This review was originally posted on the website of the Perfect Information podcast. It has been reposted here for archival purposes.
Ahh, cookies. Everybody loves cookies. It’s an immutable law of physics: people love cookies. Soft or crumbly. Chocolate or nut. More or less. But have you ever really thought about the care and skill that goes into creating such a cubic delight of pastries? The artisanal craft that lays the groundwork for you to ravish that seductively arranged box of cookies. A cookie box so to speak.
What trade secrets go into its selection? What obscure recipe has brought forth the many delights that this pack of well cooked dough evokes? Who…
Ah, sod it. It’s just a game. Arrange your tokens as dictated by a card, before the other players do. Bam! You’re sorted.
It also looks cute. The tiles you arrange have icons on both sides, although the two sides never match. So finding the right “waffle”-icon hiding behind the “blueberry”-icon that you already need elsewhere, leads you down the rabbit hole of hectically flipping over tiles, arranging them, cursing, re-arranging them, cursing some more and letting some panicked expletives fly across the room as somebody else rings the bell, before you get to it. Yes, the game comes with a bell. It’s bright, and shiny. And loud.
If you are now wondering whether you and your friends might enjoy such a game… you have to ask yourself a different question first: how seriously can you take this game? How eager are you to beat your friends in a competitive tile-arranging game? Without spaceships? Without scary art of a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Without some rennaissance-type man blandly staring at you from the game’s cover?
In other words how seriously can you take a game that is bright, happy and cute? A game that drapes itself in a foppishly droll and trivial theme, and delivers a challenge that is seemingly without much bite or depth?
A lot of games try to channel the competitive energy that gamers harbour within them through take-that mechanisms, conflict rules in which player forces clash into one another with heavy losses on either side, or even through the refined passive-aggressiveness that is blocking. So much so, that occasionally I end up feeling worn out and tired of fighting against my friends over and over again, when we sit down to play. The rules take the place of stick-and-carrot, pushing us into a headspace that allows us to indulge our inner caveman. There’s nothing wrong with that. A little escapism goes a long way towards clearing your head. Still, some designs are a little more obnoxious and in-your-face about it than others. Like a hopped-up, neglected 8-year-old smashing his action figures together over and over again in the hopes of one of them breaking.
Or rather, Cookie Box. There’s none of that here. No rules explicitly made to mess with your opponents. No component scarcity for the sole purpose of creating conflict. This game’s competition works the same way that multiplayer solitaire games allegedly work: by tapping your skill at completing a task before anybody else does. No interruptions. No blatant randomizers. No kingmaking. If that is what you want: Cookie Box delivers.
Admittedly, you won’t have to calculate the exchange rate of wheat to stone or plot the actions you will have to take three turns from now, or even when to place that special tile to give you extra actions. Instead you flip tokens. And move them around.
If you and your group enjoys small and silly competition for its own sake, you might get a kick out of this game. Much like how we enjoyed grown men panicking and despairing at arranging brightly coloured tokens before somebody rung the bell. Its simplicity only gives players’ room to let their gamer id run wild.
Cookie Box might conceivably claim its place on the gamer party pantheon. Among such highlights as Looping Louie or Happy Salmon: a bane to the po-faced, a talisman to the joyful!