A few years ago, my friend Jeff Bakalchuk and I were seated in a somewhat dimly-lit, private-party, second-floor section of an Irish restaurant/bar in midtown Manhattan. We were among 50 or so invitees of Mary Cousins, who runs the Chicago Toy and Game (CHITAG) show, and we were all, at the time, attending the annual Toy Fair show at the Jacob Javits Center, out by the Hudson River.
Jeff was carrying a copy of a dice game he’d designed called Busted, and was using the informal gathering opportunity to network and hob-nob with as many game publishers as he could. He and I managed to get ourselves seated near Mike Gray, a VP of product development with Hasbro, which is about as close to the Holy Grail for game designers as it’s possible to get.
Out came Busted. It wasn’t an intrusive move on Jeff’s part; not like he was disturbing Gray in a private moment. In addition to just plain representing Hasbro at Toy Fair, Gray was at the party to network, as well. Jeff ran through a quick explanation of the game and a small group of three or four of us, Gray included, played the game until someone (I forget who) won.
Everybody (again, Gray included), enjoyed the game. Gray settled back into the little booth alcove and told Jeff in detail why Busted was not the sort of game that Hasbro would be likely to publish. Had nothing to do with the game itself, which Gray said he actually liked. It was more, Gray went on to say, that Hasbro had its own set of products and dice games and that Busted, in a way, would put the company in a position of competing against itself. He let Jeff down smoothly and professionally in a way that boosted Jeff’s confidence, rather than tearing it down for having been rejected by Hasbro.
Now, all these years later, Busted has been published by Ideal (a division of Alex Brands) as one in a set of eight Dice Slide games, which feature a plastic box that serves as a storage container for the game and a dice tower. A panel drops down when the lid of the box is opened, and becomes a tray for the dice dropped in at the top.
I had requested a copy of Busted for review purposes, but knowing that the game was one of many, I suggested that with their approval, I’d be happy to review the entire set. They sent them; all but one, as far as I could tell. In addition to Busted, I received Tripoley Dice, Pig Out, Unusual Suspects, Red Hot Yot, Blackout, and Word Speed. Only Swipe was missing.
We’d be here ’til morning if I attempted to provide an explanation for all seven games, so instead, I’ll tell you about two of them; the one I’m (full disclosure) inclined to like at the outset (Busted), and one I played and liked during some off-duty time I spent at the World Boardgaming Championships (Unusual Suspects). The other seven games have their packaging, and simplicity in common.
Busted, which is a nominee for a 2015 Creative Child (magazine) award, is a push-your-luck dice game, playable by 2-8 players, with a suggested age range that starts at eight years old. Eight dice bear faces with either numbers (10, 20, 30) or the letters in the word “busted.” A card with the word printed on it in block letters, each of which can accommodate one of the dice, is placed at the center of the playing area, and the start player drops the dice into the plastic tower.
From the rolled dice, the player will remove dice showing any of the letters in the word “busted,” placing them in the appropriate spot on the card (ignoring duplicates), and make note of the total amount of points on the remaining dice. At this point, the player can either score those points (on a provided score sheet), or re-roll the point and any duplicate ‘letter’ dice in an attempt to score even more points. The player continues to do this until he/she either opts not to continue to roll, or dice have completely filled up the word “busted” on the card, in which case, the player loses all of the points earned to that point. Play shifts to another player, and play continues until one player has scored 1,000 points and is declared the winner.
Though not explicitly stated in the rules, it would seem fair to assume that all players have the same number of opportunities to take a turn with the dice. When one player reaches 1,000 points, other players in the game, who’ve yet to roll in the round, should have an opportunity to match or exceed the first person’s attainment of the 1,000-point goal.
The eight dice all have three faces bearing points (10, 20, 30) and are evenly divided between dice bearing the letters B, U, and S (4), and T, E, and D (4). This means that in a situation where five of the six letters are already exposed, two of the three remaining die will have the missing letter. In other words, the risk to continue when you’re missing only the single letter is heightened by the carefully-designed distribution of the letters on the dice faces.
Unusual Suspects, while also a clever design, is marred somewhat by some strange choices, related to the color design of the dice faces and the deck of 54 character cards; nine each of six different characters. Each character card has a colored border which is supposed to match one of the colors on the faces of the six dice, designed to look like a fingerprint. So there’s a blue character (Bill Sleetersnow) and a blue, fingerprint face on each of the six dice. A purple character (Tabby Cattail) matches up with a purple, fingerprint face on each die. The problem arises with the character that features what looks to be an orange border (Chip Nightingale) for which there is no matching die face. When you first start to play this game, there’s likely to be some confusion about this. Seeing Chip Nightingale in your hand of cards, you might mistakenly assume that the ‘red’ die face (something of a cross between red and orange) matches, when, in fact, the ‘red’ die face matches Chef E. Clair. Chip’s matching die face is yellow. This confusion won’t last long, as you grow accustomed to the game and its color scheme.
Okay, so you drop your six colored (fingerprint) dice into the dice tower. Once rolled, you take the six dice and transfer them, without altering the rolled result, to an Evidence card with a slot for each die. From the shuffled deck of 54 character cards, each player will draw a card, randomly, which becomes his/her ‘secret identity.’ This card is placed in a provided plastic holder that makes it stand up, and is kept secret from other players. Now each player is dealt six cards from the remaining deck, and play begins.
On a player’s turn, he/she has two choices: Draw a card from the character deck and discard one from his/her hand, or take one of the six die on the Evidence card and re-roll it, placing it back on the Evidence card when done. What you’re trying to do is match the colors of the six cards in your hand with the colors of the six dice on the Evidence card. However, none of the dice, nor any of the cards in your hand, can match the color of your ‘secret identity’ card.
It makes for an interesting challenge, because while you’re trying to adjust the ‘evidence’ (the faces of the six dice and cards in your hand) to suit your own goal, your opponents are doing the same in pursuit of their goal. Often, your attempt to alter a die face by re-rolling it can be beneficial to an opponent.
It should be noted, as well, that while the rules indicate that on your turn, you may select a card from the draw pile, or the discard pile (at the start, a card is turned over to begin that discard pile), it does not indicate that you can only select the top card in either the draw deck or the discard deck. It would, though, seem to be a safe assumption. Though I have yet to see it occur, it would appear that Unusual Suspects is a game with potential to never end. If players are continually changing the face of the dice on the Evidence board, they could repeatedly frustrate player attempts to match cards in hand with the six dice on the Evidence card.
Some of these eight games are listed on BoardGameGeek. Some are not. Many are listed with their original publisher (Fundex) and a couple – Blackout, and Unusual Suspects – are shown in the same, dice tower packaging. None, due to a combination of their simplicity and randomness, get a lot of love out there. Unusual Suspects, for example, has been rated by 38 respondents, none of whom gave it a rating over 6.5. A search for Busted will take you to a game of the same name, which is about marijuana selling.
They’re an assortment of relatively simple, portable dice games that come with a dice tower that have been marketed as something of a set, geared toward a younger set of players; age range begins at 8. You’ll find them on the shelves of the super retailers like Target and Walmart for under $15 (bargains can, of course, be found). For those of them whose rules I have not detailed here, you’ll find a simple explanation for each on the side of the box.