It Ain't Minty So Don't Chew It! - Pack 'O' Game Set 2 Review!

I don't often do Kickstarter previews usually because of time, but occasionally one slips through the net either because I'm really keen on the game itself or because it has interesting and unique ideas incorporated within it. And even that is extremely rare, there's enough reviews to keep up with as it is without delving into Kickstarter stuff.

This is one occasion where the nature of the game intrigues me enough to want to investigate it further and technically it's not one game, but four, even though when put together they take up less physical space than Love Letter. The Pack'O'Game sets as designed by Chris Handy are a unique idea among travel games. Not content with simply making this the same as other travel games, he's gone one step further and made each game in the series no larger than a pack of chewing gum, hence the "play on word" gimmick in the name.  8 of these were released previously and here we have another 4 to join the mix.

Now I like to see innovation in game design and the concept of accepting that a fun game could possibly be contained, components and everything in a tiny little gum sized box was one I struggled to comprehend. It would have to take advantage of multi-use cards and simple rule sets because you wouldn't be able to use counters or dice as they're too bulky. How much can possibly be achieved with so little? Well as I seem to be reminded of constantly when dating, great things come in small packages, let's see how these fare.



Designer: Chris Handy
Publisher: Perplext Games
Age: 8+
Players: Various
Time: 10-30 Minutes


GYM - You All Made The Cut! . . . Except You, You And You!


Let's start off with my personal highlight of the set. GYM is a game of two halves that recreates a nostalgic part of childhood, getting picked during P.E class. Now I may be from the UK but I hate that term so I'm turning into an American and using gym class from now on, it just sounds better. In the first half of the game you are drafting kids for your team, each of which show clearly which sports they are proficient at. During this time you are also fixing the events with the use of bullies that are going to take place in the second half, such as basketball, football and weight lifting (seriously you American's did weight lifting in school, why can't we do that?). I almost always try to get Dodgeball to feature because we don't have that in the UK and we only got to try it literally once in the whole of school and then never again. It's such a fun sport and yet all we get is football and cricket. . . . yawn.

Once the teams are selected and the events picked, the game then changes dramatically to where you line up your kids next to events in the attempt of having the highest score in that event. However each event has a corresponding action that can mess around with players hands and change the board state. Tactical choices and timing are required to end up with the best kids for each event, not necessarily the ones you picked to begin with. It's not simply a case of winning an event though, but it's how much you win by that determines the overall winner of the game when you total the scores up. You may win three events by one point, but if your opponent won the last one by four, they win 4-3 despite only having one event in their favour.

GYM was a great example of take-that back and forth gaming. The drafting is dealt with quickly although its effect is slightly diminished knowing that the events later are going to mess around with your hand and line-up. But the second half is where GYM shines, with a lot of tactical decisions to make based on your opponents last turn. You can't strategise in this game, you have to react and even though it may appear chaotic at times, there's enough control to make up for it, timing is everything and it's not a very long game anyway enabling for repeat plays. I especially love the variety in the kids themselves. I'm glad they went for a mix of colours, races and stereotypes and there was a lot of funny banter in our games where we were ragging on one kid for being useless for the events we needed or letting out light frustration in opponents stealing your kids.

GYM easily makes my No 1 spot for this set. It's light hearted, easy to learn and play, but features more depth than at face value with good humour to be found and a remarkable use of multi-function cards with impressive artwork for such limited space to work with. So far a very good start!


RUM - I'll Give You A Cracker You Rotten Parrot!


On the simpler end of the scale we have RUM, which is a cross between "push your luck" and set collection. There are eight Captain cards of various colours with a point range from 1 to 8 and a collection of rum bottle cards depicting a single bottle on one end and a pair of bottles on the end with a mix of different colours from a palette of seven. Three more cards are laid face up for all players to see and the rest are shuffled face down into a "Shipwreck" pile. Players can choose to play a set of cards from their hand or take one from either the face-up cards or the Shipwreck.

What you're aiming to do is play a set of bottles for one or more of the colours in order to claim the corresponding Captain card. That card will score you points and also determine how many bottles of that colour need to be played for an opponent to steal it from you. As a result, players are constantly trying to collect sets both as a means of attack and as a means of protection with scores constantly changing dramatically throughout the game. Of course it's not always so safe as a single Parrot card is hidden within the Shipwreck. If you draw him, you have discard cards back to the Shipwreck and the game timer is advanced. The number you discard gets gradually worse and worse as time goes on. On top of that if a player can produce a set of three bottles using only the sides with a single bottle present, they will steal a Captain card regardless of its value so don't get too complacent! Once a player has obtained enough Captain cards to push him past the points threshold, they win.

I would put RUM as my second favourite of the set. It's incredibly simple to teach and play as everyone these days will understand the concept of set collection quickly. Even though a lot of the play is based on luck, you have the option of playing it safe and taking from the open cards or risking the Shipwreck with that rotten Parrot in it so it's down to you how much you push your luck. As the Shipwreck starts to get low on cards the chances of finding the Parrot increase introducing a small amount of tension on each turn all while players try to resist making pirate impressions throughout.

It must be said though that the Parrot does make RUM a little bit swingy as having to discard several cards can really mess you up, but this is probably the shortest length game in the set and all good "push your luck" games should be short. Barely taking 15 minutes a game, it fits the filler category perfectly. We're still going strong here!


ORC - It's Not Easy Being Green. . . Or Yellow Or Blue Or Brown. . . 


Easily the quickest game in this set, ORC plays in around 5 minutes and only caters for two players. You're essentially trying to control six territories on the board with your army of Orc's from a mixture of different colour clans matching the territories on the board. You play Orc cards from your hand to any territory (either single or double units) respecting the conditions that you cannot match the colour of either the territory or an opponents Orc already deployed there. Additionally once you've played one clan colour to a territory, you can't send a different clan there.

After the stockpiles of Orc cards have depleted (you redraw after having your turn) a battle occurs and the winner is simply whoever has the most Orc's there. Ties are broken using the territory next door (towards the game box which acts as a reference point). Once all territories have had a battle, points are scored for the victors depending on how many Orc's are present. In addition you also score points for every clan card in your hand that matches the colour of a territory you've already won.

It's very neat in how you can get points by both winning battles but also by holding as many Orcs spare from those territories in your hand so it pays to be keep some back. In fact it makes this game as without that extra scoring mechanic, I feel this would have been pretty bland. Games can end up with very tight scores and believe me when I say this game is lightning fast. In fact it's so fast you might want to opt for a "best out of 3" rule to make it worth going through the setup in the first place.

ORC is perfect if you need a super fast two player game to kill time while you wait for more players to turn up. It's probably my 3rd favourite of the set, but that's mainly because I don't tend to go for these "Battle Line" style games. Saying that I'd pull this out in a heart beat over Knizia's version any day just for how simple and fast it is.


SOW - First We Sow The Seed, Then Nature Grows The Seed, Then We Eat The Seed!


SOW is a mancala-style game where players seek to gather flowers that are the most valuable to them based on a secret objective in their hand. Of course while they are trying to do this they are also trying to mess the garden up for their opponents as well. The Mancala mechanic may not be familiar to everyone, but essentially it entails picking up a collection of cards/meeples, etc from one space and then redistributing them in a fixed manner across multiple other spaces. A recent example of this would be Five Tribes in which you pick up a group of meeples on a tile and then scatter them around before eventually utilising a particular power on the final tile.

All the cards are set out in a windmill pattern with twelve rows of cards laid out. They show seeds on one side so that the flowers are hidden and a special Gopher and Windmill card are also part of the mix. One their turn, players will choose one row with two or more cards and redistribute them clockwise before activating the row in which they place their final card. The Gopher eats flowers and the Windmill changes the direction of how cards are redistributed. If you place a seed, it and all matching colours flip to their flower side. If you place a flower and it's in a players wheelbarrow, they get to claim one colour of flower in that row for their own score pile. Points are scored at the end depending on whether a player manages to collect flowers that match their secret objective.



This would be my least favourite of the set, but it's not a bad game at all. I'm just not the biggest Mancala expert outside of Five Tribes and in that game I'm far from an expert in general! Next to GYM, I would say SOW requires the most brainpower, being the second heaviest game in this set, not that any of them are particularly heavy beyond the capabilities of new gamers of course, that's the whole idea. It teaches some aspects of planning, but you have to be able to adjust for when seeds and flowers start changing places. There's an added sense of misdirection as well if you can fool other players as to which flower you are collecting, let them do half the work for you.

If you like the Mancala mechanism then you'll latch on to this pretty quick and get the most enjoyment out of it. For me I would sooner put GYM on the table for my think-y game of choice.


Verdict


So there you have it, four games reviewed for the new Pack 'O' Games set. Does that mean I can take a break now for several weeks? Yeah I didn't think so. But I give props for the innovation that's gone into these games. We've seen travel games before, but not to the same levels of extreme as this. Some of these titles could easily have been published in bigger forms by other companies, that's how much is packed into these tiny boxes.

They may not be the greatest games ever made, but there are no duds here. Every game has a unique style of play, covers a wide range of well-known mechanics and makes the best use of the limited space it has, particularly in the case of GYM which is easily my pick of the set in terms of involvement and ingenuity of design.

I'd love to be taking my Sentinels of the Multiverse collection with me, but I'd break my back carrying all 3 boxes. Here I have four neat little games taking up less space in my bag than my copy of Love Letter and all things considered, it's difficult to beat that kind of value in square footage! If you enjoy these games, you can be happy that you'll have no excuse to have to leave them at home!

The Kickstarter goes live on 3rd March 2016! Check out the Perplext website for more details on this set as well as their previous games at http://www.perplext.com/









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