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GNOMES AT NIGHT  aka ZIG & ZAG aka MINO & TAURI

Review based on the version by top German publisher AMIGO Spiel
Designer:  Carlo A. Rossi       Artist:  Marek Bláha

First impression after just looking at the box was "is this another take on Battleships?" after all it is really a 2 player game, although you can play with 3 or 4 (especially if there are a couple of young kids who need a little help with their Lefts and Rights) because it puts a screen between the players and there are pieces on both sides. Let's put this to rest right now; it's nothing at all like Battleships.

There are 4 Labyrinth boards, each with a different map on either side. These boards are labelled A1-4, B 1-4, C 1-4, D 1-4 (actually 1A etc) the numbers and letters are the same on both sides (so the A board is A1 - A4 on each side) but the Labyrinths are different on every one of the 8 (in total) sides. The boards get harder to negotiate as the numbers rise, thus A1 on one side is supposedly as easy as A1 on the other side but both A2s, A3s and A4s are increasingly more difficult, right the way up to the pair of D4s (please note I am not speaking about polyhedral 4-sided dice when I say D4s)..

   

The two Aliens, Mino & Tauri have magnets in their bases, one with a Positive side facing down the other with its Negative side facing down so that as opposites they attract, possibly something 6 year olds (recommended age) wouldn't understand, but probably wouldn't care to know anyway - they want to play not worry about the how's and why's. So with each player (or team) taking one of the Aliens they decide between them which corner of the board to start at and place their Gnomes there - generally you would begin at the '1' corner but you do not have to. The Gnomes will be standing sideways and pointing to their respective player or teams, but their feet will be firmly on the board (after all their world has been turned vertically upright). As one Gnome is carefully moved along a path so will the other one move, but of course their are restrictions.

On each side of the board are six items, making 12 in total which can be found on the 12 item cards. The cards are shuffled and placed face down at the beginning of the game and flipped face up one at a time, after the first one, only when the current item has been reached. So rather like the Labyrinth game, the players are trying to move their Gnomes along the pathways to find and land on the item (on the board) to claim the card on display. This is a game where the players have to work together against the timer, a three-minute sand funnel, which when the sand has travelled from the top section to the base section the game is lost (unless you have found all 12 items before this occurs). When playing with teams (whether 2 v 2 or 2 v 1) the players each have a chosen colour; the item cards have colours in one corner which shows which colour/s have to collect the item. If the item shown is on the side you are viewing then you or your partner have to land your Gnome on it. This may result in the players on one side of the board having multiple collections on the trot, it just depends how the cards flip over. Winning means locating and collecting all 12 cards legally before the time has run out - the dial 3 minute Timer has been turned 3 times. The players lose if they haven't fully completed their task and the sands of time have expired for them. Poor Gnomes !

 

When you are moving your Gnome you need the player/s on the other side to call out directions. There are no turns as such, and players guide each other's Gnome by asking questions and giving directions. The fun par is that Gnomes cannot deliberately walk through bushes/hedges but they can be dragged through them. Therefore if the Item being sought is on your side of the board but the other side of a hedge you need to tell the other player the direction the Item is. Sometimes they can move their Gnome, and ultimately also yours, straight onto the Item, but other times they may need to go left or right (or up or down) if their Gnome also reaches a Hedge/Bush and has to go looking for a way through - naturally you can tell them to stop and let you take over anytime they then have a route through. 

 

This causes a lot of frustration as you often have to backtrack your steps until one of you spots a way through towards the next flipped Item card - there are ways to all of them (I assume) but it is also easy to mess up and get yourselves deep into the maze. It's about this point when six year olds usually just grab a Gnome and move it irregularly around the board, looking neither for pathways through or even the actual Item. You need to be patient with them and show them how the labyrinth works and then they will soon be on the way to playing other games of a higher intelligence level. MINO & TAURI teaches kids how magnets work, about player rules and above all else, how to cooperate with other players. It is highly likely that during play one of the Gnomes will be knocked onto the table by an enthusiastic player or some rough child-play or maybe just bad luck, but should any departure from the board occur this is covered in the rules more than adequately.

Games last a matter of 10 minutes, 3 Rounds of about 3 minutes each (by timer) and another minute deciding on the board, preparing the Item deck, and starting to play - about 20 seconds a Round should be enough. I have mentioned a couple of other games, Battleships and Labyrinth. If your child/family like those type of good old traditional family games then they can happily play MINO & TAURI without any learning problems - you can teach a new player the game in under a minute.

 

You may wonder why the Space Aliens, "MINO & TAURI", are worried about collecting these items, well worry no more as the designer has given us a brief description of each of the 12 Items and why they are so important to Kretonians (this is the Race "MINO & TAURI" were born into). Just for fun there is a competitive alternative way of playing but I think that's been added to make up the rules page otherwise it would have required a large advert or some additional yet unnecessary illustrations. The alternate ways to play competitively really don't work that well because you still require cooperation from the opposing player and you also need the luck of the cards on your side being drawn from the deck before the opponent's Items are displayed. We tried it a couple or three times and each Round ended in a row between the participating players. I must admit that it was quite funny but it wasn't a game.

  

I would assume that all versions are alike but I have only played the AMIGO version "MINO & TAURI". This is beautifully produced, though I am not sure what the figure designer thinks most people's idea of a Gnome is, very colourful and with superb animation style artwork throughout. It is in a nice large square box so that the boards are all one piece each, no bending or folding which would eventually tear and ruin the game. The game came out in 2016 but is still one of the most sought after children's games. A copy can cost you from about €12.00 - €30.00 according to the internet. Personally I think that €12.00 is rather cheap so I wouldn't expect to find one available that low, but on the other hand €30.00 is a little high. I would hope to see it in UK games stores at a fair price of around £15.00.

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015