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Subject: Multi-player abstract perfection rss

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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
United States
Howell
Michigan
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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I remember hearing this game mentioned a few times. I never thought anything of it. But then I found myself at All Things Fun in West Berlin, NJ and there it was. Bianca saw it first and she was intrigued. DKahnt was there with us as well and he mentioned that he heard good things about this game. So there I was, staring straight at a game I knew nothing about that my fiance wanted. I hate that situation. It feels like a total crapshoot. If we get it and its good, then we're happy. If we get it and it's not good, then she feels bad for wanting it and I get bummed that we wasted the money. But her happiness is worth way more than $25 so I said "Sure, we can get that one." with fear and trepidation. So was Uptown a good purchase, or is my fiance's guilt at wanting a bad game adding to my buyer's remorse?


Rules

Uptown is a game for 2-5 players. The board is a 9X9 grid of squares. The columns are numbered 1-9 while the rows are numbered A-I. There are 9 boxes made up of 3X3 squares inside this gridwork and each features a different picture. Each player has 28 tiles with 1 each of 1-9, A-I, the 9 different pictures, and one wild $ tile.

To start, players turn their tiles face down and shuffle them up, drawing 5 and putting them in their rack. On a player's turn, he places one tile on the board and then draws a replacement. Tiles must be placed according to the grid. Numbers can go anywhere in their column and letters anywhere in their row. The picture tiles can go anywhere in their box, regardless of number or letter. The $ tile can be placed anywhere because its a wild. When placeing a tile, you can capture a piece on the board by picking it up and replacing it with your piece. You can never seperate opponents tiles into multiple groups.

The goal is to have as few groups on the board as possible. A group consists of one or more tiles that are connected adjacently or in a row. Diagonals don't count. The winner of the game is the player with the least number of groups on the board. If there is a tie, the winner is the player who captured the least number of his opponent's pieces.

The rules for the game are incredibly simple and fit easily on one double sided rule sheet. There are illustrated examples to help solidify the ideas in the rules as well, so there should be no confusion. The gameplay is simple and the rules lay it out very clearly. There's also a German version of the rules included.


Components

Uptown comes in a box roughly the size of Kosmos 2-player boxes. The best thing about this box is the insert that is designed to perfectly hold all the game tiles and the tile racks. Its perfect in its size and function.

The board is very solid and offers a nice graphic touch. This is an abstract game, so there's no theme to work on, but the graphics are nice and the numbers, letters, and symbols are easy to read and differentiate. I actually really like the color scheme they chose for the board both because I like the colors and because it makes the pieces stand out when they're on the board.



The tiles themselves are very thick. The cardboard is of a very thick stock and the coating on the pieces has a nice textrure. The color choices are great because its very easy to differentiate the pieces once they're on the board. Again, the numbers, letters, and symbols are written and drawn very clearly so there should be no confusion as to which piece is which. For our colorblind friends, they've even included a symbol in the upper left-hand corner to differentiate the pieces. I wouldn't want to have to rely on that, but its better than nothing.

 


 



Gameplay

Hey, that looks like a Sudoku board!

That was my first thought, and also the first thought of my fiance and my sister. I think Sudoku must have had an influence on this game based on the layout. But ultimately, this game is way more than a simple Sudoku puzzle so any similarities stop at the look of the board. I've written several reviews of so called sudoku "games" and not a single one of them comes anywhere close to the gameplay offered in Uptown.

Simple rules, tough choices

As you can see from above, the rules are simple. Place a tile, draw a tile. Thats all you have to do on your turn. But the real choices come from the fact that you're trying to create a small number of groups on the board, so you you can't just place pieces all over. You need to carefully think about how every piece you're going to play is going to affect the overall board and most importantly, your opportunity to tie groups together. Also, you need to consider how many pieces you capture since the tie-breaker is least captured pieces.

A deliciously evil tie-breaker

The tie-breaker in Uptown is evil. In order to complete groups and connect smaller ones, you'll need to capture pieces. Its unavoidable. The downside is that in the event of a tie, the person who captured the least number of pieces is the winner. That means that no matter what you do, you'll constantly be hurting yourself for tie-breakers. But so will your opponents. So the trick is to do it just a bit less than they do. Its tricky and evil at the same time, but its also brilliant and makes for a wonderful thought process.

You can't play this game nice

As I've mentioned above, you can't help but take people's pieces. Its unavoidable. Its just something you have to do to play this game well. But while its unavoidable to take pieces, there are better pieces to take than others and thats where the nasty part of this game comes in. For Uptown to shine, you need to play very aggressively. If you see someone slowly working towards connecting two groups, its probably in your best interest to stop them if possible. This will lead to people feeling like they've been targeted, so your group better have some thick skin. Just remember, any nasty move you make will certainly come back to you.

Games where each player has the same pieces, but they get them in different orders

I love games where every player has the same pieces, but gets them in different orders. Another example of this type of game is Great Wall of China which I rate a 9. I think this adds a tremendous layer of thought and planning because you know you'll be getting a certain piece, but you can't be sure when, so you have to think ahead and set yourself up for the piece. These are some of my favorite kinds of games because of the tension this creates and the strategy and tactics it brings to the game.

4 unused tiles

So as to avoid anyone having really bad tiles, the game ends when each player has 4 tiles in his rack. That means that in every game, there are 4 tiles which you won't have to play. This gives you the flexibility to avoid starting new groups and also helps eliminate dead tiles and bad draws. Since you'll always have 5 tiles in your rack, you should have a choice of at least 3 or 4 tiles to play which leaves some room for drawing a useless tile. And since every game plays out differently, you'll never know which 4 tiles will end up being the leftovers until the end of the game.

Player numbers and downtime

The box and rules say that Uptown is for 2-5 players. With 2, each player takes 2 colors so effectively its a 4-player game. I don't think I'd really want to play this with 2 or 3 though. 4 or 5 seems to be the magic number with this game. 4 is probably the best because 5 gets a little hectic. 3 seems to be not enough because it would probably be too easy to just create a single group. The 2-player game feels a bit forced due to each player having 2 colors.

The downtime in this game can be considerable because Uptown is a real brain burner. The rules are so simple, but there's so much to consider and so many consequences to each action. You may find that you need a timer for this game if your group has a lot of slow players. If everyone thinks ahead and makes plans, the game can play pretty quickly so it will really depend on the people playing. We've had 5-player games last 90 minutes and others last only 60. It really depends on the players and the way the game is going.


Compare it to...

Above I said that this game has only superficial resemblance to sudoku and I think thats correct. However, I'll compare this to the sudoku "games" out there because Uptown is everything those games could have been. All it took was a bit of thinking outside the box and Uptown was the result. The companies who put out those pathetic sudoku games should look at Uptown and feel utter shame at the garbage they put out when such a brilliant game was right at their fingertips.


Overall

Uptown has been a huge and very welcome surprise to me. I was scared at the beginning and even more so when I read the rules. I was really afraid I had gotten another lame sudoku rip-off that had no gameplay. Luckily, that could not have been any farther from the truth. In fact, what I got was a wonderful abstract game that is simple enough to teach anyone yet full of agonizing dicisions with loads of consdquence. This is a wonderful game that has surprised me.

I rate Uptown 8/10. I think thats quite accurate for this game because I'll probably suggest this one and will probably never turn down a game, unless its with people who have major AP problems. The gameplay is great and the components are good quality. I would rate it higher, but its not exactly my favorite type of game, so its not something I would want to play constantly. However, its a game I'll play regularly and will gladly chose to expose people to these kinds of games.

In a stagnant game market dominated by rehashed concepts, Uptown gives us something fresh and does it in a terrifically produced package. This is a great combination of gameplay and components that is a true delight to play. Thanks Uptown, you're given me faith that there are some exciting game designs left out there.
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David Kahnt
United States
Laurinburg
North Carolina
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It's fun, it's healthy, it's good exercise. The kids will just love it. And we put a little sand inside to make the experience more pleasant.
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You know, they say there was a man who jumped from the forty-FIFTH floor? But that's another story...
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I *knew*... I freakin' *knew* that I should've picked this up at the game store that day....

grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

-DK
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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
United States
Howell
Michigan
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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Don't worry buddy, you'll get to play it next time we get together. Not to rub it in, but this game is flippin' sweet.
 
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Sheamus Parkes
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Great review!

I'll just toss on my own experiences:

I would at least put this in the same family as Blokus. Both are very accessible multi-player abstracts. They both have fighting over territory and a variety of pieces to work with.


I've never had a game go over an hour, and I've done a couple 5 player games. It really depends on your group.

I've tried the 2-player game once. We actually enjoyed it quite a bit since you get to choose which color to play on your turn. It made for some wicked decisions about which color to push hard on. Additionally, you still had to stay out of your own way.


I haven't tried the 3-player game though. I agree the board could be a little sparse with only 3 sets of tiles on it. At the moment though, I'm still pretty impressed how well the game scales.
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David Kahnt
United States
Laurinburg
North Carolina
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It's fun, it's healthy, it's good exercise. The kids will just love it. And we put a little sand inside to make the experience more pleasant.
badge
You know, they say there was a man who jumped from the forty-FIFTH floor? But that's another story...
mbmbmbmbmb
stormseeker75 wrote:
Don't worry buddy, you'll get to play it next time we get together. Not to rub it in, but this game is flippin' sweet.


I should've picked it up along with my other games I got...

dang dang dang.

Oh well...

-DK
 
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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
United States
Howell
Michigan
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
mbmbmbmbmb
You can always pick it up at the WBC!

And thanks Shea!
 
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Joe Rickard
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Great Review!

I've played this game close to 30 times and I still like as much, maybe even more, as I did the first few times.

I think the game is a tremendous 2-player game. About half of my games have been with two. The trick is that you can't capture your own tiles, even if it's one color trying to capture another, so it's important that you don't block yourself off. Also the game often comes down to the tiebreaker so you have to be more concerned with aggressive play. If you are going to be aggressive you better be sure that you can end the game with no more than 3 areas.

Give it a try 2-player if the situation presents itself. I don't think you will be disappointed.
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