Guilty Pleasure: Shut the Box

6 May

Shut the Box is one of those classic games that most of us played as a kid, and then stopped playing once we discovered better games / girls /boys/ the internet, whatever.  As I was digging through my board game collection recently, I noticed that I had several games that actually use very similar game play elements.

What is Shut the Box?

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Shut the Box is a very simple game.  You have 2 dice, and the numbers 1-9, usually with some sort of way to obscure the number once it has been eliminated (there are variants with 1-10 and 1-12, but I prefer the original 1-9).  The two dice are rolled, and then 1 or 2 numbers that add up to the total rolled must be eliminated from the board.  For example, if I roll an 8… I can eliminate the 8, or 3-5, or 6-2 etc.  At any time, if I roll a number that can not fully be removed from the board, the game is over and my score is the total of all numbers not eliminated.

A typical solo game only takes 3-4 minutes.  There are a myriad of variants that can be played by multiple players.  Most of the differences involve scoring methods.  My favorite scoring variant for multiple players is “Digital” where your score is exactly what you left uncovered.  So, if you left the 3-5-6…your score is 356.  Low score wins.  I once was playing Digital and scored 45,689 points in one round.  That was not a pretty game.

Shut the Box is not a terribly strategic game, but I find it a pleasant diversion.  It’s a great coffee table style game.   It’s very possible to get a nice looking set for cheap, as well.  My copy is pictured above, and only cost me $14 locally.  Really nice copies can be found for under $30 without much trouble online.

Shut the Box on tv?

Indeed, Shut the Box was the basis for a game show.  While I am too young to remember the Alex Trebek version, I was a big fan of the Wink Martindale hosted version of High Rollers.  The main part of the game included answering trivia questions, in order to get a chance to roll dice in order to win prizes.  the bonus round (as you’ll see in the pictures below) was purely a game of Shut the Box, with big numbers.

In looking for this image, I just learned that there were a couple home versions of High Rollers.  I need to find these now!

Anyway, on to a couple other games in my collection that take Shut the Box into slightly different directions.

Double Shutter

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Double Shutter by Blue Orange games is the classic game with the twist that there is a second set of numbers you have to eliminate.  This definitely adds an extra level to the decision making process.  Scoring is a bit different as well, as you add up points for each number you knock down, double for numbers in the back row.  High score after three rounds wins.  I find this to be a very nice twist to the Shut the Box formula.  Also: the game comes in a tin, and I’m a sucker for tins.

Fortunately for all of us, Double Shutter is available online for free play at http://www.blueorangegames.com/doubleshutter/

Take Out Dice Game

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Take Out is Shut the Box in dice form.  At the beginning of a round, a player rolls all the orange dice.  Any blanks are wild numbers, with the caveat that they need to be removed along side a die with a number on it.  The numbered dice have various combinations from 2-12.  I have not yet taken the time to see if it is an even distribution, or if there is a curve.  It feels like it might be an even distribution, which makes Take Out a very difficult Shut the Box variant.  At the end of the round, a player scores face value points for any dice not removed, blanks are worth 20 points, AND you get penalty points equal to your failed roll as well.  First to 150 points loses.  Take Out is fairly brutal because it’s fully possible to have to roll 12 upwards of 3-4 times in a maximum of 10 tries.  In my experience, a typical game lasts about 3 rounds.  So it is a nice, quick game… I just find it more frustrating than fun.

Two Bridges

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Two Bridges, at first blush, looks like a nice Shut the Box set, but once you get a little closer, you realize it’s Shut the Box in reverse.  Two players take turns, trying to roll the dice combinations shown on the wooden blocks.  If you are successful, you can stand up one of your blocks.  If you roll a 7, you get to choose which block to raise.  The goal of the game is to raise all the blocks in your bridge, and then roll doubles.  Once you do that, you may roll one of your coins, ceremoniously down the trough built into the blocks, and into your metal cup.  First to get all four coins into their cup wins.

Of course, there is a bit of “take that” built into the game.  If you roll doubles before it is time to roll a coin, you may choose to knock down the corresponding numbered block on your opponent’s bridge.  This is fun the first couple times it happens, but it can get grating if the game starts to drag.  I find the game as written to be just a bit too slow and mannered.  I like to play this game in turbo mode.  Simultaneous turns makes it much faster, and more fun.

Field General

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That’s right, a Shut the Box war game of sorts.  There are a couple different ways to play written into the rules.  The main difference has to do with how the battle cards are handled.  In Field General, players are trying to take over strategic points on a battlefield by rolling dice.  A player rolls their two dice, and takes over that numbered spot on the table.  If you happen to roll an already occupied space, your troop ends up on the front line, with a battle card (in the basic game – cards must be played on the next turn or discarded)…unless you roll doubles and your opponent is standing on that space.  In that case, you capture your opponent.

Once all 10 spaces on the board are captured, both players add up the totals of their spaces captured.  High score captures ALL of the opponent’s troops on the board.   The game continues until one player doesn’t have enough troops to go on.

While the game is pretty much a dicey luck-fest, it is pretty enjoyable.  The thing most unusual about this game might be how you can buy it.  If you go to their site: it’s $24.95, and I’ll say right now, it’s worth it.  The board is thick, double sided, and well drawn.  The troops are very nice what feels like rubberized plastic.  The battle cards seem a bit cheaply made, but as this all seems like a very small operation…they’re passable.

However, if you go to ebay, you’ll see a user named “fieldgeneralgame” selling the game.  I’m assuming that’s the game designer’s account.  As I write this (5/6/13) there are three copies available: one with a $24.98 BIN and free shipping, one for $14.98 or best offer with $4 shipping, or the no reserve auction that’s currently at $1 with $4 shipping.  Checking completed auctions, 5 of the last 6 sold copies went for $1.  I think I may have paid $4 for my copy way back when.  I’m not really sure what the story is, but if this sounds like a game you might like, there are ways to get incredible deals on it.  Even if you just want some cool army guy pieces.

I hope you enjoyed this quick look into Shut the Box, one of my guilty gaming pleasures, and some of the games that are at least partially derived from it.

Next time, I plan on looking at an obscure Avalon Hill game that’s been in my collection for 4 years, and I’ve never opened the box.

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