Cost: $15 From: FX Schmid Players: 1-4 Playing Time: 15-45 Type of game: Abstract Strategy Complexity: 2 Skill level: 5 Reviewed by: Kris Gould, Issue 3.3, Summer 1995
I'm not sure exactly what I like about this game. It's pretty quick, and not hard to learn. But it's an abstract strategy game with luck involved. Well, not really (every player has exactly the same chance of winning).
It is composed entirely of mathematics and geometry, with players able to calculate exactly the best place to put a piece, based on the probability of what the next few pieces will be, and maximizing payoff vs. risk, etc. (if you are the sort of person who can do those kind of things in your head). Yet I find I enjoy it quite a bit. It's more involved than tic tac toe or dominoes, but not as long and brain-draining as chess or go. And you don't have to do all the mental gymnastics if you don't want to.
Take it Easy is attractively packaged in one of those "half-sized" boxes - somewhere between card game and bookshelf size. The box contains four small playing boards and four sets of tiles. The boards are all identical - nineteen hexagons arranged into a larger hexagon. Each player gets a board and a set of twenty-seven hexagonal tiles.
The tiles are about an inch across and each has three numbers and three colored stripes printed on it. Each stripe goes across the tile in one of the three possible directions (N-S, NE-SW, or NW-SE), and its color and shape corresponds to its number (1 to 9). Each number only goes in one direction: 1, 5, and 9 go vertically, 3, 4, and 8 go southeast, and 2, 6, and 7 go southwest. Each set of 27 tiles has one tile for each possible combination.
To start a round, one player turns all of his tiles face down and mixes them up. All the other players turn their tiles face up (it helps to arrange them in some sort of order). The player whose tiles are face-down then draws one at random and reads its three numbers out to the other players. Everyone then takes the same tile and places it somewhere on their board.
Play continues in the manner, drawing a tile and having everyone place their corresponding tile on their own board, until all the boards are full. All tiles have to be placed right side up, and once a tile is placed it may not be moved or covered over. At the end of the tile-placing part of the game, everyone will have exactly the same nineteen tiles on their board, but they probably won't be in the same places.
Then everyone scores their board. Every time you have an unbroken line of the same color/number from one side of your board to the other, you score for every tile in the line. So an unbroken line of five sevens will score thirty-five points. But if there is any tile in the line that is a different color (number), that line scores zero. Add up your scores in all three directions, and that gives your total score. The highest score after four rounds is the winner.
There are a few obvious strategies. Everyone usually tries to get a row of nines going straight down the middle, since that's the longest row of nines possible and thus the most profitable potential row. And if you can get the sevens and eights in the other two five-tile rows that would be ideal! But there are eight tiles that aren't drawn every round, and so if the 9-7-8 tile is one of them, people using this strategy are totally messed up.
Since every tile counts in all three directions, it is nearly impossible to put down a tile without screwing up a line somewhere, especially toward the end of the game. So even if you are a human calculator, if the tile you need isn't among the last few drawn, you can still be royally hosed.
My strategy is usually to start a few high scoring lines that don't intersect too often, and have a few lines that I designate as garbage from the start. This works pretty well, but someone who tries for more high scoring lines can beat me if the tile draws are lucky for him. And if I don't have enough garbage spaces, a bad tile can do a lot of damage. It may even happen that five (or more) of the tiles with nines on them aren't drawn at all. This makes it impossible to do the row of five nines, no matter how much you manipulate your tiles.
The rules are in German, so I have been playing based on a verbal description. As a result, the first few games I played were wrong. However, the way I played makes an interesting variation, and gives the players more control over the random luck element. The way I first played, all players have their tiles face up. The first player chooses a tile and reads off its three numbers to the other players, who then take the same tile and place it on their boards. Then the next player chooses a tile, and so on until the boards are full. This gives players more choices and a chance to put in that one key tile they are missing.
The game would seem to be kind of predetermined. If there is an optimal placement for each tile, then why doesn't everybody just place it there and all end up with the same score? Yet in all the games I have played, nobody has ever come up with identical boards. And the smallest changes can make a big difference: one player's garbage tile can be another player's keystone. It's also possible to copy the best player, making sure that you match his score. I would consider this cheating, and none of the people I normally play with would do it.
The worst problem I have with the game is its random element, allowing people who set up for big scores to either get lucky and blow everyone else away, or else totally bomb out on the last two tiles. If you solve this by playing the "mistaken translation" rules described in the above paragraph, then the game has the possibility of being much more deterministic, with everyone trying for maximum scores and increasing the probability of duplicate boards. I don't know exactly how to answer these problems, except to say that in the games I played they didn't cause an inordinate amount of distress. Additionally, the "mistaken" version allows a player to be a troublemaker, pulling a few low scoring tiles that the high rollers will now have to fit into their "perfect" layouts.
In spite of the abstract nature and mathematical feel, I (and a lot of my friends) enjoy playing Take It Easy, and have played it many times. The rounds play quickly enough so any design problems don't have time to get too annoying. There are enough different strategies, in varying levels of complexity, that the game keeps everyone interested throughout. You don't have to spend too much brain power analyzing each move, if you don't want to. Yet if you enjoy calculating the best place for each tile, go ahead. You can still get torpedoed by a few bad tiles, allowing us less brainy types to catch up. It has something for every style, and simultaneous moves to keep everyone involved. Almost everyone I've played it with agrees it makes a nice, quick filler game.