Game Review: Sudoku + Dice Indie Puzzler “Disuko!”

disuko dice sudoku puzzle game review - boxYou’d need to have hidden under a rock not to bump into the engaging and popular mathematical puzzle game Sudoku. Invented by Japanese puzzle enthusiast Maki Kaji, it’s a 9×9 grid comprised of 9 3×3 boxes. Each 3×3 box, each row, and each column can only contain a single occurrence of the digits one through nine. Each box, then, ends up filled in with 1, 2, 3, … 9, as does each row and column. Most of the puzzle is quick to solve until you get to those last few boxes, where you suddenly realize the cascading effect of earlier decisions and typically have to change things around, often quite a bit, to solve it.

It’s no surprise that there are lots of variants and variations on the basic Sudoku puzzle, and when game designer Benji Torrie learned that there was a 6×6 variant, he immediately realized the potential of using dice to represent the individual values. Rather than a solo player trying to solve a partially-filled grid, he created Disuko! which supports 2, 3, and 4 player competitive Sudoku.

Seeking a nice aesthetic for the title, he created a sliding box whose lid flips over to be the playing surface. Inside the wooden box are then four sets of 18 colored dice along with the instructions:

disuko dice sudoku puzzle game review - what's in the box

I had a chance to play through a game with Benji via Zoom and we chatted as we proceeded. He shared a few changes that are coming with next revision of the game, most notably changes to the yellow dice color scheme, probably a switch to black pips. Which is good, because in practice, the yellow dice are quite difficult to see and it’s critical throughout the game that you can easily identify each and every number on the grid.

HOW TO PLAY DISUKO!

The basic premise of the game is that each of you has a set of dice and you alternate placing one on the grid, following Sudoku placement rules, until one person runs out of dice or you both realize you’re stuck. Each turn you can choose one of three actions: place a die, reroll as many of your dice as you’d like, or move one of the dice on the board to a new (legal) location. If you complete a set, either by filling in a 3×2 box, completing a row or column, or placing the sixth of a digit on the board, you immediately get another turn. That’s it.

Here’s the game, ready for a two player game:

disuko dice sudoku puzzle game review - initial board setup 2 player

Three players requires each to winnow down their starting dice to 12, and with four players each has 9 dice total. Roll them, then organize your dice pool by value, as I’ve done above.

With an open board, you can place any number anywhere, of course, so it’s no surprise that the first half of the game zips along quite quickly. After a short period of time, here’s our board configuration:

disuko dice sudoku puzzle game review - partial play

Notice that if you look across the top row, for example, you see 1,3, empty, empty, 4, 2. First column has 1, empty, 5, 4, 3, 6. The first 3×2 box, on the top left, has 1, 3, 6 and three blanks. When Benji and I played, we used a grid notation that described a specific spot based on the columns across and rows down from the top left, it being 1,1. With that in mind, 1,2 is immediately below the 1 on the top left and is empty. See it? Based on the values already placed in that column, it could only be a 2. Since there are no 2’s yet placed in the top box or in the second row, that’s a legal move and would complete the column, earning that player another action.

The bottom row is a similar situation: Based on the values in that row, the empty spot could only be filled with a 3. But notice what’s in that column! There’s already a 3, so that would either have to be moved (one of the action choices, as long as it’s moved to another legal spot on the board) or the bottom space would be stuck, unable to be filled.

FURTHER ALONG IN THE GAME

A while further, more dice are out and in play:

disuko dice sudoku puzzle game review - near the endgame

Two boxes are filled, and one row is filled. But there’s an error in placement too, one that’s hung around for a few turns without either player noticing: 5,1 and 5,5 are both a 4, which means the second die placed was an illegal move! Typically you want to catch those immediately (think of “muggins” in Cribbage and you’ll get the spirit of that action), but in this case we might flip a coin to see which person’s die is removed.

Once that’s remedied, however, are there enough valid moves – including shifting the location of dice – that the entire grid can be filled? Probably not, but the good news is that once one player places their last die they instantly win the game. In practice, a savvy player near the end of the game can take a number of actions sequentially by completing rows, columns, boxes, sixth of a number, etc. By combining those together, they can quickly push out all their remaining dice and wrap up a neat win.

That’s exactly what Benji did in our game when I sat back and watched him stack up five moves and place all his dice on the board, leaving me with four unplayed of my own. Tricky!

THOUGHTS ON DISUKO!

While I’m not a big fan of Sudoku, I quite enjoyed Disuko! particularly in the player-vs-player variation. It’s simple enough to explain in just a few minutes but complex enough that as the game proceeds, things can get very tricky indeed. This would be a splendid game for math teachers to have in their classrooms, for example, along with puzzle fans who seek a lightweight game that’s highly portable and very café friendly.

The component parts in the version I received felt a bit like a prototype in my eyes, with a box that was too big for the components, no game name on and of the four exterior sides (making it shelf unfriendly), and dice with suboptimal colors (the yellow, as I already mentioned earlier). I also wonder if having actual numbers on the dice like ‘1’, 2′, and so on wouldn’t make it feel a bit more Sudoku-like too. These are all minor quibbles, though. Overall I think that Disuko! is quite fun and is sure to become a popular puzzle game for my family and gaming circle.

Disuko!, 2-4 players, is currently available through Etsy for $25.00.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Disuko for the purposes of this review. Which was pretty darn nice, actually.

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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