The last entry for classics week comes about one week late, hopefully it was worth the wait. If you’re looking for the PERFECT family game that you never knew about look no further than Take it Easy!
How It Plays
Haven’t played Take it Easy! before? No problem, this won’t take long. Pull up a chair and grab a board. Playing with blue? Great, here are your tiles.
All players have an identical set of tiles in their own color. The tiles are hexagons that have three intersecting lines on them, each line has a color with a corresponding value. You’ll be placing these tiles on your board in an attempt to form continuous lines of the same color from one side to the other. At the end of the game you’ll score points for each completed line.
One player takes on the responsibility of the caller and flips all their tiles face down, the rest of the players keep their tiles face up. Now we’re ready to start. The caller picks one of their tiles and reads the numbers on it to the other players. Everyone finds that tile and must place it oriented upward in an empty space on their board. Once a tile has been placed it cannot be moved. After everyone has placed their tiles the caller selects a new one to be placed next.
Continue placing tiles this way until the boards are filled up completely. You’ll have some tiles left over meaning that each game will use a different subset of tiles. Now it’s time to see how well you did. Show me your board and I’ll help you add up your score.
Each line that has exactly one color will score its value for each tile in that line. For instance, the grey vertical line on the left side is worth 15 points: 3 tiles worth 5 points each. Lines that contain different colors are worth no points at all. Now add up the value of all your completed lines and that’s your score. You’ll likely need a calculator or piece of paper to add up your score. The player with the highest total wins!
Easy Going or Wait, This Game Made Me Do Math!
Take it Easy! is one of the best family games I have ever played. The main reason for this is it’s incredibly accessible. In fact, I would point to it as the a standard for accessibility that has held up and been modeled after for over 30 years. To help demonstrate my point I’ll look at six different aspects of accessibility that Take it Easy! embraces: teachability, length, luck, inclusion, replayability, and interaction.
Keep It Simple (Teachability)
I can think of many times when I’ve been playing a game that I consider to be fairly simple and in the middle of playing it someone walks by and comments that it “looks complicated”. One of the biggest barriers to getting people to try a game, especially non-gamers, is how they perceive the game. If it looks like too much effort then you may not even get a chance to demonstrate how simple it really is. Take it Easy is an inviting game. The design is clean and intuitive. It’s a game that I’ve seen invoke that opposite response compared to my first experience, I’ll have someone looking on say “that looks fun”.
The second barrier to getting a game played is the rules explanation. You need to keep it short and clearly communicate what players will be doing and how they can win. Even better, if you can jump right into playing while you’re explaining the rules then you don’t run the risking of losing players before you begin. Not only is Take it Easy incredibly simple to explain, everyone is doing the same thing so you can easily demonstrate how to play and have the other players follow your example. It only takes a couple turns to get the hang of things and by then you’re already done explaining all the rules.
Not Overstaying Its Welcome (Length)
Ideally you want a game to last long enough that players feel like their decisions are being rewarded but not so long that things get repetitious and players lose interest. What Take it Easy does well is to build anticipation and reward players throughout the game to keep them engaged. Since you’re working towards completing lines all over your board each call is an exciting opportunity to fill a gap or score big points. As the board fills up it’s easy to know exactly how much longer the game will last. Best of all, instead of getting repetitious the game works towards a climax as players wait anxiously for that key tile to get called.
I’ve found that Take it Easy last a perfect amount of time. Any shorter and you wouldn’t be able to build towards the thrilling end of game state. Any longer and you give players too much time to develop their board and by the time you get to the climax the thrill is gone. The reason I know this is because of Take it Easy’s big brother, Take it to the Limit! This sequel of sorts comes with a bigger board and takes about twice as long to fill up. At first I thought this would work really well. You have more space which overs better control in building up your board. Bigger is better, right? I tried it out with two different groups that have played a lot of Take it Easy and both groups had the same reaction, it simply lasted too long. Instead of playing one bloated game you could play two quick and exhilarating ones. Most people simply don’t want to wait that long for the pay off. Playing a game that last too long (Take it to the Limit) reinforces the idea that Take it Easy has the perfect length.
Balancing The Playing Field (Luck)
A little bit of luck can go a long way. If experienced players dominate every single game by a large margin then people trying the game for the first time can get discouraged. Add in enough luck and you give new players a way to compete without introducing too much chaos. Take it Easy uses uncertainty to prevent experienced players from optimizing every game. You’ll never know exactly which tiles are going to show up until the game is over, lucky draws can favor inexperienced players and give them a fighting chance. However there’s still enough information to plan around. You know there are exactly 9 tiles with each color meaning that on average 6-7 will show up. There are also 3 tiles for each intersection of lines, for instance the yellow 9 will cross the green 7 on three different tiles. If you’re lucky all three could get pulled but if you set up your board such that those lines intersect four times then luck won’t save you.
The other benefit of luck is the introduction of hidden information. If you knew up front exactly which tiles would come up and in what order then the game would crawl to a halt as players try to optimize their tile placements. Cutting down on the amount of information that players are presented with significantly cuts down on playing time. At any point in the game you only have to focus on placing one tile with a vague idea of what could come up. Understanding probability gives players that want meatier decision something more to consider but not being able to plan ahead reins things in significantly.
A Game For Everyone (Inclusion)
I’ve played Take it Easy with grandparents and young children. I’ve played it with gamers. I’ve even played it with my wife’s two newly adopted sisters who were still learning English and times tables. Simply put it’s a game that pretty much anyone can play and enjoy. All of the previously mentioned factors contribute to this. It’s easy to learn, quick enough for even the shortest attention spans, and there’s just the right amount of information to make the strategy transparent.
Take it Easy can also accommodate any number of players so long as you own enough copies of the game (6 per copy). Each additional player adds almost no time to the game since everyone is placing their tiles at the same time.
Let’s Play Again (Replayability)
Luck (which was already covered) can contribute a lot to a game’s replayability. The more variance and uncertainty present, the less scripted the strategy will be by nature. The amazing thing about Take it Easy is that all players are presented with the same options but diverge quickly in terms of how they decide to play their tiles. It’s common that after only 5 tiles players’ boards will already look drastically different from each other. You might expect that there would be fairly routine openings but that’s simply not the case. Each tile that is placed is another chance for placement to vary that will branch boards in different directions. I’m fairly certain that even if you played the exact same game twice in a row that you would end up playing it in a slightly different way. If six players given the exact same conditions will play differently then just imagine how much variation there is within the game considering that each game uses a different order and subset of tiles. The system works amazingly well. Even though you are essentially doing something fairly repetitious the variation and pacing allows it to be exciting game after game.
If that’s not good enough there are several variations included that can spice things up. They also add some additional decisions for those looking for a more involved game experience. However, I’ll note that after nearly 40 games I have yet to play with any of the variants because the standard game works so well.
Playing Together (Interaction)
If there’s one area where Take It Easy could be considered weak it’s that of interaction. Players are essentially developing their own board and never interact with the other players. You can look to see how well the other players are doing but you can never react to or affect their development in any manner. This is a perfect example of multiplayer solitaire. Each player has the exact same puzzle to solve and at the end of the game you compare how well you did. You could play by yourself and get nearly the same experience you just wouldn’t have anyone to gauge how well you did against.
However, there is a social level of interaction that makes Take it Easy an excellent family game. This is much for the same reason that Bingo works so well in a large group. Every time the caller pulls a new tile you hear the excitement and groans from all the players. The same tile could make one player shout, “That fits perfectly!” while another complains, “That ruins my lines!” The more players involved in the game, the more interactive it becomes as players brag about or bemoan their luck.
The Final Word on Take It Easy!
I’ll reiterate that Take it Easy! is the ideal family game. Its accessibility makes for a game that anyone can play and enjoy over and over again. The gameplay even defined it’s own genre with each player developing an identical board based on randomly introduced elements.