Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?
I’m no stranger to irony. I’m not talking about the Alanis Morrisette – it’s not ironic, it’s just annoying, but have you just utterly blown my mind by making a song ironic for its lack of irony kind of irony. I’m talking full on death of Patches O’Hoolihan in Dodgeball kind of irony.
So, much to my chagrin, shortly after Problem Picnic arrived at my house, I came down to the living room one morning to find my living room crawling with a line of ants as they has found their way through the smallest hole in my front door and were raiding a half eaten apple that one of my delightful children left somewhere well hidden. I figured that considering problem picnic is about ants trying to steal as much food as possible, the only more ironic thing they could have done, is to try and steal the problem picnic game box instead.
Despite the fact that I obviously wasn’t expecting an ant invasion within the first couple of days of owning problem picnic, I still went ahead and had a go at the game. Partly for your reading pleasure, but mostly because I thought that it looked pretty cool.
Is my picnic a problem?
Problem picnic is a dexterity game. It plays up to four, and the aim is to score more victory points than your fellow players after five rounds, and this can be done in several ways that I will explain soon. When you begin the game, each player is given an anthill with a specific colour and 6 dice in a matching colour. All of the dice have different amounts of ants on them and are used to settle petty squabbles which arise from both dexterity games, and family games. What it doesn’t solve though, is cheating little horrors, but that’s another story.
You are given a pile of food cards and these are arranged in the middle of your play space in a pattern which is distinguished by the amount of players you have. Just so you know, it was a conscious decision not to use the word table, as whilst you can play on the table, the more room you are able to put between you and your play area, the better.
In a nutshell, the aim of the main game play in Problem Picnic is to roll one of your dice and have it land on a piece of food in the play space. Whoever has the most ants on a piece of food wins that food and gets to bring it back to the ant hill and can place it for end game scoring. There are 3 different types of ant dice to help you achieve this. There are 3 normal size D6’s with 2-4 ants on it, there are 2 mini D6’s with 1-3 ants on it and a soldier die which is shaped like a D20 with 1 or 2 ants on it. Whilst the D6’s are mainly used to score you some food (like a half eaten apple…) the soldier is mostly used to try and shove your opponents from the food if they’re on it.
The ants which steal the food from the problem picnic are really tired once they have done their pilfering and need to go to the watering hole for some rest and relaxation after their hard days work and so are unavailable until the next round. Any dice which completely missed the cards (in my case this was many) are returned to your ant hill for another days larceny.
During setup, you place mystery amount tokens on to what will score you points at the end of the 5th round. This will be whoever has the most of each type of food (watermelon, sandwich and cookies) and whoever has the most of each colour of plate. However, if this was all there was to problem picnic, it would be a little sucky, and that’s being nice. Whilst I suppose you could do that, also as part of setup you need to add 3 other cards which give you a strategy to aim for. These can be things like “Have the biggest colony”, which is pretty simple, but others can be “most of one food in a connected group” or “most lines with exactly one of each colour” which presents a little more of a challenge, and also gives you a bit of mental gymnastics for your trouble, and these also have different amounts of points to score you at the end of the game.
The problem picnic round cards which are supplied also act as a bit of an equaliser if one of the players is struggling, as well as acting as a timer for the game. The player with the least amount of food gets the round card at the end and it will have a specific bonus on it for use whenever the player feels like it. For these, you’re supplied some cool tokens in the shape of a foot, a biohazard logo or what looks like a lolly stick and these give you helpful bonuses to give you an advantage when you most need it meaning that you can reach a card even if your dice doesn’t land on it, or getting rid of another couple of dice to aid you.
Problem picnic, is it an Ant-i Climax?
That is a quick overview of how to play problem picnic, but as always, the golden question is, is it any good?
I’m drawn towards family games anyway, as I love being able to play games with my little ones and problem picnic is a fantastic addition to the lineup of child friendly games that I have. The premise is so simple… roll some dice and try and land them on a card. But, there’s actually a deep level of strategy about how you keep your cards in your ant hill and which cards you aim for to net you the most amount of points at the end of the game. OK, you could just throw them all together however you like, but it won’t benefit you in the long run. It can also teach kids about strategy without them really thinking about it.
Admittedly though, I think my kids are just better at lobbing dice than me. I won most of the games that I played through smart choices in food placement and things like that, but both of my kids are fantastic food hoarders. My anthill looks pretty barren compared to theirs. But, that’s another plus for problem picnic. I found myself not really caring about the scoring, but living in the moment and seeing the joy of my kids when they either land one of their dice onto a card, or more likely smash one of mine off of it. Pure, unadulterated joy. It’s definitely a good thing that I’m not too much of a sore loser.
Obviously though, problem picnic is not going to win any trophies for depth of gameplay or being mentally taxing; it’s just not that kind of game. It’s aimed to be light to hit the crowd that it’s aimed at; families and children.
And then… (no and then)
For once, I don’t have a great deal negative to say about a game. Problem picnic ticks all of the right boxes for what I picked it up for; it’s something that a person of any age can learn in 5 minutes, and you’ll be off ant-flinging in no time. It’s light, it’s silly and it’s a whole load of fun for all.
Because of this, I have to give Problem Picnic a cookie stealing, watermelon munching, dice chucking 8 out of 10. If you’re looking for something deep and meaningful then this really isn’t it, but if you’re looking for 15 minutes of fun with the kids then I’d wholeheartedly recommend picking yourself up a copy.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.