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
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
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 game…
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
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.
"Real men play board games"