I would like to start this review by saying I get a lot of emails from board game designers and Kickstarter project creators asking me to review their game. Most of the time I respond, either saying I’d love to review their game or declining due to not having enough time or perhaps the game just didn’t pique my interest. On a few rare occasions, I get a solicitation email and I fail to respond. I know, shame on me. That isn’t sarcasm; I know I should be better and follow up with everyone even if the reply only consists of the words “Not interested”. And there are other times where I receive a game without any correspondence whatsoever. In the case of the board game, Less, I failed to reply but the Slovenian team behind the game decided to send over the game anyway. Let me tell you, I am very glad they did.
My wife and I have been playing Less almost nonstop since receiving it. I’ll admit, I opened the box and was basically like, “Yeah, here’s another one I’m not going to like”. Boy was I wrong. The concept of Less is simple, and the design is elegant, which combine to form a quick, light game that can be played in less than 10 minutes. The wife and I are sneaking in games almost anywhere we can. At first, we did this almost by accident. We were cooking (okay, my wife was doing the actual cooking) and while we were waiting for the water to boil I said something like, “Let’s just give this one a quick spin, we need to at least see how it works”.
We were able to play a full game in maybe five minutes. When we were finished, we both looked at each other and said, “Again”. We got in another two games before the water started to boil. And that’s kind of how it has been going ever since. Any time we have five or ten minutes to spare we start playing Less. And I’m quite happy with that arrangement; I’d much rather try to outsmart my wife at a strategy game than each of us be enamored with our phones, essentially ignoring one another. So, in a small way, the game Less has given us a little more “us” time.
The tagline for Less (which is cleverly written as <ess on the box) is: Like Chess but Less. I can’t say that Less is anything like Chess, but I can say it is decidedly enjoyable. If anything, Less is a newer, more fun, compact, and portable version of Checkers. Although, again, with less. The less part, I think, is what makes the game fun. It is very easy to learn and games shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. But the board is modular and so it won’t get stale or become immediately solvable.
The goal of Less is to move all four of your pawns from your corner of the board to your opponent’s corner. The game board presents obstacles in the form of walls, which cost movement points to hop over. You only have three movement points to spend during your turn though, which has to be split between your four pawns. Also, since your opponent is trying to do the same thing you are, it is likely that your pawns will come in contact with one another. How this interaction is resolved is why I liken the game to checkers. Your pawn can jump your opponent’s pawn, but unlike in checkers, their pawn isn’t removed from the board. If your opponent isn’t paying attention, or just didn’t have other good options, they can set you up for a slingshot type effect where your pawn can jump two or more of their pawns in a row. This really catapults your pawn a lot farther than they could have moved otherwise. Also like in checkers, you can double up your pawns by putting them adjacent to one another, which effectively disables your opponent’s ability to make a jump move. Gameplay is fast and fun enough that you’ll want to play multiple times before declaring a winner for the session.
The pawns in Less are made of walnut and beech wood and look great. There is a beauty in their simplicity. The designers state that the wood is all natural and sustainable, so bonus points there. The pieces that make up the game board are high quality as well, and while the game designers claim they double as drink coasters (and I’m sure they’d take the punishment), I’m still going to keep drinks away from them. The thickness, however, is similar to a coaster that you’d find at a restaurant, so certainly not skimpy. The rulebook is straightforward and easy to understand and contains enough illustrations to get all of the points across. Storage is spot on; everything fits nicely into the small box, which makes Less very portable.
The game designers claim that the board has over 100,000 different combinations. I’m not a mathematician so I’m not even going to try to calculate whether that’s true, but the game comes with more tiles than are needed to play. Due to this modular aspect, you can play the game dozens of times without seeing the same configuration. Like other head to head strategy games, a lot of your enjoyment depends on your opponent and how closely matched the two of you are. That is going to true with Less as well, but the easy to learn aspect and quick playing time will mitigate that a bit.
I am very impressed with Less. The name, concept, components—everything—plays off of the concept of less is more. And it does a darn good job of pulling this off. Less really surprised me, in the best possible way. The quick playing time and easy rule set have made Less my go to filler game. In the short time that I’ve had Less in my possession, I’ve played it a ridiculous amount of times. And my wife likes it too. Because it doesn’t take up a lot of room, we’ve left it set up on one corner of our breakfast table. We just sit down and start playing, neither of us asking the other if we actually wanted to play a game. That’s the beauty of Less: I can play the game in the same amount of time it takes to have a conversation about which game I want to play.
Less is on Kickstarter right now and it has already reached its funding goal. Head over to the campaign page and check it out.
((A copy of Less was provide for the purposes of this review))