18 November 2023
Get your band in order in Tuned, and compete for the space to do so. Whilst first impressions are great, the game never quite hits the notes, leaving a beautiful game in a minor chord.
Some games are just beautiful to behold. When I first laid eyes on Tuned, I was spellbound by how visually masterful it was. The tome-shaped box lifted open with a magnetic tautness to reveal a trove of charming, characterful creatures: The large smile and rounded features of the donkey, balancing a drum on its head; the comforting dog cuddling its tuba, paws tucked around it as far as possible; the elegant yet equally rounded cat, stroking at a viola with its paws; and the maestro of the mix, a squat yet commanding rooster, wings outstretched and peak proudly lifted to the heavens. It was enough to sell me on this a thousand times over, an example of what truly imaginative and considered wonders could be made for board games.
Then I played it. Oh.
What is Tuned?
Every person I put this game in front of started playing asked me “Isn’t this just Noughts and Crosses?” Well, kind of.
The story is bonkers: You play as animals preparing for your first performance, but there’s two roosters competing for rehearsal space- you know what, it doesn’t matter, throw the story in the bin and just focus on the abstract strategy of animal arrangement.
How do you play Tuned?
Each turn, players will either place or move a piece. Players each have two copies of each animal, with the winner being whoever can line up any three animals of one kind first. The core puzzle revolves around the size of your pieces. The three different types of animals can be stacked like a Native American totem, with the Donkey forming the base, the Dog the centre and the Cat on top. For the purposes of getting three in a row, only the top animal counts, letting you stack animals as a means of blocking your opponent. The tower order cannot be reversed (no donkeys sitting on dogs) nor can it be skipped (the cat cannot perch on the donkey, only the dog or the floor.) You can only move a piece if you placed one previously and must place another new piece afterwards. Pieces can be moved anywhere, provided they follow the same order restrictions.
It feels like such a system is hiding some deep-level tactics, but I’ve probably played this game close to fifty times and I’ll be damned if I can find one. Much like Noughts and Crosses, this becomes a game of obligation: you have to position your pieces in certain places to avoid losing, as the winner will be whoever can force their opponent into a misplay first. Lay out the cat too early and the moggie will muddle the board, making it harder to manoeuvre around. Likewise, it’s an absolute devil to win with the donkey, given how easy it is to drop a dog on them, but that difficulty can lead to surprise upsets as your opponent forgets themselves.
But that’s the thing: this is a game solely focused on your opponent’s failure. It’s not like other Abstracts like Patchwork or the forever-famous Chess, it’s a game of constantly egging your opponent to make a mistake, play something too early or in too inviting a position to capitalise off. Playing this when both players are attentive becomes a battle of attrition over logic, waiting to see which brain slips up first.
What do we think of Tuned?
I feel so ungrateful giving this game a “Maybe” as so few games will ever look this good. If you enjoy owning games as a means of aesthetic beauty, you must procure Tuned as soon as possible. But purely from a mechanical perspective, it’s sadly a so-so strategy game that feels out of tempo with its production design.
Review by Matthew Vernall
Should you play Tuned?
The production values of this game are absolutely impeccable. Unfortunately, the abstract puzzle accompanying it doesn’t quite hit the mark to justify such exuberance.
Try Tuned if you Liked:
Both titles have fantastic physicality and visual design. If you bounced off Hive’s higher levels of depth, Tuned offers a more immediately accessible battle of wits.
On the Box
Designer: Alessandro Cuneo
Publisher: ThunderGryph Games
Time: 20 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 14 Plastic Animal Markers
- Game Board
Gaming In Your Hands
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