Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Memories of Yaz

I remember when I first saw the Baton Races of Yaz in 1984 as an insert in Dragon Magazine #82. It wasn't the first board game I'd seen in Dragon but the silly theme and simple rules really appealed to me. In fact, since I didn't want to cut up the magazine, I made my copy via xerox, making it my first print-and-play project.

The Baton Races of Yaz is a hex-and-chit game where, instead of trying to kill each other, the two sides are trying to be the first to break all the big glass balls in their color.

When I first saw it, I thought that it was really neat. I mean, I was seven or eight and here was in adult style hex-and-chit game that I could easily understand. Different types terrain, different types of units with multiple stats on them. (Basically speed, types of terrain it could move on) and if a unit could paralyze another unit.

Incidentally, this is how I learned what the word throttle meant as far as grabbing someone around the throat. The slow Lugants, who are the only unit who can't hold the baton, are the only combat unit, throttling opponents.

At the time I was told by older gamers that the Baton Races of Yaz  was a flawed game, too simple. In fact, I felt kind of embarrassed being so enthusiastic  about it.

However, so many years later with a lot of game experience during those years, I have come to some different opinions about the Baton Races of Yaz.

First of all, it was a very good introduction to hex-and-chit games. Heck, it even taught me how a lot of information could be one little square of cardboard. The most significant absence is a CRT (combat results table) since there aren't actually any random elements.   

Second, I would now say that the Baton Races of Yaz is a combination of hex-and-chit and family game. Which is really a weird beast now that I've actually written that down. But the family aspect isn't just the goofy theme but the philosophy of the game as well. It's a race where you don't lose pieces. Interaction but, despite the throttling, not violent conflict. I mean, compared to an Ogre's Hellbore cannons :P In real life, if someone kicked me to the ground and started to strangle me, I'd call that violent.

That being said, The Baton Races of Yaz is neither a perfect game nor the perfect blend between those two genres. While the luck free element and the ability to pass the baton as a free action means a skilled player can set up some amazing plays, it also means unskilled play can really drag. And the better player will crush the weaker player, which is not a virtue in a family game.

(On the other hand, Ogre gives you the option of giving the six-year-old the Ogre tank and you don't take any howitzers as a way of evening the playing field)

The Baton Races of Yaz is not a hidden gem that was stapled in the middle of a magazine. It is, though, a decent little game with some interesting room for thoughtful play, as well as a really amusing theme. In some ways, I think it was ahead of its time while never intending to be.

The idea of a cross between a hex-and-chit game and a family game is an interesting one, albeit one that probably didn't occur to the Dragon staff. I wonder what other games are out there that could fill that niche. I wonder if there are undesigned games that could be built from the idea.

One of my old gaming groups bought the Dragon archive some years ago so I've had the files to make another copy for a while now. And that wouldn't be hard because the whole thing is two pages long, including the counters. And I think it would be worth making another copy, one a lot nicer my long lost xerox version.

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