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The Impossible Machine

John Moller
United States
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Recently I had the opportunity to play a fairly new game called The Impossible Machine. I’ve looked at this card game before, but I’ve skipped trying it for reasons that…well, it was never really just trying it. Mostly the consideration has always been to buy it. I tend to not want to buy games before playing them anymore. Call me old fashioned. …so, Until I had a chance to play it I was not going to buy it.

Good news for the publisher Glow Fly Games and the Brothers Knudson who designed the game, now that I’ve played it I’ll be picking it up. Both my girlfriend and I, as well as the store clerk who experienced the game with us for the first time, enjoyed the game.

I have only a passing understanding of who Rube Goldberg really was. I’ve seen plenty of cartoon and media references to his work. We’ve all seen the game Mousetrap. If you’ve ever come across an incomprehensible mesh of parts and labor that performs the most simplistic (or strangely mundane) task with the maximum force and in the most round-about way, then you are most likely familiar with Rube Goldberg’s work too. Now, you get to recreate it in convenient card game form. Ain’t that just swell?

Everyone gets their own deck of parts. Presumably everyone’s deck is the same, they’re just shuffled so the parts will come up randomly. This is an important aspect for me. Once you are familiar with the deck make-up, the level of knowledge involved ins right up my ally. I’d almost go on to say that there’s a level of deck manipulation to the game, but that thought and gambit come at substantial risk.

Each turn you play up to three cards. You’re adding parts to a communal machine. They can add to the front, back or inserted between two existing parts as long as the inputs and outputs match. Some cards split the path of the machine, allowing more choices and possibilities. The more parts of your color you can get into the machine, the better off you are.

Once a player places a Catalyst, however, the game is on. The machine will spring to life and in a matter of turns all the bowling balls, springs, boots on fishing wire and shocked squirrels will flip (three rows per turn) and complete the machine’s task (whatever that is.)

When three machines are completed the game is over, you count up the scores (used parts are 1 point and catalysts are worth 2.) The player with the highest score wins.

There are cards which allow you to erase other cards, and that’s a great way to get your part into the machine where someone else’s is. Remember, you both have the same cards in your deck. An erased (eradicated) card is removed from the game entirely.

You don’t discard to a discard pile, you add them to the bottom of your draw deck. It’s not unheard of in a game, but it’s rare to do it that way. It’s cool though. I like it. Again, it’s part of that knowledge thing, if you can cycle through enough cards you can see your entire deck by the end of the game. We almost did in the game we played.

Once we got the hang of it, The Impossible Machine moved quickly. We had a good deal of fun with it. It’s not meaty or deep, but it’s a cute little filler game. Easily teachable, understandable and light enough to work with most groups and many age ranges.

In the end our scores were pretty close, I think it was 8 points between the lowest score and the highest score. That’s pretty good for three gamers with diverse levels of gaming experience. The great news is that it wasn’t completely based on luck. Yes, there is luck. You’re dealing with shuffled decks so you can end up with a hand of cards that aren’t all that useful for you. The great news is there are rarely turns where you can do absolutely nothing. The game doesn’t rely on card text, but a series of symbols, you’ll almost always be able to find something to do, and if not your next turn might be stronger because of it. You have the same probability of having a bad hand in this game as your opponents and we saw that. The trick is using it to your advantage.

Is the game interactive? Well, you may not get to interact when it’s not your turn, but your cards will definitely interact with your opponents. It’s inevitable and it’s the meat of the game. You’re building something gloriously awkward together. You may be scoring individually, but make no mistake, you are building the machine as unit. That’s a driving force, let it build, because small machines will be your downfall, but don’t make it so large your opponents will get too many chances to eradicate your cards or you match you on points. It’s all in the timing.

Falling lunchboxes aside, The Impossible Machine is a neat little game that I’m glad I finally had a chance to play.
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