Over the weekend, I got together with my good friend Brie to play a couple of free Print and Play games and see what PNP games are all about! We tried to choose games that ranged in style and complexity in order to get a broader idea of what works and what doesn’t work in these types of games. Read on for my take on each of them and click the links to try them for yourself!
Game One: Zeppelin Derby
We chose to play Zeppelin Derby for the game’s simplicity. At just two printed pages, the uniformly sized deck of cards required for play made for a refreshingly painless assembly and a level of portability that the other games lacked that I personally really enjoyed. It’s the kind of game you could easily toss in your backpack to provide entertainment on a trip or vacation, with no small pieces to lose or large pieces to damage. Because the game board is made up of three cards placed in a line, the game could feasibly be played in a variety of locations with minimal space. The visual design of the cards was also flavorful but easy to understand, fitting well with the game’s steampunk premise.
Despite all these advantages, the game’s creator states that “[he] also believe[s] strongly in games with a positive theme that can be played by children and their parents,” and that’s definitely the feel we took away from the gameplay. The objective of the game is to get your zeppelin (player marker) to the end of the board first, using a system of dice rolls to dictate movement and event cards to either give yourself an advantage or sabotage your opponent. While the dice roll system does have an added layer of complexity (you roll 5 dice and are allowed to freeze one and roll again,) it is still ultimately a very luck-based game, with just a bit of excitement thrown in from the event cards (some of which also use dice rolls to decide effectiveness.) Even though we both did our best to use our cards to our advantage, we felt that the end results were more dependent on the numbers we happened to roll rather than any higher-level strategy on our part. While it was still a decently entertaining time, we agree that the best audience for this game is probably families with younger children who would be able to get into this game without needing the ability for complex strategizing or planning. The luck factor serves as a good way to level the playing field when it comes to skills, allowing fair play between people of all ages, and is likely to introduce an element of surprise that would be exciting to kids.
Overall, the simplicity of the game provides both pros and cons, although it wasn’t so much the simplicity as the high reliance on luck that ended up hindering our experience. With a bit of tweaking, this would make a perfect game to take out for a short play session when in a waiting area, car, or plane.
Game Two: Paikō
We chose to play Paikō next, as it seemed to be the middle ground in complexity of both gameplay and assembly. A game with less narrative and more strategy, it reminded us more of games like chess than party board games. Clocking in at 5 black and white pages, the game was still very manageable for both our printer and during assembly, featuring a square game board and two sets of pieces (black and white.) Although a little harder to store and transport than Zeppelin Derby, it’s definitely still doable with a large Ziploc bag or repurposed box.
We found Paikō’s gameplay to be just right in terms of intricacy, allowing us to grasp the mechanics fairly easily but still leaving a lot of room for individual strategy. The objective of the game is to win by being the first player to accumulate 10 points, which are gained by having pieces on the middle ground (1 point) or on your opponent’s homeground (2 points.) You can hinder your opponent by blocking or capturing their pieces with yours, which you deploy according to certain guidelines. Each player has 3 of each type of piece, which all have their own individual movement, “threat,” and “cover” rules and patterns. Since it was our first time playing, we started out slow, having to reference the rules frequently and think at length about the state of the board in order to strategize, however, like chess, it felt like with more practice we would be able to pick up on the rules and quickly assess threats and make our moves should we ever play again. Visually, there was appeal in its relative minimalism, but although a black and white version is great for those on a budget, a version with a bit of color to distinguish the pieces would have been a nice addition for those who don’t mind spending a bit more on ink.
All in all, Paikō is an enjoyable game that is not excessively difficult to learn (think chess) but allows for some serious thought and back-and-forth combat between seasoned players, with experiences varying each time depending on your chosen play style.
Game Three: Dune
That brings us around to our third and final game of the night, Dune. This was by far our most complex game to play as well as assemble. With a board that required precise alignment, a deck of cards, seven papercraft dice, and countless tiny pieces, a good chunk of time was invested into assembling this game. One major issue that we came across in cutting out the pieces was the fact that the guidelines provided on the pieces showing where to cut were printed in such a way that any time you made one cut, it rendered another one of the guidelines obsolete. Because of this, what could have been addressed with a simple fix required us to spend what felt like hours cutting out the pieces and using previously cut pieces as guides for new ones. This was before even getting to the dice, which required precise cutting, folding, and gluing in order to put together (seven times.) Despite all the trouble, it is true that the game was very well crafted visually, with unique and engaging symbols for each faction, and a consistent style and palette of earthen colors with bright accents throughout the game. As far as portability and storage go, this game is definitely the most involved of the three and requires careful attention to keep track of all the different pieces.
The objective of the game is to control several strategic points (the number required to win depends on the player setup,) accomplished by allying with other factions, recruiting troops, mobilizing, and attacking with care. Frankly, as far as gameplay goes, we found the sheer depth and complexity of the rules to be a bit overwhelming for first time players to grasp without the guidance of an already established veteran. For this reason, gameplay was slow and clumsy, and admittedly it took some of the immersion and fun out of the experience. As with any game, practice would surely help speed things up, but as far as picking up a game to play for a casual get-together, I would steer away from Dune because of its steep learning curve. It seems more like a game you would recruit friends and dedicate an evening to, in which case I’m sure it could provide a lot of fun.
In conclusion, we had a good time playing all of these games, whether it was from trying to figure them out or from playing them, and we’ve agreed that Print and Play games are definitely a neat option for people to access a variety of interesting games without much investment at all.