I’m starting this review with a confession. I have no idea how the name of this game is pronounced. Kew-bee-toes? Cub-bit-oss? I have no idea, but I prefer Kew-bee-toes, so make sure that’s drummed into your mind’s ear as you read. Cubitos is a racing game from John D. Clair (Dead Reckoning, Mystic Vale, Space Base) and Alderac, which mixes frenetic jockeying for position with bag-building. Except you don’t have a bag, so I guess it’s pool-building. Whatever you want to call it, you’re going to be buying and collecting dice – lots and lots of dice.
Hit and miss
Cubitos makes heavy use of one of my favourite things in a board game: push-your-luck. I still don’t know why I like it so much, especially when I enjoy heavy Euro games which eschew luck in favour of planning. To move around the track in Cubitos, you throw handfuls of dice. Each die has a mixture of faces with something good on (a hit), and blanks (misses). Any hits you roll are moved to the Active Zone of your area, and then you choose whether to keep rolling with the remainder of your dice, or pass, and get ready to run.
So you and your friends are throwing handfuls of these little dice, banking the good stuff, and then deciding whether to keep going or not. If you roll no hits, you bust! It lends itself to simultaneous rolling, so there’s precious little downtime, but there’s one aspect of the way Cubitos handles it that I really like. There’s nothing in the rules to say you can’t just sit and watch other people rolling, and wait to see if they pass or bust. If you notice someone doing this, you can also stop and wait. In fact, the whole table can, and then it comes down to who has the most available dice, and they must roll first.
I love how it tickles that part of our brains that love to take a chance, to have a little gamble. Whether you find yourself praying to the dice gods, giving your dice a lucky blow, or telling fate that baby needs a new dice tray, I can’t get enough of watching my friends agonise over deciding on one more roll or not. If it sounds like The Quacks of Quedlinberg so far, you’re on the right track. In the same way Quacks has its rat tails catch-up mechanism, Cubitos has a Fan track to advance along, should you bust. It has some great bonuses along it, so it’s never too disheartening if Lady Luck swipes left on you.
Playing the markets
Cubitos also shows its ‘separated at birth’ similarities to Quacks when it comes to improving your pool. In every game, you’ll be buying from the same selection of brightly-coloured dice, but what each of them does is dependent on outside forces. If you’re familiar with Quacks, you’ll remember that each colour’s abilities were decided by which of the spellbooks you use. Cubitos does something similar and gives each of its eight dice stores a choice of seven different ability cards. I’m no Carol Vorderman, but even I know that that adds up to a buttload of different combinations. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
I wouldn’t recommend just drawing cards randomly, however, as you need to strike a balance between cheap and expensive dice, and some just don’t really work with others. It’s a bit like making a sandwich; sure, you could try jam, raw onions and tuna, but there’s no guaranteeing it’ll work. Stick to the recommended setups in the rulebook for your first few games, and enjoy tasty dice sarnies.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed about Cubitos so far is that there don’t seem to be any obviously-dominant strategies. In Dominion, the Big Money tactic was famously overpowered for a long time, and it still works even now. Cubitos seems more balanced. The same is true of the different tracks that come in the box. They offer plenty of variety, and just like The Quest for El Dorado which I recently reviewed, you’ll find yourself torn between the shortest route, and the longer, bonus-filled outside lines. I love that no two games ever feel the same. It really does help the game feel fresh for a long time.
The flimsy cardboard elephant in the room
Cubitos comes with a really clever storage solution. Each of the different sets of dice has a storage box included, each of which doubles as a holder/marketplace during the game. Unfortunately, there are two big issues with boxes, both of which wind me up.
Firstly you have to fold and assemble the boxes yourself. This wouldn’t be such a bugbear for me, if it weren’t for the fact that they’ve got some irritating folds. Folds to make some sides recessed – for example. It means you can’t really just punch and sort the game as quickly as you’d want. I’m all for publishers including storage and organisation solutions in their games, even moreso when they forgo plastic in favour of card, so kudos to AEG for that. Just make them simpler, or pre-assembled. It’s really easy to not get straight, crisp folds on your boxes, and they end up looking a bit wonky.
The second gripe I have is using the boxes as the marketplaces, as suggested in the rulebook. It’s a great idea, but the boxes are so top-heavy when using the recesses as trays, that it all feels a bit flimsy. It can be unnecessarily awkward to take dice from the trays when they’re full, especially when you’ve got big, fat sausage fingers like mine.
It’s probably worth noting that I wouldn’t normally complain about a game’s components unless I was really upset about them, and my issue with the boxes doesn’t affect the gameplay at all. The issue is that Cubitos is such a physical, tangible game. Playing with the little dice, rolling them, clacking them together – it’s all a part of the experience. When you regularly have to interact with something which subconsciously detracts from that experience, however little, it’s the sort of thing I have to bring up.
Look, I know I spend a whole section grumbling about the boxes. Unfortunately, as a dad in his mid-forties, it’s just something I have to do. I’m contractually obligated to be a bit grumpy. Don’t let that make you think Cubitos is anything other than mad fun, because that’s exactly what it is. I love pushing luck in games, I love bag/deck/pool building, and I love social racing games. Cubitos delivers in all three areas, in spades. It’s a brilliant game, and if you like The Quacks of Quedlinburg, you’ll like this too.
The little dice are unbearably cute and tactile. You might be wondering why I’ve mentioned their smaller size a few times in this review, and it’s because size matters – despite what you might have been told. In a game where you’re going to roll at least nine dice (nine!) at the start of your turn, if they were regular-sized dice, you’d need hands like Shaq to hold them all. Not to mention the table space you’d need with four of you all doing it at the same time.
You can play with anything from two to four players, but as with most other racing games, the more the merrier. If you asked me to play a two-player game, I would, but I’d be eyeing your collection to see what else we could play. With four though, I’d bite your hand off. It’s silly, colourful fun, full of groans and cheers, and just like he did with Space Base, John D Clair has come up with a winner. Ignore my curmudgeonly cardboard grumbles, and find out why it was so hard to get hold of for most of last year.
Review copy kindly provided by Alderac Entertainment Group. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Cubitos is available from our sponsor – Kienda. Sign-up using this link to get 5% off your first order over £60.
Designer: John D. Clair
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Art: Jacqui Davis, Philip Glofcheskie, Ryan Iler
Playing time: 30-60 mins