Ooh Stick You – Sopio review

SopioCOVER

Listeners to the show should probably be at least aware of Sopio, due to me speaking with Danny Hooper, one of the game’s co-designers, on Episode 50. Originally a mad little game that he and his cousin (who happens to be internet celeb Alex Day) designed to play just with themselves and friends, it’s quietly become the obsession of many people – many of whom don’t know or care that something like BGG even exists.

Case in point. Last year, I was demoing games at the MCM Expo in London with the folks from Esdevium. We had a good selection of stuff, selected to appeal to the splendidly geeky clientele that attend the event. We’re talking Star Trek Catan, Fleet Captains, X-Wing… all good stuff. We were busy all weekend (as my lost voice on the following Monday showed) but the one game that people were requesting the most? Well, it was Sopio. And I didn’t have a clue what it was.

Naturally, I had to investigate. So, after wandering the halls while on a quick break late on the Saturday, I came across a very small table that could only be described as rammed – honestly, it was ten people deep wherever you turned, and all of them were desperately trying to get their hands on this Sopio thing. There was no way I was going to even get close unless I managed to grab a replica weapon from one of the many cosplayers, so I just took note to return the following morning before the doors opened and see what the fuss was all about.

Which I did! Danny was personable as all get out when I told him about the show and site, then thrust a bunch of Sopio decks into my hands. Never one to turn down a game – after all, I only look dumb – I gratefully accepted them to play at the next available time. And it turns out that the guys have created the sweetest, swingiest game that you’ve never heard of.

When most people start out gaming they will always – ALWAYS – end up playing Fluxx at some juncture. And that’s OK. It’s just that Fluxx a very divisive game, mainly because of the randomness and the occasional tendency for rounds to last absolutely ages. Thankfully the Looney Labs team are doing their best to deal with these issues with each new edition that’s released, but I’d like to suggest the next time you’re looking for a quick, light game to play, why not reach for a Sopio deck instead?

A few card examples from the very first deck. This is far from a normal game...

A few card examples from the very first deck. This is far from a normal game…

It’s so easy to understand, the rules can be condensed into a single sentence. At the start of your turn, you draw up to a hand of five cards and play one on ANY player at the table, with the winner being the first to one thousand points. That’s all there is. Sure, there are plenty of little nuances but the basics are so ridiculously easy to get round that pretty much anyone can play, regardless of age, skill, whatever… it’s a game where everyone starts on a level playing field and as long as you have some basic math skills in your brain, you’ll be grand.

Any cards that affect players’ running totals are stacked next to them alongside any that have lingering effects. Others that trigger one-off powers get discarded to the centre of the table, and play continues until one person hits that magic target. Some cards lower your necessary points total, some increase that of your opponents – things will often change drastically over the space of a couple of rounds, but don’t worry about it too much. Sopio is such a fast paced game that it’s very easy to pull things around in your favour again in a matter of moments.

That statement will pretty much decide whether it’s a game you’ll enjoy or despise; as mentioned previously, I see it very much in the same league as something like Fluxx or even 1000 Blank White Cards: a quick, almost disposable little game, a palate cleanser that’s ideal when you’ve got some spare time and don’t fancy anything too serious. Don’t see that as damning Sopio with faint praise, however – it’s very well made (thanks to it being produced by the good people at Cartamundi), highly playable and filled with silly humour. Admittedly some of it is downright awful – Danny and Alex have a minor obsession with bad puns, it seems – and the stick figure art style may turn some people off, but personally I enjoy the often terrible jokes. Plus I love XKCD, so little stick dudes and eggs with teeth are totally my bag.

In their own way, the designers have managed to carve out a little niche in gaming that many folks won’t even be aware of, but Sopio stands up for itself – the legions of fans who meet up for tournament play (because, oh yes, it exists!) is testament to that. Again, not everyone will enjoy it, especially those who see themselves as serious gamers, but if you’re the kind of person who can just take something on its merits, you could have some fun times with this one.

Sopio is designed by Danny Hooper and Alex Day, with the first deck being released back in 2010. Since then, a further three decks and six expansions have been issued, with the latest Easter based one available just about now. Pretty much any amount of people can play but it’s probably best with between two and five. Games take about fifteen minutes at most so play is super quick. Should you like to get hold of some decks yourself, there’s only one place to go – sopiocards.com – so why not head over there and support the little guy?  

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