Monday, January 28, 2019

GJJ Games Review - Knot Dice - By Black Oak Games

Knot Dice
Designed by: Matthew O'Malley
Published by: Black Oak Games
1-4p | 10-20m | 5+
GJJ Games Review - Knot Dice - By Black Oak Games
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Game Overview:
Knot Dice isn't just one game, it's a set of dice that can be used to play a whole bunch of different games.  Not only that, but Knot Dice can be used as puzzles, or just as fun stress relief or fidget toys.  Knot Dice are sets of cubes that have a different pat engraved on each side.  When put together these paths can create intricate patterns and Celtic knot designs.  Knot Dice comes in two different styles.  There is also a second expansion set, Knot Dice Squared, with three additional types of dice with different path designs that can be used in combination with the original set.  The original Knot Dice comes in a standard set with 18 dice, or a deluxe set with 36 dice and a drawstring carrying bag.  Knot Dice Squared comes with 26 dice (9 squared, 9 rounded, and 8 curved - the original dice are called crossed).  The set I'm reviewing is the original set, but most of the review applies to both sets of dice.  I haven't actually tried the puzzles or games that incorporate the Knot Dice Squared set though.

Components & Packaging:
These dice are outstanding!  These aren't your run-of-the-mill cheap plastic dice.  Knot Dice are large (20mm compared to a standard 16mm die) with nice sharp edges, perfect for making patterns without large gaps at the seams.  They're made of a high quality, dense acrylic that has a very nice heft.  Between the weight and the pearly, swirled forest and emerald green colors these feel about as close to having been carved from stone as you can get.  The patterns are engraved and painted silver and wrap around the corners of each side to create an unbroken path around each die.  These truly are a work of art in themselves, beyond the beautiful works of art you can create with them.
Knot Dice are a work of art that you can use to create your own art.
Knot Dice comes in a high quality box that holds all the dice.  The deluxe set also comes with an embroidered velvet bag to hold all the dice.  Eight wooden tokens (each screen printed with a Celtic knot pattern on one side), used in several of the games, and two rule books (one of puzzles and one of games) round out the components.
The deluxe set comes with 36 dice and a bag to carry them in, plus two booklets, 8 wooden tokens, and a box.
My only complaint, and it's super minor, is that the deluxe box barely holds all the dice and the bag.  I personally prefer to keep my games in their boxes because they fit on my shelves easier and I have limited space.  It's always a challenge to make sure all the dice are in the bag lined up and lying perfectly flat so that I can fit the rest of the bag, booklets, and tokens into the box with the lid on completely.  If you don't mind keeping your dice in the bag then this is a moot point, and it's definitely not worth knocking the component score at all.

I said it once, but let's wrap up the components section by repeating that Knot Dice are truly a work of art and well deserving of a perfect 10 in this category.
Absolutely stunning!
Score: 10/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
There are several ways to play with Knot Dice.  You can use them to play a number of different games, use them to complete puzzles, or just use them to relax and make fun patterns.  Regardless of what you do with them all you need to do is dump out the dice and start playing.  A few of the games use some of the colored wooden tokens, and most of the games or puzzles have an initial configuration for some or all of the dice.  Generally this only takes a minute or two to lay out.
Dump out the dice you need and you're ready to get started on a puzzle, game, or just having fun!
There are several different types of puzzles included: Completion, Transformation, Creation, Building, Wall, and Oxvo.

Completion puzzles have you rearranging dice from a starting configuration to a final design, following some rules about how you can move dice.  Transformation puzzles are basically the same, but they go from one completed knot design (instead of from an incomplete arrangement) to another completed knot design.  There are four types of moves you can use, and some puzzles only let you use a subset of the moves.  Swap lets you change the location of two dice on the outer edges of the pattern.  Translate lets you move one entire row or column to the opposite side of the pattern.  Rotate lets you rotate one outer die 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.  Flip lets you roll one outer die down and away from the center of the pattern.  Through these moves you count how many turns it takes you to solve the puzzle.
Tracking moves is tedious, especially when you're in the zone.  There is a nice grid in the booklet to track moves on though.
Creation puzzles give you a pre-determined number and facing on the dice and you must arrange the dice, without flipping them, in order to create a complete Celtic knot pattern.  You succeed when you complete the pattern.  Building puzzles give you a three dimensional stack of dice and you must figure out an an arrangement of the dice  so that each side has a complete knot on it, or so that the entire shape has an uninterrupted, complete pattern covering the whole thing.  The Wall puzzle asks you to create a 4x4 knot lying down on the table and then move each die in that pattern into a 4x4 vertical wall without changing the alignment of each die so that the wall also has a complete Celtic knot pattern on its side.  Finally there's the Oxvo puzzle, which is based on Osbox and the original Celtic knot Osbo Dice designed by Cameron Browne.  In the Oxvo puzzle you arrange 15 dice in a predefined layout on a 4x4 grid with one space empty.  You'll count the turns it takes you to create a single, unbroken knot by sliding dice into the empty space.  There's a way to score knots you make and the goal is to create the highest scoring knot (the biggest knot in the least amount of moves).
Creation puzzles give you a set of dice to use to create a complete knot.
The knots you can build are beautiful solutions to the puzzles!

Unfortunately sometimes there are multiple solutions to one puzzle, so it's really just an exercise in creating pretty pictures and not really very puzzling.
Each of these puzzle types is pretty straight forward, however scoring them is a bit tedious since you have to remember to count every single move.  The ones that you don't score are a bit easier, but for all of the puzzles, once you've solved them you don't know if you did well or not.  There's no chart indicating what a good score is, so you don't know if it's possible to find a better solution.

The games are a bit different.  There are 12 games included in the rulebook.  Each one plays differently (although a few are just variations on each other).  For the games the rules are generally pretty well explained.  There are a few areas that could be a little clearer, but with the examples shown in the rulebook they're all pretty easy to figure out.  The games vary in complexity from the cooperative Kells, where players work together to build as many knots as they can from a pool of rolled dice, to the pretty complex Minarets where players semi-cooperatively build 3D structures with their neighbors, similar to Between Two Cities.  There is even the Knot te Whole Story storytelling game where each die added to the pattern helps direct a story that all the players craft together.
Most of the games involve completing Celtic knot patterns, although some, like Snakes and Distance use the patterns as paths that your tokens travel along.  None of the games are too difficult, and they're all pretty abstract.  They range in time from about 10 minutes to 30 minutes, so they're all pretty quick to play, easy to set up, and have pretty simple rules, only taking 2-3 pages to explain.
Even the complex games are pretty simple, and they're all fast, too.
Score: 7/10 x2

Even the most complex of the puzzles and games included are essentially fillers.  None of them are too exciting and they're all very abstract with only the vaguest theme added to the rules for flavor.  These are puzzles and games that you'll use to just fill up some extra time, not something you'll spend the evening playing.  Additionally, a few of the games require the deluxe set  (or two base sets) to really get the most from them.

I've found both the puzzles to be only mildly interesting.  The different puzzle types get repetitive, and having to count your moves is tedious.  Without having any gauge to see how well you did, solving the puzzles is somewhat anticlimactic.  They're not like jigsaw puzzles, where you end up with a rewarding picture, or tavern puzzles where you get the satisfaction of unlocking or releasing something.  They're more like a Rubik's Cube, but without the satisfaction of having the block with solid colored sides.  Maybe this comes from the fact that each puzzle is an exercise in following rules to create a pattern that, without the rules, would take almost no effort to create otherwise.  There's no exhilaration that comes from solving the puzzles because they're really not that hard to solve.  It's just a question of if you solved it efficiently or not, and since there's nothing to compare your score against, there's no feeling or being rewarded.
It was fun to build this three-dimensional knot, but it wasn't difficult or exciting.
The games are similarly unexciting.  They offer a bit more of a puzzley experience than the puzzles do, in my experience, particularly the competitive games because you can compare your performance to your opponents'.  However, they're too abstract and too simple to really offer a lot of excitement.   I like bringing the dice to Cub Scout outings so I can play a game or two with some of the other parents while the Scouts are doing various activities.  The dice are nice and solid, so they won't blow away or get ruined if they get wet.  They're also nice to bring to the pool or beach.  Some of the games can get a bit confusing if you're not really good with spatial reasoning and patterns, since you'll be following abstract paths and have to mentally convert the two-dimensional patterns into three-dimensional pathways, and that's not everyone's cup of tea.
The games are simple, and a nice diversion, but nothing to build a game night around.
Where I think Knot Dice shines is in just a fidget toy.  The dice are tactile, gorgeous, and fun to just manipulate.  You can make all sorts of interesting shapes and patterns, and they're relaxing to just push around.  Have a set of Knot Dice on your desk at work, or carry a few around in your pocket, and you'll find yourself playing with them mindlessly.  Have them out on your game table when you're not playing something else and their beauty and unique designs will attract attention from gamers and non-gamers alike.  It's nice that you can play games and solve puzzles with the dice, but, in my opinion, these are secondary to the beauty of the dice themselves.
These are great for outdoors because they can't blow away or get ruined by water.
Score: 6/10 x3

There are several dozen puzzles and twelve games included with Knot Dice, plus more included with Knot Dice Squared, and even more available online.  So there is a lot you can do with the Knot Dice, if you find them engaging.  When you get tired of one of the games you'll be able to move on to another.  And the dice are always good for just playing with.  Like fidget spinners, stress balls, fidget cubes, or magnetic sculptures, Knot Dice can be relaxing fun that you can play with endlessly.
There are lots of ways to play with Knot Dice, and more games are definitely possible. 
Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
I found the Knot Dice puzzles and games to be mildly entertaining, but not games or puzzles that I'd seek out to play.  I do like that the dice can stand up to the elements while on a camping trip or Scout outing, but I do have several other games that are just as durable and more interesting (Hive, Qwirkle, or Dice of Crowns come to mind).
None of the games are riveting, and many have a fair amount of luck as you roll dice and try to use the designs that come up.
Score: 5/10 x2

Overall Value:
Knot Dice are $29.95 for a base set and $59.95 for a deluxe set, plus shipping.  If you are into collecting dice, these are an essential addition to your collection.  However, if you're just looking for a fun game system or interesting puzzles, this is a lot of money to spend on mediocre puzzles and filler games.  For $30, or even the $60 for the deluxe set, these are absolutely gorgeous dice.  But for the same money you can definitely find better puzzles and filler games, although maybe not all in one set.
For a dice collector these are wonderful.  For a gamer or puzzle aficionado they're a pricey diversion.
Score: 4/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I really have mixed feelings about Knot DiceKnot Dice and Knot Dice Squared are absolutely beautiful.  These dice are a work of art in and of themselves.  They're great as a casual pastime and will make a wonderful conversation piece.  If you collect unique dice, or are looking for an interesting and gorgeous desktop curio, Knot Dice are an excellent choice.  If you are looking for a stimulating game or intriguing puzzle, however, Knot Dice is more about beauty and quantity than quality.  The puzzles and games are mildly entertaining, but they're not what these dice are all about.  If you get Knot Dice for the dice, and treat the puzzles and games as a nice bonus I think you'll be satisfied.  If you're looking for incredible games or enigmatic puzzles, then you'll be disappointed.  Be aware of what you're getting and you'll be happy.

No, these won't hit my table very often, but they will stay in my collection.  They're truly beautiful, and I'll bring them on outings as a way to relax and blow some time.  I may even play a game or two occasionally, if I can find someone to play with me, or work through a few puzzles if not.
Even though these won't hit the table regularly they will stay in my collection so I can bring them with to outings.
Overall Score: 63/100

Want another opinion?  Knot Dice was also reviewed by David on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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