This month, we’re going to take a look at eleven different dexterity games. These are games that use some sort of physical action to accomplish a task. I’ve divided the games on this list into four different categories – flicking, stacking, reflexes, and aim. As always, this list isn’t meant to be comprehensive and the order isn’t definitive, it’s just a list of eleven games I’ve played and enjoy.
We’ll start with the granddaddy of dexterity games, Crokinole. Crokinole has been around since the 19th century (the earliest known board was created in Canada in 1876), and remains very popular all around the world – there’s even an annual World Crokinole Championship. Crokinole is played on a round table that is divided into three rings. The outer ring is divided into four zones, one for each of the four player maximum (this game can be played individually as a two-player game or in teams with four). The inner ring is surrounded by eight pegs and contains a hole in the middle. On your turn, you take one of your discs (there are 12 total for your side) and place it on the outer line of your zone. You then flick it, trying to get it in the middle if there are no discs on the board or trying to hit an opponent’s piece if they are on the board. If there are opposing pieces on the board, you must hit one or your piece and any other pieces you hit are removed from the board. At the end of the round, pieces in the outer ring are worth five points, the middle ring are worth ten, the inner ring worth fifteen, and pieces that went in the hole are worth twenty. The winning player gets the difference between the two scores, and you generally play to 100.
Crokinole is a lot of fun to play. There’s no theme, and there doesn’t need to be. It’s an exciting game as people can pull of some very masterful shots and commit some spectacular failures (those pegs can be maddening). The partnership aspect of the four-player game makes it very entertaining. It’s definitely a game of skill, but there’s no doubt that you do sometimes have to be lucky with the way pieces bounce. Boards are pretty expensive, but well worth it if you can find one – Mayday has a pretty good board for $150, but there are better premium boards out there if you’re serious about playing.
PitchCar took the flicking aspect of Crokinole and added a racing theme. Originally published in 1995 as Carabande, this Jean de Poël design was rereleased in 2005 by Ferti as Pitchcar. It’s a game for 2-8 players (or really as many as you want, as long as you have the cars). The basic game is simple – set up a track, then flick your discs down the track to try to be the first across the finish line. If your car goes off the track, you have to put it back where it was and lose your turn. And that’s pretty much it. You can do as many laps as you want.
The thing about Pitchcar that I find most appealing is the wide range of tracks you can create. You can put in bridges, jumps, weird curves, rails, and all kinds of stuff to make life difficult. The races themselves are very fun, especially when people fire their cars off the track and have to go searching for them. There’s no strategy, other than trying to decide the angle you’re going to shoot from or the velocity of your flick (though I know from experience that it’s nearly impossible to predict). The game is quite pricey, especially if you want to add in all the expansions to make some epic tracks, but it’s one that is a lot of fun.
Catacombs came out in 2010 and brought dexterity to the dungeon crawl. Designed by Ryan Amos, Marc Kelsey, and Aron West, and published by Sands of Time Games, Catacombs is a 2-5 player flicking game where players take the role of dungeon heroes trying to make their way through a dungeon to defeat the big baddie at the end. The overlord sets up a dungeon with cards, using a different board for each level (these boards have holes for discs that act as obstacles). On each level, heroes flick their discs to hit monsters, and monster flick back to try and damage the heroes. Each hero has a different ability – the barbarian can do a rage attack to do four shots in a row (at the cost of his next turn); the thief can do two shots if the first misses (though the second can’t do damage), and gets extra money for killing a monster; the elf has arrows (little yellow discs) she can shoot; and the wizard has a deck of spells available. The monsters get tougher, and if the heroes can defeat the final boss monster, they win. If not, they lose.
Catacombs adds a really engaging theme to the familiar flicking mechanism. The game as a whole is a little clunky, but the theme makes up for it. It’s an interesting one vs. all game, with the overlord having control of a bunch of monsters to the four heroes. It adds some extra intensity and adds stakes to the genre. Highly recommended.
It’s Winter Olympics time, and my favorite thing to watch is curling. Caveman Curling takes the mechanics of the “sport” (minus the brooms) and makes a flicking game out of it. This 2-6 player game was designed by Daniel Quodbach, and is published by Gryphon in the US. The rules are similar to curling – players take turns shooting their discs at a target (a campfire). You want to get your pieces as close as you can to the center because the player who is closest to the center gets one point per piece that is closer to the center than your opponent’s. The first player to six wins. This game adds some extra tokens you can spend to give yourself an advantage – hammers allow you to move your disc, and totems give you some protection.
The thing I like about curling is that it is a dexterity game. You’ll see a team talking to each other, trying to figure the best shot to get their stones in position. Then they throw, and the brooms try to guide the stone as someone screams out direction. It’s not the most exciting sport to watch, perhaps, but it appeals to me. I think Caveman Curling does a good job about translating it to a board game. It’s much faster, but there are similar considerations of where to shoot your pieces. If you like curling, you’ll probably like this game. If you don’t like curling, you still might like Caveman Curling.
Before leaving the flicking category behind, I want to make a special mention of Sorry! Sliders. Designed by Craig van Ness and originally released by Hasbro in 2008, Sliders has nothing to do with the original Sorry! other than the iconic pawn design. The pawns here have ball bearings in the base so they roll. This is listed on BGG as a flicking game, but you don’t so much flick them as push them down the path (like curling). Up to four players take turns taking shots at the target down the middle, then scoring to try to get your score pawns to the home row.
Sorry! Sliders has often been called a poor man’s Crokinole, and it’s an apt comparison. It’s a very good dexterity game, especially for a mass market title, and has some very cool pieces – those pawns are pretty cool. If you’re in Wal-Mart and see it (or even the Cars 2 version, which I hear is more like PitchCar), it would be a good pick up,
Moving on to stacking, we’ll first look at Animal Upon Animal. This is a 2005 game from German kids game publisher HABA. It was designed by Klaus Miltenberger and supports 2-4 players. Each player has a money, a toucan, a snake, a hedgehog, a lizard, a sheep, and a penguin. The object of the game is to get rid of all your pieces. On your turn, you roll a die, and either stack 1-2 or your choice of animal on top of a crocodile, place an animal next to the crocodile, or pass a piece to another player for them to stack. If the stack collapses, you take any animals that fall off. The first player to get rid of them all wins.
Animal Upon Animal has some great wooden animals, and the fact that they are all different shapes adds some extra challenge to the dexterity. There’s strategy in determining which animals to place where, but really it’s all about the stacking. Steadier hands will prevail. It’s very fun, and good for all ages.
Villa Palettti is a game by Bill Payne that was released in 2001 by Zoch Verlag. It one of the most infamous winners of the Spiel des Jahres in history, primarily because it surprisingly beat out TransAmerica and Puerto Rico. This stacking game is about trying to get your pieces on the top floor of an ever-growing tower. Each player has five columns, valued at 1-2-3 points. These columns are placed on a base plate, and a second floor is added. Players then take turns pulling out their columns and placing them on the next floor. Once the third floor is added, players start competing for the Master seal. The player with the most points in columns on the top floor get the Master seal. You’ll keep adding floors and columns until there are no possible builds remaining, or when the building collapses. Whoever has the Master seal at this point wins the game.
Let’s be honest – Villa Paletti is NOT a better game than TransAmerica or Puerto Rico. However, it is a reasonably fun stacking game. It’s different than something like Jenga because you are trying to manipulate score rather than just trying to not be the one to collapse the tower. I have played once, and enjoyed it. Definitely worth checking out if you can track it down.
On to what I’m calling reflex games. Jungle Speed (2-8 players) first came out in 1997, as designed by Thomas Vuarchex and Pierrick Yakovenko. In this game, players take turns flipping cards, and when a shape matches, you race to be the first to grab the totem. If you get the totem, you can give your pile of cards that have been flipped to the losing player (the object of the game is to get rid of all of your cards). There are several factors that make this process difficult – a lot of the shapes are very similar, false grabs mean you get lots of cards, and there are special cards that give you little minigames to play within the experience.
I love Jungle Speed. It’s one of my go-to games to play with anyone anytime. I have an older copy of the game that has the solid wood totem (the current edition that you can find in Toys R Us has a chew toy for a totem), and I always have to remind people NOT TO DISRESPECT THE TOTEM. It’s fun, and really works your reflexes as you grab for the totem without knocking it over (which causes you to take cards). I definitely recommend it.
Loopin’ Louie is a mass market game from Hasbro. It was designed by Carol Wisely and originally appeared in 1992. The game is for 2-4 players, and is all about trying to protect your chickens from a crazy pilot. Each player has an area with three chicken discs. In the center of the setup is a long arm with Louie on the end. This arm goes around in circles, and player need to hit their paddle to try and bounce him over their chickens and onto other player’s chickens. The last person with chickens remaining wins. You can usually play several games in a row (we like playing the first to three games).
This game is FUN. It’s a completely brainless experience – all you’re doing is hitting your lever at the right moment, and trying to hit it with enough force to give your opponents trouble. It’s a game for ages 4 and up, so it’s always really funny to see grown men gather around determinedly hitting their levers. Check it out.
Moving on to some eye-hand coordination (which I’m calling aim games). FlowerFall (2-7 players) came out in 2012, designed by Carl Chudyk and published by Asmadi. FlowerFall has a very simple concept – there are some flowers scattered around, and you drop flower cards to try and create large patches of your color flower. That’s pretty much it. I’ve only played the game once, as a demo at GenCon, but I enjoyed it. The scoring is very simple, and though there is some skill in where you’re dropping, you have to know that a sudden gust of wind can ruin it. Still, I think it’s a very nice game, and more relaxing than our next selection.
Maximum Throwdown is the next evolution of the aiming mechanic. This one was designed by Jason Tagmire and published by AEG. 2-6 players take turns throwing cards on the table, trying to be connected to locations. At the start of your turn, you look to see the symbols that are uncovered, and could score points, steal cards, get extra throws, or even be able to use cards that missed horribly. All the symbol counting definitely slows the game down, but overall, Maximum Throwdown is a pretty fun game. Again, it’s really hard to aim cards, but it’s fun to try, and you can pull off those epic shots.
BONUS TWELFTH ITEM! I wanted to put Rampage at the end because it’s really a mash-up of several dexterity styles. The game came out in 2013 from designers Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc, and plays with 2-4 players. You’re monsters destroying Meeple City, trying to eat meeples and accomplish different goals. On your turn, you get two actions – move by flicking your paws disc; demolish by dropping your monster on an adjacent building; toss a vehicle by flicking it off your head; or breathe, blowing on the buildings to try and knock them off. The winner of the game is the one with the most points – you get 10 points for a complete set of different colored meeples, plus 2 per tooth you ate, plus one for each floor you ate, plus anything you scored for your personal objective.
Rampage is a ton of fun. You get flicking (the movement and tossing vehicles), aim (dropping monsters), stacking (during set-up), and reflexes (as you try to catch meeples as they fly off the table). You also add some breathing, which I do pretty well at (I’m a trombone player, it helps). The points are kind of silly, it’s just fun to destroy stuff. Grab a copy if you can.
That’s my list. Let me know if there are any more that you think should be considered. Thanks for reading!