The Antoni Gaudí Tile Game
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Here you are in the Passeig de Grcia in Barcelona. Isn't Gaud amazing?. You've just visited the Pedrera, and after a look at the dazzling faade of the Casa Batll you might still have time for a stroll around Park Gell. But wait a moment, whats this? You find yourself staring at the pavement: these hexagonal tiles are crazy. What a brilliant idea, to introduce marine animals into the middle of the city and set them dancing in perfect harmony! All of a sudden you realize that somebody has mixed up a stack of tiles and given them new colors. Can you retile the Passeig de Grcia, matching the colors and the forms of jellyfish, conches and starfish?
In early February 2003, I received an e-mail from a Spanish game designer informing me about a new game based on an intricate pattern of tiles that formed designs in front of the Passeig de Gria in Barcelona, Spain. The designer of this functional artwork is architect Antoni Gaudi, who also designed several buildings in Spain. I was offered a copy of the game for play with our Westbank Gamers group.
The game arrived while I was out of town in Birmingham attending Gulf Games 11, so I didn't have the opportunity to read the rules and play the game for a few weeks. Truth-be-told, I wasn't overly excited to give the game a try for several reasons:
Still, a game is a game and I felt an obligation to at least give it a try. Plus, the components were attractive -- thick, sturdy hexagonal tiles depicting a portion of three strange patterns on each tile. Another big plus was that the rules were extremely short, less than a full page of print. So, if I didn't enjoy the game, it didn't appear as though a lot of time would be invested in making that discovery.
In addition to the 84 sturdy tiles, the game also includes 12 cards, six of which depict a color (orange, green or blue) and six of which depict an animal (starfish, conch or jellyfish). Of course, we immediately invented our own names for these patterns: octopus, shell and amoebas! The game also includes 150 tokens in six patterns, one for each of six possible players. In addition to the rules, which are printed in six languages (including Japanese), there is a booklet describing the history of Antoni Gaudi and his his creations, including the one on which the game is based. Spain is in the process of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Gaudi's birth and the game is one of the results of those festivities. Everything comes packaged in a clever hexagon- shaped box that matches the shape of the tiles.
Before the game begins, each player is dealt a color and an animal card. It is the player's objective during the course of the game to form as many patterns as possible that match either his color and/or his animal. Each time he accomplishes this task, the design is marked with one of his tokens. These tokens will earn either 1 or 2 points at the end of the game, depending upon whether the pattern matches one of both of the player's cards.
The tiles are then mixed face-down, with one being drawn and placed in the center of the table to begin the design. Each player then draws three tiles from the face-down mix and the game is ready to begin.
On a turn, a player MUST place 1, 2 or 3 tiles to the developing board. Tiles must touch at least one tile already on the table and be placed in such a fashion that the animals and colors depicted on a tile match or align with any tile or tiles that it touches (similar to the placement rules as Carcassonne). As mentioned, if an animal is formed that matches either the color and/or animal of the cards the player possesses, he marks this animal with one of his counters.
If a player opts to play more than one tile on his turn, he must follow the following rules:
After a player finishes playing his tile or tiles, he then draws enough tiles from the mix to return his hand of tiles to three. The next player then takes his turn.
The game ends when one player completely runs out of tiles and there are no futher tiles remaining in the mix. At that point, each player examines the animals he formed as marked by his counters. Players receive 2 points for each animal that matches BOTH his color and animal cards, and one point for each animal that matches either his color or animal cards, but not both. The player with the most points wins.
Simple rules and simple mechanisms, yet filled with interesting choices and decisions. I've used this phrase several times in the past, but it certainly fits here. Players must analyze the board layout and decide where is the best location to place a tile or tiles. Often, a player must choose to play just one tile and save his other tiles for a potentially more lucrative location later. However, that situation may not develop, so the decision must be made whether to place the tiles now for one point, or hold off and hope for a 2 point score later in the game.
Further, players are free to form animals that don't match ANY of their cards. This prevents opponents from finishing that pattern and scoring points. As the game progresess, it is wise to attempt to discern the identity of the animals and colors possessed by your opponents. Armed with this knowledge, you can block scoring opportunities for your opponents, especially when you are unable to complete an animal pattern that will score for you on your turn.
With three tiles in your hand, it is usually possible to play one or more tiles that will either complete an animal pattern for you, or at least possibly set yourself up to complete the pattern on a subsequent turn. Of course, there is always the chance that an opponent will scurry in and complete the animal pattern prior to your next turn, but that's part of the risk (and fun) involved in the game. And, yes, there is some luck involved, as it is possible that none of your tiles will prove beneficial, but that is a rare occurence.
I've now played the game three times with both gamers and some casual gaming friends (including my wife!) and it has proven very popular. This is one of those rare hidden gems that come around all-too-infrequently. I'm not sure if the game is available through the usual game shop channels, but I've written the designer to find out as I feel it is a game well worth tracking down. Currently, it is available through the designer's website.
I told my wife that I was almost to the point where I could teach geometry simply from the box shapes that I have. Gaudi (Casa Consultors, 2002 - Jep Ferret and Oriol Comas) is one of these, coming in a hexagonal box. The game is based on a hexagonal design by Antoni Gaudi, done for an apartment building in Barcelona. Players place hexagonal tiles down, so that they match both in color and design. The tiles are quite nice-looking, and having a Carcassonne-type game with hexagons sounded interesting to me.
Sadly, the game simply didn't work for me at all, and not a single player I've played it with has enjoyed it. The art is too abstract, the designs are at times confusing, and the rules are fairly unsatisfying. I think that the game holds true to the art and design of Mr. Gaudi; but since I guess I don't have an artistic eye, the game holds no joy for me. It's a nice looking game in a nice box, but the gameplay is boring and too difficult at times to be enjoyable.
A pile of eighty-four hexagon tiles are shuffled and placed face down in piles. Each tile is composed of three sections, with a different pattern on them (called "animals"). The same three patterns are on all tiles, in the same positions - only the colors change. There are three colors (green, blue, and orange), and two of every possible permutation with three of the tiles that are one solid color. A three-colored tile is placed in the middle of the table as a starting tile, and then each player draws three tiles. Players also receive a pile of counters in their color and two objective cards. One card is chosen from a stack of "animal" cards, showing a pattern that player is after, and the other is a "color" card. The youngest player goes first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.
On a player's turn, they may play one, two, or three tiles, attempting to complete an "animal." A completed animal is three tiles placed together to form a completed hexagon that is of the same color and pattern. Tiles must match all sides with current tiles, both in color and pattern. If a player plays two or three tiles, they must all touch each other, and must form an animal (two animals with three tiles). When the player completes an animal that matches one of their two secret objectives - either in color or design - they place one of their counters onto the animal. The player then draws tiles equal to the number they've played, and play passes to the next player.
Players must play a tile each turn; if they can't, they must exchange tiles with the pile until they get a playable one. When one player runs out of tiles and there are no more tiles in the draw pile, the game ends. Each player gets one point for an animal that matches either their color or pattern, and two points for animals that match both. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: As cool as a hexagonal box is, it's a bit of a pain to store on the shelves, although it is sturdy. The tiles are of good quality but were a bit of a pain to punch out of the sheets; some tearing of a few of the backs occurred. The player tokens are okay, but in my game, many of the pictures are off-centered on these small round tokens (they look like hole punchouts…) The cards are of decent quality, although they did have to be punched out. By far, the most annoying feature for me was that the "animals" were simply abstract patterns. It was just very offsetting to be continually referring to something as an animal that looked NOTHING like one. Even worse, two of the patterns look similar at a glance, and players were constantly trying to connect tiles that were illegal. This single feature would probably keep me from playing the game much. But it's not all.
2.) Theme: The game comes with a small booklet talking about the background of the game with a short essay about Antoni Gaudi, which I gamely read. I even searched for Gaudi artwork on the internet, trying to get in the mood of the game. I simply couldn't. I don't mean to belittle Mr. Gaudi's artwork, but it's certainly not for me. And I think one has to enjoy his artwork to better appreciate the game.
3.) Rules: The rules are on twelve pages - two pages for six different languages each. There is also another two pages of examples, which were fairly helpful in showing how to place the tiles. The rules are too short, however, and leave a couple of things out. For example, it sounds like a player can only switch a tile when they need to; but then in the strategy section, it says that a player should switch them more often! The game is easy enough to teach, although knowing about tile distribution is probably important.
4.) Players: The game is best with two, three, or six players. Otherwise, some players will have the same colors and animals, while other players will have less competition. This is not fair to the players who have the same goals as someone else; and in fact it's easily possible for two players to have the exact same goals, which is annoying for them, and a bonus for the others! There should have been a better way to do this.
5.) Objectives: I personally find the fact that the objectives are "secret" ridiculous. Since a player can only place one of their tokens on a completed animal that meets one of their objectives, it becomes clear quite quickly what their objectives are. So why keep them hidden? Sure, someone might try to prevent you in the beginning of the game but usually at the cost of scoring an animal themselves. This part of the game was silly; I like secret stuff but give me a bit of a challenge to figure it out, okay?
6.) Tiles: Because the tile orientation is the exact same, a misplaced tile (or deliberately badly placed one) can make a whole section unplayable. The game seems to lean more towards geometry and art than it does towards playability. One thing I've always enjoyed about Carcassonne is the fact that there's usually a tile that can be placed in the empty holes left around the board. In Gaudi, that's simply not going to happen. Empty holes are going to honeycomb around the board, unless players place tiles extremely carefully. The rules about tile placement, which force a completion of an animal with more than two tiles placed, also skew the game towards the players who get the luckiest when drawing tiles.
7.) Fun Factor: I've played through a complete game of Gaudi but have aborted two others with the full consent of all players involved. It simply wasn't fun, was annoying to those who didn't get the tiles they needed, and just didn't have any attraction about it. In other tile laying games, usually a cool map or something is revealed as the game proceeds. Here, there simply was a shifting pattern of colors and shapes with large, unseemly holes dotting the landscape. No, Gaudi simply isn't interesting or fun.
I really can't recommend Gaudi to anyone except perhaps a devoted fan of Antoni Gaudi's work. It seems to be designed by an artist rather than a gamer and appeals to an abstract, mathematical side that is entirely devoid of fun. I think there are several flaws in the gameplay, and that it won't really be attractive to most players. Regretfully, I must tell you to pass this one up.
"Real men play board games"
Antoni Gaud was one of the great architects of the last 150 years and he left his mark on Barcelona in the first quarter of the 20th century in much the way that Christopher Wren did on London in the last quarter of the 17th. 2002 is the 150th anniversary of his birth and Spain is celebrating it as "International Gaud Year". This game, which is based on a tile that he designed for one of his buildings, is one of the results of those celebrations.
The idea behind the tile is that when you look at a single one, all you see is an abstract and somewhat random set of lines, but that when the tiles are placed together, a sea creature in the form of a starfish, a conch or a jellyfish appears at each vertex. The tiles that Gaudused in his paving were of green nephrite, a mineral with a natural luminosity which enhances the marine effect, but for the purposes of this game they have been coloured green, orange and blue. Some of them are monochrome, some have two colours and some have three. With the particoloured ones the colour boundaries coincide with those of the three diamond shapes into which the graphical components divide the hexagon.
The pictures appear when you place the tiles together so that like is adjacent to like in the graphics. In the game you need to do this, but you also have to match like to like with the colours, so that now the creatures which appear are not just conches, starfish and jellyfish, but orange conches, green starfish, and so on.
At the beginning of the game each player is dealt two cards, one specifying a colour and one a creature. These give you the pictures that you will be trying to form. So, for example, I could have been dealt 'orange' and 'starfish' and that would mean that my points will come from forming any orange animal and any colour of starfish. The creature on both cards -- orange starfish in this case -- will net me double points. The cards are dealt face face down and so at the start of the game you will not know what your opponents' targets are. Deducing them will be something you will need to do as quickly as possible once the tiles start going down if you are to play effectively.
The tesselation is begun by placing, in the middle of the table, a tile showing all three colours. The remainder are shuffled face-down and each player draws three. On your turn you place one, two or three tiles subject to the following rules:
When you complete an animal that corresponds with one or both of your colour/creature objectives, you place one of your markers on it. If you complete an animal that is not on your list, no marker is placed. At the end of your turn you draw new tiles to make your hand back up to three.
If you are unable to play a legal tile on your turn, you discard one and draw a replacement, and you keep doing that until you have a tile which you can play.
The game ends when both the draw pile and one of the players have no tiles remaining. You then score one point for each animal that appears on your cards and which has been marked with one of your counters. For the animal on both cards you score two points. Completed animals with no marker on them score nothing.
Play is a combination of scoring points for yourself and trying to deny them to others. There are two ways to do the latter. One is to complete the creature that you figure a rival was hoping to complete. This may not score a point for you, but it will deny one to them. The other is to make it harder for a tile to be placed in a gap by increasing the number of matches that would need to be made. When a gap has only two edges that require to be matched, the chances that your opponent will have a tile that will fit are quite high, but if you build round the gap and thereby increase the number of necessary matches to three or even four, they will drop sharply. These "hostile" plays are not purely negative, since they also provide a means of improving your hand by ridding it of tiles that you don't want, thereby making space for new ones that you hope will be better.
These opportunities for scoring points, hand management and intervening in the plans of the other players give you a reasonable amount to think about and mean that this is a "real game". When I first opened the box and read the booklet, my fear was that it would turn out to be one of those things dreamed up by an organizing committee. You know how it goes: someone decides that the Gaud anniversary should be commemorated and a roomful of people then sit around desperately trying to think of ways in which this could be done. "I know", says one of them, "We have got these famous graphics. Let's do a puzzle or a boardgame with them.". And the two most junior members of the committee are then given the project. That is not what has happened here, as a look at the website will confirm. This is a game designed by games enthusiasts and, while it is not Hall of Fame material, it is worth playing.
We enjoyed it and shall be playing it again. The play is interesting and not just a matter of hoping that you get lucky and draw the right tiles, though as with all tile laying games, including the likes of Carcassonne, there is a significant element of that involved. You can also be lucky or unlucky in the cards you are dealt at the start. Having a right-hand opponent neither of whose objectives coincide with yours makes for an easier ride than does having one who is aiming for the same things. People who fume about such inequities should take note, but for those who don't mind that these things will sometimes happen, the game is worth considering.
The rules are in Catalan, but also in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. You will have no difficulty with them, since -- Adlung please note -- the translations have been done by native speakers. The components and the packaging are up to the standard that you would get from the top German companies. To find out more, take a look at the website www.gaudipanot.com, where you can find ordering information, the rules and some pictures, which include one showing the designers lying on Gaud's pavement. Including postage, the cost of the game is 39 euros in Spain, 44 euros in the rest of Europe and 49 euros outside Europe.