Each player has 21 lifesaver-like checkers, and a launcher. The game board requires minimal assembly – there are four pillars (made to look like stacks of checkers) and two transparent target boards. The target boards (which, at first, seem rather flimsy, but prove to be more than sturdy enough to withstand many rains of checkers) fit snugly into the notches at the top and bottom of the pillars.
The launchers are very sturdy, and work flawlessly. The lifesaver-like checkers rest securely on the top of the launcher. The forward part of the base of the launcher is angled so that you can more easily aim for the upper or lower target board. A slide on the base of the launcher allows you to keep score (should score need to be kept).
If you look at your entire collection of checkers, you will notice four different kinds of “power checkers.” Distinguished by the patterns on the inner ring, the powers of your power checkers will allow you to: 1) go again, 2) remove all the checkers from every space that is connected to that checker, 3) remove all the checkers in that row (horizontal or vertical), or 4) remove the checker in any one of the next to that in which it lands.
Now you know more than you need to play the first two variations, and all you need to play the last.
The first two are most appealing to the younger, and/or frenzy-seeking player. Both players launch checkers at the same time, and keeps launching until a) someone has managed to get four-in-a-row, or b) there are no more checkers to launch. This version is appropriately called “Basic Frantic Launch.”
Then there’s the second version, “Championship Frantic Launch.” This game is played very much like “Basic Frantic Launch,” and is most definitely equally frantic, but here, instead of the game being over when someone wins, you play a series of games, scoring each (this is where that scoring slide comes into play), and then playing the next. You get two points if you score in the top tray, and one for scoring in the bottom.
Finally, for the more strategically-minded, the “Advanced Power Launch.” There’s no franticity here. Instead, there’s turn-taking and something significantly akin to strategery. There’s most definitely an element of luck, no matter how strategic your intentions. But there’s also an equally strong feeling that you might very well have developed the control and aim and all the inherent affordances to get a checker to land exactly where you think it should be. And then there are the power checkers, which, depending on their power, can wreak significant havoc on your opponent’s planfulness. And also an interesting wrinkle where the player who has the majority of checkers in any space gets to claim that as her own, whilst should there be an equal amount, the space belongs to neither.
The rules are easy to learn and very well-written, covering every possible gameplay event (what happens if your checker completely misses the trays, or if you have no checkers but the other player still has his, or if a checker lands in a tray, but not in a space.
And, yes, of course, you can play as teams, passing the launcher back and forth, adding significantly to the sense of inner- and inter-team franticity.
All in all, Connect 4 Launchers offers a surprisingly wide range of opportunities for merry mayhem. It is very easy to learn how to play, easy to build and store, the games are short and engaging, the range of variations creating a game that’s rich enough to play again and again. It appeals equally to the 5-year-old, elder siblings and the playfully-minded parent. Major Fun for the whole family.