Shifting Stones Board Game Review
WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 1-5
You’ll like this if you like: Cascadia, Azul, Coatl
Published by: Gamewright
Designed by: J. Evan Raitt
There are some games that pass you by because they have a generic name, or unappealing cover. We can't all play every game (as much as I try!) so this is fine. We have to filter out some games, some how! But there are a few games that go unnoticed for these reasons when they deserve so much more. At risk of spoilers, (not that you haven't already looked at the score out of ten) Shifting Stones is one of these games. It looks somewhat generic, but offers a brilliant game experience. Let's get it to the table and see how it plays.
Setting up Shifting Stones can be done in under a minute. Simply lay out the nine tiles in a random order in a three-by-three grid like the below. They are all double sided so it doesn't matter which way they lie. Then shuffle the cards and deal each player four cards and give each player a reference guide card. The darker card goes to the starting player. You are now ready to begin.
How it Plays
Learning and teaching the game is just as simple. Players will now take it in turns to play as many cards from their hand as they wish. Cards can be use for one of three things. You can either discard a card to flip two adjacent tiles position with each other, or to flip over a tile to show the reverse side. Or you can meet one of the cards placement criteria to score points. Each card has a number showing how many points the mission is worth, and a few tiles laid out showing what you need to match on the grid to achieve this mission. You can play as many cards as you like. All four, or none if you prefer. If you choose none, you can draw two extra cards to have six available to you on your next turn. You cannot take this option twice in a row. After playing cards, draw back up to four cards and then play moves to the next player.
In a two player game, when one player completes their tenth mission the game ends on that round. For a three player game it's nine. Eight missions for a four player and seven for a five player. Players will total their points from completed missions, with the player who completed the most missions with a value of one being given a bonus of three points. The player with the most points wins.
The missions vary from having certain coloured tiles in a specific orientation and position on the grid. Sometimes next to other tiles. Other times in certain positions next to any other tile. When a gray tile is shown, this means this can be any tile.
Remember, any card can be used to move tiles, or flip them over. So if there is a mission that looks too tricky based on the current configuration of the board, use it to complete other missions instead. The trick of the game is decided which cards to use as missions, and which to use to manipulate the board.
There is a solo variant where you sort out 16 cards made up of eight one pint card, four two pointers, three lots of three pointers, and one five point card. On your turn, if you fail to complete a card you gain one strike. The game ends if you collect four strikes. You win if you can score all 16 cards. it works very well and only takes ten minutes in total.
Is it Fun
Shifting Stones is so simple to set-up, learn and play, and looks fairly generic, but this game is fantastic. It is so satisfying to play. Constantly completing little missions throughout games is a feature I always enjoy. You are regularly rewarded throughout the game and feel good for the entirety of the game. Win or loose.
The game is a race game. First to required completed missions ends the game. But this won't mean you will win if you get there first, or loose if you don't have the required missions. As each mission is worth a different amount of points, you could win the game with less missions if you chose harder cards with a higher point value. There are a lot of ways to try and win this game.
But don't forget the single point missions reward the player with a bonus of three additional points for the person who completes the most of them. And as the single point mission are the easiest and quickest to complete, you could race through these a lot quicker. If you notice one player is doing this, I have found that often other players will follow suit to avoid not falling too far behind. And if they don't it will be tricky to beat them. But ideally, you want a balance of high and low scoring cards to be most effective.
If you want to try and complete some more complicated missions for the higher rewards you need to bear in mind that the board will change significantly between the end of one turn and the start of another. Other players will be moving and flipping tiles too, and changing the layout to suit them. Not just you. You cannot make changes and expect them to still be there on your next turn. However, this can of course work in your favour if you get lucky. You will always have four potential missions in your hand, and in most games, I have found there is at least one occasion when the board develops into a mission I was not planning on going for from the movement of other players. To do well in this game I think you need to adapt and react to the board you are presented and complete the missions best suited to the board in front of you.
Each tile is double sided, and it can take a few games to get your head round the configuration of each one. Thankfully the game comes with these handy reference guides showing you what is on either side of each tile. You will be referring to this a lot in your first few games! But it is no chore, and very easy to read. They also show the entirety of the rules on the other side!
I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a new abstract strategy game that can be played quickly, but delivers a high sense of satisfaction. This is a perfect filler game in that it can be played in a short space of time, set-up and taught quickly, but still brings a feeling that you have played a proper game. It will test you mind. And leave you feeling like you have enjoyed the process of battling against your friends. All in under 20 minutes. It is hard to describe how satisfying it is to play this game because there is so little to it. Which is a terrible thing to say in a review! But it certainly feels like Shifting Stones brings a lot to the table, without any complicated rules or components. Simple beauty. Simple efficiency. A beautiful puzzle to try and solve, game after game.