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FROM "POINT OF VIEW"
AFRICA (Goldsieber/Rio Grande Games; $39.95)
has probably been one of the most anticipated games coming out of
Germany's Nuremburg game fair this year.
The game, for 2 to 5 players, boasts great graphics and game play
indicative of the always solid design work of Reiner Knizia.
Ironically, after its release, the game was panned by many
observers as too simple for true gamers (whatever that means).
On the other hand, this writer believes Knizia has pulled off a
near perfect "family" game with just enough going for it.
Africa should please many of those
who are looking for relief from "brain burning" games, and
more importantly, it serves younger players' skills perfectly.
The board depicts the continent of Africa comprised of 101 spaces, 96 of which are "populated" by Discovery markers at the beginning of play. Each player places one of his explorers on one of the five starting city spaces and one explorer on the zero space of the scoring track that winds around the continent. Each player receives two Base Camp tokens and the 10 remaining Base Camps are placed aside along with a +3 marker (a bonus of 3 Victory Points awarded to the player claiming the last Base Camp). Typically, the player takes two actions on his turn. He may move 0,1 or 2 spaces to an empty hex (or a face up Discovery marker or a space with a Base Camp) and then the player may pick up any of the surrounding adjacent face down tiles.
Different markers have different effects.
If the player uncovers Jewels or Gold, the marker remains where
it is and the player scores 1 or 2 points depending on how many jewels
or gold pieces are pictured (1 or 2).
If the player uncovers an artifact, he removes it from the board
and places it in front of him. There
are five each of the seven artifacts and the more a player has of any
set, the more points they are worth (from 1 point for one artifact up to
12 points for all five of a set). When
an artifact is found, it may be traded with another player under the
right circumstances and, in this manner, sets may be built up to their
maximum scoring potential. When an animal is uncovered, it may be placed near other
animals of the same kind. For each new animal the placed animal is
touching, the player scores 1 point (plus 1 for uncovering the animal).
This is an absolutely brilliant design mechanism, allowing the
animals to herd during the game. It
is so pertinent to the theme that it stands out.
Likewise, when a Nomad is uncovered, it may be picked up and
placed adjacent to empty spaces and the more empty spaces, the more
points gained. Again, a
design mechanism so pertinent to the theme!
Finally, the player may uncover a Monument marker, which remains
on its space while the player is given one of the remaining base camps.
of two allotted moves, the player may elect to place one of his Base
Camps on an empty space. If
he does so, he may either score for all the surrounding Animals, Nomads
and Monuments or he may pick up any Gold or Jewels surrounding the Base
Camp. In the former case,
the player can score a maximum of 6 points.
In the latter, the player scores nothing immediately, but at the
end of the game, the player with the most Gold or Jewels scores 10
points and the player with the second most scores 6 points.
Although much of the game involves the very random element of uncovering
Discovery markers, there is ample opportunity for decisions that can
impact the final scoring and win or lose the game.
First, an alternate move allows a player to pick up a previously
uncovered marker and move it to another space on the board.
In the case of Nomads, this can result in as much as another 6
points if the player is able to find an open area.
Since the Gold, Jewel and Artifact markers are removed when
uncovered, the board does empty out as the game progresses, affording
opportunity to move the Nomads to unpopulated areas!
Second, the use and positioning of Base Camps becomes very
important since a Base Camp that is unused at the end of the game is
worthless. Does the player
use his Base Camps to pick up Jewels and Gold?
Can it be placed adjacent to Animals, Nomads and Monuments to
score perhaps 5 or 6 points? If
a player waits too long to place his Base Camps, he may run out of good
placement opportunities or may not even be able to place them all!
Last, a player may "parachute" in to any space on the
board as his entire turn, possibly to set up a valuable placement of a
base camp on the next turn.
All told, the tactics involved are not too difficult for a youngster of 8 or 9 to grasp, yet there is enough there to give adults a sense that they might be able to do better in their next outing. In this regard, I feel the designer has done his job quite well and the game succeeds. Despite the criticism that the game is too simple, many players enjoy the thrill of discovery and are eager to play again. Perhaps we are a bit too spoiled in looking for an ideal "gamer's game". If Africa had been published in the U.S. by Parker Brothers 20 years ago, it probably would have easily sold over one million copies, putting it up in the same best seller status as Monopoly, Clue and Payday. Given that Africa is at least as interesting thematically as the aforementioned, it is deserving of applause. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Al Newman
CARCASSONNE (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games; $19.95)
Ah, the bucolic countryside of medieval France – winding roads,
secluded cloisters, walled towns, and rolling farmland.
Sounds like an excellent setting for a game, non?
Well, it turns out it a great setting and Carcassonne
is just such a game.
Carcassonne is designed by newcomer Klaus
Jergen-Wrede. The object of the game is to score the most points through
placing tiles and controlling features various feature on the tiles like
roads, towns, farms and cloisters. Control is marked with little wooden figures
(color-coded to each player).
Each person draws and plays one tile on his turn.
The tile must be placed so that it’s features abut the
appropriate features on a tile already positioned.
Once placed, you have the option of putting one of your figures
on the tile just laid. The
figure must be situated on one of the specific features on the tile. There is one restriction in the placement of figures though.
A player may not place a figure on a feature already containing
another figure. To
illustrate, let's say that you just placed a tile with a road and city
segment. The tile was
placed such that it creates a new city and extends an existing road, but
there is already a figure on this road placed several turns before.
You may not place your figure on the road segment on the tile you
just laid, but you can place it on the city segment.
You can also choose not to place a figure at all during your turn.
Since each player has a very limited number of figures at his disposal,
this is often an option worth considering.
Because of the figure placement restriction, direct conflict for
possession of the various features on the board doesn’t really exist.
What does happen though is players will place tiles in such a
manner that fragments of roads or cities or farms are created and future
tile placement eventually joins these fragments.
Scoring happens during the game when any feature is completed (except
for farms). If a tile is placed bringing a road to an intersection or
adding the final segment of a walled city to the board, the person who
has the most figures on that feature scores points. All figures on that
feature are then returned to their owners to use again for future turns.
In the case of roads and cities, the longer or larger they are, the more
points they score. A monastery can also be completed during the game
when the monastery is completely surrounded by adjoining tiles.
Scoring occurs at the end of the game as well. Partial roads, cities and
monasteries are scored in the same fashion as during the game with the
player with the most figures controlling a feature scoring points,
though not as many points as could have been scored for completing a
feature during the game. In
the case of ties, all tied players score. Farms also score during the end game.
A farm is defined as any field that is completely enclosed by a
combination of city, roads and the edge of the board.
What makes the game interesting is the management of your figures.
You cannot score unless you have them on the board and can
complete features to reclaim the figures for future placement.
But you always want to have a figure or two handy to place on a
tile during your turn to take advantage of a good tile draw and
placement. You also need to
decide whether to invest resources to score points during the game or
score points at the end of the game with farms, a very nice balance
between the short term tactics of tile placement and long term strategy
of figure management that you will struggle with even after a number of
The game is subject to significant luck of the draw since you only draw
one tile per turn and then immediately play it. This can be a
frustration point when you go several turns before drawing a useful tile
but, then again, the game isn’t intended be terribly heavy.
For those who feel the need, it is easy enough to draw and hold a
hand of two or three tiles.
In the end, Carcassonne works well and is quite fun. It plays well with any number of players (as suggested on the box). It also plays reasonably quick, almost always under 60 minutes, although with five players. it can bog down a bit beyond the one hour mark. Finally, Carcassonne is a game that seems to have the right appeal for the casual game player or family member with its simple rules and the puzzle-like feeling of constructing the board. At the same time, it holds the interest of the typical gamer and you can never have too many games that get the attention of both crowds. - - - - - - - - - Craig Massey
Das Amulett (Goldsieber; $34.95)
Das Amulett, from the prodigious design team of Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum (authors of San Marco and Capitol, both featured last issue) is a magical quest for three to six players. Each player must use cunning combinations of spells to capture beautiful jewels for their amulets. The game ends when a player collects seven different colored jewels in their amulet, or eight jewels in total.
The game is, at its essence, an elegant pair of interconnected auctions. The first auction requires players to bid precious energy stones (each player starts with ten) for magical spells. The spells have various functions, influencing the game in a variety of ways. At the conclusion of this first auction, the number of regions that will be visited (and the number of jewels available this round) is randomly determined. Players must then bid for control of each region to receive the jewel of their choice. Bidding in this second auction involves the use of metal cards. There are four types of metal cards: gold, silver, copper, and iron. Players start with one of each in the beginning of the game. The only way to receive more cards is through the use of the earlier mentioned spells.
First, to explain the spells. Each spell card influences the game in a different fashion. Spells may allow players to win two (rather than the normal one) jewels in a region, or allow players to match rather than raise bids during the second auction phase or make metal cards of a certain type "wild". Much of the enjoyment of the game comes from trying to create particular spell power combinations that impact other players in a variety of ways.
At the beginning of the game, each player starts with two spells. Thereafter, each round consists of a "once-around" where more spells card are available and the winning bidders place the spell cards directly in front of them, also placing their bid energy stones on the card. For example, if I bid 5 energy stones, I place those 5 stones on the card. Spell cards have energy stone symbols in the right corner of the card. After a round ends, players must remove the indicated number of energy stones. When the number of stones on the card hits zero, the spell is removed from the game. So, if your bid is 4, I could bid 5 to take it or bid 10 to hold onto it longer. Therefore, players must determine the worth of a spell card by also factoring in the length of time they want to be able to use the card over the course of the game. Spell cards also include some metallic symbols in the upper left corner which indicate the number and type of metal cards a player will replenish after a round is completed. In general, more powerful spells provide fewer metal cards. Weaker spells may not be worth devoting as many energy stones. The careful player has several considerations when deciding whether to bid for a spell card. Needless to say, these decisions are gut-wrenching and fun.
After spells have been distributed, players collect their metal cards based on the symbols on the spells. Then it's time to try to collect jewels for those lovely amulets.
The winner of the last spell card auction moves a hat-shaped figure on the game board. The board depicts a fantasy landscape divided up into regions. Each region contains two jewels, except for the four center city regions containing three jewels each. Each region also shows a symbol indicating the currency, or metal card type, that must be used to bid for jewels in that region. The center city regions contain "wild" symbols, meaning ANY metal card can be used in the bidding. Finally, many of the regions also contain landmarks that afford the usage of particular spells. Some regions are bounded by walls, others contain pyramids, and still others are devoid of landmarks. Particular spell cards may be usable only in a region with a pyramid, or one with a wall. Of course, now is a nice time to have some of those useful spell cards, especially those that make particular metal cards wild and usable in other regions, and spells that allow you to take two jewels instead than one.
Each player, in turn, bids a particular number of region-appropriate
metal cards. This auction continues until everyone has had a
chance to pass. The person with the highest bid wins a jewel from
that region. The winner also gets to move the wizard hat to a
neighboring region (a nice ability, particularly if you can travel to
other regions that can activate
This an incredibly enjoyable game. The interlaced auctions force
players to contemplate the usage of precious commodities (energy stones
and metal cards). Energy stones used to bid on spell cards are
necessary for obtaining metal cards, and metal cards are necessary for
obtaining jewels. If players get too greedy and try to do too much
at once, they may find themselves with powerful spells but too few cards
to be involved in the jewel auctions. In addition, if players hang
back, they may be able to win the jewel auctions, but will not receive
the bonuses (like extra jewels and cards from other players) necessary
to complete their
I cannot say enough about the beautiful art and components, but I've come to expect nothing less from Franz Vohlwinkel. Each card has an original piece of art depicting the spell power. The stylistic design truly makes the game stand out, a worthy addition to the fascinating gameplay. Even the plastic jewels and cardboard amulets are nice!
received a worthy nomination for Spiel Des Jahres this year, and was one
of the three finalists. I believe the game did not win the prize
because it is definitely not a family design. It really is a
gamer's game, requiring a play or two before the intricate combinations
of cards can be fully appreciated. Das
Amulett is an
enjoyable gaming experience, and one you will want to revisit again and
again. - - - - - - - - - - - - Dave Rapp
WYATT EARP (Alea/Rio Grande Games; $19.95)
Mike Fitzgerald's Mystery Rummy series has been favorably reviewed both in these pages (Jack the Ripper [Fall 1998 GA REPORT], Murders in the Rue Morgue [Fall 1999 GA REPORT] and Jekyll & Hyde [last issue]) and in the marketplace. A Wild West setting for his rummy variant seems like a natural. Only this time, Fitzgerald has teamed up with Richard Borg (whose credits include Battle Cry [Summer 2000 GA REPORT]) to put a little more meat in the pot. Together they have come up with a game outside of the series: Wyatt Earp.
In Wyatt Earp, players try to capture seven of the most notorious characters from the American West: Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Bob Dalton, Bill the Kid, Belle Starr and Wes Hardin. These Outlaws have bounties on their head. The player who collects the most reward money wins!
The game comes boxed with a deck of 78 cards of two types: Outlaw cards (seven for each Outlaw) and Sheriff cards (marked with stars). The Sheriff cards are subdivided into Photo cards (one for each Outlaw), seven Wyatt Earp cards (the most powerful in the deck) and others including bank robbery, fastest gun, most wanted, hideout and stagecoach robbery. Money, in the form of cardboard tokens in denominations of $5000 and $1000 is also present.
The center of the playing area is filled by the seven large Outlaw character cards arranged in a circle. Each Outlaw card begins with a $1000 chit placed on it, the current reward for capturing that villain. Players begin with a hand of 10 cards. On a turn, a player MUST draw one or two cards (either the top discard OR two from the draw pole), MAY then play one or more cards (only one Sheriff card per turn but any number of Outlaw cards) and then finish the turn by discarding one card.
Outlaws are captured by amassing a certain number of "Capture Points" (CPs). Cards used in melds are the first way points are garnered. The first meld against any Outlaw must consist of three matching Outlaw cards. Melding Outlaw cards generally increase the bounty on that lawbreaker. Simple enough - but it's the Sheriff cards that give Wyatt Earp an extra dose of action.
Usually, a player may only play one Sheriff card (noted by a sheriff's star in the upper left hand corner) per turn and these cards have a great impact on play. For example, the Photo card (one for each Outlaw) may be played once the initial meld for a particular Outlaw is made. The Photo card for the matching Outlaw adds 4 CPs to the total and increases the reward for capturing the criminal. The rules indicate that the Photo card should be played on turn. We play that the Photo card may be played OUT OF TURN! Since you are only allowed to play one Sheriff card per turn, this minimizes the danger of being stuck with a hand filled with Sheriff cards so that you are paralyzed. Like the Photo card, other Sheriff cards (such as bank robbery and fastest gun) add CPs to an outlaw and reward money to his capture. On the other hand, the hideout card neutralizes the CPs of one player. The Wyatt Earp card is clearly the most powerful as it allows you to draw two cards from the draw pile OR retrieve one card from the discard pile OR remove a nasty hideout card. The Photo cards always take effect when played but for other Sheriff cards to work, the player must make a good "shot".
In determining if a shot "hits", the player playing the card turns over the next card in the draw pile. All Outlaw cards have a "bullet hole" on the edge. If you draw a bullet hole, your shot hits and the card takes effect. If any other type of card is drawn (which does NOT have a bullet hole), you've missed and the played card gets discarded! (This may seem like too much luck but it really isn't. Successful shots occur more often early in the game. As the game progresses and Outlaw cards are melded, less Outlaw cards remain in the deck so the chance for a successful shot lessens. In this game, as in so many others, timing is important!)
Play continues until either a player goes out (by playing all held cards save one and then discarding the last) OR the deck is gone through a second time. At that point, we score.
For an Outlaw to be captured (and reward money earned), a total of at least 8 CPs must be melded to the table by all players. (Otherwise, the reward money carries over the next and). If 8 CPs or more are played against an Outlaw, totals are compared. If one player has 5 CPs (or more) against a particular Outlaw than any other player, that player gets ALL of the reward money. Otherwise rewards are shared with the player with the most CPs getting the first $2000 of the reward while the rest of the reward money is shared among all (with some restrictions) $1000 at a time.
If no one accumulates $25,000 in reward money, the game continues. The first player to earn $25,000 (or if more than one player reaches that level, then the one who has the highest total beyond the $25,000 mark) wins the game!
Adding to the Wild West ambiance of the game are the large Outlaw cards containing brief biographies of the game's protagonists as well as effective use of sepia tones and artwork that captures the essence of the Wild West.
Although not an official part of the Mystery Rummy series, Wyatt Earp ranks right up there in its effective use of theme and card play. So gather up your posse, pardner. Bounty hunting with Wyatt Earp is a very rewarding gaming experience. - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy