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UPTOWN

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Funagain Games, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 30-40 minutes; $24.99)

 

Funagain Games has long been known as one of the leading Internet sites for buying games. Recently, Funagain has broadened its reach by publishing games as well. The latest offering under the Funagain label is Uptown designed by Kory Heath.

Uptown is a tile-laying game played on a 9 x 9 grid. The perimeter of the grid displays numbers (1 through 9) north and south and letters (A through I) east and west. The nine interior areas, broken down into 9 smaller squares, displays 1920s era pictures (such as a man in top hat, tails and walking stick, a flapper, a vintage automobile etc.) Each player begins with an identical set of 28 tiles: nine matching the numbers, nine matching the letters, nine matching the pictures found on the board and one tile with a $ symbol. In this game, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location!uptown

Players take their set of tiles, mix them face down and randomly select 5 tiles which are placed on their tile rack. The object of the game is to group your pieces into the FEWEST groups on the board when the game ends. A group is defined as tiles of one color connected horizontally and/or vertically. Diagonal linkages do not count.

In turn, a player places one of the tiles from his hand on the board and finishes his turn by drawing another. Tile placement is simple. All numbered tiles may be placed on any of the nine spaces in the numbered row. All lettered tiles may be placed on any of the nine spaces in that lettered row. All picture tiles may be placed on any of the matching picture spaces in that area. The $ tile is wild and may be placed anywhere. And, of course, you may capture.

Capturing tiles is a restricted option. To capture a tile, you need to play a tile that replaces an opponent’s tile already occupying that space. The catch? You may NOT capture a tile if, by doing so, you end up splitting your opponent’s group into two or more groups. Basically, the tiles vulnerable to capture are those occupying end spaces of an enemy group. The captured tile is placed in front of your tile rack so all players can see.

Play continues until all players draw their final tile. At that point, everyone has one last turn (so you will have four unplayed tiles left on your rack). Now groups are counted.uptown2

The player with the FEWEST groups wins. (A single tile all by itself still counts as one group.) In the event of a tie, the player who captured the FEWEST tiles is the winner.

Uptown has roots in several sources. The use of identical “decks” of tiles brings to mind Hol’s der Geier although here, while everyone has the option to play the same tiles, NOT all tiles will be played. The tiles remaining on the rack will be the decision of the individual player. The board itself, with its 9×9 grid, strongly suggests Sudoku. But this is not a puzzle but a game that allows for some degree of planning and strategy to give it a few degrees of separation. The game encourages a less aggressive style of play; capturing enemy tiles should be done judiciously since the more tiles you capture, the less chance you have of winning the tie-breaker – and the game does see its share of ties. (For a more cutthroat game, you could use MORE captured tiles as the winning tie-breaker but that’s a matter of preference.) While there are rules for 2 players (each player commands two sets of tiles, keeping them separate), the game is at its best with three as turns move quickly. (With four players, the game works but downtime between turns tends to creep up on you.)

Uptown is light and breezy, a mild diversion that settles comfortably into the niche of a warm up for an evening of heavy gaming or as a closer to decompress after several hours of brain burning. Either way, when the mood hits for a fun way to spend a half-hour, you’ll find it’s worth a quick trip Uptown. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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