Birds of a feather have fun together

“Grackles are noisy, iridescent birds that love to gather on telephone wires at sunset throughout the southwestern United States.”

Grackles is also a newly released game, thanks to designers Sarah Graybill and John Shulters, and publisher Fireside Games, (www.firesidegames.com).

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“In this lightly themed abstract strategy game, you’ll line up as many of your birds on the telephone wire to score as many points as possible,” explains the rule set. “Each turn, players choose between drawing and placing a tile, connecting two spots on the telephone wire with their birds, extending a line of birds, or rotating an empty tile. After the board has been built to five tiles by five tiles and all available pairs of spots on the telephone wire have birds on them, the player with the most birds on the telephone wire is the winner.”

The game, which plays two-to-four players, has a rather simple ruleset, starting with the tile placement.

“A newly drawn tile must be placed adjacent (not diagonally) to a tile already on the board,” details the rules. “It may be placed in any orientation, typically to line up a spot of your color with one already on the board to set up the building of a line on a subsequent turn. Once a tile is drawn, it cannot be replaced and must be played. All 25 tiles must end up forming a square of five tiles by five tiles. If the board already has five tiles across or down, the player may not place a tile in that direction.”

The hidden face of the tiles in the pile are the only thing keeping Grackles from being a perfect information game, although the tiles all have a very similar look.

“Birds, (represented by coloured discs), are placed on the tiles by connecting the spots of your own color to form a straight line,” notes the rules. “The lines may be only up and down or across, not diagonal.

“Place birds starting on one empty spot of your color and ending on any other empty spot of your color, as well as every empty spot in between. You may not cross another line along the way, including one of your own colour.”

In some sense the game has an Othello-feel, without the flipping of pieces associated with the abstract strategy classic.

On a subsequent turn, a player may extend a line to another empty spot of your color, but only in the direction the line is already going and only from one end of the line at a time.

There is one other way to impact the game.

“Up to five times per game, you may choose to rotate an empty tile, keeping it in the same space,” states the rules. “… You may want to rotate a tile to prevent another player from forming a long line or to put yourself in a better position to form a line.”

After all 25 tiles have been placed in a five by five grid, players continue in turn order placing birds, extending lines, or rotating tiles until no valid plays remain.

When no moves remains, players count the number of birds they have on the board, with the highest number of birds placed on ‘telephone wires’ winning.

This is light abstract strategy style game that reminds more of tile-laying Partido in its play style, which puts this one into the realm of rather quick play filler games.

The game does play four, but like almost all four-player abstract strategy games, it falters at four, and gets better as you reduce the number of players.

With abstract strategy games you want to be able to make ‘moves’ that allow you to implement some level of strategy. With three players making moves before it gets back to any one player in a four-player game, the level of control is near zero.

And, as one player almost always falls behind early they tend to take on the role of ‘king maker’ influencing things in favour of one of the others at the table. That is not the best thing for able camaraderie, but happens.

As a two or three player game Grackles has some merit as a filler. As four-player option, there are simply better options.

Thanks to fellow gamers Jeff Chasse, Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.

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