Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Zak Pak is a nice package

Recently I have played much more boardgames than computer games. Maybe the New Super Mario Wii is an exception. We got new game a little while ago called Zak Pak (Pack & Stack).

I was immediately attacted to the wooden pieces and the nice graphics of the game. Some board game sites also seemed to like the game. After the first couple of rounds of the game with our good friends I felt not so compelled about the game anymore.

The biggest problem of that game is that it has many layers of randomness laid on top of each other. First you pick random pieces which you need to fit into a random truck. Surely the outcome is very random too.

The most stupid rule of the all is the way the trucks are picked up. First everyone picks up 2 truck cards (at random) and then all the truck cards are turned over at the same time. Then you choose one track that fits the best to your random piece set from the other person's truck cards. Fine, but then... the last person who picked up his truck must discard it and pick his/hers card at random from the truck card deck.

Since everyone was concentrating on picking up the best card from the deck, there is no time to be the referee to see who was the last person to pick up a card. This leads to a lot of frustration as people sort out who is the looser. And as an added bonus, the game is scored by penalty too.

So there are some stupid little rules which make this game to have bad frustration. Playing a hard level on Super Mario is good frustration, makes you try harder!

The reason I recommend this game to everyone interested in game design is that it screams to be redesigned. Everything that comes with the game is gorgeous, the cards, the pieces and the dice. It is just the rules that suck :)

So the second time we played the game we tried our own variation, which is quite different. There are bunch of rule variations at the BoardgameGeek website too. Our rules were as follows:

Pakkaa & Stakkaa


Separate the 4 high trucks from the deck, shuffle them and put them on the table in a row. Shuffle the rest of the truck cards and place them into a pile on the table. Each player turns one truck card from the pile and gets 25 worth of money. The game is about to begin.


Loading: In the beginning of a turn a player rolls the dice and picks up pieces accordingly. The pieces are loaded into the truck until it is full or no piece fits anymore. The pieces that were placed on last round cannot be moved anymore.

At any time during his turn the player can purchase one extra car slot for 50 pieces of money. The player can draw the new truck immediately after the purchase. If the player runs out of money the extra car slot can be sold for 25 pieces of money. The extra car slot allows the player to keep 2 trucks on the table all the time.

As long as some are available, the player is also able to purchase any of 4 high special trucks for 20 pieces of money. The special trucks are for one time use only, once they are full and cashed, the truck is gone. The special trucks have a little bit of different scoring.

Scoring: At the end of each turn, excess cargo pieces will be penalized and fully loaded trucks can be cashed.

Per each cube that is left out of the load the player has to pay two penalty points. The excess pieces are returned to the piece pile.

If a truck is fully loaded, the player gets one piece of money per each cube (1x1 piece) of the load. After that the pieces are returned to the piece pile and the truck card is put on discard pile and the player draws a new card from the truck pile to replace it.

The truck that is being cashed is a special 4 high truck, first the dark blue dice is rolled. If the result is blank, the player gets no money from any of the cargo, but gets a new extra truck to replace the old one. Of the result of the roll was 1, the player gets the price normal 1 money per 1 cube, but if the result was 2, the player gets 2 money per 1 cube.


The game ends on the round where the last truck card is drawn. Unfinished trucks are discarded. Points are counted and the winner is the one who has the most points.

The result was not an awesome game, but it was a lot of fun to come up with the rules and iterate few rounds. Initially we allowed for example to overload the truck and used similar dice rolling to score that truck, but it did not quite work that well.

The extra car slot worked better than I expected. In the first half of the game, the players tend not to get any penalty points at all, but on the latter half it gets more dramatic.

For a two player game the pieces never ran out, even if I feared that that might be the case. It usually takes about two rounds to fill one truck.

Currently our game feels a bit too solitaire. For the next session I want to try out some rule to exchange the excess pieces. Maybe trading them, or come up with some other action that allows to to help or mess up other people's trucks.

Anyways, I recommend Zak Pak, not because it is good game, but because it can be a good game design exercise. If you have your own version of Zak Pak, please share it!

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