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Subject: A weak game, nostalgia value only. rss

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John Lopez
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Tucson
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I am in the process of reviewing my games for "worthiness". Yes, at 500 games I have decided that it is time to prune the collection back a bit. I have already removed the "obvious" games and have a stack ready to go. However, I had a few games (surprisingly few, it turned out) that I had not actually played. For the sake of the cleanup, that had to change.

4th Dimension was one of the games that had not been played. Well, not in the last 25 years, and not by anyone else I know anymore. So we brought it down and tried it out.

The game is often considered to be chess like, but that isn't quite accurate. First, the board is designed to focus the action at the center (which has only four spaces) and the surrounding rings. The outer ring takes too long to move around to see much action. However, it isn't the board that takes it out of the realm of chess like games, but the pieces, moves and captures.

There are four piece types in the game: the Timelord (the tallest), two Guards (shorter, but similar in shape to the Timelord), three Rangers (squared off at the top) and six Warriors (the shortest pieces). Since all pieces have exactly the same movement potential, it is the ability to capture that distinguishes the power of each piece. Each piece may capture the pieces that are shorter than it, except for the the Warriors who can only capture the Timelord.

One annoyance with the game is that the pieces are not terribly visually distinct, three types relying on height and slight differences to the curve at the top. However, this is not fatal.

Victory is achieved by capturing the opponents Timelord, making it both the strongest (it can capture the primary threats: the Guards and Rangers) and weakest piece in the game (it must avoid contact with Warriors at all costs). Capturing is achieved simply by two pieces of different sizes being adjacent. Pieces of the same size being adjacent has no effect.


Now on to game play itself. Every turn the player has three actions at his disposal:

* Move one piece one space, not diagonally. (I would say orthogonally, but the strange board shape makes that not entirely accurate).

* If the hyperspace track (three off board spaces) is empty, send a piece to the first space of the hyperspace track. This is done by replacing the piece on the board with the hyperspace cube, marking the location the piece left from (the cube is not a piece, simply a marker, and does not block movement).

* If a pieces is in hyperspace, either advance it along the three spaces of hyperspace one space, or beam down. If the piece is on the last hyperspace track space, it must beam down. To beam down, the piece makes two normal moves or less from the hyperspace cube it left behind and then removes the cube. You may move over pieces when beaming down, but must end in an empty space.

What makes this interesting is that all of these actions must be taken if possible, but they may be taken in any order. Since normal movement is only a single space, the hyperspace cube becomes the critical way to move around the board and threaten larger areas of the board. However, each piece may make only a single action per turn.

Captures are resolved during the capturing players turn, and each action can result in only one piece being captured (even if multiple choices to capture exist after the action for that piece). On the other hand, if the opponent had moved pieces adjacent to your places during their turn, they can be captured at the beginning of your turn (called suicides). All such pieces may be removed prior to taking your actions.

All of this sounds confusing, and it is. My wife found taking all three actions in any order especially easy to make mistakes with: sometimes wanting to take an action twice or taking two actions and forgetting the third (for example, forgetting to send a piece to hyperspace because it was occupied at the beginning of the turn).

Tactically, the game is a bit lacking. The Guards end up being the dominate piece, only being afraid of the Timelord. Keeping some warriors near by makes them virtually invincible. As the only "long range" moves are those via the beam down action, it is easy to see where the threat is, and ensure that any attacks will be costly.

For players unfamiliar with the game, it can be interesting for a few games, but after those initial games the interest level really drops off because of the slow movement rate and highly defensive style of play that develops. Control of the center sounds promising (because it has access to so many locations) but even from there the attacks that can be launched are limited.

In the end analysis, chess is interesting *because* of the queen, bishop and rook's long range moves, which create opportunities for forks, pins and "discovered" forks, pins and check. With the slow movement rate involved and only a single piece threatening long moves at a time (the one in hyperspace), the game is closer to checkers. However, the finicky rules makes it hard to teach to younger players, who would be most likely to enjoy it. Rating a 3.5 at this time: it isn't good, but it can be interesting once in a great while to show a unique set of ideas.
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James Jenkins
Thailand
San Patong
Chiang Mai
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I really enjoyed this game back in the day, and it got lost in the 80's when I went to active duty. I've been looking for it for years, but forgot the name, and only dimly remembered what the pieces and board looked like. Describing this to board game collectors has been futile. Thanks much for your review.
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James Jenkins
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Found a copy on Ebay for 15.00. I feel lucky.
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