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Published on December 3rd, 2016 | by Colin


Cardcore Gamer: How I escaped reality in 2016, part 2


Today I will be trying not to make any references to the male genitalia as I discuss Package!?

2016 continues apace, mowing down celebrities left and right, even stretching a tendril to snatch away one of our much-loved furry family members. Occasionally penetrating the persistent, oppressive gloom are bright shafts of joy; this year saw my brother’s marriage, the birth of my daughter, and my bro and his wife just recently announcing a child of their own – congratulations again, Bee and Monkey! The playing of games remains a point of stability for me against this chiaroscuro of deathly shade and celestial laser beams, and none presented me with a more perplexing puzzle than Package!?.

In Package!? you deliver food to famished punters, dropping off sausagey treats and cheesy batons to any of five scoring locations. As your spies’ briefcases pile up at the drop points, actions will trigger to redistribute your opponents’ crates of meat and veg to other harbours, which may trigger further shuffling of letters into other post boxes in a pleasing cascade of events. When the final cage of animals is unloaded at the zoo, the game ends and you will ask me what the bollocks I’m talking about.

You see, this game is about delivering things to places – the specifics are left to your foetid imagination. Using only minimal components, Package!? is a fast-paced, 1-4 player abstract game in which you deliver the titular items to locations, worth one to five end-game points. Your options, initially constrained to seeding the board, are dictated by the roll of a standard D6 and cause your coloured wooden “packages” to be placed, moved, and removed, sometimes triggering further actions. It’s neither long, nor hard to grasp, but is nonetheless an intriguing and strangely addictive exercise in logic and luck.

Unusually for an abstract game, player turns in Package!?  revolve around the roll of a die, in fact, my early games felt like they played themselves: Roll die, place cube, repeat. Often I’d go through the list of options and think “I can do A, B, or C, but A is impossible, and B is stupid, so….” You’re given your options, and frequently the decisions you make feel either simple, or are made willy-nilly and what you want to do may be confounded by the die roll. However, the game has a mathematical heart: the number three.

For starters, scoring is restricted to three cubes at locations four and five, capping off their maximum scoring potential, and making location three desirable for both its unlimited scoring, and the potential to bump cubes up a notch (to four or five) increasing their value. Cubes in a location at game-end also score two points for each set of three, but threes are vulnerable as an opponent can potentially junk one of them out of the game entirely. Delivering a third cube to a location also allows you to wang a cube down to the next lowest location, or eject it from play, too. It’s a game of granular gains and losses; of forming sets, and of leaving spaces for sets to form; of being able to nobble your opponent now, or setting them up to hurt themselves later; of taking high-scoring locations early and becoming a target, or lurking at a lower location and edging upward.

It’s neither dice game, nor deterministic abstract, and I suspect that Package!? will cause many people to cock their head on first blush, as it did me. Similarly to Kingdom Builder’s ‘flip a card and place three pieces’, it’s easy to feel the game commands you to do as it says and no more, but I can feel that there is genuine gameplay in this tidy little box, with its neat and classic components, even if I’m not sure I can quite grasp it. A lot of thought and time has been spent on this, well, package, and it has been designed to play virtually anywhere, at any time.

In short, Package!? feels a like an exclusive club; I’m curious to sidle in the door and abuse the bar facilities, but I’m not sure I’ll ever learn the handshake well enough to become a full member. If you fancy paying the (very reasonable) entrance fee, you can find the Kickstarter page here; it’s well over-funded, with just under a week to go.
Disclosure: A preview copy of Package!? was kindly provided by the designer for this article.

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