- Recently, I had to admit that I didn't dislike abstract games as much
as I thought. In fact, I rather liked most of those I play nowadays.
But every once in a while I play an abstract game that's a bit so
abstract that it's a bit difficult to wrap my mind around it. The
game may work, to a degree; but it's too difficult for me to try to
attempt any strategy that the game loses any fun for me. This, sadly,
seems to be the case with Krabcek (Push the Button, 2005 - Paul
The gameplay of Krabcek is certainly unique, and there's certainly
strategy and tactics in the game. It just wasn't an easy game on the
mind for me. Games of Krabcek are short, and players have a limited
number of options on each turn. But because each option is critically
important, the game feels longer than it should, and it just doesn't
flow very smoothly. I love the main idea of the game - how the size
of the pieces effects which spots they may go in - but it just didn't
really pan out in gameplay.
The game board is made up of sixteen squares that can form in
millions of combinations (according to the website, www.krabcek.com).
The squares are put into a framed board to form an interconnecting
path of orange spaces, divided by brown walls. These orange spaces
are three different sizes - wide, medium, and skinny, and are of
varying lengths. The paths wrap around the board, and it is possible
that not all paths are part of the same network. One player takes the
white pieces (four "Skinnyboys", two "Middlemen", and one "Bigboy"),
as well as eight "Gate markers"; the other player takes the matching
black pieces. The board forms eight gates - four in the middle, and
four on the sides - orange square spaces. Black places one of their
black gate markers on one of these spots, then white places two gate
markers, etc. Each player rolls a die, and the one who rolls lower
goes first, using that number for their first turn.
On a player's turn, they roll a six-sided die and move one of their
pieces EXACTLY that many spaces. Moving a piece onto the board counts
as one space, and all players must bring their pieces initially
through gate spaces. Players may only move pieces through spaces that
are wide enough to hold them. Skinnyboys can go into any space,
Middlemen can only go into medium and wide spaces, and Bigboys can
only move into wide spaces. Once a player moves a piece, they pass
the die to the opponent, who then rolls and moves one of their pieces.
Pieces cannot be moved into a space that contains a piece of either
color, and therefore pieces can block others in the corridors. The
only exception to this is that a player can land a Skinnyboy on a
Middleman (forming a "Little Stack"), or a Middleman on a Bigboy
(forming a "Big Stack"). These stacks cannot split up once formed and
act as one piece - the larger of the two. Stacks cannot be formed on
gates, either. Pieces also have the restriction that they cannot
enter the same space twice during the same move.
If a player rolls a "5", they also can switch one of their pieces
from a black gate to a white gate or vice versa. If a player rolls a
"6", they can switch two of their pieces - both of them must be
different sizes and able to go to the new space. In fact, the only
way to get a BigBoy onto the board is to roll a "1", and then a "5" or
a "6"; since each gate is not adjacent to any other wide spaces.
The game ends when one player makes a "Krabcek Tower", in which they
combine a Skinnyboy with a Big Stack, or a Small Stack with a Big Boy.
That player is declared the winner. A player can also win if their
opponent can make no legal move with the number rolled on their die.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The game comes in a long box, reminiscent of many
American games produced in the eighties. The board is a typical sized
board, with a built on frame and indentation that holds the squares
fairly well. The color choices on the squares fit a certain theme,
but they were a bit bland. Having colors with a better contrast would
have made it easier, I think. Even though the orange squares are
divided by dull gray lines, I still have to emphasize to new players
that it's the orange spaces to move on, not the brown (reddish brown)
spaces. Still, it's neat that each board has so many permutations.
The pieces are rounded plastic cylinders, with the BigBoy and
Middlemen having ridges to hold the smaller pieces. The squares
themselves are about double the length of a side of a Carcassonne
square, and about the same thickness (maybe a little thinner). The
whole game seems to have an American Thanksgiving motif.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is eleven pages long and takes great pains to
show, via many examples, just how the rules work. I can't imagine
anyone having any problems; the rulebook takes you by the hand and
easily leads you through with pictures and more. There's even a whole
page of tips, which I found incredibly useful and helpful. The game
itself, even though the rules are simple, isn't the easiest to
understand - it's a bit abstract, even for an abstract game.
3.) Abstract: Most abstract games are very simple and have a few
simple rules. This one is the same way, but it doesn't feel simple.
The theme is about different-sized people moving through a labyrinth
of streets; but while it makes sense, the abstractedness takes over,
and you think about moving pieces from space to space. The board can
sometimes play tricks with your mind, as you try to follow the paths,
as they wrap around the board and connect with one another.
4.) Choices: On a player's turn, their choices are dictated by the
roll of the die. Depending on the number rolled, a player has to
decide amongst their available options. This seems to cause some
considerable downtime (at least in the games I've played), as players
count out every possible move with every piece to make sure they do
the optimal move. And of course, if a player can't move, they lose;
so you better believe that players will not quit until it's absolutely
positive that they can make no more moves. This is okay, I guess; but
I wasn't always keen on having to think multiple steps ahead, because
every move a player makes counts considerably.
5.) Luck: I don't mind luck in a game, although I'm less tolerant of
it in an abstract game. I don't mind in Krabcek that players have to
follow the die roll. That makes the game interesting and doesn't
affect a player too much. What I do mind about the die roll are two
things. For one, a player must roll a "1" to get a Big Boy on the
board. If that takes 10+ turns to happen (which is often the case),
it can be extremely annoying to the player controlling the pieces.
The other problem is when a player is put into an end game position
that comes down to a die roll. They can roll one number and win by
combining their stacks. Or they can roll another number and lose,
because they have no available moves. I don't like endgame situations
that depend on a die roll in a game like this. I don't mind it in a
war game or a game with theme, but in this, it just feels rather
6.) Fun Factor: Some people may like the very high thought processes
that Krabcek demands. It's a game that seems simple on the surface,
but really has a lot of depth and strategy. It's just a little too
high and confusing for me to enjoy much. That's not to say that the
game is a bad one, but it's certainly not one that I will want to play
Krabcek is the type of game that I can admire and be amazed at the
thought that has gone into it. A board game like this, with the
myriads of permutations, is an amazing thing to produce. But for me,
it's simply not that much fun to play. Perhaps this is because the
higher strategic elements of it elude me. But I'm not going to go to
the effort to figure it out, because there are hundreds of games out
there that I do "get". If the basic idea of Krabcek interests you,
take a look at it; perhaps you'll like it. For me, it just wasn't my
type of game.
"Real men play board games"