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[Review] Lexio

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Joined: 03/23/2011

My first experiences with "ladder climbing" games, Frank's Zoo and Dilbert: the Card Game, were fairly "blah" affairs. The themes were funny, making the games enjoyable, but I just didn't "get" how the game worked. I'm a big fan of trick-taking games, and these games were nothing like that. Gang of Four, another version, didn't excite me either, even with the fact that it was produced by stellar company Days of Wonder. The game that has finally turned me around on this genre is Lexio (Dagoy, 2005, designer uncredited). Lexio is yet another version of the ancient Chinese game, "Zhengshangyou", but uses tiles, rather than cards.

My first play of Lexio didn't thrill me very much, although I was enamored with the beautiful components. However, due to the urging of others, I've played it about five times since, and each time, I'm starting to enjoy it a little more. It's a simplistic version of the ladder climbing genre, more so than Tichu or The Great Dalmuti. Yet, this simplicity, combined with a nice scoring system, combined with tremendous components - makes Lexio my current favorite of the genre, and it's starting to bring me around on these card games as a whole!

The tiles are of four different suits (four colors: blue, green, yellow and red), each represented by a different symbol (moon, wind, stars, sun). Players use numbers 1 through 15 (fewer tiles with less than five players), and place them all face down on the table, shuffling them - and each player taking an equal amount. Each player gets four yellow chips (worth 1 point), four green chips (worth 5 points) and five red chips (worth 25 points). The first round is ready to begin, and the player with the blue three goes first.

On a player's turn, they may play one of the following combinations.
- A single tile, where "2" is the highest number, and the colors form a hierarchy of red > green > yellow > blue.
- A pair of tiles that are the same number.
- A trio of tiles that are the same number.
- Five tiles that follow this hierarchy: straight flush ("1" can follow the highest number) > four of a kind + 1 other card > full house > flush > straight.
Each other player may play tiles (they must play the same number if they do) that are ranked higher than the played tiles. If a player cannot (or chooses not too) play any tiles that are stronger, then they say pass. If a player passes, it does not mean that they must pass again if play comes to them again. Once all but one player has passed, the player who played the highest tiles starts another play, using one of the above combinations.

Play continues in like manner until one player plays their last tile. At this point, the round ends, and all other players reveal their tiles. Each player must pay chips to the winner of the round equal to the number of tiles they have left. If a player has a "2" in their hand, they must pay double the amount to the winner. Players must also pay chips to anyone who has fewer tiles than they - equal to the difference in number of tiles, again doubling the amount if they have a "2". The game ends after five rounds, or when one person runs out of chips. At this point, the player with the most chips is the winner!

Some comments on the gameā€¦

1.) Components: Don't get me wrong, I love a good card game, but the tiles that come in Lexio are absolutely gorgeous. They are big, chunky tiles that stand very well on their own. Lexio comes in two different colors - white and black, and while I prefer how the colors of the suits stand out on the black tiles, the white set looks almost as nice. Tiles are vastly superior to cards, as they can absorb more damage, and a player doesn't have to constantly reshuffle their hands. Besides, they're way cooler! The tiles are very easy to read and differentiate between the suits; because of the symbols on each tile, it's easy even for colorblind people to tell which suit is which. The chips that come with the game are large, plastic, nondescript tokens that fit tightly in a plastic case. They are certainly functional; but when playing with tiles this nice, using full-blown poker chips is much nicer and seems to match the game better. This would have certainly raised the price of the game, but it's not hard to find poker chips to replace the ones that come in the box. The game comes packaged in an incredible plastic insert that holds everything very well; and a bag is even included for the tiles, although we never use it. The whole package is sharp, looks great, and feels very professional when used.

2.) Rules: The rules are in Korean, even though you don't need much more than I typed above to understand the game. An English translation of the game has been completed and is waiting for approval at as I type this interview. Reference cards are included with the game that clearly show the hierarchy of tiles, and this is pretty much all people need to know. The game is tremendously simplistic for anyone who has played a ladder climbing game before. However, for people new to the genre, it can sometimes prove to be non-intuitive, and may take several practice rounds for players to truly understand the mechanics and strategy.

3.) Strategy: I don't dare attempt to try to summarize strategy for the game for a couple reasons. One, I'm sure that there are much better articles about this genre on the internet. And two, I'm remarkably bad at the game. Each time I play, I learn a little more about the game and realize that I've made some terrible goofs in past playing. Just recently, I joined a Lexio tournament (a partaking I rarely get involved in) and was soundly beaten. Yet I enjoyed the play greatly, as it was fast and fun (although humiliating.)

4.) Luck: Again, I'm probably speaking out of my league here, but it does seem that luck does play a fairly large role in the game. If a player gets the red "2" and the blue "3", guaranteeing that they will go first, they have an advantage. But, one might wonder, is this luck not true in pretty much every card game ever invented? And so it is, so I'll shut up now.

5.) Fun Factor: Once you get past the fact that the "2" is the highest number (and the tiles are spectacularly marked to remind you of the fact), the game plays very smoothly. It's a lot of fun and will provide extra fun for fans of Gang of Four and Tichu, mostly because of the cool components. For me it's a lot more fun to clink some tiles down, than to slide cards across the table. Once the "newbie" stage of Lexio is over, it's actually rather enjoyable.

6.) Scoring: The scoring can be a bit confusing; but after a couple of rounds, it makes more sense. Certainly, a player should never be left with a "2" in their hand, and woe betide you if you never get a chance to play any of your tiles, and the other players have low numbers left. One bad hand in this game, and you can be pretty much out of the running. However, since the game is only five rounds, it's not that bad, and everything is reset quickly, ready to play again.

7.) Availability: Currently, Lexio is only available in Korea, although I hope that someday it will be carried by distributors in other countries. But if you go to Korea, or have a friend go there - try to procure a copy, it's certainly worth it!

So it looks like Lexio may be bringing me down the happy path to a place where I enjoy ladder climbing games. Or, I just may be enamored with the tremendous tiles and how fast and fun the game plays. Etiher way, you can consider that a ringing endorsement of the game. Yes, it's simple, and players who are seeking complicated special cards may go elsewhere. But its rising popularity here in Korea makes me think that it will be around for a while. It certainly will be around for a while in my collection.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games."

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