Dale Yu: Review of Stroop



  • Designer: Jonathan Chaffer
  • Publisher: Grand Gamers Guild
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 10-15 minutes per game
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Grand Gamers Guild

From my university days, I remember learning about the Stroop effect in Psychology 101.  The Stroop effect is a delay in a subject’s reaction time due to some sort of interference.  Named after a British psychologist named Stroop (though the literature seems to show that it was published earlier by a German) – the Stroop Test is one of the tests commonly used today in clinical psychology.

Though I’m sure that I’m oversimplifying it – to my non-psychologist brain, the test is set up to see how well your brain can process conflicting information.  The subject might be presented with the names of different colors printed on a card.  The catch here is that many/all of those words are printed in a different color than the written color.  There are then a number of tests that can be done – such as asking you to name the name of the color of the ink or perhaps the color that is written.

The game Stroop pits players against each other in a race to rid their hand of cards – while dealing with the Stroop effect.  In the basic game, there are 65 cards, each of which has a single written word on it.  Each word has four different characteristics:

  •         The color
  •         The capitalization (BIG or little)
  •         The form (solid or outlined)
  •         The number of letters in the word (3, 4, 5, or 6)

The game is played in two rounds, each with slightly different rules. To start the game, the deck is shuffled, and each player is dealt a stack of fifteen cards (Face down).  These cards remain on the table in a face down stack.  Another card from the deck is dealt face up to the table – this is the start card for the round.

In the first round, the goal is to play cards from your hand that match the written attribute on the card.  For instance, if the first card was the word “red”, any card with a word printed in red ink would be valid.  Each player starts the round with no cards in their hand, and they can freely draw cards into their hand one at a time.  There is no limit to the number of cards in their hand, the only limitation is that they can only draw one at a time.  As any player plays a valid card onto the stack, they must announce out loud the word printed on their card.  Other players can check to make sure that the card played is valid.

two example cards on top with legal round 1 plays below

This speed process continues with players racing to play cards from their hand.  Once a player has drawn all the cards from his deck into his hand, the round could possibly end.  When a player no longer has any cards in his hand (i.e. he has played the last one to the stack) OR when a player has drawn all his cards and none of those cards can be played legally, that player can say “STOP” to end the round.

Whenever the round ends, all players immediately stop playing cards.  Any cards left in their hand are returned to their facedown decks.  The pile of played cards is then shuffled and then split up into equal stacks, one for each player. If the cards don’t split up evenly, you can use undealt cards from the start of the game to even things out.  Each player adds their stack to their remaining deck and shuffles them to make a new draw pile for the second round.  Note that players who did better in the first round will now have a smaller deck to start out now.

In the second round, the rules are slightly different. In this phase, you now can only play a card that accurately describes the card on top of the pile.  For instance, if the card had this word written on it: “red” – you could play cards with the word “black” (word written in black ink), “little” (as it is lower case), “solid” (the letters are solid), or “three” (three letters in the word).  Otherwise, it’s the same race to get rid of your cards.  The round still ends the same way, either when a player is out of cards in their deck/hand or when there are no playable cards in his hand.

a starting card on top with four possible legal Round 2 plays underneath

At the conclusion of this second round, the game is won by the player who has the fewest cards left in his deck at the end.  If there is a tie for fewest cards, the player who declared “STOP” to end the second round breaks ties.

There is an advanced version of the game which uses a second deck of 45 more cards that is shuffled into the deck.  These cards introduce the idea of text direction into the game as well as the words can be written forward (normal) or backward (mirror image).  These cards work with all the other attributes except for the number of letters as neither forward nor backward can be described by “three”, “four”, “five” or “six” – though my group thinks you could consider the direction to be normal or mirror which would then be a legal match for “six”.

My thoughts on the game

Stroop is an interesting speed/reaction game.  The game doesn’t seem that difficult at first, but once you try to perform the task at speed, it becomes devilishly difficult at times – which is exactly the sort of interference the Stroop test is meant to deal with!

In the game, it is certainly possible for errors to be made.  If an incorrect card is noted to be played, the offending player must pick up the card and allow play to continue.  The rules do not state this, but we now make the offending player count off to a 5-Mississippi penalty count in their head before they are allowed to play another card.  If a player declares “STOP” incorrectly (and still has playable cards in his hand) – play is allowed to continue but the offending player simply is not allowed to play any more cards for the rest of the round as his penalty.

The game is not one for socializing – I have found that I pretty much need to fully concentrate on the task at hand while playing.  There isn’t much chatting or joking as a result.  It does seem to be one that attracts attentions from passers-by though; at the occasions where we’ve been playing this in a group/party setting, it has never failed to attract spectators.

Like most speed games based on ability, this one is plagued by the fact that a player who is only slightly more adept at processing the conflicting information will be far more successful at the game; and there really isn’t much for the less skilled player to do about it.  I suppose that after a few plays, you could determine the difference in skill and handicap the better player with more cards in his/her stack – but in a single game, someone who just “gets” it will always do better than those who don’t.  

This can lead to a frustrating experience for that slower player.  On the bright side, those games tend not to last very long, so that guy is probably only out of about ten minutes of his game night before he can move onto something else…

The basic game is interesting, and the advanced cards definitely add more brain warping things to wrap your head around.   There really is no artwork to speak of – the cards simply have the words printed in a clean font on a white background.  The card quality is good as my decks show no sign of wear after our initial plays.

If there were an expansion, I’d like to see the game have rotating rules even within a round – perhaps a two sided card that told you what the rules were, and then a die which had the attributes written on it.  Each time a card was played that matched the die, the rule card could be flipped over and the die re-rerolled to give you the new criteria for flipping.  That would be fun… (I think).  Other options might be to change the font used on the cards as another attribute.  Or maybe put a colored background on the cards so that you had to deal with that as well as the font color?

Stroop has been fun, and we have definitely discovered that one of my family members is far and away better than the rest of us at this game.  We’ve found that even giving him a deck which is 50% thicker than the other players is not necessarily enough to stop him from winning! (But, at least we now have a fighting chance…)


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Stroop

  1. mac72 says:

    Thanks for explaining the origin of the name Stroop, which I didn’t know.
    But “stroop” is also the Dutch word for syrup, so it keeps on looking very weird to me!

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