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Subject: [Review] On the Dot rss

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Tom Vasel
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What I like about games is that they offer a challenge - try to outguess, outmaneuver, or outplay the other people involved in the game. Occasionally, however, I'll run into a game that if the other player is better than myself, I don't have a chance - it's simply a game of specific skills, and my level of them is inherently lower (or higher) than the other players. On the Dot (Gamewright Games, 2008 - Dominique Bodin) is one of these games in which players use visual and spatial skills to maneuver four clear cards into a replication of a flipped card.

Don't get me wrong - the idea is enjoyable; I had fun with the game; and I thought the clear cards with dots in various places was a novel idea. The problem is what I formerly stated - a player who is better at the skill set used in thegame will mop the floor with the opponents. Every time that I have played the game, one person tends to dominate, simply because they solve the "puzzle" faster than other players. Perhaps the game works best as a solitaire puzzle (I've enjoyed it that way), but it seems to be lacking when played as a game.

Each player has four plastic cards, clear plastic squares about three inches per side. Each card has four colored dots (green, red, purple, and yellow) on it in various positions. By rotating and flipping over the card, the player can maneuver the positions of the dots. Once the player lays all four cards on top of each other, up to sixteen of these dots can be seen at any time - although some may cover others up, depending on the rotation and flipping of the squares. This leads to a huge amount of possibilities, when you add all four together, which is the point of the game.

A deck of pattern cards is shuffled and placed in the middle of the table, and in each round, the top card is revealed. Players then attempt to race to rearrange their squares so that they use all four to show the same pattern of dots. The first player to correctly do it receives the card, and a new round begins. The player who was correct is out of the next round as a balancing feature.

That's basically the gist of the game, with the first player to get five cards being the winner. The idea here is very solid - maneuvering the clear cards to get the pattern is fun. It can be downright tricky at times, as players have to mentally (and physically) rotate, flip, and put in order the squares so that the right colors are in the right spots. Some of the pattern cards are simpler than others; and once players get into a groove, they will be able to more easily solve the next pattern. I'm not sure of the exact amount of combinations, but it is definitely in the thousands; and in a race against other players, that will be enormous.

The packaging is also well done, as the game comes in a tin box with lid; and all the cards fit easily into a plastic insert. The transparent plastic cards are easily scratched, but that doesn't really dilute the fun of the game at all, since the dots are large (around the size of a paper punch hole) and easy to see.

As a solitaire exercise, this is actually very enjoyable. None of the cards are impossible, or even that difficult to solve, yet they require at least a slight deal of spatial thinking, which is enough to keep me entertained. Kids and teenagers also will enjoy the rotation of the squares; and it helps them to think outside the box a little, as some "impossible" puzzles are easily solved with the simple flipping of one of the squares.

On the other hand, I just don't find it that gripping as a game. For example, if I play with some other folk who aren't as good at solving logic puzzles as I am, I will win every time I play. Now the rules attempt to mitigate this by having the winner sit out half the time, but this simply makes the game twice as long. It actually isn't a bad idea; but if you have two people who are better at this activity than the other two, then they will simply trade off turns. If you manage to find four people who are equally skilled, then you have a game! But I have yet to run into this scenario - most groups have at least one player for whom this skill isn't as developed as the others, and they get frustrated at their losing every round.

So, I would recommend On the Dot for a very light solitaire brain teaser, or for a controlled classroom game, in which everyone is learning and having fun together. Everywhere else - I just don't see it becoming that big of a hit. Any game in which one player dominates is fun (although not challenging) for only that player. Everyone else wants to play something different - so why not just start with the different game?

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com
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Thomas Cauet
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Tom, did you try this variant?:
- 3 cards are visible all the time
- players can do any of the 3 cards
- when a player manage to do one, he claims "stop/shazamm/whatever" and other players stops a second to check
- then other players can start again and the player who found the card is responsible to draw a new one from the pile (this process slows him/her a bit)
and you do the whole pile.
At the end, the player with most cards wins.
It is still interactive and easier to manage when there is a difference of levels between players (you will loose but with fun ).

What I like in Vitrail is that you get to manipulate things (the transparent cards) which helps me to find the puzzle (like Ubongo); pure mental puzzles tend to bore me.
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