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TOWER OF BABEL

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, ages 10 and up, about 45 minutes; $34.95)

 

The seven wonders of the ancient world – and why the eighth wonder was never built – is the puzzle posed in yet another new design from the prolific Reiner Knizia: Tower of Babel.

Tower of Babel comes bookshelf boxed with a mounted game board, 28 building discs, 100 building cards, 5 trading cards, 15 action cards, “building parts” (wooden “houses” in five different colors), 5 columns and just 4 pages of rules.

The board shows the eight wonders of the world, as rendered by Franz Vohwinkel. The building discs (less the two-toned discs used in a play variant) are mixed and placed randomly, face down, three to a site. The scoring marker for wonders begins on the first row of the wonder scoring track. Each player is given a column piece and a set of building parts in a matching color, placing one of these pieces on the player scoring track found along the board’s perimetertowerbabelbox

Building cards come in four suits (purple, brown, gray and white) which correspond to the colors of the building chips. The cards are shuffled and players dealt a hand of four. They also receive 1 trading card. The building chips are now revealed for all to see.

Every player, on his turn, has two choices: pass or build. If passing, all other players draw another card from the building deck but that player gets to draw two. (There is no hand limit.) But if choosing to build, things start happening.

A build move requires the active player to take his column, place it in one of the “wonder” areas of the board and place on the column one of the building chips located there. Building chips come in one of four colors, showing the suit of cards needed to build that piece. They also show a number, ranging from 3 to 6. The number indicates how many cards in that suit are needed for construction.

Each opponent now becomes actively involved by making an offer towards completing construction. In essence, you are attempting to be a “partner” in the build. This is done by placing, face down, a number of cards to be offered to the active player towards the specified building cost. You may offer any number of cards up to the number found on the building disc. Once done, all offers are revealed simultaneously.

The active player may accept any or all of the offers in order to gather enough cards to meet the building requirement UNLESS more than one trading card has been included in the offers. (Only one trading card may be part of any deal.) Offers must be accepted in their entirety; you may not accept only part of an offer. If, after accepting offer(s), you are still short of the number of cards needed, the active player has to provide the missing cards from his own hand.

If the building requirement is met, players involved in the building place a number of building pieces equal to the number of cards each contributed to the build. The active player receives the building chip – UNLESS a trading card has been played.

Should an accepted offer include a trading card, the player with the trading card gives away his right to place building pieces. Instead, the active player gets to place building pieces equal to the number of building cards played by that opponent and himself. As compensation, the player with the trading card gets the building chip. Building cards used in the construction are discarded. However, trade cards get returned and may be reused in a subsequent offer. But even players whose offers have been rejected gain something. Rejected players receive 1 Victory Point for each building card offered and refused.

If not enough cards are available to meet the building requirement, then no building pieces are placed. The chip is returned to where it was. Whether a build was successful or not, all players get to draw another building card from the deck.

When the third disc on a wonder has been built, that wonder is scored. Victory Points are granted on a sliding scale. The first wonder rewards the player with the most building parts on the site with 8 points, the second most receives 4 and anyone with any parts there receives 3. These totals gradually increase (10- 5-3 to 12- 6-3, to 14-7-3 etc.). In all cases, having a presence at a wonder guarantees you at least 3 VPs. In addition, the player initiating the final scoring of a wonder, whether or not he keeps the building chip, receives an actiTowerOfBabelon card.

Action cards are powerful bonuses. These bonuses include the ability to take a second turn, draw additional cards, triple the victory point value of a rejected offer, get 5 VPs and more!

Play continues until the last building disc of a single color has been taken. If that completes a wonder, that wonder is scored as usual. Any unfinished wonders are scored at the 10-5-3 rate. Now, those claimed building discs are revealed.

Building discs score VPs too. One disc of the SAME color scores nothing but two of the same adds 5 VPs to your score, 3 will add 10 VPs and 4 or more add a hefty 20 VPs to your total. Players holding action cards worth VPs play them now and add these to their score. The player with the most VPs wins!

Unlike many games where you have to wait your turn to impact on play, in Tower of Babel you are intimately involved on every turn, whether building or bidding. Winning bonus cards is a very powerful factor. You should avoid allowing any one player from managing to snare several of these cards, particularly several in a row. But even this can be countered by shrewd card play since rejected offers STILL generate victory points. No matter how others may try to gang up on you, you still can carve out a path to victory. Some criticism has been leveled at the game claiming it “plays itself” as moves are “obvious”. Not quite. You need to find the opposition’s “threshold of pain” so that, for example, an offer will be accepted (if that’s what you want) or rejected (if that’s the way you plan to go). That search for a careful balance can be a delicate one and one of the game’s pleasures. While the game is very abstract and, as a result, may seem a bit “dry” to some, the theme of the game actually fits.

Despite a wonderful use of lots of very rich, deep blue color, the artwork on the board of the various ancient wonders of the world, striking as individual pieces of art, tend to blend together and make the board a little “dizzying”. Better use could have been made of the excellent art. The use of a row for placing your columns is a bit odd. The row is supposed to be used to indicate turn order. Since turn order doesn’t change, that row is superfluous, serving about as much function as your appendix.

I liked Tower of Babel the first time I played it but wondered if it had “staying power”. Now, after playing the game more than 10 times, I guess it does. This game, in trademarked Knizia fashion, offers multiple paths to Victory Points: wonder scoring, chip sets, bonus cards and offer rejection. These intriguing options mesh well giving the game an appealing freshness each time you play. In a scale of Reiner Knizia designs, Tower of Babel settles comfortably into the middle level in terms of strategic options which, to my mind, is not a bad thing. So, if you’re wondering about Tower of Babel, wonder no more. This is one deserving of your time, effort and gaming dollar. – – – – – – Herb Levy


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