Turnspell – Board Game Review

Turnspell Game Box

Turnspell Game Box

Another game we played at our most recent game night was Turnspell released by Mattel in 2016. This is a word game where 2 to 4 players are scored based on their ability to construct four letter words. Contained with the game are four, four-by-four letter boards for each player with scoring pegs and a center spinning board which contains letters chosen randomly from a pouch.

The pouch contains tiled letters with the exact same frequency and score values as Scrabble. I was actually disappointed to discover I am missing an “I” from my favorite travel Scrabble set when I tested the theory that these games use the same lettering system. Mattel, I think you may owe Hasbro an explanation, or at least a concession that they know what they are doing more when it comes to word games.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Letters are chosen at random and placed on the center spinning board, filling each of its four four-letter tile spaces. When we started the game we thought you were supposed to spin the spinning board to determine who started with which letters. Don’t do this unless you want pick the letters up off the floor on opposite sides of the room.

Try to make the letter setup truly random so no one feels cheated in the first turn. When we started one game, one of the sides of the center spinning board was completely filled with “E” letter pieces. Given that there are rare letters that are worth more points and common letters that are quite prevalent, my friend was forced to take an “E” on his first turn while his opponents were taking “J” and “X” letters. Perhaps a mulligan system could be employed to provide a more balanced start for all players. I would suggest if a side on the spinning board is completely filled with one-point vowels, or perhaps only one-point letters (vowels or consonants) at the beginning of the game, one letter should be traded out until a higher point valued letter is drawn to take its place.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

All players play simultaneously. Each player draws a letter and places it somewhere on their player board. The player’s objective is to create four-letter words on their board. Once a four-letter word is created, it is scored by counting the point value each of the letters is worth. The word’s total score is added to the player’s score total using the pegs on the player’s board and the letters from the word are then placed back into the letter pouch.

There is a possibility for a player to use a letter to create two four-letter words at the same time. When this happens, the letter values from both words are added together and then that final sum is doubled to compute their total score for that turn. When a player reaches a score of 44, they win the game. If two players surpass a score of 44 in the same turn then the highest scoring player wins. If both players tie past 44 in the same turn, I assume they must fight to the death or the universe explodes. The rules do not specify in this final case.

Once a tile is placed on a player’s board, it cannot be replaced without taking a penalty. If a player wishes to remove one tile, they may surrender five points or twice the point value of the letter to do so, whichever total is higher. If they do not have enough points in the game to take the penalty, they may not remove the tile. When a tile is removed, it is placed back into the letter pouch. It cannot be replaced on the player’s board.

A player board. All she needed was a "Z" and I took it before she could get it.

A player board. All she needed was a “Z” and I took it before she could get it.

The player may also remove an entire row of tiles from their player board for no penalty. If there is only one tile in the row, it may be removed with no penalty. Similar to removing the one tile, if a row is removed from a player’s board it is removed to the pouch, not rearranged on the player’s board. Once all players have placed a tile on their player board, the center spinning board is turned one-click clockwise so that the next set of letters is facing a new player. Then the missing letters from the previous round of play are replaced at random from the letter pouch.

Turnspell is a good word game for board gamers who are not good at word games. I never win at Scrabble. I only ever really play it because other people enjoy it. I won at Turnspell against people who enjoy Scrabble and win often at Scrabble. It felt good, but also felt like sort of a cheap thrill for me while playing with such Scrabble aficionados. This is a nice light party game that takes a lower vocabulary and less brain activity than other word games in its class.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 – Board Game Review

Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game Box

Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game Box

As alluded in the title, Goldfinger James Bond 007 Game is a board game released by Milton Bradley in 1966 after the release of the hit movie starring Sean Connery playing as James Bond. The Goldfinger board game centers around the scene in the movie in the vault room of Fort Knox as depicted on the game’s board. This is a two player game. One player controls the red pieces while another the blue pieces and one yellow piece which depicts Goldfinger. There are 8 blue pieces. The blue player’s objective is to get the Goldfinger piece to the outer edge of the board. If the blue player is able to accomplish this, they win. There are 16 red pieces. The red player wins when they are able to successfully capture the Goldfinger piece.

Game board with initial starting locations colored in.

Game board with initial starting locations colored in.

Capturing is accomplished by directly surrounding a piece on both sides. The blue player would capture a red piece by having two blue pieces on either side of it, and vice versa. If the red player were to move a piece between two blue pieces, their piece remains safe and is not passively captured. A player may capture two pieces in one turn, if they happen to move a piece into place such that it completes the corner of a right angle. When capturing, the Goldfinger piece may act as a blue piece. Neither red nor blue pieces are allowed to occupy or move through the Goldfinger piece’s starting location.

Standard capture.

Standard capture.

The Goldfinger piece can be captured in one of three ways. It can be captured if it is on the yellow dot in the center of the board if there are four red pieces surrounding it on the blue dots with white circles which are adjacent in cardinal directions north, south, east, and west to the yellow dot. If the Goldfinger piece is on one of the white circles, it may be captured by one red piece that places itself on a normal dot such that the Goldfinger piece is sandwiched between the yellow dot and the red piece. And if the Goldfinger piece is on a normal dot, it can be captured in the same way as any other blue piece.

Capturing two pieces at once.

Capturing two pieces at once.

Red always goes first. Each turn a player must move one piece in any horizontal or vertical direction any number of spaces. They may not turn a corner or move in two directions in their move. Play alternates until the Goldfinger piece escapes to the edge of the board or the red player captures the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 is a very mentally stimulating, challenging strategy board game title. Much like chess, it really takes a great deal of skill and thought to master. The first few times I played through this game, I made some of the clumsiest mistakes that my opponent was quick to take advantage of. It’s nice to play with someone who has never played before on your first time, because she made just as many mistakes that I was then able to take advantage of as well.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

Capturing the Goldfinger piece.

It’s strange and interesting to switch colors and play the other side from game to game. The set of strategies is completely separate between blue and red players, and I found myself really having to think through every move. The rules make a point of stating that this game is meant to be played like chess. That means, while the blue team could win by taking direct advantage of a mistake made by the red player and move the Goldfinger piece to the outer edge of the board, the blue player is supposed to alert the red player as such a move is made. The idea is that a sort of check and checkmate should be called as the game is approaching completion in order to ensure the game is played strategically, not accidentally.

Example of "checkmate."

Example of “checkmate.”

It surprised my opponent and I both how quickly the tide of the game can turn. It is easy to get cocky when you have clearly captured more of your opponents pieces than they have captured of yours, yet still get routed. This game is not quite like any other two-dimensional strategy board game I have played. It is sort of like Chess, Checkers, and Nine Men’s Morris, but none of these games really do justice to explaining the gameplay going on here.

I found my copy of Goldfinger James Bond 007 at a local antique store a few blocks from my house in the city I live in. They sold it to me for $15. The cheapest copy I saw online was on Ebay for $40, which is a little steep. From my limited research it appears this game may be rare, but it would really be trivial to duplicate on a checker board without the movie theming. In order to do this you would need two sets of checkers pieces for one of the colors. So if the red player were still red when using checkers pieces, they would need two sets of red checkers or 16 red checkers. Meanwhile, the black player which is taking the place of blue would place 8 black checkers in their places on the board and two black checkers stacked on top of each other in the center to designate the Goldfinger piece. Instead of playing on the squares, play would be done on the intersections of lines and the board would have to be laid out as shown in the pictures in this article.

Initial piece positions. Note how this could be imitated on a standard checker board.

Initial piece positions. Note how this could be imitated on a standard checker board.

Goldfinger James Bond 007 is a great game for the collector. It’s a nice piece of American cultural history, it’s a Milton Bradley game from the 1960s, and it’s somewhat rare – all things that make the game a nice conversation piece. But beneath all this theming and history is a well balanced, impressive strategy game that can be played using very basic gaming components. I would hate for any fellow gamer to have to miss out on the richness of this impressively amazing strategy gameplay simply because they haven’t been able to get their hands on this particular movie to board game title.

Zaxxon – Board Game Review

Zaxxon the Board Game

Zaxxon the Board Game

Zaxxon, published by Milton Bradley in 1982, is a board game designed after the hit arcade classic of the same name developed and released by Sega. Zaxxon is a two player game. The objective of the game is for each player to be the first to successfully shoot Zaxxon once using each of their planes.

Player 2's outer fortress perspective

Player 2’s outer fortress perspective

Each player starts with two planes on their respective Player 1 or Player 2 home base starting locations. The game board is divided into two sections, the outer fortress and the inner fortress. In the outer fortress, each player must use their planes to destroy a gun turret, a missile silo, and two fuel tanks. When a fuel tank is destroyed within the outer fortress, it is moved into its designated spot in the inner fortress. Once a plane makes it into the inner fortress, for the remainder of the game whenever it is destroyed the plane will respawn at one of the restart positions right outside the inner fortress. In the inner fortress each player must destroy all of their fuel tanks prior to facing Zaxxon.

Zaxxon the Board Game Spinner

Zaxxon the Board Game spinner

Each player gets control of one six-sided die which they roll together at the same time at the beginning of each round of play. The player with the lowest roll then gets to spin the spinner. The spinner has three colors it could land on. If the spinner lands on blue, then all gun turrets currently in play are activated and any plane within their area of effect is shot down. If the spinner lands on red, all of the missile silos currently in play are activated and any plane within their area of effect is then shot down. Any missile silo or gun turret that has been destroyed no longer has any area of effect. The missile silo and gun turret closest to Zaxxon may not be destroyed, they are considered indestructible by the game’s rules. If the spinner lands on white, nothing happens.

After the spinner is spun, the player with the lowest roll moves their pieces the number of moves designated by the die they rolled. If they rolled a five, then they would have five movement points. Moving one position takes one movement point. Changing altitude takes one movement point. Firing at a target requires the number of movement points the plane is away from the target. In order to fire at a target, there must be a direct path through the hex grid from the plane to the target to fire in a straight line across the hex positions. A player may distribute their movement points across one or two planes any way they like and planes may move in any legal direction across the hex grid. A plane may not stop on top of a wall, so at least two movement points are required to clear any wall. After the player with the lowest die roll moves their planes, the player with the highest die roll then moves their planes. After all movement has been made, play continues in the next round as it did in the previous round with both players rolling their die together again.

Game pieces with different altitudes

Game pieces with different altitudes

Just like in the arcade game, altitude matters. In the Zaxxon board game, a plane may be in high altitude or low altitude. A plane must be in low altitude to hit a target. A plane must be in high altitude to pass over a wall. And a plane must be in the same altitude as another plane in order to shoot it down.

The dog-fight zone within the inner fortress

The dog-fight zone within the inner fortress

Right within the inner fortress, there are many spaces designated by open circles contained within an orange area. This is the dog-fighting zone. Players may shoot down their opponent’s aircraft here. Within this zone is a radar barrier. In order to send a plane through the radar barrier, the player must have rolled the highest of both players on that round of play.

Zaxxon and its movement area

Zaxxon and its movement area

Once a player’s plane has entered the radar barrier, Zaxxon becomes alerted and activated. At this point in the game, whenever a player spins the spinner and it lands on a space with a “Z,” that player will move and fire Zaxxon based on the their roll of their die. Zaxxon cannot move beyond the area it inhabits designated by the dark black circles on the board, nor can the player’s planes enter this area. Zaxxon can shoot as far as the fuel tank positions in the inner fortress. Any player within those positions can be hit by Zaxxon.

The game of Zaxxon I played with my opponent started out easy enough. We both handily destroyed our targets within the outer fortress on our way to the inner fortress. When we crossed the walls into the inner fortress the showdown began. We had fun shooting down each other’s planes. She crossed the radar barrier and I shot her plane down and vice versa.

As soon as we crossed the radar barrier, Zaxxon activated and moved up to the limit of his movement zone. We cautiously eliminated the front missile silo and gun turret in front of the fuel tanks and eliminated each of our fuel tanks when we were not eliminating each other. At one point we had four of our planes just outside Zaxxon’s range ready to take Zaxxon on. I sent one of my planes to the right-most side to flank it, and with a good roll managed a hit sending one of my planes back to home base and sending Zaxxon to his starting location. Using the same maneuverer with the second plane, I had to wait awhile until Zaxxon was back in position for me to strike again. As soon as the time was right, I got my hit and won the game.

Bird-eye view of the game board

Bird-eye view of the game board

Zaxxon is probably the best arcade to board game adaptation I have ever played. The game is balanced between both players. The game board, pieces, and game play feel close to the original arcade game. And the board game creators did a satisfactory job of balancing the level at which skill and chance factor in winning the game. The Zaxxon board game is not difficult to learn, and takes around 20-30 minutes to play once you know what you’re doing. It is a pleasant game that is fun and original and doesn’t make you think too hard; a good board game when you’ve got time to kill with a friend who doesn’t want to play anything too involved or is a fan of arcade gaming but the power is out.

Chung-Toi – Board Game Review

Chung-Toi Board Game

Chung-Toi

All serious strategy board gamers have been there. You’re on a camping trip out in the middle of nowhere wilderness where there’s plenty of food and plenty of fire to roast weenies and marshmallows, but no electronics and few games to play. Maybe someone brought a deck of cards, but no one can agree to learn anyone else’s card game, they just want everyone to play their own. Often someone brings Uno, which is nice but not too mentally engaging. Perhaps someone who didn’t mind being labeled as the camp nerd took one for the team and brought along chess. He’ll kick your butt every time, but at least it gives you something to do. But most often, in the backwoods campgrounds I have been to, or even on the way there or back while waiting for a table at a Cracker Barrel country store, somewhere there is a checkers board. It may be scrawled out on the top of a wooden barrel, or painted onto a picnic table. All it takes is 12 round pieces each of two distinct colors and you’re saved from boredom. Even if your opponent doesn’t know how to play checkers, it’s likely one of the easiest games to teach.

So you begin playing checkers. At first the game is quite even, piece captured for piece captured with the occasional one piece for two pieces. But eventually the end game comes along, and it’s down to a number of kings duking it out. It feels like I have had more opponents quit on me at the beginning of the late game than not when playing checkers.

“Ah, I can see you’re just too good for me! You win!” they say as if they are doing me a favor.

Sometimes I have thought to myself, “Self, wouldn’t it be great if you could just skip to and play the checkers late game with someone so they don’t get fatigued and chicken out?” That’s kind of what Chung-Toi feels like to play. Chung-Toi, a product of House-of-Chung Enterprises, bills itself as “Tic-Tac-Toe with a Twist.” Copyrighted in 1985 and designed for two players only, the objective of this game is to get three of your pieces in a row. The game contains a 3-by-3 board with three white pieces and three red pieces.

Chung-Toi game pieces

Chung-Toi game pieces

The rules are pretty simple. Both players decide who goes first. Taking turns, each player places a piece on the board until all pieces have been placed. Each piece is in the shape of an octagon and has arrows on four sides. When turned one direction, a piece’s arrows will be pointed horizontally and vertically on the game board. When turned one-eighth of a turn from that position, the arrows are pointed diagonally across the game board. These arrows indicate the direction that piece is allowed to move in a later turn, so when you place your pieces make sure you’re happy with the direction you’ve got the arrows pointing.

Once all pieces are placed, if no player already has three pieces in a row, a player may move one of her pieces in the following ways. A piece may be moved in one direction indicated by the current position of the arrows across the board either to an adjacent empty position or to hop over a piece to an empty position two spaces away from the piece’s current position. When moving any piece, the player may reorient the piece’s arrows in any configuration they choose. A piece may also be rotated to change its arrow configuration from diagonal to horizontal/vertical and vice-versa. Finally, a player may rotate a piece such that its current arrow configuration does not change, in essence passing on her turn.

Chung-Toi game play

Chung-Toi game play

Playing this game starts out feeling like a simple game of tic-tac-toe, but once all pieces are on the board, it is a puzzle to figure out how to arrange your own pieces while not compromising the positions you are holding that are keeping your opponent from winning. This game won a Mensa award in 1994. It’s really easy to pickup and teach. It’s moderately simple to get decent at this game when playing with other beginners, but becomes a delightful challenge to learn how to master besting an opponent when similarly matched.

I was unable to find a website or any real information on House-of-Chung Enterprises. According to the game box, W. Reginald Chung from Tifton, Georgia holds the copyright on Chung-Toi. It’s such a simple game, you could actually scrawl out a playing field using chalk on pavement and then use make-shift objects to designate player’s pieces and directions if you were out at camp and had no games with you.

I found a copy on Ebay selling for under 10 dollars. This seems like a worthwhile price to me. The biggest issue with paying too much for this game is that it literally feels like the end game to another game. The box claims that the “average playing time is 7 minutes per game.” I have yet to play a game of Chung-Toi that came close to 7 minutes, which would make me wonder if I was really getting my money’s worth. On the whole though, this is an excellent game to play with someone who has a short attention span, when you have only a little bit of time to waste, or you’re out in the woods with nothing to do.

Air Empire – Board Game First Impressions

Air Empire Box Art

Air Empire Box Art

Playing Air Empire, a board game released in 1961 by Avalon Hill, is like walking back in time for an educational, yet entertaining history lesson. Playable by 2 to 4 players, each player assumes control of one of the four major airlines at the beginning of the 1960s: American Airlines, Trans World Airline, United Airlines, and Eastern Air Lines.

That last airline was one I had actually never heard of. Apparently, Eastern Air Lines used to be one of the biggest airlines during most of the 20th century. Run by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War I fighter ace and Medal of Honor recipient, Eastern Air Lines “had a near monopoly on air travel between New York and Florida from the 1930s until the 1950s and dominated the market for decades afterward.” according to Wikipedia, though it has been defunct since 1991. I didn’t fly in my first plane until the mid 1990s on a Delta airlines flight. Delta isn’t represented in the game; they didn’t really become a big-time airline until well into the 1960s.

While writing this first impressions review I got so absorbed in reading about Rickenbacker’s adventurous life, from winning 26 aerial victories in World War I, his secret mission to the Soviet Union during World War II, to all his near death experiences where the press reported he had died multiple times throughout his inspiring and exciting life. I want to read his autobiography now. Look him up, you’ll be glad you did.

When I was getting pumped up to play Air Empire I was telling my wife I was looking forward to “flying the friendly skies.” That slogan is nowhere to be found in this game since United Airlines did not institute that slogan until 1965. Their slogan in 1961 was “The Main Line Airway.” I can see why they changed it.

Air Empire game board

Air Empire game board

It’s unusual to write a first impressions review for a board game. Most board games have a single set of rules that you follow and a set amount of time to play through the game. Air Empire has two rule booklets and three sets of gameplay. Booklet A contains the rules for the basic game. Booklet B contains further details about rules in booklet A and additional optional rules of play that add complexity to the basic game. On the back of booklet B are instructions for the Air Empire Tournament Game which adds additional rules designed to make the game more cut-throat and eliminate the players. In tournament play taxes and revenue fluctuations are added as well as forcing the player to turn in old planes and purchase new ones to maintain their airline fleet.

Booklet A directs players to start with it. The instructions are written such that players read a piece of the instructions out loud, then play that piece of the game, then continue reading the instructions, play the next piece and so on. Because we started with the basic game and the basic game is all we had time for during our game night, I’ll have to fully review the tournament game another time. There are some games that offer players kid gloves to get them eased into the game on the off chance they are not very experienced gamers – a “basic” game that is more like a tutorial. This game is not one of them. If we had started with the tournament game, it would have been brutal. My opponent and I kept running out of money and going bankrupt during the game. We made agreements at several points to rewind the game and try again when we had made a game-ending grave mistake.

Air Empire Gameplay

Air Empire game play

Each player assumes control of the airline designated by the logo on the side of the game board that is closest to them. The basic game occurs over a period of three in-game years divided into quarters. Therefore there are 12 rounds of play. The object of the basic game is to be the player with the most liquid cash at the end of those three years. Assets do not count toward this cash total.

There are 18 route cards that correspond to the 18 airport destinations on the game board. Each quarter all of the players bid on which class of service and how much they are willing to invest in each route. At the beginning of the game out of all the players, a “Senior President” is chosen. In the case of a tie in the game, the Senior President wins the tie in all bids. Each quarter, the position of Senior President moves to the next player around the table in a clockwise fashion. I’ve found using a dealer poker chip works well for this. In setting up the game, the route cards are shuffled and placed face down on the designated space on the game board. Each player receives a score sheet to keep track of the statistics for their airline.

Air Empire score sheet

Air Empire score sheet

Each route card contains a city, a list of cities adjacent to it, the flight costs associated with providing service in that city at each class level, and the revenue received from operating flights in that city at that class level. In a two player game, only classes A and B may be bid on. For three or four player games, a player may bid for any class level.

At the beginning of each quarter, the route card on the top of the deck is flipped over to reveal the new route. All players then covertly write the name of the city in an open Route Application slot on their airline score sheet. They select which class they are bidding for and the amount they bid to invest in that route. Their bid must be the same or higher than the flight cost amount listed on the route card.

If two or more players bid for a particular class, the highest bid for that class wins the route at that class. If there is a tie, if the Senior President was involved, the Senior President wins the bid. Otherwise, the player sitting closest to the Senior President in the clockwise direction wins the bid. When a bid is won, the winning player fills in the revenue and profit blanks on the Route Application and places the appropriate number of planes from their fleet at the new route’s city on the game board. The exact breakdown of what planes are required for each bid amount are listed on the game board under the “Flight Costs Table” heading.

Air Empire Flight Costs Table

Air Empire Flight Costs Table

Air Empires is very unforgiving for players who don’t plan ahead. If you win a bid, but you don’t have the right number and type of planes to support your bid amount, you automatically lose the bid and the next highest bidding player wins the route at that class instead. There are two types of planes: propeller and super jet planes. In one round I attempted to hurt my opponent by bidding high in class A for the Baltimore-Washington route at a price of $18,000. For $18,000 I needed 4 propeller planes and 2 super jets. I think I had 3 super jets at that point in the game, but I needed more propeller planes. If I had bid $17,000 or $19,000 I would have had an adequate number of planes to service the route. But because I frivolously bid $18,000, I lost the bid and the round as a result.

Any player who loses a bid in a class does not get to open a route that quarter. There are many perks for fighting for and winning bids in class A, however. For every two class A bids a player wins they may, if they choose, “borrow” $5,000 from the bank. This bank loan gets recorded on their score sheet on the round it was received, they receive the cash from the bank, and they are never required to pay it back. As the rules state, “Interest would be too small to effect play of the game, so this step has been eliminated.” Sounds like a cheap bonus granted to the current winner to me. Another bonus granted to class A route holders occurs when a player holds two adjacent class A routes. When this happens, a player receives a 20% increase to the profit generated from the new route. Each route card indicates which other cities are adjacent to it. It is possible, given a player has the planes necessary to support it, to bid so high no immediate profit is made from winning the bid. This can be used as a strategy to keep another player from getting a class A route, or to obtain a strategic class A route that can be used later.

Filling out the Air Empire score sheet

Filling out the Air Empire score sheet

After the winners of each class on the current route have been determined, players fill out their score sheets with their profits added to their current gross profit. Filling out the score sheet is kind of like filling out a tax form. Imagining that I was an actual president of a commercial airline, I enjoyed seeing my profits written down on paper and doing the math there. Others might consider this to be more work than game play though. This is a large component of the game, so keep that in mind if you consider obtaining a copy of Air Empire.

After recording profits, the player must decide how many new planes they would like to purchase. Propeller planes cost $2,500 each while super jets cost $7,000 each. There are a finite number of super jets and propeller planes. There are fewer super jets than there are propeller planes. It is a workable tactic to buy up all the super jets to make it more difficult for opponents to bid on the higher class routes. After recording the total purchase price of all planes, the player then calculates the total maintenance and overhaul cost of their fleet. Each propeller plane costs $200 per quarter while each super jet costs $500 per quarter to maintain. Gross Profits – (New Plane Cost + Maintenance Costs) equals net profit received from the bank. If this number is negative, the player owes the bank money.

Just like running an actual business, it’s really easy to plan poorly and wind up dirt poor or bankrupt. I found it helpful to use a calculator each round for planning out my next round. While calculating my scores for the current round I also came up with a shortcut to make figuring out the number of planes I would purchase easier by combining the cost of the plane with its maintenance cost. So when purchasing a propeller jet I calculated it at a cost of $2,700 and super jets at $7,500.

Once all players have made good with the bank by receiving their net profit or paying their outstanding balance, the next route card is turned over and the next quarter of play begins. It is important to keep track of when the game will end. When the game is over planes may not be turned in for cash, so it is wise not to purchase too many planes in the final quarters.

Air Empire is so cash.

Air Empire is so cash.

Air Empire is a moderately complex game of extreme strategy and skill. As I noted before, a great deal of math and planning goes into excelling at this game. Even more interesting is the bidding process though. Each bid I made with my opponent was akin to playing a hand of Poker, trying to determine the opponent’s next move and whether they would bluff or not. Air Empire is rich in these chance game mechanics while not actually being a game of chance. Based on these mechanics, I find this game to be absolutely fascinating. I concede it is not for everyone, but if you consider yourself to be a serious board game player and love strategy or betting games, I would highly recommend you give Air Empire a try.

Cross-Up – Board Game Review

Cross-Up Box Cover

Cross-Up Box Cover

I found and purchased this board game, Cross-Up by Milton Bradley, at an antique shop in Sweetwater, Tennessee. When I saw it I turned to my wife and said, “Look! It’s Lucy from I Love Lucy!!!” Judging the cover of the game, I would assume that is what the publishers would have hoped a prospective buyer like me would have done. As can be seen in the image, the cover has a canned cursive Lucy signature. The signature looks nothing like the signature on the Lucille Ball Wikipedia page. Despite this and the image of her sitting behind the table, this game appears to have no further references to the great American icon.

Cross-Up has a copyright date of 1974. According to Wikipedia, 1974 was the last year Lucy was credited as starring in any particular movie or show. It kind of hurts me to look at her face. She’s like a grandmother smiling longingly at me, hoping she’ll get to play the game with me, while also sad and exasperated like she has low expectations that will ever happen. I hope they simply edited her picture onto the cover, otherwise I would feel sorry for the camera man who surely felt he must play the game she’s advertising to keep from breaking her heart. Enough about that, on to the game-play.

Cross-Up Game Components

Cross-Up Game Components

Cross-Up is advertised as a game for two or more players. I would like to know if there is a world record on the number of people who have played Cross-Up at one time. Four game pads are provided, but the five-by-five letter play grid is easy enough to draw out on a piece of scrap paper.

Cross-Up Letter Card Piles

Cross-Up Letter Card Piles

There are two decks of cards containing one letter on each card. The decks are shuffled together and dealt face down into six equal piles. Each face down pile is then turned face up and placed in a spot within the letter card tray. The letter frequencies are as follows.

A – 9; B – 4; C – 4; D – 4; E – 12; F – 3; G – 3; H – 3; I – 9; J – 2; K – 2; L-4; M – 3; N – 6; O – 8; P – 3; Q – 1; R – 6; S – 4; T – 6; U – 4; V – 2; W – 2; X – 1; Y – 2; Z – 1; Total: 108

It is best for all players to agree on a dictionary before play begins to alleviate the kinds of conflicts that arise out of playing word game board games. Take care when doing this. While house rules often state that if a word is in the dictionary it’s fair game, I noticed that the Merriam-Webster dictionary we were using had correct spellings of popular biographical figures, and we all know that’s not Scrabble kosher.

The rules say all of the players simply determine who will go first by mutual consensus. They obviously have never played a game with the people I play with. We used a single die, highest roller went first. Each player chooses a letter tile, calls it out loud, and places it prominently where everyone can see it. Then each player chooses where they would like to place that letter within their five-by-five play grid. Play continues in a clockwise manner with everyone drawing a card until 25 cards are drawn. Once players have filled out their play grids after the 25th letter, they calculate the points of the number of three to five letter words they were able to construct. The letters J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z are considered special letters. If a word contains one special letter, the total point value of that word is multiplied by two. With two special letters it is multiplied by four. With three special letters it is multiplied by eight. And with four special letters it is multiplied by sixteen!

Cross-Up Play Grid

Cross-Up Play Grid

The corners of the play grid are labeled starting in the upper left corner and going clockwise: A, B, D, and C. Legal words may be read horizontally A to B, vertically A to C, diagonally A to D, or diagonally C to B. The point values are rated below. As can be seen, it pays to favor diagonal words over horizontal ones. Five letter words are the brass ring.

Diagonal 5 Letter – 15 points
Diagonal 4 Letter – 8 points
Diagonal 3 Letter – 5 points
Horizontal/Vertical 5 Letter – 10 points
Horizontal/Vertical 4 Letter – 4 points
Horizontal/Vertical 3 Letter – 3 points

Cross-Up Final Score

Cross-Up Final Score

As you can see from our scores, I tend to be awful at word games. That being said, I think playing this game would help someone who was trying to become a better Scrabble player. The entire game could be viewed as an exercise in creating as many three to five letter adjoining words in a tight space as possible, an art that really separates the expert Scrabble players from the loser laymen like me. Cross-Up is a simple game that takes little time and preparation to play and is fairly enjoyable while it lasts. See if you can pick it up for around three dollars like I did.