- Designer: Takashi Sakaue
- Publisher: Product Arts
- Players: 2-3
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 15 minutes
- Times played: 9 with purchased copy
Birth is a game that has a release year of 2014, but it was new to me this month. As it is published by a small Japanese company, it really hasn’t had much press over here, so I really hadn’t heard much about it until it showed up on my doorstep last month.
The theme behind Birth is the “birth of the galaxy”, and the board shows an appropriately galactic background – but in the end, this is a fairly abstract dice game. (According to the rules, the rolling of the dice represents the Big Bang.) The circular board is split into 5 wedges – worth 1, 2, 3, 5, or 8 points. There are somewhere between 1 and 5 spaces on the exterior of the wedges forming a track of 15 total spots.
Each player has a set of 11 dice in their color, and at the beginning of the game, all of the dice are rolled and placed on the table. On a turn, you choose one of your unplayed dice and move your marker that matching number of spaces along the track. If your movement ends on a space already occupied by an opponent’s pawn, you move the same number of spaces as your chosen die again. Whenever your pawn stops, you take that die and place it in the middle of that wedge space on the board.
As you place your die in the wedge, if there are other dice already placed in that wedge which have the same number, all of those same dice (including the one just placed) are picked up and re-rolled. All of the dice are then replaced in the wedge – though this time, you don’t worry about matching results. You generally don’t get to re-roll your dice – though, if your pawn manages to land on the starting space, you are allowed to re-roll any remaining dice that you have.
The game continues until everyone has played all 11 of their dice. At that point, the game goes into the scoring phase – which has its own set of convoluted rules. The first part of scoring is to tally points for each die. Depending on which wedge it is in, each die is worth 1, 2, 3, 5, or 8 points (equal to the number at the point of the wedge). This is called absolute scoring.
Then, you examine the dice in each wedge for relative scoring. The player with the highest sum of dice in each wedge scores points equal to the that sum. Only the player who has the lead in each wedge will score points. If there is a tie, all tied players score points. That’s it – the player with the most points wins the game.
There are a few variants also included in the box – I have tried each of these once so far. The backside of the board has a different layout of the wedges. The base version of the game has the wedges in 1-2-3-5-8 order. The reverse side has 1-3-2-8-5 – and this gives a slightly different feel to the movement around the board.
Another variant changes the rule about matching dice in a wedge. Instead of re-rolling the matching dice, the active player moves all the matching dice to the adjacent wedge in either direction. Yet a different scoring rule changes the relative scoring – the new rule awards points to the player who has the most number of dice in each wedge. That player scores the total of all his pips in the wedge. If there is a tie, the tied player with the lowest pip count scores the points.
My thoughts on the game
Birth is a game that is a niche-filling filler. Most of the games that I have play up to 4, and I have found it difficult at times to get a 3-player only game to the table as most of my game nights have 4 or 5 players. However, when playing with my boys, we almost always have 3 – so Birth is a perfect fit for that group. Furthermore, as an opener or closer, when one of us has yet to show up (or has left early), this is a good one to slide into that slot.
When you think about it, there isn’t that much to the game. Roll 11 dice, and then over the next 11 turns, use one to move your pawn and then place it in the appropriate wedge section. But, with the few extra movement rules as well as the powerful relative scoring – there is a surprising amount of strategy that can develop in this 10-15 minute game.
Thus far, it seems like the two best ways to score points are to try to concentrate your dice in the 5 and 8 wedges as each of those is guaranteed to score high value points. The hard thing is that there are one two spots in the 5 wedge and only one in the 8 wedge – so you don’t necessarily get a lot of chances to drop your dice off in those sections. Managing your dice to get around the board and into the right spot is important as is using the hopping rule to maximize your movement around the track with your dice.
The other way to score points is to angle for the pip advantage in any particular wedge in order to score for each pip in the relative scoring. If the dice are in your favor, you could get a huge score from a section where you can get a lot of dice in. However, this is a riskier strategy as: 1) any matching dice are re-rolled and your totals can vary wildly, and 2) only the players in the lead score points, so if you are unable to be at the top in the wedge, you will have lost much of your scoring potential.
The variants are each interesting, and the selection of different rules and board layouts helps to extend the life of this fairly simple game. Just be sure that everyone is clear on which rules you’re playing with in each game – as your strategy will definitely change based on the scoring rules and/or board layout.
There isn’t much to say about the components. The box is a fairly low profile small box, and the dice are typical d6 in 3 colors. The board is a simple two-sided cardboard affair with a picture of the galactic cosmos on it.
Birth will probably never be more than a filler, but there is a surprising amount of game here in a small box and a short playing time. For these reasons, it will probably stick around in the game collection as a filler. The only thing that limits it for me is the fact that it can only handle three players at the most.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Dan Blum: It’s not bad at all, but didn’t really grab me. I only played once (the “basic” game with no variants), and it’s perfectly possible that if I played a few more times I’d get more interested in it, but I’m not that likely to get those plays in. It doesn’t help that there are a lot of recent light games from Japan which I like better (and which play well with three players even if not specifically designed for that number).
Joe Huber (1 play): For me, the biggest issue with Birth is the abstract nature of the game. It works perfectly well – and is really fairly clever – but nothing about the game really pulled it up from the “interesting abstract” level for me. I’d have no problem with playing Birth more, but I won’t be bothered if it doesn’t happen.
Karen Miller (2 plays): The theme of the “birth of the galaxy” promises high drama and made me excited to play; however, the game absolutely does not live up to the promise of the (100% pasted-on) theme. This is not a deal breaker but it leaves me disappointed. Birth is an easy enough filler but nothing that makes me eagerly anticipate my next game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Neutral. Dan Blum, Joe H, John P, Karen M
- Not for me…