Notify me if/when this item becomes available:
(you will be asked to log in first)
Please Login to use shopping lists.
The best abstract strategy games are those with simple rules but complex enough strategies to last for hundreds of games. Some of the greatest games are those which seem simple at first glance but reveal themselves to be games of great depth. At the same time, a designer seeking to reproduce this great depth can overcompensate by creating a clunky interface - a game that is almost too obtuse to be enjoyed. That was my initial impression when first reading the rules for Plateau (Magnolia Games, 1990 - Jim Albea). Plateau comes with a complicated looking rulebook, a simple small game board, and confusing game play.
And sadly, that confusion is going to chase away enough new players that most won't find the depth of the game. I won't argue or deny that Plateau has hundreds of different, interesting strategies; it's the process of getting there that drives me nuts. The components are merely okay, the game play feels boring, and I don't want to have to play dozens of games to "get it". There is likely an audience that will find Plateau interesting - fans of Go, perhaps - but most folks won't make it through an entire game.
Each player starts with seven different types of pieces, each with a different combination of sides and point value.
On a player's turn, they have three actions. First, they may place a new piece onto the board anywhere they like (except inside an enemy stack or on top of a stack that has an enemy piece on the top). Or, they can instead move one of the stacks on the board. When moving a stack, the player may flip the top piece before moving. This is important, because a stack moves as the color shown on top.
The third thing a player may do is exchange captured pieces with their opponent. They offer pieces to the other player, who offers pieces in return. An exchange MUST happen if the point values are similar. Either way, the game continues until one player has captured six or more pieces or has a stack of six of their own pieces on the board. There are quite a few more variations to the rules, but I can't really explain them without diagrams.
Some comments on the game...
So, my recommendation is to pick up Plateau if you are a collector of abstract games and want something tough and possibly rewarding after many multiple plays. For ordinary folks, though, I can't see giving this game much of a chance. It's merely a mediocre presentation, and the bluffing/hiding/odd movement choices that the game presents come together in an intricate way that I'm not sure will be appealing to many people. It certainly wasn't for me.
"Real men play board games"
As I was reading through Ken Tidwell's excellent web site The Game Cabinet, I came across a piece entitled "The Plateau Story". It detailed one man's struggle to design, produce, and market an abstract game called Plateau. It had all the elements of an entertaining story: adversity, discovery, tragedy, and finally, sadly, death. All right, so there wasn't really any death involved. After reading his tale, though, I'm sure the author wished he was dead by the end of it.
Jim Albea thought he had it made. After many years of tweaking a game idea that came to him in a dream, he finally had a finished game. His family and friends loved it, and everyone who played it at the local game store thought it was excellent. Time to submit his design to Parker Brothers, sit back, and watch the checks roll it.
They rejected it without even looking at it (legal reasons, natch).
Well, thought Jim, there are plenty of other fish in the gaming pond--I guess they'll be the lucky ones. And with that, he sent the game design around to a whole bunch of companies, and waited for the bidding wars to begin.
They all rejected it.
Hmpph, thought Jim. The blind fools. Don't they know a good game design when they see it? I'll just manufacture and market the game myself, and keep all the profits. That'll show 'em.
A whole buncha money later and Jim had 500 sets of Plateau just sitting around his house gathering dust. He figured that this was the end. However, the game got good word of mouth on the Internet, and Jim realized that he could use the newsgroups and mailing lists to get everyone interested. A computer version of the game was created and given away for free. Now things were moving. Jim produced a business plan, sunk a whole lot more money into it (here's where the phrase "second mortgage" comes in). He printed up 10,000 units and marketed them. And this time, things were different.
This tune, Jim got to keep nine thousand copies of Plateau.
Jim gave up. Way too much time and money had been wasted on his dream. A Visual Basic implementation of Plateau was made by Jim and is available free for download (site address at the end of the review). It has an animated tutorial that makes it easy to learn Plateau. He still has copies of Plateau available for sale. After reading through his story, I decided to download the computer version of Plateau, and what I found was an interesting two-player abstract game, melding checkers and chess together.
Plateau is played on a 4x4 grid of squares. Each player has the same number and type of pieces. These pieces look like checkers, but have a color-code on either one or two sides of the piece (some pieces have no color coding at all, and look exactly like regular checkers). The object of the game is to either build a stack 6 pieces high, or capture 6 of an opponent's pieces.
Each player starts out with 2 pieces, stacked, on any of the outer border squares. Players then take turns moving or bringing one piece onto the board (this piece can be placed anywhere on the board). A stack of pieces can be moved as many spaces as there are pieces in the stack. The direction it can move in is determined by the top piece of the stack--this is the heart of Plateau, and its most fun aspect.
Each player has 5 different type of pieces. Each player has 4 "mutes". The mutes are pieces that have no color coding at all. They allow a stack to move either diagonally or horizontally/vertically. They can not be used to "capture" a stack, however. Any time you move a stack of your own pieces onto a stack of your opponent's pieces, you capture a number of your opponents' pieces equal to the amount of pieces in your own stack. Whew. That was a mouthful. However, to capture, you "must" have a color-coded piece face up on top of the stack you're moving; otherwise, you can't even land on an opponent's stack.
Each player also has two red pieces and two blue pieces. The red pieces can move horizontally/vertically, and the blues can move diagonally. They both allow capturing. Each player also has a blue and a red "mask". The masks act just like the regular red or blue pieces, but they are color coded on one side only. This allows you to play the piece on the board blank side up. Before moving a stack, you are allowed to flip the top piece over if you wish. This allows for hidden information, and introduces different bluffing and tactical possibilities. Each person also has one ace--this is a piece that is red on one side and blue on the other. Again, it allows for a wide range a movement for that piece, and allows for some serious mind games as each player is forced to take into account that each piece might not be what it seems. Finally, each person has one "twister"; this is a piece that is yellow on one side only and allows the piece to move similar to a knight in chess.
In lieu of moving or placing a piece on the board, you can also force your opponent to exchange prisoners. Each playing piece has a point value, with the ace being worth the most and the mutes the least. When you offer up pieces to your opponent for exchange, he must give you back pieces whose value at least matches the pieces you have offered him. If you offer him a mute, and he only has your ace, then he is forced to give you the ace in exchange. An exchange is usually used when an opponent is about to capture a sixth piece for the win.
Plateau is loads of fun and very addictive The interaction of the various pieces leads to some real mind bending decisions. Since each player's unused pieces are hidden, information becomes a game-commodity along with pieces and board placement. It's bad enough worrying about a person's ace or masks, but adding the twister in was a fiendish idea. One needs to think about all angles of attack, not just the common diagonals or straights. One potential problem is that there may be a "winning strategy", in other words, one strategy that proves to beat all others, thus rendering the game moot. I certainly haven't figured it out, but there's a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this could be the case. Then again, I'm not the best at abstract games, so I could be completely off base.
Plateau's box is a modified VCR tape box. It comes with a nice little 8"x8" board that folds in two, as well as the pieces and rules. It's very portable, and easy to teach to people one-on-one (learning just by reading the rules can be a bit daunting). At only $20, it's a steal for the amount of fun you'll have with it. I would recommend reading the full story on the Game Cabinet and then downloading Virtual Plateau and trying the game. Jim's game is a good one and deserves more recognition. If you enjoy it, write Jim and buy a copy (I did). It you like abstract games you'll get a great return on your investment.
The Plateau web site is at http://www.plateaugame.com/.