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A spectacularly great word game that you probably haven't played - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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May 2nd, 2011


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02:48 pm - A spectacularly great word game that you probably haven't played
I was delighted to stumble across the exciting news that the 1973 board game Montage is being reprinted. It's being reprinted as a Kickstarter project; the project has met its funding goal, but will not be funded until Saturday 7th May, or Sunday 8th May in some time zones, so it's definitely going ahead, but you can still contribute to the funding before the deadline and take advantage of the funding gifts, which look very attractive. I hold the designer in high regard, I know some of the people involved in the reprint and hold them in high regard and I hold the other supporters in high regard. Kickstarter projects are always inherently partly speculative, but this looks a safe enough bet that I am prepared to bring it to people's attention and risk the consequences.

Specifically, a donation of US$30 gets you a copy of the game plus free shipping in the continental US. (A small print run will be made, and the game is expected to sell at perhaps $45 or $50, potentially plus shipping. Shipping outside the continental US is an extra US$20.) A donation of US$100 gets two copies of the game, one of them hand-signed, a copy of a related game by the same author, some mention as being a funding sponsor and shipping is included worldwide. This last way looks like being the best way of doing it if you're outside the US. Is there anyone outside the US who would be interested in going in on a US$100 donation with me? We would sort out who gets what and how shipping costs would be allocated between us; splitting things with someone else in the UK would be ideal for the purposes of minimising domestic shipping costs (or, ideally, making the transfer in person).

I suppose I had better tell you about the game now! It's a word game played on a board between, strictly, two partnerships of two, taking about 1-1½ hours to play. It is played on a crossword-like grid with rotational symmetry and some squares blacked out. The major difference between a Montage grid and a crossword is that on a crossword grid, you may have some letters filled in already; on a Montage grid, the squares are filled with coloured chips, whereby each of the five colours of chip refers to any of a specific vowel for that colour or four (in one case, five) specific consonants for that colour. For instance, a purple chip refers to "one of I, K, L, M or N" and so on, and blank-purple-blank-blank-red might spell out words including, say, KNIFE or BLADE.

Gameplay consists of one player trying to find a word that can be made using combinations of letters represented by combinations of chips on the board and blank squares, then deriving a clue of no more than five words to attempt to communicate that word, by a straight definition, by wordplay, by a combination of these or some other method of divination. This player then indicates on the board where the board is set to be placed and announces the clue to the other three players. If that player's partner is either the first or second player to indicate that they can solve the clue, then the partner gets the chance to solve it; if both members of the other partnership indicate before (or, in the case of errantly easy clues, at the same time as) the partner, they get the chance to solve it instead. All this happens within the space of a minute-long sand-timer. Correctly solved words are rewarded with the placement of more chips on the board, pertaining to the successful team. A team filling in sufficiently many letters earns one "zone"; the first team to win four out of the nine zones wins the game.

That's a summary of the rules. You can download the full rules from BoardGameGeek. It's a game that gets picked up very quickly from playing, even if the core activity is difficult to describe in text. The Kickstarter page also has a short video which explains more.

The more important question is: what does it feel like to play? I think it's a game that you can tell whether you'll like it or not from the description - or, conversely, a game that you should be able to tell fairly easily whether it's your sort of game or not. The core activities in the game (interpreting the patterns of chips on the board to make potential words, devising a clue to communicate your chosen word, devising a clue that will communicate particularly well to your partner and solving the clues that people come up with) are all reasonably distinctive by board game terms. There may be word game circles which do this sort of thing all the time, but these are unusual activities for board game players. Finally, there is the impact of the sand timer; if you know that you don't like activities against the clock, then you should probably correctly interpret this as a big red flag that this is unlikely to be your cup of tea. Summing it up in a way to split the audience as neatly as possible, the whole thing has a very 1980s US word-based game show feel to it; it's a bit Pyramid and a bit Scrabble. (On a point of pedantry, I note that both this game and The $10,000 Pyramid debuted in 1973. No, really no connection.)

If this has intrigued you - because I think there are enough prerequisites, not least the whole "fixed two-partnerships-of-two" criterion, that this has to be a game that positively attracts you rather than one where the characteristics don't put you off - then the other big question is how well it stands up to its potential, and a single play of the game in 2002 suggests that a very early, very provisional answer to this is "bloody brilliantly". It's definitely a brainer rather than last-game-of-the-night 2am fun, and it may require the right sets of slightly crossword-y players for the game to, *waves hands*, work properly. That said, the activities involved in playing the game and the implicit atmosphere are so enchanting that when the game goes right, it gives you sorts of fun that I just don't get from other game-playing experiences. You might get them elsewhere already; if so, please tell me where.

Back in 2003, I made this LiveJournal post, detailing all the games I had played that year - and, indeed, in the previous four years. I stored the spreadsheet on the free web space that I got with my ISP, and when I moved from broadband back to dial-up with that ISP (taking broadband from elsewhere; Virgin Media's broadband is the best I've had yet, and generally surprisingly good in our six months' experience) they very kindly wiped that free web space clean. "Thank" you, Demon Internet; I shall never fully be able to forgive you for this. Fortunately, I have been able to find the spreadsheet in a backup, though in a slightly unexpected location. Accordingly, I have been able to open the slightly elaborate, considerably gaudily coloured and deeply data-packed spreadsheet and see that I considered the game an instant 9/10 classic after a single play. We're talking all-time top-ten from over 400.

The game attracts three-digit prices second-hand, which is exceptional for a board game, but not without good reason; certainly it's scarce, but check the feedback (more the comments rather than the numbers!) from those who have rated it at the 'Geek. Reprints like this are rare, and the strength of feeling that it has attracted at Kickstarter is also testament to how kindly its adherents think of the game. The game aged extremely well from 1973 to 2002; it'll be interesting to see how it has done over nine more years, not that I have done anything like keeping up to date since then.

In 2003, I commented that "if ((Montage)) is reprinted then I shall whoop and holler about it to the extent that you will be able to hear me, let alone read me." Consider this your five-alarm, double-showcase-win, siren-filled alert... and a post that I'm very happy that I have got the chance to make, because I never thought I would do.

Hopefully this has made some of you sit up and take notice. Very hopefully, it has made at least one of you in the UK sit up and take notice, to the point of being interested in taking one of the copies off my hands if I make the US$100 order... ;-)

Please redirect any comments here, using OpenID or (identified, ideally) anonymous posting; there are comments to the post already. Thank you!
Current Mood: excitedexcited

 


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