Hamsterrolle Review

I would like to thank Jim Flemming for providing the following guest review of Hamsterolle.  Great work, Jim!

Hamsterrolle is a dexterity game designed by Jacques Zeimet and published in 2000 by Zoch Verlag. Hamsterrolle has a very distinctive look, as the game is played on a large, yellow, wooden, wheel.

Hamsterrolle wheel in play
The inside of the wheel has several black ledges of different sizes that are attached.
Gameplay is simple. Each player gets an assortment of 7 differently sized (and weighted) wooden blocks. On a player’s turn, she will place one of her blocks onto the wheel in either the same compartment as the previous player, or one of the next two. “Next” in this game means in whatever direction of the wheel that the players establish at the beginning of the game so that the wheel will only be turning in one direction. The only other placement rules are that identical blocks can never be in the same compartment, and when placing into a compartment with blocks already present, a player must place her blocks so that its farthest edge is farther in the direction of the wheel than any other block’s farthest edge. That rule sounds much more confusing than it is - here’s a photo:

The photo on the left shows a correct placement for the green block, while the photo on the right shows an incorrect placement.  Note: These photos were taken from the official Hamsterolle rules, which can be found here.
A player can also elect to “pass” wherein she will choose any block from one of the bottom two compartments and place it farther along on the wheel - still following all other placement rules and taking any blocks that fall off the wheel into her stock. This is a good option when a player think she can not place any of her blocks onto the wheel safely, however, it also will probably make the following player’s turn a bit easier, as his choices for which compartment to place into will likely be lower on the wheel.

If any blocks fall off the wheel during a player’s turn, she has to take them into her stock, adding them to any other blocks she has either not yet placed or also knocked off. First player to get rid of all her blocks wins!!

As you can see, the gameplay is extremely simple, but I find this game to be outrageously fun. Like the more mainstream dexterity game, Jenga, Hamsterrolle is all about stacking blocks and not knocking anything over. I enjoy this game much, much more than Jenga. First, the tension in Hamsterrolle builds a lot faster than in Jenga.

In Jenga, players will often have very easy moves for the first 80% of the game. In my experience, once all of the obvious moves are gone, the blocks that are remaining are almost impossible to pull. In Hamsterrolle, the game will often become tense after the first two or three moves. The different shapes and - more importantly - weights of the blocks allow for some very clever and devious play. Placing a tall block vertically on a ledge that is almost parallel to the playing surface can make the next player’s turn very difficult.

The following image pretty much sums up everything I love about Hamsterrolle. The yellow, blue, and purple blocks that are wedged in at the top of the wheel are fantastic. Very few dexterity games will give you moments like that. Also, assuming the next player has to place her block to the right of the wheel, she is going to have a very tough turn. There is no room for her to place in the last compartment (the one with the blue block and the grey cylinder), and the next compartment’s ledge is slanted downward!

Giant Hamsterrolle wheel while playing the game

The other thing that I like about Hamsterrolle is that it can become quite strategic. Knowing how much certain blocks are likely to roll the wheel, and what block placements will make the next player’s turn difficult make up interesting pieces of a player’s turn. The game also requires little setup time and even less cleanup time.

A minor shortfall of the game is that it can be skill and experience based. If a beginning player’s turn is after a strong player’s turn, the beginning player will very often have a difficult time placing her blocks on the wheel. If the inverse is true, then a “Puerto Rico” effect can occur - a strong player who is following a weak player will have an even easier time ridding herself of her blocks. Of course, this game takes at most 20 minutes to play, and is not deeply strategic by any means - so these issues would probably only arise after the fourth or fifth game of it in a row (and you will play it that many times in a row), and can be easily addressed by simply switching seats or changing turn order.

As far as dexterity games go, I would give Hamsterrolle a 9/10. It is quick to play, easy to learn, and great fun with good tension points. The game’s few weaknesses are not much of an issue in light of the fact that the game plays so quickly.

If Hamsterrolle sounds interesting, you should also check out Bamboleo, Crokinole, and Click Clack Lumberjack.

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