A to Z Gaming: Gingerbread House

We trapped fairy tale characters with our delicious gingerbread cookies to keep them from eating our homes in Gingerbread House, the next game in our A to Z game-shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Gingerbread House
Players: 2-4
Time: 30 Minutes
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist: Andy Elkerton, Klemens Franz
Publisher: Lookout Games

Gingerbread house is a tile placement game where players take on the role of witches baking gingerbread to attract and trap the fairy tale characters who keep eating the walls of our gingerbread houses. There are points for each character that gets trapped and game-end bonuses can be claimed upon completing each of the first three levels of the house. The witch who most successfully builds her house and traps characters wins!

The game is set up with each witch getting a random player board showing a 3×3 grid that represents their house, a pile of 15 domino-like tiles, and a staircase. In addition, a number of bonus cards are chosen at random, depending on the number of players, and four cards are dealt face up into a row from the deck of fairy tale characters. Players turn up three of their tiles as the reserve from which they can play. Then, in reverse play order, players draft one of the available character cards to be attracted to their gate.

On their turn, players must either play one of their domino tiles to their house or turn one of the tiles in for two staircases. If you do the latter, that’s your entire turn – this typically only done if you have planned poorly and you can’t build a tile onto your house.

The tiles are placed on the 3×3 grid following just a couple of simple rules – first, the tile must all be on one level, and second, tiles placed above the first level must span at least two previously-played tiles. Optionally, before playing their tile, players can place one or more staircases on a single square of their house, provided the play one half of their tile on top of that square.

After the tile is placed, the player takes actions based on what that tile covered in their house. The possible actions include taking gingerbread (one of four colors – pink, blue, yellow or green), swapping one of the gingerbreads in their supply for another in a different color, taking a staircase to add to their supply, or attracting a character to your gate (by either taking one in the four available face-up cards or looking at the top three cards from the deck, picking one and returning the rest to the bottom of the deck). If they cover two of the same symbol, they get three of that action instead of two. And, placing a staircase does not block that spot from giving the action – the hole in the staircase still allows them to see what they’ll get!

After placing the tile, the player can optionally trap a character into their dungeon. This is done by turning in the number and color of gingerbread indicated on the left-hand side of the card. The trapped character can either come from their gate (a previously-attracted character) or from the row of available characters. When they trap a character, they immediately place a wild square in their house and do the action you cover with that wild. This can lead to trapping another character (and placing another wild)! However, the row of available characters does not replenish until after each player’s turn. Oh, and covering two wilds with a house tile on a subsequent turn gives them three actions of their choice.

Finally, the player checks to see if they have completed any levels on their house. If so, they choose a bonus card (max three per game). In the basic version of the game, these bonuses are simply game-end points. In the advanced version of the game, these bonuses can be additional gingerbread with some game-end points, or game-end bonuses for trapping certain character-types or certain building goals for their house.

The game ends when all players have played all of their 15 tiles onto their houses. Players tally up their points, and whoever has the most is declared to be the best witch.

I went through a period where I entered gingerbread contests (though I didn’t build houses – they were habitats for the National Zoo’s Gin-grrrr-bread contest); plus, I’m an avid baker, so gingerbread is on my usual Christmas baking docket. In other words, I *had* to play this.

I assumed it would be a simple game without much to it. And it is a simple game, but I was definitely wrong assuming there wouldn’t be much to it! There are a lot of great decisions – do you go for completing levels quickly to get bonus cards? But that might hinder setting up combinations to help you get high-point characters into your dungeon. Of course, then you might get stuck with the lesser bonus cards and have to figure out how to make the most of it. I really enjoy puzzling out my strategy each game.

How is it as a 2-player game?  Gingerbread House works well as a 2-player game – in some ways it’s mostly a solo game, as you are building your own house with your own private pool of tiles. There is some interaction in attracting and trapping fairy tale characters and in drafting the bonus cards, and this still works well in a 2-player game. One problem we’ve encountered in our 2-player games was that occasionally we would get stuck with a number of high-cost characters in the available row of character cards, and we were unable to cycle through them. So, we found ourselves using the attract action frequently so that we could pull cards from the top of the deck to find something that was a little less costly. This might have been less of a problem with more players, since others are trapping and attracting some of those hard-to-trap characters.

How about the art and component quality? I love the art in this game – it was one thing that attracted me to it. Each character card is unique with a wide variety of fictional fairy characters available to trap. In addition, the iconography is very clear – the player boards indicate limits for items in your pool and there’s a place for everything from the attracted and trapped characters, gingerbread, staircases, and bonus cards. The components are nice, too – the cardboard pieces are a good, chunky cardboard.

Will this stay in my collection?  Yes – that’s an easy yes.

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