Best of 2009 evaluation
Ziggurat is one of the better Icehouse adaptations of the classic family boardgame Sorry. Many of the usual elements are there: a race from personal Start and Finish spaces along a shared racetrack, the ability to deal setbacks to your opponents' pieces along the way, and special actions that break up the flow of the race. Compared to Sorry, Ziggurat is less of a struggle and more of a race, mostly due to the relative difficulty of sending opposing pawns back home. Ziggurat would appeal to the exact same demographic that Sorry does... either children alone, or a mix of children and adults.
I tried Ziggurat with three players, but I think this plays best with the maximum of four. The playing time is suggested as 20 minutes, but my group scooped early after 40 minutes, considering ourselves to be halfway done.
For what it is, Ziggurat is long and complex. The rules are well illustrated and have helpful sample turns, but are in general overly verbose. My group kept finding little things in the rules that we had overlooked. After several turns, we got the hang of the Actions, quickly understanding what each Action can do (except for the excessively complex TIP). Yet, we all leaned heavily on a hastily fabricated player aid which translated the die roll number to the Action with a few-word summary of that Action. Example "5 = AIM: Move without limits". Some of the Actions modified your movement rules for the turn (e.g. Aim, Hop), some added a point of movement (e.g. Aim and Dig), and some were separate actions you could take before or after moving (e.g. Tip, Swap, Leap). This variety of action modes made it difficult to understand when and how each one was used, since each had its own scheme of usage.
Like Arkham Horror, there is enough complexity involved that you are never sure you're playing it right. It took us a while to figure out that diagonals were adjacent, that lone pyramids could tip, and that you could swap within a stack. It was not obvious that stacks block normal movement, but singletons do not. Also, I had to wonder, if stacks blocked normal movement, how could you ever get more than two pyramids on a square? (The answer: by landing on a stack via Aim or Hop.) My initial assumption that walls were also corner spaces was proven false. In the course of evaluating games for the Best of 2009 Award, I have not had to mark up a rulesheet as much as I did for this game.
While Icehouse pyramids were great for designing a working prototype of this game, Ziggurat would probably be at its best as a standalone game. It would really benefit from a custom board, with each player's path marked with a colored line to follow. The Action die, and maybe even the movement die, should be replaced with decks of cards, as is done with Sorry. This would allow for plan-ahead, if you could hold your Action cards in advance of your coming turn, allow for Action descriptions right on the card itself, and allow for a wider variety of game-changing actions beyond the seven used here. By escaping from the Treehouse die, you have the freedom to rename the Actions with words that better describe them. "Aim" can become "run", "dig" can become "escape", and "leap" can become "slide". As long as the stacking mechanic is preserved, pyramids are still the best pawns to use for the game. It is time for Ziggurat to move beyond its Icehouse origins, and into its own spotlight. It will make the game easier to play, less fiddly, and more approachable. - Cerulean 13:35, 10 June 2010 (UTC)
- Here's something to put in your pipe. Consider that each player's spiral is 61 squares long, counting the Goal space. You need to transit this 61-square path three times, once for each of your pawns. 61 X 3 = 183. That's how many movement points (minimum) you'd need. A d8 averages out to 4.5. 183 / 4.5 = 40.7 turns! Per player! (Mind you, some of the Actions help to shorten this transit, while some make it longer. Let's assume that all cancels out.) If a four-player game is going to have a minimum of 41 X 4 = 164 player turns at one minute per turn, then it is going to take about 164 minutes (2.7 hours). If you're optimistic about player thinking speed and budget 30 seconds per turn, that's still 82 minutes. At the advertised 20 minutes, that means each player is taking 20min / 164 turns = 7.3 seconds per turn! I was spending more time than that during my turn just to figure out the best use of my Action. - Cerulean 15:52, 11 June 2010 (UTC)
- Math is fun! I did a lot of math on Ziggurat, actually. I set up a spreadsheet to do a Markov chain representation of the board, to derive the expected value of the number of turns for one piece to go from start to finish, assuming the rest of the board is empty. If using a D6 alone, 24 turns; a D8 alone, 21 turns; a D6 with the Treehouse die, 14 turns; a D8 with the expanded (8-sided) Treehouse die, 11 turns, a bit less than the 13.55 obtained above (=61/4.5). But that's not the main reason for our different perceptions of the playing time.
- (FYI, the biggest reason I did this math was to make sure that the best strategy was not to camp out near your start corner so you could Dig backwards rather than go around the level the long way. Doing that with both D8s takes 14 turns, longer than the normal expected time, but with both D6s it was 11 turns, better than the average. That is why you must add 1 to all movement die rolls with a D6, since that raised the camp-and-dig strategy to taking 26 turns, much longer than going around.)
- Ziggurat is obviously not a game of deep thinking. (I almost gave the game an alternate title: YAMP, Yet Another Martian Parcheesi). So it surprised me that you considered 30 seconds an optimistic turn time. My turns are typically 5-10 seconds, with 20 on the long end.
- I'm certain the difference is familiarity: as the designer, I could take turns much faster than your group did. It's hard to foresee how long it will take others to get familiar with their options of play, and your valuable comments will help me figure out how to streamline the game and its rules.
- At any rate, the times I originally posted -- 20 min. minimum, 45 min. maximum, 30 min. typical -- were derived from my own experience. To reassure myself I was remembering things well, I played a game with my daughter about an hour ago, and it took 26 minutes. (This reminds me of many times on BoardGameGeek where I saw people complain that game X took them 2 or 3 times longer than stated on the box, only to have many players familiar with the game say that the posted time was reasonable for experienced players.)
- Thanks again for your comments. - BStout
Semi-finalist review comments
Hackel: Long and complex roll-and-move, not finalist caliber.
Myers: Ryan has said Ziggurat has some weaknesses, and I am inclined to agree. I imagine Bryan will put a strong vote in fFavor of the game, but I think the cutting needs to start somewhere. Ziggurat is a great game, but it has certain weaknesses. Ziggurat actually uses MUCH more specialized equipment, with concessions fFor people who do not own that stuff. It uses a tiered game board, and a d8 treehouse die. I love the implementation of the die, but it simply does not exist, so you have to refer to a standard d8 and a chart. The tiered board is more fFor effect. I have only played it once, and had none of the special equipment. It was playable and fFun, but also a little clumsy. Until we at least have a d8 treehouse die, I propose Ziggurat be cut.
Stout: This is my attempt to make a sort of Parcheesi game for pyramids; I also wanted the board to be a pyramid, which adds a nice aspect to it. I like this much more than the other "Martian Parcheesi"-type games I have seen on this site, and I enjoy playing it, though I agree it needs tweaking.
Bentley: I very much enjoyed this, but as it stands the rules could do with some clarification and consistency, and the game time desperately needs to be shortened (either through more advantageous actions, like 'hopping' upward, or just making the board smaller). The interaction of pieces and moves gives you a nice amount of decisions to make on your turn. The main reason this isn't ranked higher is because the rules still need reworking, and while there's great potential here, it has the makings of a great board game that needs to be finished.