<< Role Call 23 | Main | Favorite Games XIII >>

June 23, 2003

Favorite Games XII

Another take on bidding and scoring by Reiner Knizia and a look at one of the simplest yet strategically deepest games yet from Cheapass Games.

Another note... In order to allow time for other things I do (like the morning stuff that made this entry slip to an afternoon posting), I'm going to shift these Favorite Games entries to every 3rd day rather than every 2nd. It isn't because I'm running out of games (far from it!), but it will allow me to get some other things done between writing mini-reviews.

Buttonmen is a game that looks really simple, but isn't (though it is easy to learn). The basic rules are direct enough... each button has a name and picture of a fighter and a few numbers in circles (usually 5, sometimes fewer, and for some sets more). These numbers represent die types (and sometimes special powers). Usually, one (or more) of your dice is marked as a "Swing Die" and can be set to any size from 4 to 20 (some Swing Dice are marked with different letters to indicate different ranges); you pick swing dice in secret before the match. In a fight, you roll your dice and your opponent rolls theirs. Then, alternating starting with whoever rolled the lowest number, you remove one opposing die at the cost of re-rolling one of your own. You can only remove a die via "Power Attack" (one of your dice is greater than or equal to the target die) or "Skill Attack" (one or more of your dice sum up to exactly the target die), and you must re-roll all dice used in the attack. The match ends when neither player can make an attack, and your score at the end is the size of all the dice you capture plus 1/2 the dice you successfully defend (usually only one player will have any defended dice left, but special die powers and restrictions can result in an early end to the match). Normally, you play a series until one player wins 3 matches (with the loser changing swing dice after each match). There are numerous special types of dice to complicate things, but let us stick to just the basic game for now... There's a ton of strategic depth here. When I attack, do I use my big d20 showing 18 to power through anything I see, or do I leave it 18 so it's harder to beat itself and re-roll my two d12s showing 3 and 4 after skill attacking a d8 showing 7 (because, after re-roll, they should be better defended)? Or should I target the d12 showing 2, and if so with which of my d12s? And what about swing dice? You have to pick them very carefully, as one too big makes you slow and gives away too many points, while one too small makes you weak on attack and defense. The strategy is deep (even without the numerous special die types), but not distractingly so. Games take only minutes and require minimal hardware (buttons and dice... though you may want some special colored dice to represent funky powered dice or oddly sized swing dice... I doubt you'll find a d19 out there, so you'll need to pick a d20 in a distinctive color and re-roll any 20s). Buy-in is easy (the rules are on the ButtonMen web site, along with several articles on strategy and a nearly-complete list of buttons), and all you need to do is pocket some dice and wear the button around any gathering of gamers... someone will challenge you to a fight. Buy some buttons (they usually come in two-packs for under $5) and take on a friend! Many (but far from all) ButtonMen can be purchased directly from Cheapass Games, others from various licensed sources.

Ra is another Knizia bidding game, but similarity with Money ends right away. In Ra, players bid to collect tokens representing various parts of Egyptian civilization (thinly... as is common in games from Dr. Knizia, the theme of this game is in the art on the pieces far more than it is in the game). The game is played in three rounds, called Epochs, and there is scoring and the return of some (but not all) tokens collected between each. Auctions are initiated partly by players' choice (if the current available draw of tokens seems worth bidding to you) or by occasional draws that force an auction. Various token types are received when you win an auction... Monument tokens are scored only at the end of the third round, but are worth a ton if collected into proper groups. Pharaoh tokens are worth a good bit if you have the most and cost you points if you have the least, but otherwise are worth nothing (and are returned to the box unlike most other counters are retained between Epochs), Nile and Flood tokens are worth a point each as long as you have at least one Flood token, but none if you have just Nile (and Flood tokens, but not Nile tokens, go back to the box between Epochs). Gold is always worth points and does go back to the box. Civilization tokens are worth a lot if you have 3 or more different ones, and you take a big hit if you don't manage to get any (and they all go back to the box each round). Bidding is done using Sun counters, which are also used for scoring in the 3rd Epoch only; when you win a bid, your winning counter is used to start the next bundle to be bid on. In essence, there are 6 ways to get points, each by its own rules, and some of them penalize you if you don't at least make an effort toward them. This requires careful budgeting of your Sun counters (only bid when it's worth it to take what is available), but also not letting the tokens you need to avoid penalties (such as Floods or Pharaohs) get all bought up before you get some. And be careful... there are "disaster" tokens that make you discard tokens if they're taken as part of a bid. The game takes a bit of careful teaching the first time through, but it's rewarding and highly interactive, so you'll come back to play it again and again. Also, the pieces are quite attractive and durable, so you won't regret pulling this one out for another play.

Funagain Purchase Links

Posted by ghoul at June 23, 2003 05:21 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?