Roll-and-writes are a fun, growing trend in tabletop games. Penk! is a quick, easy-to-learn take on the genre.
What Is Penk!?
Penk! is a roll-and-write game for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 15 minutes to play. It’s published by Cranio Creations and was available in limited quantities at Gen Con, with an official release at Essen SPIEL later this month. It’s available in Europe from Cranio Creations for about 10€, and at CoolStuffInc. for about $9.
The Penk! components are very simple: a scorepad and six wooden dice. The dice are simple, screen-printed dice with rounded corners, and the “6” has been replaced with an exclamation point symbol called the “jolly.” One thing I noticed is that rolling these dice on my playing mat occasionally results in a die stopping on its corner, though I imagine it’s much less likely to happen if rolling on a hard surface.
The scoresheet itself is a simple grid of boxes, showing dice values 1 to 5 across the top, and dice quantities 1 to 5 down the side.
How to Play Penk!
The goal of the game is to score the most points by using dice combinations to circle numbers on your scorepad.
To set up, just give each player a score sheet and a writing utensil, and choose a starting player.
On your turn, you roll all of the dice and then may take up to two rerolls; each reroll can include any number of dice (including those that you kept during a previous reroll).
Once you’ve finished rolling, you spend dice to mark your scoresheet. Boxes may be marked if you have the right number of dice showing the matching values. For instance, to mark off the 3rd box in the 4th column (worth 3 points), you would need 3 dice showing a “4.” You may mark any number of boxes on a single turn, but each die may only be used once, circling the score values in the boxes.
A “jolly” counts as a wild, but there are two restrictions:
- A jolly may not be used by itself to mark off a box in the first row.
- Only one jolly may be used per box, so you may not use a “5” and 2 jollies to count as 3 “5” values.
If you circle all of the numbers in a row or column (not crossing them out), you’ve got a “penk!” All other players must cross out any unused boxes in that row or column.
If you cannot mark anything, then you must choose either a row or a column and cross out all of the unused boxes in that row or column. (You must choose a row or column that has at least one box to cross out.)
Crossed out boxes may not be used for the rest of the game.
The game ends when any player has used all of the boxes in 2 columns, whether by circling or crossing out.
To score, you add up the values of circled numbers in the rows and columns, and total them up, but there’s a catch: you can only use rows or columns with at least three boxes circled. If there are only one or two boxes circled, that row or column scores nothing.
Player with the highest score wins.
Why You Should Play Penk!
Penk! is a fun little roll-and-write that is perhaps a little closer to Yahtzee than some of the newer entries in this genre like Rolling America or Welcome To, because you take turns and only the active player uses the dice they roll, rather than everyone using a shared pool of dice or numbers. However, it’s a little more interactive than Yahtzee because of the “penk!” rule: if you can fill up a row or column, you can limit the other players in their scoring options.
The restriction on circling three in the same row or column in order to score also pushes you in certain directions. If you have two boxes circled in the bottom row for five-of-a-kind, then you really want to get another box so that you’ll actually score for those boxes at 8 points each. But five-of-a-kind is much harder to get, and you want to be sure you don’t bust. Or, if you see that one player almost has their “3” column filled in and you’ve only got two boxes circled there, you may want to focus on getting at least one more before you get shut out.
It occurred to us early on that you could score a penk! in a single turn by rolling a straight, shutting out everyone else from the first row entirely—and if other players have Xs in that row, then those are columns that they can’t penk! to stop you. However, that means that everyone must roll at least a pair to mark anything, otherwise, they bust and fill up a row or column. As the easier sets like singles and pairs are filled up, the game accelerates toward its ending because it’s more and more likely for players to bust.
I loved Yahtzee when I was a kid and played it a lot even into adulthood—back when Palm Pilots were a thing, I had a Yahtzee app on my phone that I played often. Playing Penk! with my friends and my kids reminded me a little of that experience. I liked that the dice combinations were simpler—just dice of the same values—but that there were interactions with other players, whereas Yahtzee is more like playing solitaire and then comparing scores at the end. Even as simple as Penk! is, there are still different tactics you can employ, rushing the ending of the game if you think you’re ahead, or pressing your luck a little to get a combo that will shut down another player.
The main downside to Penk! is that it only goes up to 4 players (or else too much could get shut down in between turns). The roll-and-writes that are more solitaire play allow for any number of players because each move is independent of what other players do. I do like the way that Penk! encourages you to watch what other players are circling or crossing out, too, and that you have to adjust your strategy based on that information.
Overall, Penk! is a quick, easy roll-and-write that’s compact enough to pop in your pocket and take on the go. It’s easy to explain and you could take it to a restaurant and finish a game in the time it takes your food to arrive. It’s a nice play-anywhere game, because all you need to play is a writing utensil and somewhere to roll the dice—even the box lid would suffice.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.