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Cuatro

Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser

(Noris Spiele, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 20 minutes; €22.99)

I’ve always wanted to write a short, concise review that encapsulates a game in just one short sentence. With Cuatro, I think I can do just that: Connect 4 meets Yahtzee. There you have it.

OK. You know I cannot stop there; I am far too verbose for this sort of thing! While that short four-word phrase does give on a decent idea of the game’s flavor, it doesn’t fully explain it or convey my insights and opinions. Sadly, more words are necessary.

cuatroJust like Connect 4, Cuatro, a Jürgen P.K. Grunau design, challenges players to get four of their pieces in a row. However, the placement of these pieces onto the board is based upon the rolling of five dice. Dice are rolled up to five times in a fashion similar to Yahtzee, with the player attempting to achieve certain results and placing his piece on a corresponding location on the board. Get four in a row and victory is achieved.

The board depicts a 6×6 grid, with each space listing a Poker combination—pair, triple, quadruple, full house, straight and even a Yahtzee (five of a kind). There are multiples of each of these, and they are color-coded by type for easy identification. Players each receive 15 wooden tokens, each shaped like a miniature roof, enabling them to be safely stacked.

On his turn, a player may roll the dice up to five times, setting aside and re-rolling any dice as he sees fit. He may stop at any time and place one of his pieces on a space corresponding with the result that was achieved. For example, if a player achieved a triple, he may place one of his pieces on any board space that depicts the triple symbol. The next player then takes his turn.

If the player wishes to place a piece onto a space that already contains a piece—his or an opponent’s—he must achieve that Poker result with one fewer roll per piece already located there. For example, if the player is coveting a space requiring a full house, but the space already contains two pieces, he must achieve a full house in only three rolls (5 – 2 = 3). If successful, the player places his piece atop the other pieces already located on that space. If he fails to do so, he can continue rolling and hope to achieve a result that allows him to place a piece somewhere else. Failure after five rolls forces a player to discard a piece from the game.

To achieve victory, a player must align four of his pieces, vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The player’s pieces must all be atop these stacks, so as the game progresses, players will compete over specific locations. These desired locations will usually be fought over constantly, requiring players to achieve those results in fewer and fewer rolls.

As with Connect 4 (and others such as 5ive Straight), the key—outside of simply getting some lucky rolls—is to arrange your pieces so that you have several possible placements that will earn victory. The board is designed so that just about every possible four-way path has at least one space that is difficult to achieve. The easier spaces tend to get filled quickly, forcing players to fight over these difficult spaces.

Victory can also be achieved if a player achieves three “Yahtzees” (five of a kind). It matters not whether the player’s pieces rest atop these stacks; three Yahtzees wins the game immediately. This, of course, is not an easy task.

It is possible for the game to end with no player achieving four-in-a-row. When this occurs, players score points based on the stacks in which their pieces are on top. For example, a piece on top of a 4-story stack earns 4 points, while a piece at the bottom of a stack earns 1 point. The player with the most cumulative points is victorious. This ending to the game is extremely rare; indeed, it has not yet happened in the many games I have played.

Cuatro is one of those games that is simply fun to play. The rules are easy to understand, allowing players of just about any age to immediately jump into and enjoy the game. There are no deep strategies to pursue or insights that only come with multiple playings. Rather, it is a game of opportunity and luck. Spot areas where you want to place, roll the dice, play the odds, but most importantly, hope to get lucky. There is a lot of cheering when rolls go right, and moans when they do not. It is not a quiet game.

The game does require players to keep a careful eye on the board, keenly discerning when one or more players are close to achieving victory. This is not difficult to do, and usually results in combined efforts to block that victory by thwarting the player’s block alignments. This kibitzing may prove troublesome to some, but most consider it part-and-parcel of these types of games.

Sometimes as gamers, we concentrate too much on games that employ highly intricate mechanisms and require carefully refined strategies in order to succeed. We often overlook or even scoff at games that don’t contain these elements. Perhaps we shouldn’t. The bottom line is that Cuatro is fun to play. There are some tactics to employ, but at its heart, luck and fun rule the day. With Cuatro, that is just fine.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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