138 Games: From Scoozie to Tichu

We finally reach the early 1990s as we progress through the 138 games to play before you die.  Part 8 of the series provides quite a wide range of gaming options to suite any taste.  There’s a classic deduction game, a traditional racing game, a thematic combat game, an ever-popular card game, and a game you’ve very likely never heard of before.  There’s something in there for just about anyone and our panel of Opinionated Gamers is here to tell you why you really need to try each and every one.

– Scoozie –

Joe Huber:  I mentioned, relative to Lines of Action, my general dislike for abstract games.  In spite of which, this is the _second_ completely abstract game I would recommend folks try.  Well, completely abstract gets into the debate frequently discussed on BGG about just what makes for an abstract game.  For Scoozie, you see, is a fully abstract game – themed around a single play in American Football.  All of the things you do in the game are consistent with what you would expect in an asymmetric abstract – you move pieces, with blocking moves rather than captures, but otherwise closely resembling many other abstract games.  But the net result closely resembles a single play in American Football.  The blocking moves represent blocking, primarily by linemen.  Beyond the line, the defensive pieces effectively act as linebackers and secondary, while the offensive pieces provide a quarterback (who starts with the ball) and two running backs, who can act as receivers.  There are some compromises; there are no wide receivers, for instance.  But the defense can blitz, the offense can lateral, and there’s a huge variety of options available.

And the net result is – a really enjoyable game.  I’ve usually played one play on offense for each player (it’s a two-player game); whoever does better wins the game.  I was introduced to the game by Steffan O’Sullivan, who has long sung its praises, a few years ago, and I wish I’d paid better attention to his review of the game when I’d first run across it.  Even if you don’t enjoy abstracts, or don’t enjoy American Football, this is a game worth trying.

– Black Vienna –

Jonathan Franklin:  I love deduction games, especially those where everyone is involved in every turn.  In this game, you are trying to find the spies.  There are 27 spies, each associated with a letter, including the O with an umlaut aka ‘special O’.  Three spies are removed from the deck of 27 and the rest are dealt to the players.  You then have the inquiry cards with three letters on each one.  Slowly, by playing inquiry cards and learning which spies other players have, you can learn who the three spies not out there are, thereby winning the game.  One caveat – one wrong answer can ruin the game.  You must double and triple check answers to avoid this issue.  For me, this is the pinnacle of deduction games, but I’ll suggest you also play Larry Levy’s Deduce or Die, my runner-up, if you like deduction games.

Greg Aleknevicus:  In many ways, deduction games are like competitive puzzles and your affinity for one is a pretty strong indication of your interest in the other.  Like Sudoku? Then you’ll probably enjoy Clue, Sleuth, or Code 777.  But my favourite is Black Vienna because it’s best at creating the challenges I want in a deduction game: chains of logic, stringing together disparate clues, piecing together a mystery — all great stuff.  But if that’s all Black Vienna offered — puzzles to solve — it wouldn’t be essential.

What makes it superior is that it’s competitive.  Sure, you can play Sudoku against others, but that’s really just a race against the clock.  In Black Vienna, you’re not just struggling against the hidden mystery, you’re struggling against your opponents as well.  Since each player starts with a unique hand, the information revealed at every turn is of differing value to each.  Rather than viewing your situation in isolation, you need to consider how every move will affect your opponents.  It’s this aspect that makes Black Vienna a game, rather than merely a puzzle.  And it’s the reason you should play it before you die.

Dale Yu:  There is also a great online site coded by Greg where you can play the game for free!

– Space Hulk –

Patrick Korner:  Space Hulk is published by Games Workshop, a company that has been often maligned for apparently treating its customer base as more of a treadmill than a long-term relationship.  Who cares if your current customers rage-quit when you change the rules yet again, invalidating chunks of their miniature armies?  There are always new players ready to take up the slack.

However, there is another group of games released by GW, typically at arm’s-length from their core Warhammer / Warhammer 40k minis.  And some of those stand-alone games are pretty damn cool.  One of them is Space Hulk, and Space Hulk is very damned cool.

Somewhere in the galaxy, an ancient, rusted hulk floats, lifeless and barren.  And yet, when our heroic Space Marines enter the hulk to investigate, unusual blips start showing up on the scanners… We are not alone.  As anyone who’s gotten into the WH40K mythos will attest, those floating hulks are often used by Genestealers as a convenient way of getting around.  And devouring anything they find…

Space Hulk is an asymmetrical, minis-based game of squad-level combat.  One player mans one or more groups of Marines while the other player mans the Genestealers. Marines are big, slow and massively-armoured, while the ‘stealers are small, fleet, and come in endless waves.  Lose a Marine and it hurts like hell.  Lose a ‘stealer and it’s usually “Whatever, plenty more to come.”  As the Marines, your job is to navigate the crowded, cramped hallways and rooms of the modular map, exploring and typically trying to complete one or more objectives – get the hell out, blow up a room, find an artifact, etc.  As the ‘stealers, as you may guess, your job is to kill as many Marines as possible and prevent them from carrying out their assignments.

Highly thematic, hugely replayable, and tense as all hell when the inevitable battles seem to come down to the inevitable win/lose die rolls (your guns will jam when you least want them to, it’s kind of a rule), Space Hulk is a gorgeous slice of 40K without all the tedious codex-revising, line-of-sight-rules-lawyering frustration that its originating game system is infamous for.

Frank Branham:  Still one of the best 2-player miniature wargames around.  Patrick’s comments about 40K’s complexity do not really apply to the first edition expansions, which piled on a little too much stuff.  Outside of that, this is a game that is rather less complex than the MB Gamemaster games, plays in 30-60 minutes, has gorgeous production values, and is dramatic and fast.  It manages to do all of this with only one single monster type, and manages to be a far better emulation of a video game shooter than any game which actually bears an expensive license.

– Ave Caesar –

Jeff Allers:  Like other racing games on this list, Ave Caesar is a must-play because of it’s deceptively simple rules and high interaction.  When I first heard of this, it was considered by many to be a “grail game” in that it was long out of print and difficult to find at a decent price.  Either because of the inferior Pro Ludo re-release or because I live in Germany, it was easier than I thought to acquire used copies, and it’s one of my most-played games of all time, right up there with Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride.  There are tactics in managing your hand of cards, knowing when to surge out ahead and block your opponents, or forcing them into the longer outside lanes. With 4-6 players, the 3-lap race is filled with tension and friendly trash-talk, as players’ chariots change positions around the track.  And then there’s the pit-stop intermission, in which each player flips his coin in the direction of the emperor’s box and calls out “Ave Caesar!”  It’s enough to draw quite a few onlookers to watch the final stage of the race–that is, if there isn’t already a crowd gathered around your own private Circus Maximus.  There may not be any Ben Hur-style wrecks in the race, but it is equally satisfying to watch a player sputter out before the finish line because you forced them into the outside lane one too many times. And for the losers, there’s always time for at least one rematch.

Mark Jackson:  Ave Caesar has also spawned a wonderful re-theme version (Ausgebremst) with a very tiny deck-building element in which you are racing Formula One cars.  The base system (regardless of which version you play) offers plenty of opportunity to mess over your opponents amidst lightning-fast gameplay.

– Tichu –

Mary Prasad:  The four-player version of Tichu is one of the best partnership card games ever published.  The deck is basically a standard 52-card deck (although the symbols have been changed) plus four special cards: mahjong, dog, dragon, and phoenix.  Passing cards to partner and opponents at the start of every round is what really makes the game exceptional.  This gives some measure of control to an otherwise fairly random card mixture, allows a form of communication between partners, and gives some knowledge of cards in the opponents’ hands (well, at least until they play those cards you just passed them).  Tichu is a climbing, trick taking game with basic elements of Poker (specifically card combinations, pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, full house, straight, straight flush). It is considered an evolution of the Chinese game Zheng Fen (an uncredited game in the public domain).  Tichu is not a difficult game to learn, once you figure out the four special cards, but it can take years to master.

To be continued…

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