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In the new millenium you want to get in on the lucrative music business. Help hungry groups like the "Shrill Silence", young newcomers like the "Alzheimer Corner", as well as wild outsiders like "Witch One" and "Yeah Anger" on their tough climb to the top. Make your label the most innovative and most successful in the scene! Cooperate skillfully with other label bosses and throw a few stumbling blocks in front of your entirely too ambitious competitors. Because after all you want to get to the top. But a place at the sun is hot indeed!
I've got an immediate problem here. I recently criticised Andromeda, partly on the basis that it uses a mechanical gimmick, and I don't like mechanical gimmicks in games. And now here we have a game which relies totally on a mechanical gimmick, and yet I quite like it. Only one thing to do in this position, quote Emerson. ``A small inconsistency is the hobgoblin of foolish minds''. Do you think that will work? No, I don't either.
OK, what we have here is the latest in a long line of games to use pop bands and the charts as a theme. As far as I know, there never has been a successful game on these lines, surprising really, since it's a theme that seems tailor made for some types of game, but this is such a beast and comes closer to success than most. The specific theme is the pop charts, and we start with a board showing the chart positions from 1 down to 14, along with a scoring track from 1 - 75, and 42 cards each portraying a band or singer. These are quite nicely illustrated in a slightly garish style, and a lot of them involve puns or in-jokes, some in German and some in English, so we have for example, Guns and Noses, or, Simply Fred, or, The Albino Project, with a picture of a moonwalking Michael Jackson. Each card also has a coloured border which tells you which player they belong to. Each player has two cards with just their colour on, and ten more where their colour is combined with another, two of each combination, making twelve cards for each player.
The initial setup of the board is interesting. The dealer slowly places a card on each space in the charts, starting at number 14 and working upwards. Each player can call out at any point, and choose the colour that they want to play. This goes on until all the players have a colour. During the game, if there are less than 6 players, a player may change colours after any round, and take a free colour, at a cost of 5 points. This gets round the problem of a completely uneven card draw, where one colour might not appear in the charts at all, but is unlikely to be used very often.
From then on the game is played in rounds. Every round, each player draws 7 small round wooden influence markers from a bag. These come in values from +4 (black) down to -4 (red). The players choose 5 of them, and put them, plus their two ``Tip markers'', (one for the number 1 and one for the highest climber, both value +1), into their ``CD'', a cardboard disc with 14 holes around its circumference. The ``CD'' is then wrapped in it's holder, a coloured piece of card that both holds the markers in, and stops anyone else from seeing where you've placed them, and the whole is placed on the ``CD Player''. This comprises a wooden base, with a small ramp in it to let the markers fall out, another wooden disc above it with 14 holes in it, corresponding to the holes in the CDs, two wooden rods, one of which is in the centre as a pivot, and the other as a handle to turn the CD assembly, the CDs, which go over these two rods, and finally a covering disc, that fits over everything and again stops you from seeing what's been put where. Once it has been assembled, the ``DJ'' pulls out the CD covers, and the markers fall down into the holes in the wooden disc. Now the DJ turns the disc, one hole at a time, starting with hole 14. As hole 14 comes round above the ramp, any markers in the hole fall out, and can then be counted, to see what effect they will have on the band in that position. If the total on the markers is positive, the band moves up by that number of places, if negative it falls. For example, if the number 14 hole contained a +4, a -2, and a ``highest climber'' tip marker (+1), the result would be that the band in position 14 would move 3 spaces up the charts to number 11, while numbers 11, 12 and 13 would all slide one space down to positions 12, 13 and 14, to make room for it. You go through the same procedure for every band (a number marker on each card helps you keep count of which bands started the round in which position), and then score for positions when all the moves have been made. The owner or owners of the top 6 bands get points for them, 6 for number 1, 5 for 2 and so on, while anyone who correctly tipped the number 1 gets an extra 5 points. There are no penalties for getting this tip wrong, but you can lose with your ``highest climber'' tip, where you get 1 point for each place it climbs, or lose 1 point for each place if it falls.
Once all the scoring has been sorted out, the final action of the round is the removal of any excess bands. Any band that falls below position 14 automatically drops out of the charts, as do any fallers that end in positions 11, 12, 13 or 14. Additionally, the first time that a player goes over 30 points, and again when the first player crosses the 50 boundary, the top three bands are removed from play. The remaining bands slide upwards to fill any gaps, and then the dealer places new bands in the empty spaces at the bottom of the chart ready for the next round. Play continues until one player breaks 70 points, at which point the player with the most points wins, a normal game probably lasts for a little over an hour, possibly less once all the players have got used to the system.
This is not a game of great skill. You just don't have enough influence over the bands to make it that. But it's not an ``Automatic'' game either, one where it doesn't seem to matter much what you do. If you're clever, you can have a pretty good idea of what the chart will look like at the end of the round, especially if you learn to take account of the way that the movement of the other bands will influence the one that you are looking at. If for example you want number 6 to rise, then ensuring the numbers 4 and 5 fall, means that 6 only has to stay in place on it's turn, and then it automatically slides upwards as the bands above it fall. But control is often illusory, especially with the tip markers, whose +1 influence is easily beaten by a negative marker or two. If I had to make a comparison, I would liken this aspect of the game to 6 nimmt, another game where you often think that you have control of what's happening, only to find that an unexpected card has a knock-on effect, and leaves you holding the baby. But that's the charm of 6 nimmt, and it's the charm of this one too, our games have been notable for sudden explosions of laughter as the best laid plans completely fall apart. The game plays with 3-6, although it's probably best with 4 or 5, and costs 65 DM from Adam Spielt, not cheap, but not too bad for a game with so many bits. I'm not sure whether I'd buy it at that price, but I certainly think it's worth playing, even if it does rely on a gadget!