Chris Handy is a designer I wish had more published work. I greatly enjoyed his 2009 release Long Shot, and absolutely fell in love with Cinque Terre, which came out last year.
So when I heard that he was designing a bunch of small card games with plans of releasing them all in a single Kickstarter campaign, I was very interested. I had also heard that the games were to be released in boxes the size of a pack of gum. When I heard that, I thought that either Chris was talking about huge packs of gum or that I was somehow misunderstanding him. But when the prototypes arrived, I saw that each of the games were, indeed, the size of a pack of Wrigley's. All of the games in this Pack O Games line is the same size, as are, obviously, the cards.
Chris was kind enough to send me 5 of his upcoming games - following are short descriptions and my thoughts on each.
First up - the dexterity game, FLY. In FLY, a game "board" is created by laying most of the cards in the box out in a grid. When the card are laying out this way, they resemble a picnic table - except it is covered in flies. Players take turns dropping a fly swatter card onto the grid. If they successfully cover (completely) any flies while doing this, they take those cards. Each fly in the game has a colored shape on it and players are trying to assemble sets of flies. At the end of the game, each fly that is a part of at least a set of 3 will be worth 1 point.
FLY is not the best dexterity game I've ever played, but it looks great on a table, and is a good time! It is super easy to explain and play - I had a good time playing it with my niece and nephew.
TKO is a boxing game of simultaneous action selection. Each player assembles a boxer made out of a couple cards, and takes an action selection card. Each round, players will secretly place their thumbs on their action selection card choosing either to punch their opponent's head or torso, or block their own head or torso. Both players will reveal simultaneously and resolve their actions. Points are scored for successful punches or blocks, and a player will win a round once she scores 5 points.
TKO is another super simple game, that is definitely more fun than I thought it would be at first glance. Once thing that really adds to the gameplay is that each boxer has a slight advantage in one category. So the decision to either go straight ahead and be a bit more obvious and push that advantage or to try to throw off your opponent and take another path is quite interesting - especially in a simultaneous action game.
The twist of having to score a card of colors that you don't get to actually play is really interesting enough, and makes for a great game. Chris did add one more wrinkle to the gameplay, though. At the beginning of each game, players are also given a card with 3 colors on it, (like the rest of the cards), but this one has a skull on the middle color. When this card is played, whatever matching region the skull touches is not counted when looking for the biggest region of a color. HUE is great. It is colorful, simple, cutthroat, and just great to play. It gives the players some control, but still keeps things random enough to prevent players from overthinking. Games are quick, nasty, and fun.
TAJ is another colorful game - this one involves voting and light negotiation. In it, each player is given a card which indicates which color carpets will score positively - as well as which colors will score negatively. The additional wrinkle here is that each carpet is made up of 3 colors - a 3 point color, a 2 point color, and a 1 point color. The rugs cards are all lined up, and a scoring card is placed above the line, over 3 of the rug cards. Each round, a player will propose switching one of the cards under the scoring card with another rug card, not under the scoring card. Players will vote on this switch, executing it if it passes, and removing one of the rugs from the game (and not making the switch) if it does not pass. Once the game ends, the players reveal their scoring cards, and add up their positive and negative points!
TAJ, just like a few of the other games I've gotten to try in this line, is a very subtle game. With its bright colors, small box, and few components, it seems like there can't be much there - but TAJ will surprise you in how strategies will emerge after a couple plays. Despite having a fair amount of think, TAJ also had my friends and I standing up and screaming at each other (all in good fun) after a few of the votes. In my book, that is the mark of a great game.
Anyone who knows me knows that I like to save the best for last. GEM is my favorite game of the Pack O Games that I've had the pleasure of playing. It is a game of auctions, bluffing, and borrowing that is so simple, yet so clever. In it, players use coin cards to bid on gem cards. Sounds simple enough, right? First, the auctions are "once around" so once you bid, you're done, and the last person to bid basically has the choice of either giving the card up to the current highest bid, or buying the card for one more than the highest bid (assuming she has enough money). This makes each auction really intense - especially since money is so tight in this game already. Second, during each bidding round, players aren't necessarily bidding on any particular gem - they're really bidding on the opportunity to choose one of the gems still available for themselves - so the winning bidder will pay, and then choose any of the gems still available for themselves. Lastly, each gem card has two sides: leveraged and invested. I thought of these states as similar to mortgaged and mortgaged properties in Monopoly, but it isn't really the same. Once players win some gems, they can use them to pay for future auctions. However, gems won are flipped to the leveraged side, and in order to spend the value of a gem, the value of a gem's leveraged side must be paid, to first flip it to its invested side. Sounds confusing, but trust me - it isn't.
At the end of the game, players will score points for each invested gem they have won, with big bonus points going to those who have the most of each type of gem. GEM is easily my favorite game of the ones I've played. It is just as small as the other games in the line, but really has the feel of a full game. The decisions of which gems to go for, when to deny the other player's, and what you can afford to reinvest are all sooo difficult and all soo much fun.
If these games sound like ones you might enjoy, go back Chris' Pack O Games Kickstarter now!! He also has 3 minute how-to-play videos up on the page!
Each game is only $6 including shipping to the US - and there's a special Early Bird level that is only good for the rest of today!