Berndt Eisenstein’s Pack & Stack is a family game requiring luck, speed, spatial perception, planning, and, yes, packing and stacking.
You need three-six players, from, say, eight years-old up, and 20, maybe 40 minutes.
You get Truck Cards (30 of them), each showing the outline of a “cargo area” and a number describing how high the truck can be packed. You also get 96 wooden pieces, whose properties will remind you of those Cuisinaire Rods kids use when studying arithmetic in those enlightened, workshop-oriented elementary schools. The smallest is a white cube, then comes the gray pieces which are exactly two white-cubes in length, then the orange, which are three cubes long, the four-cube long green and the five-cube purple. You will almost immediately notice that if you pick the wrong-sized cargo area, your purple pieces won’t fit, and maybe not even your greens. Since you can pack your cargo rods on end as well as on their sides, a truck with a relatively narrow cargo area, but capable of carrying cargo stacked, say, 4 units high (the number on the card indicates stack-height), you might still be able to get most of your cargo on the truck.
You also get cardboard coin-like point markers. 75 points worth of these get distributed to each player.
The game is played in rounds. In the first, you roll five dice. These dice tell you how many of each size cargo you’ll be transporting. Dice have blank sides, and when you roll a blank you don’t use any of that size cargo. So you roll, and you gather your cargo accordingly.
The next round is about picking trucks. First, you take two truck cards from the truck card pile (if there are three or four players – just one truck each if there are five or six people playing). You put them face down in front of you. Then, at the same time, everyone flips their truck cards over for everyone to see. Now comes the mad grab part. As quickly as possible, you have to decide which of the truck cards is right for the amount of cargo you’ve collected. It’s, of course, next to impossible to be absolutely sure everything will fit, but you have to select something, and you have to do it before someone else takes the one you need. Of course, if you don’t see anything, you can always take the top card from the truck pile, but that’s risky in deed.
Now for the packing. You can take your time. All you have to do is figure out how to position all those pieces so that they fit in the allotted truck space. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, or the wood meets the cardboard, depending on your perspective. For every white-cube-sized space that you don’t fill in on your truck, you have to pay one point. And for every white-cube-sized piece that is left over you have to pay two points. O, the sheer anguish, and yet the potential glee of it all.
Points are paid, and the next round is played, and then the next, and then the next, until some poor player ends up pointless.
Pack & Stack is primarily a perceptual puzzle. It is, to say the least, challenging to try to imagine how your randomly selected assortment of pieces will fit within the dimensions of any one of a randomly selected assortment of cargo spaces. I am not sure what such a mind-straining exercise prepares you for in real life, but it is certainly a challenge, and most definitely intriguing. Eisenstein was both clever and compassionate in having luck and speed play such a large role in the game – they add to the excitement of the game, and take away from any performance anxiety one might have, as one often does, when playing against family members. Especially should one or two of said members be of the competitive persuasion. Taster Chris notes that “Pack & Stack is no less fun to lose than it is to win – of course, that’s coming from someone who hasn’t actually experienced winning since right after we bought it at GenCon last year.”
The rules suggest some variations, most having to do with truck-picking and piece collecting. These prove just enough to encourage the development of your own set of house rules – always a good opportunity to adjust the level of competition to more realistic heights.
Pack & Stack comes to us from Mayfair Games.