We were given the opportunity to review Shifting Stones by Gamewright. Shifting Stones is a strategic tile manipulation game that plays quickly and can be played with 1 to 5 players. In Shifting Stones you have a grid of 9 mysterious stone tiles that must be arranged in specific ways in order to score points. The artwork on the box is alluring and we were very excited to give this game a try. Gameplay is extremely simple and high on strategy; a combination that we love.
Upon opening the box, the game has three components: stone tiles, pattern cards and reference cards. The stone tiles are what make up your 3 x 3 grid and the pattern cards tell you how the tiles must be oriented in order to score points. The tiles are lightly textured and made of sturdy cardboard. They are glossy and while they are made of paper, they almost feel like a thin slab of clay. They are of great quality already but this is an item that would be greatly upgraded if it were plastic, clay, or metal. Upgrading this would be of no benefit for gameplay but these little tiles are so pretty that it would be a shame to not have them be made of stone for a more authentic feel.
The stone tiles are arranged randomly to make a 3 x 3 grid. The stone tiles are also double sided and have alternate patterns/colors. The colors of course help distinguish each side from one another but the patterns will also be helpful for the colorblind. Often, games have small icons in the corners or simple patterns in spots that must be looked at closely. Shifting Stones makes it easy for anyone to distinguish colors and patterns without making it feel like an afterthought.
Once the grid is set up, every player will be dealt 4 pattern cards. The pattern cards have stone tiles arranged in various patterns and configurations. There are easy patterns worth 1 point that have 2 stone tiles beside each other. There are moderate patterns worth 2-3 points that have 2-3 tiles arranged in a specific way that may include gaps or a more complex pattern. Finally, there are also difficult patterns worth 5 points that can have 3-4 tiles arranged in a complicated pattern (e.g. 4 separate colors on all 4 corner spots in the grid). In this way you will score points by having specific arrangements on the cards you choose to score. The game ends when a player scores 10 cards so you will have to decide if you would rather quickly score easy cards or work towards the higher point cards but perhaps not score as many.
Now you may be wondering how you arrange cards into these patterns and that is simple. On your turn, you can discard any of your 4 cards in order to swap any 2 adjacent cards OR flip a tile over. This can be done as many times as you would like as long as you still have cards in your hand (for a maximum of 4 moves). However, it should be obvious that it is probably not a good idea to sacrifice all 4 of your cards as this will leave you unable to score any points. Thus the game becomes a delicate balance of deciding what cards are worth keeping and what cards are worth sacrificing. How likely are you to arrange 4 tiles in a specific way? Should you take the easy route and score a ton of easy cards and try to end the game before your opponents score more points? Do you sacrifice cards to try to sabotage other players so that at least THEY don’t score?
Scoring for the game is very simple and is just counting the total of point on each card you scored. The highest points wins the game. One thing to take into account is that the grid and orientation of the cards is not dependent upon seating. This means that if the horse tile is to the left of the fish, this must be the EXACT orientation on the grid to the way they are oriented. So if playing across from the table, the person playing with the “upside down” grid must take this into account. Therefore this game is easier to play if all players can sit on the same side of the table so there won’t be confusion about how tiles are arranged. It is an odd rule but given the gameplay it makes sense that this rule is in play. Otherwise the game would be strangely unbalanced and it may be easier for one player to score higher based on where they are sitting.
Language Barrier Playability: Extremely easy. This game is the kind of strategy game that has absolutely no dependency on language. If someone can explain the rules then absolutely no language is required. The game even comes with rules in both Spanish and English! If you have family or friends that do not speak the same language but you want to play a game together, this is a must have for your collection.
Replayability: Excellent. This game is short, strategic, and can (and will most likely) be played multiple times in one sitting. A lot of strategy and variety of playstyles will prevent this game from getting stale quickly.
Artwork: Excellent. Shifting Stones did a remarkable job with artwork on the game. The tiles look ancient and mystical without heavily relying on a particular art style. So while the stones do not look specifically Mayan, Aztec, Celtic or any other ancient civilization they could easily blend in without looking too out of place in any.
Quality: Excellent. While everything is made out of paper (stone tiles included), they are made very well. The tiles are still strong and sturdy but they are still made of paper so they are subject to wear and tear, getting bent out of shape and can be warped if they accidentally get wet. While it would be wonderful to get plastic tiles or tiles made out of another sturdier material we have to be realistic and realize that this is an excellent game at a great price.
Strategy: Great. This game has multiple strategies that can be used in order to win. You can play the short game and quickly score points and end the game before others have the chance to score. You can also do the opposite and play the long game and score more difficult cards but have less cards overall. You can sabotage opponents or accidentally help them out. One detriment to the strategy is that at the end of the day, there is some dependency on luck that is unavoidable. Overall, luck is not a large gameplay element and any unusable cards can simply be discarded to help move tiles around.
Instruction Manual: Excellent. It does a very good job of outlining the rules, exceptions, and best of all the manual also comes in Spanish.
Organization: Excellent. Small box, two compartments and that’s it. Very neat and tidy. One thing to point out about the packaging is that while it is a small box, the box could technically be smaller. The components inside could fit in a box two-thirds the size but then marketing for the game might suffer. We understand the reasoning behind packaging sizes but we also love our planet and shelf space.