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Subject: Spexxx, Schmexxx – or „Yahtzee meets 4-in-a-row“ rss

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Ron
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Devoted Follower of the Most Holy Church of the Evil Bob. Possessed and down the road to become chaotic, evil & naughty. All hail the Evil Bob and his Stargate.
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From my Essen 2014 loot, this game stands out. I usually buy no abstracts, and if I want a Yahtzee variant, I’d rather go for something with a theme ... like SciFi, Fantasy, but never a game without one.

But for unknown reasons, when I first read about this game at W Eric Martin’s Essen preview, I immediately put it on my radar. I visited the publisher’s booth in Essen and they kindly explained the game to me (they put the poor guys in small Hall 4, which is kind of a vermicular appendix to the three other big halls – It seemed a little deserted and misplaced). However, I instantly bought a copy as I was immediately sold on the game board and the cube placing mechanism and I also thought that wifey will like it.

The Game

The board shows a couple of color coded regions, each one dedicated to a certain die roll result and each one is worth a number of points. In this game, every final die roll you make is converted to an X and Y coordinate where you are allowed to place a cube of your color. So, the easiest region is orange, where you can place a cube with simply two dice – e.g. a 3 and a 4 gives you a coordinate in the orange region. Of course, the higher scores are made in the regions where you need more dice – red for example needs four of a kind and a single die and is worth the most points. But of course it is harder to hit. But you are never forced to use all your dice – if you prefer 3 of a kind over 4 of kind (even if you rolled it), no problem. Go for it. Also, a roll of 5 of a kind allows you put place a cube anywhere on the board.

The primary goal is to put three cubes in a row, orthogonally or diagonally. This is called a “Spexxx” and also explains why this is written with three Xs (what have you thought???). At time of the placement of the third cube in a row, you immediately score the spaces of every cube. E.g. you have a row of three cubes, two of them in the green area (2 points each) and one of them in the blue area (5 points) so you score 9 points. Every other cube that is later added to such a Spexxx also scores points, and you get an additional bonus of 5 or 25 points for Spexxxs that comprise of 5 or 9 cubes respectively.

In case you wondered what the silver and golden spaces on the board represent: these are long (5 dice) and short (4 dice) straights. A nice touch and good addition.

And let me mention the most important thing in this game: contrary to Yahtzee, you are allowed to roll up to four times. Now that’s what I call an improvement! It also means that you have to re-calculate your chances to achieve a certain combination – it’s easier than you might think!

The game lasts a number of rounds depending on the number of players; a two player game is played over 23 rounds while a 4 player game only lasts 16. There’s a kid’s variant where you even use fewer cubes. Of course, the player with the highest score at the end is the winner.



The Verdict

This review is based on a couple of 2 player games. And I believe that this is the sweet spot of Spexxx. The game starts slowly, you put a cube here and there and try to keep as many options open for future rolls as possible. And with every cube more put on the board, the Spexxxs begin to show up and you start to score. You have to think wisely about your re-rolls and your chances to achieve them. If you take risks (trying to have Spexxxs in the high-scoring regions), you might have a hard time achieving it, but one Spexxx there can be worth four or five Spexxx in the low-scoring regions. How much risk do you want to take? Also, sometimes it is wise to sacrifice a cube and put it on a space that is worth tons of points to an opponent if he manages to put a cube there. Meaning, you can play this one aggressively too. And you should!

One disadvantage of the game should be mentioned here: it is subject to AP. Especially in the later turns, if you have played wisely (and with a little luck), you have quite a number of good spaces where you want to place a cube. So after each of your four allowed rolls, you have to think about the chances of hitting exactly that combination with your dice. This is not really a problem in a 2 player game, but I guess this can lead to a tenacious 4 player game, depending on your players; but beware: I’ve never played a 4 player game (and I guess I never will).

Also, the game has no theme – but this might be an advantage for many of you; I’d have preferred to have one.

The box could easily be half the size – mankind has already invented methods to fold a game board twice. This might be a little annoying for geeks with limited shelf space.

Looking at the plus side, there is much more! I own a lot of dice games, but most of them are either too easy to include a satisfying amount of strategy, or they are too complicated for quick and casual play. This game serves perfectly: a strategic dice / cube placement game. It doesn’t need pen & pad, it demands various strategic decisions from the players, and it’s easy to learn and teach.

The rules are well written and feature many graphical examples. They come in 4 languages (Dutch, German, English and French), and as the game material sports no text, I guess additional translations might show up here on the Geek.

One word about the game board. It’s simply a work of beauty. The artist (according to BBG it’s Choi Wan Lee did a fantastic job with the colors and the design of the spaces. The only criticism I have is that the large straights are silver and small straights are gold … that’s a little confusing, I always valued gold more than silver …

All in all I call this a wonderful 2 player game, best to be played with two players. Maybe three. Gosh, why not four? With the right kind of players, this will probably end in an entertaining cube placement battle.

My BGG rating? A clear and wife-approved "7" – Good game, usually willing to play. Even if it has no theme meeple



The board at the end of one of my two-player games. Note that the whiskey is not included in the game ...

Images courtesy of BGG users rubendijkstra, cococoen and myself.
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