Full disclosure: A review copy of Cubitos was provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.
I’ve been kind of on a writing kick, lately, which has been exciting. Just powering through reviews like I used to; it almost feels normal. The main difference is that it has been much harder to get games played, so we’ve had to get more creative. For instance, my first game of Cubitos was via webcam, and it … worked pretty well! Sometimes it can. I appreciate Suz taking the time to teach me. You’ve gotta be a bit flexible with gaming in 2020 (and I suppose even into 2021), so we’ll see what gets played and when. Either way, let’s talk more about Cubitos!
In Cubitos, everything is cubes. Why? Unclear? How? Don’t ask. Only cubes, now. You are racing to win the annual Cube Cup, because of course you are. You’ll have to use all the abilities at your disposal, but you’ll need a good amount of luck to win, as well. Build a pool of dice and roll them to advance, but careful! Reroll too much and you risk losing it all. You’ve gotta take risks if you want to go the distance, but who will make it across the finish line?
Setup isn’t too bad. You’re going to largely start by assembling a bunch of the boxes / trays. I cannot help you with this; I found it very challenging. There’s a video. As of writing, there’s not, but I’m told there will be. Look for that. Once you’ve done that, you can start setting up the main area. Start by choosing what set of cards you’d like to play with:
The cards come in 8 different colors, each corresponding to one of the main colors of dice:
There are many set types; you could make your own, if you wanted. Once you’ve decided on that, pick a track to race on:
Place the Fan Track nearby:
Set players up, next. Give each player a pair of runners:
One goes on the stands of the Fan Track; the other goes on the Start space on the racetrack. They also get a player board, with an arrow in their color that I definitely didn’t just notice corresponds to their player color:
God can you imagine if I just noticed that? Embarrassing. Anyways. Players then should get 7 light gray starting dice and 2 dark gray starting dice, placing them in the “Draw” area of their board. Give them a Phase Marker with “Roll Phase” up, and give the start player the Start Player Die. Finally, you need to store the various tokens in their trays:
Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start!
All you do in Cubitos is Roll and Run. You Roll, then you Run. Eventually, you cross the finish line, and you win! There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s the core bit.
The aptly-named Roll Phase is when players roll their dice. Generally, all players do this at the same time.
First, you draw your dice. You do this by taking dice from your Roll Zone first, until you have 9 dice in hand. If you don’t have enough dice in your Roll Zone, take what you can and then take from your Draw Zone until you have 9 dice in hand. If you still don’t have enough, take what you can, move your entire Discard Zone into your Draw Zone, and then take dice until you have 9 dice in hand. There are purple hands that can increase your maximum number of dice, and for every red line that is between you and the leader at the start of the round, you gain a temporary +1 to your dice limit. The Start Player Die doesn’t count towards your dice limit.
Now, you roll! I can’t really describe rolling dice here because it’s more of a visual thing. Hold the dice in your hand and then turn your hand upside down a small distance above the play area. Release your hand if it’s closed and let the dice fall and hit the table. Don’t do this from too high, though, or they’ll go everywhere. I hope that helped.
Move your Hits to the Active Zone; you cannot reroll them. Hits are any dice that show a non-blank face. If you rolled no hits and there are three or more dice in your Active Zone (or were, at any point in your turn, as some dice abilities can be used during the Roll Phase), you bust. More on that in a second.
If you haven’t busted, you may push or pass. If you push, reroll, following the rules above. If you pass, you’re done rolling and you’re ready for the Run Phase. If you bust, you must discard all dice in your Active Zone, and you may discard any dice in your Roll Zone. Also, advance your meeple 1 space on the Fan Track; if you land on a space that gives you a purple hand or a square credit, take the indicated amount.
Generally, this phase happens simultaneously, but if you want to, you can go in order based on who has the most dice in their Roll Zone. Generally recommend against this, but you are allowed to, by the rulebook.
Now it’s time to race. First, resolve any abilities on dice that you want to use, check your sword symbols, and determine how many money and feet you got. I assume the name for feet isn’t feet, but it looks like a foot so we’re calling it feet.
For every foot you accrued, you may advance your character 1 space on the racetrack. You can also spend 4 money to gain one foot. Other players don’t block your movement, and you can share a space with another player; the meeples stack, pleasantly. Any unused feet are lost at the end of a round.
You may now Buy! You can spend any amount of money (circle money or square money) that you would like; circle money is lost at the end of a round; square money is not. However, you may only buy 2 dice, and the dice must be different colors. Purchased dice are immediately sent to the Discard Zone.
Finally, move only the remaining dice in your Active Zone to the Discard Zone. Once player
End of Game
Once any runner reaches the finish space, the end game begins. Finish playing the current round, and the player who has gone the farthest wins! If you reach the finish and still have additional feet left, move to the start (if they’re not the same space) and keep advancing.
Player Count Differences
Largely, the thing you have to worry about with more players is someone having the same strategy as you, and that strategy relying on getting a lot of the same dice. At two, it’s rather difficult to completely empty a dice pool of one color, but at three or four it’s much more likely. As far as the race itself goes, there’s not much blocking that can happen, but you will get the Start Player Die less often with more players, so there will be a slight increase to play time as a direct result (since you won’t get those benefits as frequently). I’m not terribly concerned by that, though; most of the big aspects of play happen simultaneously, so, it’s not like playing at four is suddenly going to add another hour to your games; it’s just going to make them take a little bit longer as more players need to process their runs and their rolls. I do like racing games at two because it’s a bit more personal, but the red dice effects tend to be more interesting at higher player counts. As a result, I don’t have a strong recommendation for the “best” player count for Cubitos. I’ve genuinely enjoyed my plays with all of them.
- Look for synergies between the various dice. There are a lot of opportunities for alignment if you know what you’re looking for. Does this die let you bust with no consequence? That may seem unhelpful until you have a die that gives you money for every two spaces up the Fan Track you make it. Combining those two will be a great moneymaking engine that will let you get the Expensive Dice that can really go all-in. Just try to find ways to mix it up! There’s not always one path.
- Busting is generally bad, until it’s not. Like I said, moving up the Fan Track can be very lucrative, but it can also get you access to permanent extra dice, which will essentially +1 the number of dice you can roll for the rest of the game. That can be handy, especially if you turn an early loss into a late lead, Tortoise and the Hare-style.
- If you want, making early moves to get up the Fan Track isn’t bad, since nobody can go that far or buy that much. It’s not always great to sandbag early, because you may miss out on an early lead, but sometimes you can get really high up the Fan Track before players can move more than four spaces away from the start. Once you’re permanently rolling 11 dice to everyone else’s 9, you’re going to be cooking with gas. Just make sure that you actually have 11 dice to roll; otherwise you’ll still be looking for a bit more to do with your turn.
- Make sure there are still dice available for what you want to buy. If your plan hinges on 4 blue dice, you should make sure that your opponents aren’t going to swoop them. You may only be able to do so much with this, though.
- Use the track to your advantage. Take advantage of teleporters or free Fan Track spaces or that one die ability that lets you move through water. The boards are built so that there are many paths to the finish; just make sure yours is the one that gets you there first.
- Temporary money is fine, but the credits that don’t expire (square money) can be really helpful. You can essentially bank them until you really want a power-buy, and that can be what gets you access to some of the higher-tier dice. It’s very hard to get 12 – 14 money in a turn without the square money, at least. It shouldn’t be your primary goal (this is a racing game), but it can often help you get there.
- On the last turn, burn through your money for that extra movement. If you’ve got nothing left to lose, you should literally go for broke and spend all your money. Each movement costs 4 money, so you may be able to make a couple extra steps. That may even decide the game!
- If you get a chance to remove dice, removing light gray dice is good, provided you have another way to make money. Don’t remove all your dice too quickly, or you’ll essentially throw a wrench right into your engine. You should have a consistent source of income, even if it’s kinda spotty and terrible because the light gray dice are garbage.
- Either way, if you want to get rid of unwanted dice, unwanted dice in your Roll Area should be your top priority. Getting rid of dice in your Roll Area means that you will have to pull from your Draw Area if there aren’t 9 in your Roll Area already. If you can get rid of enough, you can force yourself to pull from your Discard Area as well, which will give you access to the dice you just bought. It’s very similar to deck thinning in a deckbuilder, because it’s literally the exact same mechanic. It really do be like that, sometimes.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- There’s a lot of recommended sets and combinations to get you started! I think when you’ve got games with a lot of modular content like this, it’s often a really good idea to give players suggestions to get themselves started. It prevents them getting overwhelmed and it shows that you’ve thought through certain interactions and suggested avenues. This game has a lot of them. At least 10! They include a mode where you can essentially marathon your way through the game by playing all of the dice cards in a huge grand prix, and that’s very cool, too. It seems like a lot of investment went into this title, and it’s better for them having done that.
- There’s just a lot of content, generally. They really went in on this one; there are four separate racetracks and 7 cards of 8 colors? That’s a lot of potential configurations. The racetracks will also affect your strategy, so there are plenty of configurations. You can even connect multiple racetracks for a longer game, if your heart desires.
- It also seems like a game that you could expand pretty well. Adding new dice colors or just another run of cards for the same dice seem like low lifts, which is good for expansions. There’s also the possibility of new racetracks, which is exciting. I like Cubitos enough that I’m hoping for an expansion down the line, at least.
- I’m a big fan of the puns. My gaming partner for my first play is famously anti-pun, so I won’t say more of it to protect her identity, but Piña Cublada almost ended the game before it began. I love puns, and I’m glad they’re in this game, but there are some who just hate them. Anyways, there are a lot of very good puns and I’m glad whoever wrote them did that.
- I think it’s extremely smart that they went for the Quacks route of having common symbols with cards that dictate their effects. It’s good because it makes the game much easier to configure, rather than always having to swap out different dice every time (a la Dominion, with cards). Setup is much faster as a result and the game hits the table more often, in my opinion. It worked well for Quacks, and I think it works well here.
- Never a dull moment in a good racing game. It’s definitely possible to fall too behind to recover, but that may not happen until the end. Just because you’re having a rough time at the start does not mean that the game is over for you, and just because you’re crushing it early with a brittle engine doesn’t mean you won’t sputter out ahead of the finish line. It’s very exciting!
- Trying to balance moving ahead against taking the outside track for the benefits is a very nice tension, and it keeps the game interesting. The outside track has a lot of good benefits, but it takes a lot of movement to get there and you risk falling behind. Is it worth it? Sometimes! And that’s what makes it so interesting.
- You get to roll a lot of dice at once, and this is widely considered the greatest feeling in the world. They’ve done studies.
- The size of the rulebook gives the impression that the game is a lot more complex than it is; most of the rulebook is clarifications. This is really just in Mehs because I didn’t have a better spot for it. Don’t get nervous because the rulebook is huge; a lot of the components instructions are very large (helpfully) and the rules are relatively short. The extra parts of the rulebook are modular set recommendations and card clarifications, both of which are very helpful!
- The dice are … quite small. Larger dice are preferred, but these are still very cute dice. It probably makes sense for them to be smaller if you’re rolling a lot of them (Roll for the Galaxy-style), but I do just … like larger dice better.
- Double-check if cards with Power symbols are in play; it can be hard to see the power symbol on a die at a glance. The “power” symbol is a dot in each corner of the die face; you can miss it at a glance, so be sure to double-check.
- Boy howdy, I could not assemble the dice trays for the life of me. I thought I was losing my mind. I eventually got it done, but yikes, that was far and away the biggest pain I’ve had in game assembly in a while. It didn’t help that there are twelve of them. You may be able to intuit from this that I really liked the game, given that this is really the biggest thing I have to complain about, and you’d be right, but ugh I really did not enjoy those dice trays. It gave me the same stress as bending the cat cards in Cat Tower.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Cubitos is a blast. It has a lot of similar energy to The Quacks of Quedlinberg, another phenomenal game, but instead of purely bag-building it turns its attention to the thrill of racing games. This puts it nicely in the hybrid zone of The Quacks of Quedlinberg and The Quest for El Dorado, two games that I absolutely love. And as a result, I think Cubitos is fantastic, too! It’s got super-fun art (even if the Everything Is Cubes thing is a little body-horror-adjacent), and it uses color in great ways to make the game seem exciting and inviting. Just like Roll for the Galaxy taught us, rolling a ton of dice in multiple colors just makes a game seem more dynamic, and that largely works to its advantage, here. I think racing games tend to feel tense because there’s a palpable sense of stress, as you can literally see how far behind you are. But Cubitos understands that you should still be able to put it all on the line for a supercharged turn, and the thrill of pressing your luck because you want to win (or because you have to, in order to not lose) really feels natural in the course of trying to get through a race. I think it’s a very smooth combination of mechanics, the hybrid of pool-building, press-your-luck, and racing, and I’m excited to see how well Cubitos has implemented it. It’s a game that I could see being a real hit at conventions, as I’m excited even when watching someone else do their turn. They’ve tried a different strategy than I did; will it pay off? How will I close the gap? Those are questions I ask when I’m invested, and I’m certainly invested when I play. If you’re like me and you enjoy a good racing game, or you’re just looking for something modular and interesting as a new title to hit the table, I’d heartily recommend Cubitos! I’ve had a blast with it.