The first Pack O Game, successfully Kickstarted last year by Chris Handy of Perplext, came to market with a simple concept – to deliver a series of games, micro both in scope and in scale, so that gamers could take and play them anywhere. The 8 games of the original series covered a fairly wide array of mechanics at fairly introductory levels, but all of them delivered accessible gameplay at very reasonable cost and form factor.
Andrew: Some of them were more fun than others (GEM is my favorite), but for a series of games no bigger than a pack of gum (see what they did there?), the Pack O Game project was unique and fun and deserved the success it got.
On 3/3, Perplext is poised to unleash their next salvo of tiny games upon the gaming community. Going up on Kickstarter, the first four games in this set (stretch goals will undoubtedly introduce even more) are ORC, RUM, SOW, and GYM. Each one thrives on a different series of mechanics and delivers a completely different gameplay feel, while staying true to the Pack O Games design philosophy (and 3-letter naming convention) – lots of game in little boxes.
Jess: The first POG set were definitely on the light side. GEM, our favorite, was probably the most mechanically complex, being a bidding/set collection hybrid. As we waded into these four new games, we expected equal complexity at most. Boy howdy, things have changed!
Andrew: Yeah, that’s for sure. All four of these games are on par, complexity-wise, with GEM and one or two even exceed it. That’s not to say they are heavy games, but there is certainly more ‘game’ here than the little package they come in might indicate. Let’s check them out, from least to most complex!
(Also, while the prototype cards Perpelxt sent us for review actually looked great already, we are sure that the finished product will look even better. We decided to use photos from the games KS page here for clarity’s sake, but rest assured, everything looks good so far!)
The only POG2 title for 2 players only and also the fastest-playing, ORC is a lightning quick area control game. Each turn, players will draw ORC cards and then commit their warriors to one of the battlefields between themselves and their opponent. Each ORC clan wears a different color, and once a clan has been sent to a territory, that is the only color you can use to bolster their number. And since clan would never fight clan, your opponent cannot use the same color you are using.
Once the pile of reinforcements beside a given battlefield is empty, that territory is scored, and the player who committed more ORCs wins that location (worth 1 or 2 points, depending on the number of ORCs shown. Play continues until all territories have been scored, and the player with the most points wins!
Andrew: Agreed. Overall, the mechanics are simple but satisfying. There are plenty of other games that simulate this push/pull (Battle Line from GMT is an excellent, though possibly out of print, example), but ORC delivers it in a fast, portable, incredibly accessible form.
RUM is a set collection game for 2-4 scurvy pirates, all competing to get the most points by scavenging rum bottles of different colors. Each turn, players will either collect colored rum cards that have washed up on the beach or they will play a set of those cards to claim ownership over that color set. In order to claim a set, a player must play at least one bottle more than the current value of that set (or play exactly 3 single-bottle cards of that color). Each time a color is claimed, the value of that color goes up.
However, mixed in with the rum is the parrot card, which acts as the game’s timer, as well as penalizing the player who draws it and advancing the ‘castaway clock’. The game ends when the parrot is drawn a 7th time or when a player accrues a certain number of points (based on player count). The pirate with the most points wins!
Andrew: What is interesting about RUM is that, unlike many set collection games, the values of the different sets are not determined by color, type, or rarity, but rather by the number of times the set changes hands. And because it gets harder and harder to steal sets the more valuable they are (since you have to play more bottles than the current value of the set), it means that it is sometimes easier to actually go after several ‘lesser’ sets than fight over a single valuable one. But of course, the ‘3 singles’ rule means that no set is truly safe, if another player is lucky enough, which I actually really like.
Jess: It’s a neat bit of game design, and it works really well. It even has sort of a nontraditional push your luck component, because every time you claim a color, you are making it a more delicious target for everyone else. Of course, I hate that stupid parrot – it always seems to show up just as I am about to complete a big set!
SOW is another set collection game, this one definitely inspired by Mancala, for 2-4 players. Like the classic game, players will take turns redistributing cards around the field, and the last card placed will determine the action the player can take. If the last card is a seed, it will bloom into a flower (i.e. flip over), as well as any seed cards in the pile that share its color. If the last card is a flower and it lands under a player’s wheelbarrow, then the active player declares one of the two colors which comprise the flower and the player who controls the wheelbarrow will collect all the flowers that share that color from the pile, meaning that you may occasionally be forced to (or strategically choose to!) let your opponents gather flowers.
There are also two special cards which will occasionally let players change the direction of card distribution, remove flowers from the game, or immediately claim a flower from beneath your wheelbarrow.
Each player is secretly looking for a particular color of flower, scoring 3 points for every flower they gather that is their color on the outside, 2 points if it is on the inside (flowers that aren’t of your color are still worth a single point). Once a majority of the cards have been claimed, the game ends and players score their bouquets.
Andrew: If it sounds a little convoluted, it isn’t – once you have your rhythm down, SOW is a smooth, excellent little game. Quite a bit more strategic than ORC or RUM, SOW is a thinkier game, where planning ahead is definitely necessary. It works really well at the 2 player count, with more players adding just a bit more chaos.
Jess: I think my favorite part of SOW is how there is how the cards start face down, oddly enough. The seed packet color tells you one of the two colors that will appear in the flower they bloom, but whether that color will be the majority or minority of the flower isn’t something you will know until it blooms. So players start out with a vague sense of which cards they may want, but won’t know exactly. The game changes gears as flowers bloom, accelerating in a really neat way towards the end. It’s lots of fun!
Relive the shame of high school physical education in GYM! GYM is definitely the heaviest of the POG2 offerings we played. It is a drafting and hand management game playable for 2, 4, or 6 players. GYM is played over the course of two phases. In the first phase, the pick phase, players will draft students into their hands to form their teams. Each kid has two stats which make them particularly well suited to specific sports (with the exception of Bullies, but more on them later).
Once teams have been chosen, gameplay moves on to the second phase, the play phase. 4 of the 6 activities will be played by the students, and each player will take turns assigning kids from their hands to the different activities. Each activity has an effect that lets players manipulate the cards in some unique way, and you can activate these abilities as you place kids at activities.
During both phases, Bully kids can be used to further manipulate the game. These kids are generally lousy at activities, but they can be used to determine which 4 of the 6 activities will be played, as well as moving coaches around during the play phase.
Once everyone has been assigned to their sports, the difference in relative strength between the two teams of each event is compared, earning the winning team points equal to the difference. The players whose kids earn them the most points wins.
Andrew: Ok, GYM is a significantly more involved game than ORC, RUM, or SOW, so much so that I feel like our quick-and-dirty description hardly does it justice (see the video for the full rules explanation). The systems in play aren’t complex, but there is a lot of decision-making that needs to happen on every turn, and the added complexity of team play (players cannot show teammates their cards in 4 and 6 player games) makes GYM much more than a simple microgame. This one is a brain burner dressed up as a filler.
Tomorrow, 3/3, the Pack O Games 2 Kickstarter will launch. I was a fan of the first series, but I have to say that Chris Handy has seriously stepped up the design of the games this time around. I cannot wait to see what stretch goals bring to the party, because if the other games Perplext has on reserve are on par with the quality of these four, then you simply cannot go wrong with backing Pack O Games 2.