PN Product Review: Coaster Games

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Games come in all shapes and sizes these days. Some are so elaborate that they practically come with their own wheeled suitcases to transport everything, while others happily fit in an Altoid tin.

But even with today’s market for micro-games, it’s rare that six different activities can all fit in your pocket at once.

Still, the game designers at The Dark Imp have managed to do precisely that with the subject of today’s review. Please join us as we explore Coaster Games, a six-pack of games each designed to fit on a drink coaster.

Coaster Games is designed to be played with nothing more than the coasters themselves, something to write with, and something to write on. Some games are for two players, while others are for 2 or more. And each one offers a totally different sort of gameplay.

Alien Farm is a hand-drawn version of Sushi Go, where you place different aliens in different spots on your farm, hoping to maximize your score at the end of the game.

Letter Market is a curious mix of Boggle and Scrabble. You have 25 points to spend on letters, and the letters have different values. You’re trying to write down as many valid words as possible, using the letters you’ve purchased.

Ice Cream Truck is a wagering game where you try to make the most successful ice cream truck business on a budget. Each round, you wager some of your money on either ice cream or investments and see how the weather affects your business.

Free the Frog is like a mixing pot of Hangman, Charades, and 20 Questions. One player is the frog, and chooses a word to break the spell. All the other players are trying to guess that word using the questions available on the coaster.

Treasure Split is essentially the Prisoner’s Dilemma made into a game. You and your fellow player walk along a path, picking up treasure. But you have to secretly decide whether you’re splitting the loot or stealing it. Each has its benefits, but the path is different depending on the choices both players have made.

Sleuth Box is like Battleship, but there’s only one spot your opponent is hiding. But you’re hiding somewhere too, and each of you has to sleuth out the other’s location.

Each game has its pluses and minuses, but even if one isn’t your cup of tea, you’re bound to enjoy some of the other offerings. Free the Frog was an instant hit, and we were able to vary the game’s difficulty through our choices of vocabulary.

Similarly, Sleuth Box inspired lots of replays. We would quickly start to develop techniques to find our foes, which our opponents started to counter the more we played. Instead of replays detracting from the fun, it allowed for some very cool, intense showdowns of cleverness and guile across a half-dozen sessions in a row.

Each game only lasts a matter of minutes (no more than 10 or 12 for the most involved ones), so new players are invited to sample all sorts of play styles, whereas people more familiar with each game monopolize their favorites for a few rounds before passing them along and picking up another one. This collection is a great way to keep a group occupied without making anyone wait too long for their turn, which can be a serious concern when you’re gaming with a big group or at a family gathering.

All in all, I was pretty impressed with Coaster Games. The gameplay for each was easy to pick up with a single playthrough, and none of the games invited burnout even after multiple quick replays. If you need a great stocking stuffer or travel game, look no further.

[Coaster Games is available from The Dark Imp for just £6.99.]


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PN Product Review: Countaloupe


[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Everyone knows the exquisite tension that comes with rolling the dice in any game.

You might be counting the places until you land your token on the last property in a much-desired set in Monopoly, the dice already bouncing across the board. You might be sitting with four matching dice on the table, watching the fifth one tumble and wobble, hoping for that elusive Yahtzee. You might be on the brink of destruction in Dungeons & Dragons and only a miraculous toss of your twenty-sided die stands between you and oblivion.

You’re completely beholden to fate, or chance, or maybe both. It’s a central part of gaming.

But what if you had a little more say in the matter? What if your cleverness AND your math skills meant you could turn a dice roll to your favor?

That’s one of the things that sets today’s game apart from the rest. So let’s roll them bones and test our skills against the latest offering from the fruit-fueled Bananagrams family of games.

Today, we’re reviewing Countaloupe.

countaloupe 1

In Countaloupe, two to four players each have a deck of slice cards, numbered from one to sixteen. Your goal is to roll the dice and discard slice cards from your deck.

How do you do that? By looking at the results of your die roll and using a little addition.

To discard a card, you need one or more of the dice to form the value of a given card. For instance, to discard the 1 slice card, you need a 1 on one of your dice.

To discard the 2 slice card, you need either a 2 on a die OR a 1 on one die and a 1 on another. As the numbers of the slice cards go higher, you can use either a single die result (up to six, of course) or a combination of dice to add up to the value of your slice card.

And if you’re sharp, you can eliminate more than one slice card in a turn.

countaloupe 2

Look at this roll. There’s a natural 3, so you can ditch the 3 slice card. But you also have a 1 and a 3, meaning you can ditch the 4 slice card. You have a natural 5, so the 5 slice card goes. Finally, you have a 1 and a 5, so the 6 slice card can be discarded. (The 7 slice card stays, because there’s no way to form a seven with the dice as rolled.)

That’s four cards in one roll!

And as the slice card values increase, so do the number of dice you can roll.

countaloupe 3

At first glance, it looks like this player is out of luck. Those dice don’t add up to 7.

But if you notice, there’s a “X4” on the card. That means you roll four dice for this card, not just three! If that fourth die is a 1, a 3, or a 6, then that 7 slice card can be discarded. (Again, math is a huge help here in spotting different possible ways to make 7.)

That continues for slice cards 12 through 16, which give you five dice to play with.

countaloupe 4

This is a lucky roll at such a high number. Not only can you make 13 to discard the 13 slice card — 1+3+4+5 — but you can make 14 AND 15 with the available dice, leaving only one card left in your deck before victory.

But your math skills aren’t the only way to affect the game. You’ve probably noticed that white die in each of the previous rolls. What is that for?

That’s the Chance Die, and it mixes up the circumstances of the table randomly.

  • If you roll SWEET, you can trade your deck for another player’s deck. This means you can just pick a deck where the player is ahead of you OR steal a deck where the dice in front of you will eliminate more cards.
  • If you roll SOUR, you must trade your deck with whichever player has the lowest number on top of their deck (meaning they have the most cards remaining to discard)
  • If you roll NOPE, you gain control of the Nope! Chip, which lets you either protect your deck of cards from a SWEET theft or play it on another player’s deck, preventing them from discarding any cards until they control the Nope! Chip in a future turn

countaloupe 5

Essentially, the Chance Die adds a little more spice to the game and offers another tool — the Nope! Chip — to allow for more strategic play.

There’s also the game mechanic called Taking a Risk, where you reroll the dice and try to discard more cards, but that comes with the penalty of regaining discarded cards if you fail.

So as you can see, a game that would otherwise suffer from a lot of the pitfalls of other dice games — where a series of bad rolls early can leave you just sitting at the table as others race ahead — still gives you other options, like Taking a Risk, playing the Nope! Chip, or hoping for a SWEET roll, putting the power back in your hands.

It’s also strange to find yourself rooting for low rolls after playing so many other games where high dice rolls were desirable. I couldn’t believe the disappointment I felt on that first roll after tossing 5-6-6. I would love a roll like that in D&D!

Factor in relatively brisk sessions (usually around the 10 minute mark) and an immensely charming mascot that is begging for a spinoff game all its own, and you’ve got a recipe for a really fun game of chance and strategy that all ages can enjoy. It actually makes addition exciting. How is that even possible?

(Your replay value may vary, of course, but when we started adding a wagering mechanic, betting on how many cards you could discard on a given roll, it added a nice injection of freshness after a ton of replays.)

[Countaloupe is available from Bananagrams and participating retailers at just $9.99!]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: The Island of Doctor Lucky

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

For over twenty years now, the devious minds of Cheapass Games have pitted players against the intrepid J. Robert Lucky. Whether you’re a guest in his luxurious mansion, a ghost haunting his beloved abode, or an attendee of one of his famous dinner parties, the goal is always the same: kill Doctor Lucky.

In the latest iteration of the game, you’ve been invited to a soiree on Isla Fortuna, Doctor Lucky’s mysterious private island. As you, your fellow guests, and the good doctor explore the island, you’ll encounter hazards, discover weapons, accumulate luck, and (appropriately for the internet age) occasionally get incredibly distracted by a cat.

But the goal, as always, remains the same: kill Doctor Lucky.

Murder is a private matter. You have to eliminate Dr. Lucky without any other player in sight. None of your opponents can be in the same location on the island as you and the Doctor when you make your attempt. Even someone observing the murder from a neighboring location will foil your attempt.

But there’s a further complication; Doctor Lucky’s cat Ragu (the black disc) is so distracting that anyone sharing a space with her cannot see outside that region. So if you’re in the same area as the cat, and someone in a neighboring region is trying to kill Doctor Lucky, you’ll be unable to prevent the murder by observing it.

As you can see, killing Doctor Lucky requires a combination of skill, strategy, luck, and cunning. Some weapons are more dangerous in certain parts of the island. The cat’s ability to distract players can be a hindrance or a gift, depending on how you use her.

Even when you manage to outmaneuver your opponents and isolate the Doctor, it will no doubt take you several tries to kill him; your opponents can thwart your murder attempts by altering the Doctor’s chances of survival (by expending their luck cards).

They can also hamper your gameplay by tossing hazards your way, causing you to sacrifice cards from your hand or deplete your cache of luck.

But the more attempts you make — either to kill the Doctor or to hamper your opponents — the faster you can move around the island and the more dangerous your murder attempts become. This is a game that rewards patience and boldness alike.

The engrossing gameplay is enhanced by the humor and style that permeates the game from top to bottom. There are shamelessly punny regions on the map — like Salient Point and Tiger Woods — and a host of hilarious Failure and Hazard cards to entertain you as you scheme.

The artwork is simple, evoking an old-timey sense of adventure and derring-do with the scratchwork-style drawings and aesthetics, while the cast of characters is vividly rendered, offering each player a particular motive for wanting to off the infamous Doctor.

All in all, The Island of Doctor Lucky is the most ambitious edition yet, encouraging players to interact with each other more than ever before, and offering the Doctor further chances for survival. Even long-time fans of the series will find delightful, challenging new wrinkles to enjoy here. As the game strays farther and farther from its Clue-inspired roots, it only grows richer and more engaging.

The Island of Doctor Lucky is available from Cheapass Games and participating retailers.

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