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CALIFORNIA

Reviewed by Ben Baldanza

(Abacus, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; about $30)

 

Ah, to live in a mansion in sunny California! Everyone gets their shot at this dream in California, this new game from Michael Schacht. But the bad news is that the mansion needs a lot of work. Rooms must be renovated and furniture acquired and, of course, this means spending money. You’ll be competing with others who are also doing an extreme makeover, and everyone lives in a posh but nosey neighborhood which means that people will want to pop in to see how your work is coming along.california

Each player gets their own mansion board with sixteen rooms, with only one of the sixteen ready for furniture. The others must first be renovated before furniture can be moved in. Tiles representing room renovations and furniture are sold in one of two stores, and in a single round, there will initially be eight tiles available for purchase. The rooms and their related furniture come in six different colors, each representing a space in the mansion. Red tiles are the music room, for example, and only red furniture can be placed on these tiles. In addition to the two stores, there is a bank that holds four gold coins, each worth five. Silver coins in the game are worth one each.

In typical Schacht style, the turns are subtlety simple. Players either take a coin from the bank or buy a tile from one of the stores. Tiles bought from the stores are placed into your mansion, either to renovate a room or to place furniture on a room already renovated. The cost of the tile equals in single units the number of gold coins in the bank at that time. So, the first player in a round can take a gold coin or buy any tile for four silver coins. Thus by taking money, you make everything else cheaper to buy for others as well as yourself next time around. The round ends as soon as the bank is empty or either store has sold its four tiles. The game plays through 12 rounds in this manner, and as a result there is never enough time to do all the work you want in your home.

This all sounds fun, of course, but what’s the point? There are three ways to score in the game. The first is to work on your mansion: every renovated space on your board is worth one point, with or without furniture on it. The second is to win bonus tiles. These are placed on the table at the beginning of the game, and the first person to meet specific criteria takes the tile and scores the bonus. Bonuses are earned for having three pieces of furniture in one color (one type of room), and for having specific combinations of furniture. Once the tile is taken, no one else earns that bonus. The third way to score is the most interesting and drives the most interaction in the game. These points are earned by the guests who bring gifts.

The neighborhood consists of six people who wander around watching the work. Specifically, each neighbor is interested in one of the six types of rooms. Whenever a piece of furniture is built in their color, they move over to see it, meaning that their piece is placed in front of the player who just added the furniture. Attracting a crowd starts to pay off, as whenever a visitor comes over and at least one other person is already there, this new person brings a gift worth one point. Keeping people at your mansion is helpful, but hard to do as the neighbors are fickle and move for every piece of furniture built. Since only one tile can be purchased during a turn, only one person can be attracted per turn. Thus, it must be calculated carefully to keep people stationed at your mansion in time to attract yet another to get the gift.

There are two other well-conceived ideas in the game. The first is the attic. Normally players can only buy furniture tiles that can be immediately moved in. However, each mansion includes a single attic space and furniture can be stored there for later use. This works like the Barn in New England (Summer 2003 GA REPORT) in that the attic can store only one piece, but once empty can be used again. Pieces in the attic at game’s end are worthless, but throughout the game this is an effective way to hold a piece that will help score a bonus tile and often can be used defensively to take a key piece from your competitors. The other idea is the loans. Money is tight in the game and the decision to take money means you’ve decided not to renovate until it is your turn again. Players can take a loan to get three silver coins on their turn and they can pay it back any time before the final scoring but must pay four. Any loans not repaid at the game end take two points from the player’s score.

The game flows quickly and every decision is critical. Seeing what is available in the stores and what others are able to build often helps determine your own purchase strategy. The timing of the rounds can vary greatly, given that it takes only the bank or either store to empty to clear the stores and draw new tiles. Tiles discarded in this way stay out until the 12th round when some will make it back. Scoring is often close and thus each gift or getting the bonus tile just before someone else is ready to take it can be the deciding factor. The theme fits the abstract mechanic better than most of Schacht’s games. Overall, California is a nice mid-weight game for an evening closer or following a monster. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Ben Baldanza


 

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