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Exxtra

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Amigo
Players: 2-6
Time: 20 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

Exxtra is a game that was generally not well received when it was first published. Despite this it is far and away my all time most played game. No, its not great and there really isn't that much to it but I've always had a fun time playing it.

Each player has 2 dice in their own color, one labeled 1,2,3,4,7,X; the other 1,2,3,5,6,X. On your turn you roll both dice and combine the rolls so that a 3 and a 6 would be read as 63, a 5 and a 4 as 54. The idea is to roll as high a number as possible (76 being the ultimate) and you're allowed to re-roll as often you like. The risk is that if you roll an X after your first roll you must move your scoring marker back one space (two if you rolled double X's) and your turn ends. Once you're satisfied with your roll you may place it on one of six spaces on the board labeled 0 to 5. This is the interesting bit of the game, you want to place as high as possible because should your dice remain on the board when your turn comes around again you move that many spaces along the scoring track (which consists of 21 spaces). The trick is in the rules governing the placement of the dice. You can only place on an empty space (with the exception of the 0 space which can accommodate any number of dice) and only on a space such that your dice are greater in value than all dice below it*. eg. Amy has dice with a value of 64 on the 2 space and Bob has dice with 73 on the 4 space. Carl rolls 72 and decides to place them (he could've kept rolling hoping to improve his score). He may place them on the 0,1 or 3 spaces. He can't place on the 2 or 4 spaces because dice already occupy those spots nor may he place on the 5 spot because his dice are not greater than Bob's. This choice is the tricky part, obviously the 3 spot will lead to greater rewards for Carl but by placing on the 1 spot this forces the removal of Amy's dice (as they are lower in value than Carl's). Placing on the 1 spot also has another advantage, all subsequent players will have to better his score of 72 to place anywhere but the 0 spot and if they do roll greater it's less likely they'll want to "waste" it by placing on the 0 space so as to remove his dice. An added bonus is that should you roll double 1's, 2's or 3's (which are the only possibilities) you get to immediately move that many spaces along the scoring track.

Exxtra in play

The components are high quality and all follow the X theme: The board fits together like a jig-saw puzzle to form an X, the scoring marker are large wooden X's and have a great tactile feel to them. Additionally each player has a standup cardboard X to indicate which color they're playing. A neat little bonus.

So how does the game play? Pretty well, I'd say. There's a couple of interesting choices you need to make on your turn. Deciding how far to push your luck before you stop rolling. Placing your dice often presents you with two choices: Go for the high reward and high risk of the larger numbers or the safer lower risk ones? You also need to balance getting ahead yourself with preventing the other players from doing like-wise. You might want to place a high roll beneath other player's dice removing them so that they don't get to move at all on their turn. This can lead to a great deal of cheering from the uninvolved players.

Warning! Blasphemy ahead!

The game works well, the closest comparison I can think of is Can't Stop. Exxtra has many of the same qualities and feels a little "fresher", if you know what I mean. I always thought that Can't Stop was over-rated, not a bad game mind you, just not what I'd consider a classic. Exxtra falls into this same category, it's relatively light and involving; an excellent warm-up or evening closer.

Another similarity is the level of involvement you "feel" on other players turns. Watching a whole round of players roll and re-roll all hoping to knock your 75 off the 5 space is tense and fun (and usually results in great cheers when it happens). There's a nice balance between high-risk, high reward and low-risk, low reward strategies. You also have the added concern of when is it best to "fall on the sword" for the sake of the group. ie. Place a high number on a low space so as to remove someone else's dice before they make a big move.

I suppose that it's a (very) small point but I'm glad Amigo resisted the urge to tack on a "false" theme to the game.

So yes, I can understand why some would dismiss this game as mindless dice rolling but there is some strategy involved and above all it's fun.

- Greg Aleknevicus

* Years after writing this review it came to my attention that I'd been playing it wrong the whole time. The real rules are that you are free to place your dice on any open space on the ladder, even above dice higher in value than the ones you're placing. Dice are only knocked off when placing new dice on the ladder. Despite this we continue to play our incorrect way and quite enjoy the experience. As such, I've left the review as is.

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