How to Play
The objective of the game is to try and knock off the least amount of chips while adding and removing chips from the back of the elephant.
Place the elephant in the center of the flat play surface. Place all of the chips into a pile far enough away from the elephant to prevent chips from falling off the elephant into the pile. The youngest player will get to go first.
Each player’s turn begins with rolling the die. The player takes a number of chips equal to the number they rolled and adds them onto the back of the elephant. Players add chips one at a time. A player may not play a chip in a location that touches the chip they played most recently. If a player ends up having to play three chips, the first and second chip played cannot touch one another. The third chip played can touch the first chip played though.
If when placing a chip or before the next player rolls the die a chip falls off the elephant, the player must take the chips that fell and place them into their pile of chips. If a player knocks down chips in the middle of their turn, they pick up the chips that fell and continue playing the rest of the chips that they are required to play on their turn.
When the last chip from the draw pile is taken the gameplay changes. If a player rolls a number that is higher than the number of chips remaining in the draw pile, they first take the chips in the draw pile and place them. For the rest of the chips that they have to play on their turn, they play chips from their pile of chips that they knocked off the stack. Once a player gets rid of all of the chips from their stack, they begin removing chips from the back of the elephant. All chips removed from the elephant are taken out of the game. If any chips are knocked off while removing chips, the player adds those chips to their stack and their turn ends immediately.
Each player has one chance to get rid of the chips from their own stack. Once they place the last chip from their stack onto the elephant they will no longer be able to get rid of the chips from their stack. Any chips they knock over after this point will be kept and counted as points at the end of the game.
The game ends when the last chip is removed from the back of the elephant. Players count up how many chips they have in their own stack. Whoever has the least number of chips is the winner.
While not a big fan of the dexterity genre, on occasion I like to try out a new game in the genre. When I saw Stack-A-Derm at a thrift store it looked unique enough to peak my interest. While there is nothing particularly wrong with Stack-A-Derm, the game tends to kind of drag along.
Jenga Meets Elephants and Chips
For anyone at all familiar with the game Jenga, it should not come as much of a surprise that Stack-A-Derm shares a lot of similarities. The two games don’t play exactly the same way but they feel very similar. In Jenga you are removing blocks from a tower hoping not to knock down the tower. In Stack-A-Derm you are adding chips to the elephant and eventually taking them off without knocking off any of the chips.
While the basic game is very similar, things are a little different in Stack-A-Derm. The game begins by building the “tower”/stack. In Jenga the game board is set up before gameplay even begins. This is an interesting addition to the formula since the game board will end up changing every game based on how players play their chips. By forcing players to build up and then take down the stack, the game challenges players’ skill placing and removing chips. Players also have some choice on how they want to play pieces. They can take the extremely safe route (more on this later) or they can try to play their chips in a way that will make it harder for their opponents.
Stack-A-Derm also adds a die roll element to the Jenga formula. I personally dislike this idea. By adding the die roll you are just adding unnecessary luck to a game that already requires quite a bit of dexterity. I find the die rolling mechanic to be stupid since outside of making the game end quicker, there is no reason to try and roll for a higher number. Whoever rolls lower numbers will have a better chance at winning since they will have to take off/put on less chips which makes it less likely that they will knock down chips. I wouldn’t have hated the die as much if there was some reward for having to place/remove more chips. Unfortunately there is no benefit to moving more chips.
All the Chips Come Tumbling Down
One of the big differences between Jenga and Stack-A-Derm are the end game conditions.
In Jenga the game/round ends when one player knocks down the tower. Since the whole tower usually falls down at the same time, there is really no way a game can continue once a player knocks down some pieces.This is one thing I have always hated about Jenga. Whenever the tower is knocked down the tower has to be built back up in order to play another round. This leads to quite a bit of downtime as the tower is rebuilt.
I give Stack-A-Derm some credit for avoiding this situation. Whenever chips are knocked off the stack, the game continues with the player who knocked them down taking the chips. This works as a punishment against that player but it doesn’t immediately end the game. This allows the game to continue without having to be reset the board. If you have a player in your group that is particularly bad at dexterity this is huge. I find this to be a pretty important improvement over Jenga.
Unfortunately chips tend to fall off the stack in very large groups. This puts the players who knock over parts of the tower at a disadvantage. Players do have an opportunity to get rid of the chips they acquired but if you end up knocking down a lot of chips you are probably not in a good position. The ability to add chips back onto the elephant works as a catch up mechanic. Since the game for some reason doesn’t give players anything for removing chips from the elephant, it doesn’t really matter how many chips you knock down in the first half of the game since you will have time to get rid of them before the game ends.
I think the game would have been better if each player was stuck with the chips they knocked down. Players could then offset those chips with the chips that they are successfully able to remove from the stack. I am guessing that this wasn’t put into the game because there probably wouldn’t be very many chips on the game board for the second stage of the game.
The Chips Can’t Touch
I think there is kind of a flaw in the design of Stack-A-Derm which makes placing chips extremely easy. The only real rule for placing chips on the game board is that two consecutively played chips may not touch one another. This prevents a player from just playing all of their chips on top of one another. The game would have been really boring if this was allowed.
Unfortunately this rule failed to factor in the size of the base platform. The base platform is large enough to support at least three different stacks. This ruins this rule since a player can just alternate which stack they are going to place their next chip on. If all of the players do this the game board will consist of three different pillars. This would be extremely boring and unless the whole group agrees to avoid doing it, this is likely to happen since it is the easiest way to play chips.
While this strategy may start falling apart later in the game, our group banned players from doing this. Forcing players to play in different ways made the game more fun but it also made the game quite a bit harder. If you play the game this way you need at least decent dexterity skills or you won’t stand a chance. The chips don’t seem to stay up very long unless they are all stacked on top of one another.
Stack-A-Derm’s greatest strength is the quality of the components. The elephant game board is great. The elephant looks hand carved even though I doubt it was. I like that the game decided to add quality components for the game even when they didn’t have to. The game could have chosen to make a cheap plastic elephant. It would have looked a lot worse but it would have had little impact on the game itself.
I wish the quality that was put into the elephant could have been brought to the chips though. While I like that the chips are made from wood, I don’t like that the wooden chips feel rough. It feels like the chips were never sanded down. I am guessing the game decided to do it this way in order to make it feel more hand made but I didn’t like it.
A Simple But Boring Game
Being a dexterity game it is not surprising that the game is simple to play. During the game you pretty much only do two things. First you roll the die and then either add or remove chips from the stack on the back of the elephant. The only somewhat complicated thing in the entire game is the slight rule changes that occur during the switch from the stacking to removing stage of the game. These rules aren’t that complicated but they kind of felt unnecessary.
While the game is easy to understand, that doesn’t mean that the game is easy. The game’s difficulty will come down to how good you are at dexterity games. If you are terrible at games like Jenga you will not be good at Stack-A-Derm. As you add more chips you will need a very steady hand or you will likely knock down a lot of chips.
While the game is easy to play and tries to do some new things, it just wasn’t that fun in my opinion. The game is just not engaging since all you are doing is rolling a die and then adding or removing chips. While the game may get tense when a lot of chips are in play, I was never really into the game. I just found the game to be pretty boring.
Unfortunately Stack-A-Derm is just not a very fun game. The game has some issues with the rules that I thought could have been better thought out. The game relies too heavily on the luck of the die. These problems make Stack-A-Derm a boring game. If you are not a big fan of dexterity games, you won’t get much out of Stack-A-Derm.
On the plus side Stack-A-Derm does come with some good components. The elephant game board is really nice. The game tries to do some new things with the genre which some people should appreciate. If you really like dexterity games like Jenga I think you could enjoy Stack-A-Derm.