Oval, Squiggle, Diamond: A SET Review

If you’ve read anything I’ve written about tabletop games, you’ll know that I tend to favor games with an engaging theme. But that is not to say that I am opposed to playing a good abstract game. Oh no!  On the contrary — there are some that I enjoy a great deal.  One of these such games is SET.


SET is a game of identifying and collecting, well, sets of cards depicting various symbols. There are four features of the symbol(s) on each card:

  1. Shape – Oval, Squiggle, Diamond
  2. Number – One, Two, Three
  3. Shading – Solid, Stripes, Outlined
  4. Color – Red, Green, Purple

The game is played thusly: a grid of twelve cards is laid out in front of two or more players, and the players then rush to be the first to identify a set of three cards.  A set consists of three cards whose features are all exactly the same or all different.  Herein lies the mental gymnastics at the heart of the game.

Let me try to explain the rules in another way — Three cards make a set if the following conditions are met:

  • They all have the same shape, OR they have three different shapes
  • They all have the same number, OR they have three different numbers
  • They all have the same shading, OR they have three different shadings
  • They all have the same color, OR they have three different colors

Confused yet?  While the rules may seem extremely complicated at first blush, they are quite simple once your brain wraps around it.  Let’s have some visual examples:

SET examples

In this photo, the above set is quite easy to identify.  The three cards all share the same shape (diamond), number (three), and shading (outline).  Additionally, they all have different colors (green, red, purple).

The second set is a bit trickier.  The three cards share the same color (green), but all have different shapes (squiggle, oval, diamond), number (one, two, three), and shading (solid, outline, striped).

While our brains are programmed to more easily see matching things, it’s harder to notice when all the features are different.  Combine that with the real-time, racing element of the game, and SET is simultaneously a brain-racking and nerve-racking experience.

Once a player identifies a set, he or she calls out “SET!” and points it out to the other players.  If confirmed to be a legal set, the player collects the three cards.  The empty spaces are replenished by new cards to bring the grid back to twelve, and the game continues.  If all of the players agree that there are no identifiable sets within a grid of twelve cards, three more cards are added to the table.  The game ends once the deck runs out; whoever has collected the most sets wins.

SET is truly an amazing and unique game.  It makes your brain work in a way that it’s not used to; there’s definitely a reason why it received a Mensa Select award.  If you have competitive friends or family, it can get really engaging.  I’ve had a lot of success playing SET as an opener or filler game during game nights, and have whipped it out while waiting around in airports or in long lines at comic conventions.  If you like puzzles or mind games in any way, I definitely recommend you check out SET.

SET was designed by Marsha J. Falco and is published by SET Enterprises, Inc.

M is for Mahjong

There are certain sights, sounds, and smells that remind me of childhood.  The smell of autumn leaves, the taste of blue moon ice cream, the exciting flurry of a first snowfall.  One of these sensory memories is the clattering shuffle of mahjong tiles heard over the laughter and cheerful conversation of relatives and family friends at parties held when I was young.

Mahjong is game that originated in China, but now has many variants.  The gameplay is similar to rummy in that a player needs to get sets of matching numbers or suits.  Filipino-style mahjong, the way I was taught by my lola (grandmother), is a much simpler form of mahjong than other variants.  In Filipino mahjong, only three suits are used: bamboo/sticks, stones/balls, and Chinese characters.  All other tiles are considered “flowers,” and are taken out of play as the game progresses.  (I’m sure anyone who plays any other form of Mahjong is shaking his or her head in bewilderment and horror right now.)  The goal of the game is to complete five sets of three matching or sequential tiles and one pair, or seven pairs and one set of three.

Mahjong tiles

I love playing mahjong.  My older sister, younger brother, and I were all taught how to play by our lola and our parents.  As such, the game is more than just a fun activity, rather, a piece of our cultural heritage passed down.  It’s also just a great reason to sit around a table together and have a relaxing time talking and having fun.

No blog post of mine about tabletop gaming would be complete without me going on about my love of components, and mahjong tiles have to be among my favorites.  I love the sound they make when you stack them together or shuffle them around on the table.  I love the weight and feel of them in my hands.  My lola (who, even in her 80s, can still beat the snot out of anyone in a game) can tell what tile is in her hand without flipping it over to look at it.  When she draws a tile from the stacked wall, she merely grazes the pad of her thumb over the etching, and can figure out what it is — it amazed me as a young girl and continues to do so to this day.  I suspect magic. 

Filipino-style mahjong is relatively easy to learn.  But it is still an excellent game of decision-making and strategy.  For me, it is also something more than that.  It is a game learned from family and for spending time with family.  When I hear the clacking shuffle of mahjong tiles, I’m reminded of my childhood, of my loved ones, of home.

D is for Dice

I love dice.  I love how they feel in my hand as I shake them; I love the anticipation that builds before letting them roll free.  As far as random number generators go, dice have got to be the best.

There are six-sided dice, three-sided dice, 20-sided dice.  Dice with numbers, dice with pips, custom dice with special symbols or words.  Multicolored dice, dice in black and white.

Dice!  Dice!  Dice!

Pile o' dice

Because of the element of chance that they bring to the table, dice are frequently pooh-poohed by those gamers who seek to eliminate as much randomness from play as they can.  Over Christmas break, I purchased Escape: Curse of the Temple with the thought that I could play with my family and friends over the holidays.

“You just roll dice?” my eurogame-loving brother asked, a tad dismissively.

“Yeah.  You have to roll certain combinations in order to make your way through the temple,” I explained.  “But there’s a time limit, so you have to roll as fast as you can.”

He was hesitant, but I dragged him to the table anyway.

Escape!” boomed the game’s soundtrack/timer.  And we were off.  The sound of dice clattering on the tabletop was punctuated with squeals of joy and groans of frustration throughout the ten minutes of gameplay. The game ended with my cousin, Christina, trapped in the temple.  We had lost.

“This is so dumb,” my brother laughed.  “Let’s play again.”  And again we did.  Five more games that night alone.  We added the curses and treasure modules, proceeded to lose some more rounds, and then win a few.  It wasn’t until a few months later that I knew my brother had been won over.  As we packed for a weekend visit at my sister and brother-in-law’s place, he asked me, “Can you bring Escape?”  I smiled in triumph.

(Photo via Wikipedia)

I love dice games.  I love that dice can be the entirety of the game, such as in Yahtzee or craps.  I love games that utilize dice in creative ways like using d4s as pyramids in Kemet, d6s as literal building blocks like in Blueprints, and even dicebuilding games like Quarriors! or Marvel Dice Masters.  And I love games with custom dice.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I adore quality game components, and those wonderfully chunky, colorful dice from Seasons are among my absolute favorites.

Sure, dice bring randomness to gameplay.  But they also bring excitement, tactility, and suspense.  If you’ve played any sort of tabletop game before, odds are you’ve had a memorable experience with dice  — whether it was a victorious moment when you rolled exactly what you needed, or a moment of utter calamity when you cursed your misfortune and the piece of plastic that caused it.  If you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!  What are some of your dice-related memories?

A is for Android: Netrunner

Happy April 1st, everyone!! Today is the first day of my first attempt at the A to Z Challenge!  Throughout the month of April I will be blogging every day, except Sundays, for a total of 26 days.  The topic of each blog post will correspond to the subsequent letter of the alphabet.  And today we will kick things off with the letter A! A is for Android: Netrunner Continue reading