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[Review] Counting Zzzzzs

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I’ve always found dreams fairly fascinating, if only because I have so many of them. What I find amazing about them is the fact that even though reality is skewed and warped, it doesn’t bother me a bit. Sure, I might be annoyed that five giant vacuum cleaners are chasing me down, even frightened; but in the dream, it never occurs to me that it shouldn’t be happening at all. Still, dreams make for great conversational pieces, and an excellent theme for a game. I had high hopes for an interesting theme when playing Counting Zzzzzs (Blood & Cardstock Games, 2004 - Joan Wendland), and I wasn’t disappointed.

The mechanics of the game work well, and the game seems to be fair and balanced. Honestly, though, there’s nothing to really get excited about; unless the players are an imaginative bunch. At this point, the game can get really fun and entertaining. Making up stories about your dreams is a majority of the fun; and if players delight in imagination and creativity, then Counting Zzzzzs is a superb game!

A deck of 140 cards is shuffled, and five cards are dealt to each player. The player who gets up earliest goes first, with play passing clockwise around the table. Players are attempting to have the most restful sleep by creating dreams that are worth the most points. On a player’s turn, the first thing they do is to refill their hand to five cards, if necessary. The player then must add one element card to their dream.

A dream is made up of a series of element cards that are laid out in front of a player. Each element card is either a person, place, thing, or verb and is either a positive card (is worth bonus points), a neutral card, a negative card (is worth negative points), or a context card (can be either positive or negative). Each card also has up to five color-coded icons on the side of it, to indicate the type of dreams that element is present in: surreal, domestic, work/school, fantasy, and nightmare dreams. Finally, some element cards have extra bonuses indicated at the bottom of the card if they are played with certain other cards. For example, the Church card is a neutral place card that can be played in nightmare, fantasy, domestic, or surreal dreams, and gives a bonus of two points if played with the Wedding Dress or Prayer card. Another example would be the gun, which is a negative (-2 points) thing card that only shows up in nightmares.

When playing cards in a dream, the player must match at least one of the dream types of the previous card in the dream. For example, the gun could follow the church card, but could not follow the Hollywood card, which only shows up in fantasy dreams. The played element card cannot be the same type as the previous card, so a verb card cannot immediately follow another verb, etc. Context cards are played sidewise (such as the Laughing With You [+2 points] / Laughing At You [-2 points] card), and are left that way until the end of the dream (or if modified by an action card.)

After adding an element to their dream, the player must do one of the following three actions.
- Add a card to another player’s dream (following all restrictions).
- Play an action card.
- Discard a card.
There are several types of action cards: Benders (which are played, allowing a player to break some rule in the game), Wake-Ups (which “wake up” one or more players from a dream), and Blocks (which can be played out of turn to block other action card) - all of which are discarded after use. There is also an action card known as a Force. This card is added to a dream, affecting the next card in that dream (such as forcing the next card in that dream to have a specific theme), or permanently changing a context card to its positive or negative side.

A player “wakes up” from their dream whenever a Wake Up card is played on them, when the dream reaches ten cards - the maximum, or when they cannot play an element card into their own dream on their turn (in which case, they also discard their hand, drawing a new one). When scoring a dream, which only happens if the dream has at least five cards (otherwise, it’s just not restful enough), the player scores one point for each card in the dream. Then, the bonuses from the positive and negative cards are added and subtracted, as well as any bonuses from the bottom of certain cards, if the conditions are met. Then, the total number of positive and negative cards is totaled. If there are more positive cards than negative, then all context cards in the dream are flipped positive side up and scored accordingly. If the reverse is true, the context cards score negative points for the player; and they score nothing at all if the positive and negative card sums are the same. Players note the final score of the dream (which can be negative), and play continues. When one player reaches forty points, they win the game; or the game can end when the draw deck is depleted - at which point all current dreams are scored, and the player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The cards are very nice, with different colored borders for each type of card - which is very nice, as it helps one easily make quick distinguishments between the cards. The little icons, denoting what dreams element cards are in, are little colored sheep with a letter in each; and a cheat sheet card, of which four are provided, has the meaning of each one. All the modifiers are simple, thus making the text on the cards easy to read, and I can’t imagine any confusion about what each card does. I would have put the icons on both sides of the cards to make matching up the cards easier, but it’s a minor detail. All the decent quality cards fit in a nice, colorful box (but they should have glued the bottom - it’s something I think every company should do). The artwork on all the cards is very cartoonish, very attractive, clean-cut, and nice. The artwork appeals to all ages.

2.) Rules: The rules are on a folded black and white paper, and are very clear, emphasizing several important rules often. I thought that the order of them was a little odd, but after a complete reading, the game was quite easy to understand. When we first played the game, the mechanics reminded us (slightly) of those from Battle of the Bands. The game is very easy to teach, as long as people realize that making up dreams is part of the fun.

3.) Storytelling: The rules say that players are encouraged to explain their dream as they lay their cards down. For example, if I play “Fairy Godmother”, “Giant Cat”, “Typing”, “Parent’s House”, and “S.O.”, I can explain to the others that my fairy godmother showed up while I was visiting my parent’s house, typing a term paper for my wife. She changed me into a Giant Cat, thus ruining my night (the dream only gets me three points.) Of course, that stupid story is a result of my quick limited imagination, but the stories that get cooked up during the game are often quite hilarious, especially from a verbose, creative person. And I found it quite interesting how the cards meant different things to different people, especially from different ages. The mix of element cards are great - they’re all the classic things found in different dreams - and some things made me smile, like how “running” appeared in all dreams - truth for sure!

4.) Strategy and Fun Factor: There is a smattering of strategy in the game, like knowing when to wake up, and what card to play when; but basically the game is about the stories and the strange dreams that one creates. If your group is a quiet, thinking group - this is NOT the game your looking for, but if 1000 Blank White Cards is up your alley, you’ll enjoy this game quite a bit.

5.) Number of Players: The game plays best with a full compliment of players, which is four, much better than only two or three. And even though the maximum number of players is four, I found that the game works well with even more players - you play to a different number of points to balance out the game.

If the people you plan to play this game are brimming to the top with creative juices, then this is an excellent choice for your game sessions. It’s an inexpensive game that can really get a lot of laughs. I found that it was very useful to play it with children, as it encouraged them to think, and make up stories on their own. It is a fun game that can be used in English classes, or just with your own children. However, strategy gamers may not be so enamored of the game, if they’re more interested in good mechanics than theme. The game plays and runs cleanly; it’s just nothing exciting or new - unless you love storytelling, at which point the game becomes quite invaluable.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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