|Twice as Clever! (2019)
|Meeple Like Us
|Medium Light [2.28]
You might well remember a game called Ganz Schön Clever. We reviewed on the site a while ago. For a few weeks, it was pretty much all anyone on Twitter was talking about. Like many people, I fell hard into the depth of its moreish design. Like a kind of pen and paper pachinko machine, it kept promising ever greater seductive rewards of ever more sensual score… if only you could get the dice to behave. You should probably go read that review now actually, because Doppelt So Clever (Twice as Clever) is almost exactly that game and so I’ve already given my thoughts on it. So long folks! Have a great week!
No, wait, stop the credits. Stop them. That button there. You just press the… just press the button. On the right. No, my right. That one. Yes. Press it!
Okay, actually I have a bit more to say here. Yes, this is a game so eerily similar to its predecessor it could pass for its evil twin. However, there are some interesting evolutions in the design that make it perhaps a better game. In order to really explain that though, you honestly really should go look at the review of Ganz Schön Clever because it’s highly relevant to what we talk about here. I wasn’t kidding about that part of the intro.
For those that, understandably, are a bit resentful that this is a review that comes with unexpected homework, here are the key points:
- Ganz Schön Clever is as addictive as a loot-box, and that’s pretty much where its appeal comes from.
- Ganz Schön Clever has a structural fault in that once you cotton on to The Strategy you lose any real need to think about what you’re doing.
I said of Ganz that it was a three-and-a-half star game that will give you a temporary period of four-and-a half-star fun. Doppelt So Clever manages to improve on that considerably. In the process also introduces such wide, swingy elements of luck-driven-design that it can be occasionally frustrating and straight-up unfair. It’s fun for a lot longer, but that fun is not nearly as consistent and lacks the refined purity of the original. If Ganz Schön Clever at its best is Blue Sky, then Doppelt So Clever is the generic copy-cat meth that appears in its wake. Effectively the same product, but it isn’t able to deliver quite the same intensity of a hit because some of the magic doesn’t survive the counterfeiting process.
See, you really should have gone back to the Ganz review. Now in trying to save you some time I’ve undoubtedly ended up on an Interpol watch list.
The game basically works exactly the same way as the original. You roll six dice, arrange them in order, and then collect one to mark off on your sheet. The trick is that every die smaller than the one you picked gets discarded for that round. Repeat this twice, and the round is over at which point everyone gets to pick one of your leavings from the discard pile.
Your scoring pad, still looking like someone crossbred a lottery scratch-card with a kaleidoscope, is full of slots that build up points and occasionally spark off combos. Each section of the scorepad is handled in a different way. Over the six rounds of the game you need to allocate your scant serving of numbers to maximise your score within these idiosyncratic minigames.
The combos are where Doppelt So Clever acquires its most magical properties. Perhaps marking off a single slot will get you a free action in the yellow section of the pad, which then sparks off a free action in the blue, which then sparks one off in the green, and so on. You’ll also pick up rerolls, additional die picks and more as you allocate your dice to the sheet. At the end your score is the sum of each section, with some modifiers.
That’s the game. And it’s a very good game. A very fun game. And in the case of Ganz Schön Clever it was a very ‘insight sensitive’ game. There came a point where you realised that there was a particular pattern of allocations that would always yield the best score you’d get from the dice you had available. That is an epiphany that saps a good 80% of the fun out of it. From that point on it was an act of performative ritualism – roll dice, place them according to the Ancient Wisdom of the Forbidden Scrolls, and hope that the fates smiled upon you for your humble offering. Ganz Schön Clever at a certain point ceases to be a game and becomes about your rigid adherence to catechism.
Or, to put it another way… it becomes a game of pure, unthinking gambling. Once that happens, compulsion is what takes hold. You keep playing because, like a puggy in a popular pub, you know there’s a tipping point coming if you can just… hold… the… line…
The good news here is that Doppelt So Clever has neatly solved that problem with its new gameplay innovations.
The first of these is that you can gain a number of return actions. Once a die has been discarded, you can spend one of these to bring it back into the rolling pool. Instantly that changes the tenor of the experience because you’re no longer a victim of the fundamental limits of dice accumulation. In Ganz Schön Clever there was a maximum number of times you’d get, say, a blue die. In Doppelt So Clever, that’s still true but there’s a window of uncertainty that you can open and close as the game goes on. This means that the fundamentally effective winning strategy in Ganz doesn’t exist here, or at least not in the same way.
The second innovation is that both the blue and green scoring lines in Doppelt So Clever have interesting nuances built in. Green is scored by taking a multiplier of one die and then subtracting a multiplier of the next. Place the six then the one and you get (2×6) – (2×1) points. Ten points for the two die. The blue line only ever lets you put something of the same value or less than the last value you recorded. That’s based on sum of white plus blue. It also has a score that is independent of those same sum values.
Both of these scoring lines create tensions in the roll because you’re no longer able to simply force a die in place just because it’s the best option you have from what’s available. Sometimes that will result in serious self-inflicted damage. That’s really nice, because the decision has to be made at the time and in the context of what’s happened before. A subtler thing is also seen in the pink line where you can place any die but only trigger associated bonuses if the die is of a sufficient face value. Again, this creates trade-offs in the dice pool that just weren’t really there in the game’s predecessor and that’s marvellous.
It’s the third main innovation though that really puts all fixed wisdom into a big blender and hits ‘scramble’.
Doppelt introduces a new kind of scoring system – silver dice. Here the trick is that yes, you’ll discard everything smaller when you select them… but you’ll also use those discards to tick off every discarded dice in the silver scoring section. If the return actions add uncertainty into your dice allocation, the silver dice add nothing short of pinball score multipliers. A single silver die might result in all six dice ricocheting around your sheet in a single action, and that might even be worth giving up all subsequent rolls. Might be.
These are all pretty neat, but where the become neatest is in the special alchemy that exists when you bring the silver dice and the return actions together, because suddenly now you can engage in acts of sorcery.
Imagine you get this roll on the first throw of the round.
If you grab that silver six, you get to mark off the yellow one, blue one, pink two, green four, and a wild three and six from the silver section of your pad. That’s wonderful. That’s like having two rounds from a single action. The cost is that you’ll need to discard every die to make it happen, and you only ever score in silver if you make up a full column. Wow, and Sophie thought she had a difficult choice, right?
It’s a nightmare to untangle unless, say, you had two return actions saved up on your sheet…
Then you use all six dice, reclaim the two that you can most likely use for the rerolls, and mark off as many as eight sections in a single round. That’s the kind of thing of which gaming dreams are made.
And these things together are what completely fix the solveability problem that was the critical weakness in Ganz Schön Clever. Doppelt gives you tough decisions, and limited tools for managing them. In the process it empowers you to be clever too. I’ve played Doppelt So Clever probably as much as I did its predecessor, and like with Ganz this includes hundreds of times through the app. I’m nowhere near to sniffing out an optimal arrangement of dice that I can slavishly replicate round after unthinking round. That’s not to say there isn’t one, but I don’t think there is.
Instead, what we have are heuristics. Guiding principles. And crucially, community disagreement over what those principles should be. There are people that swear by the yellow section, with its tricky double-tick system of score accumulation. There are others that argue that the best system is to capture the foxes that give you multipliers of your lowest score on the sheet. There is no consensus, because the systems in Doppelt are much more dependant on situational decision making. Context matters here, and that’s in the end the biggest innovation we see.
The catch, because there must always be a catch, is that this more violently exposes the naked luck that’s required in both games. There are many more circumstances here where you end up thinking that the dice are what screwed you, rather than your decisions. If all you roll are green ones, it’ll never be a sensible strategy to spend them to start building up green points. You’re never truly forced into simply accepting a bad die, not least because the white die can be spent anywhere, but you’re often herded down sub-optimal paths. Maybe your first roll gives you the green six you need, but you’d need to discard everything else. You don’t use that, because that’s self-harm on an unjustifiable scale. And then you get a green two and a white one. You don’t take those either, because they’re just no good to you. Then you roll a final green one and it’s the only die you have left, so you’re stuck with an open wound in your score sheet without ever having made a strategic mistake. That’s also a balance problem. Some players are just going to have many more dice, and dice that are better for them, to spend than you will. It should even out over the long term of course. Human satisfaction though doesn’t get evaluated to the timeframe at which statistics operate.
So, that’s where we land here. Doppelt So Clever will be fun, for longer, than Ganz Schön Clever. However, that fun doesn’t peak quite so highly because in solving the structural problems in the original it has revealed some of the features of its predecessor that weren’t quite so openly emphasised. They were hidden within those structural problems. Game design, much as with your dice selection here, is a task of balancing trade-offs. I think that Doppelt So Clever is a successful compromise, and you certainly wouldn’t regret giving it a try.