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Rondo

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Schmidt Spiele, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, about 30 minutes, $42.95)

rondoboxReiner Knizia has earned himself an enviable reputation for quality game design. Over the last several years, the trend in his design preferences has been to move away from the heavy, gamers’ games style with the shift being towards quality games conceived to appeal to more general and broader audiences. Rondo is a prime example.

Rondo’s big box holds nicely molded circular “stones” (tiles in purple, green, blue, red and yellow), a bag to draw them from, four racks and a large board with a circular design with track emanating from the center. If the circular motif reminds you of Trivial Pursuit, you are forgiven, but trivia has nothing to do with this game. Here the challenge is putting your tiles to good use, laying them out to score the most points!

To begin, all players randomly draw two stones, placing them on their racks and place their scoring marker on the perimeter’s scoring track. Now we choose a start player. (According to the rules, the start player is the “roundest” player – certainly, a different way to decide who goes first. The results of this can be flattering to amusing to all out fist fights depending on the group. And while we’re on rules, the most puzzling thing is the lack of English rules in the game! Last time I looked, England was part of the European Union and the United States is certainly a potentially huge market for these kinds of games. Why make it more difficult to tap into these lucrative markets by creating obstacles for players who have English as their native language? Fortunately, this oversight is easily corrected; this review will get you right into the game. Now, let’s get down to the serious business of play.).

On each turn, a player may do one of two things: place one or more stones on the board or pass. Stone placement is the key to the game.

Spaces on the board range in value from 1 to 5 with each number in one of the five stone colors. Some of these numbers are drawn on a gray background. Starting from the center, a player may play one or more stones onto the board with several caveats: the color stone played must match the color of the number on the space, stones played must connect to already played stones (the center space is considered “occupied” so play radiates outward from there) and that stones must be placed in a straight line (no “branching out” allowed). Points are scored by totaling the number(s) of the spaces occupied by the played stone(s). To these simple guidelines, Knizia has added a few wrinkles.

rondoboardFirst, multiple stones of the same color may be played on a matching space. So, for example, you may play three purple stones on the purple 3 to gain 9 points. Second, a player may play a stone FACE DOWN to cover a space in order to reach a space – but that tile scores no points. So, for example, a player with no red stone, may play any color stone FACE DOWN on a red space bordering that purple space we just talked about to place three purple stones on that purple 3 space so that player scores 9 points for a space that would have otherwise been out of reach. It should be noted that once a space has been claimed, whether with a face up or face down stone, it is no longer available for anyone to score for it. After playing stones, a turn ends by drawing one stone from the bag. If a player decides to pass rather than play any stones, that player draws TWO stones from the bag. (There is a hand limit of five so, if a player already has five stones on his rack, he MUST play at least one on his turn.)

Play continues until either no stones are left to be drawn from the bag or ALL of the gray spaces have been claimed. When that occurs, the round is finished; all players get the same number of turns. The player with the highest score wins!

Graphic production of Rondo is very good, reminiscent of Knizia’s older design, Quandary (featured in the Summer 1997 Gamers Alliance Report), in its use of quality stones (aka tiles). Colors used, both on the board and on the stones, are easily differentiated, a prime consideration in a game where color is so important. The racks hold the round pieces snugly too. And both of these games are pure abstracts. No hint of theme in either. More significantly, like Quandary, game play can be easily explained, literally in minutes, and a round of Rondo plays quickly. The boards in both of these games are clean and geometric, a spiral for Quandary, circular (with radiating spokes) for Rondo. Despite these general similarities, Rondo has its own character and presents its own challenges.

The limit placed on pieces you can hold and the number you can draw is an important design decision. Players cannot stockpile a load of stones and then run amuck on the board to gather up a truckload of points. Although there is, of course, a luck factor in what stones you draw, you still need to be thoughtful as to when and where to place them. Do I grab a 5 space before my opponent does? Or do I try to draw the colors I need to make a run of several spaces (or double or triple my space score) with the right picks? Do I claim a gray space to hasten the game’s end? Or do I try to prolong the action so that I can make one more high scoring play the next turn? You’ll have to decide for yourself what the right decisions are – and that’s the fun of it!

Rondo takes on a slightly different character depending on the number of players. With two, players have more control in shaping the possibilities available to their opponent on the next turn. With the full complement of four, the board situation can undergo radical changes from turn to turn leaving you to bemoan the high point play you had in mind that no longer exists! But no matter how many players are in the the game, it is generally advisable to play as many stones as you can each turn so you can A) score more points, B) claim more spaces and keep them out of reach of your opposition and C) benefit by doubling or tripling (or more) the points on a space. For players who like higher scores, the flip side of the board (with a red background) displays more of the higher numbered spaces. The play of the game, however, remains the same.

Rondo is a light delightful game that manages to combine pleasing graphics, ease of learning, some engaging decisions and a little bit of luck – a powerful package sure to please casual and even more serious gamers alike. If going around in circles seems like something you’d rather not do, think again. For in Rondo, you will be doing just that – and enjoying every minute of it! There’s no getting around it. Be sure to round up Rondo for your next evening of family gaming.


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