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ABSTRACT HEAVEN

ABSTRACT HEAVEN

 

by Herb Levy

 

Some gamers like everything. But for some, certain genres of play hold a special place in their hearts. For those gamers partial to pure strategy devoid of theme, abstract games are IT. Filling that niche nicely are some recent releases of above average quality, creating an abstract heaven for abstract lovers. Four of them well worth your attention are Cathedral World, Octiles, Paradux and Quits.

CATHEDRAL WORLD (Family Games, 2 players, ages 8 and up, less than 60 minutes; $69.99)

 

Based upon the previously released Cathedral (probably best known for its mass market, molded plastic version by Mattel back in 1986), Cathedral World expands on the theme. Rather than building a medieval village, here, a “global village” is the goal with the object being to place your buildings within the global village walls while preventing your opponent from doing so.

Cathedral World comes in a LARGE box filled with absolutely gorgeous components including a heavy, gridded, polystone play area enclosed by walls (representing famous walls of the world such as the Great Wall of China and Israel’s Wailing Wall), 28 replicas, half in dark and half in light, of famous landmarks (including England’s Clock Tower, India’s Taj Mahal, America’s Statue of Liberty) and a “people” piece whose base is shaped like a cross and is placed by the player using the light pieces anywhere within the borders of the village. Now, the dark player makes his move.

All of the pieces have a geometric base which is the key to placement. If you manage to enclose a part of the village with only YOUR pieces by building a continuous line, wall to wall, that area is yours and your opponent may not enter it. (The People piece may not be used to enclose an area.) If you manage to isolate ONE opposing piece (or the People piece), that piece is REMOVED from the village. Play continues until no further piece may be legally placed. At that point, the player who has played all his buildings wins. If neither player accomplishes that goal, then the player who has remaining buildings that would occupy the LEAST amount of space, gets credit for the win.

Cathedral World is absolutely breathtaking in its looks and would look good on any coffee table. The simple rules belie the challenging play. Whether you prefer the streamlined looks of Cathedral or the “world view” presented here is purely a matter of taste. The game design, itself, remains unchanged and solid.

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OCTILES (PIN distributed by Out of the Box Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 to adult, 30-60 minutes; $29.99)

 

An “amazing race game” is what Octiles offers. As invented by Dale Walton, players begin with their pawns (called “runners”) on one side of the board with the idea being to traverse the board and end up on the other side. (With four players, 3 or 4 runners are used. With 2 or 3 players, 4 or 5 runners are recommended.) Sounds simple? Well, not exactly.

The board is not static. Instead it is composed of 17 spaces for 18 octagonal tiles. The tiles are placed, face down, onto the 17 spaces. The left-over tile is called the “switch” tile. Four path segments are printed on each tile and, when they are placed, winding, crisscrossing paths are created. In between, there are “stop squares” where runners rest between moves.

On a turn, the first thing done is to play the switch tile onto the board. The tile is played face up and must become part of a direct path between one of your runners and an unoccupied stop square or finishing circle. The tile being replaced (which may be face up or face down) by the switch tile is removed from the board to become the “new” switch tile. Now, you move ONE of your runners along a path that crosses the switched tile to a stop square or a finish circle. That completes your turn and the next player begins by placing the new switch tile and moving one of his runners.

The first player to get all of his runners safely across into the “finishing circles” wins!

This new version of Octiles is an improvement over the previous edition published by Kadon years ago. In a four player game in the older version, players began with 5 runners for 17 open spaces. You do the math. The board froze in place as runners were in the equivalent of a rush hour traffic jam. Another problem: the old rules allowed a player to ROTATE an octile. This created myriad possible paths causing “analysis paralysis” that froze game play in its tracks. Fortunately, in this beautiful edition from PIN and Out of the Box, those rules are gone and the game has only improved. It now plays as great as it looks!

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PARADUX (Family Games, 2 players, ages 6 and up, less than 30 minutes; $29.99)

 

From T.O.Y.S. International and distributed by Family Games, Paradux is yet another of those abstract games that seem remarkably simple (after all, it’s recommended for ages SIX on up) but offer challenges for even sophisticated gamers.

Paradux is played on a large wooden hexagon where 9 dark and 9 light wooden balls are placed, alternately, along the perimeter with the final dark and light ball placed within. Each player then chooses a color and makes his move. A player moves one of his balls AND an adjoining ball of his opponent TOGETHER! The move as a single unit either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Another option is for two adjacent marbles (of different hues) to switch positions. However, no ball may be moved separately and two ball of the same color may NOT be moved together. The goal: get four balls of your color in a row.

The game plays quickly. Because you are linked to your opponent’s pieces, you find yourself with an unusual set of atypical decisions to make and that’s what makes it fun. Paradux offers both pleasing and perplexing problems for the abstract gamer.

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QUITS (Family Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up,about 30 minutes; $29.99)

 

Gigamic must LOVE the letter “Q”. Their line of quality abstract games include Quarto (Summer 1993 GA REPORT), Quixo (Summer 1996 GA REPORT), Quoridor (Spring 1997 GA REPORT) and Quivive (Spring 1998 GA REPORT). Quits keeps the pattern going.

Quits is played on a 5 x 5 grid consisting of 25 small wooden squares. With the grid positioned as a “diamond”, each player begins withfive marbles, positioned in the two rows nearest them (but leaving the last space free). On a turn, a player may move one of his marbles one space ahead (either forward or to the left or right). Alternatively, a player may choose to shift a row. Provided that the row contains at least one of his own marbles AND the last square of a row is unoccupied, a player can move a row of squares by taking the last square at one end and placing it on the other end, moving the remaining 4 squares towards the empty space. The goal is to get your marbles to the opposite space from your starting position where they can be removed from the board. The first player to remove 3 marbles wins. (With 4 players, each begin with 3 marbles and win by being the first to remove 1 marble.)

As with most Gigamic titles, the rules are simple and the “look” is very attractive. Although the row shift is not a new gae mechanism (Sid Sackson, for example, did something similar in Pushover back in 1975), the mechanism is put to good and effective use here. If you’re looking for a surprisingly engaging abstract game, just call it Quits.


 

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