Uptown, yeah, that’s right, we’re not talking downtown here. You see, baby, it’s like this, it’ll fool you, this Uptown game. It’s like that, with it’s fancy 30’s fonts and the sophisticated 30’s night people on its cover. It’s a game, all right, but it has nothing to do with guns, dames and booze, nah, not at all. See, that’s the surprise. It’s way more fun than that.

Uptown is almost as easy to learn as punching out pieces from a chadless die cut board. Which you do. Five boards worth. Each punch a small pleasure. The game board is a grid, 30’s-font-labeled A-I on the right and left, and 1-9 on the top and bottom. The grid creates 9 small grids, each 9×9 cells, in a sudoku-reminiscent manner. The cells in each of the 9 inner-grids all have the same graphic symbol in them.

Each player gets 28 square tokens (the ones you had previously so pleasurably detached from each other) – all of the same color. There are 5 different sets, so up to 5 people can play at the same time, or you can play in teams, if you are of such a mind.

You take 5 tiles from your facedown tile pile and place them on your tile holder. The tiles have either a number, a letter or a graphic. This determines where you the tile can be placed on the board. But you still have choice, since there are 9 different squares that every tile can occupy – just enough choice to make you have to think.

The idea is to put your pieces down so that they are all in one cluster, all touching. Me, I think my cluster number was 4. There are other considerations, o yes there are. For example, there’s a wild tile that can go anywhere. And there’s the thing about the game ending when everyone has only 4 tiles left on their tileholders, thus giving you the chance to plan for 4 tiles you cannot play – which will probably come as a welcome relief! And there’s being able to substitute a tile for one someone else already placed if that tile is by itself or on the end of a cluster. Thus the possibility exists that you might be able to join together two of your clusters or somehow manage to reduce someone else’s chances to do the same. And then, for all you tile-taking fiends, there’s this tie-breaker rule that gives the win to the player who has captured the fewer of the opponent’s tiles at the end of the game.

So you play a tile and then pick a tile from your tile pile and wait your turn to play another tile, and, basically, whoever has the fewest clusters at the end of the game, wins.

Uptown is fun. Sometimes gentle fun. Sometimes surprisingly not. Kind of sophisticated. Not flapperish nor even flipperish fun. But just that combination of luck and skill to make you think that you won because you were better. Thinking fun. Major FUN.

(a new iteration of the game, and a new publisher, led to this updated review 11/9/09)

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