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Pickomino

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Rio Grande
Players: 2-7
Time: 30 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

Can wonderful components raise a game from mediocre to enticing? In the case of Pickomino the answer would appear to be "yes". I enjoy the game but what I like the most are the large, bakelite dominoes that make up the scoring tiles. They're solid, a pleasure to handle and most definitely over-produced—cardboard tiles would have been just as functional. Does this make me shallow? A parrot easily distracted by shiny bits? These questions are probably easier for you, the reader, to answer than they are for me.

Pickomino dominoes

In any case, each domino shows several worms (from one to four) as well as a number (from 21 to 36). The number is the requirement for winning that tile and the worms are victory points. On your turn you'll throw the full set of eight dice (standard 6-sided dice with a worm in place of the "6"). After each roll you must set aside all dice showing one number and may then re-roll the rest. (So, if you roll 1,1,2,3,3,4,5,5 you could choose to keep the two 3's and reroll the remaining six dice.) You may do this as often as you like but you can only set aside each number once. So, if you had previously set aside 4's and 5's, you could only set aside 1's, 2's, 3's or worms on any subsequent roll. If you happen to roll nothing but numbers previously set aside, you bust and your turn ends. The sum of all dice you have set aside is your running total (worms are worth five points) and your goal is to generate the highest number possible. This is because you may claim any tile from the central pool (known as "the grill") that is equal to or less than your total. A further complication is the fact that you must have set aside at least one worm in order to claim a tile.

Pickomino dicePretty simple stuff but this is a Knizia game so there's a nice little addition. You can also steal a tile from another player but in order to do so you must roll that tile's number exactly. Furthermore, when you claim tiles you stack them in the order won and only your top-most tile is vulnerable to theft. This has some neat consequences in that you might choose to win a low valued tile simply to cover a more valuable one.

The final complication is that if you bust, and have currently claimed a tile, you must return your topmost tile to the pool. Additionally, this causes the most valuable tile in the pool to be permanently removed from the game. Once the central pool has been depleted, the game ends and the player who has won the most worms wins the game.

So, pretty simple but it satisfies what many people are looking for in a dice game. It's straightforward, there's some anxiety as players push their luck and this produces cheers and jeers at almost every roll. It's this last quality that makes the game for me. I recently reviewed the quite similar Easy Come, Easy Go (also by Knizia) but I didn't enjoy that game precisely because it lacked this sense of fun. The long-shot runs of luck, or improbable busts have a certain sense of pleasure and every game of Pickomino has these whereas Easy Come, Easy Go does not.

There are a couple of complaints I have about Pickomino—the first is that it can last about 10 minutes too long and the second is that when it does end, it's with a whimper rather than a bang. The first problem can be dealt with fairly easily; remove two or three tiles from the game. The second is harder to address. Since the game is won by the player with the most victory points (as opposed to a player achieving specific victory conditions), it lacks the tense ending of other dice-rolling games such as Can't Stop or Exxtra. Further, this problem exacerbates the issue of game length—players will often decline to claim the last tile if they're behind on points and this will prolong the game. (The full rules for busting are that you do not remove a tile from the game if the one you return is the highest on the grill. I suspect it may be better if you remove the highest either way.) It's very crucial that light, filler-type games not overstay their welcome and I'm not sure Pickomino gets this perfect.

The game is listed as being playable with two to seven players but how enjoyable it is with the greater end of that spectrum will depend largely on how patient you are while waiting for your turn. I'm much more likely to want to play it with three or four than with six or seven. Even so, Pickomino might be best suited for those times when you're looking for a relaxing pastime while chatting or having a few drinks. The durable components make it an ideal candidate for playing at the pub.

(Note: Pickomino was released in Germany as Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck.)

- Greg Aleknevicus

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