TL:DR - Bring, Pass, Play, or Recommend?
Solid recommendation to anyone who is tickled by the idea of a game in a pack of gum.
Last year, I was far to excited to hear of a pack of games that fit into the size of a 5-stick gum package. All of my design senses started to tingle with what kind of creativity this ridiculous limitation would create. Unfortunately, all of those games passed me by, and I never had a chance to play any of them. This year, jumping at the bit, I harassed Chris Handy and scored preview copies of the sequel to the original Pack 'O Game appropriately entitled, Pack 'O Game 2.
If you are not familiar with the original set, here is a quick break down. Funded through Kickstarter, the original pack consisted of 4 games at $25 for the set. As previously stated, these games fit in literally no more than a 5-pack of Wrigley's. Through the fulfillment of various stretch goals, that pack of 4 swelled to 8 microscopic titles (SHH, HUE, GEM, BUS, TKO, FLY, TAJ and LIE).
Moving to POG2, I received 4 of the base titles GYM, RUM, SOW, and ORC. When these hit Kickstarter on March 3, 2016, should you order the pack (of at least 4) for $20USD (or $24USD if you miss the early bird).
Rules break downs will be in italics, so if you want to jump right to my thoughts, you can skip them outright. If you want a better how-to-play, you can go to each games page at packogame.com/orc, packogame.com/sow, and packogame.com/rum.
Before I go any further, I have not yet had a chance to play GYM yet. Lots of things have happened in the time I received the games, and unfortunately GYM fell under the radar during that time.
Let's start off with the simplest game by far this time around, ORC, which is listed as number twelve in the series.
In ORC, you and one other player are attempting to claim territories using orcs of differing colors to gain territories worth 1-2 points, and scoring points at the end of the game for matching colors of cards in hand to territories you conquered during play.
The cards consist of two halves, with each half displaying 1 or 2 orcs of 6 different colors.
You will be drawing cards on your turn depending on how many orcs you played to one of 6 locations. If you play one Orc, you draw one card from one of six draw piles on either side of each location. When you play these cards to these locations, you may only use one side of the card played, and each card played thereafter must match the color of the cards you played. After all cards in a draw pile on either side of a territory is empty, battle commences, and majority wins. When three piles are empty game ends, and you score points for Orcs in your hand that match a color to each territory you conquered.
This is by far the lightest of the pack, and it leaves a somewhat concerned taste in your mouth. The choices aren't meant to be meaningful as it is a very, very short play time even when played best-of-three.
The difficulty rating for these games is a range from 1-3, and while ORC is rated a 2, comparatively, it should be a 1. This next statement is not going to make any sense whatsoever, but it feels like Battle-Line Extra-Extra lite. I'm not sure whether it's because of the layout or the tug of war aspect of game play. It is fast, it lacks depth, but that's OK, because this is not meant to be the main attraction (as none of the games are), but it falls flat even for a filler.
On to game the next game in the pack SOW. In game #11, you are planting seeds mancala/backgammon style around a mandala of seed packets, wheelbarrows, gophers, and windmills. Played with 2-4, each player has a favorite color of flower they are trying to plant and score. These colors are white, red, blue, and yellow.
The cards here have a front and back. One side displays one color seed packet, and the backside is the flower version of that seed packet. Flowers will have two colors, (center portion, and outer portion) and one of those colors will be the same as the seed packet on the other side of the card, and the other color will be one of the three other colors. On your turn, must take a stack of at least 2 cards (either seed, flower, or both) and distribute them mancala style around the board. Afterwards, a few things might happen. If the last card placed is a seed, players then flip all cards to the flower side that match that color of seed packet.
If the last card is a flower and in front of a player's wheelbarrow, that player then chooses 1 of the two colors on the flower, and score all flowers containing that color. There are two special cards that trigger when placed in the same row. The Windmill reverses turn order, a Gopher eats all flowers in any one row, and Watering can allows the active player to score any one flower in front of them. When each ability is activated, it is flipped to the other side (Windmill/Windmill and Gopher/Watering can).
After all piles have 0 or 1 card in them the game is over and players then tally up points according to their favorite color and the player with the most points wins.
While it does technically play 2-4, three players is a little bit wonkey. There is an empty wheelbarrow space that allows the players to either side stack piles to ensure they come to them in the early game. That power shifts to the player opposite mid to late game. This may be a result of forcing a strategy, but it may not. We racked up 7 plays of SOW, and this seemed to permeate through the plays.
That being said, the 2 and 4 player games are thoroughly enjoyable. Two players is slow and methodical. It allows each player to think over the surprisingly large amount of choices they have in front of them. It allows them to be engulfed in the theme and enjoy this new spin on the aforementioned classics. Four players is outright outrageous, but doesn’t make your turn feel worth it.
The issue is that you can't quite seem to plan your turn accordingly, and it falls into the prew to the tune of, "Oh it's my turn and all of my plans now needs to be tossed out the window. Hold on guys, I need to start from scratch." This is a slightly bigger deal than it should be as in four players, the game will seem longer than it should take. However, the two player game takes much longer, but play seems to be much faster even with more down time for thinking between turns. Another reason to play two is the ability to seed the piles and force the other player to score you points. In a four player game this doesn't quite work as well due to the player induced chaos that takes place on other player turns. All this being said, I absolutely adored both 2 and 4 players for very different reason.
Lets clean off our boots, unwind after a long day's work in the garden and get drunk on a desert island. In game number 9, RUM, players are shipwreck survivors washed on a desert island collecting rum bottles of 7 different colors that match 7 colored captain cards to score points. I When a player hits a certain point limit, or the black parrot card is drawn for an 8th time, the game is over.
As in ORC, cards are split into two halves with two different values. On one side is one colored rum bottle, and of the other is two bottles of different colors.
On each turn, a player must do one of the following: Draw a card from either the shipwreck or beach, or play a set of rum bottles. Drawing cards allows you to play sets, and playing sets allows you to claim points.
When drawing a card, you may do so from two locations, the shipwreck, where cards are face down in a pile, or the beach, where three cards are face up. When a card is taken from the beach, a new card replaces it a-la Ticket To ride style, but face down. When all cards have been replaced with face down cards, then and only then are they flipped face up. If at anytime you draw the black parrot card, you must discard either 2 or 3 cards depending on how many times the parrot card has shown up. The 8th time this card is drawn the game is over and winner is determined normally.
When attempting to collect a set (I apologize if this bit isn’t as clear as it could be. Again, go to packofgame.com/rum for a 3 minute breakdown made by Chris Handy himslef), you may only do so if you beat the current value shown on the captain of that color using bottles from your hand. For example, if a previous player has played a set of 4 yellow bottles, you may steal the yellow captain card from that player as long as you play more than 4 yellow cards thus upping the value by at least 1. You can claim multiple sets at a time, and even use the single bottle half of each face up beach card to increase the value of your set.
If you play a set of three bottles of a single color, you may also steal a captain card from another player OR increase the value of a captain card in front of you by two.
Of these three games, RUM is hands down my favorite. It is simple enough to play while chatting, but offers enough to keep the AP gears of your brain turning. As players draw more and more cards, the possibility of drawing that black parrot card and losing precious bottles is a very nice and welcome push your luck sort of a thing. It has just the right amount of player interaction as well, with players giving a big middle finger to each other as they steal captain cards left and right. There is one problem in the rules that may or may not be addressed in the final production copy of the game. If the parrot shows up in the beach, I think that it is just placed back into the shipwreck facedown. A problem I have with the mechanics of this one come higher player levels.
With more players, the cards run out fast. If you can’t play a set and the only card left is the parrot, the player who can’t collect is forced to discard cards and put himself back at least 2 turns, and advance game end. Those 2 turns will then go to the other players. While it may be a good strategy to force a player to do this, it is very disheartening. Regardless, I absolutely love RUM, and if any of this pack is going to stay in my collection, it is this one.
So with three games that gathered mediocre reaction at best, is POG2 worth the money? Yes… kinda...maybe?
I am ok with getting four games for $5 a piece. Are the games great? No, not really, but they are solid enough games to warrant the price. Even not having played one of them, I still feel like I got more than enough game out of these microscopic packages.
While I feel like the games could be fleshed out a bit the restriction that Chris Handy placed on himself make these not only a fantastic creative experiment, but genuinely good games.
If I could say one thing about the components, is that I wish they were bigger and had more area to them. While the final production copies will be black cored, 310mil poker quality with linen finish, I want some of the pieces to be tile or chit board. If some of the components that don't need to lie flat were tile, I would gladly shell out for a deluxe version of any of these games.
So, is the pack a Bring, Pass, Play, or Recommend?
It will absolutely show up at game night, and is a solid recommend.