Design by Phil Walker-Harding
Published by Lookout Games
2 – 4 Players, 30 – 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Who hasn’t grown-up listening to and reading fairy tales, particularly those by the Grimm Brothers? My childhood was filled with stories of Rapunzel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel und Gretel, and many other fantasy characters that allowed my imagination to soar. Even as an adult, I still enjoy movies based on these fairy tales, and am hopeful that these stories will continue to be read, told and shown for generations to come.
So, it is no surprise that I was eager to play Gingerbread House, the new game by Phil Walker-Harding and Lookout Games. The theme casts players as witches attempting to lure and capture fairy tale characters who have been helping themselves to tasty portions of their gingerbread houses. One can understand the witches’ frustration, as they are quite literally being eaten out of house and home.
Each player receives a board depicting a 3×3 plot whereupon they will construct their gingerbread homes. Each of these nine spaces depict either a type of gingerbread—not-so-cleverly named red, yellow, blue or green—or a special symbol that gives them certain abilities or tokens. Along the edges of this plot players will place trapped and imprisoned characters, tokens and bonus cards. Players also each receive 15 double-tiles and one stairway tile. The double tiles depict two symbols—either gingerbread or special symbols—and will be placed onto the player’s construction site to build their home. These tiles are shuffled face down and three are revealed.
Four character cards are revealed, as well as 6 – 12 bonus cards, depending upon the number of players. The supply of gingerbread and special tokens are set aside for easy access.
The object of the game is to capture (“trap”) characters by using the required gingerbread tokens, thereby earning the points depicted on the characters. Each character is a fairy tale or fantasy character, depicted with appropriate artwork. Each card depicts the number and types of gingerbread needed to attract and trap it, as well as the points earned for its capture. Furthermore, characters are either cheerful or bad-tempered, human or non-human. This is depicted in easy-to-understand icons at the top of the card. This can be important when meeting the end-game requirements of the bonus cards.
Players earn the required tokens by constructing their home. Each turn, a player must place one of his double-tiles onto his building plot within the 3×3 grid. A tile may not be placed atop only one other tile. Rather, it must partially cover two other previously placed tiles (or the pre-printed ones on the foundation). A player may use one or more staircase tiles in order to fill a square so a tile may lie flat. Once placed, the player receives tokens matching the two symbols he covered. These tiles are kept beside the player’s board, but a player may only possess ten tokens, so hoarding is prohibited.
If a player manages to cover two of the same symbol, he acquires a bonus token of the same type. Witchcraft! If a player covers the “exchange” or “cage” symbols, he immediately carries out their special action:
Exchange: the player may exchange one gingerbread token for a different one from supply.
Cage: the player may take a character from the four available ones and place it beside his plot, thereby preserving it for herself. Alternatively, the player may draw four character cards from the deck and imprison one as above.
Covering a wild symbol allows the player to either take a gingerbread or staircase token, or execute the exchange or cage action.
Once the tile is played and tokens collected or actions performed, the player may trap one or more of the characters in the line—or one he previously caged—provided she spends the required gingerbread tokens. The trapped character(s) is placed below her board and will earn points at game’s end. As a further reward, the player receives a wild tile from supply, which she immediately places on his building, earning the token or ability corresponding to the symbol he covers.
Whenever a player completes a level in his home, she selects one of the bonus cards on display. These bonus cards provide incentives that will earn even more points at game’s end. There are a wide variety of incentives, from capturing certain types of characters (cheerful, ill-tempered, human or non-human), characters depicting the specified type of gingerbread, symbols showing in one’s home, etc. A major goal of the game is to acquire as many of these bonus cards as possible, particularly early in the game so you can concentrate on fulfilling their requirements and maximizing their benefits. Note, however, that each player may only possess a maximum of three of these cards.
Play continues in this fashion until all players have placed all 15 of their tiles, after which points are tallied. Players earn points for the characters they trapped, points from their bonus cards based upon their conditions, and a point for every two remaining gingerbread tokens. Of course, the witch with the most points wins.
Gingerbread House is a puzzle-style game, albeit an admittedly light one. Players must target certain characters in the line, then plan their tile selection and placement so that they can collect the necessary gingerbread tokens. Of course, in this type of game, it is also a quasi-race, as an opponent may well scoop the character you were targeting before you do. So, it is always wise to have a back-up plan.
It is wise to also have a supply of staircase tokens, as these are very beneficial when constructing your house and adding tiles to higher levels. The game does provide an alternative method of collecting these tokens, but it forces a player to forego a build and discard a double tile in order to collect two staircase tokens. This is expensive, but sometimes necessary.
As mentioned, the bonus cards are a key to success. Make it a point to finish levels quickly so you can grab the ones you desire and not simply be stuck with the leftovers.
Gingerbread House is not a deep strategy game filled with agonizing decisions and exceedingly tough choices. I would certainly classify this as a “family” style game, but it is also one that has appealed to most gamers with whom I have played. It is a fun puzzle and collection game, and the fact that it has an appealing fairy tale theme makes it all the better!
Jonathan F.: I enjoyed my two plays and when played quickly, it is fun and does not overstay its welcome. I am not sure it is worthy of the deep analysis some might want to invest in it, but I also understand that you can chain contract completion to get a wild to finish a floor to get a bonus card. My only issue is that the return on investment for the smaller monsters/contracts seems better than the larger ones, especially with the bonus cards, as it is easier to max out the bonus cards with smaller contracts. I look forward to hearing that I am completely wrong.
Joe Huber (1 play): The idea of the theme is a good one. The mechanisms aren’t actively anti-thematic, but they don’t emphasize the theme, and the drafting of victory point cards is – not really interesting. I think this could have been a good game for me, but fell short by a bit too much to play a second time.
Patrick Brennan: A by-the-numbers light Euro. Play tiles to earn resources. Spend resources to buy VP cards from the draft. Repeat for 13 rounds. It has a nice mini-Java-esque approach of playing tiles on top of tiles, building up your house. There are the inevitable bonus cards for buying cards of this type, or your tiles this many levels high, and the like. There’s a fair bit of luck in what tiles you draw (which will drive your future resources) vs what cards come out when (re what resources they require), but it’s not inappropriate for the game’s length. It works, it’s pleasant, it’s non-objectionable, I can see why it’s been produced, but for the older hands at play, there’s not much to explore here either.
Mark Jackson (4 plays… so far): Gingerbread House is chock full of opportunities for clever tactical play, has a delightfully subversive theme, and has well-made/designed components. It’s received a positive reaction with pretty much every one I’ve played it with… because it’s a light Euro in the super-filler category that is family & gamer-friendly. I’m a big fan and was pleased as punch to receive a copy from my BGG Secret Santa.
Fraser: This seems to be a new genre of Phil’s. Take the action of the icons that you cover up with your tile, at least it seemed that way to me after teach Barenpark and Gingerbread House back to back! A good workout for the short term memory :-)
It’s a light game, but you can actually do quite a bit of planning for the future by placing tiles in particular positions so that you can benefit from doubles when you cover them up later on. Hopefully you have lured a character or two to take advantage of that planning. It has been very popular with the casual gamers that I have taught it to as well as gamers.
Dan Blum (1 play): I see the good points that others mention but I also see the issues that Joe and Patrick mention. I was particularly underwhelmed with the random choice of characters. It feels a bit underdeveloped to me.
4 (Love it!): Mark Jackson
3 (Like it): Greg S., John P, Jonathan F., Fraser
2 (Neutral): Patrick Brennan, Dan Blum
1 (Not for me): Joe H., Nathan Beeler