Game Classics: Quandary

[Style over substance is a hallmark of modern day society. This is often true for games as well. But when you manage to combine style AND substance in a game by the well respected and award winning designer Reiner Knizia, you should be able to come up with a hit, right? Except it didn’t work out that way. We recognized the value of this particular game when it was released; Sid Sackson did the honors, writing about the game in our Spring 1997 issue. But that didn’t keep it from appearing and disappearing in too short a time. The game? Quandary.]

(Milton Bradley, 1997, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, about 30 minutes; out of print)


Reviewed by Sid Sackson

quandaryQuandary is a very clever Reiner Knizia design that originally appeared under the name Flinke Plinke and published by Amigo in Europe. Now, Milton Bradley gives it an upscale treatment with two very attractive sets of colored tiles, the quality of which would make them blend right in with the best chips Monte Carlo has to offer. One set of tiles are the Number squares – five runs of six tiles numbered from 0 to 5. The other set are the Quandary tiles, six each of the five colors. A double-fold board has five paths for the colors, each six spaces long.

quandarypcsThe squares are placed face down and mixed. When 2 or 4 play, two Squares are removed without showing the faces. When 3 player, three Squares are removed. The remaining Squares are then distributed (from 14 when two play down to 7 each with the full complement of four) and placed on the players’ racks.

Players, in turn, choose a Square and place it face up in the path of its color. The player then takes a Quandary tile of ANY color and places it where all of the players can see it. This continues until all of the spaces of ONE of the paths is filled.

Each Quandary tile a player has scores for the top number in the path of the matching color. (For example, if the last number played in the red path is “3”, each red Quandary tile is worth 3 points.) New rounds are played until each player has had a chance to play first. High score wins.

On the box, they say that Quandary is “a nice little game of scheming and plotting”. They’ve got it just right. You will have no quandary on how to have fun with Quandary.

Copyright ©1997, all rights reserved.

Reviewed by Herb Levy

When Sid mentions that the chips in the game “make them blend right in with the best chips Monte Carlo has to offer”, he ain’t kidding! I’ve played this game with many “non-gamer” friends who were seduced, first and foremost, by the tiles. They looked good, they felt good. When they discovered that they liked playing the game on top of that, Quandary was an unqualified hit! So what went wrong? Why did such a game of quality play value and exceptional presentation fall by the wayside? A couple of thoughts on this conundrum.

To discover what is inside the box, you have to get past the outside and that was a problem.

quanback2An unknown game on the shelf has to grab your attention and make you want to pick it up from among its neighbors by convincing you that there is something special and different about it. Unfortunately, the box cover and, worse yet, the back of the box told virtually NOTHING about the game. Think about it for a second and let’s do a little imagining. Picture yourself as a casual gamer and a potential buyer, searching the game store shelves for something special.

As you go up and down the aisles, you think to yourself: “Monopoly, yeah, I know that one. Buying and selling real estate to make money. That’s fun. And over here, The Game of Life. Yeah, I know that one too. Go on life adventures. Yeah, that could be good. Hmmm… Quandary. Never heard of that one. I wonder what that’s about. It says ‘a nice little game of scheming and plotting’. Sounds cool.” So far, so good. You’re intrigued. And you pick up the game and read the back of the box to find out more. And you read:

“It’s the light strategy game that’s so easy to learn, you’ll be playing in minutes. So unpredictable, you’ll always need to keep your wits about you. So addictive, you won’t want to stop. Because whether you’re winning or losing, you’re always be in a Quandary. And you’ll love it.”

There are pictures of people holding tiles and smiling. Words like “satisfying” and “scheming” are sprinkled across the back of the box too. But what do you do? What are you trying to do? That remains a mystery and the box provided no answers! Still, all things being equal, you might be willing to take a chance on an unknown game that looks interesting. We do it all the time. But then there was another obstacle. Let’s continue eavesdropping on that potential buyer:

“Well, maybe I will take a chance on this Quandary. Let’s see, Monopoly costs about $10, Life costs about $10, Quandary costs about…….. WHAT!?!?!” $38!!! Are they out of their ever-loving minds?!?!?”

In today’s market, it’s not unusual to spend $38 and more for a game. We are all well aware that you get what you pay for and high class quality costs money. But this game appeared in 1997 when $38 for a game was not the norm. And, unless the customer is convinced that he’s getting value for his hard-earned dollar, he is not going to part with such a large chunk of his leisure-spending bucks. Nothing (or, at least, not enough) on that box was that convincing. So, back on the shelf went Quandary.

Quandary is an abstract game and, granted, abstract games can be hard to promote. Hard but certainly not impossible. Think of Blokus (Fall 2002 GA REPORT) and Qwirkle (Summer 2007 GA REPORT) as just two recent examples of abstracts enjoying well-deserved and continuing success. Adding to the problem is that Milton Bradley, as a mass market maker of games, was and is, first and foremost, interested in selling LOTS of games. Not the 5000 or 10,000 units sold that satisfy small Euro-centric companies. No. Bradley is thinking in terms of HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS units sold. Not to be.

Sales of such a magnitude might have been possible but the “marketing” did not do the game justice. A repackaging might have helped Quandary rise to a high level of success both as an “entry level” Euro style game as well as an “evergreen” that could appeal to all ages. The value of the game has, in fact, been recognized more than once as evidenced by its repackaging (and a few name changes). The game appeared in its card game form as Loco by Fantasy Flight Games, re-appeared in a slim back box as Thor in a European reworking in 2002 and, more recently, as Botswana (Gryphon Games) adding a jungle safari theme and animal pieces to the basic play. None of these reworkings attempted to capture the upscale production values of Quandary. Unfortunately, no repackaging was to be for that gorgeous production featuring casino-worthy tiles that added ambiance to the gameplay, merging style and substance brilliantly. Instead, Quandary was quickly plucked from the Milton Bradley line and vanishing from store shelves only to re-emerge now as a worthy honoree in our Game Classics series.


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