Designed by: Stefan Klob
Published by: HABA
Review copy supplied free of charge by HABA.
On a spooky hill in the middle of nowhere four young, intrepid adventurers and one brave dog gather to explore a creepy house. What do they seek? Treasure? Adventure? Ectoplasm? Ghostbusters? Who knows. What’s important is that their journey through the haunted house provides us with the backdrop for a push your luck dice game that delivers a few important twists on the standard formula, twists that make this game a fun time.
At its core Spookies is a straightforward push your luck dice game. The goal is to move up through the house floor by floor to acquire Spookies Chips. To advance to the next level of the house you must simply grab the dice, roll and then add up to the two biggest numbers. If you successfully match or beat the number listed to the left of the next level then you move up and claim some chips, each of which has a number of points printed on the reverse that you’ll add up at the end of the game. If you succeed with the roll then you can opt to continue and try to advance to the next level for an even bigger payday. At any point you can choose to stop and bank those tokens. But if you roll and fail then you lose all the tokens you gained. Simple stuff. It’s all about risk management.
However, there are a couple of things that sets Spookies aside from other similiar games, the biggest of which is that you can choose how many dice to roll for each level of the house that you’re trying to move up to; two, three or four. Obviously the more dice you decide to toss on the table the better your chances are of rolling that magic total. However, temptation makes itself known in the form of points; the fewer dice rolled, the greater the amount of tokens you get to claim. Let’s say your attempting to move to the fifth level of the house, which requires a total of nine. If all four dice are used you’ll pick up two tokens from the pile. If you use three then you snag three tokens. And if you use just two dice you’ll get six. For level six, which needs a total of ten rolled, you’ll snag two tokens for four dice, four for two dice and ten tokens if you can manage it with just a pair. If you make it to the top level with a roll of eleven then you can stay there and continue rolling for as long as you want, unless you don’t manage to roll a twelve or give up. Manage to do that with two dice and you get a total of sixteen tokens, although that’s obviously a big ask.
It’s such a simple change to the typical push your luck system, but it’s such an important one. It takes temptation and then rams it right into the face of the player, demanding that they take risks to make it big. A player in the lead might opt play it safe, but someone lagging far behind may decide to take some risks and suddenly win big, putting them back in contention for a victory.
But that risk comes with added danger, too. You see, not only do you lose any chips you’ve gained whilst climbing the tower when you fail a roll, but you also risk having to pay a penalty from your stockpile. If you roll a total below the level you’re currently on then you have to drop down to the corresponding floor of the house. On the level you left you must leave chips from your stash equal to the amount of floors you had to drop down, thus if you’re trying to get up to the 6th level with a roll of 10 and only get 6 then you’d have to fall all the way back down to the 2nd floor. Another player can then acquire those chips, provided they make it up to the level using just two dice. In my many games with friends there would often be one or two floors of the house that would be home to small towers of chips, a huge allure to players who would roll the dice, fail and leave even more chips for the next person to try to grab. It was like a honey trap.
The final twist that Spookies brings is that you don’t play as one character, rather you play as all of them. At the start of a turn you roll the character die and then take control of the indicated adventurer, meaning sometimes you’ll start a turn on the bottom levels of the house, and other times you might find yourself right at the top. There’s an optional rule included in the rulebook that allows players to pick whoever they want, but frankly I love the randomness of it, because it completely changes your view on the game. Where you start can hugely alter the way you play.
The game ends once all the chips in the pool have been claimed, at which point everyone flips their chips over and starts tallying up the points. There’s one small complaint I have here; there are 1,2 and 3 point chips all available which is just fine, but there’s also 5 point chips which seem to overpowered. I know it seems silly to be complaining of overpowered tokens in a game like this, but in quite a few rounds of Spookies with friends there would be a person who through pure luck would snag a good few of these big points and win by a good margin. They just don’t seem needed.
With these few twists to the push your luck formula Spookies proved to be amazingly successful among my gaming friends who were very willing to take this onboard as a filler between bigger things. Meanwhile my niece enjoyed it, still pushing to play the more immediately thrilling Dobble, yes, but you could see the cogs in her head working away when it came to figuring out the relationship between the dice, the risk and the reward. By which I mean she mostly rolled all four dice because she was terrified of losing what she had gained, and thereby learned an important life lesson, namely that as soon as everything looks to be going well something horrible will happen.
The components also left me feeling pretty happy. The haunted house theme is entirely surpulus since it makes no difference to the game itself, but it’s still appreciated nonetheless, especially because of the lovely board which really draws the eye through its artwork. That board doesn’t hold a candle to the playing pieces, though. Those little wooden pieces pack an incredible amount of charm thanks to the little painted characters. They may not have names or stories, but those designs simply look lovely, and that helps draw you into the game that little bit more. The chips themselves are pretty typical cardboard and seem solid enough to withstand everyday play, although doubtless some will go missing after a while. Finally the dice are the oversized wooden kind, which is awesome for this type of game. Sadly on my review copy some of the pips weren’t painted correctly, but otherwise they are fine.
So to wrap up I was left genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Spookies. I went into expecting very little except for a standard push your luck dice game with a haunted house theme plastered over the top of it. And that’s almost exactly what I got, albeit with a few key twists that elevates Spookies above much of its competition. Being able to pick the amount of dice you roll in order to secure bigger rewards is the ultimate temptation, contrasted wonderfully with not only losing what you’ve gained when moving through the house but also potentially losing some of your stockpile, too. It’s very nicely designed, and I had a blast playing it. I debated for quite a while whether it was worth a Recommended Award, especially since I’ve been pretty generous with handing them out lately, but ultimately it deserves it.