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MASONS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Hans im Gluck/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 45 minutes; $39.95)

 

Medieval times has served as a background for many games and cities have often played a part in them, whether in grasping for power or scoring prestige. In Masons, the latest design from Leo Colovini, a new perspective on cities is presented as players become “master masons” competing to construct walls and build cities filled with houses, palaces and towers.masonsbox

Masons comes with a host of wooden components: walls, towers (in black, white and gray), houses and palaces (in blue, green, yellow, red and pink). This is also a 60 card deck of Guild (scoring) cards and a board depicting a lush countryside divided into three regions over which point to point grids create a series of interrelated triangles (with a scoring track on one side).

The starting player takes a wall and places it between any two empty points on the grid and then rolls the dice. Two of the dice show houses on their faces (1 side for each color + a ? which stands for any color); the third die shows towers (two sides each for black, white and gray). The tower color rolled indicates which color tower MUST be placed if an unoccupied point exists on a point bordering the wall. A second tower (of any color of the roller’s choice) must be placed on the wall’s OTHER end (if unoccupied). The color houses rolled indicate what color houses must be placed on the board, one on either side of the wall. Now, the next player repeats these actions, playing a wall anywhere on the board and rolling the dice. This procedure continues until an area is completely bordered by walls. When that happens, scoring occurs.

All players have the option of playing 1, 2 or NO cards to score. (As you draw one new card after scoring, playing two cards REDUCES your hand size, making a big score next time potentially more difficult. Playing no cards allows you to discard an unwanted card and then draw two, INCREASING your hand size and giving you more options next time. Something to consider.) Cards indicate what particular aspect of the kingdom will be scored. You can score for houses built within a city, for palaces within a city (two houses of the same color transform in to one palace when scoring is triggered), for towers and for the size of the city. However, you can also score for houses or towers built OUTSIDE the city being scored. It all depends on what card(s) you play.  When a city is built, the player causing the city creation has the option to remove walls that border the new city to expand the city thereby creating additional scoring opportunities. (But you need to carefully consider expansion. While this may create bigger scores for you, you may also create larger scores for your opponents!)masonspcs

The game goes on until ALL of ONE of the building items (houses, palaces, walls or towers) is exhausted. At that point, a final card play scoring is done. The player with the most points after the final scoring wins!

Masons depends to a certain degree on the luck of the dice and the draw of the cards. A saving grace is that Colovini allows the player in last place to discard cards and replenish with no penalty so that cards of little or no value don’t stay in your hand. This gives you a chance to get back into the game (a nice balancing mechanism). Graphically, the game looks nice (those wooden pieces are terrific) and the empty board (artwork by Franz Vohwinkel) is attractive. But the three regions on the board often figuring in the scoring are divided, unfortunately, by easily missed lines that can become even further obscured as the board fills up. Also, as cities are built and expand, the array of pieces on the board is so busy that it can test your spatial abilities as well as making you prone to missing potential scores.

Admittedly, devising a cohesive long range strategy in Masons is difficult if not impossible. Instead, players need to adopt a very tactical, opportunistic style of play to win. But once you’ve adjusted your mindset to that mode, the challenge of maximizing scoring opportunities as they present themselves coupled with the undeniable graphic appeal of the game makes Masons one of the better games in the pantheon of Leo Colovini designs. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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