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Subject: a very unconventional abstract rss

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Lowell Kempf
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Like quite a few people, I first learned about Looney Labs when I discovered Fluxx, which has to be their best selling game. Fluxx is a light, incredibly luck-based game, enjoyed by many and loathed with a passion by many as well. When I discovered the Icehouse system and games like Volcano or Martian Chess, I discovered a whole different side to Looney Labs.

Volcano is a perfect information abstract strategy. There isn’t any luck in the game. There aren’t even any cards in the game so it doesn’t resemble Fluxx in any way. How well you play is what’s going to decide whether or not you’re going to win.

As I mentioned earlier, Volcano uses Icehouse pieces. Icehouse pieces are sets of hollow stackable pyramids that come in caches, which are sets of fifteen. Each cache has five small pyramids, five medium pyramids and (are you noticing a pattern?) five large pyramids. Most of the caches that Looney Labs are a transparent plastic and they sell a variety of different colors.

If you want to play Volcano, you’re going to need five caches of Icehouse pieces and a set of volcano caps, along with a five by five board. Each cache needs to be a different color. The caps can come from a sixth cache of sixth color or you can buy a set of opaque gray caps from Looney Labs. Looney Labs also sells a rather nice five by five board that is sized perfectly for Icehouse pieces but you could just draw on in on a piece of paper.

To set up the board, first divide up the pyramids by color. Than, you make nests of each color, which is the little pyramids in the medium pyramids in the large pyramid, just like the fishing stories my grandpa used to tell me. That way, you have five sets of each color.

You take one set of colors and place it in a diagonal line across the board. Put the caps on each of these sets. Then you place the other colors in thicker lines along each side of the diagonal line, keeping each color together. Well, if you play the game, there are plenty of diagrams out there that can do a better job explaining what it looks like than I just did.

As you will see, though, it is important to make sure that you have five different colors and that those colors are in uniform groups.

Okay, the game is set up. Now it’s time to tell you how to play it.

On your turn, you move one of the volcano caps. You can move it one space in any possible direction, just like it was the king in chess, including diagonal. If you set off an eruption, that’s the end of your turn. If not, you get move a cap again. Basically, you keep moving volcano caps until an eruption goes off.

Now, what is an eruption? An eruption is when the top pyramid hops over the cap you just moved (thus moving in the same direction) and lands on the next square. If there are pyramids on that square, it goes on top of them. The next pyramid in the stack that’s erupting jumps TWO spaces to land on that square, and so on until you either run out of squares or pyramids.

So what stops an eruption or blocks on from continuing? Three things. The side of the board. Volcano caps. Moving a cap from an otherwise empty space so there’s noting there to actually erupt. Just so you know, as long as at least one pyramid can move to a new space, it’s an eruption.

Okay, so you’re reading this and thinking about how you can move pyramids about the board. However, you say to me “Gnome boy, what’s the actual point of this game?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

When you cause an eruption and a pyramid lands on a pyramid that is the exact same size, you get to take the pyramid on top (the one you moved) and put it in your scoring pile.

Now, scoring works like this. Each single pyramid is worth one point. However, when you get a pyramid in each of the three sizes, you stack them on top of each other to form a tree. A tree made up of different colors is worth five points, as opposed to the three points it’d be worth if they were just lying about. If all of the pyramids in the tree are the same color, though, ah, now it’s worth seven points.

In the course of the game, you are allowed to rearrange your trees in order to make them worth the most points possible, in case you were worried.

Okay, now that you know how you get points, here’s how the game comes to an end. When one player has a pyramid in all five colors, the game comes to an end. Whoever has the most points when the end of the game rolls around, they’re the winner.

Although it is an abstract, Volcano is a game that’s all about thinking out of the box. The movement system is kind of unusual. The pieces pretty much belong to everyone and, while scoring through set collection is nothing new, it’s not something I’m used to seeing in an abstract.

In the games I’ve played, the tactics of the game have been all about setting up the best possible eruptions while doing your best to give the next guy as few options as possible. Not counting solitaire play, Volcano plays two to four pretty easily, although some variant boards will let you add even more players.

Personally, I think it is best with two players, since each player has a lot more control over the board. With a lot of players, the board can change so much in between your turns that you can only plan on your turn and can’t make any long term strategies.

Volcano is an unusual game but it’s a solid game and a pretty good one to boot. It shows off what you can do with the Icehouse system and it has a lot of replay value. If you’re not scared off by the absence of luck, Volcano is well worth trying.
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Ryan McGuire
United States
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One common variant is to randomize the placement of "nests" at the beginning of the game. Each nest is still monochrome. After that, there are a few options for placing placing the caps:
- A Diagonal.
- An L in a corner.
- On the red nests.

I REALLY do suggest using the random placement variant. It adds some variability to an otherwise too solvable game.

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