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Finger Weg Von Mona Lisa

Designer: Oliver Igelhaut
Publisher: Glücksritter Spiele
Players: 2-5
Time: 30 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

Finger Weg von Mona Lisa! (Hands off the Mona Lisa!) is a deduction game from Glücksritter Spiele. In this game the two sides (more on this later) represent the two criminals trying to make off with the famous picture and the three Guards assigned to protect it. The board is a 14 x 14 grid divided into rooms and hallways. Scattered about the rooms are eight safes, two security boxes and two exits. While the guards move normally about the board, the thieves' locations is hidden. Their whereabouts are only revealed when a guard happens upon them or sees them darting across a hallway. This is where the deduction comes in; the Guards are somewhat dim and only remember that they've seen a thief but not necessarily where (unless they actually end their turn within sight of the thief). Therefore it becomes important for the Guards to set up a sort of dragnet to limit the thieves' movements. Helping them in this regard are the security cameras: If a guard elects not to move on his turn he may activate a camera in any room of the museum. Anytime a thief passes through that room the guards will know about it.

The thieves have a couple of advantages: The first I've already mentioned which is that they're somewhat hidden. The second is that they move a little faster than the guards do (seven spaces a turn instead of five). Finger Weg von Mona Lisa cardsThey can also disable any and all cameras by visiting one of the security boxes on the map. However, they've got the bigger challenge of sneaking in and finding the booty. The are five face down cards that represent the contents of the safes. Two of these are chocolate bars (which the thieves can use for a one-time burst of speed), two are keys to open the exits (each thief needs his own key) and the last is the Mona Lisa herself. While its very easy for the thieves to open a safe (they need only end a turn next to one) this alerts the Guards as to their exact location. As the Guards only need to catch a single thief to win, remaining hidden is paramount.

The game is a fairly obvious descendant of Scotland Yard and shares many of the traits of that famous game. Chief among them is the number of players it supports. While its true that you can play with two to five players this really is a two-player game. The Guards need to work so closely together that I can’t really see the game working if they don’t. The two thieves can more easily be played by different players as they don’t require quite the same level of coordination. Still, like Scotland Yard, I view the game primarily as a two-player and that’s how I played it most of the time.

As with all small print run games it's somewhat awkward to talk about the components. Obviously, there are certain compromises due to financial considerations that the designer/publisher must make. With this in mind I think Mr. Igelhaut has done an admirable job. The box is a thin wooden one with a sliding top, very nice and rather unusual. The board is a 40cm x 40cm section of felt with very plain graphics. The Guards and markers are standard wooden pawns and include the expected cloth bag to hold them. There's a plastic laminated map for the thief to mark his true location and the cards are professionally printed. While it might not appear as "slick" as others might it really is a finely produced game. Well done!

The game plays fairly nicely and, again, its Scotland Yard heritage shows through. There's quite a bit of analysis necessary, particularly on the Guards' part. You really need to deduce how the thieves could have moved in order to effectively block their tracks. The thieves don't have it that much easier though; they need to employ some clever moves in order to avoid being surrounded. This unfortunately is one advantage that Scotland Yard enjoys: A less analytic person can play Mr. X and enjoy the game quite easily. While my girlfriend will happily play Scotland Yard she refuses to play Finger Weg von Mona Lisa! The bonus is that Finger Weg von Mona Lisa! feels more like a match of wits than does Scotland Yard as the sides are more evenly challenged.

The biggest problem I found was that many games would come to a premature end, sometimes due to a lucky guess by the Guards, other times due to a mistake by one of the players. Either one thief would be quickly captured or they'd easily escape. It was always a bit of a letdown when this happened as there wasn't really a feeling that such a win was justified. Fortunately, the quick setup and playing time of the game leads to a "one more time" type of situation so a poor playing can easily be followed with a nail-biter. My first instinct was that the rules needed a little tweaking to prevent this, further play and discussion with the designer have lead me to the conclusion that the game is quite balanced. I wish it were a little more stable in regards to always providing a close game but as I mentioned the one sided affairs at least ended quickly.

While not a great game it's one that I will happily play.

- Greg Aleknevicus

(This review originally appeared in Counter magazine.)

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