1-4 players. Best with 4.
Kosmos (Imhotep, Lost Cities, The Rose King)
You are going to make mistakes
In my experience, two subcategories of gaming that tend to be hit or miss with players are abstract strategy games and real-time games. Theming is an important part of gaming for many, as a good theme draws people into the experience, and abstract strategy games lack that intentionally. Real-time games often favor those who think faster since there is a concept of a running clock; for players who like to take their time and analyze all possibilities, there isn’t necessarily time to do this and such players feel out of their element. Given these two inhibitions, I found it curious that Dimension combined both concepts into a single game, since either’s inclusion has a chance to alienate a lot of its potential audience. However, Dimension manages to combine them perfectly, creating a unique puzzle unlike anything I’ve played before.
In Dimension, players will play six rounds of pattern formation with a different set of rules each round. Six rules are chosen at random from a deck of rule cards; players are trying to place as many of their fifteen spheres on a three-dimensional grid within one minute. The grid can support seven spheres on the bottom, three on the middle and one of the top, for a total of eleven. The spheres come in five colors, with each color having three spheres; the restrictions determine where each color can be played without penalty. The player with the highest score after six rounds wins. Players score one point for each sphere placed on their solution, yet they lose two points for every rule violated.
Let me be clear – mistakes are inevitable. And I love that about this game.
It never fails – one player will insist that they did everything correctly, only to discover at the last second that they did not. Such players may attempt to perform quick surgery to fix it, which often results in making the problem worse, not better. Such is reality when you only have one minute to solve a 3D puzzle with six restrictions. There have been a few occasions where I realized my mistake with fifteen seconds left, attempting to change it for ten seconds only to scramble to place spheres as quickly as possible to restore what I had originally.
The restrictions themselves provide a lot of variety, as they fall into seven categories.
1) You must have exactly X spheres of this color (no more, no less)
2) All instances of color A must touch at least one instance of color B if it exists, and vice versa
3) No instances of color A can touch color B, and vice versa
4) A specific color cannot be on top of any other sphere
5) A specific color cannot be below any other sphere
6) There must be strictly more spheres of color A than color B
7) Colors A and B must combine to have four total instances
Restrictions 1, 6 and 7 make for easier puzzles while the rest are very challenging, particularly 2 and 3. Players must quickly realize what colors can and cannot touch each other, and when four or more restrictions are of these categories, players must be extremely careful. Green must touch Black but cannot touch Orange or Blue, and White must touch Black … there is a lot of information to keep track of in a short amount of time, and players will relish the challenge.
Players who succeed in using one of every color while satisfying all restrictions will receive a skill token for the round. All players receive points based on the number of skill tokens they acquire during the game, which may be negative if you do not have a sufficient amount. Dimension thus encourages you to satisfy all conditions, in addition to penalizing you per restriction violated. This is where the game gets particularly interesting – although you are rewarded for each sphere placed, in actuality “less is more” in Dimension. Often, the placement of extra spheres to try to maximize points results in a lower round score overall versus playing conservatively. The two points lost for violating even a single restriction cancel out the one or two more points you receive from ambition in placing all eleven spheres instead of nine, a more conservative number. When combined with the points gained (or not lost) by skill tokens, the conservative route is often better, despite being against our lofty inclinations. I have seen players win the round in terms of net score by playing as few as seven or eight spheres; my natural inclination is to always try to place everything, but that is far from optimal.
I believe this phenomenon also negates the “multiplayer solitaire” label that this game has received. While the term applies to most of Dimension’s experience, players do have to watch how aggressively or conservatively their opponents are playing as well as what the score is. These factors determine how aggressively you yourself need to play; as stated above, ambition can hurt you. If you are in the lead, you have the luxury of playing more conservatively to avoid making costly mistakes – each sphere ball that causes a single mistake is better off not placed, if that is the only offender. On the contrary, if you know that your opponents have a lead to be overcome, you know that you need to maximize your points and aim for a skill token. Although the player interaction is admittedly limited, it does have an impact on the game nevertheless.
Dimension is a unique puzzle experience with great replayablity that appeals to a wide audience. For these reasons (and many others), I believe Dimension is an excellent gateway game, so let’s evaluate it on the SPREAD Scale:
Dimension is listed as 30 minutes, but that length should only apply to the first playthrough. The core of the game, placing the spheres, totals six minutes (one minute per round) and it does not take long to flip the six restrictions. Given two minutes for setup and scoring, each round should take three minutes, so the game can easily be reduced to twenty minutes. One of the great aspects about Dimension is that you can easily add more rounds for practice or for a longer game. If a player needs to leave, they can drop out without affecting the game because the gameplay itself is not affected. This game can easily be played in two rounds with setup and cleanup in a single hour
There is no hidden information in Dimension and each player sees the same restrictions. The closest this game comes to having hidden information is the reality that it is possible to place two spheres on level two without them touching, a fact I did not realize until my second playthrough. By making this clear to all players, no player will have an advantage.
Despite being a timed game, there is no particularly skillset required to excel at Dimension other than attention to detail. Precision is more of a factor than speed, so age and mobility are not factors. The rules themselves are not complicated to follow; it simply becomes a matter of remembering to check every restriction with each placement. Therefore, all players stand a great chance of winning and success is more about who made more mistakes rather than who played perfectly, since all players will make mistakes.
The one-minute timer is the perfect length for enhancing the excitement of every round; any shorter would be too difficult, resulting in frustration while any longer would allow for too few mistakes. All players (and even spectators) will enjoy a player confidently declaring their success and eventual skill token only for them to realize their mistakes in horror.
For its length and player count, I actually consider Dimension to be a bit overpriced at $35. I have only seen it online and all vendors were around that number. I suspect it is because the spheres have to be perfect for stacking, and they are of great quality. I was hesitant to purchase it because the price is higher than I value most four player gateway games, but the potential audience for the game swayed me.
The rules of Dimension are straightforward in terms of placing spheres on various levels and following restrictions. The game provides player aids that give examples of each restriction, but I’ve found these do more harm than good. Players get confused as to whether or not these are additional rules or different rules and the restrictions themselves are straightforward enough to explain. After the first time seeing a restriction type, players will have the core concept for that restriction mastered. It is also easy enough to do a practice round in three minutes or less, making Dimension a very easy game to demo.