A Pair of Alex Randolph's Games

Reviews of board games Check the Ripper and The Vikings are Coming! by Pevans

Check the Ripper

This game is also published under the heading of the "Best of Alex Randolph" and comes in a similar size of box, but there the resemblance ends. Check the Ripper is a memory game - and a fairly simple one at that. The mounted board is a nicely done map of the British Isles in sepia tones, overlaid with a checkerboard of dark and light squares and sprinkled with a number of towns. The game starts by the players shuffling 20 white chips and laying them face down on the towns. Each chip is either blank or has one of four weapons symbols on it.

Players then move their pawns round the board. Instead of normal dice, however, the faces of these show chess pieces (Knights appearing twice). You roll both dice, and get those pieces' moves in chess. If you land on a chip, you turn it up and have a look. If it's the weapon shown on the top card of the deck (one card for each weapon) you remove it and score points for it - taking the appropriate number of red chips. If you can then remember where you've seen other chips with the same symbol, you can reveal them and score points for them as well. As the points go up for each weapon in a set, this is well worth doing. There is also a bonus for revealing the last weapon in each set, which also increases as each set is completed - collecting the very last chip is worth a lot of points.

If you roll a double on the dice, you get to change the cards so that a different weapon is on top. With double Knights you also get four Knight moves, rather than two. Tactics consist of trying to place your pawn so as to maximise your chances of moving next time.

Apart from that, you just have to memorise which weapons are revealed in which locations. With only four weapons and a maximum of twenty places to remember, this is not a taxing game. It is fun to play, but there is little challenge and the game is not likely to get re-played very often.

Despite the game's simplicity, the rules seem to have a few loopholes (there's no penalty for picking up the wrong chip, for example). And the huge box is a lot of wasted space: it's big enough to hold the board, but is deep enough for twenty times as many components as there are. Oh, the Jack the Ripper connection is that each card shows a villain, as well as a weapon, and one of them is Jack (or an artist's impression, anyway).

Check the Ripper was designed by Alex Randolph and published (in Germany) by the now-defunct ASS. It is for 2-4 players and takes 20-30 minutes to play. Pevans rates it 2/10.
This review was originally published in Games & Puzzles and then in Games Games Games issue 85.

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The Vikings are Coming!

I opened the rather large box with visions of sleek longships gliding into shore and fierce, bearded warriors (wearing historically inaccurate horned helmets) rampaging across the countryside. Inside were some cardboard islands, marked with a grid of dots, and lots of wooden pieces - rather plump Vikings and tall castles - in four colours.

Playing the game quickly demonstrated that it is far from a pillage and plunder wargame. The Vikings are Coming! is an abstract strategy game about capturing territory and requires a good deal of thought. To start, the "islands" are laid as a single playing area - they can be fitted together in a number of different ways. Then the players gradually place all their Vikings on the dots: the rules suggest, quite rightly, that this can be crucial to the game. The game proper is now ready to start.

When only one player's Vikings occupy a territory on the board, s/he erects a castle in it. First person to three castles wins. It is possible to control territories at the start, but otherwise you have to get rid of the enemy pieces. Taking them is simple: you just need two pieces on opposite sides of an enemy and off it comes. You can even take a castle in the same way, in which case it is replaced by yours. Hint: take care of your castles!

Vikings move in two ways. First, from one dot to another. Second, jumping over another piece to an empty dot. A piece can keep going as long as there are pieces to jump over. A piece which takes an enemy Viking can move again, if it captures another piece.

This is an ingenious game that requires thought and concentration and repays those who can look several moves ahead. Players have to keep track of many things: how many of which colour are in each territory? What threats may be used against me? Spreading your pieces out enables you to move quickly and be in more territories. Grouping pieces together is safer (a square of four is invulnerable, of course), but doesn't occupy as much territory. So there are lots of decisions to be made and tactics to be used.

In a four player game there are two pairs of partners, working together to get five towers between them. What isn't clear is the extent to which partners are allowed to tell each other things. I reckon it's most fun not to allow partners to communicate (about the game, anyway). This way you are left hoping that the opposition won't spot the fiendishly clever move you've just made, but that your partner will! Of course, what usually happens is that your partner makes a mess of the position you've spent several turns setting up. That's life.

The Vikings are Coming! was designed by Alex Randolph and published (in Germany) by the now-defunct ASS. It is for 2 or 4 players and takes 1-2 hours to play. Pevans rates it 2/10.
This review was originally published in Games & Puzzles and then in Games Games Games issue 85.

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