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Pyramid Game Review: Treehouse

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Looney Pyramids continues to expand the universe of gaming with logic, luck, and plastic. Most of us would have imaged only a few uses for sets of three pyramids in increasing size like nesting dolls, but there seems no end to Andrew Looney’s creativity. In one of many games, Treehouse, which won the Origins best board game prize in 2006, players race to make their pieces match the center “House,” laid out with the big pyramid on its side, the middle pyramid the side opposite, and the small pyramid standing in the middle (see picture).

Players begin with their pyramids stacked in the “Tree” formation, looking not unlike a pine. Using a special die, each player takes a turn by rolling to determine what action they are able to do: Tip, Aim, Hop, Dig, Swap, or Wild. Aim and Swap allows the player to reorient any piece while Tip and Hop may only be played on standing pieces, and Dig is only for pieces already on their side. The Wild means the player can perform any action on his or her own Tree or alter the House. Confused yet? To make things clearer, Looney has an online video with a demonstration game.

Upon seeing the instructions sheet full of diagrams, some players might get the “deer-in-headlights” look, but the learning curve, while steep, is easily overcome. All of the moves have logic behind them, and the flurry of options need only be dealt with one at a time as the die is rolled. During playtesting, the game proved reminiscent of past Christmases playing Canasta late into the night. Rules-heavy card games like Canasta, Bridge, etc, are intimidating, but players who learn the rules become addicted. The layers of strategy make for a great mental workout, and the introduction of the die gives a taste as random as drawing a card.

Designed for two to four players, ages 14 and up, Treehouse is a game that could take five to 10 minutes as it says on the tag, or it could be half an hour of delicate plotting, hoping for just the right roll and being set back with a Swap when you really needed an Aim. Players must play out their roll unless impossible, in which they also gain the opportunity to change the House, which could frustrate all the carefully laid plans of every other player.

Treehouse is packaged along with the mat and rules for Pharaoh, a game in which players attempt to arrange their pieces in the center. To quote the rules page, “the struggle to control the middle square has a ‘King of the Hill’ feeling to it, so we named it after the “King of the Pyramids”… i.e. the Pharaoh.” Players role a standard d6, coming up with numbers that give them movement points. Moving the big pyramid requires three points; the middle, two; and the little, one. Larger and equal pieces can attack opposing players’ pieces, bouncing them off the board and requiring movement points to return them. While some might be tempted to charge right ahead, others of us learned from Hunger Games that holding back has its advantages. Let the enemy go ahead, then swoop in and kill. Of course, it is a race to the middle, so waiting might just hand the victory to the quick. There is no one right answer, making it potent ground for strategy, second-guessing, and hoping for the right roll.

Both games are mixes of skill and luck. Logic is key, but social skills can become important as more players means room for ganging up on others. Even with all the skill in the world, the game comes down to luck since a roll of the die determines the game. Pyramids are great stocking-stuffers for those who enjoy deep thinking as well as the thrill of chance.


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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.