Remember the three Rs of school: Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic? Today we’re covering the three Rs of filler gaming – Rolling, Re-Rolling, and ‘Riting – as we take a look at Tasty Minstrel Games’ Balloon Pop!, a dice game about popping, and more importantly not popping, balloons.
How To Play
In Balloon Pop! players try to score the most points by coming close to, but not reaching, the top of the scoring columns on their score sheets. Like Icarus, you want to fly as high as you can without getting too close to the sun. Each score sheet is composed of six columns of numbers, with a column for each side of the dice: the colors yellow, blue, and red, and the symbols star, moon, and diamond.
The active player rolls three dice. They may keep the results and end their turn. Or they may re-roll one or all of the dice, but with one catch: they must roll one additional die. After this re-roll they may again re-roll one or all of the dice, but with the final additional die (five total). Players score their dice at the end of their turn by circling the appropriate number of spaces.
Play continues until one player circles the top scoring box of any column. This player has now popped a balloon, which signifies a scoring break is coming up after the current round. No additional pops can occur during this round, even if another player reaches the top scoring box on their score sheet.
During the scoring break, players add the highest number circled in each column and write the total in the appropriate scoring break box. The game continues until the third and final break, when players again tally their break scores before adding all three scoring breaks together. The highest total score wins.
Keep It or Chuck It?
I have several roll-and-write titles in my game library, including the classic Yahtzee (actually, it’s The Walking Dead Collector’s Edition and, yes, I got it strictly for the zombie-head dice cup). It’s a genre of game that I enjoy because they’re easy to learn, easily transported and generally a good fit for family get-togethers or as fillers during regular game nights. I thought Balloon Pop! would be right in my wheelhouse since it had chunky dice and an easy-to-learn ruleset.
Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.
The action wasn’t engaging enough throughout the game. You roll dice on your turn and decide whether or not to re-roll. The decision to continue rolling was pretty easy to make, especially early in the game. With so many open spots on the score sheet you could throw caution to the wind without penalty. The game did get more interesting as players got closer to popping, but the tension was minimal.
When other players took their turns, I paid attention to see how close they were to popping certain balloons and tried to plan my rolls accordingly. For example, if another player was close to popping the red column while I only had a few boxes marked off there, then I knew I’d have to roll reds on my turn so they’d score more when they eventually popped. It’s easier said than done, though, since any non-reds I rolled would push my other columns up to the popping point.
Still, watching other players’ turns wasn’t as interesting as scoring points or performing actions on my turns. I don’t mind watching other players roll dice during their turns, but in Balloon Pop, this was not as meaningful as being able to use one or more of their dice for your own score sheet, like in Qwixx or Rolling America.
Overall, this wasn’t for me, but it could still be used as a simple introduction to roll-and-write games. Despite the lack of interaction and meaningful decisions during game turns, Balloon Pop! plays quickly, and with its lighthearted theme it’s an improvement over Yahtzee.
One final quibble: the pad of 50 score sheets is only single-sided so if you’re playing with four players, you’ll run out of sheets after 12 games. If I hadn’t laminated mine and used erasable pens I would’ve run out of sheets before I could finish this review.
The solo game was nothing special; it’s strictly a beat-your-highest-score affair, with none of the tension of the multi-player game. There’s a scoring chart in the rule book that gives you scores to shoot for and at first glance they seem impossible to beat. I did the math and these high scores can be reached, but only with a near-perfect combination of rolls. To paraphrase the late great Chick Hearn, you’ve got two chances to score that high: Slim and none … and Slim just left the building.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing a review copy of Balloon Pop!