One of the more flexible games I picked up at GenCon this year was one called “Square Shooters.” I say flexible because it not only comes with rules for eight different games that can be played with the included dice (or at least variations on the theme) but also, since the game is basically playing cards in a special format, you can play nearly any other game you could play with playing cards. (Although 9 dice pick up is not the same thing) Further, the designers of the game are having a contest this month to make new games to be played with their dice. (http://www.squareshooters.com/thatshowiroll/ for info)
So what is the game? In the box you get nine six-sided dice – between them having all of the normal playing card values plus two jokers, 42 cards for the Square Shooters version of the game, 100 tiny poker chips for score keeping, a bag to keep all of it in, full rules and quick rules. What’s special about these dice having playing card faces on them is that the designers claim most popular hands of playing cards can be made by simply rolling the dice (though fellow Doomtown fans will notice one important combination missing) by arraying where each face lands on a given die, nearly any playable poker hand – flushes, straights, 4 of a kinds, etc – can be rolled.
So what do you do with the dice? As mentioned, you can play nearly any card game by rolling dice instead of card flopping. (No, I have not figured out how to play solitaire, but once you win you can actually reproduce the cascade you get from Windows Solitaire) In fact, Rummy is one of the suggested games in the rules. Most of the alternative games included seem to be variations on the theme of “roll the dice three times and try to get the best hand.” Probably the most interesting of these is the base rules included in the game. Instead of trying to just roll the best hand, each player on their turn flips over a card which gives them a goal hand. In a press your luck mechanic you can either try to roll a generic hand (a full house) or a specific hand (A♣A♠8♦8♠8♦) for more points. Some of the cards are special cards, wherein you get some sort of bonus or do a simple roll off for best hand with another player. After so many turns the player with the most chips wins the game. This leads to a fairly simple but nonetheless entertaining press your luck game that can easily be picked up by someone familiar with standard poker.
So there’s the basic mechanics of the game. You can play most card games you’d play with cards, changing the bluffing aspect to push your luck. You can’t really have the same bluffing you’d get in poker since everything is rolled face up, but in exchange you have more randomness added in. As such I think this is a game best for children or non gamers where the bluffing aspect of normal cards doesn’t draw them the same way. Also by removing the deck you no longer have the shuffle issue – nor the same potential cheating issues if you have trust issues. For a light game to play with little thought it seems fairly perfect. You don’t have to explain poker hands to most people, and the target hands make it even easier to show those who don’t yet know them.
The game is an interesting take on the idea of playing cards, combining two familiar mechanics in an interesting way. I don’t think there’s enough depth right now for serious gamers (though the contest could easily change that) but due to the high familiarity and simple mechanics it seems a perfect fit for people who want a lighter type of game or to bring non gamers into gaming with a simple transition. Again, it seems to me to be perfect for children, giving them a chance to become familiar with playing card values in a way that’s easier to show them. The rules even have suggestions for how to slightly alter the rules to help out said small children.
Verdict: A great game if you want a press your luck game with an easily recognizable flavor. We’ll see what interesting designs come out of their competition.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.