I rail on abstract games with crappy themes from time to time, but every now and then there's an exception that's worth discussing. Usually, when a bland theme is pasted onto an otherwise abstract game, it's got Reiner Knizia's name on it. Maybe that's why I like Stoplights - it's not a Reiner game.
Instead, it's a little card game that basically doubles as tic-tac-toe. The 'theme', for lack of a better word, is that there are stoplights. And they turn yellow, green or red. After that, the theme is deader than Elvis, which is good, because any more would have been really forced.
Each card has three spots for lights on it. You might have two green lights and a dead bulb (not to be confused with a dim bulb, a phrase you might use when describing my children getting ready for school). You might have a green, a red and a white, or two blacks and a white, or - well, if you don't get the idea, you're not going to suddenly have it dawn on you because I describe more color combinations. Basically, you've got a top spot, a middle spot, and a bottom spot, and each one is red, green, yellow, white or black. Black is dead, and white is a wild card.
So you put down cards and try to get five in a row. The beauty is that you can also cover cards that are already on the board, but if you do, you don't get to draw new cards. You slap down cards in a grid until you can connect five lights in your color.
This isn't horribly tricky, but it does have some strategy to it. You don't want to use the white spot to get three greens if, on the next guy's turn, it will let him have four yellows. You may want to cover a card to block, but you won't be able to draw new cards. You might even choose a spot, decide that you want it, and keep making your opponents cover that spot until you're the only one with cards. For a game that takes about two minutes to learn and fifteen minutes to play, it's pretty darn clever.
I usually play my review games at family sit-downs or Saturday afternoon gaming clubs. Stoplights was different, though - I tested it at the doctor's office, waiting for my daughter to be seen for a case of strep throat. We played on the little table in the waiting room, then we played on that uncomfortable vinyl bed with the crinkly white paper in the back room while we waited for the doctor to come and tell her she was going to miss a day of school. You barely need any table space, and the whole deck can fit into a shirt pocket, so you can carry it anywhere and break off a few games to kill time.
So Stoplights has a weak theme. So it's not a great big blockbuster game. So the art consists of traffic lights. It's still fun, and I still carry it with me any place I think I might have a wait and some company. Plus it's cheap - next time you're placing an order at Funagain, just drop an extra ten bucks to add it to your basket. Then you'll have something to do in the emergency room waiting area while you wait to find out if Grandpa is going to recover this time.
Virtually no theme - so they could have done without it completely
Kind of boring art
Thanks so much for the kind words!
I am glad you find enjoyment out of the game in ways I would never have dreamed (on the table at the doctors office!!)
I love this review and I love this little game !!
And I love Doctors' Offices where I actually try to play Advanced Squad Leader or Twilight Imperium instead, because THAT'S analogously how long I usually am waiting.