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[Review] Balanx

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I must say that I’m not a fan of abstract strategy games. Occasionally I’ll play one that piques my interest, but as a general whole I’d rather have a theme thrown into the mix; even if it’s one that’s just pasted on. Also, abstract strategy games, such as the Gipf series, tend to have no random events in them, and a bit of randomness always adds fun to the mix - so say I. Still, there’s something about marbles that’s a lot of fun, and when I saw Balanx (Fun Connection, 1993 - Kris Burm) on sale for a rather inexpensive price, I thought that rolling marbles sounded like a fun game. The idea certainly isn’t new, as there are many decades-old games that feature rolling marbles in some shape or form. Still, the game had a certain visual appeal and appealing mechanic, so I gladly sat down to try it out.

And after playing the game, I blinked, and wondered what just had happened. I won, which is usually cause for great victory and rejoicing, but didn’t know how I had won. I finished getting my pieces into place before my opponent by only a couple moves, but had no idea how I had done so, and what strategy I had used. What was worse, I didn’t care. The game was mind-numbing enough that I just blindly started moving marbles around at one point, feeling like I was playing a sadistic version of Chinese Checkers, a game I abhor. There was nothing remotely fun about the game, even the marbles rolled a total of one space - whoopee! - and the fact that I won was not a cause for triumph but one of relief that the game was over.

A tilting black board is set in front of the players, with two steel balls placed in two long tracks on each side of it - I think to keep the balance intact. Each player then places ten large glass balls (slightly smaller than a “shooter” marble) in a triangular formation in the spaces on one corner of the square directly opposite one of the rolling marbles and across the table from themselves. One player starts the game, and then turns rotate until one player thankfully finally wins.

On a turn, the player first tilts the board in their direction, which may move some of the marbles one space in a most exciting way, causing jaws to drop from passerby. The player then has two thrilling choices: jump a marble over another marble orthogonically, or simply move a marble sideways only. Play then passes to the other player. The first player to have all the marbles in their side of the board filled in that same triangular patter wins the game, even if some of the marbles are of the other player’s color. That’s basically all the rules to the game.

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The black and white glass marbles are really nice; and when they are set on the board, it really presents a striking abstract look - one that would look nice on a coffee table, as long as the marbles didn’t keep falling on the floor at the slightest bump. The plastic insert in the boring-looking box holds everything in well.

2.) Rules: The rules come on a simple sheet of paper that is longer than what I typed, but only because the rule writers wanted you to know what a superb game of strategy you picked up. The game is very simple to teach, and players pick it up fast (putting it down faster!)

3.) Strategy: I had to laugh when I read in the rules that the game was different because you started with your pieces away from you, and had them come towards you. Apparently this makes the game more strategic! Really? So if I rotate a chess board 180 degrees and play it backwards, it makes the game more exciting! Hold me back!!! Really, though, if you are good at Chinese Checkers, I’m sure you’d be good at this game; it’s basically the same thing, except the marbles roll some.

4.) Rolling and Fun Factor: I thought that the rolling marbles would help make the game more interesting. I was quite annoyed that hardly a marble rolled during the game, as the board was quite jammed packed; and that when they did roll, it was only one space! Oh, the sheer fun! When we were done, both of us sighed and were glad it was over. I had no idea why I had won, and my opponent had no idea why they had lost. And even though the game had taken probably only twenty minute, they were long enough to feel like an hour.

I definitely don’t recommend this game at all. I bought it on clearance, and you’d think that I would learn by now that really cheap games are probably ones that aren’t that fun. I dislike abstract strategy games, so that may have some bearing on my opinion; but for the love of all that’s abstract, if you’re going to play one of these games, at least play one that makes you think and lets you enjoy yourself. I’d rather play checkers than Balanx again, and that’s even with the cool marbles! If you’re looking for a good strategy game with marbles, this isn’t it; but if you need some good “shooters” for your marble collection, the price on this game often runs cheap enough that maybe you can chuck the game and go have some real fun, using the marbles for what they were intended.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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