Rummikub (1998 Pressman Edition) – Tile Based Game Review

Rummikub Game Box
Rummikub Game Box

When I was a little kid, around four to six years old, my grandparents would take me with their friends on big vacations to other states. One time we went to Pennsylvania, another time it was Vermont. We would tour the Liberty Bell or Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory during the day and then at night they would try to put my sisters and I to bed and then break out their Rummikub set.

If I were quiet enough, they would let me sneak in and watch the game. One time I asked what a smiley-faced tile was (it was a joker) which got me instantly marched back to bed. I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut about what was in my grandpa’s hand.

My grandparents had a Rummikub set that looked like a padded briefcase. On the side of it was a fancy label that said Tournament Rummikub. The tiles felt fine and exotic though the boards to hold the tiles felt a little flimsy.

My grandpa is now deceased and my grandmother has dementia. The last game she remembers how to play is Rummikub, so we play it with her every chance we get. Years later, we still play with their old Tournament Rummikub set.

Several years ago I acquired a Rummikub set of my own. My son is around the same age I was when I learned how to play while watching my grandpa. My wife and I decided we would teach him how to play during our weekly family game night.

Rummikub is a tile-based game designed by Ephraim Hertzano. The set I currently have was published by Pressman in 1998. Rummikub may be played by two to four players.

My hand at the beginning of the game.
My hand at the beginning of the game.

One thing I discovered rather quickly is that the rules provided with my Pressman set are in many ways different from those from my grandparent’s set. I looked up Rummikub on Wikipedia and found that Hertzano authored a book entitled The Official Rummikub Book in which he provides three versions of the game: American, Sabra, and International. According to the article, the 1998 Pressman edition is the Sabra version.

To set up the game players dump all of the tiles face down in the center of the table and mix them all up. Then each player draws 14 tiles to make up their hand. The objective is to create sets of three or more tiles. A set should contain all of the same number with different colors, or be a run of numbers in sequence with the same color.

There are 106 tiles total. This includes tiles 1-13 of each color blue, black, red, and orange twice, along with two jokers. The same game can also be played with two decks of standard playing cards where two jokers are thrown out.

In order for a player to make their first play into the center of the table, they must be able to play a number of tiles that equals 30 or more points all at once. Jokers are wild tiles that may represent any other tile in the game. When played in the initial play their point value is the same as the point value of whatever tile they are replacing.

I'm out of tiles. I win!
I’m out of tiles. I win!

The first initial play may only consist of tiles from the players hand and may not be played on any other player’s tiles. Each turn after the initial play, a player may play on any set in the center of the table. Tile sets may be added to, split, substituted, and combined in interesting ways to eliminate tiles from the player’s hand.

Most everything is fair game, though players will want to brush up on the rules to make sure a move they are making is legal. Also if you’re making a complicated move, make sure you know how to back out of it if you get stuck and it doesn’t work. Otherwise the other players will hate you. The 1998 Pressman rules have a good template that may be used to determine a move’s legality.

The most crucial rule to remember when playing on the center tiles is that to substitute and reuse a joker, the tile it is being substituted must come from the player’s own hand and not from somewhere else on the board. All tiles that have been played to the center must stay in the center. A player can’t substitute for a joker and then keep that joker in their hand for a later turn.

The first player to successfully play all of their tiles into the center wins the round. In the event where no player is able to play all of their tiles, the player with the fewest and lowest scoring tiles is declared the winner of the round. Jokers remaining in a player’s hand are scored as 30 points. All other tiles are scored at face value.

The final state of the game.
The final state of the game.

The winner receives a positive score for the round that is the sum total of all the points left in each other player’s hand. The non-winning players must then receive a negative score equal to the number of points remaining in their hand. According to the 1998 Pressman rules, the players must agree on the number of rounds or the total number of points to play to in order to determine when the game ends. Whomever has the highest number of points at that agreed upon milestone wins the game.

The Rummikub family rules I played with growing up required 50 points for the initial play and had some heavier restrictions regarding under what conditions a set with a joker could be altered. This 1998 Pressman Sabra version feels really easy by comparison. The next time I visit my grandmother I will look at the rules they had and see if I can compare the two.

Gremlins, Inc. – Linux, Mac OS X 10.11, Windows 10 Game Compatibility

Gremlins, Inc. Main Menu
Gremlins, Inc. Main Menu

System Requirements

Linux
Operating System: Ubuntu 12.04 or greater
Processor: Pentium 3 or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: Geforce 9XX or AMD graphics card
Hard Disk: 1 GB

Mac OS X
Operating System: Any x86 version of Mac OS X
Processor: Any x86 Mac
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Hard Disk: 1 GB

Windows
Operating System: Windows XP or greater
Processor: Pentium 3 or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: Geforce 9XX or AMD graphics card
Hard Disk: 1 GB

Gremlins, Inc. – Linux, Mac OS X 10.11, Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Gremlins, Inc. Main Menu
Gremlins, Inc. Main Menu

Gremlins, Inc. is a computerized board game designed by Alexey Bokulev and Sergei Klimov produced under the Charlie Oscar Lima Tango Interactive Entertainment brand. It was published in 2016 by The Merchant Guild of Rund to the Steam platform. It appears to be fully multiplayer, where players may play online competitively individually or in cooperative teams, or locally competitively individually or on teams as well. It appears the game may be played by 2 to 5 players. There are ladders that track player statistics that may be climbed. There appear to be plentiful mods to customize, enhance, and extend the base game, and the game appears to have been consistently updated since its release.

Players may play as one of five classes of character: the Explorer, the Manager, the Gambler, the Collector, the Thief, or the Damned. I am not yet certain as to the strengths or weaknesses of the various classes since I’ve only ever chosen the random character option. Hovering over each one should give a description of their strengths and weaknesses.

Players are dealt six cards each at the beginning of the game. As these cards are played or otherwise discarded throughout the game, they are replenished immediately from a random deck. At the beginning of the game, all players may discard as many cards as they wish from their hand to be redrawn prior to playing their first turn.

Character Selection Screen
Character Selection Screen

Each card has a name and unique game art that make them easily remembered and identifiable at a glance once you get used to playing. The Gremlinopedia contains an index of each card and what effects they have to be referenced by the player when needed. All of this information is also present on the cards themselves within a players hand.

The number in the upper left hand corner of the card is the movement number. Cards may be played to move around the board or they may be played to execute the card’s action, but never both. Once a card is played for movement or its action, it is discarded. When played for the card’s action, the card must be played on the spot that it corresponds to. A picture of this spot is located on the bottom left of the card. A description of all of the spots on the board is included below. Some cards have an added action effect when played. These cards will have a gear icon located at the upper center of the card. Hovering the mouse pointer on this icon will reveal text that explains the card’s effect when played.

The Gremlinopedia for referencing card effects and game information.
The Gremlinopedia for referencing card effects and game information.

There are numerous Gremlins, Inc. game boards to play on, and none of them that I have seen are fully linear. Be careful to check the arrows on the board to plan your movement. On the board I first played on, there was a primary loop to travel counter-clockwise around in a circle that was fairly low risk. This primary loop had loops to the unique game spots connected to it, so traveling around this loop would provide a player access to those spots. However, there are also places within the primary loop where the player may take short cuts or move to a different place in the loop entirely. The player must take into account the risk versus reward when choosing their particular path. Paths with high reward usually come with high risk, while paths with lower reward come with a lower risk.

The most important and precious resource in the game are the general game points. At the beginning of each game, the game host decides how many game points will be played to. In the game I played, the number of game points was 20. This means that the first player to reach 20 game points would win the game. The number of game points a player has is shown in the middle of a green gear next to their player portrait on the main game screen. Wherever game points may be added or subtracted from the player in a game, they are represented by a gear.

Discard and redraw any number of cards prior to first turn.
Discard and redraw any number of cards prior to first turn.

There are also votes that may be collected or lost while navigating the board. Whomever has the most votes when elections are called becomes the governor. It’s good to be the governor. Governors don’t have to pay any resources when landing on a bribe spot.

Pitchforks are another resource. The more pitchforks you have the more notorious your reputation which counts for something. Be careful that you don’t have the most pitchforks though as some of the nastier misfortunes target the most evil player in the game. Then there is the + and – resources. The – resource is used to pay off the police when landing on a police spot and pay bribes. Money, or G, is the common currency of the game.

Many cards require G to play on their respective spots. When G is required to play a card, the amount required will be shown in the upper right hand corner of the card. The more powerful the card, the more costly it is to play. Unfortunately for the player who likes to plan ahead, G is what is most often increased or decreased in all of the in game events around the board which makes the amount of it in your purse at any time highly volatile. Getting a high power card that requires around 1000G to play made my mouth water since it would pretty much settle the game if I were to successfully play it. So I would plan out how to get to the other side of the map to play that one card and save enough G on my way there to spend it solely on that card. I tried three separate cards like this in the game I played and each time there was something that made me lose enough of my money to keep me from playing each of those three cards. This was even with me being the governor for around 80 percent of the game. The fluctuation of G in my coffer was a strong signal that Gremlins, Inc. is as much a game of chance as it is a game of skill. Randomness is hidden by the complexity of the game, but is still present in full, frustrating force and compounded by the actions of each player added to the game.

Game board used in my first play through.
Game board used in my first play through.

Common Spots:

Bribe – Looks like a dollar bill with a G in the middle. When passing this spot, a player must pay -, when landing on this spot double – is paid. If the player cannot pay the full amount, they pay whatever they have and receive pitchforks. The governor doesn’t have to pay when passing or landing on any one of these spots.

Gamble – Looks like a die with a heart, club, and spade on it. When landing here a six sided die is rolled. If a one is rolled, a misfortune occurs. Rolling a two subtracts 50G, while rolling a four or a six will add 50G or 100G to a player’s purse respectively. Rolling a three subtracts a voter and adds a pitchfork, while rolling a five adds two voters.

Income – Clearly a money spot. When passing this spot you get money, or G. When you land on it you get double G!

Misfortune – Signified by ominous red face. Passing this spot curses the player with a random misfortune. Landing on it allows a player’s opponent to choose one of two misfortunes that will befall the player.

Police – Looks like a police sergeant’s hat. When landing here a player must pay – or there is a chance they will be arrested.

Risk – When you land on a risk spot, a six sided die is rolled to see if any misfortune is caused to your player. Prior to the die roll, the player is offered the option to buy insurance for 20G. If accepted and a misfortune occurs, it will be directed toward other players instead of the rolling player.

Tribune – Looks like a bullhorn. When landing on one of these spots you can address your voters. A six sided die is rolled to determine the effectiveness of your speech.

Unique Spots:

The Astral Plain – Looks like a hot air balloon. When landing here a player may choose to skip one turn to lose two pitchforks and draw their choice of one out of three cards from the deck.

The Bank – Signified by a gold G. When landing here a player may spend G based on their + amount to increase + by 10.

The Casino – This spot looks like a dart board. Here a player may roll a six sided die to win or lose an amount of money wagered from their purse. Rolling a 1, 2, or 3 causes the player to lose 100G, 50G or 25G respectively. Rolling a 4, 5, or 6 causes the player to gain 25G, 50G, or 100G respectively.

The Court – Signified by an icon of an angry looking judge. When landing on this spot a player may pay 40G to take a vote from any player of their choice.

The Dump – Looks like a worn out boot. When landing here a player may roll a six sided die to dig through the junk. rolling a 1 causes the player to lose one voter. Rolling a four, five, or six, causes the player to gain 10G, 20G, or 30G respectively. Rolling anything else has no effect.

The Jail – Signified by a grid of bars. Many in game actions can send a player to the Jail. Upon entering the Jail, the player rolls a six sided die for the number of turns they will stay in the Jail. At the beginning of each turn spent in the Jail, the player may choose to engage in good behavior, be neutral, or engage in bad behavior. Good behavior helps you get out of the Jail quicker, but bad behavior increases your notoriety and jail experience while potentially adding turns to your sentence. Choosing neutral allows a player to walk the line between the two.

The Inferno – Looks like a pitchfork, seems a lot like hell. Appears to be the home of evil. Cards related to the Inferno tend to boost your player’s pitchfork resource number.

The Office – Signified by a blue hand. A player may sell 1 voter for 100G on this spot.

The Marketplace – Signified by a green moneybag. When landing here a player may sell one of their precious game points for 200G if they wish.

The Plant – Signified by a golden gear on a green background. When landing here a player may skip one turn to receive 50G and lose one pitchfork if they so choose.

The Treasure – It looks like the game designers attempted to depict a yellow diamond icon for this spot, but I spent my whole first game thinking it looked like a yellow heart. The player may roll a six sided die to see how much treasure, or G, they receive. There is no losing on this space. Rolling a 1 wins 10G, 2 wins 25G, 3 wins 50G, 4 wins 100G, 5 wins 150G, and 6 wins 200G.

Gremlins, Inc. appears to be more a game of overall strategy as opposed to methodical tactics. Because of all of the probabilities of success and failure on each turn, it makes more sense to come up with a winning method of playing the game that works best in most cases than to tactically plan out each move many moves into the future. A player can plan a general strategy that provides them success a majority of the time and refine their strategy to eliminate those things that cause a loss of resources a plurality of the time. Focusing on the big picture is key.

Gremlins, Inc. is a fantastically complex game. It’s the kind of game I always wanted to play as a kid but one I know I would never find anyone who would want to play it with me. If you are not a fan of complex games, don’t let that statement completely scare you away. The computer takes care of most of the complexity, it’s just the player’s job to understand what they want to do and figure out the best path to winning. It’s wonderful that the game designers have created such a game of vast complexity that is relatively simple to play and provides an interface through which to connect to other fans of complex board games worldwide with no real language barrier.

My wife beat me.
My wife beat me.

I found no evidence of unwholesome material in Gremlins, Inc. There is no violent or sexual content nor bad language that I encountered. It may be a game too advanced for younger children to understand, which could make it frustrating for them to play and for those who play with them. I would say if someone can easily play Magic: The Gathering, they should be able to handily play Gremlins, Inc.

I can’t wait to play more Gremlins, Inc. My wife and I both enjoyed our first play through and are eager to play as a team competitively to see how high we can rise on the leader boards. If you are a fan of complex board games, I highly recommend you get this game.

Deer in the Headlights – Card and Dice Game Review

Deer in the Headlights Game Box.
Deer in the Headlights Game Box.

Deer in the Headlights is a combination card game and dice game published and released in 2014 by University Games Corporation under the Front Porch Classics brand.

Deer in the Headlights includes three proprietary dice seemingly exclusive to the game as well as two full 54-card standard playing card decks. The standard playing card decks are branded on one side with the Deer in the Headlights logo, but have the same card designs on the play side you would expect to see with any deck of playing cards purchased at the local drug store. The decks even come with two jokers even though jokers are never mentioned anywhere in the rules. It is important to discard the jokers prior to beginning play.

The Deer in the Headlights cards are standard playing cards.
The Deer in the Headlights cards are standard playing cards.

Once the jokers are removed, the first round’s dealer combines and shuffles both decks and then deals out all of the cards to everyone playing. The Deer in the Headlights instruction booklet states that the game may be played by two or more players. I would imagine the only limit to the number of players is the number of cards that may be dealt. The included score pad for the game contains a slot for six players, but keeping track of player scores in a notebook or using two sheets from the score pad should be trivial.

The player who manages to discard all of their cards first wins the round. At the end of the round, all other players count up their points which are then tabulated on the score sheet. Number cards are worth their number values. Jacks, queens, and kings are worth ten points, while aces are worth one point. At the end of ten rounds, the player with the lowest score wins the game.

Play begins with the dealer. They roll the dice and play their turn based on what they roll. There is zero strategy involved. Deer in the Headlights is less a game and more an exercise in probability.

There are three six-sided dice, one beige, one blue, and one red. The dice are the only part of the game that cannot be easily interchanged with another game or other rules. Even though this is the case, the one on the red die is meant to indicate an ace. The red die has the lowest point numbers: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, and a Deer with Antlers. The blue die has the middle point numbers: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and a Deer with Antlers. And finally the beige die has the highest point cards represented: J, Q, K, Car, Running Deer, and Deer with Antlers.

The most common rolls are for three card values such as 2, 6, and Q. When this happens and no symbols are rolled (e.g. Running Deer, Car, or Deer with Antlers) the player who rolled may discard all of the cards that match the values rolled to the center discard pile from their hand. If they are unable to play any cards from their hand from this roll, any and all opponents around the table may discard from their own hand those cards and give them to the rolling player. The second most common roll is two middle or lower point numbers and a deer with antlers such as 4, 7, and a deer with antlers. When this happens, the player may discard to the center pile all of the 4’s or 7’s in their hand.

Deer in the Headlights contains three dice, one blue, one beige, and one red.
Deer in the Headlights contains three dice, one blue, one beige, and one red.

A more uncommon roll is to get two numbers and a car. The car essentially indicates that any cards discarded will not go to the center pile but will instead by distributed by the current player to the other opponents around the table as they see fit. When two numbers and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard to the center pile all of the cards in their hand for the numbers shown, plus an additional wild card of their choosing. So if a 3, 8, and running deer are rolled, the player could discard all the 3’s, 8’s, and Kings they have in their hand if they were to so choose.

When a number, a deer with antlers, and a car are rolled, the player may discard any card that matches the number rolled, as well as any number of cards that add up to that number. So if the player rolled a six, she could discard all of her sixes and any other combination within her hand that adds up to six. Three twos, one four and two ones, and one five and one one would all count. Because the car was rolled, all of these cards discarded are distributed to any of the opposing players the current player chooses.

When a number, a deer with antlers, and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard any odd or even cards based on whether the number rolled was odd or even. So, if the player rolled a 10, she would be able to discard all of the even cards in her hand to the center pile. Face cards are not included in the odd/even count, so jacks, queens, and kings may not be discarded in this way.

If two deer with antlers are rolled with one number, the player loses a turn. If however, two deer with antlers and a car are rolled, the player who rolled may select an opponent to lose the turn for them. If two deer with antlers and a running deer are rolled, the player may discard all of any two kinds of cards they choose from their hand to the center pile.

The most tragic move of all is to roll three deer with antlers. This “freezes” the player. They must pick up all cards from the center pile and they are unable to play a full turn again until they successfully roll a set of dice with at least one deer with antlers. This can be a real rotten game changer and has the potential to make a sore loser in a hurry. It is surprising how rare it actually ever happens, however.

Dice Rolls and Corresponding 'Card Plays' sheet from Instruction Manual.
Dice Rolls and Corresponding ‘Card Plays’ sheet from Instruction Manual.

Deer in the Headlights is a good game for teaching young children how to play basic card and dice games. Its sophistication is greater than that of Go Fish and Candy Land so parents won’t be as bored out of their minds playing it. It’s still quite a tedious game for me to play with my six-year-old son where I have my algorithm all worked out for each and every turn while he takes forever trying to figure out how many nines he has in all of the cards strewn about his hand. Given there is no strategy involved, I really can’t wait until he’s graduated from this one.

Deer in the Headlights might also serve as a decent social game for people who don’t like to play games. In most rounds I have played, most players were about to run out of cards at the same time which tends to provide the illusion that a player is playing “well.” This also increases the possibility that a player will have a “good” round regardless of their level of gaming skill. For those who are new to and scared of more sophisticated games, this could be used as a gateway game to get them interested in something more complex as time goes on.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game – Card Game Review

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game Box
Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game Box

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game is a card game released in 2017 by USAopoly, and licensed by Nintendo. It is designed to be played with three to eight players. Playing with two players is possible, but reduces the complexity of how the game is played making it less fun. This becomes evident as the game progresses since the objective is to be the last player standing.

Each player begins with four extra life tokens. In each round of play one or more losers are declared. These losers must discard an extra life token. When a player runs out of extra life tokens they are eliminated from the game.

The four suits of the level card deck.
The four suits of the level card deck.

There are two card decks. The level card deck is essentially a standard 52 playing card deck you would use for poker or bridge. There are four suits: land level, underground level, water level, and Bowser castle level. The suits are not actually used in the game, it’s just interesting that they still decided to include them. Numbers go from one through twelve, replacing ace through queen. Kings are replaced with castle cards.

The other deck is the question block card deck. This deck consists of special items that can change the outcome of a particular round. All players begin with one question block card. In each round a dealer deals one level card to each player face down. The oldest player is first to be the dealer and the role of dealer passes clockwise around the table with each round.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game plays like a gambling game. It feels like blackjack when you look at your level card and decide what course of action you plan to take for your turn. Once the dealer has dealt a level card to each player, the player to the dealer’s left examines her level card and determines whether she will hold on to her level card or trade it with the player on her left. Once this decision has been made and any trade completed, play passes around the table in a clockwise fashion until reaching the dealer. If a player receives a castle card as their level card in a round, they must reveal their card and receive an extra question block card from the top of the question block card deck. When a player has a castle card, no other players may trade with them and they automatically are free from losing an extra life token for the duration of the round.

On the dealer’s turn, the dealer turns over her level card to reveal it to the other players. The dealer may then decide to either hold on to her level card or trade her level card with the top card on the level card deck. After this has been completed, everyone reveals their level cards by turning them over.

Any players with the same number on their level cards each receive a question block card. The player or players with the lowest level card values stand to lose at the end of the round. Beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, players may in turn decide whether they wish to play a question block card in their hand if they have one. Question block cards may be used to boost a player’s own level card value or decrease the level card values of an opponent along with other special abilities. When a question block card is played on a player’s level card where a previous question block card has already been played, the most recently played question block card replaces any previously played question block cards before it.

A typical Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game setup.
A typical Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game setup.

Once everyone has decided whether they wish to effect the level card values on the table with their question block cards, the player or players with the lowest level card value must remove one of their extra life tokens from the game. Play then continues into the next round until only one player is left standing.

With a little tweaking, Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game could be turned into a fun poker night gambling game. Given the card decks’ clear similarity to standard playing card decks, I wondered if this game were a recreation of an older card game that already existed prior to repackaging it as a Nintendo licensed product. To recreate the question block cards using a standard playing card deck would be challenging, but not impossible.

The full question block card deck.
The frequency of the cards in the top row are one, middle two, and bottom three.
The full question block card deck.
The frequency of the cards in the top row are one, middle two, and bottom three.

One thing I noticed while playing is that it is easy for players to feel stuck once level cards have been revealed when they no longer have any question block card to play. The question block card deck only contains 30 cards. If the number of cards in the question block card deck could be expanded while retaining a good probability ratio between the common cards that players expect to see and those more powerful cards that heavily influence a round, maybe the game could be tweaked to not only use two standard 52/54 card decks, but would also be more fun to play. Extra life tokens could be replaced with poker chips and a betting component could probably be added.

Super Mario Bros. Power Up Card Game is a good game for teaching young children the basic rule mechanics of typical card games. There is more skill involved in this game than most games for young children, but the ultimate outcome of playing this game is largely based on chance. While designed for young players, there may be something deeper here that could be refined and improved for those who enjoy coming up with their own house rules.

Qwirkle – Tile-Based Game Review

Quirkle Game Box

Qwirkle Game Box

Qwirkle is a tile-based game for two to four players. It was released in 2006 by publisher MindWare and was designed by Susan McKinley Ross. It is one of those wonderful games that is approachable to young children while simultaneously rich in complex strategy such that there is a great deal to enjoy for advanced players as well. I was introduced to Qwirkle by my five year old son who learned how to play it with his friends at a board game night we attended. He nearly taught me how to play all on his own, though the more advanced strategies seem to be difficult for him to implement and it will take him some practice to ramp up. It is also one of the rare games that doesn’t vary in gameplay based on the number of players playing. The game plays pretty much the same with two players as it does with four players, and no one will feel like a third wheel when playing it with three players.

The Qwirkle set I purchased at Target on sale for 15 dollars has high quality wooden tiles that fit nicely into the supplied cloth bag. Much like Scrabble, players draw their hand from the bag without looking to see what they will get. Each player’s hand is six tiles to start with. After each player plays, they draw the correct number of tiles to replenish their hand.

Quirkle Game Pieces

Qwirkle Game Pieces

There are six different shapes: a square, an x, a diamond, a circle, a star, and a clover. The six different colors are red, blue, purple, green, yellow, and orange. There are 108 tiles in all which divided out means there are three of every shape and color combination that may be played in any game. Having this knowledge comes in handy in the later stage of the game when you are running out of moves for maximum points and want to know if a move can potentially allow an opponent to qwirkle.

In each turn a player plays a single line of tiles that are alike in one of two ways. They are either the same shape but different colors, or they are the same color with different shapes. After the first turn, these lines of tiles must be played on other lines of tiles in the play area. When a tile or line of tiles is added to the play area, points are given for each tile in each line affected by the play. A line of two tiles is worth two points, while a line of four tiles is worth four points. A line of six tiles is called a qwirkle and is worth 6 points for the number of tiles with a bonus of 6 points totaling 12 points.

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

It is possible to play Qwirkle quite linearly, that is to make plays in straight, solitary lines for 2 to 12 points, hoping when you get your five pieces in a row that your opponent doesn’t have that sixth piece to qwirkle. However, scoring does not just occur on a single line unless only a single line is touched by the play. If a player plays beside an existing line, they are scored for the line they played as well as each line they added that intersects the played line. So, if a player plays a line of two tiles directly beside another line of two tiles, they receive two points for the line they created, plus two points for each of the new lines that were generated by the two lines sitting side by side for a total of six points. When playing in these successively larger squares, this can lead to significant point increases.

Outside of the linear style of play there are two main strategies. A player can play to block others from getting qwirkles. This keeps the opponents’ scores lower but can also impede the scoring potential of the one who played the blocking move. A player can also play to build out the play area so qwirkles are more easily accomplished for everyone.

The order in which tiles are played is extremely important and will affect how successive plays may be made on those tiles later in the game. I have found the best strategy for me is to only play moves where I can get more than five points in the turn. I do this by splitting out my hand. Wherever I have three or more tiles that could be used toward a qwirkle, I keep them saved so I can qwirkle in one move when the time is right. The remaining pieces I attempt to use to play around the board to maximize my points per turn and impede others from achieving their own qwirkles.

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

There is a legal move in which a player may choose to pass on their turn. The player may set aside all tiles from their hand they don’t want to be discarded. Then they may draw that number of tiles from the bag to replenish their hand. The tiles they discarded are then placed back into the bag and the bag is shuffled. Then that player’s turn ends and they are awarded no points. I have not been able to determine a situation in which this would overwhelmingly help a person, outside of perhaps within the first few turns of play. I have thus far not had a hand poor enough that I was willing to purge it at the expense of a turn’s worth of points.

When played with a worthy opponent, Qwirkle tends to be a very cutthroat game. The scores will often be so close that winning or losing comes down to some elegant play in the end game. The player who successfully plays through their entire hand of tiles once the tile bag is empty is awarded an additional six points to their final turn’s score and the game ends. Therefore there is great scoring power in being the last person to play.

I have had a surprising amount of fun playing Qwirkle. It is easy to teach newcomers how to play and it affords a challenge that keeps it fresh. I’ve been taking it to family gatherings. The younger children can still play with the adults, while the adults keep getting better and more difficult to beat. This is a fantastic game that I would recommend be in any board game or strategy game fanatic’s collection.

Set – Card Game Review

Set Card Game

Set Card Game

Set is a card game developed by Marsha Falco and published by Set Enterprises, Inc. and Cannei, LLC. It was released in 1991 to understandable acclaim, as it is a clever, novel card game. Set may be played solitaire, or with any number of players provided there is enough space around the table for everyone to see what cards are in play.

There are 81 cards in the Set deck. On these cards are combinations of one, two, or three shapes in the form of a squiggle, diamond or oval. These shapes appear in one of three colors: purple, green, or red. Each card’s shape is solidly filled in, unfilled, or shaded. At the game’s start the deck is shuffled, and twelve cards are laid face-up in the center of the table in a 3×4 grid.

Set 3x4 grid arrangement

Set 3×4 grid arrangement

Once all of the cards are laid out, those who are playing examine the grid for potential sets. A set is defined as a group of three cards anywhere within the grid that all either share a similar or completely distinct characteristic for each classification of shape, shading, color, or number of items on the cards. Once a player is sure they see a set, they call out that they’ve found one to everyone else playing. They then pick out the three cards and all other players confirm whether a set has actually been found or not. If a set has indeed been found, the player who found the set keeps those cards and a point is added to their score. Three new cards are drawn from the deck and are used to fill in the places where the cards used to make the set were taken. If a valid set was not confirmed to be found, the player who claimed a set has their score decremented by one set. Play then continues with all players looking for the next set. Play ends and scores are tallied when the deck runs out of cards. Whoever found the most sets becomes the winner of the game.

It is important that all players understand exactly what a set is before play begins. I was mad as a hen when I was picking what I thought were sets and losing points the first time I played Set. Meanwhile my opponent was selecting out sets that I had disregarded because I thought they did not fit the description of a set.

An example of a set is shown where there are three solid green ovals, three solid green squiggles, and three solid green diamonds. These constitute a set because they are all green, there are three shapes on each card, the shapes on each card are all solid, and a distinctly different shape is displayed on each card.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

An example of a group of three cards that is not a set is also shown here. While all three cards are colored purple, each card has a distinct number of shapes, and all of the shapes shown are solid, two of the cards display diamond while the final card is oval. Because not all of the cards contain diamond nor does each card contain a distinct shape, these cards do not constitute a set.

This is not a valid set.

This is not a valid set.

One final example of a set is shown here. The color is different on each card: red, green, then purple. Each card contains diamonds, but each one has a different number of diamonds. The diamonds have distinct shading across all cards. The first is solid, the second shaded, and the third empty. This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

This is a valid set.

If at any point no set is found within the grid on the table, then three additional cards are pulled from the deck and placed into the grid for a total of 15 cards. Play then continues. When the next set is discovered, no further cards are drawn in order to get the grid back down to twelve cards. Therefore, as I understand it, there should never be more than 15 cards in play at a time. In solitaire play, a player is trying to find as many sets as they can to beat their previous score. When they are unable to find a set in the twelve card grid, they may add the additional three cards, but doing so creates a one set penalty to their score. Of course, who is going to know you’re cheating if you’re playing alone?

Set is a fun little card game that is easy to learn how to play. Given that any number of players may play it, it is an ideal card game for party situations. It has won several game awards including the MENSA Select award. I can vouch that this is a fantastic title that belongs in any serious card gamer’s collection.

Decksplash – Compatibility

Decksplash Title Screen

Decksplash Title Screen

System Requirements

Operating System: Windows 10 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i3 6th Gen or AMD FX-6200 or better
Memory: 4GB RAM
Video: Nvidia GTX 680 or AMD R9 280X or better
Sound: DirectX 10 compatible sound card
Hard Drive: 4 GB
Gamepad recommended for play.

Windows 10

This game was designed for Windows 10.

Decksplash – Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Decksplash Title Screen

Decksplash Title Screen

It’s not often that I review a game so new there isn’t even a Wikipedia page about it. Decksplash was released on November 2, 2017 on the Steam platform, developed and published by Bossa Studios. It is a skateboarding simulator in which the player can perform tricks while competing with other players in the same arena. Decksplash might be best summed up as Tony Hawk meets Splatoon with elements of Rocket League.

The player controls the movement of a skateboard around an arena either in practice mode, or with other players online in team against team matchmaking play. Players are awarded points for tricks they successfully perform and also accumulate points for how successful their landing was. Each time a trick is successfully performed with a successful landing, a splotch of paint the color of their team explodes in all directions from the center of the player’s skateboard with a radius size proportional to the number of points awarded for the trick.

Punchbowl Plaza

Punchbowl Plaza

The more a player performs a specific trick, the fewer points they receive each time they perform it. The game seeks to encourage players to always attempt something new. This begets certain strategies. Some times are better than others to use the high points on tricks a player is particularly good at, while attempting the riskier tricks is preferred at other times. To be competitive, Decksplash insists you read the proficiency of the other team and adjust your strategies to maximize your point count throughout the match. You’ll want to score your greatest points when the other team is floundering.

In online play the objective is to accumulate the most points and color the majority of the arena. Each match begins with both teams having 150 seconds on the clock. Whichever team’s color lays claim to the majority of the surface area of the map receives a countdown on their team’s clock. As soon as one of the team’s clocks hits zero, the game ends and the team with zero seconds remaining is the winner.

Customizing your deck. Default Pickleboard shown.

Customizing your deck. Default Pickleboard shown.

The skateboards can be customized via the “Customize Deck” option on the main menu. The player begins the game with a typical default skateboard with a common truck and pink wheels. All other options are locked and unavailable on first play. As the player accumulates more points and reaches milestones in the matches, they will level-up and receive loot boxes. Loot boxes contain decks, trucks, and wheels that can be selected for the game matches. I was able to get to level three within thirty minutes and had accumulated one new deck, two trucks, and three different colors of wheels.

Costa Del Splash

Costa Del Splash

The game developers recommend playing Decksplash with a game pad. Given that I did not happen to have one handy at the moment, I used a keyboard for this particular review. The up, down, left, and right arrows are used from movement of the skateboard. “A” yaws left. “D” yaws right. “W” pitches up, while “S” pitches down. “Q” rolls left, and “E” rolls right. Periodically you will have a shockwave available to use. You can trigger this by using the “F” key.

EasyAntiCheat Service is required to play.

EasyAntiCheat Service is required to play.

After installing Decksplash and prior to loading the game for the first time, a piece of software called EasyAntiCheat Service was installed to my machine in order to run the game. To my knowledge I’ve never encountered this program before so I did a bit of research on it. It is apparently a popular program for game companies to use to impede cheating on many of their game offerings.

I have read that it scans your system memory and takes random screen shots to ensure you’re playing fairly. It is currently used extensively in eSports, so it does have a legitimate track record in the industry. That being said, I would imagine that a random screenshot or memory scan at the right (or wrong) time could potentially reveal more information about the user than the user would ever intend to make public. I wanted to include this here to warn any paranoid users like me, proceed with caution. It also makes me wonder how difficult it would be to get this game to run in Linux via Wine given that there is a separate anti-cheat component required to run the game.

Observatory

Observatory

All in all, Decksplash is a colorful game that is a considerable amount of fun. I enjoyed making color splotches across the map, leveling up my skateboard, and performing increasingly challenging tricks. The matchmaking is quick, easy, and balanced. So far I haven’t been frustrated by Decksplash; I’ve only been having a blast. Decksplash is available to play for free on the Steam platform until November 10, 2017. If you are reading this prior to that date, go play it for yourself and see what you think.

Cocoto Magic Circus – Nintendo Wii Game Review

Cocoto Magic Circus Title Screen

Cocoto Magic Circus Title Screen

This is the worst game ever. I hate this game! It’s so stupid! – my wife.

Cocoto Magic Circus is a light-gun mini-game shooter released for the Nintendo Wii in 2008. It was developed by Neko Entertainment and published by Conspiracy Entertainment. It follows the same classic formula of many of the light-gun mini-game shooters of the era. The game case boasts, “40 mini-games, each more original than the last!” All of the games are point and shoot with lots of similar patterns strewn throughout all of them making the advertising deceptive at best.

Cocoto Magic Circus was not a new game when it came out on the Nintendo Wii. It debuted on the Playstation 2 where it was played with the GunCon light gun. Since the Nintendo Wii was the ideal console for this type of shooter, it makes sense that Cocoto Magic Circus might be re-released for the system.

Save Fairy from the spiders before she's eaten!

Save Fairy from the spiders before she’s eaten!

The beginning cutscene handily tells the backstory without any words. Four monster-looking friends: Cocoto, Baggy, Neuro, and Shiny, according to the game manual, and their friend Fairy who is a pixie, meet a clown in the woods. He looks creepy as all get-out, but instead of running away they stick around to be friendly with him. The clown kidnaps Fairy, and the others race to help rescue her. Theoretically the objective of the game is to rescue Fairy by shooting her captors in the various mini-games. While some mini-games had us shooting bad guys to keep them away from Fairy, there was no point at the end of any mode of gameplay where Fairy ever regained her freedom that I noticed. The competing monsters would just hop up on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place stands at the end of the game to show how they placed in the Tournament or Duel modes.

This is air hockey... with guns. This shouldn't be a mini-game, but a full featured title.

This is air hockey… with guns. This shouldn’t be a mini-game, but a full featured title.

There are three multiplayer modes: Arcade, Tournament, and Duel. In arcade mode, one or two players play simultaneously and cooperatively until they run out of lives. Lives may be replenished in periodic bonus rounds. Tournament mode is a little bit of a misnomer that actually means hot seat in the case of Cocoto Magic Circus. In tournament mode players pass around one controller and play the mini-games one player at a time competitively. Some mini-games actually lend themselves to this mode of play better, especially for players who are less experienced with aiming a wiimote. This mode allows 2, 3, or 4 players to play. Duel mode allows 2 or 4 players to play competitively and simultaneously for a set number of games.

Try not to shoot Fairy in the face. Oops, instant mini-game over.

Try not to shoot Fairy in the face. Oops, instant mini-game over.

As I alluded earlier, some of the mini-games can be rather frustrating when playing simultaneously with another player. There are a handful of mini-games where all players are aiming at the same target and they only are given one shot to hit it. If all miss, the mini-game is failed. If an opponent hits the target first, the mini-game ends and you won’t get a chance to hit it as well. Then at the end of this short “mini-game,” the player who hit the target is awarded a large number of points for the round and the other players receive nothing. I felt like this happened more frequently than it should have, keeping the game from being well balanced. For this reason I am not sure this game would be very high on my list for Wii games to pull out in a party setting. It seems like the kind of game that is just begging for an argument to break out. My wife argued and screamed about how unfair the game was. I couldn’t understand why the ESRB rated this game for players 10+. There are no unsavory themes that I could find that a 7-year old couldn’t handle. Perhaps the frustration/unfairness issues were a factor?

Cocoto Magic Circus Game Disc

Cocoto Magic Circus Game Disc

Cocoto Magic Circus is a fine game for practicing accuracy with the wiimotes on the Nintendo Wii, but out of all of the similar light-gun games I have played on the Wii, this one is actually my least favorite. It’s just more blah than fun. That combined with the fact that my opponent was yelling at the television the entire time we played made me want to put Cocoto Magic Circus back on the shelf for awhile.