A little known fact we board gamers are well aware of is that board games can teach valuable life lessons. Whether it’s how to farm, slay dragons, build city walls, command a platoon through the Ardennes or survive the zombie apocalypse we gamers develop essential skills about which the rest of the world is sadly oblivious. Their loss. And so it is we can use The Three Little Pigs to teach our children about the pitfalls of impatience and apathy, versus the rewards of industriousness. Just remember to be clear that this game is based on the original folktale, so the losers get eaten like the real story’s first two piggies. After all, where’s the lesson in telling kids they can go the cheap and easy route of instant gratification, see their inconsiderable labor subsequently fail and yet still survive to live off the fruits of other people’s hard work? Oh, wait…
How To Play
In The Three Little Pigs you and your porcine competitors must build houses of straw, sticks, brick or a combination of them all while hoping to withstand the big bad wolf’s mighty lungs. Before you can build your abodes of varying structural integrity, you must gather the material. And you’ll do that by rolling dice.
House tiles are piled by material and section. There are nine stacks, each with four tiles representing doors, windows and roofs of the three building mediums. To earn a tile you must roll a number of symbols on five custom dice corresponding to a house part. Tossing two door icons allows you to take a straw door, while you can nab a roof of sticks with three roof symbols. You’ll need four of a kind to collect sections of brick. You make up to three rolls, Yahtzee-style, although you must keep wolf heads.
You work on as many houses at a time as you wish, but you can’t start a new dwelling with a roof. Once you top a house, it’s finished. It can be as small as two sections (a roof with a door or window beneath it). Or you can attempt a skyscraper of unusual size. Material does not have to match. You can have a brick roof atop a straw window and door – leaving architects, contractors and insurance agents gasping in horrifying disbelief, no doubt. However, the first to complete a home (door, window and roof) entirely of the same material, gains a bonus card in that variety. Taller houses are worth more points, but susceptible to time – if the game ends before it’s capped, it’s not worth any points. If you want to try your luck, though, there are also bonuses at the end of the game for the tallest house, as well as constructing the most.
Bigger houses can be vulnerable to the wolf, too. When a player rolls two wolf heads (possible on three of five dice), her turn is over and instead she will huff and puff and attempt to blow a house down! Or maybe just part of one. Targeting another player’s neighborhood, she will identify a type of material to blow away and then flick a spinner. (You can try literally blowing on it for thematic gravitas, but there’s a greater chance that it’ll just get wet, as opposed to actually budge.) The wheel has three straw wedges, two wood and one brick. If the needle rests on your declared type, tiles of that material in the targeted house whisk away and out of the game. If all that remains is the roof, it collapses, too!
Little pigs continue constructing houses until a number of stacks are exhausted based on player count. Any structures without a roof are discarded. The remainder earn victory points – two per straw tile, three per stick and four per hardy brick. Add any bonuses earned and the winner is safe and snug in hearth and home. The losers are baconized!
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
As the inaugural title in IELLO’s clever Tales & Games series, The Three Little Pigs is a resoundingly successful freshman entry. It engages both kids and adults. It doesn’t appeal to older gamers and hobbyists amidst a peer setting, but it’s not meant to – and it’s not deep enough. Rather, it’s designed to bridge the generational gap, for lack of a less pretentious-sounding phrase. It manages that feat in large part thanks to its familiar inspiration. But that’s just the beginning. The design backs it up with gameplay that is both smart, lively and encourages interaction.
Perhaps you might first be drawn in by the product’s presentation? The series of titles are packaged in fittingly – and brilliantly – unique boxes made to appear like bound books. You can line them up on your shelf like any proudly collected volumes of Homer or Shakespeare. The Three Little Pigs folktale, or an honest summation of it, is included as it’s own small pamphlet. The insert is perfectly crafted and amazingly useful. I didn’t even throw it away, which if you’re an ardent follower of the ‘Dragon, you know is saying something! The spinner, dice, tiles and cards are all of top notch quality with IELLO’s unsurpassed reputation for art and graphic design proving just as exemplarily here as in other titles from their catalog. So, yeah, the production might draw you in. But you’ll stay for the gameplay.
The Three Little Pigs introduces kids to a few mechanisms which are hobby staples. (The rest of the Tales & Games titles acquaint children with different designer game concepts – but that’s for another article.) In his contribution to the series, Laurent Pouchain manages to teach these effortlessly without kids even realizing it. Which is the best way to learn.
First and foremost, appropriately for a dice game, young players will learn about pushing their luck. Namely playing the odds the dice afford you. In The Three Little Pigs it’s all very basic – and that’s the beauty. The three black-etched dice may result in a wolf’s head, while the white-etched pair are sans canines. If you’re trying to avoid a loss of turn, of if you want go after another on purpose, you can stand pat or re-roll accordingly. Of course that means you could get stuck with something less desirable, either way. Keeping in mind that you must take a tile if you can, you’ll need to judge your re-rolls carefully. Getting stuck with a roof in this manner is particularly irksome, though all in good fun and part of the charm.
Kids will also be weighing the odds while evaluating the risks and rewards to earning points. Going the thematically quick and easy route, you can rush to throw up any old grass hut. Yet how long will it stand when that big bad wolf comes prowling? Brick is more difficult to acquire, and even tougher to amass in larger quantities before the game ends. But you also garner greater dividends and it’s more reliable when the wind picks up. Then again, you can also diversify and just play out whatever you get, assembling a mish-mosh of houses of various heights and materials and sections. In addition to the points from aggregate tiles collected this way, you might nab the tallest house and/or most houses bonus in the process.
The points mechanism also engenders a certain set collection aspect in aiming for the game’s various bonuses. The first to construct a house entirely of one material earns a two point bonus. Interestingly, the bonus is equal for a house of straw, stick or brick, giving some incentive to rush towards that otherwise vulnerable thatch hut. Some tiles also have one or two flower pots. Whoever has the most flowers on their completed houses gains another bonus card, this time worth three points.
The design also balances smart decisions and tough luck, teaching one of the most valuable gaming lessons, in my book: sometimes your best laid plans can be ruinously undone by events out of your control. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s life! To be sure, the situation and experience in The Three Little Pigs are neither quite so dire nor dramatic, even relatively speaking in gaming terms, but therein lies much of its effectiveness. There are optimal moves. You can and should work towards them. But you may fall short of your goal. Kids will understand and absorb this concept – as the others integrated in the design – precisely because of the fact they’re not being bludgeoned with them.
Lastly, the game fosters a healthy element of interaction which many kids games shirk, and generally for good reason. If your kids are anything like mine, they don’t always handle being targeted in games well. Just as in integrating choice versus randomness, the interplay here is incorporated gently, though it can very much damage a player’s potential work and points. It’s not pervasive, yet it does allow players to work towards it, although there is a price for your bit of malice. When you toss the two wolf heads, your turn is over, and instead you target another’s house. You don’t get to build anything yourself on that turn. The “take-that” aspect also ties into evaluating odds and gauging risks and rewards. When huffing and puffing on another’s home, do you go after the easier material, but less points? Or do you try for the big blow and knock down some bricks, which is harder to do but more damaging if successful? Add in the fact that it all ties into the fairy tale’s narrative and theme, and the interaction here is quite brilliant for the game’s weight and style.
Sure, if you don’t game at all with children then you won’t be adding The Three Little Pigs to your collection. There’s no need to. However, if you have kids – or if you play with nieces, nephews, younger siblings, in church groups, at school clubs or while babysitting a lot – you want this clever little design. It’s easy to learn, but not patronisingly simplistic. It seamlessly gives kids real decisions to teach them about mechanics common to designer games, all rather subconsciously thanks to its familiar story. It effectively manages all this while retaining adults’ interest, as well. And it starts to teach the next generation valuable lessons they’ll continue to build on as they grow in the hobby. After all, we all know the fundamentals of trading in the Mediterranean begin with hard work and perseverance.