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Robert Martin
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Thinking Man's Golf is one of the many titles in the 3M Sports line of games. These games all feature a plastic coated board that wraps around the game box. This game's board is double sided, and on each side you'll find 9 holes of golf from famous real courses around the world. You might wonder how 3M managed to capture the game of golf in a board game. Well, like most of their other titles, they did a great job of it. If you're a fan of computer golf games (or the real thing), you'll probably have fun playing this one.

The game comes with a pair of dice, a grease pencil (you actually mark the position of your ball on the gameboard itself), a range finder (a clear plastic grid with holes punched in it), and a chart used for shot calculation.

To start, you roll the dice for wind direction and look up the result on the table. This will give you a modifier you'll apply to all of your hits for the next 9 holes. For instance, if you have a 20 mph E->W wind, all of your shots will be adjusted 2 dots toward the west side of the board.

To take a shot, you first pick your club. You need to estimate how far you want to hit the ball and pick a club that will take you the right distance. You're supposed to pick your club without using the range finder - this is where much of the skill comes into the game. Just like in real golf, you have to estimate where you want to leave the ball, and what the distance to that location is. Once you've picked a club, you line up the range finder on your ball and aim it down the fairway. At this point, you might regret your choice of club, but you're stuck with it. You roll 2 dice for the shot and look up the actual distance it went on the table and find that spot on the range finder. Then you adjust for wind by moving one or two dots in he indicated direction. Finally you roll one more time for hook or slice. This will tell you how many "dots" left or right your ball veered from the path you aimed it on. You mark the spot your ball landed on with the grease pencil. Then you set up for the next shot until you land on the putting green.

Once you're on the green, the game is all luck. The greens have 4 concentric rings marked on them. You roll the die and look up the result on the table for the ring your ball lies in. This tells you how many shots it took to putt the ball into the hole. This is the weakest part of the game, so the real aim of the game is to drop the ball as close to the pin as possible with long shots.

There are a couple of different tables for shooting from under trees and making chip shots. There are also modifiers that are applied when shooting out of the rough, over trees, or from sand traps. The basic mechanic of picking a shot, rolling the dice, then looking up the result is the same though, so it's really just a matter of picking the right table. They are all clearly marked and color coded. It may sound complicated but it's really about the same as what you're used to if you've played Links on the computer. You aim, and then instead of 2 mouse clicks on the computer to set your shot, you have 2 die rolls to make. It's a simple system that works well.

The "skill" in the game comes from a couple of different things. Mainly your skill at distance estimation will get better as you play the game a few times. This is pretty important, especially for those critical shots where you drop the ball onto the green. Also, there is a bit of risk management in the game. Do you use the 1 wood, which has the potential to hook or slice a lot, or do you play it safe and use a lower iron which will not veer off course as much? The lower club will take more shots, but at least you won't end up in the water. Getting familiar with your golfer, his clubs, and how likely it is that the ball will veer off course is key to improving your score. A lot of these decisions will be based on the course and the position of your ball. Although you can improve your game in these ways, there is really no other way to improve your game. The golfer's skill is driven by the dice and the lookup tables. Your contribution to the game comes in deciding how best to approach each shot given that skill. I guess that's why they call it Thinking Man's Golf.

Overall, I think this is a very worthy addition to the 3M Sports line. It's actually one of the better titles. I have to give 3M credit also for using these games as a way to educate people about the sport they model. Once you read the directions and the supplementary materials, you'll know a good bit about golf. Maybe you'll even be ready to go and try a round for real.
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