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Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.
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From Noch mal! through That's Pretty Clever to Dizzle - The Klein & Fein Treatment

Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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The 'Klein & fein' line by Schmidt Spiele means something like 'small & fine' which does not suggest anything dice related - it seems when the line was introduced the concept was rather different. It is especially visible if you look at the first 4 games of the family from 2017 - Evolution: The Beginning was published under this label, besides three dice games. Of these three, Klaus-Jürgen Wrede's Mistkäfer and Rüdiger Koltze's Raffzahn only had multiplayer modes (and were so different that it was just me who added them to the Klein & Fein family on BGG finally) and only Inka &Markus Brand's Noch mal! was a roll & write game with solo mode included.

Then something happened - Noch mal! proved to be true to its name (Once more!) and its addictive nature made it rather popular (right now there are 6 expansion pads available) while the next game in the line, Wolfgang Warsch's Ganz Schön Clever / That's Pretty Clever - published in 2018 - was one of the three nominated games for Kennerspiel des Jahres. Since then, a sequel (Doppelt so Clever / Twice as Clever), another Warsch pen and pencil roll and write game (Brikks) and now a Ralf zur Linde game (Dizzle) was published of the same kind. (on a side note, I have no idea why Schmidt's Knapp daneben!, a 2018 game that really seems to fit this line, was not published under this label. As I said the - never explained - concept of the line remains somewhat mysterious.)

From gallery of lacxox


***


I like dice rollers (mainly with the Euro approach, making my decisions after rolling and not before), also even as an Eurogamer I love rolling the dice but while I enjoyed many dice games every year, I joined the recent wave of roll and write dice games rather late. Not that I always avoided them. In 2012 I played Zooloretto Würfelspiel (and still play it sometimes - the extra blocks make it even better), Inka & Markus Brand's Saint Malo (which was interesting but still felt like something was missing so I sold it in the end) and Qwixx (which I enjoyed but treated somewhat unfairly because it was an obvious Keltis rip-off). As a result, I also kind of avoided similar-looking games that were, based on their names, trying to capitalize on the success of Qwixx - Qwinto (2015), Qwingo (2015), Qwantum (2018). Later, when Rolling Japan became very popular I ordered a copy... and was once again strongly underwhelmed even though it felt like a game right up my alley (right now the game has a - compared to the initial hype - surprisingly low 6.27 rating, so maybe it wasn't just me). At the same time I did give a few tries to the dice games included in Reiner Knizia's early books so not even Criss Cross (2017) did make me enthusiastic.

So I wasn't actively looking forward to trying new roll and writes.

Although I did not see it first, things started to change last year.

***


The game I learned was Ganz Schön Clever (That's Pretty Clever). Just to show the strength of Spiel des Jahres, I quite possibly would have never given it a try, were it not nominated for Kennerspiel des Jahres last year. (Well, I also tried Qwixx for the same reason before.)

From gallery of lacxox


To say I was amazed is understating it. The game is great (as probably most of you who read this already know) - it does feature a fun little interaction but the main interesting part happens on your board: it feels almost like an abstract engine-builder without a real engine to be built. The best part is certainly how for certain achievements - Xes - you get bonus Xes on other parts of the 'board' which might lead to further Xes and this doesn't only offer space for creativity and risk-taking (should I place my free X here for this, or save that for later?) but the chain reactions themselves make the game, give you instant success feel whatever the end result will be. So, in short, the nomination was well-deserved not only because it feels fresh but it is enjoyable to play for everyone. (and unless you play only solo and on an app instead of rolling the real dice and writing Xes, the replayability is also fine.)

From gallery of lacxox


***


Since I was also amazed by the other two nominated Warsch games (The Mind for being revolutionary and eye-opening and Quacks for providing a fresh push your luck take on deck builders), I started to look forward for the designer's further output. And I was more than happy to find Doppelt so Clever (Twice As Clever) in a Hungarian FLGS this March.

The sequel is really good. is more or less what I expected: a bit more complexity, maybe a slightly bit less fun (as it's harder to get chain reactions), maybe a bit more punishing if you have bad rolls, but also with more options you have more possibilities and probably more ways to win; I'd guess it's less 'solvable' than the original (which I don't really think is, especially playing multiplayer - you needed good rolls for specific strategies to work, so if you did not have those you might have lost pursuing that strategy over everything else), even if scoring maximum (156 pts!) with yellow seems to be key.

From gallery of lacxox


So this is really like Ganz Schön Clever with completely different use of the dice (see e.g. Ra vs Priests of Ra, Azul vs Sintra etc.). I'd guess the game got its "doppelt" (double) title somewhat because with each color you get a... double-edged sword? Some twists and painful Knizian decisions that I quite like. Like, with grey you may cross not only the number - in any color - in the grey area but also all the numbers that are lower on other dice and go to the tray, so the more efficient your use of the grey die is, the more dice you put on the tray. Or with yellow you can go for the bonuses - OR, and probably sooner or later you want this, in case you want to go for foxes (probably you should) and the huge yellow scores, you may cross previously used (circled) numbers to go for points. With blue (+white) it's just writing the numbers in a descending order (lower or equal); soon you find out it's not worth waiting for blue 11 or 12 for starters... With green you score the difference of multiplied numbers (the more greens you use the higher the multipliers get). And with pink you simply write your numbers and those will be your score, BUT you get the bonuses only if you wrote appropriately high numbers. Also, the third (new) extra action (besides reroll and +1) where you might re-use a die from the tray for your next rolls is very useful - but at the same time it also means you will often give better possibilities to your opponents to choose from.

It's definitely interesting: even though paths feel less clear, after one play it feels the game is slightly more opaque therefore possibly slightly less fun in the beginning, it's also more challenging and more of a brain-burner: maybe those who (wrongly) thought Ganz Schön Clever should have been nominated for Spiel des Jahres instead of Kennerspiel would have been more pleased to see this one on the KdJ list.

From gallery of lacxox


***


I lost my father a few weeks ago, following an emotially and physically equally extremely exhausting period in my life. I was in an urge to find something that 'switches off' my brain; it was just full of memories and repeatedly replaying every minute of my last few hospital visits.

I usually spend 30 to 60 minutes in silence in my son's room after I put him to bed. He is old enough to go to sleep alone but he prefers having my company there (partly because we moved to a new house a few months ago). Usually I'm reading while he's trying to fall asleep above me in his bunk bed, but in these weeks I just could not focus on what I was reading. However, solo plays of roll and move games proved to be excellent to switch off everything else - they are not completely mindless so I need to use my brain but I could still play them casually without a real brain burn. And rolling the dice is fun.

So I tried further roll and write games of this Schmidt Spiele Klein & Fein series, bought the ones I did not own yet, and I delved deep.

***


So in a retail shop saw Inka & Markus Brand's roll and write Noch mal!, then I did what I rarely do - I checked the ratings on BGG (it was surprisingly good, above 7, I expected lower - and put it in my basket, also the copies of expansion blocks II and III. I started to play that evening. It's a game where you have colored areas on your 'boards', roll color & number dice, choose a combination and, starting from the middle column or next to already written Xes, you put exactly the defined number of Xes to adjoining spaces of the given color. You score mainly for filling columns (more if you are the first to finish a given column) and writing an X on each spaces of a color (once again more if you are the first to do it).

From gallery of lacxox


First impression was somewhat disappointing ('Another typical game by the Brands - it works but it's never that exciting', I thought) but I got addicted soon. I like the relaxed nature of the game, also that it's simple and spatial. Also played it 2- and 3-player and I found out I also quite like it multiplayer. The multiplayer rules don't make it very interactive, even though there is a bit of racing, those are there more to ensure everyone draws their Xes to different spaces; of course when you have several good options it is fun to check which dice would be best for your opponents and take those.

When I went to a FLGS for Brikks (see below) two days later, I also found the Noch mal! Zusatzblockset (block sets IV to VI) there so the game really got a huge variety Finally I downloaded the app thinking I would play the base game and the II and III blocks solo only there. But I found out 'learning a board' might give me too much advantage so I ended up repeatedly playing the only layout I don't own - expansion block I. The game is a nice example of games that don't feel great but their strength lies in their replayability and how addictive they are.

From gallery of lacxox


***


As I liked my Noch mal! experiences I looked around in FLGS websites and found Brikks, this relatively lower-rated Warsch game from the past year (I mean it's rated lower than his trio of 'des Jahres' nominees). Okay, it's no Mind, no Quacks and no Pretty Clever but it's still fine.

From gallery of lacxox


This is a roll and move adaptation of Tetris with limits different than those in Reiner Knizia's FITS - there you could not slide pieces under other ones but you could rotate pieces freely; here you can slide the pieces but rotating costs action points - that you can win (Cleverish style) if you place certain tile types on certain spaces or if you fill multiple rows with a single piece. Also, even if for quite many action points, you can freely choose another piece while you also have bombs (in FITS you were allowed to skip pieces). Here it all goes for points in a few ways - while it's not point saladey the game still has some slight resemblance to the Clever games.

As for the multiplayer play, playing multiplayer once again makes the game slightly easier as the active player always has the possibility of one reroll (once again very little interaction, more in a Noch mal! style, but what you do on your pads is a bit more interesting). I think I can agree the game is not great (not as great as those other Warsch games) but I enjoyed it quite.

From gallery of lacxox


***


Looking for some information I even found the new board for That's Pretty Clever in the forums - it was only published in the app version of the game. Too bad, I would buy it in a 'Zusatzblock' from the publisher but it is not available for sale so I printed my own version. It's not bad, it's mostly a variant for the original game with different layout for bonuses (getting chain reactions might be even easier now), taking some small clues from Doppelt so Clever (like bonuses for reaching the last space of the extra action area or multiplying by a negative number). It's fine for variety.

From gallery of lacxox


***


Finally I bought Ralf zur Linde's 2019 roll and write Dizzle that was published in the same series as the ones below.

From gallery of lacxox


First I didn't enjoy it as much as the others - it mimics the feeling I had with Noch mal!, the roll and write it is closest to in mechanism (having a strong spatial aspect, moving from a few starting spaces and placing your dice - and Xes - next to already placed ones). It felt too random, too fiddly for what it is, and not very original. As for the fiddliness, it's there - unlike in the other games where you choose dice and cross the spaces, here you place your dice on spaces first, then you cross these spaces in the end of each round. Also the rules are fiddlier - there are many kind of special spaces that score you (different gemstones with different values), score you minus points (crap - but you can still avoid scoring minus for them), have an effect on others (bombs - not in solo game: there these just score 2 points), let you reach special places (keys and locks), fly to other areas (rockets) and even spaces that you race to reach (flags, scoring fewer points if you reach them later); also scoring for filling certain rows or columns, also rules for jumps and possible rerolls; also dummy dice rolled playing instead of players in solo mode.

But in the end of the day I started to enjoy the game quite, even solo. I still find it hard to plan when playing solo but my scores started to increase. And it definitely got more interesting with the levels (there are 4 levels included and no two 'boards' have all the special spaces).

From gallery of lacxox


***


I already had a Kingdom Builder feeling with Noch mal! where you have to find out what to go for, how to try to have areas of any color near you as the game has a more or less similar tactical base: in Kingdom Builder you draw a card and need to place 3 settlements (houses) on spaces of the given type (color) next to already placed ones; in Noch mal! the dice are rolled and even if you have slight choices, you need to place the given amount (1 to 5) of Xes on spaces of the given color next to already crossed ones.

In Dizzle this feel is stronger. You still need to place your dice next to already placed ones, but you also have the possibility to start it over elsewhere mid-turn, in case there are no free spaces left next to your current dice, which gives quite an interesting possibility to fill in gaps and place your dice even to three different areas of the board in the same turn. Also, the 4 different levels and the special spaces bring back the Kingdom Builder variety quite a bit.

In the end I found it wouldn't be that hard to make a Kingdom Builder dice game - not that I hope it would really get done

***


So, most of my plays were solo. But I played each game multiplayer as well. If you prefer strong player interaction, these games are not for you. In most of these you are focusing on your own 'boards' and look at others' boards only if you need to make a choice between two options that are equally good (or equally bad) for you - in this case you try to make things slightly harder for your opponents. Otherwise I found multiplayer play is often slightly easier than solo play - in the Clever series you always get the lowest rolls as a passive player when playing solo; in Brikks you don't have the reroll of the active player; when playing Noch Mal! multiplayer you choose from 6 dice as the active player and in Dizzle... Well, maybe not there, but even there solo play means you can't guess which dice your opponents are going to take from the pool before it's your turn again because this decision is made randomly by dice.

It seems to me, both in Noch mal! and the Clever series multiplayer rules are mainly there to ensure players won't copy each other, while in Brikks it is ensured by a different starting piece (just like in FITS); and in Dizzle everyone chooses from a common pool of dice instead of using the same dice. If I need to rank these games from most 'interactive' to least, it might look like this:

Dizzle>>Noch mal! (because of the race to fill columns)>Ganz Schön Clever=Twice as Clever>Brikks.


No, player interaction is not an important feature of these games (maybe save for Dizzle) in terms of decisions - it is more important that they prove rules for having the fun of roll and move games together.

***


So no, most of these games aren't exceptional, especially for gamers, but provided a good diversion, worked as a cure and helped me turn my thoughts away from darker thoughts and feelings, also in coping with grief. Thank you, Schmidt Spiele (&designers!)

From gallery of lacxox


***


Of course, as a result, I want to try further roll-and-write games now. Games like Qwinto, Corinth, Space Worm, Second chance and so on...

...Well, thinking of it, maybe I will take a break before them.
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