The classic game of Connect 4 was first released by Milton Bradley back in 1974. Ever since it was released Connect 4 has been a popular game. While I really enjoyed Connect 4 when I was a kid, as I grew up I started to notice some of the problems with the game. It turns out that Connect 4 is what is considered a solved game which basically means that there is a strategy that the first player can use that will automatically win them the game no matter what the other player does. Seeing as the original game is solved I decided to try some of the Connect 4 spinoff games to see if they could improve upon the original game. One of those games is Connect 4 Launchers which takes the gameplay of the original game and adds in a launching mechanic. Connect 4 Launchers has some of its own issues but you could make a strong argument that it is better than the original Connect 4.
How to Play Connect 4 Launchers
- Assemble the gameboard by attaching the pillars to the two game trays.
- Each player/team takes all of the checkers and launcher of the same color.
- Place the gameboard in the center of the table between the two players/teams. Each player/team will sit on opposite sides of the board.
- The players choose which of the three games they would like to play.
These rules apply to all three games:
- Players can win a round/game by getting four in a row in either the top or bottom game tray.
- If a checker misses the gameboard entirely, the player can shoot it again on a future turn.
- If a player runs out of checkers and they are all on the gameboard, they wait for the other player to finish shooting the rest of their checkers.
- If a player calls Connect 4 but a player had already launched a checker before it was said, the game/round does not end until the checker lands. If the launched checker blocks the called Connect 4, the game/round continues.
- If a checker lands on the gameboard but does not fall into one of the spaces, leave it where it lands.
Basic Frantic Launch
Both players/teams will play at the same time. One of the players yells “ready, set, launch” and the game begins. Both players/teams start shooting their checkers at the gameboard. Players don’t take turns and can shoot as fast or as slow as they want.
If there are two or more checkers in the same space, the player/team whose checker is on top will control the space.
When one of the players/teams have four checkers in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally they alert the other player/team. If they indeed have four in a row, they win the game. If both players/teams run out of checkers and neither gets four in a row, no one wins the game.
Championship Frantic Launch
This game is played like the basic frantic launch except for a couple additions.
Championship Frantic Launch is played in rounds. The winner of each round will score points. If a player wins in the top game tray they will score two points. If they win on the bottom game tray they will score one point. When one of the players/teams wins a round they slide up the score marker on their launcher the corresponding number of spaces. Another round is then played. If neither player gets four in a row, a new round is played and neither player/team scores any points.
The first player/team to score five points wins the game.
Advanced Power Launch
Unlike the other two games, players/teams take turns in this game. Like Championship Frantic Launch, the first player/team to get four in a row will score two points if it is on the top game tray or one point if it is on the bottom game tray. If neither player/team get four in a row, neither will score points for the round. Advanced power launch differs from the other two games in two ways.
First if there are checkers from both players/teams in the same space, the color that has more checkers in the space will control it. If the two colors are tied, neither player/team controls the space.
The other new addition is power checkers. When a player launches a power checker and it lands in one of the spaces the player/team will get to use a special ability. The special ability has to be used right away and cannot be used on another turn. If the checker misses the gameboard it can be shot again on a future turn. If it lands on the gameboard but does not land in one of the spaces, the checker loses its power. The special ability each checker has is dependent on the design on the inner ring.
- Go Again: The player gets to shoot another checker right away.
- Mega Blast: Remove all of the checkers from the spaces that are touching the space that the checker landed in.
- Remove a Row: Remove all of the checkers from one of the rows that the checker landed in.
- Space Erase: Pick one space that is touching the space that the checker landed on and remove all of the checkers from it.
My Thoughts on Connect 4 Launchers
I would say that the easiest way to describe Connect 4 Launchers is to say that is is basically what you would get if you played the original Connect 4 with a catapult. Instead of choosing where you would like to place your next checker and precisely dropping it in the appropriate column, you have to aim and shoot the checker into the space you want. It may share the same concept as the original Connect 4 but it plays quite a bit differently.
Before playing Connect 4 Launchers I have to say that I was a little skeptical. Having played quite a few spinoff games based on popular board games, you run into a lot of games that try to cash in on the popularity of the original game by adding some gimmicks and other mechanics that don’t really add anything to the actual game. They are usually just quick cash grabs where little effort is put into making them their own unique experience. This is the case with most of these spinoff games but there are the occasional spinoff games that take a franchise in a fun new direction sometimes surpassing the original game. One of these games is Sorry Sliders which is clearly superior to the original Sorry!. I could make a good argument that Connect 4 Launchers belongs in this category as well.
Connect 4 Launchers plays quite a bit different than the original game and I think that is one of the reasons that it is arguably better than the original game. I have always liked this genre of launching dexterity games and Connect 4 Launchers is no different. There is just something satisfying about launching your checkers towards the gameboard hoping that you can get four in a row. People who hate these type of games won’t like the game but I can see most people enjoying the game as it is a game of lighthearted fun. The game is also quite easy to pick up and play as the game only has a recommended age of 5+.
I would say the one area where the original Connect 4 is better than Launchers is that it is more strategic. In the original game you have full control over where you place your pieces so the outcome is going to depend on who outsmarts the other player. The original Connect 4 is also a solved game though which means the first player is guaranteed to win the game if they know the winning strategy. While the strategy in Connect 4 Launchers is basically the same, the fact that you have to launch the pieces onto the gameboard adds an additional factor to the strategy. Your pieces may not land where you are aiming so you will have to adjust your strategy. It is usually obvious where you should aim but getting a checker in that spot is another thing.
Since Connect 4 Launchers does not have as much strategy as the original game, it means that the game is going to rely more on luck and skill. With these type of launching games one of the first things that I wonder about is how much the game relies on skill versus luck. The game needs a little luck or the game isn’t very fun as the same player will likely win almost every game. The game still needs to rely on quite a bit of skill though or the game feels completely random which isn’t very fun. In general I would say that Connect 4 Launchers is somewhere in the middle which means it involves more skill than most launching games.
I think the game relies on more skill than most games from the genre because the launchers are actually quite accurate. A lot of these games come with pretty cheap launchers which results in pieces flying everywhere. The launchers in Connect 4 Launchers are of a higher quality than I expected which means that they are actually pretty accurate. You can aim the launchers pretty easily and the checkers seem to fly off them in a pretty straight line. Most of the aiming in the game involves adding the appropriate amount of power to the shot. With the launchers being pretty accurate it means that the game requires quite a bit of skill. Some players will be better at the game than others. Most of the luck in the game comes from pieces bouncing off the game trays into other spaces. This seems to be the right amount of luck where the same player won’t always win but skill still plays a big role in the outcome.
While I appreciate that the launchers are pretty accurate, I don’t understand why the game decided to only include two launchers. While you could theoretically play the game in teams, I wouldn’t recommend it. To play the game in teams the players have to pass the launcher back and forth. This is a hassle where you are probably better off not even bothering with the team game. It is a shame because I think the team game would be pretty fun and would have worked if the game only included two more launchers. A deluxe version of the game was eventually released which includes four launchers and sets of checkers. I wonder how the game plays with four different colors being shot at the same time. If you have any interest in playing the game with more than two players I would recommend either purchasing the deluxe version or two copies of the normal version and combining the parts.
One thing that I found interesting about Connect 4 Launchers is that the gameboard includes both a higher and lower tier. Players can win by getting four in a row in either tray. This gives players more options as the players can either target the same tray or one player can target the other tray in order to avoid the other player’s checkers. As the game gives you more points for winning in the top tray you would think it would be harder to shoot checkers into the top tray. Based on my experience though I think it is easier to shoot checkers into the top tray than the lower tray. Even if both trays were equally difficult, I don’t see many reasons to target the lower tray as you have to win twice as many games just to score the same number of points. The only reason to target the lower tray is if a couple of your chips fall into it and you can quickly pick up a win with one or two checkers additional checkers.
Connect 4 Launchers includes three different games that you can play. It would probably be more accurate to say there are only two games as basic frantic launch and championship frantic launch are pretty much the same game except you play several rounds in the championship mode. These two modes are your typical free for all game where players try to shoot their checkers as quickly as possible. I have always liked these type of speed games so I had fun with the mode. These modes don’t have a lot of strategy though as you mostly try to launch the checkers as quickly as possible to improve your odds. While I enjoyed them quite a bit, they can become quite chaotic which might turn off some people.
The more interesting mode is the advanced power launch. This mode is turn based and has more strategy to it than the other two modes. Instead of focusing on shooting as quickly as possible, you can take your time and figure out which spot you should aim for. You are also given more time to aim so skill plays a larger role in the game. The most interesting part of the mode though are the power checkers. When you land one of these checkers onto a space you get to use its special ability. This is an interesting mechanic as players need to find the best time to use each power chip. The power chips can be quite powerful when used at the right times. The only problem I had with the power checkers is that at least with my group they didn’t seem to be used as often as you would think. Our group is the type that likes to hoard powers until the end of the game so we didn’t use them all that often. Most of the time it just felt like it would be a better use of our turn to try to complete a group of four instead of trying to mess with the other player. If you fall behind though a power chip could help you catch up.
Having played a lot of these type of launching games, pretty much every game in the genre has the exact same problem. As you are launching objects through the air, it is not surprising that the objects tend to fly all over the place. With objects flying everywhere players spend almost as much time picking up the objects as they do playing the game. This creates a problem where you have to regularly call time out to pick up the pieces or the players have to waste time picking up pieces instead of shooting. While this is still a problem for Connect 4 Launchers, it handles it better than pretty much all of the other similar games that I have played. I attribute this to two things. First the launchers are pretty accurate which prevents checkers from flying everywhere. I think the bigger reason though is just that the game includes 21 checkers for each player/team which means you can miss a lot and still finish a round. You shouldn’t run out of checkers in most rounds. At the end of the round you can then pick up all of the checkers on the floor.
While I really enjoyed playing Connect 4 Launchers, it shares the same problem as most of the other games from this genre. With how simple the game is, you end up mostly doing the same things over and over again. This is not a bad thing in the short term but it gets a little repetitive after a while. After around thirty minutes or so you will tire of the game and put it away for another day. Basically Connect 4 Launchers is the type of game that you don’t want to play all of the time but will bring out every so often to play for a while.
In addition to getting a little repetitive after a while, Connect 4 Launchers is also not that original. There have been quite a few games that feature a mechanic where players launch discs or other objects towards a gameboard. There have even been games where you launch discs and try to get four to land in a row. In particular we have already looked at Flying Kiwis. While the two games are not exactly the same, they do share a surprising amount in common with one another. The main difference between the two games is that Flying Kiwis uses more of a horizontal shooting motion while Connect 4 Launchers uses more of a lobbing/vertical shooting motion. While each game has their own strengths and weaknesses I don’t know if I could really consider either game to be better than the other.
Should You Buy Connect 4 Launchers?
Before playing Connect 4 Launchers I thought it was going to be another shameless cash grab trying to cash in on the Connect 4 brand. After playing the game though I was glad to be wrong as it is one of the few spinoff games that are arguably better than the original game. While it has less strategy than the original game, Connect 4 Launchers is more fun in my opinion. There is just something satisfying about launching checkers at the gameboard hoping to get four in a row. The launchers are surprisingly accurate which means the game relies more on skill than luck. The game includes both a free for all and turn based game and I appreciate both in their own ways. I really only had two issues with the game. It is one of those games that you only want to play in short doses and it is not that original of a concept.
Whether you should purchase Connect 4 Launchers comes down to whether the concept of shooting checkers at a gameboard to get four in a row sounds fun. If the game sounds silly to you, I probably wouldn’t recommend Connect 4 Launchers. If you already own a game like Flying Kiwis or another similar game, I don’t know if Connect 4 Launchers is different enough to warrant a purchase. If the game sounds fun though and you don’t already own a similar game, I would highly recommend checking out Connect 4 Launchers.