#860 – SUM8 [Preview]

Base price: $XX.
1 – 2 players.
Play time: ~30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A preview copy of SUM8 was provided by Turnup 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. 

There’s not really any good joke for reviews dropping on Valentine’s Day that aren’t Love Letter, and I’ve already reviewed that twice. Though I do have the new Star Wars one, so … maybe I should get to that? I won’t have it ready in time for Valentine’s Day; this is just mostly me musing on it. It’s a process. In the meantime, Kickstarters continue. I have some real issues with Kickstarter’s nebulous move to the blockchain, but they’re being very vague about what their plans are and leaving a lot of creators in the industry in the lurch. Gamefound is pouncing on that, which, good for them, but I likely will continue to preview Kickstarter titles until I have a better sense of what Kickstarter is doing; I’ll just probably personally back a lot fewer games / look to more games on Backerkit or Gamefound or likewise. In the meantime, let’s take a look at SUM8, hitting Kickstarter soon!

In SUM8, well, there’s not much of a theme to speak of. It’s math. You’re playing an abstract strategy game about trying to make eights. Are they sums? Are they big double circles? Are they both? Yes! That’s the excitement. You’ll need to make sure you don’t leave spots on the board for your opponent to make big scores, though, so be careful! Will you be able to score the most points?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton. You can set up the disks in any number of configurations, ranging from a 4×4 to a 3×3 to whatever you’d like. Needs to be at least 9 disks, but you can use all 16 if you want. The fewer you pick, the harder it (usually) is.

Next, shuffle the tiles! I usually just throw them in the bag and jumble them around. Both players should theoretically get eight of them, to start. You can leave the rest around the play area face-down, or you can just dump them back into the bag, like I did.

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

SUM8 is a pretty straightforward tile-laying game, at its core. These sorts of games kind of have to be, since the tricky part is usually the strategy. To start, the start player plays any of the eight tiles in their hand anywhere on the board, and then draws a new tile. The tricky thing is once a tile is placed; all subsequent tiles must be placed adjacent to at least one previous tile. Note that the top-right and top-left (or top-right and bottom-right) of adjacent disks are adjacent to each other, and that works for all those configurations.

Additionally, a tile placed adjacent to another tile must either match all adjacent tiles’ pips (having the same value), or it must sum to 8 with the pips of all adjacent tiles (as individual pairs). This means that a 3 can be placed next to a 3 or a 5, a 2 can be placed next to a 2 or a 6, and a 1 can be placed next to a 1, only. When you do, you score:

  • For each match: +1 point
  • For each sum 8: +2 points

If you manage to make a “Big 8” (by placing a tile such that two adjacent disks are completely filled), you get an additional 4 points. Note that this happens for each Big 8 created by your tile placement, so you can end up with multiple matches, multiple sum 8s, and multiple Big 8s in one turn.

After placing a tile, you draw back up to eight, if there are enough tiles to do so. In lieu of placing a tile, you may move an existing tile, following normal placement rules, provided you’re not removing a tile from a completed disk and removing the tile doesn’t leave other tiles disconnected.

Game End

The game can end one of two ways:

  • All tiles have been played.
  • A player is unable to play a tile on their turn, legally.

Once that happens, it’s game over! Tally each player’s score, and then subtract the total pips from tiles remaining in their supply (if any). The player with the higher score wins!

Player Count Differences

None! SUM8 is two-player only. For a solo puzzle experience, make a board configuration of your choice, dump all the tiles out face-up, and see if you can play all of them. Mild spoiler: you can, since, I mean, the photo for this game has a valid configuration of all the tiles, I believe.

Strategy

  • There’s only one of each tile, so don’t waste it. There will inevitably come a time in the game where you wish you had a specific tile for a specific placement that will net you a ton of points. Good news is that the tile exists! The bad news is that there’s only one of it, so if your opponent has it or it’s already locked in on the board, you’re out of luck. This also means that you can make some placements impossible by setting them up so that they require a specific tile, so keep that in mind if you want to end the game more quickly.
  • You can’t keep track of what tiles your opponent has, so don’t leave openings that will score big points unless you have both of the tiles that would fill that gap. Usually, there are multiple possible ways to fill a gap (since you can either match the pip or sum 8 the pip). If you’re leaving an opening, it’s typically wise to make sure that your opponent can’t necessarily steal your anointed future placement and take your big points opportunity away from you. Generally speaking, a good idea to not give your opponent major points during the game. So if you have both of the tiles that can be played at that specific spot, you can leave it open! Whether it stays open or not by your next turn is up to your opponent, though.
  • One way to block big-scoring openings, partially, is to make sure they terminate at 1s. That cuts the number of playable options in half (and it reduces the value of any tile played there, since you cannot sum 8 with a 1 [no 7s on tiles]). You can do the same thing with a 4, but it’s less effective.
  • If you see an opponent leaving an opening that would otherwise be a big score, you should assume they have the tile(s) to complete it on their turn. With that in mind, move the tile! Don’t give up a ton of points. You can almost always move tiles elsewhere, provided they don’t orphan existing tiles. It’s rare that you’d be in a position where you can’t move a tile and must leave your opponent a high-scoring move on their next turn. If that happens, try to ruin it a different way. Place a tile nearby that will make their chosen tile impossible to play? If you can’t, and they’ve made a truly unblockable move, then, I suppose, the polite thing to do is to applaud them. That takes some doing to pull off.
  • Prioritize making 8 over matching, but don’t overlook spots where you can make a points combo. If you can match multiple tiles at once, that’s going to be worth more than a single sum 8. Try to keep an eye out for placing tiles so that they’re adjacent to multiple spots, rather than just a single connection. Similarly, though, watch to make sure you’re not leaving these spots open and available to your opponent.
  • Towards the end of the game, start getting rid of your higher-value tiles so that you don’t lose points, should the game end because no player can make additional moves. This is a tricky move, because doing so sloppily can also make openings for your opponent to score big. Try to play mindfully, but also dump your tiles with the most pips. The game can occasionally end a bit abruptly, and you don’t want to be left holding the bag for 15 points or so; that can almost always swing the game against you.
  • Keep in mind the specific layout of your board, and think about how that influences and changes scoring opportunities. With bigger boards, you can usually keep away from your opponent (and you likely won’t end the game until all the tiles have been played. On a smaller board, you don’t have as many options, so stick close to them and try to capitalize on their sloppy placements and get big points. The way the disks are laid out can really change how the game plays in terms of intensity, so make sure you’re thinking how to be responsive to that.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • It’s math! I kind of enjoy math games from time to time. I don’t break them out as often because, largely, I think most board gamers I regularly play with only enjoy mathy games when they’re disguised as something like building roads or trading gems or just The Renaissance, but sometimes the abstract nature of a purely math-based game is exactly what I’m looking for. People like vanilla Yahtzee, after all.
  • I think, generally, the quick math and spatial reasoning components of this game will make it a great fit for early- to mid-level math education. It reminds me of some of the edutainment games I played growing up, but more board-gamey. I think this could be a hit for teaching younger kids some math and spatial reasoning. It’s a bit more complex than, say, checkers, but having them track their score and process the three different scoring arrangements would be a great way to work on building those pathways.
  • I’m also partial to making circles, so any game where you have to do that is alright by me. It’s just a soothing motion, I think, and it’s nice seeing a bunch of circles. It shows up in my photography, I like rondels; the whole thing works.
  • I’m more positive than I expected on the bag for the game. I didn’t think it was going to be good, but it holds its shape well, it has a pouch for the disks, the tiles all fit inside, and I can use it to randomly draw tiles during the game. It all works fine for me. It’s a little nondescript, but, frankly, so is the game, so it’s at least consistent.
  • Relatively simple rules help make this game easy to get to the table. The only major restrictions are around where tiles can be placed relative to others, which isn’t too bad once you get used to it. Even scoring isn’t too complicated, though it’s a bit tedious without anything more than say, a post-it to keep track on.
  • I am a big fan of modular board configurations to keep the game fresh; the game is much different on a bigger board than it is on a small one. I do like that, and I think the configurations add something to the game in each of their various forms. I’m not sure all of them are amazingly optimal (making a straight line, for instance, probably doesn’t work), but I like that there are both suggested options, freeform options, and even a “play without a board” option. I’m not as sold on the “no board option”, since no player has any incentive to create or help create a Big 8, but that’s a different problem.
  • The feel of all the pieces is nice! Generally well-made components. They’re weighty! Feel to be about poker chip-weight, which is always nice. Makes the game feel sturdy and professional. I imagine you could probably make a plastic version of this if you’re chasing the younger audiences, but I do like this one.

Mehs

  • The game has kind of a strange “cold start” problem. So when the game opens, the board area is blank and no tiles have been played. The start player, then, must contribute a tile to the board, which earns them no points (as it doesn’t match or make 8). This doesn’t feel great for that player, in my experience, because I’m losing a tile that may be important later. To that end, why not just start with a random tile placed on the board in some start position? It’s effectively the same, as far as the second player is concerned. This just means that the start player has a chance to score some points on their first turn rather than performing a no-op.
  • In larger board configurations, requiring all tiles to be played might take a while. I have no incentive to play my final tile if I’m not winning, for instance, so I can delay the game by moving tiles around as much as I feel like on my turns. This kind of needs covered, to some degree. In smaller board configurations, you’ll much more likely see a situation where players can no longer play tiles, but with a big board, there are a lot of potential open spaces.
  • I always get a tiny bit annoyed with games that require me to track the score in real-time but don’t include any way to do so. For this one, you’ll need something you can tally scores on; scores will vary depending on players, tiles, and board configuration. Thankfully, I play games for photography reasons in my office, so post-it notes are never too far, but score chits of some kind are always appreciated (or a score pad). It’s mostly that this often leads to situations where I grab games for travel and find out I’m missing components of some kind, which is frustrating. I like games to be all-in-one experiences, where possible.

Cons

  • The rules don’t really cover possible stalemate outcomes. So, for instance, a tile is in location A, but it can be moved to locations B or C, legally. The rules, as I have them, state that if tile 1 is moved to B from A, it cannot be moved back to A on the next turn. That covers the simple stalemate, yes. But if 1 is moved from A to B to C, then it should, under the rules as I have them, be allowed to move back to A. This can essentially result in a stalemate, or at least a game state that is undefined. With larger board configurations, it’s possible, even if this isn’t anyone’s best move. It’s fixed somewhat by the idea that one player always has some incentive to end the game (by virtue of being in the lead), but it’s not quite fully covered.
  • Aesthetically, it’s a bit bland, which is fine for abstract games, I suppose, but makes it hard for me to feel more emotionally invested in the game beyond the mechanics. One could make the argument that it’s the same aesthetic as chess, but, chess has interesting piece shapes and unique movements for pieces. While the SUM8 tiles are interestingly shaped, they’re kind of just … all the same shape. This is why I don’t feel that much about, say, checkers; I need some kind of hook. From a product standpoint, it concerns me a bit. Like it or not, there’s a reality to the bump that more visually splashy products make on Kickstarter. Though I did back a game called Less a few years ago that had a very simple, clean aesthetic, so it can work. I think I just kind of wish the game was more visually engaging than it is.

Overall: 6.5 / 10

Overall, I think SUM8 is fun enough. What’s the game trying to be?, I generally ask myself, when I’m reviewing. And then I try to measure a game against its ambition. This means that sometimes I don’t find a game particularly ambitious, but comfortable in what it’s trying to do. SUM8 fits nicely in that camp. I don’t necessarily think that this is going to make the BGG Top 100, but I do think it’s going to be a solidly fun title for, say, students trying to get used to doing quick mental math, early addition, or something that’s quick and strategic without being necessarily overly complex. Solid classroom game, and I can imagine this being a favorite for the right crowd. Is that enough? I … think so? Then it comes down to appeal. While there’s something timeless and classic about the white and black color contrast, it’s not the most appealing game, for me. I’m looking for color, for visual appeal. But I play a lot of games. If you’re trying to pop this in a school or something, though, I think more color might actually help there, too. Beyond that, as with most Kickstarter titles, the rules could use another pass or two, just to clean things up, but I enjoyed my plays of SUM8. If you’re the mathy type, you’re looking for a fun educational game, or you just like tiles and eights, then you might enjoy SUM8, as well!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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