14 March 2019
A sweet treat that’s soft but chewy
The latest delectable delight from Sushi Go! creator Phil Walker-Harding is Gingerbread House, a deliciously digestible game about building a fairy tale abode, one domino-like tile at a time.
The foundations are laid on a three-by-three grid of icons in front of you – cover an icon and you’ll claim that resource, typically one of several different types of iced gingerbread. With such a restricted floor space and the tiles taking up two spaces each turn, things quickly and literally begin to stack up: Gingerbread House’s easy to swallow loop comes through setting up the right combos of actions as you pile your floors of tiles higher and higher, gaining bonuses for covering matching icons you’ve carefully positioned in previous turns and then trapping fairytale characters. Like stuffing your face with biscuits, each bite is fast and immensely filling – and the tight playing area means there’s only a short wait from setting up a placement to gaining from it, making each half-hour match whizz by.
“Wait, did you say trapping?” you ask. That’s right! There’s a darkly Grimm layer smoothly sandwiched in-between the sweet whimsy, as players lure a who’s-who of mythical names into their edible home by collecting the right platter of treats. Incarcerating Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Alice from Wonderland and more of their storybook counterparts earns points, with bonus cards gained by completely filling a layer of your board granting extra score for trapping non-human creatures, particularly greedy characters and so on. (In the simplified introductory game they’re just plain point values, making it easier to teach to newcomers and kids.)
The need to add another of the characters to your spread of captured beings measures out the pace of your growing tower, by granting a valuable single-space wild tile to plug the inevitable gap left by the calculated arrangement of standard tiles. The level-like progress of filling out a floor to earn gingerbread to trap characters to advance to the next floor gives the whole game a pleasingly robust structure underneath its sugary theme.
With players each having a personal stack of tiles, racing to bait characters and claim bonuses ahead of your rival baker-builders is where the head-to-head competition arises. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a punishing experience at any stage – staircase tiles double both as a way to set up combos across varying floor heights and a handy option to avoid getting stuck with an space that’s impossible to fill.
This soft touch extends to the end of the game, which requires all players to have placed all of their tiles on their board – having to wait for everyone to exhaust their stack takes away the sting of spending an earlier turn to voluntarily claim two staircases instead of placing a tile and trapping characters. It’s a curious choice that, combined with the lack of shared tiles, diminishes the need to be as competitive and forces each playthrough to wrap up a little too neatly, risking padding out a match with turns spent claiming staircases with little downside – or even an advantage, given the potential bonuses and tiebreakers handed to taller constructions.
Even with the slight wonkiness of its ending, Gingerbread House is – like its namesake – a humble treat that goes down a pleasure. There’s enough gameplay sweetness and just a hint of competitive spice to make its bitesize playing time an ideal snack without leaving you feeling overgorged or left hungering. Let yourself be lured in by its sweet charms.
Simply built yet robustly constructed, Gingerbread House creates a satisfying loop of setting up tile-placement combos and gently jostling to capture characters that’s as light to pick up as it is nourishing to play. Its gentleness can be a little too soft in parts, but it’s a pleasure to consume all the same.
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist: Andy Elkerton, Klemens Franz
Time: 30-45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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