Advent reviews: Bausack

A lot of games are boring to watch. People pushing little cubes about? Yawn! Bausack (or Bandu, as I think it’s also called) is different. In this game, you are creating towers of sculptural beauty. And often, you can cut the tension with a knife.

What kind of game is this?

In Bausack, you have a bag of wooden pieces in different shapes. Some rectangular, some squares, an egg, an egg-cup, a lime wedge – all sorts different shapes. Apart from those, you have some little crystal pieces that represent currency.

The rulebook comes with at least four different games to play. The most basic game is this:

All the pieces are put in a pile in the middle of the table, and each player takes ten beads. Each turn, the current player selects a piece from the pile. He will then auction it off by saying either: “I want this, and I will pay [number] beads for it”, or “I don’t want this, and I’ll pay [number] not to have it.” The first bid can be zero, something that will be necessary as the game goes on. Then he passes the piece to the person on his left. In the first kind of auction, each player can increase the bid, or pass. The piece will go to the player who made the highest bid when everybody else is out of the round. That player will pay the beads he bid. In the second type of auction, the piece will be passed around until someone passes. Everybody else will then pay their last bid, and the passing player will have to take the piece.

In any case, the player who took the piece in the end will now have to add it to his or her construction. Each construction can have no more than one piece touch the table. All other pieces will have to be built onto that foundation piece. This will make the constructions more and more elaborate, and more and more unstable, until they crash. The last player with a tower still standing wins.

Two of the other versions:

In Pile’em High, the player with the tallest tower wins. The current player can either auction off pieces to have for himself, or to give to another player. In the second kind of auction, the affected person can request that the person who gave them the piece put it in their tower – if they fail, their own tower is considered out.

In the Tower of Bable, all players are building the same construction. Each round, you take a piece and add it to the construction. The player just before the player who makes the tower fall gets a point. The first player to five points wins.

How many people should you play this with?

3-6. You can play it with two, I think, but you won’t have very good auctions. I would probably prefer 4-5, as you will have players enough for interaction, but not enough to drag it out long.

What do I think of this game?

I love Bausack, though I’m not very good at it. There’s a lot of tension in the game as you try to add another piece to your rickety tower. Also, the towers you can make are just incredible – you learn things about friction you never knew!

One trap I always falls into is building a boring tower. You can play this game to win, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as is taking some chances and building a crazy tower. One of the advantages of the Pile’em High-version is that it requires you to build a crazy tower.

The pieces are really nice, and they are nicely varied. The beads are ok, but to be honest, they could be anything. They are just there as counters.The important thing is the many very different building blocks. And they are just perfect!

A few interesting things to note

  • How ten tokens are actually a good amount. It means you can secure the pieces you need or avoid the ones you don’t want, but the game doesn’t turn into an auction game. It is a building game with an auction component, not the other way around.
  • How you can be forced to take whatever your neighbour gives you – and that can be a really interesting challenge.
  • How the two parts of the game means there is something for the more creatively, steady handed person, as well as for the more strategic player.

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