Game designed and published by Phil O'Neill.
Review by Ken Tidwell.
The first question whenever we play Ransom is always "Why is it called Ransom?" Given the name, people expect a game of kidnapping and clue following, perhaps with an hysterical spouse thrown in for good measure. Instead, we have a game of cutthroat real estate set on the fair island of Manhattan (and, no, there is not, as yet, a Godzilla variant - you're thinking of that other cutthroat game of real estate set in Manhatten).
Manhattan is divided into 20, equally sized lots. There are eight building contracts, two each for buildings covering 1 to 4 lots. Players start out with $50,000 each and must use that money, and up to three loans of $15,000 each, to buy land, labor, building materials, and bid on contracts.
Distributing the land, labor, bricks, and contracts is a slow process. On their turn, players turn up a single card. If it is land, labor, or bricks they may either buy the card outright for a cover price or put it up for live bidding. If it is a building contract, a sealed bid takes place immediately then the player turns up another card.
The real fun starts after all of the raw materials have been distributed and players start to negotiate to build the remaining buildings. Usually, at least one player holds a large contract, say for a four lot building, and other players hold the land needed to form a space large enough to place the building. The land holders will either put the screws to the contract holder or vice versa. Hence, the name: Ransom.
Due to the shape and placement of the buildings it may be impossible to build on any given lot in the later part of the game so the wise player learns to cooperate with others and move quickly. If everyone sticks to their guns and refuses to make deals then no one makes any money!
The game can fall apart if one of the players is lucky enough to buy a large contract and turn up all of the land necessary to fulfill the contract. It can also be frustrating to be stuck with no land at all. The game mechanisms make no attempt to prevent these two dire cases.
Ransom is distributed in a plastic videotape box with a small, laminated, full color board, plastic buildings, and laminated, full color cards (apparently the designer is a sailing buff and likes his games waterproof!). A new edition with international card annotations and the rules translated to five languages is due out at Essen Spiel '95. 2 to 6 players, 12 years of age or over, can play in around one hour.
Overall, Ransom makes a decent opener or closer but may be a bit too random to stand on its own with an experienced gaming group. However, it is ideal for those that like to tinker with rules and I have a few variants to suggest of my own. It also seems to work well with less experienced gaming groups.
Phil O'Neill toys & games
1a Birmingham Road
Isle of Wight
Phone: +44 1983 280666
Fax: +44 1983 280777
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell