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Trenches by Tom Scutt

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Trenches by Tom Scutt

Theme: (10 points) Trenches is a game of archeological excavation where the players vie for the recognition (and eventual grant money) attached to history-making finds at a dig site. Strategic game play revolves around the proper ‘mapping’ of your trench (it is not possible to find newer artifacts below older artifacts), as well as your ability to interfere with the plans of other archeologists (the other players).
What has this got to do with the doomed civilization topic? Well I suppose you are looking for the remnants of past doomed civilizations, although that’s a bit of a stretch. Three (3) points for being remotely linked.

Originality: (10 points) The mechanics of Trenches were not particularly original, with one of our players even commenting, “Oh look, its Magic: the Excavation!” I would not go nearly that far, although I will say that what was done here mechanically has been done before, with only the slightest of moderation. Still, as they say, there is nothing new under the sun, and so I didn’t mark the score down on this one just because the mechanics were less than groundbreaking. Games about archeology vs. treasure hunting are not common, and so I will add a few points there. This is, however, a fairly simple card game on less-than-done-to-death topic. 6 points.

Cohesiveness: (15 points) From my previous commentary, you will probably disbelieve the comments I have to make here. This game works! No ifs, ands, or buts… It is fast-paced and highly playable, with no dead spots or need for revision for any portion of the game. Yes the mechanics are a bit less than original (although quite a bit more than plagiarized from some other product), but they are apropos to the topic of the game, and they work very well. Simple should not be construed as ‘bad’. We played two four-player games and one two player game, and took, in all, about 90 minutes to play all three rounds. So much for the kudos…
The two player game is a bit flat, as there are few strategic choices involved which are of greater significance than the player vs. game scenario (like Solitaire, for those who play). There are also too few cards for a four person game, although not by a lot. The rules recommend 2-4 players… and right now I’d say it’s designed for three. Were it my game, I’d add about 12 cards to the deck and you’ll have a solid 4-player game.
So marking down a bit for the lack of cards, 14 points.

Components (5 points): The copy I reviewed was obviously a prototype designed to fit into my inbox (e-mail-wise). The art contained within the rules was of far better quality than the art on the cards we played with, and so I am sure that Tom has far more grandiose plans for any publicly available version than what I reviewed. Still, it is one of the criteria that they make me rate, and the presentation was less spectacular than most of the other games we have seen. The rules could stand a solid edit as well…
2 points.

Fun (25 points) Okay- I, as well as many of those assembled here, am a ‘die-hard gamer’. In slightly less colloquial terms, that means that I am a bit jaded, and generally prefer more complex challenges than that posed by the rules in Trenches. This game, however, ascribes to several purposes, all of which it accomplishes: It is fast-paced, the outcomes are influenced to a large extent (although luck is also a large factor) by player strategy, and the objectives were relatable to all who played. At its simplest, we all had a fairly good time, although it wouldn’t make the ‘desert island list’ of any of those that play-tested it, including yours truly.
16 points for fun.

Side Note: I think the lack of complexity to the game, combined with the fact that in our four-player games, we ran out of cards before any of us could capitalize on long-term strategies, were the greatest influences on the reduction in scoring presented here. It’s not a bad game… but it could be a better game with the addition of 12-16 more cards. ... and give Tom credit - the lack of holes in this game makes it of at least professional caliber, if not of necessarily professional 'marketing caliber'.

Personal Prediction: This will become a curriculum item at a noted undergraduate college with a strong archeology program, and will be adored by those students who purchase it as part of their laboratory necessities. With the average ‘gamer-crowd’ it will be generally accepted by those with only 20-30 minutes to play a game, but will never be a huge seller.

Total score: 41 points

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