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STRATAGEM

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Playroom Entertainment, 2-4 players, ages 10 to adult, about 20 minutes; $9.95)

 

One of the most prolific and successful game designers in today’s marketplace is Maureen Hiron. Among her many successful designs are 77, Duo (both featured in the Winter 1995 GA REPORT) and Quadwrangle (Winter 1998 GA REPORT). One of her latest releases is a charming card game suitable for family play: StrataGem.

StrataGem comes with a 90 card deck consisting of 72 Gem cards (two cards, numbered 1 to 6, each of six different colors) and 18 Thief cards. In addition, there is a brief set of rules in multiple languages. To begin play, the entire deck is shuffled and each player dealt a hand of 8 cards. The rest of the deck becomes the draw pile. The player to the left of the dealer goes first.stratogemnew

Each player turn consists of two actions: playing a card from your hand and then drawing a card to replace it. Gem cards are played in front of the player as he begins to construct a 3 x 3 grid of Gem cards. As the grid begins to take shape, Gem cards may not be moved. However, another Gem card may be placed on top of one already played. Or, instead, you may play a Thief.

You might suspect that Thief cards steal cards. They do not. What they do is act as “blockers”. Playing a Thief on top of an opponent’s card knocks that card out of play UNLESS the attacked player plays, on one of his subsequent turns, another Thief card on top of the first one, negating the first Thief. Both Thief cards are then placed underneath that blocked card. The card in that position is now safe. It may NOT be blocked again.

Alternatively, if a position is blocked by a Thief, a different Gem card may be placed on top of the Thief. In that case, also, that position may not be blocked again. (You could, theoretically, play the SAME card on top of the Thief card. But with only two of each card available, the odds that you would have the same card twice are against you.)

Play continues until one player has completed his 3 x 3 grid. Now we score.

The first player to go out receives 3 points. Points are also scored for matching colors and sequences created horizontally, vertically and diagonally.

Three points are earned for having 3 of the same color or 3 of the same number in a row. (The number values of the cards have no bearing on their scoring.) 1 point is earned for having pairs of the same number or color in a row. You score 2 points for a sequence in the correct order (e.g. 2, 3, 4) and 1 point for sequences out of order (e.g. 3, 2, 4). It is possible to score twice in a single line. For example, three of the same color (worth 3 points) and two of them with the same number (worth 1) in the same row would give you a score of 4 for that row.

Once the number of rounds played equals the number of players in the game, the game is over. The player with the highest accumulated point total wins!

StrataGem is a game with strong family appeal. The cards are very colorful and easy to read while the Thief cards add a bit of “take that” to game play and strategy. (Do you play them against an opponent or hold them in reserve in case someone plays them against you?) And the game is quick. But be careful when scoring! You need a careful eye as you can easily miss some of the scoring combinations at first.

StrataGem is like the jewels in the game: small, compact and valuable. I guess that makes StrataGem a gaming gem too! – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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