- Designer: Andy van Zandt
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 1 or more
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 5 to 10 minutes
- Times played: 12 – combined between solo and multiplayer
Balloon Pop! is a colorful game in a small box format from Tasty Minstrel Games. I’ve always been attracted to smaller games as I’m always looking for something to be able to tuck into a pocket or a small bag for, you know, those gaming emergencies – rain delay at kids’ soccer, traffic jam on the emergency, long winded sermon at Mass (ok, maybe joking there) – and I’ve also always been pulled to dice games.
Balloon Pop! has five colorful custom dice (all identical to each other) and a score pad. On this scorepad, you will find six scoring columns, one for each of the three colors of balloon (red, blue, yellow) and one for each of the three symbols possibly found in those balloons (star, crescent, diamond).
On your turn, you start by rolling 3 of the dice. You could choose to keep what you have, or if you want to re-roll any or all of those dice, you can re-roll. If you do, you must add another die from the supply – for a total of 4. Again, you can then keep what you have or you can re-roll any/all of those dice, but if you do, you must then add the fifth and final die to the roll. After the third roll, you must accept the result.
Each balloon has both a color and a symbol on it. The combinations are (red, star), (red, crescent), (red, diamond), (blue, star), (blue, crescent), (yellow, star). Whenever you score, you circle one space on your scoresheet for each color AND each icon that you see. Therefore, you will make twice the number of marks on your sheet as the number of dice that you scored.
The numbers on the scoring tracks move upwards until the top-most spot which is much lower (and also colored in red). If you ever circle the top number in a column, you trigger a scoring break. At the end of the round (after all players have had an equal number of turns), you score points equal to the total of the highest numbers in each of the six columns. There is only one scoring done even if multiple players hit a red number during this round. The game continues on until three scoring breaks have happened. At the end of the third scoring round, you sum up the three scores for a total – the player with the highest total wins!
The rules also include a scoring chart for a solo game where your score is ranked on a chart based on your final score. They have the chart broken down into ten different ranks, but I’m honestly not sure why. Your goal really is just to score as high as possible and to beat your previous score.
My thoughts on the game
Balloon Pop! is a decent push your luck game. I like the interplay between choosing to score early or risking it to add more dice to your roll to get the colors/symbols that you want. There is also a push/pull between wanting to roll more dice early to get a bit further up on the tracks – to give yourself higher scores at the earlier scoring breaks – versus rolling the minimum number of dice to keep yourself from actually triggering the break. After all, there is a big dropoff of points (say 14 points to 6 points in the red column, or 16 to 4 in the star column!) to a player who reaches the top of a column, so you’d really rather not be that player…
The columns are not very tall – the shortest columns only have 6 spaces and the tallest has only 10. As the game progresses along, the breaks happen quite often – which is why the game only lasts 5 to 10 minutes.
So far, I’ve played the game both solo and multiplayer, and I would have to rank my preferences as: 2 player, solo, 4 player. The game works really well for me in the 2-player mode. There is a nice back-and-forth between the players, and you feel like you have much more control over knowing when the breaks will happen. The solo game is exactly what you think it is – just trying to maximize your score. I’ve found that trying to break the blue column first is my best play, and then I just let things work their way out from there. The timing seems to be a bit different in the solo game than the multiplayer because you are in “control” of when the scoring happens. As you’re responsible for all of the rolling, you have a much better feel for when you should push your luck and add another die to the mix trying to maximize your score in a certain column (and maybe trigger a score at the same time).
In my two four-player games, we have ended up getting scoring breaks essentially in three consecutive rounds, which for me makes the game a bit processionary and anti-climatic. Of course, this could have just been happenstance or bad luck, but I can see how adding more players to the mix can only increase the risk of this happening. But, the game is short, and it’s a nice diversion or filler – so even if things don’t work out the way that you want, you’ve really only invested five minutes into it…
The included pad has about 50 scoring sheets in the box, which as you can see, may not last you a very long time – our session with three consecutive 4-player games would have used up a quarter of the pad in under thirty minutes! I have taken 4 of the sheets and laminated them so we’ll never run out. TMG has also helpfully posted the scoring sheets for personal use so you can always print more up if you run out.
While it’s not exactly pocketsize – because of the scoresheets – it’s small and fun. You could play this in a car even – using the box top to roll in. If you’re looking for a quick, push your luck dice-roller, this one could be for you! It’ll take you about the same amount of time to play the game as it did to read the review!
3 to 4 Headed Monster
- Designer: Trevor Cram
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 3 to 4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 10 minutes
3 to 4 Headed Monster (3t4HM) is a microgame that comes in a small deck box. The game itself is comprised of only 17 cards. The rest of the standard deck box is filled with the rules and some cardboard sheets to fill up the extra space and to give the box some shape. In this game, each player controls a head of the 3 or 4 headed monster – each trying to exert their will over the monster as a whole to decide what the legs will do.
In this game, players are dealt a role card – either the single Peaceful card or the Dangerous cards which go to the rest of the players. Your identity remains secret for the duration of the game. A Trek card is placed in the middle of the table. This card has a red side on the left with numbers 1-8 on it and a blue side on the right with numbers 9-16 on it.
The remaining twelve cards form the deck of Danger cards, with generally have a rank from 1 to 8. They are shuffled and each player is dealt 3 cards. The most dangerous cards have a red edge on them. There is one special card in the deck here, the 0/10 card. This card is worth zero when played with a high (5-8) card, but it is worth 10 when played with a low (1-4) card.
There is one rules quirk here – if the Peaceful player is dealt a hand of only the red-edged dangerous cards, the game will break down. So, in this edge case, the hand is scrapped, and the cards are all thrown in and redealt (including role cards).
In each round, players discuss amongst themselves until it is agreed upon that two players will control the monster. Interestingly enough, you do not need assent/consent from the table as a whole. ONCE any two players agree to go, they each play a card facedown to the table, and at that point, all conversation stops. While there is conversation, people are free to say generalizations about the cards they have (high or low) but you cannot be specific about the actual numbers. The rules state in a highlighted box that “if you say enough that a player can determine that you have an exact card, you’ve said too much”. There is also one other restriction – in a four player game, you cannot agree to partner up with the same person twice in a game.
You also cannot say that you have the 0/10 card but rather must refer to it as if it a number card. Importantly, you may not reveal what your role is. You are free to bluff about your cards and/or make accusations as to what roles other players might have.
Once the two cards are played facedown, one of the non-participating players is chosen to mediate the movement. First, the two cards are shuffled facedown so that it is not known which player played which card. Then the mediator looks at both cards and sums them mentally, and then without showing the cards, places the pair of cards on the side of the Trek card which matches their sum – to the red/left side for 8 or less and to the blue/right side for 9 or more. (In a 4p game, the fourth player who has, so far, done nothing, then gets to look at a random card from any player’s hand).
Then, you check to see if the game is over. If there are 4 cards (i.e. 2 tricks) to the blue side of the Trek card, then the Peaceful player wins. If there are 6 cards (i.e. 3 tricks) to the right side of the Trek card, then the Dangerous players win. If there are six cards played but neither side has met the winning conditions – then there is a special final round. Otherwise, player set up to play another hand.
In the case where three hands have been played and neither side has reached its automatic win state, there is a special final round. In this round, players will play their role card instead of a number card. If the Peaceful player is part of the last pair to agree to play, the Peaceful player wins. Otherwise, the other players win.
My thoughts on the game
This is a microgame in both components as well as gameplay. The game itself can last a maximum of four hands, so it’s a wham-bam kinda game. An individual round can be over in a second as any two players can agree to play cards, and at that point, the round is essentially over. To me, this is both the good and the bad thing about the game. Sure, the game plays super quick, but it’s also quite possible that you never even really get into the game before it’s over.
In our games, it all comes down to bluffing/guessing. It’s hard to make an educated guess in the first round because you don’t have much information available to you. Then, once the first pair has been seen, you now have a bit of info to work with. Part of the game is working with the cards that you are dealt – but also trying to preserve the cards that help you.
There is a nice balance here between the numerical superiority of the Dangerous players and the limited number of high cards in the deck. If players try to ensure that a particular trick goes low, they might use up both the 1 and the 2 on the same trick which then could hamper their efforts. You might then end up with a situation where two dangerous players play a trick together and end up with a high total because they’ve already played all of their low cards out.
Admittedly, this is not my usual kind of game, in part due to the vague “you can talk but not talk too much” rule. It seems from the rules that the only thing allowed is “I can play a high/low card” – though there are still a few places where you can also bluff or give information on your role without explicitly stating it. But, given the short playing time, it’s one that doesn’t overstay its welcome and is an enjoyable enough filler. I saw this being played at the Gathering with the sorts of gamers who like Werewolf and other social deduction games, and they definitely seemed to be more into the roleplaying and bluffing.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor
I thought Balloon Pop was fine, but there are so many little dice games out right now that “fine” doesn’t really cut it – I’d rather play Qwixx or Qwinto or Twenty One or Kribbeln or Noch Mal or Dice Stars or Zock and Roll or or or…