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The industrious yet shortsighted Seismic Asphalt & Paving Company -- located in the sleepy town of San Andreas, California -- has put you in charge of one of its many road crews. Your job is to build a network of roadways around San Andreas proper. But San Andreas is rather prone to earthquakes, which have a tendency to destroy the beautiful stretches of pavement you've been laying. After all the asphalt is put down, which road crew will end up connecting the most highways in between quakes?
Players: 2 - 4
Time: 30 - 60 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Weight: 827 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English). This is a domestic item.
- 80 highway tiles
- 80 road crew markers
- multi-lingual rulebook
Average Rating: 3 in 2 reviews
One of my favorite internet browsing stops is Board 2 Pieces, one of the very few online comics that has to do with board games. The author, Ted Alspach, is an all around excellent person to converse with about games, and I was pleased to see one of his designs picked up and published. Seismic (Atlas Games, 2006 - Ted Alspach) is certainly an interesting theme - that of the earthquakes around a fault line in San Andreas. Upon first glance over the rules, it looked similar to Carcassonne but with hexes. If this was the case, I thought, why get it?
And, indeed, the game plays like a faster, easier form of Carcassonne with only the roads. Except that there are hexes. And quakes. And no farmers. You know, the games aren't that similar after all! I will say that I enjoy Seismic as a fun little filler. It is possible for a player to sit there and overanalyze the board, spending a long time on their turn; but I feel that ruins the game's charm. It's neat how it can be played in a short period of time, and watching the growing networks (with the present danger of earthquakes causing tension) is rather fascinating. On a light level, Seismic really works well.
The hex containing San Andreas is placed in the middle of the board, with the remainder of the hexes being shuffled. There are six "quake" tiles, numbered from "1" to "6". These are mixed with six normal tiles, and then six of these twelve mixed tiles are removed from the game, with the remaining six mixed into the other fifty-four tiles. Each player takes a pile of wooden cubes in their color - their road workers. The top two tiles are turned face up next to the board, and one player (sitting closest to a solid doorframe - although I would imagine that Ted would want players to use his custom Start Player) goes first, with play proceeding clockwise.
On a turn, a player flips over another tile so that three are face up on the table. That player may then choose one of these tiles and place it on the board, connecting to any tile already there. Each tile has one to three roads on it, connecting in different combinations from the six edges of the hex. Some tiles have an intersection in the middle of the tile, with a certain amount of points on it. After placing the tile, players may place one of their road workers on one of the roads that has at least one section on the tile placed, as long as no other workers are already on that road at any point.
Tiles must be placed so that they extend one of the highways on the table; and if none of the three face-up tiles can be placed, they are discarded and three new ones drawn. When a quake tile is revealed at the beginning of a player's turn, an earthquake occurs. Starting with the San Andreas tile, each of the six lines of tiles that extend directly from it are examined. The line that has the most tiles (in case of ties, the drawing player chooses) has an amount of tiles removed from the game equal to the number of the quake, starting with the tile closest to San Andreas. Any road workers that are caught in the quake are returned to their owners. Another tile is flipped over to replace the quake tile, and the game continues.
When the last tile has been placed, or there are no incomplete highway sections left (unlikely), the game ends. All players must remove their highway workers from any "uncompleted" roads - ones that do not have both ends in San Andreas and/or an intersection (the same spot can be at both ends). The remainder of the roads are scored. Each highway is worth the sum of the numbers on both intersections, as well as one point for each highway section. If more than one player has road workers on the same road (due to clever placement of the tiles, joining existing roads together), then the player with the most markers score the points, with ties giving all the points to all involved players. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The hexagonal tiles, which are almost identical in size to the Settlers of Catan hexes, fit together well and are functional, if a little bland. In fact, I wondered why there wasn't any variance in how the roads looked, or some background scenery? - It would have added to the theme. And the cubes, while they worked fine, were awfully small - with the pink ones looking like cubed ham. Still, these are only minor annoyances I had, and everything really was fairly good quality, in a nice sturdy box with humorous (in a twisted way) artwork.
2.) Rules: The rules are on a single page (there is a four page rulebook with four different languages) and very clearly explain the game. They are formatted slightly poorly, with small print, and only two illustrations, but I still had no problem understanding and explaining the game. People easily picked it up; as connecting roads to each other is an intuitive action and rather easy, since roads are the only things people are dealing with.
3.) Carcassonne: One must be careful when mentally comparing games, but I have yet to show Seismic to someone who hasn't thought of Carcassonne (and has played both games). At first blush, Seismic may appear to be a simpler version of Carcassonne that only includes the roads; and while that's partially the truth, Seismic is different enough in its own right to warrant playing. It has hexagons rather than squares, there are earthquakes which destroy tiles, and incompleted roads score nothing at the end of the game. It's faster than Carcassonne, but I would hesitate to call it better - it's simply different.
4.) Earthquakes: The theme of the game is what is likely to attract people (disasters always do), and the earthquakes in this game can often be rather devastating to a player. I suppose it's possible for a game to have no earthquakes (the odds are staggeringly against it), although games can have several large earthquakes or only a few minor ones. What makes the game interesting is that while there are only six lines of tiles that are affected by earthquakes, there is the possibility to wreak great havoc regardless. In the games I've played, the winner often could contribute their victory to a swing in fortune due to an earthquake. Sometimes a long, lucrative road is broken up, and another piece that fits the spot of the devastated tiles never shows up again. Other times a road worker is destroyed, and another player gets to swoop in and snag the road for themselves. One could attempt to build tiles and place road workers in such a fashion as to avoid all possibilities of earthquakes, but that's practically impossible and rather futile if you're trying to win the game at all.
5.) Time and Fun Factor: Seismic can easily be played in thirty minutes to forty-five minutes. I have played it with folks who tend to take a long time on their turn, and I think that could have a ruining effect upon the game. It seems to be best played as a "filler", in which players quickly place one of the three face up tiles, then the next player, etc. (side note: I don't like when all three face up tiles are the same; it happened to me five times in one game) As long as everyone is playing with an attitude that the game is "light", I think Seismic will remain enjoyable.
6.) Variants: The rules list four variants, three of which are quite interesting (the fourth requires a second game of Seismic - yeah, right!). One ensures that the level "6" quake is always in the game and places it near the bottom, which avoids the anticlimactic large quake on the second turn of the game. Another allows players to place two tiles rather than a tile and a road worker. After my game with three of the same tiles to choose from, I always play with this option now. The third option, and quite possibly the most interesting, allows all players to legally rotate one hex after an earthquake. Talk about a changing board! I personally like all three of these variants and will use them in my games.
Seismic is not "Carcassonne with earthquakes", although that descriptor will give you a feel for what the game entails. It's a good light game and allows players to control a spaghetti-like network of roads. The earthquakes themselves add a level of tension to the game, as players worry that they'll hit their roads; and the game is usually fairly competitive down to the end. A nice design by Mr. Alspach!
"Real men play board games"
NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine
Seismic can be fairly accurately described as “Carcassonne in California”. Well, sort of. You see, players are supervisors of road crews constructing roadways around San Andreas, California. Sadly, they are blissfully unaware of the massive fault line that runs beneath the city. At any moment the earth can shake, sometimes violently, causing roads to buckle and crumble. This does have the ancillary benefit of keeping the road crews employed, so perhaps they really don’t mind the quakes after all!
Seismic is a tile-laying game from new designer Ted Alspach, the author of the Boards to Pieces cartoons which appear here in Knucklebones. Most tiles depict section of roadway, with 13 depicting intersections. These intersection tiles are quite valuable, as they serve as a terminus for a section of highway and trigger scoring.
There are also six “quake” tiles, with a magnitude ranging from 1 – 6. The greater the magnitude, the more sections of roadway potentially destroyed. Before beginning the game, all six quake tiles are mixed with six random tiles, and half of these are removed from the game without revealing their face. Thus, no one can be sure just how many quakes will occur, which does add a level of tension to the game. Unfortunately, quakes shake things up, so-to-speak, and if too few appear, the game can be quite dull. I recommend discarding fewer tiles, which will allow more quakes to occur.
Game play is quite simple. Each turn, a player chooses a tile from three face-up tiles and plays it to the board. Roadways and grasslands must match; no dead-ends allowed. As in the award-winning game Carcassonne, the active player has the choice of placing one of his road crew markers onto a roadway depicted on the tile just played. If there is already a road crew marker on a connected section of highway, a marker cannot be placed. One of the tactics is to merge sections of highway so as to maneuver your markers into larger sections of highways, possibly usurping control of those sections from your opponents. This is virtually identical to the tactics present in Carcassonne.
When a quake tile is drawn, the board is examined to determine which side of the San Andreas tile has the most tiles extending from it in a straight line. A number of tiles in this line equal to the magnitude of the quake are removed, beginning with the tile next to San Andreas and extending outwards. Any markers on those tiles are returned to their owners. These quakes can radically alter the layout of the board, and give players opportunities to reconstruct the highway system and alter majority status. Unlike real life, quakes are fun. The player drawing the quake still gets a normal turn, drawing and placing another tile.
A section of highway is completed when both ends terminate at an intersection. At the end of the game, one point will be scored for each tile the highway traverses, with bonus points being earned equal to the value of the intersection (1 – 6). Points are awarded to the player with the most crew markers on that highway. Ties are friendly, with all tied players receiving the points.
The game ends once the final tile is placed. Incomplete highways to do trigger points, so players must try to complete highway sections during the course of the game. All completed highways are examined, and points are awarded as described above. The player with the most points rises to the level of company Vice President and wins the game.
While the theme of Seismic is novel and fun, I have a few concerns with the game. As mentioned, quakes add spice to the game, but it is quite possible they will be rare. In several of my games, only one or two quakes occurred, making for a relatively unexciting affair. Fortunately, this can be alleviated by discarding fewer tiles at the game’s onset. The second concern I have is that the player drawing the most intersection tiles has a large degree of control over the termination of a road section. This often means that player will usually be the beneficiary of scoring. If quakes are scarce, there is nothing players can do to disrupt this.
While there aren’t any deep strategies or clever tactics to be employed, the game is easy-to-learn and offers a pleasant gaming experience. Seismic is a light game that is likely suitable for families and children, but adults and gamers will likely find it a bit too vanilla.