29th Sep2021

‘On The Rocks’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

Back in 2015, a game called Potion Explosion was released. Despite a relatively average rating on BoardGameGeek (just over 7) Potion Explosion has steadily crept its way into the top 100 family games. Honestly, I’ll be damned if I know why, because Potion Explosion is almost impossible to find – it is reprinted very infrequently, and when it is, about sixteen copies are made despite massive pent-up demand. Enter stage left; On The Rocks from Pentree Games. Whilst by no means exactly the same, On The Rocks shares many of the same mechanisms as Potion Explosion, it plays extremely well and guess what? You can have it right now!

On The Rocks offers a simple premise – two to four players each take a player board, choose three or four drinks cards for the first round and then try to clear those drinks, then two more rounds of three to four cards. The first player to finish their third round of drinks will take a bonus chip (value determined by player count) and trigger the end game, at which point everyone else has one more turn to finish (or indeed, not to.) Fulfilling drinks is achieved (and this is where the reference to Potion Explosion comes in) by drafting marbles and placing them in the recessed glasses on your player board.

There are a small number of things that introduce complexity, but what makes On The Rocks so much fun is that it has a kind of “common sense” simplicity that I honestly just love. Drinks cards come in four kinds – which match the glasses on your player board in colour and design – and the marbles you use to draft are generally very clearly identifiable, so you know at a glance what you need to get. That’s good, because on each turn, one of the first things you’ll do is roll two dice – beautifully disguised as ice cubes – and then pull that many marbles from a blind bag. You’ll then place those marbles one by one into four or five bowls. The trick here being that you’ll then pick one bowl and take all marbles in it – so you want to load the bowls accordingly, whilst not taking all day about it.

Talking of complexities, let’s discuss Tip and Spill cards. Firstly, you’ll receive a Tip card for completing any drink. Tip cards come in three flavours – Keep, Share or Pass. Any Tip card can be played for its ability, with Keep cards benefitting you, Share cards benefitting you and one (or more) other players based on your choice, or Pass cards which become “Complaints” that another player has to deal with. Any Tip card can also be kept, and at the end of the game it will be worth points instead – so a key decision across the approximately ten Tip cards you’ll receive over the game is whether you’ll use their ability or keep them for points.

Spill cards and Tip cards passed on as complaints do similar things – both of which are bad. Let’s deal with complaints first, as they must actually be addressed as the first step of a players turn, if possible. In general, these cards will almost always force a player to discard something, or force a negative effect on them – one such example being that the player receiving the complaint will have to draw a Spill card. Aside from this, the other way that a player may receive a Spill card is by drawing a black marble – which they may be tempted to do if a bowl has a lot of other marbles that they want. Spill cards cause an immediate, erm, spill, basically. This usually means that all marbles of a certain colour are discarded from a single drink.

Again, Tip cards, whether they are complaints or otherwise, and Spill cards, all just make thematic sense in the context of the game. The player boards are fantastic, the marbles look and feel great. The cards are all real-world drinks that you may or may not have heard of, and the whole game is set up, taught, played and done with in less than an hour. Whilst the theme is centred around cocktail mixing, it is not inherently adult and I honestly think children of around eight upwards or adults of any skill level can play and be competitive right from their first game.

On The Rocks is a huge surprise. It’s a very tidy package in every respect – from the quality of the components, to the tight, thematic gameplay and the understated but clever mechanics. On The Rocks almost feels like a less is more game – even though it is very well produced. It has the right number of cards, the right number of little additional rules and features, and a central set of mechanics that is just nice and easy-going. I like On The Rocks a lot; so much, in fact, that I won’t be trawling Facebook groups to find a used copy of Potion Explosion at a ridiculous premium any longer. High praise indeed.

**** 4/5

On The Rocks is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator


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