PLAYlist 39: Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, & Happy Salmon | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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PLAYlist 39: Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, & Happy Salmon

May 13, 2019 By Austin Trunick
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As the great Huey Lewis (sort of) put it:

You don’t need money / You don’t need fame / You don’t need [a high credit card limit] to play these games…

Some of the best games are the really simple games. Some of the really simple games also happen to be really affordable games. Having dedicated so many recent columns to complex, $50+ dollar releases, we’d like to take a step back for one week to admire three great, smaller, low-priced games which shouldn’t be overlooked.

As is the case with all three of the titles we’re looking at today, their high concept can really be explained in only a minute or two – they’re perfect for teaching newcomers, and just the sort of thing to stow away in your backpack or glove compartment for an unexpected gaming opportunity. But because they’re so straight-forward, to fill the space we normally take up in a PLAYlist column I’d have to pad out the word count with my own non-rhyming, free-associative poetry, and nobody wants that. That’s why we’re discussing three of them at once, roundup-style, rather than giving each its own column.

And so, without further mucky-muck, let’s take a look at three of the best small-box games that we’ve stumbled across thus far in 2019.

Hex Roller comes from Renegade Game Studios and designer Rustan Håkansson. Inside the box you’ll find only the rules, a pad of game sheets and eight colorful dice – a minimalist number of components. (You’ll need to supply your own pens, but there’s enough room in the box to store a handful of cheap Bics.) Hex Roller is what we like to refer to as a “picnic basket” game: something small that you can toss into a bag and take to the park along with a bottle of wine, Solo cups and a Tupperware full of cheese. You can use the lid of the box as a dice tray, making it portable enough that you could play it pretty much anywhere. The box suggests 1-8 players, but we don’t see any reason why you couldn’t squeeze more people around the game if you really wanted to.

Over the course of seven or six rounds, depending on which side of the cards you’re playing, players will take turns rolling the dice, which aren’t normal six-siders but a custom die with sides reading 3 through 8. You’ll then sort the results into sets of like numbers. Next, all players will at the same time pick one set of numbers, and then another, using them to fill in chains on their personal game sheets. These sheets are filled with colored hexes and somewhat resemble a bouquet of flowers. Players are also given three one-time use special abilities which allow them to fill in extra spaces.

When the rounds are over, players will score points for meeting a number of objectives ranging from connecting hex spaces with a line of like numbers, filling in regions, to using each number available to them. The highest score wins, but it’s just as fun to see how much your game sheets vary from player to player. (You’ll be surprised by the variety of results considering you were all working from the same pools of dice.) Hex Roller is a fun puzzle that only takes 10 minutes per round, is easy to pick up, and can be taken on the go. Plus, you can toss the used game sheets (into a nearby recycling bin, of course) to make cleanup a breeze. Think of this as a quick, think-y alternative to the classic Yahtzee.

Hex Roller retails for an MSRP of $20.

From designer James Schoch and R&R Games comes The Table is Lava, one of the cuter and more straight-forward games we’ve played in some time.

Inside The Table is Lava’s small box you’ll find one deck of cards in four sets of colors, and a heaping pile of meeples. You’ll need to supply your own table, or at least a reasonably large, flat piece of flooring. Everyone picks a color and takes all of the cards and meeples that match it.

Players take turns chucking cards from their hand like they’re some kind of amateur hour Gambit, who was far and away the coolest X-Man of the 1990s. (You also have the option to set the card on the edge of the table and flick it from there, in the case that card-tossing doesn’t happen to be your forte.) If the card lands touching another that’s already on the table, you’ll get to place the number of meeples depicted on it – both yours, and those belonging to another player’s color.

The high concept of this game is stated clearly in its name: the table, you see, is lava. The cards you’re tossing represent pieces of land. When you throw a card you’ll be attempting to knock over your opponents’ meeples, preferably off the cards and onto the tabletop, and to their fiery deaths. (Well, returned to their owners, to be more precise.) At the end of the game, the player with the most meeples standing – or laying down, which are only worth half as much – is declared the champion.

The Table is Lava is one of the most frustration-free dexterity games we’ve come across. A lot of the time we’ve found that players are either good at these sort of games, or they’re not – I could train, Rocky-style, for years at flicking game components onto targets, and expect I’d only become marginally better at many of these games. On the other hand, the gameplay for The Table is Lava is easier than many dexterity games we’ve tried our hand at, and can be easily handicapped if really needed. As often as not, chucking a card especially hard in hopes of mowing down enemy meeples ends up in hilariously poor results as it does a slick, well-aimed hit, even for the most skilled of players. A game this fast and wild tends to find its own way of leveling the playing field.

The Table is Lava retails for $14.99.

The final game in this column’s illustrious trio is Happy Salmon – also the silliest of the bunch, but we mean no slight in that. This little pouch comes from North Star Games, the same folks who imported our recent favorite The Quacks of Quedlinburg.

Slide open the zipper on this fish-shaped bag and you’ll find no more than a deck of 72 cards and a small rules sheet. It lays out the game’s four actions. Each card will direct you to do one of these things: Pound It (a fist bump), High 5 (what it sounds like), Switcheroo (switch places with another player), or “Happy Salmon” – you’ll need to imagine you and your friend’s forearms and wrists are fish, and that you’re happily slapping your fishtails against one another. Players will stand around a circle, draw the top card from each of their piles, and shout the printed action. When two players notice they’re shouting the same thing, they’ll execute the action together, then discard their cards. The first person to deplete his or her pile is the winner.

Happy Salmon is loud and silly, and a five-minute game certainly attracted a crowd in the convention center where I first demoed it. Once you get over any initial reservation about feeling ridiculous hollering nonsense and frantically searching for high-fives, there’s something very freeing about a game that asks you to be as wild as this one does. It’s a brief rush of excitement and unchecked playfulness, the sort of which many adults probably haven’t experienced on any regular basis since they were schoolkids and last heard the recess bell ring.

We’re also big fans of how open Happy Salmon was for us to make it even louder and sillier. When a game has fewer rules than you have fingers, there’s ample room to come up with your own wrinkles or alternative ways to play. Happy Salmon is just ripe for this sort of thing – it’s a game that dares you to come up with your own play variants. One of our favorite ways to Happy Salmon is to spread the players out to opposite sides of a big room (or back yard, or park, or school gymnasium) and have everyone play from far out: this increases the volume, for sure, but also the ridiculousness of it all when people are dashing back and forth to the center of the space to high-five, wiggle their arms on one another, and what-not.

I’ve also played this with fellow parents of toddlers, where it was naturally a hit. Pre-schoolers can easily glom onto the four gestures needed to play; these days, kids seem to learn to fist-bump before uttering their first words. We’ll break into teams of one adult to one three-year-old, letting the grown-ups call out the actions on the cards and then sending our toddlers hurtling towards one another at high speeds to collect their high-fives, or switcheroo-ing. This is probably my favorite way to play we’ve found yet – it’s rare to find games that can be enjoyed equally by three-year-olds and their thirty-something guardians.

Happy Salmon comes with a retail of $15.99.

We love all three of these games, but we were hard-pressed to find a musical theme shared between the three of them. (If you see an obvious one, please do let us know!) And so we’re rolling with the monthly flavor for May, celebrating the full blossom of spring and the flowers yielded by April’s showers. This playlist collects some of our favorite floral-themed tracks, and runs just over an hour – more than enough time to play all three games on this list. (Though, we doubt you’ll hear any of it over your shouting in Happy Salmon.) Enjoy!


Previous PLAYlist columns: The Quacks of Quedlinburg, The Climbers, NEOM, Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done, Reykholt, Pandemic, Everdell, Kingdomino, Citrus, History of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, Photosynthesis, Ice Cool, Food Truck Champion, Ars Alchimia & Lemuria, A Game of Thrones Catan, Troyes, Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition, Flip Ships, NMBR 9, Unearth, Escape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue), Whistle Stop, Caverna: Cave vs Cave, Twilight Struggle, Honshu, Bärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the Dragon, Yokohama, Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure, Villages of Valeria, New York Slice, Watson & Holmes, Hanamikoji.


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May 23rd 2019

These are very great table games, I love to purchase one because this is so interesting!

May 28th 2019

Very modern type of gaming tables! Amazing

California Injury Lawyer
June 15th 2019

I really like this article. I enjoyed a lot reading it. So many interesting pieces of information are presented here related to games. I appreciate the writing skill of Austin Trunick. Really done a great work here. Keep writing.

fence company greenville sc
June 19th 2019

The inner kid in me is shouting for joy seeing this! Where can I buy this, please?!

Daniel Perez
July 3rd 2019

Nice playlist.
July 3rd 2019

Nice playlist. Thank you so much

John Stacy
July 15th 2019

Your writing skill level is good.