My husband and I love board games. Two years ago, we went on a date to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. There, we met some lovely gentlemen from Gravity Board Games. We tried their products (while eating Toblerone). I decided then and there that I'd be buying some Gravity Games for my geek guy.
Unfortunately, when I went to order the games, there was some sort of mixup. I didn't get an order confirmation. They didn't take my money for months. I thought I'd been forgotten. Then, suddenly, the Gravity Board Games arrived. Woo-hoo!
As GBG is a new company looking for an audience, I promised a review. However, my husband ended up playing the games much more than I did. His attention to detail has resulted in some pretty thorough analysis. So, I proudly present my geek guy's first written contribution to Geek Girl Chicago: a review of Gravity Board Games!
Gravity Board Games (GBG) is a startup board game company from Denmark with a unique format. They've launched six board games designed on a board with a fulcrum, using weighted pieces. Each game relies, in some way, on moving weight around the board. Generally, there are two ways to win: a way using the games’ mechanics (capture your opponent’s piece, move your pieces to a ‘home’ square, etc.) or, tilt the board such that it can’t be rebalanced using a counterweight.
GBG does a few things really well. Their tilty-board design is unique, eye-catching, and adds a wonderfully tactile element that can’t be replicated with a video gaming experience. It’s exciting to mentally calculate how much weight a move will shift. Each of GBG's titles is helpfully labeled with a “% Strategy” rating, giving you a clear indicator of how complex and abstract a game will be.
However, these games disappoint in a few key ways. GBG has tried their best to create six distinct games using a single board layout. Each uses the same plastic board, balanced on a fulcrum, with a regular grid of pegs on which weighted pieces can rest. Some of the boards are lovely, but others are poorly designed with unappealing colors and an unclear flow.
For instance, Dangerous Dip has your pieces follow a pattern that zig-zags across the board, picked out in black and white squares. But the pegboard is a standard component, so the areas of the board where your pieces can’t move still look like usable board space. This causes confusion when teaching the game to new players. Also, the snaking, black-and-white checkered avenues of travel have no arrows to indicate direction. There is a mechanic for hopping from one lane to the next, so it’s very easy to become disoriented and forget which way is forward.
The game pieces rely on a symbolic language of black or white squares, triangles, or circles printed on each piece listing their weight to identify which piece is which. It’s often hard to tell which pieces are yours, which are your opponent’s, and which are neutral board features. Small design elements, like a more clearly-marked board and color-coded pieces, would make the experience much smoother. (NOTE FROM LAUREN: Gravity Board Games just sent me a set of stickers that turns half of the pieces black. This is a big step toward improvement. It’s great to see GG actively growing and working on their games.)
But there’s a deeper issue - many of these games suffer from an apparent lack of play-testing. Essentially, these are classic roll-and-move standbys (think Parcheesi) adapted to include the weight-shifting mechanic, which is often grafted onto the basic game awkwardly. Hungry Higgs involves capturing weighted ‘prey pieces’ in order to shift the balance of the board, but in many cases, the players will split the available weight between them. So, players end up relying on other game mechanics to achieve victory. This undermines the thing that made this game cool in the first place.
There are some other minor issues. The organizational trays tend to break, spilling pieces into the bottom of the boxes. One of the copies we opened had hanging plastic chads across its surface where the pegs pushed through.
Overall, the concept of a balanced board where gameplay shifts weight in favor of one player or the other is exciting, and a lot of these games have potential. Gravity Board Games is a lovely company with a lot of heart, and you should buy their games- if only to encourage them to keep making them, and make them better. For now, they have some lessons to learn if these games are going to stand up against the flood of hobby board games coming to market right now.
Gravity Board Games: Hungry Higgs, Gaining Gravity, Dangerous Dip, Gravity Gammon, Changing Challenges, Gravity Chess. $59 each, $225 for a complete set of 6 games.
I normally use this space to thank my guest bloggers, but considering this one was my husband... I can just yell across the apartment. ;) Since their purchase, we have donated 3 of the Gravity Board Games to our workplace, where they are much-discussed and much-loved.
What are some of your favorite board games? Tell me about them below!
NEXT TIME: This GEEKend's events, including ACen and Doctor Who cosplay.
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