Sheppy’s Greedy Claw Crane Game: Preview

What exactly is the draw of “the claw?” You know, stick a few quarters in, direct a crane claw over cheap toys, push a button and hope?  Oh, right. They’re frustratingly fun with slot machine like payoffs but the feeling that you actually control the outcome. It’s not true since most of the relevant things are randomized, but it works on us anyway.  This is the premise of the game Fairway previews today: David Sheppard’s Sheppy’s Greedy Claw Crane Game.

Sheppy’s Greedy Claw Crane Game is a two- to five-player dice-rolling and set-collection game in which players are operators of a crane game attempting to collect the most valuable toys from the machine.  Any given game takes less than 20 minutes and captures the thrill/frustration of those arcade fixtures (known in the industry as “merchandisers”). The game is coming to Kickstarter in February.

Keep in mind, I was reviewing a preview copy and aspects of the game’s art and design are likely to change.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. There is a lot of visual appeal here. The game is chock full of adorable collectible toys.
  2. The game is light and quick making it easy to teach: roll dice, move claw, take token if you can.
  3. The game at two and three players moves quickly. There feels like a lot of down time between plays at higher player counts.
  4. Although it’s a dice rolling game, players are given a lot of choices and freedom to strategically reroll dice.
  5. For such a small game, it includes a good of game play mechanics that help focus players and limit the choice paralysis.

Game Play ^

In Greedy Claw players are the operators of a merchandiser machine trying to extract the most valuable novelty toys from the machine.

To start, the machine’s toys are assembled into a six-by-six grid of toy tokens.  The grid has a cascading arrangement in which the four central toys is formed of a stack of four tokens, the middle ring has stacks of three and the outer ring is a single toy.  As toys are taken from the game, those stacks of toys “cascade” down to fill in any gaps left when taking the last toy.

In addition to a cute picture, each toy token has some critical information displayed on it. First, each toy is associated with one of five sets: e.g., monkeys, teddy bears, aliens, people, etc. The game uses these in a few places, including the bonus objectives (discussed below). Second, each toy has a “dollar value” of the toy. At the end of the game, players will sum up the total value of their toys to pick the winner. A few of the toys are negative points because… well, no one wants to pick up stale gum from the machine. Third, each token has a “grip strength” which is required to pick it up. The more valuable it is, the harder it is to actually score.  Finally, some of the toys have “wings” that let players press their luck, discussed below.

Once the stacks are formed, a token representing the claw is given a randomized starting position (using the dice) and each player is provided an bonus goal card.  The bonus goal features one of the five different sets of toys in the machine. Per the rules, this information is meant to be hidden, but we decided to keep it face up for tracking purposes. No one seemed to care what other people really had and it becomes pretty obvious after the first few rounds what players are seeking anyway.

The game is now played over a series of rounds in which each player gets a turn. The game ends after a round in which a player score the requisite number of points (depending on player count).

On your turn, you take the six dice and roll them.  The dice have six different sides that have values for: movement, grip strength, or both.  With each roll, you must use at least two of the rolled dice, and, by the end of your turn, you must move at least one space and have used at least two dice.  You can assign the dice to either movement or grip strength.  To move, you place a die in a straight line from the location of another die or the claw itself thus showing the path through the machine. The grip strength is used to determine whether the claw is able to grab the toy token you land on (by having a value greater than or equal to the toy’s required grip strength).

A few of the toys have “wings” which allow players to press their luck. If you finish your movement on a winged toy, you can press your luck and go for more toys. You set aside any dice you used for grip strength and just roll the dice you used for movement and play your turn again (only with fewer dice). If you can successfully grab another toy, you collect both. If you can’t, you drop your collected toy (or toys) on the space you end.

After you finish your turn, play passes clockwise and continues until someone scores the requisite value in toys. Bonuses are added up and the player with the most valuable collection wins.

On the green ^

Art.  The thing that captured all the player’s attention were the adorable toys. There are a good number of unique illustrations (nine per set) and bonuses and penalty tokens out there.

Game play. This is in no way a heavy game, but it has some really clever game play mechanisms. It’s simple enough to explain in a few moments and to learn as you play. I played an early version of this game at protospiel and the designer made a bunch of really great changes. In particular, we love the implementation of the stacked and cascading toys. It’s very thematic.

The game also imposes interesting choices on the player, but not so many that would tend to result in too many choices. For instance, most of the players work towards collecting toys of their sets. But other toys and bonuses (like the 2x multiplier for the display case and the toys with the ❤️ that give you +2 for toys in that set) are fantastic draws. You can also use your turn to undermine your opponents’ sets.

Play time.  This is easily a game you can fit in under thirty minutes. You can also adjust the length by merely reducing the necessary points to win.

Play age.  This game is playable with little kids, even those that can’t read. It’s easy enough to scout out the toys in your sets and know to grab high value toys.

Where it comes up short ^

I was provided a prototype, pre-production version of this game. If the designer’s willingness to fix his game is any indication, any gaps here are likely to be corrected by the time of production.

Token size. This shouldn’t be a surprise: the version we played was fidgety. The circle tokens were prone to shifting and tipping especially as you allocated dice and moved the pawn. We found ourselves “fixing” the stacks a lot. The designer indicated that they’ll be bigger for production. That’s good news.

Also, because the tokens were so small, the iconography was really hard to see (especially wings and set indicators) from a distance.

Backgrounds.  On such small tokens, the backgrounds were pretty distracting. I’d really push the designer to consider solid or lightly textured backgrounds or use them as an opportunity to double encode the sets.

In-between turn downtime.  So at two and three players, this is not much of an issue. However, at higher player counts, there’s plenty of time to go make a cup of coffee. The actions and activities of the other players don’t really impact you outside the occasional stealing of token in your set.  Once you add the “winging it” mechanic, it means that some players are getting nearly double length turns. We really wanted something to do in the down time.

In the hole ^

Greedy Claw is a cute game that captures the fun and frustration of those long-time fixtures of arcades, but you won’t be losing your quarters here. By using dice to control grip strength and movement but allowing the player to allocate them, the game balances out the luck in favor of thoughtful player choices. The game will never be a heavy strategy game. And I doubt many will want this game as a main course, but it certainly fits the distraction category kind of well–just like the real thing. Greedy Claw will appeal to game players who like quirky themes or love adorable illustrations. The game is coming to Kickstarter in February and you should definitely check it out.

Sheppy’s Greed Claw is in the hole for a Par. ^

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