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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #19: UBI

"I was buried not praised...may your ruby be razed!"

If you know Rome is in Greece, but you're not exactly sure where, this is the game for you. Or maybe not.

Released in 1986, UBI is equal parts general trivia test and nervy geographic reckoning. After a roll of some funky dice, a player is confronted with a riddle couched in silly doggerel, beginning with "UBI" meaning "where?" An example: "UBI Cleopatra clasp the asp?" With lesser games, a successful response might be "Egypt" or, if more specificity is required, "Alexandria, Egypt". UBI asks more of those braving its triangular box. Don't just tell me the place. Find in on the map, genius.

Ah, the map, a gorgeous, table-sized map of the world divided into numbered hexagons, usually with the fault lines in frustratingly critical places. So instead of callowly announcing "Egypt!" the correct general response could be "267!". Of course, Egypt is divided into 267 and 277, so the player has to either have a good sense of where Alexandria is (was) or take a chance. All of this, of course, presumes that the player knows Egypt is the location and can place it on the map with any accuracy. You'd be surprised. Another wrinkle? The dice may have called for a general answer (Egypt/267) or a specific one. The questions demanding specific responses are unsatisfied with the hex number. They want the hex number and which of the six lettered quadrants within it. (Alexandria/267-A). The players are equipped with a reticle, a six-sided clear window that is used to narrow in on these hexagonal locales.

Your goal is to build your pyramidical ruby before your opponents, assembling one side for each of the four categories (America, Europe, Water, Universal) by delivering a correct specific response in each. Once the pyramid is assembled, the player needs one more correct answer to win the coveted ruby to complete their structure and win. It's simple yet far from easy, as the game demands that players unpack the rhyming riddles, know the answer, and then find it. Luck plays a role too, as the dice can capriciously refuse to land on the category or level of precision the player needs. When you just need Water and you keep getting Europe, frustration can mount. And watch out! Some questions have no right answer. They are, literally, a red herring and are designated as such on the reverse of the card. Also, you might find yourself presented by the horrifying Ides of March, which demolishes your pyramid and forces you to start all over.

UBI is not a game for the faint of heart, or the geographically challenged. I'll never forget playing in high school with some friends, one of whom would become an engineer. I forget the question, but he was convinced (correctly) the answer was Rome. He wrestled with the reticle, centering it on the Peloponnese for some minutes, before bellowing out "I know Rome is in Greece, I just don't know where!"

UBI players slap the map? That's a red herring, friends.

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