Full disclosure: A review copy of CTRL was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
We’re just gonna keep plugging away! My goal with this one is to basically get almost a month ahead on reviews over the weekend, and I think I’m well on my way to doing that. Once I’ve done that, I can start re-assessing if I want to increase the number of reviews a week or get experimental with the format or something. The dream. Either way, we’ve got a new title from Pandasaurus Games and I’m excited to check it out, so let’s dive right in and see what’s up!
In CTRL, your goal is … well, control. It kind of makes sense from the title; I don’t know what to tell you. The problem is, you’re used to thinking a bit … two-dimensionally. Expand your horizons a bit and realize that instead of only one way to score a single cube, there’s really five. Each side and above! Now that you’ve got a few more angles to think of, you’ve also got some new problems. Your opponents want control as well, and they’ll come at you from all sides. Will you be able to plant your flag atop the largest domain?
Pretty standard. Give each player a set of blocks in their color:
Have them place them on the center cube:
If you’re playing with three players, one block goes in the center-bottom space on one face, and the other two blocks go on adjacent faces such that they’re adjacent to the unused face (center-bottom-right, or center-bottom-left). Have each player stick their flag into their cube:
You should be ready to start!
Set up as you would for four players. However, give each player two sets of cards:
Each player should choose one and return the other one to the box, unseen.
This is going to be a doozy to describe with basically only text, but here goes. CTRL is, as you might guess, a game of control. Your goal is to have blocks with the most faces visible from any of the five directions you can look at the overall structure with. Think of you projecting the structure into 2D: if squares are visible, you score points! And you project each direction (above, front, back, left side, right side) into 2D, so there’s five different places to score! Let’s outline what that looks like below.
On your turn, you’ll start by removing your flag. Then, place three blocks. You must always follow some rules:
- The first block you place must be adjacent to one of your existing blocks. Diagonals do not count.
- Next, place the remaining two blocks so that all three blocks form a straight line. You may ask what happens if you would encounter an obstacle. Essentially, you’re going to treat gravity as relative, here. If you approach an obstacle one block high, your next block goes on top of it. If it’s more than one block high, you climb it by placing a block above your previous block (think like something crawling up a wall).
- You may not move vertically. You may place your first block on top of an existing block (that’s adjacent), but you cannot continue to move away from the main block; you’re not making towers.
- You may not place below the bottom. You can’t raise the main block up. You can finish your turn such that the last block you placed is adjacent to the table, but if you cannot place a second or third block, you need to choose a different direction to move in.
- You may not move another player’s flag. If their flag blocks your route, you’ll have to choose a different one.
- On your first turn, you may not finish adjacent to another player’s starting block. That’s rude. Stay away from them.
Once you’ve taken your turn, you finish your turn by placing your flag in any block of yours, such that it’s pointing in any direction except towards the table. Then, it’s your opponent’s turn!
After all blocks have been placed, the game ends! Use the score sheets to count every visible block face of yours from all five sides. Sum that, and the player with the most “points” wins!
In a two-player game, once you’ve summed all the sides, reveal the card you kept. Whichever player with the higher-value card color wins!
Player Count Differences
As with all area control games, it can get pretty intense as the player count increases. You do have to watch out for players dogpiling another player, as all three players teaming up to just snuff out another is reasonably possible. I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing, but I do enjoy the toughness of playing this at two players and having to guess which color your opponent favors. If you’re right, you can really strike them down early, but if you’re wrong, you risk giving them an opening that you really can’t stop. It can come down to a bit of guesswork if you want to lock in a decision early, or you can try to deduce what they want by how they play. Up to you. Personally, I think those sorts of situations are a bit more player-balanced (since you can’t gang up on someone in a two-player game), so I tend to prefer area control games in general at lower player counts overall.
- A decent idea is trying to get to higher ground. Usually, if you’re standing alone on a peak, that means you score potentially five points (since you’re likely visible from all directions). Naturally, you usually need to climb on someone else’s block to get there, so, make sure you find the right opponent to stomp on on your way to the top.
- Don’t cover your own moves. Like I said, find an opponent to stomp on; don’t just cover yourself. You’re essentially going to score fewer points if you do that because you’re blocking one of your own blocks from a certain angle. Naturally, you can’t always prevent it, but you should try to minimize it as you can so that you can increase your score.
- And in a two-player game, don’t block your future moves, either. Try to leave paths so that your primary color can travel without being blocked by your secondary color (and vice-versa). Ideally, you can use the other colors to block your opponents, rather than yourself. Just keep in mind if you leave yourself too many advantageous pathways, then your opponent may make use of them to cover blocks you actually care about.
- Similarly, try to obfuscate which set of blocks you care about (in a two-player game). You don’t want it to be too easy to guess; then you’ll just get “both” of your opponents bearing down on you. As long as you can keep track of it and your opponent cannot, you’re in pretty good shape.
- Going somewhat aggressively after your opponent helps, since then you can use their blocks to get higher up rather than your blocks. You can sort-of-literally ride their coattails to the top, if you play your blocks right. It’s an area control game; you’re going to have to play a bit rudely if you want to edge them out on certain sides.
- Similarly, cover your tracks with your flag. I occasionally use it to mark that I, like Obi-Wan, have the high ground and have not underestimated my opponent’s power, though I think the results turn out a bit better for my opponents (or less bad, at least?). You can and should use the flag to really block paths that you don’t want your opponent to take until you’ve had a chance to assert your influence over them. You can use that to occasionally make certain avenues so disadvantageous to your foes that they might as well be unnavigable.
- As with many area control games, if you make too much of a fuss, you risk attracting the attention of the other players and getting absolutely taken apart. Players tend to go after the person that they think is in the lead; you can use the multiple angles and faces of the cube to your advantage to try and obfuscate your progress so that they don’t notice and gang up on you, if you’re good. That said, eventually, you do need to be in the lead to win, so, try to make sure you’re not getting left behind.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I do like the colors a lot! It’s a very pleasant color scheme, even if as of writing time I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the precision that’s going to be required to edit my photos. I always struggle with light backgrounds, and having light pieces against light backgrounds is essentially double trouble, for me. We’ll see how they turn out. If you’re reading this, well, that means they weren’t bad enough that I had to scrap the review, so, I guess I’m writing this ambitiously? Only time will tell, I suppose.
- Tactile games always add an extra layer of enjoyment, for me. It’s got a great sense of scale, as well, but the game fundamentally feels good to play. The pieces stick together decently well, the flags are a nice touch, and the whole thing is satisfyingly three-dimensional. If the spatial elements don’t throw you off, this could be a great family game.
- Ideally, it plays pretty quickly. Only seven turns for each player, so, assuming you don’t have analysis paralysis, it doesn’t take that long at all.
- I actually just like the flags a lot. The fact that they can be placed in the blocks up to five different ways makes the game have a really interesting table presence every round. It looks great and I’m very often about that aesthetic when I’m playing a new game.
- Usually I don’t need scoresheets, but not providing them in a game that you really do need them for is … certainly a decision one could make. I have a limit on how many sheets I can print per month because I decided to subscribe to ink For Some Reason, so you can see how this is particularly vexing. All in all, just a weird choice to make. I assume it must have been since they didn’t want the sheets to get bent, but it still strikes me as very odd.
- The game insert situation is kind of a mess. This is frustrating for games with a lot of pieces that need to be divided; a simple insert would let you group all of the cubes of your color along with their card so that you’re not just dumping them loose into the box every time, but that’s not the case here. It also makes me worry about the flags, since they’re likely to get bent if there’s no way to protect them. I’m very pro-insert and I assume that it wasn’t in the cards, but it’s something I definitely feel like is lacking for this game.
- If you’re operating with analysis paralysis, the expanding decision options, the spatial element, and the multiple sides to consider can cause this game to really lag beyond 20 minutes. I know people who struggle a lot with both spatial games and games with a lot of decisions, and I don’t think they could get through this in 20 minutes. It’s compounded a bit at two players since you control two different colors, since you also have to consider the interaction of your two colors. It can really be a slow game in the wrong hands, and I think that works against what makes the game fun.
- I think area control is up on my list of genres I’m not super into, along with I cut, you choose. I think the genre ends up being too “take-that”-y and subject to dogpiling, and while the direct conflict aspect isn’t too bad in this one, it’s fairly vulnerable to dogpiling.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Yeah, overall, I had fun with CTRL, but it combines a few things I really like with a few things I don’t as much. I think the tradeoff is a bit centered around who you play with. If you’ve got fast players who can make quick, snappy decisions about what they want to play and where, then I think you’re golden. If your players are more methodical and want to take time to tease out every possibility, the game’s going to be more of a struggle. It will just … take a while. At its core, though, the game is very cool: it has a great color scheme and really takes the idea of area control to a new dimension as you have to literally think about your moves from every angle. I could see younger gamers having a blast with it just on the premise alone. The problem is that it’s typically a frustrating experience to put away without an insert, and while you can print scoresheets in sets of four, I’m a bit surprised by the decision to include neither of those two things in the game’s box. Add that in to my general dislike of area control and you’ve got a game that I find fun, sure, but perhaps not one that I’m overwhelmingly psyched to play above other titles. I think a lot about this game in comparison to BLOCK.BLOCK, and I think that BLOCK.BLOCK made a couple different decisions that I preferred. They emphasized only one direction (looking at the board from above), which reduces the decision space, and they also focused on the two-player experience. They’re fairly different games that share some common ideas, but BLOCK.BLOCK’s focus pushes it to the top for me. Like I said, though, I’ve got a bit of a dim view of area control games in general, so, it’s a tough area to try to impress me in. If you are a fan of area control or games with a fun table presence, I think CTRL might be worth checking out. It certainly looks great.