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Subject: Jeremy Avery: "Making a stink about this little game" rss

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Jeremy Avery
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Now, you have to be honest with me. How can you not appreciate a game where the biggest point card is a steaming pile of cow dung and the components include 25 plastic flies? No, I'm not being disgusting -- this is, after all, a Pack of Flies we are talking about. (And as I am typing this, I just understood the pun in the title! How embarassing... =) Pack of Flies will never be mistaken for a heavy thinker, but how is it for what it is?

Gameplay can almost be summed up in one paragraph. Each player starts with 5 flies in his left hand, and one of the cards in the center of the table is flipped over. The deck of cards is slim (this is not a long game) and contains both point cards and action cards. Once the players have seen the cards, they secretly choose a bid (zero is allowed) which they put into their right hand. Before revealing the flies, the players must all make a guess as to how many flies they think there is total amongst all the players -- and these guesses are NOT in turn order, but rather as quick as you shout them out with the quicker bids winning ties, and the player with the closest guess winning the card. All the players then lose all the flies they bid, but if any of the players had an exact correct guess, all the players who did so claim a fly from the center of the table.


Image by Fluffy James

When you can boil nearly the entire game down to one paragraph, you know your not talking about the latest Alea game. But Pack of Flies is a surprisingly fun game. In one sense, it is like a poor-man's Liar's Dice / Call My Bluff in the sense that you are guessing at a total where you only have a small part of the information. But since you lose any flies you bid, most of the time players will bid 0 or 1 fly. This makes the guessing quite interesting since adding, say, 3 flies to your hand would allow you to wait out everyone else's low bids, then you come in with a higher bid to win it. Of course, that won't work if someone else thought the same thing! Also interesting is that normally in a bidding game you want to be the first in with a correct bid, but in Pack of Flies, if someone has already made the guess you wanted to make, you may still be wise to make that same bid, since all players with exactly correct guesses get a bonus fly, even if they didn't get the card.

Most of the cards in the deck are fairly basic point cards worth 2-4 points. (So what sort of things are valuable to a fly? How about steaming dung, a cow's face, a sandwich left out on a counter...) There are also negative point cards (-2 and -3 points respectively if I remember correctly) which help check a leader (the dreaded fly swatter!) But it's the special action cards that throw some spice into the game. The most basic one is the Baby Flies card, which gives the winner flies equal to the number players in the game. But the last two cards are not only cute, they are neat mechanics too: Muriel the Trained Fly allows you to call Muriel back to your left hand AFTER you have seen the results of the bidding and revealing, allowing you to potentially pick up the card, or at least deny it to the leader; the Fly Spray allows you to empty out a player's hand after guessing but before revealing, allowing you to kill some flies that may have pushed the total higher.

Image by Toynan

Pack of Flies is very quick, has an unusual theme, point cards that are appropriately chosen for the theme, and a bundle of plastic flies. It scales very well from 2-5 players, and has a great fit as filler on game night, or a fun game to play with non- gamers and tends to ellicit a lot of laughs. My only complaint is that the negative point cards (and to a lesser extent, the Muriel card) allow for some kingmaking. But, you know what? This isn't a strategy game, and the whole thing is over in 10 minutes, so ask me if I care if you play a -3 card on me to take the win away from me and give it to Tim. I don't care -- I'll be too busy laughing.
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