Alf Seegert is one of my darling designers and a dear friend of mine. Yes. He is a proper friend and I love him to bits. That means that this review is biased. Mind you, it doesn’t need to be because the game is excellent, but if it weren’t, this review would be biased.
There. That’s my contribution to ethics in games journalism.
Anyway, Alf teamed up with Steve Poelzing to design Cubist, a game in which the players create works of cubist art and setup their exhibitions and build a museum. In reality the game is a dice rolling abstract game with a theme very cleverly attached to it.
The production is pretty excellent. The game comes with *a lot* of dice in four colours 81 in total; 20 dice per player, plus a red dice that marks the first block of the museum the players can build during game. The dice are marble cubes or loveliness, I have to say. I really like the marbled effect and the size of the dice is big enough to roll nicely in your hand.
The game also comes with five small boards, four for the players, and one for the centre of the table. The central board is the board where the players can place their dice to build the museum. The player boards have been printed both sides – unnecessary but not unwelcome – and, handily enough also comes with the turn sequence printed, so no one will get lost. The different areas of the board show the reserve dice (two of them), and the two rectangles where the players can setup their own exhibits.
There are also three decks of cards. One with the shapes of the exhibits, a small one with the shapes of the museum and a third one with extra actions the players can use during the game.
To make matters even better, the whole game has a cubist art direction. The cover is a cubist painting and the cards are all based on cubist artists. And the thing is that it works. Cubism is not my favourite art style and yet, I absolutely love the looks of this game.
The gameplay is simple. The exhibit cards display shapes that the players need to match in order to score points. The more complex the shapes, the more points the player gets.
Now where it gets tricky is that one can’t just choose any number on their dice to build up the exhibit. You choose the number of the first die you place on your building area, but after that you have to place a consecutive number. Say that you put a 3 as your first die, you can only put a 2 or a 4 adjacent to that dice in order to make the shape you’ve chosen.
Once you pile up enough dice to match the shape on the card, you score the points. The cool thing is that any player can attempt to create the same shape and the first one scores the points. So yes, there will be some sighs of frustration at the table as you steal those precious points away. The game ends when you get a few of those exhibits, or the central museum is complete.
Every round, you roll two die and you can choose to use them to build the exhibit, keep them in your reserve (a maximum of two dice) or place them to lock one of the activity cards for later use.
The abilities you can lock will allow you to turn a dice into a particular number, copy a die one of your opponents have in their reserve, remove a die… add a bit of depth to the game.
When you score a card, you can also lock some dice on that card with specific numbers that you can use to finish another shape, or to help build the central museum, which will also give you some points come the end of the game.
The gameplay is very balanced. Although there are a good number of decisions to make every turn and the dice provide with good variance, it is never too much to instil analysis paralysis or too small to hinder your choices and the rules are easy enough that in a couple of rounds you’ll be up to speed without a problem.
The rules are clear enough, though they suffer from a bit excessive text, something Griffon Games do very often, I have to say. Although they are not confusing, they could also do with being a bit more succinct.
Having all the cards listed with a description of their abilities is very handy and you can expect to check on those the first few times you play. Once you have them under your belt, the gameplay will be even quicker.
Overall I have enjoyed this game a lot, and so have the people I have played it with. It is an excellent light game, perfect to bring people into gaming too. However if you expect a lot of very deep thinking and gaming, this will probably fall short. This is not the sort of games you can build an engine around and get a headache with the effort of cracking the winning strategy. Luck is a huge part of this game, but not enough to be all it takes to win or lose.
If you want something quick, easy, beautiful and ultimately very satisfying, this is indeed for you.
Another hit for Alf Seeger and Steven Poelzing.