Designer: Ted Alspach
Publisher: Bezier Games
Just last night, I finished a close game of Troyes with a score of 43 to 43 to 40. After looking in the rulebook, we found no rule telling us how to decide which of us with 43 points was the “real” winner. If only there were something out there that could help us! But wait, there is! Ted Alspach (game designer and comic square writer of Board 2 Pieces here on Opinionated Gamers) has designed such a tool.
As a fan of silliness, I signed up to receive a preview copy of Ted Alspach’s new TieBreaker card “game”. The word “game” is in quotes as this is designed as a game accessory rather than a stand-alone game. Included in the small, portable box is a deck of cards, and a very dapper, giant orange Meeple named Tie (sporting a broken tie of course – any self-respecting meeple collector will need this game just for Tie.) In the event of a tie, someone draws the top card of the TieBreaker deck and reads it aloud. The tied players then attempt to complete the activity written on the card and then grab Tie. The player who manages to grab Tie first is declared the winner of TieBreaker (and thus the tied game as well).
Each TieBraker card has bold text declaring the action/contest for which the tied players will compete, however there is also a pithy little single panel Board 2 Pieces cartoon on each card (in addition to the one-page cartoon ruleset). This makes the game a must-have for fans of the Board 2 Pieces comic. (Hmm, I wonder if I can get Ted to sign my entire deck of cards? I’m sure he’d be glad to do that for anyone visiting him at Essen!) The tiebreaker activities range from (SPOILER ALERT!) gut reaction time (Be the first to grab this card), semi-skilled (spell your name backwards), to outright competition (throw a card the farthest).
This brings me to one of the largest drawbacks of TieBreaker for the serious gamer. The cards are simply going to get beat up. Many of the activities proposed on the cards involve using other cards to perform an activity (construct something, etc…) If TieBreaker is played with very competitive people (teens, for example) players may have a hard time restraining themselves enough to keep the cards from getting dinged or bent. Tie is pretty sturdy, so I have little fear for his safety but OCD gamers may need to cull out of the deck the cards that put the condition of the game in the most danger.
How well does TieBreaker work? I’ll echo the words of every politician and say “It all depends…” Most of the TieBreaker activities (well _all_ of them, really) have very little to do with traditional boardgaming activities, although they fit right in with most styles of party games. Using TieBreaker to declare a true winner of a tied game of Caylus or Troyes in a competition for cash prizes would leave plenty of grumpy players, but in a less formal setting the goofiness of TieBreaker is a nice way to release tension after playing a heavyweight game to a tie. The box is small enough to port around with you to most game nights, but I really question how often gamers come across a game without a tiebreaker rule AND end that game in a tie. (I say this the day after I had a tied game of Troyes and forgot to bring along my copy of TieBreaker!)
One place TieBreaker excels is in its unintended use as a party game. I was on a recent retreat with young folks and used the cards as a warm-up (called a crowd-breaker in some circles) to our regular programs. I paired off two people in the audience and challenged them with a card (filtering them appropriately since we didn’t have a physical boardgame present). The activity was a huge hit and TieBreaker was requested at the start of every meeting for the rest of the weekend.
When compared to Start Player (also by Alspach), TieBreaker seems rather limited. Nearly every game needs a way to determine who starts, while it is rare to end in a tie on a game that has no tiebreaker rule. However, TieBreaker remains a good value due to its other uses – as a short little party game, as reading material (the comics are amusing), or just to get a hold of that dapper orange meeple, Tie. In theory, TieBreaker could even supplant Start Player where the winner gets to go first! I’m not sure that I’m at liberty to say anything yet, but I’ve heard rumors that the judges for this year’s International Tic-Tac-Toe championship are considering using TieBreaker to eliminate all ties in the competition.