So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Party Game to Treasure - Reviewing Incan Gold

My gaming group doesn't really play party games.  Apples to Apples hasn't hit the table.  Neither has Taboo, Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit.  For most of the people in the group, they want to play something with a little more strategy.  For myself, I am not a fan of performance based games.  Each of those that I mentioned above require either trivial knowledge, quick wits, or artistic talent.  No matter the group, someone always seems to feel self-conscious about playing.

That said, there are times that one needs to pull out a game in the midst of a bunch of people to play.  The Resistance is a possibility, buy recently I have run into a few people that are uncomfortable with the deception part of the game.  It also isn't going to go well with little ones; they may not be okay with being called a liar to their faces.

Enter the temple of Incan Gold.  This a quick, light push-your-luck game that everyone can enjoy.  The game plays up to eight people, though I have stretched it to nine and it stilled played very well.  It's a short game, playing in about 15 - 20 minutes, so it could be stretched a little further by having the dealer sit out when playing multiple games of Incan Gold.  We had an 8 year old playing as a "teammate" of an adult when we have played, but she certainly could have played on her own.  In fact, she was fully part of the decision making for her team.

Imagine you are Indiana Jones, entering an Incan temple (actully, it might properly be Inca temple, but you get the idea) for artifacts and jewels.  Okay, maybe your not Indy - maybe your a little more self-serving like RenĂ© Belloq.  Regardless of your personal motives, the winner of the game is the person with the most treasure at the end of the game.

Hazard Cards (Photo by Ender Wiggins)
 There are five rounds to the game, with each round lasting several turns.  Each turn of the game, players will simultaneously reveal whether or not they are going deeper into the temple or leaving while the getting is good.  After everyone reveals their decision the dealer flips over a card which has an artifact, jewels or a hazard.  Jewels are divided evenly amongst the players still in the temple, with any remainders staying on the path.  Hazards (of which there are five types) and artifacts stay on the path.  If players decide to leave, they divide any jewels on the path on the way out.  If one and only one person leaves the temple that turn, they can take the artifact.  Those players who have left the temple are out for the round, but any treasure they have collected will be kept for the rest of the game.  The players who are still in take another turn.  The round continues until everyone as left the temple, or two of the same type of hazard appear.  If a hazard ends the round, anyone still in the temple loses everything they have collected during that round.  After the five rounds, everyone counts the value of their treasure, and the player with the highest total wins. 

When we play, everyone tries to play quickly.  If you take to long to decide, or leave early in the round, your are likely to be the target of lots of chicken sounds.  There also can be a little bit of bluff and deception in this game too.  I am pretty sure there are people who believe I was trying to talk them in to staying in the temple with me.  It was purely a misunderstanding, though when I then left it did allow me to collect an artifact and avoid splitting up the jewels on the path.  Purely unintentional.  Really.  Unfortunately for them, there were snakes.

It's Your Move!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I have talked about rules before, but mainly how to review and remember them.  I haven't addressed how to read them.  Really? How to read rules?

Rules don't always make sense at first...
Now, there's no doubt that rules can be confusing.  Often, they don't mention every circumstance that could come up during a game.  Sometimes they make no sense until after a game or two has been played.  This seems to be particularly true when there are cards (or some other mechanism) that create exceptions to the rules in the rulebook.

BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a great resource for resolving these issues, but I find that a literal reading of the rules and/or card will often answer such questions for you.

This is a skill that comes naturally to every 4 year old.  Ask them to put their shoes in the closet, and they will.  Where in the closet is another matter though; that wasn't specified.  I am finding that this also is a skill that returns around age 16.  Ask a 16 year old to take out the garbage because it is being collected tomorrow, and it will end up in the garbage can.  Taking it out to the curb to be collected is a different story.  It has to be specified.  And never tell them to get "a snack" without defining the term snack.

 My son's favorite Lord of the Rings scene...

I ran into a BGG entry recently in which a literal interpretation of the rules would have answered a question before it was asked.  The game being played was Battle Cry, and the question was about card play.  Apparently, the card being played was the "Forced March" card,  which allows the player to move units further than normally allowed.  However, "terrain movement restrictions still apply".  The question was whether or not terrain battle restrictions would still apply.  Why wouldn't they?  Even if the card had said "terrain movement restriction do not apply", nothing would change.  A literal reading of the card says nothing about battle restrictions.  Therefore, the normal battle rules - as written in the rulebook - are in effect.

Game rules are generally meant to be taken literally.  If the rules say a player "must" do something, it's mandatory.  If the rules say "may", then it is optional.  If the rules say that a player takes Action A, then Action B, then Action C, they must be done in that order.  If the card says "play immediately" it means just that: stop everything else and resolve the effects of the card.  

Do not pass go - it says it all!
It's nice when the rules provide clarifying text.  Monopoly "go to jail" cards make it clear that the player does not get $200.  However, a literal reading of the card and the rules makes it clear anyway.  According to the rules, you get $200 when passing GO.  The card says "go directly to jail" and "do not pass GO" (emphasis mine).  No $200 is collected.  

Does this always work?  No, but it certainly cuts down on the questions.  Occasionally, you will actually find a hole in the rules. At that point, you may need to look it up on BGG, an FAQ, or you may need to house rule it.  But take a moment and read the rules literally.

It's Your Move!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Who You Calling a Variant?

Recently, I talked about a day when our niece was over, and playing Clue with her.  This game was frustrating at time, as I think I rolled a "1" six times in a row.  I was getting nowhere.  The only redeeming part of it was that our niece thought this was incredibly funny.  At least someone was enjoying it.

Mr. Hyde was a variant of Dr. Jekyll. Hopefully your variants go better.

I wanted to introduce a variant, but at her age I didn't want to confuse things.  What, you say?  You have never played variants?  If you have played Monopoly, I bet you have.  If you have put money in Free Parking, you've played a variant.  In fact, I have never played a game of Monopoly that wasn't a variant!  I've never played using property auctions as described in the rules. That's a variant.  You've played them, you probably just called them house rules.

Many people think of house rules as bad.  "Your not playing by the REAL rules" seems to be their attitude.  Personally, I think house rules are great - as long as they don't break the game.   In fact, you'd be surprised to learn that many games encourage variant play.  There are times when a house rule or two can make a huge improvement on a game.  Publishers know this.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

In the Monopoly article mentioned above, I talk about variants to speed up the game.  One is the auction rule to get properties sold more quickly.  Another is to stop the game at the first player elimination, and count up everyone assets, with the richest person winning.  Even Hasbro (who owns Parker Brothers) encourages this.  Tournament rules - a variant - stop the game after 90 minutes. 

Fantasy Flight, publishers of many highly thematic games with lots of awesomeness, publishes variant rules in the rulebook.  These "official variants" are designed so that players can tune the game.  In some cases, rules benefit one side or the other to offset perceived game imbalances.  In some cases, the variants change the length of the game. 

There's even a case of forcing a variant by not putting a rule in a game.  As you may know, my favorite game (after Chess) is Acquire.  One of the frequently asked questions by new players is what information is closed, and what information is open.  Should everyone know how much money you have?  Stock?  The rules don't say.  The game is on something like it's eighth publishing, and the rules are still silent.  It would seem that the publisher wants you to decide for yourself.  (Just so you know, we play with open money and closed stock, mostly because of table space.  Most people play the other way, to reflect real life.)

The whole point of playing games is to have fun.  If tweaking the rules makes a game more fun for you, then I say go for it!  Just make sure everyone knows the rules that are in effect before the game starts.  People can get pretty passionate about Free Parking, so they probably ought to know up front!

Oh, and the Clue variant?  A while back I read about a variant where you get to spend nine actions points each turn.  It costs one point to move one space, except for the secret passage, which acts as describe in the rules.  It costs three action points to make a suggestion, and three to make your final accusation.  The whole point of this is to remove the randomness of the die rolls, and to speed up the game.  I haven't tried this, but maybe next time!

It's Your Move!