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[GR] Seismic

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  • Tom Vasel
    One of my favorite internet browsing stops is Board 2 Pieces, one of the very few online comics that has to do with board games. The author, Ted Alspach, is
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2006
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      One of my favorite internet browsing stops is Board 2 Pieces, one of
      the very few online comics that has to do with board games. The
      author, Ted Alspach, is an all around excellent person to converse
      with about games, and I was pleased to see one of his designs picked
      up and published. Seismic (Atlas Games, 2006 - Ted Alspach) is
      certainly an interesting theme - that of the earthquakes around a
      fault line in San Andreas. Upon first glance over the rules, it
      looked similar to Carcassonne but with hexes. If this was the case, I
      thought, why get it?

      And, indeed, the game plays like a faster, easier form of Carcasonne
      with only the roads. Except that there are hexes. And quakes. And
      no farmers. You know, the games aren't that similar after all! I
      will say that I enjoy Seismic as a fun little filler. It is possible
      for a player to sit there and overanalyze the board, spending a long
      time on their turn; but I feel that ruins the game's charm. It's neat
      how it can be played in a short period of time, and watching the
      growing networks (with the present danger of earthquakes causing
      tension) is rather fascinating. On a light level, Seismic really
      works well.

      The hex containing San Andreas is placed in the middle of the board,
      with the remainder of the hexes being shuffled. There are six "quake"
      tiles, numbered from "1" to "6". These are mixed with six normal
      tiles, and then six of these twelve mixed tiles are removed from the
      game, with the remaining six mixed into the other fifty-four tiles.
      Each player takes a pile of wooden cubes in their color - their road
      workers. The top two tiles are turned face up next to the board, and
      one player (sitting closest to a solid doorframe - although I would
      imagine that Ted would want players to use his custom Start Player)
      goes first, with play proceeding clockwise.

      On a turn, a player flips over another tile so that three are face up
      on the table. That player may then choose one of these tiles and
      place it on the board, connecting to any tile already there. Each
      tile has one to three roads on it, connecting in different
      combinations from the six edges of the hex. Some tiles have an
      intersection in the middle of the tile, with a certain amount of
      points on it. After placing the tile, players may place one of their
      road workers on one of the roads that has at least one section on the
      tile placed, as long as no other workers are already on that road at
      any point.

      Tiles must be placed so that they extend one of the highways on the
      table; and if none of the three face-up tiles can be placed, they are
      discarded and three new ones drawn. When a quake tile is revealed at
      the beginning of a player's turn, an earthquake occurs. Starting with
      the San Andreas tile, each of the six lines of tiles that extend
      directly from it are examined. The line that has the most tiles (in
      case of ties, the drawing player chooses) has an amount of tiles
      removed from the game equal to the number of the quake, starting with
      the tile closest to San Andreas. Any road workers that are caught in
      the quake are returned to their owners. Another tile is flipped over
      to replace the quake tile, and the game continues.

      When the last tile has been placed, or there are no incomplete
      highway sections left (unlikely), the game ends. All players must
      remove their highway workers from any "uncompleted" roads - ones that
      do not have both ends in San Andreas and/or an intersection (the same
      spot can be at both ends). The remainder of the roads are scored.
      Each highway is worth the sum of the numbers on both intersections, as
      well as one point for each highway section. If more than one player
      has road workers on the same road (due to clever placement of the
      tiles, joining existing roads together), then the player with the most
      markers score the points, with ties giving all the points to all
      involved players. The player with the most points is the winner!

      Some comments on the gameā€¦

      1.) Components: The hexagonal tiles, which are almost identical in
      size to the Settlers of Catan hexes, fit together well and are
      functional, if a little bland. In fact, I wondered why there wasn't
      any variance in how the roads looked, or some background scenery? - It
      would have added to the theme. And the cubes, while they worked fine,
      were awfully small - with the pink ones looking like cubed ham.
      Still, these are only minor annoyances I had, and everything really
      was fairly good quality, in a nice sturdy box with humorous (in a
      twisted way) artwork.

      2.) Rules: The rules are on a single page (there is a four page
      rulebook with four different languages) and very clearly explain the
      game. They are formatted slightly poorly, with small print, and only
      two illustrations, but I still had no problem understanding and
      explaining the game. People easily picked it up; as connecting roads
      to each other is an intuitive action and rather easy, since roads are
      the only things people are dealing with.

      3.) Carcassonne: One must be careful when mentally comparing games,
      but I have yet to show Seismic to someone who hasn't thought of
      Carcassonne (and has played both games). At first blush, Seismic may
      appear to be a simpler version of Carcassonne that only includes the
      roads; and while that's partially the truth, Seismic is different
      enough in its own right to warrant playing. It has hexagons rather
      than squares, there are earthquakes which destroy tiles, and
      incompleted roads score nothing at the end of the game. It's faster
      than Carcassonne, but I would hesitate to call it better - it's simply
      different.

      4.) Earthquakes: The theme of the game is what is likely to attract
      people (disasters always do), and the earthquakes in this game can
      often be rather devastating to a player. I suppose it's possible for
      a game to have no earthquakes (the odds are staggeringly against it),
      although games can have several large earthquakes or only a few minor
      ones. What makes the game interesting is that while there are only
      six lines of tiles that are affected by earthquakes, there is the
      possibility to wreak great havoc regardless. In the games I've
      played, the winner often could contribute their victory to a swing in
      fortune due to an earthquake. Sometimes a long, lucrative road is
      broken up, and another piece that fits the spot of the devastated
      tiles never shows up again. Other times a road worker is destroyed,
      and another player gets to swoop in and snag the road for themselves.
      One could attempt to build tiles and place road workers in such a
      fashion as to avoid all possibilities of earthquakes, but that's
      practically impossible and rather futile if you're trying to win the
      game at all.

      5.) Time and Fun Factor: Seismic can easily be played in thirty
      minutes to forty-five minutes. I have played it with folks who tend
      to take a long time on their turn, and I think that could have a
      ruining effect upon the game. It seems to be best played as a
      "filler", in which players quickly place one of the three face up
      tiles, then the next player, etc. (side note: I don't like when all
      three face up tiles are the same; it happened to me five times in one
      game) As long as everyone is playing with an attitude that the game
      is "light", I think Seismic will remain enjoyable.

      6.) Variants: The rules list four variants, three of which are quite
      interesting (the fourth requires a second game of Seismic - yeah,
      right!). One ensures that the level "6" quake is always in the game
      and places it near the bottom, which avoids the anticlimactic large
      quake on the second turn of the game. Another allows players to place
      two tiles rather than a tile and a road worker. After my game with
      three of the same tiles to choose from, I always play with this option
      now. The third option, and quite possibly the most interesting,
      allows all players to legally rotate one hex after an earthquake.
      Talk about a changing board! I personally like all three of these
      variants and will use them in my games.

      Seismic is not "Carcassonne with earthquakes", although that
      descriptor will give you a feel for what the game entails. It's a
      good light game and allows players to control a spaghetti-like network
      of roads. The earthquakes themselves add a level of tension to the
      game, as players worry that they'll hit their roads; and the game is
      usually fairly competitive down to the end. A nice design by Mr.
      Alspach!

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games"
      www.tomvasel.com
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