Got some great games for Christmas…
Ballast is by Gigamic, the makers of Quorridor, last year’s favorite acquisition (right up there with Spy Alley). Ballast is a Jenga-like game where you take turns removing blocks from a structure. You are awarded different points for different sized blocks. The kicker is that the blocks are all cylinders and are stacked within a vertical ring. So, it is pretty tricky. My 5 year-old son liked it but I think he enjoys the carnage of Jenga to the more subtle block-shifting of Ballast.
Octiles is very cool. It is sort of like Chinese Checkers. Up to four people attempt to move all of their pieces to the opposite side of the board. The catch is that the paths your pieces follow change. Between you and the other side of the board is a field of octagons. On your turn you are allowed to place an octagonal tile (“octiles”) which has a set of arcing paths printed on it. Each tile has a different pattern. The paths of each piece interlock to form a twisted maze. Your piece must cross the tile you placed. This one was my son’s favorite of the three new games. He’s able to beat me with minor coaching (and poor play on my part!).
Carcossone was given to me by my Aunt who played the game with my Uncle and a German couple. They liked it so much, the German couple gave it to them (my Uncle had to find an English-language rule set). I can see why they liked it so much. In the game, up to five people take turns placing tiles that contain things like roads, cities, farms, and cloisters. The tiles must match up with existing tiles (eg, grass on an edge matches with grass on an existing tile). After placing a tile, you can deploy a “follower”, a little wooden piece that essentially declares that territory for you. You score points by completing formations like completed cities, roads, and cloisters in which you have a follower deployed. You can also get points for followers deployed as farmers that supply completed cities. The trick is that you have a limited number of followers. And, once deployed, farmers can never be re-used.
The game changes each time you play and requires different strategies based on the number of players. Mine came with a free set of “river” tiles that add a subtle yet challenging twist to the tile layout constraints. Yesterday my Uncle sent me the “Inns and Cathedrals” expansion tiles but we haven’t played with them yet. My son enjoys the game but requires more coaching than the other games (the box says 8 and up). The longer playing time is also a challenge to a five year-old’s patience. My nieces, nephew, and in-laws all enjoyed playing until the late hours. Good stuff.