Friday, October 13, 2023

Experiments in Roll and Move

I try and learn at least one or two games a month but October has been a month where finding the time and focus to do that just hasn’t been there. Then I realized that a good place to look would be Alexander Shen’s catalog.

Now, that might sound like a slam on Shen’s design skills but it’s the opposite. Their short and deceptively simple games and puzzles serve a very real purpose and need. And the way Shen keeps on creating games that fit so neatly the coffee break niche means it’s not an accident.

Quests Over Coffee: Danger Room is a game I have periodically looked at, in no small part because I feel that Quests Over Coffee is Shen’s strongest game. 

Spoiler: Danger Room has nothing to do with Quests Over Coffee.

The board, score/time track and rules for Danger Room take up just one page. You just print off that page, add some tokens and dice and you’re done.

The board is a seven by seven grid. There are four three-square L-shapes that divide the board into bottlenecks and paths. There are also eighteen scoring spaces on the board, each with a dice pip on if.

You put a token in the middle of the board to serve as your pawn. The scoring token goes at the start of the track and the time goes on the end. Each turn, you roll three dice and assign one to movement, own to scoring and one to time.

Move is obvious. Move your pawn that many spaces with no backtracking. The time die moves that many spaces down the track. Scoring is a little weirder because the pip symbol doesn’t mean that that actual pip. You actually check a chart to see if the die you assigned earns one to three points. 

The game ends when the score token and the fine token either meet or pass each other. At that point, your score is your score.

Wow. A lot of Shen’s games and puzzles are minimal but Danger Room really pushes it. Both in flavor and in content, it just felt like there wasn’t anything there. As a contrast, Shen’s Blankout is just as minimal but has some pattern recognition and development that I enjoy. 

There are some nice touches. Lower numbers tend to score better so you have a choice to slow the time token down or try to get points. If I was told that Danger Room had been created as mental exercise, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a solitaire Roll and Move with very few moving parts.

I found the idea interesting enough to play Danger Room a few times but it feels more like an experiment than a game. That said, I also tried another Shen solitaire at the same time, Take What You Mine, and I enjoyed that one a lot more.

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