During SPIEL 2023, I had the chance to play DONUTS with Philippe Nourha, the founder and CEO of Funforge. It just so happens Philippe also did the illustration and development for DONUTS, a game designed by Bruno Cathala. Thistabletop design giant is responsible for the creation and/or co-design of numerous titles. A few of these, including 7 Wonders Duel, Five Tribes, and Kingdomino, are some of the best games I have ever played.
When Philippe offered me a copy of DONUTS for review, I jumped at the chance. While DONUTS is not on the same tier as those earlier games, my wife and I enjoyed our plays of this two-player-only game thanks to a 60-second teach and its fun twist on Tic Tac Toe.
A starting grid is built out of four tiles that are formed into a single square, comprising 36 individual spaces across a 6×6 playing area. Each of the individual squares are drawn in pink and white, with a line across the square that indicates a direction—horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.
Each player starts with 15 double-sided donuts and each player picks a donut flavor: vanilla or chocolate. On the first turn of the game, a player can place their donut anywhere. On successive turns, the active player has to pick another square in the direction of the previously placed tile, if there is a playable space in that row, column or diagonal area.
If a donut is placed in between two donuts of the opposite flavor, that condition flips the opposing donuts to the color of the active player. This creates a three-in-a-row. If a donut placement leads to a player being unable to place a donut in the active row/column/diagonal, that player can start fresh and play in any open space.
When a player has five adjacent donuts of their color in a row/column/diagonal, they win the game. If all 30 donuts are played without this condition on the board, the player with the largest orthogonally contiguous group of donuts in their color wins instead.
My plays have usually taken about 10 minutes, a little less when someone comes up with a crafty solution first!
A Great Family Filler
As a father who still plays Tic Tac Toe with his kids when we visit a local diner and get the silly place mat coloring sheets to burn time between pancakes, DONUTS has worked well with both my wife and, separately, my daughter as a quick activity between other household tasks.
The donut tokens are surprisingly chunky, and do the job for such a simple abstract. I love how easy it is to teach DONUTS. On my first night of plays, I both taught this to my wife and completed two games in less than 20 minutes. My wife can never refuse a game that takes so little energy, and the creative turns are rewarding. I could see someone becoming a bit of a pro if they invest in playing DONUTS on Board Game Arena, but we aren’t at that level just yet.
The four boards used to construct the main map are a little fiddly, as players place a donut on the table.; I wonder how much additional cost would show up if small clips were added so that the modular board could stick together more easily.
DONUTS works, thanks to its simple approach and interesting decisions. Cathala gave us 7 Wonders Duel; while DONUTS is nowhere near that level of depth and quality, DONUTS is enjoyable as a quick two-player filler.