It seems every day we see a new $100+ game arriving on Kickstarter, hey I’m backing Oath myself just now. To my mind those games have to be great, have to really justify their price tag. I bought Gloomhaven after thinking about it for a year, insuring I had a group to play it with and working out how many plays it would need to justify its cost.
Games don’t have to be like this though. Some of my absolute favourite games are small, affordable products that concentrate on doing one thing very well. I was delighted to be asked to look at Tinderblox and Kittin, two games from Alley Cat Games, especially since they also publish my favourite deckbuilder, Ruthless.
Kittin is designed by Simon Milburn and Caezar Al-Jassar and illustrated by Daniela Magalhaes . This game is a box full of cats. That's not a saying, it is. Turning the tin out, adorable cat meeples scatter across the table, a pile of cards nestled inside the only other component. There is a moment of calm. A card is flipped. Everyone scrambles to gather the cats they need.
Each player is rushing to stack their cats as fast as they can, in the correct orientation, shouting Meow to declare their victory. Your creation is inspected by the other stackists and if you are correct you grab the card, triumphant. 3 in total and you are the winner. You know all the rules now. Simples.
I’ve played the game in both the regular mode and team and it’s ok whilst its happening, but I just have no desire to play it again. You’ve basically seen the whole thing in your first play and it just feels sort of shallow after that. It might be enough if you have a young family, and it is not a bad game, just not a very compelling one.
To me dexterity mechanics are so overpowering that they have to be the focus of players during the game. When other players are stacking their cats, I don’t get to see them carefully balancing a meeple, realising it is the wrong way up, cursing, starting again. I don’t get to share in their frustration and their victory. It lacks that spark I seek in a dexterity game.
Talking of sparks….
Come on Baby Light my Fire
I have fond memories of camping when I was younger: Duke of Edinburgh Award, Scouts, what would now be called glamping with my parents in Eurocamp. Tinderblox, designed by Rob Sparks (nominative determinism at work) and illustrated by Rory Muldoon, was the game that sealed the deal when I agreed to take these on to review as I was immediately drawn to the art. It evoked those memories in me and I love when games tap into our emotion.
Starting with an unlit pile of wood, long brown wooden pieces, players take it in turn to get the fire lit. A card instructs you to construct a little stack in front of you, using not your fingers but the tweezers provided. Fire is hot after all. Once done you then take your tweezers and transfer the whole thing to the fire in a single movement. Knock the fire over or drop your stack on the fire and it is game over for you. You have to place it on the fire, carefully. Don’t play with fire kids. Unless it’s just cubes and sticks. Then it's fine.
Stacks can be anything from a single piece of wood or fire, to precariously balanced flames on top of some wood. In an extra wrinkle some cards tell you to use your off hand to do all the construction and moving, providing some extra moments of tension as people struggle to use their weaker side to get the task done. This obviously gives ambidextrous people a horrible advantage. 0/10 horribly broken (kidding).
Readers of my work will know that I am not a fan of player elimination, but I actually don't mind it here. The games are always quick and even if you do go out early there is always the spectacle of watching your friends succeed and fail to enjoy. Every mechanic, even ones I don't like, has its place.
Tinderblox is the pure dexterity game to Kittin’s pattern matching/realtime/dexterity and it benefits from the singular focus. It is simple, beautifully presented and has those tension filled moments that I seek out in my dexterity games. I’ve played this multiple times and I can see me carrying it with me as a perfect little filler.
A tin ear
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good games (if you have a games cafe or similar in your town you might not need to spend much at all). Some of the best games I have bought in the last few years have been small box, laser focused, with smart mechanics and great presentation. If you are looking to be surprised by a game, I really recommend checking out this end of the market. These are products that don’t have a huge amount to prove because of their cost, they have room to breath, and can surprise and delight without having 100's of plastic miniatures and a price tag to match.
A copy of Tinderblox & Kittin were provided by Alley Cat Games for this preview. We do not accept payment for previews. As this is a Kickstarter game the components of the game are not final.