The Daily Worker Placement

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Kabuto Sumo: A Mini Manifesto on Dexterity Games

by | published Tuesday, January 11, 2022

I have what I would describe as a mercurial relationship with dexterity games. I tend to not play them often, and when I do, I can rarely predict whether they will be hits or flops with me. I either need a 5-minute dexterity game where none of my choices *really* matter, or I need a 45-minute dexterity game that does something unique with the format. Some of the dexterity hits in my collection include:

  • Menara (co-operative strategy dexterity game that is less about the dexterity than the strategy)
  • Meeple Circus (a romp of a dexterity game that asks players to “perform” dexterity game to the other players)
  • Tokyo Highway (a 2-player dexterity game that, like Menara, is much more about the strategic choices than the dexterity)
  • PitchCar (an 8-player racing game with simple mechanics and an absurdly large table presence)

These are a few of the dexterity games that have landed with me, and kind of the gold standard I hold other dexterity games up to. “Would I rather just be playing Menara or Meeple Circus?” I ask myself, balancing a beam on a cute little meeple while I play Men at Work or putting my speed to the test rapidly rolling dice in FUSE. The answer is usually yes. For my money, those four dexterity games are the best of the best and represent the height of the genre (along with Crokinole, which I can’t ignore but also don’t own).

So, when Kabuto Sumo jumped onto my radar with excellent reviews and from BoardGameTables.com, the publisher who brought us Q.E. and On Tour, I was hesitant, but I had to take notice. I bought it on a whim as a Christmas present for my sibling and their husband, knowing they normally play 2-player games and don’t have a ton of dexterity games. Luckily, I was able to try this game during the holidays.

Kabuto Sumo is a 2-4 player wrestling game that takes place on a tree stump. Each player takes control of an insect with special abilities (full game) or unique starting pieces (Junior League variant). Essentially, the board is this elevated piece of cardboard that is the stump, and each player’s goal is to knock an opposing beetle out of the ring. The first to successfully discharge an enemy wins the game. The stump will, however, be filled with all these wooden discs, and each turn you will push a wooden disc into the fray, moving other discs, beetles, and special pieces.

The simplicity here is where the game succeeds. Figuring out how to push five circular pieces in a line to eject an opposing beetle is much less intuitive than you might first imagine. Ever try to sink a pool shot by hitting five balls in a line? Inevitably, you get an angle wrong, and the balls go wide. Kabuto Sumo is no different, with discs slipping out of place when you’re getting ready to eject that pesky enemy beetle.

Kabuto Sumo does one of the things that I love when dexterity games do (PitchCar and Meeple Circus are excellent at this little point as well). They make you feel bad at the game. They make things difficult, make you mess up moments that feel like they will be easy, make you question your own abilities. I enjoy dexterity games that equalize the players, making us all feel bad at them. At least until that one turn where everything goes right, and it feels like a great triumph.

With simple rules, simple wooden pieces, and a simple concept, Kabuto Sumo manages to do just enough different to be a wonderful new dexterity game. It plays well with 2 and 4 players but has a few moments that can feel kingmaker-y in the 3-player version. The beetle special abilities also don’t all feel entirely equal, but I am sure that a few more games might be all I need to understand how to use the abilities better. And I can’t wait to get those few more games in.


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