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This is the game that Martin Leathwood was enthusing about in our Essen retrospective last issue and it is the first of three designer-produced games that I am looking at this. One of the joys of Essen is the way that the large and the small companies are all jumbled together. On one side of the aisle will be a large area occupied by someone like Amigo and on the other a row of small stalls each with just a hopeful designer, or a designer and a friend, or, in this case, the designer and his dad.
The game is a business game in which each player runs a chain of pasta factories and attempts to enlarge their empire in some way. I say "in some way" because each player has a choice of objective. There are four possible victory criteria and the first thing you do, before the game starts, is to choose one of them. You do this in secret, write your choice down on a piece of paper and thereafter one of the things you will be trying to do is figure out just what each of your opponents is seeking to achieve. Two of the options involve taking over other players' factories and accumulating money; with the others it is a matter of building up a sufficiently large stock of pasta in the warehouses attached to your factories. At first sight that looks like a pretty clear choice that will make for easy deductions, but this is not the case, because taking over factories, making pasta and selling it is what everybody will be doing in the natural course of events, irrespective of what their ultimate goal might be.
The pasta comes in the standard three colours--red, green and yellow--and so do the factories, with each factory producing pasta of its own colour. You begin with three factories, one of each type. No new factories will be built in the game, but individual holdings will ebb and flow a lot, as takeovers are common.
The driving mechanism for each turn is a set of dice, one for each player, and four action cards. The dice are in the same colours as the pasta, with two red dice, one green and one yellow if you have four players and one of each if. you have three. The dice will be thrown twice in each round, once to generate production and once to generate sales.
After the production throw, players bid (closed fist style, using cash from their reserves) for the right to first choice of the dice. Each die will generate the number it is showing of pasta units of the corresponding colour. So a green die showing a 4 will produce four green noodles. However, in order to be able to utilise the production, you need to own a factory of the right colour. If by the time your turn comes to choose, you find yourself having to take a die for which you don't have a matching factory, tough. And don't complain that this was down to bad luck, for malice is a much more likely explanation.
The dice are then rolled again, this time for sales. The same mechanism applies: a 4 on the yellow die gives you the right to sell four yellow noodles and so on. However, this time there is no bidding for choice order. Instead you just go with the reverse of the order from the production round.
Next comes something called "subsidies for everyone". There are 16 subsidy cards stacked face down and you may draw as many as you like, but there is a catch to this piece of apparent generosity. Twelve of the cards are useful things to be holding in the next phase, the "action card" phase, but the other four see Brussels in one of its rare "Edith, you have been pushing your luck" modes and if you draw one of these, you have to return all the subsidy cards you have drawn, together with any you might have had saved up from previous rounds.
Finally we come to the action cards and there are four of them, three of which may only be used by one player each turn. Players take their choices using the order from the production round. The first card is a "Sabotage" card. This is played against a factory of your choice and it means that as long as the card is in front of that factory, it can't produce any pasta. The second is a "Strike" card, which is the same sort of embargo, but for sales. The third is a "Banker" card, which makes a factory more vulnerable to a takeover and the fourth is a "Takeover Bid". It is this last that can be used by more than one player.
To initiate a takeover, you nominate the target factory and then the game goes into a [page scan/se=0052/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Cosmic Encounter style routine with both attacker and defender trying to persuade other players to come in on their side. Any inducements may be offered--money, noodles, factories, whatever--and the only constraint is that any agreements reached are binding. The subsidy cards that can be played at this point induce a bit of fog and bluff into the proceedings and stop it being a simple matter of calculation. If the takeover is successful, the factory and any noodles in its warehouse are handed over.
This sequence continues round and round until someone succeeds in meeting their victory criterion.
Because of the cooperation and negotiation element in the all-important takeover battles, this is a game that some groups will like a lot more than others, but if yours does like negotiation games--as Martin's group clearly does--this is a clever game that is worth investigating.