Friday, May 05, 2006

Clans, 2-Player

Saarya and I were alone last night, as Rachel went to bed early, and Saarya asked to play a game. I wanted it to be of reasonable length, and Binyamin from the game group had left me Clans in order to try out. I hadn't thought that I would be able to get to it, but here was an opportunity.

Clans has a theme the way that Through the Desert has a theme; in other words, none discernible.

The game is essentially a board with around 70 spaces in five types. 60 (four types) of the spaces are playable, while the spaces of the one remaining type (lakes) are impassable. Some of the spaces connect to only three other spaces, while others connect to as many as eight other spaces. Five colors of meeples are distributed roughly evenly around the board to start.

Each round, you pick up all meeples in a space and move them to an occupied adjoining space. You can't move into an unoccupied space. So already you can see that this limits the number of movements to no more than 60/(number of players) each.

A region with seven meeples cannot be moved, and adjacent regions with seven meeples are combined.

Whenever your movement creates an isolated occupied space (surrounded only by unoccupied spaces), each color of meeple in that space scores equal to the total number of meeples in the space. For instance, if the space contains three green meeples, one blue meeple, and one black meeple, then green, blue, and black all score five points.

It doesn't matter how many meeples of a color are in the space; all colors in the space score the same. As the game progresses, specific region types also offer an increasing bonus for each color scoring in them, while others produce no score at all; each region type gets a turn for either category.

If the isolated space has meeples from all five colors, then all meeples of colors with only one meeple in that space are first removed before scoring. So an isolated space with two black meeples and one of each other color meeple will score only two points for black only.

In addition, the player who caused the scoring gets a bonus token for each space scored.

The game ends when there are no more moves or no more bonus tokens. Each player has a secret color, and at the end of the game, your score is your color's score plus your bonus tokens. So in the beginning of the game, people don't necessarily know what color you are. It becomes obvious as the game progresses, however. I couldn't really see the point of this, although I am assuming that it is supposed to add some sort of bluffing or hidden scoring element. With competent players, neither of these appear to apply.

The rules are mostly ok, but a little deficient. For instance, it mentions what happens when you form two isolated spaces at once, but not if you form three of four isolated regions at once. This is pretty easy to extrapolate. Harder to extrapolate, however, is what happens if the isolated region contains exactly one meeple of each color. According to the rules, you remove all meeples from colors with only one meeple before scoring. That leaves you with nothing. Does that count as scoring for purposes of taking the bonus token? Probably, but not clear and not discussed in the rules.

A two-player game is probably best, because the person sitting to the left of a weak player will have a decided advantage. Your basic object in the game is to be the one making the scoring moves. Not only does it give you the bonus token, but it also lets you determine, usually, on which region to score, and therefore whether it will be a bonus, regular, or non-scoring space, as well as which meeples will be constituent in the space. Of course, your choices are very limited, but you can often swing a small advantage one way or the other.

Some things become painfully obvious:

Any space cannot be scored until the number of connections to that space drop to none. Therefore, your opponent will not be able to score so long as you can leave him on his turn all spaces still connected to two other spaces. Triangular patterns work well here, as do circular chains.

You want to use up as many as you can of other meeple colors and only one of yours, thereby leaving you more scoring opportunities. However, you have to be careful that the space doesn't include all five colors and only one of your color's meeples (which will be removed before scoring). The converse to that is to use two of your meeples and only one each of all other meeples. It doesn't leave you with a big score, but it prevents other colors from scoring, at least.

Scoring with a lot of meeples that aren't your color on a non-scoring space is a fine move, since you get the bonus token and no one else gets anything.

And so on.

Like Dvonn, the number of legal moves shrinks as the game goes on, so it has a similar feel. Unlike Dvonn, however, the game can be maneuvered into something akin to Dots and Boxes, where one player leaves the other player with only a series of bad moves left, while the first player then just collects the point. I think this can be mostly avoided, if you know what you are doing.

So it's interesting at first glance. And I would be happy to try it again. It remains to be seen if it has any sort of longevity. And it would have been a better game without the confusing tacked on theme and illustrated board which only serves to make the connections between the spaces less visible.

By the way, I won, which doesn't happen often against Saarya. I expect that he will win any future games.


Link: Baby Blues is doing board games again, and it looks like it may be the first in a series.

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