Full disclosure: A review copy of Quirky Circuits: Penny & Gizmo’s Snow Day! was provided by Plaid Hat Games.
There are just some games that I love, but they never really end up going anywhere. They’re brief and perfect, encapsulated in a “this is kind of all that there will ever be”. Maybe it’s because the company itself ends up not being able to support the game, like Rosetta: The Lost Language or The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, or maybe the game doesn’t sell enough to warrant more, or maybe it’s just very indie. These all happen. Sometimes, though, you get surprised, and more comes out of nowhere. So you can imagine my delight when Quirky Circuits came back with this new standalone mini-expansion celebrating one of their best characters (Gizmo) and adding a new, delightful friend (Penny, the snowboarding robot penguin). I’m hyped, so let’s dive into it.
In Quirky Circuits, you’re tasked with a simple thing. You need to get your little robot from the start point, around some challenges, and back to the start point before the battery runs out. Simple enough. The challenge is, players are programming that robot’s actions together, in real-time. So you may not have all the cards you need to get where you want to go, and you’ll need to rely on a friend to help get you there. Still too easy? Well, what if you’re not allowed to see what your fellow players are playing? Is that tough enough for you? That’s the core challenge of Quirky Circuits: can you successfully guide your robot friend through challenges without being able to see what actions it’s going to take next? In Penny & Gizmo’s Snow Day, specifically, you’ve got a new friend, Penny! She snowboards and slides and does cool tricks, so you’ll need to help her hit every flag on the course when she’s in play. Gizmo is still on cleanup duty, so you’ve got indoor scenarios and outdoor scenarios. Can you complete them all? Or will you once again end up getting your wires crossed?
So, I covered most of how Quirky Circuits works in my initial review of the core game. The big change here is that along with Gizmo, our classic cat + robot vacuum dream team from the first game, we now have Penny, a new robot penguin friend who is a delight to behold. Penny’s major skill is that she can slide by moving either down a slope or by using slide cards to move in the same direction until she either hits an upward slope or an object. Her missions primarily revolve around navigating increasingly complex courses to collect flags before returning back to the starting point!
Additionally, you might notice that this box is smaller (and significantly cheaper) than the original Quirky Circuits. This one has ten scenarios and two characters, making it leaner and more compact than the original game. Gizmo’s scenarios appear to have different maps, but there are no changes to Gizmo’s gameplay from the original game.
Player Count Differences
It’s interesting, since I’ve now played a bunch of games within the Quirky Circuits system, and I’ve noticed different things about different player counts. Generally, you kind of see the same patterns emerge, however: players will either play one or two cards at a time if they can only do so much, or they’ll make a big, sweeping play with as many of their cards as they can, hoping that the outcome is clear to all other players. At lower player counts, the latter is more viable, because even if you confuse your co-player, they only have to play one card on their turn, and they can usually turn or just reverse or something, if they’re genuinely unsure of what to do. At higher player counts, introducing highly-confusing elements like that is a recipe for possible disaster, because at least three more cards beyond yours have to end up in the mix (and there are a lot of cards, between four players). It’s not so dangerous that it’s not viable; you just have to be careful, lest you spend a few rounds going in circles because everyone wants to drive the character their way. That is all to say that I think low and high player counts of Quirky Circuits: Penny & Gizmo’s Snow Day! are all delightful, because Quirky Circuits is fundamentally a game about rich communication and the subtle joys of successful prediction and understanding. The player count doesn’t really matter; you’re trying to accomplish a goal, cooperatively, and it feels great doing so with two, three, or four players. I think this is a delightful iteration in the series, and I’d happily play it at any player count.
- Remember implicit movement assumptions about both characters. There are times you might see a player playing strangely because, say, they keep slapping down movement cards for Gizmo without ever placing a turn card. This might be because they remember that Gizmo will automatically turn left upon colliding with most objects, so they’re incorporating that movement into their move. This might not be what they’re assuming, though; just remember to keep an eye out for it.
- Quirks will eventually be introduced. Plan accordingly. Quirk cards must be played before any other cards in that player’s hand. This usually means that a player might be waiting on playing it until it makes sense to do so, or they might play a card and play a card that undoes it. Slow your roll a bit once Quirks are introduced.
- You can tell what cards players have based on the card backs. Keep in mind that players may not have turns or movement cards available, based on how the deck shakes out. You should definitely look at which cards players have in their hands, as well; you can’t see the fronts, of course, but you can get a pretty good sense of what you’re working with from the backs. That might imply some semblance of ordering to how you play, or at least imply which players you might want to let go first or second (or force to go last).
- Keep an eye on the quirks of the map, as well. As you progress through the game, you’re going to start to see the maps themselves get more challenging. For Gizmo, this means chairs that you can’t just scoot underneath and pots precariously placed on tables that can fall off and become more mess to clean up. For Penny, tunnels that you must slide through and more complex arrangements of flags are in your future. Those things exist to challenge you, but they’re things that you can work around, with the right amount of planning.
- If you’re not sure what to do, try to do non-actions. Just spin, so you play some cards and get moving. I’ve done that, a few times; just burning some turn cards by spinning in place. It’s also a great way to end the round if you are pretty sure you successfully made it onto the space. Everyone has to play a card, so do a little spin to celebrate and clear the core requirement.
- Try to … learn your left from your right. That’s challenging, for me. It’s not so much which way is left and which way is right as much as it is, if you’re facing south and turn right, which direction are you now facing if you’re going to turn left again in two moves? I struggle with that.
- Don’t be tricky if you don’t have to. Try not to make your movements ambiguous. For instance, if you have two “Move Forward” cards in your hand and one “Move Two Spaces”, try using the two Move Forward cards, if possible, so it’s more clear what your plan is. There are times where it’s still clear that you’re moving the two spaces (you might, for instance, turn, move two, and then turn again), so save the card for those moments so that your partners can intuit your choices, somewhat.
- When in doubt, assume your partners are playing optimally, or as best as they can. In cooperative games, you kind of have to make that assumption. That said, this is a particularly dangerous game for that, since, again, I occasionally struggle to tell which way a piece is facing after it makes a left turn. Worst-case scenario, laugh it off, but try to assume that everyone knows what they’re doing.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- While I think I enjoy the gameplay of the big Quirky Circuits box more, I think this is a much more well-targeted product, if that makes sense? I try not to comment too much on price versus value, since I get the game in exchange for time, rather than money. There’s a whole ethos to that that’s worth an entirely different article. But in my personal context, I usually like to give games as gifts or throw them into like, annual gift exchanges, and this $20 price point is very tantalizing for that kind of thing, for me. While we can discuss the like, money per scenario per character or something, I don’t think that’s the most helpful way to ascribe value? But if we’re just talking about my like, $20 Gift Exchange Price Threshold, this clears that, and that works for me.
- I’m a huge fan of Penny, so, naturally, this version was going to appeal to me. I just really like penguins? They’re fun birds. Not whole lot more to say than that. Having a robot penguin is also nice.
- I like that the box is smaller, as well, so it’s easier to take this version places. I do slightly wish this were the same size as the original box, and I frankly may just push this version into my original box and take both with me, but it is convenient to have a travel version available, should I want to take it on the go.
- I’m enjoying this increasingly frequent mechanic of books being used as boards in games. It’s a great way to have several boards / maps / scenarios available to players without having to package them all in heavy cardboard, which I appreciate from both a weight and box size consideration standpoint. I’ve seen it in more and more games, lately, and I’m definitely a fan.
- Each scenario is super quick, so we often play several. They’re still challenging, don’t get me wrong, but usually you can bust through one in 10 – 15 minutes, so we may string together four or six, depending on the group and how much we feel like getting into it. It has that feeling of watching a bunch of episodes of the same TV show instead of watching a movie, you know? You can easily get a bit lost in the repetition rather than committing to an hour+ game.
- I just really love the theme of the game. It’s fun to have little robots running around and doing tasks. I find it delightful.
- The minis are excellent, as well. Super detailed! Penny is a little top-heavy and the base in a bit thin, but she still stands up fine on her own. She is just remarkably easy to tip over.
- The art is also a lot of fun? I find the game bright and engaging, artistically, and I think that’s a great way to get folks interested. Plus, I think most people like the idea of a cat riding a roomba, so that’s an easy get.
- I like that the characters have unique actions and effects without feeling too distinct from each other. There’s a pleasantness to each character playing similarly without playing the exact same way. That makes it easy to remember the core actions of each character without having to relearn them, and highlights what makes them unique in the various scenarios. This was true of the core Quirky Circuits, as well, but it’s still a nice design note. The edit distance between characters being relatively small does a nice job reinforcing the game’s core rules without making you learn an entirely new game every time.
- It’s decently easy to get through all ten scenarios in a longer sitting, but honestly, I kind of see this as a sampler pack for the full Quirky Circuits, so that’s not too big of a problem. I haven’t quite been in a situation where we’ve powered through all the scenarios, but I feel like if that were ever a potential risk vector, I would just bring my big box version, as well? I can see that being a bit of an issue, but like I said, in my mind, this is kind of a Quirky Circuits appetizer. If you want more, there’s a main course also available? I would like more Penny scenarios, though.
- I always get a bit worried that there’s no dedicated place to store the minis. I really don’t want them to break. An insert of some kind would be ideal, but I end up just tucking them under the cardboard that can fold up. That seems to generally work, but I can hear them bouncing around when I move the box and it stresses me, a bit. They’re really lovely minis; I don’t want anything to happen to them.
- As someone who struggles with left and right, apparently, this game is really challenging for folks who aren’t great at real-time spatial reasoning. I think where I struggle the most is when the mini isn’t facing the same direction that I am and I have to think through what several turns will do. My brain isn’t as great at rotating things in 3D space, for some reason, and then adding in the real-time element of it causes me even more problems. Thankfully, this isn’t a particularly intense game, socially, so mistakes are just humorous accidents. But it can feel bad for folks if they consistently struggle with these things, so I try to make sure that my groups aren’t too harsh on someone if this isn’t an area of strength for them.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Quirky Circuits: Penny & Gizmo’s Snow Day! is a fantastic introduction to Quirky Circuits, even if I do miss some of the more complex characters. It can be challenging to get excited about a big box game with a concept you haven’t tried, so making smaller, more digestible starter versions is a pretty good idea. I do kind of wish that it was the same size as the original box, but that’s more me being mildly neurotic about storage than anything else. I think the two included characters are two of my absolute favorites, though they’re definitely simpler than some of the increasingly-complex ones you’d see in the bigger box. But it’s a cat on a roomba and a robot snowboarding penguin; what’s not to love? They correctly chose highly-engaging characters and some maps that will put your brain to the test, and I think it’s a strong offering for a small box. This is, of course, me being wholly sympathetic to a penguin-themed expansion to a game I already love, so, full disclosure. But I think what makes Quirky Circuits great is the satisfaction of getting it right and perfectly threading the needle with a group of people, and this is still a set that delivers on that promise (and allows for some comical catastrophes in the same breath). It’s a satisfying gameplay loop, and it speaks to Nikki Valens’s talents as a designer, as well. I was always hoping we’d see more Quirky Circuits, and I’m so glad that we did. Especially because now this is the ideal set for me to give to friends as gifts and just start spreading the joy of the game around. If you’re looking to get into Quirky Circuits or you’d like to explore another fun character, I’d definitely recommend taking a snow day with Penny and Gizmo! I really liked this set.
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