Ganz Schon Clever (Really Pretty Clever) board game preview

You’re probably used to me bugling about board games at this point, but I’m moving away from the heavy strategy and giant boxes of plastic today to tackle something a little more palatable – an unassuming small-box dice game that turns minimal components and simple rules into a thinky, yet accessible experience.

I’ve labelled this one a preview as the game is currently only available in Germany, but will be distributed in English in the near future. Luckily for me, I was recently draining Bavaria’s beer supply and paused long enough to pick this little gem up.

Opening the box, you would be forgiven for feeling less than impressed. Inside you’ll find six standard D6 dice, each a different colour, 4 cheap black markers, rules and a pad of printed scoresheets that you tear off to play.

This is a game genre known as a “roll-and-write” – roll some dice, mark something off on your disposable player sheet, rinse and repeat. It doesn’t sound or look particularly enthralling, but the good ones (and GSC is very good) can have you hunched over that slip of paper like it’s an unexpected summons.

Your individual player sheet is divided into five differently coloured sections, one for each die colour, with the white die acting as a wild. It can look a little intimidating at first blush.

It looks busy, but the symbols are intuitive once you understand the rules.

It’s actually fairly simple, however. Different dice allow you to do different things – yellow has you crossing off the matching number, green has you X off the next number in line as long as its greater than or equal to the die value, orange lets you write in whatever you want – with points scored at the end being face value.

In essence the more numbers you fill in or cross out on your sheet, the more points you’ll score at the end and the more bonuses you unlock. There is one niggle, however, which prevents this game from turning into gamer’s bingo.

Each player will roll the dice three times, and select one die to activate on each roll, for a total of three activations on their turn. However, as awesome as that purple 6 might look, whenever you take a die you move all the other dice with a lower value to the “silver platter”, printed on the box insert. On your next roll, you roll only the dice you still have in your pool.

This means taking a high die early on could leave you with only two dice left, which you’ll need to roll perfectly to ensure you even get your three activations – and therein lies the rub. If I take this purple 5 now, which is great for me, I’m left with only an orange and a green. I need a 4 or higher on the green in order to X off the next block, which means I’ll have to a roll a 4/5/6 on the green while also having the orange die roll higher in order to not lose that as well.

The more your board fills up, the more agonizing these decisions can get. This is all complicated by all the bonuses printed on your sheet. Completing certain rows or reaching certain points in the linear colours give you a free action – such as crossing off any blue number, or filling a 6 in on your orange row. This allows for some snowballing combos where you can chain bonuses together and feel, well, really pretty clever.

At this point you may be wondering what the experience is like for the non-active players, watching you roll dice and happily cross off squares on your sheet while they wait for their turn. But here’s the thing – you won’t find a single bored player on their phone during GSC. That silver platter I mentioned earlier is for the other players, who after your turn will get to choose one of those dice to use themselves.

A yellow 1? What does this joker expect me to do with this crap?

This means all players are actively invested in your turns – they want to see what you roll, what you’re putting up on the platter and looking at their own sheets to figure out what they can use best. There’s also a fair amount of hectoring the active player to do something that’s good for you – “clearly your best choice is that orange 4” you say, greedily eyeing the yellow 3.

The final twist is that over the course of the game you’ll unlock fox bonuses. At the end of the game, you’ll multiply the lowest scoring colour by the number of foxes you’ve unlocked – incentivizing you not to ignore any of the colours.

It’s a really neat package, and a game that plays well with a family or a group of non-gamers. The rules are fairly simple, the game plays in 30-45 minutes, and players are given a heap of crunchy, difficult decisions overlaid with the feel-good experience of combo’ing off and seeing masses of points roll in.

For the no-doubt very low price point this is going to come in at, it’s a no-brainer.

Vodacom rAge 2019 review