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Subject: Pickomino - A Detailed Review rss

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Dr. Dam
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Image Courtesy of Verkisto

This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be
part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Summary

Game Type – Dice Game
Play Time: 30-60 Minutes
Number of Players: 2-7 (Best 3-4...5 at most)
Mechanics – Dice Rolling, Press Your Luck
Difficulty – Pick-Up and Play (Can be learned in about 10 minutes)
Components – Excellent
Release - 2005

Designer – Reiner Knizia (Lost Cities, Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, Samurai, Amun-Re, Through the Desert, Lord of the Rings, FITS…and the list goes on!)

Overview

Ah Knizia...designer of so many great games but many will agree (even the fans) that they can be a little dry at times. Math hidden behind a thin veneer of cover art and scoring mechanics - that is the Knizia signature.

But in 2005 he released what I regard as something of a masterpiece in the light dice game genre. Pickomino for mine is a classic title, that needs no more than a handful of dice and a set of Bakelite tiles.

Of course you'll need to assume the role of a chicken and enter the pen in this foul eat foul battle of 'many chooks enter...only one chook leaves!

Do you have what it takes? Answer? - BUCK BUCK BUCK BA CUCK!

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The Components

A good dice game just about only needs one thing...dice. But Pickomino throws in some tiles to for good measure.

d10-1 Dice – The dice found here are something of a mixed blessing. They are made of very light wood and if you aren't careful they will be flying across the room as you shake your way to victory. But worse than that, the wooden material does have one major flaw - it collects dirt off surfaces very easily over time and they can look mighty grubby after a while.

I've played my copy over 100 times and they look about as manky as a 2 year old's night nappy. It's not pleasant but it isn't the end of the world either. On the bright side I just secured myself a set of custom Chessex dice made from plastic and they will be great.

On the positive side of things though the dice are nice to look at when prestine, featuring blue pips on a stark white surface. All dice have the values 1-5 and the 6 is replaced by a cute little worm in red. Worms are also worth 5 points.


Image Courtesy of Geosmores


d10-2 Tiles – When it comes to component quality though it is the tiles that steal the show in Pickomino. There are 16 tiles in all and they are made from that most lovely of materials...Bakelite.

For those not familiar, Bakelite is often seen in the production of Mahjong tiles and higher class Dominoes. It's a strong material and allows etching into the surface. (Actually Hive also uses Bakelite).

The tiles found here all have a number value ranging form 21-36 and a number of worms in the lower portion of each tile, ranging from 1-4. The tiles 21-24 have only 1 worm, 25-28 have 2 worms, 29-32 have 3 worms and 33-36 have 4 worms.

As well as being nice to the touch the tiles are also pleasant to look at thanks to the use of contrasting colours red, blue and white.


Image Courtesy of rsolow


d10-3 Artwork – I don't usually mention artwork but I have to here as Pickomino uses the gorgeous work of Doris Matthaus, which sees the creation of cute worms and plucky chickens going at it. It just adds that nice touch to the production.


Image Courtesy of jsper


d10-4 Rules and Box – The rules to Pickomino are top notch, giving good illustrations and not being any longer than they have to be.

The same cannot always be said about the box though. I am lucky enough to own an older copy that comes in a small square box roughly 15cm by 15cm. It fits nicely on the shelf and has a footprint small enough to fit the weight of the game.

The image below shows a copy of a travel edition which is even smaller but from what I have seen, newer releases of the game are coming in a damn awful huge square box that must be 80% air. Stupid western society and its need to feel like it is getting value for money...bigger is NOT better! shake (end of rant) whistle


Image Courtesy of henk.rolleman


The only thing stopping Pickomino from having excellent components are the wooden dice that get to grubby to fast. Love me some Bakelite.


Image Courtesy of Gibbon27


The Set-Up

Pickomino is a breeze to set-up, taking all of about 20 seconds. Quite simply all that needs be done is to place the tiles in numerical order face-up for all to see and then decide on a start player and give them the dice.

The fun is about to begin.

The Play

Image Courtesy of rober


Pickomino is all about the Alpha-Chicken...we all want to be the big hen in the pen. To achieve our goal it is all about collecting or eating more worms than the competition. Worms are of course gained by rolling the dice. So let's see how it all works.

The Aim - The aim of Pickomino is to collect the tiles that start play on the table. Each tile has a number of worms printed on it (ranging from 1-4) and a numerical value. The players need to roll the exact total of a tile and stop their turn in order to take the tile in question, thus adding the number of worms to their running total.

Now for some more detail...

d10-1 Roll those dice and make a Decision – On a player's turn they must roll all 8 dice but only a single roll is allowed before a decision must be made.

The decision is simple enough, the player must choose any one value from the current roll and all dice of that value must be set aside. In fact this is similar to the play of Las Vegas.

d10-2 To Re-roll or Stop – After each roll the player must decide if they will stop or if they will continue. A player cannot stop however if the total of their dice is less than 21 as this is the lowest tile on offer.

Of course a player can have a total of 21 or more and still choose to continue rolling, which lends the game it's 'push your luck' element.

d10-3 Criteria for Scoring – There is one key rule though in relation to stopping and being able to take a tile. Having a given total is not enough by itself. The players must also ensure that their set-aside dice also contain at least one worm symbol. These symbols are worth 5 points as well and add to a player's total.

d10-4 Rolling Again? Busted!!! – This is the rule that really gives Pickomino it's 'edge'. If a player rolls again (by choice or because they have to) they cannot set aside dice of a value that has already been set-aside on a prior roll. If they only roll values that have been set aside already they bust for that turn.

This can lead to some very tense moments as players try to push their luck and only have 1 or 2 values left to roll on their remaining dice. In these situations busting can be commonplace.

d10-5 Consequences of Busting – If busting wasn't bad enough, it can get worse. If a player has at least one tile in their score pile they will be forced to return their topmost tile to the table, putting it back in the correct position. Suddenly not only have you wasted a turn but you have lost worms from your total as well. Should this happen the turn after you secure a high value tile it's a disaster as the jubilation of winning a 4-worm tile turns to despair! wow

d10-6 Taking a Tile – Of course things can also go well in Pickomino and players will regularly be able to stop and take a tile matching their total.

There are two locations where tiles can be taken from. The obvious one is from the table of available tiles. If a tile is the player's first one then it is simply placed in front of them but if they already have a tile, the new acquisition is placed on top of the last and in this way successful players will begin to build a stack or tower of tiles, each new one covering up the last.

And this is important because the other place a player can take a tile from is the top of another player's stack! devil That's right folks...Pickomino allows players to steal tiles from each other provided they can roll the total of a tile that sits atop someone's stack! It's deliciously evil and makes for a lot of fun in the game.

One clarification I should make here is that as the game evolves there will of course be fewer and fewer tiles left on the table. If a player manages to roll a total (let's say 26) and that tile is already gone, they can still stop and take any tile of a lesser value that is on the table. However to steal from someone requires the exact total of an exposed tile to be rolled.

d10-7 Managing the Game Length – Now if you've followed closely you may be thinking, 'Boy this game could go forever with people winning tiles and then losing them again.

This would be true, so the game makes use of a fairly clever rule. If a player is forced to return a tile but it isn't the highest valued tile on the table, then the highest valued tile is flipped over and not available for winning any more. In this way the tiles left to be won are diminished, helping the game draw to a finale.

d10-8 Ending and Winning the Game – The game comes to an end when the last available tile is won from the open supply on the table. At this point all players count up the total number of worms they have won and the highest number is declared the winner. They are encouraged to strut...of course. laugh

In the event of a tie, the player with the highest valued tile is declared the winner, which really emphasises the need to 'go for broke' in Pickomino.

The Appeal of Pickomino

Image Courtesy of lacxox


d10-1 'Keep one Value' Rule - This is really the one rule that makes the game 'work'. There is nothing more hilarious than watching another player set aside worms, 4s and 5s and still have 3 dice left, only to see them roll double 4...5 and bust in the process.

Pickomino is a great game of odds calculation but like any great dice game, those dice just delight in doing the Han Solo ('never tell me the odds'...and screwing you over. The groans and laughter at such moments are what make Pickomino memorable.

d10-2 Dice Pool Management - Every great dice game tends to require dice management in one form or another. In Pickomino you really want to make sure that you are rolling as many of the big values in a single roll as possible so sometimes it may be wiser for a player to set aside a single 3 instead of a single 5 because they need to score at least 26 in this turn to secure a tile and not bust. The dice pool management of Pickomino really serves as a subtle but important part of the strategy.

d10-3 Knizia does Theme...kind of! - Knizia is known for his pasted on themes but in Pickomino he actually pulls it off almost well. Sure the tiles containing worms rather than just numbers is clever, but it is the rule that a player must have at least one worm on their dice in order to win a tile that is excellent.

I mean how can I take a tile with worms without rolling at least one worm? It is very good fun to watch someone else set aside a mammoth score thanks to a bunch of 5s and 4s and be down to their single dice, needing a damned worm in order to win a tile in the 30s. The tension of that single roll, needing a 1 in 6 result or else they get nothing is a lot of fun. meeple

d10-4 'Take That!' - The mistake that some dice games make is to essentially have players playing against a set of rules in order to earn points but 'never shall the players meet'. This is not the case with Pickomino as stealing from another player is more satisfying than simply taking one from the table (not to mention more beneficial as it reduces the score of a competitor at the same time as increasing your own).

There is nothing more devilishly enjoyable than seeing someone get lucky to win that '29' tile just to see you come along the very next turn and take it from them. Players that can play a game in this spirit and throw in a bit of trash talking will likely find Pickomino to be a good time.

This can lead to some fun moments where 2 players are at each other for a period of time or a single tile gets passed from one player to the next to the next...making for an 'in-game joke' all of its own.

d10-5 Protecting What you Have - Now we get back to another important strategic element - protecting that top tile. As just mentioned, there is nothing more devastating than having a high valued tile taken from you or worse...lost to the table because you bust.

The way to protect valuable tiles is to secure a new one that will be added to the top of your stack, making anything underneath off-limits. This can often see a player be more than happy to not 'push their luck' and simply secure a low valued 20 something tile.

If a player is deemed to be in the lead it can be quite fun to watch the table go after them by trying to steal that top tile, which then allows subsequent players to go after the hidden gems below.

Watching a player go from 4-5 tiles down to only 1-2 is quite enjoyable...well for those doing the stealing anyway.

d10-6 Doing the Math and Education - Putting the Dr. back into Dr. Knizia, the R-man has been sure to include some math in Pickomino. From the simple adding of dice to the concepts of probability and odds, Pickomino is chock full of chances to use math skills, which can be great to develop the skills of younger gamers.

I played 3 games with students in my class this week and because I teach 8-10 year olds I was focusing more on ways to add. In very quick time I had students understanding better, the concepts of building to the nearest ten. They were also beginning to calculate in their mind the number or numbers they would need to roll to steal a certain tile from another player, which is an extension of their thinking.

For that reason Pickomino is a great game for families with children or pretty much any classroom. The nature of the game (we need to roll certain totals to secure tiles) makes the game easy to understand and the learning that can be gained is incidental and happens as part of the play itself. It's the perfect combination. mb

d10-7 Winnable from Any Position - If the math plus the fun wasn't enough to entice younger gamers and adults just out for a fun time then Pickomino adds one more layer to the 'good time' cake. And that is the fact that Pickomino really gives any player a chance to win from almost any position. A player can have rotten luck for 3-4 rounds and suddenly get on a hot streak and be king of the hill by the middle to end game.

Likewise a player can be sitting pretty too and all of a sudden suffer a bust here, have a tile stolen there and be back to square one.

I've always liked games where the chance to win is always within reach and Pickomino does it very well indeed. These are the perfect kinds of game for families too because the kids feel like the 'strategy gap' isn't too great between them and the adults, thus giving them a chance.

And yes for the record I do have the mental age of a 10 year old...

Any Negative Points

Image Courtesy of Capitaine Grappin


Just the obvious...

d10-1 May not Appeal to Serious Gamers - If you like your gaming in the form of Agricola, Brass, Terra Mystica and Eclipse then Pickomino is not going to scratch any of those itches.

This is light, accessible fun with a fair twist of luck and chaos as tiles fly this way and that. Gamers can certainly enjoy the experience if in the right mood but it will often be chosen as an opener or closer or as a break from heavier fare in a gaming session.

If you try to play Pickomino with the eye to simply maximising your score and playing safe every time, then the experience will likely fall flat. Pickomino demands its players to enjoy the experience and not always try to 'optimise it'. If you can do that then a great time can be had.

d10-2 The Time Frame - If Pickomino has one major drawback it is the possibility of 'overstaying' its welcome (going too long). This is because tiles can move freely between the players, players can target the perceived leader and the players can bust, thus returning tiles to the supply.

The game tries to minimise the impact of 'busting' by turning tiles over to reduce the pool and therefore reduce the play time remaining, but on some occasions Pickomino can go close to the 50-60 minute mark and that is about 15-20 minutes longer than it needs to be.

d10-3 The Player Count - Following on from that last point I also prefer to play Pickomino with 5 or fewer. Anything more than that and I tend to find that the game goes closer to that hour mark more often than not and even though I enjoy the game, that time frame and the downtime between turns is just too much.

I only like to play the full 6-7 player count if I'm at a Con and we are all up for that kind of experience and the drinks are flowing freely.

The Final Word

In recent years I've come to feel that I am in the minority in liking Pickomino as much as I do but I'm cool with that. More people on BGG seem to think that Sushizok im Gockelwock to be the better game but that one just left me rather board.

Knizia is no stranger to a light dice game with other titles including Los Banditos, Ra: The Dice Game and Decathlon (Reiner Knizia's Decathlon) to name but a few.

For me though this is his dice game masterpiece. I love 'push your luck' styled games, the components (especially those tiles) are great and there is so much fun to be had here and no small amount of skill when you really begin to understand the dice management approaches to reaching scores that will allow you to steal other player's tiles.

I already have over 100 plays of Pickomino under my belt and I'm sure to rack up many more in the years ahead. This is my 'go to' dice roller of choice alongside Can't Stop and I can't see that changing anytime soon.

Till next we meet may you stash those worms away and Cluck your way to victory. (We need a chicken emoticon!)

Review Links

For a full list of my 500+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Other Light Dice Game Review Links

A Fistful of Penguins

Airships

Alea Iacta Est

Can't Stop

Combo King

Las Vegas

Quixx

Sharp Shooters

SUTAKKU

Wurfel Bohnanza
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Gudjon Torfi Sigurdsson
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I love this game as well, only 54 plays so far though!

What's good about it that it works for everyone (friends, kids, parents etc.), is portable and fun.

And I love playing this with one of my friends, I can always push him into rolling just one more time...
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Dr. Dam
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A big thanks to this guy too -

David Estall
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As custom Pickomino dice are winging their way to me from the UK. Yay! cool
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A Brave New Geek
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This game is brilliant and a fine review. We have the lip balm sized tin and love teaching this one to non-gamers whenever we bring it out.

I agree - This and Can't Stop are near perfect. Las Vegas is also worth a mention for light dice throwers for those that prefer a bit more interaction.
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Sven Teuber
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Nice review, well done.

I agree that the wooden dice collect a fair amount of dirt along the way, but they can easily be cleaned using a wet towel or handkerchief. Did that to my copy recently, looks as new.

Since I prefer the look and feel of wooden dice over plastic ones, cleaning them every 50 or so games is a price I am more than willing to pay for the better feel.
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Dr. Dam
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May 2018 be all you dreamed it would be and be all that you dreamed...
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Figilano wrote:
Nice review, well done.

I agree that the wooden dice collect a fair amount of dirt along the way, but they can easily be cleaned using a wet towel or handkerchief. Did that to my copy recently, looks as new.

Since I prefer the look and feel of wooden dice over plastic ones, cleaning them every 50 or so games is a price I am more than willing to pay for the better feel.


Now you tell me.
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Stasia Doster
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I have played this on Facebook, but not IRL. I will have to see if I can find a copy because I think it is a great light dice roller. Thanks for the review!
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Helmer Aslaksen
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Prof. of mathematics and lover of history. Trying to get my kids interested in board games. Knizia fan (own about 100 of his games). Worked at the National Univ. of Singapore for 22 years and spent 8 years at UC Berkeley. Love Irish history
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Great review! Glad to see that you enjoy Pickomino!

I recently tried the App, and it beats me almost all the time. I read a very interesting article by the maker of the AI (http://www.mkrevuelta.com/en/2016/03/21/pickomino/), and I've also read various other articles about the game, like (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224491336_Determina...).

Most people seem to trust the "obvious strategies, like if you roll a 5 and a 4, they pick the 5. However, it turns out that you should pick the 4. You are better off saving your 5-choice hoping that you will get more than one 5 in a later round. This is just an example of the kind of probability analysis that is required if you want to beat the AI or advanced players. I am a professor of mathematics, and I think this game is hard! And by the way, the maker of the AI says that the AI does not cheat. This is a game by Knizia, so trust him to have done the math properly. :-)
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