That’s great kid! Don’t get cocky! The words of Han Solo will forever be ringing in my ears as a declare a number of threes, roll another set of dice or yell another “Incan Gooooooold!” around the games table. If you’re looking for short and addictive gameplay, memorable moments and feeling just as excited about your friends’ wins as your own, these push-your-luck games might be for you.
This is a very pure push-your-luck game which features little in the way of theme or dressing - players roll 4 dice and combine them into two pairs, using the results to advance on up to two of a possible 11 tracks (numbered 2 - 12) indicated by the sum of the pairs. You have 3 tokens available to mark your progress, and you are only faced with one choice at any time: continue or don’t. If you roll again, you can advance again, except this time you already have 2 of your 3 markers on the board. No worries though, because if neither of those tracks comes up on your dice, you can just add your third one on. Now it’s risky, though, because if none of your tracks come up next time you roll, then you lose all your progress so far. Can you bring yourself to stop? The title of the game suggests not . . .
This is push-your-luck at its simplest - no (or little) player interaction, just you against the odds, trying to be the first to roll all the way along 3 of the tracks and claim victory. It’s hugely compelling and really exciting to see someone going further and further up the track, daring just one more roll. It has a tendency to quickly descend into no one ever playing it safe, but it’s nonetheless great fun.
This game adds a little more colour and a little more deduction into the mix with some interesting new mechanics. The theme of the game is that we are Indiana Jones-style explorers, searching for treasure in pre-hispanic ruins. As with Can’t Stop, your decision each round is simple: do I continue into the temple or not? Each time you choose to continue, another card is revealed from the deck showing either a certain amount of gems, a hazard (like a snake, spiders, zombies or tunnel collapse) or an elusive relic. Gems equate directly to points, two matching hazards means death (no points this round) for anyone still hunting and relics grant a points bonus.
This still retains the excitement and simplicity of a very pure push-your-luck game, but with a little more player interaction: after each card is revealed, all players who chose to leave share the already revealed gems equally. So, if 15 gems are revealed and your two friends stop searching, they might be gleefully stashing their seven points while you press on to find 15 more of your very own, plus the one left behind after they split the previous set!
Relics add another interesting dimension, as they can only be taken if exactly one treasure hunter leaves after they’re revealed. If multiple choose not to continue, the artifact is left behind. This adds a very welcome bit of game theory to the push-your-luck basis of the game and makes for many infuriating and glorious moments. My group and I certainly never tired of crowing “Incan Gold!” at length when we were left as the only one in the temple and uncovered a hoard of gems. This game also adds the chance for some slightly more complex thinking as you’re able to track which cards have come out and what your odds are in slightly more detail.
This game isn’t quite as true to the push-your-luck genre as the previous two, but it is at its heart a game which challenges players to take on a little bit more than they should. Similar to Incan Gold in theme, you play as explorers planning routes to search for treasure. You have the chance to develop up to 5 different expedition routes, each of which will yield points at the end. However, each one starts at a base of -20 points (but is only scored if you have played at least one card onto it), so the more routes you open, the more you have to be able to complete in order to score positive points overall for the round.
The gameplay is based around a fairly straightforward play a card / draw a card mechanic through which you build points onto your expedition routes and discard cards you don’t want. However, you can also have the chance to lay a wager on your expedition routes, which modifies the points, so there is a gambling element to the strategy at all times. Any cards you discard can also be picked up by your opponent (it’s a two player game) and so there’s a degree of player interaction as well, making this a more intensely competitive game than the others.
Moving further into player interaction territory, this spin on a push-your-luck game is very fast paced and great over a string of consecutive games. In Lucky Numbers, players are trying to be the first to fill their 4x4 grid in which each space must be occupied by a number that is lower than all the numbers below it in its own column and to the right in its own row from a pool of numbers from 1 to 20. Players take turns to draw a face-down or face-up card to add to their board or discard. Discarded cards are added to the pool of face-up cards from which players can select, and players can choose to swap a card with one on their board rather than place it in a new spot, if they like.
You start with 4 tiles placed randomly (but per the ascending order rules) and so have 16 remaining to fill, but it will inevitably require some substitutions along the way to even out the spread across your board. Ideally, you would have one to four across the top and one to four down the left-hand column with 20 in the bottom right corner, allowing loads of opportunities for all the columns and rows to fill in. However, with only one set of numbers per player in the game, this is but a pipe-dream. This is where the push-you-luck element comes in - how much wiggle-room will you leave yourself? How much of a gamble will you take in the gaps you leave? And cap you afford to be discarding cards for your opponent to see and select from?
The highest level of player interaction on the list comes from Tranquility - a cooperative tile-laying game. Players take turns to add numbered tiles to a 6x6 grid which must appear in consecutive order, but players are not permitted to communicate about what numbers they have in their hand at any time. You win if you are able to successfully fill the grid, and you collectively lose if a player is not able to play one tile or discard two tiles on their turn. Similar to Lucky Numbers, the push-your-luck element here comes in the gaps you leave between tiles and the amount of leeway you allow your fellow players as a result. In this sense, you are still playing against the odds like in Can’t Stop or Incan Gold, but hoping to help rather than outdo each other.
When you lay a tile immediately adjacent to another tile, you have to discard a number of tiles from your hand equal to the difference between them. Therefore, you are hopefully minimizing this difference at all times so that you can keep a range of tiles in your hands. However, with tiles numbered 1 - 80 and only a 6x6 grid to fill, this is impossible to do at all times. The grid also includes a ‘start- and ‘finish’ tile; when a start card is drawn, it must be played if one hasn’t been already, and the players must then discard eight tiles between them. The finish card may only be played once the rest of the board has been filled - if a player is able to do so, you win.
This is a game, therefore, in which players must constantly play against the odds, not only in terms of what tiles they lay and where, but also what they keep in their hands to discard if need be, as well as what they can reasonably expect of their teammates. It’s an interesting twist on the genre and a really satisfying puzzle reminiscent of Hanabi and The Mind (both also excellent games but not ones I can shoe-horn so well into this list!).