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Subject: Isi Review from 2000 rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
United States
Plymouth
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"To be honorable and just is our only defense against men without honor or justice." -Diogenes of Sinope
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(Reviewer's note: Isi has since been superseded by Morisi. You can still find copies of Isi, though.)

Isi is a two-player game that is quite intriguing. The game is currently produced by hand by Cwali, but I wouldn't be surprised if a larger manufacturer picked it up. To be honest, I haven't yet played it enough to know how the replay value is. It may hold up okay, but it may not. I have this nagging fear that one will come to recognize patterns and play might become fairly automatic. But I could be wrong - I hope so, because I'm enjoying it immensely right now.

The game consists of 33 square tiles: eight city tiles, and five each of five different terrains. In its current hand-made mode, these are simply attractively painted colors: blue for water, green for forest, etc., with cities being black. In addition to the tiles, there are a number small wooden houses, 50 wooden blocks matching the tile colors (10 each color), and road tokens in two different colors, plus a pawn per player that matches the road tokens. The road pieces resemble roads in Catan.

The game begins by shuffling the 33 tiles and laying them out, upside down, within a 6x7 square. Obviously, there will be 9 blank spaces, and this is where I'm hoping a high replay value will come in - I haven't yet explored some of the more bizarre possibilities, such as a 3x3 hole near the middle of the board. The only real rules about tile placement, beyond the 6x7 limitation, are that no one knows which terrain is which until they're turned face up, and that each tile must be adjacent to at least two other tiles. Once tiles are placed, flip them face up, snug them up, place two wooden blocks of the appropriate color on each of the terrain tiles, and you're ready to begin.

The first player places his pawn anywhere on the board, and collects a wooden block if he started on a terrain space (recommended). Then the second player does the same, after which the players begin taking their turns.

On a turn, a player may do two things: move his pawn (mandatory) and build a road (optional). Pawns move orthogonally only - no diagonal movement allowed. If you land on a space with one or two wooden blocks, you may pick one up. You may not land on the space your opponent occupies, but you may jump over him.

Building a road requires wooden blocks of the correct color: you must have a block of the color of the tile you are building to, one block per road piece laid. You build roads between cities - you can't have a dead-end. You can't build to a city, only from one. You can also build to or from an existing road. As an example, consider the following crude ASCII graphic:

Code: C# = City; x = existing road; r,b,g,y,o = tile colors

-------------------------
| | b | | | C1 is connected to C3 by a road.
| C1 xxxxx | g | C2 | You may connect C2 either directly
| | x | | | to C3 by building through tiles y
---------x--------------- and o, or by simply building through
| | x | | | tile g to the existing road in b. The
| r | C3 | y | o | latter would also connect C2 to C1,
| | | | | while the former would not.
-------------------------


So in order to connect C2 to the existing road, you would need two wooden blocks on hand, that you had already picked up with your pawn movement. At least one block would have to be green; the other block could be green (you could build one road from C2 to g, and the other section from the blue tile to g) or blue (in that case, you be building from C2 to g, then from g to b).

There can only be one road over each tile edge - thus, your opponent could not build a road along the route shown by xxxxx above. He could still connect C1 to C3 simply by going through space r, which would require two red blocks.

When a city is first connected to another city, put a house in each city. In the illustration above, C1 and C3 would each have one house, C2 would not have a house. If C2 is connected to the road junction in the blue square, each of the three cities would have two houses in them. But if C2 is connected to C3 through squares y and o, only C3 would have two houses - C1 and C2 would each have one house. This is because only direct connections between cities count - C2 cannot connect to C1 through C3.

The city with the most houses at the end of the game is the Capital. The player with the most connections to the Capital is the winner.

So the game becomes one of grabbing the best routes first, and trying to lock your opponent out of key cities. Since there are eight cities, the maximum number of houses a city can have is seven. Ideally, you want to connect all seven other cities to one city that you've locked your opponent out of! This is not easy to do, though, since you're alternating turns. Nonetheless, I have lost this game 6-0, so it's theoretically possible. Most of our games are 6-5, or 5-4, though - they tend to be close and tense. (The one slaughter was a sudden change of Capital on the last turn of the game, the scoundrel.)

It's not as cerebral as it sounds, but it's definitely more of a thinking game than a light-hearted fun game. While not as cerebral as, say, Kahuna or Druidenwalzer, it still takes some thought. But it is fun, and it's short enough that we usually play two or three games in a row when we pull it out. My only concern is that as we play more we'll recognize key patterns of cities to control, and the game may become one of simply putting ourselves through the paces. It certainly hasn't happened yet, and it may not ever happen, but I thought I should let you know I'm still fairly new to the game.

In the meantime, though, I'm enjoying the game immensely. Recommended.
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