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GANZ SCHON CLEVER

Reviewed by Joe Huber

GANZ SCHON CLEVER (Schmidt Spiele, 1 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; $24.95)

 

One of the biggest trends in boardgames in the last few years has been the rise of “roll-and-write” games and their various relatives.  Exactly where the history of such games starts, and for that matter just what it takes to be included, is a subject of much debate.  Is Yahtzee the first such game?  Does the same die roll need to be used by all of the players?  Are actual dice required or will cards or other randomizers do? But regardless of where the lines are drawn, it seems to me that Qwixx (featured in the Summer 2013 GA Report), is the start of the current infatuation. But most of these have been lighter games, comparable in complexity to Qwixx.  Of course, it was inevitable that someone would design a roll-and-write game with a bit more meat to it.

Many folks, myself included, were introduced to Ganz Schön Clever at The Gathering of Friends and many quickly became addicted to the game.  Since then, this design by Wolfgang Warsch has added to its fame by garnering a Kennerspiel des Jahres nomination (a German award for “next step” games, above the family-focused Spiel des Jahres).

Gameplay is generally similar to a typical roll-and-write game.  A player rolls six six sided dice on his/her turn. There is one twist in the rolling: the active player chooses one of the rolled dice but then must set aside any dice of a lesser value, limiting the choices for their second and third rolls, or potentially even forfeiting them if no dice are left remaining to roll.  Five of these dice are colored and, when selected, are scored in its own area; the sixth white die can be used in any area.  But each area scores in a different way – from a grid of values to be scored in any order, to a grid containing each 2-die roll from 2-12 once, requiring both the blue AND white dice, to an area where each roll must be greater than the previous until a 6 is rolled, resetting the sequence.  One track has no requirements whatsoever. 

After the active player has used three dice – or runs out of dice to use – the rest of the players get to choose from the dice that have been placed aside. What makes Ganz schön Clever truly clever, though, is the bonus scoring and abilities possible in each scoring area – and even enabled as a bonus at the start of the round.  These range from re-rolls, to being able to use a die twice, to even scoring in other areas.  Finally, there are fox symbols in each scoring area; the number of fox symbols is multiplied by the lowest area score for an endgame bonus, encouraging diversification.

Ganz schön Clever, while it is a more complex roll-and-write game than most, is still a roll and write game.  I’ve enjoyed a number of these games, but not all of them and most of the ones which have struck home with me have done so in part because of their simplicity. But here, the added complexity seems to add enough to the game to justify itself.  The degree of interaction between the various scoring opportunities and the need, for the bonus, to balance those opportunities, makes for an interesting experience.  Of course, since there’s so much more control when taking an active turn, there is a bit more interest with fewer players in the game, somewhat unusual for a game of this type.

The components of the game are, frankly, a disappointment.  The use of a pad of sheets, rather than erasable boards, is reasonable; there’s so much to keep track of on a sheet as to work better with a pen rather than an erasable marker.  But the decision to put the scoring on the back, rather than on the front, is workable, but klunky.  The dice are fine but nothing special.  On the whole, everything works but it’s easy to imagine a better implementation.  At least the game is appropriately inexpensive.

The biggest concern I have with the game is how well it will hold up to repeated play.  I’ve played seven times now, and I still enjoy the game – but my drive to play more is diminishing.  It’s entirely possible that it still holds another uptick in interest, but currently I don’t see that as likely.

Ganz Schön Clever is a game that all fans of roll-and-write games should try.  The interaction between the scoring regions is very different and notable and while it won’t appeal to everyone, it should be experienced.  It’s a good enough game as to be worth trying even by those who are less fond of the genre; it’s not hard to imagine this being the one roll-and-write game that really works for some folks. But for me, I’m not sure about it.  The abstract nature of the game is not a plus for me.  And I’m not a big enough fan of roll-and-write games for this to automatically pull me in.  That said, I’ve played seven times so far and will be happy to play more; it just might not be a game that needs to remain in my collection. – – – – Joe Huber


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