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TOM TUBE

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

TOM TUBE (Krönberger Spiele, 2 Players; 30 minutes; about $20)

 

I had never heard of this Krönberger Spiele release until it was brought to my attention by a few folks on the International Gamers Awards committee. They were enthusiastic about the game, so I sought out the opportunity to play it while attending the Gulf Games convention in Williamsburg, Virginia back in August. Picture of ‘Tom Tube’Frank Branham was kind enough to teach the game to me. I figured I would be thoroughly smashed, as Frank tends to excel at such abstract games. However, I somehow managed to earn the victory. I enjoyed the game so much that I immediately purchased a copy and have enjoyed all of my subsequent playings.

The game is designed by Roland and Tobias Goslar, a team with whom I am not familiar. Further, the company releasing the game, Krönberger Spiele, is also new to me. Finally, the name of the game is actually, well, unusual. Tom Tube. Sounds like a silly Hollywood movie starring Eddie Murphy. Or was that “Pluto Nash”?TomTubepic

Still, the high recommendation from fellow IGA committee members was enough to entice me to try the game … and I’m thrilled that I did. Although fairly abstract in nature, I find the “thinking” required in the game to be quite intriguing. It reminds me of a cross between the classic Alex Randolph gamePicture of ‘Tom Tube’Twixt and The Very Clever Pipe Game from Cheapass Games, both games I thoroughly enjoy.

The theme is futuristic in nature. Tom and Dave, two gung-ho astronauts, are constructing a space station. Their task is to construct tubes, travel through them, grab their two solar counters and return safely to their home base. Along the way, they can collect valuable energy spheres (wooden cubes), which can be used to either perform seemingly impossible space jumps, or saved as victory points. Speed counts, as arriving back to base before your opponent costs him valuable victory points. Ultimately, the player with the most energy spheres is victorious.

The board depicts a hexagonal grid upon which diamond shaped tiles (called “rhombs”) will be placed to form a network of tubes through which the players may travel. Also depicted are the player’s home bases, as well as four stations – two for each player – which houses the solar counters the players must secure.

A player has two options on his turn:

1) Place a rhomb. The rhombs depict tubes in either the color of one or both players, or neutral tubes that can be traversed by both players. The idea is to place these tiles so that you make a path – preferably a short, straight route – from your base to your two solar counter stations. You also want to hinder the efforts of your opponent of accomplishing the same task, so making his route as difficult and long as possible is also an objective.

Many of the tiles contain special “spheres” where energy spheres (wooden cubes) are placed. Most of these are yellow, but blue and green cubes are also placed if a tube dead-ends (blue) or if a sphere is formed that has no access (green). I’ll explain how these cubes can be used a bit later.

2) Move your astronaut. Astronauts (wooden pawns) move through tubes that are either the same color or neutral. Movement is in a straight line and can continue until the astronaut reaches an intersection where he desires to change direction. Astronauts cannot move through or onto another astronaut, so it is possible to block or delay an opponent’s movement. Further, a sphere must be completed in order for an astronaut to move onto or through it.TomTube2

If a pawn is moved onto a space containing a cube, the player takes that cube and can either use it to make a special movement later in the game, or save it for victory point purposes.

When a player successfully reaches one of his solar counters, he places it back onto his base. The idea is to secure both of your solar counters and return your astronaut to his home base prior to your opponent accomplishes the same task.

So just how are those special counters utilized?

Yellow cubes may be surrendered to allow a player to move along the edge of a rhomb (tile) as opposed to through the tubes. This allows a player to get around a normally impassable area, or to reach another area of the tube network more quickly. However, yellow cubes are worth 1 victory point at the end of the game, so use them judiciously.

Blue cubes may be used to travel through an opponent’s tube. These are worth 2 points apiece if they are conserved to the game’s end. I find the yellow cubes far more useful, but there are occasions where the blue cubes come in handy.

Green cubes have no special functions, but do earn the player 5 victory points apiece at the end of the game. Since green cubes are placed on spheres that have no access, the only way to reach them is by using one of your previously collected yellow cubes.

As mentioned, the game ends as soon as one player collects both of his solar spheres and returns his astronaut to his home base. At this point, if further rhombs could still be placed on the board, his opponent must count the number of turns it will take to return his astronaut to his home base. No further rhombs may be placed for this calculation. The number of turns it takes is awarded as a bonus to the player who arrived home first.

Alternatively, if no further rhombs could be placed on the board when the first astronaut returns safely to his base, the game ends immediately without any bonuses being awarded. The game can also end if an astronaut is stranded and has no possibility of returning home. That hapless player is “lost in space” and loses the game.

After any bonuses are awarded, players tally the value of their cubes and solar counters: Solar counters: 5 points, Yellow cubes: 1 point, Blue cubes: 2 points, Green cubes: 5 points. The player with the most points is victorious.

I find the game to be immensely challenging. Developing a quick, relatively straight-forward route is the key. In the games I’ve played so far, I’ve tried to hold off moving my astronaut until my route is complete or just a tile or two away from being complete. However, I will begin moving earlier if my opponent begins moving his pawn. Otherwise, this will give my opponent the opportunity to scoop too many of the vital cubes.

I also try to conserve the cubes I’ve collected as opposed to using them. Those cubes are worth victory points at the end of the game, so spending them too liberally during the course of the game will cost you points at the end.

When placing a tile, if it is not conducive to constructing a quick, short route for me, then I will attempt to use it to hinder or obstruct the network of my opponent. So, I look first to see if the tile will benefit me and, if not, then will seek to hurt my opponent’s network.

Once I begin moving my pawn, I will usually attempt to head directly for the solar counters as opposed to taking longer paths or tangents in order to collect cubes. Moving swiftly around the tube network and being the first to return to base will earn me valuable bonuses from my lagging opponent. The amount of the bonus is usually more than enough to make up for any difference in cubes collected from the board.

So far, my strategies seem to be working, as I’ve managed to win all of the games I’ve played – a very rare achievement for me! Either that, or I’ve been very lucky. In any case, I’m thoroughly enjoying the game and the type of thinking required in order to play it well. So far, Tom Tube is only available from overseas, but hopefully American game shops will begin carrying it soon. It really is a gem. – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser


 

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