Ganz schön clever (Game Review by Chris Wray)
Roll ‘n Writes: love ‘em or hate ‘em, the throw-some-dice-and-mark-something-off mechanic has been popular in recent years. Though most of us played Yahtzee as kids, new titles like Qwixx, Qwinto, Dice Stars, and Rolling Japan have dominated the current conversation among game enthusiasts. As a genre, Roll ‘n Writes tend to be easy to learn, inexpensive, and fast paced, all factors that explain their popularity, at least among those of us that can overlook that ever-depleting stack of score sheets.
Of course, among a certain segment of gamers, Roll ‘n Writes tend to be scoffed at. They aren’t thought of as strategic: indeed, they’re often more of a luck fest. They also aren’t thought of as interactive: by design, we each toil on our own little score sheet. But most of all --- if we’re being really blunt --- most Roll ‘n Writes are just kinda… the same. It’s a genre ripe for something new, innovative, and …. clever.
Enter Ganz schön clever (English translation: “Pretty Clever”), a new title from Schmidt Spiele and breakout designer Wolfgang Warsch. The game was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres recently, along another of Warsch's games, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg. A third title of his, The Mind, was nominated for Spiel des Jahres.
Ganz schön clever is a game that turns the Roll ‘n Write genre on its end. It’s think-y, interactive, innovative, and most importantly, combo-licious. I’ve played Ganz schön clever almost a dozen times in recent weeks, and me and my game groups have fallen in love with it.
On a player’s turn, he rolls six-sided dice in six colors: yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, and white. The player then picks one of these dice to use, marking the corresponding space on his score sheet. But the choice of dice isn’t without consequences: any dice showing fewer pips must be set aside on a silver platter, and the player won’t be able to use them for the rest of his turn. He or she then rerolls the remaining available dice and repeats the process until either (a) the player has used three dice, or (b) no available dice remain.
The twist is that the players who are off turn are keenly interested in what makes it onto the silver platter, because they can each use one of those dice. It’s a simple way to add interactivity, but an effective one. It also adds tension for the player on turn: if they take a high dice, they’re likely shifting better dice over to the silver platter.
The interesting part of the game, however, is in choosing where and what to mark on the score sheet. (You can see a sample score sheet here on BGG.) Unlike in other Roll n’ Writes, the choice here isn’t necessary obvious, and there are plenty of options.
Each color of dice has its own grid on the score sheet, each with its own way earn points and bonuses.
· The yellow section has a pre-numbered 4x4 grid, and you mark of a space with the number equal to the pips on your yellow dice. You get bonuses for completing rows, and points for completing columns.
· The green section has boxes in a row which must be marked off in order, and you get points for how far along the row you get, plus bonuses at certain points along the row. The catch is that the first box requires a green dice of greater than 1 to mark off, the second box requires one greater than 2, and so on, such that going further down the row becomes more and more challenging. Fortunately, the pattern restarts after requiring a green dice of 5 or higher.
· The orange section has boxes in a row in which you fill in the number of pips on the die, and at the end of the game you get points for the sum of all the pips you’ve written down. You also get bonuses at certain points along the row, and some pre-set spaces give you double or triple the number of pips showing on the dice.
· The purple section --- like the orange section --- has boxes in a row in which you fill in the number of pips on the die, and you get points for the sum of all the pips you’ve written down. You also get bonuses at certain points along the row, and in fact there are more bonuses on the purple section than on the orange one. The catch here is that each dice must be greater than the previous one, though a 6 can be followed by any number.
· The blue section has a grid of boxes from 2-12, and you get progressively more points for each of these that you mark off. You can also earn bonuses for completing rows and columns. Whereas with the other colors you simply look at the color of the die in question, with blue, you can only mark off the total of the blue die and the white die.
The white die has two functions: (1) as noted above, it affects which space is marked off in the blue section, and (2) it can also be used as a die of any color.
The game is all about setting up combinations by taking advantage of the bonuses. In the game, you can earn re-rolls, the ability to mark off a space of your choosing in the yellow/blue/green sections, or the ability to write a large number in the orange/purple spaces. You can also earn a “+1”, which allows you, at the end of any player’s turn, the right to use an additional die of your choosing, be it one the player used or one on the silver platter. Finally, you can earn “foxes,” which can add greatly to your score as discussed below.
Play continues around the table for 4, 5, or 6 rounds, depending on player count. At that point, players tally up their scores. Each player scores the five colored areas per the rules above. But players also score their foxes, multiplying the number of them earned times the lowest score from the five colored areas. All six subtotals (the five areas plus the foxes) then equal the final score. In our games, a good score tends to be over 200. But it ultimately depends on how the dice come out: we’ve had a couple of games where nobody hit 200, and one game where a player hit 300.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
I’ve taught Ganz schön clever to three different groups, and it has taken all three groups by storm. Whereas typical Roll ‘n Writes suffer from an over-abundance of luck, I find Ganz schön clever to be fairly think-y and strategic. The game has built-in ways to mitigate the effects of the dice. Re-rolls are plentiful --- players often end the game with one or two still available --- and ultimately you can be weak in an area or two if you’re earning enough bonuses in the other areas.
Ganz schön clever is a bit more involved than the rest of its genre, but it is still streamlined and approachable. It takes less than five minutes to teach the rules, and thanks to a well-designed scorepad, gameplay is decently intuitive. Games can last from 30-45 minutes, but there’s little downtime: even on other player’s turns, dice await your judgement on the silver platter.
Overall, I’m highly impressed. Ganz schön clever is my new favorite Roll ‘n Write, and I’d dare call it addictive. There are always interesting choices to make --- both on your turn and the turns of other players --- and that keeps gameplay exciting. The game is combo-licious, and setting yourself up for big moves can make you --- and the game --- feel pretty clever.