Introducing Montage

What I'm reviewing today is a brand new 2011 edition of a game that's been around since 1973. So why should you care? Montage is a word game, and maybe you've seen a lot of word games in your time - why should you even be even slightly interested in this one? Even if you've never heard of this holy grail before, it's well worth a look, because this is no ordinary word game. It requires exactly four players because it works in partnerships, and this team-play aspect really makes it stand out above most other word games. Well consider the following:

• Fact: It has an average BGG rating of 7.66 (which is higher than games like Ra, Small World, Memoir 44, and Space Alert), i.e. people who've played and rated it like it a lot.
• Fact: Prices in the BGG Marketplace have ranged from $50 to $200, i.e. it's in demand and usually costs a premium.
• Fact: There's one for sale on eBay right now for $100, which has been a typical going price for the last few years.

Now maybe none of that convinces you that this grail game is worth looking at. So let me just bring in some other respected BGGers for a moment - one Scott Alden (AKA Aldie) among them - and have them tell you what they think about Montage:

"I'm amazed at the genius of this game. Clever as hell... and really fun." Rating: 9 - Scott Alden (Aldie)
"Brilliant game, and I'm not normally a wordgame fan." Rating: 8 - David Kuznick
"Outstanding word/deduction game." Rating: 9 - Dave VanderArk
"Probably the best word game I've ever played." Rating: 8 - Craig Berg
"Excellent game. Plays much faster than you would expect." Rating: 10 - Robert Jones
"Brilliant, clever game, that rewards imagination and wit." Rating: 9 - Mitchell Thomashow
"Great word/crossword game, very fun to come up with clues and plays quite quickly." Rating: 8 - David Fair
"A word game that tests your vocabulary, wit, empathy, visualization, and quick thinking. And oh yeah, it's consistently laugh out loud funny! Not a game for everyone, but for those who appreciate it, it thoroughly deserves its exalted reputation." - Larry Levy
"Gotta be in the right mood and have the right 4 players for this one. But if you do... almost nothing better. Besides, *you* try designing a really good crossword puzzle game." Rating: 9 - David Arnott
"Brilliant." Rating: 10 - Stephen Glenn


And more than one person has begged for a reprint:

"This is an incredible game, and it is astounding that it has not been reprinted." Rating: 9 - Rob Derrick
"Great game ... sure wish some publisher would realize that this game is crying out for a re-release. I sure haven't seen anything like it." Rating: 8.5 - Kevin Cachia
"Awesome combination of word and knowledge/trivia game. And the best part is players make up the trivia themselves. This game is out of print, I believe ... I would love to see a publisher pick up Montage." Rating: 8 - Charles Bahl
"A fine word game. Deserves reprinting." Rating: 8 - Jason Matthews
"This is a fantastic partnership word game, where cleverness and empathy are always rewarded. Huge fun, very challenging, and always a lot of laughs. This is a game that desperately needs to be reprinted." - Larry Levy
"This is one I would love to play/have for trips, but cannot see paying current prices for." - Jonathan Franklin
"The ultimate word game. This game is so out of print. A lost gem. Worthy of a much wider audience." Rating: 10 - Stephen Glenn
"Possibly the most ingenious word game ever invented. Very difficult to play well, and a very rewarding partnership game. You probably will not see a copy in your lifetime." - Robert Rossney


Well Rob, Kevin, Charles, Jason, Larry, Jonathan, Stephen, Robert, and the rest of you, I've got good news for you: this worthy game has finally received the long awaited reprint. And Robert, that means that people can see a copy in their lifetime, and even own one - without needing to spend upwards of $100 to get it! With the help of a Kickstarter drive to determine that there was enough interest in this title, it's now available from Gryphon Games in a brand new reprint. Let's show you the new edition, and explain how the game works.


If the hints for this five-letter word are "I'm Adam Palindrome", what is the solution?

COMPONENTS

Game box

There are two things that immediately struck me when I had the box in my hands the first time. The first impression is a `retro' feeling, and that's because the artwork made me feel like I was back in the 70s, sitting on an orange sofa in a room with orange carpet. Hey, I was born in the 70s, so that's not all bad. The second impression was one of quality, which was evident right away from the heft and feel of the box, which is extremely sturdy, and has a quality linen feel. It's the kind of box that you just want to run your hand over back and forth several times, because it feels eminently satisfying to be the owner of a quality product like this.


Box cover

The back of the box shows you what the game looks like when it's in play. You're also immediately assured that the `retro' feeling isn't going to go away any time soon, because it's the style that's been used for the game components too. But more importantly, the back of the box tells us something about how to play the game: "Montage combines the strategic excitement of solving crossword puzzles, word-guessing and clue-giving games with the pleasure of creating an original work of art as you play the game."


Box back

Okay, so the part about words as art and creating works of art is a bit overstated. But the next bit is important:
"Montage is a partnership-based word game for 4 players using a board of 9 `zones' and lots of colored chips. Each of the 5 different colored chips represents 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet and so all words are made with colors. The team that controls 4 zones first wins the game." We get our first glimpse of all these coloured chips with our initial look inside the box:


Component tray

Component list

So what do you all get with the game?

• 1 game board
• 50 brown pips
• 240 colored chips
• 4 player reference cards
• 1 pointer
• 1 timer
• rule-book and board pattern sheet


Everything inside the box

Game Board

The board is a very large square board (that folds into quarters), and is extremely well constructed and should stand up well to years of use. Maybe you can buy it now as an investment, so that you can sell it for $1000 on eBay in 30 years time! The chief feature of the board is that it is divided into 9 square zones. The game is played in partnerships of two players each, and the aim is to win control of four zones. Each zone has circles on it, and this is where the colored chips (which represent letters) will be placed. Consider the board as your sandbox for a giant multi-player crossword puzzle!


Game board

Brown pips

Crossword puzzles have black squares right? These are represented in the game with black pips, and they'll be placed on the board at the start of the game to indicate the size and location of words that will fit inside this giant crossword puzzle.


All the brown pips

The game comes with a board pattern sheet with 26 different patterns that you can start the game with (conveniently named with countries that start with letters A through Z). These add variety to the game's setup, and can increase the level of difficulty. Obviously starting setups with shorter words are easier for beginners, which is why the `America' set-up is recommended for the first time you play. But don't think that you need to be using all 26 - the game's replayability is limited only by your own vocabulary and creativity, not by the number of starting configurations!


Patterns A through I

Coloured chips

Letters in this game are represented by coloured chips, which come in five different colours: red, orange, green, blue, and purple.


All the coloured letter chips

They are double sided, with a black pattern on one side and a white pattern on the other. These patterns correspond to the two teams - the team that wins a word and gets to place corresponding chips on the letter spaces on the board, will place the chips with their coloured pattern (black or white) facing up.


Double-sided chips (black and white) in five colours

Reference cards

As for what letters the chips represent - that is indicated on the reference cards, and there's four of these so that each player can have their own reference card.


Reference card for a White team player

Each colour can represent several letters, as follows:
orange = A B C D or Z
red = E F G H or J
purple = I L M N or K
blue = O P R S or Q
green is U T V W Y or X

For example, the chips GREEN ORANGE ORANGE would represent a three letter word, and possible solutions could be TAB or WAD. Any letter can go in a blank space, so for example if the clue was GREEN BLANK ORANGE, a possible solution would be TUB, and if guessed correctly a green chip (representing a U) would be placed as the middle letter. Now aint that concept ingenious?!

Pointer

The bright yellow arrow is used by the player whose turn it is, in order to point to the starting letter and the direction of the word that he will give clues for.


The yellow arrow pointer

Timer

A one minute sand timer is provided, since this is the time limit that players have to give clues and guess the chosen word.


The one-minute sand timer

Rule-book

You can download the latest rulebook right here on BGG.


Rule book cover

It consists of six pages, along with a couple of pictures. It could have benefited from a few more illustrations and even some re-formatting. Using terms like "Quizzer", "Partner" and "Responder" gives it a somewhat heavy, high-brow and formal tone, and upon first reading the rules the game might seem more complicated than it really is. Don't let this put you off - the game is actually quite easy to learn, and I was able to explain it to children as young as 11 and 12 in under five minutes.


Sample spread from the rule book

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

1. Place brown pips: Choose one of the symmetrical patterns (e.g. the America set-up), and place all the brown pips on the board corresponding to that pattern. These represent the "black" squares of your crossword puzzle.

2. Place initial chips: You'll also notice some yellow circles on the board in a diamond shape. Randomly place coloured letter chips on these circles, with the white/black side up as indicated by the colour in those circles. These represent your initial letter chips on the board.


A set-up using the `America' pattern

The game is played in partnerships, so the two players on the White team sit opposite each other, as do the two players on the Black team. Let's play!

Flow of Play

The basic flow of play is that the player whose turn it is gets one minute to give a clue (up to five words long) for an open word space on the board, which his partner must correctly guess before both opponents can guess it. Here's how it works in a little more detail:

a) The active player chooses a word and gives clues

1. Select an open space and a secret word. Let's say it's your turn. With the timer running, place the pointer next to the first letter of the secret word you wish to make. You can go left or right, or up or downThe edge of the board and the brown chips will indicate to other players how long your word is. At the start of the game you must choose words in your "home zone", which is the 5x5 area directly in front of you. The word must also have at least one colored chip in it. So there are at least 8 open word possibilities you can choose from at the beginning of the game.


Some of the initial open word possibilities in your home zone

The coloured chips represent one of a group of letters. If you choose a three letter word that was represented on the board as ORANGE BLANK BLANK, then your secret word could be ANT, BAT, CUT, DOG or any three letter word beginning with an A B C D or Z. Words can even be proper nouns or slang. Let's say we choose the word "CAT".


Let's play. Can you think of a five letter word that would fit here?

In the example above, the player whose turn it is would have to think of a five letter word, where the second letter is a O P R S or Q, and the fourth letter is a A B C D or Z.

2. Give clues. Now you give the other players your `crossword-style' clues to your secret word. You can say a maximum of five words as your clue, and anything is permissible except "rhymes with", or "opposite of". So for the word "CAT" we might give as clue "Likes eating mice" or "The `blank' in the Hat" or "Domestic pet with whiskers". Try to give a clue that your partner might be able to guess before both of your opponents!

b) The other players compete to guess the word

1. Knock and guess. If the other players think that they know the word, they knock on the table. If your partner is the first or second player to knock, he immediately states his guess. If both your opponents beat your partner to knocking, then you point at one of them, and they must guess. If only one opponent knocks and your partner can't think of anything before the one minute is up, then that opponent gets to guess. If everyone knocks in rapid succession, then the opponents again get to guess first, so you don't want to make the clues too easy! The key thing to remember is: make sure your partner knocks first or second!

2. Place chips. If your partner's guess is correct, then you place chips on the board for the word with your coloured pattern (white or black) on the top. Note that a word different than the secret word is acceptable as a correct guess, as long as it fits the clues and any coloured chips on the board. On the other hand if the opponents earned the right to guess and if their guess is correct, they get to place chips on the board for the word with their coloured pattern. If someone's guess is incorrect (i.e. it doesn't fit the clue or the coloured chips or the number of letters), the opposing team gets to fill in the word with their chips instead. The only time no chips are placed is if nobody knocks before the one minute time limit is up.


A colourful three letter word won by Black

Turn order

Turn order goes around the table clock-wise with one exception: if your secret word uses at least two spaces with letter chips that are already on the board, and your partner correctly guesses your word, you may go again. This is an incentive for players to choose harder words that include more chips, rather than words with just a single chip.

End of Game

Winning a Zone

Initially you are limited to selecting words that are in your home zone or have at least two letter spaces in your home zone. However when one team has at least 10 chips with their coloured pattern (white or black) face up in a zone, they win that zone - all chips in that zone are turned to show their team colour (white or black), and the remaining empty spaces in that zone are filled with random chips of that colour as well. Now you may play words in your "home side" (i.e. both zones besides your home zone), and if these are completed as well, you may play words anywhere on the board.


Black has just won this zone, so now all the chips in this zone can be turned to black side up

Winning the Game

The first team to win four of the nine zones wins the game!


The winning word, as Black achieves a decisive 4-1 victory

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

So what makes Montage work so well? There's a few things about the game that I really like:

The partnerships. One of the things that I really, really like about Montage is how it works with partnerships. Unlike Scrabble and many other word games, this isn't about a one-man show, where a genius at words can quickly make the game un-fun for everyone else. There's definitely skill required, but you have to work well with your partner, and winning requires a team effort. I like the fact that the game gives a slight advantage to the team whose turn it is - the partner doesn't have to be first to knock, but as long as he beats out both partners knocking and can guess correctly, you retain control. This can give one partnership a certain momentum, or even mount an unexpected comeback. Having partnerships also develops a healthy sense of competition and team spirit, as the opposing team tries to both beat out the partner of the active player to making a correct guess. As an opponent, you can even bluff and knock when you don't know the answer - but it will backfire if you're the player that is pointed to and you can't come up with the right solution!

The clock. Using a timer prevents the game from being frozen by analysis paralysis, and keeps it fast paced. My only real criticism of the game is that having two sand-timers instead of just one would have been a good idea. Having only a single timer means that if a word is guessed well before the time limit, the game is held up as you wait for the sand-timer to run down to zero before commencing the next turn. Our solution was to substitute this with a cheap 1 minute digital timer that sounds an alarm after 60 seconds, and can be re-set at any moment. But in principle the use of a clock is an excellent part of the game, because it prevents players taking too long over coming up with clues or making guesses. Ideally you want to play a word that includes at least two chips on the board, so that you can retain the turn if your partner makes a successful guess, but sometimes the time pressure also plays a role in forcing you to go for a simpler word, and thus pass control to the other team. Because the game moves quickly, often you need to think in advance, and if the other partnership is struggling to think of a clue, you do well to think on their time and consider possible words and clues to use on your next turn.

The concept. Crossword puzzles aren't exactly the easiest concept to implement in a board game. As such, this game is really an outstanding accomplishment by designer Joli Quentin Kansil. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, because he's also designed some other terrific word games, like What's My Word?. Fans of crossword puzzles and of word games are bound to appreciate the design and ideas behind Montage.

The accessibility. As some of the comments indicate, even some of the folks who don't usually enjoy word games might find something to like with Montage. I think the reason for this is that while it does require skill, quick thinking, and a good vocabulary, this is mitigated by the fact that you are working as part of a team, so your partner will need to be on the same wavelength as you, and the fact that that time pressure keeps the game flowing. To my surprise, Montage even proved popular with the pre-teens that I introduced it to. On another occasion, my 11 year old and 13 year old soundly defeated my partnership with my 15 year old! The fact that the game plays quite quickly also helps sustain interest - as proof of this, in one instance my children even requested a second game back-to-back after the first!

The components. I admit that I rolled my eyes a little when I first saw the artwork and colours used in the game, which really reminded me of a throw-back to the 70s. But I admit that it's really grown on me since. The actual quality of the board and the cardboard pips and chips is absolutely outstanding, and the publisher is to be commended for producing a real quality product to match the quality of the design.

The fun factor. Overall Montage comes together as a neat package that requires skill and teamwork, creates tension, and is a whole lot of fun! Can you come up with cross-word style clues for your secret word which your partner can figure out before your two opponents? Sometimes you'll need to resort to bluffing and even out-thinking yourself, and under the pressure of time and with the help of friendly competition, you'll find that there are times where some funny laugh-out-loud answers are produced!



Recommendation

So is Montage a game for you? I can only echo some of the adjectives used by others in the introduction: brilliant, outstanding, excellent, and clever. If you enjoy word games at all, go pick this up!


A very close game, as each team has 3 zones!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

Subscribe to this list to be notified when new reviews are posted.
48 
 Thumb up
0.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kevin Cachia
United States
Springfield
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Comprehensive indeed. Thanks Ender, I don't think I've ever been quoted in a review before. Though obviously, I need to update my comment on the game now that some publisher actually has reprinted Montage.

I played Anthony Rubbo's homemade copy a few times aeons ago and have been itching to have a set of my own ever since. I agree the quality of the components is quite high, thick sturdy cardboard indeed.

I had the same initial reaction to the retro design, but unlike you, it has not grown on me. I may have softened a little on the box art since I got my copy, but still, kind of meh. I haven't played the new edition, but I feel the black/white design of the colored discs could have been better. It doesn't seem to me like it would be easy to tell the count in a zone at a glance. Not that you can't tell the sides apart, but I think if the differentiator were, for example, a bright ring on the outside of the chip, my eyes could scan the board more quickly. Perhaps when I do get to play I'll feel differently.

I do like your point about the second timer, though there may be another option with just the one. When I played with Ant, I vaguely remember that after the knocking the time was placed on its side, and after the guessing it was turned up and that was how much time the active player had to place the pointer on their next spot. You'd have to ask him to clarify that further, was probably a house rule of his, but I'm sure it helped keep the game moving at a frantic pace.

A fine review, but you left out one part. How do I get 3 of my friends together to play it?
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
kevinwho wrote:
I haven't played the new edition, but I feel the black/white design of the colored discs could have been better. It doesn't seem to me like it would be easy to tell the count in a zone at a glance. Not that you can't tell the sides apart, but I think if the differentiator were, for example, a bright ring on the outside of the chip, my eyes could scan the board more quickly.
You have a good point, actually, and I'm inclined to agree. The yellow circles on the board for seeding the set-up chips were marked with white and black circles, and something similar may have been possible with the chips themselves.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Deb Wentworth
United States
Minneapolis
Minnesota
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
My copy just arrived - purchase based largely on your review!

While I haven't played it yet, I can see that the busy, multi-colored disks are going to make it very hard for me to recognize patterns - it's visual overload.

I would have much preferred solid color disks, perhaps rimmed in either black or white. I'd love to hear if someone thinks of components that can be substituted for these.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Alan Saunders
United Kingdom
Egham
Surrey
flag msg tools
mbmbmb
hmm just looking at the pics in the review, it seems pretty easy for me to tell white from black apart - from those pics at least I'm not having too much problem scanning the board

my wife would love this game - might well have to buy
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Brendel
United States
Atlanta
Georgia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
EndersGame wrote:
The game comes with a board pattern sheet with 26 different patterns that you can start the game with (conveniently named with countries that start with letters A through Z). These add variety to the game's setup, and can increase the level of difficulty. Obviously starting setups with shorter words are easier for beginners, which is why the `America' set-up is recommended for the first time you play. But don't think that you need to be using all 26 - the game's replayability is limited only by your own vocabulary and creativity, not by the number of starting configurations!
I just got my copy, and I was immediately curious to see which country names were used. There are actually only 25, not that it matters, but what I find interesting is that they include Xanadu (not a country, but then there aren't any X countries) and not Qatar!

Now to see if I can get this played over the holidays.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lee Fisher
United States
Downingtown
PA
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Squidd wrote:
EndersGame wrote:
The game comes with a board pattern sheet with 26 different patterns that you can start the game with (conveniently named with countries that start with letters A through Z). These add variety to the game's setup, and can increase the level of difficulty. Obviously starting setups with shorter words are easier for beginners, which is why the `America' set-up is recommended for the first time you play. But don't think that you need to be using all 26 - the game's replayability is limited only by your own vocabulary and creativity, not by the number of starting configurations!
I just got my copy, and I was immediately curious to see which country names were used. There are actually only 25, not that it matters, but what I find interesting is that they include Xanadu (not a country, but then there aren't any X countries) and not Qatar!

Now to see if I can get this played over the holidays.
Xanadu Leisure, Ltd. is Joli's company so of course they include that!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
flag msg tools
/geeklist/240879
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Quote:
I admit that I rolled my eyes a little when I first saw the artwork and colours used in the game, which really reminded me of a throw-back to the 70s.
Isn't this what reprints should be about? Don't mess with the game too much unless it's absolutely necessary? That's why everyone wants it re-printed, right? To emulate that 70's feel (since that's actually when it was designed)? Solid color dots (as mentioned in another comment) wouldn't improve the game enough in my opinion, only cheapen it such that it doesn't honor the original design.

I just got to play an original copy of this game last week. I love that this new version has the same artwork on the tiles...I really like the 'stained glass' sort of look it has and the satisfaction of a nice looking piece of 'art' when the game is over. I also think the amorphous nature of the tile design first, directly contradicts (and yet enhances) the rectilinear rigidity of the board, and second, suggests the ambiguous nature of what 'words' are represented by the tiles.

I AM curious as to how this game looks to color-blind players...changing it to make it more accessible would perhaps warrant deviation from the original design.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Gianni Cottogni
Italy
Torino
European Union
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Just found a shrinkwrapped copy on Amazon.it for €20.65.

Now I'm curious to see how the game goes with the Italian language.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls