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Introducing Cubist

It's no secret that many gamers love dice. Maybe not rolling that dreaded 1 when what's really needed is a 6 (unless of course it's your opponent rolling!). But there's something thrilling about the excitement and tension of rolling dice. And there's something comforting and enjoyable about the tactile feel of holding dice, shaking them in a closed fist, and letting roll to see what the outcome will be.

With the advent of euro games, dice have sometimes been considered the ugly step-child from a by-gone area, and even the subject of a knee-jerk reaction, with many "dice-less" games being the rage. A big part of this was an effort to avoid the older style roll-and-move games. But over time, even euro gamers have come to appreciate dice again, with game designers and developers finding new and creative ways to use dice, ways that are generally still far removed from the luck-centric roll-and-move mechanic. You only need to think of how dice are used in worker placement games like Alien Frontiers or Troyes, or even in some of the games by Stefan Feld.

But what about using dice to take things to the next level? Literally. That's what Steven Poelzing and Alf Seegert have done in their new game, Cubist. In this game, players are using dice to construct objects of art, which are three-dimensional, and use the dice themselves to build these structures. Creative ideas like this help rekindle our love for dice. And this game comes with a lot of them - 81 dice in fact!

All this makes Cubist a somewhat unusual game, one that certainly deserves credit for offering a unique approach to games. You could speak of it as dice meeting art, because the theme is that you're building cubist art works. The game also features cards with famous artists and works of art, as well as museums. So let's give this game a roll, start stacking up our dice, and let you know how it works, and what I think!



COMPONENTS

Game box

The front of the box features some abstract style artwork. As a nod to a contribution of the BGG community which played a small role in the final look of this game, it's worth mentioning that the game logo on the cover was the handiwork of BGG Adam P. McIver. Adam was somewhat disappointed with the originally released graphic design for the logo, and created one of his own, which the publisher took over for the box cover (see this thread). Well done and congratulations Adam!



The back of the box gives us some basic information about the idea of the game, along with a list of components, and a picture of some of the cards and other items from the game. Cubist is a game for 2-4 players, and plays in around 30-45 minutes.



The description of the game on the box back is as follows:

"In CUBIST, you and your opponents are architects competing to build a grand and inspiring new Modern Art Museum including its interior sculptures or “installations.” Aptly enough, your building materials are cubes, or more precisely, dice! On each turn you roll two dice and place them in your studio as raw materials for your cubist sculptures. From there you position these dice to complete commissioned installations for the museum. Dice with identical numbers can be stacked on top of one another to give your sculpture elevation and grandeur. Dice with adjacent numbers go next to one another to construct unconventional footprints of modernism. You can press your luck by committing to a certain risky commission—hoping that no one else will complete it first—or play it safe by locking up your dice for later use. You can also use your dice to enlist the aid of masters of modern art like Juan Gris, Franz Marc and Olga Rozanova. Each installation you complete allows you to contribute dice to the building of the Museum itself. You will have to sculpt cleverly but quickly to get the new Museum named after you!"



Component list

Here's all the components that you get inside the box:
● 81 dice
● 23 installation cards
● 9 museum cards
● 25 artist cards
● 1 museum board
● 4 player studio boards
● rulebook



Dice

Let's start by showing you the dice, because they are really the chief feature of the game, which you'll be using to literally construct works of art in 3D. There's 81 of these altogether, and they consist of 20 dice in each of four player colours, yellow, green, blue, and purple. They are large chunky dice, and they feel very good quality; they look more like casino dice than the rounded dice many games have; this has an additional advantage that they stack nicely. I also like the somewhat unusual colours; additionally they have a kind of marbled texture that looks very attractive.

In addition to the player dice, there's also a single red die, which is the die that will be used to begin the museum building that all players are working together on.



Installation cards

So what are you using your dice to build? That's where the 23 installation cards come in. These feature "installations", worth 1 to 3 points each (the number in yellow at the top left), and you'll be placing the dice you roll to build these structures, which are the sculptures for our museum. Each card shows a 3D image of the structure, as well as a 2D image at the top, which clearly indicates the different layers, so it's hard to go wrong in figuring out how to build them. Three will be face up at any time, and players will be racing to try to complete them first.



Museum cards

Players will also be working together to build a special Museum building with the dice, although these dice must first be earned by completing regular installations. The completion of this building is one of the things used to determine when the game ends, and player dice that contribute to this building will earn 2 points each. There are 9 Museum cards altogether, three each for 2 player games, 3 player games, and 4 player games respectively, with games of larger player counts requiring a larger museum to be constructed to end the game. Having some choice at each number of players helps replayability and generates an additional point of interest.



Artist cards

There are also 25 Artist cards, of which four will be face-up at any given time. Players will be able to contribute their dice to these (using doubles or triples) to get special benefits to help modify their other dice, or perform other functions which will make their life easier in building the installations.



Player studio boards

There are four studio boards, one for each player. The main part of each board consists of two large square areas, called "Workrooms", and players can be working on building a different installation with their dice in each workroom. On the right of each board is a helpful summary of play, also called the "Storeroom", because dice that players have rolled are placed on here while deciding what to do with them. At the top right is an area for two dice, called a "Storage Space", which allows players to carry over a couple of unused dice from turn to turn.



Museum board

This common board will be used for the cooperative building of the museum. On the left is a space for the Museum card which will give the plan for the current museum, while the large empty space is similar to the Storerooms on individual player cards, and is the area that players will use to work together in building the museum with their dice.



Instructions

The instruction book consists of less than half a dozen pages, and can be downloaded from the publisher here. There's some images and examples, to help illustrate game-play, as well as a summary of the functions of all the artists cards. The rules of this game are quite straightforward and easy to learn.



GAME-PLAY

Objective

In Cubist, the players are architects who are working together to build a Modern Art Museum, and competing to build its interior sculptures, called "installations" in the game. Your dice are your building materials, which you'll roll and then use in your personal studio to make cubist sculptures, racing to complete commissioned sculptures for the museum. You'll get points whenever you complete an installation, which also gives you opportunity to contribute dice to the Museum for bonus points.



Set-up

Here's how a complete set-up for two players looks:



So what is what exactly? At the start of the game, the museum board is placed in the center of the table, with the red die on a random number to indicate the start of a museum, whose plan is indicated by a random museum card corresponding to the number of players.

The deck of installation cards is shuffled and three are placed face up (below the museum board), while the deck of artist cards is also shuffled and four are placed face up (above the museum board). Each player gets their own studio board, and all the dice in their colour.

Got all that? Here's a labelled illustration showing a four player set-up:



Flow of Play

Players take turns, each of which consists of doing the following steps:

1. Roll dice: Take two dice from your supply, roll them and put them into your studio Storeroom.

2. Assign dice: You can now assign dice from your studio storeroom or storage space to one or more of the following three options:
Workroom: You can move dice into one or both of your workrooms, in an effort to build an installation corresponding to one of the three face-up cards.
Artist card: You can move a double or triple onto an artist card, in order to use that card on a future turn. If another player already has dice on a card, you can `bump' those dice off by getting a double/triple of equal or higher value.
Storage space: You can move two dice into your storage space, to carry over to your next turn.

3. Installations & Artists: At any point on your turn you can complete/abandon installations, use bonus dice from completed installations (e.g. to build the museum), or perform artist card actions. We'll explain how those work separately.

4. End turn: If you already have two dice in your storage space, you must return any excess dice in your storeroom back to your supply.



Installations

Placing dice: When placing dice in a workroom in order to work towards building an installation that corresponds to one of the Installation cards, you must follow these two important rules:
● Dice placed adjacent to each other must be of value one higher or lower
● Dice stacked on top of each other must be of equal value

Completing installations: When you complete an installation so that it matches one of the face-up installation cards, you return the dice from that workroom back to your supply, and take that card (replacing it with a new one from the deck), placing it in front of of you with a bonus die in your colour for each space on the bottom of the card. You can assign that bonus die to the Museum (using the same building rules described above), or you can also use that bonus die toward another installation you are building, or for an artist card (as described below).

Abandoning installations: Sometimes your opponent will beat you to finish an installation you were working on. At any point you may abandon an installation a workroom by removing all dice from a workroom, but these dice can only be used for artist cards; otherwise they are returned to your supply.



Museum

Only bonus dice from completed installations can be used to build the museum. As mentioned already, this museum is built according to the same building rules used for installations, i.e. adjacent dice must be one higher/lower, and dice stacked on top of each other must be the same value. Note that bonus dice can be modified by Artist cards in the same way as other dice, as will be explained below. All dice that you contribute to the museum will earn 2 points at game end, so this is an important way of earning points. The number of dice contributed to the museum also serves as a tie-breaker, giving additional reason to try to get dice into the museum.



Artist cards

Placing dice: Artist cards require players to place two or three matching dice of the same number, i.e. a double or a triple. Doing so will enable you to use the benefit of that artist card on a future turn, but this delay means your opponents do have opportunity to bump off your dice (in which case they go back to your supply) by playing a double/triple of equal or higher number on that card. So you can never activate an artist card on the same turn you place your dice, but only on a future turn.



Performing artist card action: To use an artist card's special action, you return your dice from the card to your supply, and then discard the card and replace it with a new one from the deck. Artist cards let you do things like modify the dice in your studio storage area (or your bonus dice), to manipulate their numbers by plus or minus 1 or 2, and help you get the numbers you need to place them for the installations you are building. Some artist cards give you an extra die of a particular number, or even allow you to move a die from one installation to another, or remove a die from an installation in progress.



Scoring

Game end: The game end is triggered by one of two things, which ends the game immediately at the conclusion of that player's turn:
● If a player has built five installations
● If a player has finished building the museum

Final scoring: Your final score consists of the points earned from your installations, plus two points for each die you contributed to the museum. In the event of a tie, the tied player with most dice in the museum wins.



Personally I wonder if it would be more fair if all players had equal turns - see this thread for discussion. We've been keeping track of this, and in the dozen games we've played so far it hasn't made a difference in the outcome yet, but maybe it's still worth considering as a house rule.

Expansions

Several mini-expansions were released at the same time as the game, and these are available together as an 18 card expansion pack from the publisher here. This consists of the following:

The Attic

Cubist: The Attic is a mini-expansion which consists a double-sided "Attic" card for each player. After building an Attic, players can use it to store extra dice in their studio.



Museum Expansion

Cubist: Museum Expansion Pack is a mini-expansion which consists of six additional museum cards, all inspired by specific worldwide museums. Cards included are Ghent, Belgium; Paris, France; Gunma, Japan; New York, USA; London, England; and Shang Hai, China.



Additional Installations

Cubist: Additional Installation Cards is a mini-expansion which consists of eight extra installation cards, most of which are more difficult than the installations included in the base game, and thus are also worth more points. Two of these are worth 2 and 3 points respectively, while there are three especially challenging installations that are worth 4 points and three that are worth 5 points.



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Beautiful dice: First of all, I can't say enough about the dice themselves. It's hard not to love a game that gives you not just one handful of dice, but more dice than you can hold in both hands! And they're beautiful dice at that, with marble-like swirls of colour, in a palette that's different from your standard primary colours. It's hard not to appreciate the immediate visual impact this has. Additionally, they don't have rounded corners, so not only do they roll like casino dice, but they are also very functional and stack nicely. Great job by the publisher!

Creative dice building: But better yet, in this game we're using dice to construct actual structures and buildings, so the aesthetic appeal of the dice gets added importance. I love it when dice are used in new and creative ways, and Cubist certainly provides that. As the game progresses, you're seeing your dice being put together to form three dimensional works of art. Experienced gamers will know that this is also done in Blueprints (which I've not played), but for most people, this method of using dice will be something they've never seen before as a game mechanic. It's creative and fun, and helps give the game an immediate positive visual impact!

Puzzle-like: The way you're trying to use your dice in three dimensional configurations gives Cubist a real puzzle-like feel, but in a good way. My wife loves puzzle-type games (e.g. FITS, Ubongo, and Tsuro are among her favourites), and the first time we played Cubist, she asked to play it three times in a row. I can't remember the last time a game captured her love that quickly! I think it's especial the puzzle-like nature of game-play that really appealed to her. I'm not normally a huge fan of puzzle games myself, but even I found myself enjoying this aspect, and had to admit it was enjoyable to figure out the best way to place and build your dice. Gamers who are fans of puzzle type games should especially expect to enjoy this.

Light: In the end this is still a dice game, and that means that there is going to be a luck element. Sometimes you and an opponent are both racing to complete the same installation, and it will come down to who rolls the right number first. The luck element will likely prove frustrating to serious gamers who don't like luck to have any real say in their games. However, it needs to be remembered that this is a light game that plays quickly, especially with just two players, and is best enjoyed with a casual spirit as well as a competitive one.

Keeping options open: While there is a luck element, the fact that you can store two dice from turn to turn means that you don't have to commit everything on your turn. This gives some welcome flexibility that allows you to keep your options option, and enables you to see what you'll roll on your next turn before deciding how to use your dice. So in practice, on your turn you'll usually have at least four dice to work with, not just two. This helps mitigate the luck element, and gives added control and choices. Additionally, you also have two workrooms, so if you don't have dice you need for one installation, you can always put down one or two in the other workroom, buying time to get what you need. Altogether these elements really do help prevent the luck element being a negative factor.

Mitigating luck with artist cards: Perhaps the best way that the game helps mitigate the luck element is by means of the artist cards. These will often prove immensely helpful, by giving you ways to modify your dice results, and thus give you alternate ways of giving you the dice you need to complete an installation. Without the artist cards, Cubist would likely degenerate into a massive exercise of frustration. But not only do the artist cards give you an alternative place to allocate your dice, but more importantly they provide a very useful way of manipulating dice results and greatly assist in giving you what you need. I also like the way that you can keep dice on these cards until you want to activate them - but at the risk that an opponent might bump them off. The artist cards are altogether an excellent mechanic that really strengthens Cubist enormously!

Abandoned installations: The one thing I didn't really care for in the game is that sometimes two players will be racing to get a particularly lucrative installation, and it can come down to who rolls the right number first. This doesn't happen often, because usually it's not a good idea to compete for the same structure, but sometimes it is really the best play, and if you're the one who loses the race then there's nothing you can do with the dice from your abandoned installation except allocate them to artist cards, which may not always be possible anyway. So sometimes you've spent several turns working on building something, only to find those efforts are wasted. In one case I saw this lead to a net swing of 14 points, e.g. my opponent finished an installation that gave her three points plus two bonus dice that could immediately be used towards an extra four points in the museum. I couldn't afford not to compete for that installation, given its value, and it could have gone either way, but in the end I was left with a large number of dice that I couldn't even use, and my opponent got the seven points instead of me. While it could be argued that the game is quick and light, so this doesn't matter, I can appreciate that for some people this will leave a bit of a sour taste in the event it happens. Fortunately it's rare that this happens, and it could be argued that it just adds tension, and is appropriate in a casual game of this type.

Potential down-time: Do be prepared for some downtime while waiting for your opponents to take their turn, at least in your first game or two. This feels noticeable mainly because you can't really plan much in advance of your turn, due to the fact that what you do depends almost entirely on what you roll. Most of my games have been with 2 or 3 players, but I expect that it could start getting somewhat painful with a four player game. However we did notice that once players are familiar with the game, everyone tends to take their turn quite quickly, and the game flows smoothly enough to prevent this from being a big issue. So there is some potential for the game to drag if you're playing with first-time players who are AP prone, but with some experience this shouldn't be a problem.

Quick: Overall Cubist plays very quickly, and the estimated time frame of 30-45 minutes is quite accurate. Once you're familiar with the game, you can easily whip off a two player game in about half an hour, or even as quick as 20 minutes. I was surprised to discover that a three player game didn't take much longer - in this case it's more likely that players will complete the museum together to trigger the end game, rather than individually finishing five installations, so the game length isn't increased by too much. The game doesn't feel long either; you're immersed in the experience, so it doesn't drag, and when the game is over you'll be surprised that as much as half an hour has gone by.

Variation: I like the fact that there are different museum cards that players are working on each game. You'll also be trying to build different installations from game to game, depending on what cards come up and what you roll, so this helps ensure that each game feels quite different. The different artist cards available also assist with this. And if you are looking for more variety, you can always add in the cards from the mini-expansions. Overall the nature of the game ensures that each game provides its own unique challenge of making the best of the dice and cards available to you, and trying to beat out your opponents will feel like a different exercise each time. Rather than feeling tired of it, we're finding our level of enjoyment increase the more we play it!



Recommendation

So is Cubist for you? This is a game that will appeal to a lot of different games for a range of reasons. First of all, if you enjoy dice games, that's one reason this game will grab your attention, since it comes with a lot of dice, and pretty ones at that! It will also appeal to people who enjoy games with a strong tactical element and puzzle-like feel. And if you're an art buff, then you'll especially appreciate the game's theme and artwork, how the game has cards featuring cubist masters, and the idea of building structures and a museum. Finally, the relatively straight forward rules and quick gameplay means that it is an easy and accessible game that has a very broad appeal, catering to the large niche of people looking for a casual game or a filler.

Cubist is quite light, and there are some luck elements - as with nearly all dice games. But it would be a big mistake to write off the game too quickly for this reason. The more I've played the game, the more I've come to realize that it gives many ways of coping with the randomness of the dice, and there is a considerable amount of flexibility, e.g. by using your workrooms and storage areas carefully, as well as judicious of the artist cards to manipulate the results. So don't be deceived by initial appearances that the game is all luck - it certainly gives a lot of scope for making decisions and choices. After a dozen plays, we're coming to appreciate the cleverness of the design more and more, and learning to use the flexible options that the game gives you to your best advantage; we even realized that some of our initial criticisms of the game being too luck-based could instead be attributed to poor in-game choices on our part!

All this means that there's a lot of reasons to like Cubist. But perhaps the best reason of all is the novel way in which it uses dice to build three-dimensional structures. This is a game mechanic we don't often see, creates immediate visual interest, and makes the game very fun and enjoyable to play, as you have a real sense of building something. Cubist might be still be a light game where luck still has quite a lot of say, but it's still a remarkable and unusual game that has meaningful decisions and has proved to be a lot of fun to play, and that makes it a winner in my book! Highly recommended!



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Another awesome review Ender. ^^

Cubist is a very fun game, indeed.
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Bob Hansen
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I hope you get some kind of commission because I just ordered this AND Zooloretto: The Dice Game based on your reviews! I can think of a few other games I have ordered, too, based off of your awesome reviews. I am really looking forward to this game. I am thinking of doing an art game block at my next local convention and running this, Pastiche and Fresco back to back to back. Maybe I could throw in Modern Art, too?
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Robert Searing
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Very nice review indeed. Has anyone played Blueprints? They look like darn near the same game. I'm interested in knowing the major differences from someone that's played both.

TY,
Rob
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:C.h.r.i.s. M.c.G.o.w.a.n:
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Great review - as usual.

You mention above re: Abandoning installations . . .

Abandoning installations: Sometimes your opponent will beat you to finish an installation you were working on. At any point you may abandon an installation a workroom by removing all dice from a workroom, but these dice can only be used for artist cards; otherwise they are returned to your supply.
--------------------------------------------------------

Are you saying that abandoned installation dice can move to an artist card (assuming they still meet the 2 of the same # or 3 of the same #)? Interesting.

I must not have read that.
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UsanaChris wrote:
Are you saying that abandoned installation dice can move to an artist card (assuming they still meet the 2 of the same # or 3 of the same #)?

Correct. Here's a quote from the rules, with the relevant sections underlined:

Anytime during your turn you may abandon an Installation on one or more of your Workrooms by removing ALL of the dice and placing them on Artist Cards (if possible) or back in your supply.
• You may not remove dice individually. When abandoning an Installation, ALL dice on this single Workroom must go.
These dice may not be assigned anywhere except to Artist Cards or back to your supply. You may not place these dice in the Storeroom and you may not assign them to a Workroom or the Museum.


Note also that when placing dice from abandoned installations on artist cards, you may combine them (to make the required doubles or triples) with dice from your storeroom. This isn't explicit in the rules, but has been clarified by designer Alf Seegert in this thread.
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rsearing wrote:
Very nice review indeed. Has anyone played Blueprints? They look like darn near the same game. I'm interested in knowing the major differences from someone that's played both.


That's right. When I started reading this review, I wondered if this was just a different language version of Blueprints.
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Motorkopf wrote:
rsearing wrote:
Has anyone played Blueprints? They look like darn near the same game. I'm interested in knowing the major differences from someone that's played both.

That's right. When I started reading this review, I wondered if this was just a different language version of Blueprints.

I've not played Blueprints myself, but here are a couple of existing threads that discuss some of the differences:

Cubist vs. Blueprints

I already own Blueprints... should I take the Cubist plunge?
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Great review - this looks like a cool game that might be worth a purchase just for those dice alone - man alive are they neat looking!
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rsearing wrote:
Has anyone played Blueprints? They look like darn near the same game. I'm interested in knowing the major differences from someone that's played both.

In addition to the two threads I already mentioned in my previous post, there's also these helpful remarks posted by Christy Keele (cmarie) elsewhere on a GeekList:
cmarie wrote:
Compared to Blueprints, I thought the decisions were more interesting and that I had more control over my fate.

Cubist is a little more complex, for a few reasons:

1. You're not just building your own structures like in Bp. When you finish a structure in Cubist, you get points AND a die of your color to contribute to a main building that everyone is working on together. You want as many of your own dice as possible in that building, because they will score you points at the end.

2. It's a little more competitive because all of the models you're supposed to build are also available for other people to build, and only one person can build each one. So you have to watch other people and try to beat them to different buildings.

3. The rules for building are harder to satisfy: The die number must be exactly 1 away from anything that's adjacent to it on the same level (and no wrapping from 6 to 1), and you can only add a level with the same die result as what's underneath. Since this is more restrictive than Bp, there are these die modifier cards you can use by spending a matched pair of dice. The modifier option adds another level of decision-making and control, whereas in Bp sometimes I really felt like I was at the whim of whatever came out of the bag.
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