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EXTRA!

Reviewed by Herb Levy

EXTRA! (Schmidt Spiele, 1-6 players, ages 8 and up, about 10 minutes; about $15)

 

Dice have always been a staple of gaming. “Roll and move” is one of the earliest game mechanisms to appear. But, as readers of GA Report have long come to realize, dice rolls need not be limited to such a prosaic role in games. To illustrate that point, one of the cleverest use of dice to make a game was found in the pages of A Gamut of Games by Sid Sackson. The game was called Solitaire Dice. From the pages of that book where it began as a game for 1 player (as you may have surmised from the original title), the game morphed into a multi-player experience packaged in boxed editions, first as Choice and later as Einstein. Now, the game has reappeared, with a few interesting tweaks, and a new name: Extra!

Extra! is part of Schmidt Spiele’s new line of dice games and comes in a nifty hard plastic package that, when unfolded, also serves as a dice tower. Inside the tower are five standard six-sided dice, ample score sheets, (sharpened!) pencils (a nice touch) and rules in three languages (German, French and Italian) but NOT English! Luckily, the language barrier is easily crossed as gameplay is language neutralextra

All players begin with a score sheet and a pencil. The score sheet is divided into two sections: the scoring section and the “reject” section. The scoring section has a column with the numbers 2 through 12. Next to each number is a series of boxes (under a “-200” heading). A bold line separates the -200 heading from the “0” heading. Five additional boxes in each row offer multipliers for scoring. The reject section consists of 3 columns (10, 9 and 8 boxes in length).

Game turns follow the same pattern. A player rolls all five dice. From that roll, ALL players simultaneously create two pairs of numbers. For example, if 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are rolled, a player may choose to add 2 and 5 to make 7 and use 4 and 3 to make another 7. The pairs created by each player are charted on his own score sheet by marking one box for each pair created on the appropriate row. The die not used, aka the “reject” (in our example, the 6) is noted on one of the 3 empty columns and a box on that column is marked. This completes a turn.

Now, the dice are rolled again and, once more, all players choose which pairs to make from the dice roll and again, choose a reject die to fill in one of the empty columns. Once three “rejects” have been marked, a player is forced to divide the dice rolled so that one of the rejects remains. (For example, if numbers 2, 4 and 5 are the “rejects”, then, if a player rolls 1-2-3-6-6, he MUST choose 2 as his reject die and rearrange the remaining four into two pairs.) If a player gets lucky and none of his reject numbers appear on a roll, he gets a “free” turn and may choose any two combinations without penalty. Players continue to roll and check off boxes until one of their “reject” columns is filled. (Generally, players do not end their play on the same turn. A player continues until one of the their reject columns is completely filled.) They then score.

Reject columns are not worth any points. Rather, players score for each number column in which they have a check. If their checks have not passed that dividing line, the player scores MINUS 200 points for that number! There are six boxes past the dividing line. The first box over saves you from the -200 score but you score no points! It’s getting to and through the next five boxes where points start piling up, how many points determined by the difficulty of the number and how far over the line you have gotten. For example, each slot on the more difficult 2 line is worth 100 points while each slot on the easier 7 line will only score 30. The player with the highest cumulative score wins!

While the essence of this Sid Sackson game remains unchanged, the developers at Schmidt Spiele has made three changes which are actually pretty good. First, the number of rolls needed to escape out of the -200 range has been modified. It is easier to make a 7 than it is to make a 2 or a 12. In recognition of that, the number of rolls needed to escape from the -200 range has been lessened for the more difficult numbers. Instead of the traditional 5 boxes in the -200 zone, the lines for numbers 2, 3 and 11 and 12 contain only 3 boxes. 4 and 5 and 9 and 10 only contain 4. This dovetails with the second modification. Multipliers have been increased. Before, you simply multiplied the spaces claimed by a set number. (For example, if each scoring box in the 6 line was worth 40 and you got to the fourth scoring box, you would score 160. Now getting further down the line is more amply rewarded. The set number is multiplied by 5 in the penultimate space (so you would score 200 now) and multiplied by 7 if you managed to reach the final spot. These changes help players finish with a positive final number, a result more much more satisfying than negative scores which were much more common in the game’s previous incarnations. The final tweak is more show than substance. The columns for the fifth die, equal (with 8 boxes) in previous editions, are now different for each row. This gives the illusion of a decision to make when you choose which number to commit to which column. I say illusion since every single number has an equal chance of appearing no matter what you choose. In this case, it is better to be lucky than smart!

While the game has improved, three nits to pick. The dice tower, which is extremely attractive, solid and clever in its use as packaging, works well except for one thing: often, one or more of the dice when rolled tend to “hide” underneath the chute portion of the tower. This means either tipping the tower to slide out the hidden dice or reaching in and taking them out so all can easily see. Another thing is the lack of English rules. In this day and age, when Euro games have such a large and vibrant customer base in the United States and England, why snub this large pool of potential customers? It doesn’t make much sense to me. And why choose Extra! for a title? It is very reminiscent of Reiner Knizia’s Exxtra, another clever but completely different dice game, and might lead to some confusion. Fortunately, none of these hurt the game.

It is always a pleasure to play a Sid Sackson game and this is no exception. The only extra Extra! should include is a warning: “Caution: This game is highly addictive – and a whole lot of fun!” – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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