Full disclosure: A preview copy of Dollars to Donuts was provided by Crafty Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Like I said, more Kickstarters. So many more Kickstarters! Two this week! Another next week! Just … tons of Kickstarters. Will focus on some more recently-published games towards the end of the month, for sure. Either way, we’ve got a new title coming from Flatout and Crafty Games. After Flatout gave us Calico last year, I’ve been enthusiastic about the nice mix of puzzles and aesthetics that they tend to produce, so I’m very stoked to see what’s going on in Dollars to Donuts. Let’s find out!
You’ve achieved the dream and now own your own donut store in what I can only assume is the Pacific Northwest. To their credit, between General Porpoise, Top Pot, and Mighty O, they’ve got a fair number of good options, so your competition is going to be pretty strict. Everyone wants the same thing, and that’s to delight the various folks who live near your shop with delicious donut treats. But you’re resolving to be the best. Dough? Or Dough-not? It’s up to you.
Surprisingly quick setup. Give each player a player mat, and then give each player four starting tiles:
The color of the starting tile backs match the mat colors. Have each player place the start tiles on their board such that no two tiles are in the same row or column. For a more interactive start, go in player order and have each player place a tile. Once a player places a tile, the other players place the same tile in the same spot (so players have identical starts). Now, place the Specials Board in view of all players:
Set the Donut VP Tokens aside:
Shuffle the Donut Tiles and fill the Specials Board from left to right (6 tiles):
Set the rest face-down next to the board. Shuffle the Customer Cards and reveal 4:
Set aside the Dollar Tiles and the bag, but give each player one Chocolate Donut Holes tile and 4 Glazed Donut Holes tile (so $5 total):
You should be good to start!
The flow of the game isn’t too difficult either. You want to make sure that your donut shop carves out its place in donut history by catering to a variety of guests from a variety of neighborhoods. Your opponents want the same thing; naturally, there’s tension. Who will triumph?
On your turn, you first start by purchasing a Donut Tile from the Specials Board. You may end up paying $0! If you need to spend Actual Money on the tile, spend your Dollar Tiles to do so. It doesn’t matter what’s on the front of them; they all have a dollar on the back and are Valid Currency. Once you take the tile, place it on your board such that at least one square of the tile is on your mat (it may extend off your mat). Just remember, like most tile games, once you place the donuts, they’re locked in.
For each complete donut you create, one of two things may happen:
- Matched Donuts: Take the Donut Token of that type from the supply. The two halves must be the same.
- Mismatched Donuts: If they’re not the same, take Dollar Tiles equal to the higher of the two price tags. This means a plain glazed and a chocolate glazed is worth $$, or two Dollar Tiles. You may create multiple mismatched Donuts with one tile placement; make sure you get your money for all of them!
You may also, on your turn, place one of your Dollar Tiles anywhere on your board. Pairs of identical Donut Holes can score points later, and halves of donuts can create new donuts that are either matched or mismatched. No matter what, though, you may only place one Dollar Tile per turn.
Finally, if you have the correct Donuts, you may serve a Customer by taking one of the cards from the center and placing Donuts on the empty spaces such that you match one of three options:
- Top Row only
- Top and Middle Row
- All Rows
Once you’ve decided, you cannot add Donuts in the future.
Either way, slide the Donut Tiles to the right to fill the gap you created and draw a new Donut Tile, and if you served a Customer, refill the empty space with a new Customer Card from the deck.
Once a player has filled out their Player Mat (or the Specials Board cannot be refilled because you’ve run out of Donut Tiles), finish the round and the game ends! If you cannot place a Donut Tile on your turn, just skip to placing a Dollar Tile, if you can.
Either way, score! You score points equal to the bottommost row on a Customer Card you filled and for any extra Donut Tiles you have left:
- Plain: 1VP
- Chocolate Glazed: 2VP
- Sprinkles: 3VP
- Jelly-Filled: 5VP
You also get bonuses for pairs of Donut Holes on your Mat:
- Plain: 1VP
- Chocolate: 2VP
- Sprinkles: 3VP
Customers all belong to Neighborhoods, as well, which come with their own bonuses:
- If you have the most guests from a Neighborhood, you score 2 points. You may score multiple Neighborhoods this way, and if players are tied for the most, they all get those points.
- For each set of three guests (one from each Neighborhood), you gain an additional 3 bonus points.
Finally, subtract 1 point for each open spot you have on your player mat. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think, with this one, most of the difference around player counts comes down to how much you can rely on the game state to be preserved until your next turn. Since there are effectively two different markets running during the game (the Donut Tiles and the Customers), as the player count increases, those markets are going to get more and more chaotic. This will just usually mean that if you leave a Customer at the end of your turn, you run a much higher risk of not getting a chance to fulfill their order on your next turn. The Customers and Donut Tiles don’t really scale with player count, so, that’s not terribly surprising that that’s the case. Players competing over a shared but finite resource is a fundamental part of a lot of board games. That said, adding in the other players taking time to take their turns, you’re gonna get a slower and more chaotic game as the player count increases. As a result, I tend to prefer this game at lower player counts, rather than higher ones.
- Your initial placement is important. Don’t mess around. If you place your starting tiles at all sorts of rotations and orientations, you’re going to end up in a spot where your subsequent tile placements are going to be haphazard, which will cause you to
- Set yourself up for success. I try to place so that I occasionally just have very lucrative channels form on my mat. Then, placing a tile can net you 5+ money and some donuts, if you play your cards (meaning tiles, more literally) right. If you can play with the mindset that you should keep some future options open, you can really string together some good turns.
- I generally try to only buy towards the end of the game; unless the immediately-available tile is bad for me, I usually just try to make the first one work so I can conserve my money. I think there are obviously exceptions to this, since you’ll want to occasionally buy highly-useful tiles so that you can string together a really satisfying placement for a lot of donuts, but opting for late-game flexibility can help you a lot if you want to buy some tiles before your opponents even get a chance to look at them.
- Try not to leave many spots that can only be filled with a single tile. It’s a bit wasteful, especially if it doesn’t connect to an edge of the board. In that case, you’d be able to place a Donut Tile that goes off of your mat. If it’s just a single tile in isolation, you have to place a Donut Hole or a half-donut there if you don’t want to take the negative penalty at the game’s end, which also uses up your “use a Dollar Tile” step. That may not be worth it, unless you’re getting a very good return by blocking that space off.
- Accruing money is a perfectly fine thing to do, but don’t overindex on that, as it’s worthless come end of game. I originally typed “unlike real life, you start noticing diminishing returns on money” but then I realized that’s actually very like real life, so I’ve since updated this line. You can only place so many Dollar Tiles per turn (so many being, one), so taking a ton without spending them is only hoarding a resource that’s useless when the game ends.
- Keep an eye on other players’ boards; that can help you determine when it’s time to start placing donut holes. I say this not so that you look at other players’ boards and try to steal Donut Tiles that they want; I use it more as a barometer for when the game might end so I can pair up my remaining Donut Holes or pick up the last few Customers.
- Don’t wait super long to fulfill Customer Cards. They go quickly, and a lot of players will just pick them up as soon as they can in the hopes that they can take an additional set of Customers or have the most in various Neighborhoods. It works out pretty well, but it means that you can’t dawdle to take Customers; they might not be around on your next turn.
- The jelly-filled donuts are hard to land well, but they can be pretty valuable if you can get a few of them. I mean, they’re 5 points on their own; it’s usually worth getting at least one.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme! I’m a very big fan of donuts, but they’ve been hard to come by during the pandemic. This was a nice reminder, even if it’s not quite as edible as my favorite snack.
- Also really like the art. It’s very bright and colorful, and that makes the game pop! Hopefully my photography did a good job of conveying that, but even if not, it’s just a great-looking game.
- It’s puzzley in a satisfying way. I really like having to line multiple donuts up and scoring several of them at once. It’s also fun to have to plan out what tiles I potentially want down the line so that I can potentially pick up certain Customers. I don’t always prioritize Customers over just getting more donuts, but, it’s an interesting part of the puzzle to me and it makes me like the overall flow of the game.
- I like the diversity of the Character Cards. I think that that sort of thing is a great vehicle for stretch goals and allowing people to include themselves, but, even without that, it’s a nice mix of Customers from various Neighborhoods and backgrounds. Looks nice!
- Not too complicated to learn. You kinda just buy and place tiles, which potentially give you money or points. There’s not much to it beyond that, save for the Customers.
- I like the drafted start position variant, as well. I prefer that a bit since it seems like giving everyone the same start position might be a good idea for players that are relatively new to the game. Otherwise, if we have different ones and they goof themselves, they’re going to have a tough time coming out of the hole.
- I think it’s something about how brains work, but I always wish that I could mirror Donut Tiles, and I obviously can’t. It’s very sad. I think it’s just a thing with these types of games; this happens to me basically every time.
- It would be nice if the tiles and mats were a bit larger. They’re on the smaller side, which is fine for a preview, but having a larger mat and tiles would be awesome. I keep worrying I’m going to lose one of the Dollar Tiles.
- Surprisingly, I don’t really like the token drawing for split donuts mechanic all that much. It feels perhaps, a tad swingy? Just because the potential outcomes range from mediocre (plain donut holes) to potentially Very Good (half a jelly-filled donut). As a result, I feel like the random draw potential for the game is decently high, which is a bit frustrating. It doesn’t take away too much from the puzzle parts that I enjoy, but it’s a minor annoyance that I’ve observed myself feeling during a few games.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Dollars to Donuts is a lot of fun! It’s hard not to love it at first sight, given the delightful theme and a fantastic art job, to boot. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing in games, and this is definitely a game that caters to that specific overlap of my interests. We can’t escape ourselves, I suppose. Nice thing is that it backs up its art with a pretty solid game attached! I do wish the tiles were bigger, but generally speaking I think it’s more that I just would like bigger donuts in real life, maybe? Hard to say. As far as other mechanics go, I don’t really love drawing money tokens for split donuts (it feels a bit swingy; had one player with much better draws than another, it felt like). I do like the rest of the game, mechanically, quite a bit, though! I’m often looking for games that do a good job capturing fun spatial puzzles, and I particularly like that this one uses 1×4 tile blocks to force players to make uncomfortable decisions to try and maximize their donut output. I think the game would genuinely be a lot less interesting if it were only 1×1 squares; 4 is just enough that you’re a bit frustrated by the limitations and you have difficulty planning, visualizing, and optimizing. It’s a great choice, I think. Overall, I think it satisfies my constant desire for a puzzley game, and it adds on great art, diverse characters, and a fun theme to tie it all together. Personally, I think Dollars to Donuts is a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for a game with any of those three things or, like me, you’re just a donut fiend, I’d recommend checking it out!