- Designers: Klaus and Benjamin Teuber
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: ~30 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos
Smugglers is the second game from the familial design pair of Klaus and Benjamin Teuber. I very much liked their first game, Tumult Royale, and the father/son team has come up with a completely different sort of game for their followup. In Smugglers, players are vying to be the newest member of “Potato Charley’s infamous smuggling gang” by competing in a smuggling contest.
Each player is given a hunk of “intelligent modeling putty” – which is odorless, non-greasy, and as the rules warn, extremely difficult to get out of textiles (i.e. your clothing). Each player starts with a scoring chit – there are two different types: sweet (red) and sour (yellow) – and these are alternately given to the players. Each player also gets three plastic gems – one red sweet, one yellow sour, and one purple stink bomb.
The majority of the game is played on a molded plastic ramp, with a starting platform at the top and a fence with holes at the bottom. There are seven separate tracks that lead to each of the seven holes in the fence. There is a small board placed at the bottom of this ramp – mostly used as a resting place for the putty balls.
The game is played in a number of rounds – until someone reaches a victory condition. Each round is split up into three phases: the skill test, ranking, and inspection.
In the skill test, the players show off their smuggling prowess. At the track at the top of the ramp, there are seven possible starting spots. The die is rolled, and the boss token moves forward (looping around if needed) as many spaces as is shown on the die. Players now know which track on the ramp is going to be used this round and can plan accordingly However – if the 5 or 6 is rolled – and these numbers are printed in red to remind you – the die will be re-rolled after the players prepare for the smuggling! (More on this later)
Now, players choose one of their gems and encase it in a ball of their putty. The goal here is to make a ball as large as possible that will still fit through the hole at the bottom of the ramp designated for this round. Of course, if a 5 or 6 was rolled, you won’t know which ramp will be used! There is a sand timer which gives a limit on the construction time. Each player has a screen which they can use to build their putty ball so that the identity of the gem inside remains a secret. The rules recommend that you try to make it as spherical as possible by rubbing in in your palms.
When the timer is up, all players stop fiddling with their putty. If a 5 or 6 was rolled at the start of the phase, now is the time that it is re-rolled and the boss figure moved to indicate the active track for the turn. If a 5 or 6 is now rolled, you do not ignore it and instead move the figure that number of spaces.
Players now, one at a time, place their ball at the top of the designated track and then push it so that it rolls down the track. If it fits through the hole in the fence, it gets placed in the bar area of the board. If it doesn’t fit through the hole, the player is allowed to pick it up and try to reshape it (may not add nor subtract any putty from the ball) and give it a second try. If it does not fit through the fence hole, it is instead placed in the junk room section of the board. When you put the putty ball on the board, make sure that you squish it down so that is doesn’t roll around.
All players see whether or not their ball fits through the hole in the fence. Once this is done, you move to the Ranking phase. In this phase, you determine which of the successful balls of putty is the largest. Sometimes, this can be done by visual inspection alone. However, in most cases, you will need to use the included scale. The largest ball of putty gets placed on the “1” chair in the office, and the second largest gets placed on the “2”. All other putty balls, even if they successfully got thru the fence, are also placed in the junk room now.
Now it’s time for the inspection. The player with the largest successful putty ball (i.e. the one sitting in the “1” chair) gets to inspect a putty ball of his choice in the junk room. He points at the ball to be inspected and then makes a guess as to which color gem is hidden inside – saying either red for sweet, yellow for sour or purple for stink bomb.
If the #1 player guesses correctly – he is rewarded. If he correctly guessed red or yellow, he takes a matching colored smuggle chit from the supply. If he correctly guessed the purple stink bomb, he takes possession of that stink bomb gem (and can use it in a later round).
If the #1 player guesses incorrectly – the inspected player is rewarded. If the gem is red or yellow, the inspected player takes a matching colored chit from the supply. If the gem was the purple stink bomb, the inspected player may take any one chit from the scoring pile of the player who guessed incorrectly. This purple gem is also removed from the game and may not be used again.
Now, the player in the #2 chair is allowed to make an inspection following the same rules as above. In a 3 player game, there is not another ball available for inspection… Additionally, if only one player successfully got through the fence, there would not be anyone in the #2 chair – so no inspection there either!
Next, any player who was not inspected this turn, regardless of where their ball of putty is, reveals their hidden gem and takes an appropriate reward. If the gem is red or yellow, the player takes a matching colored chit from the supply. If the gem was the purple stink bomb, the player may take any one chit from the scoring pile of ANY player.
If order matters, do the gem pickup in clockwise order from the start player of the round. The reason for this is that the game ends immediately when a player meets one of the victory conditions:
– 7 scoring tokens of one color
– 5 scoring tokens of each color
If no one has won the game at the end of the round, the start player moves one position clockwise around the board, and the game goes back to the skill test phase.
My thoughts on the game
Smugglers is a nice family game that is filled with laughter and groans as the putty balls roll down the tracks. It’s not the sort of game to take too seriously though – I see it as more of an experience game. I’ve played it now four times, and I’ve had fun with each play thus far. It has gone over well with the boys and other children in the neighborhood.
As you can probably gather from the description of the game though, this isn’t a particularly deep game. Sure, there is a little bit of decision making when choosing which gem to hide in your putty – and a little bit in the guessing part of the inspection – but in the end, the game is more about the shaping of the putty balls and watching them tumble down the ramp. Sure, there is some bluffing and a little bit of set collection – but in the end, you just try to make the largest successful ball – and, in general, the player who can do this the most will win.
Thus, I feel the game is better for families or maybe just kids. However, the somewhat finicky nature of the putty means you need to make sure that there is at least one responsible person at the table. The putty – while non-toxic, odorless and greaseless – is unbelievably self adhesive. If two different putty balls touch each other, they become molecularly bonded together, and once this happens, you’ll end up with mixing of colors which is no good. I would fear that young kids left to their own devices would return the game with a single ball of putty. Even when playing with just adults, we’ve managed to have one mishap with the putty and a couple of close calls.
I would definitely recommend that anytime you put the putty down – either on the table near you or when you place it on the board – that you smash it down so that it cannot roll anywhere. This will help any accidental putty touching. Also, if you have anyone clumsy in your group, think about playing on a hardwood floor – as the rules suggest, the putty will really stick to any textile such as carpet… or a shirt sleeve.
Karen managed to get a small bit stuck to her sleeve – and this is what it looked like.
Thankfully, a Google search got us to the Crayola website which recommended using WD-40 as a way to remove the putty from the shirt. Here is the end result after putty removal!
Games move along fairly quickly, and thus far, ours have lasted between six and eight rounds – which is just about right. It starts to feel repetitive at that time, so the Teubers have done a good job at setting the victory conditions at the right number of tokens. Obviously, players who end up in the “1” chair do better as they are guaranteed one token per turn (whichever is hidden in their own ball of putty) and they also at least get a chance to pick up another chit when they do the inspection.
We have had to make a house rule to force all players to recombine ALL of their putty back into a single blob each round. There are times when the die roll causes successive turns to occur on the same sized hole, and when that happens, successful players from the previous round have an advantage as they could simply use the same ball of putty to again be successful. By recombining all the putty each round, players at least have to work at making a correctly sized ball each turn.
The game has been fun, but after four games, I’m feeling like I’ve explored the game fully. The estimating/shaping of the putty ball is a neat conceit, and one that I have not encountered in a game before. However, I’m not sure that the idea is enough to build a classic game around. I’m sure that we’ll pull this one back out as a light filler in the future – but it’ll need a few weeks between plays to feel fresh again.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Craig V: Smugglers features a gimmicky mechanism that’s thematic, but the rest of the game is lacking and not overly exciting. The combination of dexterity, bluffing and luck elements was fun for a few rounds and maybe even the first full game play, but then it was enough. Also, beware of the clay. It is attracted to other clay balls and fabric. If it touches either of those, it’s a mess to clean up. Don’t ignore the warnings about the clay in the rules and make sure all players (especially kids) are aware of the possible issues.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it.
- Neutral. Dale Y, Craig V, John P
- Not for me…