Date: July 24, 2003

Games: Flea Circus, ZooSim, Tichu

Attendees: Alex, Doug, Ed, Jeff S., Jon, Mark, Rhonda, Rick, Roxana, Susan

Reporter: Susan Rozmiarek

Flea Circus Susan, Mark, Jon, Doug, Alex and Ed try out R & R Games new Flea Circus.
Flea Circus: Alex, Ed, Doug, Jon, Mark, Susan

Jon arrived with this new offering by Reiner Knizia and published by R&R Games. This game comes with a bunch blue rubber bulldogs and white rubber cats that remind me of Maria in Disney's Aristocats. In the game, you are trying to attract these critters to your flea circus by laying down cards with different attractions and point values depicted on the cards. The dogs represent two points and the cats one. (See, dogs are superior to cats). On your turn, you play a card in front of you forming a stack so only the top card shows. If the attraction depicted is the only one showing on the table, you take the indicated number of points from the pool of dogs and cats in the middle of the table. If one or more people have the attraction showing, you take the points from the person closest to your right that is showing it. There are a few special cards that get you points and a Ticket card that allows you to take two points from anyone. There is also a Dogcatcher card. When this is played, everyone except the person who played it has to return dogs and cats back to the general supply equal to the points depicted on their current attraction. The game ends when all the dogs and cats are gone from the general supply.

Cats and Dogs Flea Circus' scoring tokens, blue dogs and white cats.
The game started off well enough, with people laying down new attractions and grabbing dogs and cats from the pile. From there though, the game really bogged down. With so many people, the chances for an attraction to be already showing were pretty high and we were just stealing points from each other. If the central supply got close to running out and the game end was near, someone would play a Dogcatcher and the central supply would get replenished. And on and on it went until someone was finally able to mercifully finish it off. Another annoying thing for me was I found it a little hard to quickly tell the cards apart because of the busy, colorful pictures on the cards.

I've heard from a couple of sources that the game plays much better with fewer players and doesn't drag as much. Therefore, I'll reserve judgment until I've given it another chance. I think that this one may be better enjoyed by kids, although I do enjoy R&R's other light offerings, Pig Pile and Too Many Cooks.

Results: Ed 17, Doug 14, Alex 11, Mark 8, Jon 6, Susan 4

ZooSim Susan, Rhonda, Jeff and Roxana bid for the next attraction to enhance their zoo in ZooSim.
ZooSim: Jeff, Rhonda, Roxana, Susan

I'd already played this game four times prior to tonight and in three of those games there had been a runaway leader. I really felt that this was due to a "rich get richer" problem with the way that income is earned each season. According to the rules, a player gets income each season based on the number of tiles he has in his zoo. The more tiles he has (which usually means he is in the lead) the more income he gets. This seems unbalanced to me, but fortunately I found a variant on Steffan O'Sullivan's website that fixes this: In this variant, each player receives the same amount of income each season. The income received is 7 minus N, with N being the number of players. Money is used as a tiebreaker at the end of the game.

I enjoyed this much more with the new variant. Having the fixed income allows you to stop worrying about picking up and having to place cheap tiles to get you further income each turn. Instead, you can really plan ahead and focus on winning the tiles you really want to build a quality zoo.

Roxana jumped out in the first season with a hefty lead, attracting seven visitors to her zoo. She was able to keep at least this many or more every season, keeping the lead through the entire game. Jeff started out slowly, not getting a single tile or visitor the first season, but a hefty eight the second. I was able to stay fairly close to Roxana each season but steadily lost ground while Rhonda also slowly improved each season. There was a lot of back and forth grappling for the majorities, but Jeff and Roxana managed to take several in the last season when visitors are worth a whopping 5 points each.

Results: Roxana 120, Susan 86, Jeff 84, Rhonda 68

Tichu Susan and Doug take on Jon and Mark in Tichu.
Tichu Doug, Jon, Mark, Susan

Tichu is a really intriguing game that could easily hook me if I played it enough. The problem is that it takes exactly four players and can go fairly long, so it doesn't make it to the table at our sessions that often. Hence, I'm always feeling like a clueless idiot when I do play. I have to have those special cards explained to me over and over again and it take me several hands to start getting into the rhythm of things. There are so many nuances to this game and it takes experience to see them.

We all wanted to be paired with Mark, a Tichu shark who plays the game weekly. After choosing randomly, it was Mark and Jon versus Doug and me.

Doug and I were off to a good start, getting all 100 points in the first hand. Unfortunately, the next hand, Mark called Tichu. Not only did he make it, but Jon went out second, giving them 300 points for the round. We never could catch up after that. I went out first twice without calling Tichu when I'm probably should have. I'm just too chicken. We did have an interesting hand where both Jon and I called Tichu and he very narrowly beat me going out first. Darn! Great game, I wish I had a chance to play it more.

Result: Mark/Jon >1000, Doug/Susan ~450

Other games played: Palermo, Zoff in Buffalo, Billabong

Mark, Jon, Doug, Alex and Ed concentrate on the best move during Palermo.
Early on during the building phase of Palermo.
The family bosses start visiting their business through out the city of Palermo.

For more pictures from this gaming sessions and others, see our Gaming Picture Gallery.

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Copyright © 2003, Ed Rozmiarek