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Stoplights: A fast and fun card game similar to the classic game Connect 4. Build the playing board as you lay cards on the table and be the first to line up five lights in your color.
Average Rating: 3.2 in 2 reviews
Stoplights is a game for two to three players. There is also a solitaire variant in which you maximize points.
Although the game is very light, it requires a degree of thought. When played as a light, fast game, it is provides a laughter filled, fun time. It is easily as challenging as For Sale or Ka-Ching!, but I find it more fun than either.
In the regular game, each player starts with four cards in the same configurations, but in their own color. The colors are red, yellow, or green, in keeping with the stop light theme. The maximum hand size is 7.
On your turn you have three choices:
- Play a card in an empty slot and draw a card.
- Play a card on top of another card already in play.
- Draw two cards.
When I first read the rules and realized that the game was a variant of tic-tac-toe I was not hopeful. Who really wants to play Tic-Tac-Toe!? Wow, was I wrong.
Each card has three positions: top, middle, and bottom (like a stop light, aka traffic signal). Each position can be one of five colors: green, yellow, red, white, or black. The first three colors belong to one of the players. White is wild; therefore it is your color on your turn, and your opponents color on his turn. Black is no color and therefore blocks. When playing with two players, the third color blocks like black. Also, each card can be played in two positions, with the top and bottom light colors reversed.
According to the rules, the goal is to make five in a row, either horizontally or diagonally. When we play, we can determine no reason not to also allow a win by getting five in a row vertically. It is possible that the game designer meant orthogonally instead of horizontally. Five in a row does not just require the color to appear on the card, but the color to appear in the same position on the card (top, middle, or bottom).
Once the first card is played, subsequent cards must be played orthogonally or vertically adjacent to a card already in play. The maximum grid in which cards can be played is 6 vertically by 7 horizontally.
While blocking is easy in tic-tac-toe, it is not so easy in Stoplights. Three players is far superior to two players in this game, since there is the urge to play for your own benefit, in hopes that the other two players will block each other. Not many games have their sweet spot at three players.
Played as a quick game, it is surprisingly difficult to keep the other players fully blocked. In a 6 by 7 grid there are 42 possible card slots in which to play, but we have not yet filled more than half of the available slots before someone wins. The wins usually come as a surprise, making them sweeter for the victor and provoking a laugh from the other players.
It seems that my favorite abstracts (Yinsh, Pentago, Quinamid) all have something to do with arranging five pieces in a row; and therefore, my opinions of Stoplights (FRED Distribution, 2007 - Sean Brown) were positive upon hearing that it had the same goal. How many times, however, can one do the same thing and yet add another twist to it? Stoplights is a game that uses the very familiar stoplight and a deck of cards to make a simple abstract game for one to three players.
I'm having a hard time categorizing Stoplights, actually. I think it's an enjoyable, simple game, which looks great on the table. It's portable, fun, and offers a decent challenge (although the one player game is merely okay). However, I don't know that it offers enough of a difference, or even enough of a hook to draw me into repeated playing. Perhaps it's because I want my abstracts to be a work of art; perhaps it's because the diagonal lines in this game don't line up perfectly, but something just seems off. I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy the game, but it has a "forgettable" feel.
Each player takes a set of four cards that delineate what color they are (red, yellow, or green – just like a typical stoplight!). The remainder of the cards are shuffled together and placed in a deck. One person goes first, and then play passes clockwise. On a player's turn, they may do one of the following three things:
- Place a card on the table, then draw one card.
- Place a card on top of any card on the table.
- Draw two cards.
Cards are placed in a grid that cannot exceed six cards by seven, and each played card must be adjacent to a card already in play. Each card shows a stoplight, with a combination of green, yellow, red, and white lights - also with many blank lights included. White lights are "wild" and can count as any color once placed on the table. Blank lights and colors of another player simply act as blockers. Players are attempting to get five lights of their color in a row - diagonally or horizontally (vertically is impossible due to the way the lights are on the cards). The first player to this wins!
Players can also play on a smaller or larger gird to make things harder or easier. A player can play the game solo - simply trying to get as many rows of four, five, six, or seven lights in a row, scoring points for each. Players can't cover cards in the solo game.
As I said, this is yet another entry in the crowded field of "connect five in a row" games, and so I was looking for the unique qualities that separated it from the others. Interestingly enough, however, it seems as if the game is more restrictive than it is open-ended. Since a player cannot score five in a row vertically, the game is all about horizontal (rare) and diagonal lineups. Cards can only be placed in two different orientations, since you can flip them upside down, and there is a limit on the size of the grid itself.
I don't object to the theme of the game. The stoplights are actually a good idea, and the red/yellow/green is something that is familiar to people around the world. It actually adds to the enticement of the game. The deck is equally balanced towards all three colors; and although wilds are part of practically every winning combination, it's still neat to see all three colors in play. I do have a problem with how the diagonal lines do not line up quite correctly. While this may not seem like a big deal, it's easy for players to miss four in a row of a color, and I prefer a game in which I can tell the status of a board at a glance.
One aspect of play that I enjoy is the choice a player has on his turn. Placing a card on top of another card is the most powerful move a player can make; but in doing so, a player draws no cards. Almost every game that I've seen played has had the final move completed in this manner. The grid formed by the cards is limited, and the players will rapidly run out of room to place cards. This gives the game a crowded feeling, but it helps keep games quick - a saving grace of the game.
The solo game is merely a puzzle in a sense, as players are attempting to optimally place cards to form the most rows that they can. I found it amusing for a short while, but it's certainly doesn't add much to the game. The game seems to flow smoothly both with two and three players, although I think I might prefer the two player version best; as it's easy to watch another player "give" the game up through a foolish move. Most abstract games are best with two players or teams, and the same might hold true here.
A neat theme, a very small package, and a tried-and-true means of winning will give Stoplights a level of attractiveness to some. I, however, found it merely an okay distraction - something I would play if asked but nothing I myself would request.
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