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Qwixx: Gamewright scores again with a fast-paced, family dice game

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Qwixx

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To a certain extent, every new game that comes out of a box is met with a degree of eager anticipation. Personally, that anticipation is never higher than when I open a box from Gamewright Games, and it's odd, because I'm inclined toward games that generally offer greater depth. The starting age for most, though certainly not all, Gamewright Games is eight years old (specifically, 27 of the 67 games listed on their Web site). Maybe that's it. Maybe Gamewright Games taps into whatever's left of the eight-year-old in me, and I get set to learn and play one of their games the way I used to anticipate an upcoming birthday party, back in the days when whatever happened, it was going to be fun.

That said, off comes the cellophane from a small Gamewright box, holding a game called Quixx, subtitled: A Fast Family Dice Game. Six standard dice (two white, and one each of red, green, blue and yellow), a pad of very game-specific score sheets, and the rules. I happened to be standing up as I was doing all this, and as I opened the folded rules sheet, I started reading right away. Before I sat down, I had the rules mastered and was ready to play and teach the game to anybody (eight-years-old and up, of course.)

The score sheet is basically the game, designed by Steffen Benndorf, and according to the rules sheet, was discovered by Gamewright representatives, "tucked in a corner" at the Essen (Germany) game fair. Dice are one of the oldest game mechanisms known to man, and just when you think they've been utilized in every way imaginable, someone like Benndorf comes along and shows you that there are virtually no limits to imagination.

The score sheet is divided into four colored rows, one on top of another, matching the colors of the four colored dice. A white row at the bottom displays the scores you can earn (more on this later), while four boxes at the far right are for keeping track of any incurred penalties (coming up). The four colored boxes at the bottom will eventually display point totals you've earned in each colored row, while the final white box will display the total penalty points you've earned. Big white box at the far right is Grand Total; person with highest score wins the game.

The start player (known as the 'active player') rolls all six dice and announces (in case anybody can't see for themselves) the number total of the two white dice. All players, active player included, may now (if they wish; not mandatory) "X" out that number in any single colored row of their choosing on the score sheet. The active player then gets to (though is not required to) combine the number of one white die and the number of a colored die of his/her choosing, and "X" out that number in the corresponding color row. Any time an active player chooses not to "X" out a number on the score sheet, he/she must place an "X" in one of the four penalty boxes, each representing minus-five points off a player's total score at the end. When all of this is done, play shifts clockwise to a new active player and the dice are re-rolled.

The trick here is that once you have placed an "X" on a number, you can no longer place an "X" on any number to the left of that number. In other words, once you've crossed out the "7' in any row, then crossing out 2 through 6 in red or yellow, or 8 through 12 in green or blue is no longer possible (they may already have been crossed out before the "7" showed up). In addition, if you wish to "X" out the last number to the right in any row (12 in red or yellow, 2 in green or blue), you must first have already crossed out at least five other numbers in that row. If you accomplish that and opt to "X" the last number to the right, that row becomes "locked" and the die of that color is removed from the game.

Play continues until one player makes an "X" in his/her fourth penalty box, or until two dice have been removed from the game, by locking a row. Points are tallied for the number of "X"s in each color, deducted for penalty boxes and the highest score wins.

There are some deliciously delightful decisions to be made at virtually every roll of the dice in this game. Everybody gets to make a decision based on the white dice roll, while the active player gets to make an extra decision on the combination of one white and one colored die. Probability, as with any two-dice games, suggests that "7" will be the most common roll for the two white dice. However, choosing to use that "7" roll automatically reduces the number of "X"s you'll be able to later mark in any row by half (almost; 5 of 11). You'll want, therefore, to opt for "X"-ing out a "7," only after you've crossed out a few numbers to either side of it, depending on which color(s) you're working with.

The option of not crossing out a number on your turn is fraught with issues, especially for the active player and his/her potential for collecting penalty points. You also don't want to get too far behind in this game, by waiting for just the combination you want. In that sense, there's a little 'push your luck' to this game; pass up the inconvenient rolls that reduce your options in a given row, as opponents are busy marking up their score sheets, or take what the dice give you and look to spread your options out and wait for advantages in the different rows?

It's picked up some negative reactions from the tough crowd at BoardGameGeek, where it maintains a 6.86 average on the 1-to-10 scale, with 1,255 ratings, so far. At the lower end of the rating scale, you'll find comments suggesting that it is too luck-based to be of much value. What, one wonders, did anyone expect from a game that utilizes the rolling of dice as a mechanic? Qwixx engages the mind in unique ways, though, albeit, not very broadly. You won't find a lot of in-depth strategy or complicated tactics in the game, and while, yes, the options are limited on any given turn, they do manage to make you think enough to give an 'edge' to the experience.

The excitement of box-opening anticipation, by the way, lingers with this game. It crops up whenever you grab the box and get ready to play. Enjoy.

The English version of Qwixx (there are French, German, Italian Dutch and Chinese versions), by Steffen Benndorf, with design work from Maida Kaderian is for 2-5 players, with an age recommendation beginning at (yep, you guessed it) 8-and-up, can be played with the maximun five players in well under an hour. The folks at Gamewright provided me with a review copy of the game, for which I, as always, thank them. Coming soon: Reviews of other Gamewright Games, including Pyramixx, Dodge Dice, Sushi Go and Over/Under.

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