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Brain Games

Designed by Gunther Burkhardt & Dennis Kirps with Illustrations by Gediminas Akelaitis


Anyone who has followed my reviews over the past 37 years will know that there are certain game designers that I either graduate towards or steer away from; Gunther Burkhardt is slap bang in the middle of my range groups, I have to play his games but I find no grey areas in them, (this is where the norm would be to say he's my marmite, except there is no way I would want him spread on my toast, covered with cheese and grilled) I either like his games a lot, or I find them so banal that if I had any hair left on my head I would pull it out in frustration at how he gets them published when so many good designers (and myself) find it extremely difficult to get a game past the first base of publishing.

Well, as you've probably guessed, because I have already typed more words on this page than I would on a game not worth mentioning, I like KING FROG. It may be for players aged 7+ and it may have one of the simplest of game mechanics - play a card move your piece (in this case a comedic bug-eyed Frog) - but it is of the genre of game that I would usually associate with ZOCH zum Spielen (childish with hints of adult gamer fun).

The components are as you would expect for a kid's game, bright, colourful and easily recognised for what they are meant to be. The Frogs, there are 4 in different colours, are round wooden discs with a smiley mouth, boggle-ball eyes and an air-bubble design. The Crown is a golden wooden corrugated small fence like a one-and-a-half piece of Toblerone (as it used to be). There are 4 sets of 5 Mosquito cards for the players, each set being a colour that corresponds to one of the Frogs and numbered 1 through 5 and finally there are 15 Waterlilies, 4 sets of 3 in the player/frog colours and three specials; one being a whirlpool and two being flowering lilies. These waterlily tiles are placed semi-randomly in a circle ensuring that none of the special tiles are next to each other and in-between each special tile there are 4 Waterlilies of different colours, so really it's sort of semi-semi-random or actually organised in a random(ish) fashion.

Select a first player, generally when playing with family it's the youngest person, and let them place their Frog onto any waterlily in the circle. The next player clockwise and the players after them then get to place their Frogs, always putting them either in front of the lead Frog or behind the last Frog. Once all Frogs are in place it is time to begin the game proper. Each player selects in secret a card from their hand and places it face down in front of them; this is called the Planning phase. These cards are all turned over at the same time and the player who has played the card with the lowest number then moves their own Frog the number of Waterlily-spaces shown on their card, not counting any that are occupied by opponent's Frogs (only one Frog per space is allowed); this is called the Hopping phase. If they land their Frog on a Lily of their own colour (i.e. the same colour as their Frog) or a Wild Waterlily (the Flowering ones) then they take their card back into their hand; known as the Reclaiming phase. If they do not land on a Wild Waterlily or on their own colour then their card is returned to the box. Once all players have moved their Frogs the Frog in the lead is awarded the Crown so that everyone can now see the beginning and end of the line of Frogs. 


Play now continues in the same manner until one player is declared the winner and thus becomes KING FROG. There are three ways the game can end and a new King be crowned; 1. only one player has any cards left (if a Frog cannot move it leaves the game in disgrace) 2. the last two Frogs run out of mosquito cards at the same time then the one wearing the Crown at the time of departure wins and 3. if at any time during the game the Frog in the lead overtakes (laps) the Frog at the back; in this case the leading Frog wins immediately.

With three players only three Frogs are used and with 2 players a Dummy hand is used (shuffle a third frog's cards and use them as they come) in which case when the non-player Frog runs out of cards they are reshuffled and used again, this Frog can never run out of cards. This makes it hard for players to win as they have to ensure that their Frog either is wearing the crown when the other player's Frog leaves the game or that their Frog overtakes/laps the last Frog. We like this game a lot but have found when playing a 2-player game with younger players they don't always understand the Dummy hand mechanic and so we often play with two Frogs each, holding one hand of 10 cards to begin with but only being able to move each Frog with it's own cards and ensuring all Frogs move before any Frog can move again.

The mechanic isn't entirely new, though the last time I played a similar game it wasn't with Frogs and lilypads (but I cannot remember what it was off hand), though the idea of losing cards and thus reducing both the number of cards available for play and therefore the number of options for moving - once players start to lose cards the game end comes pretty quickly. Played with adults in the right mood it is a hoot and with young children it is a good way to teach them that not all board games require dice to be fun.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015