Early last year I was lucky enough to play a fantastic then-unnamed prototype – a competitive 3D puzzle that consisted of cubes. So many cubes! (Thankfully not these types of Cubes.) I really thought it was clever and was looking forward to seeing how the publisher took that prototype and manufactured it so it would be available en-masse. And I’ve now got those cubes – so many cubes! – in my hands with CTRL from Pandasaurus Games.
The game starts with a 3×3 black cube that is set on a table – the bottom of this cube is not intended as a play surface, and the cube should remain on the table at all times. Players then take all cubes of one colour, and place their first onto the cube with their player flag/marker inserted as per setup for 2, 3 or 4 players. After that, players take turns adding 3 cubes to the structure anywhere adjacent to their existing pieces, until all players have exhausted their supply. Scoring of the control (ah!) of each side is then calculated and the victor is the player with the most points. Such a delightfully easy gameplay!
The strategy of placement is where things get nice and puzzly. This is a really tactile game, almost like constructing a 3D model or perhaps putting together Trademarked Plastic Bricks – the piece becomes more cumbersome and chunky as the game progresses and it’s really cool to see. When you place your three cubes, you must place your first adjacent to any of your previously placed cubes, but you can then decide in which direction the other two will go. As this is a 3×3 playing surface, you may put your cubes all on one side – but more frequently you’ll be curling up over the edge of the main piece or up and over other player’s pieces. Of course, this adds a big spatial reasoning part to the play of this game, which might not be for everyone.
As you go, you’re hoping to spread your domain out over the whole structure in order to wrest control over each side, getting you the most points. As you look front-on to a side of the overall piece, every visible cube of a colour scores 1 point. You may dominate a couple of sides, but end up being barely visible on others – it’s a great balance of trying to get around the structure incrementally and hoping to not be covered up or blocked. This latter part is where the player flag/marker comes in. At the end of every turn, you’re able to plug your marker back into one of your cubes anywhere on the structure – wherever it blocks means your opponents won’t be able to play there until your flag is moved. This is a great way to direct the control of one side of the cube structure for at least a little while.
While I think this is a terrific puzzle game, I would say that it plays better with 2 and 4 (and has special rules for 2 allowing you to secretly choose one of two colours to score at the end of the game). With the set up for 3, the spread of cubes could be a little lopsided – but that’s just something to watch as you play at that number. The components are really cool (again, delightfully tactile) and well made – just make sure to press those cubes in solidly or you may end up with some bumping off of pieces. CTRL is out now, and if you’re able to get together in a socially distanced way for some gaming, it’s actually quite a perfect one for sitting at a distance as you can pass the play structure around.
CTRL is a tactile puzzle game for 2 – 4 players, taking approximately 20 minutes to play. Designed by Julio E. Nazario with art/graphic design by Stevo Torro, it is published by Pandasaurus Games. Thanks to the Pandasaurus team for lobbing so many cubes our way in this review copy!