We recently lauded the excellent River Dragons with a Major Fun Award. In order to shake off accusations of excluding our amphibian friends, we offer up our praise of Ponder, a delightful game from Mind Twister in which you race to get your toads from one side of the pond to another.
It sounds a lot like River Dragons, but Ponder has several mechanical differences in the way your toads cross the board space. And 100% fewer dragons.
Players choose a color. Each color has three rubber toads and a deck of 15 movement cards. Your toads start in a corner of the board behind a start line and face the pond—a 9 by 9 grid. 28 of the pond spaces contain a lily pad. These pads are your way across the pond. The deck of movement cards is shuffled and placed face down. Before they start, all players turn up one of their movement cards.
To start the game the players roll their toads—roll them in the way you would typically roll dice. The player who manages to roll a toad that is sitting up goes first. Rolling in this fashion occurs frequently in the game and is a clever use of the game pieces. Toads can land on their backs, they can land on their belly, and they can land on their butts (sitting up). More on this in a moment.
Each player’s turn consists of three actions: move a lily pad, move a toad, draw a card. Players must take each action if it is possible. A player must move any one lily pad that is adjacent to a space with a toad of his or her color. The lily pad may be moved anywhere on the board. The player then must move of his or her toads in the direction indicated by the revealed movement card (the toad moved does not have to be related to the moved lily pad in any way) . Lastly, the player reveals a new movement card and play proceeds clockwise.
Sometimes toads collide by landing on the same space. When this happens, the player who got jumped on rolls the toad to see what happens: back = knocked off spot, belly = back to start, butt = stays put (attacker is knocked back). Collisions happen a lot as the pond fills with toads and the free lily pads grow scarce.
The rules are, all in all, simple—much more so than River Dragons—but there is a lot of strategy here. There are opening move strategies, middle game strategies, and end game strategies. Movement cards are random but if you keep track of what has been played you can make some sophisticated maneuvers. Each move changes the board so there is very little down-time—you always feel engaged .
This is perhaps the most fun you can have on a pond that contains no actual water. Major Fun.
Ponder’s design is both silly and perfectly clear. The art is great, and the rules fit easily on one sheet of paper. It’s playable by a wide range of ages and there is more than a shallow end to the strategy. It can get a little deep out in the middle.
For 2-4 players, ages 7+
Ponder was designed by Isabel Holmberg and © 2011 by Mind Twister.