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Subject: A motorized dexterity game, with catapult flippers! rss

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Pete Belli
United States
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"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
Square 4 is a dexterity game with a motorized gimmick published in 2009 by Hilco. The game is designed to be enjoyed by 2, 3, or 4 players ages 4 and older. I paid one dollar for my copy at the thrift store.

SQ4 is advertised as "The fast-paced aim, launch, and score game!" but we experienced more aiming and launching with considerably less scoring. There is quite a bit of action in this game, perhaps too much frantic activity. No reading is required to play the game but younger children could be tempted to ingest the small plastic balls. The catapults do not generate enough velocity to injure a kid's eye with the marble. The frustration level in this game is high, so an impatient kid might discover that SQ4 lights his or her fuse.

SQ4 features a battery operated motorized revolving game board. Players use catapult-style flippers to launch balls into four different 5x5 grids on the board as it spins. Each grid target matches one of the four ball colors. The object of the game is to be the first player to get four balls of his or her color in a row. Each player has 10 marbles to work with.

The grid measures about 8" x 8" with the entire apparatus measuring about 20" x 20" across. This small playing area and the frantic flipping element forced us to adopt a house rule regarding balls that fly over the grid or bounce out of the tray. A free-for-all challenge will result in chaos and a bumped board as the players try to grab any loose plastic marbles that are rolling around on the table. We established a "1 shot" rule that allowed the players to alternate launches. This didn't really slow the game down and we finished each of our sample rounds quickly.

The catapults do not have sensitive tension levels but with a little practice our targeting improved considerably. It is possible, with careful aim, for a player to put a plastic marble in the quadrant of the board he or she is actually aiming to hit. The big question is what happens to the ball after it strikes the board. If the marble lands on another plastic ball the contact between two round surfaces can send the incoming projectile flying in any direction. I would estimate that a ball hitting anywhere on the gird has a 50-50 chance of bouncing away, so planning a careful shot to finish a 1-2-3-4 sequence is an exercise in madness.

The motorized board revolves at a constant speed. This allows the players to judge the proper moment to launch a marble with reasonably good timing. It also kills some of the energy in the game because after a few rounds a savvy player will wait until the board rotates into an ideal location, just like NASA planning a mission to Mars.

There are three levels of play. For a young player scoring is based on the total number of balls that land in his or her matching zone. In the standard game players need to form a 1-2-3-4 pattern anywhere on the board. For advanced players only balls in the matching color zone count when creating the four-in-a-row sequence. We played five sample games and formed one successful sequence. The random nature of the marble impacts precludes much strategic placement, although we were able to land balls in the proper color grids with admirable success.

Not sure about this game. We won't be playing it again, but young children might find the flipper action and the movement of the grid entertaining.

BTW, we were both a little dizzy after five sessions. I guess following that revolving board with your eyes gets to the brain circuits.
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