You never know where you're going to discover games and this was no exception. I was walking down the street and saw, in a store window, what looked like some sort of hockey version of Crokinole or Carabande. It looked interesting enough to catch my eye but I've always been a little suspicious of games I haven't heard anything about so I left it at that. Well, not quite as I noted a web address printed on the board and made a mental note of it. I later checked it out and e-mailed the company asking about it. As it turns out it's the product of a local (Victoria, BC) man that has been fooling around with it the last 20 years or so. He's started to market it and asked if I'd like to meet and try it out. Normally this sets off warning bells as I'm even more reluctant to have to tell someone to their face that I don't think their "baby" has much merit as a game. Still, I wouldn't mind a review copy so I accepted his offer.
|Detail of the goalie.|
The game is pretty much as I thought and very straightforward - it is essentially a hockey version of Crokinole. The board is a 16" x 32" rendition of a hockey rink attractively painted and constructed in wood. It's also mounted on a turntable so that you can easily rotate the board to make your shots, a nice touch. The "men" are standard wooden disks with a small magnet for a puck. (The fact that it's a magnet is immaterial, I guess it just happened to be the right size and shape and readily available.) The goalies are the same disks as the regular pieces but permanently attached to the board with a screw. The screw is offset though so that it may spin about.
Gameplay is fairly simple especially if you're at all familiar with hockey (and not much more difficult if you're not). Play starts with the teams setup for a faceoff and alternates between players. On your turn you're allowed three "flicks" of any of your men. The idea is to position your pieces so that you are then able to use one of your flicks to put the puck in the opposing goal. Assuming you don't score, your opponent then gets three flicks and so on until someone does score. The game continues until one player scores five goals. The other main complication is the "offside rule". Should you start your turn with any of your men behind your opponents blue line and the puck isn't, then your first moves must be to have the offending pieces cross back into neutral territory. As I said, if you're at all familiar with the rules to hockey then this is very straightforward.
So that's it and you might expect that the game isn't all that interesting. I was quite surprised to find that the game is rather fun to play. The thing that makes it interesting is that there is real variety to the play. You don't simply take three long shots at the puck hoping that you score. You do need to plan your three shots in order to set things up. ie. First flick - pass the puck to your winger. Second flick - knock any defenders out of the way. Third flick - take the shot on goal. Further, there's a real satisfaction when a well executed move works. Also, the game is not one of mindless offence. If you simply send all your men piling into your opponents end you'll quickly find yourself offside and have to spend your next turn sending them back down the ice. Often you'll need to switch to defense to defend a weak position or to capitalize on an opponent's mistake.
I was also quite happy to discover that you can apply real hockey tactics to the game. You can can play a bump and grind game or a more wide open European style. A defensive trap can be just as effective as in the NHL. This can lead to some problems though as often the game can degenerate into slugging it out among the boards which is even less exciting than it is in the real game. Overall, I didn't think this was too much of a problem especially once you got a little better with the game. This was because it's so much easier to score goals employing a more open style of play. If this is a problem, then I'd suggest using the variant of allowing each player four flicks per turn instead of three. (In fact, I'd suggest this when first playing in any case. It's more fun if you're able to do fancy set ups and score lots of goals when learning. Yes, it makes the game quicker but if you're enjoying yourself you can always play another game can't you?) As already stated the rules are very simple and we didn't have too much problem with them. The one unanswered question we had was what should happen if your opponent ended up with a man deep inside his own goal crease? It was possible for one or two "defencemen" to be behind your goalie and virtually impossible to dislodge (other than sending them into the goal). While the rules state that you can't score a goal if any of your men are in the crease (just as in real hockey, the Dallas Stars victory in the '99 Stanley Cup notwithstanding) they don't mention anything about a restriction on your opponents. We played that you were required to move (not flick) any of your own men just outside the crease on your turn. (This didn't count as one of your flicks.)
The game is currently handmade and there are various different versions available at various prices. The only ones I saw on the official website were the more expensive versions. The one I played on sells for ~$80.00.
So what we have is a fairly simple dexterity game similar in application to Carabande. I was surprised and happy to report that the game works well and if you like this sort of game, I think you'll enjoy it.
- Greg Aleknevicus