid.

Captured pyramids are worth their pip-count in points, and the game ends immediately when one player captures 12 or more points.

Why should I play Pikemen?

Pikemen utilizes an unusual and interesting mechanic, balancing the
offensive and defensive attributes of the pieces. By design, it is
literally impossible to threaten an opponent without exposing your own
pieces to attack.

This leads to a fascinating back-and-forth dynamic of threat and counter-threat, with forks and pins in all directions.

The rules are simple, and quickly understood, but nuances of gameplay continue to appear game after game.

2-player Pikemen is a tight, tactical affair. The ability to "look-ahead" is important, but in practice it is still possible for "flair" plays to swing a game.

Multi-player Pikemen, on the other hand is a chaotic whirlwind, where it is never possible to protect all of your pieces from threats on 2 or 3 sides, so flexibility and (ironically) a longer term strategy tends to win the day.

For any number of players, the 12 point victory condition ensures that the games are offense oriented, with 1-pip pyramids used as cannon-fodder and 2-pip pyramids usually deciding the winner. The loss of a 3-pip pyramid is rare, but can often be a game-turner if sacrificed at the right time.

In conclusion?

I rate Pikemen a 9, and will always be thankful to the game for introducing me to all things Icehouse. After more than 50 recorded plays, I continue to find new and interesting situations, and that's just in my favored 2-player version.

It is rare to find a pure abstract that scales well above 2-players, but Pikemen does so very effectively. I find that multi-player Pikemen still has much to explore.

Pikemen is a must-play for fans of the Icehouse Gaming System, and likely to be a hit with fans of entirely theme-free abstracts. However, it can come off as dry for people who prefer a back-story with their game, and can lock up a player prone to Analysis Paralysis. You have been warned . . .

[Feel free to challenge me any time at My screenname there as here is nycavri.]

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David Molnar
United States
New Jersey
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Well, so far I'm really enjoying the series on "Games molnar has beaten nycavri in at". Hopefully Dipole will be next...I'll have to try 4-player.
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