Released in 1989 at first glance Quicksand looks like your typical 1980s Parker Brothers roll and move game. Each player plays as an adventurer who is journeying through the jungle. Unlike your normal roll and move game though, Quicksand includes a mechanic where your character will sink in the sand slowing them down. This mechanic really intrigued me which is why I wanted to try out Quicksand despite not being a big fan of the roll and move genre. The sinking mechanic in Quicksand is pretty unique and actually showed a lot of potential but that potential is wasted on a very generic roll and move game.
How to Play Quicksand
- Each player chooses a color and assembles the adventurer of that color.
- Each player rolls the quicksand die (has the alligator head). The number they roll indicates how many pieces they will remove from their adventurer starting with the feet. If a player rolls the alligator they lose no pieces. When a player has removed the pieces, they place their adventurer on the start space.
- The youngest player will start the game.
Playing the Game
On a player’s turn they can choose to do one of the following:
- Move their adventurer forward spaces corresponding to the number of pieces of their character that are on the board.
- Roll the movement die (die without the alligator) and move their adventure forward the number they rolled plus the number of pieces of their character that are on the board. The blank side counts as zero. The player has to roll the dice at the beginning of their turn if they choose this option and they have to use the number they roll no matter what.
After a player has moved their adventurer they take an action based on the space that they landed on.
Roll and Sink: When you land on this space you will immediately roll the quicksand die. The number rolled indicates how many pieces of your adventurer you have to remove from the board (starting from the bottom). If a player only has their hat left, they disregard the rest of this roll.
If a player rolls the alligator they will choose one of the other players that aren’t on a safe rock. This player will move back spaces equal to their current height. When a player is moved back in this way they won’t follow the directions on the space that they land on.
Handhold: The player gets to add back one of the pieces of their adventurer.
Roll and Slip Back: When a player lands on this space they will roll the movement die. They will then move their adventurer back the number of spaces indicated on the die. The player will follow the instructions on the space that their playing piece ends up on.
Safe Rock: A player that lands on this space immediately adds back all of the pieces of their adventurer that they have lost. They also can’t be affected by the alligator while on the safe rock.
Swing Ahead: Move your adventurer to the space that the arrows point towards. The player will then follow the directions of the space they are moved to.
Pull a Friend High and Dry: Choose one of the other players who is not at their full height and give them back all of their pieces that they have lost. The player who lands on the space will be able to take back one of their own pieces as well.
Mudslide: Move your adventurer back to the space that the arrows point to. You will then have to follow the instructions on the space that you land on.
Almost Home: The last eight spaces of the gameboard are considered the “almost home” spaces. When a player reaches these spaces they can only move using the height of their adventurer.
End of Game
The game ends when one of the players reach the final space. The first player to reach the camp space wins the game.
My Thoughts on Quicksand
As I have already mentioned the mechanic in Quicksand that intrigued me was the idea of the explorers sinking as they moved around the gameboard. Basically the sinking mechanic works as follows. Part of your movement each turned is determined by how far your character has sunk in the sand. For example if three parts of your character is still above the sand you will get to move three spaces plus the number you roll on the die (if you chose to roll the die). Therefore it is beneficial for your adventurer to be as far out of the sand as possible as it will let you move further on your turn. I was actually intrigued by the sinking mechanic for two reasons.
First I applaud Quicksand for actually doing a surprisingly good job of having the mechanics fit the theme. The sinking mechanics actually feel like your character is getting stuck in the sand. You are always hoping to land on the spaces that let you dig yourself out of the sand even if you could otherwise move further on the board. It really helps to keep as many of your pieces as possible since it will let you move further on future turns. The theme is also helped by the game’s components. I absolutely love the five piece adventurers that each player gets to use in the game. They serve both a practical and visual purpose and are made of pretty thick plastic so they are durable. The artwork on the gameboard is also pretty nice. I do wish the symbols on the quicksand die were engraved into the dice though since I am afraid that they are going to fade off with extended use. Otherwise you basically get what you would expect out of a late 1980s Parker Brothers game.
The other reason that I liked the idea of the sinking mechanic is I thought the mechanic could actually bring a decent amount of strategy to the game. I liked the idea that you already knew what space you could land on if you chose not to roll the die. I felt this was going to eliminate some of the die roll luck since you could choose to take the safer known option instead of rolling the die to determine where you would end up. I also thought the idea of sinking could have lead to some interesting decisions where players could decide between moving forward or trying to dig themselves out of the sand.
While the sinking mechanic had potential, in execution it fails to live up to what it could have been. It may give you a little more decision making but that decision making doesn’t end up playing a large role in the game. Basically you are given a choice between two options each turn. You can take the known number of spaces or you can potentially add a couple more spaces to your movement. The problem is that this decision is usually pretty obvious. If by using your height you can land on a good space, you are going to choose that option. If your height won’t land you on a good space though you might as well roll the dice since there is a chance you could land on one of the good spaces. Otherwise you will just land on another bad space or even land on the space that you otherwise would have landed on anyways so there is not much downside to rolling the die in this situation. Quicksand could have done so much more with the mechanic which really disappointed me.
I think a better choice would have been to either move your height or roll the movement die and add that many pieces back to your piece’s height. While this decision will likely be pretty obvious as well, it actually introduces a trade off. You could roll the dice and hopefully add more pieces which will let you move further on your next turns. There is always a chance that you would roll a zero though and totally waste your turn. Otherwise you could just move forward based on your height which is a known outcome which will get you closer to the finish line. This house rule wouldn’t drastically improve the game but I think it would be an improvement.
Since the sinking mechanic doesn’t actually play that big of a role in the game, Quicksand ends up being another very average roll and move game. The game relies heavily on luck as die rolls will likely determine who wins. Keeping as many pieces of your explorer as possible is pretty much as important as what space your piece is currently on. Players that can keep most of their pieces for a majority of the game have a big advantage in the game.
While there really are no roll and move games that are particularly complex/strategic, I would still say that Quicksand is more on the simpler side of the spectrum. The hardest part of the game is understanding the sinking mechanic and what the different spaces do. Neither of these mechanics are that complicated where younger children should be able to pick them up pretty quickly. It would probably be best for an adult to explain the game to younger children though. This simplicity makes Quicksand work well for children but it also leads to there not being enough different types of spaces in the game. I would actually say around half of the spaces in the game are roll and sink spaces. I really wish there was more variety in the spaces as I think the game could have done more with the sinking mechanic.
As it is usually quite obvious who is in first, it is pretty easy for the rest of the players to gang up on the leader. Whenever a player rolls an alligator they are guaranteed to use it on the player in first. There is also no chance that a player will use their pull a friend high and dry action to help the player that is in first. This combined with the end game, which I will get to shortly, makes it way too easy for players to catch up in the game. As it turns out the player that was way behind for most of the game ended up coming from behind and winning the entire game. I like when games are close but Quicksand takes it too far. It feels like about half of the game doesn’t really matter since you can easily lose any lead you acquire earlier in the game.
By far the worst catch up mechanic comes from the end game though. I have played a lot of board games with bad end games and yet I don’t know if I have ever seen one worse than Quicksand. At times it can get so bad that you could literally be stuck in situation where your last couple turns are predetermined and there is nothing you can do to change your fate. In the game I played there was actually two players who were stuck on the same space. Since both players only had their hat remaining they both just had to slowly march towards the end with one of the players knowing that there was no chance they were going to win the game unless they got lucky and rolled an alligator and sent back the other player. Then another player, due to luck, snuck in at the end and stole victory from both players.
The reason that the end game is so bad is that the designers made several bad decisions that end up working together to make things even worse. The first problem is that when you get to the final eight spots you are no longer able to roll the movement dice. Therefore you better try to get as far into the almost home section as you can with your last roll. As you can no longer roll the movement die you better hope that you have quite a few of your pieces remaining as they will determine your movement for the rest of the game.
The bigger problem is that the game decided to fill the final eight spaces with the worst spaces in the game. One of the spaces is a mudslide that sends you back quite a few spaces. The rest of the spaces are roll and sink spaces. Since you will be encountering at least one roll and sink space every turn you better hope that you roll well and don’t lose many pieces each turn. If you roll poorly you will lose all of your pieces and will then limp towards the finish. If a player ends up keeping some of their pieces through their first or second roll though they have a great chance of winning. Just like in our game one player got lucky and only lost one piece on the first roll and sink space that they landed on. They then had enough pieces to move to the camp space on their next turn passing two players that reached the final stretch a couple turns earlier.
Should You Buy Quicksand?
Despite looking like just another 1980s Parker Brothers roll and move game, I actually had some hope for Quicksand. This was due to the quicksand mechanic where your character would sink in the sand throughout the game. The sinking mechanic actually does a really good job supporting the theme which is also helped by the cool adventurer pieces. I had hopes that the sinking mechanic could actually bring some interesting decisions to the game. The problem is that in execution the quicksand mechanic doesn’t really bring much to the game. Quicksand basically ends up like every other children’s roll and move game. It relies a lot on luck, the decisions are pretty obvious and the players can easily gang up on the leader. This is all topped off by one of the worst end games that I have ever seen.
As Quicksand is a pretty basic roll and move game, it is not going to appeal to people that don’t like roll and move games. If you have younger children though or actually like roll and move games, Quicksand does distinguish itself from the other games in the genre. If you can get a good deal on Quicksand it may be worth checking out.