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GOUDA! GOUDA! is the rallying cry of all mice. It means that the cheese has been spotted, and the race is on! To lead your team of five mice to victory, you must navigate a perilous path of pitfalls. Which way do you go? Roll the special dice; if you like the results, keep them. If you dont, inflict them on your adversaries. But beware, your opponents can do the same thing. The race to be first to the cheese is dangerous, but your team has no fear. They know that you will carefully use your special powers (you are no ordinary mouse!) to lead them to victory, and a belly full of cheese! GOUDA! GOUDA!
It's been said that the race is to the swift, but we beg to differ: It's to the cheese at the end of the track! Each person arranges the five mice in his color on the three starting spaces of this three-lane domestic highway. On your turn, indicate the space to which your dice roll will apply. Roll one die for each mouse present, but no more than five. For each green face rolled, move a mouse forward; for each red face, move a mouse backward. Often you'll wind up moving one of your own mice backward, or bringing an opponent's mouse forward with you. A variant is included in which players can hinder opposing mice, or help their own. A typical game is so close it can be a real squeaker.
This is one of the latest released by Euro Games and is part of their line of games targeted for young children. I haven't been terribly impressed by other games in this children's line. Both Savannah Cafe and the bizarre double-release of Snail's Race / Snail's Pace left me unimpressed. Sure, the games were primarily designed for children, but even when I played it with youngsters, they weren't smitten with the games. They both lacked "uumph".
So, Gouda! Gouda! wasn't high on my 'to try' list. However, since I received the game as a gift, I knew that it would eventually hit the table. My first playing was late at night with some folks in my Westbank Gamers group. I usually have to be very selective in terms of choosing the players for such a light game, lest it be met with scorn and ridicule. Fortunately, I knew enough about the folks in our group to not try it until very late in the evening when those few brave souls who laughed at the concept of sleep would be in the mood for something silly. I later played it several times with mixed groups of adults and children, so I've gotten a good 'feel' for the game's proper audience.
Designed by Frdric Moyersoen, a name that I have not seen grace the cover of a previous game, Gouda! Gouda! is, naturally, concerned with ravenous mice racing for a hunk of cheese. The race takes place in the family basement (folks here in the bayou have no idea what a basement is!), which is cluttered with various artifacts, abandoned furniture and other family relics. The industrious mice have skillfully laid planks, shovels, books and other assorted items in such as fashion as to create a pathway to the holy grail - a table containing a tasty chunk of cheese. The object is to race your mice across these planks and be the first to reach the cheese.
Players begin by placing their five mice (which are actually little wooden mice!) on the bottom three spaces. Each of these spaces is equidistant from the cheese (which is actually a little wooden chunk of Swiss cheese!) and there is no limit to the number of mice that can occupy one space. Seems these rodents don't mind crowded conditions!
The game also includes five dice, with each dice marked with 2 red dots, 2 yellow dots and 2 green dots. Each player also has a tile identifying their color. Finally, there are 30 special power tokens that are used if playing with Optional Rule #1, which I would recommend unless playing with extremely young children.
The mechanisms of the game are quite simple. On his turn, a player performs the following actions:
The board has various pathways, all eventually leading to the cheese. However, many moves are actually not directly forward or backward, but rather a bit diagonal. So, it is possible to move an opponent's mouse forward on a diagonal basis so that he is not actually moving closer to the cheese. This can also prove helpful to isolate someone's mouse, as it has the effect of forcing him to roll only one die if he activates that space, reducing the odds of him being able to move his mouse forward. This is a nasty little tactic that we used with regularity.
In the basic game, that's all there is to it. The first player to maneuver one of his mice to the cheese wins the game. Yep, there's lots of luck here, but there are a few, admittedly easy, decisions to be made. What space to activate, what path to move the mice along, etc. Nothing taxing here, but still room for some nasty moves and lots of laughs and groans.
As mentioned earlier, play the game using Optional Rule #1. This introduces the 30 special power tokens. Each player receives three of these tokens at random at the beginning of the game and can use them during the course of the game. Once used, however, the token is discarded, so care must be exercised in their use, particularly in regards to proper timing.
The special powers come in six varieties:
These tokens add uncertainty and spice to the game, which greatly improves the enjoyment of it without adding much in terms of complexity. The temptation is to use the tokens early to improve your lot, but it is wise to resist this and hold on to the valuable ones so you can make a sprint to the finish and claim the cheese.
For a slightly longer game, players may also use Optional Rule #2, wherein three pieces of cheese must be claimed for the game to end. I can envision this adding unnecessary length to the game, with a common result being three players each grabbing a piece of cheese. If this occurs, the player who scooped the first cheese chunk is declared the victor. Seems kind of silly to me as after the second piece is grabbed, any player who has not yet grabbed a chunk would have absolutely no incentive to grab the final piece as they would lose anyway. I don't see myself ever using this variant.
The game affords ample opportunity to be nasty to each other, particularly when using the action chits. Mice tend to break away from the pack and approach the cheese, only to be isolated and thereby reduce their odds of successfully moving forward. Thus, they would either be forced backwards on failed attempts, or be forced to wait for other mice to catch-up and join them on their space. This meant more dice could be rolled, increasing the chances of rolling a green dot on at least one of the dice. It became readily apparent that striking out on your own was dangerous. It seems clear that moving up in groups is the most advantageous strategy to pursue.
Of course, it is all too easy for opponents to move your mice backwards. So, in the final analysis, it is who gets lucky with the dice that will ultimately determine the winner. But you know, in a game that is this light and clearly aimed for young 'uns, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, the game tends to last a bit longer than it should, clocking in at about 45 minutes. After about 20-25 minutes, the fun begins wearing off and the game outlasts its welcome. Shortening the track by one segment could well solve this problem and make the game a bit more acceptable. I certainly don't see this one ever being played again with a group consisting solely of adults, but it will be one I bring along with me to various outings and family functions whenever I know children will be present.