Reviewed by Herb Levy

CHARON INC. (Gryphon Games, 2-5 players, ages 13 and up, 60 minutes; $39.99)


The possibilities of outer space reach farther than the probabilities of alien life forms residing there. There are also the possibilities of rich resources ready to be claimed for the skillful and adventurous. That is the premise of Charon Inc. as players are heads of mega-corporations seeking to colonize andclaim the resources of Charon, the largest moon of the dwarf planet Pluto.

Charon Inc. is designed by Emanuele Ornella and Fred Binkitani (the nom de plume of a composite of designers/developers) and comes with lots of plastic flags, gem stones (and a bag to hold them), a track marker, 55 building cards, a mounted board and six pages of rules.charonbox

The board shows the moon of Charon divided into 20 “zones” separated by lines and circles. Each zone also has one, two or three “mining holes”. There are five “action areas” as well as turn order and round tracks.

Each player takes a color-coded set of flags and places one on each of the five action areas, one on the turn order track (on the first turn, order is determined randomly) and leaves one in front of him so that everyone knows which color he represents.

The board is seeded with gems by placing an equal number (the precise number based on the number of players) of the five colors of gems in the game (yellow, green, blue, black and purple) into the bag and then randomly placing one in each of the moon’s areas. This determines the gems available in that particular area that turn. One or two additional gems (of the same color) are placed in the areas that display two or three “mining holes”.

Building cards have values ranging from 2 through 12. Each card shows an array of gems. A player who manages to collect the matching gems will be able to exchange the gems in order to “build” the card and get the card’s value in Victory Points. The “12” valued cards are removed from the deck to start the discard pile. The rest of the deck is shuffled and two more cards randomly removed to join them in the discard pile. Now, all players are dealt a starting hand of three cards. Two of them are kept with one of them discarded into a common “building pile”. These building pile cards are available to ALL players later in the round.

Each of the four rounds of the game follow the same pattern: stake claims, claim gems, adjust turn order, build cards and then reset for the next round.

In turn order, players stake claims by taking a flag from any of the five action zones and placing it in ANY of the EMPTY areas of the board: a “crossroads” (which touches 4 zones), a “road” which links two zones or directly in the middle of a specific area (touching only 1 zone). Once every player has placed four flags (leaving one flag behind in one of the action areas), the first of the five action areas (“Stolen Intelligence”) can go into effect.

Action areas offer special abilities to the player who has a flag remaining there. However, action areas are only triggered if two or FEWER flags remain there once claims have been done. (Three flags there? No advantage this round!) With Stolen Intelligence, a player may move ONE of his already placed flags to a different, legal, area on the board. (One restriction: you may NOT move so asto influence an area with three gems.) Now gems are claimed.

One influence is earned for each flag in or bordering a zone. The player with the most “influence” in an area gets ALL the gems there. In case of a tie, a flag on a road has more influence than on a crossroads, a flag in the middle has more influence than one on a road. If still tied, the gems remain unclaimed. Now, the next two action areas come into play.

“Rare Mineral Find” grants a player a clear gem which is “wild” and can be used for any color. “Engineering Advance” allows you to take a card from the building row OR rummage through the discards to gain a card for your own. This is the only way you can get one of those desirable “12” building cards. (There is no card/hand limit.)

Now turn order is adjusted based on the number of gems collected. The player with the most gems will go first, second most second and so on. Now cards are built.charonboard

Players may exchange gems collected for cards provided that the gems on the cards match. To make things easier, a player may exchange 3 gems of one color for 1 of any color. Now another action, “Synchronotron”, comes into play allowing players with that power to exchange any number of gems of one color for an equal number of gems of another color. Players may build as many cards as they are able to on a turn but they may only build one from the common row and may NOT build cards of the same number value. Anyone holding more than 2 gems (the clear “Wild” gems do NOT count for this) must return the excess to stock EXCEPT if that player benefits from the final action area: “The Underground Warehouse”. This allows a player to retain up to 6 gems for the next turn. (It also allows that player to trade gems at a more favorable 2 for 1 ratio rather than the standard 3 to 1.)

Now the board is reseeded as on the first turn. Cards remaining in the common row are discarded and players are dealt two more cards but must discard one from their hand to make a new common building card row. Then the next round begins.

At the end of the fourth round, players total the victory points of their built cards. High total wins! (Tie? Then the player who built the highest valued cards gets the nod.)

Charon Inc. brings to the table the market ideas found in Ornella’s previous design, Hermagor (Spring 2007 GA Report), but adds to the mix elements of Sid Sackson’s Bazaar (exchanging gems for VP cards), a dose of area control and those intriguing action areas. Action areas are a terrific addition. Far too often, games that offer similar advantages leave players with unbalanced choices or choices that become less attractive as the game progresses. Not here. Each advantage remains valuable throughout. But since you can only, possibly, receive one each round (more than two flags in an area in a 4 or 5 player game will deny you; with two or three players, it only takes 2 flags), you are faced with a tough decision every time as to which of these benefits are most beneficial, a delightful dilemma. Using flags (rather than cubes) is a nice touch and the colors used (burgundy, teal, white, dark blue and brown) are easily distinguishable. Not so with the gems, however. The blue and green gems are much too close in color. (We’ve tried using M&Ms in their place to make identification easier – and tastier!) But the biggest danger to the game is the threat of analysis paralysis. Figuring out your optimum flag placement can drag the game down and it really shouldn’t. The game does not require infinitesimal micromanaging to be fun to play. The moral here is to know your audience and avoid players who can’t resist bogging things down.

Charon Inc. is a classy middle-weight game of area control, resource management and delicious dilemmas, worthy of a slot in your menu of gaming options. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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