GTM #209 - Pyramid Arcade
Reviewed by John Kaufeld

It all started with a short story.

Years ago, designer Andrew Looney wrote a short story called “Icehouse,” featuring people who played a game with little pyramids. That led to creating the first pyramid sets and developing a series of games to play with them. (Yes, including Icehouse.)

Fast-forward to today. Looney Labs gathered the best pyramid games from over 20 years of development into one massive presentation set — Pyramid Arcade — delivering 22 unique games, along with everything you need to play them, including pyramid sets, game boards, cards, dice, and more. Everywhere you look in Pyramid Arcade, you find fascinating abstract games. The pyramids in your box will become anything from rockets and planets, to volcanoes and warring insects.

Here are the ‘Top Five’ pointy things you need to know about Pyramid Arcade.

All about the Pyramids

The box includes nine pyramids in each of 10 colors (eight translucent colors, plus solid white and black). Each set of nine contains three large, medium, and small pyramids. The three sizes stack neatly inside each other like Russian Matryoshka dolls, forming what the game rules call a ‘trio’.

Those pyramids form the heart, the beauty, and the soul of these games. Looney’s pyramids use a friendly, inviting shape that just makes you want to mess around with them and see what you can do.

Balanced Between Strategy and Luck

Every game in the world builds on the tension between strategy and luck, between thoughtful planning and “wow-I-didn’t-see-that-coming”. The games in Pyramid Arcade are split almost straight down the middle between the ends of that spectrum. Titles like Homeworld, Martian Chess, and Petal Battle lead the way on the pure strategy side, while Launchpad 23, Petri Dish, and Treehouse rely on more randomness.

Plenty of Player Variety

Thanks to the abstract flexibility and sheer quantity of games you can play straight out of the box, Pyramid Arcade gives you options for just about any number of players. That’s a huge boon for nights when you thought a few people were coming over, but they suddenly all brought friends. Likewise, you’ll also find a pair of solitaire games to entertain you when you’re on your own. (To the other “only children” out there, I know your pain.)

Kids Can Play, Too!

When it comes to accidentally stepping on something plastic in the middle of the night, the pyramids beat LEGO blocks hands down. But, despite that, Pyramid Arcade gives you plenty of kid-friendly game options.

The rulebook includes a section with tips on games that work best with kids, as well as games you can easily modify either for children or easily frustrated, non-gaming adults. I especially appreciate their ideas about using Color Wheel as a cooperative team activity (you and the kids against the game) and playing “Game Zero,” which is a fancy way of saying “dump the pyramids  onto the table and play with them.” Just make sure you get all of them off the floor when you’re done. (Really. Ouch!)

Going Your Own Way

If you want to get in touch with your inner game designer, Pyramid Arcade makes a stunning prototyping tool chest. With all of the pyramids, plus multiple playing boards of various sizes and styles, a bunch of specialty and traditional dice, and even more goodies, you can experiment to your heart’s desire. You can also use the existing games for inspiration, since that’s how many of the games in the rules got their start.

Oh, and for the record, when you use the pyramids to design your own game, you’re playing Glotz. (Check the game design section in the back of the rule book for more details.)

The Verdict

If abstract games that range from mildly puzzling to mind-bendingly strategic make your heart sing, then you need this game. Oh, and the back of the rulebook includes descriptions and rules links for another 22 games that require extra pyramid sets to play (available separately).

Get ready for awesome fun, because Pyramid Arcade is a wild gaming trip!

Fast Facts:

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Set-up/Play time: 5 or less to set up, 10-120 to play
  • # of Players: 1-10
  • Price Point: $77.00
John Kaufeld often frets over whether the word "meeple" has a proper plural form. You can find him writing about board games, parenting, and other stuff on Twitter at @johnkaufeld and in his newspaper column, The Dad Game (http://dadga.me/column).