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Subject: A game given away. rss

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Tootsie Roll
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Set is essentially a pattern recognition game with cards. The goal of the game is to find cards in a collection that are either all the same or all different in each of four different attributes. This sounds relatively simple, and it is. However, the differing abilities of the players tend to lead to a single player completely dominating the game. That is why this game was purged from our collection.

To give a little history of my interactions with the game, both my wife and I played this growing up before we knew each other. She loved it as a simple game to play with her friends. I loathed it with a loathing I rarely have towards a game, and that can be attributed to two things: I found the game to be tedious and boring and my ex-girlfriend used to destroy me at this game.

Components: The game is made up of a collection of simple cards with four different characteristics: number, shape, color, and shading. The cards are simple and of fine quality, and that works perfectly for this game. Fancy cards would detract from the game, making the pattern recognition more difficult.

Setup: To get the game going, shuffle the cards and select a dealer. The dealer starts by dealing a collection of twelve cards face-up on the table. Total setup time is less than one minute.

Game Play: The game is very simple. Players look for “sets” of three cards within the face-up cards. When a set is found, the player yells “set”, picks up the three cards in the set, and shows the other players. If the other players agree that a set was formed, the three cards are replaced and the process is repeated.

If all players agree that there are no sets in the twelve face-up cards, an additional 3 cards are dealt. However, this is rare.

End of the Game: The game ends when there are no more cards to deal and the players agree that there are no sets left in the face-up cards. The player who found the most sets wins.

Explaining the Game: The game itself is relatively simple, but players must understand what constitutes a set in order to play the game. Each set consists of three cards with the four aspects mentioned above (number, shape, color, and shading) that are either alike or different. The difficult part I have had explaining to people is that each aspect must individually be either all alike or all different. A set can consist of three cards that are all of the same number but are different in shape, color, and shading. The best way to communicate this is by showing examples.

Once players understand what a set is, I like to set up a twelve card grid to give them a chance to find a set or two before really playing the game. This will give them an idea of how to find the sets in the context of the game.

Illustrations of sets:


(Image courtesy of Terraliptar)

The set above illustrates a set that is different in each of the four aspects.


(Image courtesy of mdornbrook)

This grid contains sets in each column and row. For example, the first row contains cards that are alike in number and shape but different in color and shading. The first row is alike in color, but it is different in number, shape, and shading.

Reason for Purging: My wife picked this game up since she had fond memories of it from childhood. Those did not last long. When we played together, neither of us enjoyed it. The games were not competitive. Since I had played with someone who frequently found sets while before the twelfth card hit the table, I had developed some of the quick pattern recognition necessary for being successful at the game. Thus, her simple game from high school now turned into a complete drubbing. On the other hand, I still found the game dull and tedious. Since neither of us ever wanted to play the game, we passed it along to a friend who would enjoy it.

Conclusions: Set is a pattern recognition game about finding collections of cards that are either alike or different in each of four different aspects. As a pattern recognition game, there is a learning curve to the game that gives players with experience an advantage over the other players. The game can be fun and enjoyable, but it is not my cup of tea. This is one of those games where I can see how it works for some people, but I do not see myself ever enjoying the game. The game takes about 15 minutes, and I classify it as a light filler.

What’s good:
- The rules are simple.
- The game is short.

What’s bad:
- Skill makes a big difference, and less skilled players will generally lose.
- With more players, the skill difference becomes even harder to overcome.
- The dealer is at a disadvantage.
- It is boring.

Aside from it just being dull, my biggest problem with the game is that the learning curve is difficult to overcome. If there is a large discrepancy in skill, the player on the losing end of the beat-down will be confused when the other player calls set, confused when they continue dealing cards, and more confused when the other player calls set again. To improve at the game, players must be of relatively close skill level so they have a chance to adjust to the increased speed of recognition required to be competitive. While this type of learning curve works well for Chess or Go, there is not enough in terms of tactics or strategy to make the game worth studying. There are no books title Winning Combinations of Set: a Grandmaster’s View for people to read in their spare time, nor would it be worth buying such a book. Studying becomes finding people of similar skill or sitting in your bedroom playing solitaire.

Which brings up my next complaint. The game does not inspire comment or interaction. Once the cards are dealt, players are in their own worlds while trying to find the next set. Talking to others during the game takes away time that you could be looking for the next set. Even after a player calls set, it is advantageous to continue studying the cards so you can be ready when the next cards are flipped up or even identify a second set from different cards in the nine that are still up. This happens at least once a game. Thus, this game actually punishes the social aspect that I enjoy in games. While I can tolerate this if there is good post-game analysis that can lead to better play, the post game analysis for this basically boils down to “Jentinma, you really got schooled that game. Maybe you should see those sets faster next time. Try spending more of your spare time alone studying some cards so you can see the sets faster. Or perhaps you should just go back to the Set minor leagues where you belong.” As an arrogant and proud man, this doesn’t sit well with me.

The advantages of constantly studying the cards leads to another problem: the dealer is at a disadvantage. In a two player game, the game can be handicapped by making the more skilled player deal, but in a four player game this simply hands the game to the next most skillful player. Sometimes, it is just better to have the dealer sit out the game, swapping dealers between games.

Finally, this game does not scale well. While the game claims to play two to eight players, just try to imagine being the lowest player on the skill level in an eight player game. If the skill difference is a huge disadvantage with two players, add in six more players who are better than you. When player one doesn’t see the set right away, you are left hoping the players two through seven also are stymied long enough for you to get just one set. All of the disadvantages of the game are amplified with more people.

Set has its followers, but I am not one of them. I have yet to find a situation in which I actually enjoyed the game. The differences in skill level tend to make the game uncompetitive, and the game itself is not fun enough to draw me back in. I cannot recommend this game, and I went so far as to get rid of the copy of the game that I had.

Rating by Number of Players:
2: 4
3: 3
4: 2
5-8: Have mercy on everyone and play something else.
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Matthew Chellman
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Nice review. You've eloquently explained my own issues with the game. I still like the concept, but the gameplay tends to be more frustrating than fun.
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Jeff Thompson
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I enjoy "playing" this with my daughters, 4 and 6. We take turns finding a set. And if we can't find one and another person can, we get hints. I've had to take hints from my 6yo daughter before.

We simply go around and around until we are tired or have run through all the cards. It's interesting to see which "sets" my daughters see and how they learn to observe.

It's basically mental jumping jacks.

As a game? Never. As a way to spend time with my daughters in a way that is constructive? Sure. Occasionally.
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Ricatoni
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Good overview of the game. This is a great game for gamers with visual/spatial tendencies. I would not describe it as dull but it is certainly not everyone's cup of tea as you put it. The gaming filters relating to an exceptionally SET adept ex-girlfriend taints on otherwise good review (loathing relating to that is quite strong), and I will say that you do bring up some valid points. There is a side you missed.

Both you and your wife enjoyed this in your younger years. My daughters have this in their gaming collection, and so I will play it with them quite often. I have found that they are pretty darn good with visual/spatial learning and our games are fun. I give them a head start (as you stated, the dealer is at a disadvantage), and sometimes hints (I will silently count to 20 before jumping in), but we all end up having a good time even though I do not always win. Presently we have only played this with 3, but I would not play this with more than 4 players.

Having said all of that, I have not ever played this with adults. So my praise is limited. It is a great game to play with kids and students, and making a set with some patterns is a challenge.
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J C Lawrence
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Set has been a big hit at work. There are now decks scattered about most of the local departments. Small 2-5 set games spring up ad hoc simply because people are walking by or want a break from their current work problem.

Shrug.

I find it a fine game. It is one I enjoy quite a bit but also don't particularly like. I'll willingly play it most times.
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Russ Williams
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I mostly agree with you, although I don't feel as bitter about the game as you seem to.

But I disagree about your thinking it's impossible to get better and all you can do is keep losing to stronger players. (I read your Set comment "Why would I play something like this? A fool is someone who does the same thing over and over and expects to get different results. I hope not to be a fool.") Practice does improve one's skills in Set. Whether one finds it worth spending the time to do so is another question...

When playing a game like Set (which I do rarely, but it is a great game for party situations with random newbies etc since it's easy to explain, interesting in its way, and people can easily drop in and out of the game without causing problems... and more importantly my SO likes to play it sometimes!), I find it more enjoyable to simply accept that the strongest player will probably win, and instead I just focus on playing the game and seeing if I am making progress in my own strength. It's like the enjoyment of playing a little pattern-matching computer game applet.
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Seth Jaffee
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clearclaw wrote:
Set has been a big hit at work. There are now decks scattered about most of the local departments. Small 2-5 set games spring up ad hoc simply because people are walking by or want a break from their current work problem.

Shrug.

I find it a fine game. It is one I enjoy quite a bit but also don't particularly like. I'll willingly play it most times.

If you like set, and like math, you should seek out a game by Tom Jolly (which I believe ought to be coming out eventually if it's not already, but the name might have changed) called Fermat. I played a prototype with tom at a convention, and I liked it so much I made my own copy. I play it all the time at conventions, just like Set when you set it up and start playing, people tend to gravitate to it.

I love Set as well, but some hate it because they're not good at pattern recognition. Fermat might be good for them!
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Clyde W
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This review captures every single thing I dislike about this game. I really, really dislike it when people whip out their copy: if they own the game, they're typically way, way better at it than me, so why even try to act like it's going to be fair? It's a solo game for them at that point.
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Seth Jaffee
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sedjtroll wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
Set has been a big hit at work. There are now decks scattered about most of the local departments. Small 2-5 set games spring up ad hoc simply because people are walking by or want a break from their current work problem.

Shrug.

I find it a fine game. It is one I enjoy quite a bit but also don't particularly like. I'll willingly play it most times.

If you like set, and like math, you should seek out a game by Tom Jolly (which I believe ought to be coming out eventually if it's not already, but the name might have changed) called Fermat. I played a prototype with tom at a convention, and I liked it so much I made my own copy. I play it all the time at conventions, just like Set when you set it up and start playing, people tend to gravitate to it.

I love Set as well, but some hate it because they're not good at pattern recognition. Fermat might be good for them!

FYI, Fermat was published under the name Got It!
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Todd Beall
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I just tried to introduce SET (at a family get-together) to my 2 brothers, sister, and all spouses--8 adults in all, all over 60 years old.
And I forgot to mention--myself and my 3 siblings are all Type-A personalities!
It was a total disaster! First, most of those playing are supercompetitive. Second, they are pretty smart. So as soon as the 12th card was laid down, someone--or more likely several people at once--called "SET!" But who was the first? Well, we had the dealer sit out (we rotated the dealer each time) and be the adjudicator, but even then it was confusing. Arguments about who called "SET" first were the rule, not the exception.
So, to affirm this review: playing with lots of people (one of the few games I could think of where all 8 of us could play) is a disaster, since it increases the odds that people will simultaneously recognize a set as soon as the cards are laid down. I think it could be fun with 3-4 people tops.
Second, the game was way too stressful. As mentioned above, there is no social interaction whatsoever. For people over 60, this was just not fun at all.
Third, we had way too many false SETs called. And as soon as a false SET was disallowed, two more people would simultaneously be calling out SET!
In my thinking, this game could still be fun if they made one simple rule change: give each person (beginning with the player to the left of the dealer) a 20-second opportunity to identify any SETs, then replenish the board and go to the next player. That would eliminate the yelling out of SET and adjudication necessary. Has anyone played the game this way? I think it would work, but might be a bit tedious.
 
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J C Lawrence
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Just make false calls lose a point or two.
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