Buzzworthiness: Stroop

Thanks to Grand Gamers Guild for providing a review copy of today’s game.

Today’s review is of a game I first played in prototype form at last year’s Gen Con.  It’s called

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Stroop is a game designed by Jonathan Chaffer and published by Grand Gamers Guild.  It’s for 2-4 players and only takes about 10-15 minutes to play.  The game is based on the Stroop Effect, which is essentially the effect conflicting pieces of information have on your reaction time.  For example, what color is the following word?

GREEN

The correct answer is red, but you see the word GREEN and it takes your mind a moment to reconcile those two pieces of information.

In Stroop, you get 65 basic cards and 45 cards for the advanced variant.  Each card has a word printed on it – RED, GREEN, BLACK, or YELLOW (referring to the color of the font); THREE, FOUR FIVE, or SIX (referring to the number of letters in a word); BIG or LITTLE (referring to upper- or lowercase words); SOLID or HOLLOW (referring to whether or not the letters are filled in).  The advanced version also uses BACKWARD or FORWARD, referring to the direction of the word.

The game plays over the course of two rounds.  At the start of the first round, deal each player 15 cards (20 if using advanced cards and want a longer game).  These cards are kept in a facedown deck in front of you.  One card will be revealed to the center of the play area.  On the word GO, you’ll start drawing cards from your deck.  When you have a card that is described by the word in the center, you may play it to the top of the deck.  This will give a new word that people are trying to match.  So if the word was GREEN, you’d want to play a card that was green.  If the word was big, you’d want to play a card written in uppercase letters.  And so on.

The round continues until one player has drawn all of their cards and determines that they cannot play.  At that point, play stops and you check to see if they really couldn’t play.  If they could, play continues and they don’t get to participate any more.  When the round stops for real, the cards in the center are reshuffled and redistributed to all players.  Unplayed cards remain with you in the second round, shuffled into your new deck.

In the second round, the rules change a little.  You’re still playing cards from your deck, but instead of playing a card that the word in the center describes, you’re playing a card that describes the word in the center.  In the first round, the word GREEN meant you should play a green card.  However, in the second round, the word GREEN means you should play a card that says RED or FIVE or SOLID or BIG.  If you play a green card, you’re wrong.  If you play a red card that doesn’t also say one of those four words, you’re wrong.

The game continues until someone stops the round, at which point the person with the fewest cards wins.

Teaching note: When teaching this game to new players, I’d suggest teaching them the first round, playing it, THEN teaching them the second round.  The second round WILL melt people’s brains, and if you introduce it before you play the first round, bad words are very likely to be said.

image by BGG user asutbone

COMPONENTS: Stroop only comes with cards.  Each card is has its word written in two directions so you can read it from any angle.  The cards are of a good size and quality.  The advanced cards have a blue border on the back for easy sorting.  There’s no art on the cards, just words.  This is a good thing – art would just further distract you.  The only real issue with the components, and I don’t think this really could be rectified, is that you do have to know your colors.  If you’re color blind, I have a feeling you’ll be stuck when it comes to dealing with the different colors.  Also, the box is a little bigger than it needs to be – the cards shake around in there the way it is now.  It probably could have lost a third of its size and been perfect.  Other than those things, the components are fine.

THEME: This game definitely does not have a narrative arc to it, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have theme.  It’s a great chance to learn about the Stroop Effect, something I had never heard of before playing for the first time.  So in that respect, the theme is strong.  However, if you’re looking for story, this game doesn’t have it.

MECHANICS: Stroop is a real-time game, something I tend to enjoy but other people aren’t so fond of.  Beyond that, the game is really about observation and quick thinking as you try to match a card from your hand with the card in the center according to the current rules.  Because of the rule change between the first and second round, it feels like you’re playing a different game even though the style of play (get cards out of your hand as fast as you can) does not change.  It is a get-rid-of-all-your-cards game rather than being points based, and that makes scoring easy in the end – the fewest cards wins.  The game is pretty easy to understand mechanically, it’s just the words on the cards that make things challenging.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s not really a strategy in the game, other than play your cards as quickly as you can.  You can try to arrange your cards in a certain order so you can play them in a nice combo, but in the time you took to do that, someone else has just won the game.  The best strategy you can have in this game is to know the difference between the first and second rounds.

ACCESSIBILITY: As mentioned earlier, this game is very simple to learn how to play.  However, it is NOT simple to understand.  The Stroop Effect is strong in this one, particularly in the second round.  In one game I taught, a player thought the second round would be easier because there were more options for what you could play.  That’s true, but she failed to take into account the fact that those options are not spelled out for you like the one option is in the first round.  This is a game that I think anyone could play, but you should probably warn people that it will make their brain hurt.

REPLAYABILITY: This is a very challenging game, but as you learn it, I think you’ll find that you get better at recognizing when you can play and it will become easier.  Having thought about it, I found I was a little more at ease when playing than the people I’ve been teaching. And when you get several people who really know this game, I think it might have a different sort of tension.  I haven’t played on that expert level yet – I’m still in teaching people mode.  People have liked it and wanted to play again, so that’s a good sign, even for something as frustrating as Stroop.

SCALABILITY: As with a lot of speed games, the more people you add, the more chaos there is.  With the advanced cards mixed in, you could play with more than the four you can play with in the basic game, but I think that would get to be less fun.  I’ve liked my 3- and 4-player games, and it looks like it would still be fun with two as long as the competitors are at the same level.

INTERACTION: You have to react to the card in the middle, and sometimes that means you have to race someone else to get a card played.  There’s nothing you can play on other people, but the shared frustration in Stroop can definitely lead to lots of conversation and other forms of interaction.

FOOTPRINT: All the space you need for this game is a spot for the center pile to go, and room for the players to crowd around the table.  It’s a pretty small footprint game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I was quite frustrated with the game in my first play, but kept wanting to play again.  Now that I have, I really enjoy this as a fast and challenging filler that I think will see a lot of play.

Thanks again to Grand Gamers Guild for the review copy of Stroop, and thanks to you for reading!

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