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[Review] Pack of Flies

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I’ve always delighted in plastic insects and reptiles. For one of my childhood birthdays, I received hundreds of realistic plastic ants, flies, and spiders - which I put to good use in various places and occasions. I was pleased to see; therefore, that a game has put the plastic flies I used as a youngster to use in a game. Pack of Flies (Café Games, 2004 - Philippe Des Pallieres) has several factors drawing to it’s success, not the least of which are the pile of cool little plastic flies you receive with the game. The small box, catchy name, and nice (relatively speaking) artwork all definitely catch one’s attention.

After my first playing of the game, I wasn’t quite as impressed. The game seemed to me like a poor man’s version of Liar’s dice, just not quite as fun. The theme worked well, but the game seemed too random, with a touch of obvious “king making” involved. After later plays, however, I realized that there was a decent amount of strategy and guessing; it just wasn’t too evident. I love the theme and would not mind playing this game occasionally, but the game play just doesn’t really hold up for me. While it’s interesting and fun, why not just play a game of Liar’s Dice, which basically uses the same mechanics and seems to be more “pure”?

Each player in the game is given five plastic flies (up to five players), with the remainder of the flies placed aside - out of the game. A pile of twelve cards are shuffled and placed in a draw pile face down on the table. A blue fly, “Muriel,” is placed on top of the box while each player secretly hides the amount of flies they have in their left hand. The game is ready to begin and will last twelve turns. The lightest person is the first player on the first turn.

On each turn the top card is turned over, with all player’s trying to “win” that card. Each player secretly chooses a number of flies (from zero to however many they may have in their hand) and holds them out in their closed right fist. The first player then guesses the total sum of all the flies held over the table. After they have guessed, all the other players must also guess and can do so in any order. The flies are then revealed, and whoever guessed the closest is the winner of the card. If a tie results, the winner is the player who “bid” the most flies, and further ties are broken by the player who first stated their guess. The player who wins the card places it in front of themselves (or another player) and all flies bid are placed in a reserve pile. All players who guessed the exact number of flies (if any) receive one fly from the reserve pile, if any are there.

Each card has a different affect on game play.
- Six of the cards show a tasty area for a fly to feast, such as sweat beads on a person’s face or a steaming pile of cow dung. (lovely, eh?) Each card is worth from one to four points for the player who wins it.
- Three cards show hazards for flies, such as a fly swatter or a spider. These cards are worth negative one to three points to the player in front of whom they are placed (by the winner).
- Baby flies: The winner of this card receives as many flies as there are plays, with the second place bidder getting one less fly, etc., etc. If the reserve runs out of flies, it’s just too bad for those who get stiffed.
- Fly spray: The player who wins this card has a certain amount of charges, depending on the amount of players in the game. Before the amount of flies is revealed, the player may expend a charge and “spray” an opponent’s hand, killing all flies there which are sent to the reserve before the total is calculated.
- Murial, the Amazing Trained Fly: The player who wins this card gets the blue plastic fly, “Murial”. After the total sum of flies is revealed, if the player bid Murial as one of their flies, they may whistle, calling Murial back to their hands, changing the total count. This can only be done twice a game, after which Murial is lost permanently.

After the last card has been bid on, the game ends, and each player calculates their score. All points on cards are totaled (both positive and negative), and one point is added for each remaining fly that players might have. The player with the most points is the winner and receives the title “The Lord of the Flies” (haha).

Some comments about the game...

1.) Components: The little bag of plastic flies is a big attraction, and I must confess it’s the sole reason I bought the game, knowing nothing about it. But still, I must admit that it is indeed much cooler to have a pile of flies than some wooden or cardboard tokens. The cards are square and fairly large, with rather detailed artwork on them (if one has the urge to see close-up artwork of smelly cheese or cow dung, this is the game for you!). Everything fits nicely in a little square box that is just a little larger than the cards, covered with artwork and game information. The box isn’t as sturdy as I’d like - mine is getting demolished, and I’m not playing the game enough for it - but I love the size and portability.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is really snazzy for such a small game. It’s a square full-colored booklet the same size as the cards, and explains the rules quite well. What I found really nice was that there were five pages dedicated to showing an example game, with almost every situation that could happen occurring. This really helped me understand the rules quite clearly and settled some rule questions occasionally. I found that the game is quite simple to teach, but that the strategy isn’t very intuitive.

3.) Bidding and strategy: As I said, the strategy isn’t really intuitive, and I’ve seen many players at a loss of how to bid and guess each turn. Once players find out that they get a point per fly at the end of a game, they end up hoarding all their flies, and the total sum of flies is often zero or one. Some people were so bad at guessing the numbers and had no clue as to how to bid, that they swore off the game altogether. I eventually caught on to a strategy (not sure if it’s good or not), but found that even that strategy could change depending on which cards were revealed first.

4.) Cards: I think that perhaps too few cards were included with the game. In several of the games I’ve played, the winner is very obvious after only a few turns. If one player wins the “+4” and both “+3” cards, they are going to be hard to beat, even if every other player plays the negative cards on them. Besides, the winner gets some flies back oftimes, giving them an advantage in future bids. If you start out poorly, chances are good that you will end even more poorly.

5.) King making: Since all cards won are open, and it’s not too difficult to keep track of how many flies each player has. It’s not too difficult to figure out who is winning during a game. Because of this, players are often put into a kingmaker position when they win a negative card - something many players abhor. I really didn’t enjoy this aspect of the game that much, but read on the internet about a variant that changed all negatives to positives; something I’m sure would increase the enjoyment of the game.

6.) Fun Factor: There were times when a lot of laughter was heard from our games; but it was mostly because of the artwork on the card, sound effects from players, or comments from spectators. It was often that the laughter was coming from game play itself. Very few people told me that they disliked the game, but I noticed that no one asked for me to bring it out again, and I heard more groans during a game, and sighs that “Bill’s winning, what’s the point of continuing play.”

I love the toy factor of the game, and enjoy it’s portable, interesting theme. The mechanic matches the theme well, and the game seems to work fairly well. That being said, however, I don’t think the game offers enough to warrant purchasing it unless you want a cheap little game with some plastic flies. Liar’s Dice is a superior game and has the same kind of bluffing/bidding tactics. If you don’t like Liar’s Dice, you’ll definitely dislike this game, but if you own Liar’s Dice and are searching for a thematic variation that is just as quick as that game, then perhaps you’ll enjoy Pack of Flies. If nothing else, you’ll get some cool little flies that you can play practical jokes with.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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