The game I’m going to write about this week has an interesting pedigree. It is the latest step on a path that began for me in kindergarten, led through video game arcades in the early 80s, and has meandered through our golden age of tabletop gaming. Pull up a chair and lend Grampa an ear, won’t you? (Oh well, if you must, you can skip down to after the old codger dozes off.)
One of my favorite toys in Ms Segal’s kindergarten class was a set of white square pieces that had differently-coloured lines on them, sometimes straight, sometimes curved, sometimes ending in a dot, sometimes not…I loved laying them out and seeing how many I could fit together. There was something about the stark circuit-board-y layout of the squares, the freeform jigsaw-puzzle feel of it–clearly, it made an impression on me!
Imagine my delight when many years later I found an image on BoardGameGeek which corresponded exactly to my memory! Turns out those squares were a game called River, Roads & Rails, where the object was to get rid of your hand before anyone else. So unknowingly, that was my introduction to the wonderful world of tile-laying games.
Cut to 1982 and the release of Tron, a Disney movie which presaged cyberpunk with its portrayal of a menacing digital world where goodguy hackers and software pirates vie in a series of cyber-battles. It is here that I must shamefully admit that I have never seen the original Tron. I’m not sure why–I was a huge s.f. Fan and proto-computer geek even then; maybe by Grade 8 I thought it was too babyish for me?
I was, however, interested in the arcade game Disney released through Bally at the same time. This was the era of Peak Arcade. Every mall worth its salt had at least one. There was a huge one near Yonge and Dundas–I think there may have even been a second one a block away. By the early 80s video games had largely displaced pinball in these dens of iniquity, and the squiki-squiki of Space Invaders and pew-pew of Asteroids were continual background noise.
Most first-generation arcade games involved clearing level after level doing the same thing over and over again, but faster. A game like Tron with four distinctly different challenges in one was pretty out there for 1982. I sucked at it badly. My favorite of the four was the Light Cycle Arena. You and your computer opponent were fast-moving points on the screen with no way to slow down or stop. As you moved you left a trail behind you–as did your computer opponent. Crashing into the side of the arena or anyone’s light trail meant Game Over. The object was simply to stay alive as long as possible. There was something kind of mathematical about it, I don’t know, I just loved it. In 2010 I found to my amusement that my Grade 6’s were addicted to a web-based implementation of the game called BM Tron, proving once again that just because an idea is old doesn’t mean it’s not good.
There was a Tron board game, of course, released as a tie-in with the movie, but keep moving along because our next stop is actually 2004’s Tsuro, a beautiful and elegantly-simple tabletop game. Tsuro changes the theme from cyberspace to the Tao, and instead of light cycles the player pieces are etched stones which are a pleasure to look at and touch. Players start along the edge of the square board with three tiles in hand. Every turn you play a tile which continues the path your piece is on, at the same time using the tile’s other paths to eventually force opposing pieces off the board. At the end of your turn you draw a new tile and play passes to the next player clockwise. As with the Light Cycle Arena the object is to try and stay alive as long as possible, but this time you can play with up to seven opponents, so you can see how the chaos factor increases as the number of players goes up.
Tsuro remains an excellent gateway game for all ages, but its theme is rather austere. Clearly someone at FoxMind Games saw the potential for a family-friendlier theme with maybe a rules tweak or two, because we now (#finally) come to the end of our journey down memory lane with a look at their recent release Slide Blast.
Okay, Grampa’s asleep. You can go play on your DS now.
What is more fun than water slides? Nothing! In Slide Blast you and your opponents will be building a massive water slide park WHILST SLIDING DOWN IT. How rad is that, dude? Literally sliding by the seat of your swimsuit. All in the name of sliding as far as you can before the tiles run out.
Unlike Tsuro, Slide Blast’s tiles are hexagons, and everyone starts on a triple-sized centre tile. Players start with one tile in hand and draw at the beginning of their turn. Some tiles are “high-speed”, enabling a player to take a second turn immediately. Others are Attraction tiles which are immediately swapped out for mega-sized pieces. If a player gets “stuck” they are not eliminated (unlike in Tsuro) but instead get to draw from a pile of Life Guard tiles which are tunnels that let the player emerge somewhere else on the board.
You can see from this that the topology of the board can get wackily complicated–which can get confusing come scoring time, but at least if the pieces get knocked off the board (ahem) it’s not that hard to figure out how to put everything back.
When the tile runs out each player gets one VP per tile along their slide’s path. But Slide Blast adds one more twist to Tsuro in the form of Bonus tokens which are awarded when you place a tile which also helps another player slide. The VPs you earn from these increase with each one you get, so it’s definitely possible to win by helping others a bit even if your slide isn’t the longest.
It may seem that there isn’t as much choice as in Tsuro because you only ever see two tiles at a time, but the pieces are six-sided (or more, in the case of Attractions) and when you throw in dealing with tunnels you approach Analysis Paralysis Territory if you’re not careful.
The game’s graphic design is inviting and warmly cartoonish. The art on the colour-coded Character Cards and the Attraction tiles are cute and the wooden “slider-eeples” are adorable even if they do resemble ghosts more than waterpark customers. The game is only slightly more complicated than Tsuro because of the Bonus Tokens but still well within the capabilities of kids as young as about six, with the added bonus that there is no player elimination (so no tears before bedtime).
Slide Blast is a light filler game with fun and interesting choices and a well-chosen theme. Wake up, Grampa! The kids want to play again!