Game Reviews

Wicketz (A.W.Compton £44). Brian Walker brought this one along to a GLC games club meeting and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to have one. Decent cricket games are rare enough anyway, and to see one with production quality as high as this is unknown. I hadn't seen or heard of the game before but apparently it had been advertised in the cricket monthlies before Christmas which enabled Mike Clifford to pick one up for review in his excellent Major League newsletter. Anyway, Wicketz comes in a large green box, has a superb board with radiating lines to indicate runs and fielding positions, scorepads, 512 action cards from which the results are read and, best of all, a little working scoreboard, sight screens, wickets, umpires and two whole teams of batsmen and fielders. Those of you familiar with Subbuteo cricket will instantly recognise the source of the accessory mouldings.

The rules are contained to two sides of paper and it is this fact that may give rise to some of my queries below. There are some rules missing or unclear which is no real problem; nothing that a little feedback can't solve. The system is basically as follows; the bowling side places his field using normal cricket tactics. The bowler is nominated as either pace or spin for each over and a spinner indicates the type of ball bowled. Most of the time this will be 'good length', but googlies, bouncers, yorkers, long hops etc are all possible; but note that this is random, with the bowler having no control over the result. When the bowl type is known, the batter chooses a type of stroke from the thirteen odd provided. He can defend against good length for instance or try to hook a bouncer. The bowl and the stroke are then cross referenced on the card which gives a result for that shot. Logically enough 'good length', yorkers and googlies will give most outs while anything loose can be clubbed all over the ground with relative safety. Each card gives a letter, number and whether the ball can be caught. Each segment of the field is lettered and numbered 0 (near the wicket) to three (near the boundary). I am reminded here of those excellent little radiating line charts that Bill Frindall or someone makes up to show how an innings was scored. If a card generates, say, F2 Catch, and there is a fielder in that sector he has a chance for a catch (if there is no 'Catch' indicated the fielder simply prevents any scoring). The catch chance is determined by another spinner with about a 15% chance of a drop. If the sector is empty, 2 runs are scored. That is it really. What we have then is a variant on the Football Strategy system. It works well, is extremely quick and the cards keep track of the balls bowled if you can't be bothered to score in detail.

Now the comments, with the proviso that I may have misinterpreted the rules. Firstly, the results from the cards often result in an '*'. It seems pretty clear that this means a blocked ball with no result though I can't find this in the rules. Secondly, there is no apparent way to 'hit out' and increase the run rate, the nearest solution is to take risks on good length balls. I can see the reasoning behind this but it does take away much of the tactical choice. There is also no way of preventing boundaries - these simply happen off the cards. This is fine for sixes but I can't see any way of placing fielders on the ropes (there are no 4 sectors on the board) so it is possible to have three fielders next to each other in the '3' sectors and still have a four scored through the middle of them. All thumbs, these Subbuteo boys. Again, I can see the logic but it sometimes looks a little weird. Finally, there seems to be little encouragement to set a realistic field. As an experiment, a rather unscrupulous mate of mine lobbed everyone into the '1' and '2' sectors which closed me down nicely, simply because most of the runs are obviously scored in those areas. In the half-dozen games we've played, we have had one chance to the slips and one to the keeper. This is because there are very few '0' results on the cards. That seems wrong, but again I'm open to correction.

So if the atmosphere is good, what about the realism? Not at all bad. It is a good feeling to guide a shot through the gaps in the field, pile on a lot of runs in an over, (especially off of Joel Garner), and the games have all been tight which indicates good play balance - logical given the 'vanilla' players. I think you would need to play it an awful lot to to get an accurate statistical view but the feel is very good indeed. There have been criticisms to say it is hard to get people out. I tend to partially agree with this, especially if you play the 'lives' rule which gives upper order batsmen extra chances. We don't. I think it also depends on what type of game you are playing - limited overs or two innings games being very different. In the former, you are forced to take risks to score and that is where the game creaks a bit because the control goes away from the batsman, he simply has to gamble on the cards. As a result, the wickets fall quickly. We played a 10 over round robin and all teams batted aggressively - the average was about 60 runs and anything from four to eight wickets lost. The more sedate two innings matches are where the game shines, as the batsmen can safely defend shot after shot with a minimal chance of getting out. The trouble is this takes ages, just like the real thing. Boycott would love it.

The designer told me that a set of advanced rules was going to be made available and I look forward to seeing these. More comments will follow when I have had a chance to try them. I would welcome correspondence on the game with anyone who owns a copy (or of course Mr Compton) and has played it enough to see the few minor flaws. I am sure a bit of tweaking is all that is needed to get the game up to full speed. The rather hefty price is explained by the fact that the game has been lovingly produced as a limited edition of 200 copies and if you see the standard of workmanship (much of it produced by hand), the price comes into perspective. So, the overall view? A very good game, if not perfect, but certainly one that is worth your time and money. It is obvious from speaking to the designer that Wicketz was a labour of love and as such it seems churlish to criticize, but those points above do need clarification and possibly attention. The designer hopes to sell the game to a big game company for distribution in Australia, New Zealand, India, West Indies etc at a more economical and mass produced price. I think it would survive such a treatment and good luck to him on that front - I hope the markets are large enough. Wicketz is not just a cricket game, it shows what is possible for a one man band to do, given a good idea and the drive (and presumably the money) to succeed. Cottage industry yes, but admirable for that. If there are any left the game is available from the designer Mr A.W. Compton (no relation) of 20 Mount Pleasant, West Horsley, Leatherhead, Surrey KT24 6BL. If not, try Virgin in London or Harrods.

Grand Slam Baseball (Xanadu £7.50). I spotted this tucked away on a shelf at Games Unlimited and while it is a tad expensive for a card game, it works rather well. The deck is a special short deck of ordinary playing cards and could be replaced from two normal packs. The rules are rather clever. The top card is flipped to ascertain the initial count on each batter and then the two players lay cards from their hand to simulate the pitch and swing combinations. It is possible to work the count and go for the big hit which involves considerable skill and second guessing. Probably totally off on the stats side but it generates a good feel for the game. Ideal for train journeys or that odd half hour after a bigger game. Recommended.

Wildlife Adventure (Ravensburger £12). See Inside Pitch for more comments on this one but it really does typify the sort of game that is great for adults yet would normally be dismissed as purely a children's game. The components are superb as one now expects from the Germans. The map is a colourful world map with pictures of endangered animals in their native areas. These locations are joined by route lines. The basics of the game involve laying arrows on the routes which represent the progress of three expeditions which all start from Germany. Each player has a number of cards showing some of the depicted animals and has to try to guide any one of the three expeditions to the site of one of his cards. When this is achieved, and it is far from easy, the player lays the card down, reads off the legend to explain why the animal is endangered, and claims one point. We see this as successfully taking a photograph of the animal in question. The plyer with most points wins, though this isn't necessarily the first one to clear his hand as the score is cards played down less those still in your hand. As the players can lay arrows on any of the three routes, screwing other players' plans is a major part of the game. Action cards both aid and cancel these delaying efforts and only the scarce 'travel vouchers' get one out of some awkward positions. A fine game; cleverly designed, fun, educational, fast (about 60-75 minutes), playable with kids, plenty of strategic options and always close. There must be another use for this system. Highly recommended.

Orient Express (Jumbo £10-£20). Basically a whodunnit logic game which draws something from Cluedo and improves on that classic by way of case variety, a time limit and excellent atmosphere. The presentation of the train layout and clues is superb and the plots, of which several are supplied, are quite original. The method of deducing who the culprit(s) are owes a lot to those 'Who owns the Zebra' logic puzzles so a slightly more flavoursome approach as in Sleuth's Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective would have improved a good game even more. Some of the clues come over as being spoken by Mr.Spock so a bit of flim-flam and a few red herrings wouldn't go amiss. Still excellent value, though shop around for the best price.

Sky Galleons of Mars/Space 1889 RPG (GDW £16/£15). The longest awaited game system for some time and at last it has arrived. I must admit to initially having reservations about the background idea of the system but given its eager public reception I can only presume I am in the minority. I don't usually buy RPG's but this one is so well presented and written that it forced me to part with the readies. The rules are superbly researched, contain a feast of ideas and are a model of their kind. After reading them I was much more keen to play the boardgames in the series. Sky Galleons of Mars is the first of these and while the overall package is fine, it has one drawback. The maps are good and the rules up to the usual high standard but the plastic pieces that GDW waited so long for are rubbish. I had been hoping for ships about three inches long onto which you could plug gun turrets, cannons etc and what do we we get? Piddly little things that look as though they've fallen out of a cornflake packet. Despite this, and I see no reason why decent ironclad models couldn't replace the models supplied, the system isn't too bad. A cross between Wooden Ships and Iron Men and Ironclads, with some suitably daft HG Wellesian weapons and monsters thrown in for spice. Not at all bad, but hardly earthshattering for the 'serious' bods. Is this the same company that gave us Crimea and White Death?

Mhing (Spears £7). Another example of seeing a box hundreds of times in the game shop and not realising what it is. Brian Walker recommended this one and it is basically Mah Jong transposed to a card game format. Shades of rummy of course but much more fun. I only mention it to bring it to the attention of those who, like me, didn't know it existed. Recommended.

Battlegame Armada (Purnell £3.50). Charles Vasey gets the nod for spotting this one. It is in fact a children's book that contains a fold out map and cut out counters which go to produce a very enjoyable little contest. Anyone who was awake last year will know the scenario and this is a good enough interpretation of the events. At £3.50 you can't miss. Your local bookshop should be able to order it.

Mike Siggins. 5/2/89.

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