Idle Remorse

Review: Cue Me!

Review: Cue Me!
Publisher: The Games Gang, Ltd
Year: 1989
Tagline: THE EXCITING GAME OF HINTS AND GUESSES

The cover of cue me is just a talk bubble with CUE ME! written in it

how we met

Cue Me! still has a price tag on it, and I have no idea how, when, or why I found it. This is not incredibly unusual, but it is unusual. I enjoy looking for games, finding them, inventorying them, all the steps. So when this kind of confusion happens I do not expect to enjoy the game. Instead I expect to be bitter about having dragged it around for who-knows-how-long.

I mean, I don’t even recognize the type of price tag on Cue Me! As far as I know I might have been sitting on this game, like it was an egg, for eight years. Then one day it was time to play.

how it plays

In Cue Me!, players are separated into teams of two players each. On a team’s turn, one player rolls the number die. This points the player to which word on the card they are trying to get their teammate to guess. One side of the die has a STAR on it. If a player rolls the STAR, they can choose any of the words on the card for play including the BONUS MESSAGE, which will add two more spaces to your regular board move if the turn is successful.

The player tells their teammate the category of the word they are guessing, like Person, Place, Thing or Event and whether it is a proper name.

Example cards show words like teenager, freeway, raincoat and funeral
Here’s some of the cards you may encounter during play

Next the player rolls the four letter dice. They can then give a one to four word clue about their word, using each letter they rolled only once. A STAR on one of the letter dice means you can choose any letter you wish for that die. A couple of sides include letter combinations like J/K, and either or both letters can be used for these rolls. You can’t say any part of your secret word in your hints.

An example roll of the dice showing letters P, W, A and J/K
So if I am trying to get my partner to guess “teenager” I might say Person, Junior, Kid, Acne and I can’t think of anything for W

But wait, it gets harder. Each turn lasts only two minutes, you can only roll the letter dice three times, and your teammate can only guess once per roll! It’s so difficult!

If a team is successful they move their pawn according to the rules below. If they land on a space with an “F” on it, that is like an all-play and the same player immediately takes another turn where all other players are allowed to participate in guessing. In this Free-for-all / all-play, the player giving clues still only gets three rounds, but all players can guess as many times as they like without penalty.

If a player is able to successfully guess their teammate’s secret word then they move their collective pawn accordingly:

  • Correct on first attempt – 4 spaces
  • Correct on second attempt – 3 spaces
  • Correct on third attempt – 2 spaces
  • ONE-ON-ONE which is correct with one clue word, one guess – 8 spaces
  • BONUS MESSAGE – 2 spaces added to any of these
  • Winning an all-play when it was your team’s turn – 8 spaces
  • Winning an all-play when it was not your team’s turn – 4 spaces
Overview of the board with lots of greens and purples and some spaces have F on them
Overview of the board. The star spaces near the end require the team to get a successful ONE-ON-ONE clue.

In order for a team to get to Finish, they must win a ONE-ON-ONE. The first team to successfully reach Finish, wins Cue Me!

how it went

Normally I am partnered with Bill for team games, but this time we wanted to have the turns go around the table easily while switching teams each time, so Keri and I were kitty corner and on the same team.

Our pawns during play, one white pawn and one old rusty screw
There was an old, rusty screw in the box and the boys decided to use that as their pawn
Components including the timer, the pawns, one number die and the four letter dice
.. and not because we were missing pawns

Cue Me! is a good example of one of those party games where I looked forward to it being my turn. Whether I was giving clues or guessing, it was really fun and required all of my attention.

The rule that only one guess is allowed per roll was nasty and cruel. It puts so much pressure on the clue-giver because you want to make sure you really squeeze out all the value you can from your roll, but as the guesser you can’t just make some wild guess. It’s a very tense 2 minutes, on both sides.

Another example dice roll showing letters J/K, L, I and L
So say you have to get your partner to guess the word “raincoat” – which clues would you give?

As an example, in one of our turns I was trying to get Keri to guess the word “Heart.” I can’t remember all of the letters I rolled, but I gave her the clues “Physiological” and “Red.” Then I was out of ideas, and I really wanted to roll again so I said, “I’m going to need a guess.” And she was like WTF but then she guessed heart! And that was 4 spaces! And it really warmed my [physiological red] to nail that one.

The categories seem off sometimes. That is probably to be expected in a vintage game, and it becomes clear to all as play continues. But that is worth noting as one of the many challenges you face in making a guess on your turn.

One of the most interesting things about Cue Me! is that you never really feel comfortable. Even if you happen to do really well, you are going through short, 2-minute periods of stress. And even if you happen to fall behind in play, you are still looking forward to that brief, shining moment where you can maybe get a really amazing guess. Even if it doesn’t catch you up to other teams.

A shot of our play
A shot of our play. The screw was leaving gross bits behind it the whole time. Playing with a rusty, old screw: 1 out of 5 stars

Bill and John maintained a pretty steady lead throughout our play. It probably took three or four turns before they could get a successful ONE-ON-ONE near the end, so this is a fair catch-up time for other teams. But they were able to take that lead right into the ultimate victory. And Bill and John won Cue Me!

play or pass

Play all day. Cue Me! is really difficult and requires concentration and quick thinking. But I think it does such a nice job of balancing the inevitable hopelessness you feel at times with the absolute pride you feel when a guess goes your way. I tend to be a big fan of micro-wins within gameplay and Cue Me! delivers that in spades. Whether you win the game or not, you may just really enjoy the journey.

Review: the Game of cat & mouse

Review: the Game of cat & mouse
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1964
Tagline: AGES 4-10

Cover has a blue kitty with the title on top of its curved tail

how we met

This one was an estate sale pickup. It was a magical sale that I was not at myself but was using photos to direct purchases via text. Prices were awesome, selection was awesome. And few things get my friends excited to game like an age recommendation of 4-10. Sold.

how it plays

Oh so simple. the Game of cat & mouse is a roll and move game where each player has only one of their four mice in play at a time.

Mice pawns
My copy is missing one red mouse, but it’s not a big deal

The board consists of mostly mouse spaces, where the mice are facing all kinds of different directions. There are also a handful of cat spaces that are dips just waiting to trap unlucky mice!

The board showing mostly mice spaces with some indented cat spaces
This is what you’re up against

Roll the die and move your mouse in the direction the mouse space you are on indicates. If you hit the edge of the board just chill out there until your next turn.

If you land by exact count on a cat space, your mouse falls into the hole and is out for the rest of the game.

The last player to have a mouse still at play wins the Game of cat & mouse!

how it went

There is no real game here, this is 100% luck. The only decision you really get to make is which of your remaining mice to play for the first turn or if the second or third mouse dies.

I am missing one of my red mice. But it’s not a big deal because you can easily either remember to play your first mouse twice, or replace it with a red pom pom you have laying around, or a penny, or anything really.

A few times we messed up the direction the mice are facing ever-so-briefly, and started to move our mouse pawn the wrong direction. The mouse spaces are legitimately difficult to read in this version. The only reason that is worth mentioning is that it started to really annoy Bill, which was kind of funny.

Overview of our play showing some mice trapped and some still in play
Our play, where red and blue both look to be in bad shape

John was the luckiest of us, and he had the last remaining mouse! And John won the Game of cat & mouse! Then he ran around with his hands in the air yelling, “I’m the greatest!” This was even more silly since he had won Casino Yahtzee that night and was wearing our Casino Yahtzee crown, which is a sight to behold.

play or pass

Super pass. There’s not much of a game here, even to me. I mean, it’s cute and I really like the artwork. I am not sorry to have picked it up. I’m not sorry! But you shouldn’t pick it up. Or if you do, take mine.

Review: Can’t Stop

Review: Can’t Stop
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1980
Tagline: HOW FAR CAN YOU PUSH YOUR LUCK?

This cover is red and says "Can't Stop" in all 8 directions like a stop sign, with the board in the middle

how we met

I don’t remember how I first learned about Can’t Stop. Can’t Stop is one of those classic vintage board games that it seems you are just informed of, maybe in dreams, when you become interested in vintage board games. But I do remember the day I found it for the first time at thrift. A glorious day.

how it plays

Can’t Stop is a press your luck game where your goal is to be the first player to complete three columns of the board. Then you win!

Each player has twelve pieces in their color, one for each number on the board, plus one extra for some reason. (NOTE: the extra pieces are not unique to my copy; every copy I have ever found at thrift includes extra pieces. Only 11 are needed for play, but the 12th does help them look like chocolate bars.)

12 blue pieces lined up 3 by 4 to look like a chocolate bar
Thusly

Then the game includes 3 white MARKER pieces. These MARKERs are used to indicate the potential progress you can make that turn. If you decide your turn is over and stop rolling, you replace the white MARKER tokens with your own tokens to lock in your progress. If you keep pressing your luck and then blow it, the white MARKER tokens are removed from the board for the next player to use. And you progress zero spaces.

White markers on a blank board
So on a first turn the board may look like this, where the first player is trying to capture progress

Each player in turn rolls four dice. Then players take any single combination of those dice to make a pair of numbers. These dice rolls determine which columns you get a stab at for that turn. After rolling the dice, players choose two numbers and then place a MARKER on those numbers on the board.

Example dice roll: 5 6 4 1 so can be 11/5, 10/6, 7/9
An example roll of 5 / 6 / 4 / 1 which can equate to 11 and 5 or 10 and 6 or 7 and 9
This roll is 1 / 1 / 1 / 4
So here you roll 1 / 1 / 1 / 4 and can choose from 2 and 5 because rolling three of a kind makes it that simple
Here we rolled 4 / 2 / 2 / 3
This roll gives you the options of 6 and 5 or 7 and 4

If a player rolls a number (or pair of numbers) where they do not already have a MARKER then they place a MARKER at the start of that column, provided they have a MARKER left.

If a player rolls a number where they already have a MARKER then they are able to move that MARKER up one space. If a player is able to create two of the same number out of the four dice, then they may move the MARKER two spaces even if they are just joining that column.

Key: As long as the player rolls a number where they can either move a MARKER forward or introduce a new MARKER then they are temporarily safe. But MARKERs are not replaced by your color until you decide your turn is over. And you can’t ignore a number if you have a MARKER left.

The object is to capture 3 of the columns by getting a MARKER all the way to the end and safely ending your turn. Once a column is captured, all other colored pieces are removed from it. That column is effectively dead and that number can’t be used by any players. Not even the player that captured it.

And be careful. If you have a MARKER at the end of the column and decide to press your luck, rolling that same number will not keep you safe because there is nowhere left to move. Don’t blow it when you are sitting at the top of a column, like I did!

An overview of the board shaped like a stop sign
Beautifully balanced

The rules have some ambiguity in them, so be prepared to decide how to approach this issue. It came up during our play and is even mentioned on Can’t Stop’s wikipedia page. The rules say, “If you can place a marker, you must..” but do not say whether this needs to happen before or after deciding how to split your roll. We played it like you have agency to choose the split, but you can never ignore one of your numbers (after the split) as long as you have a MARKER left.

We also played that players can choose a split if it progresses a MARKER where the other number bounces off a closed column. Again, agency in the split and then the outcomes play out. I don’t think it matters too much how you address this ambiguity, just be consistent.

The first player to successfully capture 3 columns wins Can’t Stop!

how it went

It was great, because Can’t Stop is super fun!! I think Can’t Stop is similar to No Respect in that explaining gameplay can take a little bit of time and seem confusing at first, but then it clicks and everyone knows how to play and has fun.

And if Keri is not the most enthusiastic player in Can’t Stop’s history of players, then I would like to see video of these other players. Initially she wanted to press her luck each round, as far as she could. She was playing yellow and it took some time before yellow finally appeared on the board in our first game. She also got a little nasty and kept calling me a “Can Stopper.”

our play
Our play

Our players also had different approaches. I feel like both John and I were waiting to see what would happen and where the dice would take us. Bill clearly went for the middle numbers, which have a longer road but are easier to roll. Keri liked the more difficult numbers with shorter paths, like 11, 12, 2, 4, etc. Bill would always encourage players to take 7’s, 6’s, 8’s while Keri would encourage them to “Do it again! One more roll! One more! One more!” each and every time.

FUN FACT: I have played the mobile app version of Can’t Stop approximately 5,000 times but it is no longer available, even to me. BGG user TedMarshall proposes that it was because the game was never ported from 32-bit to 64-bit and is therefore no longer available. 🙁

Our first game went pretty quickly, and I won heartily. But it was more of a teaching play. Sometimes it takes the sting of losing a great round or two in order to find your balance. We wanted to play again, and in our second game Keri ultimately closed some of the weirder numbers along with something like 8, and Keri won Can’t Stop!

play or pass

Play. Cheers to Sid Sackson, this is a great game. Press your luck pure and simple. This might be my favorite implementation of the press your luck mechanic that I have played so far. There is a certainty to it that is lacking in many press your luck games. You will certainly progress, or you will certainly blow it. That makes the decision you make all the more delightful.

If you are interested in Can’t Stop, you can find it at thrift… just not very often. I have found three copies. Can’t Stop has also been reprinted as recently as 2011, but even that version seems to go for a couple of bucks. So just bide your time and keep looking.

Review: Homestretch

Review: Homestretch
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Year: 1974
Tagline: The Zany Steeplechase Game with Springy-Leg Horses

This cover shows ridiculous cartoon racehorses and jockeys tipped every which way as though the legs are made of springs

how we met

This was another from an estate sale full of random vintage games at very nice prices. And you tell me: if you open a box and find plastic racehorses with springy legs, would you turn away? Neither would I.

how it plays

The goal of Homestretch is to be the first to race your horse to the end! The board has two obstacles in between the start and finish spaces. Homestretch is a spin and move game, where the spinner will indicate which horse leg you move and to which color space.

The spinner
Your friend (hopefully), the spinner

You can move a horse leg to any space of that color (it doesn’t have to be the next available space of that color) with a few rules applied:

  1. You can’t move any horse leg over the first obstacle, the fence, until you have gotten all four horse legs off the start area.
  2. You can’t move any horse leg over the second obstacle, the hedge, until you have gotten all four horse legs over the first obstacle. And they are super stretchy, but that would really be pushing it!
  3. You can’t move any horse leg onto the finish area until all four horse legs are over the second obstacle.
The board
This view of the board should help demonstrate the obstacles and gameplay. Note: only one horse is kind of standing at this point

The other rules are that at the end of your turn, your horse body must be off the board. You can drape it around and lean on things around you, but you can’t end your turn with your horse body just laying on the board. If that happens you must move your horse leg back to where it was before spinning.

Yellow pawn horse close up
If it sounds easy, it’s because I haven’t focused on one of our heroes yet

One space on the spinner allows any foot and just shows a color. You must announce which foot you are moving prior to starting. You must commit.

One space on the spinner causes you to lose a turn. Like most vintage games, it does not give you any nice way to track that so just try to remember.

The first player to land two of their horse’s legs in the finish area wins Homestretch!

how it went

This was such a fun departure from a typical vintage game. The only problem with my copy is that the red horse is missing one foot that helps to anchor it in place. I honestly thought that would make play easier, but John ended up with the red horse and it was much more difficult to balance that one. (sorry John!)

The horses have names, this green horse is Beetle Bohm
They get names, the better to haunt you with my dear

Homestretch suffers from a lot of spinning (or rolling) issues where if you must move each of the four horse legs before making real progress, it can take several turns to make that happen. Sometimes you might spin the same damn leg three times in a row.

The middle portion of the board is where the horses can really open their stride, and that saw the most precarious positions for us. At times players were facing the wrong direction, upside down, twisted every which way to try and move a bit forward every spin.

Horses stretched all over to try and get over the 2nd obstacle
See? Floating millimeters above the board. What a fucking mess

Bill probably pushed the boundaries the most with how he tried to stretch his poor horse’s legs. And he was able to spin lucky enough that it paid off for him in the end. Bill was the first player across the second obstacle and then to get two horse legs into the finish area. And Bill won Homestretch!

play or pass

Play, definitely. I think play can go long with four players (especially if your spins are repeatedly not what you need), but what a fun, weird game. Homestretch combines the luck of spinning with the creativity, daring and dexterity of pushing your horse to its limits and making sure it does not touch the board. We had a grand time.

Review: Arch Rival

Review: Arch Rival
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1992
Tagline: the game of balance… nerves… and suspense

The cover shows an arch and looks vaguely art deco

how we met

I have passed over Arch Rival for years now even though its orange cover calls to me every single time. I had never played it before, and I am usually up for trying a dexterity game. I think the thing was that I see Arch Rival at thrift so often that there was always next time.

But like in real life, there’s always next time until there’s not. At some point either Bill or I pulled the trigger and actually purchased Arch Rival to play with our group.

how it plays

In Arch Rival your goal is to NOT be the player to make the arch collapse. Like most dexterity games, this game does not have a single winner so much as it has a single loser.

To begin play, use the two ARCH SUPPORTS to set up the play area. The end result of this is an arch of empty COMPARTMENTS that are on a rocking base. One of the COMPARTMENTS is blue and includes an arrow showing that it is the KEYSTONE. This piece must always go in the middle. The rest of the COMPARTMENTS can be placed willy nilly, strategically, argumentatively, or in any way your group wants. It’s probably best to split up the colors, or have a rule that the same colors can’t be touching, but what do I know? When all pieces are in place, remove the ARCH SUPPORTS.

Ready for play is the arch with empty compartments
Here we are ready to play. Note how the base rocks!

The game comes with 50 playing PIECES that you place around the table within reach of all players.

On a player’s turn, they roll both of the dice. One die has numbers and the other has colors. The number die shows the number of PIECES that player must place into a single COMPARTMENT. The color die shows the color options of COMPARTMENT that player can choose from. Or, if it’s blue, there is no option except the KEYSTONE.

The color die also has a side that just says ARCH RIVAL. If a player rolls that side of the die then the player to their left can decide which COMPARTMENT they must use that turn, except they cannot pick the KEYSTONE.

A pic of the dice
The dice, having seen better days

Play continues in this manner until the weight of the PIECES becomes too much for any particular section of the arch. The player that causes the arch to fall loses Arch Rival (whether it is their turn or not). Everyone else wins!

Now, it is possible to run out of PIECES entirely. In this case, players only roll the color die. If they roll a color they choose one COMPARTMENT of that color to empty of its pieces. If there is no COMPARTMENT of that color then play passes on.

If you roll Arch Rival instead of a color then the player to your left chooses which color COMPARTMENT you are required to empty. They can only assign color and not a specific COMPARTMENT. However they are not allowed to tell you to empty the KEYSTONE (the blue COMPARTMENT).

The different shapes of pieces lined up from heaviest to lightest
The PIECES ranged from heavy to light. Once you can hold the different pieces, it’s fairly obvious which are the heaviest to lightest. But we did the legwork with the help of a food scale to confirm our assumptions.

The rules do not really address what happens after a few PIECES are back into play. Do we continue to empty COMPARTMENTS? Do we let the next player go? If they roll higher than available PIECES do they just do what they can? We just played like they do what they can with available pieces, but this is unclear.

how it went

We played Arch Rival a few times one evening, and it turned out that Keri had played the game in her youth. She was basically ruthless. But Arch Rival does depend upon dice rolls for play, so you can only be so strategic.

One of our plays, with a ton of items in blue
This particular play saw a lot of action in the KEYSTONE. I get rules wrong a lot, and in one of our plays I didn’t realize players to the left can’t choose the KEYSTONE. This must be that play.

If you play for the first time and build the arch carefully, it might seem like the arch will never fall. Trust me, it will. Arch Rival adopts the same rules of many dexterity games that you are not safe until you pass the die. And even if it is not your turn, if you cause the arch to fall then you lose.

And that brings me to the end of our play. John had a new phone and had already mentioned that it was more slippery than he was used to. And at some point that phone came crashing to the table, followed shortly by our arch. And John lost Arch Rival!

We played a few times though. I definitely lost at least one of those. It’s not like I have time to balance weird spiral things into overly-full COMPARTMENTs all day.

An image after one of our crashes, showing compartments and pieces all over
A post-crash shot from one of our plays

Our group likes dexterity games pretty well. We have reviewed a few at this point and played even more. But I think there is something limiting in an arch that is made up of COMPARTMENTs that you place things into. It feels shallow. It doesn’t really matter how careful you are placing a PIECE into a COMPARTMENT, until it does, so you can slack off until you can’t and it’s too late. That’s not true of many dexterity games.

play or pass

Pass. The cover of Arch Rival is so alluring with its modern-take-on-art-deco and the plain orangeness of it. But rolling a die that so specifically tells me my options felt less interesting than other dexterity games. Balance was a lot less important than luck, so the whole dexterity mechanic takes a back burner.

That said, this game is simple and brings the same tension that many dexterity games do. It was not my particular taste in dexterity games, but still delivers many of the benefits of that genre.

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