Sunday, June 28, 2009

1.3: Defeat in Small World

Played three games of Small World yesterday--fun as always, but, man, I had my butt handed to me. DB, my brother in law, beat me by nine points in the first game, for his second win. The second game I was victorious, but the third game...

A four player game with my wife Jackie, DB, and my sister D. My wife started, and from the get-go I knew we were in trouble. First, let me preface this game with this statement: I have not yet beat my wife in Small World. She has played the game one third of the times I have, yet every time I play against her, no matter how many other players are involved, she wins.

My wife chose her first race, Spirit Ghouls. D took forever taking her turn, and DB started out strong with an eight point turn. I start out with a little Ghoul butt-kicking. Jackie's second turn, you guessed it, going into decline; unfortunately my turn had opened up Merchant Trolls, and on her next turn she took these.

The game was close between Jackie, DB and myself, but Jackie had a strong lead with her multiple 13+ point turns. The one chance we had was two simultaneous attempts made by DB's Underground Amazons, who popped up from every which location on the board, conveniently almost exclusively owned by one of Jackie's three races, and my Berserk Giants, who took the mountain near Jackie's Ghouls and laid waste to Troll after Troll.

When final scoring rolled around, I knew I would be soaring into last place; DB and I both had around 60 points, but both D and Jackie counted over 80 points (apparently we overlooked D's last few turns, which were getting 15+ points). Jackie ultimately won by only one point.

Friday, June 26, 2009

1.2: Hula Hippos Review

Hula Hippos, designed by Heinz Meister and published by both Gamewright (and HABA as Maus nach Haus), is a simple dexterity game four players, ages 5 and up.

The components are excellent--a polished wood ring around 4 inches in diameter, and 24 wooden hippo tokens in four colors. The ring and hippos have a nice feel and weight to them, and are smooth, so there is little risk to the playing surface (such as a wooden dining table).

The game is simple; you spin the wooden ring, and everyone attempts to flick their hippos such that they are either enclosed by or under the ring when it stops spinning. Any that meet this criteria are removed from the game, and the ring is spun again to begin a new round. Once someone has successfully flicked three of their hippos into/under the ring, that person wins.

While a simple quick game, taking only 5-10 minutes to complete a game, the experience is fast and fun, and begs to be played again immediately. The hippo tokens slide across the table and bump each other, players shouting, and as the ring falls, there are always a last few desparate shots to get under the ring or remove another player's hippo. Add the zero set-up time, and this makes for an excellent quick filler that will likely get much play.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1.1: Small World Overview and Review

Small World is the latest boardgame release from Days of Wonder (, designed by Philippe Keyaerts. This game plays 2-5 players, and takes 40 to 90 minutes, the play-time increasing with more players.
The goal of Small World is to score the most gold (points) by taking and controlling territory, and removing your opponents' pieces from the territories they occupy. A player gains one point for each territory they control at the end of the turn, a simple enough idea, except the game features 14 Races, each with unique abilities; there are also 20 Special Powers which are randomly assigned. The result, hundreds of Race/Power combinations--Diplomatic Trolls, Berserk Elves, Hill Ratmen and others; each combination has different advantages.
The basic turn is simple. If you do not have an "active" race, you choose one of the six upturned Races and the randomly assigned Special Power next to it. Each of these tiles has a number value on it; the sum of these is the number of Race chits you receive, generally between 8 and 16. After this you take territory, if the territory is empty, you may take control of it by placing two of your Race chits onto this space. If there is any other cardboard on the space, be it mountains, bivouacs, or another player's Race chits, you place two of your own Race chits plus one for each piece of cardboard (ie, a Mountain space occupied by three of an opponent's Race chits would cost 2+1+3=6 of your own Race chits).
Play continues in this fashion; each turn you take up as many of your Race chits as you wish (generally you leave one on each space you conquered the previous turn), expanding the territory you control. However, your expansion is limited by the number of chits you began with, and each time an opponent attacks your territory you lose a chit, decreasing this number even further. Inevitably you will need to "go into decline."
Going into decline takes a full turn; when doing so you flip over all your chits, leaving only one on each territory you control. On your next turn you are able to purchase a new Race, and continue to score for both your "active" and "in decline" races. This is another interesting addition to the game, as it becomes essential to have both a successful active and in decline race in order to win the game.
Having now played several games of Small World, I believe that Days of Wonder has another hit. With the combination of Races and Powers, the variety in each game is astounding; a race may be looked over one game (Hill Humans? What am I supposed to do with those...?), only to find its combination with another power exactly what a player needs in another game (Berserk Humans! You're dead now!).
The rulebook is clearly written, and the game also scales extremely well--it actually comes with two double-sided boards, each marked with a number 2, 3, 4 or 5, to denote which board to use depending on the number of players.
As far as level of difficulty, I'd put this in the Medium difficulty range--experienced gamers will have no problem with the game, and new gamers may have only a little difficulty with game terms or mechanics.
Presentation: 8 of 10 (only marked down for lack of clarity of in-decline chits)
Difficulty: 4 of 10 (most people should be able to play this game with little or no help)
Overall rating: 9 of 10