Board games

Dexterity game idea – Rainbow Towers (working title)

A while ago I got a bunch of coloured wooden blocks, for a project which ended up not taking place; and having stumbled across them again just now, I’ve been wondering about the possibility of turning them into a game. An early place-and-score type idea ended up converging towards (the excellent) Totemo, but last night I came up with a new idea for a dexterity game with hand-management elements, which feels like it might be quite fun. (And I’ve never designed a dexterity game before, so there you go, new experience.)

So you need a load of one-inch blocks, in a mix of six colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. I reckon the game will work for anywhere from 2 to 6 players, of pretty much any age (say 6+). Sort out (12 * number of players) blocks in an equal colour mix. Divide these blocks randomly between the players, so they each have 12, which they put in front of them in a pool on the table.

To start the game, each player closes their eyes and picks one of their blocks at random. They then open their eyes and place that block towards the centre of the table in front of them. This will be the base of their tower. Each player should be able to easily reach all the towers.

Players now take turns as normal. On your turn, you must (attempt to) place a block of your choice from your pool, onto a tower of your choice. The placement rule is: on an opponent’s tower, you may only place a block of the colour that’s next around the colour wheel from the block that’s currently on top. So if the current top block of an opponent’s tower is red, you may only place an orange block on it: yellow on orange, green on yellow, blue on green, purple on blue, and red on purple. On your own tower, though, you may place a block of any colour.

As you place the block, announce the new height of the tower (“Nine blocks!”)

At some point, as the towers get higher, someone will attempt to place a block and the tower in question will come crashing down. That is the end of the round. That player scores zero. All other players score points equal to the height of the highest tower that isn’t the one that just fell down. So eg. if there are towers of height 6, 8, 9 and 11 blocks, and someone places a block clumsily on the 11 tower and knocks it over, then all the other players score 9 points.

Play a number of rounds (rotating the start player) that’s a multiple of the number of players, or until you get bored. Tot up the total points scored and identify a winner.

The tactical point of the game (in case you were still wondering if there was one…) is to force a player to play onto their own tower by managing the available colour plays. If you can do this repeatedly, they are bound to have to build too high and crash their tower. But as dexterity varies (and the blocksaren’t perfectly regular), a ‘safe’ build level for each player can never be predicted, so you can’t be quite sure when to go for the kill. But having open information about what colour blockseach player has left to play should make such calculations seem teasingly possible.

The main design problem I have is that the number of blocks to put in each pool needs to be just a bit greater than the typical tower height possible. But this will vary a lot from player to player. If you have clumsy/child players who can’t build more than 6 high without flubbing, then the block-management side of the game won’t come into it at all, unless you start them with just 8 blocks rather than 12. Conversely, a super-dextrous bunch playing on a very flat table might go through their 12 blocks without a tremor, which would be equally unsatisfying. But I don’t think you can pitch a game on a basis of “meh, you’ll figure out how many blocks will suit you, after a few plays”.

(One way round this might be for each player to have a working hand of say 6 blocks, replenishing it each turn from the common stock, rather than a personal pool fully known at the beginning. I’m not sure if that would damage the long-term planning aspects too much, though. Plus it makes it more fiddly if everyone’s got to reach into the bag each turn (and, there needs to be a bag). Playtesting required!)

The other thing I’m not sure about, but which will also come out with playtesting I guess, is if it’s too easy to gang up on a player who’s perceived to have a skewed colour distribution at the start.

I’d be very interested to hear your impressions and thoughts!

4 replies on “Dexterity game idea – Rainbow Towers (working title)”

I like the elegance of this a lot. I’m a bit concerned that the game seems to be a bit too choose-your-victim-ish in that placing a block on someone else’s tower is really bad for them. You basically never want to play onto your own tower if you can help it because although it might harm another players options you’re only giving them +1 at the cost of +1 to yourself. The scoring system is again very elegant, but unfortunately means the victim is heavily penalised!

Most of the tweaks I can think of would compromise the minimalism, but one thing I think you should consider is scoring according to unused blocks rather than tower height. Tumbling a shorter tower is a more serious error and so should carry a greater penalty (ie. the opposite of your current rules). This also has the advantage of making tower height matter more.

(Mm, I’m also a bit worried about the choose-your-victim aspect. Will have to see how that actually playes out.)

That’s a great idea re scoring by blocks left, I like that a lot better than mine. As well as the improvements you mention, it also has the advantage that people don’t then have to keep track of how high each tower is (I put this in to cover the situation where a falling tower takes others down with it).

Ah, I remembered one of the reasons I’d scored it that way: to penalize bullying. The idea was that if the game ends with four towers like 2 – 3 – 13 – x14x, then that should reward the survivors better than eg 5 – 6 – 7 – x14x where they’ve all ganged up on one person.
But maybe that’s an unnecessary wrinkle.

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