Friday, April 18, 2014

Analog Gaming - Click Clack Lumberjack

NOT Jenga.

I'm sure at one point or another, everyone has played the definitive hand-dexterous game Jenga - the simple wooden block setup, the art of the poke-and-slide, the stacking of blocks ever so carefully, all of this done with the element of gravity playing against you. The moment the stack falls over, you're left with the messiest game over ever, and then begins the new game of "who will set up Jenga for the next game," until everyone passively forfeits THAT game.

But what if you weren't playing against gravity? What if it became your ally? What if you were rewarded for things falling apart? Have you heard of Click Clack Lumberjack (Or Toc Toc Woodman in Korea)?

TIMBER!!


You start out with a LOT of wood. *snicker snicker*

Almost like the prequel to Jenga, Click Clack Lumberjack has players chopping down a tree, perhaps to make wooden blocks for a silly gravity-punishing dexterity game. The tree itself comprises of a tan core trunk with 4 pieces of bark that slide vertically in place, all arbitrarily stacked to form the tree. Players take turns and get two swings with the ax, in hopes of knocking the core trunks far enough to allow the bark pieces to slide right off, earning yourself a point each for them. Keep chopping, however, and you may lop off a trunk core completely, netting you a 5-pt loss.

Tap, tap, tap...

But here's the thing that separates this from its wooden predecessor: the game is NOT over if some of the core pieces fall off. Unless players are HUGE risk-takers, it's likely that 1-2 core pieces will fall. Which is fine, because the game ends when the last piece of bark falls off. It takes away the abrupt game ender from Jenga, and allows players to continue to earn points.

A Different Kind of Balancing Act


This can't end well.

What results is a dangerous game of wooden "chicken" as people precariously taps the tree trunk with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension. Half the time, you're out to gain as much points as you can, but the other half of the time you're wondering how much better/worse you can make the tree. Say the next player has a higher score than you. Do you have a good chance getting the 3 points you need to catch up, or should you make it harder for the next player to even breathe on the tree? It's this type of strategy that elevates it from a race to collecting bark pieces to how bad you can force others to screw up.

That little grub can be good OR bad...

There are even some bark pieces that have grub stickers when, if scored, nets you an additional point AND an extra turn. Nearly lost your cool after that second swing? Guess what - YOU HAVE ANOTHER TURN!

Lending to the tapping chaos is the vagueness of the rules. There's no specific definition on what qualifies as a "tap," per say, and no hard-set rule how you swing. Everything is house-ruled and open to argument. I've seen players lightly tap the top of the tree or the tree base to avoid a disaster, or hit the tree at a slight angle to knock more than none piece. Personally, I enforce the "use the ax blade" rule, to keep the theme of the game.

Harsh Scoring


If there was anything that can be negative about this game, it's the scoring. Losing 5 points for a felled core is a seriously unforgiving impact, especially if you're playing against any conservative players playing it safe. With each core piece holding 4 bark, you'd still net a -1 point total if you decide to cut off one chunk in one turn. 

Negative points can really hurt you.

Whether the original creators or Mayday games were aware of this, there's a variant in the instructions to deal with consistent winners, limiting them to one swing instead of two. But after several games, even the best players will mess up, and the scoring has a way of balancing out to some close calls.

There will be times, however, when your lead's crushed after one unfortunate swing, leaving you with a large stack of trunk cores. While it may be hilarious the first time, it wears thin when it's your 5th time getting the same bad luck, and the grueling scoring doesn't help your pride much.

Should You Take a "Swing" at It?


Taking a calculated swing.

Don't let Click Clack Lumberjack fool you in its simplicity. With every swing, there's strategy; do you play it safe and lightly tap, do you take the risk of a stronger swing to get more bark, or do you tap it just enough to set up failure for the next player? Plus, despite the child-like appearance, the trunk cores are quite weighted, so taking that hefty swing may sway in your favor. There's definitely that urge to do better after the first game, and you'll never quite feel like you've mastered it even after your tenth. Plus, games are insanely quick, and the suspense is edge-of-your-seat nail-biting!

If there's one thing I would critique, it's the flimsy box it comes in. It's nothing to cry home about, and nothing that a nifty DIY velvet travel bag won't fix. But it certainly doesn't contribute well to the fun you will have with Click Clack Lumberjack! If you can, grab this game and have an ax-traordinary time!
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