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Players: 2 - 4
Time: 45 minutes
Weight: 700 grams (estimated)
Japan keeps cranking out games, and this is the latest that's made its way to America complete with English rules. Thanks again go to Ken Rice, who manages to both find these games and provide timely translations. Grimpeur seems to be a new company on this scene, and their positioning is decidedly downscale compared to Group SNE (Train Raider, Mermaid Rain) or Grapac (Regista). They are kind of a 'Japanese Cheapass' but their quality is really better than that and in fact better than most Winsome output too. Heck, it even comes in a box! Along with Territory, they have also published a game called Magical Athlete and I hope to soon have a report available on that one.
Territory is an abstract game where colored disks are placed onto a laser-printed board. Each player represents one of four colors, and there are 25 disks in each color plus a single purple disk. All of these are placed in a bag and drawn blindly for each round. The board has two sections: the first, known as the 'Territory Area', is an eight-by-twelve grid which is marked into six four-by-four areas. Within each of these six areas, the center four cells are shaded. The second section of the board, known as the 'Chronological Area', is a number track running from one through 36. The spaces on this track are the same size as the spaces in the main grid, as the colored chips are placed on both. Along with the board and the chips, there are nice plastic cubes to identify each player's color, four cards showing player order from one through four, and a tiny die.
The turn order cards initially are randomly distributed. To begin, the player with the 'four' movement card rolls the die to determine how many chips will be drawn from the bag by each player. Each player takes this number of chips and lays them out face-up, so that everyone can see which colors will be placed in the round. Next, the fourth player redistributes the turn order cards but cannot choose to be fourth again. In the resulting turn order, players place their chips onto the board.
The first chip placed must be placed on next spot of the Chronological area, and thus this also notes the progress of the game. The game ends when this area fills. It can end earlier for other conditions as well. After this first chip is placed, all other chips must be placed in a single four-by-four block on the main grid. Since the chips are drawn blind, you will be placing chips in your color and in your opponents' colors.
Using this basic idea, players are trying to create scoring positions in one of three ways. At game end, each chip in your color on the Chronological area is worth one victory point. Second, each 'territory' of chips on the main grid is worth from one to 16 points based on its size. A territory consists of chips in the same color connected orthogonally. The smallest territory is two adjacent chips and territories of 15 chips or larger score the maximum. For territory scoring, the individual four-by-four blocks do not matter. The final scoring is for majority by block. If you can manage to be the only color within a specific four-by-four block, you score three points. Multiple players in a block score 'three divided by the number of colors in the block', rounded down. So, two colors in a block score one each, as do three, but all four colors in a block would score nothing in this category. The sum of the three scores makes for the total score and of course high score wins.
There is a lot to think about in this little game, and a few other touches suggest that it was creatively designed and well play-tested (hear that, Cheapass?). First, if a 'one' is rolled on the die, each player can remove one chip from the board before the die is re-rolled. Chips in the shaded center areas of the blocks can never be removed, so placement in these areas is helpful for your own pieces when you can manage it. But since the shaded center areas by definition do not connect, large territories are never completely safe from breakdown. Also, players two and three in the turn order do not have to place their chips on the board. They must still place one on the Chronological track but then can put the rest back in the bag and instead move chips of their color on the board. Chips moved can come from anywhere, but must all be moved to a single block. Again, chips in shaded areas cannot be moved. The final interesting idea is the single purple chip. The player who draws this uses it to remove any chip on the board in a non-shaded area. They place the purple chip and the removed piece back in the bag, so the purple chip can be a factor multiple times in the game.
The result of this is a fresh new abstract with plenty of decisions to make. The choice of who to place on the Chronological area, and how to place and move chips to create the best scoring options for you while cutting off opponent opportunities allows the game to evolve quickly and have some tit-for-tat exchanges. Balancing the block majority and territory scoring is essential, and multiple smaller territories will likely draw less attention than a single monster in the middle of the board.
The game can break down if you never get many of your own chips to place. Since no one else will be placing you into territories, getting only opponent-colored chips makes for an all-defensive game and the move and remove options cannot properly offset this. Beyond this, though, the game works very well and in a normal distribution of chips it won't come often since the game usually ends long before the board completely fills. Territory is a good game for abstract fans and one that provides good interaction through the game play. Once again, Japan surprises us with an original design and good implementation. Maybe it's time to stop being surprised.