Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meeting the Publishers: Smart Zone and Battle of the Pyramids

Smart Zone

Smart Zone is an Israeli game publisher/distributor run by Tzafrir & Tali Kazula. They distribute Tantrix, Pentago, and Hive in Israel, and Tantrix Hive to America through a sister company. In addition, they have produced a few original games and are looking for more submissions.


Tantrix is a worldwide successful tile-laying game. The game contains 56 Bakelite tiles with lines of four different colors. In turn, each player picks and plays a tile from the central pile. The object is to create the longest line in your color. For more information or to play online, visit the Tantrix web site.


Pentago is a simple abstract game. You place a marble and then turn one of the blocks, trying to get five in a row. For more information, visit the Pentago web site.


Hive is another abstract tile laying game which has also received some success and accolades. Each player has 11 Bakelite tiles with bugs on them. In turn, each player plays or moves one of their tiles in an attempt to surround your opponent's queen bee.

I've played Hive and it's an excellent game. It's on my list of great buys for new players.

This is the third edition of Hive. The first two used wooden tiles with stickers; the Bakelite tiles are far nicer.

Meeting Smart Zone

When I sat down with Tzafrir & Tali on Tuesday, they told me that it was their convincing that got the designer to change Hive to Bakelite tiles for the third edition.

They are a nice couple with the usual small game publisher enthusiasm. They have had some success, as the games they are distributing will attest to.

Smart Zone is working on changing its focus from game distribution to game publishing. To that end, it has published games by both Tzafrir and his brother. I played one of these games, called Battle of the Pyramids. An appropriate game for a Passover afternoon.

Battle of the Pyramids

BotP is a Stratego variant. You have a large and flat rectangular board with squares, but the squares are turned on their corners into diamonds. So you have a rectangular field of diamonds. Your nine pieces start on your side of the board and can move along the lines of the compass.

The object of the game is to be the first player to get seven of your pieces to the other side of the board.

The pieces come in different colors, and some lines on the board are designated for each of these colors. When a piece is on a line matching its color, it can move as far as it wants along the line. Otherwise, it moves one space.

Each piece also has a different symbol. When your piece has reached the far side of the board, it is removed from play and placed on the spot matching the symbol on your side of the board, both as an indication of your having reached the far side with that piece, and to block one spot on your side, lessening the available spaces on your side.

Each piece also has a number power, like Stratego. The pieces separate into two parts, so you can assign whichever number you want to whichever piece before the game starts. When you clash pieces (simply by moving adjacent), the lower number must retreat to a designated location on his side of the board. In the case of a tie, both pieces retreat.

Lastly, you have two bombs which you can hide inside two of your pieces. When you clash, if your piece contains a bomb, the other player's piece is eliminated from the board along with your bomb. Your piece remains, without the bomb.

After one play I could see that you want your "9" piece circling around killing other pieces as they try to get to your side of the board. So you leave that piece as the last one to leave the board.

There is one "retreat" position that essentially controls your side of the board and it lies on crossing blue lines. If you choose your "9" to be a blue piece, then whenever it retreats, it retreats to the perfect place for defending. My opponent found it very difficult to pass me as a result.

The Good

It's an interesting game. It plays quickly, although careful defensive play might extend the game's play time.

As you succeed in moving your pieces to the end of the board, you lose them, which gives a natural advantage to the losing player, keeping the game balanced and allowing the loser a possibility of catching up.

The Bad and the Ugly

The theme is essentially non-existent. But the game's biggest problem lies in it's physical design. Some of the colors are hard to distinguish, even for non-colorblind players. And the tiny symbols on the pieces are all very similar, which makes learning which piece goes to which location very difficult. I kept getting them confused, and in fact lost the game by confusing two of the symbols.

It's an inexcusably bad problem. The game looks like it's "finished", so I don't know if my telling them will effect any change. Hopefully what they showed me was a prototype. Or perhaps they can create a second edition with less color dependence and clearer distinctions among the symbols.

Just to add insult to injury, I wasn't particularly enamored with the box design, either. The board looked nice, however, and the game appears to be playable.

World Passport

This is a 1-player puzzle game also created by Smart Zone which was quite enjoyable. It's very much in the same space as Rush Hour.

The game comes with six plastic pieces, each of which is a hexagonal triomino or hexagonal tetramino. On each piece, one or more of the hexagons is opaque. The game also comes with 50 40 maps of countries. Each map has five locations marked.

For each map, you must place the pieces so that there is a clear path leading from the first location through each other location (in order, so no branching). The lower numbered puzzles give you clues as to where to put one or more of the initial pieces, while for the higher numbered ones you're on your own.

It's quite clever, and comes with a booklet containing all the solutions. Of course, once you've done all the puzzles the game is done, just like Rush Hour.


Update from Smart Zone:

I will take your remarks in consideration for the next edition [of Battle of the Pyramids]. the shipment for the first edition is already in Israel so it's too late ...

two important corrections for the article

1. we are the distributors of hive in the USA and not Tantrix.

2. in our game world passport we have 40 maps and not 50.



Safranit said...

I love Pentago!!! It was recommended by the owner of Moriah Gifts (on Rechov Palmach) and if I could get my family to play more with me, I would!

Yehuda said...

Safranit - I haven't had a chance to play it, yet. Bring it over to game night at my house on Wed evening and I'll play it with you.