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A "gimmick" is an easy way to sell a board game. Perhaps the theme of the board game is humorous, or there's some wonky mechanic, or a neat mechanical device. Sometimes the gimmick of the game is often more interesting than the game itself, as with the marvelous Fireball Island, which had marbles rolling down chutes to knock off explorers in what was generally a rather lackluster game. I still remember the game fondly, though, because of the rolling marbles. In the same vein, I picked up a copy of Quintagon (Non Ltd., 2003 - Designer Uncredited) solely because it had a nifty device included with the game, the Determinizer.
And the Determinizer was/is quite cool - nice enough that even though I may eventually get rid of the game, I'll keep the device and try to find some way to use it. That statement, alas, betrays my true feelings of the game, which I found quite dull. And I tried to like it, I really did. But the five player abstract strategy game fell short after many playings with many age groups. Everyone loved the Determinizer. But the gameplay was just too dull, repetitive, and - well that's about the extent of it.
On the game board is a large pentagon made up of a myriad of spaces - mostly triangles, but a few diamond shapes scattered throughout. Each space is one of six colors: yellow, green, black, white, red, or blue. Players choose a color (five colors - matching the spaces except white) and take the five pawns associated with that color, placing them on their "home row" - one side of the pentagon. The Determinizer is a tube containing a marble of each color. When turned upside down, the marbles fall into an area that mixes them up. Turned back to the right side, the marbles fall down to show the six colors in order. Players use the Determinizer to figure out who gets to be so lucky as to take the first turn.
On a player's turn, they use the Determinizer, which randomly spits out the six marbles into a column. This determines the order in which a player can move their pawns. A player can move all their pawns to an adjacent space that is the color of the bottom-most marble, then the next marble, etc. A pawn may move more than one time - possibly all six times. Players may only move to an adjacent space, not using corners (which are all over the board.) If a player moves to a spot that has an opponent's pawn, they may send that pawn back to the "home/return" space - the middle spot on the board.
There are five large diamond shaped white spaces in the middle of the board. These serve two purposes: players cannot be captured when sitting on them, and a player may move to any space adjacent to them, even if only by a corner. Players also are "safe" from capture in their five home spaces and in the five spaces in their target pentagon on the opposite side of the board. The first player to get all five of their pieces into this target pentagon is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The board is a nice mirage of the six colors, and the triangles and diamonds on the board form stars, pentagons, and other shapes. It's very symmetrical looking, and I enjoyed the look of it. The pieces are fairly cheap looking plastic pawns that move easily on the board. The Determinizer is a plastic tube, about the shape of a thin soda can, and works very well. Everything fits easily into a much too oversized, plain looking box that simply has a picture of the board and advertising all over it.
2.) Determinizer: OK, the idea isn't exactly new, as both Incognito and Starfarers of Catan both use a similar marble dropping mechanic as a randomizer. But the Determinizer is big, chunky, and just shakes up very well. The marbles can spin around in the top before dropping out, and it's certainly the drawing factor of the game. With 720 different combos that can fall out it certainly is random.
3.) Rules: The seven page rulebook has two pages of color that show the board and indicate what the spaces do. However, other than that, the rules themselves are rather bland and poorly formatted. I understood them fairly well, but they just were written at a lower level than they should have been. Teaching the game is extremely easy; I simply play one player's turn out for them, and they realize from there on out how to play. I even got a bunch of younger elementary kids to play the game unattended, and they did well (until they got bored).
4.) Boring / Fun Factor: I guess I should jump into the biggest problem with the game; it's just simply boring. The most fun from the game comes from shaking the Determinizer and watching it work (kind of like watching the Mousetrap in that children's game). Moving the pieces slowly across the board only to have them get killed and have to start over is a long, agonizing process. The game creeps along at a staggeringly lethargic pace, until one person mercifully wins, or the players all agree to end the game with a nice game of Russian Roulette. I haven't run into gridlock of pieces this boring since Chinese Checkers. At least in Chinese Checkers, the gridlock is broken finally by the superjumps that the pieces can make. In Quintagon, the pieces can move six spaces maximum, and that's only if the marbles in the Determinizer align themselves correctly. Usually, you'll be lucky to move two or three spaces each.
5.) Kill or be killed: The game has the Parcheesi element (I'm dropping a lot of game names here, huh?), of pieces killing each other by landing on them. This can be stopped cold by keeping one piece on the home space, which prevents any of your other pieces from being killed. So many times, I watched as players moved all their pieces across the board, except one. How utterly thrilling. At the same time, players were "safe" on those middle five white diamonds, so why move off of them before you have to?
6.) Strategy: As you can see from the above point, there really isn't much strategy to the game. Simply move your pieces across the board quickly and hope that they don't get killed. One is basically at the mercy of the cool yet unforgiving Determinizer. Yes, players can decide NOT to move into a certain space, but the options really aren't that varied. This game is not comparable in strategy to most abstract strategy games, even the abhorrent Chinese Checkers.
And that's three strikes against Quintagon: it's long, boring, and has little strategy. That would normally cause a game to land on my "outgoing games" pile in a heart beat, but I just can't bear to part from the Determinizer yet. Eventually, however, the game is going to go. Kids weren't interested in the game, adults actively despised it, and I have no love for it whatsoever, except for the Determinizer, which I will probably cannibalize for another game. It's an interesting idea, but the gameplay doesn't come close to the "gimmick" of the game. And that's a no-no.
"Real men play board games"
I hope before you part with this game you take some pictures! After all that I was heartbroken to click on the main game link and not get to see the device itself .
I keep reiterating to all within earshot just how difficult it is to design a really good abstract game and reviews such as this help keep that perspective!