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Clans and That’s My Fish: Two Light Area Control Games

When I first got into Eurogames about six years ago, Clans and Hey, That’s My Fish! were two of the first games I learned. Both are simple area control games where all of the randomness takes place before the game begins.

In clans, five different tribes are equally spaced around the board, which contains four types of land (as well as assorted lakes). The board is broken up into sections of five areas each, but these sections are used only for setup: each section gets one hut of each color. Each player also takes a tile which shows his hut color, which he keeps a secret.

Gameplay is very simple: on your turn, you move all huts on a space into an adjacent space, where the space you’re moving to must also have huts in it. A group with seven or more huts cannot be moved, except into a larger group.

If your move causes a group to become isolated (meaning every adjacent area is empty), that forms a village. You take a scoring token from the side of the board and score the space. Here’s the interesting part: you may not know until the end of the game exactly who benefits from the scoring, because you score the colors and you don’t know what colors your opponents are! To score, you add up all of the huts and each tribe involved scores that many points. For example, if there are three blue huts and one yellow hut, yellow and blue get four points each.

However, there are two exceptions. First, the scoring tokens (which also act as the game timer) modify how much a village is worth. When you take a token, the land type pictured to the left of the token shows that you get a bonus for villages on that land type, while villages on the land type to the right of the token score no points. In the picture below, for example, taking the topmost token would add three points to a village in grasslands, but a village in forest would score nothing. The last village of the game is worth a bonus five points no matter where it is.

The second exception has to do with the number of different tribes living in the village. One, two, three, or even four tribes can live together in harmony, but if you get all five tribes together when the village is scored, they start fighting! At that point, anybody who has only one hut in the village gets kicked out. For example, if green and red had two huts each in a new village, blue had three, and yellow and black each had one, then yellow and black would be kicked out and green, red, and blue would score seven points each (plus any bonuses).

When the game ends, you reveal your color and add a point for each scoring token you took during the game; high score wins. The trick, of course, is to arrange things such that your huts end up scoring a lot of points, while wasting your opponents’ huts – preferably by putting a bunch of them in an area where they’ll score no points!

Clans takes two to four players, although a new player can give an advantage to the person playing after him by failing to see where he can make a village, thus allowing the next person to get extra points.

In Hey, That’s My Fish!, you control between two and four penguins (depending on the number of players), who are trying to eat as many fish as possible. The board is made up of a number of hexagonal tiles, each of which contains one, two, or three fish. At the start of the game, each penguin is placed on a one-fish tile.

A move consists of picking up any of your penguins and moving him as far as you like in any direction, subject to two restrictions: you can’t enter a tile that another penguin is already on, and you can’t jump over a hole. After moving, you pick up the tile you just moved off of and add it to your stack.

As the game goes on, the board will get smaller and smaller. While some players will attempt to grab bunches of three-fish tiles, more experienced players will concentrate on sectioning off the board, leaving large areas with only their penguins while cutting off their opponents’ penguins on small pieces of ice. Once you can no longer move, you pick up your penguins (along with the tiles they’re standing on) and count up your stack. Most fish wins!

Hey, That’s My Fish also takes two to four players; I find it to be quite good with two but a bit chaotic with four. Although the colorful penguins and simple rules may make it an attractive game for children, it has enough tactical depth to also be quite enjoyable for adults.

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Tichu Strategy, Part I: Using the Dog

You could say I’m a fan of Tichu; after all, I have it listed as one of the best medium strategy games, I have over 50 face to face plays recorded on boardgamegeek, and I’ve played way to many games against the computer on my ipod. As with many games, however (and this is my biggest complaint when playing with the computer), it’s a lot more fun when everyone plays well! While there are certainly different styles of play (indeed, teams often work well with one more aggressive player and a second supporting player), I’d like to offer my thoughts on the best Tichu strategy. In this article, I’ll talk about using the Dog, from the perspectives of both a new player (what does it mean when I get it?) and the experienced player (what’s the optimum time to play it?).

Let’s start with the very basic, something that should be drilled into every new player’s head before he’s allowed to pick up the cards: you don’t take the lead away from your partner! Now, don’t take that too far: throwing out low singles and pairs is usually a good thing, and of course if you’ve called Tichu, you going out first trumps all other considerations. ┬áBut let’s take a look at a scenario I’ve seen way too many times:

Player A has called Tichu and is well on the way to emptying his hand. He plays a pair of jacks, first opponent passes…partner B plays a pair of aces to win the trick, then passes back the lead with the dog. A proceeds to play all but one of his cards, loses the lead and is never able to get it back, and loses 100 points.

What’s wrong with that scenario? First off, it was a total waste of the dog! If I’m trying to go out, the purpose of you having the dog is so that you can give the lead back to me if I lose it. In the scenario above, if B had stayed out of it and A had won the trick, then after he lost the lead later B could have won a trick and given it back so he could go out. Instead, B not only wasted the dog, he also wasted the pair of aces that he could have used to regain control of the trick, effectively flushing three of his most useful cards down the toilet.

Of course, generally both partners want to get rid of all of their cards – a successful 1-2 is a great thing. But in order to make that 1-2 successful, you need to be getting rid of your low cards, while using your high cards to take the lead away from your opponents, not wasting them stealing the lead from your partner!

Passing convention for the dog is pretty simple: if your partner passes you the dog, that means he has a good hand and is thinking about calling Tichu. If he does, it’s your job to support him. Of course, passing the dog to your partner can also mess up what could otherwise be a good Tichu hand (something I’ve been guilty of more than once) so you don’t want to do it unless you really are planning to call Tichu. If one of your opponents calls Tichu or Grand Tichu before the pass, of course, you want to hand it off to him so he’s forced to give up the lead.

Now for the big question: what’s the best time to play the dog? Many players (and the computer players in the ipod app) believe that you should play the dog as soon as possible when your partner has called Tichu; I disagree. Here’s my reasoning: as the game gets on, your hand generally gets weaker. You’re playing your high cards to take the lead so that you can get rid of your low cards. A smart opponent knows this; if he’s holding a bomb, rather than bomb me early on he’ll often wait (and hope I don’t have a long straight) until my hand is mostly empty, then take control and start playing only hands that require more cards than I have, shutting me out. By waiting while I attempt to run the board, you give me the security of being able to get down to my last card, pair, or baby set, knowing that if I get cut off at the end you can hand the lead back to me. On the other hand, if you use the dog early, I have to be more careful about preserving my high cards until I can get rid of my low cards, which gives our opponents a better chance of sneaking in and going out.

Of course, this depends partially on the strength of your hand: if your hand is sufficiently weak that you’re unlikely to be able to get the lead back, you might as well go ahead and play the dog now so you can help your partner; however, if you have a fairly strong hand (and especially if you have a bomb) I do believe it’s better to hold the dog for later.

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