Innovation isn’t often found in the world of gaming, but sometimes there’s a little thing that really catches my attention. In the case of today’s review, it’s actually four little things that are currently on Kickstarter and have really rather impressed me. Designed by Chris Handy (previously best known for his ace horse racing game, Long Shot), a new series of microgames going under the banner of Pack O Game (like a pack o’ gum, see?) landed on my doorstep while I was over in the US at Gen Con. On getting back earlier this week, I cracked them open with my little group and we played the four of them.
No-one was really sure what to expect, to be honest. The idea is sweet enough, but the gameplay is what matters, not the size of the package. The selling point behind Pack O Game is that they’re microgames that fit in your pocket but still offer a wide range of gaming options, so in tribute to the teeny size of the boxes – seriously, you can easily fit the four of them in your pocket – I figured it’d be best to put together mini-reviews on each one.
First up, Hue, a charming and surprisingly brain burning abstract that sees players laying their cards out to create fields of colour across the table. Each card is separated into at least three sections – starter cards have nine – but your aim is simple: make large areas of colour, then score the three colours that are on the final card in your hand. Squares are worth three points, the smaller rectangles one apiece, but there are a couple of twists. First of all, you’re not just laying the cards next to each other as you play each game; you’re also allowed to lay them on top of each other as long as you’re only covering one square, meaning you can cut bigger areas in half and ruin the plans of your opponents.
If you’re feeling particularly vicious, you might even throw out a poison card, a nasty piece of work that sports a skull and crossbones in its middle section. Link that to an area of the same colour and the whole thing is worth nothing when the game is scored, so this adds a rather ruthless element to a game that initially comes across as sweet and lovely with everyone collaborating to make pretty patterns. It’s only when you realise that hey, we’re actually looking at scoring points here that your placements need a little more consideration. Game one is a delight. Games two to infinity are as cut-throat as any other title you’d care to mention – it’s just that Hue only takes ten minutes.
Next it’s auction time with the sparkling Gem where players collect sets of six different precious stones using very limited resources. Played out over a series of rounds where the options get more and more limited as time progresses, everyone begins with three cards in front of them that represent their funds split into a 3, 2 and 1. All cards in this game are double ended, with the green end showing that the money is available, the red end meaning it’s been spent – for now. Rounds play out quickly with the active player checking out the cards on offer (and the gems they depict, of course) then declaring a bid; note that they don’t have to say which card they have their eye on. Everyone else gets the chance, once around the table, to either up the bid or pass, and as you’d expect the highest claims whichever card they please. To show the money’s been spent, you rotate your cards around to point the red sides into the play area, and the just-purchased card slides into your tableau showing its red end too. Once all cards have been bought – a zero bid is totally fine, by the way – players who have any funds left get to ‘invest’ in the gems they have, spinning the cards to their green side which can be used in future rounds to pick up more gems. Before the next round, your coins refresh so you have something to use, but splashing out may not be the best idea every time…
At the end of the final round, only gems that are active – ie: green side in – will contribute to your set. If you have the majority of a gem type you pull in three points, sharing a majority is worth two, and you get one for each stone in your line up. I’ve made that whole thing sound so much more complicated that it really is – out of the four titles sent over, Gem is undoubtedly the most elegant – but it’s incredibly simple once you get it laid out before you. I can’t get over the feeling that it should be part of a much larger beast, but for a microgame that plays out in fifteen minutes this is a brilliant little thing that I recommend entirely. If you’re only grabbing one, this is the choice for me.
TKO was the most curious of the bunch, a two player only effort set – surprise! – in the squared circle of the boxing ring. This is a quick playing affair (even when compared to the other games) where you need to win two rounds in order to claim the TKO Belt and a glorious victory. Each of the eight fighter have their own stats, shown by four sliding markers that represent Uppercuts, Head Blocks, Body Shots and Body Blocks. Before the fight these markers are set to the lowest numbers on each fighter’s cards – and then it’s time to rumble!
Think of this one as Rock Paper Scissors with a bit of bluffing, a dash of strategy… oh, and four options instead of three. Each player hides a card under the table that shows the four moves and selects one by pinching the card in the right place – it makes sense when you play, honest! Both players reveal at the same time and we work out the result. Uppercuts are cancelled out by Head Blocks, Body Shots by… you can probably guess for yourself. If you successfully get a hit in or manage to block a punch, you move the markers up the requisite track. If you happen to do that and the other player doesn’t you gain a small advantage as the POWER card comes your way, meaning that you can raise the value of any of the four tracks if you score a hit or block. Get all the way to the end of one of the tracks and you win a round – get to the end of two and the title is yours!
TKO was the only one of the four that we had to house rule as it wasn’t entirely clear if you reset your fighter to their basic stats if you won a round (we did as we felt that made more sense), and it felt like the lightest and most throwaway of the set. With eight fighters in the package, each with their own look and set of stats, there’s plenty of replay in the pack but this would be the last one on my list. Not that it’s a bad game at all, it just wasn’t as great as the other three.
And with that, the awesome surprise of the bunch, Fly! I thought we’d managed to make the world’s smallest dexterity game with Sprocket Games’ FrogFlip but now I concede and hand the crown to Chris Handy. I do this gracefully and with love, because Fly is frankly bloody hilarious. Twenty-seven cards are laid out (twenty-five with a fly each and two blanks) to make a tabletop, one card representing The Sky is tucked into the box and two swatter cards are kept aside, ready to take those dirty bugs down. One by one, players drop the swatter card from above the sky, hoping to take down a fly or two by covering them up entirely. Manage to do that and you claim the card(s) as you look to make sets of the same colour or shape that are shown on the bugs’ butts. The table shrinks and flies move around as the game continues, points are awarded for sets and no-one cares about the score because you’re too busy shouting at each other for daring to breathe while you’re setting up for a particularly tricky drop. Fly is a party game disguised as a dexterity game disguised as a fight waiting to happen – and it’s fantastic.
To wrap it up, the four titles from the Pack O Games series that I’ve managed to play have been very impressive. Chris has managed to create four very different games using only thirty cards in each pack and, to be honest, that’s a feat in itself. The fact that they’re all fun and entertaining is even more incredible – and he’s got even MORE available on the Kickstarter. Head on over to the page, check out the options available – I particularly like the look of Bus – and throw some money his way. Innovation should be rewarded – particularly if it’s wrapped up in a bunch of really fun games that you can whip out and play at a moment’s notice.
Hue, Gem, TKO and Fly are four of the titles available in the Pack O Game line, all designed by Chris Handy and up now on Kickstarter. A mere $6 will get you one of the games, with $24 grabbing you all four PLUS three other ones as stretch goals – and there could be more! Check them out today – the campaign ends this weekend!