Dexterity games are an interesting breed. Gamers often scoff at them, relying as they do on physical prowess rather than mental ingenuity. Conversely non-gamers love them for exactly the same reason. Bamboleo, from the folks behind Bausack (Bandu in the US), has been a hit with every group to which I’ve introduced it.
The idea is staggeringly simple. A bunch of oddly shaped wooden pieces are scattered across a 36 cm wooden platter, which is in turn balanced atop a cork ball set onto a candlestick-like pedestal. On each turn, players must remove a piece from the platter without creating so much of an imbalance that the whole mess crashes down. When that happens everyone gets a point for each piece they’ve taken (with a -4 point penalty for the klutz who caused the crash) and you load it all up again.
If you’re good enough, you can get to the point where it doesn’t seem like any piece can be removed safely. In which case you can pass your turn, but if someone later removes a piece successfully you’ve got to pay him one of your own for being such a weenie. Likewise you can bail out if you start to take a piece and realize you’re in serious trouble, forfeiting a point for your hubris. Once you’ve touched a piece, you’re not allowed to switch to a different one.
For extra fun, pieces can be stacked atop each other to make double-point grabs possible. And if you’re really evil some pieces can be set on their round edge and caged in. When freed, they roll around and shift the already precarious balance.
The amazing thing about Bamboleo is just how far the platter can tilt before crashing. It’s much farther than you’d expect, which makes the game exciting as the platter teeters to obscene angles. Two different size cork balls are provided, the smaller one making for faster tilts and steeper angles. A version of the game with a clover-leaf platter is also offered, and if you just can’t get enough there’s a mammoth version with everything scaled up to play on a meter-wide platter!
Bamboleo is visually intriguing, and that appeal sucks in curious passersby. The simplicity of the game quickly converts them into players. By the time I left this year’s New Years party, I had six different people ask me to order them a copy, most of them “non-gamers.” That’s a success in my book.