“Daddy, isn’t the point of ALL games to get the highest score?”
My daughter and I were discussing the title of Reiner Knizia’s 2021 release High Score from KOSMOS, and she was right. I am surprised that this is the first time I have played a game called High Score given how straightforward an idea it is that players are racing to earn the highest score.
But here we are. Like the title, the gameplay, and this review, High Score gets right to the point. Using a pool of seven dice and a selection of seven cards that dictate the scoring terms for each of the game’s seven rounds, High Score is a 10-minute game in the hands of two competent players, or as much as a 30-minute affair with a full count of five.
But you shouldn’t play High Score with five people. The act of rolling dice, Yahtzee-style in many cases, should be a snappy affair, which is only possible by sticking to the low end of the player count. And while High Score didn’t blow anyone’s socks off during my review plays, everyone agreed that it is hard to think of better push-your-luck dice chuckers that are this intuitive and that play this fast.
Players take turns aligning with each round’s objective: maybe you will roll all seven of the dice up to four times, trying to achieve the highest pip total, or score only odd numbers, or score groups of exactly 10 pips then subtracting any leftovers from that total. Each die is a D6 with five faces showing pips ranging from one through five; the sixth face is called the Vortex, and its value ranges based on the challenge card for that round.
The active player gets a certain number of chances to score, then play passes to the next dice combatant. Once each player gets a turn, scores are tallied, and the person who has the highest round total gets a three-point trophy. Two-point trophies (second place) and one-point trophies (third place, or second place in a two-player-only game) are granted to the runners-up in a round, then a new round commences until the seventh round is completed.
The Vortex side of the die is, visually, somewhat interesting, but overall this is a fairly bland production. That was OK for me because it’s a 15-minute experience and not much longer than that. The cards are fairly samey but different enough from round to round that I can live with the similarity.
High Score is never super-interesting, but I respect how quickly the game can be taught and played. It mostly gives players a chance to win every round, and even in defeat there is satisfaction in winning even a single three-point trophy.
High Score isn’t the best work of “The Doctor”, Reiner Knizia. Those searching for elegant simplicity should stick to his newly-printed classic Ra. High Score is not what I would call a strategy game given the dice-chucking randomness and the push-your-luck elements. But for a cheap, sensible filler, High Score does the trick.