Full disclosure: A review copy of Tinderblox was provided by Alley Cat Games.
It’s wild to me that a short review is still pushing 2000 words, but, verbose. It happens. If you’re here for that, well, welcome! There are a lot of words about games, and especially about games I just reviewed. One such game is Tinderblox, a new-ish title from Alley Cat Games. Currently working my way through a handful of those, so if you were around last week, you may have noticed a Kittin review. Hoping to play Paper Dungeons in the near future, as well, so there will still be more to come! But let’s not dwell too much on the games not yet played when we’ve got all kinds of things to say about a game I’ve already played: Tinderblox!
In Tinderblox, you’re an avid fan of campfires. Not like, you know, too into fire, but a healthy respect for campfires and how they can be used to heat marshmallows, dispose of evidence, and keep yourself warm on a beautiful starry night. Just campfire things. You’d like to build one, but you decide to make it a bit more competitive. Just, you know, fire safety is still a thing, so players who play too fast and loose with the fire will have to sit out until the fire’s fully built. Will you be able to get named Best Camper? Or will your plans for success just go up in smoke?
First, set a Campfire Card down in the center of the play area:
Then, place some logs on the indicated spaces, and leave the other components nearby:
You should keep the tweezers nearby, too!
Finish up by shuffling the deck of Tinderblox cards:
Once you’ve gotten all of that out, you’re ready to start!
Not much to tell, here. Your goal is to build a fire without knocking it over! Fire safety is important.
To start a turn, reveal the top Tinderblox card. It’ll give you one or more pieces to add to the stack. If it’s a multi-piece placement, you have to place them both at the same time. Sometimes, it’ll tell you to place with your non-dominant hand, so do that as well, if you need to.
When you place, they must go on top of the logs or other tokens on the Campfire card; they cannot be placed on the card directly. If you drop the tokens before you finish placing them, that’s fine, usually. But if your dropped pieces knock other pieces over or they touch the Campfire card, you’re eliminated.
That’s … kind of it! Play until there’s only one player left, and that player wins! If you successfully make it through all the cards, all remaining players win!
Player Count Differences
For Tinderblox, more players just makes for a longer game. Every player needs to get eliminated by knocking over the campfire (or the remaining players tie for the win), so I’d expect a six-player game with experienced dexterity gamers to probably end with at least a couple players tied. There’s some level of a fundamental maximum to the height that the campfire can get before it gets too unstable, and you’ll run into that pretty quickly. Early in the game, however, high player counts give you some cover, since you only need to take one turn every six turns, which can potentially reduce your odds of being the person who knocks the stack over. That said, everyone’s luck runs out, eventually. I wouldn’t say I’m enthusiastic about sitting out and waiting for other players to knock over the stack, so I’d probably stick to the two to three players part of town, with this one.
Generally, with smaller dexterity games I don’t always have as much to say on the strategic front. I do have a few things, though!
- Set things up precariously, if you’re comfortable doing so. I mean, the game here is setting your opponents up for failure, so try to do that where you can. Just keep in mind that it will eventually be your turn again. Or, it might not be, if you try to place something so messy that the structure collapses. That’s on you, at that point, though.
- Keep in mind that the cubes and logs aren’t the same size, necessarily. You can’t always rely on being able to bridge gaps or increase height properly to get the right pieces in the right place, so don’t expect that. Sometimes it works out, though. The cubes are generally the same size as other cubes and the logs are the same as other logs, but the logs and cubes aren’t the same height as each other. So watch out for that.
- You may be better served using your turn to strengthen the structure, especially if you think you’ll be in for the long haul. That’s a kind thing to do, which may not be what you want, but if you are consistently reinforcing the campfire then it’s slightly less likely to collapse overall, which hopefully reduces the chances of it collapsing on you when you’re trying to play? Your mileage may vary, on this one. Sometimes you just want to play to screw up your opponent, and that’s also a totally valid way to play, especially at two players.
- Get your drops out before you move in on the Campfire card. Don’t be a jerk, of course, but if you think your grip isn’t right or you’re slipping or something, better to drop your pieces on the table where it doesn’t matter than to risk toppling the structure and looking the fool for it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the theme. Campfires are a happy memory for me? I did Boy Scouts growing up and while I don’t have time to unpack all of that, there were a lot of good times setting up / putting out / unnecessarily messing with the campfire. I find the experience relaxing. S’mores, etc. It’s a pleasant theme, and while I still have a healthy respect for fire, having a quick and light game about building one up is a cute reminder of how much I used to enjoy camping. Not really into camping anymore, but, there was a time!
- The art style is very pleasant, as well. I like the isometric view on the Tinderblox cards, and the box cover is quite pleasant, as well. I think the color scheme works nicely, too! It’s got an “early sunset” vibe, which is the perfect time to get a campfire started.
- Extremely portable! Such a small box. It’s smaller than Kittin, which is pretty impressive. Bit taller, though, so it ends up being kind of Oink Games-sized, but in a tin form.
- Tweezers are always a fun game component. I do really like them in games! I was just playing My Funny Dinos as well, and was super pleased to get to use them. Maybe it’s just my childhood love of Operation? I doubt it, because I find Operation unsettling, but I’m not sure. They’re just a fun way to interact with board game components without having to rely on my hands.
- The components at large are nice, as well. They’re well-produced. The cards are a good quality, as well. I particularly like that the cards have lightly-yellowed outlines, rather than purely white. Made the photography easier, which is always a boon for me.
- I appreciate that this campfire comes with two possible setup configurations. It’s a subtle variation (I think the slightly-stacked structure is harder to work with), but it IS a variation. I like starting with the flatter one and moving on to the more-complex one for more interesting setups. But, having the option is nice either way.
- The cubes aren’t quite the same height as the logs, which can make your formations a bit quirky. I don’t explicitly mind this, but it was unexpected, so I’m mentioning it here. It seems like the cubes aren’t actually cubes, per se, and that’s what’s causing this. I was surprised! And I’d like for y’all not to be, so I’m adding this extra helpful information.
- The random distribution of “use your non-dominant hand” cards can make for a bit of a swingy game, especially if one person gets significantly more non-dominant hand cards than the other(s). This happened to me in one game. It wasn’t terrible, but it was mildly annoying. Hence, a Meh! Really loving that I have a category for Things That Mildly Irked Me About The Game I Played And Other Not Necessarily Super Positive Or Negative Thoughts. Really lets me explore the space. Or something.
- It’s a bit frustrating when grabbing the multi-piece arrangements that the tweezers won’t hold on to the bottom block, but that’s kind of how some tweezers work. Fundamentally, the tweezers aren’t going to be able to grab a stack of components that are the same width from the top. In an ideal world, they’d either taper somewhat or they’d be rough enough that they could stay in the tweezers via friction. Not going to happen. Instead, you’ve got to approach from the side and grab the bottom piece, which might be challenge. It’ll either build character or make you better at dexterity games. Or both!
- At higher player counts, player elimination can take a hot minute to resolve while you wait out the rest of the game. I’m just one guy staunchly against player elimination in almost any circumstance, but it’s a stance I’m at least usually somewhat consistent about (along with my dislike of square cards, I guess, but that’s less relevant, here). I don’t think it’s particularly bad, because it’s still a relatively short game, but you can be out for a little while and I generally find that frustrating.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I find Tinderblox pleasant! I think it’s got some things I prefer and some things I don’t necessarily love. While I love games with tweezers, for instance, I find that the smoothness of the components makes it hard for the tweezers to necessarily grip all the time (and it becomes challenging to lift multi-piece structures with that minimal grip). Tokyo Highway has a certain roughness to its components so that the tweezers can grip more effectively, which allows for more elaborate placement options (as you’re not as worried about the whole thing falling apart on you). I’m not a huge fan of the player elimination component, but I am very into the art style, both on the box and the more isometric construction instructions on the Tinderblox cards, themselves. I wouldn’t recommend following them to the letter to build a campfire, but they’re entertaining in their own way. I’m a big fan of dexterity games, pretty much across the board, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed this one, but I do wish it were a bit more complex than it is. Sure, it’s a quick-and-simple stacking dexterity game, but without more complex pieces or arrangements, I’m fighting gravity a lot more often than I’m using dexterity to place things interestingly. That’s not necessarily bad for a short dexterity game, but it’s usually where the gap emerges between a game in the 7s to 8s and a game that’s 9+; I want something that goes beyond entertaining and moves into compelling. But they can’t all be that. I do find Tinderblox entertaining, however, so I’ll give it the praise I think it deserves. If you’re looking for a small dexterity game, you enjoy tweezers, or you just really love campfires, you might enjoy Tinderblox as well!
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