Halloween may have already passed us by, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop witching it up. Phil Walker-Harding’s latest release is a family-weight game full of the creepy fairy-tale luring of folks into a gingerbread house cottage. You’ll be doing your best to create a structure that has just what those innocent (or not-so as the case may be) forest wanderers will find tasty, bringing them salivating to your gate.
Before i’d seen Gingerbread House, I thought this game was going to be polyomino-based like Walker-Harding’s prior hit, Bärenpark – so it was a surprise to see colourful gingerbread domino tiles fall from the box when a friend was setting it up for us to play. Each player starts with a base of a house and 15 of these domino tiles – your turn consists of playing down a gingerbread domino and taking gingerbread tokens or a bonus tile/action based on what you’re covering up, creating layers of the house as you go. This is a wonderful, not too brain-breaky puzzle to the game, where you’re trying to line up symbols in order to benefit best from your placements.
In addition to pattern matching, and ensuring that you are stacking your gingerbread dominoes each in different ways (no straight piles of cookies here, please!), there’s a couple of extra goodies that can be slotted into your house. First up, stairs – each player starts with a set of gingery stairs and can gain more throughout the game by covering stair symbols. The benefit of stairs is being able to prop up a gingerbread tile that hangs over the layer below, helping everything sit nicely. The other handy-dandy little piece of baked structural goodness are the wild single tiles – you’ll get those from successfully capturing people with your sweet treats and they’re a great stand-in for a symbol you might need or to bump up the number of a certain cookie you’re gaining. And just exactly how are we enticing these folks folks out for a stroll in the forest?
Well, it’s all around us, of course – the house! But this isn’t just a “snag Hansel and Gretel” type scenario, oh no. The paths around these gingerbread houses are walked by all sorts – human and otherwise – that you’ll be collecting. You can, by covering a gate symbol in your house, lure your mark away from the path saving them for completion later – or, you can just nab them straight from the path by turning in the combination of delicious gingerbread cookies they’re after. These characters will be a mix of all sorts – perhaps a dragon, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland.. You get the drift, it’s a fairytale land out there. Each of these characters are worth points at game end, so reserving certain big-reward ones with gate symbols can be worthwhile.
However, you might be aiming for some specific game-end points thanks to goal cards when they’re played on the “advanced” side. Every layer of your gingerbread house completed allows you to choose from a spread of bonus cards – they may reward you for having collected human characters, or perhaps the “evil” type of characters, or perhaps just dole out the points for having collected characters that required certain types of gingerbread. Seeing as you won’t be getting your first bonus card until at least a few rounds into the game, you can take a look at what’s out there and try and aim for some strategy, which is fun if you can really get some great point multipliers that work with your captives. The “basic” form of the game has bonus cards that reward with just straight-up points which offers a pretty nice kid-friendly option for playing the game if you want to keep things simple, which is nice.
Gingerbread House possibly won’t hit the table frequently with more seasoned gamers – but I think it hits a sweet spot so to speak, if you’re after a light puzzle to warm up – especially one that’s got such nice production (thick tile! yess!) and lovely art. It’s not just the candy colours of gingerbread that you’ll be enjoying, but some really storybook quality portraits of the characters that pop up on cards. (I especially enjoy the cameo by Phil on the box’s cover). Colour and table presence, paired with the light puzzle of the house building and the challenge of efficiently points-maximizing is good fun. I’m not surprised that it made its debut at Essen, given how family-oriented board gaming is in Germany and Europe broadly – somewhere between Sushi Go and Bärenpark lives this delicious treat, and I encourage you to take a nibble and see what you think. Now, perhaps that the other holidays are upon us, it’s time to brainstorm a real life Gingerbread House to play with some nog.
Gingerbread House is a tile placement and set collection game for 2 – 4 players, taking approximately 30 – 45 minutes. Designed by Phil Walker-Harding, and illustrated by Andy Elkerton, it is published by Lookout Games and is available in stores now.