As you can probably tell from my game reviews, I like a nice, hefty board game with some strategic depth and lots of bits. But I like quick games, too, ones that I can toss in my backpack or grab on the way out the door. Sometimes when I don’t have time to sit down and set up a whole game of Last Night on Earth or Battleship Galaxies, it’s nice to have a game I can introduce to new players and just start playing within a few minutes. Shorter games are also great for filling in that downtime when you’ve finished a game but another group of players is still going — you can get in a round or two of something brief before everyone decides what to play next.
Here are some card games of varying length and complexity. If you’re looking for something to fill in the cracks of your game collection, check these out these four!
Overview: Everyone loves watching a Rube Goldberg machine, whether it’s an ad for Honda or an OK Go music video. The Impossible Machine is a card game that lets you assemble your own crazy machine, madly inserting parts while it’s still running.
Players: 2 to 5 (best with at least 3)
Ages: 6 and up
Playing Time: 10 to 30 minutes
Rating: This wins a Gold(berg) star for illustrations, but gameplay can be a little clunky — like the machines you’re building.
Who Will Like It? Fans of Rube Goldberg machines and funny card games.
The cards are all illustrated with various jury-rigged machine parts: dropping marbles, turning wheels, fans, scissors, and even a squirrel or two. Although the game mechanics don’t always feel like putting together an actual impossible machine, the drawings are a lot of fun if you take the time to look at them.
5 decks of 35 cards each, in yellow, blue, green, red, and brown. Each deck is identical except for the colors. Most of the card consists of the illustration of a portion of the machine, with input on the left and output on the right. There are also icons indicating what type of motion the inputs and outputs are. This layout makes sense for when you string the cards together, but it also means that it’s tough to easily see both the input and output of any given card when you have several in your hand and fan them out. Some cards also have multiple outputs, in which case there’s two icons on the right hand side, one near the bottom, making it even harder to figure out how to hold all your cards so you can see everything.
Each player takes a deck of the cards, shuffles them, and draws 6 cards from the deck.
On your turn, you can play up to 3 cards. The first card can go anywhere on the table, but then all additional cards must match, input to output. You can play cards to the left or right of the machine, or even insert cards in the center, as long as all the icons match. Some cards have two outputs, and these are called “splitters.” You can play two cards to the right of these: the icons won’t match up exactly, but it basically splits it into two rows instead of one.
If you can’t play any cards or don’t want to, you can discard up to 3 cards and draw back up.
There are also “eradicator” cards that allow you to delete a part of the machine. It can be removed from anywhere, as long as you can fill the gap so that the parts still match up at the end of your turn. Finally, there are “catalyst” cards (like the red bell card above) which have a star icon for the output: the machine cannot be built to the right of these. Catalysts cannot be played until there are at least four other parts in the machine.
When a catalyst has been played, or if there are 15 parts in the machine, then the machine will activate at the end of the next player’s turn, unless the catalyst is removed before then. Once the machine activates, the active player flips over the 3 leftmost columns of parts. (There may be just one card, but if there are splitters in play then there are multiple rows.) Once the machine has started, you can continue to add parts, but not to the left of flipped parts.
At the end of each player’s turn, flip 3 more columns, until all parts are flipped. At that point, the machine is complete.
You get 1 point for each non-catalyst part and 2 points for each catalyst part that activated. Repeat until 3 machines have been completed, and highest score wins.
There are also some variant rules for shorter games or extended play.
The Impossible Machine is simple enough, really — you’re just matching icons and inserting cards where they fit. Since the goal is to have as many of your cards activate before the machine ends, it’s always to your advantage to play cards as far left as possible, because that way it’s harder to delete them once the machine starts. Catalysts, which are worth more points, have to be at the right end of a path, and can easily be deleted before they get activated.
The illustrations on the cards are wonderful, depicting various complicated machines. But because of the way the cards are designed, sometimes things look a little funny. For instance, the “down” arrow indicates that the motion is something dropping — sometimes it’s a marble or a bowling ball — and the illustration shows the item falling down off the bottom of the card. But you still play the next card to the right, simply for table space and layout reasons, which means that the dropping item doesn’t line up visually with whatever it is that triggers on the next card.
Also, the game is quite dependent on luck, and there’s not really a ton of strategy involved. Either you have the pieces that will fit, or you don’t, and there’s not much you can do about it. The only real choices come in picking what to delete, or when you have two pieces that may fit in a particular slot. I’ve found that the game is more interesting with more players, simply because it’s more likely that somebody will have a piece that matches. Otherwise, you can sometimes get stuck just discarding and drawing because nobody has anything that matches anywhere.
Overall, a cute, fairly quick game with some fun illustrations, but light on strategy. It comes in a fairly compact box so it’s portable. Just be sure to have a long table!
Wired: Great illustrations, fun with Rube Goldberg machines.
Tired: Card layout can be tricky; lots of luck and not as much strategy.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.