Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Why That’s Pretty Clever works for me

 When I first played Qwixx, I decided that it was the game to fire Yahtzee for non-gamers. When I first played That’s Pretty Clever, I decided that it was the game to fire Yahtzee for gamers.

That’s Pretty Clever is a dice-drafting, roll-and-write game. There are five, color-coded sets of boxes on each player’s sheet and you roll six dice matching those colors, plus a white die that’s wild. Every set of boxes has a different criteria for checking one of those boxes.

Ah, but here’s the clever bit. When you achieve certain milestones, you get bonuses. They can be rerolls, extra die grabs, fox heads that actually score multipliers, and checking off boxes in other sections. With planning and luck, you can set off a cascade of bonuses.

That’s Pretty Clever offers a steady stream of interesting choices. Every die you take means there are other dice and opportunities you aren’t taking. And because these are dice we are taking about, there is enough randomness that you can’t map out the decision tree. You have to hedge your bets as best you can. All those factors help make the game engaging.

The biggest flaw that I have found is that there seem to be a couple of patterns or strategies that seem stronger. There is the potential for monotonous play.  But the dice make following an overarching strategy more of a pipe dream  than a plan. 

There is clearly a design space for abstract dice games. They have been around centuries and people are still clearly drawn to them. But, in my exploration of Roll and Writes, I have come to the conclusion that they have to be very good to have any staying power. A theme can add structure and narrative to a game that can help shore up mechanical weak spots.

Now, I don’t think that That’s Pretty Clever is the end all, be all of abstract dice games. And there are themed dice-centric games like Alea est Aecta or Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers that I like more. But it is one of the best abstract dice games that I have found. And, without a regular gaming group at the moment, this is the kind of game that sees more play for me. I am very happy to have tried it and I regularly go back to it.

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