I was reading Matt Horn’s blog, where he wrote a humorous (as always) essay on pitfalls that independent game designers should avoid. I love playing games from independent designers but often have to admit that they sometimes miss things right before their face (didn’t they blind play test!?), and the quality of the game is often fairly low (quite understandable, people are usually on a tight budget.) But everyone once in a while, an independent publisher produces a game of top quality - a pinnacle of achievement. Whyspire games did this a couple years ago - producing Tenjo, with some of the nicest bits I have ever seen in a game (even though the game had some serious game play issues.) And now I have seen another game whose components are just as impressive!
Geist (Roseknows Inc., 2003 - Rose Anderson) is a fun, yet challenging game, and the components are rivaling those of Days of Wonder (currently the number one in component quality). I found that the game is a very fun experience for those who enjoy math, for kids, or those who like a bit of analytical study in their games. As a light adult party game, it fell fairly flat for me, and several people weren’t too thrilled by the figuring done in the game. The theme, however, appealed to kids, and I’ve found that it’s an excellent tool for teaching math.
A board consisting of 169 squares is placed in the middle of the table, made up of black, white, and red squares. Numbers are on the white and red squares, numbers in a pattern that resemble the mathematician’s Pascal’s triangle. The board is basically divided by two diagonal lines of red squares, creating four identical sections of the board. At each corner of the grid resides one large dark square - “portals”. Thirteen reusable “color form” headstones - each representing a different ghost, are placed randomly on the white and red squares. Each player is dealt five Geist cards, each matching one of the ghosts on the board, and then takes a pawn to represent them. The players roll a die, placing their pawn on any available square that has a number matching the one that they have rolled. A deck of “Chili” cards is shuffled and placed near the board. Stacks of colored chips with different denominations are placed in slots in the box. One player is chosen to go first, and then play proceeds clockwise.
On a turn, the player MUST move the amount of squares as the number on their starting square. Players may only move diagonally (like in checkers), and may go in any direction, and may backtrack as necessary. A player may not land on the same number they started from (with the exception of “1” spaces), and cannot land on another player’s token. After a player lands on a space, they take a token (a Zingiberis - ZB - patch of root) from the box that matches the number of the square they landed on. (The numbers are “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, “5”, “6”, “10”, “15”, and “20”.) The player also has the option to replace a chip they already have of that number back into the box.
If a player lands on one of the ghosts, they can, instead of taking the chip, try to capture that ghost. They must have the ghost’s card in their hand, and they must also have the exact amount of ZB to match the number on the ghost’s card. For example, if capturing “Boboko”, a player needs 77 ZB, and if they have 79 ZB, they must discard two of that number before they can capture the ghost. Once a ghost is captured, the player places the card face up in front of them. Each ghost has a prank number, and a prank description on it. On a player’s turn, if they land a number that matches the prank number on a ghost that they have “captured”, they can play the prank mentioned on the card. Pranks can be played on any amount of players, but the player must state who (and how many) players they will play the prank on. Then, a die is rolled, which must exceed the number of players being “pranked”. Either way, the prank is used up, and the card is turned sideways to show this fact. Pranks include things such as moving other player’s pawns, causing them to skip turns, or freeing a ghost that the player has captured.
Some of the chips at random have chili symbols imprinted on the back of them. Before a player’s turn, they may discard one or more of these in exchange for a “Chili” card from the deck. These cards can do a variety of things and are usually played before a player’s turn or in response to a prank. The cards can be very powerful, such as canceling a prank; so are often worth the chip given in exchange. If a player can land in a portal, they can discard one or more of their captured ghost cards, successfully laying the ghost to rest (discarding the card). The first player to deliver all of their ghosts to the portals with NO Zb chips in their possession, wins the game!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The components of the game are absolutely incredible, and far exceed those of any other independent game I’ve seen. The board, at first glance, resembles a checker board - but the colorful ghost illustrations (which have helpful information about each geist) all around the edges of the board, cause the game to have less of an abstract flavor. The chips are huge - poker sized chips - each denomination a different color. The player tokens are the letters “G”, “E”, “I”, “S”, and “T”; and are beautifully sculptured plastic tokens. The cards are also incredible quality - smooth, slick, and nicely illustrated. Everything fits into a great plastic insert in a sturdy, well-illustrated box. Roseknows gets an A+ for quality with this game!
2.) Rules: The rules are very well done. They come in a six-page foldout, are very well illustrated, and have many examples. I found that the game was easy to teach, as long as the people being taught wanted to learn. Some people got into their heads that the game was about math, and therefore just got a mental block that they could not do the math and therefore could not understand the rules of the game. I found that teenagers actually did better than most adults, because they didn’t have the mentality that the game was “too hard.”
3.) Math: I’m a math teacher, so I have a natural inclination to any game about math. The game is blatantly about math, but one really doesn’t have to know it that well to play the game. I cannot deny, however, that I did better than some of the others I played it with, just because of my natural affinity to math. Math alone will not win the game for you, however, because some strategy in the game is not math-related. Knowing when to play a prank, knowing when to exchange a chip for a Chili card, and knowing when to play the chili card can drastically change a game for a precision orientated, logically minded person. There’s also a bit of a “Chicken” factor. Players must decide how long to hold onto a Geist before laying it to rest, because the longer they hold onto a ghost they’ve captured, the more vulnerable it is. But at the same time, running a ghost to a portal every time you capture one wastes a lot of time, and sometimes doesn’t allow you to use the ghost’s effective pranks. Math is important in the game, but certainly not all inclusive to winning the game.
4.) Website: Many game companies put up good websites about their games, but the Geist website (www.playgeist.com) is absolutely superb. Explanations about the creation of the game, strategy for the game, and a lot of fun stuff with the theme - all with some very nice layout, make it one of my favorite game websites I have encountered.
5.) Theme and Fun Factor: The game is dripping with theme, which is pretty impressive, considering the game is basically an abstract game with a pretty facelift. There is a detailed description of the ghosts and ghost hunters in the game. This has NOTHING to do with the game, but is added for flavor - and I enjoyed it, and teens more so. Sometimes the game got quiet, with everyone doing mental math, but other times players had a lot of fun “capturing” ghosts and playing pranks on each other!
I won’t deny that several people I’ve played the game with were not overly enthralled, because they just couldn’t get past the fact that math was involved with the game. I found the game simplistic and fun, and teenagers did so likewise. So I would recommend the game to families who want to have a good time and have their kids get a little mental math expertise. The game is fun enough that kids won’t feel they are playing an “educational” game, but at the same time really utilize their minds. Also, if a group of people feels like a logical game with a fun theme and tremendous components, I also recommend Geist. It’s a niche game, with not universal popularity; but is excellent, and definitely a fun tool to teach young folk about arithmetic.