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AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

Reviewed by Frank Branham

(Kosmos/Rio Grande, 3-6 Players, 60 Minutes; $37.95)

 

“When you turn one of these up, do you get Shirley MacLaine?” – Steven Carlberg, first time Around the World in 80 Days player.

The Kosmos box for Around the World in 80 Days is a little confusing as the little blurb right up at the top shows clearly that the game was designed by Jules Verne. Scanning down the cover’s lush graphics, you can find the lesser known name of Michael Rieneck, who I suspect did much more of the actual game design.

Jules Verne’s classic novel has spawned a good half dozen games, and a ton of movies. If you don’t know the premise, crawl out from under your rock and find the 1956 movie version. It is a classic period movie containing every celebrity from Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre to the divine Miss MacLaine.80daysbox

Once you’ve watched your movie, you can sit down and enjoy the game-and it will probably make you happy. Quite obviously, Around the World in 80 Days is a race game, but with some unique twists.

The board is a simple series of perhaps 10 spaces, connected with lines containing a mixture of ship and train icons. Around the edge of the board is a pedestrian-looking Time track which goes from 0 to 80. The incredibly clever bit here is that all players progress separately on both tracks at the same time. One player may be in Hong Kong having spent 53 days in travel, while another player may at the same instant be in Brindisi having spent 16 days.

The reason this disparity exists is that players slowly collect Travel Cards (which consist of two suits: Trains and Planes). Once per turn, you can move, plopping down cards that match the icons on the road to your next destination. The numbers on the cards tell you how many days you advance your personal clock.

Incredibly clever bit item 2 is the winning conditions. The last player to physically move his pawn into London always loses. Otherwise, the player with the fewest days on his travel clock wins. This creates a nice source of tension where you want to hold back to best optimize your rate of travel while not falling too far behind.aroundworldpcs

And then there are complications to the basic idea. Each turn, 6 Travel Cards are turned up. The Start Player chooses a card, and each player gets one of the remaining cards in turn. Above the Travel cards are icons that give you a special action for that turn. These let you go first next turn, take gold (tradeable for cards), use a detective to slow players down, fly by balloon, or take an Event Card.

There are a few ways of getting discounts on movement, the most clever being the Event Cards. You can have as many as you want from the slim deck of 15. Two of the cards, however, must be played immediately when they are drawn. They add a day or two to everyone’s clock, and the entire Event Deck is reshuffled. I mean the entire deck, including unplayed cards in player’s hands.

The end result is probably my favorite game so far from the 2004 Essen crop. There is quite a bit of luck flitting about, as there are so many cards and tiny vestiges of mean-spiritedness in the game. But this odd soup of cards and mechanics offers some tricky choices and quite a bit of drama. Players choose the card you DESPERATELY need, shove the detective in your path, or suddenly rush ahead leaving you dangerously far behind the pack. On your turn, you are frequently torn between hanging back to look for the perfect card or the right bonus, taking a lesser card in order to get first choice next turn, spending gold to buy a card, or rushing forward to avoid the detective on your heels.

My only complaints are some wee components. The cards are all the smaller Settlers variety, and there are some critical bonus markers that are anemic 10mm cardboard discs that are just too small to avoid losing. The game is of course also a bit abstract in that very German way, but aspects of the book are properly represented in the art and on the Event Cards. Most of the people I’ve played it with were also quite impressed and are looking to buy copies as well. And, yes, the Princess Event Card does look just a bit like Shirley MacLaine. – – – – – – – – Frank Branham


 

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