- Designer: Jeff Lai
- Publisher: Blue Orange Games
- Players: 2-6
- Ages: 7+
- Time: 10-15 minutes
- Times played: 5+, with review copy provided by Blue Orange Games
Let’s start this review like so many that have come before, with a walk-through of the game’s indisputable facts. Maki Stack is a dexterity game. Two teams play, cards are flipped, wooden bits are hurriedly stacked, and a point is scored by the fastest correct team. If a red card comes up, one player from each team races to make a stack while wearing a blindfold as their partner tells them what is on the card. If a yellow card comes up, two members of a partnership use one finger each to lift the blocks and form the stack shown on the visible card. The first team to collect six points wins.
By description there’s nothing wrong with any of that. A short wacky dexterity game with blindfolds sounds like a can’t-miss proposition. Frankly, it was why I took on this review. My wife and I have a soft spot for the genre, so at the very least Maki Stack seemed like it would be easy to get to the table in a variety of situations. By and large, this was true. We did manage to play it enough times to get a taste for its merits.
If you’ve picked up on the fact that I’m not spewing forth a recount of all the reasons I love the game and that it consequently wasn’t a smashing success — congratulations, you are adequately perceptive. Yet, I’m left to wonder, where exactly did it go sour? Why did I have trouble swallowing what should have been a pleasant little morsel of fluff? After all, it does have a fair bit going for it.
Before I go into my negatives, it must be said that there is something satisfying about good chunky bits that can help elevate an otherwise entirely forgettable game. Maki Stack has those kinds of bits: solid slabs of wood with real heft and an appealing finish. They invite a player to fiddle with them, to stack them, even when it isn’t explicitly called for. That they look pleasingly like the familiar bits of a sushi meal is also a plus. Though, game-wise I will admit that, even as someone who has eaten more than his fair share of sushi, I did have some trouble calling out the correct names for the the pieces during the heat of the battle. Theoretically, that could be part of the fun, and was probably the designer’s intent. We tried to play along, but found that “the round one” conveyed the message quicker than “the cucumber roll”, especially to someone who was blindfolded and had to remember the correlation between shape and type. Even without intuitive names, the bits are absolutely outstanding. Well, the blindfolds are a tad janky, but they do the job and don’t actively hurt.
The comments I heard from the very experienced gamers that I played Maki Stack with, some of whom share my affinity for silly dexterity games, were what I would categorize as anywhere from “warm” to “not overtly negative”. During our plays, there were the odd chuckles and groans that made it seem as if an exciting event was happening. For instance, on a few occasions someone noticed that their opponent, who had claimed to finish their stack and had stopped the round, had also neglected to build the stack on the mat or had not inverted the bowl piece as shown on the card. Dutifully, all players would scramble back to their frenetic stacking. I even saw finishes so close that we declared them a draw. There was definitely a level of excitement during various points throughout my several plays. It wasn’t a lasting or memorable excitement, but it was there.
Maki Stack is surely a fine game that delivers on what it promises. I think it didn’t move my needle because I’ve seen everything in it before, and I prize originality above almost everything else in a new game. I suspect that how a given audience will feel about it will depend largely on their level of experience. Most people will have played some kind of basic stacking game like Animal Upon Animal (Tier auf Tier) or Bausack (Bandu), but not everyone will have played Monster Trap (Monster Falle) which is not a stacking game but has a similar partnership dexterity element. I imagine very few will have played Handy, where people seated next to each other must use one finger each to manipulate a common object, so that aspect may still feel fresh. The game Castle Knights (Burg Ritter) is a game made for kids, so it wouldn’t surprise me if its use of a cord to have partners stack chunky wooden blocks to quickly match a pattern did not preempt that same aspect this game for most players. I don’t have a sense for how common a game like Visionary is, but since I only know one person who owns it I don’t imagine many will even know that it has the exact same blindfolded stacking race element that is one half of Maki Stack. Just because a game stands on the toes of giants from my point of view doesn’t mean it can’t reach greater heights for others.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend this game. Designer Jeff Lai has a lot of new games coming out. I have no doubt some of those will be great. The publisher, Blue Orange Games made one of my wife’s favorite dexterity games, Dr. Eureka. That game’s activity involves passing little colored balls between plastic test tubes to quickly and carefully order them. It still feels fresh and exciting when I play it now, several years after it came out. That’s the kind of feeling I was hoping to get here and did not. Please, go buy Dr. Eureka, and help me feel a little better about having to write this less than glowing review.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dale – played this once at gencon. It was a little difficult given the noise of the surroundings, but we had a decent enough game. Unlike Nathan, I did not get caught up with comparing it to the other dexterity games which had come before – the game was an enjoyable enough experience. But unlike Blue Lagoon and Scarabya, this one did not come home with me. It’s a game I’d be happy to play if suggested, but probably not one I would ask for.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale
- Neutral. Nathan Beeler
- Not for me…