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Game Review: ‘Matchstix’

Haywire Group revives an ancient classic of puzzle-solving play with Matchstix. Just as in times of old, the game is a simple setup with six red sticks that players must move into a proper geometric pattern. Forty-eight puzzle cards show all possible iterations, but it is up to the cleverness of the players to create them through manipulation of the sticks. Rather than being a single puzzle to solve, Matchstix pits players against one another in matching as many of their cards as possible to the sticks on the table. The game begins with each player given four pattern cards…

Review Overview

90/100

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Haywire Group revives an ancient classic of puzzle-solving play with Matchstix. Just as in times of old, the game is a simple setup with six red sticks that players must move into a proper geometric pattern. Forty-eight puzzle cards show all possible iterations, but it is up to the cleverness of the players to create them through manipulation of the sticks.

matchstixRather than being a single puzzle to solve, Matchstix pits players against one another in matching as many of their cards as possible to the sticks on the table. The game begins with each player given four pattern cards that show four, five, or six cards in particular formations. Each player takes a turn consisting of two actions: add a stick, remove a stick, move a stick from one place to another, or pivot a stick ninety degrees. As soon as a pattern matches a card, a player may place it on his or her score pile, even if it is not his or her turn.

The game continues until the draw pile of pattern cards runs out. Players finish up their turns and then count their score piles with larger patterns being worth more points and the player with the most points winning. With precisely two actions per turn, players must be very careful in determining what action is most beneficial. Paying close attention is also key to the game as others might make a pattern and allow someone to play a free card. In games with a few players, reasoning skills can determine what kinds of patterns other players are going for. In games with a lot of players, it is practically chaos, and players might score more when it is not their turn than when it is.

Unlike just about every other tabletop game out there, Matchstix has a single-player mode. Here the game is completely different, leaving behind the focus on competition and attempting to dupe players into making moves for others’ benefit. Instead, Matchstix becomes a game all about precision, moving the pieces as minimally as possible to maximize points. In addition to the draw and score piles, the player now has a “payment” pile where cards must be discarded to move or remove a stick. Players work their way through the deck, organizing their hands and keeping the sticks as efficient as possible. When the draw deck runs out, the player subtracts the payment pile from the score pile and hopefully ends up with a new record score.

Matchstix is a puzzle game for one to six players aged eight and up. It is a great test of spatial reasoning and a lot of fun for folks who enjoy puzzle-solving. Games are typically quick, only a few minutes depending upon how long people like to spend thinking over their cards and moves. Matchstix may be kept in a bag to play during downtime to keep the brain sharp, or players could use it between turns in a larger, less high-paced game on game-night.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.