That’s Pretty Clever board game: A four-sided review

The That’s Pretty Clever board game (AKA Ganz Schön Clever) is a roll-and-write dice game (think Yahtzee) for one to four players. A game takes about 30-45 minutes to play, with the age printed of 8+ feeling pretty accurate.

The game was nominated for the 2018 Kennerspeil des Jahres and has proven hugely popular, spawning a sequel (Twice as Clever) and a cheap (but highly addictive) solo app for Steam, Android and Apple (see below).

In the box you’ll find Six wooden dice, four pens and a score pad. You can pick it up for a little over £10, which is solid value for money. This is a typical German abstract design. There’s no attempt at pasting on a pointless theme, and plenty of primary colours. although the black background to everything means its less garish than most. But most importantly, everything is clear and the iconography is easy to understand.

Teaching the That’s Pretty Clever board game

The rulebook is pretty easy to understand and reasonably well laid out. And if you take the first turn, you can pretty much explain the rules as you play. There’s no hidden information, so you can teach the little intricacies and answer questions on the fly. Newer gamers may take a game to pick things up. But hey, it’s a learning game, right?

There are six different coloured dice. One matches each colour on your score sheet (which are all identical), with the other (white) being wild. Each colour scores differently, but they’re all easy to pick up. On your turn, you roll all the dice and choose one of them to mark off on your sheet. More often than not, you’ll want to keep a high numbered dice – but unfortunately, that tends to come at a price.

You must discard all dice that have lower values than the one you keep. So, if you keep a three you’d have to discard and ones and twos. This is important because, once you’ve marked your choice on your sheet, you roll the remaining dice and pick again. And again, you discard any with lower values. Then you do it a third and final time. So, if you take a six after the first roll and everything else rolled had a lower value, you end up scoring only one dice – rather than a potential three.

Building up bonuses

As you progress in each colour, you unlock bonuses in four specific flavours. The simplest is the roll-and-write stock-in-trade – the ‘re-roll’ (because every dice game needs some mitigation). Next is the juicy ‘+1 dice’, which allows you to mark off an extra space on your sheet. Next are foxes (see below, in scoring), but the most interesting are the colour bonuses. These let you mark off a space of a specific other colour, so marking off a green box could then let you mark off a blue box. This can of course combo on if that blue box then triggers another bonus – and so on.

Once the active player has used (usually) three dice, each other player can mark off one of their own boxes with one of the unused dice. This means that you have a vested interest in what’s being rolled when it’s not your turn, which can be a problem with this style of game. Once each player has been active once, the round ends. You complete four to six rounds (depending on player count), before tallying up your final scores.

Each of the five colours has the chance to score 50+ points. And while you could just concentrate on a few, the aforementioned fox bonus encourages you to even things out. Each colour has one fox bonus space. At the end of the game, each fox scores points equal to your lowest scoring colour. This really can make all the difference, pushing you from a mediocre sub-200 score into the super-tough-but-doable 300s. High score wins.

Solo and digital play

Due to the fact this is a game all about nailing a great high score, Ganz Schön Clever works well as a solo game. You play the same way when you’re the active player, rolling and taking up to three dice. When you’re the passive player, you instead re-roll all the dice and get to pick one of the lowest three.

The digital version is available to play via your browser at the Schmidt website, while also being available via the Apple, Android and Steam stores. It works brilliantly, but sadly only lets you play solo. However, it’s a great way to see if you like the game before you buy – especially the free browser version.

The only downside is you can get bored of the game before you play it much with friends: an ongoing issue with digital implementations that don’t add something extra online. It’s extra problematic here, as playing in a group doesn’t add much to the experience beyond the usual ‘it’s nice to play with friends’ element any game adds.

Online play: The digital version at the Shmidt website

The four sides

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

  • The writer: I’ve played a lot of mediocre roll-and-writes that have been very much one-and-done. But their obvious popularity has seen them dominate the market of late. And some cream has finally started to float to the surface. That’s Pretty Clever keeps everyone involved, has combos to please the gamer crowd, but is simple enough to teach anyone. That really is pretty clever.
  • The thinker: I don’t think they’re ever going to make a roll-and-write I care about. But I have to say, this is one I’ll happily play when its placed on the table. What can I say? A nice combo is always satisfying. That said, I don’t see it having much longevity as the constraints of the score sheet are absolute. It was no surprise to see a sequel released hot on its heels. And no doubt there will be more.
  • The trasher: I quite liked That’s Pretty Clever. Sure, it’s a largely solitaire experience. But there’s some fun to be had in what you leave behind – especially with two players. Sure, you could take your optimal move – but if that leaves a wild dice for the others to pick, you’re giving them a lot to work with. Better to leave something they can’t use! Problem is, the game’s a little like golf. Sure, you want to win on the day – but what you’re really worried about is your high score. For this reason, I’d choose to look elsewhere – but it’s a good game.
  • The dabbler: This was an immediate hit! Well, I say immediate. We got a little lost in the rules explanation and I thought it was going to be a bit much. My first score was terrible. But by the end of that first game, I wanted to play again! It’s now a firm favourite and it’s great to see your scoring improve with more plays.

Key observations

The That’s Pretty Clever board game needs to move along at a fair lick with more players, especially four. While you do have a vested interest in what’s going to happen, you can’t control it. So for us, two or three is where the physical version works best.

And while it is pretty clever, the game is not going to convert dice-haters. Lucky dice will quite simply give you a better score, especially if you roll high in the early rounds. This allows you to take higher numbers throughout your turn, giving an obvious advantage. On the flip side, this isn’t your typically quick, easy filler. Your first play will need quite a bit or rules explanation and a game with three or four can easily go over 30 minutes.

You’ll probably read one particular strategy is overpowered and that the game will play itself out. All I’ll say to that is it’s sad so many of the negative reviews come from players who have downgraded their scores after playing it to death and moving on. Compared to the amount of plays the average game gets now, you’ll easily be looking at 20+ plays of this before being done. If only fools who rated terrible Kickstarter games as 10s before they’d even got them delivered would do the same thing….

Conclusion: That’s Pretty Clever Board Game

Roll-and-write has been a largely maligned gaming category for years. And in my eyes, fairly so. But 2018 saw two games in the category – That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To… – be the first to rise into the Top 200 games on Board Game Geek. And while I don’t always agree with the broader gaming community, I’m pleased to say I heartily agree with both riding high on the chart.

This has the rare honour of being enjoyed by everyone I’ve played it with so far. Several people have gone on to get the app, with scores regularly exchanged over chat channels. Will the gloss come off after we’ve all broken that magical 300-point barrier? Most likely. But in a gaming age where one-and-done escape room games cost the same as this, no one is going to complain about value for money. Highly recommended.

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