Tuesday, August 16, 2005

"Clans" by Venice Connection

(originally published in the Missoulian of Missoula, MT on 06/26/05)

The day before my last birthday, a wrapped present with my name on the tag appeared in the living room. I took a stab at the mystery of what I would receive - but not in any conventional way. I didn’t shake the box or ask any sly questions. I didn’t root through the garbage for receipts. I’m not proud of what I did, but I have to be honest (kids, close your eyes).

I lied.

I figured that Annie had purchased something from World Games of Montana. Not being entirely sure, I invented a scenario in which I had visited the store alone and chatted with resident game specialist Daniel Nairn. Once I had the basic story in my head, I proceeded to tell Annie about it, emphasizing certain details to get a reaction (like "Daniel told me you came in the other day." and "He told me everything.").

It worked. She hemmed and hawed. She denied everything. Though Annie soon figured out I was lying, I had already solved the mystery behind the gift: Miss Annie Lou in the game store with the debit card. Still, one question remained. Which game was it?

The next day I attacked the box, which was wrapped beneath layer after layer of paper and deceit, and found "Clans," a wonderful brain twist from Leo Colovini. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

"Clans" takes us back to a time when small nomadic tribes first started to band together to form villages. Insert Tim Allen’s primitive ‘Arrooo?’ for the full effect.

The game board is broken up into dozens of small territories (forests, mountains, steppes, and grasslands), each occupied by a single tribe. Red, yellow, blue, green, and black tribes are distributed equally and randomly across the board. Players then pick a tribal color at random and keep their colors secret throughout the game.

Game play, amazingly enough, involves no dice or cards - that is, no luck factors. Players move a tribe or tribes from one territory into an adjacent territory containing at least one tribe. When a group of tribes resides in a territory surrounded by empty territories, they form a village. The players whose tribes are represented in the village score points, and the player who formed the village receives one token. Points are marked on a fifty-point track on the side of the board, and tokens are redeemed at the end of the game for additional points.

There are also five different epochs, each being favorable to one kind of territory and unfavorable to another. When a village is founded, there is a bonus if it’s during a favorable period or a penalty if during an unfavorable period. Because of this, tribal secrecy becomes paramount. A player should avoid making moves which overtly benefit his or her tribe until well into the game.

The game is over when no more villages can be formed or all the tokens have been claimed. At this point, players reveal their colors and cash in their tokens. The player furthest along the fifty-point track wins.

"Clans" is a game of finesse and deception. I recommend it to anyone interested in a quiet, underhanded strategy game.

I couldn’t have known it at the time, but my ruse with Annie actually gave me a head start in strategy. I don’t mean to glorify lying, but an old man once told me, "All’s fair in love and war."

I think his name was Leo.

Cost: $25.95
Players: 2 to 4
Age: 10 and up
Time to play: 30 to 45 minutes
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 8
Additional Comments: The strategy in this game is a little tricky to grasp in the beginning, but it's a worthwhile endeavor. Great game for older players.

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