Ishtar board game: A four-sided review

The Ishtar board game is a family/gateway game that lasts less than an hour. It’s for two to four players, with an age range around 10+ (not 14+ as it says on the box).

It’s a tile-laying game, with the usual focus this entails: competitively creating areas to score points. But it’s less combative than a game such as Carcassonne, as once you claim an area it cannot be taken by an opponent.

The theme could quite literally be anything, as this is largely an abstract game. But the production and box insert are up to Iello’s usual high standards. Inside you’ll find 11 small boards, 26 cards, 56 cardboard tokens, 37 wooden pieces, 120 plastic pieces and a scoring pad. You can find the game for around £35; reasonably cheap for a nicely produced big-box board game.

Teaching the Ishtar board game

Gamers should find the game simple pick up, but new/gateway gamers may have more of a challenge. The concepts are simple, but the way they add up can seem confusing at first. Players take turns clockwise. On each you’ll start by taking a ‘vegetation tile’ and placing it on the main board. Hopefully you’ll like the look of the next tile in the circle of six, as taking a later one will cost you precious gems.

The main board contains a number of fountains (player count dependent). Each new tile placed has to either connect directly to a fountain, or an already placed tile. You can’t cover ‘sacred tablet’ spaces; nor can you place in a way that would connect tiles from two different fountains. Many spaces have gems on them: take any your tile covers up.

Vegetation tiles are made up of three spaces, each containing either grass or a flowerbed. Tiles with flowerbeds may also contain one of three symbols: assistant, skill or wild (allowing you to choose). If you have an available assistant (you start with two), you can put one on this space as you place the tile. This claims the flowerbed as your own. Unlike more aggressive games such as Carcassonne, once claimed a flowerbed is yours. however, you can expect other players to try and restrict how much you grow it.

skills to pay the bills

Your player board has eight skill spaces (four columns of two). Broadly speaking, the lower part of each column has an in-game effect – while the higher part has a way to score points at the end of the game. You can only claim a higher part of a column if you’ve already claimed its lower half. If a tile you place has a skill (or wild) icon, you may pay any two gems to claim one of these skills.

The last thing you can do on a turn is plant (0-5) trees. These see you spend gems to claim tree cards, giving you end game points (the more/rarer the gems they cost, the more points you get). You also get to plant a tree on any available grass space, which can potentially score you even more points (if you’ve opened up the right skill).

When two of the six vegetation tile stacks run out, the game end is triggered. You finish the current round, then total up your points. Everyone scores a point for each flower in their flower beds, plus the points on their tree cards. The player who controls the most flowerbed tiles connected to a fountain scores a few bonus points for that fountain. Finally, add on any extra points from opened skills. Most points wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Ishtar has a nice game arc. It starts with these wide open spaces, where you can think long-term. You then alter direction as you see other players’ motives emerge (from both skills and tile placement); before the tight endgame, where you’re desperately looking for any spots to gain final advantages. But it’s a little short for me as a gamer, as these phases move a little fast. It’s like a race to get things in place, where not quite enough is in your control to find it satisfying.
  • The thinker: I liked the sound of this when the rules were explained, but it wasn’t for me. The synergies between skills don’t follow logically, because the action you may want to take rarely marries up nicely with the scoring opportunity you want to exploit. This is frustrating, not satisfying. I’d rather open any second tier skill after opening any lower tier one (especially as the pairings felt arbitrary) – and they cost so many gems. Similarly, getting a tile you want seemed too expensive. I didn’t dislike my plays, but I wouldn’t seek to give it any more of my time.
  • The trasher: Despite – in fact because of – the lack of obvious direct conflict, I found Ishtar quite intriguing. When you dominate a fountain majority, the natural thought is to expand – but making it’s reachable area smaller makes the majority easier to claim. Spreading yourself thinly across several restricted fountains can gain you quite a few bonuses, which similarly feels counter-intuitive. But its that lack of direct conflict creating these differing types of tension that makes it work.
  • The dabbler: This is a super pretty game and nice to play – once you get the hang of it. There is just too much terminology – gardens, flower beds, grass, vegetation. They’re simply not words than make sense in a gaming context, so it’s hard to grock as you can’t really visualise things such as ownership. Why is it my flowerbed but not my garden? But it doesn’t take long – maybe one game. It’s also nice that you can try new strategies each play. You can ignore the skill scoring on your player at first, as there’s plenty of points to be made in basic ways.

Key observations

Some complain the restrictions of the game feel underdeveloped. The randomness of how the tiles come up, for example – and the expense to get one you want – is a common gamer complaint. I can see this levels the playing field a bit, which makes it a good family game mechanism. But having no choice of tile (just take the next one) because you ran out of gems (which you need for everything) is battering ram subtle. Even letting you take one of the next two for free would’ve made a big difference.

On the family game side, the way links and restrictions work is far from obvious or intuitive – made worse by the choice of theme. You almost need to come out of the theme to get your head around how the dynamics work, which only goes to underline the abstract nature of the design. But the overwhelming feel of less positive comments is this is another reworking of ideas we’ve seen before, with nothing making it stand out.

But the game has a lot of fans; the words quoted over and again being ‘simple’, ‘pretty’, ‘quick’ and ‘light’. Many who love it treat it as a filler, with just enough extra meat to make it feel more substantial. That’s fine too. But if you’re going to put it in a big box (with a bigger price tag) and shower it with lovely components, I expect a little more. And yes, I realise this a ‘me’ complaint – I’m just not fussed by bling and prefer a game to fit its place in the hierarchy (ie, filler game equals £15-ish).

Conclusion: The Ishtar board game

Ishtar offers a solid tile-laying experience. It is well designed, well produced and does exactly what it says on the tin. It would be a fine purchase for a board-gaming family looking for a slightly meatier experience, as it gently introduces concepts such as skills and choices in how to score: staples of more complex designs. For newer gamers, who I presume are the target audience, I feel confident in recommending this.

But for experienced gamers, does it stand out from the crowd? In my opinion, the answer is no. My gamer friends have walked away feeling a little short-changed. The skills and scoring suggest strategies, but the game’s short length and luck of the tiles undermine them. This leaves the basics to stand on their own, which they don’t really do. Instead I’m left yearning for more interesting tile-layers (Fertility, or Orbital) which will ultimately keep this out of my collection.

Gaming retrospective 2019, part 2: My top gaming moments

I had another busy year of gaming, visiting seven board game conventions (including SorCon and HandyCon, which missed out on mentions below). But I largely stuck to the same groups, both at cons and at home. So it was a bit of a fail in terms of gaming evangelism! Hopefully this year will see a few new converts.

This is one of my favourite posts of the year to write, because it allows me to go back over my plays for the year and all the great memories that evokes. On one side, it was a year low on exciting plays of brand new games. But that’s the beauty of the hobby. While technology may become obsolete and fashions come and go, those old favourite board games – and the friends I play with – give value time after time.

My 5 best gaming experiences of 2019

  • AireCon: This was, once again, my favourite board game convention of the year. The main reasons are how well it’s organised and what a nice place Harrogate is to visit. But equally how much I can truly relax – I have no responsibilities there at all, so can just game all weekend. My hotel is booked and I can’t wait to get back to this great town, and great event, in March.
  • Bristol: Sarah and me went to Bristol for a Saturday night gig. She hadn’t been to the city before, so we made a long weekend of it. This included two visits to Chance & Counter – a cracking little board game cafe in the town centre. While a bit on the noisy side one night, it had a great game, beer and food selection – perfect for an afternoon or evening of gaming.
  • LoBsterCon: As one of the organisers now, our bi-annual trips to Eastbourne are a little more stressful than they used to be. But with trips to London now limited, these are some of the few opportunities I get to game with old friends. It’s also lovely to be by the sea, have a chance to walk up onto the cliffs. And, of course, to play drunk Eldritch horror…
  • Essen: No year would now feel complete without the annual pilgrimage to Germany. The world’s best gaming event still blows me away each time, despite being a bit of a veteran. A thousand new releases, tens of thousands of gamers, and everyone who’s anyone in the industry all in one place. And that’s before mentioning the late night gaming sessions.
  • New Year in the New Forest: As people who hate pubs on NYE, Sarah and me enjoy getting away to the countryside instead. This year we escaped with fellow gamers Karl and Ann to a little AirB&B in the Hampshire countryside. Don’t worry – we were just as drunk as everyone else! We just did it playing Thurn and Taxis, with a cursory five-minute stop for fireworks…

Best games: January to June 2019

January: While my debut play of Mythos Tales pushed it close, a two-player game of Oracle of Delphi with Sarah won out. It looked like she had the win, but I just managed to get to the fight we both needed first, forcing her the long way round. This was just enough to give me the win by a round – and I would’ve lost the tie-breaker. It’s brilliant how this game so often ends in a super close finish.

February: There are several reasons why my first play of Tales of Glory wins this month easily. First, it was one of my gaming finds of the year and a close finish, with four of us within 10 points. And my favourite play on another fun weekend at SorCon. But it was also my last ever play with veteran gamer Keith, who has since passed away. RIP sir.

March: Lots of Airecon highlights, including a game of Archaeology: The Card Game with Ronan. He was so drunk he could barely stand, and had never played… but won anyway. I also really enjoyed a play of Gnomopolis with Keef and Clare. But the highlight was a late-night game of Basari: Das Kartenspiel with Fokos and Effi. This classic little game doesn’t look like much, but with the right crowd (and preferably three players) it’s an absolute classic.

April: A tough month to call, including great plays of Terraforming Mars, Downfall of Pompeii and Bora Bora. But the little two-player filler that could, Balloon Cup, walks away with the prize. 2-2, only two scoring cards left out, with only red playable. Sarah had no reds. She discarded 4 cards and drew… the 13 red, which won her the game. I had a winning card for me in my hand, so if she hadn’t drawn that it would’ve been mine. Great game!

May: A month dominated by great plays of The Romans. The first was at LoBsterCon, but the second at home just pipped it. The game was close throughout, but I pulled away at the end to beat Jonathan and Chris. The two games felt very different due to how the cars came out. One was senator heavy giving loads of actions; while the next was the opposite, instead giving lots of scoring options. But importantly, both offer interesting challenges.

June: A tough one to call between two learning games of heavier euros. Gaia Project was really enjoyable, but not dissimilar enough from Terra Mystica for me to want to pick it up. Want to play more though. So the win goes to Nations, played in Sweden on a trip to see my friend Janne. It has fired Through the Ages from my collection due to its more balanced player interaction. But also the way it ebbs and flows, making it feel more dynamic.

Best games: July to December 2019

July: A month with a lot of fun plays, but no stand-out one. So I’ll give it to a fun play of Eternity with Alex and Tom in Eastbourne, where we’d met up on a fact-finding mission – and a night out, of course. It’s a great little trick-taker that plays really well with three. The twists on an old standard are simple to understand, but offer an interesting puzzle. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the prettiest card games in my collection.

August: This had to go to The Gallerist, taught to us by Alex at HandyCon. I lost count of how many hours to took, but I really didn’t care as I was engaged throughout. It is such a clever design. Everything interlocks beautifully, with the ease and common sense of the flow making a complex game much easier to understand. Add in the gorgeous production values and you have a real winner. And I won – which was a pleasant surprise!

September: I had a brilliant holiday in the US, largely to see friends and Pop Will Eat Itself. Which also massively curtailed my games played (only 16). But I did spent a weekend in Portland, visiting The Portland Game Store and playing a few games with Dawson Cowals (Cohort VIII Games) and Sean Epperson (Thing 12 Games). We all taught games we were involved in, so it was great to teach them both Empire Engine. And yes, of course I lost.

October: After a long Friday in the halls at Essen, I enjoyed a few beers with Alex. After we headed back to his hotel in Bredeney, where I was taught Crystal Palace. I was with a fun group, there was lots of beer, and I really enjoyed the game. It was the only heavy game I played all weekend and one I’d like to play again. And this was despite knowing I was going to lose from about the second round.

November: Despite a lot of fun plays at LoBsterCon (including Eldritch Horror and Pitch Car), I’m going with a game of vanilla Ticket to Ride at Morph and Lauren’s house. It was a typical teach of this classic. New-to-games player Lauren was nervous about her introduction to the hobby, made lots of excuses why she’d be awful – then nearly won it. Hopefully it will be the first of many games with them over the coming years.

December: Another easy one – my only yet glorious victory on our trip to the New Forest. Karl was on fire all weekend, but when we played Azul everything somehow came together for me. It’s not a game I’d say I’m good at, but it’s a favourite. So amassing 97 points was something of a result – winning by more than 10 points. Everything just fell into place each round. A perfect storm. And a perfect way to see out the year – and decade.

How is 2020 shaping up?

I’m still excited for the launch of Europe Divided, a co-design with David Thompson, which should’ve released last year.

It might have made it to Essen, then Christmas and now, well, soon? Sorry to those who wanted it for Christmas. I can only apologise and say this kind of production issue is out of my hands.

There’s one more of my games left with a publisher, which we were hoping would see the light of day in 2020. That is now looking unlikely too; while several expansions for games have also been mooted, but things keep stalling. Some dev work is keeping me ticking over too. But all in all, it has been another frustrating year in terms of designing. Is it any wonder I’m struggling to get excited about that side of the hobby?

I’m planning to attend a few new cons this year, but beyond that I’m happy just to keep dabbling in design and play as much as possible. I’m aiming to play the 30-ish games in my collection I failed to get to this year. But beyond that, who knows? Hopefully I’ll see you across a table sometime soon.

Game retrospective 2019, part 1: Best new titles and gaming stats

The end of a decade always suggests a period of reflection, but I can’t see myself doing a ‘twenty-tens’ retrospective. Why? Because games are still games.

Sure, there have been some interesting steps in the hobby. But the majority of bestsellers are still competitive two-to-four-player card and board games, as always. And that suits me fine. Instead I’ll stick to my annual look back at my gaming over the past 12 months.

I found it a weak year release-wise. The terminally ordinary Wingspan making it into the Top 100 titles on Board Game Geek summed it up. There’s still a focus on volume over honing great games, creating a glut of mediocre titles. And I think the amount of new players coming into the hobby is giving mediocre/unoriginal but easily accessible games much higher ratings than they deserve. Sure, some ‘good’ games were released. And quite a few I’m still looking forward to playing. But it was not a standout year.

Top 5 new (or new to me) games of 2019

There are quite a few 2019 releases I want to play. Star Wars: Outer Rim, Maracaibo and Azul: Summer Pavilion spring to mind. While 1987: Channel Tunnel, Fistful of Meeples, Isle of Pan and Pharoen sit unplayed on my review shelf. But these titles did make the grade:

  • Tales of Glory (2018): I’d wanted this at Essen 2018, but the publisher didn’t want to give me a review copy. It’s a fantasy themed tile-layer where you build you own little tableau. Simple, cute and clever with lots of paths for points. John brought it to SorCon in February and I loved it. Honourable mentions to Whistle Stop and It’s a Wonderful World – also sub-hour light euros I’ve fallen for.
  • The Gallerist (2015): My first experience of a Vital Lacerda design and wow A meaty, challenging heavy euro game that also looked gorgeous. A bit of interaction, but not in a frustrating/game-ending way. In the same vein, honourable mentions go to The Romans, Gaia Project (Terra Mystica in space) and Nations (Through the Ages with more military flexibility).
  • Dizzle (2019): This was certainly a good year for roll-and-write games with some substance. Dizzle was just about my pick of the bunch, as it’s so interactive and has multiple games in the one box. Honourable mentions to That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To, which hit the table a lot in 2019 – especially as Sarah has really taken to all of them.
  • Just One (2019): As much as I love Codenames, it’s very much a gamer’s word game – and really needs six players to work (or two for Duet). Just One can be played with anyone, works well with three to six players, and plays fast. We’ve had a real laugh with it across abilities and player numbers.
  • La Cour des Miracles (2019): I seem to like this more than most people I play it with… but like it I do. It has loads of interaction, some great opportunities for clever moves, and simple rules/short play time. I’m not normally keen on very interactive euros, but this gets it right. Area majorities are fluid and you’re all in constant competition, so it never feels as if you’re being picked on.

Despite not getting many plays of them, I largely stick by the 10 games on my 2018 list. The five I owned are still on my shelves, while I’ve added Junk Art to my collection. I still want to play more Fallout and Mini Rails, and would pick them up if I saw them cheap. And I’ve enjoyed Pitch Car again since. The only one I’m a little less interested in now is Decrypto, but I’d still happily play it.

Game play and collection stats

I’ve managed to keep my collection at below 160, with the current count at 156. I didn’t count games for sale and unplayed review copies, as those will either be added on a one-for-one basis or will immediately go. But it’s getting harder for games to stay, as most of what’s left I really want to keep hold if.

My ‘shelf of hope’ still contains Exit: Forgotten Island from last year (Shafausa has gone, while I really enjoyed Mythos Tales). Egizia: Shifting Sands (I love the original), On the Underground (looks right up my street) and Scorpius Freighter (a gift from that Dunstan fellow) were new additions. The plan is to get them all played once the review pile is a little lighter.

I slipped below 400 plays for the year (371) – but at least the average was above one game played per day. Very little changed in terms of my groups, but I did have some very low-play months (just 16 in September). Cancelled game days were the biggest frustrations of the year (sometimes by me, sometimes others). But as you get older, real life just gets in the way more – especially for friends with young/ageing families.

But Sarah continued to pick games she loves, so favourites got multiple plays. I picked shorter, easier games to review, making my life easier this post-Essen. While my attempt at playing all my games in the year saw old faves hitting the table.

Vive la difference

I played 197 different games in 2019, with 126 only played once each. Both records for me.

This was largely down to me trying to get all of my collection played in the calendar year. It meant my ‘most played’ list (below) ended up being pretty unusual, but hey – I was still blown away by that stat.

I still record all my plays on Board Game Geek. And the extended stats (by BGG user Friendless) blow me away. The Extended BGG stats page is still improving and not quite back up to full speed. Yet it makes fascinating reading for the big nerd in me. Some fun numbers about my 2019 include:

  • I played 32 different games in July 2019 – my highest ever.
  • Seven games hit 10 all-time plays in 2019 (including Azul), while three hit 25 total plays during last year: Thebes, Codenames: Duet and Kingdom Builder.
  • The only games in my Top 50 ‘most played’ that didn’t hit the table in 2019 were Macao (currently lent out), Uruk and Puerto Rico.

My most played games in 2019

Plays of ‘unpublished prototypes’ were up to 43 (from 24 last year), showing a bit of a resurgence in my interest in design. I never include plays of my own designs. So outside those it was:

  1. Azul (11 plays)
  2. That’s Pretty Clever (9)
  3. Ticket to Ride (8)
  4. Dizzle (8)
  5. Thurn & Taxis & Adios Calavera (7 each)

This is the first time ever Race for the Galaxy (4 plays) hasn’t been on the list. Shocker. Codenames Duet (also 4 plays) is also still a favourite despite falling from last year’s list. That’s Pretty Clever and Dizzle became instant hits, with Azul gained Ticket to Ride level ‘classic’ status for me. Excluding games mentioned elsewhere in this post, the only other non-review game to hit five plays in 2019 was Uptown (as it did in 2018).

My biggest frustration was missing out on plays of meatier games. The top games in those categories were Terraforming Mars (4 plays), Concordia (3) and Oracle of Delphi (3). Favourites with just one play included Terra Mystica, Snowdonia, Deus and Yokohama. I’ll have to try and write this wrong in 2020.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2, which will include my best gaming events and individual plays of 2019. So until then, Happy New Year!

SEE ALSO: Entries for 201220132014201520162017 and 2018.

A festive ‘thanks’ – and some board game resolutions

This time last year I thanked y’all for visiting and made some New Year’s Resolutions based around board gaming. Of course you remember. Anyway, it seems only right to look back at how well/badly I did and to set some new ones. I’ve been writing here for just over eight years now, with average views still rising well above 30,000 per annum. Not too shabby for an old guy rambling on about board games. So thank you once again for sticking around. Or, indeed, turning up.

2019 board game resolutions

  1. My number one 2019 priority was to keep my collection at 150 games. Success! At last count it was 156, with a few on the ‘for sale’ list. It still feels like a good number: loads of choice, with all bases covered – but a good reason to seriously consider each new game, in terms of its worthiness to stay on the shelves. 
  2. Next was clearing my review pile by March. This was tough, as while reviewing time was fine playing time was the hard bit! But I got there and by March the nine-game pile was gone. And I did learn: this year I made less promises, and picked up lighter, shorter games I know I can get played by all my groups.
  3. Sticking with successes, my pledge to give Sarah every second game choice pretty much stayed intact. Well, until Essen! Since then it has been about reviews – but I intend to return to this policy as soon as the pile is manageable. It also shows, with many of her favourites in my most-played games of the year list.
  4. Clearing the ‘unplayed’ list met with mixed success. There were 10 games on it, four of which didn’t make it to the table – Brass, Mombasa, Twilight Struggle and Uruk. I actually made this harder for myself by setting an extra challenge of playing all my games in 2019. That was fun, but really hindered this.
  5. Finally, I didn’t pitch a new design at Essen. While I do see this as a failure, there were unforeseen circumstances – namely the opportunity to do some paid game development work, and being asked to work on several expansion projects. And this list did encourage me to get my design mojo back. I’ve been working on-and-off on a new game design project since, so watch this space…

2020 board game resolutions

  1. As it worked so well, while being tough, I’m going for it again: keeping my games limit at 150. I’ll also be clearing the review pile and giving Sarah loads of picks – but they felt organic, so I don’t feel the need to make them ‘resolutions’ again. 
  2. I tried to play all of my 150 games in 2019. It was going well, but like a fool I forgot Essen in October would put a stop to the year for old games. There are 30 left on the list (including the ones over from 2019’s ‘resolution 4’ above) – so I aim to play all of those at least ones during 2020. Otherwise, why own them?
  3. The resolution to pitch a game at Essen 2019 did help me get on with things (as did fellow designer Federico – thank you sir!) – so that’s coming back for 2020. The dev and expansion work is continuing apace, but it shouldn’t stop me aiming to get a new design I’m proud of from my notebooks to the shops. 
  4. I went to HandyCon for the first time this year, which reminded me how much I enjoy trying new gaming experiences. So in 2020 I’m going to try to get to two ‘new to me’ conventions. I’ve got a few ideas, so let’s see how they pan out.
  5. I’m kind of rubbish at social media – but I’m comfortable with that. However, there are loads of great bloggers out there I’d like to collaborate on some posts with. So, I’m going to set myself the challenge of getting four collaborative blog posts done during 2020. So if you’re reading this, gaming blogger, you know where I is…

Dizzle board game: A four-sided review

The Dizzle board game is a Yahtzee-style roll-and-write dice game for 2-4 players, lasting around 30-45 minutes. And the printed age range of eight-plus feels about right.

Plus the abstract design and simplicity of rules make it approachable for just about anyone. In fact it almost has an anti-theme, throwing in features such as bombs, gems, spaceships and chequered flags with childlike enthusiasm.

The game comes in a standard small roll-and-write box (the same as That’s Pretty Clever, for example). Inside you’ll find a large pad of game sheets, four cheap felt-tip pens and 11 small black dice. The components are standard at best and get the job done (see ‘key observations’). And I’d much rather have this at the price it is – around £10 – than pricier with flashy dice or artwork.

The pad of game sheets splits half way. The first half have level 1 on the front and level 2 on the back; the rest levels 3 and 4. These represent a growing level of complexity you can play with different groups, or work through as you play with a regular group. (It reminded me of the escalating ship designs in Galaxy Trucker). You all have to play the same sheet, but it’s a clever way of bringing genuinely different levels of play to this popular genre of board/dice game.

Teaching the Dizzle board game

In the old tradition of roll-and-write games, this really is one for the whole family. You can literally teach as you play, rolling the dice and walking through the first turn – by the end of which, everyone should be up to speed. To start, each player takes am identical game sheet. You’ll notice a couple of places crossed out; these are the start spaces.

The start player takes the dice (8-13, depending on player count) and rolls them, also crossing off ’round one’ on their sheet. They choose one dice and places it on their sheet on a space matching the number rolled – and orthogonally adjacent to one of the start spaces. Each other player then does the same, in clockwise order (you can always place on round one, as the numbers 1-6 are all represented next to a start space). You always have to take and place a dice if you can.

On your next turn things get a little trickier, as the dice has to go orthogonally adjacent to one you’ve already placed. The exception is if you’re now boxed in. In this case, you go again as if you were just starting (so you can place next to any start space). If you can’t place, you have two choices: pass, or re-roll.

Stick or twist…

Passing simply puts you out of the round with your already claimed dice intact. Rolling again is risky, but can pay off. You re-roll all remaining dice. If you can now place one, you do. If you can’t, you put back a dice already on your sheet. A set back – but at least you’re still in the round.

When the dice run out, or if everyone passes, the round is over. All players put an ‘X’ on the spaces they’d placed dice, gaining any special effects (see below) they mark off doing so. These spaces also now become extra start spaces for later rounds. The dice now pass to the next player clockwise, who marks off their ’round one’ space and the game continues as before. Once each player has been start player 3-6 times (depending on player count), the game ends and final scoring begins.

What makes the game come alive are the effects of the spaces you cross off. Some trigger end game points (straight points, or bonuses for completing rows/columns). Others affect your opponents. Bombs are safe for the person who triggers them first, but everyone else loses points; while chequered flags score most for the first person to reach them, with diminishing returns for other players when they cross out the same space. Later level effects open previously locked areas of your sheet, or score negatively if you’re forced to cross them out.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Several modern roll-and-writes have nailed keeping players involved in every decision. What Dizzle adds beautifully are knock-on consequences to those choices. While I wouldn’t compare the game directly to Azul, there is clearly a bit of that thinking in the design choices. What will be good for me – but also, what might screw others over. And, like Azul, these decisions are baked into an incredibly simple design which won’t scare off grandma. Later levels even have genuinely different paths to victory.
  • The thinker: I’m not sure why I tolerate this, but I do. You can’t plan much due to re-rolls and there’s lots more luck than I’d like. But on the more complex levels, you can go for a direction: work out how you want to score points and try to head that way. This makes it pleasingly thoughtful, while being short enough not to become infuriating. At least the last player only gets one more round if everyone else has passed, so they can’t go on some mad gambling run a la Ra.
  • The trasher: Dizzle doesn’t have what you’d call direct interaction (except the bombs), but it’s pleasingly interactive. I find myself watching what each player is taking, where they’re heading on their sheet; even assessing how likely they are to gamble on a re-roll. There’s plenty of room in this genre for more interactive games than this, but for a family game this ticks an awful lot of boxes.
  • The dabbler: Winner! We taught it really easily and everyone got involved. Different groups reacted really differently though. Some were goading each other to take risks, and oohing and aahing on re-rolls. While others were playing proper poker style, looking out from their sheets with stoic looks. But importantly, both groups were enjoying the experience. What more can you ask for?

Solo play

The Dizzle solo mode is well thought out and pleasingly simple. You roll eight dice and choose one. Then you roll a separate two dice: if they match any remaining dice in your pot, you remove a matching one (so a max of two dice are removed). I find this maintains the sense of dread/randomness from the base game nicely, although for some it will be too random.

What’s odd to me is that, unlike That’s Pretty Clever, Dizzle doesn’t have an app or easily accessible online implementation (it is available at Brettspielwelt). Especially as it comes from the same publisher. Maybe it’s just too early and it’s on the way. Or maybe they’re waiting to see if it becomes a bigger hit. But either way, it feels like an opportunity missed when you need to do something to stand out in a large crowd. Especially as the popularity of ‘Clever’ will be driving traffic to the online portal already.

Key observations

While the sheets are pretty good layout wise, some of the dice numbers on some of the images are a little hard to read. This is frustrating, as it is such a fundamental part of the game. It’s also a little tricky to see what people need, as the dice on their sheets obscure the numbers behind them. You can work it out, as your sheet is the same, but it does detract a little from the experience. But these are both minor niggles.

Others criticise its generic/abstract look (fair, to each their own) and a potential lack of replayability. Some are already finding it repetitive, or found it a little long for what it is. Sure, it doesn’t have the ‘I have to beat my score’ addictive quality of ‘Clever’, but it isn’t going for that. And yes, you may not want to play each level 10 times. But at this price, and in this modern era when many games are played a few times then traded, I’m a little surprised by this criticism. Roll and writes are filler games: this is no different.

It’s also worth noting an expansion has already been made available for the game. It is a new pad of sheets, this time with levels 5-8 on them. They look likely to add some fun new challenges and I hope to get hold of them soon (looks like they’re only currently available in Germany). And the price, at less than €5, looks like solid value.

Conclusion: The Dizzle board game

If you’d said last year I’d give three good reviews to roll-and-writes in 2019, I’d have laughed you out of the building. But as with That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my plays of Dizzle. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d say it’s a must try. And if downtime and turtling have put you off the genre until now, this is definitely worth taking a look at. A simple, fun and engaging filler dice game.