It seems that my favorite abstracts (Yinsh, Pentago, Quinamid) all have something to do with arranging five pieces in a row; and therefore, my opinions of Stoplights (FRED Distribution, 2007 - Sean Brown) were positive upon hearing that it had the same goal. How many times, however, can one do the same thing and yet add another twist to it? Stoplights is a game that uses the very familiar stoplight and a deck of cards to make a simple abstract game for one to three players.
I'm having a hard time categorizing Stoplights, actually. I think it's an enjoyable, simple game, which looks great on the table. It's portable, fun, and offers a decent challenge (although the one player game is merely okay). However, I don't know that it offers enough of a difference, or even enough of a hook to draw me into repeated playing. Perhaps it's because I want my abstracts to be a work of art; perhaps it's because the diagonal lines in this game don't line up perfectly, but something just seems off. I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy the game, but it has a "forgettable" feel.
Each player takes a set of four cards that delineate what color they are (red, yellow, or green – just like a typical stoplight!). The remainder of the cards are shuffled together and placed in a deck. One person goes first, and then play passes clockwise. On a player's turn, they may do one of the following three things:
Place a card on the table, then draw one card.
Place a card on top of any card on the table.
Draw two cards.
Cards are placed in a grid that cannot exceed six cards by seven, and each played card must be adjacent to a card already in play. Each card shows a stoplight, with a combination of green, yellow, red, and white lights - also with many blank lights included. White lights are "wild" and can count as any color once placed on the table. Blank lights and colors of another player simply act as blockers. Players are attempting to get five lights of their color in a row - diagonally or horizontally (vertically is impossible due to the way the lights are on the cards). The first player to this wins!
Players can also play on a smaller or larger gird to make things harder or easier. A player can play the game solo - simply trying to get as many rows of four, five, six, or seven lights in a row, scoring points for each. Players can't cover cards in the solo game.
As I said, this is yet another entry in the crowded field of "connect five in a row" games, and so I was looking for the unique qualities that separated it from the others. Interestingly enough, however, it seems as if the game is more restrictive than it is open-ended. Since a player cannot score five in a row vertically, the game is all about horizontal (rare) and diagonal lineups. Cards can only be placed in two different orientations, since you can flip them upside down, and there is a limit on the size of the grid itself.
I don't object to the theme of the game. The stoplights are actually a good idea, and the red/yellow/green is something that is familiar to people around the world. It actually adds to the enticement of the game. The deck is equally balanced towards all three colors; and although wilds are part of practically every winning combination, it's still neat to see all three colors in play. I do have a problem with how the diagonal lines do not line up quite correctly. While this may not seem like a big deal, it's easy for players to miss four in a row of a color, and I prefer a game in which I can tell the status of a board at a glance.
One aspect of play that I enjoy is the choice a player has on his turn. Placing a card on top of another card is the most powerful move a player can make; but in doing so, a player draws no cards. Almost every game that I've seen played has had the final move completed in this manner. The grid formed by the cards is limited, and the players will rapidly run out of room to place cards. This gives the game a crowded feeling, but it helps keep games quick - a saving grace of the game.
The solo game is merely a puzzle in a sense, as players are attempting to optimally place cards to form the most rows that they can. I found it amusing for a short while, but it's certainly doesn't add much to the game. The game seems to flow smoothly both with two and three players, although I think I might prefer the two player version best; as it's easy to watch another player "give" the game up through a foolish move. Most abstract games are best with two players or teams, and the same might hold true here.
A neat theme, a very small package, and a tried-and-true means of winning will give Stoplights a level of attractiveness to some. I, however, found it merely an okay distraction - something I would play if asked but nothing I myself would request.
"Real men play board games"