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CrossWays

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(USAopoly, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 15-30 minutes, $24.95)

crossways1With the success of Telestrations (featured in the Spring 2011 issue of Gamers Alliance Report), it seems that USAopoly has decided that the mass market for games is a market worth exploring. And so they have with two new releases (both featured this issue). This review focuses on one of them: CrossWays.

CrossWays comes boxed with an 8 x 8 checkerboard style board, four sets of round plastic markers (in green, yellow, blue and purple) and a deck of cards (which is actually TWO decks of standard playing cards).

Each player chooses a set of markers. The deck of cards is shuffled and each player dealt a hand of five cards. The goal is to construct a path, no matter how serpentine it may be, that reaches from your side of the board to the opposite side. Be the first to do so and you win!

The game board’s grid is in black and red (with some special white squares). The colored squares depict a letter (A, K, Q, J) and a number (2 through 12) corresponding to the values of the cards used in the game. TWO spaces match each possible card. For example, there are TWO red boxes with the number 3 which can represent either the 3 of hearts or 3 of diamonds.

On a turn, a player may play one or more cards. If playing a single card (say the 3 of diamonds), then the player may place one of his markers on EITHER one of the red squares labeled with a 3. A more powerful possibility is playing a pair of cards. Two 8s (or 6s or Kings etc.) played together allows a player to place TWO markers ANYWHERE on the board. (They are NOT limited to any particular space.) This play also can be used to allow you to occupy those special white squares.

White squares differ from the black and red spaces in that they may ONLY be occupied by a pair of the same colored markers. No single marker may occupy that space and, once a pair of same colored markers occupy the space, no other markers may join them. Thus, the only way to claim that particular piece of the board is to play a pair. As the board fills up and players start to snake their way across the board to victory, you might wonder how can they be stopped. And that is the final turn option a player has.

Players may also play a run. A run is two or more cards of the same suit in sequential order, for example, a 6 and 7 of diamonds. A run allows you to REMOVE TWO opposing markers from anywhere on the board! Removed markers can be from different squares or they can be from the same one. (This is the only way to liberate claimed white spaces from opponents.) This can certainly set back a player’s position. Once a card (or more) are played, players draw cards so they once again have a hand of five. But there are a few wrinkles here that add more to the game.

crossways2First of all, red and black spaces can be SHARED! Just because you have a marker on a square does not put it out of bounds for your opponents. A purple marker can be covered by a yellow and by a blue and STILL count as a space on a path to the other side of the board for ALL THREE colors. But, should a SECOND marker of the SAME color occupy that space, that space is closed to further occupation! Closed, that is, until and unless that second marker is removed. White squares, when claimed, can act as obstacles to an opposing player’s path. These squares require a bigger outlay of cards but are harder to free up once claimed.

The basic game of CrossWays is fine for the casual gamer and the game can be played in teams (in which case, players operate with a hand of only four cards). The game also allows for a three player version but works best with two, four or teams. But the basic game can be a bit bland for serious players. To ramp up the challenge, the game offers several variations. “Jokers Wild” adds four Jokers in the card deck and allows Jokers to be used as Wilds so that a play of a single Joker allows ONE marker to be removed plus you can combine a card with a Joker and put TWO markers on the other card’s matching square. But the variant we recommend for more serious gamers is “King of the Mountain” which only allows the player controlling the TOP marker on a square to use it as part of his path across the board (and to victory).

CrossWays benefits by having a certain familiarity in its look. The cards used in the game are standard playing cards and the board brings to mind a checkerboard. But the board layout is odd as there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to where square designations are placed. This apparently haphazard organization tends to slow the game down in spots as you seek to find just where you can play a certain card. And while the markers fit nicely on top of each other (a plus), it is sometimes hard to see the color lurking beneath the top marker. Be aware of this so you are not surprised by an opponent completing a path because one or more of his accessed spaces are semi-hidden.

CrossWays fits comfortably into the niche of games that includes classics such as Twixt (with its goal of connecting a path from one edge to another) with more recent fare such as Split (featured in the Spring 2000 GA Report) in which regular playing cards are given irregular powers. The combination of familiarity in appearance, bright colors and the ability to be explained, literally, in minutes, makes CrossWays a solid gateway game for players looking for something a little different. The ability to add variants to play to add to the challenge make this an abstract game that offers something to the more serious gamer as well.


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