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Subject: A connection game with unique geometry rss

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Laszlo Molnar
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Topology is my first Nestorgames game. My first impression on these games is that they are high quality and I truly admire Néstor for his effort on publishing new and interesting abstracts even by unknown designers - but these games are a bit too expensive. I know it is because this is a small publisher with small print runs and unmatched quality but to pay 27 euros for a game so small (it really fits in my pocket) and unknown (unknown designer, only a few ratings) seems to be too much, however durable and quality the components are.. But well, I won’t complain much – I got this game free* and I have already ordered and payed for 4 other games that are on their way to Hungary from Spain.

(*I got a review copy of this game and I felt and still feel ashamed that it took one year to write this review of the game. The reason was that while I liked the game I had some problems with it – but I didn’t want to write an unfair review so I wanted to play this game more to see if my concerns are valid or not. And then, as my daughter was born she took almost all the time away from us and when we played board games my wife wasn’t in the mood to learn abstracts.)


What do you get?

You get a ‘usual’ nestorgames bag, 52 tiles and a photocopied rulebook inside. The double-hex tiles look good – the original beige-black tiles represented the “theme” a bit better but these tiles have a more elegant feel.
Maybe a tiny bit too elegant: the tiles are very shiny and you can even see your fingerprint on them. I’m a bit afraid these are also going to have scratches soon but I can’t be sure.
Also the tiles are so shiny and smooth on both sides that if you play the game on a shiny surface (like a glass table) they are a bit hard to keep together – you should play it on a tablecloth instead.
And one more small concern: the tiles are a bit small; they could be 1.5 times the size and then it would be easier to see the scores even with older eyes.


How do you play the game?

When it’s your turn you reveal 3 tiles (in a 2-player game) and place them adjacent to the tiles already placed. Your aim is to create loops as only the loops you create in your turn bring you points (each ring section gives you one point). Well, that’s not completely true: you also score the value of an inner ring in addition to the actually closed outer ring if you managed to create a ring that surrounded other rings (created previously or in the same turn). So if you closed and surrounded a ring in the same turn, the inner ring is scored twice (once for closing it and once for surrounding it).
It’s not written in the rules but it also means that if you manage to create 3 rings in each other the same turn, you score the outer ring once, the middle ring twice (once for closing it and once for surrounding it) and the innermost ring three times (once for closing it, once for surrounding it with the middle ring and once for surrounding it with the outer ring). If you want the extreme, watch this image (obviously set up by the photographer who also happens to be me) :

If I closed all the loops in the same turn,
I get 2 points for the loop in the middle.
I get 4 points for the loop around it + 2 points for the first loop.
I get 6+4+2 points for the third loop as it contains two loops.
I get 10+6+4+2 points for the fourth loop.
So that means I get 2+4+2+6+4+2+10+6+4+2=42 points in this round.
Of course this won’t happen in every second game; it’s more probable that players score 10-12ish points each round (in a 2-player game).

The game is highly tactical. It might be your cup of tea or not; I can’t tell you how you are going to like the game. What you do in your turn is try to find the optimal way to place the tiles – placing them in a way that they give you the maximum possible number of points while you don’t leave easy possibilities for closing huge rings for your opponents. So it’s more like a puzzle game; no real forward planning is possible.
It’s still enjoyable in its own way, also the shapes provide a very original look and original placement situations. So while the genre and style of the game is not that revolutionary, the geometry of the tiles make it special and unique.

In a 3- or 4-player game you place only 2 tiles which is reasonable: this game is rather AP-inducing. In a 2-player game you might have the patience to wait until your opponent finds the best placement combination for the 3 tiles but if you had to wait for 3 players to do the same the downtime would be just too much. Even with the 2-tile rule I’d say the downtime can get too long if you are playing with slow players. But well, it’s not an action game, it’s more like a puzzle game so you have to give time for everyone to solve their puzzle (although a 1-minute sandtimer could make it fun. )

And then you have the advanced game rules for 2 players, where after revealing the second tile you can decide to draw a third tile or rotate an already placed tile 180°. It opens up great possibilities – but be warned: it slows the already slow game down, and slows it down significantly. I don’t have problem with it but I know many BGGeeks do.

It is an AP-inducing, slow and very tactical game. These are not curse words but for some gamers they are – just know what to expect.
It is also important to note that while in case of many other connection tile laying abstracts you just place one tile next to the already placed tiles, here you can really use your imagination and creativity to bring the best out of the tiles you have. Especially in a 2-player game it’s almost impossible that you get 3 tiles and aren’t able to score at least a few points. So you surely won’t curse your luck as it’s sure you will score points – the question is only if you find the optimal way to score the maximum points. So while this is the aspect of the game that makes it very AP-inducing, at the same time this is what makes it creative and more interesting.


Problems
I like the idea of the game and small problems aside, I also like the look of the components.
Still, I have some concerns.

First, the rulebook. It is simple enough – but it doesn’t cover everything. It feels like the rulebook wasn’t tested well – it leaves more than one question open, which seems to be strange for such a simple ruleset.
For example the rulebook doesn’t say anything about what happens if you create multiple loops inside each other – luckily the designer was ready to answer this question, see above.
The rules of the advanced variant also make it possible that the last player in turn (the player who is going to place the last tiles in the game) does not have 3 tiles to place, only 2 or only 1. So what happens then? Do they still place those last tiles? If yes, then how? If there are 2 tiles left, do I have to choose to turn a tile as a third ‘action’ or can I skip this? And what happens if only 1 tile is left? I can invent rules for these, and quite possibly what I find out is more or less the same as what the original designer’s intention was – but I’d like to see things like this covered in the rules.

Second, and it seems to be the result of some final touches and changes and/or some rush in getting the game in production, players have a different number of turns. In a 2-player game the first player has one more turn than the other players. According to the designer’s explanation,
Markus Hagenauer wrote:
The first player has one turn more.
But with his first turn, with a quite empty table, he will normaly not be able to score as much points as in a turn during the game.
Annyway, the first player has a little advantage, so if there is a tie, he looses the game.

I have several problems with this. One of these is that the first player has 4 tiles to create loops with, and that’s enough for quite a lot of points, possibly as many points as (or not that much less than) anyone in a normal round. So in the end the first player has a huge advantage in case of equal players (everyone scores around 9 to 14 points in a normal turn so extra 8-10 points can decide the game – ties don’t happen too often so this tiebreaker rule is a rather inefficient tool to downgrade the first player’s advantage).
But let’s say I am wrong and the first player really has such a huge disadvantage in their first turn that they really deserve that extra turn. So what about the 3- or 4-player game? Here the first player is intentionally given an extra disadvantage in the first turn (the first player places only 1 tile – quite possibly scoring nothing – while everyone places 2 tiles each turn). In a 3- or 4-player game the first and second player gets an extra turn, others don’t. So here it’s the second player who has the advantage as the first player could score max. 4 points in the first round.

Isn’t it too much advantage for these players? Is it an elegant and balanced solution for the problem of first player disadvantage? Or is it a solution at all, or something dictated by the number of tiles? The game was originally designed to have all the possible tile variations and that’s how the number of tiles were determined. But after some testing the contribution of tiles had changed. As the designer notes,
Markus Hagenauer wrote:
There are 26 possible permutations (without rotation). The nestorgames version contais two sets with 21 of those + 5 rotated. Only one kind of tiles with ans "S"-line in the middle is included (so the game does not contain all possible tiles), 5 of axial symmetric tiles can be rotated so they are the same as others. (…) It´s because those with the mentioned S are less useful in most situations. So drawing two or three of them would be a quite big disadvantage.

So if the contribution of tiles did change, why wasn’t the number of tiles also changed, just to make the 2-player game play just the same way as the 3- or 4-player game? Actually I believe the 3- or 4-player rules are more balanced than the 2-player rules (I’m still not sure they are balanced, but the combination of the 1-tile disadvantage in the beginning and that only 2 tiles are placed per turn maybe do their job to counterbalance the fact that the first two players are given one extra turn); so why doesn’t the 2-player game have this as well? Is it because of the number of tiles? This number could have been easily changed but if they didn’t want to change the number, they could have said “the last two tiles remain in the bag”. The tiles are not easy (rather impossible) to remember so it would not be a problem. (And I also think the “white player advantage of 6.5 points” in Go works perfectly – it would also work here with a proper number). Or what about playing as many rounds as there are players, adding up the scores in the end? It feels there would be some better solutions for this problem.

These aspects of the game make it feel a bit unfinished. And that’s a pity, because I really like the idea, I really like the look of the game, and also I enjoy the gameplay. But this way it remains a game where I enjoy the little puzzles that I have to solve every turn but I can’t take the final result seriously.

I also like to look at the final topology of the tiles and it’s also nice to be toying with, creating shapes and patterns like this:

In this way, if you like doing this (creating shapes and solving creative puzzles during play), I recommend the game. It’s a connection game with unique geometry. I am also going to play it more. My 3-year-old son also likes to play with the tiles.
But I am still waiting for the final rules of a well-developed game to appear… I hope I can get them sooner or later.
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lacxox wrote:
. . . to pay 27 euros for a game so . . . unknown (unknown designer, only a few ratings) seems to be too much.


Thoughtful, well written reviews like yours help to mitigate this problem. Thanks!
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lizard
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Can the problem of the first player advantage not be solved by ignoring scores of the first player (and second player in a 3-4p game)?

Good review of an interesting game though!
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Laszlo Molnar
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radicalizard wrote:
Can the problem of the first player advantage not be solved by ignoring scores of the first player (and second player in a 3-4p game)?

You mean the points that they gained in the first round? That might work, although that would mean they try to set up the game (the first 4 tiles) for the player who follows them in a way that they would not focus on creating loops but making the next player's turn as hard as possible. Still maybe it would work; this idea would also need lots of playtesting.
If players have enough time and like the game enough I think the best solution would be playing as many rounds as there are players, everyone being first player once (it's not my idea; that's how it works e.g. in Neuron, another abstract tile-laying connection game). Actually if you are playing 2-player, playing two rounds would still mean both players have only 17 turns in the game so maybe that's not too much...
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lizard
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Yes, probably you can create a hole with the size of one hex. The six lines pointing to that hole cannot be completed to a loop in that case. This could not be done with just two tiles however, so it might be a solution for the 3-4 player games.

Still, playing the game once for each player solves the problem for sure!
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Markus Hagenauer jr.
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radicalizard wrote:
Can the problem of the first player advantage not be solved by ignoring scores of the first player (and second player in a 3-4p game)?

I agree, thats my favorite solution yet.
We played a couple of games this way and I wonder why nobody had the idea to make as single-hex hole in the first turn. But it seems to be quite effective to try to "score" as much points as you can, even you don´t get them. Because everything that is closed, your opponent can´t close.

I must agree to Laszol, the games was published to fast. But changing the rules of a game already published is problematic.

But I will fix some things if I manage to attrackt another (larger) publisher.
This could also solve the problem of the rather high price.



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Markus Hagenauer jr.
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Thank you for the review.
It was worth waiting for it for sure.
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Laszlo Molnar
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Thank you for your answer! And once again, I'm sorry it took so long.
 
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Markus Hagenauer wrote:
There are 26 possible permutations (without rotation). The nestorgames version contais two sets with 21 of those + 5 rotated. Only one kind of tiles with ans "S"-line in the middle is included (so the game does not contain all possible tiles), 5 of axial symmetric tiles can be rotated so they are the same as others. (…) It´s because those with the mentioned S are less useful in most situations. So drawing two or three of them would be a quite big disadvantage.


I'm not sure to understand correctly what tiles exactly have been chosen for each of the two sets of the nestorgame version. The "rotated" and "S-in the middle" terms are not crystal clear to me.
Refering to the picture below:




There are 6 possible shapes with an "S-line" in the middle, right ? Precisely, if you name the tiles from the above picture like this:

A B C D E
F G H I J
K L M N O
P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z

I'm thinking about tiles E J M N R and S ... But from the pictures above from this thread I can identify both the E and J tiles... Therefore this does not fit the condition "Only one kind of tiles with ans "S"-line in the middle is included". I must have missed something there.

(btw, the same stands for C,H,I, O ,T : I can also spot at least two of them from the pictures ).

An additional problem is that the pdf file of the Nestorgames rules states that the set contains "52 tiles, twice each", which implies that one tile should not be duplicated more than once...





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Markus Hagenauer jr.
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I can´t tell you by hard which tiles are included, but I´ll count them when I´m home next week.

We tried around with different distributions (and the number of tiles which finally was limited by the nestorgames format), and when we finally found a publisher we simply sent him the latest file (based on our own expierience and playtesters feedback on "weaker tiles"), which from the present-day perspective was rash. But in fact, the distribution of tiles has not much influence on the gameplay, and so the whole permutation twice would have been the most elegant choice.
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Markus Hagenauer wrote:
I can´t tell you by hard which tiles are included, but I´ll count them when I´m home next week.


Thanks for that, but I could not wait and thus found the anwers by myself from your picture below, making use of a complete set of tiles:



- There are actually two tiles "with an S-line in the middle"
- From the bottom line U V W X Y Z (as referenced in my previous message), all tiles are duplicated 4 times with the exception of one, which is missing.

As a conclusion the three assertions:
1) There is only one "S-line in the middle" tile
2) All tiles from the bottom line are present the same number of times
3) the set contains "52 tiles, twice each"
.. are all false !



I share your opinion that the game would have been more elegant with a symetrical distribution of the tiles... (I think that i found a way to "fix" the rules. More to come after playtesting)
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Markus Hagenauer jr.
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Thanks for counting/sorting the tiles.

In my opineon, the easiest way to eliminate the starting player advantage (in a 2-player-game) is not to count the score of the first players first turn.
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Markus Hagenauer wrote:


In my opineon, the easiest way to eliminate the starting player advantage (in a 2-player-game) is not to count the score of the first players first turn.


I think that I came up with a more satisfying solution...
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