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Australia: A Ranger Placement Game

“All I know is that, of the ten deadliest anything in the world, seven of them are in Australia.”

This was my contribution towards determining the start player for Australia, a board game involving troops of rangers who have been assigned to carry out various conservation and industrialization projects in 1920s Australia.  This is a fairly simple worker placement game for two to five players, with the unique rule that whoever thinks he knows most about Australia starts the game.

Each player gets a little aeroplane, some number of ranges (between 10 and 20, depending on how many people are playing), and draws two cards. The cards are in four piles, face up; each one has a color and shows between one and four rangers, plus between zero and three points, such that the number of coins plus rangers adds up to four.

Each turn, you get two actions, which can be the same. Action one is moving your aeroplane; when you first put it into play it can go anywhere on the board, but after that you have to move it to an adjacent region. You need a plane present to play or pick up rangers, which is pretty much the entire game.

Every area of the map has two counters on it: one, the industrialization counter, is face down, and has a number on it. The other, conservation, is the same in every tile. When a plane moves into the region for the first time, the industrialization counter is flipped face up. Scoring is simple: each region has circles around the edges (which it shares with neighboring regions) where rangers can be placed. If every circle in a region contains at least one ranger, then the conservation token is scored. If the total number of rangers in the region is exactly equal to the number on the conservation token, then it is scored. However, there’s a nice little twist to keep people paying attention: scoring is optional. If you don’t notice that you can score a region on your turn, your opponent might go and score it on his!

Scoring is again pretty simple: whoever scores the region gets 3 points, and then every ranger in the region scores a point for its owner; rangers on boats (that is, ocean circles) score double. In the full game, the tiles are also used to determine when to score the windmill, which adds a bit more strategy.

So how do you place workers? The second possible action is playing a card, which must be the same color as the region; you can also pay 3 coins to treat another card as if it was the correct color. You then take any money shown on the card, and play up to as many rangers as it shows (provided you have enough left in your supply). Finally, you draw another card to replace the one you just played; up until the end of the game, you’ll always have two cards in hand. Run out of rangers? For another action, you can pick up up to four rangers from the region your plane is in and return them to your supply.

What makes the game tricky is that, while you want to have as many rangers as possible present in each scoring, your total number is pretty limited so you can run out quickly.  If you don’t have time to go over and pick up some of the rangers you previously deployed, you can spend $4 to parachute one of your rangers to another location. Of course, every coin is worth a point at the end of the game..

The game ends when the draw decks have all been exhausted and one player is out of cards; since cards can also be discarded for two points, this tends to happen pretty quickly once the decks run out. The windmill is scored again, and whoever has the most points wins the game.

This is the type of game that I like to play occasionally (which has generally meant once every couple of years), but wouldn’t want to play a lot. It’s easy to teach and plays quickly, but there’s not really a whole lot of strategy there; you’re basically looking for a chance to score multiple tiles in one action, for as many points as possible. It can’t compare to a strong worker placement game like Caylus, but it’s a reasonably good introduction to the concept.

My advice? Try before you buy.

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The Best Family Board Games

One nice thing about board games is that they’re something the whole family can enjoy; I still have good memories of playing Hearts with my parents whenever we went on vacation. It can be challenging to find games that will keep the entire family interested, however, especially when young children are involved. Here are my picks for the games that will give the kids a fair shot at beating mom and dad, without being a total luck fest (no Candyland here!) Why not make one or two of them part of your next family game night?

Apples to Apples

Ok, this is a party game,  and it does involve a bit of reading, but once the kids are old enough to read the cards themselves there’s no reason why they can’t participate fully. The premise of the game is simple: one person puts down a green apple card, which is an adjective (funny, disgusting, etc) and everybody else plays a red apple card (a noun) face down.  The person who played the green apple shuffles the red apple cards, reads them (to much laughter), and chooses the best one; the player who submitted it gets a point

While some cards in the basic Apples to Apples game may be a bit obscure for kids – heck, I’m in my thirties and I don’t know who a number of the people on the cards are -you can get also get Apples to Apples Junior, which contains more kid-friendly words such as Unicorns and Burned Toast. Apples to Apples Junior is recommended for ages nine and up, and when one of the kids is judging, the other kids might have an easier time of it than Mom and Dad..

Why it’s one of the best family games: easy for everyone to play, difficult to take seriously, and entertaining even for adults

Loopin’ Louie

This one might be a bit hard to find, unfortunately; I ended up having my copy shipped from Europe. It’s totally worth it, however; this is the one game I’ve found that absolutely enthralls both kids and adults. It’s a bit of a dexterity game, but one in which the kids might very well win in spite of the adults’ best efforts!

Each player gets three chickens, and your goal is to keep Louie from scaring them off. Louie flies around in a red biplane (yes, this is a battery-operated game) and will knock over your chickens when he comes near your side of the board; however, you have a lever you can hit to send him flying off in another direction, hopefully into someone else’s chickens. The last player with a chicken remaining wins the game. You can also play in tournament mode, where the winner of each game starts with one fewer chicken in the next game, and must take three games to win.

Loopin’ Louie sounds really simple, and it is, but it’s surprisingly addicting. The first time I played, I kind of got dragged into it because someone was leaving and they wanted a fourth (although the game takes 2-4); I ended up playing 18 games of it that night, largely against the kids, and ordered my own copy shortly thereafter.  I’ve since brought it out at several adults-only gatherings with similar results: even the people who weren’t playing felt compelled to watch and laugh. Highly recommended, if you can find a copy!

Why it’s a great family game: very addicting for kids and adults alike, while being entertaining for anyone watching

Diamant / Incan Gold

Diamant, later rethemed as Incan Gold, is a press your luck game in which the fearless youngster may well outscore all the adults. (Of course, she might also go home broke..but she’ll have fun trying!) Like Loopin’ Louie, it has the advantage that everyone plays at the same time, which makes it harder to get bored. Each turn, a card is revealed: if it’s a treasure card, players split the loot. At any time, you can return to your camp and get your treasure tucked safely away, or you can continue in search of more riches. However, there are also several dangers you could encounter, including (depending on the version) rock slides and scorpions, or giant spiders and mummies. Encounter the same danger twice on one expedition and you’re forced to drop your loot as you perform a reverse advance…that is, run away quickly! After five expeditions, whoever has successfully returned with the most treasure wins the game.

Why it’s a winner: Plays quickly, without giving anyone a chance to get bored; has enough elements of bluffing to keep the adults interested, and enough luck to give the kids a decent chance at winning the game

Clue: Master Detective

Who doesn’t remember playing Clue when they were growing up? I still recall the one time I played against my mom, made it to a room on my second turn, made a suggestion she couldn’t counter, and immediately made an accusation to win the same.

Of course, that was the problem with Clue: someone who got a lot of rooms in his hand of cards had a decided advantage over the other players, and even without that there was always the chance of a lucky guess propelling you to victory early on. When those things didn’t happen, though, Clue was a great deduction game.

This brings us to Clue: Master Detective. This is almost exactly the same as the basic clue game (although there are a few small rules changes), with one exception: more of everything! More rooms, more murder weapons, and of course more suspects. The number of suspects is increased by more than the number of rooms, which reduces the luck factor a bit.

With this game being a definite improvement over standard Clue, it’s unfortunate that it’s currently out of print. That said, if you don’t want to spring for a second-hand copy,  the original is still a great game, and you can always find a recent version for under $20.

And it was Mr. Green, in the study, with the lead pipe.

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