New South Wales
BorderCon was a blast this year!!!
All of my 'Light Reviews' aim to offer a brief overview that allows people to get a good feel for what the game may offer them, the options involved and general flow of play.
Game Type - Abstract Game (Puzzle-ish)
Play Time: 5-20 minutes
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics - Pattern Building, Pattern Recognition
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in under 10 minutes)
Components - Very Good
Image Courtesy of cdefrisco
On the Dot is an interesting title that is part puzzle and part game. There are several modes of play but essentially the aim is to create a specific pattern of coloured dots with your transparent cards. Each player must flip, turn, rotate and overlap their transparent cards in order to create the exact pattern featured on a Puzzle Card.
The game is as simple as that. The challenge however is a whole 'nother ballgame.
Abstract games revel in the bare minimum of components. On the Dot is no exception -
Transparent Cards - Each player is given a set of 4 Transparent Cards, which feature the same coloured border. Each card features 4 dots, one of each colour - red, blue, green and yellow. These dots are all located in the exact same positions (should the cards be flipped and rotated accordingly) but the colours that feature in each location are different for each card.
I'm sure there is some clever mathematical formula to work out how many different pattern combinations are possible with this layout but I'm not clever enough to work it out. I'll back myself enough to say that the number is divisible by four. Pure genius!
Image Courtesy of LudoMC
Pattern Cards - Whilst the Transparent Cards are nice and all, it is the Pattern Cards that make the game tick. In all there are 64 and each card features a specific pattern of coloured dots. Some have more dots than others and the distribution of colours is not always equal. There is nothing amazing about the Pattern Card design, they are simply functional and do the job.
If anything they could have been a little thicker, but as they are they will stand up to many plays. I guess that 'colour blindness' could also be a factor with the Red/Green dots.
Image Courtesy of matteo310
Rules - Good abstracts are all about minimal rule sets that allow interesting decision making and clever plays. Given the 'puzzley' nature of On the Dot, the decision making is fairly straight forward, but the rules are crystal clear and helps the game get to the table quickly.
Packaging - I don't usually include comment on the packaging of the game but thought it appropriate here. My version came in a nice tin but it really is ridiculously oversized for what it is. The game could fit in a box slightly bigger than a Rubik Cube. Instead GameWright have used a Tin Box that could accommodate the components to Race for the Galaxy! The irony here is that Race for the Galaxy came in an oversized box too.
Thankfully the European Release does indeed come in a neat little Tin Cube. Either the European crowd is more environmentally friendly and demand minimisation in their games or the Western World is stupid enough to pay for overpriced games based on their size and companies realise it.
I'm going for a little bit of A and a lot of B.
Would you prefer this?
Image Courtesy of cdefrisco
Image Courtesy of Osidarta
All in all the components to On the Dot are about as good as they need to be. Had the tin box been a more reasonable size and the Pattern Cards a little thicker, it would have earned an Excellent Rating.
Image Courtesy of cdefrisco
The Game Play
As mentioned earlier the aim is to use your set of Transparent Cards to replicate the pattern featured on Pattern Cards. The trick is that you also have to beat all your opponents and be the first to do so. Thus On the Dot uses simultaneous action and this lends the game much of its edge.
There really isn't anything more to the play of the game. So let's look at the play formats offered -
Dot to Dot Dash - In this mode of play the Pattern Deck is shuffled and a card is revealed from the top of the deck. All players enter into a mad rush to complete the puzzle and when a player believes they have replicated the pattern they call out 'On the Dot'.
At this point the play stops and the other players must verify that they are correct. If so the successful player can add the Pattern Card to their score pile. If they have made an error, the player is locked out of the round and the other player's continue until the puzzle is solved.
In the case of a 2 Player Game, a false declaration would result in the card going to the other player.
A new card is then revealed to begin a new round. This mode of play continues until any one player collects their 5th Pattern Card, in which case they are declared the winner.
Alternate Play - Yes folks settle down...I know this title is getting you excited.
The alternative is that for each round the players reveal a number of Pattern Cards equal to the number of players. The players can then choose which Pattern Card they wish to solve. This may of course result in the players all going for different cards or there could be some form of overlap or competition for a particular card. The catch is that each player doesn't know if they are up against someone else or not as nobody has the time (or inclination) to spell out their plans.
As in Dot to Dot Dash, the play must stop when someone believes they have solved a Pattern Card. If successful the card is taken and a new one drawn. Play continues in this more open form of play until someone acquires their 5th Pattern Card.
As our play group become better and a couple of people showed themselves to have a slight edge, this mode of play stood out as better than the Dot to Dot Dash. Sure the slightly quicker players would have a slightly better chance of winning, but the multiple Pattern Cards meant that other players could still win a few cards of their own and therefore feel like they had succeeded at least a little bit should they eventually lose.
Solo Play - The solo play option allows a player to compete against the clock and their own 'grey matter'. Quite simply it requires the player to set a time limit for themselves (5 or 10 minutes) and see how many Pattern Cards they can fulfill in that time.
Once a benchmark is set, the player can then try to beat the current record.
Alternately a player can time how long it takes to complete all 64 cards and then try to lower their time for the feat.
Both options sound really simple and they are. That said however, there is something in the human psyche that makes these types of challenges appealing to us.
So What's the Buzz! (the Appeal)
Whilst the game looks super simple, with not much scope to think outside the box, On the Dot shines for several reasons -
The Pressure - This is truly what makes the game tick, the pressure of knowing that your opponent(s) could be just a flip, slid or rotation away from the winning pattern. In this regard the feel of the game is very akin to Ubongo, which features this same element. I think it is fair to say that On the Dot is a stripped back Ubongo of sorts, with the Gem Collection of Ubongo left behind.
This is no bad thing as the Gem Collection of Ubongo did, to some degree, introduce a semi-random element. What's left with On the Dot is a pure brain burning exercise.
And whilst the Solo Play option won't feature the challenge of a human, the clock substitutes nicely to ensure that an external pressure is always present.
Evolution of Thinking - With each play and new Pattern Card, it is possible to recognise patterns and design features within your Transparent Cards that will make you more efficient in your thinking. I'll avoid saying to much (allowing you to discover these elements for yourself) but I really like the fact that within as little as 20 minutes, your brain will have uncovered layers of thinking and different approaches in order to optimise your decision making. This in turn allows a player to reduce the number of flips, turns and rotations required to find the correct distribution of dots and colours.
I recognise that this won't be exciting to everyone out there, but for those that love to unlock the 'powers of the mind' this game is a winner.
For the record I never considered myself to be one of these people until I discovered games like Ubongo and On the Dot.
More than meets the eye - Whilst On the Dot and Ubongo share a puzzle aspect to their play, On the Dot actually has a distinct edge, or added level of intrigue. That extra level is the fact that the Transparent Cards held by each player can be placed in front or behind each other. This lends the game a quasi 3D element and it is an important consideration in solving many of the Pattern Cards.
You see, many of the Pattern Cards won't feature all 16 dots. Therefore it is crucial that many dots be hidden behind others, with only the required colours being placed on the top most layer.
Coming to grips with how to cover unwanted colours quickly is a key aspect of the play and can be quite a challenge.
Time Frame - Another tick in the '+' column is the fact that it can be played in really quick time. The set-up requires nothing more than shuffling the Pattern Cards and dishing out a few Transparent Cards to the players. With a few games under the belt, each Pattern Card can be solved in 10-40 seconds.
The play can be so addictive and the time factor so short that the game lends itself to 'Let's do the whole deck' challenges and the like.
Replayability - One factor that can kill games like this is offering too few puzzles that can effectively be memorised, making the game more or less solved.
Thankfully with 64 Pattern Cards and the nature of the play, no one puzzle is observed long enough to be remembered and the regularity with which one puzzle will be seen is minimal. The end result is that each Pattern Card feels like a new experience every time it is seen and this is only reinforced by the fact that each card is likely to be seem from a different perspective each time, depending on which orientation it is revealed in.
Portable and Scalable - If you are obliged to ditch the large Tin (or have the nifty smaller one) then On the Dot is highly portable and can be played almost anywhere as it needs very little table space.
Likewise, the game plays well from 2-4 players. Whilst there may be a bit more competition with more players, the addiction rating with only 2 is still up there.
The Skill Factor (Playing Mr. Fantastic) - The one element that can be a potential '-' factor (like any abstract) is that one player is far better than the competition and therefore wins over and over again.
Certainly in our play group this was the case for a few games, but it was great to see how the other players picked up little tricks and ideas of their own to lift their level of competition. Almost all players will succumb to nerves and the time pressure at some point and this helps level out the field.
But should this become a problem in your group, I'd recommend the 'Alternate Play' option as the multiple choice of cards allows all players to experience some success regardless of the end result.
The Final Word
For such a simple idea, On the Dot is a real winner for all the reasons I've outlined above. Fans of Ubongo should be keen to give this a try as it offers much the same experience, without the longer set-up and potential randomness of the gem collection.
My wife loved this game so much I just had to get it and I'm glad I did.
Links - To other Abstract Games
Hive: The Mosquito
Army of Frogs
Pick 'n' Pack
- Last edited Thu Apr 8, 2010 8:14 am (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Fri May 8, 2009 10:46 am
Everything you said about this puzzler of a game is true.
I bought it and it came ,unfortunately, in the big tin box which makes a first buyer thing that the "cards" are bigger than they really are ! However, I added a few bits and pieces (eg: Fifteen etc in the tin) and all in all , it becomes a tin of puzzles .
Personally, I am a masochist for puzzles and play most of them solo and this particular one is a good one to keep the little grey cells working.
It is also good to play out of doors along with the picnic basket infact,you can put your sandwiches in the tin. Anyway, I like it better than Ubongo.
Watch out for lots of finger prints left over on the plastic cards....easy to wipe off and hopefully the colours will not fade with time. Talking of colours, the dots could have been a deeper hue and thus more visible ( hard to see in sunlight....not many sunny days in England ). I have to gripe about something with every game I buy