I have a mixed reaction to dice. On the one hand, I don’t mind press-your-luck games; on the other hand, I don’t like fully random outcomes. A dice game has to be pretty clever to meet my approval.
Thankfully, this one has that promise right in its name.
How It Works
Ganz Schön Clever is a roll-and-write game for one to four players. Each round, each player will be the active player once and the passive player on each other player’s turn. Players will complete their personal sheets using the different dice that are rolled. The player with the most points wins.
To begin, each player receives a score sheet and a pen. The open box is placed in the center of the table, and one player is chosen as the start player. Play begins.
The game is played over a number of rounds depending on the number of players, and each round, each player will be the active player once. At the start of a new round, each player earns the bonus associated with that round. When it is the active player’s turn, that player will roll all six dice. The player chooses one of the dice and uses it in one of the five areas of the player sheet and places the die on their sheet. If any rolled dice have a lower value than the chosen die, those dice are placed on the platter. The player may roll dice three times, each time choosing a die, using the associated action, and placing it on their score sheet and placing any lower-value dice on the platter. Once the active player is finished with their turn, all remaining dice get placed on the platter, and each other player in turn order gets to use one of the dice on the platter, marking the area on their player sheet.
There are five scoring areas in Ganz Schön Clever, and each area operates a little differently. In the yellow area, each number is represented twice, and when the yellow die is chosen, the player may cross off the value in the box. (Points are scored for completed columns, and players earn bonuses for completing rows.) In the blue box, whenever the player uses a blue or white die in this box, the player adds the blue and the white values together and crosses off one sum 2 to 12. Players earn bonuses for completing rows and columns and earn points based on how many total Xs are in the box at the end of the game. In the green row, players must complete it from left to right, and the value of the green die used for this row must meet the threshold of the empty box farthest to the left (for example, greater than or equal to 2). Players earn bonuses in the row and score points based on the number of Xs in the row. Any orange die may be written in the orange row, starting in the leftmost box and moving right. The score for the orange row is the sum of the values. And finally, the purple row must be filled in from left to right, and each die used must have a higher value than the last die recorded. (The value resets once a 6 is recorded in the row.) Players earn bonuses in this row, and the score is the sum of the values in the row.
Bonuses players can earn in the game include crossing off or writing in values in other scoring areas, earning rerolls to use on your turn, or getting to choose extra dice on a turn. Players can also earn foxes, which score the value of a player’s lowest-scoring area at the end of the game.
The game ends after the prescribed number of rounds. Players add up the points for their five scoring areas and their foxes, and the player with the most points is the winner.
I find Roll-and-write games okay, but they usually don’t excite me. At least, they didn’t excite me until I had played Ganz Schön Clever, one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played.
Ganz Schön Clever, as its name would suggest (it roughly translates to English as “Pretty Clever), is a game that puts players in the driver’s seat and helps them to feel clever about their choices. Everything in this game makes you feel good–you’re always making progress, even if you’re not crossing off a box or writing a number in where you had hoped to. What makes the game compelling is that there are more boxes to cross off than you could hope to in a single game, and it’s up to players to use their dice judiciously to do as well as they can. And the game encourages players to advance as far as they can in each box. I always explain the bonus foxes last when teaching the game, but they need to be one of players’ primary concerns if they want to do well: each fox is worth the lowest score from among a player’s five areas. While it can be gratifying to fully complete one scoring area, if you neglect another, your fox score will be dismal. So players are torn between specialization and diversification, and it’s up to them how to use the limited resource of turn opportunity.
Helping matters is that many boxes offer bonuses that allow you to cross off or write in numbers in other areas, stretching your limited actions. And each time you’re able to perform a bonus action, it continues the virtuous cycle of feeling good.
I recently reviewed Heaven & Ale–which, at the time of this writing, is nominated alongside Ganz Schön Clever for the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres award–and both of these games offer tense and exciting choices, but the two games could not be more different in the way they offer them to players. In Heaven & Ale, you have to make the best of your paltry resources, hoping against hope that you can claw your way out of the mire. There’s a place for games like this (I love Heaven & Ale, and Agricola is one of Board Game Geek’s top-rated games of all time), but Ganz Schön Clever takes a different approach: rather than picking your poison, you’re presented with many and various good options, and it’s up to players to eschew the good in favor of the best, which is easier said than done. The result is, again, a game that always feels good, and thus it’s the kind of game I’m always in the mood for.
One of the tensest trade-offs in Ganz Schön Clever comes from a very simple rule: whenever you choose to use a die, you place all dice that have a lower value on the platter, offering them to your opponents. This may not seem like a big deal except that sometimes you feel like you’ve been waiting forever for a yellow 6, and when it arrives, every other die is lower than it. Or sometimes you’re waiting for the perfect pairing for your blue section, and you can’t choose one of the dice without eliminating other options you need. I love this trade-off, because, again, while everything you do in Ganz Schön Clever makes you feel good, it’s up to you to choose the best way forward, and sometimes choosing the best way involves making tough decisions. It may not be best, for example, to choose the die that would give you the best immediate gain if a rarer die or pairing is available to you.
The first time you play Ganz Schön Clever, you’re likely to look only at your own sheet, absorbed in how to maximize your score. But as you get better at (or at least more familiar with) the game, you start to recognize the opportunities you leave open to your opponents. If I take this yellow 3, you begin to think, I’ll send the white 1 to the platter, which they’ll be able to use to cross off that crucial 1 box in their yellow area. You might find that sending a low die to the platter isn’t so bad if it sets a better floor for your blue pairs and you desperately need a 2. (It’s easier to roll snake eyes, after all, if one value is locked in at 1.) The decisions become both more tense and more delicious the more you play as you see greater opportunities for maximizing your score and for tanking your opponents’.
Ganz Schön Clever is a dice game, and there is a good deal of luck in the game by virtue of rolling numbered cubes, but the cleverness of the game is that it’s up to players to make sure they’re able to use every roll. In the purple row, you just need to roll higher than the last value recorded. If you write a 5 in the purple row, you’re limiting your own options on future turns. Or if you have crossed off the middle row in the blue box, you’ve eliminated the most common 2d6 dice pairings. Players are constantly yanked between leaving options open and seizing the fortuitous dice roll. And yet there are also ways to mitigate poor rolls. There are rerolls available (although you can’t set dice aside; you have to reroll all available dice when you use one), and there are +1 bonuses, which allow you to use again a die that you’ve already used or to use a die that’s set aside on the platter, or you can use it on an opponent’s turn to gain access to all of their dice, not just the ones they serve you on the platter. These tools may not seem like much, but they can help you overcome the luck of dice that always seems against you.
It’s a little hard to describe the excitement of Ganz Schön Clever because so much of it is internal. Players aren’t usually whooping or shouting at a good play or even offering audible schadenfreude when the dice don’t go another player’s way. Much of the excitement of the game is from feeling clever at your own plays and getting excited when you recognize the potential for crossing off several boxes and scoring several bonuses at one time. I introduced this to my wife, who on initial inspection derisively referred to it as “Color Yahtzee.” I taught her how to play, and she began to come around to it as the game went on. Later in the game, she made a play where marking an X in one area allowed her to mark an X in another area, which allowed her to mark an X in another area, which earned her a +1 bonus. “That felt awesome, didn’t it?” I prodded. “Yeah, that felt awesome” was the reply.
Ganz Schön Clever is the kind of game that consistently makes you feel awesome. Even if your score is fairly abysmal (as early scores tend to be, at least according to the solitaire scoring guide at the back of the rulebook), it still feels great to be marking boxes, writing in values, and striving to beat your last score.
There are a couple of things to say against Ganz Schön Clever. First, this is a thinky game, and downtime can be an issue, especially with three or four players. There’s not a lot to think about when it isn’t your turn, and while you can cheer or jeer another player’s rolling, you’re not going to be as invested as you are in your own turns. (Even using another player’s dice–the game’s remedy for this solitary gameplay–doesn’t require watching throughout the turn; you can only use dice after the active player has taken their entire turn.) I will still play Ganz Schön Clever with three and four, but probably only in lighter game situations where play is fast (and the players can still sustain a thinkier game). However, this is an excellent game for two, and also an excellent solitaire game. (The online implementation of the solitaire game is quite good.)
The other issue with Ganz Schön Clever is that it falls into a strange category of being thinky but not heavy, and having a decent amount of rules for a fairly “snacky” game. The rules explanation will probably take five minutes or so if you rush and be accompanied by frequent questions once you get started. It’s easy to get the hang of, but the up-front rules load may put off some players. Yet the game, while clever and offering tense and fun choices, isn’t likely to satisfy players who are used to thinky and rules-heavy games. I’ve seen someone describe Ganz Schön Clever as a Euro dice placement game stripped of any pretense of theme, and that seems apt. I’m not sure how much the absence of theme will matter to your groups. I’ve gotten mixed reactions when I’ve brought this out, although most opinions have been positive.
Despite these conditional misgivings, I think Ganz Schön Clever is terrific, a game I’m always willing (and itching) to play. As I said, it is compelling and addictive, and I haven’t been this excited about a game that plays well solitaire in a while. It’s tough to reach the highest scoring levels, which makes you want to keep playing, and the constant rewarding of clever combos makes you want to keep playing even more. Since I received the game three weeks ago (at the time of this writing), I’ve played 15 times with the physical components and countless times using the online solitaire version. I laminated my scoring sheets and bought dry erase markers for fear of someday running out. If it’s not clear from the craziness I’ve just cataloged, Ganz Schön Clever has redeemed roll-and-writes for me, and I can’t wait to see where this game goes in the future. One thing is for certain: wherever it goes, I will be going with it.