Friday, 29 January 2010

Times Square

Times Square is a Reiner Knizia game that never got much attention. It's a 2-player only game, and it is mostly a card game. I read some good things about it on, and was almost tempted to buy it. Then one day Michelle said to me, why not make it yourself? So I did.

The Game

This is pretty much an abstract game. The theme is about two opposing nightclub owners trying to attract two important celebrities to their nightclubs. Whoever manages to do so wins the game, or if the game ends with neither celebrity stepping into a nightclub, whoever has the celebrities closer wins. That doesn't sound like a very exciting theme, but then the theme isn't really that important. It is the gameplay that is interesting.

The game board is a long track representing a busy street, with two nightclubs at both ends. There are 6 figures on the board. Saucy Sue and Champagne Charlie are the two persons that determine victory. Get either of them to the doorstep of your nightclub, and you win. If the draw deck is exhausted twice and noone can achieve this, the game ends immediately, and whoever has Saucy Sue nearer to his nightclub wins. If Saucy Sue is standing at the centre of the street, then Champagne Charlie's position is the tiebreaker. The other 4 persons are Handsome Hal, Dancing Deb, and the two bodyguards of Saucy Sue.

The whole game revolves around playing cards to move these characters. Every one of them has different rules, restrictions and/or special abilities. Handsome Hal can allow you attract another character to where he is. Dancing Deb can allow you to use her cards as if they were jokers (i.e. can be used to move any other character). Saucy Sue's bodyguards never let her out of their protection. One will always be on her left, and the other on her right. On your turn, you can always only move one character type, which usually means one character, except for the bodyguards who are the same type. You can play any number of cards, and you always draw enough to get 8 cards, which means it is often good to play as many cards as you can on your turn, to maximise your gain. However, you are also restricted by the rule which states that a card can only be played if its effect can be carried out.

Champagne Charlie has special movement rules. You never move him by card play. Instead he moves one step towards you at the end of your turn for every character that you have at your nightclub (of course if you already have Saucy Sue at your nightclub then you have already won and who cares about Champagne Charlie). Champagne Charlie also moves towards you if all three of Saucy Sue and her bodyguards are on your side of the board.

My self-made Times Square. I have the game board, rules summary, reference chart and card deck breakdown all on the same piece of A4-sized paper. On the gameboard, the starting positions of each character are marked. The darker spaces at both ends are the nightclub spaces.

I bought a cheap magnetic chess set so that I could use the chess pieces. The black ones are the characters who determine victory - the black queen is Saucy Sue, and the black king is Champagne Charlie. Other pieces are grey - the grey bishop is Dancing Deb, the grey knight is Handsome Hal, and the two grey pawns are the bodyguards.

The cards are rather small, but managable.

The Play

By now I have already played 7 games of Times Square, i.e. I've met the goal of 5 plays in first year of purchase / manufacture. Two were games against Han, and 5 were against Michelle. So far most of the games ended in sudden death, i.e. one of the characters, often Champagne Charlie, being attracted to one of the nightclubs before the deck ran out twice.

We found that the 4 most powerful cards in the game are the 2 "protect Sue" cards, and the "reset Deb" cards. The former make both bodyguards jump to the spaces immediately next to Sue, and the latter make Deb jump to the centre of the board. These cards are especially handy when they can let you move these characters many steps. Also under specific conditions the "reset Deb" card can be a joker, which means it can be used to "reset" anyone else (except Charlie). These 4 powerful cards often need to be saved and only used at the most suitable time. You also need to be mindful of them. Your opponent may be holding them, so don't spend many cards making a move that can be instantly undone by one of these cards.

Managing the movement of Champagne Charlie is very important. This the short term strategy part of the game, whereas getting Saucy Sue to be on your side by game end is the longer term focus. Not to say that it is impossible for Saucy Sue to enter your nightclub, just that it is much harder to do. When you have characters at your nightclub, and you are attracting Champagne Charlie every turn, you force your opponent to counter your advantage, by either getting his own customer(s), or pulling away your customer(s). The urgency gets worse if you are getting 2, or even 3 characters at your doorstep.

Because you have a hand of 8 cards, I find that it is rare that you'd feel your hand is completely useless. Of course, sometimes if your opponent gets very lucky in card draws, it can be tough to catch up. However I feel that generally during the game there are always meaningful decisions to make. You won't really feel restricted by your cards. I think that is quite amazing.

Sometimes you can plan for some powerful combination of moves that span across a few turns. E.g. getting Handsome Hal into your nightclub, and then on your next turn attract one of the bodyguards to your nightclub too. That would mean you'd be attracting Champagne Charlie two steps. Another example is moving Dancing Deb on one turn to position her so that you can make use of her special ability, and then on the subsequent turn using that special ability to move another character many steps towards you. Sometimes you have to watch your opponent and try to anticipate and block such combination moves.

The Thoughts

I quite like the game. It is very fast (10-minute games), and yet there are quite many interesting decisions in the game. There is some bluffing and double guessing - gambling whether your opponent has some of those powerful cards that will completely neutralise your big move, contemplating whether you should make a defensive move to block your opponent's pontential big-gain move or try to make your own big-gain move, and so on. It's an interesting tug-of-war where the game situation can change very quickly.

Times Square reminds me of En Garde, because of the long track in the game, although they are very different games (but both are by Knizia). En Garde is fast and furious, whereas Times Square is about maneuvering and then occasionally making some big-gain moves. It offers opportunities for both offensive and defensive play, and sometimes manipulating the pace is also critical, because when the deck runs out for the second time, the position of Saucy Sue (and Champagne Charlie) will determine the winner.


Notso said...

This game seems like an example of how a bad theme can kill a game's sales. You say that it didn't get much attention, and I wouldn't expect that a game with such a theme would. It's too bad they didn't make a better theme because it sounds like the mechanics are something a lot of people may like once they've tried it.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I think in the original German version of the game the name is some old classic movie (I forget what it is), which would probably be not as bad. But indeed the English version theme, and box cover, aren't very appetising.

deck said...

What do you print the cards on?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Wan, I print them on A4 paper, and then laminate the paper, and then cut them up. That's why you see the card edges are all sharp and dangerous. I'm too lazy to cut them round. :-)

deck said...

Uh, I didn't know you could cut up laminated paper. I thought that would just make the paper fall out of the plastic. I was wondering about this because I've been trying to make cards of my own. So far I've been using cards from other games as backing and put them in plastic sleeves with my card designs printed out and inserted in front. I just figured I could get generic cardboard for the backing later, or raid my stock of old and worthless Magic: The Gathering cards.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

When laminating, the plastic material is molten onto the paper, so they become inseparable (assuming the laminating was done properly). From my experience I very rarely had the plastic layer peeling off the paper. I guess to be doubly sure you can run the whole thing through the laminating machine twice, but I seldom do it, and I rarely have problems anyway.

If you are designing your own game I think your approach is better because it is flexible. You can swap out / change the piece of paper easily. Laminating and cutting is a bit more work, and is, of course, rather permanent. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I am on the fence about buying the game and I'm trying to figure out how it works. Very informative.