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[Review] Cephalopod

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

Any game that uses a large amount of dice interests me, because piles of dice are good things. Sure, some might consider the die to be one of the most overused mechanics in gaming, but I'm certainly always willing to see what new ways they can be used. Cephalopod (Mark Steere Games, 2006 - Mark Steere) uses quite a few dice - but also has no randomness, something usually found in dice games. Instead, the dice are used as playing pieces in this abstract game.

Cephalopod, which is a rather inexpensive game, is a clever, though long, abstract game in which players compete to place dice on the board in such a way as to capture certain areas. My biggest problem with the game is that it can last for quite a long time (over a hundred turns), but that can be solved by playing on a smaller gaming space and isn't a large problem to begin with. It can bog down into "analysis paralysis" but is a very engaging, no-luck game. If you like interesting abstracts, then this is a very inexpensive one to try out.

A board consisting of a twenty-five square grid is placed on the table, and each player is given twenty-four six-sided dice of their color. One player is chosen to go first, and then play alternates back and forth for the remainder of the game.

Play is rather simple - a player simply places a die in any empty space on the board. If the die is placed on the board and is adjacent to only one or no other dice, then it is placed with the "1" side facing upwards. If, however, the dice is adjacent to two or more dice, then the player must "capture" two or more of the dice. For example, if I place a die next to a "1", a "1", and a "4", I may remove all three dice - placing down a "6" die or placing a "5", removing a "1" and a "4" or placing a "2", removing a "1" and a "1". Players can capture dice of either color and are mandatory.

It is possible to place a die next to multiple dice and not capture, such as next to a "2" and a "5", as a die cannot go up to "7". Obviously, once a die reaches "6", it can no longer be captured by other dice.

That's pretty much the whole game - with players playing until the board is filled - at which point the player with the most dice on the board wins. Smaller, shorter games can be played - with players using only 3x3 or 3x5 grid.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: While one could download the rules and make the game themselves, all you need is paper and dice, the economy set, purchasable from Mr. Steere, is only six dollars - more than worth the amount of dice one gets. The game might be helped by some beautiful graphics and such; but I was content with the simplicity, as too much more might have detracted from the game. The website, however, (www.marksteeregames.com) does show a deluxe wooden version, which is rather nice looking.

2.) Rules: The rules are extremely easy to teach and learn, which explains why they only take up a single sheet of paper. They might have been written better, but I only needed to look over them once to play the game. All of whom I have taught the game to, including several teenagers, have caught onto the rules quickly and easily.

3.) Slowness: Cephalopod takes a while to get going. Considering that it takes at least seven moves to get a "6" on the board and that players will most likely have ten or more of them, you can easily see why the game might take a little longer than some might like. And, since the game has perfect information, it's rather easy (I even caught myself doing it) to simply sit there and take a long time each turn - microanalyzing every possibility that can occur in the future. The problem is that I'm not sure how this can be avoided, other than continual playing. If you simply throw down dice, without regards to strategy, or anything else, and the other player takes a bit longer to think about it, they will most likely wipe the floor with you and your dice.

4.) Strategy: Players must think several moves ahead, as a play can consist of "Well, if I capture these dice, he'll capture me here, and then I can capture him there…", etc. The ultimate goal of a player (besides winning, obviously) is to get as many dice with six pips on the board as possible, since they can no longer be captured by the opponent. Many times what looks like a great play is actually a poor one, as you may fall directly into your opponent's trap. Also, when placing a die down between three or four dice and sometimes taking a lower combination when capturing is a better idea than taking the total of all the dice. I noticed that some of the strategies used when placing dice are simply best learned by making mistakes, and players need to realize that capturing their own dice isn't a bad idea - it's all about the end goal of getting sixes on the board.

5.) Fun Factor: I enjoyed playing Cephalopod, although I wouldn't classify it as a rip-roaring good time - it was a bit too cerebral for that. My students enjoyed the game, but all complained that it was much longer than they liked. Once I changed the grid to a smaller one (usually 3x5), they were much more content. I, myself, liked using the entire board - more flexibility, but the 3x3 games are an interesting exercise - a deeper "Tic-tac-toe", if you will.

If you don't like abstract games, I wouldn't recommend Cephalopod, as the lack of theme and subtle strategy will probably not be something you're interested in. But fans of games of pure strategy and perfect knowledge may be interested in giving this one a whirl. It's remarkably inexpensive and is unique in that it uses dice for something other than randomization. It's not a game I'll play often, but it will stay on my shelves for those times when I want to play a more complicated version of Tic-tac-toe. Although to compare those two games isn't the best assessment I've ever done. Cephalopod is unique and cheap - and taken on those terms, worth my playing every once in a while.

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

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