I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
This review originally appeared at www.theboardgamereviewer.com.
Everyone likes pizza. Maybe not everyone likes traditional pizza, but there's definitely a pizza for everyone. Thin crust, deep dish, everything, pepperoni....There's something for everyone. My personal choice is a New York-style but I like a good Sicilian now and again. I like it hot or cold, even for breakfast sometimes! I can only imagine that Pizza Theory was first conceived over a nice slice and a beer or two. I can't imagine how anyone could have come up with this idea any other way. It's a really unique idea that is clearly was inspired by one of the worlds most universal foods. So is Pizza Theory a deep-dish delight or is it amongst the anchovies of the gaming world?
Pizza Theory is a game for 3 players that has 2-player rules as well. Each player has 16 topping pieces and starts with 2 pieces on the board in their area of the pie. On each game round, each player adds one of their toppings to the pie in any non-adjacent space to their existing toppings. Next, each player secretly selects one of the 6 lines on their side using a die and simultaneously reveals their choice. Pizza cutter sticks are placed on each player's line, dividing the pizza into multiple slices. Each slice is checked and if any player has more toppings in that slice than any other player, he removes all other players' pieces and replaces them with his own. If you end the round with all 16 of your pieces on your board, you win!
There's a special rule called the Safety Rule to keep players from being eliminated. If there are no slices with 2 or more of a player's pieces then those pieces can't be removed.
Unfortunately, the full rules aren't available online so I can't provide you with a link.
The rules do a pretty good job of explaining the game including some FAQ's that came up in testing. The one area that it fails in is explaining the Safety Rule. I was left really scratching my head on this but luckily there's a thread providing an explanation from one of the designers over at BoardgameGeek.com.
Based on that one key rule being explained poorly, I have to deduct a point from the rules score. Final score - 4 points.
Sometimes a game comes along that goes far above and beyond the expectations of games. Pizza Theory is clearly this kind of game.
First, the game comes in a box that looks just like a regular pizza box. The shelf presence this creates is awesome so they get big props from a marketing standpoint. It's really a great way to sell the game.
When you open the box up, you'll see the awesome board and the dice in a great insert. Underneath the board you'll find nice compartments the topping pieces which are covered by a shallow compartment for the cutter sticks.
The board itself is incredibly awesome. It looks just like a pizza pie! The board is about 12 inches across providing a nice presentation on the table. To do one better, the spaces where the toppings go are recessed so the toppings won't slide out when you rotate the pizza from turn to turn. This is an awesome touch that really shows the thought that went into the functionality of the board and the company's attention to detail.
Speaking of the toppings, these things are THICK, probably about the same thickness as 2 quarters, maybe more. They're nicely illustrated and really compliment the look of the game. When you combine these with the amazing board you get a truly awesome looking finished product. Also, they're double sided so if you find the art confusing (which I don't think is possible) you can flip them over and just use the solid-colored back.
Lastly, you've got the cutters and the dice. The cutters are long, thin wooden rods and are color coordinated with the toppings and the dice. The dice are huge! I love the oversized wooden dice. They don't do a whole lot but boy do they look cool.
I wish I could give this game more than 5 points for components because this game truly deserves it. Final Score - 5 points.
Placing your pieces - What sounds like a fairly innocuous part of the game is actually really important because it drives the game. Placing your pieces is the only time you get to control exactly where your pieces go. This allows you to setup for the turn by allowing you to create situations that will help you win slices. Only being able to place one piece per turn may not sound like much, but over the course of a few turns this can really sway the outcome of the game. The rule preventing you from placing new pieces adjacent to existing ones is brilliant and completely necessary as it basically forces a piece exchange at some point. You'll have pieces marooned that you just can't protect and that will let other players get into the game. This really propels the game forward.
Choosing the slices - This is the heart of the game. Carefully choosing where to place your pizza cutter will determine where you win and lose. The board is big so there's an awful lot to consider. You need to be careful to not let too many of your pieces get away from you, but if you get spread out this can be hard to do. Not only do you have to consider your choice, but you also have to consider that of your opponents as well. What are they trying to accomplish and how might that affect your choice? I like this because it's not pure double-think, but more of an educated guess. You'll know what 1/3rd of the equation will look like based on your choice but you'll have to try and figure out what they're going to do to maximize your options.
The Safety Rule - This rule is brilliant and keeps people in the game. It's not impossible to be eliminated, but this rule make it much less likely. In addition, you can play this rule to your advantage by denying the leader from gaining more ground. I can almost imagine this coming into existence during testing when they found people were getting basically eliminated. The game is short so it's not a big deal, but I'd hate to be the guy just feeding pieces to the other two. The Safety rule is a stroke of genius.
Dominant Strategy - Pizza Theory is not a game of multiple strategies. There's really only one way to go about this and that's to create a big clump of your own pieces. As mentioned earlier, you'll have stragglers due to the placement rules, but ideally you'll end up with a big chunk of pieces that you'll manipulate the edges of. I just don't see any way around this due to the way majorities in slices work. It's not a bad thing, it's just very straightforward and means there's not much to discover. This isn't a game you'll spend 2 hours playing so enjoy the battle for that big chunk and relish it when you get there.
Tipping point - Pizza Theory is the kind of game that has a tipping point. All three players will be in the game and in one turn one of the players will hit optimal slices and jump out to a lead. I've had this happen in every single game I played. Again, this isn't a bad thing per se but I'm not crazy about it. The game is fun and challenging up to that point and there's still a chance for the second and third place players to come back, but it's definitely an uphill battle. I personally like the challenge of fighting odds stacked against you, especially in a short, light game.
Coming from behind - In my experience coming from behind is very tough in this game and that's okay. The other players just need to minimize the gains made by the player in the lead and not let him get too much in one turn. If they can do that then there's an opportunity for a comeback. If those players get too greedy the leader will just run away. I'm not saying it's broken by any stretch, just that it will require some cooperation to catch the guy in the front. Then you'll have to time it just right to break your semi-alliance and seize your opportunity.
3 players - There aren't a heck of a lot of games designed specifically for 3 players but you can add Pizza Theory to that list. It's a strange number for any game but it works really well here. The way the game plays just wouldn't accommodate more. Even the 2-player variant requires a dummy player. This gives Pizza Theory a nice niche in the market because there's plenty of times when 3 people need something quick to play and not a lot of games designed to be optimal at that player count.
Accessibility - If you play this game someplace where people are walking by you will surely catch the attention of onlookers. The presentation is awesome and the gameplay is simple enough that you can teach it to almost anyone. I think this is an ideal game to play with kids because it requires some thought but is light in rules and in play time. Speaking of play time....
Game Length - Pizza Theory will clock in at 15 minutes or less with the occasional game reaching 20. That means you can play several games in an hour, including teaching. This, combined with the unique player count, makes Pizza Theory an ideal filler. It's fast and fun and can be played several times in a short time frame. I've used it as an opener or closer and it's worked well in those situations.
Final Score - 8. I'm going to deduct 2 points for the game being hard to come from behind and win. I know I said it's not a big deal, and it's not, but I wish it was a bit easier to catch up. I've seen this happen only 1 time in my 10+ plays and that was due to a player error. It's good to know it can happen, but it's rare enough that I find it slightly bothersome. Still, it's a 10-15 minute game so just deal with it and play again, right? That's usually what we end up doing.
Overall - Pizza Theory scores 17 out of 20 points possible. I've knocked off one point for the poor explanation of the Safety Rule in the rulebook and 2 points for the game being tough to come from behind and win. I can deal with the lack of ability to come from behind because the game is short, but that rule bothered me significantly.
On the BGG scale I rate this game a 7. It's definitely a good game that I'm usually willing to play. My wife likes it which is a huge plus for me.
We all run into situations where we've got some time to kill while waiting for our friends to finish another game which is why fillers were invented. Pizza Theory fits nicely into that genre. The game offers interesting gameplay in a really unique setting. Couple that with amazing production values and you've got a game that not only looks awesome but is fun to play and doesn't outstay it's welcome. It's got a bit of difficulty in having players catch up but it's a short game so just start over and play again to get your revenge. The 3-player only situation is both a blessing and a curse, but in the times that you have 3 people wanting to play something quick this game will deliver and look great doing it.
One thing I'll warn people of is don't buy this as a 2-player game. The 2-player variant works, but it's nothing compared to a game with 3. My wife likes it with 2 and I'll play it, but I'd much rather play with a 3rd person. The game is so much richer that way.