The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - January, 2001

Ray Smith: In response to Nick Sauer's inquiry concerning the accuracy of the predictions in the game Future [Letters - December, 2000], the good doctors of the design sure knew how to hedge their bets. No event is given more than an eighty percent chance of success or failure, and even at these extremes, their choices were not that far of a stretch. Playing the game reminds me of going through your fathers old Popular Science magazines. Remember all those inventive miracles that were just around the corner that made the future look so wondrous! Well, here is a rundown of some of their soothsayings broken down into success rate probability:


Wide practical use of lasers in industry and medicine.
Manned military base in space.
Desalinization of oceans for fresh water is possible world-wide.
Ultra-light metal substitutes are in wide use.


Drugs to control personality are widely accepted.
World-wide fertility control is practiced.
Private passenger vehicles are barred from city cores.
Manned lunar base exists.
Full-color 3-D television is used globally.
Currency is eliminated by credit cards.


Household robots are widely used.
Racial barriers are eliminated.
Unrestricted trade with communist countries.
Average work week is 32 hours.
Men land on Mars by 1986.


Annual wage of $6000 is guaranteed.
Artificial growth of new limbs and organs.
Limited weather control is available globally.
Agriculture production is increased by direct genetic manipulation.
Standing international police force exists.
Human brains linked to computers.
Substantial food supplied by ocean farming.
Average life span reaches 100 years.

As you can see, a record Nostradamus would have been proud of.

Harlan Rosenthal: Another game to add to the list [Spielus Obscurus]: Elixir. My copy was published by TSR and 3 Wishes Games. It is similar to Clue in complexity.

There are nine "potion" cards which are shuffled and placed on a 3x3 grid. They consist of the three portions of the Elixir Vitae and six other potions of use in the game. The grid is marked with magical herbs along one axis (zee weed, for example) and strange ingredients along the other (toe of bat). The board is a loop of movement spaces with four wizards' laboratories at the corners, three shops centered on the short and one long edge, and a jail along the other long edge. Since one needs to get to the shops, the two laboratories flanked by shops are advantageous.

The player's turn consists of collecting an allowance of coins and moving up to a fixed maximum number of spaces (5, I think). If you have arrived in a shop, you may buy that shop's spell components or gems. If you have arrived back at your own laboratory, you may simply store your purchases, or you may try mixing an herb, an ingredient, and a gem. The success of the potion experiment is decided by die roll, with the investment in gem cost added to the roll, so if you want to be sure of success you spend more. A successful potion-mixing allows you to examine the card at the grid intersection of herb and ingredient. The first player to make the three portions of the Elixir is the winner.

Other potions allow you to move faster, obtain extra coins, steal someone's stored ingredients, or otherwise improve your performance in the theme. By observing what special actions others take in this manner, after tracking what they used for ingredients, one can infer potions one has not yet tried; of course the first defense against this is to collect multiple potions before using any of them.

Randall Peek: I was amused by the descriptions of some of your misfit games collection. [Spielus Obscurus 2] Your collection sounds even more esoteric and strange than mine. I also have Krakatoa, which is one of my wife's favorite games (she has a thing for dice). Prince Joli Kansil used the same odd little dodeca dice in a short-run game he released called Quinx. Unfortunately, my Quinx wound up in the hands of a former girlfriend/kleptomaniac. It was a Pente-type game that used the roll of the two included dodecas to determine which spaces on the board a player could play on. It was an interesting game, but not a classic by any means. I just wish I still had it in my collection!

Almost all of Prince Joli Kansil's games could qualify as misfits, other than Bridgette. One of his odder entries was called Grand Slam Baseball, which used a modified deck of cards (also used in his classic Marrakesh) to determine the outcome of each batter/pitcher matchup. It came in a small box that he also used to market Bridgette and, if I am not mistaken, the standard release of Marrakesh.

Marrakesh was another of his games that also was released as a deluxe version, using a large folding case, much like a traveling backgammon set, which it somewhat resembles. The game was mentioned several times in early Games Magazine's annual 100 lists. It used a combination of cards and dice to play out a game that resembled the bearing-off portion of a Backgammon game. Players tried to get their pieces off the board in various scoring combinations, while preventing the other player from doing so. This is a game that I have taught to several of my past girlfriends, prior to meeting my wife, as well as my wife. In each case, the game became an instant hit. Just a perfect blend of luck and strategy with a nice, elegant look and feel. Too bad it never reached the mass market as it deserved.

Another amazingly odd game that deserves listing as a misfit was some self-published game called Timeline. The components consisted of a folded paper gameboard showing 16 small 4X4 chess boards, 8 color-coded game pieces, and a baggie full of small cardboard chits. One player took the warm-colored pieces (red, orange, yellow, white, if I remember correctly) and the other the corresponding cool-colored pieces. Each was set up on opposite ends of the board, with each player having two bishops and two rooks. The idea was that each chess piece could not only move within its little 4X4 board, but could move to other boards, as well. Each column represented a 4X4X4 cube in which each piece could move in three dimensions, and each column represented a different "day". A rook, for example, could maintain its position in a cube, but could move to a different day by moving to the corresponding space in a different column. The truly bizarre element was that each piece literally left a "paper trail", as the player had to put a chit of the corresponding color on each space occupied in each move. A player could capture an enemy piece by either moving onto the piece or any one of these chits, which captured the piece as of that location. The captured piece and each chit played beyond this point was captured, which could result in a piece captured by the captured piece "later" in the game returning to the board!

The game was a little mind-twister, but finding an opponent was impossible. Coupled with the terrible production values, the game was almost doomed to fail from the beginning. A shame, as it had some interesting ideas...

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