Break the Cube

Base price: $22.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: 15 – 25 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3

Full disclosure: A review copy of Break the Cube was provided by Flat River Games.

As you might guess from the shape of the reviews that have been happening recently, a big box of games from our friends at Flat River Games arrived recently. As a peek behind the curtain, distributors tend to work with many companies, so on the reviewer side, they usually have a bunch of things happening in their spheres at the same time. Flat River is one of the largest (up there with Hachette), so, there are … many games. A lot to tell y’all about, so look forward to that! There are / have been a few IELLO titles among what arrived, like Distant Suns and Get on Board, so there will be more to look forward to from them in the near future. But in the meantime, we’ve got Break the Cube! Let’s check it out.

In Break the Cube, players have one job, and that’s to figure out each others’ secret structures! Sort of like spying on a garden or something. The problem is, they can’t see the other players’ structures, so they can only ask questions! You can ask about a top-down view or a view from any row or column. That should be plenty of information! You can figure it out, right? This 3-Deduction puzzle hopefully won’t overwhelm you too much; but there’s a lot of angles to consider. Get it? 3D? 3-Deduction? No? We should probably just get to the review.

Contents

Setup

Not a ton! Give each player a size 2, 3, and 4 wooden block:

Then give them a player screen:

Have them place one Foundation Tile inside of the screen and the other Foundation Tile outside of it:

If you want, you can use the note-taking sheet to help make things easier to remember:

Regardless, you’re ready to start!

Gameplay

Break the Cube is a quick and light deduction game where your goal is to replicate your opponent’s secret construction that they’ve hidden behind their player screen in front of yours. If you do, then on your turn, you ask them and if they confirm it, you win! But how do we get there?

To set up the game, players need to build a secret construction behind their player screen. It must abide by the following rules:

  • It cannot be completely flat.
  • No blocks can be unsupported. Essentially, this means no gaps between blocks.
  • The construction cannot be higher than level 3. No weird spires, either.

Once you’ve built it, the game starts! Each player may ask one of three questions, on their turn:

  • “What do you see at {NUMBER}?” The player to their left looks from the top of the Foundation Tile down at their structure and answers what color they see at the spot matching the number requested. This means they’ll tell you the color of the topmost block, but not what level that block is at.
  • “What do you see at {LETTER}?” All players, starting with the player who asked the question, must answer honestly. Look at your Foundation Tile from the direction of that letter. Read every color you see, from bottom to top. It should be something like “red”, “blue”, “nothing”, for instance.
  • “Does my shape match your secret shape?” If the answer is yes, you win! If not, your turn ends.

As soon as one player correctly guesses the player to their left’s secret shape, they win!

Player Count Differences

From your perspective as a player, there aren’t really any major differences, but from the perspective of the game, it shifts slightly with more players. At any player count, you’re responsible for guessing the shape of the player sitting on your left. At two, this means you and your opponent are guessing each other’s shapes. At four, this means that the player across from you has zero interaction with you. That’s all well and good, but it means that you may end up losing the game because of something entirely outside of your control. The argument can be made that you should just have … deduced faster, but it can still feel a bit frustrating as a result. Additionally, guessing a row or column provides much more information at higher player counts, though most of it is useless to you (since you only need the information of the player on your left), so you may end up passively collecting information even when it’s not your turn, which makes up for the additional player turns between yours. No real issues, as a result, but I would be most inclined to play this at two and keep it relatively simple. Plus, at two, you can increase the challenge by using more pieces to construct your cube, which is fun.

Strategy

  • Keep in mind that you (usually) cannot win the game by just guessing numbers. There are plenty of ways to effectively obfuscate the shape of a structure if you’re only looking at it top-down. You need to also likely check some columns or get very lucky with guessing. Ideally, players will build their shapes so that you can’t just get it from top-down, but, players can be a bit less than subtle, from time to time.
  • That said, you don’t necessarily want to always ask about letters, since it gives your opponent(s) as much information as it gives you. Asking about letters (rows and columns) can provide your opponent with a lot of information, so you need to be mindful of how you make your request. Try asking for a letter that provides your opponent with little-to-no information and hope that they didn’t make something similar to you. That way, you get a lot of information about their structure and they’re not getting much back from you. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.
  • Setup is pretty key, here. You really need to come up with a good and puzzling structure for your opponent, otherwise they can just guess it pretty quickly and win. Try to figure out how to do some weird stuff that’s within the rules if you want to really throw them off.
  • Try to find ways to obfuscate your pieces and make them harder to discover. Covering pieces so they’re invisible from above or building around smaller pieces so they can’t be seen from some of the sides can be pretty fun. Just keep in mind that asking about letters gets them the entire view along that letter, so if, say, you are forced to say a certain color is on the top level, you might end up giving away some of the structure below it. Try to be mindful of that when you’re asking as well, so you don’t end up giving away your own secrets.
  • There are some really interesting shapes you can go after when you’re building. I had a fun one where a piece was inserted into the gap created by two other pieces almost-interlocking, which was a lot of fun. It threw off my opponent pretty well, as well. You can get extremely creative with four or five pieces, if you’re playing at two players, which is a lot of fun. The sky’s the limit, or at least the third level.
  • Remember the construction rules, as well. There are certain configurations of pieces that become impossible within the rules, so you can rule those out. This means that pieces can’t have empty space below them, for instance, and they won’t extend past the third level (and the structure cannot be entirely flat, either). This can provide you a lot of information depending on what answers you’re getting back to your questions, so try to use that to your advantage.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • A very light deduction game. This one’s even simpler than, say, The Shipwreck Arcana’s easy cards, which is nice. It’s a light and relaxed bit of deduction with some fun building elements to it. I don’t get nearly as intense about figuring out the puzzle as I would with, say, Turing Machine or The Search for Planet X, which is really nice.
  • The pieces are some fun colors. I enjoy games that kind of go for it with their color options; it makes them more fun to photograph and it improves their table presence. Especially for more modestly-sized games, having their components pop is always a welcome surprise.
  • I enjoy the challenge of trying to construct the other player’s layout. I think the 3D elements are pretty interesting, just because you only ever get information along one axis, which is fun. It gives me a lot to try and figure out, and there aren’t a lot of situations where you’ll just get it on a lucky guess. Plus, the spatial component is not something I see a lot, which is entertaining. It almost makes me think of the Pandasaurus game Mental Blocks, except this is more deduction than just building things.
  • I also like that the two-player game can add more difficulty by playing with more pieces. This is probably my favorite part. It’s a variant, but you can add extra unused blocks to the game if you’re playing with two players, which increases the complexity of the structures you can create. It definitely makes the game take longer and makes it more challenging, but I think it’s a payoff worth the investment.
  • The game plays pretty quickly, and is very approachable. I think the strategy of the game may take a bit longer to grok for some folks, but the core gameplay loop is pretty easy to pick up, since you can only ask three questions. Letting new players use the notepad (even if you’re against the notepad for some unknowable reason) is probably a kind choice, for instance, but I think this is the kind of game that’s a great way to get someone into deduction games if they haven’t tried many before. A surprising number of people haven’t played Clue before.
  • It’s a nice size. I really like this size of game boxes. They’re not quite so portable that I’d have them on my person, but you can throw ten or so of them into a canvas bag and have yourself a pretty rip-roaring game night. The ideal, for me, is that a bunch of these-sized games will fit into my suitcase so that I can take them on my January travels, for instance. It’s actually one of the problems I’ve been having; I’ve been traveling so much for work lately that I haven’t been able to play any of my bigger-box games because I can’t take them with me.
  • I enjoy the escalating tension of the game where you can see the other player slowly getting closer to constructing your layout. There’s a pervasive unease that begins to form if your opponent decides to start building their structure based on the information they’re getting from you. Are they getting close? Uncomfortably close? You need to master your poker face if you don’t want to give even more information away. That all said, it’s also very fun to be on the other side of it and start attempting to build the structure to psych out your opponent. Just … try to be right, when you do? It’s not as intimidating if you build something that looks nothing like your opponent’s secret shape.

Mehs

  • You have to come up with some kind of odd naming system for colors if you’re taking notes since there are some colors with overlapping starting letters (and not all of the colors have clear names). There’s blue, black, a couple reds, a beigeish? It would be nice if all the colors were named in the rulebook or something for consistency, since my friend and I had a debate over what counts as “teal” for a minute or so. I usually just recommend players take sets of colors with almost nothing in common to make everyone’s life easier.

Cons

  • I think games with a memory component where you could just take notes are a bit silly. I appreciate that the game at least adds an optional notepad that you can use for a variant, but we just ended up using that for every game. Why bother trying to memorize a bunch of abstract clues when you can just … not do that and write them down instead? We prefer the latter.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

Overall, I think Break the Cube is a fun little game! I really like it for what it is, which is a tiny and quick deduction game. Deduction is already a favorite genre of mine, and Break the Cube goes for essentially micro-deduction. Your goal is just to figure out a 3D shape that you can build with three pieces by asking some targeted questions. The components are fine enough, though I like the colors, and as a result you’ve got a little game that’s quick to play but still requires some thinking. I particularly like the two-player game, just because adding in more complex and challenging configurations (particularly ones using four or five pieces) can make the game pretty interesting, as well. What I tend to enjoy most about this one is just the act of trying to construct something that will be hard to guess. Will I be able to hide one of my pieces? Build an interesting shape? Ask my opponent for hints without revealing too much of what I’ve done? Each new game is a new possibility, and despite its small stature, Break the Cube has been giving my brain a bit of work (and I’ve been enjoying it). Granted, we always play with the note sheets, as it seems silly to reward the player with a better memory, rather than the player who has been asking better questions and doing better deduction, but that’s a preference, I suppose. If you’re looking for another solid deduction game (or something lighter) or you just enjoy figuring out block puzzles, I’d recommend trying Break the Cube when you get a chance! It’s a lot of fun.


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