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ROUNDABOUT

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Otero Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 to adult, about 30 minutes; $19.95)

 

Abstract games are a genre of play that attracts devoted fans. One of the better new entries in this field is called Roundabout. As you might suspect from the name, the goal is to get your pieces around and about the board.

Roundabout comes with four sets of game pieces, a pair of six-sided dice, a mounted board and only two pages of rules. The board is a circular playing field divided into rows (“bars”) and rings, with each of the quadrants serving as Home Territories. In a two player game, each player takes his 10 pieces (arrow-like, plastic pieces, called “darts”) and places them in the middle of their Home Territory (as shown in the picture below). (Rules are also provided for three and four player games.)

As in backgammon, the goal of the game is to get your pieces off the board. As the board is circular, your job is to get your darts to complete a circuit on the board and land back into your home territory so that they can be removed from play. Now, if that was all to the game, you could safely close the box and go on your way. But the game offers a host of intriguing options.

Players roll the dice with high roller going first. On your turn, you roll the dice and move accordingly. You may move 1 or 2 darts the amount shown on each die and advance. But other plays are possible.

Should you roll an odd number doubles (pairs of 1, 3 or 5), you may REVERSE the direction of two darts instead of moving the pieces ahead. Even doubles (pairs of 2, 4 or 6) allow you to jump over an opponent’s block. But the most devastating move is Ringers. If you can maneuver four of your darts on a single ring or all 4 bars of an opponent’s home territory, ALL four darts are immediately removed from the board!

Defensively, a player may set up “blocks” and “captures”. A block occurs when two of your darts occupy adjacent rings or consecutive bars, creating a pair of pieces. Your opponent is blocked and may not jump over those darts. Should you manage to have two darts on the same bar with one of the opponent’s darts in adjacent bars, then the enemy piece is captured, frozen in place, and may not move (at least, not until one of your pieces moves to break up the capture).

The first player to bear off all of his pieces wins!

Strategically, it’s a good idea to move two of your pieces just outside your home area. No matter how unfriendly dice are to you, eventually, probabilities say you’ll roll at least one of those odd doubles, be able to turn those pieces around, and then bear them off quickly. But the appeal of this tactic is balanced by ringers, which allow you to halve travel around the board and remove four pieces, a strategy that should not be minimized. Manage to complete two ringers and you’ve already removed 8 of your pieces, 80% of your winning total. The game is clearly an abstract but a theme of starships roving through the galaxy (those “darts” look suspiciously like spaceships to me!) would fit the game well – and make it more palatable to gamers who shy away from abstracts, finding them a bit dry. The “darts” are very colorful and pleasing to the touch, a satisfying tactile experience.

While essentially a backgammon variant, Roundabout has enough original touches to make this a game able to stand on its own, one that is easy to learn with some strategic depth, appealing to look out and appealing to play. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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Spring 2006 GA Report Articles

 

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