The Judge’s Pick’n’Mix, Part One – Rolling Japan and Red7 reviews

The Judge likes his big, meaty games. Something he can spend hours pouring over, calculating probabilities in his mind, considering the options he has, the moves he can make. Then he takes the wrapping off and actually opens up the damn thing. Sometimes though, even he desires something smaller, though no less mentally delicious. Here’s the first of a two-parter from him on some little games that pack a punch. Or, in his case, a meathook clothesline.

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get – unless you look at the useful cheat-sheet which meticulously details the nutritional information, ingredients and potential nut content of each delicious treat.”

Not as catchy as the original quote, perhaps, but certainly more accurate – which is appropriate for today I am going to look at a few smaller games that have crossed my table recently (a pick‘n’mix selection, shall we say) and give you lovely readers a breakdown of which are hazelnut pralines (yummy) and which are strawberry creams (icky!). [You, sir, are an idiot. Strawberry Creams are the best. – Michael]

RollingJapan

You have to respect a game that proudly states that it plays up to 99 players in around fifteen minutes and isn’t even lying. Created by Hisashi Hiyashi of Trains fame, Rolling Japan game encapsulates the wave of micro-games that have come from the East in recent years insomuch as it brings a great deal of entertainment with relatively few components in a tiny little package.

Quick summary for those not in the know – a player rolls 2 dice and announces their number and colour to the assembled throng. Those players then take their pencil (8 are included – the other 91 need make their own arrangements) and write those numbers on their own personal playsheet that contains an approximation of Japan split into coloured boxes. The only restriction is that a red two, for instance, must be placed in a red box, and it may not be placed adjacent to any number that isn’t equal to it or one number away. So a three may only be placed next to threes, twos or fours. If you can’t go then add an X instead – after 8 rounds the least X’s wins.

So then, it’s really simple and easy at the start but maddeningly tricky by the end, and its good fun. A tricky little personal puzzle (this really is the definition of multiplayer solitaire) with more than enough think and decisions to entertain across its short running time.

Rolling Japan is a perfect start / end of night filler and with everyone playing simultaneously, it moves along at a good clip and can genuinely cope with very large player counts. Not revolutionary (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on next years’ recommended list for the Spiel des Jahres) but it fits a niche that guarantees a space in my collection.

Red7Cover

The new HOTNESS coming out of BGG.com was a simple little card game with a good pedigree. That game is Red7.

Now this was described to me initially as Fluxx for gamers. Few words in the gamer vernacular strike fear into my heart quite as, erm, strikingly as Fluxx. The popular card game that could conceivably last for ever, and often feels like it does, is not a favourite of mine. That said, the core mechanism of rules constantly evolving over the course of a play is a truly interesting one and it is this gamespace that has been explored and refined in Red7.

As far as pedigree goes, any new card game from Carl Chudyk, the designer of Glory to Rome (a truly innovative civ building game) and Innovation (a tech tree in card game form which lots of people really like but I can’t stand) is worth exploring. With that in mind, and the buzz surrounding this new release, I was initially quite optimistic.

And rightly so! Mechanically straightforward (at least in its basic mode which is all I have and intend to play for the time being) this is a great game. Like Rolling Japan, it’s very quick – and feels more akin to a trick taking game than anything else, in so much as a hand is playable in just 5-10 minutes.

Players begin with a hand of 7 cards with a further card placed in their palette or display in front of them. The deck contains numbers 1-7 in the seven colours of the rainbow (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, remember?) and each colour also has a rule associated to it – such as “Most different colours wins.” The game begins with the rule being “Highest number wins” so the player with the highest number in their display (with ties broken by the rainbow colour hierarchy) is winning. Play continues clockwise from them and on a turn players may add a card to their palette, play a card to change the rule, or both. The only restriction is that you MUST be winning at the end of your turn, or you’re out of the round.

Again this is mechanically simple, but with elements of long term strategy and deeper tactics. You are not drawing additional cards throughout the round, so you simply must survive as long as you can and make things difficult for the other players whilst making the best of the hand you have been dealt. Which, in many ways, is a metaphor for life… Take that Forrest Gump!

A few hands of Red7 are a great way to begin a gaming evening. Simple to teach and quick to play, I heartily recommend this game.

Follow Stuart on Twitter, and be sure to come back for part 2 where we have more sweet (and perhaps some sour) treats to explore…

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