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[Review] Cluzzle

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Joined: 03/23/2011

When I first read on the internet about the game Cluzzle (North Star Games, 2004 - Dominic Crapuchettes), my thoughts immediately went to Barbarossa, a similar game by Klaus Teuber. I thought, “Why would I need another game that basically does the same thing?” Yet still I continued to hear good things about Cluzzle, especially by some respected gamers, so I wondered if there was maybe something more to the game. I enjoy sculpting clay for games (I’m absolutely horrible at drawing) and find that it makes an excellent activity, so I was happy to finally give Cluzzle a go.

Cluzzle went over extremely well with the first group, and then continued to have repeat playings because of its popularity. It certainly has some similarities to Barbarossa but is simpler and more accessible to “non-gamers”. There are some ambiguities in the game rules (which have been solved in the next edition), but they are minor and can be handled by the players. All in all, it’s a nice little party game; and one that has instant appeal, thanks to the fun clay modeling aspect.

Each player (up to six) takes a mound of clay of a different color, as well as a “Clay Station” - a rounded board section that fits around a middle round board. They also receive a guess sheet, pencil, two question tokens, and a random cluzzle card. Piles of “clay dough” (money) are placed in the middle of the round board, in “1”, “2”, and “3” denominations. Each player selects one of the words from their card and sculpts it, placing it on their Clay Station. The catch to this is that players are trying to make their sculptures not too difficult to guess nor trying to do a great work of art that is apparent on initial sight. The first round then begins with a ninety-second timer begun. Each player then can, in any order, ask “yes” or “no” questions to any other player about their sculptures. When asking a question, the asker flips over one of their question tokens, therefore giving each person only two questions.

Players can neither intentionally mislead the questioner with their answer nor give a hint in their answer. However, they may answer in complete sentences and are not restricted to a simple “yes” or “no”. The rules give this as a legal example of an answer to the question: “Is your Cluzzle bigger than a breadbox?” Answer: “My subject is an intangible concept that does not have a size, but the clue depicted with this Cluzzle is smaller than a breadbox.” I haven’t seen this answer given in a game yet, but this does allow a bit of leeway in answers given.

Before the timer runs out, the players should write down a guess for each player’s sculpture on their score sheet. Once the timer runs out, no more guessing occurs; and each player reads their guesses for each sculpture. Each player guessing correctly, as well as the sculpting player, receives points (clay dough). One point is given out for guesses in the first round, two in the second round, and three in the third round. If a sculpture is guessed, it is removed from the game, but the sculpting player can still guess other players’ sculpts. The timer is then flipped, and another round begins. After the third round, or if all sculptures have been guessed, the phase ends, and a new “clay session” is begun, with new sculptures being chosen. After three sessions, the player with the most points is the winner of the game!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The large box is filled with a variety of components, including six different plastic bags full of brightly colored clay. When I first saw the amount of clay, I thought it too little to sculpt anything successfully, but it has proven to be quite sufficient for all the sculptures I’ve seen. The rounded clay station pieces are really nice - of a good size, and with a bit of lamination on them, making them an excellent surface for modeling clay. The “clay dough” paper bills are useful; although I don’t see the necessity of them, as points would work just as well. On the flipside, the scoring sheets are really nice, providing plenty of room for a game on them and are double sided, providing multiple uses. Pencils are included, as well as a nice timer and thick, rounded tokens. The cards are of medium quality but are easy to read; and many of them have extra space on them, so that a player can write in their own words.

2.) Variety: There are over one hundred cards in the game with seven to nine words on each, which provides enough words for many a game. One feature I really enjoyed about the game was the fact that the cards had many words on them, allowing a player a great deal of choices when deciding what to sculpt. An example card included these choices (hamburger, telescope, desk, swordfish, squash, speakers, Africa, Easter, and Babe Ruth). And if this isn’t enough, players can have their own cards inserted into the game. If a player can get three friends to buy the game, the company will print out a card for that player with the words of their choice. Yes, this is a shameless marketing ploy, but it’s simply cool to have a card of your own, so I’m sure it will work with some folk. (And if you buy the game because of this review, please tell them sent you, so I can get my card.)

3.) Rules: The rules are simple and short, on two sides of a laminated piece of paper. A few examples of proper sculpting are shown; but other than that, the rules are sparse. I got a page included with my game giving some clarification, along with the promise that any rule confusion will be cleared up in the next edition of the game. The best thing of all, however, is a full page describing an entire round complete with sample questions and answers. It helps one learn the game easier than the rules. The game itself is easy to teach and learn; and as with all party games, the playing of it is more of an experience than the winning of it.

4.) Barbarossa: The inevitable comparisons with Teuber’s Barbarossa are easy to see: both involve modeling objects, and both involve the player trying to model objects not too well and not too poorly. However, I think that Barbarossa is the “gamer’s” version, while Cluzzle is the “family” version. That is no disservice to Barbarossa, as I think it is a simplistic game. It isn’t as simple as Cluzzle, however; and unlike Cluzzle, I have to explain a few more rules. Cluzzle is simpler, easier, and therefore, more fun for most people. The designer stated that Barbarossa is the inspiration for his design, and the similarities are striking; but the games are not identical.

5.) Fun Factor: The game is very quick, ending in about thirty minutes or so. Because of the timer, the game moves at a quick pace, and players shout out questions and answers quickly. This helps keep people from taking exorbant amounts of times to guess, or think, and makes the game much more fun as a result. The only downtime is when people are sculpting, and that is fairly enjoyable, so it doesn’t seem that long. One thing that makes the game universal is that you are deliberately trying to make your sculptures ordinary, so that most people (who aren’t skilled artisans) will do well at the game, regardless of their artistic ability.

Cluzzle is not a rip-off of Barbarossa; it’s more like a fifteen year update on the game, making it more accessible to “non-gamers” and quicker and more fun. Everyone likes to play with clay (see Cranium if you doubt this); and this game is full of it, allowing even the most horrible sculptor a sporting chance. Knowing what questions to ask, and how to ask them so that others don’t get as much knowledge from the answer, is all part of the strategy of the game. But at its heart, the game is a simple party game - easy to learn, easy to play, and easy (most importantly) to have fun.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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