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Subject: A Little Known and Very Underrated Dexterity Game rss

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Picture courtesy of Big Woo.

When I was asked at a convention if I wanted to play "the tree", which was about "building a tree", my first thought was, "Do I look particularly imbecile today?" The box looked dull, and the components simplistic; it looked like a children’s game, and bloody boring at that. However, the game, whose real name is Arbos, not "the tree", turned out to be the most entertaining event at that convention. I felt I had to buy it at once, and I’ve never regretted doing so, because I’ve never heard as much laughter around my gaming table as when I’ve played Arbos. Maybe it’s a game for you too?


The components are of very high quality, the kind of sturdy, wooden pieces you expect to find in a German game. If used and stored properly, they will easily last a lifetime.

However, the high quality of the components is not only for the better. High quality costs money, and Arbos is quite expensive. I bought my copy for almost €35 and I doubt that you can find it for a much lower price than €30. That’s a considerable amount of money for a little dexterity game, no matter how you look at it. I bought it anyway since I found it so incredibly entertaining, but I would most probably have hesitated if I hadn’t tried it before.


The rules are very simple. The stem is put through the hole in the base; the more of the stem that sticks out below the base, the more difficult the game becomes.

Attach a branch or leave to the tree when it’s your turn; it’s always easier to attach a leave, but saving your branches may give you problems farther down the road. If any pieces fall down, pick them up on your hand. If no pieces fall down, move on to the next player, who attaches another branch or leave to the tree. The first player who gets rid of all branches and leaves wins the game. That’s it.

Picture courtesy of Chien-Tsun Chen.

I should mention that there also is a small deck of cards included, but I’ve never heard of anyone who actually uses them, as the cards don’t really add anything interesting to the game. Furthermore, the cards haven’t exactly been well translated into English, to say the very least. Some illustrative examples:

"Change your branches with your lefthanded neighbour."
"Stop one time."
"Replace 1 piece to another place."
"Decide who has to replace which piece where you want."


First of all, I have to point out that I always, from the very first time, have played this game with a house rule which, in my opinion, makes the game ten times more fun. It’s simple: You don’t have to use the holes and plugs when placing branches and leaves, but can place them any way you like, as long as they don’t touch the base or the table. You can lay a branch across another branch, lay a leaf on the tip of another, and what have you. This house rule changes the game dramatically, as it invites to building very unstable and seemingly gravity-defying structures, which not only makes the game harder, but also more creative, as you get dramatically more options.

Isn’t this house rule against the spirit of the rules? Technically, no. The short rules on the box are rounded off with the laconic notion, "Or create your own rules for playing the game." Isn’t it illogical then? Yes, probably. However, you could always pretend that you are creating a work of modern art together...

My picture.

With this house rule, I think that Arbos is an incredibly entertaining game. Although it’s just anecdotal evidence, everyone I know who has played this game has enjoyed it, and every time I’ve played it there has been much laughter around the table. It’s markedly trickier than more conventional dexterity games like Pick Up Sticks and Jenga as it’s more difficult to predict the exact consequences of a move, so there can be quite intense moments when someone tries a difficult placement on a noticeably unstable structure. With this house rule, it also tends to become something of a sport to try the most difficult placements possible, even if failure will lead to defeat, simply to see if it’s possible.


Arbos is quite demanding as far as dexterity games go. First, you need to have a very steady hand. The tree is intentionally a very unstable structure, which moves very easily; even the slightest fumbling may disturb the equilibrium with disastrous consequences. Thus, Arbos is not necessarily suitable for the very youngest and the very oldest, or people that simply have shaky hands.

Second, you need to have spatial intelligence and understand everyday physics. You have to calculate how the point of gravity changes when you add a branch or leave, or it will all crash down. Thus, Arbos can potentially be a bit too complicated for children of pre-school age.


Arbos is a very accessible game that you basically can introduce to anyone, as it has very simple and intuitive rules that anyone can grasp, and has a neutral theme without geeky elements such as orcs and space marines. In other words, this is a non-threatening game for non-gamers, and could be used as a so-called gateway game, or at least to show non-gamers that there is more to board games than Monopoly and Risk.

Needless to say, this is an excellent family game. You can play this with your children or your grandparents, on a weekday evening or at a family reunion. The pieces are sturdy enough for children to play with, and can even be washed if necessary. Funnily enough, it can even be an advantage to eat snacks while playing this game: it will make the pieces glossier and the game more challenging.

Arbos is not a bad party game either. I’ve played Arbos with everything from two to ten players, although the box says that it’s for up to eight players, and I can say that it scales very well. Having a beer while playing it only adds to the fun.

Picture courtesy of Flix.

Believe it or not, but Arbos may actually appeal to so-called hardcore gamers too. I was introduced to Arbos by hardcore gamers at a convention, and I’ve seen that it’s quite a popular game at such events, at least in my country. However hardcore we ever may be, very few of us want to play long and complex games that require hard thinking and deep concentration all the time. If you want a light and fun game to achieve variation and get some laughs, this game is as good as any.

If you want an accessible dexterity game in the medium price range which offers somewhat unusual gameplay, this might be something for you. It may not be as elaborate as Crokinole or Pitch Car, but it’s has two advantages, namely that it’s less pricey and less spacey. It doesn’t cost more than a cheap Eurogame and can be played on a small kitchen table. If this sounds good to you, Arbos might be something you want to consider buying.
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