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Subject: a fun yet ultimately limited game rss

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Lowell Kempf
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Thanks to Denny’s placemats and Snakes and Ladders, I think that roll and move games are some of the first games most people are exposed to. It’s a simple mechanism that is easy to teach and easy to understand. However, the older you get, the less satisfying it becomes since so much of the control of the game is locked up in the die.

Despite that, I still find myself drawn back to roll and move games. Backgammon, Formula De, and Can’t Stop are all examples of roll and move games that offer enough decisions to make them interesting. That’s Life! or Verflixxt! edges into that territory. It isn’t as good as any of the three games I just mentioned but it does offer some interesting choices.

Let me include this disclaimer. Although I have seen the game in life, I do not own it and I have only played it on BSW.

That’s Life! is a game where each player has two to three pawns that they move over a track of tiles, the movement controlled by a six-sided die. If a pawn is the last to leave a tile, the pawn’s player picks up that tile, which will be worth either positive or negative points. The player who ends up with the most positive points is going to win the game.

That’s Life! comes with 32 tiles: 18 red, 8 green and 6 white; 18 colored pawns, enough for six players; 6 plain white guard pawns; a start pad and a finish pad; and a six-sided die.

This is not a small game. The tiles, which will be used to form the board, are good sized pieces, with bright colors and funny pictures on them. On top of that, while the pawns are your standard, wooden design, they are also brightly colored. When you play That’s Life!, everyone in the room will be able to tell.

I have played the game set up two different ways. I have played the game set up so that the first set of tiles are red tiles from -1 to -8 starting the track, followed by the six white tiles, then the green tiles from +8 to +1, ending with another run of red tiles, -1 to -10. I have also played with the tiles randomly placed.

Irregardless of which what you set the game up, you will place the starting pad at the beginning of the track and the finish pad at the end of the track. All of the white tiles will have a white guard pawn placed on them. Each player gets three pawns, which are placed on the starting pad. If there are five or six players, each player only gets two pawns.

On your turn, you roll the die. You must then move a pawn exactly the number of spaces that you just rolled. Normally, you’re going to move one of your own pawns. However, if a guard pawn is sharing a tile with at least one of any player’s pawns, you can move that guard pawn instead.

If the pawn you move is that last pawn on that particular tile, you take that tile and put it in front of you. On BSW, the tiles you take are hidden but you could easily play with the tiles face up. In theory, a player can keep track of the tiles taken. Obviously, a guard can never take a tile, since it can only move if there is a player’s pawn with it.

When a pawn reaches the finish pad, it can no longer move. The finish pad is the one place on the board you don’t have to roll the exact number to reach. You are allowed to overshoot it. The game ends when every pawn is on the finish pad. If all of your pawns are on the finish pad and other players have pawns still on the track, you will just be skipped when it becomes your turn.

After the game is over, players count up all of their points. Each green tile is worth its marked value in positive points while every red tile is worth its marked value in negative points. However, for every white tile that you have, you can turn a red tile’s negative points into positive points. Whoever has the highest positive score is the winner!

There are a lot of positive things I can say about That’s Life!. One is that it is a pretty fun game. Another that it is simple enough that you can teach it to a wide variety of people, including children. In fact, That’s Life! is an excellent family game.

You start off with multiple pawns and, under certain circumstances, you can move the guard pawns as well. Thus, during at least the first part of the game, you are going to have more than one option. Any time a game gives you choices, that’s a good thing.

There’s also a surprisingly high amount of player interaction in the game as well, particularly since players can move the guard pawns. Moving a pawn to join an opponent’s pawn can prevent them from getting a valuable tile and making sure that an opponent is the last person on a red tile can feel pretty good as well.

However, luck plays a very big part in That’s Life!. Movement depends on rolling just one die. That means there is no bell curve and that every number has an equal chance of coming up. This makes any long-term strategy suspect at best.

Also, as the game continues, pawns, even the guard pawns, are going to be leaving the board. Every pawn that you move to the finish pad decreases your options. By the end of the game, you are just playing a roll and move game and you’re hoping that the die is merciful to you.

You can try to set up the end game in your favor. However, the wrong roll on that one die can make all of your plans fall apart.

In the end, while I do enjoy That’s Life!, it does not rise above the limitations of the roll and move mechanism for me to own it. I will cheerfully play it given the chance and I do think that it is a fun game. However, in the end, luck with the die matters more than the choices you make with that die roll.
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