Five great dexterity games
Flicking, stacking, building, striking and pushing: Dexterity games are pure, raw fun.
Well, hello! I hope 2023 is treating you very well. I’m here today with five of my favorite dexterity games, and I’m excited to just dive straight into the good stuff.
But first, definitions: A dexterity game is any game that requires physical coordination. It might require you to flick pieces, to build and stack pieces, or control pieces with a magnet. While it’s absolutely not a style of game for everyone, it’s something that brings me a lot of joy in the world of games.
If you’ve played a dexterity game, you’ll probably intuitively understand the idea behind Crash Octopus. You’re going to flick pieces of cargo at a little wooden ship, trying to collect each of the five unique pieces that are scattered around the table. You’re also given a little flag with which to do the flicking, which seems like it shouldn’t work. It does.
All of that is pretty simple, but there’s one more twist that really makes this game pop. Ringing the play area is a thick string, and on that string are a series of beads. Whenever anybody adds a piece of cargo to their ship, a market moves up those beads, and if it passes a black bead, it’s time to drop the octopus die.
See, there’s an octopus die, and there’s a wooden giant octopus head in the middle of the play area. When said black bead is passed, each player around the table will drop the octopus die on the head of the octopus, moving the octopus head or a tentacle, depending on the showing face. It gives you a great chance to block somebody’s progress, but it also adds one more wrinkle: If that die happens to hit somebody’s ship and knock off some (or all) of their cargo, then the cargo is back adrift at sea. And if you’re better at directing that die off the head of the octopus, you might be able to wield it against your opponents. Or perhaps you’ll think you’re going to be good at that part of the game, and you’ll bounce the die back at your own ship. (Or if you’re me, you’ll flick a piece of cargo at your ship with too much vigor, and you’ll knock three other pieces of cargo off. This game!)
A note about availability of Crash Octopus: This one isn’t available in the United States super easily right now. If you’re comfortable using a proxy service like Buyee to ship to the U.S. from a Japanese retailer, you can find copies at great prices without issue. (I saw a number in the Yahoo Shopping section, for instance.) Hoobby.net also has a copy for sale and integrates with the proxy service WorldShopping, as well as Buyee.
I’ve had good success with Buyee twice in the past, but I cannot speak to the breadth of experiences you might have. That being said, if you’re not comfortable using a proxy service — I get it! — I thought I’d highlight a couple other interesting dexterity games that might scratch the itch for you.
Tokyo Highway is another dexterity game from Itten, who also published Crash Octopus. It’s less focused on the destructive element, instead turning toward building a tangled web of highway systems. On your turn, you’ll extend your highway by placing pillars and a roadway. You’re restricted from staying at the same level, so you’re constantly climbing and descending in your roadways. (Seems exhausting as a driver!) To place one of the cars you can see in the above photo, you have to place your highway above or under another highway — so long as it’s not already been passed over or under (respectively) at any other point.
In Tokyo Highway, you’ll need to be good at small movements and precise placements. I am not good at that. When I play this game, I will inevitably bring the whole thing toppling down at some point, and I will not be surprised about it. It won’t be on purpose. Are you that person, too?
Previously appeared in: Five Great Games from Japan.
As a child, every time I saw an air hockey table, I wanted to play. It wasn’t often that I did play, but when I did, I enjoyed it — but it was never the game I thought it was going to be. Without fail, it grew long in the tooth by the end. When I finally played my first game of KLASK, I was shocked to discover that what I wanted air hockey to be as a child existed. KLASK is a game of skill, dexterity, and wild luck. It is raw fun as much as any board game can be.
In KLASK, two players face off with one hand beneath the board on a steering magnet. That magnet controls your striker, with which you’ll hit the ball. If you can land the ball in your opponent’s goal, you’ll score a point — so long as it stays there. But there are several twists here that will lead to your opponent scoring a point. First, if your striker lands in your own goal, even if you get it out, that’s a point for your opponent. Second, if at least two of the white magnetic pieces (“biscuits,” as they’re sometimes known) end up stuck to you, that’s a point. Finally, if you ever lose control of your striker and can’t get it back under control using just the steering magnet, that’s a point.
I truly cannot get enough of KLASK, and I’m happy to tell you that you can actually get this one in wide release. (I’m not sorry about talking about games that are harder to find, but I also want to share games you can actually play, too. That’s way more fun for all of us.)
Previously appeared in: 10 board games to play with your friends and family this summer (2021).
I wrote about For Science! during the summer, and it was out of stock at that point. It remains one of my favorite dexterity games I’ve played. It requires a ridiculous amount of cooperation, as the whole game is played in real-time. Here’s what I wrote about it at that point.
For Science! is a real-time cooperative game, which means that it’s going to be an altogether frantic experience. You play as a team of scientists racing against the clock, performing research to develop cures to diseases, which sounds a lot like A) reality, and B) the game Pandemic, but I assure you, it’s not really like either. To develop cures to diseases and perform supporting research, you’ll be designing cures, then building those designs with blocks. And you’ll have to do all that quickly, because this is a real-time game, and you’ll have to do it carefully, because otherwise, you’re going to knock over your blocks, which is not exactly a desirable outcome — but it’ll happen, and you can try again. This isn’t Jenga. Mostly.
Previously appeared in: For Science! merges real-time, dexterity, and cooperative gaming.
Kabuto Sumo is a dexterity game that doesn’t involve flicking, stacking or throwing. This is a game of gentle pushing, which might seem a little incongruous for a game about professional wrestling beetles. You’ll push large wooden discs onto the board, and if you knock out your opponents’ beetles, you’ll win. Any other pieces you knock off become yours to use on later turns, and each piece will make you think you’ll be able to figure out exactly what will happen when you push it onto the board.
This is a dexterity game unlike any I’ve played before. It’s strategic and smart, but it’s also packing some raw fun that makes dexterity games special.
Five more great dexterity games
Flick ‘em Up! is a mission-based flicking game. I love this one but haven’t played in a few years, so I’ll need to refresh my memory.
Junk Art is a stacking game with bright, colorful pieces and a plethora of game modes.
Rhino Hero is everything you want from building a house of cards, and it’s ridiculously fun when you build something really tall.
Coconuts is a game I love playing with my six-year-old niece: Each player has a big plastic monkey, and they use that monkey to fling coconuts into other players’ cups.
Elk Fest is the first modern dexterity game I played, and I have so many great memories of flicking stones to help my moose cross a river. (Yes, it’s a moose, and the game is called Elk Fest. Did you know that moose are called elk in Eurasia? And that American colonists simply renamed the previously named “wapiti”? The more you know!) Maybe one of these days I’ll write about my earliest modern board game experiences and how they’ve shaped my taste. That seems like it would be fun.
Previously appeared in: Cascadia, Regicide and Kabuto Sumo — plus, three games to play this year.
Question of the Week
Jeff left a question on last week’s newsletter discussing my board game challenges for 2023 that I think bears discussion.
What weight, if any, do you give to playing board games online?
I don’t remember where I first saw this advice, but I’ve stuck to it since I read it: It’s all up to you. Challenges only matter for you, and it doesn’t really matter if folks agree with your assessment. That said, I’m happy to share how I think about it for me.
My rule of thumb is that if I’m playing the game with another person, whether that’s online or in less virtual environs, I’ll count it. That might be on Board Game Arena or in-person with an app on a tablet, but it’s the play with a human that makes it count for me. I’ll usually annotate those plays for my own edification, but I think tracking data of any sort is enjoyable. Your mileage, as ever, may vary.
Have a question I might be able to answer? Leave a comment!
Thanks for reading my newsletter about the world of board games! If you’d like to get new issues as I write them, subscribe below.