Published by Milton Bradley.
Designed by In House Team.
Reviewed by Mike Siggins.
Sharpshooters is the reigning Game of the Year in America and comes from that powerhouse of good, bad and indifferent games - Milton Bradley. As Game of the Year one might expect something special but what we end up with is a tolerable Can't Stop/Yahtzee/Last Chance hybrid that while perfectly suited to family and kids, is not going to set the gaming world alight. Production levels are well up to the usual MB standard. The game includes a pile of poker chips, a dice rolling 'arena' and loads of dice which if you never play it again could be useful elsewhere.
The mechanism is straightforward. The game is based around a set of 'target' cards. These show half a dozen rows of dice symbols, Yahtzee style, onto which the dice will be placed. These rows range from one of a kind to five of a kind, through straights and full houses. There are also joker rows which must be completed with the same number they are started with. Each row is worth a number of points for completion, but importantly only to the player finishing off the row. Each player is given a handful of dice, and must roll five each turn, or whatever he has if less. The minimum requirement is that at least one of the dice must be placed, if possible, onto the target card with a corresponding number.
Beyond that stipulation, you are free to pass or to keep rolling until you have no dice left, and each one has been placed. Hopefully, you will have scored some points by this stage or otherwise you will just be making it a doddle for the players following you - the rows gradually fill up, left to right, and the completion becomes progressively easier. The only reason you might wish to do this, and the twist in the game, is that there are also negative rows - one per card. A player filling this one loses points. Play proceeds around the table until the card is completely full. Then the dice are returned and we go again. Players receive poker chips in payment as they score, and pay them back if they complete a negative row. Play consists of a pre-decided number of cards and the player with the most chips wins.
The skill, which as you might imagine is compromised by a large amount of luck, essentially boils down to deciding whether or not you will be able to complete a row in your turn. This is a simple probability calculation along the lines of 'can I roll three fives with four dice, allowing for at least one five, or other acceptable numbers, per roll'. If you think you have a chance, you go for it. If you don't, you pass, save your dice, and hope you can get back in for a big score later before the card is filled.
The big problem is really one of control. When you pass, you will have to survive between two and five player's shots at the points. There is virtually no way of saying whether they'll get it, but the more players the greater the chance, so the net result is that players quickly get bored or start taking unnecessary risks. When they fall short, the next player gets easy points. There is however, one exception to this statement. Played with two players, thereby being able to roughly calculate the chances of the other guy succeeding, as well as your odds, it becomes quite playable. Indeed, it was rather good, but only with two players.
That's the prognosis for gamers, but families seem to take to it rather better. We played it over Christmas with my 'social gaming' friends, who are used to Triv, Scattergories, Outburst, Liar's Dice and a few German games, and it went down really well. A second session with the kids also worked, and was of course great fun as the dice were hurled and ridiculous feats were pulled off - four sixes being one example. The key here is that the game offers plenty of fast-paced action, a deceptive level of skill and people seem to like to roll lots of dice. So for its target market, it hits the spot perfectly which is really all we should really be looking at here. I think however it is also useful to rule it out, for the most part, as a gamer's purchase.
As a light, fun family game Sharpshooters is a winner. It's easy to pick up, exciting and suitably noisy. As a game for gamers though, it will very quickly pall with only the two player option as a saving grace. Sadly, there is not enough here to merit purchase for that alone. So, as an addition to the family game cupboard it's admirable. Otherwise I'd give it a miss.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell