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Geometry Wars

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Quick note, wrote another review! This was for The Loop, a rare coop that actually won me over thanks to remembering to be fun:

Anyway, blog!

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Earlier this year we played several games of Square on Sale week after week, and while we haven't played it recently (or much else to be honest, life has been busy) I wanted to put some thoughts out there.

Auctions in this are high-impact. SoS's system is fairly simple but unconventional: you can only bid once per turn, on one space, and then you set a turn 2 timer on it. When it gets back around to you it ticks down to 1. One more round, then congrats! You win the thing! But at any point in those two rounds someone can come along and outbid you, and if they do they steal the timer -where it's at-. Having a one round timer yanked out from under you feels agonizing. Sure you get all your money back, but your tempo! Your precious tempo!

Winning spaces is where your points are going to come from. Where things get spicy is the chaining. If you win a spot and there are any un-won spots between that space and another one you currently own, you get to plop squares on ALL of those. It's by far the most efficient way to get your pieces out, and since leftover squares all ding you for -1 at the end you'll want to make that happen. This is a major motivator to outbid people, even if it's expensive, because any given win could compromise your board state. The game swings back and forth constantly, repainting the blocks throughout, but losing a foothold in key areas makes swinging it in your favor particularly difficult. So it's a game of picking your battles, writing off acceptable losses, and knowing when to take a hit to stake your claim.

There are a lot of little things that I've glossed over. The way recollecting your money works (in a word, slowly), how different areas of the board lock your cash up, the initial seeding of bonus point "beans" to incentivize people playing for the center of the board. All of these matter in play, but writing about them too much distracts from the feel of the thing. Keeping your head about water, counting your rapidly dwindling dollars, evaluating the board for chain opportunities, scanning your opponents' coffers to figure out how high you need to go to get that critical spot without tossing your whole bank account at it. And all while keeping pace, maintaining tempo. Always tempo. It's a balancing act where everyone will fall off the tightrope a couple times only to bounce right back up from the net, socking an opponent on their way.

Square on Sale is just fascinating. There aren't a lot of completely deterministic games that feel this breezy without sacrificing an ounce of strategy, manage to never have a dull turn. Winning feels like you've pulled one over on everyone else, losing always comes with clear feedback in hindsight, and regardless of the result it's a good use of a game night.
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