Sometimes I go a bit off-book and review games that I bought myself, but holy heck does it take a while. I think I picked this game up in 2018? And it’s almost 2020 now? Yikes. This is the plight of just trying to buy games and manage a review calendar, I guess??? Regardless, I try to get around to things, especially if they’re thematically or seasonally appropriate, like they are now. And as we move into the Fall (I write this in July, so, whatever), we can start getting hyped for Halloween, a fantastic holiday. No better way to celebrate than with SPOOKY GAMES!
In Sweets Stack, you play as children convinced to play a game by a malicious spirit. In doing so, you’re trying to “helpfully” offer each other candy for their candy baskets (as you do on Halloween). Unfortunately, all the candy is weirdly shaped, and if you cause someone’s basket to overflow, they lose! Win, and you’ll get a candle that, and I’m just reading the rulebook, here, lets you become friends with a ghost. So that’s cool. Will you be able to trick your opponents into accepting too many treats? Or do you not stand a ghost of a chance?
Not a ton of setup, honestly. Give every player three play sheets:
Have them put a 1 / 2 / 3 in the top-left corner (you’ll be playing three rounds). Shuffle the Candy Cards:
Give each player 16. Set out the Round Cards:
If you’d like, you can play with the Advanced Rules Cards; if so, shuffle them and place one under Round 2 and Round 3:
The Dragon’s Fireball Card notes some special Candy Cards; you don’t need them otherwise:
Set aside the Pumpkin and Candle tokens:
You should be ready to start!
So, like I said, Sweets Stack is played over 3 rounds. In each, you seek to pseudo-draft some cards and pass them to your opponents to add the pieces on the cards to their boards. If their board fills up, you eliminate them! A round ends when players are eliminated and you score your board. After three rounds, the player with the highest score wins the game!
To begin a round, everyone takes the cards in front of them, in their hand, and in their deck, and shuffles them up. Draw five of them.
Now, every player gets 2 Pumpkin Tokens.
All turns are taken simultaneously. Players select a card from their hands and play it face-up. Once they do, if the card has a Pumpkin symbol (without an arrow), they collect a Pumpkin Token. Then, players pass the card in the direction indicated by the current Round Card. The player who receives the card must add that shape, as pictured, to their board, Tetris-style. There are some fixes that you can make, if you have enough Pumpkin Tokens:
- 1 Pumpkin Token: You may discard your hand to the bottom of your deck and draw back the same number of cards. Useful if you don’t want to give your opponent all your best cards.
- 2 Pumpkin Tokens: You may rotate a card any number of times before putting it onto your board. It cannot be rotated once it “enters” your board, though, unlike Tetris.
- 3 Pumpkin Tokens: You may swap the card you just received for a card in your hand. You may rotate it as well, but you would have to spend another 2 Pumpkin tokens (5 total).
When a shape is added to your board, it falls from the top (but can be moved, even when it hits the bottom). That said, it cannot fit through a hole smaller than it is.
If you successfully play the card you were given, you’re safe, for now. If it had a Pumpkin Token with an arrow on it, you take a Pumpkin Token. If you completed a horizontal row, check off the candy on the right side of the board corresponding to that row; that’s called a Favorite Candy Bonus and it will give you points later.
If you cannot play the card you were given, you’re eliminated. The player who passed you that card takes a Candle Token, and you flip the card you were given face-down.
Either way, refill your hand to 3 cards if you have fewer than 3 cards in hand.
Once one or fewer players remain, the round ends. Your score is calculated as follows:
- Cards: You score one point per card played.
- Favorite Candies: For every Favorite Candy Bonus you have checked off, score one point per face-up card of that color.
- Candle Bonus: Score one point per Candle Token you have per Ghost on your cards.
Total your scores for the round, and then start preparing for the next round! Discard all Tokens (Pumpkin and Candle) to the center.
End of Game
After three rounds, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The majority of the time, there are none; players are going to be hitting each other with the worst pieces in the cosmos regardless of player count. The key difference emerges at two players, in which you proceed to eviscerate your opponent (and likewise) in probably one of the most brutal two-player experiences I’ve seen. It’s fast, at least, but it is definitely unpleasant. Not that the game isn’t fun; it’s just very mean. You should be aware of that, but I’ll probably keep playing it at three or four players just to avoid how intense the two-player game is.
- You should routinely keep about three pumpkins on you. If you have that, you should be able to avoid a Terrible Fate either by rotating or by swapping a card out for a card in your hand. That can often save you, but it’s not a long-term sustainable action, since you’re eventually going to run out of pumpkin tokens. There are never enough pumpkins.
- Rotate if you need to, but that may not be enough to save you. Rotation can only do so much, and it’s expensive. You should expect to do it maybe once or twice a round, and you’re just going to have to tank the remaining hits and do the best that you can.
- Keep an eye on what cards you’re passing to your opponents. This is key, because if you end up passing your opponents a lot of ghosts and they manage to eliminate another player, you’ve just given them lots of points! That’s less good, as you might surmise.
- You should occasionally take stock of their boards, too. You need to know if you can pass them something that will really mess them up. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is not a particularly kind game; it’s an aggressive battle from start to finish.
- Remember that after Round 2, every card you’ve passed your opponent will be coming back to you. Your opponent will also likely be returning these to you with extreme prejudice, so, prepare yourself accordingly. If you decide to nerf them a bit and only pass them nice cards, you may actually have a shot of getting out of all this okay, but that’s highly unlikely. More often than not you spent too much time passing them garbage cards and now they are going to return your previous favors with interest.
- Always take the kill shot. Don’t feel bad about it; sometimes you’re going to have to dunk on your opponents and eliminate them if you want to move forward. You need those points if you want to win the game, and it gives you the opportunity to potentially double them by eliminating the next player, as well. So many opportunities!
- Try to mix it up, color-wise, as well. You can give your opponent all cards of one color if you’ve noticed that they’ve missed out on the Favorite Candy Bonus for that color, so they won’t get any bonus points, but if you can’t guarantee that give them cards from every color so that you can keep their overall points scored on the lower end.
- You need to complete your own rows. If you do that, you can score a lot of points depending on what card colors your opponent is giving you. Have they only given you green cards? Well, get the Favorite Candy Bonus(es) for Green and you’ll really show them.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. It’s Halloween and you play kids who are manipulated by a malevolent spirit into trying to overfill each others’ candy baskets. And maybe he kills you? It’s super unclear and I love it. Also, the spirit specifically appears in their next game, Hiktorune, which I also really enjoyed (as a promo card)! I appreciate the consistency.
- If you’ve ever played a flip-and-fill and wanted more player interaction, this is the one. A lot of people note that one problem that they have with these types of games is that player interaction tends to be pretty limited outside of racing elements, like Welcome To’s plans or MetroX’s line completion bonuses. Cartographers has a bit more, but it only comes up randomly (so it’s possible that it might not come up at all in a game, albeit unlikely). Sweets Stack is all about that player interaction. You actively have to interact with other players if you want to win the game.
- Pretty quick to learn. I think it helps that most people have a reasonably intuitive understanding of how Tetris works, and the game bears some similarities to it (they’re far from the same game, Tetris lawyers). The only thing that’s challenging is explaining how the pumpkins and scoring work, and that doesn’t take too long at all.
- Doesn’t take too long to play, either. I can usually get through a game of this in 30 minutes. If you have players agonizing over what card to play and trying to look at their opponents’ boards and long-term visualize and all the other good hallmarks of severe Analysis Paralysis then, yes, it will probably take a bit longer. That’s not really the game’s fault, though, at that point.
- Using three sheets per game is going to burn through the ones in the box pretty quickly. Thankfully, there are a bunch more online, but this is another place where dry erase boards might have been a better move for long-term replayability. Then again, I’m a garbage person to ask about this because I tend to max out plays on a game after six or 10 plays. The life of a reviewer is pretty much constant churn, I fear.
- Small cards are still the bane of my existence. These aren’t too hard to shuffle, which is nice, but they’re still pretty small.
- This is just a mean game. It’s a bit odd that I’m so drawn to it, to be honest. I generally prefer nice, upbeat, and friendly games, but this is a knock-down, drag-out Aggressive Tetris Fest. And I’m still pretty into it. That kind of surprises me and scares me a bit. If you’re looking for a very kind and polite game, this is definitely not that.
- It’s definitely a game where you actively benefit from looking at other players’ boards, so that can slow the game down. Sometimes players will struggle to visualize how their choice will affect someone else, so they want to look at their board, stare at it, and try to figure out the optimal play. As you might guess, this can really slow the game down. Try to allow people to calibrate, yes, but don’t let them gawk.
- If you struggle with spatial reasoning, this game will not be kind to you. You really have to know how to flip and turn a piece if you want to be successful. If you struggle with that sort of thing, I’d recommend playing a less spatially-intense game, like Welcome To.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I keep coming back to Sweets Stack, and I think that’s because I like it quite a bit! Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent Halloween game (so much so that I pushed this review back to make sure it went live in October despite owning this game for over a year), but it’s also a solid contender in the flip-and-fill space. My main concern is that it’s much more aggressively mean than other games I’ve played in the space, which might be a lot for new players. New players playing against experienced players might not be the funnest scenario, but I would definitely recommend giving a group of new players this game and watching them go at it; that sounds hilarious. In a cruel way, of course, but, I mean, what can you do? To me, this game mostly appeals to that spatial-focused part of my brain that really likes games like Tag City, Roam, Tiny Towns, and the like. It’s not that I feel like this game is any worse than those games, but I do need a longer break between games of this than the other games to sorta purge out the malicious vibes you gotta internalize to do well. Either way, if you’re asking for a more interactive flip-and-fill, you’ll get exactly what you asked for with this game. Can’t say that doesn’t intrigue me a bit, though, so if you’re looking to get dangerous in the flip-and-fill space, I’d recommend Sweets Stack!