Times Square is a Reiner Knizia game that never got much attention. It's a 2-player only game, and it is mostly a card game. I read some good things about it on www.BoardGameGeek.com, and was almost tempted to buy it. Then one day Michelle said to me, why not make it yourself? So I did.
This is pretty much an abstract game. The theme is about two opposing nightclub owners trying to attract two important celebrities to their nightclubs. Whoever manages to do so wins the game, or if the game ends with neither celebrity stepping into a nightclub, whoever has the celebrities closer wins. That doesn't sound like a very exciting theme, but then the theme isn't really that important. It is the gameplay that is interesting.
The game board is a long track representing a busy street, with two nightclubs at both ends. There are 6 figures on the board. Saucy Sue and Champagne Charlie are the two persons that determine victory. Get either of them to the doorstep of your nightclub, and you win. If the draw deck is exhausted twice and noone can achieve this, the game ends immediately, and whoever has Saucy Sue nearer to his nightclub wins. If Saucy Sue is standing at the centre of the street, then Champagne Charlie's position is the tiebreaker. The other 4 persons are Handsome Hal, Dancing Deb, and the two bodyguards of Saucy Sue.
The whole game revolves around playing cards to move these characters. Every one of them has different rules, restrictions and/or special abilities. Handsome Hal can allow you attract another character to where he is. Dancing Deb can allow you to use her cards as if they were jokers (i.e. can be used to move any other character). Saucy Sue's bodyguards never let her out of their protection. One will always be on her left, and the other on her right. On your turn, you can always only move one character type, which usually means one character, except for the bodyguards who are the same type. You can play any number of cards, and you always draw enough to get 8 cards, which means it is often good to play as many cards as you can on your turn, to maximise your gain. However, you are also restricted by the rule which states that a card can only be played if its effect can be carried out.
Champagne Charlie has special movement rules. You never move him by card play. Instead he moves one step towards you at the end of your turn for every character that you have at your nightclub (of course if you already have Saucy Sue at your nightclub then you have already won and who cares about Champagne Charlie). Champagne Charlie also moves towards you if all three of Saucy Sue and her bodyguards are on your side of the board.
By now I have already played 7 games of Times Square, i.e. I've met the goal of 5 plays in first year of purchase / manufacture. Two were games against Han, and 5 were against Michelle. So far most of the games ended in sudden death, i.e. one of the characters, often Champagne Charlie, being attracted to one of the nightclubs before the deck ran out twice.
We found that the 4 most powerful cards in the game are the 2 "protect Sue" cards, and the "reset Deb" cards. The former make both bodyguards jump to the spaces immediately next to Sue, and the latter make Deb jump to the centre of the board. These cards are especially handy when they can let you move these characters many steps. Also under specific conditions the "reset Deb" card can be a joker, which means it can be used to "reset" anyone else (except Charlie). These 4 powerful cards often need to be saved and only used at the most suitable time. You also need to be mindful of them. Your opponent may be holding them, so don't spend many cards making a move that can be instantly undone by one of these cards.
Managing the movement of Champagne Charlie is very important. This the short term strategy part of the game, whereas getting Saucy Sue to be on your side by game end is the longer term focus. Not to say that it is impossible for Saucy Sue to enter your nightclub, just that it is much harder to do. When you have characters at your nightclub, and you are attracting Champagne Charlie every turn, you force your opponent to counter your advantage, by either getting his own customer(s), or pulling away your customer(s). The urgency gets worse if you are getting 2, or even 3 characters at your doorstep.
Because you have a hand of 8 cards, I find that it is rare that you'd feel your hand is completely useless. Of course, sometimes if your opponent gets very lucky in card draws, it can be tough to catch up. However I feel that generally during the game there are always meaningful decisions to make. You won't really feel restricted by your cards. I think that is quite amazing.
Sometimes you can plan for some powerful combination of moves that span across a few turns. E.g. getting Handsome Hal into your nightclub, and then on your next turn attract one of the bodyguards to your nightclub too. That would mean you'd be attracting Champagne Charlie two steps. Another example is moving Dancing Deb on one turn to position her so that you can make use of her special ability, and then on the subsequent turn using that special ability to move another character many steps towards you. Sometimes you have to watch your opponent and try to anticipate and block such combination moves.
I quite like the game. It is very fast (10-minute games), and yet there are quite many interesting decisions in the game. There is some bluffing and double guessing - gambling whether your opponent has some of those powerful cards that will completely neutralise your big move, contemplating whether you should make a defensive move to block your opponent's pontential big-gain move or try to make your own big-gain move, and so on. It's an interesting tug-of-war where the game situation can change very quickly.
Times Square reminds me of En Garde, because of the long track in the game, although they are very different games (but both are by Knizia). En Garde is fast and furious, whereas Times Square is about maneuvering and then occasionally making some big-gain moves. It offers opportunities for both offensive and defensive play, and sometimes manipulating the pace is also critical, because when the deck runs out for the second time, the position of Saucy Sue (and Champagne Charlie) will determine the winner.