Gaming can be an expensive hobby. Check out the latest well-funded campaigns on Kickstarter and you’ll assume you can’t get a new game for under $150 and to have all the cool components it can cost twice that. Daunting! Fortunately, there are people who are fighting this tide, game designers more interested in having others play their games than in making lots of money. People like Charles Ward at Ex1st Games, who creates “Forever Free” print and play games. Imagine, if you read through this review and think Sky Towers sounds fun, you can download a copy of the game, print it out, cut out the individual cards and start playing. No visit to the store, no online transactions, no allocation of funds needed. In fact, here’s the link: Download Sky Towers PnP.
The designer is going to be offering a professionally published edition of the game later this year and it will likely be more aesthetically pleasing with full card stock and a proper box for storage and transportation. You’ll be able to check that out on his Ex1st Games online store, but even then you’ll still be able to download the files and print them yourself if you prefer.
I have to admit, I love the concept. Games with a zillion high-quality components are enjoyable to play and it’s great fun to spread one out across a big table, but you don’t need to have a big bank account to enjoy new titles in the hobby. Nice.
So what is Sky Towers? It’s essentially a solitaire card stacking game. It plays 1-4 with two different solitaire rules and in all variations, you’re trying to build towers that add up to exactly 21 points without colliding with your neighbors or violating card stacking rules. The deck consists of 54 cards, a mix of 1-10 point components. Each has special rules and there are stack order limitations too, so a “1” can’t have a “7” atop it.
As is common, I opted to try out the solitaire variations, Light Solitaire and Taroma Solitaire. The former is very much like Klondike, but with a fun spin, while the latter utilizes the Taroma automata engine. This review focuses on Light Solitaire because after trying both, I found it to be way more enjoyable. Taroma felt like I was just playing two hands, which would be more fun with a second player!
I should start by saying that Charles printed and sleeved a deck that he sent to me for this review. Here are the basic tower cards:
Each has its point value big and bright on the opposing corners, 1, 10, and 6. Notice that each card also has 0-2 yellow kites, a tiny number on the top right, and special instructions or rules for that card’s placement. The top right number indicates how many of that number are in the deck (5 of each of these three values), and the kites are the point value for competitive play (not the tower card values themselves!). The only special rules that apply in the Light Solitaire game are those on cards #1 and #10: You can’t cover a ‘1’ with any value greater than a 1 and the ’10’ must be the foundation of a new tower because it cannot be placed atop another card.
There are also four bonus cards, critical to work towards in the Solitaire game:
Now you can start to see how the game works: The rightmost bonus, for example, you attain by reaching that 21 point tower with exclusively 7-point cards. None of these are easy to accomplish because you only have 4 cards in your hand at any time and only go through the deck once.
Here’s the basic setup for Sky Towers Light Solitaire:
The four cards on the left are removed from play to add a bit of challenge to the game, the four bonuses are available if you can stack up a tower in the right order, and the four cards along the bottom are my hand: 1, 10, 6, 6. Looking at the bonuses and my starting hand, it’s worth trying to attain the “Star Bonus” (which starts with a ‘6’ as the tower base), though it’s going to be tough to stack up 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 when none of the intermediate cards are in my hand. The 10 should be played immediately because it can’t be played atop any other card so it’ll otherwise uselessly consume a slot in my hand.
Critical to know: You can only build a max of two towers at a time and you can never have more than 4 cards in your hand.
A turn consists of either playing a card (and possibly completing a tower), drawing a card (and you can never have more than 4 cards so you’ll have to discard one from your hand before drawing if you’re already at 4) or discarding an incomplete tower and losing all of those cards. Easy, right?
Here’s my tableau just a few rounds into the game:
You can see that I just completed the right tower – 10+6+4+1 = 21 – and that I’m trying to for the “Star Bonus” with the left tower, but… no 5 in my hand. The 21 point tower is pulled to a side and counts as 1 point towards the end score, freeing up that second slot for yet another tower.
A bit further along…
You can see that the deck is slowly shrinking, but I’ve already racked up 6 points (the face down stacks on the right). More importantly, by stacking all those 3’s, a 2 and a 1, I’ve actually achieved the “Tokyo Bonus”. Those bonuses are each worth 1 point, so by accomplishing this, my tower is worth double points! Winning strategies must take those bonuses into account; after a dozen or so plays it seems that 8-9 towers are typical, so the bonuses are how you edge up higher and try to break your previous score.
Indeed, this game I scored 9 towers and 1 bonus for a total score of 10. I immediately played again, achieved two bonuses, and earned 11 points, a solid score. You can see that I ended up with 15 points on my last, incomplete tower:
Before you say “ah.. so the total point value of the deck is 9 * 21 + 15” remember that you randomly pull four cards out of the deck before you begin playing. Are those four cards all 3’s? Two 10’s, a 9 and an 8? Who knows, you keep them hidden. For an easier solitaire game, you can set 5 cards aside and have 5 in your hand, but you can go the other way too: set 3 aside and have a 3 card limit to your hand. Super difficult!
That’s it. This is a simple, elegant solitaire game in Light Solitaire very much in the spirit of Klondike and other solitaire card games. It’s really fun and relaxing, a game you can play after ordering food at a restaurant or are otherwise waiting for your gamer pals to show up. Add another player or two and the game changes since you then have additional constraints about which cards you can play (and take all the card effects into account). All in a deck you can keep in your backpack, purse, or book bag. I’ve become quite a fan and encourage you to check it out!
Sky Towers by Ex1st Games. Free Print ‘n Play at: ex1st.com/games/
Disclosure: Ex1st Games printed, sleeved, and sent me a physical copy of the game, which I appreciate!