Although it’s been two years since I departed the world of board game cafes, I still occasionally have friends and family ask for a specific recommendation. One such question recently came my way…
“Hey JP, do you know of any small dexterity games?”
Although BGG lists many games that fit this criteria, very few jumped to mind immediately. After all, there are a great many iconic sprawling dexterity games, a few of which have earned a place on my gaming shelves – Terror in Meeple City, Ascending Empires, and Hamsterrolle are personal favourites. The good folks at HABA make some amazing dexterity games in smaller boxes, but many of those titles are intended for a younger demographic.
Indie Boards & Cards have recently released Doctor! Doctor!, a small box dexterity game from designer Robert Couch (possibly best known for Saloon Tycoon), with artwork by Jack C. Gregory. The box suggests the game is for 2 to 5 players, and is recommended for players aged 14 years and older. Each game should take less than 30 minutes to play.
In Doctor! Doctor!, players take on the role of a surgeon, seeking to perform extraction procedures on an extremely stressed patient. Inside the box, you’ll find 60 organ and bone cards, 1 patient card, a plastic operating table, 1 set of plastic tweezers, 12 red cubes (6 wood cubes, and 6 smaller plastic ones), and a 30-second sand timer. To set up the game, the operating table is set in the middle of the table. Three cards are drawn to form a row, with the remaining cards stacked face down on the operating table. Place the patient card on top of the organ cards. Whichever player last visited a doctor takes the first turn, and claims the surgical tweezer tool, and we are ready to begin the game!
Each turn is comprised of a player selecting one card from the row, which instructs that person which organs must be removed from the patient, how many points will be scored if successful, and how many blood pressure cubes are to be stacked on top of the patient. Once the cubes are stacked, the active player may take their time inspecting the operating table, and can rotate the table as they see fit so long as the cards and cubes are not touched. Once they’re ready to proceed with the operation, the sand timer is flipped, and the player now has 30 seconds to remove the required cards from the patient, using only the surgical tweezer tool – no hands at all! If that person manages to remove the required cards within that 30 seconds, they claim the card and score the points noted. However, if the time runs out, or if the cube stack topples, or if any extra cards leave the body, or if a hand touches any components aside from the tweezer tool, the operation is a failure and their turn immediately ends. Play passes to the left, with any body cards removed from the patient being added to the row of goals. If more than 8 cards are in the row, all organ cards are shuffled, and a fresh row of three goal cards are dealt. The first player to score 12 points will instantly win the game!
The components for Doctor! Doctor! are not only functional for what the design asks of the players, but they’re also high quality pieces. Making use of the operating table as an insert for the game box is a stroke of brilliance. As mentioned in the component breakdown, the box includes larger wooden cubes as well as smaller plastic cubes to represent the patient’s blood pressure. Not only does this serve as a “hard mode” for the game, but it also allows for an opportunity to balance experience levels. Inviting new players to use the large cubes, while surgical veterans make use of the small ones, can avoid a rookie feeling like they aren’t up to the task. Make no mistake about it, performing these surgeries is difficult, and even the most practiced player will fail on a regular basis. The card shapes are inspired, and also adds to the game experience, as there is always going to be a bit of lung or bone sticking out of the pile, asking to be plucked from the patient. Simply by virtue of the game’s time crunch and the surgical tool involved, it’s possible that some cards may eventually wind up slightly bent. If you are a player that aims to keep every game in pristine condition, that may be a factor in your purchasing decision.
I would highly recommend taking a moment to visit the Instagram page of the game’s illustrator, Jack C. Gregory (link: https://www.instagram.com/jack_c_gregory/). An experienced graphic artist, but who is just making a first splash into the world of tabletop games, there is something refreshing, yet at the same time familiar, about the comic-style artwork featured in Doctor! Doctor! Truly, I hope we’ll get to see more of Jack’s talent in future game releases in the coming months and years ahead.
Bristling with a healthy in-game tension, the play experience of Doctor! Doctor! is an absolute blast. It actually reminded me of the amazement I felt the first time I ever played Jenga as a young fella – complete with verbal outbursts of “THERE’S NO WAY YOU CAN PULL THIS OFF”, and explosive celebration when the impossible happens. Turns blaze by, keeping all players engaged and entertained even when not actively participating, especially if all players are comfortable taunting each other. Due to the fact that a player cannot move the operating table until AFTER the cubes are stacked, how I position the table on my own turn may make life difficult for the next player, which is a wonderfully sneaky touch. Perhaps my most memorable moment with the game thus far was watching a player pull ALL of the correct organ cards out with a single withdrawal, while being mercilessly teased the entire time. So long as a player is not adverse to the time-crunchy stress of the pass/fail turns it offers, this game brings with it a raw, child-like, joyous fun to the table, which should appeal to casual and seasoned gamers alike.
In a two player duel, it’s easy for one player to set up the other to cherry pick a goal card, which are opportunities that are typically spread out a bit more at higher player counts. Still, the game plays fun and fast with 2 players. In my own exploration, I even came up with a half-baked solo mode – between your own turns, deal one extra card to the row of goals, with the card showing the lowest points being awarded to the phantom player. If the phantom surgeon gets to 12 points before you, they win the game. (Spoiler: I’ve never won against the solo phantom player.)
Although it’s advertised for ages 14 and up, Gregory’s artwork spoke to my 4 year old daughter, and it was only a matter of time before it made its way onto our table for exploration. To modify the game for play with youngsters, I removed half of the cards, and used 1 to 3 blood pressure cubes per goal card (rather than 3 to 6). We also didn’t use the sand timer at all when playing with little hands. My Big Bean was absolutely mesmerized by this game, and has asked to pull it back out every day since that first introduction to Doctor! Doctor! To be clear, this game is not necessarily intended for children, but the act of using the tweezer tool is a great way to practice fine motor skills, and engage little brains in a unique way.
Going back to my friend’s quest to find a small box dexterity game, I would heartily recommend Doctor! Doctor! as a top pick in that category. The box is already small, but as all the components can actually fit into the reverse side of the operating table, everything could be condensed even further, and make an ideal travel game. Find yourself a zipper or drawstring bag, and you’ll be all set to perform complicated surgeries at a coffee date or picnic table!
Doctor! Doctor! is a dexterity game for 2-5 players, with a playtime of 20 minutes. Published by Indie Boards & Cards, with artwork from Jack C Gregory, and designed by Robert Couch.
A copy of Doctor! Doctor! was provided by Indie Boards & Cards for this review.