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[Review] Leapfrog

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

New game companies should take note of Fragor Games and how they promoted their newest game LeapFrog (Fragor Games, 2004 - the Lamont Brothers). It simply was a Geek list on www.boardgamegeek.com, asking people to promote their favorite frog jokes with a free game given to the winner. Nobody accused them of “shilling”, and a great interest rose in their game, including my own. I was further intrigued that the game came from Scotland, as I have few, if any, games from that portion of the globe. (As an aside, I think that the board game hobby is wonderful for meeting people all over the globe; it’s a tremendous benefit).

The game itself featured some pretty cool-looking rubber frogs, and the box stated that the game was for one (!) to six players. This made the game sound more interesting, so I was interested in giving it a go. After my initial play, I emailed the designer, because we had a lot of fun, but thought that we had discovered an “invisible” strategy. He pointed a few things out to me, and after a couple more playings, I discovered that the game is a lot of fun, especially with more players involved. I would most enjoy the game with six players, although it feels like some serious people could “solve” the game if they tried hard enough. Still, it was an enjoyable romp, made even more so by the interesting theme.

Each player takes a rubber frog of one color (red, blue, green, yellow, purple, or orange), and six matching chips (each with one number on one side, 1 through 6). A large green disk representing a lily pad is placed on the table, and the frogs are lined up behind it in a straight line, to be determined randomly, using one set of chips. All six frogs are used; if there are not enough players, chips are drawn randomly from a stack for the remaining un-owned frogs. Three glass stones, representing tadpoles, are placed next to the frogs in fourth, fifth, and sixth place. The first race is then ready to begin.

In the first race, the Speedy Hops, players are attempting to be as close to the front as possible at the end of the race. In each round (six) of the race, players choose one of their remaining chips and place it face down next to their frog. All chips are simultaneously revealed, and some frogs may jump other frogs. Starting with the second frog, the chip of that frog is compared to the number of the frog directly in front of it. If the number of the jumping frog is higher, then the frogs switch places. The frog can continue to make legal jumps until it either can no longer jump, or until it reaches its maximum distance - spaces equal to the number on the chosen chip. Frogs also cannot move back farther than their maximum distance; if a frog does fall back that amount, the chip is turned over to signify that they can no longer move back. Frogs that have fallen back their maximum distance cannot be jumped by any frog, regardless of that frog’s speed. When all the frogs have jumped, the chips are turned face-up if necessary and left on the table, allowing all players to have a “perfect knowledge” of numbers used. Each player then selects one more chip, and so on - until all six chips have been used. Each player scores points according to their position (First place gets 6 points, second place gets 5 points, etc.) Also, the owners of the frogs in the last three places get to keep the tadpoles.

The second race, the Slow Hops, then occurs with the initial setup being the ending positions of the first race. The lily pad is moved behind the last frog, three more tadpoles are placed next to the first, second, and third positions, and all players retrieve all six of their chips. In this race, players are attempting to end up in last place, although movement is still forward. Play occurs the exact same way as the first race; although at the end, the frog in sixth position scores six points, fifth position scores five points, etc.; and the frogs in first, second, and third position acquire the tadpoles.

The third race, the Brave Hops, occurs with the lily pad being moved back to the front of the lineup, only one tadpole being placed at sixth place, and a plastic plate being placed under the frog in the second position. This race plays out and is scored exactly like the first race, except that only the frog in sixth position gets a tadpole; and the player in the second slot at the end of the race dies, losing all points and the game immediately. After the third race finishes, players total their points from all three races, adding one point if they own one tadpole, five points if they have two tadpoles, and ten points if they have three tadpoles. The player with the highest score is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game comes in a VHS case, which is small, sturdy, and portable, but definitely requires bags; otherwise, everything falls out when the case is opened. The chips are very thick plastic coins with ridged edges - great to handle and move - and the numbers on them are printed in a gold ink, making for a stark contrast against the cheery, bright colors. The glass stones as tadpoles are less thematic, but functional. The frogs, on the other hand, the centerpiece of the game, are made of soft rubber and are just too much fun to play with. A few different molds are used, and they really look good when set up on the table. The game is extremely visually attractive, especially to those who like bright, cheerful games.

2.) Rules: The rules had only one problem; they were printed in a very small font so that the six-page pamphlet could fit in the box. But once I read them, they were very simple to understand; and the most complicated thing, the jumping, was explained in great detail with an illustrated example to aid ease in game play. I found that the game was simple to teach and learn; and once people saw how the frogs jumped in action, they had no more problems with understanding.

3.) Strategy: Strategy, on the other hand, is not quite so simple. In two of my games, the “computer” frog won, and they were having their chips drawn randomly. That initially put some people back, as they were annoyed at getting beat by a random maneuver. I personally look at this as a challenge - to be smart enough to beat random patterns. But I will admit that the game is most fun with six players, as then you are not playing against random movements (I hope!) but against people who are bluffing and guessing what you will put out.

4.) Optimal Strategy: One player listed a sequence of numbers that would win them the game, and at first glance I thought that they were correct. But then I had pointed out to me a sequence of numbers that would stop the first, and now I’m not sure what the best moves are in the game. I’m certain that if someone sat down and thoroughly analyzed the game, they would find the exact chip to put down in each circumstance; but I neither care nor want this solution. The game is fun as is.

5.) Plate: One of the most enjoyable features to the game is the plate in the third race. While some might gasp at the idea of player elimination in a game - especially at the end of the game, where all that player’s points are wiped out, the game length doesn’t really makes this a crippling effect. I had my frog killed twice and laughed along with everyone else. Still, it adds some excitement to that third race, where all your hard earned points could be lost if you aren’t careful.

6.) Tadpoles: The tadpoles are an interesting feature to the game, as they allow a person who consistently scores in the bottom three a chance to regain points, even possibly win the game! A player who wins all three races will still win the game with no competition; but if that doesn’t happen, the tadpole strategy just might work. I enjoyed this unique scoring mechanism.

7.) Fun Factor: Some folks complained about the random players winning, and some complained about their lack of knowledge as to which chip to place when. But everyone had fun, and all agreed to play it again. This very well might be because of the nice components and theme, but I believe that the players sought the satisfaction of winning, especially against the “computer” frogs.

LeapFrog can probably be classified as a filler, although it’s a filler that makes you think. The interaction of the frogs in each race, combined with a nice scoring system, really make the game a thought-provoking one. I enjoyed the different styles of races, especially the addition of the dinner plate, although my frog got “cooked” more than once. LeapFrog is small, portable, quick, easy to play, and looks really good when set up. What more can you ask for when seeking a filler game? And if you get a chance, go check out that frog joke list (http://www.fragorgames.com/frogjokes.html), it’s pretty funny stuff.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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