Tuesday Reprint Roundup – Zman Edition – Babel and Ricochet Robots

There has been a lot of reprinted games in the past six months, and while I spend most of my time playing the new new games, there are a number of reprints that have gotten some old favorites back on the game table.  As all of these games are reprints, I not really focus on the gameplay, as there are multiple reviews available online from the original version.  What I will focus on are the changes (both in physical components as well as rules) from the originals.

Z-Man has had a number of notable reprints as they have recently made some new partnerships and gotten rights to some older games. This week, we’ll take a look at two of these reprints.

Ricochet Robots

  • (Initially released 1999, reprinted 2013 by Z-Man games)
  • Designer: Alex Randolph
  • Ages: 13+
  • Players: any number
  • Time: 30 minutes, unless you play with Joe Huber, then it is closer to 5 minutes ;)

RR1

From the BGG description: “Ricochet Robots is less of a game and more of a puzzle, which explains why there’s such an odd number of solutions possible. There’s a four-piece modular board that forms a large room with walls spread around the board. There are also color-coded targets on boards. Placed on top of the surface are four robots. The idea for each turn/puzzle is to get the like-colored robot to a randomly selected target. The trick is that once a robot starts moving, it will continue to move until a wall or another robot stops it. Therefore, players are seeking a sequence of moves for the robots that will enable them to move the required robot to the target in the fewest moves.”

There is a mini-review here by Joe Huber:

https://opinionatedgamers.com/2013/05/20/138-games-part14/

The new version comes in a nice 30cm box.  Though it’s not explicitly stated, this appears to be a 15th anniversary edition of the game.  If you look closely at the cover, you’ll notice that the red robot in the center of the art has a stylized “15” printed on it.

As far as components go, they are of decent quality. The boards are of thick cardboard, and there is a nice locking mechanic used now to keep the board pieces together. The centerpiece of the board is a four headed arrow thingy, and the individual boards have matching inverse notches that lock together jigsaw puzzle style to keep things in place.

Image courtesy of Michael Henke (smack42 on BGG)

Image courtesy of Michael Henke
(smack42 on BGG)

There are some reports online that the 2013 ABACUS boards (which I presume, but do not know for sure, are from the same print run) have some issues with the boards lining up – but I did not have those issues in my copy.  All of the lines on my board line up just fine.

The other noteworthy thing about the boards is that there are 8 two-sided boards included in the box, which leads to “over 1500 board configurations”.   According to the box, this version includes “every released board” in one box.  I did not realize that there were multiple boards in the old ABACUS/Rio Grande versions, but now I’ve got all of them!

Rules-wise, there is only one modification that I can see – the “newbie tiebreaker” rule isn’t included in the rulebook.  The gist of this rule was: if two players bid the same number of moves, the tie went in favor of the player who had fewer points at the time.  This gave the game a little bit of a catch-up mechanism, and I always felt this was a good thing because this is the sort of puzzle game that needed it.

Ricochet Robots is the poster child for why I never liked puzzle games when I got started in the hobby (way back in the 20th Century!) – because in this game, if someone is 5% faster at figuring out the puzzle, they will win 100% of the time.  This leads to a very frustrating game at times, especially when you play against RR savants like Joe Huber.

This new version of RR should be readily available in stores now.

Matt Carlson:  This is my wife’s second favorite game (behind RoboRally).  With a bit of work and luck I can even win sometimes. I agree with Dale that the (unmentioned) catch-up mechanism is very handy to help even out the scoring – someone can be up to 30 seconds slower than another player, but still keep the score nearly tied.  Games are very quick, and people can hop in and out and still have fun.  It was also an instant hit with another spouse in our local group.  (It probably doesn’t hurt that they’re both university professors…)

Larry:  I’m a big fan of the original Ricochet Robots, which was Alex Randolph’s last great game.  I agree with Dale that someone who is 5% faster can dominate, but that’s why the original tiebreaker rule was such a good addition–the player who is 5-10% slower can be competitive and now you need to be 25% faster to truly dominate (Huber, of course, is off the charts).  It’s not a game for everyone, but in my experience, it works for a reasonable portion of the gaming community and is one of the best speed games around.  I’m thrilled that Z-Man is re-releasing this one; hopefully, word will get out about the original tiebreaker rule, so that people can play with it if they choose.

Babel

  • (Originally released in 2000 by Kosmos, reprinted in 2014 by Z-Man Games)
  • Designer: Uwe Rosenberg and Hagen Dorgathen
  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • Players: 2 only
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
New cover art

New cover art

This was originally released in 2000 as part of the 2-player Kosmos line.  These games all came in a uniform small, thin square box – and there seemed to be two to three of these released each year.  Plenty of great games (Babel, Caesar and Cleopatra, Flower Power, Balloon Cup, Lost Cities) are members of this great series of games.  Babel (and also Balloon Cup) received a rare nomination for Spiel des Jahres despite being a 2-player only game.

Here is a very old review from a good friend of mine, Frank Kulkmann –

http://www.boardgame.de/reviews/babel.htm

original box for comparison

original box for comparison

I honestly hadn’t even heard that this game was being reprinted – I still have the full set of the Kosmos 2-player games, but they frankly haven’t gotten a lot of play around here anymore because now that I have two sons that play boardgames, I almost never have only two people to play games.

In any event, the art has been completely redone in this new version.  The artist hired to do the new version is Chris Quilliams, who you might recognize as the artist for Clash of Cultures and Pandemic.  I must say that I find the new graphics quite appealing.

New card art

New card art

As far as rules go, there appears to only be one change in the new version – and this is found in the setup.  In the original version, both players started the game with 5 cards.  In the new version, the start player draws 3 cards while the other player draws 5.

original art for comparison

original art for comparison

To be honest, I don’t remember there being a marked advantage to going first, but the change in setup seems to suggest that a little bit of balancing has gone on in the 14 years since the game was first released.

If you don’t already have this game, it’s a classic that should be in your collection.  Eventhough it is almost 15 years old, it still plays great and is a wonderful 2-player game.

Additional Comment by Larry Levy:  Babel is one of my all-time favorite 2-player games and I used to play a ton of it.  I’m very pleased that it’s being reissued and the new art looks quite nice.  I urge all fans of 2-player gaming to check this out and see that Uwe Rosenberg was putting out quite a bit of great stuff even before he learned to spell A-G-R-I-C-O-L-A.

However, I have some concerns about the change in the initial setup.  I can understand why it was made.  A typical start to the game found the first player drawing three cards (all turns start that way), giving him 8 to work with.  If 3 of the cards are of the same tribe (and the odds are good that that will occur), the start player would almost always play them to the same spot and activate the set to force his opponent to discard half her hand (in this case, 2 cards).  This allowed the start player to have a large number of cards to work with (you rarely end a turn with as many as 4 or 5 cards, just because you fear being forced to discard some), get a head start on his card playing, and still retard the progress of the second player by making her start with only a 3 card hand.  My most frequent oppontent when I was playing Babel consistently thought the first player advantage was huge and would bemoan his luck if I was randomly chosen to play first.

However, the problem with going first is if your starting 8 cards don’t include a 3 card set.  Now the second player has her full hand, plus the 3 card draw, to work with.  In addition, at the end of the first player’s turn, he must expose two Temple cards, so the second player has those to use.  All of this tends to put the second player in a nice situation.  So I always felt that the possibility of the first player not being able to halve his opponent’s opening hand made the two positions close to equal.  It seemed like I won from the second position just about as much as I did from the first position.

I acknowledge that the first player may still have the edge here–most of the time, he’ll be able to force the second player to discard on the first turn.  But cutting his opening hand to 3 cards sounds like going too far in the other direction.  Now, the likelihood of having a set in your first hand (which is now 6 cards) certainly seems less than 50%.  And if that doesn’t happen, that means that regardless of what you do, the second player will be have her full 8 cards to work with, plus she’ll be able to get a head start on temple building.  It seems like a clear advantage for the second player.

Now I haven’t had the chance to play with this yet.  Like Dale, I just found out that Babel would be reprinted and that there would be a change in the rules.  So I’ll without my final opinion until I get the chance to try this out.  But I fear Z-Man may have screwed the pooch in their well-intended effort to balance this game better.  A 4 card hand for the first player?  That I could see (and it might provide the best balance).  3 cards?  That seems like too few.  Hopefully, it won’t spoil the game experience for all of the players who encounter this great game for the first time.

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Mark Jackson: Dale didn’t even talk about the really important Z-Man reprint news – Vlaada Chvatl’s “better than Talisman” fantasy adventure game PROPHECY will be reprinted this year – along with the Dragon Realm and Water Realm expansions. (That’s especially good news for those of us who are fans of the game – as the Water Realm was never released in the U.S.)

If you’re not a fan of epic adventure games (like Runebound or Vlaada’s own Mage Knight), PROPHECY won’t change your mind. But for someone who played a lot of Talisman back in the day (both 2nd & 3rd edition, thank you very much), this is a game that takes the same basic “choose what adventure you want to have to attempt to level up your character” and adds some gamer-friendly mechanics to add control & flavor to the genre.

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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3 Responses to Tuesday Reprint Roundup – Zman Edition – Babel and Ricochet Robots

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    I want to state for the record that I have occasionally scored a point while playing a game of Ricochet Robots with Joe Huber.

  2. Dan Blum says:

    I too have scored when playing against Joe.

    To clear up some of Dale’s confused ramblings (I know, I should have checked this before it was posted):

    * There were two older editions, one in a red box and one in a blue box. They had different sets of boards; the ones in the blue box had the colored diagonal walls on one side. This edition has both sets.

    * The number on the side of the robot on the cover is not an indication of an anniversary edition, since it has always been there.

  3. Clyde says:

    I think I might’ve read that the Babel reprint also changes the distribution of cards..? Can anyone verify this?

Comments are closed.