08th Dec2022

‘Break the Cube’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

In our house, there is one core gamer (me), a casual gamer (my wife) and two aspiring gamers (the eldest two kids) – and that’s before we consider visits from friends and family. With this in mind, we have to maintain an eclectic collection of board games, and space is at a constant premium. Whilst I have a personal aspiration to own all the latest big box, medium to heavyweight euro and area control games, it’s often much easier to accommodate simpler, smaller box games which play quickly and are easy to teach. This is where games like Iello’s Break the Cube come to the fore – because it is fast, fun, and it takes up next to no shelf-space at all.

Break the Cube seems an implausible concept when you first look at it. In the box there two place mats for each of up to four players, and then there is a bag of wooden pieces in several different colours. When I imagined how this might work in a game, I just couldn’t see how there would be any structure – but I was most definitely mistaken. Break the Cube also provides a screen for each player, and what they will do is place one mat in front of the screen one behind it. Then, everyone takes three wooden pieces of different shapes and colours, and then three more that are exactly the same – they pass this second set to the player on their right.

Now, everyone places their original three pieces of wood on the mat behind their screen, and the three that were passed to them on the mat in front of their screen. A few minutes will pass as the players now secretly arrange the pieces behind their screen into a shape following some basic rules – the shape must not be larger than three by three spaces in any direction (including vertically) and no piece may stand in such a way that it doesn’t have a block beneath it. In two player games, the players may choose to use more than three blocks each to create a longer, slightly more complex game.

With their structures complete, players then take turns to reconstruct the same shape (in front of their mat) as the player to their left. They will do this by asking one of three specific questions, which link to the letters and numbers on the place mats that everyone has. The first question is “what can you see in space number 6?” At this point, the player being asked looks directly downwards at their secret construct and declares the colour of the piece in that numbered space (if there is one.) It’s important to bear in mind that this is only a view of the very top space (and constructs may be up to three spaces high) so any coloured pieces below will not be revealed.

The second question must be answered by all players, including the one doing the asking. In this case, that player will say “what can you see from the perspective of A?” When this question is asked, everyone will look at their mat and find the letter being used, then they will declare what they can see from bottom to top… So, if they had a blue cube, then an orange one, then nothing, that’s what they would reveal… Critically, again, they would not reveal which row these blocks were in from that perspective – so in this example the blue cube might be closer than the orange one, but the only way those trying to break the cube would work that out is if they later asked the first question and were given a top down perspective to help them figure it out.

The final question is simply “have I recreated your cube perfectly in front of my board?” If the answer to this question is ever yes, then of course, that player wins and the game ends. Although whether we are supposed to or not, we always let everyone have an equal number of turns to see if anyone else can get their shape right and tie the game. Variant options (in addition to the two player long game I’ve already mentioned) include allowing players to use a notes sheet that takes away the memory aspect of the game, and there are also rules for handicapping players by making them recreate a bigger shape whilst only using the standard three by three themselves.

I said right at the beginning of this review that Break the Cube was the kind of game we like because it is quick, simple and small, which is all true; but this is definitely not a game for young kids to play. My eight-year-old is just about there with it now, but her younger system simply can’t get her head around the spatial aspects of the game, and the memory aspect is also a problem (hence we know the notepad variant well.) My wife, however, who loves puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords really seems to enjoy Break the Cube. This is partly because of the kids (the two I’ve mentioned and their younger sister) and so limited time is a factor, but it’s also because Break the Cube is a real brain teaser that feels like a proper puzzle to solve.

If you like a fairly classic puzzle reimagined as a three-dimensional, quite tactile and often nerve-wracking race to the finish, then Break the Cube might well be for you. There’s no real luck as such, but it can sometimes feel like one player gets off to a “good start” with their questions whilst others don’t, but that certainly balances itself out over several games. At ten minutes a round with two players and maybe fifteen to twenty with three or four players, it’s always possible to jump into another game and even the score.

Break the Cube looks good and never fails to draw attention when used as a filler before your bigger game, so it fills several roles for me as well as spanning across a broad age and experience range, and I love that it takes up so little space. That said, it is relatively limited in scope and there’s no depth beyond what I’ve described here – it knows what it is and what it does well, and as long as your game group is able to capitalise on those things, you’ll have a great time with this one.

*** 3/5

A copy of Break the Cube was supplied by CoiledSpring Games for review.

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